It must have been close to 1:00 a.m. when Frankie woke up cold and shivering. He looked at the nearly empty bottle of Jack, sat up, and began to violently vomit. Then he took another shot. It was impossibly hard to keep it down. He really wanted vodka and a Seconal. Noises woke him; he was disappointed to find he wasn’t dead. He really had hoped something would come along while he was passed out and kill him. He was done. Frankie pondered suicide again; this was becoming more frequent. It didn’t seem to bother him one way or another. It was becoming apparent that his plan of death by booze and drugs was a long painful path. Maybe a gun to the head would be faster and more effective.
There was still a part of Frankie that hoped that one day he would awaken and all of this, all of it, would be a nightmare. He’d be back at The Lovely drinking Rolling Rocks, brewed from the mountain springs of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Sitting with his best friend, Pam, shooting back shots of tequila with a fat worm in the bottom, and Sammy would still be alive, sitting with them. He’d go down to his grandma’s house for coffee and burnt sugar cookies.
Sadly, that was not the case. The road Frankie had chosen had led him exactly here, lying among the ghosts and rotting corpses, somewhere on a tiny isthmus in the Deep South, just outside New Orleans, waiting and hoping to die. The noises became louder. At first, he thought they were chainsaws, but he soon realized they were motorcycles. Soon after, Frankie saw lights approaching.
His first thought was, Oh good, some gang or Ku Klux Klan members, but he was too tired and sick to even entertain another fight. If it was the Klan, he hoped they would simply kill him. Then lights approached; he heard voices. When they reached the end of the road, by Landry’s car, he thought he heard David’s voice. The man yelled, “Frankie, is that you?”
Frankie yelled out, “Yes! Holy shit, yes! How did you find me?” He ran over to David and hugged him hard and long. He recognized the other two men, but he didn’t know their names.
David said, “Your new friend Zara came into the bar. That was an event unto itself. We don’t get many beautiful witches and madams in the local gay leather bar. She said she saw you were in a fight—not a fight, more of a beat-down—and she recognized Landry and his piece-of-shit car. She had been looking for you. I think she might like you. Anyway, she came back about midnight, still looking for you and/or Landry. The two of you and his car were nowhere to be found. You can’t hide a car that ugly in the narrow streets of the French Quarter. After much discussion, we all decided this had to be where you two ran off to.” David looked around, “Jesus Christ, what a fucking mess.”
Frankie said, “David, I’d kiss you on the lips, but that might send a mixed signal.” They both laughed.
David said, “Where is Landry?”
Frankie replied, “That’s a long, long story. He’s dead, in a way, but not. I have to get out of here and away from all these bodies.” David completely agreed. He said they would file a missing person report about Landry in the morning and tell the sheriff about what was found out here. The three men in leather silently surveyed the landscape; one walked off the side and vomited. The scene, in the pitch-blackness, lit only by the headlights of the three motorcycles was horrific at best. It looked like a scene out of a war movie. It was twisted and sickening and the odor was quickly getting worse and stronger.
One of the men in leather commented, “This stench is probably what kept you alive. It’s so bad I don’t think any animals will come near here. I’m thinking not even gators.” Frankie poured the last of the Jack down his throat and climbed on the back of David’s Harley, a late ‘70s Sportster. The four of them did a small circle on the bikes and headed back to the bar. Frankie silently commented, New Orleans is not an easy town.
As they rode the eight miles back to the bar, Frankie was amazed at how fast the trip was on the bikes and how impossible it would have been to walk, especially with freshly broken ribs. He still didn’t understand how Landry could be a ghost and could still have beaten him so badly. Once again, his insanity was starting to cloud everything.
He’d found himself fantasizing about being put away, institutionalized. Not that long ago, the idea would have terrified him and he would want no part of it, but over the course of the past few months, the idea of giving up all control to some authority somehow had a much-welcomed appeal. There was comfort in letting go that he would never before have entertained. He knew he was no longer in control, never was, probably since that day in the cemetery with Sammy over ten years ago, but there had been many good days back then. Good days, fun days, laughter and pretty women. Days when drinking and smoking weed was fun, as much fun as when he slipped his hand down Pam’s pants, proudly, for all the world to see and to envy as they walked along the road. Those days of brazen youth he knew now were long past. He’d become a killer on the run and the drugs and booze had somehow, without him noticing, gone from fun to becoming his God and quickly his demon. He feared the demon because he knew what he was capable of, and Frankie feared he’d not even scratched the surface of the things he would do or could do.
He realized that night on the tiny spit of land in the middle of the swamp that, like Landry and Zara and Alexandrine and his grandma and David and everyone else, he had, in fact, found his God, but his God was the Devil himself.
When they got back to the bar, it was about 3:30 a.m. The crowd had thinned out. Frankie handed David some cash and David handed him a quart of vodka and a beer. Frankie cracked the vodka bottle and poured it down his throat like it was oxygen. He followed with the beer. David commented he had blood on his face, and Frankie responded, “That’s from my nose; I think Landry broke it, and made it worse. It bleeds every time I vomit now, too; bleeds pretty bad. Sometimes I make a tampon out of a paper towel, soak it in vinegar, and shove it in there. It makes the bleeding stop.”
David said, “Do you think you have a problem, my friend?”
Frankie said, “I don’t have a problem; I am the problem. There’s no denial in me, David. I’m slowly killing myself. I don’t allow myself one second of denial. I’m haunted by too many ghosts and demons and memories. Unless I’m drugged or drunk, or both, the noises in my head are a cacophony and I can’t stand it. It terrifies me.”
David tried to calm Frankie, “We’re all a little broken, my friend. We are, all of us here, outlaws in some respect. Everyone in this bar is pushing their own personal envelope. Life is hard under the radar, Frankie. Maybe you’ve just been hitting it a little too hard.”
Frankie shook his head and said, “Thank you for your kind words. I’m very drunk and I’ve had no sleep in two days. I feel like I’ve pushed this as far as I can and now I’ve arrived at a lonely deserted beach. There is nothing on the sand but scattered and disconnected memories, nothing in the water but sharks and barracudas. The sun is setting out over the water, but I find no peace in this sunset, no glory in the beauty and majesty that other men’s poems are written about. Each night when I reach this place and I see the sun going down, I wonder and worry and sometimes hope that I won’t see it rise again. The beach is ugly and littered with the jettisoned garbage of this life from all the ships that have sailed. I watch as the last of the tall masts disappear over the horizon and wait for the darkness to settle in. Until I’m engulfed by the darkness, it has become my friend. The night seems to come in a wave from the sea to this dirty, disappointing beach. I’m too weak to stand, too weak to fight, and too broken to love or care.”
David came around the bar and put his arm around Frankie. He said, “Why don’t you go back in the storeroom and grab a blanket. You had a hell of a day.”
Frankie replied, “I just need to get a little more drunk and a little more drugged. It won’t take much more; I feel more and more like I’ve arrived at sanity’s end. I think there will be a freedom when I cross that line, and no longer a need to pretend. I can piss myself and laugh, or come at you with a knife. It won’t matter. I’ll just float along like a leaf in a breeze, free. I realized these last few months that freedom is destroyed by sanity. I’m glad to be seeing my last glimpses of it.”
Frankie took the vodka bottle, went into the bathroom, and sat in the corner. He watched a few of the guys go into the stalls. He heard them fucking. Frankie sat there, drinking his vodka. He’d smile and wave as they left. Frankie was becoming kind of a regular in the place, the shorts-and-t-shirt-wearing straight guy who hung around the gay leather bar. It made as much sense as anything else in his life.
Two more guys came in; they asked Frankie to watch the door. They pulled out a bag and a spoon and a lighter, their backs turned to Frankie. He watched anyway and sipped on his vodka bottle. One guy rolled up his sleeve and Frankie watched as the other guy wrapped a rubber band around his bicep and slapped the vein on the man’s forearm. Frankie got up and walked over to them and gazed intently as the needle was injected into the vein. The guy, one of the men in leather who came out to rescue him, convulsed briefly and then his head rolled back and he sat quietly, looking passed out. The man with the needle said, smiling, “Your turn?”
Frankie hesitated, and then thought why not as he rolled up his sleeve.
In fascination, he surveyed the entire process of cooking the heroin in the spoon and pulling it up into the syringe. He looked in the cook’s eyes as he wrapped the rubber band around Frankie’s arm. Frankie looked down at the needle. There was a time not that long ago that he had said that shooting drugs into your body with a needle was the most desperate act any human being could perform. Today, it appeared Frankie was that desperate.
He watched as the spike broke his skin and entered the vein. He watched as the plunger was pushed down and the drug was injected into his body. At first he felt a rush, a shot, and then his entire body was taken over by a warmth. Then everything got very heavy, including his arms and his legs. His awareness stopped almost as instantly as it began. He was somewhere else. His head fell back, and things slowly went black. He just drifted in and out.
After a time, he was not sure how long, he began to become aware again. He was on the cold tile floor of the men’s room. His head was screaming and he needed to vomit. He crawled over to the sink and, holding onto the fake marble surface, he pulled himself up. He noticed the sun was starting to shine through the windows. He must have been gone a few hours. He ran the water and cupped some in his hands, then washed his face.
He raised his head and looked in the mirror. His heart stopped. The reflection in the mirror was hideous—red face, red eyes, scaled skin. He knew that face and it was not his own. It was the face of the demon, the Devil himself. After all this time, the transformation was complete.
Frankie started to cry. He watched the tears run down this face that was not his own. He felt a pain deep inside, from where his soul would have been. He looked at the demon’s face in the mirror and the demon looked back, smiling. Frankie started to scream. He punched the mirror with both fists. He saw the blood run from his hands as he broke the mirror into a hundred pieces. He put his face in the sink. In the broken shards, he again saw that face, the face that was not his own. He began to vomit in the sink. Frankie screamed and cried and held himself up with his arms as he began to bellow and cry and scream, “FUCK YOU!!! Fuck you, you lying mother fucker! Okay, God, you’ve got me. Fucking do something. Fucking do anything. Fucking kill me or fucking save me. Prove to me once and for all that you are a fucking fraud and a fucking fairy tale. Fuck you!” He completely collapsed on the floor, landing in the shards of glass from the broken mirror and slipping and coming to rest in his own vomit. And the lights went out on Frankie.
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