White flash. Vibration. White Flash. Reverberation. Cold air and ringing, stinging pain. Bright light. ‘Ay bitch.’ White flash. ‘Look at me, eh?’ Head pounding. ‘Ay! Wake the fuck up!’ White flash. ‘Wake up!’
Dry mouth. I went to speak, nothing. ‘Well, you didn’t kill ‘em.’ I looked to my right to see just the midsection of a man in a leather jacket. I heard a muffled reply from Toni. I was in the car next to a dead Dave. The man outside turned back to me and leaned down. ‘Nah, I don’t think he’s hurt. Ay, you ok?’ He leaned in a slapped me across the face. White flash. He crouched down and grabbed my leg. Pain shot up my body. ‘I think he’s alright.’ He turned back to Toni.
‘Good, I have work for him,’ Toni stated as his voice faded from a dampened mumble to appearing just in earshot. He was now right outside the car. My body was still constantly reminding me of the accident. I felt sick, I remember that; In pain all over, but also just sick, nauseous, my whole body.
I look back on it now. Maybe I felt sick because it was where all this had started. Maybe it was because somehow I knew the path my life would take from there on out. Toni quietly took place of the other guy standing outside the passenger-side of Dave’s wrecked car. ‘Ay, my man! What’s your name, son?’ White flash. ‘I’m talkin’ to you!’
‘I know who you’re talkin’ to.’ My voice rumbled through my throat like I had just been asleep for days. ‘Stop hitting me, please.’
‘Oh, look...kid has manners. Well, my amigo, how’s about doing a little work for your homie?’
‘Do I have any choice?’
‘Well--’ Toni chuckled to himself a little. He looked over to one of his guys and smirked with his tongue in cheek. He raised his eyebrows as he looked back at me. He was such a self-proclaimed genius. ‘You can always spend some more time with your buddy over there.’ I’m sure it is easy to to feel smart when the people you surround yourself are given little chance to think for themselves, when you are the one calling every single shot.
‘I guess I’ll go with option A, since you’re leaving me little choice.’ I guess I should have been glad I was given the option to live.
‘Oh, man, there is a lot of choice. It’s a tough decision. You sure you want to answer so quick? I mean, your best friend, well, he might still have that same stupid grin on his face, but who could really tell with his, ah, you know his head and how most of it’s missing and all.’ He leaned in real close, like an intimidation move. ‘Maybe you’d want that to happen to you?’
I remember being paralyzed with more anger than fear, I am sure it went over Toni all the same. ‘I just want to go home.’
Toni smiled big. ‘Good, seems as though we have ourselves a understandin’, eh?’ He gently smacked my face a few times. ‘Now get up.’
It was horror. I felt like I was trapped. I had to do whatever this criminal wanted me to do until he was done doing whatever it was he needed to do. I needed to go to my job and make money. I needed to pay off my debts. Three of Toni’s men came with us. We walked across the complex, every step left my leg throbbing until we got to my car. Toni tossed me the keys. ‘Get in.’
‘This is my car!’ I pointed at the car and stared down Toni and his guys.
Toni took a fast, half step toward me and pulled out his gun. ‘Excuse me? I believe that this is Tukeo’s car. Am I incorrect?’
‘Tukeo has good taste.’ I backed down. I was not in the best position to argue possession at that time.
‘It’s a piece of shit.’ One of the three henchmen spoke up. It was the same guy in the leather jacket from moments before. ‘The car, it’s a piece of shit.’
That was a challenge. How I played my next move would affect how this journey went. I was guessing it was Tukeo who was speaking. ‘I was just being polite.’
‘About the shitty car?’
‘Yeh. About the car.’
‘The shitty car?’ He was definitely trying to get a rise out of me, I wasn’t going to let him.
He leaned his head toward me. ‘You can’t admit it’s a shitty car? It’s a shitty car.’ It was my shitty car. He was getting to me a little. I had to keep my cool. I had to stay calm. Maybe it was a test.
‘I had one like this before.’ I relaxed my posture and started to walk toward the driver’s door. I called Tukeo out. ‘I got rid of it. I sold it to some jackass for a blowjob from his mother.’
‘I stole it.’
‘I still collected.’
Toni’s laugh was a relief. I remember thinking about how much harder it would be to kill someone that made you laugh. Even the other two guys started in on Tukeo as he let out a defiant ‘fuck you’ before biting his bottom lip in distaste. My nervousness slipped away for a moment. I was able to humor the idea that I may be able to see the next day when all that was over.
I started driving to Toni’s command. He didn’t tell me where I was going. He just guided me turn by turn. Toni sat in the passenger seat and the other three squeezed in the back. I had to run the wipers but only on the lowest setting. The sun was just barely beginning to light the city. The radio was on but I couldn’t really hear what was playing. We came to an old abandoned industrial park. The rust-covered skeletons of old machinery really played into my mood that morning. We came up to a bridge where a luxurious car sat setting off an odd tone as the one object to stand out amongst the withered-away backdrop. Toni got out and instructed everyone to stay in the car. He walked over to the other car. The window rolled down. Toni said a few things and the window rolled back up. Toni opened the door and got in the car.
About five minutes had passed before one of the three in the back of the car got out and smoked a cigarette. Tukeo started at me again. ‘Hey. Hey! Hey you, funny guy.’
‘...what?’ I was really hoping that he was going to keep his mouth shut.
‘You’re a dead man. You know that? You’re gonna die. Toni’s gonna kill you.’ He was mocking me through the rearview mirror.
‘Why didn’t he then?’ I made eye contact with him.
‘What? He’s going to.’ I could tell he was trying to convince himself.
‘Well, why didn’t he before?’ I felt like I was entertaining a child in traffic.
‘He didn’t want to.’
‘So, why do you think he is later?’
‘You’re a piece of shit. Just like your car.’ It was ridiculous how obvious he was trying to anger me. What bothered me more was how he wasn’t even trying very hard.
‘Oh great, back to this piece of shit thing. Don’t you have anything else in your vocabulary?’ I was getting more annoyed than upset.
‘I have plenty in my vocabulary. That’s just how much peices of shit I think you and your car are.’
‘Tukeo!’ The last passenger interjected. ‘Would you just shut the fuck up? You’re not funny, you’re not clever and we all know you aren’t that much of a badass. Just shut the fuck up?’
Tukeo pouted. He looked up at me through the mirror as the last sentence echoed in all our heads. Toni emerged from the other car with a small brown package and made his way back to mine. Toni got in and the guy smoking the cigarette right after. Though I had little faith in possessing my car again, I did appreciate that guy for not smoking in it. Toni then guided me out of the industrial park. He explained that we had a few jobs to do and that he needed me to stay calm. He then proceeded to threaten my life again. I just continued to drive where he lead me.
We were coasting downtown when he pulled out the package. He slowly opened it. He pulled out a clear vial with two square foil ends. In it looked to be a pink substance. ‘Do you know what this is?’ Toni’s voice boomed as he asked the question.
I remember being at a stoplight as I answered. ‘No.’
‘It is the newest thing. This is God. Life and death. Good, evil. Happy...sad? This is awakening in a tube. What is your name anyway?’
‘Freddy is a piece of shit name.’ Tukeo had to chime in and I didn’t care that he was jabbing at me again. I was intrigued. The substance seemed to be lighter than liquid but more dense than air. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. My thoughts were interrupted as the car behind us reminded me that the light had turned green.
Toni looked at me like he knew me. ‘Freddy, let me ask you, when was the last time you believed in heaven?’ He was leveling with me. The question caught me off guard. He wasn’t looking at me like one would look at another that is beneath them. He was giving me a little respect. He really wanted to know that answer.
I thought back. It was her, that charming whore. The one who destroyed me. She made me believe in heaven and in hell. ‘Her name was Kayla.’ I wasn’t going to get into it. No one needed to know my relationship history. They didn’t need to know even the littlest thing about me.
‘Heh, we all have one, don’t we, Freddy?’ Toni’s eyes lit up. He looked at me and testified with pristine righteousness. ‘Kayla ain’t got shit on Hale. Nothing has got anything on Hale. Feel me?’
I didn’t know what to say. I have heard of Hale. I never thought I’d ever come across it. The government was really focusing on containing the substance. It was all over the news. People were killing for it. Hale was the new super drug and people were dying. All the same stuff you hear about any new thing. I thought it was some pop-news fad like everything else, you’d hear about it all day for a couple weeks and it would be back to what celebrity was doing what when whatever happened at the time of them doing it normal bullshit. I never thought I’d be in the same car with Hale, let alone my car or like this.
‘Freddy, listen to me.’ Toni’s voice became calm. ‘Today. Freddy, today, in just a couple of moments, you are going to do Hale.’
I was terrified. I never had done anything like that before. I was a little excited but that feeling was marginal in comparison to the amount of fear that the idea of Hale, the super-psychedelic, pumping my through my body destroying my mind and melting my brain. I gathered up as much courage as I could when I pulled my eyes off the road to vocally stand up to Toni. He had his gun pointed at me already.
‘Freddy, I will shoot you.’ Toni smiled. It was one of those smiles that could get you out of trouble when you were a kid. ‘Look man, you cool? I need to know you’re cool before we continue our little adventure, you know?’ Toni shrugged his shoulders as he pulled the sights of his gun away from me. ‘It won’t hurt you. You might actually have a little fun. So, pull over.’
I pulled to side of the road. Toni handed me the vial. My heart was racing. My hands were trembling. I was afraid of freaking out. My mind jumped from possibility to circumstance, from any situation to the ends of my imagination until it ran through the darkest scenarios that resulted in my death. The more frightening of which were the ones where I went so crazy that I saw it coming and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The ones where I perpetuated the outcome and cared little to put an end resulting in the end of myself. The vial felt cool in my hand. ‘I don’t want to do this.’
‘Well, you don’t really have a choice. You do know what option B is.’ Toni pointed the gun at me again. He pushed it all the way to my throat. I felt the cold barrel burrow itself into me neck.
‘There’s alway option C. You know, Freddy, where we all get out of your piece of shit car and leave you piece of shit life alone. How’s that sound?’ Tukeo mocked me from the back of the car. In that moment, I really began to hate him. I wanted option C so bad. I would have done anything for them to all just get out and leave me alone. I wanted to snatch the gun out of Toni’s hand and shoot Tukeo in the head. I wouldn’t care if I got blood over my car, that would show Toni. He’d piss himself and everyone would get out. I would drive home.
Toni pressed the gun into my neck even harder. It hurt. It grabbed my attention. ‘Freddy, I’m gonna tell you exactly how to do this. You are gonna want to listen very closely, if you do this wrong you can die. Whatever you do, do not swallow the dose. It is very important that you only inhale.’
‘Get it, that’s why it’s called Hale, bitch!’ Tukeo was getting excited. He reminded me so much of a child.
‘Don’t listen to him. Listen to me, Freddy.’ Without moving the gun off me, Toni motioned with his other hand, ‘now, pull off the top piece of foil. Place the open end in your mouth. Freddy, I do what I’m asking.’ I was hesitant. I was stalling in hope of some miracle. Nothing happened. I did what he asked. ‘This is where is gets very important for you to specifically do what I say. Out your nose, breathe. Breathe out your nose.’ I did. ‘Breathe in through your mouth. Now you should have created a vacuum. As you continue breathe in, pull off the bottom piece of foil. Take a deep breath through your mouth.’ I felt cold air fill my lungs. ‘Hold your breath. Hold it in. Don’t cough.’ My chest felt heavy. I felt sharp, tiny pricks consuming my lungs as they felt to expand. I wanted to cough. My eyes began to water. My throat burned, my stomach turned and my mouth went numb. ‘You can breath out now.’ I did, my mouth tasted like vinegar. I took a few short breaths to catch normal pace.
‘You ever do this stuff before?’ I looked to Toni for reassurance since I had no idea of what to expect next.
‘Hell no!’ Toni’s reply shot through me like electricity. ‘You ever see anyone on that shit? They ain’t right.’