It is easy to get a thousand prescriptions but hard to get one single remedy. -Chinese Proverb
Deep in the Mojave Desert is a stretch of long forgotten paths that few men have ventured down. Of course, this may be due to the fact these trails are often a proper place to break down, wander the sands, and later die of dehydration or exposure. And in some cases, men drive the back trails to find a good place to commit suicide.
But today, the hands of destiny had placed Hank C. Bison Gracer, Erika Montierre, and John Langdon on these back trails for a different reason. Today, a man's life was going to be saved, be it through legal action or not. In all likelihood, probably not.
John was still unconscious by the time they had set everything up. This had all been Hank's idea, as Erika found it too overblown and extraordinary. Hank let this thought slide, as most of his notions soared over the poor girl's head. He had such beautiful things in mind. Music can change the world, but first he would have to change the makers of music.
John? came the echo into John's head. The voice sounded so far away. So far
John's eyes slid open slowly, and the grim twilight greeted him. He couldn't feel the ground beneath his feet. He was elevated, somehow.
Ah, John. Hank said. You're awake.
John looked down at the strange boy he had attacked back at home. But where was he now? All he could see was sand for miles. Obviously somewhere in the desert, but--.
As John went to move, he suddenly felt a thousand needles poke him on his bare back. It was then that he realized what was happening.
Don't move, John. Hank said calmly. You're tied to a cactus. Every inch you move is another inch of natural needle in your flesh. But I assume you know the feeling of needles by now.
What the f--k is this about?! John questioned, trying his hardest not to move. But the needle pricks from his previous motion had opened some blood passages, and small trickles tickled the small of his back.
You're dying. Hank stated point blank. We all are, but youso much faster. You see, when you decided that the lucrative life of small time bumf--k nowhere wasn't enough, you turned to drugs. I mean, first you tried pot, or maybe a little ecstasy, but you felt that spending hard earned money on it was a damn shame. So what do you do? You start making it in your bathtub. Bathtub gin, not so much. So you sell it. Little profit, little high. Then your friend recommends you try heroin. Best high, he says. Not at all. You learn the hard way that high only lasts at least twenty minutes. It burns underneath your skin. The maggots are eating you alive. The crash after the high is so much more damaging. But does that stop you? Not at all. You start making heroin to cap off the rest of your lucrative career. And all the while, you're squandering your talent: I heard two men say you were the next Les Claypool. I'd like to believe him. But are you worth it? How do I know you'll have the will to live? To play? To beat addiction? I suppose we'll find out.
And with that, Hank turned his back and began walking toward the sedan, parked only 30 yards away. Erika followed like a motherless kitten, twirling her hair uncomfortably between her fingers. Hank's face was stuck in a serious stare, facing half down at the ground. His shadowy appearance was slowly devouring his good looks.
Wait, where are you going?! John shouted from his prickly prison.
Away. Hank said, not bothering to turn around or even stop walking for that matter. You can't get better with people around. I believe a day or two out here will purify your body.
Purify? John scoffed. What's that supposed to mean?!
Goodbye, John. Hank called back, opening the driver's door and entering. Seconds later, Erika entered and the car started. John began to lash around, causing the needles to dive further into his willing flesh. He cried out in agony and watched as the car took off into the distance. His mind began to wonder if this was even happening, or was just another astounding high.
But the truth became evident when the sun began to set.
Travis Hoff looked on as the paramedics wheeled the body into the ambulance. His lit cigarette ashed on its own, and he followed the little remnants down into the dusty sand. They disappeared at his feet, and he sighed heavily. He hadn't signed up for this. Drug busting was one thing, but straight up murder? It wasn't his strong suit.
According to the report, Margaret Handler had discovered the body of Isabelle Montierre in the late hours of Cotober 12. She had suffocated, from what Hoff could tell. She looked sickly, aside from being deceased. An examination of the room turned up an oxygen tank, turned to the off position. Fingerprints had been taken, and Hoff was waiting on his partner Ford to return with some results.
Hoff could tell something was off about this one as he sat on the top step of the Oasis staircase to the second floor. Isabelle Montierre was not alone in that motel room. There was too much luggage. And Isabelle didn't seem the type to wear tube tops.
Hoff looked off into the distance, hoping to see a police car come zooming along with some answers, but no such luck. It was blank, and the sun was setting. Soon the cold hand of night would flood over the land and bathe it in a frosty breath. Hoff pulled up the collar of his light jacket, hoping it would tide him over until Ford arrived.
The ambulance took off, not that it would really do much help. Even if she was still alive, the nearest hospital wasn't for a good fifty miles in any direction. But with the ambulance leaving came Ford in their custom police car.
Hoff was down in the parking lot by the time Ford was out of the driver's seat. Ford waved the yellow envelope in disbelief. Hoff immediately rushed over to him and sunk his shoulders to look over Ford's shoulder at the results.
You're not going to believe this, Trav. Said Ford, opening the manila envelope. He flashed the results in the dimming daylight.
Hit me. Hoff replied.
Well, the fingerprints on the oxygen tank came back as Isabella Montierre, and an unknown.
An unknown? Hoff asked in disbelief.
Yep. Nothing. Came back with nothing. No files, no dental records. Ford replied with a snort. It's like this guy never existed.
Hoff swore under his breath and tossed his cigarette away.
Alright, what about all the clothes and stuff?
Bella had a daughter. Ford replied, running a hand over his balding head, feeling the two patches of graying hair on either side. Eryca Rose Montierre. Goes by the simpler spelling of E-R-I-K-A.
No sign of her. We dealing with a kidnapping?
No sign of a struggle. Ford said. Dammit. Looks like we got nothing.
Nothing? We have a body. Hoff replied wholeheartedly. If nothing else, we owe it to Miss Montierre.
Duty is duty. Ford agreed. But what can we do?
Put out an amber alert. Hoff stated plainly, walking toward the car. Let's just hope someone wants to help as much as we do.
Day faded into night. John hung upon his punishment for hours upon hours. Somewhere between life, death, and birth he lost track of the time. Minutes gave way to hours, hours to days, days to weeks, weeks to months, and years and years. No logical explanation could calm his nerves. It was devouring him from the inside like a parasite. It fed upon his insides, turning them to mush.
Between night and day, he began to deteriorate. He tried to ignore it, but the fiery burning from the put of his stomach kept him awake and the prickly needles stabbing his back refused to allow him solace. The matter at hand was his death. He was prepared to die in this desert.
The night air was chilling him to the bone, and being shirtless didn't help. The two maniacs had left him his jeans, but it was no help in warming his core. And furthermore, his desire to eat was propelling him onward, but slowing the clock. But the nausea took care of his hunger pangs. The drug he had so gladly forced into his own body was now calling. His body yearned for more. Just one last dose to soothe the soul.
But he couldn't. Perhaps Hank had a point in placing him in this position. If nothing else, this would harm him, but also cleanse his body of the deadly opiates. At this point, he didn't want to accept it, but the withdrawal symptoms were telling him otherwise. The pain coursing through his tangled form was purity. Bliss was the knowledge that evil was exiting. The body may turn against itself, but in the end, it will be a temple once again.
He had left no address. No phone number. Not even a subtle hint.
Anson had left Harmony Hill four weeks earlier, and attempting to find out where he went was beyond anyone. No one seemed to notice, except for an old friend.
Charlie scampered off the bus. He stood and watched in silence as the yellow behemoth took off down the road and around the corner. He sighed.
Behind him, the bright brick structure of the Harmony Hill Elementary school gleamed in the early October sun. The leaves were beginning to change colours and fall from their heavenly peaks. Charlie hated this time of year. It was sad to think that death was occurring all around him. And with recent events, who could consider that Harmony Hill had one last speck of goodness within its boundaries?
Charlie began to walk over to the school, staring across the empty playground. The children had been let out a few hours earlier, and the rush of buses had disappeared mere moments before Charlie's arrival. The unseen specters of memory upon the playground plagued him so. The unforgettable pain, the agonizing joy, and all the feelings in between.
Persisting, Charlie took a seat on a plastic blue swing. He could remember the days when the swings were too high to be able to stop yourself properly when the recess bell rang for everyone to come back inside. The cold, unfeeling arm of the plastics industry below him, Charlie looked up at the cloudy sky. It had been cloudy since that fateful day a month ago. When everything changed, Charlie felt a distinct change in Harmony Hill. It darkened.
The light that had once shined over the average American town was now hidden beneath layers of polluted clouds, perhaps never to shine again. Charlie knew this had meaning. But what, he was unsure of. He imagined it was a sign from God; that perhaps it would soon rain for forty days and forty nights and drown the vermin within Harmony Hill.
But this, he knew, was untrue. There was no God, or at least, not to him. The last lingering sensation of a benevolent creator had died with Becker Heiner, the messiah of the damned.
Perhaps Becker had left something, Charlie wondered. Maybe he left a piece of himself: a last bit of hope. Some lingering word, a trinket, or maybe a scripture. Certainly he had left behind a legacy, but what else?
Charlie left the school, walking down into town. The market square passed him without him uttering a word. The people disappeared into a gray oblivion as he crossed their paths. The faceless masses had no effect upon his dreary soul. The cold alleyways were home to many a roamer, and from what Charlie had gathered, Anson spent his last week in Harmony Hill living within the confines of two brick walls.
He had been looking to contact the only sane former member of Chagrin. For what, he was not sure. Closure? Not so much. Perhaps just to know that someone else was there; that someone else had known the pain brought upon a small town in sleepy Northern New Jersey. There was one last person in the entire world that understood, and that person was Anson Fordyce.
Charlie rounded a corner and stopped. This is where Tony, Anson's younger brother, had directed him. Charlie had had a long talk with Tony regarding his brother, and from what he learned, Anson had skipped town out of fear. Anson must have accepted that this town was destined to walk among the dark. He did the intelligent thing and left, fleeing from the evil in the hearts of men.
The alley stood agape like the open mouth of a tiger. It was lined with the razor sharp teeth of victimization. Charlie was ready to be devoured. Let the beast swallow him whole and spit out the skeleton. He wanted it.
Stepping into the shadows, Charlie felt a strange sensation fall over him. It was the comfort of a memory; a lost chapter in the annals of his head. The persistence of his pure thought had betrayed him once again. If only he had known.
He immediately marched over to the garbage can, removing his hands from his pea coat. They fumbled with the lid, knowing the truth lay inside. He could turn back now and forget it ever happened and let the town devour him.
No, he thought. This must happen.
He tore off the lid dramatically and threw it down the alley. It clattered against a gutter and gave off the rotating sound of metal before the silence came about once more. He looked down into the trash can, feeling empty headed. And there it lay: a single piece of forgotten legal pad paper, the yellow shade still vibrant.
Charlie picked it up hesitantly. No turning back now. What I read on this paper, he knew, will let loose a chain of events I won't be able to return from. Are you ready?
And with one hand, he flipped the note open.
To the damned: I have seen the true face of this vile town and I realize its true nature. The depraved souls left behind here shall be the only remnant of the black hole that has engulfed my home, my life, and my righteousness. I must flee from this place, should I ever wish to retain my charity. All hope has gone from this place, and I feel I must go with it. I have taken the ankh, perhaps the last piece of holy scripture left here. Bibles mean nothing to a man without hope. Damned be all who reside in the pit of Harmony Hill.
Charlie paused. The ankh. It was Becker's last piece. The puzzle he had been crafting the whole time. It was now the truth burned. The little bits of mystery would soon be revealed. The chain of events he had believed would be created had become so. The last scripture was now in the hands of Anson Fordyce, a man who had disappeared a month earlier.
So, that's it then. Charlie muttered, his whisper echoing back from the dark alley walls.
The mission was clear. He had to get the ankh back. If it truly was Becker's last holy scripture, perhaps it could cleanse the impurities of Harmony Hill. Ablution aside, Charlie decided, it must be brought back. But now came the difficult matter of where the ankh was now. It was within the grasp of Anson Fordyce, but where was he? Charlie had heard nothing, and Anson's mother had no care for her forgotten son.
So where to start
The dawn came swiftly, and John had tired. The darkness within his body had put up a good fight, but now, he felt the swift kick of God in his nuts and the magic that was sobriety burning his retinas. Or, rather, that was the morning sun, rising above the distant rock structures. John realized that he had become a bit of a Jesus figure to his clients, but a dark messiah nonetheless. The evil within his body was a disease that he had spread to other willing victims. He was the vampire of the drug culture; a baron of blow; a king of coke; the herald of heroin.
As he hung from his painful reminder of all his sins, there came the familiar sound of tires on sand. John could only hope it was police, or else one of his rival dealers come to finish off the competition. But the slam of two car doors told him otherwise, and the calming effect, minus the drugs, came over him in pleasant waves. The freedom from dependency was amazing, yet agonizing at the same time.
John, I'm impressed. You look pretty good for a guy who spent a night going through wicked withdrawal. Said a voice.
Hank smiled and hacked through the ropes holding John up with the rusty machete he had bought back in town. John fell forward onto the sand, revealing his puncture wounds to Erika, who looked away in disgust. John winced. The sand sank into the wounds, stinging his insides.
See, I figured you were a trooper. Hank said, walking around John in a challenging manner; almost like a drill sergeant. And god be damned if you didn't prove me right! God or fate doesn't determine these things. We command our own destiny. Or in your case, I do. Don't get me wrong; I'm just a simple guy. I don't want to be somesome puppet master. I want to help.
Help how? John demanded to know as he rose to his knees, still in pain.
Help the world. Hank replied loftily. Let's make some beautiful music. Let's show this rat-hole of a world that some things are worth saving.
Worth saving. John stated plainly. He placed one hand out to steady himself, and stood. You mean, you thought I was worth saving?
Yeah, John. Replied Hank. You have a talent that I believe can help being life to the desert. The low end spectrum of all things good in the world. Show me the growls of the tormented and let me revive them.
John pondered this for a moment. Behind him, the morning sun rose, shining gleefully in the dismal sky. There were no clouds here, and there never would be. Hank like this thought. No darkness can enter this realm. The darkness that destroyed many a lovely thing cannot be born into this society.
I suppose. John said, suddenly wheezing. But what if it goes wrong?
Then I'll give you everything back. Hank said. I'll release you into the world you once knew. I'll give you back your heroin, and your life will continue on the same bad path it was on a mere 24 hours ago.
John nodded to himself.
Okay. He said. I'll do it. But you keep up your promise.
Cross my heart and hope to die.
Hank made a crossing motion across his chest. John watched his hands glide seamlessly over the delicate fabric of his shirt, and smirked. His motions brushed against something under the fabric. As Hank removed his hands, he nudged the object free of his shirt. It bounced openly onto Hank's chest and glistened in the morning light. There, around Hank's neck, was the shining form of an ankh.