XII: New Friends and Old Ghosts
"Death cancels everything but truth." - Proverb
Two Days Later
Ah, Anson thought, the familiar taste of dirt.
With a groan, he lifted his head out of the dried mud. A sharp pain radiated throughout his head in waves, much like the migraines he would get when homework was too hard to comprehend. Sighing deeply, he pushed himself back onto his rear and took a look around. He had been dumped by the side of a road, and from the looks of it, he was very far away from humanity. The narrow road running past him extended far into the horizon, and disappeared at the edge. From his position, Anson could see a cornfield to his right, beginning about thirty yards past his location. A barren patch of dusty ground lay before him and the cornfield. Looking to his left across the road, he saw the cornfield was in the same position on the other side. But in front of that stood a red-roofed diner; the kind only New Jersey could be home to.
Anson made his way to his feet, only to feel a dull pain in his wrist when he pushed himself up. Unrolling his sleeve, he discovered a small pinprick in the vein of the underside of his left wrist.
"Ah." Anson muttered. He then remembered what had occurred. The exchange, Jana's cool tone, thenthe pain.
"Son of a b*tch!" he yelped, suddenly rocked with the pain that accompanied the memory. He dropped to one knee, grasping at the back of his head. Feeling around, he could tell there was some broken skin, and, from his guess, probably a lot of bruising. He looked back to his wrist. Must've been drugged, he thought as he regained his footing. Otherwise, I'd have woken up in a few minutes.
"Evil b*tch." He grumbled, then looked up at the diner across the road. His hands fell to his pockets, and he fumbled around in them. Yes, his wallet was in there, but his cell phone was gone. Typical, he assumed. Jana wouldn't have left him a way to get help. But then why dump him here? He was obviously still in Sussex County, judging by the rural landscape and diner, but he was probably a bit more northwest.
Anson quickly strolled across the road to the front door of the diner and peered in through one of the small windows on the door. It was open, but it appeared there were few customers.
"Parking must be round back." Anson said quietly to himself. He took in a breath and opened the door.
A tiny bell acknowledged his presence, and nearly every head in the calm diner turned to look at him. They must have not have gotten many customers. An elderly-looking waitress made her way over to him.
"Hello, honey." She said, trying a bit too hard to be nice. "Table for one?"
"Yes." Anson said simply. No point in entering a diner just to use the phone. May as well have some lunch.
Hobbling, the old lady led him to a small booth toward the back of the establishment, with a window overlooking the parking lot out back. Anson could spot a few pickups and even an old tractor rusting near the cornfield. He shivered uneasily as the lady handed him a menu. It was definitely getting colder out. With October now behind him, he had to think about where he was going to find some decent winter clothes. He didn't exactly have a full home, aside from Becker's old place, which was now devoid of furniture or earthly possessions, except for the things Amber had bought.
When the waitress came back, Anson handed her the menu and ordered a BLT and some soup. Leaning on his good hand, he stared out the window at the cars in the parking lot. He cursed under his breath when he realized the Saturn was back at Becker's place.
Anson sighed heavily and began to consciously listen to the radio station pumping through the shoddy speaker system in the diner. They were playing some older Killers song that Anson didn't quite recall the name of, but he could recognize Brandon Flowers' voice anywhere. As the song ended, a young sounding man's voice entered.
"Hey everybody, that was Smile Like You Mean It' by The Killers." The DJ said.
"Ha." Anson chuckled under his breath. "Knew it."
"Off of Hot Fuss, their third single from that record in the US." The DJ continued. "Hey, anyone heard Flowers' solo album. Not so bad. Could be better, but hey, it's the same old Mormon Mr. Brightside we always knew. Alright. So up next we got a song from this new band from the desert down southwest. Apparently, they already broke up, according to what their only public member says. Shady stuff going on down there Anyway, here's Raising Darkness' by the Hopeless."
Anson froze. Oh, dear God, he thought. My band. THE band. The one thing he thought he had left behind in the god forsaken sands of that f*cking desert. How could anyone have found their material? Unless
"John." Anson muttered in a voice not his own. Terrified, Anson turned to look at the window. Reflected in the glass, Hank stared back at him, a demonic grin upon his face.
"No!" Anson cried, but it was too late. Hank had taken control again, and Anson had been buried deep in their shared subconscious. With a sudden jerk of his neck, it cracked very loudly; enough for the scary-looking trucker a few booths over to look up at Hank, who simply glared with an evil closed-lipped grin. The trucker quickly looked away, and Hank returned to his business, staring back out of the window at the trucks in the parking lot.
The waitress soon returned with his meal, and Hank ate greedily. He had no true intention of paying, and in a moment's time, enacted his dine-and-dash routine: slipping out the closest door. Due to the near-emptiness of the place, he had no issue in doing so. No one batted an eyelash to his leaving.
Now in the parking lot, he approached a dirty red pickup truck and began circling it. His thorough inspection returned no ills, aside from the filthiness.
"Should do." Hank said to himself. He gingerly picked up a large slab of concrete from the ground and weighed it in his hand. He nodded, and lobbed it through the driver's side window. He carefully unlocked the door, swept off most of the glass from the seat and slipped into the driver's seat.
With a quick blow to the console, he ripped off the front cover beneath the driving wheel and located the two wires needed, and severed them with a piece of the broken glass before touching them together. The engine roared to life. With a glance up, Hank saw the trucker from before staring out the window at him incredulously. With a slight laugh, Hank gave the same evil smile and took off down the road.
About a mile down the road, Hank began to calm himself. A bit too much, it seems, as the lovely hallucination of Anson appeared in the passenger seat, shaking his head. Hank sighed in frustration and stole a glance at his alter ego.
"So, you know what we have to do?" Hank asked, sounding a bit bored.
"Not quite." Anson said from behind his hands, which were now cradling his face. "Obviously something about the song. Where exactly are we going?"
"Back to Imperial."
"Oh, dear god." Anson cried forlornly. "Why?"
"To get our share of the royalties. Our bit of the drugs. Our groupies."
"Jesus Christ, that's what this is about?!" Anson yelped. "Being a rock star?"
"You could say so." Hank said, now utterly relaxed. His gaze blurred as he drove. "That, and to reconnect."
"Reconnect with John?"
"Nope." Whispered Hank. "With old ghosts."
Staring into his glass of soda, Becker could see the specters of all the people he'd encountered thus far. Just little apparitions passing through. They bounced through, and left. Everyone left.
And now, looking past the ghosts and into the dull colours of some reality show on Sam's TV, he realized he was alone once more. Anson had been missing for three days now. Enough time to legally, at least in Becker's mind, to presume them dead. In these mind games, if you were out of contact for long enough, you were essentially deceased. Becker knew this well. People had forgotten about him rather quickly. And what had they really cared about? What he left behind: the damn ankh, which now lay somewhere in Charlie's house after Anson surrendered it to him.
Becker sighed and pulled out his phone. He tried once more to call Anson, but to no avail. It went straight to voice mail. He growled and stuffed his cell back in his pocket. Nothing. Not a word from him.
So that's it, Becker thought. He's dead. No point in trying to find him anymore.
He sighed heavily, finding the frustration rather familiar. Just when he thought he had the chance to stop Jana, his only accomplice was torn from his hands. What was the point anymore? She was an utter, unmitigated evil, and couldn't be stopped.
Becker reached for his soda and chugged it down, releasing a belch immediately afterward. Sam peeked her head out from the kitchen doorway, somewhat amused.
"Nice." She muttered, then disappeared, back to loading the dishes into the washer.
"Nyeh." Came Becker's depressed reply.
Suddenly, there came a very loud, rhythmic booming from downstairs. Becker heard Sam scoff in the kitchen and drop something, which was followed by a shattering noise. She growled.
"Beck, can you go tell Bard to quit it?" she asked in a condescendingly nice tone.
"On it." Becker replied, spinning out of his chair and around the stair railing. Heading downstairs, the booming increased in tempo, and Becker soon realized it was a complex jazz beat. As he rounded the corner at the bottom of the staircase, Bard and his Gretsch kit came into view. He was hard at work; completely transfixed on continuing the beat.
"Bard." Becker said loudly, trying to gain his attention. But Bard continued, rather oblivious. "BARD!"
"Ee-yes?" Bard replied in a high-pitched tone, swiveling on his throne to face his new audience.
"Sam wants you to stop."
"Yes, stop." Bard laughed, rolling his eyes. "Stop practicing our hardest song. The ten minute long one. Yes, I'll stop that."
Then, his mood dropped as he noticed Becker's somber atmosphere, which had replaced the lightheartedness of his drumming and ridiculousness. Bard frowned, staring at Becker.
"Something wrong, Beck of all trades?"
"You could say."
"I'm all ears." Bard assured him, lying his drumsticks down in the snare. "What's bothering my favorite boyfriend of my roommate?"
"How obtuse." Becker muttered in response to Bard's all-encompassing title for him. "Well, it's my friend. He's uh, gone missing."
"Skip to the chase, Becktard." Bard laughed, then stopped abruptly. "I know who you are."
"Oh." Becker responded blankly, straightening. "I see someone finally read between the lines."
"You could say so." Bard nodded to himself. "Becker Heiner: killed in action. Beck No-name: alive and well. Not hard to figure out. My guess is you're a little unsatisfied."
"Interesting choice of words."
"Word." Replied Bard, much to Becker's chagrin. "Your friend Anson gave me the low-down."
"When?" Becker asked. "You met, like, once."
"Twice." Bard corrected. "Had a cig with him in the parking lot after the show, despite what he might say. I know how you're doing right know. I know WHAT you're doing. This Jana chick. Bad blood, man."
"Yeah. Butdude. Anson's gone."
"Really?" Bard piped up incredulously. "Dude, I can help you, if you're looking for a right hand man."
"Why would you help me? There's nothing for you to gain."
"'cause it's right." Said Bard, rolling up the sleeves of his sweatshirt. "I'm an amateur fighter, man. I respect honor. This girl tried to fry you up. That's f-ed up. Only right to get her out of the picture. One way or another."
"You have a pretty messed up view of honor."
Becker thought for a moment, locking eyes with Bard. He had a hint of truth in his eyes, but the rest was blocked by an emotional disconnection. He seemed cold and distant, as if his heart had been destroyed long, long ago. Perfect.
"Okay, but I'm going to need some proof that you're not going to stab me repeatedly in the backliterally."
"Fine." Said Bard. "What do you want me to do to prove it?"
Becker smiled, feeling the wavelength of madness returning.
Charlie groaned as Jay held the water to his lips. He swallowed the water greedily. He had weakened further, having had his wound become rather infected. Each and every breath hurt now, and Jay was beginning to worry. As he pulled the glass away from Charlie, Jay sighed.
"Dude, you should really go to the hospital." Jay said, placing the glass on the side table next to the ankh necklace, which seemed to glare back at Jay with unseen eyes.
"I told you." Charlie muttered through white lips. "I can't afford it."
"Then Jeez, I'll pay for it!"
"Are you kidding me?" Charlie asked. "This cut? Stitches. Expensive sh*t."
Jay sighed and sat back down. In a moment of silence, Jay watched as Charlie sputtered in his gasps of pain.
"You really did save us, you know?" said Jay suddenly.
"You saved us. Eric and me. We'reback to normal, thanks to your insistence."
"Yeah, man." Jay snickered. "I can function. I mean, you went all the way to freakin' California just to find the ankh. That's dedication."
Charlie didn't reply, but he smiled warmly.
"Yeah." Jay muttered. He then realized how long he had been at Charlie's house, and earnestly pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and checked the time. 9:42.
"Crap, I gotta be home by ten." Said Jay, patting Charlie on the arm. "Gotta go, man."
Charlie, barely conscious, raised his hand and flashed the peace sign as a means of saying goodbye, and Jay made for the door.
And then he was gone. For a long time, Charlie lay in silence, but the pain blocked out his ability to sleep. He simply remained on the edge of rest, but not fully awake or asleep. But his semi-conscious state was disrupted by a sliding sound. His door?
"Jay?" Charlie asked the darkness. He glanced over at his analog clock. The red numbers read 12:15.
No, not the door. But a sliding. Charlie suddenly realized it was the window.
"Evening, Charlie." Came a feminine voice, and then, he felt a cold hand slide over his stomach, and he gasped out in pain. He was trying desperately to shout out, but he had no energy left. He groaned instead, but not loud enough.
"Quite a cut, there." The voice said again. Then there came the sound of footsteps, and then the lights flickered on.
The first thing he saw was her red hair. Like fire in the night.
"Shh." Jana said, putting a finger to her lips and walking over to him. She was dressed entirely in black, hiding her natural figure. She was like a classical cat-burglar, but Charlie knew she wasn't here to rob him. Though he would be a prime target. One kid, home alone, wounded.
"Fixer indeed." She said plainly, frowning at Charlie. "Pathetic."
"mm?" Asked Charlie, in barely a whisper. He sounded like a burn victim crying through his bandages. Like a mummy. Muffled and bare.
"You, a fixer." Jana sighed, reaching into her sweatshirt pocket. Her hand emerged holding a small vial and a syringe. She quickly uncapped the needle and filled the syringe with the liquid in the vial. She gave it a few taps to release any air bubbles.
"Do you know what this is?" Jana asked, gesturing to the vial.
Horror now filled Charlie's head. She wasn't here to wish him well. Oh, God, Charlie thought, trying to yell for help. No sound emerged from his terrified throat.
"Little something I synthesized. It's called Bliss. Remember how that Darryl kid was freaking? Yeah. Same thing. Different strand of the drug, though. His was made from synthesizing MDMA and LSD with a few other mixers. This one?"
She suddenly slammed her hand down, and Charlie felt a ripping in his abdomen. He glanced down with his tired eyes to find the needle sticking out of the cut in his stomach. Jana pressed down on the plunger.
"Powdered potassium cyanide and water. Not exactly Bliss anymore. More likeAgony."
Charlie sputtered, not exactly sure how cyanide poisoning worked. A moment passed and he felt an odd pain in his chest, and suddenly, his throat began to swell. He drew in a ragged breath, sending a wave of pain throughout his body.
"See, it's weird how I synthesized this one. Added a few interesting mixers, which I'm almost sure worked. Among them, a generic ammonia. And the way I jabbed youright above the bladder through your cut. These little mixers ought to look like your little wound killed you. Infections a bitch. All these chemicals should, if I did it right and didn't mix up my math, dissolve in your urine. Weird, huh?"
Charlie felt himself fading quickly. He looked up at Jana with dying eyes, hoping for a sign of humanity in hers. But the green-eyed witch didn't respond with anything human about her.
"Sorry, Charlie, but you got in the way. I can't have you fixing everything I worked so hard to accomplish. It's nothing personal. It's just business."
As Charlie began to slip, he somehow managed to take in one last breath, and looked evil in the eyes.
"I never knew it"
"Never knew it was me." Jana finished for him, then closed his eyes and placed a kiss on his cheek. She sighed and walked back to the window, placing a leg over the edge. She looked back at Charlie, now utterly motionless.