II: The Desert's Calling
What other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart? Nathaniel Hawthorne
Naturally, you understand this isn't an exercise in normalcy. Hank stated, zooming along the highway in the stolen sedan. The sedan wasn't the best idea. After all, it did belong to the woman he had let drift into the afterlife less than 24 hours ago. There would be questions.
I'm aware. Erika stated blankly, looking out the window. She watched the endless sands shift, wanting something more.
Now, I need to know. Hank said. Why did you so heartily agree to join me?
Join me? You sound like you're on a crusade.
Something like that. Hank smirked, a small glint in his blank eyes. But really. It wenttoo well in my favor.
I know what you want. Erika replied in monotone. It's not beauty or anything of that sort.
Naturally. Hank muttered.
You don't seem the type. Erika said. You'reoddly deeper than that. You're conniving, and and evil.
Evil? Hank laughed.
Yes, evil. Erika shot back. You want to know why I came with you? It's because I had nothing left to live for. What was I supposed to do? My mother, my only remaining family member, dies out here in the desert. Where was I to go? I had nothing. So why not?
I don't know. Hank replied. Surely you manifest your own destinyBut, why were you and your mother out here in the first place?
She was hostile and he knew it. The vibrations between the two had grown nasty, almost like destructive interference. Could two waves of sound equal silence if they hit appropriately? What was holding this unlikely partnership together? Blind faith, Hank thought. She must think I'm some sort of Christ figure. Well, I'm not here to save your soul
We were going to a clinic. Erika explained, sitting up in her chair to look at Hank. Doctor Yvarium. The closest thing to an expert of the disease my mom had
What disease was it? Hank asked.
That's just it. No one knew.
Undiscovered Hank stated blankly.
Yeah. Erika sighed. I guess it was more fatal than the doctors thought.
Where was this Yvarium located?
Ohuh, he washm.
Erika tapped her head, trying to shake the knowledge loose. But it was no use. She couldn't remember where Yvarium practiced. All she knew was that he was probably somewhere in Southern California. But really, she had no idea what state she was in now, or where exactly the desert started and ended.
Nevermind. Hank stated. This is obviously a sore subject for you.
Don't pretend like you know me. You don't.
Then why are you sitting with a man you just met in your dead mother's car?
Why are you so obsessed with this?! Erika screeched, throwing a hand in the air for effect.
Because it went too smoothly. It just went He stopped himself. He was about to say according to plan'. Idiot, he thought, one slip of the tongue and the plan is off.
I told you. Erika sighed. She looked back out the window sadly, watching the sands go by like the hourglass of her life, slowly running out. Losing all hope is freedom.
Hank looked back to the road. It went on and on; not winding. A straight line into frantic oblivion. As far as he could see, the road disappeared on the horizon. He straightened in his seat. The Vanishing Point, he thought.
Sh*t. Hank sighed, looking at the flat tire. Who leaves rusty nails in the center of town? Let alone the road of an oasis of a town in the middle of a wasteland. Was this the end of the earth? Or was it simply a town, as he perceived it?
Well done. Erika muttered, stepping out of the car and slamming the door behind her. Her shimmering blonde hair waved like a flag in the breeze, advertising to any strange fellow within eyeshot that she existed.
Your negativity isn't going to help us here. Hank sighed as he stood up from his crouched position. They had pulled off to the side of a relatively unpaved road. They were utterly surrounded by small pueblos and buildings. It was the barrio, Hank realized. A literal representation of the terrible conditions you see in the movies, but with less true poverty and more dust. A lot more dust.
Well, there must be someplace we can find a tire, right? Hank asked no one in particular, but he was looking to Erika with an open curiosity. She crossed her arms sternly and glared back at him, nodding.
Okay. I'll go ask around. You watch the car. Hank said blankly before walking away from the sedan with a newfound realization: she hated him. Did she know the awful truths that he hid in the deepest recesses of his heart? No, she couldn't. She'd bathe in his blood if she ever found out. He was in deep now, probably up to his knees. There was still room for movement, but not much.
He sauntered lazily into a small outcropping of sandy road, then crossed behind a chicken truck before slipping between two boards that had been hastily nailed together, probably to keep rambunctious kids out of the alleyways where rapists roamed. He squeezed himself through a small hole in a chain link fence and found himself in a makeshift marketplace. A small group of people moved to and fro, seeking the best deal for their goods. But all he needed was a tire.
He joined the mob, looking desperately for any small bit of rubber he could find. He had a jack back in the trunk, but all that was missing was the damn tire. Eventually, Hank spotted a crappy looking tire leaning against a stall that had been marked by a plaid curtain. He approached the stall and motioned to the shopkeeper, who held up 2 fingers. $200? Why not? Hank eagerly took out his wallet and tossed two hundreds on the rickety table.
But as he wheeled away the tire, he overheard a number of odd half English half Spanish conversations going on.
Sure he's drunk, but I mean, why else
heard that new album? Yeah, Era Vu
Nah, they're too broke to get one without
s the best bassist I've heard since Claypool.
Hank stopped in his tracks. Really? The best since Claypool? This was it: the one he was waiting for. But to see if the rumors were true he stood, trying to look interested in a small necklace a vendor near the conversation was selling. Hank listened in intently, trying to scour information from the two Hispanic gentlemen having a lively talk.
Really? one asked. All slappity and stuff?
Yep. He's fantastic. But uhhe's kinda fallen into a bad crowd.
Perfect. He was absolutely perfect. No hope, no life. No reason to get out of bed. But what was his sickness? His poison?
Oh? Like what?
Gang dealings, mostly. He caters to them.
Yeah. Heroin, mostly. Where someone even gets that sh*t in the desert is beyond me.
Indeed, the dirty needle. It would be the toxin that stains the veins. So easy to obtain, and so hard to get away from. The very essence of evil had been contained in a powerful opiate Hank knew from back home, wherever that may be. The nearby border gave leeway to smuggling. But heroin? This would be a difficult thing to release from captivity. Time to cut open the arteries.
Hank moved away, slipping the necklace stealthily into his pocket when the vendor looked away. The gentlemen continued their conversation as he began to roll the tire down the road and back through the alleyway. Amidst the clatter of a stray dog, he hurled the tire over the chain link fence and crawled back through the hole.
He had to wonder to himself if this boy was capable of redemption. Would the angels grant mercy to the man on hell's doorstep? The devil himself had crafted his poison of choice, and how could one small teen from god knows where assist him in draining his blood?
Hank eventually found his way back to the car. Erica had taken to sunbathing on the dusty metal roof. She had hiked her Muse shirt to just below her chest in order to tan her stomach, and Hank found himself suddenly lost in a gaze at her. She was still rather pale; reminiscent of her French heritage. He was fairly certain he himself was Italian, as the harsh sun was barely affecting his olive-tinted skin.
Hey, we got work to do. Hank said as he rolled the tire up next to the hood.
No, I think YOU have work to do. Replied Erika. She had covered her eyes by lying her forearm across her browline. As she spoke, she didn't bother to look up, but Hank was unfazed by this.
No, I do mean we. Hank said as he removed the tire iron from the trunk. There's a bassist in this sh*thole town that I think will augment our interests.
Really. Erika sighed, more along the lines of stating it rather than asking it. And do even have an idea of where in this sh*thole.
Hank paused awkwardly. He had no idea. But looking down at the lug nuts holding the flat tire to the rim of the car, he smiled. Lug nuts come off, but it just takes a little man power. Eventually everything breaks.
No. Hank said with a sly grin. But I know where we can find out.
It was easy enough to find a gang member in the barrio. Just throw a dart, and 10 times out of 10, you'll hit a member of some gang, Hank thought. And though he had not thrown a dart, he had discovered an awkward Hispanic boy fiddling with a length of pipe in a back alley.
Ah, the makings of a useful pipe bomb, he said inside his head. But this boy knows nothing about mayhem. It's a tool, not a means of fear. By using mayhem to your advantage, fear is just the output. The true benefit of mayhem is the ductility of the human mind in a panicked state. And when a 5'9 boy jumps you, you don't quite understand the problem. You panic, and that panic is just fodder.
Hola, my friend. Said Hank, now kneeling atop the boy, keeping one hand knotted up in the boy's tank top while his other arm was busy holding the boy down across his throat.
I have a few questions. He continued calmly. And I'd like it if they were answered in a timely manner.
No, please. The boy cried, trying to push Hank off. Hank held strong.
If you struggle, my arm just pushes harder on your neck. I like to call it the Guillotine technique. Now, I'm looking for a drug dealer.
Not hard to find around here. The boy coughed.
You didn't let me finish. Hank sneered, pushing harder on the boy's neck. He's a known bass player. Heroin. Know him?
Ah-I think so.
Good. Now, you must know where he lives.
Hank drove his knee into the boy's solar plexus. He squirmed in pain beneath Hank's frame. This was not a game.
Agh, yes! the boy cried. Yes!
Yes. Then where? Hank asked.
Hehe lives on Bordello Street. Big house, blue, I think. Pale blue. You'll smell it.
Don't you know the scent?
Ah, yes. The scent of corruption. Of agony and the demise of the human spirit. A little poison can go so, so far. And what did it have to show for it? The pheromone of evil. A wicked flowery smell, still rotting in its cradle.
Excellent. Hank said, removing his hands from the boy's chest and neck. He slowly began to stand. You may have just helped a lost soul free himself from heroin.
Hank got to his feet and turned away, beginning to walk back toward the street.
Yeah. Said the boy, still on the ground. I-I think it's good. Heroin's deadly, ya know?
A flash. Hank turned, and in one fluid motion, he flew through the arid desert air, and his foot came down on the side of the boy's jeans. There was a distinct shattering sound, and the boy winced. The slow trickle of a scarlet liquid began.
You shouldn't do it, either.
So, what, are we gonna stand here all day?
Erika was a complainer, and Hank was growing rather tired of it.
The two leaned against the hood of the sedan, slowly drinking in the visual of the Drug House. It was a two-story, light blue painted house with few windows. The black roof was slowly losing shingles, and the exterior blue had once probably been rather vibrant, but the constant beat of sandstorms had faded its former glorious shade. The shutters hung off their hinges, having rusted long, long ago. No lights were on inside, but from the sunlight, Hank could see nothing but decrepit white walls with holes in them. Little bits of plaster had chipped away, and the filthy wallpaper was beginning to peel in an unsightly manner.
Yes. Hank replied. The first rule of war is know your enemy as you know yourself.
Sun Tzu? she asked, crossing her arms.
Indeed. Answered Hank. The Art of War dictates a number of proper provisions for this action.
Action? Erika asked, raising an eyebrow in curiosity.
Action. Confirmed Hank. This young boy requires our help. And by that gesture, hopefully we can convince him to help us.
Hank stood to an upright position and cracked his neck. Erika, somewhat disgusted by this arthritic movement, got up to follow as Hank led her toward the front door. But before they ventured past the front lawn, Hank raised a hand, telling her to stop.
Go in the back door. He whispered. Erika dared not question this instruction, and immediately ducked below the view of the house's windows and moved like some sort of stealth operative toward the back of the house. Hank had only assumed there was a back door. Either way, it had rid him of the female nuisance.
He moved swiftly to the weak-wood front door and upon trying the knob, found it locked up tight. He sighed heavily and removed a paper clip from his jeans pocket. In a moment's time, he had constructed a makeshift lock pick and had easily made his way inside the house.
It was dark, but the sunlight bursting forth from outside gave Hank enough visible light to make out a very dirty living room, with a couch riddled with many, many holes. The smell the boy in the alley had described was present, but Hank seemed unbothered by it. He simply continued through the house, walking by the couch undeterred.
This house was scarred by the remnants of whatever had lived there. Small blotches of drug smoke had stained the walls and ceilings. A pair of bloody scissors was lying in the sink, surrounded by pinkish water. The hardwood dining table, shoved against the wall opposite the sink, had a number of marks carved in it, as if someone were counting the days in a prison cell.
Hank continued down a dark hall, pressing his hands against the narrow walls for balance. At the end of the hallway was a medium-sized bathroom. Hank entered, seeing his reflection staring back at him in the mirror. He immediately turned left and threw open the shower curtain, but nothing but a filthy bathtub lay there. He sighed again and turned back to the mirror.
How odd, he thought, taking a good look at himself. Had he looked like this forever? Or was this merely the result of the desert sands, shifting his skin; burning the truth of mortality into his flesh? What had formed him into the messiah of the meek; the he-man of the hopeless?
Then, he saw it. Just out of the corner of his eye. He had just enough time to move his head slightly to the right before it was smashed into the mirror. Hank felt the warm rush of blood come streaming down his face, and in the moment of chaos, turned to face his attacker.
He was a boy of probably 18 or so, with short cropped bronze hair and slightly reddened skin. His bloodshot blue eyes were sunken deep into his head, and his arms were bound with the snaking tendrils of track marks. His black wife beater hung loosely off his pseudo-skinny frame and well over the beltline of his torn jeans. This was the man he was looking for, judging from the calloused fingers gripping Hank's neck.
Hank tried his best to fight back, but soon found his airway choked off. The limited Purgatory was fading into a black oblivion as he struggled. Air became a vital resource to his oil-starved country of a body. But as he began to lose consciousness, there came a loud smack, and the noose around his neck loosened. The boy fell to the tiled floor, and there stood Erika with a now-dented metal rolling pin.
Sweet Jesus. Hank coughed, looking down at the unconscious next Les Claypool.' Hank coughed.
His name is John Langdon. Erika said, handing Hank a letter addressed to the boy on the floor.
Well, John Hank wheezed, looking at the envelope. Looks like you need some detox.