Discordia: Installment One

Chapter One:
Home Is Where the Abyss Is

Wave after wave of impossibly humid heat roiled up from the floorboards of the old bungalow and pressed in from the cracked and peeling walls. The thickness of the air made breathing difficult, and the temperature wrung all the moisture out of a human body as if it were a wet rag. Louisiana in the summer never struck anyone as a nice place to be, but in the old house in the downtown of the capital city, Louisiana summer came as close to hell on earth as any worldly place ever had. The decrepit bungalow crossed boundaries into a place that God had forsaken.

All of the windows in the bungalow were nailed shut, and the ones easily accessible to humans had been boarded up. Heavy blankets and curtains were fastened over all of the windows so that it was impossible to look into the house from the outside. The windows were covered so thoroughly that no light could penetrate through in either direction. The house was pitch black in the middle of the day, and at night it looked black as space, even if there were lights burning inside. The owner suffered from bouts of intense paranoia, and preferred to keep his presence in the house a secret.

With all of the windows nailed shut, boarded up or smothered in fabric, no fresh air ever penetrated into the house. In a normal residence air conditioning would have served to make the air more breathable, but the bungalow didn’t have air conditioning. In the heat of the summer the temperatures in the house rose well above one hundred and ten degrees on a daily basis.

The front and back doors of the bungalow were heavily fortified. Large crossbars slid into hasps bolted through the frame of the house, with eight-inch bolts. Only a concerted effort with axes and battering rams by several people would gain someone unauthorized entrance to the house. Nobody would ever be able to casually kick in the doors while the owner was inside. There were several attempts to do just that over the years, all of them unsuccessful. The owner valued his security.

In the summer of 2005 there was no electrical service to the house. The lights were disconnected in the fall of 2004, and they were never reconnected. The owner felt that he had more important uses for his money than keeping lights on in the bungalow. Also, he hated the idea of a bill with his name on it showing up in the mailbox outside. That would let people know he was there, and he definitely didn’t want that. He survived by running an illegal extension cord to the garage of a neighboring house. He buried the cord under leaves and debris, and disguised its presence in the garage. So that the neighbors didn’t notice his consumption of their electricity, he never ran more than one or two lamps and a fan. That made one, and only one, room of the house somewhat livable. The rest of the house was like a blast furnace.

The lack of utility service to the house did not stop at electricity. There was no running water either. The owner stole into the night with a five-gallon bucket when it became absolutely necessary to flush a toilet. There were two bathrooms in the house, and he always used the one furthest from his bedroom. The overwhelming stench of the fermenting waste could turn anyone’s stomach. The owner stayed out of the rear of the house where the smell hung around, except to use the bathroom or exit out the back door, which was the only door he ever used. When those short trips to the bathroom area made him vomit, he knew to fetch water. He kept a couple of gallon jugs by his bedside to drink from, and for other purposes. He did all of his bathing under a hose behind an office building a few blocks away.

At one time the bungalow was filled from floor to ceiling with antiques and fine things. Many nice things still lurked in the impenetrable darkness of the uninhabited rooms, but only because they were forgotten. Piles of newspaper, dirty clothes and random debris covered most of the floors in every room. Rats established a stronghold in the kitchen, and that room sported huge piles of gnawed trash. The rodents were steadily gaining ground towards the front of the house. The owner didn’t like to think about the rats. He spent a lot of time putting them out of his mind.

The inside of the bungalow closely resembled a description of hell in that it was unbearably hot and smelled awful. That was just the physical aspect of the place, however. There was a part of the bungalow that went unseen, and that part hosted the human suffering. That place was in the mind of the owner of the house. Not a single day went by without the man torturing himself over the decisions he made and the way he lived. Most of the time he wished he had never been born.

A guy named Louis Comeaux owned the house. Louis was almost six feet tall. He had dark brown hair and brown eyes. Over the course of his life his complexion ranged from light olive to deep bronze. At the time he hadn’t been in the sun for months, so he was extremely pale. A small mole marked his cheekbone on the left side of his face, and he was strikingly handsome. The young man appeared skinny to the point of starvation, however, and it detracted from his good looks.

Louis was twenty-seven years old, and he was so addicted to drugs he couldn’t see daylight. Louis’ life only turned into a nightmare after his twenty-fifth birthday; before that he lived a rather pleasant life. Terrible tragedy struck Louis’ life without warning, and he responded by destroying all traces of light and goodness. Louis Comeaux took up heroin to ease his emotional pain. Heroin in turn took him by the hand and led him down into the abyss.

The oldest neighborhood in Baton Rouge was called Spanish Town, because it came into existence during the Spanish rule of the territory. A few of the neighborhood’s original homes and mansions survived from the eighteenth century, but most of the historic structures were constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The bungalow at the corner of Seventh Street and University Walk fit into that category. John Fisher built the home in the summer of 1912. Because it had neither burned down nor crumbled to the ground it was regarded as a piece of history, and one of the many homes that gave Spanish Town a delicious flavor of antiquity.

John Fisher died in 1916, a mere five years after he constructed his home. His wife Mary survived him alone, as they never had any children. Mary Fisher perpetually grieved for the husband she had loved so much. The idea of replacing him with another man struck her as impossible, so she spent the rest of her life alone. She outlived all of her relatives and close friends, and that made her life one of great sadness. When she passed away in 1952 there was nobody in line to inherit the old bungalow, and the Fisher house fell into neglect and disrepair.

Frank Comeaux purchased the bungalow from the East Baton Rouge Parish Tax Collector’s Office in October of 1964, for the tidy sum of three thousand dollars. At the time neighbors considered the house an eyesore. The advertisement for the property read, “… a deluxe fixer-upper opportunity.” Frank didn’t see the aesthetic and structural problems when he looked at the old house. He saw potential and a bright future, but mostly he saw dollar signs.

Mr. Comeaux led a charmed life. Everything he touched turned into a good investment. There may have been something mystical about the phenomena, but the truth was that Frank saw the inherent value of things, and made good decisions. His judgment was so rarely incorrect that he earned a reputation among the merchants and traders who knew him. A lot of them called him “Four Leaf Frank,” but they never said those things in front of him.

By June of 1970 the bungalow on University Walk looked better than it had in decades. Frank Comeaux started a trend with the restoration of the old house. Real estate investors snapped up most of the other ramshackle residences in Spanish Town. They set about restoring the houses to their original splendor. The area became a popular place to live again, and the property values went through the ceiling. Frank was well pleased.

In the spring of 1978 Frank married a woman named Isabelle Mouton. They had been seeing each other for three years, but Isabelle finally got pregnant. Of course they didn’t tell anyone about that until after the wedding. Isabelle gave birth to an enormous, ten-pound baby boy. They named the child Louis, and they both loved him dearly. The marriage didn’t work out, however, and when Louis was two his parents divorced.

Children of divorced parents were a rarity when Frank and Isabelle were young, but it was no big deal by the time Louis came along. Louis grew up under relatively normal circumstances. He made good grades, and both of his parents were immensely proud of him. Louis eventually graduated from high school and went to LSU, where he majored in liberal arts. In 2003 he was struggling to find a career in his field when something terrible happened.

Louis’ parents, Frank and Isabelle, decided to get together for dinner and a couple of drinks. Louis could not understand how that happened in the first place; he only knew that it had. The former couple decided to go to a small Italian restaurant in one of the bohemian neighborhoods south of the university. The place was empty of customers when they got there. They went out early, which made their meeting seem all the more unusual, and which also explained the emptiness of the restaurant while they dined.

Two men entered the restaurant not long after Frank and Isabelle ordered. They walked toward the rear of the establishment, and were met by the solitary waiter on duty before they got to the kitchen. The two men drew guns and gunned down the waiter, who recognized them and was reaching for his own gun. Frank and Isabelle were shot next because they were witnesses. None of those victims were the intended target of the shooters. They were looking for the owner. Even as the two gunmen burst into the kitchen shooting, the owner opened fire with a fully automatic machine pistol. All three men went down bleeding heavily. The shoot-out left no survivors.

Exactly what happened in the restaurant never came to light. The police had a lot of ideas about the massacre, but they never found out the truth. The owner of the restaurant was Italian, but he had no ties to the Mafia. The shooters were both New Orleans Irishmen, cousins in fact, and the waiter was a black man. The two dead customers were mixed breed Cajuns. The blood bath was a virtual melting pot, and that fueled a lot of wild speculation. The truth was really quite simple.

The owner of the restaurant liked younger women, and he went out of his way to get what he wanted. He picked up a sixteen year old girl in the French Quarter shortly before the massacre. He impressed her with his money. In all fairness to the restaurateur, she did tell him she was nineteen, and she looked every bit of it. The two partied together, but the restaurateur got a little too rough. He left some bruises on the young girl’s neck.

When the young lady's brother saw the bruises the next day he demanded an answer. Her reluctance to respond led the young Irishman to believe that there was something he needed to know about, and he set about extracting the information from the reluctant girl. The knowledge drove her brother into an insane rage. He called up his cousin, and they drove to Baton Rouge to confront the restaurant owner.

The restaurateur had no idea he had done anything wrong until the two young Irishmen confronted him in his restaurant. They demanded an apology, but they didn’t get the response they wanted. They vowed to return and kill everyone in the restaurant. The owner and the waiter believed them, and armed themselves in preparation. The Irishmen carried out their threat while Frank and Isabelle were drinking Chianti and sharing lasagna. The cops never knew that, because the young lady never came forward. The police report concluded the shooting was “drug related.”

Louis grandparents had all died while he was a child. Both of Louis’ parents were relatively advanced in age before he was born. Frank, Isabelle and Louis comprised the entirety of the Comeaux family. When his parents were taken from him, Louis found himself at a total loss. Nothing could have prepared him for the event. The brutal reality washed over him in waves, and all of the oxygen went out of his body. He collapsed when he was told the news. The homicide detectives who told him cursed and called for an ambulance. They hated having to tell loved ones about murders.

Louis was devastated by the news of his parents’ murder. He had lots and lots of grief, and no one to turn to for comfort. Louis had a few close friends, but in the face of the despair those friendships seemed meaningless. He isolated himself from the world, and divorced himself from reality.

He went through the motions of burying his parents like a machine. Frank and Isabelle both had lots of friends and acquaintances, and the funeral was a major event. Every single one of those people tried to comfort Louis, until he wanted to scream and vomit and obliterate everything from the face of the earth.

Louis didn’t wait for the funeral to be over to get wasted. He went ahead and drank himself into oblivion while the pastor prayed over the dead bodies. He drifted in and out of consciousness in the limousine on the way to the cemetery, and afterward he had no recollection of the actual burials. Frank and Isabelle were buried side by side, both because they had never remarried, and because it was easier for Louis to do it that way. He totally did not care what anyone thought or felt about that.

A few days after the funeral Louis found out he didn’t make it to the burial ceremony. His friends thought it best to leave him in the limousine, as he was drunk beyond the lines of reason. He imagined some of his parents’ friends had a low opinion of him after that, and he wished he knew which ones so he could call them up. Louis was not in a good place at the time, and the places he was going were even worse.

When the Comeauxs were murdered on May 7th, 2003, Louis lived in an apartment not far from LSU. The first thing he did after the tragedy was move back into the bungalow in Spanish Town, primarily so that nobody could break in and steal everything. The second thing he did was move everything out of his mother’s Garden District home and into the Seventh Street bungalow, also for security reasons. As soon as those two major feats were accomplished, Louis settled down with drugs and alcohol to do some serious grieving. He decided to quit his job and live off of his inheritance for a while, which would leave him free to kill brain cells as often as he liked.

In the middle of June Louis lost all faith in the power of whiskey and marijuana. He woke up with splitting headaches every morning, and more often than not spent hours puking his guts out. Louis reasoned to himself that there had to be a better way. He put the word out with a couple of his shadier acquaintances that he was in the market for heavier drugs. Louis didn’t have much experience with drug addicts or drug dealers, so there was no way for him to know how fast he would get a response. Within twenty-four hours he had a substantial amount of heroin at his disposal, and “friends” lined up around the block to do it with.

The first time Louis did heroin he got violently ill, and spent most of the evening in the bathroom. Louis thought the uncontrollable vomiting was the most pleasurable thing he had ever experienced, and he hoped it would last forever. He was delighted to find that after his body acclimatized he could experience all of the pleasure without all of the nausea. The intensity of the physical high shocked him, but it wasn’t the physical pleasure that lured Louis into the depths of hopeless addiction. The wonderful dreamy way he no longer cared about anything appealed to him more than life itself. Louis wanted to be anesthetized to the world permanently, and heroin did that job very well. All he had to do was spend huge amounts of money so as not to run out. As long as he did that, he didn’t think or feel anything.

A year went by like nothing. Louis’ small inheritance was gone, and he had sold off most of the valuable contents of the bungalow. That was when Louis experienced withdrawal for the first time. After a year of heavy usage the withdrawal was a lot like being beaten, cast into a freezer, pulled out and placed in a boiling cauldron, and then beaten and frozen again. Louis did not handle it well. Nobody could have handled it. On top of the overwhelming physical discomfort was the ever-present awareness that he had thrown away everything his parents accumulated in the course of their lifetimes. Louis decided that no matter what he had to do, the withdrawal had to be stopped, and drying out never seemed like an option.

Louis became an expert shoplifter. He would hit the Dumpsters behind big retail stores late at night in search of cash receipts. The next morning he would shoplift the items on the receipts. After shift change at the stores he would return his shoplifted items for cash. At large department stores such a thing could go unnoticed for a long time, if not forever. Louis managed to stay loaded for months off of the proceeds from his criminal activities.

In November of 2004 things began to unravel for Louis Comeaux. All of his drug-addicted associates abandoned him as soon as he ran out of money to share drugs. His older, law-abiding friends quit spending time with him early on, when it became apparent that Louis intended to destroy himself at all costs. Louis was genuinely and totally alone.

The lights and water to the bungalow got cut off. Louis found that he didn’t care the least bit. He did take the step of running an illegal extension cord. His theft of electricity led him to darken all of his windows, lest someone become suspicious of the source of the power. It was during that period that Louis also gave up on cleaning up the house, or leading any sort of sane existence.

One time Louis got caught shoplifting at a bookstore on the eastern edge of the city. Louis was always intensely aware of the video cameras in stores when he stole things, but one morning he made a mistake. He had a cash receipt for a seventy-dollar book, but the book was enormous. He managed to get the book into his pants before he realized that he was going to get caught attempting to walk out with the monstrosity. While he was pulling the volume out of his pants to return it to the shelf, Louis’ actions were caught by a video camera. The video camera happened to be manned by an on-duty Baton Rouge Police Officer, who saw enough to know what had happened.

Shoplifting was considered a relatively minor offense, and Louis expressed remorse for his actions. The policeman decided to issue Louis a citation rather than drag him all the way to the Parish Prison. Louis had a clean record prior to the incident, but the cop let him go because it was less of a hassle than driving all the way to the jail. The cop decided to take a coffee break after he issued the summons. Seeing good kids strung out on drugs and committing crimes always got him depressed. He doubted Louis would learn his lesson, but then it would be someone else’s problem.

Louis thanked his lucky stars he could get into his car and drive away. He jetted down the street to another bookstore, walked in with a big shopping bag and walked out with the book he failed to secure the first time. Rather than slow him down, the shoplifting summons caused him to be more brazen with his criminal behavior. After all, he had finally gotten caught, and the experience was no big deal. Heroin could turn a genius into a mentally handicapped child, and it had done that to Louis. Always in the forefront of his awareness was the knowledge that he had to come up with close to one hundred dollars that day. If not, then withdrawal would set in, and the depths of hell would come roiling to the surface of reality.

On any given day, after Louis secured the necessary funds, he made a beeline for his heroin dealer in North Baton Rouge. Louis lost all of his friends because of his self-destructive behavior, but he was pretty sure his drug dealers would always stand by him. He had the most loyal friends money could buy, as long as he had the money.

A nondescript two-story house in Old Fairfields served as a central meeting point for the largest ring of opiate dealers and addicts in the city. Everyone who went there called it “the big house.” Every opiate dealer in Baton Rouge eventually crossed the threshold. Baton Rouge was strange in that respect. In a city with a quarter of a million people, everybody still knew everybody.

The gravel driveway to the house led under two gnarly live oaks. Two well-dressed black men stood under the limbs of the tree closest to the house. They were there to screen visitors, and to keep watch for the police. They would raise the alarm if anyone suspicious approached the house. The dealers who spent time there knew better than to be caught with their pants down. The police raided the house on a regular basis, but arrests at the location were rare. Practical experience had taught everyone involved how to get away with his or her vices.

Louis immediately recognized the two guys under the tree. The house belonged to a crippled black woman in her late sixties. Her name was Bessie Jackson, and she was the most powerful person in the Baton Rouge opiate underground. One of the men standing watch by the driveway was her oldest son, James Jackson, and next to him was Bessie’s oldest grandson, Latrelle Jackson. They nodded at Louis when he got out of his car.

“Back again, Louis? You need to take a few days off. Get you something to eat for a change,” James told him politely. Since James first met Louis, the young white man had lost fifty pounds or more. Louis looked a lot like a concentration camp survivor, and the sight of him made the Jackson men wince.

“I eat plenty, James. I’m just active,” Louis replied.

Latrelle almost fell out laughing. “James was trying to be polite, white boy. I bet you couldn’t run fifty yards without falling down. You look bad, Louis. You look really bad,” Latrelle observed, all traces of humor leaving his voice.

“I’m okay, man. I’m out of shape, but I’m okay,” Louis put up defensively.

“We’re just trying to help you, Louis. You’re a good guy. I like you. You won’t be any good to anyone dead, though, man. Try to take better care of yourself,” James told him kindly. “Go on in. I’m sure Bessie knew you would be coming through.”

Louis didn’t say anything else as he plodded heavily across the yard to the front porch of the house. The door opened before he could knock on it. Bessie saw him drive up. The old black woman gave him an appraising look before she let him enter. Neither one of them said anything while she closed the door behind him.

Bessie wore a white dress with black polka dots that might as well have been pulled out of a time capsule from the 1950’s. Her hair was always styled into a medium sized hive on top of her head, and her nails always showed a fresh manicure. She looked like a respectable church going grandmother, and she was. That she made a living selling heroin and coordinating a large drug ring seemed like something out of the twilight zone. The implausible nature of the truth went far to concealing the depth of her criminal actions.

The interior of the house was dark and cold. Down the front hall Louis could see a light shining in the living room. Dozens of family photographs hung on the walls of the hallway. Generations of the Jackson family stared at him amiably from behind the glass of the picture frames.

“Come on in here, Louis. I need to talk to you.” Bessie motioned for him to go down the hall.

“How are you today, Bessie?” Louis asked nervously.

“I don’t want to talk about me, Louis. You know damned well I’m doing fine, same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. I want to talk about you, Louis.”

The two entered the small living room, the walls of which were lined with an array of comfortable chairs and sofas. Louis was startled by the sight of a beautiful young white woman relaxing in a recliner next to the room’s only window. The woman looked at him with slight interest before she turned her head to look out the window. Louis couldn’t take his eyes off of her for a second, until Bessie’s voice brought him back to reality.

“I’m cutting you off, Louis. You’re about as close to death as anyone I’ve every seen before. I won’t have your death on my conscience. I’ll hook you up for today, but it’s the last time until you get your shit together,” Bessie informed him matter-of-factly.

Panic welled up inside of him. Louis knew of no other place to go to get what he needed. He had met lots of dealers at Bessie’s house, but he knew that without her okay he wouldn’t be able to get anything from any of them. He felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him, but only for a moment. He became very irritated.

“What do you mean you’re cutting me off? You can’t do that. You run a business, and I’m one of the customers,” Louis objected loudly.

“Don’t you ever tell me what I can and can’t do. You keep a respectful tone with me, or I’ll cut you off without giving you anything. If you stop and think for a second, then you’ll see that what I’m doing is for your own good. I’m not in the business of killing people, Louis. God knows I do a lot of things that are wrong, but I don’t intentionally kill people. If I let you keep going you’re as good as dead. Today is the last day you’ll get anything from this house,” vowed Bessie.

Louis took a deep breath in an attempt to calm down. He hoped that the old lady would listen to reason. “You know what will happen to me if I stop cold turkey, Bessie. I haven’t gone two days without it in over a year. I’ll get so sick I might die anyway. Please don’t do that to me.”

Bessie reached into her pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper. There was a phone number written on it. She extended the piece of paper to Louis. He took it gently from her hand, unable to conceal his curiosity.

“That’s not a number for a drug dealer, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s the front desk at the methadone clinic. Make an appointment immediately, Louis. Methadone won’t solve your problems, but it will keep you from getting deathly ill,” Bessie offered sympathetically.

“What do they do there? I mean, they won’t try to put me away or something, will they?”

“No, sugar. The receptionist will schedule you to see a doctor. The doctor will give you a blood test and a physical examination. All they do is help serious opiate addicts. They’ll give you the kind of help you need.”

Louis decided Bessie was right. He never thought that his drug connection would intervene in his addiction. He suddenly realized that Bessie was the closest friend he had left. The fact that she cared so much touched a place inside of him that he forgot existed. A couple of tears streamed down his cheeks.

“Oh, no. I am not about to let you get all weepy here in my living room. Dry your tears, young man. I’m glad to see you’re still human in there, but I have better things to do than watch you get emotional,” Bessie admonished him in a lighthearted tone.

Louis laughed nervously and wiped the tears from his cheeks. “I’m sorry about that. You caught me off guard here this morning. Well, one last time then…” he trailed off nervously with a glance in the direction of the girl by the window.

“Don’t worry about her, Louis. Allow me to introduce you two. Louis, this is Paula. Paula, this is the guy I was telling you about,” Bessie said with a twinkle in her eye.

Paula extended her hand to him from the recliner, and Louis took a couple of steps over to shake it delicately. Once again he was struck by the intensity of her beauty. He studied her more closely after releasing her hand. Paula had long, straight hair that was a deep, lustrous red. She had bright green eyes that gleamed with intelligence, but betrayed no hint of her emotions. She studied him just as closely at the same time.

They smiled at each other. Louis felt awkward. He hadn’t been with a woman since he got strung out on heroin. He was too busy wallowing in despair and self-loathing to clean up his act for a woman. He had also reasoned that any woman who would be interested in a heroin addict probably wouldn’t appeal to him. Looking at Paula he knew that she was the kind of woman he would change his entire life for.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Louis. Bessie told me a lot of things about you,” Paula said sweetly.

The sound of Paula’s voice touched Louis’ ears like the soft music of angels, and for a moment he couldn’t respond. The sound of Bessie quietly shuffling out of the room behind him broke the spell. “It’s nice to meet you too, Paula.” Louis berated himself silently. His own voice struck him as weak and insecure.

“Won’t you sit down so I can talk to you, Louis? Like I said, I’ve heard a lot about you. I’d like to hear what you have to say.”

Louis sat down next to her and attempted to act nonchalant. He instantly wanted to know more about her, but he didn’t want to seem overeager. “I feel that I am at a disadvantage, Paula. You seem to know things about me, but I don’t know anything about you. How do you know Bessie?” It was a loaded question.

“I’m not one of her customers, if that’s what you want to know. But don’t worry. I am not a judgmental person. To answer your question, Bessie looked after me when I was a child. She used to work for my family, a long time ago. I come and visit her quite often. Bessie means a lot to me, despite the things she has gotten involved in. Do you know how she came to be in the position she’s in now?”

“No. I guess I’ve been too self centered to ever wonder about it.”

“Well, it’s not my place to gossip about her life. You won’t find out from me, but you should know that Bessie Jackson is a good woman, Louis. The fact that she cares more about you than your money should clue you in to that.”

“I was quite touched by her concern. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. I’m a mess,” Louis admitted. It was the first time he ever openly discussed his drug problem. In the past he had gone to extreme lengths to avoid the discussion. Something about Paula made him feel he could talk to her, though, and he relaxed into his chair.

“I heard about what happened to your parents. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been, but destroying your own life only compounds the tragedy, Louis. There’s a lot to live for. You may have lost your parents, but at least they were there for you while you were growing up. A lot of people don’t have that luxury,” Paula remarked critically.

“The problem is that I have already ruined my life. I went through my entire inheritance. My house is trashed, and basically unlivable. I’m soon to have a criminal record. My life is totally screwed.”

“You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t even know you, but I think I could like you if you crawled out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself. As long as you’re alive there’s still time to change. Snap out of it, Louis. Rejoin the world of the living. It’s not so bad from where I’m sitting.”

“Will you go out with me if I can get my life straight?” Louis asked her pointedly. He couldn’t believe he had the courage to ask her out. The sound of the words surprised him.

Paula looked at him for a long time before she answered, and when she did she used her words very carefully. “If you can kick the habit, get your house in order, put on twenty pounds of muscle mass and get a job, then yes. If you do those things, then I will go out with you.”

“There’s something to live for after all. Give me your number. I will call you when I have fulfilled your list of requirements.”

“Are you serious, or are you making light of the things I said?”

“I’m more serious about seeing you than I have ever been about anything before. You are like a vision, Paula. I think I could do anything to be with you.”

“Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say, Louis. I knew you were a sweet boy underneath that famous self-pity,” she said, the sweetness returning to her voice.

She reached down next to the recliner and came up with her purse. She dug for a couple of seconds before producing a pen and a tiny notepad. She wrote down her name and number, and handed the paper to Louis.

“Louis, I have one thing to say.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t call me if you can’t get off of drugs. I don’t want any junkies in my life. The only reason I’m going to give you the tiniest chance is because I think you had a good excuse for getting strung out originally. I don’t care about that, though. I don’t want to have anything to do with you until you get straight. Is that clear?”

“I understand completely. I’m shocked you even gave me your number. I promise I won’t waste your time,” Louis said with reverent sincerity.

“I must be crazy. I’ve always been a sucker for a cute guy. Don’t make me regret talking to you,” Paula warned him sternly one last time. Her eyes told a different story, though. Somehow she looked predatory as her glances roamed over his body.

Bessie reentered the room as if she had been waiting for their conversation to end. She carried a small paper packet in her right hand. She shuffled over to where Louis sat and handed it to him. He took it from her, and pulled his money out of his pocket.

“Keep your money, Louis. You’re going to need it to get through the next few days. After all the thousands of dollars you have spent with me, I won’t miss this last little bit.”

“Thank you, Ms. Jackson. I won’t forget this.”

“I bet you won’t. Now get the hell out of here. You scare away all my regular people.”

He reached out his hand and touched Paula on the knee. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Paula. I’ll be in touch.”

“Just remember what I said, Louis,” Paula emphasized one last time.

"Close the front door behind you,” Bessie hollered at his back as he made his way down the hall.

One step out into the sunlight from the dark interior of the house may as well have been a trip through a dimensional portal. Outside the harshness of reality impressed itself upon Louis’ awareness from every direction. He found himself alone in a drug trafficking area, carrying a packet of heroin given to him by a drug dealer who wouldn’t sell to him anymore. The sound of sirens careened down the street toward him, but they didn’t have anything to do with Louis’ situation. The sirens merely reminded him of all the world’s random dangers.

James and Latrelle had moved off to the side of the front yard. They didn’t return his feeble wave as he got into his car to drive away. Louis couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. The more he thought about it the worse the feeling got. By the time he pulled out into the street everything felt wrong. The weight of the world crashed down upon his shoulders, and Louis knew he didn’t have the strength to bear the weight. He squeezed the packet tight in his palm and sped toward his sweltering rat nest to make himself feel well again.

The memory of Paula’s eyes lingered in Louis’ mind as he fixed up the heroin he got from Bessie. He felt totally unsure of his own will. He experienced a brief surge of confidence in his power to quit while he was with Paula. That confidence totally vanished after he was alone in the Spanish Town bungalow. He decided he would deal with his problem after he used up all of the tar.

Once the needle was loaded Louis took off his belt and tied off his arm. Sometimes it took him upward of a dozen attempts to hit a vein. The long months of abuse had left most of his veins either collapsed or callused. He stabbed the needle into his arm repeatedly, searching for the telltale sign of blood that indicated a hit. Finally, after what felt like eons of self-mutilation, Louis got the drug into his bloodstream. He leaned back onto his bed to enjoy the throbbing rush of wellness.

The dimly lit room darkened even more, and softened as Louis’ pupils contracted down to pinpoints. Louis enjoyed the effect heroin had on his vision immensely. It was like all of the room’s rough edges had been smoothed out. He sighed as a brief wave of nausea passed through his stomach, leaving the feeling of a fresh orgasm behind in its wake. Louis burrowed into the mattress and moved his limbs languidly across the fabric of his dirty sheets. It felt like he was caressing the clouds of heaven.

Somewhere in a hidden corner of Louis’ brain a sickening black lump of evil began burrowing through to his throat in an attempt to escape into the world. By the time he became aware of the evil its tentacles were already squiggling out between his teeth. Louis gagged as the lump dragged itself out of his throat and through his mouth. He writhed and flailed on the bed while the black, viscous mass oozed down his chin, until finally the gelatinous substance vacated his body entirely.

Louis heaved his guts out onto the floor again and again, cursing Bessie in his certainty that she had given him a hotshot. He could still taste the dark oily substance, and the horror of the taste threatened to rend the last shreds of sanity from his mind. When the taste of vomit finally overpowered the residue in Louis’ throat and mouth, his stomach calmed and the uncontrollable spasms subsided. He suspected that he might live through the experience. He wondered what Bessie put in his dope.

The desire to inspect whatever it was that had come out of him overrode his desire to remain quivering in the fetal position. He rolled over onto his side and gazed in the direction of the substance he had heaved out onto the floor. What he saw there caused him to scrabble backwards across his bed and rise shakily to his feet.

The lump of evil lay right there on the floor where it escaped from Louis body. It glowed with the color of rotting flesh, and it was getting bigger. The small tentacles it used to pry itself out of Louis’ throat lengthened and changed shape slowly. The rest of the black mass throbbed and shuddered with increasing violence as it expanded into an almost recognizable shape.

A strangled scream wrenched itself out of Louis’ vocal cords. He lost control of his legs and crashed to the floor. He dragged himself backward to lean against the wall behind him, trying desperately to get his breathing under control. Louis decided he was hallucinating, and calmed himself with the knowledge that everything would return to normal eventually. He could not have been more mistaken.

The glowing black lump on the floor began to take on the shape of a person. As the features became more distinctly human the violent throbbing and shuddering decreased in intensity. The rotten flesh colored glow vanished moments later. The shape on the floor had become a beautiful obsidian man. The man was so devoid of color he could never have been mistaken for a normal human being. The obsidian being sat up and looked around the room. His eyes were blood red, and he smiled when he saw Louis. His teeth, oddly enough, were sparkling white.

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Related written works at Angelfire, Sex Symbols, Cymbals of Silence.Repent or Die