The music cuts out and everyone stops dancing. The girl in front of him removes his hands from her waste and disappears into the crowd. As if from a distance, Richie hears the owner of the house, thanking people for coming to his party. He stumbles his way into the hallway. He passes a bedroom with the door cracked open. Inside are three women in tight skirts and crop tops. The one with blonde hair, dyed but with the roots still showing, has one end of a dollar bill against the tabletop and the other tight against her nose. Reaching the bathroom door, Richie feels the familiar pull to use. But he knows that it isn’t coke that he’s craving. He fumbles for the doorknob and finds it unlatched. He pushes his way in and shuts the door behind him before turning on the lights. He stands hunched in front of the mirror with both hands around the edge of the sink. He looks up into his own face, trying to ignore the bags under his eyes and the color missing from his cheeks. He glances down at the cuff of his shirt. He’s wearing a grey Henley, one button undone, with just a tuft of chest hair sticking out of the top. He wants to look. Needs to look, but he’s afraid. He closes his eyes and slowly rolls up the right sleeve. He takes a deep breath and stares down at himself. Richie’s arm would convince any ER nurse in Chicago to admit him immediately, but he greets it with a sigh of relief. It doesn’t look any different than it did when he straggled home at 5 o’clock this morning. Perfectly normal from his shoulder to the top of his bicep, the area around his elbow is a panorama of purple and green coloring. Below the elbow you can see two distinct veins, also a dark green color, extending all the way to his wrist. He pressed the tips of two fingers around the crease in his elbow, wincing at the surge of pain that extends up his arm. “Fuck this” he said, turning to leave the bathroom. It wasn’t the pain that disturbed him, it was the hard lump that he felt just beneath his skin. Wrenching the door open, he escaped back into the party. People were starting to leave. It seemed like a third of the people in the living room had already cleared out. He saw the girl he was dancing with pass through the back door with another group of guys. Sensing that the night was moving away from him, Richie followed them out the door and into the night.
“What the hell?” he thought as he approached his stoop, “nothing ventured nothing gained.” He read his text to Kiley while he fiddled with his keys. “Hey r you tying to com over? We can juss cuddle” Message delivered but not read. Ugh, if she didn’t get back soon, he’d probably crash before she got here. He’d gotten shit from a girl before after he left her outside all night while he slept off a bender on the living room couch. Feeling the key catch the lock, he turned the handled and opened the front door. He headed straight for his bedroom, shedding his shoes and hoody in the entryway. But passing by the living room he stopped dead in his tracks, like a coonhound who has just picked up a scent. Knowing exactly where his gaze would lead, he scanned the living room, coming to rest on the glass coffee table in front of the tv. He never left his drugs out. That’s how you ended up robbed, broke, or arrested. His friend Dan once had a dog eat $2,000 worth of Mollie and they ended up having to bury the thing in the grassy area behind the high rise. But this wasn’t normal shit, was it? Shuddering with the thought, Richie felt himself take one small step into the living room, then another, then a third. Before he knew it, he was seated on his couch with the coffee table in front of him.
His hands shook as he reached towards the baggie. To a non-smoker it could have been the remnants of a dime-bag, but Richie knew better. As he melted the contents of the bag unto a spoon, his mouth began to salivate. By the time he was ready to inject he was dribbling spit unto the table in front of him. He hardly noticed, nor did he notice the fact that his entire body seemed to be undergoing a chemical reaction. His palms were sweating, he had aches in his legs that stretched all the way to the tips of his toes, his eyes were watering and his dick was rock hard. He had a moment to think “what the hell is this stuff??” right before he placed the needle against the crux of his elbow, left one this time. Richie started doing real drugs when he was 16. He’d been smoking weed ever since he found the joint in his stepdad’s dresser when he was 13, so when he was offered some coke at a college party out of town, it didn’t seem like a big deal. And when you do enough drugs, you run into your share of addicts. He’d seen it all over the past 6 years: tweekers, crackheads, heroin users. He’d seen how it affected peoples mind, how it could change the personality of someone he’d known his entire life. Richie never thought of himself as an addict. When someone uses heroin, their mind goes blank when that needle comes out. All that matters is their fix, that close to the sauce, they don’t for an instant think about how that needle is going to fuck up their body. But this wasn’t like that. Richie knew he’d found something the moment that first high hit. He left three messages on Taylor’s machine the night after his veins turned green. And the other morning…. He stopped himself. He wouldn’t think about it, he couldn’t. He felt the serum surge through his system. All at once, he felt his muscles simultaneously relax, and a slow trickle of urine ran down his leg. Staring up at the ceiling fan, he felt himself drift away, leaving an empty husk in his place.
Never the most articulate of fellas, Richie couldn’t have explained the sensation if he tried. It was like being in utero. He felt wet, surrounded by liquid, but a substance that was neither cool nor uncomfortable. He wasn’t swimming, he was floating, without any sense of weight above or below him. Despite the intense green color around him, Richie left his eyes open. He didn’t feel the need to strain to see behind him, there was nothing to see. Only him and the green. With other highs, the world constantly shifted around you, moving you from image to image with no concept of time or memory. The green wasn’t like that, it was all encompassing, it was him, it was everything. It started abruptly, and could end just as abruptly. The last time he came out…no, he wouldn’t think about that here. Bang bang bang. He felt his revelry shift. “Wait, no. What’s happening?” he thought. Beginning to panic. Bang bang bang. The green was dimming. No, he wasn’t ready. Bang bang bang. “Richie, c’mon it’s cold out here. I thought you said I could stay over.” His mind grasped who it was, and with that, the green was gone. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling fan above him. “Dude this isn’t fucking cool.” He heard from outside. “Yeah, I’m coming.” He said, his voice only slightly raspy. He rubbed his eyes with his right hand. He meant to do the same with his left, but it didn’t move. It must have fallen asleep while he was out. He put his hand on the coffee stable and pulled himself up. His butt got a few inches off of the couch before he felt himself tugged back. His arm was stuck on something, the left one. With an overwhelming sense of dread, Richie moved his gaze from the carpet, up the side of the couch, and towards his arm. Well…where his arm used to be.
His scream lasted only a second before Richie was able to shove a hand into his mouth. The right one, the one that still resembled a hand. “Hello. Richie is that you?” The voice outside didn’t seem mad anymore, it sounded scared. He couldn’t blame her; Richie was having his own case of the panics at the moment. He shuffled into his bedroom. He needed help. A hospital? What the fuck could they do for him? He didn’t think that this was featured in your typical edition of Good Health Daily. He pushed open the door to his room and staggered inside, subconsciously avoiding the full-length mirror that hung from his closet. Richie grabbed a hoody from his dresser, one of his favorites, black with a picture of Khalid across the front. He instinctively headed for the front door but stopped when he saw the shadows cast by the porch light. Kiley had gone silent. He couldn’t risk running into her, running into anyone like this. He eased towards the back door, careful to avoid the creaky section of carpet at the entrance to his bathroom. The back porch was dark, with long shadows cast across the small patch of grass and into the concrete driveway of the adjoining unit. He pulled the hoody over his head and right arm, grimacing at the stiffness he felt when he tried to pull it over his left. Unable to force it through the sleeve like a dead limb… (ha, limb), he let it hang at his side. He still didn’t have feeling below his shoulder. The empty sleeve hung limply beside his body. He put his hood up, opened the door, and escaped into the night.
Richie started from his house at a brisk walk. It was a little more than a mile to Taylors house. Through mostly quiet streets and across one interstate. But he was jogging before the got to the end of his own block, and by the time he reached the first stop sign, he was in a dead sprint through the night. Taylor, Taylor, got to talk to Taylor. His whispered pleas quickly turned into a ritual chant. Taylor will know what to do. Richie had seen him mix drugs like he was Alfred Nobel, he’d seen him look at a kid who was ODing and say “he needs a hospital” or “nah, let him sleep it off,” and every time he had been spot on. Taylor had given him the stuff. He’d had to pay for it of course. But Taylor had told him how good the fucking high was. How cheap he could get it, bought off of some weirdo hippie in the valley. And the first time it’d been good. He had the bruises around his elbow and the green tracks down his arm, but nothing he couldn’t cover with a sweatshirt. He hadn’t even waited three hours to try again, but that time…Richie shook his head to clear the thoughts away. His left arm felt heavy against his side, and sweat was pouring onto his face. Just have to get to Taylor’s. He’ll know what to do. He lowered his head and pushed harder up the sidewalk, ignoring the pain in his side. But as he settled into his run, the images from the night before came unbidden into his mind.
Richie was surprised by how quickly the hunger took him. He left Taylor’s house feeling good. He didn’t have the post-coke grogginess. If anything, being in the green had refreshed him, like waking up from the best night’s sleep after a night of chugging Pedialyte. As he bounded up the steps of his porch, he felt an extra spring in his step that he hadn’t felt in years. He walked in the front door, shut the latch behind him, and threw his keys on the hallway table. He moved into the living room, absent mindedly turning on the tv as he lowered himself to the couch. Navigating the tv remote with his right hand, his left reached into his back pocket and pulled out the padded envelope that Taylor had given him. He just wanted to look at it. How long before this was THE hottest drug on the east side? But once he unwrapped the package, everything snowballed. He felt his hands grow moist as he pulled a handful of buds from the individual wrapped packages. He felt his mouth go dry as he sucked them up into the needle. And he felt his heart race as he put the needle into his skin and pushed the plunger.
He came to with a smile on his face. Any high can be good the first time, the good shit gets you every.single.time you take it. He was sitting in the center of the couch, leaning back into the cushions with his head resting against the top. He stared at the ceiling fan above him for a few minutes, enjoying how light his muscles felt. He put his hand over his eyes, trying to regain his bearings. He felt something touch his ear and he brushed it away. He leaned forward and reached for the remote on the coffee table. His breath caught in his throat and he froze, half perched on the edge of the couch. He saw his hand a few inches from the remote. And connected to his hand was his wrist and forearm, both with an angry green tint. But for a moment Richie could not comprehend what lay higher on his arm. In the crook of his elbow, was a stick. Maybe six inches long. No, not a stick. A branch. This wasn’t a dead piece of wood. It was green and vibrant, with three offshoots at the end and little leaves protruding from the base near his arm. Richie realized he had been holding his breath and he greedily sucked in a mouthful of air. His next breath rushed out of him in an angry scream, filled with fear for what had happened to him, and hunger for something, anything, that would make him forget.
When Richie finally saw Taylors condo, it was through a thin veil of tears. He stopped in front of the stoop and put down his hood. Drug dealers didn’t like to get surprised by someone they didn’t recognize. He wiped his eyes and pushed last night out of his mind. He ended up cutting the branch from his arm with a hedge trimmer, snipping it at the base like it was a troublesome toenail. For the rest of the day he watched his arm, hoping, praying that it wouldn’t grow back. And it hadn’t. But now… He felt the arm beneath his hoody. He felt a whimper escape his lips. He waited a few moments until his breathing had steadied, walked up the three steps to Taylor’s porch, and knocked on the yellow siding next to the door.
Silence inside. Richie stared at the closed screen door, fighting off the feeling of panic that he had just overcome. Just below eye level were two dead flies who had gotten stuck in the mesh of the door. He looked at them as he knocked again. Nothing. He looked around for a doorbell but didn’t see anything. He stepped to the left and tried to peer into the window which looked out unto the porch. It was too dark. He couldn’t make out anything besides the square of window on the other side of the living room. This couldn’t be happening. He wrenched open the screen and knocked on the interior door. Hard. He felt a quick jolt of pain in the meaty party of his hand. He had to get in. He fumbled for the door knob with his left hand. Got a firm grip. The knob turned easily and the door swung inward. In his panic, Richie took a step into the doorway, but then froze cold. No. This was all wrong. Taylor. Drug dealer Taylor. Had he ever seen his door unlocked like this. Sure, when Taylor was home. If they were all on the porch smoking joints and playing Kings, but when the house was all dark like this? Nah, never.
Richie weighed his options. He couldn’t go home. Not like this. This wasn’t like last time, who knew if things would get worse. He could wait on the porch until Taylor got home. How long would that take? Hours? Longer? Maybe Taylor was asleep upstairs, maybe Richie could find some sign of where he’d gone. Taking solace in the idea, Richie started down the long downstairs hallway. Taylor’s townhouse had a weird layout. The downstairs started with a small room right by the front door, and then a stairway on your right that led to the second floor. In the middle was a long hallway that led past a bathroom and into the kitchen. The kitchen was where Taylor did “business.” The kitchen windows faced out into the back lawn which was quiet, less likely to have someone eavesdropping than in the front of the house along a crowded street. Richie headed towards the kitchen now. Pictures of Taylor with his brother and three sisters lined the walls of the hallway. The smell hit him before he was three feet from the kitchen doorway. It smelled…wet. Like mildew, like a swamp, like a bag of vegetables you’ve left in the fridge for too long. The closest thing Richie could think of was when they had kept bacteria in 7th grade science class. They put food in jars and kept track of how quickly the bacteria was growing. One day, his partner dared Richie to open the jar and smell it. The stench was so bad he had gagged. This was more subtle than that, but more pervasive. Like the smell had escaped its confined space and had a chance to seep into the pores of the walls around him.
Richie used his left hand to pull his shirt over his nose and stepped through the doorway and into the kitchen. It was a mess. People think of drug dealers as your typical loser dropouts, but these guys are smart. They’re savvy, they’re careful, they’re ORGANIZED. Taylor refused to let his girl unload the dishwasher because she would sometimes put things in the wrong place. Richie had been in this kitchen before, and it was immaculate. The room he walked into now put a frat house after party to shame. To the left of the doorway was a garbage that was tipped over. The table, normally empty except for a few pieces of mail was piled high. Richie saw a scale, some money, what looked like a couple of pill bottles, just laying out for anyone to see. The cabinet beside the sink was ajar, and it looked like half of its contents had made their way to the floor. Something was very wrong here. Richie’s blood began to pump louder in his ears. Gotta go. Now!
He started backing out of the room. His foot caught on the edge of the garbage can lid and he stumbled backwards. He grabbed unto one of the kitchen table chairs for support. He expected to feel the woods coolness against his palm. Instead, he felt something warm. Warm, wet, and spongy. He somehow managed to keep his footing and his momentum pulled the chair towards him. He slowly lifted his hand and saw a green residue on the back of the chair. He pulled his hand away and a trail of good followed it, connecting him to the chair. HIs hand looked…it looked mossy. Like he had stuck it in an algae filled fish tank and ran it along the sides of the glass. Richie felt his stomach turn. He whirled around and lurched into the hallway. His stomach heaved. He pushed his way into the bathroom, backhanding the light switch as he fell into the toilet. Richie’s stomach lurched again and this time he gave into it. He’d barely eaten that day, but he felt the remnants of his stomach purge themselves into the toilet. He retched maybe four times before his insides began to settle.
He opened his eyes and wiped the spittle away from his mouth. The interior of the toilet was stained yellow from his bile. But out of the corner of his eye, Richie saw a green spot on the edge of the toilet seat. Pushing himself up, he saw another spot close to the handle of the toilet. He felt his chest clench. This mark was more discernible. It looked like series of fingerprints. Like someone with stained hands had fumbled with the handle. He pushed himself up from the toilet and whirled around. There, right behind him, was a face. He couldn’t call it a man, not anymore. He saw Taylor’s nose, his eyes, his lips, the stud in his left eyebrow. But past the face was a solid mass of grey-brown coloring. It looked like someone had cast a molding of Taylor’s face and glued it to the base of a tree. But Richie knew better. He tried to scream but it came out only as a whistle. He backed slowly out of the bathroom. Unable to take his eyes off of the frozen features of his friend. He felt the heel of his shoe come into contact with the soft carpet of the hallway, and with that, he bolted. Down the hallway, through the entryway, headlong through the front door, and out into the night.
He didn’t stop until he was at the bus stop on the corner of his street. There, Richie’s body finally collapsed into a heap, drenched with sweat. His lungs felt like they were going to explode. His calves and thighs ached. The distance he traveled between here and Taylor’s house were mostly a blur. He had been weaving in and out of the city streets. Ignoring peoples calls to him from their porches and the honks of impatient drivers who he cut in front of. Where he was running to, he didn’t know. He only knew what he was running from. No matter how hard he ran, he couldn’t escape Taylor’s frozen features. Richie’s subconscious led him home, or almost home. Looking at the dirty white siding of his duplex, he didn’t know if he could actually go inside. What awaited him there? A life with one arm? He hadn’t even acknowledged his frozen arm as he ran, but now he noticed that it was more flexible than it had been an hour earlier. He cautiously lifted up his sweatshirt, forcing himself to look at what was underneath. The relief was so immense it was staggering. No, he wasn’t fixed. He still looked like he stuck his arm in a green and purple tye-dye bucket, but the hard wooden quality was gone. The branches were also gone. They had either molded away or been brushed off while he was running. Either way, he was returning to normal. He had a way out.
With a renewed sense of optimism, he walked up the steps to his house, and pulled the latch. A note was tucked inside the screen door. “Fuck you. Don’t call me again.” Kiley. How sweet. He walked into his living room and plopped down on the couch. Richie felt the last few hours hit him, and he was swept by a wave of exhaustion. He forced himself to stay awake. What the fuck was he going to do? Call an ambulance? Would the doctors be able to fix him? Would they even know what was going on? Taylor was the only person he knew who knew about this stuff and no…oh god, Taylor. Fuck, he was gone. Richie didn’t need to be doctor to know that his friend was gone, that he had taken things too far. He wasn’t going to revert back like Richie’s arm had done. He had crossed that threshold of no return. Tears welled in Richie’s eyes. “Damnit” he said through gritted teeth.
He lifted his foot and pushed the coffee table away from him. It almost toppled over but came to rest on its legs, maybe a foot further from the couch than it had been initially. The space where the table had sat was filthy. Richie saw ashes from a spilled ashtray, a cigarette butt, what looked like the end of a toenail, and there, in the middle. Richie whipped his head to the side, willing himself not to look at it. But unwillingly, like an unknown force was controlling his body below his neck, he found himself on his knees in front of the couch. Before he knew it, his hands were fumbling in the mess on the floor. His roaming fingers found what they wanted, and he grasped it firmly in both hands A needle, he needed a needle. He couldn’t wait. He knew that with a certainty that he had been looking for all his life. He put the whole bulb into his mouth, feeling it burn his tongue like a shot of whiskey. He tried one more time to stop himself, to spit it out on the floor and run out of the house, leave this whole thing behind. He managed to get it to the back of his teeth before his jaw clamped down, locking it into his mouth. “No, please.” Richie managed to plead through gritted teeth. Tears were welling in his eyes again. Tears of panic. “Nooooooo” this last word was more of a cry than an actual word. He felt his throat open and the bulb slide down his throat. His muscles no longer tense, he ran towards the bathroom. Richie made it to the hallway before he felt his legs crumple beneath him. He fell to his knees, then to all fours. He made it a couple of crawling paces before he collapsed unto his stomach, his face pressed against the carpet. He had a moment of discomfort as he choked on the dust from the floor, but before he could react, he felt himself sinking slowly into an immense mass. With his last bit of consciousness, Richie knew he would not be coming back. He was a part of this now. He let everything go, and resigned himself, to the green.
Credit: Caleb Pennington
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