It was a bitter cold Thursday afternoon in downtown Henrico. Sunlight peeked through the darkened windows in Beamer's studio apartment, leaving a strange yellow glow. From around the blinds, cardboard, and old bedsheets he'd hung to block as many rays as possible a few still managed to scatter their way across the room. It reflected off a sea of bottles, tissues, paper plates, and empty energy drink cans shuffled into clumps. The kitchenette by the door was filthy with months upon months of failed meals staining its stove and counters. A little bathroom to the side was almost completely dark, but what little light managed to get in revealed the floor to be covered in hair and grunge. Silhouettes of the piles of old clothing, pizza boxes, and heaps of junk rose around a twin mattress on the floor like a foreign landscape. On the old mattress lay the scrawny hyena himself, plinking away on his laptop. Squinting at the screen and huddling under the covers, he perused his Youtube subscriptions for a while before deciding it was time to get up.
Beamer peeled back the thin sheet and blanket that kept the cold out and gradually uncurled from the mattress, yawning, stretching, shivering, and scratching himself all over at the same time. His flannel pajama pants clung to his leg fur with static, shocking him in the dry air. He shook his legs a bit and shuffled towards the bathroom, taking a moment to stare at himself in the mirror in the darkness before flicking the switch. Momentarily blinded, he squinted back at the mirror, the fan humming loudly above. Shivering arms wrapped around his body, scratching each other earnestly while he stared himself down. His previous night was written all over his face. Beamer scratched at his muzzle a bit, flaking off some of the residual throw-up that was stuck to it. He let out a heavy sigh, resigned himself to the fact he was out of bed for the day, and turned on the shower.
He lifted the toilet seat while he waited for the water to heat up. It hurt to piss, a slight burn through his manhood, but he relieved himself nonetheless. With a low growl he finished, flushed, and stepped into the steaming shower, letting himself acclimate to the warmth. The hard stream from the showerhead blasted away the crud from his face and dug into his skin like a glorious heated massage. Morning showers were his favorite part of the day, and Beamer spent the better part of an hour just standing in the soothing water. His cramps and pains seemed to melt away as his fingers pruned. Gradually though they worsened, and soon he could feel the familiar throbbing in his head and stiffness in the base of his skull, like someone was grabbing him by the neck with a pair of needle-nose pliers. His back became sorer as his already tired legs started to feel like planks of wood.
Beamer turned the water off, stretching his neck as he toweled off. He pulled on the boxers and t-shirt he'd worn to bed, gave his mohawk another fluffing with the towel, and washed his hands at the sink. The mirror was almost completely fogged in spite of the obnoxious bathroom fan. This didn't bother him though, as he unscrewed the caps to his contact lens case. Carefully rinsing the lenses in solution he put them in; monthly lenses that were months beyond their expiration. They were better than nothing though, he was blind as a bat without them. Finally able to see, Beamer walked back into the living room and threw on a pair of jeans off the floor, the belt still in the loops. Scrounging around for a pair of socks that would pass the sniff-test, he found a matching pair under the counter by the kitchenette. Feet clad in cotton he wrestled on a worn pair of leather combat boots and threw on a black, stained hoodie. Grabbing his wallet and keys Beamer walked out the door.
The cold hung in the air, there was almost no breeze at all. Every movement caused the chill to pierce his thin fur and the sweatshirt did little to keep it out. He walked down the rickety wooden staircase that lead up to his second-floor apartment and hit the pavement in the direction of the nearest gas station. Along the way he reached into his pocket for a lighter and a half-full box of cigarettes. Smoking as he walked, Beamer tucked his hood over his ears. With every stride the denim in his pants touched his leg with that chilly, wet feeling, like they were saturated with the February air.
By the time he was rounding the corner to the gas station his cigarette was almost gone. Taking one last drag, he pushed the butt into the garbage can by the door. The little convenience store was pretty busy this late in the afternoon; Beamer pressed his way between a couple people to the cooler rack. Grabbing an energy drink, a bottle of water, and a protein bar off the shelf, he shifted to the back of the checkout line. Patron after patron had their lottery tickets rung up, a couple paid for their gas at the dilapidated pumps with small denominations. Beamer fidgeted in line, his body pains worsened by the cold outside. Every moment of waiting they seemed to get a little worse. Finally he got to the counter, setting his purchases down and eyeing the cigarettes behind the counter.
“Anything else?” asked the clerk.
He grabbed his wallet and checked the contents with a scowl, he was out of cash. “Yeah,” he said reluctantly, “give me a pack of reds.”
Beamer handed over his license and credit card. The clerk ran them both and handed them back, “I’m sorry, the card was declined.”
“Shit… what’s the total?”
“Ten sixteen,” the clerk replied.
Looking at his purchases, he grabbed the protein bar and put it back on the shelf. He asked the clerk to take it off, handing the card across the counter again. The clerk swiped it and a receipt popped up for him to sign. He did so, grabbed his drinks and cigarettes, and headed home.
By the time he got back to the apartment he was already half through his breakfast of sugar and caffeine. He unlocked the door, walked in, and threw the fresh pack on the counter of his little kitchen. It was then he noticed his cell phone sitting there, flashing a new message:
“hey r u free I want 2 party tonit”
It was Angela, one of his regular buyers. She was a college girl from the art school downtown. He texted her back, “Yeah meet u around 10?”
He stuffed the phone in his pocket and started nursing his drink again, turning his attention back to the laptop on his bed. Sacking back out on the mattress he refreshed his pages, when his pocket vibrated.
“10 is good”
Great, he thought. He was wondering how he was going to afford dinner anyway. Issue resolved, Beamer settled on watching the rest of The Young Turks as he polished off his drink. Sitting up a bit he cracked his back, the cramps were starting to work their way through his body. It’d only been a day since his last shot and already he was starting to feel the withdrawal grip him. He tried to ignore it, lying back on his mattress. He propped his laptop on top of his chest and continued watching his videos, but as time rolled on he only felt worse.
Two hours passed. He lay on his bed, desperately trying to ease the body aches. Pain and frustration were etched in Beamer’s face as his eyes started to water. Trembling fingers tapped the keys, partly caused by chills racing through his spine, but mostly by fear. Reluctantly, Beamer glanced at an old clamshell chessboard sitting beside his bed. It was bound by leather buttoned in place, with the tears and scuffs that come through age and heavy use. He scratched his face nervously, it’s getting worse, he thought. He’d felt withdrawal creep up on him before, but never this soon, this hard.
Another hour passed, leaving Beamer staring through teary eyes at the ceiling. Everything was hurting, like he hit the pavement falling from the third story window. There was no doubt that he’d need another dose; this could not wait until morning. By now the sun already set, leaving just the laptop screen illuminating his room. Gradually he rolled over, every muscle aching as he did so. He felt sick, green. Not money green, like a puss green. His limbs didn’t feel real anymore, someone replaced them with plastic. Long, thin plastic arms clutching at a stiff leather body. Like a marionette he rose from the bed, uneasy and trembling, to grab a spoon from the kitchen drawer. The guilt sank into his stomach as he plopped back on the mattress. It welled there like an acid, boiling his insides, making him nauseous. Beamer reached for his chess box, pulling it into the light.
Opening it up, he flicked the contents with his fingers before grabbing a tea-light candle. As he lit it the tiny flame caused the walls to come alive with shadows. He placed it on the hardwood floor while looking around the room. Shadows swayed and bobbed, crashed and weaved, formless masses splashing together. There was no light outside, no reflections, just masses of darkness swelling and falling, like an ocean. Only his mattress was illuminated in the dim, sickly light, like a raft set adrift on the endless murk. Beamer shivered, staring into the churning abyss. He swayed back and forth as the last of his will faded.
With mechanical motion he pulled out a small, powder-filled water balloon from his box, untwisting it with tender care. As he emptied the white powder into the spoon his fingers started to shake even more. Not with fear, now, anticipation. He was sick and he needed his medicine. Once he had his medicine everything would be okay. It’ll stop the pain, the pain was almost gone! Beamer pulled a cotton swab out and yanked the fluffy head off one end, he was almost cured.
Frantically he unscrewed his water bottle and pulled a syringe from the box. Whether it was fresh or used he couldn’t tell, but it wouldn’t matter, he was going to get better soon anyway. Dipping into the water he drew the liquid in and, careful not to disturb the contents too much, emptied the needle into the spoon. He held the spoon over the flame of the candle like a mother cradling her newborn child, caressing it gently with the cottonball on the tip of the needle. In moments the powder was melted down, swirling in the water like a golden residue. No, at that moment it was worth more than gold. Beamer sucked up every drop of the gold into his syringe. He turned it upside down and flicked it, squirting a tiny bit out of the top to clear the air. Precious drops caressed the edges of the golden syringe, cascading down in a sickly off color. They welled on his icy fingers, thick, foul pools putrid with disease.
Beamer wiped his hand on his shirt and pulled out a snake-like length of rubber hose from his box. Tying it around his arm it constricted tighter and tighter, cutting off the sludge crawling in his arteries. He straightened out his arm and pumped his fist a few times, bringing the off-color veins near the surface of the inside of his elbow like throbbing sewers. Holding the needle flat against his elbow he yanked off the tourniquet, unleashing the flow of septic waste into his arm. The needle pierced his paper skin, embedding itself in the vein, sucking in a portion of the ooze inside to mingle with the medicine. Smoothly the plunger forced the contents back into his veins like a pump. Beamer forced every last drop out before pulling the needle out of his arm.
The needle left a hole in his skin, but no sludge came out. Instead, it was the brightest red bead of blood he’d ever seen, pure and vital... and warm. The warmth swept all over his body, like he was being hugged by his mom, dad, and the sweetest girl he ever met all at once. He felt... light, everything felt light and floaty, except his head which felt too heavy to hold up. Beamer started to drift in and out, his head nodding, completely lost in the moment. Smiling a wide happy smile, the look of pure contentment, he gradually leaned over, collapsing on his side, just barely hanging off the mattress. All his aches and pains were gone; the medicine worked. The only thing he could think about now was how soft his bed was. It was bliss.
For over fifteen minutes he just laid there staring into space, unmoving, barely even breathing. His body felt like he was wrapped in thick wool blankets, everything was soft and comfortable. Eventually he rolled over, at some point pushing his laptop off the bed to sprawl out. Hours rolled by without notice. Nothing interrupted his peace. Not the buzzing of his phone, nor the flashing of his chat windows, not even the knocks on his door. He just laid there in the happiest place in the world.
Long after dark, the effects started to subside and Beamer felt a little nauseous. Sluggishly rolling out of bed, he packed his box up and drank the rest of the water bottle. It was then he realized he hadn’t had anything to eat all day. Anything to eat, he thought, shit! He grabbed his cell phone and looked at the time. It was 10:57 pm and he had two missed calls. Groggy though he was, he fat fingered his way to Angela's number to call her back. As the line rang Beamer paced the floor with uncertain steps.
“Hey... Angela, what's up?”
“Hey! Where were you? Your place was dark when we showed up.”
“I was uh... taking a nap...” he said, flicking a light on, “sorry, I must not have heard you.”
“We banged on the door like three times.”
“Yeah, um, so, did you still want to hang out?”
The other side went silent for a moment. After a while Angela replied, “Sorry, I don't have any cash.”
“Yeah, but I'll be out that way tomorrow after school, so umm... I guess I can just stop by and pick it up then?”
“That'd work, you want the same as last time?”
“Alright, see you tomorrow, have a good night.”
“You too.” *click*
Beamer pocketed his phone and sighed; he wasn't going to get anything to eat that night and his stomach was killing him. He poured a glass of tap water and choked down his meal.