The shame of my lifestyle choices is short lived. My head rises and I stare at the mirror face. If there’s a remnant of the old me in there somewhere; the one with drive, determination and pride; he sure is hiding well.
Sobriety has sharp edges and they jab into me cruelly. The critical voices are back to haunt me; judging me harshly at what I have become.
‘Jee-sus, you’re pretty run down for someone in their early thirties. What are you, forty odd kilos overweight? Look at your hair! Tidy that shit up! There’s a female in the next room. DIY sex might be a thing of the past if you’d stop moping around and filling yourself with drugs.’
I resent the voices and I resent her presence here. They both expose inadequacies I’ve worked hard to bury. And now I have to dress for company which goes against my latest fad of walking around the place starkers. Unless… maybe Kristine will be amenable to joining me in some all over tanning sessions?
My groin stirs when I think of her naked, then a reality check kicks in.
Getting drunk and stoned is no substitute for healthy eating and an exercise regime. But what if I get fit? Show her a different side of me. I vow to start doing push-ups.
Starting first thing tomorrow.
The depressing thoughts of exercise and clean living deflates my semi-erection.
“Ahhh screw it, I’ve got no chance.
Clothed in shorts, shirt, and a modicum of eccentricity I shuffle out of the bedroom, heading directly to my hard-earned collection of controlled substances. Something there will fix these aches and pains for the rest of the day. Kristine hears my subdued groaning as I walk out and calls from the kitchen.
“How’d you get electricity in here?”
“I use the wires,” I yell back.
I’m so funny.
An intolerant grunt instead of the polite laugh I’d expected indicates I have a rough audience. Better lay off the gags.
“They’ve got a power plant. Big genset. I brought in heaps of fuel. Enough for a few months.”
“Wow. You’ve been busy, especially doing all this by yourself.”
She’s impressed at last. Maybe I’ve taken a minor step up from “slobby deviant”.
My chest puffs out a touch. It’s on the tip of my tongue to brag about my exploits, but there’d be so much I’d have to leave out. Like the part where I’d curled up in these rooms, living like an animal, in the dark, scared out of my mind that any noise would attract Parasites. That long week of no ventilation, no way of cooking, no lights or flushing toilets, soon took its toll; and this particular animal prefers more than the basic amenities.
Prompted by discomfort I’d searched out a facility map and courageously left the building to find the genset. They’d made it foolproof to operate. A stencil detailing the few steps required before you pressed a big green ‘start’ button. Nice, big, twin turbo V8.
I had just about shit myself when it fired up. I’d run outside in a panic, thinking the bloody thing was about to blow up. Then I saw the black exhaust smoke billowing from the exhaust stack and I’d back into shut it down. Then the revs levelled off as the load kicked in and I had the presence of mind to hesitate. After checking the noise level outside with the insulated door closed I found the monster engine was muted to an ambient hum, and the heat plume from the stack would be undetectable from more than a few dozen metres away.
The excursion to relocate a diesel tanker here had taken guts too, even if I do say so myself. Aside from the obvious danger from Hosts prowling around, I hadn’t driven a semi-trailer rig since I was a young bloke. Luckily I wasn’t being graded on flawless gear changes and taking corners without damaging something was a trial. I’d gotten the fuel back here though, managed to reverse it into place, mind you I did lose several thousand litres of fuel when the adaptor I made to feed the genset broke. Best I keep all that stuff to myself. Her heroic saviour had secured the power source. That’s all that would matter to her so why spoil it.
I complete these deep thoughts in the middle of the lounge, gradually coming back from the revelry to find the changes wrought to my surroundings have been widespread. Kristine’s been a busy girl, cleaning up. I don’t think the place was this tidy when I first moved in, and the pig sty it had become since then is no longer in evidence.
My eyes wander over the tidiness until they fall on the coffee table in front of me. A clean, shiny, empty coffee table.
I am subject to an instant, frighteningly uncontrolled meltdown.
That bitch has stolen my drugs. Maybe she’s flushed them down the toilet, or she’s keeping them for herself. I want them. Now!
The demon brings forth his favourite slaves; paranoia and rage.
All that trouble and effort wasted. You suffered through a fucking Parasitic spider tearing up your face! And she thinks she can just take them from you!? What are you going to do about it?
Unburdened by sanities restraint I have no control over the hand that reaches for a pistol, hidden under a couch cushion. It is one of many stashed around the place. Stale chips and nuts are stuck to the blued finish of the firearm. I point it at my face and stare into the barrel’s dark hole. Part of me wrestles for some semblance of control. I must give her a chance to explain herself. The demons think this is funny and allow me to voice one strangled question to the thief.
“Kristine, where’s my stuff?”
“What stuff? You mean those pills don’t you?”
I’m instantly maddened by her judgmental tone.
I wave the gun wildly at the innocent TV, confused and afraid of myself.
“No! Yes! I need my fucking stuff!”
Kristine’s disembodied voice from the kitchen doesn’t appreciate the tone of my demand.
“Jesus, settle down, I threw all your crap on one of the beds.”
Which one? All these spare rooms were heaped stockpiles of assorted junk. Beer, water, tinned food, biscuits, toilet paper, books, magazines. You name it, I’d bulk bought it.
Kristine leans through the swinging door and frowns as I whip the gun behind me back, blushing red and highly unnerved.
“Room three, I think.”
She points with a spatula and then underrates my weird behaviour by about one thousand degrees.
“You’re not a morning person are you?”
Her clear, guileless face magically wipes the furious rage from my mind. A paroxysm of guilt is left in its wake to torment me. I feel the last vestiges of sanity hanging by cotton thin ties. Incredibly, I’m allowed to gather them together and tie them to a self-hate. I loathe my lack of self-control and long for a return to the emotionless vacuum the drugs promise me.
I slip the pistol down the back of my shorts and shift from foot to foot like a naughty schoolboy hiding a pack of cigarettes. She frowns, knowing I’m not altogether with it, but unsure how to deal with me.
She chooses to withdraw and I let the kitchen door flap twice before high-tailing it to the room she’d indicated. The door opens a few centimetres before jamming; conspiring to keep me from my goal. Some of the teetering stacks of boxes inside must have fallen since Kristine was last in here, I drive a shoulder into the door several times hearing something fragile crunch and give way. I squeeze through the gap as soon as its large enough and weave between randomly piled crap.
The Holy Grail is found as promised on the bed at the back of the room. My beautiful stash lies carelessly scattered on a bare mattress. Lovingly I fondle the pharmacopeia. My hands plunge into blister packs and bottles and I let them dribble through my fingers like a pirate with his doubloons. Finding the drugs intact releases a huge pressure point in my head.
Now, to dull down this too bright, too loud, too brittle world.
“Hey! What are you doing in there? Your coffee is getting cold. Kristine has snuck up on me again, and once more I’m overcome with embarrassed confusion.
“You starting a clinic or something?”
I ignore her derision and exit the bedroom. She shoves a cup of coffee towards me even though I’m over-loaded with packets and bottles. I drop a few items to take it, just to be sociable. And the look in her eye makes it clear if I didn’t take it she’d happily pour it down my front.
“Uh, thanks. I’ll just put these in the kitchen.”
I barge through the kitchen door and dump my freight on a side bench. She follows, picking up the stuff I drop and tossing the items casually onto the counter. Ican’t help myself when I gather them closer to me.
I remember the coffee and sip at it to placate her. Is she pre-menstrual? Maybe I should say something nice.
“Pretty good for freeze dried.”
Actually the cupboards held a wide selection of good coffees. I’d chucked away all the original Government issued downgraded, powdered crap, which was probably specially formulated to keep criminals sedate.
Kristine peers into my shifty eyes, about to unload some cutting remark no doubt. To prevent her ire, I turn away to tend my collection. She recoils, cutting short her tirade before it really began.
“Don't you think you should...?”
The sudden silence forces me to re-engage with her. She is backing away nervously until she bumps up against the stove. Flustered, she grabs the spatula and pushing the half cooked, powdered eggs around on the frypan. I smile at her uncertainly. Nice of her to make me breakfast. Smells great.
Preoccupied by my rumbling stomach, I return to my stash and don’t immediately pick up on the seriousness of the change in atmosphere. The sweat is building on my forehead is starting to drip into my eyes despite the cool air flowing from the vent above. The urgency of my need occupies me for a few minutes. Don't mix the Luminal with the Dexedrine. Leave the Vicodin aside for later…
Kristine’s frightened sidelong glances finally register. I stop breathing then release the held breath slowly when my stupidity hits me. The crazy man has a pistol stuck in the back of his shorts. Whoops.
I draw it out slowly and place it on the cupboard like a sprung shoplifter under the gaze of a store detective. She is watching me carefully, holding the largest knife from the rack. I shrug my shoulders and search for a believable lie.
“I...ah...just carry it. Habit. You know?”
She nods unconvinced.
“I found quite a few of them when I was cleaning. I haven’t touched them. I don’t know much about guns. I know that they scare me.”
“Look, I promise I won’t carry it inside the house again. I trust you. Let’s not start off on the wrong foot.
Uncharacteristically quiet, Kristine nods and busies herself serving up the yellow mess.
“Don’t take pills on an empty stomach. Sit,” she says forcefully, and places a steaming plate on the table.
“I need them. I don’t expect you to understand.”
She doesn’t answer, but serves herself a smaller portion of egg and sits at the table. I obey her demand and sit opposite, scooping large helpings of cardboard tasting egg mush into my mouth without commenting on the taste. The dried ingredients she has to work with are no substitute for the real thing. Also I haven’t exactly been cooking gourmet meals for myself lately, so this is actually pretty good in comparison.
The quantity of food should have been sufficient to fill me but I find it has merely awakened a raging appetite. My stomach insists it is still gapingly empty. I urgently scrape the plate then launch myself at the cupboards to look for something more substantial. Potato chips are a stop-gap measure that sting my cut lips with salt as I force a handful into my mouth. A packet of popcorn goes into the microwave, and I raid the fridge while I wait, crunching into pickled onions that I dig from the jar with my fingers. To cool my burning lips I glug down a pitcher of reconstituted orange juice and bellow out a loud burp that rings off the walls and is accompanied by flecks of sprayed food.
My cravings suddenly plateau and Allowing me to override the cramming/swallowing actions and reinstate a biting/chewing policy.
Kristine is appalled. She has watched my frantic actions open mouthed, and slowly pushes the rest of her eggs away.
She shakes her head so I pick up the plate to scrape her leftovers into my mouth on the way to the sink.
I sigh and pat my contented stomach. The rest of me however still hums with aches and pains. Craftily, my eyes slide over to the tidied rows of packaged delights. The anticipation of getting high tingles my senses. A packet of Vicodin gives up four tablets to one grateful palm. A mouthful of rum from the first bottle in reach has them white water rafting down to my bloated stomach. I belch mightily again and Kristine crosses her arms huffily and sucks at her teeth.
She can think what she wants; about me, soon I won’t have a care in the world. Destination la-la-land beckons.