A Tale of Inner City | The Virus

The day was gray on the interstate to Inner City and Dean sat in the passenger seat fitting a new collar onto the dropper. He stripped the edge off of a dollar bill, ran the strip of paper through his mouth to wet it thoroughly, and then painstakingly wrapped it around the narrow end of the dropper.

“Want to hand me a new point, Peddlar?”

Peddlar grunted, took his hands off the steering wheel as they hurtled down the fast lane at more then seventy, tucked it gently into stability with his knees and dug a new Yale stainless steel point out of his tattered overcoat.

Dean took the point and fit it onto the saliva-soaked collar-wrapped dropper. He pulled the rubber bulb off the top of the dropper, rummaged around in the glove compartment for a newly boosted pacifier, found one, moistened the inside of it with his finger and put it on top of the glass tube. He took some string from a spool and wrapped it around the neck of the pacifier to complete the seal.

“Look at this baby. The croakers at the hospital couldn’t make ‘em better, eh?”

”Yeah, you right about that. Now let’s get somethin’ to put in that rig. I’m sick as a dog,” sniffed the Peddlar.

The station they were listening to started popping static and Dean played with the dial. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. When he was dope-sick, that nose was a marathon runner. He got the news and paused, with his hand on the dial.

“. . . .and the new virus has spread through Inner City at an alarming rate. It’s source is unknown. The onset is rapid, starting with watery eyes and drippy nose, then the fever kicks in and the shakes start. Within three hours the infected individual leaps up and runs madly through the streets of the city spraying toxic bodily fluids from every orifice and screaming for relief. Only successive shots of morphine delay the final stages of the disease. The hospitals are warehousing victims and stacking them like cord wood in rooms, corridors, cafeterias and waiting rooms. The entire city is waiting for a cure and doctors are talking about seeking out street dealers of junk to alleviate the. . . .”Dean twirled the dial until he found some music. The acapella version of “A Sunday Kind of Love” hummed into the car.

“Traffic into the city is kind of light for a Saturday afternoon, huh?” said Peddlar.

“Yeah.” Dean scrunched down in his seat and wiped his nose.

“Whaddya think of that virus?” Peddlar.

Dean was yenning for a shot and took a long time to answer.

***

When they walked into the Kaliedoscope Eye Bar they saw that Sky was already there. The big man sat at the round table in the corner and looked up at them with his one good eye. Three of his followers sat at the table and moved exactly the same way he did. Peddlar and Dean sat down. Sky slipped a bundle of packets out of his shirtcuff and Dean and Peddlar leaped up and ran into the bathroom of the bar.

There were three stalls in the bathroom. Two of them were empty. On the floor of the third a yellow-skinned man lay on the floor with his head drooping into the toilet. A blood-filled rig lay on the floor next to him.

“Yow,” said Dean. “Check this out. Another hype.”

He scooped up the bloody fit and immediately ran hot water from the sink through it.

“Still good. No clog. We got here just in time.”

They each pulled hankerchief-wrapped spoons out of their pockets, laid the dirty wraps to the side, and with the precision made of daily repetition they slit the tape sealing the bags and shook them into the cooker.

There was a glass on the sink and Dean filled it with water and they each stuck the nozzles of their gimmicks into the glass and sucked up the liquid. Dean sprayed the water onto the powder in the spoon and a couple of flecks of tobacco rose to the top of the water. He found an old Q-tip in his shirt pocket and pulled a small piece of cotton off the top. He rolled it around in his finger to ball it up.

He dropped the cotton into the liquid, pulled out a pack of matches, struck three at once and held them under the spoon. The liquid began to bubble and he lay down the spoon on the edge of the sink and shook the matches out as they began to burn his finger tips.

“Hey, watch my cooker,” he yelled as Peddlar put his down on the sink.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” said Peddlar.

“Yeah, easy for you to say,” muttered Dean through gritted teeth as he bit down on the belt that he had tied around his arm.

The dropper was full of junk. He probed the old hole in his vein and pushed the needle into the familiar place. He felt it pull a little.

“Shit,” he thought, “a fucking burr on the point.” He knew he would have to sharpen it on a matchbook but hoped he could get the hit. It was a lot easier to work after the dope made him well again.

Peddlar sagged to the floor. He looked up at Dean with eyes like slits and pupils like pin-points.

“Not too bad,” he said. “But I shoulda done three, ya know. I remember when the quality was much better than this.”

Dean moved his head slightly to agree but he was totally focused on the sprig of blood that shot up the dropper’s neck as he made the hit. He squeezed the pacifier. The contents of the dropper had almost disappeared into his arm when he paused and let up the pressur. The blood and water booted back into the glass tube and then he squeezed again as the rush hit him and he sent it home.

His nose stopped running, his eyes dried up, the warm feeling hit his crotch, all the muscles in the back of his neck relaxed, and the tightness in his stomach just unwrapped like magic. He stood still, eyes half closed and his knees bent slightly. His fingers loosened on the bulb of the pacifier and the dropper began to slowly fill with blood.

Dean heard a voice coming from far away. It took him five minutes to respond.

“Clog. You are going to clog your rig.”

“Oh.” Dean pulled the needle out of his arm and pressed down on the bulb to spray the old blood into the sink. There was a brief hesitation and then the grimy porcelain sink was covered in red. He ran water through the point. He put the needle into the water again, began to draw the water up but his eyes closed, his head drooped down, and he stood like a statue.

Peddlar touched his arm and he opened his eyes.

“How long have we been in the bathroom?” Dean

“Too long. Let’s clean up and get back out there.” Peddlar.

“What about him?” Dean pointed to the guy laying on the floor of the stall.

“Wow. I forgot about him.”

Peddlar walked over to him and began to go through his pockets.

“Hey, you got to split anything you find with me,” said Dean.

Peddlar looked up at Dean and smiled. He held up a bundle of bags and a few dollars.

“We’re good.”

“Yeah,” said Dean and they walked back out into the bar.

Sky was still sitting at the table with the young men.

“None of these statements are facts,” said Sky. “We can only assume what is true.”

The young men bobbed their heads as he talked. One of them spoke.

“We believe them all,” he said.

Peddlar and Dean sat down and ordered drinks from the waitress.

“Did you hear about the virus?” asked Sky.

“Something came on the radio about it as we were driving in. I didn’t really pay attention to it because I was looking for some good tunes.”

Peddlar turned to Dean. “Yeah, just when I started to pay attention, that asshole switched the station.”

“You could have told me to go back to it.”

Sky tapped on the table to get their attention. He leaned forward and spoke softly. Their heads all leaned in over the table like the petals of a flower closing over the button in the middle.

“This might be the best thing that ever happened to the city. Soon we may be the only people left. Junk is the only cure.”

“But I thought the junk only held the virus in stasis,” said Dean.

Peddlar was watching as someone walked into the bathroom. He smiled when they came out quick and went over to the bartender. He saw the bartender lean his head toward the man and nod a few times as if he was listening intently. Someone ordered a drink and the bartender put a shot glass on the wooden counter and spilled the amber liquid into the thick glass. There was an exchange of cash and the patron poured the shot down his throat.

The bartender turned back toward the other man and his mouth moved. The man shook his head and walked over to the pay phone. He used the phone and left, shaking his head.

The bartender went into the bathroom and came out dragging the man from the stall. Someone opened the front door of the bar and they dumped the man onto the broken cement sidewalk in front of the bar.

There was yelling in the street and everyone looked up. A woman was running down the street screaming. It seemed like saliva was spraying everywhere and she had obviously had the shits and wet herself. She fell and ripped her knees as the patrons of the bar watched. Her eyes were rolling wildly in her head.

Sky turned to the others at the table. “She could use a shot to straighten her out.”

“We all could,” said the Peddlar and everyone laughed because they knew it was true.

The woman disappeared down the street. They could no longer see her but her screaming still echoed in their ears. Suddenly there was the sound of sirens. The sound seemed to come from everywhere.

The bartender shut the door and walked back behind the bar. He poured himself a drink, tossed it down, grabbed something wrapped in a handkerchief from under the bar, asked Sky to watch the register and then disappeared into the bathroom.

Dean closed his eyes and began to dream. Someone turned on the television set. None of the channels were on. There was that humming sound.

Someone said it was because the whole city was shut down and no one was showing up for work.

Peddlar got up and put some money in the jukebox. The music came on. It was a song by a group called the Jesters named “So Strange.”

Five songs later the bartender came out of the bathroom. He sat behind the bar and lit a cigarette. His head drooped down on the bar and the cigarette burned down between his fingers. He did not move for the next hour.

One of the young men asked Sky where he thought the virus came from. Sky leaned back and did not say anything for at least five minutes. Suddenly a screamer burst through the door of the bar and ran about the room falling over tables and chairs and spraying everyone with saliva.

Sky jumped up and punched him hard and his head snapped back and blood splashed in every direction. The man fell heavily to the floor and lay there, twitching and jerking.

“My god,” someone said, ”it’s the end of the world.”

Dean picked up his head, looked around through slitted eyes for a moment and then slipped back into a nod.

Suddenly an announcer came on the television set. He was talking frantically about the spread of the virus and the extreme shortage of narcotics to combat the sickness.

“Across the city people are looting pharmacies and the hospital drug rooms. No one is safe and the official estimate is that in 23 days the virus will. . . .” There was static and then the humming resumed.

Dean suddenly looked up and turned to Peddlar.

“What time is it?”

Peddlar opened his eyes and looked at his watch.

“I don’t know. My watch stopped.”

Sky smiled at Dean and said, “That’s the best thing that ever happened.”

“What’s that?” asked Dean. “The watch?”

“No,” said Sky. “The virus.”

Taken from the Diaries of the Damned — written before the Tales of Communion——Insect-O-War

The diaries of the Damned are segmented and complete copies are unavailable. It is said that, as fossil fuel became scarce, the diaries were written and/or cared for by literate bikers who traveled across the land in small groups. They were the last historians of post-modern times and the only people who cared to keep records during what are known as the Blasted Eras, the times which came before the reign of the Great Queens.

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