Billy Hollis walked with a hunch, clearly up to something. He looked it, shouldering his way through the rain, trench-coat pulled tight in a style that, in the past, would’ve been enough to indicate suspicious circumstances. Nowadays, and largely due to Billy and his ilk, every rebellious youth sought to emulate the look. Few were willing to emulate the lifestyle further. Fewer still, as deeply as Billy was in.
He was an addict, he knew it. Addiction clawed at him daily. The hours he wasn’t trying to score, he was soaking in the score. The only way to ensure one got him through to the next was to sink as deep into it as he could go. There was no denying that. There wasn’t even a denial of the addiction itself. Contrary to popular belief, for some, admitting the problem was even less than a step. Billy had a problem. He admitted it. But he liked it.
Liked it so much in fact, he’d managed to fall into a rhythm of daily use. A usage society despised him for, but one he enjoyed so thoroughly he didn’t mind. Despite it, he managed to hold down a job four days a week.
And every second he could, he fled from stocking shelves to the bathroom stalls to use.
He had little else in the world, lived in share-housing with a few other addicts. Each was of his escapist persuasion. Each shared drugs in the unusual benevolence of addict-cohabitation.
The group of five or six– depending on the week, and the relapsing rhythm of one of the inhabitants– managed to scrape together just enough cash for rent, food, and drugs. There was never enough food, but the rent was always on time. Otherwise, there were fees and less money for escape.
Billy and his housemates awaited their supplies via dead-drops. It was the only way to buy in bulk these days, and they needed bulk.
Unfortunately, a major supplier had been shut down recently. The local addicts, and daresay junkies, were still scrambling to recover. It wasn’t going well.
In retrospect, that should’ve been Billy’s first sign of something wrong. It still was, technically, but he wasn’t thinking that way, too focused on procuring his next escape.
He slogged through the driving rain for the abandoned lot where he was to meet the dealer, unsure of what he was even escaping from anymore. All he knew was there was a means to do so, so he used it. Reality wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible; a couple guys he lived with tended to come down from their use like tweakers, becoming immaculate cleaning machines. As a result the share-house was always clean where most addicts’ places were dingy, abandoned sewage holes.
Billy’s past wasn’t too awful either. His parents had loved him. They’d even treated him better than most parents treated kids. He was an elder child, but had long abandoned the notion of being a role model. Two younger sisters meant always being at odds with them. Moreso, he was always being piled on for things “girls shouldn’t do.” Whatever the hell that meant.
No, some addicts could claim a poor home-life past or present as motivation to use, but not Billy. He wasn’t sure he had a reason to use outside enjoying it. He wasn’t sure, either, why he was planting each step into a driving, freezing rain. The rain had forgotten winter had turned to spring, its outer gray reflecting Billy’s inner gray with a haze of uncertainty.
Perhaps that was it, he thought, the gray. Perhaps using had something to do with the gray having blanketed the world. His mother had always said he had a sensitive soul– not the homosexual kind, he was quick to say, for fear of leading anyone on. Rather, the poetic kind.
If that was the case, it wasn’t a surprise someone like Billy turned to escapism. The world was a mess. Most people followed the same path. Especially nowadays, everyone had their thing. Billy’s just happened to be illegal. Why, he couldn’t say. He wasn’t hurting anyone. Maybe himself, but it was his life. He did his best to balance things; contributing as he could to society; never hurting anyone unless in self-defense– though thankfully, that had yet to come up.
Those were his rationalizations anyway. He wasn’t sure it was entirely healthy, but he wasn’t going to lie about his feelings. That could never help. His addiction made him feel good. In the end wasn’t happiness, feeling good, the important thing? Everyone was allowed their hobbies, why not have his be two things in one? Addiction and hobby? Seemed more efficient to him.
None of that changed the fact that spring had forgotten it was here. Or that winter had forgotten it had left. Or that the rain seemed to embody both. It especially didn’t change what the fates had already sown for Billy, for his housemates. It wouldn’t be long before they were all just more statistics, detoxing in rehab clinics, or hoping for just one more moment of indulgence.
The guy Billy was meeting seemed out of place, more sketchy and suspicious than most dealers. His head kept whipping from side-to-side, like one of those inflatable waving creatures at car-dealers. He was that, in a way, but shouldn’t have been. That was Billy’s second clue; the second he only recognized in retrospect.
The dealer, whose name was never mentioned, dropped a back-pack from his shoulder. In a swift, almost sleight of hand like exchange, he gave it to Billy whom slid a thick, manila envelope over. The dealer was gone in an instant, but just as well, Billy was too focused on checking the bag. The weight was right, the contents were right. Clean deal.
He made for home, the slums. Everywhere was a slum nowadays. Physically. Ethically. One or the other. The ones for addicts were the physical kind– though they weren’t as bad as the junkies’ into even harder stuff.
Billy was in the front door, greeted by the others as if toting dog-food home to starved hounds. With the utmost ceremony, he stepped over to the tattered couch and coffee table and upended the pack.
The cascade was like something from a dream: A galactic palette of superhero colors. Moorish grit. Soothing, Indie tones. Everything in-between and around.
The junkies dove, grasping, clutching, each for a hit. They’d get around to all of them eventually. Each would get their chance with each. The papers between might be a little more worn, but the effect would be the same. Everyone would get a first hit. Everyone would get a last hit. They’d all smell, sweet, taboo ink. Read the lines inked in black and gray. Feel the glossy pages.
Or so they thought.
Billy had his hand on something whose title he wasn’t sure of. The cover was an alarming red with a silhouette of detective noir. The door exploded in off its hinges. Life became a rush of images.
A rush that lasted months.
At light speed, he saw himself and his house-mates tackled by the ACTF– Anti-Comic Task Force. He saw his housemates shoved into the paddy wagon ahead of himself. He saw, felt, the booking, processing, delousing. He saw the public defender, their meeting, his arguing against charges on the grounds of “Graphic Novels, not Comics.” He saw himself pleading guilty for a reduced sentence. He saw he and his friends arrested, again, on television; watched the comics burned later that evening at the police department.
Sometime later, he stood before a judge, hearing the final charges of “Possession of Comic-Books, and Comic-Book Paraphernalia, Felony First class, partial time-served.” He heard the verdict of two-years probation, weekly room-checks, inpatient rehab. Detoxing had been done already, the court system slow as it was, but this formality was meant to help him straighten out his reasons for using.
Last of all, Billy saw himself standing before the judge, hearing the sentence over the nearby cries of his mother, her begging, pleading for him to “get clean.” Then, time resumed its natural pace. Days began to pass slowly, in utter boredom.
He entered his room at rehab, found the slightest protrusion of color from beneath his mattress.
He yanked at a corner of it, found that same, noir-like cover; where had it come from? When? How? He was ready to sprint to the nearest orderly, have it destroyed. He didn’t. Instead, he put himself in a corner, carefully opened the cover.
His eyes drooped. His brain lit. He smiled dully, stoned; whisked off on another escape.