Respected stock broker to drug addicted homeless man. Nine days. A walk into darkness.
The day was bright. Rob decided to walk to the office. He wanted fresh air and exercise. After midnight at the office on the Boordat account, here he was going back in at 6:30.
He needed caffeine. He swerved into Starbucks and swerved right back out. Way too crowded. He still needed a kick in the pants. Blowing out a breath, he looked around. No coffee places, no carts. No wonder it was crowded.
“Sparkle, dude? Wake you up all day.” He ignored the guy. The guy didn’t ignore him. Came right up and stood next to him. Rob gave him the once-over sidelong. No homeless stink. Polo and jeans, running shoes. “Look like you could use something, dude. Sparkle’ll fix you up.”
Rob was no babe in the woods. He calculated quickly. The Boordat presentation was at 9:00. It still needed the final touches. Coffee wasn’t going to be enough. He gave the guy another sidelong look. No sleaze ball. How bad could it be?
He gave the guy a short nod. Gripping his laptop case tightly, he followed the guy up the stairs over the Starbucks. The front room could be in any apartment in the city. Except for the people on the flowered furniture. They seemed mismatched. A dumpy woman with shadowed eyes. A nerdy guy who twitched. Another businessman in a power tie.
His host disappeared through a doorway. Time was wasting. The project needed attention. He considered leaving when the guy stuck his head out. “You coming or what?”
The kitchen was a lab. There was a glass still on the counter. He was more interested in the mirror on the table. Nostalgia hit at the lines of white powder. “First time with Sparkle, right? You gotta get tested for Fire. Dab it on your gums and wait fifteen minutes. Sparkle Fire’s bad news, dude.”
“I don’t have fifteen minutes. How common is this Sparkle Fire?”
“Real rare, but real bad. I don’t take a chance.” The guy’s voice was firm. Rob licked the tip of his finger, dipped it into a line and rubbed his gums. There was a little rush. He checked his watch. Just after 7:00.
“Look, I have to get going. I’m fine. Let’s get to business.”
“Your watch,” the guy pointed.
“For one hit? You’re crazy.” Rob grabbed his case.
“Five days of Sparkle for your watch, dude. Don’t want your money. Got enough. Like the watch, though.” No surprise. The platinum watch cost $850.
“Look, I’m too late to argue. A week for the watch.” A week. He’d probably never use it again. This was nuts.
“Deal. How you feeling?”
“Fine. I’m fine. No Sparkle Fire, see?” As he pulled off his watch, the shine on the face rippled and radiated little electric arcs. The sparks surrounded his hand, then the other, crawling up his arms and across to the guy when he handed over the watch. He didn’t mention it. Nothing he couldn’t handle.
The guy squinted at him, looking at his eyes. Rob held his breath. He needed to finish this. His mind was racing ahead, listing the details for the presentation, when the guy snapped his fingers. He blinked and brought his attention back to the kitchen. “I don’t like it,” said the guy.
Rob had enough. In a swift motion, he snagged the tube and bent to the mirror. Distantly, he heard the guy protest as a thick line disappeared. Sniffing, wiping his nose, he heard, “Dude, that was so uncool. I don’t like it. You looked like you were burning.”
He had to close his eyes. Even so the electric arcs sizzled in the darkness. He took a deep breath and opened them. Auras flowed and swelled. The guy snapped again. Echoes and distortions made him flinch. Words ran together incomprehensibly. Colors oozed from them. Dimly, he felt air rushing past his face. He was moving. The light was too much. It drew him with crackling colors even as he flinched from its heat. The darkness was a disappointing relief. He tipped over, falling endlessly, bounced when he landed. A distant squeak and click sent shockwaves of color and arcs through the darkness. This storm of crackling colors held him in its spell so well, he lost himself. Lost his thoughts. Lost his name.
When the burning began, his gasp threw a fountain of hissing colors into the air. It started in his hands. Soon it was boiling his brain. Somewhere, someone was screaming. Pain blossomed on his face and the noise stopped. The burning crawled through his muscles. Someone was there. Fumbling, he let himself be guided. Felt the little burn in his nose. He reached for it desperately, the flames consuming him, lighting up the dark room. Abruptly the pain doused, the fire turning muscles to embers that glowed, dancing shadows. Arcs returned, sounds leaving colorful auras. The world fell away.
Each time the flames licked at his body, someone put them out. He fell into the depths of a lightning storm of sizzling bright colors. This time he was jostled. Still bathing in the returned relief, he felt the hiss of cool air on his face. Hot muscles stretched and bunched. Grotesque noises sent colors crashing into him. He dodged them, bumping into unseen shadows. Bright lights drew him in only to singe him. He found darkness, stumbled in. Putrid scent glowed, clawing at him. He fell into its grasp.
When the burning began, no one put it out. He reached out, cried out, collapsed as the lasting flames slowly turned his muscles to ash. Something lifted what was left of his body. Distant voices filtered through what remained of his mind.
“Vegetable. Looks like Fire got him. No ID. Doesn’t matter. He’s gone now.”
With thanks to @Selorian for the first lines which were posted on #storystarters.
© 2010 Jessica Rosen