The leaves whispered with the summer wind, bathed in the sun’s radiance. It was a pity the whispers fell on deaf ears and the sunlight on unseeing eyes.
He sat silently in the dirty alley, legs curled up against his chest, arms wrapped around his knees. His eyes stared at the brick wall across from him, but he didn’t really see the bricks; his gaze went so much farther, into his own mind and the question it presented him:
How could I?
Maybe he deserved to live as a hobo in the streets of New York. Maybe it was a rightful punishment—
It was a rightful punishment. He knew it. The cops surely looking for him now knew it. And Ricky... if he were here, he would know it, too.
Outside the alley, the trees lining the street continued their peaceful rustling, contrasting the turmoil within his heart. He could barely take a breath without the weight of his conscience crushing his lungs, forcing the air back out; the crime was a shadow, more solid and real than the shadows of the alleyway’s brick walls, that set a pressure upon his mind. He didn’t know who he was anymore.
He did, however, have an idea.
Killer... A killer, that’s what I am.
He could still remember — why hadn’t his memory shut down? Why hadn’t his body turned on itself, renting his soul into a million pieces because he didn’t deserve to live? Why hadn’t he done it himself yet?
The memory came to his conscious mind unbidden, drifting before his eyes like an all-too-real dream. He could not be hearing Ricky’s voice in his ear, and yet, he was. An impossibility.
The sunlight gave way to a dull, gray apartment room.
“Dave? Man, what a night to be out. Didn’t you hear? — it’s gonna be storming like blazes in half an hour or so. Probably less.”
“Yeah,” he murmured dazedly.
“What were you doing out?”
“Man... there’s something I oughta tell you. It’s... killing me, keeping it inside.”
“What is it?” When he shook his head, looking pale, Ricky took his shoulders and shook them. “C’mon, spit it out.”
Wordlessly he took the unlabeled capsule out of his jean pocket: small, transparent plastic, encasing three white pills.
“Dave, what the heck do you think you’re doing with those? Passing drugs is illegal. I — I’ve got to call the cops. Addictions counselors. They’ll be able to help.”
“You don’t understand. I have no job, I have no money, I’m stuck here leeching off you—”
“Man, it’s no biggie—”
“It helps me, Ricky. It helps me get through being stuck and unable to afford a place of my own, just because my art is worth nothing. I can’t do anything with it. I can’t do anything with my life.”
Ricky tried to escape into the kitchen, but he grabbed Ricky’s arm and pulled him back.
“No. You can’t,” he told Ricky.
“Man, this is illegal—”
“I don’t want to stop.”
“You have to!”
“I can’t, Ricky,” he pleaded. A tear slipped down his cheek. “I... I just can’t.”
With a powerful twist and pull, Ricky tore his arm away. The next second he was reeling from a blow to his face, falling onto the thin carpet, hitting it hard enough to feel the wooden floor beneath. Ricky looked up. His friend’s hands had curled into fists. Recognition surely hit then.
“Dave... it’s the drug, man. It’s hurting you.”
“It helps me, Ricky.” The words came out calm, far calmer than they sounded in his head. “It lets me ignore my problems and I want that to happen. I can’t stop.”
Once again Ricky tried to reach the kitchen. Once again he was pulled back.
“Dave, I have to—!”
The words seemed torn from his throat. “NO! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!”
“Yes, I do, you’re not thinking straight—”
“I — CAN’T — STOP! IT’LL KILL ME! YOU WANT TO KILL ME!” His face was contorted in rage. In that second all remorse left him, and he grabbed Ricky by the neck, pinning him to the floor. “I’LL KILL YOU!”
And he watched in madness as the color drained out of Ricky’s face—
No. He couldn’t, wouldn’t watch the ending. It was already engrained into his mind, a permanent mental scar; it would haunt him to his grave; he didn’t need to see it again—
—his fingers shook but did not release their hold. His breath came quicker even as Ricky’s ceased—
He could see in his mind’s eye Ricky’s fearful expression, as lifelike as could be, as though he were watching it in high-definition. With an effort, he wrenched his focus to the leaves outside the alley. How they rustled, so peacefully... and the sun—
—a last gasp — Ricky’s eyes rolled upward into his head—
It was a mistake; he hadn’t been controlling himself; it was the drug! He didn’t need to remember—
—remember Ricky’s prone body splayed across the floor—
It was done—
He knew, he told himself, the tears falling thick and fast—
In that tiniest fraction of a second, his heart stopped.
—HOW COULD I!?
Dave spun suddenly, smashing his head into the wall hard enough to send the pain shooting through not just his skull, but his entire body: self-retribution for the unforgiveable crime. Stars flashed before his eyes as he fell backwards onto the cold, hard pavement. Just as quickly as the madness came, it flooded out, leaving him dazed and sober.
The rustling had stopped.
His nostrils and forehead felt damp. As the world around him shifted dizzily, now out of focus, now focused again, he swiped a finger under his nose and raised it: blood.
The hurt wasn’t enough. He still couldn’t forget. His mind and body were still his own. Why couldn’t he die? What cruel punishment awaited him that kept him from exacting his own vengeance?
He hated himself.
He rolled onto his side. Out of his jacket pocket tumbled the capsule. It lay there on the pavement, so harmless-looking. So seductive.
With numb fingers he grasped it. Bile rose in his throat, but he could not stop himself. His shaking right hand grasped the top, twisted, and rose again; the capsule’s lid tumbled to the ground. There were two pills left. The third he’d eaten last night to chase his worries away and let him sleep.
The hate swelled.
His desire rose against it.
His hand twitched back, pouring the drugs into his mouth. He shut his eyes tightly. Chewed. Swallowed.
Bliss came then, hand-in-hand with ignorance.