A soft tapping, the gentle sound of flesh hitting flesh. I look across the couch, an unwashed, unkempt face stares back at me. Tapping on his arm with a grimy finger, trying to find a vein. I can smell him from here, not that I can take the high ground, I haven’t showered in at least a month. Lank strands of walnut hair get in my eyes as I reach for the needle, lying between the charred cigarette burns on the wobbly table. I’ve already picked out a vein, I can see it, envisioning, imagining, the tube already tied tight around my upper arm. The restricted blood flow causing a familiar tension in my hand and wrist, skin too tight. I’m wrapped up in it. A tiny prick, little elevator, unwrapping the tube and sweet ease flows into my internal stream, glowing. My chemical miracle crosses the blood-brain barrier, and with it, a peace I have not known in weeks. My focus fades from the world around me, I lose myself in the blur of the drug, not knowing or caring whether the junkie on the couch ever finds his own vein.
The world swirls and moves as I stare at the ceiling.
“Whas… in… there… man?” The junkie’s words are slurred and spaced too far apart.
Time slows for a moment.
Foul breath in my face. A plump, broken nose, sores and scabs covering skin, too close for comfort, peering at me with jaundiced eyes. The needle still hanging loosely from newest puncture in my arm, the arm itself a story written in red and purple sores, they walk up and down as I watch, some oozing clear fluid, some blood.
“What? What are you talking about?” I retort.
“I saw it move. I saw it. You can’t tell me it’s not there.”
Through my stupor I try and make sense of what he means. I have no idea what he’s talking about, hallucinations, lucid dreams or some shit. Probably fried all his brain cells long ago. Too many days without sleep, too many hits.
“It’s in your arm, dude,” he continues, “it’s right there.” Pointing with a grimy fingernail.
I struggle , my head swimming, but get a grip on my high, try to hold the world still, grimace as I pull the needle out. Peering down at my arm, trying to find what he sees.
A shiver runs down my back, I see it too.
Slowly undulating under the surface of my skin, a beaded line crawls up my forearm as we watch. The junkie won’t stop pointing, his freak out is becoming more of an issue as I struggle to calm myself. He's jumping and shouting, pointing and laughing. I can feel it now, an odd sensation, moving down my arm, writhing, creeping. It reaches my wrist, pauses, then encircles, coiling. I feel a surge of motion under my skin, it slides and wiggles with purpose, now tracing a path parallel to the track marks, back up my arm, towards my torso.
I know what it’s doing.
I can’t let it reach my heart.
The junkie, now jumping up and down on the couch, a high pitched whine begins in the back of his throat. Growing ever louder as he really starts to freak out. The jumping intensifies as he loses control, preventing a clear look at the progress of the thing on my arm. One final jump, his highest yet, should have been an olympian with height like that, and the couch gives up, snaps with the landing, its back breaking off, he falls, fails to catch himself. He hits the floor, recovers and then he’s scrabbling at the door, fumbling locks and bolts, then through the portal, howling, screaming at the top of his lungs, like all the worlds demons are snapping at his heels. Not taking my eyes off the thing, I use my other hand to grasp for the surgical tubing, knocking needles and drugs off the table. I am forced to take my eyes off it for a scant seconds as I wrap and pull the tube tight, just above my elbow, hoping to cut the thing off. It hasn’t got that far yet, not yet.
Eyes flick back to my arm, the thing, it’s not there! Submerged? Gone? Shared hallucination? Was his freak out making me see things? I flex, my arm seems different, not quite right, can’t put my finger on it. I also can’t see clearly in this dim light. Grabbing the table lamp, I bat the shade off, it crashes to the floor. I need to see, need to know, now! Exposed, the bare bulb is better, clearer, I can see my arm, the skin of my bicep is a giant red abrasion, all the way around, changed colour. What the hell would do that? It can’t be the stuff I’ve been shooting, I’ve used this supply for months, same guy, same stuff, nothing happened before. Shit, am I clotting? I can’t feel my arm. Am I still tripping? Creating and projecting the imagery the junkie placed in my head with his freakout? I look again, maybe its the light, I grab a lighter from the floor, spark it, hold it close, too close, burning hair off my arm with the flame. My skin changes again, red darkening to an uglier shade of purple, fading before my eyes, a five second reverse time-lapse of a bruise. As I watch, the line returns, coiling sinuously outward from where it hid, coiled around my wrist, moving swiftly upward. This is too strange to be real, it’s only happening in my drug addled mind. Telling myself that doesn’t help. Nothing I think about or try to focus on can convince me this isn’t real. I can’t banish this horror, it’s not the drugs.
I can see the sinuous line, clearer now, in motion, edges pop into sharp relief, the purple of my arm increases the contrast. I poke it, scratch at it, trying to grab hold, stop it, trying to feel what it is, to make it less real. The line pauses for a moment at the tourniquet around my arm, I hold my breath, hoping this will stop it. I can lose an arm, I’d lose almost anything to make this stop. Slowly, the line bulges, as if gathering itself, a tiny off-shoot reaches out and slides under the tourniquet, continuing up my arm. I’m scrabbling at my ragged shirt pulling and ripping, I can’t let it out of my sight. This is some kind of fucked up, drug fuelled nightmare, I’m trapped and I want out. The line now runs all the way from the tips of my fingers to my chest, and it’s not stopping. Running to the mirror, forgetting the lamp I’m still holding. A jerk as the wall cord yanks the lamp from my hand, the crash and shattering glass doesn’t slow my panic, gasping and sweating, I must see what is happening. A dark, tortured figure looks back at me in the mirror. My eyes rapidly scanning back and forth, searching for it, I see the line move up across my chest, just under the collar bone. It, the thing, I don’t know what other word to use for it, blooms out from my shoulder and across my heart, spreading lines quickly shooting forward as if fed by the pumping blood, spreading further throughout my body, reaching into my other three limbs, I can feel it itch as they run across my back. Racing for time, hoping it’s not too late, I run out of the bathroom, back to the table and grab my knife.
The blade glints in the shadows as I pick it up and begin.