A short story by Michael R. Lockridge
Dirt flew up in an arc, then down onto a growing pile next to the large hole. Some slid down the side of the pile, and fell back into the hole. A moment later, another bit of dirt flew in a similar arc onto the same pile.
Nearby, a young man sat on the cemetery fence. He munched the apple in his hand, and watched the birth of a grave. A hole that held all of the promises available in this small town. Another bite of the apple. Another shovel full of dirt. Sometime this week, the grave would be needed. The digging was slow, but relentless.
“Whatcha doin’ today, Grease?” Asked someone behind him.
“Hello, Hank.” Said the young man sitting on the fence.
“Howdja know it was me?” Asked Hank.
Grease would not let his alcoholic friend know that his boozy scent was quite distinctive. Friends were hard to come by in Junkietown.
“Just a feeling.” Said Grease. He took one more bite of his apple, and then cast the core away into the bushes. “I am waiting for the bus.”
Hank was carrying a large plastic cup, nearly full of a pungent clear liquid. He must have just come from the “well.” He took a sip, and then offered the cup to his friend on the fence.
Grease accepted the cup. It was none too clean, but he was not concerned about that. The contents would kill anything living on the rim of the cup. Grease just didn’t much like alcohol. He had another drug of choice. Even so, he took a polite sip, and returned the cup.
The two of them continued like this for a time. Together they finished off the contents of Hank’s cup, just as the gravedigger finished the grave.
The digger heaved himself out of the hole. Grabbing his tools, he moved everything down a few feet. After taking a large drink from his water jug, the gravedigger started his next grave.
Hank looked at the bottom of his cup, and then started wandering toward the middle of town. Grease watched the beginnings of the new grave until he heard a diesel engine struggling through the pass into town.
Grease found himself a place near the town hall, where the new residents were dropped off by the Sheriff’s ancient bus. Seven men were disgorged from the ancient transport. They soon stood in a pile of their meager possessions, as the Sheriff’s deputy checked off their names. Without a further word, the deputy got back on the bus, and the door closed. Moments later the taillights disappeared back the way the bus had come.
“Get your stuff and follow me.” Grease said to one of the younger men. The young man glanced around, and then did as instructed. Grease did not even look back as the vultures descended on the property of the new guys. Fresh fish were fair game in Junkietown. Grease felt good just saving one once in a while.
He led the new guy toward his own dormitory building. Inside the main entrance he plucked a key from the room board. The new guy followed, clutching his small bag of personals. Up the stairs and down the hall. Grease put the key in the lock, and pushed the door open. He stood aside and offered the new guy the key.
“They call me Grease.” He said. “I don’t want to call you ‘new guy.’ What’s your name?”
“Dave.” Said the new guy, absently. He stepped into the small room, and looked around. A sickly light filtered in through the dirty window. It revealed a cell-like room, with a built-in bunk. On the bunk was a mattress of dubious quality. A small sink and a toilet huddled in the corner. He threw his small bag onto the bunk, and hugged himself.
“You need a fix.” Grease said. “So do I. Let’s go down and get you on the schedule.”
Dave stepped back out of the room, and closed the door. He started to turn away.
“Lock it.” Said Grease. “Some of these guys will steal anything, just to stay in practice.”
Dave did so, and then the two of them began walking back toward the center of the small town.
They walked through the decaying town center. Grease noticed that the new guy, Dave, did not display much interest in his new surroundings. Grease understood.
“The stuff they give you here is cut clean.” Grease offered. Dave perked up. The subject matter was already on his mind. “It’s government stuff. Your records will indicate the starting dose. After the first week, you can boost that as much as you want.”
Dave looked incredulous.
“They don’t care, man.” Grease went on. “This isn’t methadone, or some magic elixir to help you quit. They gave up on that. One shot at a drug treatment program. I had that. You had that. Failures come here, use freely, and die.”
Dave looked horrified. “So it’s true? What they said was true?”
“Sure, it’s true. Cheaper to just supply the stuff to those who don’t want to quit.”
He watched the new guy out of the corner of his eye. Junk, as much as you want. For free. The only price was living in a dead town, with no way out. Miles from anywhere. Miles from everywhere.
There it was. The realization. The new guy began to smile. Junkie Heaven!
Junkie Hell. Dave would remain the new guy, until he realized the true nature of his new home. Grease could use a new friend, but he would have to see this one over the hump, first.
“Here we are.” Said Grease. He led Dave into a former pharmacy. The irony was lost on the new guy. Hunger was all he knew, right now.
They went to the counter, and Grease introduced Dave to the man working the distribution. The man worked his computer, and then directed the two down to the window at the end of the counter.
They each received a loaded hypodermic, a rubber tie, and an alcohol swab. Grease went to a set of chairs along one wall. Dave followed. In moments each was nodding in one of the chairs. Someone came and collected the used rigs while they nodded.
A bit later, Grease was sitting and watching the new guy. When he seemed together enough, Grease encouraged him to follow out into the street. The obscene sense of well-being flooded Grease. He knew that the new guy felt the same. Still, he needed to learn a few things, get set up for living in Junkietown.
Grease guided the young man around for about an hour. He showed him the Laundromat, which once required coins but was now free. He showed him the commissary, where a few things were provided by the state for the needs of their charges. They visited the park, where winos and junkies hung out between meals and fixes.
He showed him the “well;” the large tank of alcohol made available to anyone who wanted the raw stuff.
“I hate that crap, myself.” Said Grease. “But it’s free.”
He showed him where to eat.
They had lunch, since they were already there and the meal was being set out.
“The food is pretty good.” Said Grease. “May as well make yourself eat, even when you don’t feel like it. No point in getting sucked up around here. You don’t have to choose between food and dope. You can have all you want.” He didn’t think Dave picked up the bitterness in this observation.
After lunch, Grease excused himself.
“Got something I need to do.” He said.
Dave wandered around for a while, then went back to his new dwelling. “Home” was too generous a term. He spent some time cleaning, since he was not dope sick and he wasn’t hungry. Finally, he felt he was finished. He found the shower, down the hall. Once he was cleaned up and dressed, he found he had nothing more to do.
It took him some time to find his new friend. Grease was sitting on a rock, sipping at a plastic cup and looking down a wooded trail.
“What’s that?” Dave asked. He nodded toward the trail.
Grease took another sip.
“That’s the only other way out of town, other than the graveyard.” He answered.
“I though you didn’t like to drink that crap.” Dave said, as he watched Grease stare down the trail.
“I don’t.” Grease answered. “But once in a while I come here, and see if I can talk myself into trying. I keep hoping there’s courage in the cup.”
“Trying what?” Asked Dave.
“The trail.” Grease said. “It’s a two day walk. Two days, no junk. No alcohol. Just walking, trying to stay alive.”
Dave looked down the trail. “Why try?” He asked.
“Some say that there is a treatment center at the end. Another chance at a new, clean life. I come here, sometimes, and wonder if I want it enough to start walking.”
He drained the cup.
“Not today. Come on.” Grease said.
The two began walking back toward the center of Junkietown.