Harbour Secrets

With thanks to our gentle and diplomatic Friday Fictioneers host Rochelle Wisoff–Fields, and to Fatima Fakier Deria for this week’s photo prompt. It was HARD but I actually told the tale in 100 words.

My computer is for some reason uncooperative, but at Rochelle’s blog you can click on the “Frog” and read the stories other bloggers have posted in response to this photo.

PHOTO PROMPT © Fatima Fakier Deria

“I wonder how many ships down there are running drugs?”

Andy turned to the senior manager standing by the window. “What makes you…. Oh, hey. I’m sorry, Marv.”

Marv nodded and turned to go, icy anger replacing his usual grin. Exiting the office he suddenly slammed his fist into the door-frame.

The junior clerk looked up, shocked.

“Last week police found Marv’s grandson and fiancee dead in his apartment,” Andy explained. “That new street drug…the one cops are warning about…”

The clerk swore softly. A few minutes later he headed for the toilet…and flushed six white tablets.

The Devil’s Dog — Part D

The boy was glad to be in the car, but he wasn’t happy. They were traveling but the trips weren’t bringing him much pleasure. A lot of attractive sights passed by, but he wasn’t really seeing them like he did before.

Every now and then he’d recall the fear in the eyes of grocery store clerks, the pleadings of the old lady, the ashen face of the girl on the sidewalk. Or he’d see again his home and family and long for the good old days. Then he’d hang his head in despair. His companion didn’t seem to notice or care.

One evening the boy sat up and looked around in surprise as the car entered the darkest tunnel he’d ever seen. Man, this place was awful! As the blackness surrounded them on three sides he wished the car would fly through and be out into the light again. But partway through the tunnel the driver stopped.

“Hey, what are you doing?” the boys said. “Let’s move on and get out of this creepy place.”

“I been thinking, kid, that I’m getting tired of you. You’re no fun anymore. I’m going to find someone more interesting to ride with.”

“Yeah. Hey, I’m sorry. But…” the boy started to tremble.

“Get out.”

“Not here! It’s so black. Please don’t make me get out here!”

“Yes, here. Now.”

“Mister, I’m sorry,” the boy whined. “Give me another chance. Or if you want, you can let me out as soon as we come into the light again, but please don’t leave me in this horrible place. I’ll never find my way out.”

“No, you never will. Now get out,” the man ordered.

“What do you mean? Please, Mister, have a little mercy.”

“I don’t do mercy. Tough luck, kid. Goodbye.” Then Cruncher growled, grabbed his shoulder and gave him a rough shaking. He knew he had to obey. Slowly he opened the car door and stepped into the blackness.

Behind him he heard the driver’s cruel laugh, then the man said to his dog, “He’s all yours, Cruncher.”

“Mister. Please!” the boy shouted, but the car drove away.

Welcome to the “happy ever after” of a drug addict.

Please don’t go there.

AFTERWORD

Why I Wrote This Story

When I was in my early teens, girls were just getting into smoking. The “wild” girls smoked and drank, so if you wanted to make an impression on those ones, of course you’d want to as well. And I did want to be “cool” like the others. But…

Around that time the evidence was piling up and various literature was being circulated on the health risks related to smoking. One day I saw a picture of a smoker’s lungs, black with tar. Black as the asphalt the road construction crew was spreading in front of our home.

Yes, I wanted to be “with it” and blow smoke rings to impress some of my friends, but that picture stopped me. No way did I want my lungs to ever look like that. Years later I’ve heard friends describe the crushing power of nicotine addiction; I’ve seen friends and family struggle long and hard to be free. It doesn’t look so “cool” farther down the road.

Now I’ve tried to draw a picture of drug addiction as I’ve seen it played out in many lives and read about in news articles. I haven’t fudged much; I’ve painted it pretty black.

Nobody who starts out experimenting with addictive substances expects such an end, but drugs drag a lot of pretty – and smart – teens into the pits. Perhaps one of our most helpful revelations is that we are not “too smart” to end up in a pile of rags on some street corner. If our mind would be open to that possibility, we’d avoid a lot of pitfalls – and have more sympathy for the ones we see there.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know this story is way out in left field from where I usually go. I prefer upbeat and humorous, but I’ve written this just the way it came to me: a graphic illustration of addiction. If I’ve followed the wrong inspiration and taken you on an unnecessarily awful ride, I sincerely apologize. On the other hand, if someone thinks twice about the temptations they are facing – if this story stops one person from getting into that car – I’ll feel it was worthwhile.

But I hate this ending. I’ll post an Epilogue shortly, because even in the blackest tunnels there is still hope. There are rescue squads. I hope this story inspires you to be part of one.

The Devil’s Dog — Part C

It was a Monday evening when the car ran out of gas again. The boy gritted his teeth when he heard the motor start to cough and clutched the armrest as the car drifted to a stop beside a seedy old hotel.

“How can the tank be empty already?” he demanded. A ripple of panic shot along his nerves.

“We’re going farther every weekend,” said the driver. “So we’re using more gas. Your paycheck doesn’t cover it anymore.”

“Can’t we stretch it out somehow?”

The driver grunted. “You’re saying that now, but you’re the one begging for longer rides every weekend. Anyway, there’s always money to be found; you just gotta learn how.”

The man pointed toward the run-down building. “See that old wino sitting in front of that hotel? He just cashed his welfare check, he’s got himself a bottle and he’s looking for some young thing like you to keep him company.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “No way!” he screamed.

“Calm down,” his friend said in an easy tone. “You don’t have to do anything nasty. Just act friendly, have a couple of drinks together. He’ll pass out and you can lighten his wallet for him. You’ll be doing him a favor. He’ll have to stay sober this month.” The man chuckled.

“Listen, if you think it’s so easy, you go keep him company. He’s not putting his hands on me.” The boy jerked on the door handle. “I’m outta here. I hate you and your crazy schemes.”

Right then Cruncher clamped his jaws around the back of the boy’s head and squeezed. Serious pain shot through his head.

“Listen kid, this is MY car. I’m the driver; I make the rules. You got that?”

The dog started shaking the boys’s head from side to side just like he’d do with one of his bones. “You’ll do what I say. Got that?” the man repeated.

“Yeah, yeah,” the boy yelped and Cruncher let go.

“Now get out there and get us some gas money,” the man ordered. “Rob a bank, steal old ladies purses, roll a wino, find some sugar Mama, or Daddy. I don’t care. Do what you gotta do, but bring us back some cash. Now. And be quick about it or I’ll send Cruncher out to find you.” The man handed him the gun again. “Here. You might need this.”

Desperately the boy grabbed the gun. On an impulse he aimed it at the driver but the man just laughed in his face. “Go ahead. Then you’d be alone in this car with Cruncher. He’d tear you to pieces. I told you he’s here for my protection.”

“I hate you,” the boy muttered. “I hate you, I HATE you.”

“You may hate some of my ideas, but you love the rides. So really you love me, right?”

The boy had no answer. He got out of the car and stumbled along the street. By the time he’d scraped together enough cash to fill the tank a couple more times, he hated himself just as much as he hated the driver.

As he made his way back to the car again he passed what looked like a skeleton wrapped in rags, sitting on the sidewalk with its back propped against the wall of a diner. He glanced at it in passing, then turned away.

Then a voice came from that pile of rags. “Hey, guy. Need a girlfriend? I’m available.”

He whirled around. Yes, it was alive. A girl – or was it an old lady? – was sitting among those rags. She was emaciated and looked like she’d just crawled out of a volcanic eruption; everything about her was grey. As her face came into focus he could see that she really was young.

“I’ll do anything for you. Anything you want, for twenty bucks,” she said in the most lifeless voice he’d ever heard.

He felt sorry for her, but what should he say. He thought of the old “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” but she’d probably think he was mocking her. So he settled for, “Who are you? Been here long?”

“Too long, buddy. You probably won’t believe this but I had a good name once, came from a respectable family even. My parents are crying their eyes out right now because I’m here.”

“Oh, man,” the boy exclaimed. “How’d you end up in this mess?” Then he regretted his words. Who was he to talk? He lowered himself down beside her.

“I was in college. I started hanging out with the party crowd and loved it. I had a lot of friends. Then one day this guy in a big fancy car drove up and offered to take us to beautiful places. Some got in, but some were chicken – afraid of the huge dog he had in the back seat. I shoulda been, too. I guess. But I thought I was too smart to end up like this.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Sounds like the trip I took, too.”

“I thought so. I can see it in your eyes.

He looked at the rags around her. Would he be sitting there someday, too? “Ever tried to run away?”

“A few times.” She moved the ragged blanket and he saw her legs, full of scars. “That dog always finds me and chews me up.”

The boy shuddered and shook his head in sympathy. He wanted to say something, but what? What answer did he have?

“Right now I’m waiting for the driver to come back and pick me up, but my Mom calls and comes around sometimes, begs me to come home. She doesn’t know how hard that dog can bite.”

The boys reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple of twenties. “Here. Get yourself a room,” he told her. “Get cleaned up and buy yourself a meal.” But he knew she wouldn’t.

“You’d better get back yourself,” she said, “Before your dog comes after you.”

He jumped up. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe,” she replied, but there was no hope in her voice. None at all.

The boy cried all the way back to the car.

To be continued…

The Devil’s Dog

PART B

Back in the car again, the boy couldn’t believe he’d actually gotten away with it. He handed the roll of money over to the driver. “Never again,” he grumbled, remembering the terrified face of the young girl at the till. A pretty girl, too; he could have liked her – if they’d only met under more decent circumstances.

The driver laughed. “Why quit, now that you’ve got some practice? We’re going to need more gas, you know.”

The boy looked him square in the eye and vowed, “Never again.”

They skimped for awhile and managed from paycheck to paycheck for the next several months, but one Tuesday evening, after an especially long weekend ride, the car ran out of gas again. The boy cringed when he heard the motor start to sputter. What would his friend suggest now?

The car came to a complete stop and they sat in silence for about ten minutes. Crusher sat up in the back seat and started to rumble in the boy’s ear.

Then his friend pointed to an apartment building. “See that old dame waiting at the bus stop there? She just cashed her pension check and she’s carrying most of her money in her purse. She’s heading downtown to buy groceries, but if you’re quick, you can borrow a bunch of twenties from her before the bus comes.”

“Borrow? She doesn’t look like the type to led a few hundred bucks to a complete stranger.”

“What’s wrong with you, kid?” The driver sounded really annoyed. All right then, take.” Then he changed to a smoother tone. “Like Robin Hood, you know. The government gives those old folks a great pension – and most of them have half a million squirrelled away in the bank from selling their house or farm. They can share a little with us.”

The boy watched the old lady for a moment. She didn’t dress like she had half a million in the bank. In fact she looked very average – maybe a lot like his own grandmother. “It can’t do that. It would be like robbing my Granny,” he exclaimed.

“So go ask your granny for a couple grand.”

The boy sighed. “She wouldn’t give it to me. She doesn’t think I should be in this car with you.”

“Then go ask that old lady. You don’t even need a gun here. Just take this.” The man handed him a hunting knife with a wicked blade.

“And what if I won’t? You know, we’ve had some great times but I’m starting to not like your company. Maybe I should just get out and walk from now on.”

“Yeah, kid.  Maybe you should just try that for awhile – see how far you get.” His sinister laugh echoed in the car.

The boy took the knife and stuck it in his pocket, but still hesitated. Cruncher was slobbering on his ear now, so he shot out of the car and slammed the door behind him. He’d had enough of this guy and his dog.

He started to walk down the sidewalk, but the heat hit him like the wind from a passing semi. He almost fainted, being so used to the car’s air-conditioned environment. The wind blew dirt in his face and stung his eyes. Before long everything looked gray and dismal. He’d forgotten what the real world looked like. Folks glanced in his direction and seemed to frown. They stepped aside as he passed; no one had a smile or kind word for a hoodlum like him.

Then his stomach started to heave and he knew he needed to get back into that car. Whatever it took. Far off he saw the bus heading his way – it would soon be at this stop – so he clutched the knife handle in his pocket and ran toward the old lady.

Her face registered sheer terror when she saw the knife, but she hung onto the purse straps and begged him not to rob her. This cash was all she had to pay her rent, to buy month’s food. He hardened his heart to her loss and yanked the purse out of her hands.

As he ran back to the car he could see the driver smirking and a feeling of disgust washed over him. He opened the door of the car, threw himself down onto the seat and tossed the purse at the driver. Then he rubbed his hand over his face to wipe away the tears that were washing the grit down his cheeks.

“I’ll work more,” he said. “I never want to go through that again.” He shook his head, but the old lady’s pleas kept re-echoing in his ears.

“Aw, kid. You’re so soft. It’s just an old lady. Don’t worry about her. She’ll get lots of help from the community.” He opened the purse and pulled out the wallet. “Nice haul. We can go some great new places with this.”

Then he reached over and patted the boy’s shoulder. “I’m glad you decided to come back. I was about to send Cruncher to fetch you.”

To be continued…

The Devil’s Dog

This allegory came to me some time ago and I started on it for a writing practise Monday. Now folks want to read the whole story, so here is Part A. Be warned: it’s horrible – all the more horrible because it’s so true in some lives.

THE DEVIL’S DOG

The boy stood at the curb scuffing his toe on the sidewalk, bored and lonely. Mom was doing her thing; Dad was doing his. Both of them had their friends. At school he was invisible. Not being a jock nor a hunk, girls never looked twice at him. He was never invited to the great parties.

He squashed a bug with his heel. He was just a nobody. Fifteen, his whole life ahead of him, they told him. But what kind of a life? Right now it looked like he was in for a pretty bleak existence. He had nothing going for him. Not a person in the world cared about him.

Suddenly this huge car roared up beside him and stopped. The coolest, friendliest-looking man called out through the open window, “Hey, kid. You look like you got nothing to do. Wanna ride along with me? I can take you places where you’ll have great times. No point standing here in Dullsville all your life. Hop in.”

The boy opened the door, but drew back in horror when he saw a vicious-looking dog in the back seat, licking his chops as if he was ready to devour anyone who got in that car.

“You scared of my dog, kid? Don’t be. He’s a real pussycat.” The man reached back to ruffle the dog’s ears. “His name’s Cruncher – just a little joke between him and me, though. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. And I have complete control of him; I promise he won’t give you any trouble as long as I’m around.”

Still the boy hesitated, for hadn’t he seen that very dog chewing on some bones in the school yard one day? They’d looked like people bones. For some reason his knees shook.

“Get in, son. I can show you terrific times. As long as you’re willing to do your part, we can see sights you’ve never seen before, party like you’ve never partied before. You’ll find lots of friends in my crowd, too. They’ll welcome you with open arms. You don’t have to stand there all alone. Come on and have some fun. Don’t worry about my dog; he’s just here to protect me.”

The boy wavered but the offer was so tempting. Right now the future held nothing more promising for him so he climbed in, shuddering as he felt the dog’s hot breath on the back of his neck. The car sped off.

The man wasn’t lying; the trip was thrilling. He loved the feeling of speed rushing over his skin and vitality flowing through his veins. The world looked brilliant, as if he were seeing everyday things with brand new eyes. His social life was wild, too; his new friend introduced him to a fun crowd. They all climbed into the car at times and flew around in that awesome machine – and for the most part the dog sat quietly in the back seat.

Friends came and went – sometimes they disappeared out of the car without the boy even noticing. He’d suddenly realize someone else was gone. Cruncher came and went at times, too. The man would drop him off for awhile, then circle around and pick him up later. Sometimes when Cruncher got back in the car, he was carrying a huge bloody bone. The boy could hear him crunching on them in the back seat. His name wasn’t such a joke after all.

Of course the gas gauge read ‘Empty’ at times. They needed to fill it up and to do this they needed money. So the boy did his share: he dropped out of school and got himself a job pounding nails. The work was okay; he even built up some muscles. Girls started to notice him. But his life was centered around riding in that crazy car. Every Friday he handed his paycheck to the driver and they were set for another week of high flying.

Then one Wednesday evening the car sputtered to a stop. “Outta gas,” the man said. “Guess we’re outta money, too. Now, kid, you have to do a bit more to keep us going.”

The boy shot a curious glance at his companion. “How much more?”

“See that store over there?” The man pointed to a little grocery store. “Go ask them for some cash.”

“Yeah, right. Like they’re going to hand over a wad of twenties to some kid who walks in.”

“Take this,” the man told him, handing over a handgun.

The boy gasped. ”No way, man!”

“Come on, kid. You don’t have to hurt anybody. Just wave it around, look like you mean business and they’ll give you what you ask for.”

The kid’s jaw dropped. “You want me to ROB the store? I’m no crook. I’ll land up in jail.”

“No you won’t. Just be quick about it. I’ll cover for you out here and delay the cops so you can get away. Or if you’re really chicken, wait until after dark and crawl in a window. But the till might be empty then.”

“Hey, I never promised…” the boy sputtered.

“Look, kid. We’re out of gas; we need some cash. And you agreed to do your part, remember? Or do you just want to sit here, going nowhere, until Friday night?

The boy was about to protest again, but right then the dog growled and he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. Cruncher was chewing on him.

“Cruncher doesn’t like just sitting here,” said the man. It sounded like a threat.

The boy grabbed the gun was out of that car in a flash. He rammed it in his pocket, but his hands shook something awful as he headed into the store.

To be continued…