(That’s) What Friends Are For by Joshua Swainston

It wasn’t until he scratched his nose and said, “I’m getting outa here,” that Reggie knew Lou was holding out. The nose thing was a tell, a learned behavior from years of dedicated opiate use. Red faded lines scored across his nostrils, inflamed with each rake of nail on skin.

The living room curtains had been drawn days ago, in an attempt to curse the sun, as well as entire straight world that thrived in its rays. The only remaining notion of time blinked from the DVD/VCR combination, but even in sobriety the neon numbers were held suspect. OxyContin metered the days at irregular intervals that suffered mania, desperation and beautiful, beautiful nothing.

“You sure, man?” he asked of Lou.

“Yeah, I should get back, you know?” Lou responded.

Reggie’s translucent drifting amongst the states of consciousness left him craving sleep, sex, and a decent shit. Most of all, he craved more of the acrid aluminum cloud wafting into his lungs as he sucked the smoke of burning happiness. “You got anymore? Maybe you could leave something, you know, to get me down?”

“I gotta bit, not enough.” Lou reached into the front pocket of his cargo shorts, clutching a plastic baggie containing the remains. Littering the living room, amid the base of the love seat and recliner, lay the evidence of the duo’s time together. Tin foil strips tracked with the burnt starch binder of the O-C-80’s. Two Bic stick pen cases lay nearby for easy use if needed to siphon more of the euphoric smoke.

Reggie didn’t need to see what was going on in Lou’s shorts to know. “Dude, I smoked all mine with you.”

“Fuck Reg, you can’t play that trip on me. We both pitched in. If we had the cash or the pills to keep this party going, it’d be a different.”

From the short couch, Reggie waved Lou off with a limp directionless stroke, “Fine dude, fine. Fuck you.”

“You’re fucking high, man.” Lou rose from the recliner, his legs slinking bellow him. Stink and oil clung to the dandruff kernels bordering his receding hairline. “Fuck it man.”

“Yeah, well, well…” A residual wave of bliss rolled over Reggie before he managed a retort. “…well, w…”

Lou stepped lightly across the living room, paying careful attention to his medicated companion. Concentrating on his steps caused his movements to become grossly animated, as if he were tiptoeing like Snidely Whiplash.

When he got to the door, the multiple locks became foreign: a deadbolt, slide pin, and a chain. For a second, the thought crossed his mind that maybe the locks were there to keep him in instead of keeping the world out. After undoing the deadbolt and the slide pin, Lou attempted the door. Why he didn’t initially remove the chain, he couldn’t say. In fact he stared at the movement of the links as he pulled the door to maximum fulcrum and the chain came taught.

It might have been the sudden shaft of sunlight infiltrating the confines of the den. Or maybe it was the sound of link on link merging into place, the audio awareness that the remaining opiates were walking out the door. Whatever the cue, something within Reggie went off, feral and wild, like a hyena. Reggie bound from his serene position sprawled on the love seat to all fours clutching Lou’s back. The sudden force shot the door shut. A click signified the latching. Reggie’s legs pinned tight against either side of Lou’s hip bone. His left arm flexed tightly around his prey’s neck while his right found rhythm pounding on his skull.

Lou contorted trying to get his drug buddy off his back. “What are you doing man? Get off me.” His hands wrestled against the restraint on his neck.

The noises emitted from deep inside Reggie contained howl, growls, and demonic tongues. His nose near enough to the nape of Lou’s neck, he took in the spectrum of chemical soaked perspiration. Reggie wanted to lick the glistening skin, to bight it, if only for the taste. If only as a reminder of what he wanted so badly.

Pushing his weight back, Lou attempted to smash the parasite against the adjacent wall. The two collided in a lack luster thud. Reggie remained firmly attached. Lou pushed with his legs, but after days of relatively zero physical activity, his body underperformed. The wall managed to assist in propping Lou up, allowing for more accurate contortion of his hands. His arms above his head reaching back, his right thumb fell directly into Reggie’s eye socket.

The pressure caused Reggie to squeal in pain. Instead of grappling with the foreign thumb, the wild beast grabbed a wall sconce, a little light with a fake brass finish and a floral miniature lamp shade. A ‘POP’ and the crack of plaster, the sconce separated from the wall trailing excess electrical cord. He used the flimsy fixture as a cuddle until Lou relented, dropping his arms. With the opportunity open, Reggie wrapped the cording of the sconce around Lou’s neck twice. Lou attempted to create a purchase with his thumbs between the cord and his windpipe, but Reggie held two ends of the electrical cord and dropped his mass to the carpet.

The weigh took Lou back, bending him at his knees and then on top of his attacker. Reggie continued to pull tight the cord, watching over the top of Lou’s head for the struggle to subside. Unceremoniously, the body gave up. No gargle. No gasp. Simply fight … and then no fight.

Reggie pushed Lou’s body of from atop him then sat on the floor, panting. Breath after breath, he regained fragments of humanity. Desire still drove his actions, and soon he removed the plastic baggie from Lou’s pocket.

The body heaped on stained carpet of the entry way. Reggie loaded the quarter pill, one fourth of eighty, onto a fresh strip of foil. “You don’t hold out on friends.”

*Like what you see? Read about the author and his novel TACOMA PILL JUNKIES @ tacomapilljunkies.com*