Chapter 26
by Branden Hart

The bubbles of blood ballooning on Melissa's lips glimmer in the moonlight. The stench of gun powder clings softly to the air, the light breeze not able to take it away from this place. Melissa makes a noise, something guttural and inhuman.

"Pardon?" I ask.

"Why," her voice like gravel being scraped across concrete.

"I'd think that would be obvious by now Melissa."

She moves, winces, a blood bubble bursting and the dark red liquid trailing down the side of her cheek. Slowly, she manages to shake her head from side to side, droplets of the stuff flinging off this way and that, turning the dirt around her into a primal Jackson Pollack painting.

"Why," and then she breathes in deep, her entire body shaking, rattling. "Thursday."

"Oh," I say, realizing what she wants. "You mean why didn't I come over on Thursday?"

She slumps back down onto the ground with a groan, clutching at the spot on her torso where one of the bullets is most likely lodged in a vital organ.

"I didn't come because I'm not stupid. I may not have known at first that sex and fucking were the same thing. I may not have known that you didn't really give a shit about me and were just some skank with daddy issues ready to gobble up as much dick as possible to please whatever man she can find. I didn't know that I should have been safer, or that what I was doing with my foster mom was inappropriate, at the least. But that's not because I'm stupid. It's because nobody cared enough to teach me.

"I'm not stupid Melissa. And I know when I'm being set up."

On Wednesday, with the key in my hand, I trudge back up to the warehouse. That night, I sit quietly with Tim and our friends, listening to various stories, not hearing any of them. Time passes calmly. At one point, Angie comes and sits down next to me and asks if I want another round. I tell her to fuck off. Instead of being angry, she just shrugs and walks across the room to another group of people, some of them looking all too happy to see her.

The next morning, I walk across town to say goodbye to my foster father. The house has a sign in front of it: for sale. There's nobody around, so I peek over the fence.

The tomatoes are growing. Small, green globes of fruit, hanging wistfully from the vines. I open the gate and let myself inside. Carefully, I pluck one and turn it round in my fingers. Too ripe; it's firm. I hold it tightly now, squeezing slowly, until it bursts violently into a green mess of seeds and juice.

"See what you've started?" I ask my foster father. I don't hear an answer from his home six feet under the garden. I walk out and shut the gate tight behind me.

The courtyard to the warehouse is empty as I crawl through the hole in the back fence. All the stoners must be taking naps. Inside is quiet as well, save for the few suggestive noises emanating from the sex rooms. As I approach the main room, I hear a group of people singing drunkenly, augmented by the occasional smash of glass against a wall. When I turn the corner, one smashes against the wall less than a foot from my face. The singing stops, and a group of people all turn to stare at me.

"Jethus mang," says Tim drunkenly. "Ifsh I'd knew you'd be there, I woulda aimed better."

He hiccups and begins to laugh riotously. A couple of the others join in, but begin laughing more uncomfortably as I approach, eyes focused on my friend.

"I need a bottle. Two actually."

"I shaid I wash shorry," he says, rolling his eyes. Then he falls on his back and winces as his head hits the concrete harder than he expects.

"Two Tim. Whiskey."

He realizes I'm serious and sits up with help from the girl next to him. "Well, that's going to take a day or so," he mumbles, the hit to the head helping him regain composure. "I can't go back…"

I leap across the room and tackle him back to the ground. This time his head hits the floor so hard I hear a crack and his eyes roll back in his head a little. I grab the front of his t-shirt and, sitting astride him, pull him up so my breath is hot on his face.

"I need two bottles, NOW, you lousy fuck. There are things going on you can't imagine. Terrible things. And there's no way in HELL I'm going to get through them if you don't give me something to shut up these goddamned voices in my brain. So you figure out a way to get me those two bottles of booze tonight or I'll grab a piece of that bottle you almost clobbered me with and show you exactly what I would have done had it hit me."

The rest of the people in the group begin to back away slowly. It's to my advantage that, in the end, nobody here has friends. A friend is someone you stick up for, no matter what. Someone that you can count on to have your back no matter the odds. But these fuckwits were nothing but leeches. And when they sucked you as dry as they could, even a small threat of danger could get them to let go.

"Two bottles," he manages through shallow breaths. "In my bag. Take 'em. Jesus, my head…"

Only one of whiskey, and one vodka. I hate fucking vodka. But if it's all there is, so be it.

I take the bottles, put them in my backpack, making sure the tops are screwed on tight. Tim's still on the ground, panting.

"I…thought we were…friends," he manages, gulping back tears.

As I shuffle around more in his bag, a creeper of guilt grows around my soul, because Tim was the closest I'd ever had to a true friend. If it weren't for him, I would have died that first night. Or worse.

"We are friends," I say finally, standing up, done with his bag.

"Then why'd you…"

"Tim, if you hadn't noticed by now, I've got some issues I'm going through. Sorry you had to be at the receiving end. I've put something in your bag. It might help ease the pain."

He looks wearily at me, his head swaying, one eye pointing a different direction than the other.

"At the least, it will take care of your emergency room bill. I think I gave you a concussion."

I shoulder my bag and turn to walk out. The group that had previously been singing so merrily with Tim has now gone to different corners of the room.

"Thanks for everything Tim. Depending on how this all goes, I'll keep in touch."

When I leave him, he's still staring after me. Part of me starts to worry. Had I caused any permanent damage? Would Tim get the treatment he needed, or would he languish with his injuries, possibly getting better, possibly dying in his sleep?

"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" I scream as I continue to walk. The noises from the sex rooms stop. The door to one of them opens and a scared girl pokes her head out, watching me walk down the hall mumbling to myself.

"Shut up shut up shut up," I keep repeating. Always in threes.

I don't know which one says it: Rationality or Irrationality. I can't keep the two straight anymore. Whichever one says it, it's a fucking brilliant idea.

"You've had a long day. Have a drink."


It doesn't take long for a drink to turn into half a bottle. As I walk through town, I turn into every alley I see, take some shelter behind the nearest dumpster, and take three large gulps from the bottle of Smirnoff. By the time I reach Melissa's apartment complex, I'm through half the bottle, and the sun is beginning to set.

She wants me there between seven and eight. I'm there at six. There are a few cars in the parking lot, and more streaming in from work. I stand and stare at the front door to her apartment, hoping to catch a glimpse of any sign of life. There is none.

The complex is big, so I walk around slowly, watching people welcoming spouses and kids home. There is a group of people at one of the barbeque pits, laughing and drinking beer. I walk up to them, ask to have one of their plastic cups. A man hands me one with a sense of urgency. The children with them are beginning to comment on my smell.

Back in the parking lot, I walk to the dumpster that looks on Melissa's apartment. I hop inside, my feet sinking in the squishy trash. Before I can get anxious and start washing myself in hand sanitizer, I fill up my cup and drink the entire thing in one gulp.

Peeking through the lid, I can clearly see the door to Melissa's apartment. Time ticks by—nothing. I don't have a watch, but I can tell by the twilight glow that it's well past seven.

Then I see the first one.

It's unmarked, but it's a Crown Vic alright. As it passes underneath one of the lamps illuminating the parking lot, I notice the "exempt" designation on the license plate. Not more than five minutes later, another one creeps along. Both park not thirty yards from the stairs leading up to the apartment.

I continue drinking and watching. More time passes, and the sun goes down completely, leaving an eerie glow of moonlight and lamps that spreads shadows around the ground. Then, from the left, Melissa walks into the parking lot, but instead of going up her stairs, she goes straight to the first Crown Vic that pulled in.

I close the lid to the dumpster, turn around, and sit down in disgust. The bottle almost empty, I take the last few sips in succession. My vigil complete, I'm overtaken by the effects of the alcohol, which had been secondary until now. I let go of the bottle, and quickly, my consciousness, as I fall into a deep sleep.

An Audience of Shadows Archive


Now I need a drink.

Too bad about Tim...


Tim's gonna be fine. Not quite done with him yet.


By the way, after this, there are only four chapters (and an epilogue) left.


Tim's gonna be fine. Not quite done with him yet.

Well THAT's a relief!!!

Note to self: Next time Uber asks you to pass the bottle, JUMP.


Note to self: Next time Uber asks you to pass the bottle, JUMP.

Words of wisdom my friend. Words of wisdom.


I'm going to be sorry to see this end.


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