The alley was gloomy but the red sky prevented it from being truly dark. It was never really dark in Las Vegas, the sleepless city where saner people journeyed in pursuit of their dreams. Still she herself had come here in mindless flight from her own. When closing your eyes means reliving the end of your world, the screaming, the blood, the silence afterwards, the best place to be is somewhere that will stay awake with you. Or so she had thought.
After spending several nights, all her money, herself and her final resolve on this her aimless vigil she had done more than to change her mind about the city. It never slept, yes. And it was cold and heartless and anonymous enough for her to consider it a fitting purgatory for what she had done. But these nights in wakeful self destruction had also made her realize that even coming to this place had been pointless. She might deserve this agonizing emptiness and all the terrible things she let happen to herself here, but in the end all she really wanted was for the memories to go away, for everything to go away. And finally there was only one bullet proof way to do that.
She had decided to kill herself three days ago when she had awoken in an echoing stairwell to a stranger touching her, and had realized that she did not care. The man had pulled away when he met her eyes, maybe shocked by the emptiness he saw there. She had just looked at him as he scrambled away, hadn’t said anything. She had known then that there was nothing that other people or she herself could do to her that would drown out the numb pain that grew and grew inside.
Since that morning she had found some solace in preoccupying herself with planning how she would go about ending her own life. After considering several options she had come to the conclusion that shooting herself was the way she’d prefer to go, and for that she needed a gun. And so here she was, in this gloomy alley that was denied total darkness by the light pollution of the distant Vegas sky.
When a dark shape emerged from the shadows at the other end of the alley she found herself almost hoping that he was a psycho killer, here to do her job for her. When he approached, however, it soon became clear that he wasn’t. His age, probably only a year or two older than herself, and his sympathetic looks even made her doubt that he was the fixer she had expected to meet here tonight.
“You’re the one they call Aiden?”, she said.
He nodded. “And you’re looking to buy a gun.” It was not a question.
“Yes”, she said and produced the stolen wallet. “How much?”
He laughed quietly. “Don’t you want to see it first? Decide if it’s any good?”
“Does it fire bullets?”
“Well, then it’s exactly what I’m looking for.”
He shrugged and walked up to her, closing the gap that separated them. She stiffened but did not move. When he was standing right in front of her he stopped and produced a small package from inside his jacket. It was wrapped in newspapers and from the headlines she could tell that the packing had been done today. He started folding the newspapers back but then seemed to catch himself.
“You’re not a cop, are you?” He shot her a sly smile.
“Do I look like a cop to you?”
He thought about it. “Nah, way too young. What are you, fourteen?”
“Fifteen”, she snapped. “Look, are we doing this or not?”
His smile broadened as he made a face of theatrical defeat. “Okay okay, take it easy sister”, he laughed and resumed the unwrapping of the package. “Looks alright to you?”
In the dim light she could see that the gun was old and worn, but of course this did not trouble her at all. She took out the money and threw the wallet aside. She didn’t need it anymore. “Yeah. As I said, how much?”
He named the price and she started counting the bills, realizing that she could actually hand him the whole bunch but still having some idea about fair being fair. Besides, if she was going to give away her last money in this world, it should not be to some lowlife criminal like this guy – no matter how nice he looked. She handed him the money.
“I’m curious, what are you going to do with it?”, he said as he accepted the money.
“Kill myself”, she said flatly and nodded towards the package. “Now give it to me.”
He made a shocked face and started to reply, but then his eyes went to something behind her shoulder and the shock turned into fear. He backed one step. “Who are –”
She turned around, frightened by his reaction, but only got halfway before something struck her hard across the back of her head. Before she hit the ground, however, she heard the fixer scream in terror or pain. Then everything went truly dark.
A warm summer night, junior high graduation done and the world at their feet. She has been kissed tonight, kissed for the first time. She doesn’t know if she should tell Indiana, it seems like one of those private things that make her separate from her twin sister and she kind of likes that feeling. Besides, Indiana would of course counter with having gone a lot farther, a lot earlier.
They have all been sitting on the roof of Dennis’ mom’s house for hours now, drinking and looking at the sky. She is lying on her back, smoking a cigarette and listening to her friends talking drunkenly about their dreams and hopes for the future.
This will be their last summer together. Most of them will start new schools next semester and even though they all promise to stay in touch they all know that is just words. They have to make the most of this time and tonight’s party is supposed to set the bar high. And thus they have been drinking and smoking tonight like there was no tomorrow.
Then Dennis’ mom gets a call from one of the neighbors and rushes home from wherever she has been. All hell breaks loose and everybody runs for their lives – except for Dennis of course, who has to stay and face the consequences.
Indiana shakes her sister and wakes her from her drunken thoughts. Reminds her that they have taken their own parents’ car to the party and that they are dead if it isn’t back by morning. She cries and says that she forgot about it, that she has been smoking weed and can’t drive.
She herself looks at her sister Indiana and says that she can drive, she will get the car and the both of them home before their parents notice anything. They can hear Dennis’ mom calling the police from inside the house as they drop down from the low roof and laughingly rush to the car. But they don’t come home that night.
The impact is sudden. Either she fell asleep behind the wheel, or something jumped into the road. She loses control. The car crashes into something. The noise and the fear and the pain are terrible as the windshield breaks and the universe explodes.
Consciousness returns in flashes. Pain. Confusion. Hard to breathe. Blink. Indiana lifeless. Not breathing at all. Blink. Feels for her pulse, finds nothing. Only blood. Blink. Shocked. Nauseous. Terrified. This cannot be real. Blink.
She is walking down a road. Walking. Walking. Walking. No shoes, torn clothes, broken mind. Half of the time she can’t remember what she’s doing here or why her whole body is hurting. No cars here at this hour, no one to ask for help. Help with what?
She sees a building suddenly. A gas station. Her feet leave bloody footprints on the brick floor as she enters. A worried face says something she doesn’t hear. She needs to borrow a phone. Knows the three digit number by muscle memory only. Tells the voice on the other end that something has happened. Her sister Indiana won’t wake up. The car is ruined. She has lost her shoes. She doesn’t tell the voice that she was kissed for the first time that night or that the world is at her feet, because those things don’t matter anymore. Nothing matters now.
She puts down the phone and doesn’t know suddenly what to do. She doesn’t want this to be true. Doesn’t want to see the sirens when they come to get her sister. Doesn’t want to face her parents or her feelings or the cold truth. So she exits the gas station and continues walking, as if refusing to return to the car wreck can make all this go away. But deep down she knows that it can’t. Her sister Indiana is dead and it is her fault. And nothing can make that go away. And still she walks and walks and walks.
Her eyes blinked open slowly. Her head hurt and everything was spinning. The world was awry, she was lying on her side and could feel the hard concrete against her face. She blinked again. It was hard to focus and she couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing in front of her. The fixer was lying on his back farther into the alley, arms outstretched and eyes closed. A dark shape was sitting on top of him, seemingly tearing at his throat with its bare teeth. She gasped in terror and the creature turned towards her.
It was a man, but judging by his pale skin and dead eyes he might as well have been a walking corpse. Blood poured from his open mouth as he smiled manically, revealing rows upon rows of razor-sharp, deadly teeth. She screamed and tried to crawl away, but her back hit the wall and then the creature was over her.
It was fast and strong. She tried to break free, she tried to call for help, but everything she did only seemed to make the man-shaped monster all the more eager. Her head was forced to the side as it tore at her clothes to get to her neck. The terror she felt when its teeth broke her skin made her realize that she did not want to die after all. It pressed her head against the wall as it drank, and all she could do was to stare at the body of the fixer who lay just a few steps away from her, blood still pouring from the wound in his neck. He was not moving at all and soon neither would she. And then she laid eyes on the gun.
The fixer must have dropped it as he tried to flee from the monster, and now it lay glistening in the shadows just within her arm’s reach. She tried to ignore the weakness and pain as the monstrosity on top of her killed her slowly by draining her blood, and she tried to refrain from giving in to the panic that was growing inside of her with every slowing heartbeat. She reached for the gun, the gun with which only moments earlier she had been planning to take her own life. She felt her fingers go numb, her consciousness slip away. And then she felt the cold metal in the palm of her hand. She grasped it desperately, hoping with the last remnants of her waking reason that it was loaded.
The darkness at the edges of her vision covered almost everything now and she could feel her body shutting down. With her final strength she raised the heavy piece of metal and put it against the creature’s head. More than anything else it was the muscles in her fingers acting reflexively that made her succeed in pulling the trigger. Then an explosion of sound and recoil blew away the remnants of her senses and she finally lost consciousness.
Heavy steps approaching. She blinked, felt terrible, weak, wanted to throw up. She didn’t know how long she had been out.
“Holy shit, you sure made short work of that motherfucker.”
Her eyes had been resting on the worn, black boots moving towards her through the alley. Now she struggled to look up. As she did so she noticed the bleeding corpse lying collapsed across her legs. Before she could react the big man in the black leather jacket bent down and pulled the creature away. Drops of warm blood spattered across her face from the crater in the creature’s head. She was too weak and shocked to do anything else than to stare as the man routinely stowed the body into a trash bin, sprinkled it with liquid from a pocket flask and lit a match. The smell was terrible as the corpse’s hair caught fire and the rest of it started to burn.
“What…” She tried to speak but realized that she didn’t know what she wanted to say.
“Hank Hooligan. Pleasure.” The man took a sip from the pocket flask and lit a cigarette with a match from the same box. “You freelance?”
She shook her head, confused. “What, no, I –”
“Nah, never mind. I know this guy. Real good at getting things done, this kid.” He had walked over to the body of the fixer and was now checking his pulse. “You with him?”
This was getting more absurd by the minute. “No… He, I, he was selling me a gun.”
“Ah”, the man called Hank Hooligan said and threw the lifeless body over his shoulder. “Well, you made good use of it at that, didn’t you? Anyway, can you walk?”
She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure about anything right now. Who was this man? What had just happened to her? Was she going mad? Somehow she managed to climb to her feat and then stood there, leaning heavily against the wall as the world spun all round her.
“That won’t do”, Hank said. “I have to get this Aiden kid help quick as fuck if he’s not gonna die. Would be a waste. Either you get your shit together or I leave you here.”
That did it for her. She definitely didn’t want to be left alone in this dark alley with a burning, bloodsucking corpse as her only company. The mere thought of it almost made her panic. Hank nodded as she took a deep breath and started walking after him, using the wall as support for every step.
“Good”, he said. “I left my ride just down the street, you don’t have to walk far.”
“Who are you?”, she breathed strainedly while fighting not to collapse onto the ground.
“Told you, I’m Hank”, he said. “I hunt vampires and you just did my job for me. Means I owe you some help in return, don’t it? Looks like you could use some.”
She stopped. Only hours earlier she would have thought him mad. Now she didn’t know what to think. She looked back at the gun that lay dropped and forgotten on the ground next to a drying puddle of her own blood. She realized that she didn’t want it anymore, had probably never really wanted it.
She had come here looking for a sleepless place with terrible shadows to cut herself on. Tonight she had found exactly that, but also something else. She had found that the purgatory she had come here seeking for herself went so much deeper than she had ever dared dream of, and that the shadows concealed more than saner people realized. This could be more than a punishment for her – this could be a new start.
“You coming?” Hank had turned around at the end of the alley.
She nodded and struggled to catch up with him. He seemed to realize now the bad shape she was in, and offered her his free arm. Together they walked towards his car that stood parked further down the street. Hank put Aiden’s lifeless body in the back seat and she caught herself wondering if he would actually survive. He then opened the passenger door and helped her inside.
As he started the engine he turned to her again. “What’s your name, by the way?”
She was tired. Didn’t have the strength to come up with a lie. “Samantha”, she said. Nobody had called her by that name since the night her sister died.
“Samantha”, Hank repeated. Seemed to taste the name. “Nah, it’s too long. I’ll call you Sam.”
Samantha nodded. Might as well leave her old name behind as well. And as Hank Hooligan pulled out from the sidewalk and started driving at high speed through the city, she made a decision. The old Samantha might as well be allowed to have died there in that alley tonight. She had gone there to end it all, and that was what had happened. It was the old Samantha who was burning in that metal bin. Now remained only Sam, and Sam was not going back to the world of sane people. She was going to see just how deep this rabbit hole purgatory went, and she would never look back.
And as the car sped through the streets the sun rose upon Las Vegas, a sleepless city where saner people journeyed in pursuit of their dreams, and a new world started.
Chris Smedbakken, 2016-12-03