Pharaoh was a collector of detritus. At least that’s what he imagined himself doing. Like a hermit crab eating excrement off the ocean floor - except he was a human, sweeping up the rubbish of neglected neighborhoods. He scavenged mainly. Bottles - glass ones especially, for the coins that he could tinkle in his pocket.
He tightened the scarf around his ears because it was cold this time of year. Even though it was supposed to be spring it never did feel like it on the west coast. Yet it never felt like winter either and that was reassuring.
The plastic bottles weren’t so bad. Sometimes people left out empty beer bottles, placed carefully back in their cases. He was touched by their kindness. It made it easy for him to scoop them up and put them in the trolley he pulled behind his stolen bike. He didn’t like to think of it as stolen, so much as conveniently left unlocked because Karma figured it screwed him over enough times. If you find a break, you have to take it. Pharaoh learned that at a young age, and it had become his mantra.
The crisp air bit at his fingertips as he measured his peddles. There was a certain speed optimal for observation. If he maintained it he rarely missed a find.
Pharaoh was clean now. No one really believed it. His nails were still broken, his teeth still ground down, his skin a strange shade of unhealthy yellow, like he was misted in turmeric. It wasn’t like you could just go back and undo those things. It’s not like years he’d spent filling his veins with various substances would stop addling his brain.
He did like to hum. Pharaoh liked to make up various tunes, or just sing out of key when he got some speed up with the weight of his collection. Recently he’d found a bell for his bike: a nicely worn beige one. It made a pretty interlude to his humming, plus when someone was in his way he could curtly ring at them. It was well received, and he preferred not to shout. The way his voice changed disturbed him. Rasping like dead leaves rubbing aggressively at one another.
The last time he caught himself in the mirror he hadn’t realized how much he’d aged. The crow’s feet cornered his eyes, and deep lines pulled his mouth down into a frown. The black tattoo of vines or barbwire, or whatever, he couldn’t remember, drooped sadly down his arms. So he got a towel and tucked the edges over the glass. He preferred to think of someone else.
Someone who had a purpose. Just like in the ocean. Someone who was a scavenger, a garbage diver, a bonafide treasure hunter. Someone who saw things as beautiful when others saw them for trash. He thought of his apartment as a museum: A museum to rejected household items. He felt companionship, even camaraderie with these objects, because they were thrown out of society just like him and just like him, they survived.
The MDMA in this city is dirty.
Some guy named “mad scientist” got spooked and stopped making it. Kids these days want shrooms, or LSD. No one wants to risk the weird speedy, teeth gritting, 3 pill till you feel anything trips, colorful kind of bullshit lying pills.
Nope, nowhere. Maybe if you know a guy who knows a guy, but it’s pretty easy to accidentally get meth, which feels a bit like you took too much pseudo-ephidrine. At least your nose doesn’t run. You may as well just have fun with antihistamines or stimulant stacks.
It’s not the same. Its not that spine tingling rush where everything in your life suddenly forms a straight line. People think you have all this energy, but you don’t. You’re soft, pliable, open, loving. Colors are brighter, the world is better and when you’ve lost your straight line you can find it again.
How the fuck are you supposed to find anything when you’re bogged down by a stupid biochemical cascade of other neurotransmitters. Nope. Let the dopamine rush,let the serotonin flow, let your brain clean itself out and sink into a cathartic healing process.
My nightmares are too scary to dabble in psychoactive shit. I just want my straight line back. Just a straight line.
We’ve all heard it- those horror stories about the “raged out roid junkie” who snapped his overdeveloped muscles thanks to a weak ligament.
“His quad rolled right up his leg bro - Rolled like the lid of a sardine tin.”
There’s rumors round the gym, that one guy even went all hulk and ripped his cat in half on a Sunday afternoon.
I believe it, Randy is one mean motherfucker.
Monday is chest day. Vascularized man. I like to flex my pecs in the mirror. If your lucky I’ll make them dance for you.
My tailor doctors my pants. It’s hard to find things that fit over my thighs. But I’m obsessed.
When Nancy left uttering, “Narcisstic fool” I was in a bad place. But the gym was there for me. That bar, slightly dusted in chalk, we had history. My belt gave me all the support I needed, embracing my back with the kind of commitment that Nancy never had.
There’s no shame in steroids. You still have to train hard and mean. You still have to snarl at yourself in the mirror, find that quiet place in your head, and just fucking move that weight.
My muscles responded well the the supplemental help. Engorged. Pumped up.
Squats, Deadlifts, snatch, clean and jerk - I’m more into power lifting. More useful - in case I ever need to pry a car off of someones mutilated body.
Slow twitch, fast twitch, smooth, skeletal, and cardiac - all of it grew. I didn’t fit in chairs, I didn’t fit in buildings, I couldn’t move my fingers without them bumping into each other.
that was normal right?
I asked Randy. He was bicep curling fanatically, looking at the spandex ass of a fitness instructor.
“Totally bro” he grunted.
The hollow look in his eyes made me fear for feline companions everywhere.
Soon my floorboards started to sink. The building inspector was perplexed by the sag. Some nights I put the pillows on the ground and tried to distribute my weight evenly, just in case.
Chest, Back, Deads, Squats, front squats, romanian deadlift, snatches jerks, chin ups, dips. Repeat - once in the morning once at night. I didn’t need recovery time. Roids man.
Then there was nothing left to lift. I squatted the rack, I threw cars, I ran around the city flipping large objects, car alarms screaming.
I went back to Randy for guidance - the only one who could understand.
“Too far man.” he said, cat fur stuck to his chin.
I don’t really believe in spirit animals. I can admit that my relationship with owls is strange. Not strange in the” ohh owls are so trendy right now I will put them on everything.”
Owls and I have a history.
I have a confession… I am an owl attack survivor. The risk of living in a city in a park. I won’t lie it was probably the scariest moment of my life. Bastards are silent fliers with massive talons.
The only real love of my life. Thanks to her I can never find my shoes, socks, or underwear, I will never have to go into any room alone, and have learned to deal with numerous bumps in the nose and body shots at night when she decides it’s time for some love. I’ve also become an expert at sneakily replanting my landlords garden when she can’t fight her digging urges.
They were killing cliffs. The rocks at the bottom extended 6 feet out of the sea, usually disguised by a thick layer of fog that tamed the whisper of murder. They were somewhat of a legend in Darling, a place where the lost and forgotten pulled their weary bodies, only to hurl them into sweet abandon. That’s how Anna saw it, “sweet abandon”. Nature dissolving into nature, all but fingernails absorbed into the sea, and even then, she was sure they broke down eventually.
Admittedly, she had unusual views for someone of her age, which was 9 by the way, not quite a full two hands, but just old enough to appreciate finality. It was almost half the reason she liked visiting. The other half - watching her feet dangle 500 meters above water.
Her older brother told ghost stories about the cliffs. Fifty years ago, three local women had plummeted to their death, driven mad by grief, after their husband’s lifeless bodies returned from war. Devastated, one of the widows bid adieu during a gale. The wind snatched her up and dropped her unceremoniously on the steely rocks below. She proved to be somewhat of a trend setter, and two other heartbroken women followed suit, their bodies trapped in the rocks until low tide.
Anna didn’t believe in an “ever after” or more specifically “Heaven.” Her brother said dogs weren’t allowed. If Bentley couldn’t come, she didn’t want to go. So sometimes Anna was bad on purpose, like when she contemptuously wiggled her toes off the cliff, even though her mother had forbade it. Anna didn’t want to be mistaken for a good girl.
Anna did believe in ghosts, which is probably the real reason she found herself climbing up to the cliffs most days. Jenny Slater said that when it was really stormy, you could watch the women march to the edge, their cries swallowed by the waves below, and hear their final goodbyes.
Anna was too scared to visit during a storm, but she brought Bentley along with her, to mimic the sound of thunder, his hound baying giving her chills, as she made whooshing noises to mimic wind. She was hoping for some milky faced stereotype to rise from the depths and introduce herself. Anna packed extra cookies just in case, but she usually gave them to Bents and shuffled closer to his furry body as it got cold.
Legend has it, in Darling, if you visit the killing bluffs, you can still hear the loud baying of a hound and the whimsical laughter of a nine year old girl, who slipped down the edge in search of ghosts and sweet abandon.
Did you know you can just crack an egg into your protein shake, throw it in the frying pan and come out with some crazy pancake thing? This is the kind of magic that happens when I get in the kitchen! On the path to domestication! You should see what I can do with broccoli…
“Jesus, she is only fourteen” he thought, pulling a blanket around her delicate shoulders. Fourteen.
Her hands were balled into savage fists, eyes hooded with practiced vacancy. Her malnourished pre-pubescent body was on display in thigh highs and a low cut top. There was no cleavage, because she was a goddamn child and he felt sick.
13 years and 2 months ago she was as innocent as his daughter, and he couldn’t help but think of all the men he would kill if it meant shielding his own flesh and blood from this.
“What’s your name?”
“Lina” her voice so young.
“Hi Lina, my name is Officer Caine. Do you know where we can find your mother, or a guardian?”
Lina shook her head in a definite no directing her gaze at the ground.
He’d expected that. More often than not, this was a case of parents selling their children. Desperate times desperate measures… Bullshit he would never understand.
“Okay, where do you live Lina?” His voice was friendly and unassuming. It was his greatest sorrow that this conversation was a repeat.
Lina looked down the street, almost empty save a few homeless men sticking beer bottles into their pockets. In this part of town the red and blue lights of a squad car incited a mass evacuation.
“Down there.” Caine assumed she meant the broken down apartment building at the end of the block.
“I can’t go home now.” Lina added wistfully, “I think they’ll be mad.”
Her detachment crept into his spine. Caine looked at this girl, her wide eyes incapable of unseeing. The injustice and tragedy in that pulled at Caine’s heart. He promised himself she would never have to go home again. He would personally shield her from whatever realities she was left to deal with.
Even if it meant killing a man.
A plastic tiara rested on her head, unable to disguise her want of a shower. Glitter melted down her concave cheeks from three day-old eye shadow, and a faux white fur coat hinted at 1940’s movie star long dead. She didn’t notice the filth that gathered at the base of her neck. Self examination wasn’t a priority.
Resting against the remnants of the dilapidated Blockbuster, she gripped a paper cup of coffee like it was the only thing holding her up.
He sat across from her on the curb, still hungry.
He didn’t mind paying for it. He nodded as she told him she worked in delis or bakeries. Her grainy voice faltered over her words. The morning sun was a little too hot for his leather jacket; but, he refused to take it off because without it, he looked less like the bad ass rebel he had meant to be in his twenties. He took a drag on his spliff, he was trying to save his weed for later. He passed it over to her, hoping that maybe it would help subdue her obvious agitation.
She had been very beautiful, maybe ten years ago? Probably, fleshy, instead of sinew and hide. She was passable if she covered most of her body, but the hollows under her eyes always told the truth. She didn’t care. If she could be bothered by anything anymore, it was her nervous system jolting in stop motion. Her reflection haunted her as she passed store fronts. She didn’t own a mirror anymore.
He’d kept thinking her eyes looked familiar. He contemplated this, as he felt his thoughts lose their edge. Then he had it! Yesterday, walking down the highway. A crow was on its back, plumage sticking out at odd angles, blinking milky. Sometimes he saw those eyes when he looked in the mirror himself. Forty five and utterly alone, save the broken princess standing before him.
Maybe together they could save each other. Maybe this could be more than cheap sex. Even as he thought it, he knew it was just hot air trapped in his leather jacket.
She was quiet, grip tightening on her cup, milky eyes starting to beg. He took out another rumpled twenty from his wallet, pressed it into her hand, and watched her jerk towards the bus. He unzipped his jacket and followed.