I was in a mess all weekend. I could not eat, although my mother brought up tray after tray of food that just turned my stomach over inside of me. I smoked jittery cigarettes out of the window, and gulped warm whiskey when no one was looking. I felt terrible, like my body and my soul had been wrung out, twisted and distorted. Everything hurt. I felt nervous and on edge, unable to pinpoint exactly why it felt like the sky was about to come crashing down upon all of us. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a minute. I pulled my duvet over my head and shivered in the darkness for the entire day, sporadically breaking down into tears for no reason. My mum came in and out, and she was always crying too, and demanding to know what the hell was wrong with me, and should she call the doctor? I felt my mouth stuffed full of a million things I would never be able to tell her and it felt like I was slowly choking on them, and it was too late, it was all too late. I could always see the shadow of Howard behind her, and I knew that all was lost, that everything was over. I became utterly convinced in my paranoia that they had done this to me on purpose. Jack and the guy in the baseball cap. They’d sold me something rotten and poisoned and now it was eating away at me from the insides. And Howard, he was behind it, he was behind everything! He was the puppet master, controlling us all! He had decided chopping me up would be too messy, that poison was a far easier way to get rid of me. I was engulfed in this terrible blackness and could see no way out. The only solution I could think of was going to find the guy in the baseball cap and buying something else from him, something that would put me right, but I couldn’t move, I was too terrified to leave the house.
Saturday night I slept badly. I became certain that there were dark people hiding within every shadow in my room. Howards people. Watching over me. Keeping tabs, in case I thought about escaping. I hid under my duvet, trembling, hoping they would not find me there. On Sunday morning I woke up feeling really sick. My stomach kept lurching and heaving, and my mouth kept filling with hot, yellow saliva, but there was nothing in my stomach to bring up. Howard came up to see me when my mother left the house. He seized me by the neck and breathed his fiery rage into my sweating face. “Whatever drugs you’ve got yourself fucked up on, you better not bring it here again!” He released my neck and I sobbed my tears into the duvet. He stalked my room like a tiger in a cage. “Your mother does not need to see this sort of thing! She does not need the stress! We’ll have to ask for help if this carries on, we’ll have to get the social involved. They have places for fucked up boys like you, you know. Kind of like prisons. I did warn you, didn’t I? I’ve warned you so many times how close she is to giving up on you!”
“I have to get out,” I croaked then, rising slowly up from the bed and testing out the floor with my feet. I stood up, stiff and half crippled by the bruising to my middle, but I had suddenly remembered something, something really important. Something that started to fill me up with an almost unbearable level of hope. “Get some fresh air.”
“Good idea,” said Howard, folding his big arms across his chest. “Don’t come back until you are straight and then I want you to apologize to your mother.”
“I will, I will,” I chanted this gladly, pulling on the nearest jumper. “I’ll give you guys some peace, stay at a friends yeah? I am never touching that shit again, not ever.” I pulled the jumper down and stared at Howard seriously. “I mean it.”
He laughed at me, bright and hard. He rolled his head on his neck. “Yeah well little man, we’ll see about that won’t we? We’ll see about that.”
I put on my headphones and ran all the way to the beach. I don’t know where I found the energy or the strength, but it was there somewhere, lurking in my bones, swirling to life when I needed it, setting me on fire. The music helped. It always fucking helped. Liam’s voice was in my ears, as I ran and ran, as fast as I could, my stomach in my mouth, my guts churning as a desperate panic flooded my veins. Maybe I will never be, all the things that I wanna’ be! Now is not the time to cry, now’s the time to find out why! I think you’re the same as me, we see things they’ll never see! You and I are gonna’ live forever! I was late and I knew it, so I ran faster and faster, gonna’ live forever…we’re gonna’ live forever…gonna’ live forever…I was late, she would have gone, she would have got up and walked away by now, she would have gone and given up on me like everyone else. When I made it to the cliff top, I took the path down too quickly, nearly tripping over my own feet several breath taking times. At the bottom, I stopped and scanned the beach. I could not see her in the normal spot. I walked out onto the sand, and my legs felt fucked, like they were giving up the game, calling time, saying no, no, no more. I bent down, clutching my knees with my hands, scooping air back into my lungs as my chest rose and fell rapidly. When I looked up, I saw Michael, standing just behind me, leaning against one of the beach huts. My mouth fell open and I gawked at him. He wasn’t really there. He couldn’t be. I was hallucinating now.
“You looking for Lucy?” he called out to me, and I nodded my head silently, dumbstruck, wondering if I was going crazy. I felt wrapped up tight in misery and darkness and I knew none of this was real. I was back in my bed and I was dying. “At the shop,” he said, and jerked his thumb in the direction of the beach café and shop just to the right. I stared that way, and sure enough, there she was. A slim, brown haired girl coming out of the shop with a plastic carrier bag swinging from one hand. She saw me and she waved and beckoned. I thought she was an angel, a real life angel. I looked once more at Michael, who was fading out now, and then I looked back at her and started to run again.
When I finally reached her, I could barely stand. I was wiped out. The run from home had taken everything I had. There was nothing left. It was all too much, and I collided with her, our bodies smashing together violently, and we fell down onto the sand together, and I saw her bottle of water fall from the bag and roll away. Her eyes were alarmed and she touched my face and pulled me close. “Are you real?” I was asking her. I could see Michael again. He was standing over us. “Are you both real?” I buried my head in her shoulder and started to cry. There was no stopping it. I cried like a baby. My face began to ache and my eyes stung and my throat grew raw, as my shoulders shook, and still I could not stop, I could not stop crying. But it didn’t matter anyway, I thought. It was a dream, and I was dreaming about them, and I was back in my bed, and just dying. Lucy just held onto me, and Michael was saying something softly above our heads.
“Shittinghell mate. Shittinghell.”
In the dream, they got me up and helped me walk. They sounded alarmed and frightened and Michael kept saying; “get him to Anthony, get him to Anthony.” I tried to tell them things as we walked, and I sung some lyrics at them for a while. My feet felt thick and heavy when we stumbled in through the front door, and Anthony appeared like another angel, bright and tall and calm and resolute and he got me onto the sofa and told them to give me some space.
I was awful by then. Just shaking violently, my face screwed up in pain. “Alright take it easy,” he was saying to me. I couldn’t open my eyes and look at him, I just couldn’t. “What’s all this about then Danny? Eh? What you been doing to yourself mate?” He squatted down beside the sofa, his hand touching my arm. I curled up small, my knees drawn up to my chin, my arms wrapped tightly around my middle. “Danny, what was it eh? What you been taking mate? Was it speed?”
I managed to nod, although I wasn’t exactly sure if this was true. It was poison, I wanted to tell him, it was poison because they were trying to kill me. “We should call a doctor,” Lucy said tearfully from across the room. “He’s ill!”
“Nah, he’ll be alright,” Anthony replied calmly, rubbing my back. “It’s a bad comedown. Speed is the worst. If he took too much, or if someone sold him something dodgy.”
“But he’s in pain!”
“He’ll be okay soon enough, you’ll see. It can take a few days sometimes. Danny, you should leave that shit alone mate. I’m serious. Not worth it eh, is it? Look at the fucking state of you.”
“I did it with him once,” came Michael’s voice, tense and guilty.
“Well it better only be once!” Anthony snapped back at him. “I’ve told you before Mikey, grass is the only safe thing to mess with, and only then not too much.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I suppose I was just curious.”
“Not worth it,” Michael said adamantly. “Felt like shit the next day. Wanted to take someone’s head off.”
I heard Anthony sighing beside me. “Well learn your lessons boys,” he said. “This is fucking outrageous. These people are evil. He’s gonna’ get himself killed!”
“What’re we gonna’ do?” asked Michael in a small voice.
Anthony sighed again. “Right,” he said. “Make some tea and toast. Get him to eat and drink. Then he’ll feel better. Then just keep him here until he’s straight again.”
“What about Howard? What if they come looking for him?”
“We haven’t seen him. And I answer the door. Might as well let him know I’m back again. But he can’t know we’ve seen Danny. He can’t know we’re involved, got it?”
A short while later I opened my eyes, and only Anthony was there. He was sat on the edge of the sofa, right next to me. He smiled down at me and placed his hand on my shoulder. “You’re back,” I croaked at him. He nodded.
“Fucking right I am. Time flies, eh? Now I’m back, you don’t need to worry okay? You don’t need to be doing all this shit again.”
I had to close my eyes again. The pain was coming and going in waves. “Ahhh shit it hurts…” I moaned, pressing my face back into the cushion.
“It’s okay, just relax,” he told me. “When did you take it?”
“I know mate, I know.”
He leaned over me. “What is it mate?”
I wanted to tell him everything then. I wanted to tell him all the things Howard had said, and threatened, about how he ended up back in jail, about Michael disappearing, about killing my mum. I opened my mouth and struggled to bring the words up and out, but the pain got worse again, ripping through my stomach muscles. “It’s in my stomach!” I panted, curling up even tighter. He rubbed my back again. “It’s in my stomach Anthony…they poisoned me…it’s in there and it’s killing me!”
“It’ll get better,” he told me very firmly. “You just have to remember this Danny. Remember how bad this is and never fucking do it again, alright? Who gave it to you eh? This Freeman bloke Mike’s been telling me all about?”
“Someone else…” I shook my head. “It’s all gone in my stomach…I can feel it..it’s killing me Anthony…”
“It’s not killing you, I promise you. You’re just coming down really badly. You took too much probably, and you haven’t been eating properly by the look of you. You’ve just got a bad stomach and the comedown is making it worse. You’ll be alright, I promise you. Just eat and drink something. Look, Mike’s made you toast.”
I didn’t want to eat anything, but they made me. They got really angry with me and practically forced me, so I gave in. I ate half a slice of marmite toast and drank half a cup of tea. It hurt even more after that, but Anthony had little sympathy left. “You’ll be alright you little twat,” he laughed and patted my back. “You’ll be just fine.”
I slept after that. It was a beautiful thing. Deep, black sleep that claimed me suddenly and blessedly. Every now and then I rose up out of it, felt the pain subsiding, and slipped back under again. I was warm and safe and watched over. I could hear the TV on low, and the murmurs of their gentle voices. I was out cold when Howard came banging on the door, demanding to know where I was.