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With reverence, he put the crucifix down on a small cigarette-stained table in this place he called home.  It simply didn’t feel right during the ritual and certainly not with what came after.  Todd Grimmel ran his fingers through his close-cropped hair and stared, a sigh and a silent prayer said beneath his breath.  Touching the religious object once more, hoping for something, anything, he felt only the cold plastic.  No sign.


He reached for the candle, the wick burned almost down to the quick, but it would suffice.  Again he paused.  It was the quiet, too quiet.  The ritual needed noise, man.  Righteous noise.  The only sound filling Headquarters, the place Todd called home, was that of a lone drunk vomiting in the distance, and the closer sound of a sallow complexioned hype furiously flipping through a used up lingerie catalogue.  God, he hated the quiet, and right now Headquarters was dead.  A Seiko with the minute hand broken off that wouldn’t grab a penny at hawk, proclaimed it to be five-something-or-other, without the hand it being impossible to pinpoint.  Right now this place should be teeming with life, all the down-and-outers congregating in this last holdout where people either pulled themselves off the bottom rung or let go and slipped inexorably further down the downward spiral.  But Todd was nearly alone.


Whatever.  He didn’t need anyone anyway.  Just a few tunes to set the mood and things would be A-OK.  A radio with no face and only one dial, sat beneath a pile of what had once been clothes and were now thoroughly soiled.  He scratched the crotch of his denim, which was worn almost to transparency, and thought of the catalogue and just how long it had been since he had seen a girl.


The dial turned.  A few moments of fuzz and half-captured sound fragments before a familiar acoustic strum bleated from the radio.  Todd sank back. He knew this song.  A memory came unbidden to him as Todd felt the warmth of the candle radiate down the iron handle, as he sang along with the song, flowing to the timeless JC.  He was five again and he had touched the iron.  His mother had warned him against the heat but he had to experience it for himself.  That was the only true way of learning.  There were no band-aids, only a cool run under the faucet to set things right.  It was a long time ago.  His mother’s tender smile the most vivid frame in his mind.


Todd captured that smile, held it and magnified it in his mind’s eye as it seamlessly melded with the man in black’s voice. “The needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting, try to kill it all away, but I remember everything.”  Warmth flowed through his blood, to the gravelly, yet harmonious, twang as he echoed the sentiment.


The rush hurt.  Pulling on the tie, releasing the frayed rubber, Todd sank back into that song and that smile, back into a time when he could still feel warmth as real.  The worlds of reality and illusion blurred, converged, coalesced and ripped apart all within the marvels of Todd’s mind.  It was a major mainline load, but he’d been doing this long enough to no longer see the far off fields, he was tethered to reality.


A hack and a spit from the corner as the tweaker let one fly.  Todd reached into his jacket pocket with a pronounced declination of motor skills and withdrew a small sack of white powder.  Time to get out boarding passes ladies and gentlemen, Todd was planning a major flight tonight.  Speedballing.  The cross consumption of cocaine and heroin.


Now he needed a surface, and the cigarette-burned end table did not look promising.  He searched about, looking for something smooth and then he had it, from deep underneath the couch Todd withdrew a small pamphlet, good old JC proclaiming, “and you could have it all…”


Flecks of powder were already on the small red pamphlet when Todd paused in surprise at a slight glint.  A slight gilded inlay embossed on the book, catching the light at a good angle, had caught his eye and Todd leaned in to get a closer look.  A perfect equilateral triangle surrounded by a circle emblazoned above the repetition of the same letter: AA.  The sign.  It had to be.


In a daze, Todd seized up the crucifix and with a kind of reverence dusted the powder from the pamphlet, feeling a certain warmth of spirit as he leafed through the encrusted pages.  He came upon something of interest, an address not far from here, and snatching up his meager belongings, he headed for the stairs.


“Hey Todd, if you’re leavin’ can I use your spot?”  It was the meth addict.


“Sure, man, sure.”  There was a shadow of a smile on his lips.


He heard the elder addict’s voice for what would be the last time call after him, “Hey, Todd, where you goin’?  Gonna score?”


He could only respond with a simple phrase fearing a break in his resolve, but it came out meaningful nonetheless, the reassuring sign of God clutched in his hands,  “I’ve got a meeting to get to.”


And he started up the stairs.

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