Brief Explanation: I am going to post this story as I write it, to see if that will keep me on task. The task, in this case, is to write at least 1000 words per day, and post them online. This is part of a process to get me writing a substantial amount every day.
This is the first part of a short story called "Gateway Drug."
When Jamie showed up I almost didn’t let him in. He was one of them, a user. His body was covered with the evidence: black fur with white patches on his face, big ears that flopped when he looked side to side to see if anybody had followed him here, a tail—seriously, a tail—I could see claws in my peripheral vision, but I didn’t stare at his feet when his face was right in front of me. Black eyes darted under a white brow; he never seemed to be looking in the same direction his nose was pointing. Standing before the doorway, which was scratched out beneath a fire escape in an alley that regularly hosted tributes meant for the Porcelain Goddess on party nights, the effect was disconcerting. He was also big, maybe six-and-a- half feet tall, and hunched against the rain soaking his fur, holding his backpack—the only thing he brought—protectively under his chest. If the drugs and the physical changes they induced didn’t do him in, the elements might. Either way, the world might be improved by his absence.
I leaned against the door, resisting the urge to blink tiredly, and said, “Can I help you?”
Jamie introduced himself. When my silence made it obvious that his name meant nothing to me, he clarified. “I’m the one. Who called. About the room. Remember?”
What went through my head at that moment was, he sounded so normal on the phone. I should have used a video feed. But I couldn’t use a video feed, because the camera on my computer was broken, and I hadn’t bothered to get it fixed because I hardly ever used the camera when I called. Plus, nobody could commandeer it to remotely spy on me—that’s right, I’m one of those people, i.e. not a fan of H.R.3031 or the copycat bills that followed its implementation—and I like the idea that people who call me don’t know who they’re talking to. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t work because the screen is cracked, and the screen acts as the lens for the camera, which really means that if you call me, be prepared for an old fashioned telecommunication conference that’s voice-only, like they used to do in the Wild West. They didn’t have video calls and they survived.
Until now, so had I survived adequately without it. But suddenly I was mentally deducting the cost of repair from my bank account. Even in my head the numbers turned red, and I was dipping into my retirement fund. This was exactly the reason we had rented out the last room; apart from my retirement account, neither of us were swimming in cash, and the empty living space was dragging us down.
Smash cut to the present: here’s a guy (me) standing in a doorway, staring at another guy caught out in the rain, an obvious user, and wondering if I’d be a bad person for turning away someone who looks like a wolf walking on two legs, wearing a Nickelback T-shirt (my grandfather’s band) and soaked through with rain. When I looked closer I saw he was shivering. I shouldn’t have looked closer, because the next thing out of my mouth was, “Oh yeah, I remember.”
And that’s how I came to live with a tasp junkie.
He moved into the unused bedroom next to mine. The walls here are thin enough that I could hear his bedsprings creaking even after I had shut the door, his pathetic cry as he threw himself into his life for the next however long it took him to get his feet back, or whatever he was doing here. I wasn’t exactly sure, and I hadn’t asked. Our apartment is actually on the third story of a three-story building, and access is by way of the aforementioned back door beneath the fire escape that doubles as stairs when Tamlin doesn’t feel like using our regular stairs like normal people. (Here, as everywhere else, “normal” is relative.) Jamie dripped all up the narrow staircase, and I was relieved when he didn’t shake the water out like I thought he would… well, half relieved, and half upset that I couldn’t use that as an excuse to bar him from living with us. Apparently using a tasp also housetrains you.
It was in the middle of this disingenuous thought that Jamie said, “Thank you for. Letting me stay. I don’t have, you know. Anywhere else to go. Really.”
And all of my self-righteous thoughts collapsed under the additional weight of the guilt suddenly climbing all over my skin, and I said, “Yeah man, it’s no problem.”
Jamie went straight through our living room without appearing to even notice the ratty couches gathered like vultures around the lone small coffee table. He went to the one full bathroom we shared and shut the door. I expected to hear him shower—the water heater hummed loudly whenever moderately warm water was used. But I heard nothing, and he emerged twenty minutes later with his fur looking fluffy but dry, a towel that had obviously come from his backpack rolled into a neat wet ball. I thought, thank god I don’t have fur.
Then he went to the room I showed him, shut the door, collapsed on his bed, and I stared into the wall and wondered just what hell I was doing with my life. Without crunching the numbers I knew exactly where I fell on the income totem pole: above people who live in cardboard boxes, and below people who don’t worry about living in cardboard boxes. My parents had told me ad nauseam about my potential. Teachers complained about my lack of discipline and focus and drive. To shut them up, I did what seemed logical: I graduated college, made about sixteen million dollars, and then invested heavily in several now-defunct companies, then salvaged what I could and moved into the cheapest place I could find downtown. My parents never understood that. My friends wouldn’t have, if I had told them. I found new people, met Tamlin and found, to my utter surprise, a spirit much like mine, and suddenly I had a roommate, and a friend in whom I would confide startlingly personal things. Tamlin probably knew more about me than any other person alive, other than me.
I found a job, too, one that worked me gently and with reasonable hours and chill clientele. And as that thought crossed my mind, I realized that I had to leave soon for that job, and so I would probably miss introducing Tamlin and Jamie. I had been looking forward to that with a kind of macabre fascination.