Guardian’s War 13: A Lungful of Smoke

Not asleep. Not awake.

It’s after two in the morning. Bekah is asleep, and I crawl out of bed unable to fall into a solid rest.

I get to the living room and I let Katherine out of her crate and the two of us sit on the couch. I am petting her. I lay my head back as far as it will go on the couch and look up at the ceiling. I close my eyes and I do not fall asleep but I am not fully awake either.

I hear Katherine growling and I look forward in time to see Smilin’ Jack. Katherine can sense him. Her hackles are up, she is snapping and snarling and she is getting between me and Jack.

He has brought gifts. His massive arms come out from behind his back and in one palm he has Dewdrop’s head. The body dangling from his long-fingered grip. In the other hand, he has Little Man dangling in the same way. He holds them out in front of me and looks up at me through that long, lank black hair. His cylindrical tongue lashes out of his mouth and he holds his hands up and out to each side. He lifts off the ground and hovers for a moment before he begins to rotate in the air. The bodies of my cousins sway in his grip as he slowly spins.

Katherine is barking.

I am cursing.

I crawl from the couch to the other side of the room and I cover my head. I stare into my lap for a long moment before looking back to see that he is gone. His grisly trophies gone with him.

Bekah shows up. She runs into the room and grabs me as I tremble and sob. I didn’t realize I was screaming, and it woke her up.

She begs me to come back to bed. When I won’t she decides she is going to stay up with me. I shove her off to bed and I put Katherine back in her crate. I grab the car keys, and I’m out the door.

The night is crisp. I don’t turn on the heater and I just let the cold soak into my body and freeze my bones. I put on the radio and the songs are alright but the talk of the DJ is a rusty nail in my skull. I drive Springfield at night, looking for any reason to go anywhere. I drive by Steak and Shake to look for Danee and Rasha and I see that they have already gone home. I drive some more, until I end up at Job and Anton’s.

When they dropped out of SMSU they got jobs and an apartment together, and I know they are up all night. I stumble to their door and knock. Job answers and smiles.

“What’s up, muthafucker?” He looks at me again and scowls. “You look like shit.” He steps aside and I shuffle in.

“I saw him again tonight,” I say.

“No way,” Job says. Since the first time I described Jack to him on the porch in front of Kentwood, he has been obsessed with him. He waits for stories and often times asks questions. He motions for the couch. “Sit, tell the story. I know you need to talk about it. You want anything? I have Gentleman Jack and Dr. Pepper.”

“No, I’m okay,” I say. I sit down and look around. Anton is gone. He is at work. The table is covered in shit. Ashtrays, empty soda bottles, beer cans, and packs of cigarettes. I pick up a pack of cigarettes and shake it at him. “You mind?”

“Are you sure?” Job says. “You don’t want to get stuck on a habit because of one bad night.”

“What if I do?”

Job waves a hand. “Then, mi casa.”

I take a zippo off the table and I light one. It is a Camel Wide. Almost as big around as my pinky with more tobacco than every other cigarette you might find. It is insane to start smoking with Camel Wides, yet here I am. I light it and I take a drag. It hurts, it sucks and it makes me instantly nauseous, but it is the kind of fuck you to my body and soul that I need right then, so I take another drag and tell my story.

Job sits staring at the television that is on and has been since I walked in, but he can’t see it. His eyes are far away, seeing the horror of Jack and those kids. He turns to me and shakes his head.

“That thing is wicked, man. If that thing was following me, I would be obsessed with it, terrified by it and wanting to run to it all at the same time. It is insane. It had two kids with it this time?”

“Two abuse victims, yeah,” I snap. “Not funny or cool,” I say, staring at him. I light a second Wide and try not to throw up on myself.

“No, you’re right. That is not funny or cool. It is horrific to be sure, but that guy, man there is something about him. I just can’t put my finger on it.”

By the time Anton comes home I’ve smoked four Camel Wides and made myself so sick I nearly threw up.

Job leads with that.

The moment Anton walks in the room, Job yells out. “Jesse smoked four cigarettes and made himself sick.” They both laugh at me and I come back and light a fifth. When I leave, Job throws me a pack.

Bekah won’t say anything about it at all. She smells the smoke. She knows how horrible it will be for me. She knows how bad an idea it is, but she will not tell me to stop. She will not tell me anything. She will not get in my way because she knows I am just a soft breeze away from collapsing.

It is all too much. All of it. Everything is bearing down on me. All the pain of the therapy—I am with Steven now, and we are discovering things. All of the school work. Class is a torture and I can’t look anyone in the eye. All of the home stuff. I am not able to handle the nights with Bekah away in class or at work. I am going crazy at that house all by myself. The family. Mumble is getting frustrated and angry now. Horrid is getting worse. Rose is losing her mind, and Honed is just stewing. He will stare at me, his mind whirling as he tries to make peace with something he sees. Trying to keep a relationship with Bekah is near impossible and all that I have to hold me together is a puppy.

When she finds out I have taken up smoking, Bekah does not say a thing. She does not need to ask. She knows I am looking for a means of self-destruction. I am looking for a thing to kill me. This will do it slow, and make of me a wilting mess, but it is what I have embraced.

When I tell Steven I started smoking, he nods. “That is fine. As long as you know what it is and can see it for that.”

“What is it?”

“It’s suicide. Every time you light one of those you are killing yourself. You have decided on suicide. As long as you know that I’ll get out of your way.”

I accept it without pause.

I’ll start going over to Job and Anton’s every night now. I will put Bekah to bed. I will go to Job and Anton’s and stay there until Bekah needs the car to go to school. I will come home, eat oatmeal with her, and send her to class. I will sleep for about an hour or two, then go to class or just wander the streets. This is my life now. These two guys are part of my system, for better or worse.

It will be the thing that rips me and Bekah apart. The tearing is beginning. It’s just a slow rip. Like shredding a sheet. Or flaying a body.

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