The small room is a dream dying. Scraps of cardboard and crumpled cigarette wrappers litter the floor; dirty clothes lean against a three-legged kitchen table while empty crates support the fourth corner.

An old man sprawls naked on the floor, while his mind chases a syringe filled with heroin down a dirty alley, and recollections of the young boy he used to be. In and out of both memories, his tortured sanity bounces off imaginary walls and stairs to get his fix. Tears crawl down his dirt-encrusted cheeks as spasms rack his emaciated body.

An addict by eight-years of age, his double-dealing smile, combined with large black eyes and thick curly lashes mislead everyone into thinking he was a good kid. He had thought it funny how he could walk through people's homes and pick up stuff to sell on the street. There was always something to steal. By fifteen, he was just as crazy as his family. It had been fun - yeah, fun.

Shakes, birth name Arthur J. Sperling III, had never been good enough for his family. One scrape after another drove him deeper into the escape drugs brought. Drug dealers used him as bait. They saw him as trash on two legs. Drinking and drugs were his life. His sorrow-filled parents hired a detective to find him and keep track of him for a while, but that ended after the first year. Their hearts were broken by what they found out.

"You're a piece of shit, Arthur." Sandy Lou Arneson snarled at him just before she slammed the door off the hinges of her apartment and on his life with her. "You could have been a lawyer, a teacher, a somebody besides a . . . a loser."

Lawyer? The silly thought had caused him so laugh all the way down the hallway five years ago. College had been a party. Most of his friends had gone on to be doctors, accountants and one was a pilot. But, Arthur, the drug, drinking addict, who mooched off everyone, and stole to make his habit every day, slept on the floor of any available friend of the moment and laughed at them for being conventional.

Cooking utensils fall from a glass jar that explodes next to the burner, forgotten, and left on. Glass fragments bounce off petrified food at the edges of the skillet and fly down to the floor. A Coleman lamp hangs from the ceiling on a thick, rusty chain.

Lost in a fog of regrets and need, he does not hear the door slam against a wall in one of the other rooms. Laughing voices and music can be heard as they walk closer.

"Hey, man! Check this out!" A deep tenor yells out. Shuffling noises are made on the dirty floor while a boom box explodes Britney Spear's wail.

"RJ! You can dance!" A young woman squeals and claps her hands.

"Hey, Letrice, it stinks in here." A deep, silky bass chimes in while he walks around the room.

"You one to talk, Porkrind. Fool. You ain't seen soap for a month or two. It 's an ol factory, for Chris' sakes."

"Chill, baby. Hey, you an' me ain't been . . ." Bass voice teenager moves closer to Letrice.

"Yo! Get yo sorry ass scrubbed with soap an' water first. Ugh."

Rats run along under the cardboard boxes stacked along the wall, while heavy dust floats around them like an enfolding curtain. It would be easy to stay in the building as they had skipped school and no one had any idea of their whereabouts. The dark stink of age and mildew merging with daylight struggles through the slats taking a toll on their happy mood. At intervals, loud creaks snap through the dingy area, which scares them a little.

"Hey, man this place is blue. Let's go," Letrice snaps as she runs to the stairs.

"Right. Ya'll run, I'm staying." Porkrind, not having the common sense of a newt, wants to show his stuff.

"Uh huh. Right. See ya, my man."

"All right for you Letrice, RJ." Porkrind walks towards the far wall as the sound of their feet fades into the distance. "I'll show you. Ya'll be sorry. I be cool man. I be cool. . ."

Just like that, a desolate and broken wail cuts through the dust that clings and chokes his warm lungs. Porkrind's fear glues his feet to old newspapers as it whips up his belly like a cold November wind. A stack of worn cardboard boxes leans across the wall next to him. The wail seems to be coming from the back of the large room.

"You one scared sucker. Mama ain't always right, man. Sometime a man know wha's right." Porkrind mutters to himself until he comes to a dark doorway.

At that moment, another wailing sound escapes from inside the middle room. Porkrind jerks his head towards the crack between the open door and the frame. The acrid stink of urine, and old sweat tweaks at his nose while his eyes roam the room.

Twisted, dirty black and gray hair branches out from the back of the skull. Suddenly, the way someone knows they are being watched from the bushes, the head torques. Old, haunted eyes latch onto Porkrind.

"You!" The word strikes Porkrind a powerful blow to the stomach. He swallows air feeling exposed.

"Look at that, roaches comin' in the doorway, gathering like flies to a sink hole. The rats come later. Watchu staring at, boy? Ain't you seen a naked man before?"

With a lurch, Porkrind explodes away from the door, bounces off the sagging cardboard boxes across from him, slips and slides across the littered floor then mounts the steps three at a time.

A groan and a jerk still the man for a moment. "I murder dreams. Steal um." His death happened so fast, stopping to watch would have been a waste. Ragged breath caught in a half-laugh then a growl, and he was seconds gone.

Up the stairs, Porkrind runs faster than he imagines, folded over, out of breath stopping at the corner where he plops down onto the grass. His eyes flick back over his shoulder, terrified of the man, afraid for himself.

Memories of Porkrind's cousins, uncles and an aunt sing a requiem in his mind.

"Don't be doing that shit, boy. You all your mama have now. Crack don't pay." As Porkrind jammed his breath back into control, he fills his head with pictures of an old, favorite, fairy tale.

"Men on horses draw up to a crack head who lays in a ball. Sadly, all the king's men could not put Humpty together again."

The End


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