Concrete Terror — Chapter 3
His foot hurt. It wasn’t anything new. It always hurt. Used to be he thought he could learn to live with the pain. He was wrong. It shot through him like a fire alarm. It demanded notice, puling his engagement away from all lesser distractions.
At this point, Eddy Colt was sure he read the same sentence in his book at least ten times and was no closer to processing the author’s intent than the first time. The piercing ache of his foot eclipsed every thought, feeling, impression, or notion.
“‘Most prominent landmark in modernist literature my ass.” Eddy clapped shut the esoteric tome. Dropping James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” on the end table next to his faded brown lounger, he glanced out the window. It was midday. The sky was gray. It was raining. As usual.
Wrapped in a wool sock, Eddy’s deformed foot was elevated on an ottoman. The technique was known to temporarily ease the pain. His second and third toes crossed over the largest one. All were curled in toward the arch. They weren’t just stuck that way, they grew that way. The top of his foot was curved at an extreme angle downward, so that in a normal walk, the instep itself contacted the ground. Not the way a foot was supposed to function. Not the way his other foot worked, his “normal” foot.
An itching sensation crawled across his upper body. He dismissed the notion that a horde of insects crawled over his skin. He felt a pang of desire. His heart rate spiked for an instant as he thought of his medicine — what if he couldn’t get it?
He lifted his proper leg high, then brought it down. Rocking forward, he harnessed the momentum to propel himself upright onto his good leg. Gingerly, he tested the response from his bum leg by easing weight onto the malformed foot.
Rays of bright fire shot up his leg. He winced, and immediately shifted the entirety of his weight back to the other foot.
He needed his medicine. It was the one thing that could overrule the voice of pain from his foot. If he went long enough without it, the yearning for the medicine would drown out the pain in his foot with its own sensations. He needed it that bad.
Eddy grabbed a crooked wooden crutch that leaned against an old oak bookshelf. He hobbled toward his bedroom. Worn hemlock floorboards creaked beneath as he rounded the corner to the hall. Dark walnut wainscot panels covered in a thick layer of shellac were topped by a heavily abused chair rail that led down the dark hallway. Embossed floral-patterned wall vinyl covered the gap between the chair rail and the ceiling. Framed portraits of the extensive Colt family hung between every door. The family’s wealth came from timber, and Eddy was grateful for it.
Eddy Colt was one of the elder of thirteen children. Their father was a con-artist who somehow managed to grift his way into a windfall of timber-rich property deep in the Skagit Valley. Their mother was a whore. After giving birth sixteen times, she wanted more, even though she had no time for the thirteen that survived their infancy. Both parents were dead now, and unable to work or provide for himself, Eddy was fortunate. His siblings fed and sheltered him in the family home where he was birthed. Eddy was born in nineteen-hundred with a club foot.
“Never forget how old I am, long as I remember the year.”
At the threshold of the last room in the hall, his fingers fumbled for the light switch. A cramp clutched his abdomen and twisted. He stumbled, recovered, and flipped the light switch. A small lamp on a night stand hummed, producing a soft yellow glow. Dropping the crutch, Eddy threw himself on the bed as another cramp stabbed his side. He was sweating now. A single desire consumed his thoughts. That flush of warmth. That intense bliss. The cessation of all this pain. He needed it, the peace. That feeling of heaven that enveloped him when he injected the medicine.
He slid open the top drawer in the nightstand next to his bed. A black leather wrapped kit lay inside. “It’s nineteen thirty-eight.” He retrieved the kit and set it next to him on the bed, “I am thirty-eight years old.”
He didn’t remember the first surgery to fix his foot, or the next one. He was too young. Both surgeries failed to fix anything. He wasn’t entirely up on the specifics of what was wrong with his foot, but the first surgery he remembered was in nineteen-hundred and eight. The incision got infected. The infection went deep, and though eventually defeated by antibiotics, it left Eddy’s foot in constant pain.
There were two more surgeries by the time he was twenty. Neither more successful than any of the previous. Deformed, in constant pain, Eddy grew into a troubled youth. He got in fights he never won, but a nihilistic streak kept him coming back for more. Somehow pain of a smashed in nose diluted the pain in his foot. For a little while, anyway. At some point during the transition from childhood to teenage years, he and his siblings got the flu. In desperation, mother purchased Bayer’s “non-addictive” over-the-counter cough syrup called heroin. Eddy took the heroin. For the first time he could remember, his foot didn’t hurt.
“Lucked out, I guess.” He opened up the leather case. Bayer heroin became a life saver. It freed him from the eternal excruciating physical and intellectual pain that was Eddy’s daily life. Thanks to the miracle of this “non-addictive” cough syrup from Bayer, Eddy Colt could finally be a normal person. Eventually he discovered that he could speed the relief by ingesting the fluid into his veins, rather than drinking it. Instead of relief coming in twenty minutes, it was instantaneous.
A clear glass vial in the leather kit held a small amount of amber colored liquid. “Shit.” Eddy lamented that the remaining amount wasn’t sufficient to last through the night. He needed to contact Vincent for more. Do that later. He needed it now. Creeping in, the perpetual pain of multiple botched foot surgeries penetrated his senses. Worse, the withdrawal symptoms of the medicine would eventually overwhelm all other sensation.
The Bayer heroin became scarce during the Great War. Those were tough years for Eddy, revealing his dependency on the “non-addictive” pharmaceutical. After self-medicating with it for so many years, abstaining was worse than if he never used the drug. In nineteen twenty, the United States outlawed heroin. January seventeenth of the same year, the legislature’s disastrous and un-American Eighteenth Amendment went into effect, prohibiting the consumption and sale of alcohol. It was how Eddy learned, if the temperance-obsessed religious nutjobs didn’t like you doing something, they’d spare no expense to legislate away your right to do it, then tell you it was “the will of God.”
Lucky for Eddy, the pioneer spirit of independence was alive and well in the American West. Eddy’s friend Vincent started distilling and discreetly selling potato-based alcohol after the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act of nineteen eighteen. When permanent national prohibition took effect in nineteen twenty, Vincent became a very busy man. This black market trade opened many doors for him, including access to heroin. It wasn’t the pure Bayer product, but it was chemically heroin. For Eddy, it was all that mattered.
Eddy took the well-used glass hypodermic needle from the kit. He plunged the business end through the plug on the vial of liquid. He pulled the plunger, filling the syringe with his medicine. Removing the needle from the now empty vial, he held the needle upright and tapped it a few times. Air bubbles rose to the top. He squeezed gently, purging the air and a tiny squirt of heroin from the needle.
“Need more.” He reached to his nightstand and flipped on the radio. Louis Armstrong Orchestra played. That would do just fine. “Telephone Vin after a nap.” He lifted his bum foot and rested it on the opposite knee. Tugging away the wool sock, he studied his foot. Angry scar tissue criss-crossed the folded instep. Crooked yellow toenails curled like straws. He flexed his calf, pumping the leg back and forth. After a moment, he spotted a large vein running parallel to his tibia.
He grinned. Here goes. He pierced the outer layer of skin and into the vein with the needle. Backing the plunger out a hair, a bit of crimson life blood entered the glass tube. He pressed the plunger down, purging the need’s contents into his leg.
In a moment, the pain in his foot was gone. Euphoria washed over him. It was the best feeling. Nothing compared.
Glimpses of the ceiling came to him through a dreamy fog. The soft warmth of a mother’s caress draped over his body. He must be curled up in pillow-soft blankets and cool linen sheets. The electric lamp on the nightstand threw patterned light on the ceiling. Lost in the maze created by the light and dark, Eddy surfed a wave of bliss. This was love. The love he never got from a mother of thirteen.
There was chatter. It was fuzzy, distorted, coming down a tunnel. It slowly became clear over a fluid span of time, until he realized it was the radio talking. He didn’t like it. What happened to the Louis Armstrong Orchestra? He wanted music, not clucking hens. That jazz spoke to his soul.
Sitting up, he looked around. Ah. His bedroom. Good. It was a good place to be. It was dark outside now. He didn’t know what time it was. That was fine. It didn’t matter much to him, anyway. Time was not a strict master to Eddy Colt, as there were few demands on him. His siblings provided him food and shelter. His only need for money was to keep himself in medicine. Sometimes he managed to land a job, but he couldn’t ever hang on to it for long. It wasn’t his handicap that got in the way, it was his attitude. Eddy Colt simply didn’t give a single fuck about anything other than getting high.
Obnoxious voices on the radio pierced the haze of his euphoria. Some nonsense about a Martian invasion. These radio dramas were ridiculous these days. Nothing but a bunch of make-em-ups and stories. Noticing his open leather medicine kit, he felt a flush of alarm at the sight of the empty vial. He needed more. Time to call Vincent.
Eddy grabbed his crutch and eased himself upright. There was no pain from his foot. Good. Still feeling the effects of the medicine, he made his way to the kitchen downstairs. He grabbed the receiver of the Ericsson Bakelite telephone and spun the rotating dial, entering Vincent’s telephone number.
“Hello?” Vincent’s grandmother answered the line.
“Hello, Mrs. Treadwell. It’s Eddy Colt. I’d like to speak with Vincent.”
“Hello Eddy. Vincent is working in the barn. I’ll go and fetch him. Hold the line.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Treadwell.” She was a pleasant woman in her eighties. Sharp, spry, and active. Eddy plopped himself into one of the kitchen chairs while he waited, elevating his bum foot on the kitchen table. Gazing out the window, he lost himself counting the large orange leaves still hanging off the massive broadleaf maple in the yard. Beyond the tree, a flash of light. Streamers of sparks shot high in the air. A second later, the windows rattled loose in their panes. Eddy heard the deep boom of the explosion.
“Eddy.” Vincent’s voice came over the phone. The lights dimmed, flickered.
The lights went out.
“Goddamn Martians.” Vincent said. The line went dead.