Valentines in the DregsbyLucifer_Carroll©
There is a misunderstanding in the world. For some reason, love has gotten a weird reputation. It's believed to be easy, to be beautiful, to be without hardship. Perhaps we can blame TV, with its trivialization of the human condition or perhaps humanity itself for falling for such a fallacy. Love is not easy. It's not always pretty either. This is a story about that.
It features a man named James Korbain. James is a loser. No, not like the lecher who staggers up to women he believes are easy at a bar, but rather the guy at the corner of the bar, drinking because he's at rock bottom and still falling.
It wasn't entirely his fault. He was incredibly bright, just in that overly perceptive way that makes teachers hate. Despite their best efforts, he aced his SAT and their finals and maybe he could have got into a good school. But then his father got into the car accident and his mother had committed suicide soon after. He was able to pay for the funeral and still have a little left over for school, but then the will had come where he had learned that what his father mostly had left him were obscene gambling debts to shady people. Through a total destruction of credit, he had been able to rise to the level of debtor to "respectable" people. In other words, those who sent nasty letters before they harvested your organs, instead of the ones that just showed up with surgical tools.
All he had to his name in fact was a crappy one-room apartment in the Dregs with a single second-hand mattress. By the tone of the last notice, he wouldn't even have that in another month.
And in the general scheme of the Universe which can't resist the temptation to heap insult on injury, his personal life was going no better. For some trick of fate, he had an aura of despicability. It wasn't, to his ability to detect, a fault of his nature for in truth he was a generally nice albeit quiet and sullen guy. It was just for whatever reason of coincidence, people assumed the very worst of him. Police officers would constantly stop him on the street and search him, he could never keep friends for long, and he would be fired from every job for suspicion of a crime someone else committed. And as the cherry on the sundae of misery, every woman saved her most barbed and painful rejections for him. It had continued even though he had stopped trying. Long after he had ever given up hope of human interaction, he could not drink a beer alone without a woman sending a note emphatically pre-rejecting him and even sitting in a bus staring out the window ended in him getting slapped.
Given all this, it probably isn't a surprise that eventually James gave in to the downward spiral. He stopped caring about appearance or human interaction. He lived almost entirely in his mind, not bothering to live, but rather going through the actions of going to work, eating the base minimum of nutrients, and then sleeping. He had become the shell of an automaton.
Or at least that's what occurred on the surface. Inside was a different story. Inside was waiting for its chance, the crack in life to prove its merit, to shun the constraints and bitterness of an uncaring reality.
And it would soon get its chance to do so, on the bitterly cold evening of February 12th while James was walking back from yet another soul-draining day in his minimum wage dead end job. He would pass an alleyway and hear a noise that would set it all flooding back to outside. And it was:
"Damnitt, you hold the wench."
Thought processes foreign to many of his fellow city dwellers began to take over and slowly he looked over.
"Fuck, bro. She's utterly wasted. I can't wait to try."
"Well wait your turn, fuckwit. If you don't hold her up, neither of us is gonna get a taste."
The outside began to thaw with old convictions, ones buried out of bitterness and just a little bit of spite, and slowly he began to walk down the alleyway.
"Slip me the knife, I need to get her out of these fuckin' clothes."
"Okay. God her breasts are soft and nice even if she smells like shit."
"Well that's what matters. HEY, WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM, FAGGOT?!?"
James noticed the knife at his side, but was by far the worst person to pull that shit on. A normal person when faced with a loss of life and limb for someone they don't know goes through a moment of hesitation where they wonder if it's worth it and thus give the knife-holder an upper hand. James however, had long ago given up much care for his personal safety. He merely acted and broke the punk's wrist with one movement.
"Brother," the uninjured one screamed. "Oh you're fucking dead." With that he charged with another knife pulled from somewhere on his leg which served as a sort of Street Punk's bag of holding.
Again James had the upper hand. He wasn't strong enough to beat the punk, but he cared less. He felt a bit of pain in his side but that didn't stop the path of his knee. He had no clue if the wound had been fatal or even if the punk had left the knife there while he crumpled, but he quickly moved to keep him down, kicking his face as hard as he could, pouring years of barely suppressed anger at the world into keeping the second brother down.
He stopped soon after it stopped moving. By the sounds of the barely audible gurgles below him, he hadn't gone that far, but he was beyond caring. He looked over at the first brother who had thought about rejoining the fight while his back was turned but had wisely decided that raping a skank wasn't worth getting thrashed by someone well on the down curve of sanity.
"She's just a crack whore, you dumb shit," he pleated bitterly.
James looked over slowly. It was one of those turns you see in a certain type of movie. Sort of the universal sign to stop talking and get away. Unfortunately, the street punk was common-sensically illiterate.
"Fuck, she's probably been raped before and I doubt she'd last long in that condition. Besides, it's not like you know her." The brother stopped in a rare moment of thought process and a look of terror flashed across his eyes. "Right?"
"I don't know anyone," he said bitterly.
"Then what the fuck, faggot? She's probably going to die out here tonight or soon with how she's hitting the horse. Might as well get some fuckin' action, right?"
Perhaps it dawned on him during this whole diatribe that he was finished, that he had lost this one. Perhaps, somewhere in his tiny skull the thought of leaving the freak alone with the damned druggie cunt would be the smart thing to do. However, he said it anyway and thus, he finished awakening James to reality.
"Leave," James muttered quietly.
James trembled with anger. "I said fuck off, scumbag. Get the hell away before I kill your pathetic misogynistic immoral ass."
"." The pause hung in the air as the glacial thought processes of the street punk swayed into focus.
"Aw, who needs this shit? C'mon Charlie," he finally muttered, lifting his brother over his good shoulder. "Should be a law against fucks like that."
While they disappeared into the streets of society, perhaps to beat and violently fuck some other poor lass or perhaps to soothe their injured masculinity on some poor shmuck weaker and richer than they are, James breathed the air in crisply. There was a wet feeling on his side, which was already beginning to sting slightly in the cool air. He felt, to put it in horridly clichéd terms, like he was just waking up from a dream.
He looked at his hands and gave them a couple of purposeful squeezes. He looked up in the air and a pigeon shat in his eye. He wiped it away quickly then looked down. The woman was completely oblivious to the world. Her eyes were thickly lined and hollow. That along with the tract marks on her completely uncovered arm testified to a young life spent primarily chasing escape from. Her hair was shaggy and grease stained, but may at one time have been some shade of blonde.
The rest of her body was tragic. It conveyed a fragility that mere drug-induced litheness and a small frame could not reproduce. It shouted victim, use me, shatter my dreams. It was the body of a broken woman and the barely held on rags betrayed this still further. One tiny breast hung obliquely out of her mostly ripped and tattered shirt and her pants had the fly lewdly open. She wore nothing underneath or possibly had those articles removed a long time ago.
It was not erotic; it was heartbreaking.
To take this woman in would mean nothing but trouble. There was nothing to gain from the act and its possible that it would make his already putrid existence, more miserable. He took another deep breath of air. But then again, he had to hit rock bottom sooner or later, right? He carefully rebuttoned her jeans and shifted her shirt to cover both breasts inadequately and lifted her up in his arms. Her head lolled onto his chest and began to drool down his front.
With a sigh, he looked out of the alleyway and marched quickly to his apartment. True, the best action would have been to take her to a hospital in case it had been an overdose, but he had a feeling that any action like that would likely involve him being interrogated by morose police officers asking how he had got the wound and what his "posse" did to the woman. To avoid this, it was best to take her somewhere safe and warm and deal with the rest later. Luckily at this time of night, he ran into no police officers, though his paranoia suspected that they would try to bust him for the crime he had just broken up at any time.
He only received the haughty and suspicious glares of the random night patrons. A look of "we don't approve of your hideous act, but not enough to actually comment." Frankly, he didn't give a damn about any of them. Would any of them have bothered to break up the rape in the alley? Probably not, though they'd all "shed a tear" if the woman had turned out to be from a famous enough family to make the paper. Fuckers, all of them.
Ah, barely contained rage. He had almost missed the feeling. Back when he cared enough to sneer at the world. It was all so darkly nostalgic. He walked up less than gracefully up the stairs to his room. Carrying someone up stairs is a task not easily accomplished even when the person in question is a passed out anorexic drug addict. Luckily he had the type of landlord that didn't bother to check up on strange thumps and grunts going up or down the stairs. Of course, this had been because some of the tenants were penny-ante drug dealers who sometimes had to "deal" with "problem customers."
With an unseemly amount of luck, he made it with girl into his room without incident. It was so uncharacteristic that he couldn't help but be a little proud. With luck like that, he might not have ended up where he was now. Locked in a crappy room with a passed out drug addict and only room for one. His feeling of goodwill tarnished slightly. What exactly had been the whole thought process? Bring her here and then what? Did he know first aid? Sure, it was better than the alley...He looked around at the peeling wallpaper, boarded drafty windows, and skittering cockroaches. Well, vaguely warmer and safer at least.
He banged his hand vaguely against the door. Well, he had brought her in as an act of chivalry, might as well keep at it and then figure out the rest tomorrow. Besides, his side was really beginning to hurt right now. He placed her as gently and tastefully onto the mattress as he could and covered her up with the blanket. She seemed to still be breathing so hopefully she wasn't Overdosing or anything.
He staggered to the bathroom in a combination of general fatigue and blood loss. The wound was ugly to look at, but little more than that. He really had a good run of luck this night. He knocked on a faux wooden cabinet quickly. A man gets to be wary about a run like that when used to a whole other type of run. He rummaged quickly for the bottle of rubbing alcohol he had bought more as its capacity for suicide device than for its medicinal value. He had always said that if he had to face the last rock bottom, he'd like to do it drinking to death.
He grimaced as it hissed on his skin. He didn't have any bandages, but a t-shirt that passed the Bachelor's Standard for cleanliness (hasn't been on the floor an excess of five days and can't be used as a stun weapon against squirrels) was quickly converted for the job.
He was hitting the limits of his adrenaline by now. There was no space, but he knew how to improvise. Or at least his body knew how to crumple unceremoniously into a heap against the door and tell the brain that this would work unless the brain wanted to waste valuable sleeping time finding a better spot. It all worked out to the same thing in the end and the world swam away into unconsciousness.
He dreamed while he slumbered. Something he hadn't done for a long time. There was the girl he rescued, but somehow prettier. And she was smiling. Not a fake smile like plastered on the faces of "upbeat" people everywhere, but a genuine from the heart smile. Why was she smiling? And how can I dream about something like that? There was something else too, something away from focus. A discussion or something and a gun. A gun pointed at his face. It was all disjointed. Talk about something, someone asking about a Blank Valentine. No, Valentine Blanc. Or something. And there was a fat guy with wings, smoking a cigar disapprovingly. And he was saying something too.
"Bugger all this for a lark, you ain't photogenic," it said and flew off. Fucking cherubs. And then there was more. A grinning TV, offering a miniseries on the wacky and superficial love between a Germanic Prostitute and an alien from Pluto, random colors, and Carl Jung on a camel. Then there was a pounding headache and random angry screaming. It was all so surreal and...oh.
His eyes opened as some sort of blunt object smacked him between the eyes.
"Goddamn that hurts," he moaned clutching his face as another blow landed on his back. He flailed out randomly in the International Standard "stop hitting me" pose and by sheer random luck managed to knock away the curtain pole while only spraining one wrist and a few bad whacks to the elbow.
Unfortunately, this only meant that the attacker switched to the constant standby weapon of its own body, raining down a series of frantic overhand smacks. Though unglamorous, it still did the job especially to one still groggy from just waking up. James reached out again and grabbed his attacker's wrists and looked straight into its...her eyes. Bloody hell, he thought bitterly, no wonder he didn't bother with good deeds anymore. "Listen," he screamed impatiently to the druggie, "I'm not-"
He folded up swiftly as one of her legs connected between his legs. Yep, he was waiting for the Universal but. The ironic turning of the tables that had so neatly characterized his life. He decided to roll with it and through great effort managed to lift himself painfully to his knees. A slap rang across his ears. "Lis-"
"Who are you," the girl screamed frantically, but a level lower than the uncontrollable frenzy she had held a moment ago. The random attacks must have calmed her down a bit. I'm a stress ball, the sarcastic side of James pipped up unwelcomingly. "What did you do to me?"
He tried to explain that he was James Korbain and hadn't, despite what his appearance might suggest, taken advantage of her prone drugged out condition to have a bit of humpy fun, but rather had saved her from said fate. Unfortunately, he had been kicked in the nuts quite recently so it came out more like, "Nngh, mumblemumblemumble, fuckin'."
"Where's my bag? Where's my bra, you fucking sicko," she screamed again waving something vaguely at his throat. His eyes were too blurred to make out what it was exactly. His tongue was beginning to vaguely come back to him luckily. "Jesus lady, urgh, can I have a fuc...a fuckin' second?"
Something sharp was pushed distinctly against his neck. "No, you may not," she said with the type of measured calm that makes one long for chaotic madness. He looked pleadingly up into her eyes while struggling to quickly catch his breath without nicking himself.
Perhaps for someone else it would have worked. If he had been a handsome yet roguish pirate captain, she may have swooned and dropped the kitchen knife and said something akin to "oh your eyes are honest." As James was, with his face radiating his aura of deviousness, he probably luckily that she only tried to cut him.
He ducked out of the way, smacking his head against the wall, getting only a minor scratch. This was hardly a consolation. He decided to just surrender to the Universe. He propped himself up pitifully against the wall and held his hand against his neck to check the damage. "Fuck," he said to himself. He glanced at the knife still in her trembling hands and pointed at him. "Why did I bother?"
"Cause you're a sick little pervert? Who knows?" The knife waved a little more erratically.
"The fuck? Damnitt, bitch, I didn't do anything to you. I took you the fuck in from the alleyway where two nice gentlemen would have been happy to give you all the perversion you want." It came out in a self-righteous torrent. He had sort of reached a plateau of pain and submission where the self-preservation gene that tells people when to stop talking stops working.
"You lie," she cried in perfect synchronization with expectations.
There are a number of responses to an accusation like that. Some are quite pithy. However, they are all uttered by people who have never been in that situation. In truth, there is only one real response that the body makes before the brain can even dwell on the first quip. He began to sputter indignantly.
"Fuck it," he said at the end. "Just cut my throat and be done with it why don't you?"
She glared at him distrustingly. "You don't act like a rapist."
"No shit," popped automatically out of his mouth, though he managed to suppress the slower quip of 'so how many rapists have you seen.' "It's probably because I'm not one."
"Yeah," her eyes narrowed and glared again at him. "So why did I wake up in your bed?"
"Because you were passed out in a fucking alleyway about to be raped, you dumb bitch!" He was in red alert territory by now and still diving. Unfortunately for him, she tried to slap him with the hand holding onto the knife. Fortunately for him, the random movement of her blade only managed to slice up his cheek rather than remove an entire eyeball.
He touched his cheek with deliberate caution. "Jesus Christ." This was all to expectation, of course, but maybe he had hoped it wouldn't be this time. Maybe he even had subconsciously wanted to play the hero, get his chance to receive gratitude instead of condemnation. He was an idiot. He curled up into a ball and switched off. "Screw it. Just leave."
He heard the knife fall on the ground, but didn't trust his senses enough to look up. That action may have saved his life.
"You helped me?" The voice was distinctly softer. The tang of distrust was still there, but muted partially. "No one helps me."
He remained silent and bit back the sarcastic quip trying to claw its way out of his throat. The self-preservation gene had finally woken up and was busy wondering what the hell had been happening to the rest of the body since its vacation yesterday.
There was a soft sound at the cusp of hearing. He looked up cautiously. His eyes goggled a little. The girl was mewing quietly, trying to hold back an avalanche of tears. He recognized the expression. He had the same expression on the day of his mother's funeral. He had kept strong until he had seen her go into the ground and then all the self-control in the world couldn't stop the dam from breaking.
He refrained from asking the inane and pointless question of 'are you all right' and instead crept slowly up to his feet and approached her. It was a stance more commonly seen among assassins or thieves, but given recent events it was a prudent one. She didn't move as he did this and so with great caution he patted her on the shoulder.