Zander Williams

Drugs are bad, Matt thought. He had today's newspaper while he sat on the bus to go to school. His headphones were blaring with heavy metal rock, clearly disturbing everyone adjacent to him. It was strange that Matt Sleak, a six-foot-two white boy with long black hair, black fingernails and a pierced eyebrow, was reading the paper anyhow; his type was known to get as high as they could with remorse or care of what they were high on.

Matt stuck to the average marijuana-joint-per-day routine, but he wasn't high now. Too scared to smoke. He was used to smoking in the early morning, right before brushing his chompers, right after waking up from a night of pot and heavy liquor. His fingers were caked with pot residue, lungs were probably as black as his hair, and his brain cell count was probably twice as low as it had been two years ago when pot had been something he'd only associate with something he'd used on the stove. Today, however, wasn't a day to get stoned.

He was surprised he could still read as his eyes scanned over the newspaper. The paper was an informative piece of shit (since weed had come into his life, anything with a lot of words on it was shit); it had everything you wanted and didn't want to know—sports scores and lost puppies and stuff. There was only one reason Matt was reading the paper, though.

Jerald Treed.

They called Jerry Treed by a name that was more suitable for the boy's reputation: Deadhead. Treed was—had been—a kid that hardly smiled. He had sat in the back of Ms. Prynne's homeroom with a dark brown bowl cut on his "dead" head. All he'd do was stare into space, saying absolutely nothing to anyone and sometimes vice-versa. Treed had only been in Matt's homeroom, lunch, chemistry class; the latter had to be Treed's favorite subject because that had been the only class he ever participated in during his senior year at Ethanville High. He'd just stare into space in all his other classes and do no work, but in chemistry, the guy had been a whiz kid—knew the periodic table by heart and Mr. Schowl had always given him an A-plus on all Treed's lab reports, where everyone else would get no higher than a B-plus. Treed had been considered for honors chemistry many times, but the guidance counselor had denied each request—Treed had Fs in his other subjects and had to bring those grades up before he could step up to any honors classes. What a dumb ass.

The truth was, Jerry Treed had been a junkie—he and his mother both. The drug that was big in 1986 in Ethanville, New Jersey, was pot; Jerry and his mother Cynthia had been known to be addicts of every other drug: acid, LSD, angel dust, heroin, and most of all, magic mushrooms. The ones that grew on cow shit. Treed would come to school high as hell off 'shrooms at times, and shared them freely with others. He'd only socialize and or come in contact with other people to just distribute his drugs—when he was high and willing to get other people high. Matt had once and a while obtained some pot from him for free—it had been some good free shit, too. Those had been the only times you'd see Treed smiling.

That damned junkie, however, had been intelligent. If he weren't looking at nothing without blinking (this was probably so because he ran out of dope to take), he'd be reading the books that he brought to school. Big books, dictionary size. Books on biochemistry and neurology and genetics. This hadn't been a new thing—Matt had known Treed to be an avid reader since sixth grade. Treed would read (that rhymed) in homeroom and in lunch while everyone would be loquacious and rambunctious; the noise seemed to have had no effect on him, because his dark brown eyes never wandered off the pages.

But he acted like a dumb ass, though.

There had been only two things associated with Treed: either he had been the butt of a nasty joke or an entity to wonder about in perplexity. Other kids, like Doug Soames, the star wide receiver of the Ethanville Wendigos, would make fun of Treed's mom, saying things like She'd jump off the Empire State Building for a crack rock and She has sex with syringes.

Maybe she had been in love with syringes, a love deep enough to make her use them as knives.

Matt read the section of the paper he was hunting for; the only reason he really wanted the paper was that he didn't get a chance to get the whole story; the Channel 6 news hadn't given out all the juicy details. Last week, Jerry Treed had been found dead in the living room of his mother's half of the duplex they lived in. The landlord, who had deliberately entered the opened door of the duplex demanding past due rent money, had discovered Treed lying on the cold floor with more than a dozen syringes lodged into his face, arms, hands, chest, stomach, feet, and genital area (the landlord had said there were five in that spot alone). The landlord had called the police, who arrived and discovered three disturbing things. In Treed's blood, someone had written DRUGS ARE BAD numerously across the wall; all nineteen syringes Treed had been stabbed with were half full with a clear liquid, later to be identified as a mixture of heroin, psilocybin, and LSD; Cynthia Treed had been found in the corner of her room, crying and chanting Drugs are bad with blood all over her face and hands.

When questioned, Cynthia had admitted to murdering her son. "He was going to be a threat to the world," she had stated to Officer Andrew Soames, Doug Soames's dad. Soames had reported that Cynthia was going through withdrawal in an attempt to kick her drug habit. When that had been revealed, Soames had gone back to the duplex in search of drugs; he had found three kilograms of cocaine, one kilogram of heroin, boxes of assorted pills from Vicodin to Prozac, and forty-five sandwich bags of psilocybin and mescaline mushrooms—all the drugs had been found in a secret trap door on the kitchen floor.

Cynthia Treed had been charged with first-degree murder and multiple counts of unlawful possession of controlled substances. It was still unknown where she had acquired the heavy load of drugs; the authorities were still trying to inquiry her during her withdrawal period. The FBI had been contacted for further assistance.

"Whoa," said Matt. That one incident left an eerie feeling in the air—murder was uncommon in Ethanville since everybody got along (or barely tolerated) everybody else. Now that someone had been killed around the use of controlled substances, the FBI would be attracted to Ethanville as if they were worker bees and the town was a big fat flower

(cannabis sativa flower)

No more pot, no more reefers, no more grass.

Maybe that was for the better.

The bus arrived in front of the high school and Matt went in, folding the paper neatly and sticking it into his book bag. He towered over the majority of his schoolmates, and they could only fear him since he was considered to be gothic punk rocker. Matt didn't like punk—he preferred classic rock and heavy metal rock and sometimes rap if and when it was done right. The sole reason people thought that this teen, with smooth and shiny blue eyes, was a punk rocker was that he was an avid wearer of black; he wore it because it was cool to wear, not because he worshipped the devil.

He was atheistic anyway.

He strutted his way to Ms. Prynne's homeroom. Ms. Prynne with her graying brunette hair was outside of class as usual, chatting endlessly with the other faculty members about stupid teacher stuff—strikes against the school board, perhaps.

"Headphones, Mr. Sleak," said Ms. Prynne, breaking straight out of her conversation with Mr. Schowl. Matt took of his headphones only to put them back on when he sat in his desk chair in the right rear corner of the classroom. He was usually the first in and didn't expect to see someone sitting in the other corner—where Jerry Treed had sat. The boy sitting there now had his head down; his hair was a spectrum of vibrant colors, resembling a tie-dye pattern—which was evidently a sign of homosexuality in Matt's book. The boy's white shirt and jeans were matted in various places with dirt and grass stains as if he just came from out of the ground digging.

Matt took of his headphones and asked, "Hey, kid, you're a new student?"

"You can say that," the boy with the rainbow hair said, head still down on his desk. His voice was loud but relaxed.

Matt cut off his tape player. "Where'd you come from?"

"I just came back from a place called Neverland." The boy started to giggle, making Matt uncomfortable. The boy was trying to be a smart-ass. Matt was a renegade, and being a smart-ass was a part of his modus operandi.

"Okay...what's your name then—Peter Pan? Do you fly around wearing green tights?"

"You know who I am, Matthew."

"Do I know—"

The boy sat up straight and looked at Matt with eyes that pulsated wildly with all sorts of colors like some psychedelic side effect. "You know who I am, Matt. It's the new me, though—you like it?"

Matt's monochrome eyes saw, but his mind was trying hard not to allow. There was that one part of people that couldn't believe certain things—it would refuse to tolerate things that happen before someone's eyes and ears. Incoherence overshadowed that part of the mind, and that part of the mind would live its neurotic life without the pleasure of experiencing the abnormal.

Matt wasn't high on weed, so that left no reason why he was seeing and hearing things he shouldn't be. That meant who he was seeing and hearing was—

"Deadhead?" Matt uttered, voice devoid of bass. His tape player landed on the floor and split in two. "Jerry? Y-Your dead!"

"Maybe so," said Treed, "but I never felt so alive. I feel great!" He stood up from his desk and began jumping in place, punching senselessly at an invisible opponent like Rocky Balboa. Dirt was falling off him like brown rain. "I fell so fucking free! I wish I could share this..." He nodded off as if his brain parted ways wit his skull, then: "Goodness. Do you wanna feel good, Matt?"

Treed's face, arms, and hands had several dark red punctures—the places where his mother had stabbed him. His skin was lifeless despite how flamboyant he was acting. The only thing more lifeless was his off-white grin. To sum it all up, there was an energetic zombie standing across the room from Matt. There certainly was a new Jerry Treed, but Matt didn't like this one at all.

"I don't wanna feel good," Matt said. He eased closer and closer to the door with his gaze focused on the zombie, prepared to run for his life if Treed would attack.

"Yes, you do," Treed said. He reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a syringe filled with a thick, clear fluid; some of it squirted out of the needle's tip and Treed snickered. "You used to get stuff from me to get you high, so stop denying it. I know you wanna to experience ultimate ecstasy—we all do. We all wanna feel good and I have the solution right in my hand."

He strolled up the aisle of desks, holding the syringe like a pocketknife. His grin was merciless and it seemed to take up his entire face. Matt could smell the stink of decomposing meat as Treed drew closer. As he walked he stumbled a little—he really was feeling it, whatever that was.

"Can I ask you a question?" Matt asked. He was fully convinced that Deadhead was dead, but that wasn't enough—neither the paper nor the TV could give all the details. "Why did your mom kill you?"

"Matt, remember when I said that everyone wants to feel good?" Treed pierced his neck with the needle and injected himself with half of the clear liquid. "Well, I was stretching the truth a bit—there are people who don't really wanna have that euphoria within them. They wanna live their lives in misery and in desol...desol..." Treed fell into Ms. Prynne's desk and laughed uncontrollably. "Uh...Excuse me, Matt—this shit kicks in fast. It feels like a clown is juggling my nuts. Desolation was the word. My mom is that kind of person that doesn't wanna feel good. She knows that I wanna make feel wonderful and tried to stop me. Her attempt only made me stronger. She even tried to sterilize me, but I already got my girlfriend pregnant. So if I am to be exterminated, my son or daughter will follow in my grooooooovy footsteps."

Ms. Prynne walked in, and her smile, which had originated from the conversation with Mr. Schowl, faded profoundly. She looked straight at Treed with sheer terror, and then at Matt to confirm what was standing there with multihued hair. Her aging hands trembled as if she were epileptic. Her slightly hunched back fell against the classroom closet door, adjacent to the door she had entered. She shook her head at her two students, one back from the dead and the other just as petrified as she was.

"Jerald?" she whispered, her hand now over her lean lips. Ms. Prynne had been up close in Treed's face plenty of times when she used to interrogate him on why he had never done any of his schoolwork except for chemistry. Because of that, there was no way she could mistake the zombie before her as some new student like Matt had done. She knew that slender face of Treed's in spite of the tie-dye hair and the rainbow eyes that could throw anyone else off. "It can't be! Schowl came to me last week with the bad news that you were—"

"Dead?" Treed asked abruptly. Matt had the feeling Treed didn't like the word "dead." "I'm alright, Ms. Prynne, but you don't look so good. But I have the remedy that'll fix all of that for you."

Treed began to move towards Ms. Prynne in his torpid and reckless manner, his eyes as awfully bright as the needle reflecting the fluorescent lights above. Matt, who usually did brave acts only under the influence, stepped in front of his favorite teacher who was too traumatized to move.

"Get back, Jerry," Matt said. He tried his hardest to keep his cool, trying to be composed in the act of thwarting off the dead.

"No, you back off," said Treed. "You don't know Ms. Prynne—Donna—like I do. Did you now that her ex-husband used to beat her? I wanna ease her of that pain! You go on ahead and live in darkness and misery, but she won't. Donna is a good woman and she deserves the very best!"

"I said get back!" Matt shouted. "Whatever is in that needle isn't gonna make anything the very best. You can't make people feel good by putting monkeys on their backs! That's only making their problems worse!"

Matt realized that he didn't have a weapon to defend Ms. Prynne, and Treed was slowly homing in with his syringe out in front of him. Never had Matt done any drug that required (or recommended) the use of an intravenous needle, for that apparatus was for junkies and fiends; he wasn't planning on being a victim of that infamous tool, either.

"Stand aside, Matt." Treed swung the syringe at Matt who dodged away, the needle missing his long face by a mere millimeter. That pungent stench of death invaded the privacy of his nostrils like an imperialist army hungry for more land. A more virulent grin arose on Treed's face as he went at Matt again, swirling about like a ballerina. He staggered backwards and his syringe fell; Matt took his chance and shoved Treed with all his might—it was almost like pushing a sack of feathers. The zombie crashed into a row of desks and onto the floor.

"I'm gonna rip your intestines out with my bare hands, fucker," Treed said, taking eons to get up on his feet again. "No one makes me feel bad."

"C'mon, Ms. Prynne!" Matt lifted her from the closet door as Treed went for his syringe. The teacher was shuddering all over, her watery sapphire eyes locked on Treed's multicolored ones. Matt yanked her to the door, where two students stood there watching in bewilderment.

"Don't go in there," Matt told them on his way out. "Something from hell is in please stop being nosey and just run."

He told Ms. Prynne to go Mr. Schowl's room next door and luckily she went running, but the two Curious Georges next to the classroom door weren't so lucky. Treed was already hacking at Nancy's throat with his needle. Jake, who was supposed to let Matt borrow a videotape recorder that day, tried to turn around and dash, but the zombie captured him by the collar of his shirt. Treed gutted Jake like a slaughterhouse cow, screaming in a deadly frenzy that was impossible for a normal human being to own. He threw Jake into the lockers on the opposite wall and stepped over Nancy and her crimson puddle of blood. He studied his syringe, which was broken, and threw it down. He pulled a brand new one from his back pocket, took off the protective top with his beige teeth, and spit it out beside him.

"This needle is full of life," said Treed, cackling, "now who wants to live?"

The people in the hall were either running from Treed or watching him cautiously. Some of them recognized him immediately and they could only cringe in appalling horror. He went for Matt, who was several feet away. Treed glared at him as if Matt had betrayed a pact they had established between each other, a pact that really didn't exist. Nancy and Jake's blood coated the zombie's clothes and arms, and with the needle in his hand, he was a doctor of the deceased.

"If you wanna be miserable, then I'll make you miserable, Matt," he exclaimed, scowling. His eyes were brighter and shifting colors rapidly.

"And I'll kill you again and make you die the right way," said Matt, pretending to be high so that his valor would stand strong alongside him. He had the sudden need to stop Treed (that unfortunately rhymes)—he felt responsible, even though he had never been an enemy of Treed's before. "I know you're not the same as you were when you were alive. Even though I don't believe in demons and shit like that, I think you are one—and I'm gonna send you back to the hell you came from. You and your feel-good super drugs both."

Treed charged at Matt with his syringe out like a knight in a squire duel. His sprint, however, was sluggish and sloppy, as if his legs were running without any consent of brain waves. Matt backed away swiftly, the way a man does when he wants to run from a dog but still wants to get credit for standing his ground. Treed tripped over his foot and landed on his face with a crack, breaking his nose instantly; a molasses-like ooze of at least a dozen different colors seeped out of the zombie's nose and mouth. He remained there, twitching. His needle had slid across the floor and hit Matt's sneaker.

Matt picked it up—it was icy on his fingers. He walked over to Treed apprehensively, grimacing at what he felt he had to eradicate. He mounted the zombie's back like a rodeo star in case there would be some wild bucking underneath. Sitting on Treed was like sitting on a stiff pile of parched feces; the savage odor of death violated Matt's nose yet again, and he had to fight powerfully to refrain from vomiting. Treed began to gradually jerk this way and that, causing Matt to lose balance for a moment.

"Hold still, Jerry," said Matt. His voice was grave and sincere like a depressed superhero. "This is for the better and you know it. Your time here is gone. If I let you go free, all you're gonna do is kill more people."

"Fuck you!" Treed screamed. He jolted about like an overgrown salmon and wailed like an insolent child. "Fuck you! Get the fuck off of me! Get off of me, you tall cunt! I'm gonna decapitate you and then stick my cock in your mother's shithole, you faggoty prick!"

There's definitely a demon under me, Matt thought.

He pinned Treed's flopping head to the floor with his free hand and prepared to stab him with the syringe. To Matt's surprise Treed started to sob and all together he stopped moving; his cries and howls were earsplitting. His head and hair were freezing cold. Some of the students and teachers had made an open circle around them without Matt even noticing at first.

"Ms. Prynne, help me," Treed said in a soft quality. It was as if he wasn't just cursing and going on a maniacal rampage moments ago. "Please, Ms. Prynne—I thought I was your favorite student? I swear I don't mean any harm and if I do, I'm truly sorry. Now can you please get this heathen off of my back?"

Ms. Prynne stepped forward from the semicircle, her hand still on her mouth as if it were conjoined to her lips. She had been crying—the tears were still falling. She actually was closing in on Matt with the intention to help Treed, but stopped dead in her tracks with an expression of total repulsion on her face. Matt figured the stench the zombie was emitting had finally hit home with her.

"Matt, don't, okay?" she pleaded. She wanted to move forward but didn't. "Please don't kill him!"

"For Chrissakes he's already dead!" Matt snapped. "Don't let him fool you with his crying. I don't know exactly what he is now, but he's not one of us anymore. If I don't put him to sleep the right way, he's gonna do the same thing he did Nancy and Jake to a whole lot of people."

"He's lying!" Treed said. He was jerking violently again and Matt had to struggle to stay on top of him. "Ms. Prynne—Donna—don't you know that atheists lie? There is a hell and this fucker is going straight there when he dies—I'll make sure of it!" Ms. Prynne shook her head and backed away slowly; Treed saw this and tried to squirm in her direction; he was spitting the colorful blood at her. "You stupid whore! How dare you turn your back on me! I gave you the drugs you needed to kill your fucking husband! I hate you, you cock-sucking bitch!"

Matt had heard enough. He gripped Treed's tie-dye hair and drove the needle into Treed's neck, right under his cheekbone. He slowly injected the zombie with the thick clear fluid, perhaps the same concoction that had been within the labeled cylinders of the needles Cynthia Treed had used to kill her son. The zombie went feral; all he could do was scream and shriek NO! and curse like a ship of drunken sailors. Matt had used his utmost force to secure Treed's arms to the floor. In the struggle Treed's shirt eased away from his waist and revealed four more syringes in his back pocket. Matt snatched them out, removed the protective tops with his teeth one by one, and shoved all four in the nape of Treed's neck at the same instant. The colorful blood leaked continuously from his nose and mouth like an oil spill.

"Go to sleep, Jerry," Ms. Prynne exclaimed, making no attempt to come closer than she had to. "Please, just go to sleep and don't come back!"

The rainbow radiance that dwelled in Treed's eyes went out gradually as if he were a machine being shut down. The spitting stopped. His face fell to the floor, and so did his arms and legs that were in all over the place. He was asleep, and Matt pulled all five needles out of Treed to confirm that he was gone. Rising from the nauseating cadaver, Matt looked around and what felt like a thousand eyes attacked him. The faces gazed at him and the zombie both in black dread. Only one thing resurfaced in his mind.

"Drugs are bad," he uttered to those staring faces. They had to agree.

Matthew Sleak never did any more drugs. He even tried his hardest to stay away from medicine—his body could heal naturally. People would continue to stare at him and stare some more, the tall boy who had sent Deadhead back to the hell he had come from,


the tall boy who now doubted his pagan beliefs. It could be said that he never did drugs again, but he did get those three puffs on that joint his brother passed to him at that party...but that was when he really never did drugs again. Marijuana didn't make him feel good anymore—and even if it did, he didn't want that good feeling, because it would bring on the memory of that tie-dye hair and those pulsating eyes and that vile aroma and those goddam needles and whatever drug had been in those needles.

And the hell with drugs, because Matt knew drugs weren't just bad—drugs were evil.

They were fucking evil.

Hi kids! You see, drugs are bad. It's terrible. So just do me a favor and sayNO to drugs andYES to life. Don't be a DEADHEAD and sayYES to drugs and NO to life.

I could be a drug awareness speaker, can't I?

Drugs are just bad, umkay?