Chapter One

When the going gets tough, the tough go to New Sainte Pierre.

Ever traveled there? Anyone who lives or has been some camera-toting tourist with knee socks and fanny packs there knows this. That place is dangerous. Travelers get jumped in the ornate and beautifully rotting maze of mausoleums, and well, the locals are just smart enough to not wander in such a location.

In the summer the air is choked with moisture, the heady smell of wisteria and the wet rotting green smell of bog plants turning into compost. Mix that with car exhaust and sprinkle on some of that weird musty mold scent of rotting old houses and bam! You've got yourself the little universe that is a colourful myriad of shape, sound and scent. I think the scent is the thing that sticks out foremost in my mind. And really, let's not kid ourselves; NSP isn't part of any country. It's a little republic all of its own.

Now, let's get something straight here, I was not there to see the houses or the flowers or to sample the local flavour. I wasn't even there because I'm tough. I'm a pansy, I know this.

I was there because I was so out of money that a pauper could have laughed at me with his little bandana of worldly possessions suspended from a stick. I had sold every little bit of hardware on my jacket and my only other pair of pants for bus fare. But now here's my problem; I was only three hundred miles from where I started and the only things I had in my pocket are a piece of lint shaped kind of like a nose (I've kept it for that novelty), a broken button on a safety pin and a crumpled brochure of the metropolis in the North that's been read and refolded so often that it's falling apart.

I seriously tried selling my other pair of jeans too, the ones I'm wearing, but the guy at that second-hand store wouldn't buy them. Even if they're a dark wash you can still see the blood all over them. No one buys pre-bloodied jeans, even if they want to look hardcore and really, I wouldn't either. If someone found out I wasn't the one that bloodied 'em up I'd feel pretty damn lame. But when people find out you are the one that got them all stained with that, they'll think you're some weird sociopath that sacrificed blonde virgins're something. I can't get a date let alone lure some hapless chick into my basement to do that. Plus, we don't exactly have a surplus of blonde virgins. I think they might be on the endangered species list.

I suppose you can't really win in that respect. Sigh.

The blood, may you ask, came from my mom's boyfriend. Maybe I'll breach that topic a little later, but right now, I'll let you use your own noodle and maybe just try to distract you from even doing that.

Right…Hm, distraction…

Look! A gang symbol! This may hold no particular significance, but I still liked their little motto under it. It keeps popping up every time I pass by an alley or something. That's one thing I've always been careful about, in places like New Sainte Pierre, I walked on the far edge of the sidewalk away from the buildings. I've had troubles with mugging. Not that I had anything worth taking when it happened, but I doubt thieves really check before. You just have to look stupid, like, let's say, walking close to the buildings even when you're fresh meat in front of the mouth of an alley. But regarding that, they just beat the snot out of you and then check if your pockets're full. I got an extra beating for that, but I wasn't much expecting a polite tap on the shoulder, "Excuse me, sir, I couldn't help but notice that you were being a retard and walking in the mouth of this dingy alley here. You see, my posse and I are feeling confident you have wads of cash in your wallet that I can proceed to steal after smashing in your face with this Louisville Slugger. Do you? No? Well, I'm very sorry to have bothered you then."

Yeah, it just doesn't happen. Though I guess that's okay, instead of paying to have my nose broken, in a way, I got it on the house.

But back to that little spray-painted doctrine that keeps popping up. It read in a drippy neon orange scrawl that nearly glowed in the gritty light, 'Life is a beautiful thing. Cherish it. One day you'll get hit by a bus or get a goddamn piano dropped on your head from a high-rise apartment.' How eloquent, but it made me laugh. They always write two ways that you can die that are completely ridiculous. Last time it was 'mauled by a panda' and 'drowned in a bowl of melted ice cream'. What ways to go! I sure as hell want to die like that. Imagine what would be written in my obituary! Ha! Now if I could manage all four ways at once, I'm set. Give the coroner a serious brain work-out.

I was mugged at the bus stop when I arrived at New Sainte Pierre. You know what they took when they couldn't find anything to steal? My shoes; my damn five year old sneakers that I lifted from a lost and found box two months ago and they didn't even just make off with my backpack. They weren't even shiny and white anymore. At least, I think they might have started out white. It could have been grey—hell, it could have been black and just faded out. Currently they're this weird shade of blotchy green/grey/yellow/brown. Well, they were. I wonder if they sold them to that second-hand store guy- or… tried. That's even worse than bloodstains.

So after walking around downtown NSP with mismatched socks—they're seriously mismatched too. I found them stuck with static to the inside of my pant leg after taking the pants out of the dryer of the Laundromat. One's a great big wooly ski sock in the most horrible shade of burnt orange and the other's a slipper sock with the grip-y sole and flying blue sheep all over them. Girl's sock, probably—I stumbled across second-hand store guy outside his 'shoppe' as is what's written on the big sign outside with the peeling red paint. I think he just wanted to sound classy but you can't really at a second-hand store. Wait, wait… Let's kick it up a notch. It's a 'vintage shoppe'. Aah. Now you're thinkin', Taschi.

He was hanging some patterned sweater on one of the outdoor racks when he saw me, and appraised my appearance. I probably looked like hell; I hadn't had a chance to check if the bleeding from my nose has completely stopped, let alone if blood was still there. Which it definitely was, I might add.
"You don't have any shoes on." Thank you, second-hand guy, I didn't notice.

I looked down at my feet and acted in mild surprise, "By god, I don't!" Mm, okay, that wasn't mild surprise; it was flat out shock; shock and awe… at my lack of footwear.

He stared at me for a long moment, and I stared back. The sweater was waving slightly in the breeze, the sleeve giving some flailing but weirdly welcoming gesture.

Hello, Taschi.

Hello, hideous eighties sweater.

"…Your face is kinda crooked."

That is number one on my list of things to never say to people in the first meeting. But oh no, second-hand guy did. He went there. Now, how will I ever live with the truth about my crooked face?

I stared at him for a moment longer, maybe the mold spores in the sweater or any number of old clothing articles had invaded his brain, turning him into a…a true conversationalist, "Thanks, man."

His mouth was open slightly, I'm not sure if this was a thing he did all the time or if he was just shocked at my disheveled appearance, "No, like… your nose and stuff, dude. It's all, like, twisted…"

Well, vintage shoppe mold spore second-hand guy was probably right. I tried to smile but it hurt, so I stopped trying.
"Could, I um, use a mirror or something?"

He finished hanging up the sweater- instead of just holding it out before him and teasing the hanger—and motioned inside, "Yeah, man, there's one in the bathroom in the back. But you need a key." He started on hanging up another article, a dress this time, some fifties number that was really quite pretty. My sister would have loved it, she likes sequins.

I waited for him to fish out the key from his pocket, but he simply picked up another piece of clothing; an old leather jacket with a hand-painted eagle on it, it was pretty cool.

But still no key came.

"Could I have the key, please?" I asked after a painfully long moment of awkward silence. I had to reset my nose, and I'd rather the pain just be over and done with.

"Ooh, right." He dug into the pocket of his black cargo pants. It was an amusing sight, with pockets that deep. He had his arm stuck in his pocket up to the crook of his elbow before he pulled out a ring. He then tossed them to me and my reflexes were off, and they merely whacked me in the chest. Smooth. Did I ever mention I'm smooth?

But he was back to hanging stuff with single-minded precision and didn't notice me goof up. I picked them off the sidewalk and ducked into the florescent haze of the air-conditioned store. It smelled of old people and moth balls. I know that sounds awful but it's true. I'm probably going to Hell for that comment.

Past the circular racks filled with clothes from decades in no particular order, I walked into the bathroom, having to go through five or six keys on the ring until I got to the right one. I didn't feel overheated in here, it was nice. I'm not sure why I was wearing my jacket in the summer. Maybe it was the fact I just wanted to feel kinda cool. Sort of like how in the movies the mysterious ones wear sunglasses at night in a car with tinted windows. But you never see them wrapping a car around a telephone pole or something because of it, 'Okay, so you're a terrible driver, but damn! You look so mysterious and cool!'


Upon opening the heavy door to the bathroom, I stepped inside and flicked on the light. I suddenly tried to put off looking in the mirror at the horror that would be the raw-meat appearance of my face. So I let my eyes scan the graffiti that completely tagged the walls.
'Ted was here'

'Ted is gay'

'Call 9815 for a good time'

'The dark darkness is suffocating me with dark'

'S + H forever'

'Ted is homo' Hmm… Homogenized? Good for Ted.

Alright, Taschi, you've had your fun, go look in the mirror.

Jeeezus, that's awful.

Second-hand guy was right; my face was crooked from the beating I had taken. Underneath my left eye was already bruising darkly and I had a nice split on the bridge of my nose, which was slightly twisted up and to the right. My bottom lip was swollen and cut and I felt multiple bruises forming on my torso from simply breathing and walking.

Man, I must say, I'm a dreamboat. I'd jump me in an instant.

Wasting no more time, I raised my hands and pressed them together in this kind of prayer-like way, just with my nose stuck in between them. Breathing in, I closed my eyes and upon breathing out, I started to pull my nose down and to the left. The cracking sound was sickening, as was the pain. I felt the sensation spark brightly, watching a sudden swell of green under the curtain of my closed eyelids. But adrenaline quickly dulled that to an almost bearable level, and I continued on my task until finally my nose looked like it was back in its proper place. I stared at my reflection as I suddenly became a bloody fountain, and I mean that literally. I leaned over the sink and simply watched this take place, seeing the colour drain from my face in this interesting almost-perfect horizontal line that traveled from my forehead to my chin. My world tilted so far that I felt I would slide down the linoleum floor into the far wall with its graffiti.

And then, quite suddenly, I threw up.

There's no pretty way to put it, and I don't really remember it happening, but I had the burning-sour taste of bile in my mouth and my vision was back to being righted. I felt better; much better now that the adrenaline had me fully grasped. Because of that, there was little pain—no more than a faint throb that increased in intensity only for a split second in staggered intervals that quickly relaxed back into mild ache. My face looked a little better. I mean, I looked like a meat axe still but at least I was a symmetrical meat axe; a very much bleeding, yet not-crooked meat axe.

I grabbed a wad of tissue from the roll beside the toilet and put it under the fount. I then cleaned up the mess in the sink with one hand, precariously holding the tissue to my nose without trying to press too hard and cause more discomfort. It's a delicate job, that's probably why I did such a bad job of it. But still, the sink was clean, and with that, I padded out the door, trying to act cool with my make-shift gauze and the fact that my one sock had no problem with gripping the smooth cement of the floor but my other one was sliding all over the place with a mind of its own.

Second-hand guy was exactly where I had left him and I handed him the keys with a muffled 'Dank Oo' (Mmn, nice inflexion, there.) He nodded and accepted the heavy ring easily, dropping it back into the bottomless pit of a pocket. He was hanging things still outside, but it was with his casual indifference that I looked around and saw them.

Footwear. Oh yes. Shoes, baby. There could have been a choir of angels to complete the picture and I nearly wept with joy- Except the weeping part would have hurt my nose. I was led over to the shelf with my rope of awe dragging me there and I saw a pair of size 11 steel-toed combat boots. They were clearly well-worn, but that was one shoe size off my own, and I could deal with that. Plus, they could hide my really stupid socks. They even looked far steadier, and less worn then my sneakers and even had matching laces that weren't snapped yet. They looked almost new—almost; maybe a year or two off of new. That was new enough for me.

Let's sum up my predicament; I had been mugged, but I had no money so they stole my old and beaten up sneakers, probably just because they could. Then I was looking at buying a pair of kick-ass boots to replace my old shoes, with the money I don't have.

Think, think…

An idea dawned on me and I turned back to Second-hand guy, "So you buy and sell, right?"

Good-bye, un-bloodied jeans.

"Yeah, we do."
I'll miss you.

After the transaction, I was left with a few extra bucks, probably enough to buy a small coffee and some fast-food type coffee shop. Therefore, the money wasn't helpful. At this time, Second-hand guy seemed pretty dead-set on getting rid of me. We had a few awkward words when I tried to sell him my blood-stained pants. The conversation went like this:
"Is that blood?"
"Is it your blood?"

See? Awkward. I didn't force them upon him and sold him instead my clean, much newer pair. I got a full twenty bucks for 'em, and the combat boots were seventeen dollars and eighty-eight cents. After that, he said something about closing and physically shoved me out of the store. I didn't take it personally and walked a little bit down the street to a suitable curb so I could sit and put my boots on. That turned out to be a quest on the busy main street and after about a quarter mile of feeling stupid as I walked down the street in my ridiculous socks while holding something I could have easily already put on my feet, I dropped the pair of boots on the ground and pulled them on.

Well, started to. I managed to hide my sheep sock with one boot and as I was putting on the other, I noticed something was crammed in the toe of it. Frowning, I started to pull it out. It felt like paper, a roll of paper.

I nearly dropped the parcel like I was burned when I saw it and had enough sense to shield it with my hand. The ornate writing at the top of the bills told me I was holding a stack of fifties and hundreds, in a quantity that exceeded more than five thousand dollars. I was swearing, probably pretty loudly too, but I stopped when I noticed the scrawled note wrapped up along with the cash.

Unfolding it, I noticed first the bloodstains and smears that had turned brown on the page. Looking at the bills, I let my gaze wander past the numbers and notice the droplets of gore there too. I suddenly couldn't breathe, my chest hurt from the lack of air and my world started that tilting again. I felt my pulse in my ears as I read over the note.

When you get this, don't come looking for me- it means I am dead. He'll know you have it.


Well, damn.