Chapter One: The Hangover From Hell
The day was rotten from the very start. Perhaps he should have known that something was wrong from the moment he woke up; he certainly felt as though he had butted heads with hell the night before. The first breath of the morning brought his insides aboil with nausea, the sunlight knifed his eyes mercilessly, and his skull felt as though someone was trying to pound a nail into it. All things considered, it wasn't the best way to enter consciousness.
But, then again, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary for Matthew St. Laurent. It seemed to him that the last few years of his life had been nothing but a string of wild nights followed by bad mornings. The current situation was neither concerning nor particularly surprising for him, so he did not immediately catch on as to how deeply mired in shit he really was.
Matthew groaned and brought a hand up to cover his eyes, blocking out the unwelcome invasion of the sunlight. He took a few deep breaths, attempting to settle his stomach, and then slowly but surely lurched up to a seated position. It took a few moments to work up the courage to peek out from beneath his splayed fingers and brave the sunlight again. Once he did, he found that his surroundings were unfamiliar. Judging from the small, decrepit houses adorned with graffiti and garbage, he was on the south side of the city - the bad side, the poor side, the side he had grown up on. That was a good sign, though; had he wandered into the more wealthy north region, he probably would have woken up in a jail cell rather than on the sidewalk.
He placed both hands on the ground, and then recoiled as he felt an immediate sting of protest on one palm. He held the hand out in front of him and slowly unfurled the fingers. Scrutiny revealed a gash across his palm, shallow but still considerably ugly to look at, caked with blood and dirt.
"Lovely," he growled to himself, closing the fist again. Now was not the time to question how he had managed to do that. He tried to ignore the pain as he clambered unsteadily to his feet. He swayed for a moment, his sense of balance off and his stomach even more unsettled, and then started walking.
At the next corner over he found a taxi waiting, smoke drifting out of the driver's side window.
"Hey, taxi!" he called out, raising his voice so that it was loud enough to carry to the man. "Taxi! Yeah, over here!"
The driver glanced at Matthew, did a double take, and then began to drive forward; clearly, he intended to drive away from the approaching customer as fast as possible. Matthew sped up his pace and jumped in front of the car before it could escape. He put both hands on the hood of the car, leaning forward and peering in through the windshield.
"Hey, what's the deal?"
The driver poked his head out the window; he was a thin and grizzled man, unkempt and greasy.
"I know you, St. Laurent," he rasped, using his cigarette to point accusingly at the young man, "and I'll be damned if I'm giving you a ride again."
"What? Why the hell not?"
"'Cause you never pay!" The driver revved the engine slightly, raising it to a threatening rumble. "I'm not afraid to run you over, man. I'll tell 'em you jumped in front of me like some kinda lunatic."
"Awh, c'mon, all that would accomplish is making a mess out of your car." Matthew patted the front bumper mock-affectionately. "And why would you want to do that?"
"Really, St. Laurent, I'm telling you-"
"No, listen, I can pay this time." He fished his wallet out of his pocket and shook it, letting the promising jingle of cash sing out to the taxi driver. "Swear to God, I'll pay you."
The engine growled back in response.
"I'll pay you double."
At that, the car quieted. The driver sat in thought for a few long moments, and then spat out the window.
"Fine, fine. Get your ass in here, then."
Matthew grinned and quickly moved to obey, reaching in to give the driver a pat on the head as he went. The man ducked away in response, grumbling to himself about bad decisions.
"I knew I could trust you, old man."
"Yeah, yeah. You better not make me regret this, you god damn freeloader."
"Ahh, I would never do that to you, you know better."
"Heh, right. So where are you headed?"
"Home. You know the way?"
In reply the car took off, the abrupt start throwing Matthew back against the seat. His stomach lurched unpleasantly, but he bit back any complaints; he knew this driver could get him home faster than anyone else could, and that was all he really cared about. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on other things during the ride, fighting back the urge to be sick at every sudden stop and sharp swerve. No matter how well accustomed to hangovers he was, the crazy ride was pushing his limits. He was on the verge of telling the driver to pull over so he could vomit when the car finally shuddered to a stop.
Matthew peeled his eyes open and took a peek out the window. The familiar face of his apartment building stared back.
"I made it the whole way without getting sick. Do I get a prize?"
"No. Now where's my money?"
Matthew grinned and dug out his wallet again, starting to count out bills. The money was crumpled and stained, and looked as though it had been through much abuse. He finally handed over a messy stack to the driver, who wrinkled his nose with disgust.
"Why the hell are these bills sticky?"
"Sometimes it's better not to know, buddy."
The driver grimaced and counted out the money.
"Wait a sec, St. Laurent, this isn't double. This is-"
He swivelled around to look into the back of his car again, and found an empty seat.
"-Half." The driver looked out the window, watching Matthew half-stumble up to the front doors of the apartment complex. The young man turned around and waved enthusiastically before disappearing inside. Despite himself, the driver couldn't help but chuckle. "What an asshole."
Matthew was glad that he had developed a resistance to the stench of his apartment. Otherwise, he probably would have heaved up the contents of his stomach immediately upon entering. The place had a reek unlike any other, his personal potpourri, a unique mixture of of dirty laundry, old pizza boxes, and alcohol. The place was buried beneath haphazard piles of clothing - not all his own - and garbage. He navigated his way through the mess, feeling the crunch of broken glass and other, less identifiable things as he made his way to the bathroom.
The mirror was marred, split almost perfectly in two by a long crack of mysterious origin. It warped his features as he looked into it, ruining his - in his opinion, at least - charming looks. He scowled at his distorted appearance and then reached for the handle on the sink. He turned it, and then was left in anticipation for a few moments, making him wonder if he had forgotten to pay the water bill again. But finally it started coming out - a paltry, pathetic, and discolored stream, but water nonetheless. He cupped his hand to capture some and splashed it on his face.
He scrubbed the grime off of his face, and pushed back the dark, poorly groomed hair that fell in front of his eyes. Once that was finished, he turned his attention to the cut on his palm. Washing off the crusted blood and dirt revealed that it was jagged on the edges, suggesting that it had been sliced by something crude, most likely broken glass. Perhaps a bar fight, perhaps some stupid accident - he couldn't remember, and honestly didn't care enough to try to.
He walked out of the bathroom and into the kitchen instead, heading straight for the fridge. He said a quick prayer, opened it, and found it completely empty, save for some sour milk and a tupperware of dubious contents. He scowled and closed it again, and headed for the cabinets instead. No better luck there - the only things inside were already-empty bottles of alcohol.
"God damn it," he said aloud to no one in particular. He raised his hands to rub at his temples; his headache wasn't any better, and if he didn't have food or alcohol, he sure as hell didn't have any tylenol left. But, if nothing else, perhaps a shower could help him feel a little more human.
So, back to the bathroom it was. He didn't bother to close the door, and instead promptly stripped off his shirt. He tossed it away uncaringly, and then let his pants fall to a heap on the ground. Only then did he notice the piece of paper sticking out of his back pocket.
He paused, eyeing the unfamiliar object, and then bent down and retrieved it. The paper was strange, yellowed and stiff as if it was several hundred years old. He straightened up with it in his hand, and slowly began to unfurl it. His brow furrowed as the text came into view. The lettering was black and elegant, and, like the document itself, had a hint of something ancient in it.
"A contract...? The hell is this?" he murmured aloud, brow furrowing as he tried to make sense of it. At the bottom was his own name, signed in red with a sloppy - presumably drunk - hand. And next to it, filled in much more neatly, was an unfamiliar name. "Who the hell is Jezebeth?"
The voice came from behind him, a woman's voice, purring like a feline that had just caught a tasty meal. Matthew's head whipped around to face her, letting the paper drop to the ground in his surprise.
The woman was tall and shapely, dressed in a blood-red dress that clung tightly to her curves. She smirked as she caught his eye, and curled a strand of brown hair around one long, black fingernail.
"Jezebeth, at your service."
Yay! Finally, a new story. (: Thank you to those who voted on my poll. And if this wasn't the one you were hoping for, sorry! I'll probably be writing another one as well, probably a science fiction one, and I'll switch off between that one and this.
Any and all feedback will be greatly appreciated!