Prologue

The rain fell hard and cold, sluicing down his features like the so many unspent tears that had never been shed his entire life. The glass of the whiskey bottle clutched between his wiry fingers felt clammy and slick with condensation. The alley was dark and dingy. It may as well have been a sewer tunnel, despite being aboveground. This part of the city always smelled like shit, no matter how hard anyone tried to clean it up.

Deacon took another swig, grimacing at the hot, harsh liquid as it sliced down his throat, sending waves of warmth cascading through his chest and down into his stomach. Even though he hadn't showered in days, he couldn't smell his own stink through the trash overflowing from the low-rent apartment dumpsters and the puddles of piss in the abandoned lean-tos that even the homeless wouldn't suffer.

It seemed a fitting place for his final moments on earth.

Trash belonged with trash. His mother had always said he'd never amount to anything, and here he was, proving her right. The Abrams family had never been known in the community for excelling at anything, and he was sure that tonight, any chance of overcoming the stigma that had followed them ever since his drunk of a father got his mother pregnant and created him, would surely die with him in this horrible, forgotten place in a city that had long since given up hope on him and his ilk.

After fifteen years of being reminded that he should have never been born, Deacon finally had had enough and silenced his father once and for all. The 9mm with his prints had never been found. The death was ruled as gang activity. Somehow, Deacon got away with murder and his mother had never been able to forgive him or herself. It wasn't long after that that she told him to leave and never come back, for looking at his face day after day was only a bitter reminder of the mistakes they had both made thus far.

What followed was ten long years of hustling, dealing, snorting, shooting, inhaling, fucking and every other activity Deacon could find to numb the pain and memory of the life he had lived. He had contemplated ending it all more than once, but chasing the next high, the next lay, the next score, was always more compelling and important. It was through this haze that Deacon viewed his entire adult life, if a life such as that could be called living. He wasn't even sure that he still existed, truly.

In the distance, sirens rang out, echoing across the sides of buildings, reverberating throughout the city, an empty wailing that signaled the herald of what those in other circles would consider justice. It wouldn't be long until they found him. The deal had gone bad, there was a sting. Deacon was too lazy, too wasted, to see the signs. He should have known there was something up, but it didn't matter anymore.

Everyone else was dead.

Deacon had escaped with nothing more than the clothes on his back, the shoes on his feet and the half-emptied bottle of whiskey held in the crutch of his elbow. He leaned against an alcove in the alley, trying to shield himself from as much of the rainfall as he could. There was one more thing he had almost forgotten about. He patted his shirt pocket, searching for the little baggie he'd stashed away from the order he'd been delivering.

The fine white powder within glistened beneath the weak, yellow light of a streetlamp. If he looked hard enough, it reminded him of snow. He thought of one of the few happy memories he had ever bothered to cling to and hadn't surrendered to the recesses of the void created by an endless series of drugs and drinking.

He was seven years old and the first snow of the winter season had fallen. His mom had gotten him all bundled up to go outside and play. He was going to make a snowball and throw it at the neighbor kid. He couldn't remember the kid's name, but it didn't matter. That wasn't the happy part. He spent ten minutes building that damn snowball. The snow was light and watery, not enough ice within to make it pack and harden. The ball would quickly crumble into dust and air within his stubby, warm little kid fingers.

But finally, with the effort only a seven year old can put into something such as this, he'd made the perfect little snowball. And yet, the neighbor kid was nowhere to be found. The house was dark and empty. They had moved in the middle of the night, or chased away. You never knew in a neighborhood like this. Crestfallen, Deacon had slumped into the snow, buried up to his knees, clutching the snowball he'd so eagerly created.

Just then, with a soft pop, he felt an explosion of cold and wet across his neck. He'd whipped around, only to see his father standing just off the front stoop, a lopsided grin on his bedraggled, craven features. He was in only his pajamas and slippers, hair sticking in all directions, out of control stubble covering his cheeks and chin like an unkempt bush. But he had a twinkle in his eye, one that Deacon couldn't recall ever seeing before.

With renewed gusto and vigor, Deacon launched the perfect little snowball of his creation straight for his father's chest. It connected with a soft slap, leaving a large, uneven circle of wetness across his shirt. They laughed and laughed, just enjoying the simple pleasure of a snowy winter's morning. The rest of the memory was a blur; blacked out or simply lost to the reach of his brain's abilities.

Even now, Deacon felt his thin lips tremble into something resembling a smile. Remembering that snowball was good. It reminded him that he hadn't always been this miserable, unwanted creature. He had been good once. He felt he could rest easy knowing that a moment like that had occurred, even once.

Deacon rubbed his fingers across the plastic, anticipating the rush of the powder entering his body. He figured he might as well get high first. Then at least maybe he could experience once last rush of euphoria before ending it all. He had one last item with him procured from the sting, and it was the key to his entire plan.

He went to run his fingers across the butt of the handgun stashed into his waistband, and in doing so his elbow bent open, allowing the bottle nestled there to slip and fall to the asphalt at his feet, shattering into hundreds of jagged shards, the liquid within soaking into nearby puddles of rainwater, rust, dirt, piss and feces.

"Shit," he mumbled. It didn't matter. He still had the drugs. He didn't need the whiskey. As long as he had the drugs, it would be fine. The plan would still go ahead as he had imagined it. Still staring at the shards of broken bottle at his feet, Deacon unleashed the gun from his waistband, holding it delicately in his free hand. Whether it was irony or simply fate, it was almost an exact replica of the gun he'd used on his father over ten years ago.

Somehow, that felt fitting to him.

He turned the gun over in his hand, examining all sides of it. The dull metal gleamed in the pale light. He knew he was nearly ready. First things first. He stuffed the gun into his front pocket, huddling over the plastic baggie, opening it up. The rain was slowly beginning to relent, downgrading from a torrential downpour to nothing more than a slight drizzle. He was just about to pour some of the coveted powder into his finger when a sudden, sharp squeal of a scream pierced the air.

Surprised, Deacon lost his balance and tried to look for the source of the scream. In the same instant, the baggie slipped from his grasp, tumbling end over end, its feeble contents spilling out into the air like wisps of snow falling from the sky. A deep, guttural growl of desperation and anger surged out of his throat, contorting his face, but it was too late. It was gone. His last moments were ruined.

"Please!"

Suddenly, the scream was more than a noise. It was a voice. A voice that was growing louder and more persistent.

"Somebody, please!" the voice cried out. "Help me!"

"Shut the fuck up, bitch!" another voice joined in. This one was much deeper and rough, like tires on gravel. Deacon realized he wasn't truly all alone in this godforsaken alley. There were other people here, lost in their own misery and darkness. Normally, Deacon would just move away, head somewhere else. Keep his head down, search for the next score. But he was pissed, now. His final moment was ruined.

He ventured out of the alcove, slowly padding further into the alley. His footsteps squelched faintly as the holes in his banged up Nikes sucked in and spat out water. He reached an intersection where one building lined up with another and saw two dark figures against the wall in the adjoining corridor. He couldn't see their features, but one was clearly male and the other female.

The female was pressed against the wall, face against the grime and spray-paint covered brick wall. From what Deacon could see through the shadows, she was petite, blonde; probably pretty if he could actually see her face. He imagined her face contorted into one of fear and desperation, her eyes wide and wildly spinning in their sockets.

"Help!" she cried again, though this time it was mixed in with a yelp of pain. Deacon saw the man's hips begin to gyrate as he pushed his pelvis roughly against the woman. It took his drunk-addled brain a few moments to piece together what was really happening to her. Once the man began to emit moans of pleasure and grunts of exertion, it became abundantly clear. Her screams melted away into soft, mewling whimpers of pain and terror.

"Just shut up and take it!" the rapist grunted into her ear.

Deacon took another step forward, his foot splashing into an errant puddle, announcing his presence in the adjoining alley. The rapist shoved the woman's skull into the wall, looking back over his shoulder. Dark, glistening eyes full of hate-ridden lust stared back at Deacon, cutting through the dark and dank air.

"The fuck do you want, asshole?" the man bellowed.

Deacon put his hands up in front of him in an act of surrender. He waved his empty palms before him as if to signal he was unarmed and of no concern to the act occurring before him. The truth of the matter was that he really didn't want to get involved. He had his own inner demons to deal with. He wasn't about to try and get in the middle of whatever dark misdeed this was.

"I don't want any trouble," Deacon murmured, words slurred.

The woman, who must have been momentarily stunned or unconscious from being slammed against the wall, came to in that moment and managed to look back over her shoulder past her attacker and she locked gazes with Deacon. She seemed to be willing him with her eyes to take action, to prevent this horror from continuing any further, to rescue her. Deacon looked back into her eyes and all he saw was emptiness.

"Help me!" she growled with renewed vigor. He could practically see the hope swelling up within her, rolling off of her in waves. Perhaps safety was close at hand. The man tightened his grip on her neck, keeping her held down. A vicious snake inked into his skin slunk from between his thumb and pointer finger all the way up his arm and into the hidden folds of the hoodie wrapped around his upper body.

"Get the fuck out of here!" he screamed, lips pulled back over his teeth like a feral dog.

Deacon was frozen to his spot, unable to move. He wasn't sure if it was the loss of his drugs or the whiskey finally reaching his nervous system or the sheer weight of what he was witnessing before him, but he found himself unable to take a single step. It wasn't as though he had a good bone left in his body. He wasn't a vigilante citizen.

He just didn't know what else to do.

"You fucking stupid or something?" the rapist sneered. He yanked the woman by her neck and bodily shoved her sideways, kicking her in the ribs as she went down. With a grunt of pain and a jerky exhale of spent breath, she stayed down. The hulking man turned, dick still hanging out of his undone trousers, towering over Deacon. "Or do you wanna be next, pretty boy?"

Deacon blinked, willing his brain to catch up with his eyes.

With a low, rumbling growl, the man lurched towards him, arms outstretched. In that instant, everything seemed to move into slow motion. It was as if time decided to defy all laws of physics and slip to a crawling pace. Deacon watched with dilated eyes as the rapist came at him, ready to pounce. Deacon felt himself reaching for the gun before he even had time to consciously make the decision. Instinct kicked in and before he knew it, the barrel of the gun was facing directly at the rapist's chest. The man barely had time to change directions or gasp in surprise before Deacon pulled the trigger and sent a lead slug flying through the man's flesh. A geyser of dark red blood spurted out into the night air, mingling with the putrid liquids at their feet, all mixing together with the freshly fallen rain.

The man was dead before he hit the asphalt, outstretched hands splashing into maroon-tinged puddles, eddying and flowing with the other discarded items in the alley. Used condoms, hypodermic needles, empty pill bottles. The man continued to bleed out as Deacon stood over him, sneakers filling with bloodstained water.

He slowly lowered the gun and stared down at the man's face, upturned to him at an awkward angle, his neck turned sideways.

In his eyes, Deacon saw his father. Clutching the snowball. Slapping his mother. Tossing Deacon to the floor.

He aimed. He fired another shot, shattering the dead man's skull. He fired again, sending bits of bone and brain matter splattering. Nothing was left but a twisted, hulking stump of broken and destroyed bone and viscera.

The sirens wailed louder than before. The cops were getting closer.

It wouldn't be long until they found him. Especially now that shots had been fired. Deacon knew he had to move, and quickly. As he opened the chamber of the gun to check how many bullets were left, he heard a small scuffling noise. One bullet left.

He looked up in time to see the woman slowly rising to her feet.

They locked eyes. She was pretty, after all. Despite the makeup running down her defined cheekbones and the splotches of red dotting her face from being slammed against the wall, her beauty still shone through. Her hair hung limp and wet against the sides of her face, further defining her lithe, pale figure.

"You…you saved me," she whispered. She sounded as if she couldn't believe it. Deacon surely couldn't, himself. He hadn't intended to interfere. He simply had wanted to go to a quiet, desolate place where no one would ever think to search for him and end this pitiful excuse for an existence once and for all.

"I…," Deacon murmured, unable to finish the sentence. The gun felt hot and heavy in his hands, as if it were weighing him down like a block of concrete dragging him further and further to the bottom of a river. "I…I'm sorry."

The woman shook her head slightly back and forth, like a small, damaged bird.

"Sorry?" she echoed. "I don't understand."

"I'm sorry," he whispered again, though he wasn't sure if he was actually speaking to her or if it was to himself. Before the woman could say another word, Deacon turned and began to run. He ran as fast as he possibly could, feet slapping against the uneven pavement, just barely missing potholes and cracks in the asphalt.

The sirens rang louder in his ears, growing inexorably closer. They were closing in on him. He wasn't going to have enough time. He thought he was going to have enough time. All he wanted was to be able to end this on his own terms. Not gang raped in some prison cell somewhere, left to rot and waste away as a warden of the state.

He could see the mouth of the alley ahead. If he could just make it out, get away, find some other dark, quiet place…

As he catapulted into the open street, the last thing he remembered seeing was a bright flash of light as an ambulance came bearing down on him, sirens and lights whirling and flashing, sending splashes of red and white across the buildings it passed. Deacon saw but didn't feel the ambulance collide with his body, sending him spiraling up into the air like a discarded ragdoll, legs and arms hanging limply at his sides.

He landed in a crumpled heap in the gutter nearby, his blood leaking out into the sewer drain as his life slowly but surely flowed away from him.

This is okay, he thought to himself. This is still okay…

Then, he only knew darkness.