I walk this forever road everyday, and it doesn't vary a bit. The shape of shadows as the sun touches the earth remains the same: each angle is precisely bent, like reflected light rays off a plane mirror, that is too rigid for change. Sine i over sine r equals never alters.

Evening is starting to show its face around this neighbourhood, which seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into and desolation bleakness each day. The streets are narrow, like a small dirtied stream of river, and the pungent smell that arises from heaps of garbage that hasn't been collected for weeks hangs thickly in the air. It's the one thing you'd remember about this dump...that, and its ever-lasting lust for something wicked.

I see the same faces everyday. Not necessarily the same people, but the same expressions, and that identical hollow-eyed look that everyone wears around here. It's a cruel irony that dominates all their lives, and mine too: what initially set out as an escape from mundane, boring lives that didn't allow uniqueness has turned on us. My body is spent, weak, and tired, and so are theirs; I pump acid into my bloodstream, and so do they. I don't know half the people around here, but I know their habits...because they are my own.

My best friend, Sam, is waiting for me across the street of a busy junction. Cars are zooming past me in dozens. I see the brief outline of Sam's lanky frame in front of an old, run-down warehouse amidst the blur of passing cars. I do not wait for the traffic light to give me the okay; I walk.

Cars honk irritably all around me as I saunter across the road. I really am not afraid of being hit by one, because when you're living on the edge, when everyday is a risk of your existence, you simply stop caring about whether cars are going to hit you.

Sam is leaning by a lampost, sucking on an unlit cigarette. Sam is a strange person: he is a strict non-smoker, yet he does as much junk as the next guy down the block. He calls it "a beautiful contradiction". I call it permanent insanity.

"Hey Sam," I greet him as I approach. He raises his eyebrows at me in a greeting.

"I saw you cross the road," he says. He shakes his head. "I can never understand why you're so unafraid of becoming roadkill. You know they never sweep the roads."

I laugh, and retort, "You're one to talk. Strict non-smoker, but avid junkie. Makes a lot of sense."

He smiles, and tosses his cigarette aside. "Smoking stinks. Getting high doesn't."

We start to walk. Sam has his hands in his pockets, his eyes fixed on the ground. A brief suspicion crosses my mind that something is not quite right with him, but I do not ask. He would tell me, if he wants to.

We stroll in silence, with the busy buzz of the rush hour ringing loudly in my ears. The streetlights cast crazy shadows of monsters and goblins on the graffitied walls, and the luminous beacon of filth that looms about every corner of the street in this place is strangely diluted by the hassled people who pass Sam and I with brisk, broad steps.

"Nick," Sam suddenly says. "Where do we go from here?"

"We're going to Chuckie's," I answer without thinking. "He promised us a good deal on the grass, remember?"

Sam shakes his head, and looks at me, his face grave. "No, I mean...after all this. What's going to happen when we're old and dry and sucked of our youths? What are we supposed to do after that? We can't deal junk for a living forever, now can we?"

I frown at him. "Why do you trouble yourself with these thoughts? I mean, who cares? It's not like any of us is gonna live till we're old and dry anyway. I mean, honestly! You could die any day! And not just from the dope either, you could get hit by a car the next second, who knows?"

He's looking at me with an expression I cannot quite read. It's a mixture of incredulity and sadness, as if the world has ended and he's the only person left. It stretches into the very epitome my carelessness, and pokes at it with sharp little jabs that hurt like hell.

I turn away from Sam, and catch a fleeting glimpse of my reflection in the window of a car that just hurried by. I stop dead in my tracks. It's as if I'm walking in the corpse of someone who has died a million years ago. The cheeks are sunken so deep into their bony crevices that one could sharpen a knife on them. The eyes have a crazed, aggressive look of hunger that would not cease until the apocalypse. It's like looking into the face of a dear friend whom you haven't seen in years, and the changes in his appearance are drastic enough to shock, so that he becomes unrecognisable.

Sam sees the momentarily stunned look on my face. He smiles wryly, and comments, "That was exactly what I meant."

I shake my mind loose of that horrifying image, and, ignoring Sam, turn around a corner into the dim backstreets of the area. I sit down by the pavement, where it's deserted, but bright enough for me to see, and take out a spoon and a syringe from my coat pocket. I dig around my jeans, and produce a small packet of white powder. I hold it out in my palm as if it were the ultimate answer to my salvation.

Sam appears from the shadows, and sees me seated on the pavement. I stare at him, beckoning him with my eyes to join me. He doesn't move.

His attitude is seriously starting to grate on my nerves. I continue to stare at him, until he looks away uneasily. I rivet my attention back to cooking the powder to mainline it. I search my pockets for a lighter, when I realise I forgot to take it before I left home today.

"Got a lighter, Sam?"

He does not answer my question. From the corner of my eye I see him advancing slowly and tentatively towards me.

"You know, Nick," he begins. "I've been doing some reflections during the past few days. I've been thinking about my, our lives, and how we're really letting the drugs suck our youths away. I don't want to end up dead on the streets one day, you know? I want to get married, have lots of kids and live in a big house with a dog. I want to work, to earn clean money, not these filth we've been earning." He shrugs. "I want to live again."

He stops in front of me, and squats down so that his eyes are levelled with mine. "You're my best mate, Nick. You never gave me any flak about being honest, and I just wanted to let you know how I felt."

I throw down the spoon I hold in my hand, and am about to retort when I hear a sudden screech of car wheels that pierce the silence of the evening. Both Sam and I look up. Something silver amidst the blackness of the night catches my eye, and I realise with alarming clarity that it is the blade of a knife.

I jump up from the pavement, and the bewildered look on Sam's face tells me that he saw the knife too.

A group of five armed men stride purposefully towards us. I'm trying to work out who they are when Sam grip my arm tightly.

"Oh, no," he moans. "We're so screwed!"

"Who're these guys?" I whisper loudly.

"The ones we ripped off last week!" he hisses back. "Remember? We gave them Ovaltine powder for two bucks a packet!"

They are angry people, these men. Junkies don't like being cheated. They charge towards us with incredible speed, their weapons raised above their heads, their faces set into murderous scowls. I back into a corner, hence leaving Sam to fend for himself. He barely has time to react when the first blade strikes him heavily down the back.

I don't hesitate. I run into the blinding darkness of this isolated lane. I don't even stop when I hear Sam's scream of pain as more methods are adopted to ensure his death. I don't stop even when the distinctive wail of police sirens ring in the distance. I keep going, my feet pounding against the rough surface of the gravel, my heart pumping twice as hard to keep up. I don't think of my betrayal and the shock in Sam's eyes. I just keep running.

I trip, and fall over, and bloody my knee, but I don't stop to inspect the wound. I'm so tired, so giddy...I just want to be pure.

A/N: This is not as good as I hoped it to be. I wrote this for the 2002 Commonwealth Essay Competition, and there is a 1200-1500 word limit, and if you exceed, you're disqualified. I had to really work to keep to the word limit (in my opinion, word limits are fervently stupid). The ending isn't as powerful as I wanted it to be 'cause I was running out of words, and I would swear a lot, exept that I obviously can't. All in all, this is a stupid story, but I'd love to hear what you think. *hint, hint*