Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls (12 page)

BOOK: Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

did not seem strange that he thought about these things.

on the day he brought the progress report home, he knew that he was alone and
that he might be alone for a very long time.

parents were both at work, his mother
disturbed children at a day-care center, his father doing something that had
vaguely to do with finance. The house was sunny and still, and all that
afternoon he searched through their desk drawers, through their files and
boxes, looking for his adoption papers. He had to know who his real parents
were. He had to know where he had come from and whether someday he might find
his way back.

parents’ papers were remarkably dull. There were no old love letters scented
and tied with pastel ribbons, no scan-dais, no bloodstained lace handkerchiefs.
There were no adoption papers. The shadows in the house lengthened. He became
frantic, knowing with the terrible conviction of a twelve-year-old that these strangers
named Rodger and Marilyn would murder him if they caught him going through
their things; they would have an excuse at last. But he opened one final
dresser drawer in their bedroom, not really expecting to find anything, and
under his mother’s old granny glasses and McGovern buttons was the note. It was
tucked into a corner of the drawer, not hidden very well. By this time he was
sweaty and a little breathless. His hand shook as he extracted the note, trying
not to disturb the rest of the mess.

paper was thick and cream-colored, with two small holes at the top as if it had
been pinned to something. Slowly he deciphered the spidery handwriting: His
name is Nothing. Care for him and he will bring you luck.

at once the story fell into place around him. A baby in a basket, abandoned on
two strangers’ doorstep some night. That was what he had been. Surely this note
had been pinned to his blanket. But the strangers had taken him in, changed his
name, tried to make him into one of their kind. If he had brought them any luck
at all, that luck had surely been bad. It was all so clear now. It was all so

slept with the note under his pillow that night and dreamed of a place where
the buildings were gay with scrolled ironwork and the river flowed darkly past
and soft laughter went on all night, every night. He roamed the streets and the
alleyways and courtyards, a sweet, rotten, coppery taste on his tongue.

next day he put the note back in the drawer in case Mother ever looked there, but
when he was alone in the house he took it out and read it again and again,
holding the paper to his face, pressing it against his mouth, trying to catch
the scent of the place it had come from. For that was where he had been born.
He closed his eyes and tried to imagine the hand that had shaped those
spindling black words, for that hand belonged to someone who knew him, who had
held him. In the veins of that hand, his blood might flow.

he ceased to be Jason. He became Nothing, for that was what the note named him.

still answered to Jason, but the name was like an echo of a half-forgotten

am Nothing his mind whispered. I am Nothing. He liked the name. It did not make
him feel worthless; on the contrary, he began to think of himself as a blank
slate upon which anything could be written. The words he inscribed on his soul
were up to him.

grew taller, and some of the flesh of childhood melted from his bones. He was
truly Nothing now; he knew it. When in junior high school he finally made
friends–not friends who could share his soul, but friends who understood a
little better than anyone else ever had, other skinny pale kids, hippie and
punk kids, kids in black
and leather jackets
and smudgy makeup shoplifted from the drugstore at the mall—he told them to
call him by that name.

house was cold tonight. His room was the coldest of all. He shivered again,
then threw off the quilt and pulled on gray sweatpants and an old black sweater
with holes at the elbows. The Tom Waits album had finished playing and turned
itself off. The hiss of the empty speakers filled the room, too loud here in
the dark.

rummaged through his backpack and found the cassette Julie had given him.

came from far away down south, and only five hundred copies of it had been
printed–it was numbered on the liner, 217 of 500. But somehow one copy had
ended up in a record store in Silver Spring, a nearby town, where Julie had
picked it up.

put it on now. The singer’s voice wove in and out of the jangly guitar line,
now losing itself in the music, now as strong and golden-green as some
Appalachian summer mountain stream.

your road go no place?

it go someplace where you can’t see?

you follow it anyway

just might lead you here to me …

sat on the edge of the bed and hummed the words under his breath, his head
tilted back, his eyes searching the stars and planets on the ceiling. He
thought of Julie taking the tape from her purse and handing it to him; he
thought of Laine, sucking him off with innocent abandon.

in the music, perhaps outside the window in the cold night, somewhere above the
melody and under the moon, those lonely little ghosts started whispering to him
again: You’ve got to get out of here. You’ve got to find flour place, your
family, before you rot and die.

right,” he said after listening for a while. “All right.” All at once he knew
he had to leave. It was inevitable, and he wondered what he had been waiting
for. He would go south, looking for what he wanted, hopefully knowing it when
he found it. Maybe he would even hook up with the musicians from Lost Souls?
The name of their town was fascinating: he pictured it as a mysterious southern
crossroads, a hamlet where the ordinary became exotic. He had found it on a map
of North Carolina, a tiny dot between the mountains and the sea, a town whose
streets Nothing pictured as dusty and strange, whose shops were crammed with
dark secondhand treasures, whose graveyards were haunted, whose moon rose full
and honeyed behind the lacework of towering pines.

said the name to himself and shivered: Missing Mile.

crossed his dark room and let himself into the hall. His parents were out
somewhere—a consciousness-raising group, a holistic health class, an expensive
dinner with other people like themselves. Their bedroom door was ajar, and the
room within smelled of perfumed soap and after-shave. The odors struck him as
stinging and chemical.

said his room smelled bad.

fingers searched the bottom of the dresser drawer, familiar by now, and found
the note at once. Its presence in his hand was comforting, its ink faded, its
edges soft and ragged from all the times he had held it over the past three
years. He slipped it into his pocket. He considered the collection of crystals
on top of the dresser, then picked up the one he liked best, a piece of rose
quartz. He curled his hand around it.

he decided; it was too tainted with Mother’s touch, with her
. After a few minutes of hunting he found Mother’s
cache of emergency money in her jewelry box and took that instead. A hundred
dollars. It wouldn’t last until he got where he was going, but it would help.
After that —Well, after that I’ll find something else, he told himself.

he used the phone. Jack wasn’t home, but Nothing called around and found him at
Skittle’s, the pizza shop downtown where his friends hung out at night. “Can
you drive me to Columbia?” he asked.

isn’t free, dude.” Jack was eighteen, had a fake ID that got him served at the
liquor store, and considered himself the lord of the local scene.

can pay you. I have to catch a bus. I’m getting the hell out of here.”

giving you too much shit, huh?” Jack didn’t wait for an answer. “Okay, I can
take you tonight. Five bucks for the gas if you got it. Meet me here at

far could you ride a Greyhound for ninety-five dollars? Far enough to start

Jack,” he said. “See you at midnight.”

Laine wants to talk to you,” Jack said, but Nothing was already hanging up.

in his room he huddled under the quilt. It was only nine o’clock, he could
sleep for a couple of hours before walking into town to meet Jack and the
others. But his mind would not shut down. His eyes would not stay closed. Even
the whiskey didn’t help; he realized he was maddeningly sober.

rolled over, hugged himself, then felt under his mattress and pulled out a
single-edged razor blade. Gently, lovingly, he pulled the edge across his
wrist. A thin line of crimson welled up, beading and running, bright against
the pale tracery of old scars. Nothing lay under his charred quilt in his own
safe room for the last time, and he sucked at his own blood because that was
what comforted him, what he had always done when he grew too lonely, too hungry
for something he did not know. He lay there with his mouth tight against his
wrist, praying to the juju in his room: Come with me. Stay with me on the road
until I find what I’m looking for, because now I’m going to be more alone than

last, when his lips were stained red and a thin pink line of blood and spit
trickled from the corner of his mouth, he was able to sleep.


going to be a vampire, Daddy.

shut his eyes tight and shook his head. “
Jessy,” he muttered.

me no more.” His hands came up hard against the side of the brick building that
housed Christian’s bar, and he pushed himself away from the wall and staggered
out of the alley.

palms of his hands stung dully. He had left some of his skin on the bricks, and
he could feel dust and grime embedded in his lifelines, his
The pain did nothing to soothe his mind, nothing to stop the cursed past from
rushing back. The streets and alleys and buildings around him swam and grew
dark. Now he could actually see Jessy, see her as she had been that day….

going to be a vampire, Daddy.”

was all she had spoken of for weeks. Finding a vampire to bite her, turning
into one, drinking the blood of others (her lovers, Wallace supposed, the
lovers he didn’t know) and turning them into vampires as well. Her things spoke
of this obsession too. Jessy had always been quite a reader, turning the pages
of Charlotte’s Web and the
Twins books with
scowling concentration, but now the stack of books by her bed was all vampire
stories. Dracula was there, dog-eared and heavily underlined. Wallace had
looked at the book one night while Jessy was out at one of her haunts. Some
passages were circled over and over, in pencil and lipstick and what looked
like blood.

began reading, but after a few paragraphs he was too disgusted to continue. He
hadn’t known the novel was pornographic. He touched the marks on the page.

were blood.
blood. She had been cutting
herself to get at it. Wallace found razor blades between the pages of the book.
There were other novels that looked just as lurid, and a vial of some sort of
red dust that must have come from one of the voodoo shops in the French Quarter,
though he’d told her not to go to those places. There were all the posters from
the movies she saw, cruel eyes and gaping, razor-toothed mouths all bloody, and
the walls and ceiling festooned with black lace…

BOOK: Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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