Diminishing Returns by P. R. O’Leary

A sharp pinch, two inches of dull pain followed by searing ecstasy. A splash of icy water on the brain that trickles down the spine and flows to the end of each limb. Body hair rising as if electric. Vision filled with white light. A gentle buzzing that grows stronger and higher until it feels like your bones will crack like glass. Sliding away. Floating down through the crisp white air until everything fades to black.

My eyes open like clams. Breaking through the salty crust of tears and letting in the dirty rays of light. My temple aches. I raise my hand to the side of my head and feel the syringe still sticking in my skull. Gripping the steel handle I slowly slide it out. It was in up to the hilt. Two inches of thick sharp steel. My temple is a soggy mess. Bruised, purple and leaking like a busted eggplant.

Icicle needs to be injected directly into the brain. The best way to do it is to get a heavy-duty surgical needle. It’s the only thing strong enough to penetrate the skull without snapping. The first time is the hardest, but after that the port is opened and you can slide it in like a headphone jack.

Gingerly, I stand up and shuffle to the bed. There isn’t much else in my apartment. A dresser. A lamp. A hotplate. I don’t cook anymore. That’s used to melt the Icicle. They melt quickly in the pan. Bright blue crystal chunks. Smoking and sizzling. Melting into a mercury-like liquid that skates across the hot metal. The trick is to suck it up into the syringe while it’s still boiling. If you inject it right away, before it cools, then the high is at its highest.

I check the clock. I have either been out for two hours or twenty-six. I’m guessing it’s the latter. That last hit is still floating around in my brain somewhere, but it’s fading and my body is starting to shake. My hands and feet are cold and my organs feel like slushy snow. There is only one thing I want, but the tin of Icicle on the nightstand is empty. So is the syringe. Nothing is left.

Icicle has been on the street for only a few months. No one knows where it comes from or how to make it. They just know where to get it, and they know that they need it.

I need it.

Wrapping a dirty blanket around me, I dial the only number I have memorized. It rings and is answered, but the other end is silent. I speak anyway.

“It’s Ned. I need a tin. I have money.”

That’s all I say before hanging up. They know where to find me.

The wait will be a few hours, so I spend the time gathering up all the money I can find. A dirty twenty sitting on the nightstand. A crumpled hundred hidden in the post of the bed. A couple of fives stuffed in my shoe. Maybe together it’s enough for a tin, but I can’t think. Things are fuzzy and I’m freezing. I sit on the bed and wait, the money clutched in my fist and the blanket wrapped around me like a shroud.

After what seems like days there is a knock on the door. I jump up and fling it open. Standing there is a young man about my age, dressed in black. Greasy hair combed tightly against his head. His face dominated by a crooked nose surrounded by graying skin. He is stroking his hairy shadow of a beard and lets his hands drop folded in front of him. When he speaks, it’s with an indeterminate Eastern European accent.

“Hello.”

“Do… do you have it?” I ask.

“I do. Please, the cost. It’s three-hundred.”

I shove the money at him.

“Here!” I shout. “Now give me some!”

He looks down at the money and slowly counts it. Organizing the bills and putting them all face up as he goes.

“This is not enough. This only one-sixty-five.”

“Well, just give me however much that buys. Something… please.” I don’t want to plead but that’s what I’m doing.

The man looks me up and down. I’m still shaking and wrapped in the blanket.

“Are you cold?” he asks.

The man’s hand shoots out and grabs my arm. He slides it up then down, squeezing my palm and fingers. I try to pull away but I’m weak and he isn’t.

“You are cold. How long you using Icicle?”

I’m shocked and don’t answer. He drops my hand and continues.

“You have syringe?”

I nod.

“Then I give you Icicle. I take money. This is enough for now.”

He fishes a tin out of an inside pocket of his jacket. I snatch it, turn and start working.

The hot plate can’t heat up fast enough. The crystals of Icicle sit there and start smoking. A mound of fiery blue gold. At some point I turn and see the door is closed and the man is gone. Five minutes later, the two-inch needle is teasing my brain and I’m sliding down an icy waterfall into bliss.

~*~

Pain comes first. In my head. My eyes. The light breaks through like the sun over the horizon. It shines into my pupils and makes my head hurt even worse. Dimly, I’m aware I’m in bed. Under a blanket. I feel my bruised temple and the syringe isn’t there. It’s on the nightstand. My hands and feet are numb. I can’t feel them. I’m very groggy, but still aware that I’m freezing and shaking and in need of more Icicle. I look in the tin, but it’s empty.

I have no Icicle and no money and sleep’s not happening. The ceiling stares back at me and I debate what to do. My mind can’t stay focused. It’s like trying to stand on top of a basketball. For a second I think I am in control and then Bam! my feet slip and my head crashes into concrete.

There is a knock on the door. For a minute, I don’t register what that means. The knock comes again and I hear a familiar accent.

“Ned. Please open. I have something for you.”

I jump out of bed and open the door. The dealer is standing there. As stoic and calm as ever.

My teeth are chattering, but I get straight to the point. “Do you have some Icicle?”

He smiles, showing yellowing teeth. “I do. And I will give you for free.”

It’s like Christmas, and he is my drug-dealing Santa. I reach out my hands and clutch at his jacket. He gently pushes me back and reaches into his pocket himself. But not before I notice something wrong with my left hand.

It’s missing fingers.

The man sees me look at my hand and pulls out a tin of Icicle.

“Do you want or not?”

The shock at seeing my missing digits is overwhelmed by my urge for more Icicle. I grab it and run to the hot plate. I pour the crystals onto the plate with my good hand and turn it on. As the Icicle melts I look at my left hand. The three middle fingers are gone. Severed at the base. Severed and then cauterized close. The top of my palm is one big leaking burn-scar. I get a little light-headed, but still don’t feel pain. Both hands and feet are numb. I quickly check my other appendages. They are still with me.

The Icicle has melted and my mind becomes laser-focused. I have no idea what happened to me but I don’t care. There are more important things at stake. I grab the syringe with my good hand and load it up with the hot metallic liquid. A few shaking stabs later and I find the opening in my temple. With a shove it slides in. When the needle gets past my skull, I slam it home and depress the Icicle into my brain.

~*~

Pain, light, confusion. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Again, I find myself in bed. Wrapped up tightly in the blanket. The syringe on the night table, and the door to my apartment closed.

My hands and feet are numb. I lift up my left hand. Maybe it was a dream? A bad trip? No, I only have two fingers left. The pinky and the thumb. Two grotesque antennae coming out of the meaty stump of a hand. My other hand is fine. Relief washes over me. I need that hand to inject Icicle.

Icicle. I used it all up on the last hit. My body shakes. I might be sweating, but I can’t tell. I check the tin on the nightstand.

It’s full.

Sparkling crystals of Icicle fill it up to the brim. Enough for another huge hit. I thought I used it all, didn’t I? Underneath is a hand-written note. It simply reads “ON THE HOUSE.”

I grab the tin and the syringe and lurch out of bed towards the hot plate. My right foot misses the ground and I trip and tumble forward. The floor seems to have sunk, or else the bed rose. Maybe I just misjudged. It doesn’t matter. I held onto the syringe and the tin of Icicle and they are both undamaged. But then my gaze focuses past those to my right foot. Or where my right foot should be.

It’s gone. All that’s left is a stump. Again cauterized. Again dripping pus and blood. I feel no pain. Just a numbness throughout my entire leg. In what’s left of my brain I can see what’s happening. Parts of me are being stolen. For what, I don’t know, and as long as I get my Icicle I don’t care.

Ignoring my missing body parts I melt the crystals. With the tenacity of a junkie I fill up the syringe. The tip of the needle is dull and caked with pink goo and chalky gray crust. I don’t care. I’m locked and loaded. I stab the thing into my temple and I’m gone.

~*~

I awaken in bed. The first thing I check for is Icicle. It’s there. On the nightstand. Grabbing it I shuffle over to the hotplate. It’s hard to move now because both my legs are gone and so is my left arm. I leave a gooey pink trail across the bed as I slide to the floor. The more Icicle I use, the colder I get and the more of me goes missing. Now I’m freezing. What’s left of me is turning a light blue from the cold. Shaking and fumbling, I get the Icicle onto the hotplate and turn it on.

As the Icicle crystals melt and the familiar sulfur scent wafts into the air, I wonder where the Icicle comes from. Could it be harvested from the living? Bones or blood of users, ground-up, processed, crystallized. It’s the perfect drug. Addicting and self-replicating.

The liquid starts to dance across the hotplate. I fill up the syringe and get ready to plunge it into my skull. Dimly, I wonder if maybe part of me is in that syringe. Maybe even in other syringes as well. Me in liquid form, bubbling and ready to be squirted into the brains of a thousand different junkies. If that is true, then will I ever really disappear?

As I slip the needle into my temple, the thought is oddly comforting.


P. R. O’Leary writes and makes films so some day he won’t have to work in a cubicle. In between these spurts of creativity he enjoys running long distances and attending film festivals. You can find his work at www.PROleary.com, and you can find him at his geodesic dome in central New Jersey.

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