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School had been canceled for five days straight – not including the weekend. The temperature had been a steady negative five degrees for this period, so the traditional fun of snow days hadn’t been an option. But the blizzard hadn’t come without preparation: Locals in town had raided the grocery stores days before the snow started coming down, practically sensing how bad it would get before it did. Minnesotans were tough, thick-blooded, so boredom was really the only danger. Nobody starved, nobody froze, and nobody was stupid enough to go outside.
Alice decked herself in snow pants over jeans, three layers under her coat, a warm beanie over two hoodies, scarves, gloves and boots before easing out her bedroom window. It didn’t make her any less stupid, but at least the full-on blizzard had stopped.
Despite it being nearly midnight, the dark wasn’t a problem. Bright yellow streetlights lit up every corner, illuminating the suburb houses buried in snow. Alice knew this peaceful neighborhood like the back of her hand, where everyone knew each other and followed the rules. Peace, familiarity and obedience had been cutting it for her just fine – so what was she doing here?
Cabin fever, she remembered. She was willing to do anything before the pictures on the wall of Mom and Dad’s many vacations started to talk back.
After threading through various streets, she found herself staring down the cul de sack of Oakley Avenue. There was yet another streetlight, sort of smaller than the rest, and an octagon stop sign protruding from the bushes.
Feeling the nerves come on, she locked eyes with her shadow. The black figure on the pavement reflected her walk, the walk her friends had rehearsed with her, the “I’m above all of you” walk. This used to only apply during school, but right now she couldn’t go through with this without some form of confidence boost. So she held her head high; one gloved hand on her hip, the other careless at her side; her hips moving back and forth and feet crossing each other elegantly as she moved forward.
She hardly appeared to be breaking the law. Alone.
But what if she did…
The neighborhood was fast asleep, either way.
As soon as she was at the stop sign, she didn’t give herself a chance to back out. “Hey,” Alice whispered frantically to the bush. “There a dealer in here?”
In response, the leaves started to stir, and she sucked in a breath when a head slowly emerged from the leaves: “’Evening, Sweetheart.”
They stood in the shadow of the bush, so she couldn’t make out any recognizable features. She didn’t need to know his face, anyway – he could’ve been any one of the low lives’ with edgy names on the Wanted signs her father memorized. His voice was young, mid-twenties, probably, and his head seemed to be shaped like a teardrop under his hood.
Imagining him living in his sound-proof basement, making the “ear candy”, she was ready to get this over with. “Well?”
In the dark, he eyed her up and down. “You cold, kid?”
Okay, she was the shape of a snowball in her gear – the only skin showing the slit of her eyes – but the small-talk question took her off guard. She hadn’t expected a drug dealer to have any concern for his clients. “What? Um, sure. There a problem?”
“Not at all.” Even as he was bent down, she heard the smile in his voice. The dealer took her hand, gently placed a plastic bag in it. It felt like a shuffle, all right.
“Great. Thanks.” Not bothering to ask if it was real – it wasn’t any use to her, anyway – Alice stuffed it in her coat pocket and briskly turned around.
“Hey, wait, Sweetheart!” That arrogant laugh was what made her look back. He wasn’t drunk, but if there was one thing she was familiar with, it was naturally cocky *ssholes. But not him, no, he had absolutely nothing to be cocky about.
She faced him again.
“You’re not crazy about me, are you?”
“What do you expect? You sell drugs to innocent kids that don’t know any better.”
Amusement was thick in the dealer’s voice. “Honey, what are you doing here? See, Danielle told me she was getting a shuffle for you, that you couldn’t afford one this month…but I’m starting to think she lied to me. Do you even want it? Or are you going to give it back to her the first chance you get? Have you done it before, and if not why? And another thing – how come you sound like an adult instead of a teenage girl?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“And you don’t have enough answers.” He sighed, then tilted his head, and even in the dark she could feel his eyes bore into her. “Okay, so you sound like a good, educated kid, and you’re here for drugs. ‘Sic, for Gods’ sake – forgive my aching, burning curiosity. What’s your story, kid? How’d you get addicted?”
Simply frustrated now, Alice’s response was an exasperated groan: “I didn’t.”
She sensed the dealer’s menacing smile again, a split second before a Jack Russell bolted toward them, full speed. Alice showed her first outward sign of distress all night; she hadn’t closed the window before leaving.
“Ivan, no! Go home! Oh God, shut up, dog…!” She brought her pleading down to a whisper as he jumped her, scraping at her snow pants, eager for attention. Momentarily forgetting how screwed she’d be if he didn’t stop barking, Alice giggled, bent down and pushed down her scarf to let him kiss her face. This sweet dog was probably the only one looking for her.
And as Ivan started to calm down in the midst of her cooing, Alice looked up at the bush, now ten yards away – and didn’t see a trace of the man.
Busy keeping track of her dog, and her thoughts, Alice didn’t even consider the “walk”. Why would she need the unnecessary confidence, anyway? Mission accomplished, right?
She’d done what she wanted to do: get out of the house. Once Danielle got the ear candy she’d paid for, she’d be so happy she wouldn’t care that she had technically failed. So Alice was a little too smart for her, so Danielle couldn’t convince every person that spoke to her to become an addict.
The drug in her coat pocket hadn’t been illegal twenty years ago, she’d researched for a project in Health. The government banned it based on then recent studies showing how ‘Sic affected you long term. This guy – Something Landerback – studied his thirteen-year-old daughter’s brainwaves, saw how damaged they were from that of a normal girl. He brought his findings to Congress, worked to pass a law, and bada-bing bada-boom, the world’s a better place.
She got a B minus on the project, having to cut out a lot of her research and turn it in late, but understood the gist of it. All she needed to understand was what it did to you, why it was important to stay clear of it. ‘Sic put you in an intense, overwhelming trance once it penetrated through the inner ear lining, thus the nickname “ear candy”. Depending on the flavor – Alice had been told Danielle’s guy dealt in the particularly heavy candy – it could conjure up any emotion you wanted, had the power to completely change your perspective. It stayed with you long after you’d started and impossible, especially for kids, to completely recover from. Physical side effects included rocking back and forth, humming, and rhythmic-like head-bobbing and foot-tapping.
That didn’t keep anybody from doing it.
From what Danielle told her about this dealer, he distributed his candy specifically to kids. Her dealer was being hounded by the police, going from district to district in Minnesota, reaching out to high schoolers. He didn’t believe they should be deprived of ‘Sic, being as misunderstood and alone as they were. It was apparently the only medicine.
Alice had never done it. Why would it appeal to her? It was an ugly, slimy drug that literally crawled in your ears through these disgusting tubes, screwed with your brain... It wasn’t just morally wrong, it was immature and dumb. Besides, she was the treasury of student council, an honors student, soon to be class representative – and she’d worked hard for it. She had plenty of friends that understood her; and she was never lonely, always had someone to text. And as soon as the school decided it was safe to let the buses out again, the girls would run up to her, happy-jumping in the morning like they always did.
So – what was she doing here? Why did it, well…intrigue her?
The rumble of an engine stopped Alice in her tracks – mentally, at least. Instinctively, her feet moved faster, but the panic didn’t entirely set in until blue and red flashed from behind her, followed by piercing sirens.
Alice was smart – she had popular friends, sure; went to popular parties, of course; drank a little too much on no more than two occasions, absolutely. But alcohol was nothing compared to ear candy; it was like putting cigarettes in the same rank as meth. Her parents knew this, and didn’t care. Drink whatever you want, whatever satisfies your friends, just be smart about it – which she was. She’d show up, drink responsibly, and come home in her sober ride. It wasn’t that she intended to actually do ‘Sic, obviously, but she hadn’t thought this scenario would be any different. It definitely hadn’t occurred to her what to do on the unlikely chance she was caught.
White-hot terror froze her in place as a police cruiser rolled beside her. She could barely hear Ivan's tantrum over her hammering heartbeat, her desperately scrambling mind. A young policeman jumped out of the car, pointed a gun and flashlight at her.
Surprisingly, the blinding light was all that really bothered her. She shielded her eyes, but didn’t fight the dread slowly coursing through her veins.
It took a minute for her to snap out of her imaginary surrender and realize someone was calling her. “Miss Jacobs? Alice, is that you?”
Shaking her head, she contradictorily said, “Yeah, it's – it's me.”
She knew the Sherriff; her father had been working for him for years. And Mr. Marcus had known her since she was little, been the family friend who made her laugh, who offered her first advice on boys, who comforted her like his own granddaughter. He was an old black man, hair ashy gray and skin wrinkling.
Before she knew it, he was in front of her, calmly speaking to her. “It’s midnight, honey – what are you doing out here?”
Alice sucked in an icy breath, gazed up into his old eyes as if they might have an answer. Then God mercifully bailed her out in the form of a dog’s barking finally reaching her ears.
“I…Ivan! My dog, he got out, I just came out to get him. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…I was just –”
“Whoa, whoa, easy.” Easing her to sit on the curb, he tried to relax her but only had Alice’s heart beating even wilder in her throat. “You aren’t in any trouble, I promise. Just breathe, honey.”
Now, in any other scenario, she’d have been thrown into the cop car, taken in for questioning under suspicious behavior. But this girl wasn’t guilty of anything, oh no – Sherriff Marcus knew her. She was the girl her father was always bragging about, the sweet one with the heeping helping of friends, the innocent one with nothing to be suspected of besides taking a cookie or two more out of the jar. She came from a good family – a father in law enforcement, a mother in business. Dogs got out sometimes; her respectable parents surely wouldn’t be too hard on her for something like that.
There was no possible way she was running errands for a ‘Sic-addicted friend.
“I’m fine. I’ve just never heard a police car coming at me before.” Alice faked a comforted smile.
Overwhelming guilt replaced the dread as he gave a deep chuckle, enveloped her in a warm hug. “Oh, I’ll bet.”
Alice didn’t breathe again until her bedroom door was securely behind her.
Sherriff Marcus had brought her home, making polite conversation in the three minutes it took to get there. Of that polite conversation, Alice could now only remember three things he brought up and none of the details. One, the local police had tracked some ‘Sic dealer, Vincent Ray, to this neighborhood. Two, the Sherriff hadn’t recognized her with her hood up, and thought the guy might have been her. And Three: “That dog of yours seems excited. How often does he get to go on a car ride?”
She didn’t even turn on the lights – just pulled back the curtains and let the moonlight spill in through the window. Ivan was back in the hall, curled up on the rug between hers and her parent’s rooms, sleeping lightly, like a good guard dog.
Finally accepting that she was in fact safe, Alice undressed quietly. Her coat went on the coat rack, her jackets and sweat shirts on their designated hangers. Her snow pants went in the closet too, and she folded her long sleeve shirt and jeans neatly on the dresser on the off-chance that there would be school tomorrow.
That was who Alice Jacobs was; organized, smart, good. She didn’t go out picking drugs up for friends – or strangers, for that matter.
Now stripped to a tank top, long underwear, and hat – she loved that beanie – Alice sat up straight on the edge of her bed. She’d give Danielle her dealer’s handiwork, and then she’d be done. Cut her off – it was wrong to have ever gotten involved with her. There was a reason her friends had harassed the girls with wacky hair and spooky makeup on Tuesday; they were freaks. Complete freaks, losers, addicted rejects, unfit for society…
In a depressed slouch, her muscles loosened. Those weren’t her thoughts, she realized. “Unfit for society”? It was Alice’s father who drilled these lectures into her mind, Alice’s mother who dictated who she would hang out with – and Alice who hadn’t questioned it until just now.
But she began to feel like there was also a reason she’d stayed behind to help those girls with wacky hair and spooky makeup pick up their books.
The term “freak” meant different, unusual, or abnormal. The friends her parents approved of took it as a curse, an unspeakable curse. Talking to Danielle for the first time, Alice didn’t see it as such a bad thing. Of course, by the way she carried herself – distant from the unforgiving world, from the idiots who did as they were told – she showed sure signs of becoming a serial killer. But when Alice got her to smile, laugh, open up, the girl didn’t seem that different from anyone else. Well, that wasn’t true; Danielle was one to laugh when in a classroom hectic like worker bees in a hive, the teacher had nothing better to do than sit at his desk and play Solitaire.
It was last Tuesday that Alice and Danielle had exchanged phone numbers. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Monday, and today had been canceled due to nonstop snow. She wasn’t sure why, but Alice didn’t mind texting this girl. In the midst of a dozen brainless conversations she’d been having at the same time, Danielle was the only one that didn’t bring up some sexy celebrity every five seconds. She wanted to talk about the pros and cons of different social groups in school – math nerds, band geeks, sports nerds, drama/choir geeks… She saw everyone as some form of geek or nerd, but not negatively.
By Friday, Danielle was the only one she bothered texting.
This morning, Danielle called her for the first time. “I can’t tell if you’re just a cool girl, in my book, or if you and those b**ches are laughing at me behind my back. Maybe you just feel guilty, or your friends are starting to cut you out of their stupid clique – shut up, please, and let me finish. You come from a respectable family and all that, which is great, but have you ever wanted to feel like something more than just a title? Have you ever wondered if anyone who promises to be there for you couldn’t care less? Ever wondered what it’d be like not to be the good girl, the popular girl, the normal girl?”
It seemed both Danielle and Vincent Ray had a habit of asking questions.
“I know a dealer. A famous one you’ve probably heard of – your dad’s a cop, right? – but I’m not giving you his name. This guy makes his ‘Sic so beautifully, so artistically, you have no idea… So, I’m buying you your first shuffle. Where do you live? Okay, yeah, my grandparents live there; he’ll be down that one cul de sac with the big bush at the end of it. Oakley? Sounds good; and knowing him, he’ll probably be inside the bush. And if you don’t like what you hear, give it to me; you know I’ll use it. But try it for yourself, I’m serious. You have no idea what you’re missing.”
All night, Alice had sworn to herself that she wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t even consider it, that she’d just give it to the crazy chick as soon as they opened school. So why had she bothered going outside, out of her way to get the drug she had apparently no desire of taking anyway? Plus, there was something about Danielle that…didn’t seem so crazy. The girl was perfectly sane, seemed to know exactly who she was and why she did what she did – and that was more than Alice could say about herself.
Huffing out a breath, she chucked her hat across the room, then ran her manicured fingers through her bleach blonde hair. It wasn’t easy to take in, realizing you didn’t know who you were. How could she tell what thoughts were hers and what she’d taken from what this world had bottle-fed her?
Cabin fever was just an excuse, just a bulls**t excuse and she knew it.
Suddenly – without particularly thinking about it – her eyes drifted to the closet she had yet to close, to her coat and the pocket she had yet to empty. If there was anything real at all in her head…it would have to be an aching, burning curiosity.
And she knew, this time, it was hers.
Ray did deal in the heavy stuff, she remembered.
Like any drug, she resisted at first – physically, at least. It was too hard, nothing like the stuff they used in hospitals. How did it make her so angry? The electric beats were edgy, rebellious, even sarcastic. Everything gradually became louder, to the point where the voices in her head shouted, screeched at the top of their lungs. Seriously, volume was something fans must've urged dealers to keep intensifying. It just got louder and louder...
She couldn’t say when it was that she stopped analyzing and started listening. The drug took advantage of the first crack in her armor that it found, and drew her in mercilessly. It was suddenly racking Alice's body, every pulse, every nerve. She couldn’t fight it even if she wanted to; it surrounded her with a powerful, impossible truth, and anger quickly followed. Her parents, her friends, the life she’d lived so blindly – it all pissed her off beyond words. Beat after beat, melody after melody, lyric after lyric…she either wanted to break through a wall or get up and dance.
Finally, she felt something…
Do you know how long, I’ve been waiting to SAY this? It bottles up, inside I can’t CONTAIN it!
Who encourages you to be naughty? Who will cry over your body? Who will stand by you until their final breath…? Or is it all one big regret?
Nowgetitthroughyourheadthereisnothingleft to SAVE! I’manemptyshelldarlingwhatelseisthere to SAY! YouknowIloveyouforbeingherethanksfor TRYING but I love you, too much, to let you in…
All I’ve got are damn, historians! In uniforms, breaking it down… But if I had my own Delorean! You know that I would go BACK! – and I would save you.
YOU, baby, refused to let me fade! YOU, darling, scared the darkness away! You, my girl, brought me back to life…gave me back today…
They’ll hate everything you ARE! And try to lure you into the DARK! Cross those enemy lines, watch them put up a fight, and fight back with all your heart…
There’s just a taste, of what you swore – you were ready for.
And then it stopped.
Just ran out of songs, really – she’d gone through his entire album. Wearily, Alice tugged the ear buds out of her head. She’d been out an hour, maybe two…but she was too wasted to bother checking the time. She was laid back in her bed, blankets drenched around her, her head dully aching.
It even took a moment for her to register that she was out of that world and back in this one. Once she’d settled that, she fell hopelessly asleep.
The drug out of her coat pocket hadn’t been illegal twenty years ago, she’d researched for a project in Health. In fact, before all of the science and politics tore it down, it was the one thing that brought people together. Through hard times, worship, and even resistances, ‘Sic was there – before society deemed it a drug and it earned that ridiculous slang term.
Alice Jacobs was now addicted, hooked, however you wanted to interpret it. Her status would slowly disintegrate, she’d be nothing more than another freak, and her parents especially would never forgive her. She’d dye her hair in florescent colors and line her eyes dangerously. She’d ask questions; did anything besides sounds really leak into your head, was there any real science behind it’s banning, how could the world be so ignorant to let something this revolutionary die? (She would even learn that “ear candy” was what people used to call the sillier versions of the drug – how could they?) And she would search for answers, see the world like no one else, find it horrible and beautiful in every way she’d been raised to ignore. She’d find herself.
But for now, she was passed-out wasted.
Because mu‘Sic was her drug, and Vincent Ray was her dealer.
Park City, Utah
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