‘Green man! Come on, time to cross the road. Grab my hand, buddy,’ Lost’s mother said. She always called him that. She wore the kind of smile where her cheeks lifted so high and her eyes squinted so tight that her crow’s feet and dimples grew like tree branches.
She stooped down low and squatted right in front of him so that her face was the only thing he could see. He looked at the way gold flicked in the wisps of her hair; the sun and the breeze played with it like little children. She held out her hand and waited for him to grab it. He stared at it for a little while, then took it.
She sprung up.
‘Alrighty,’ she said.
And she tried to rush him across the road before the red man stopped flashing.
‘Oi, wanker! Green means go!’
Lost’s head shot up, thrown out of the daydream he was in. City lights were blurred stars as his eyes tried to focus. He stood right at the crosswalk. People swerved around him, grumbling and mumbling. He made his way across, fingers twisting at the coils in his hair and pulling hard at his scalp. Each pull left a sting that dissipated like a single drop of water in a still lake.
He slotted his hands into his pockets and walked towards his destination. His tattoos grew like vines out of his pockets and sprawled up his arms and shoulders. The designs had grown dull and soft from the use of cheap ink.
When he arrived, he made his way to the back of the line that ran along the unassuming building. Remnants of old protest posters were practically embedded in the red brick walls. Layers of graffiti stuck to it, and ripped flyers looked like wet toilet paper. Wads of dirty sticky tape still hung around, stronger than the posters ever were.
Lost fiddled and tugged at his dog tags; he scanned over the information like he had many times before.
NAME: LOST WALKER
ECON: 0401 001 100
CANDOUR HUGHES (ADOPTIVE PARENT)
At the front of the line, he nodded at the two security guards. He handed over his ID and he awkwardly waited. His driver’s license was faded and a tad sticky. He never drove, only ever needing his license to get into places like this.
When he entered, a wave of chilly air greeted him, and the loudness of the room flooded his senses. Scattered around the room were couches, cushions, and mismatched rugs of every kind, from flashy stripes to mandala patterns. Three young men laid in a triangle around a vanilla incense burner, chuckling. A few people danced among the strobe lights, their slow trance-like movements out of time with the electronic Middle Eastern mixed music.
The top of Lost’s throat tingled at the promotional signs.
JACK AND ELLIS DEE $25
Pained screams urged his body to whip around. An older woman was hurriedly removing her clothes by the back wall. The wall was made of wooden pallets covered in graffiti. This graffiti was a lot more intentional and artistic, unlike whatever movements the panicked lady was making.
The two security guards ran to her aid. One grabbed at her skinny yet flabby arms as she yelled incomprehensible words at the ceiling lights. The other reached rather pathetically for the dog tags on her long chain, which were flinging against her bare chest.
Lost hid his face, swallowing to force the edges of his mouth back down. He walked over to the bar. The bartender, Cloudy, had freckles dotting her body like rain on dry concrete. ‘What’ll it be?’
‘Jack and Ellis Dee.’
‘You wanna end up like missy over there?’ She smirked and nudged her head at the paranoid woman. The security guards finally grabbed her tags and were on the phone.
‘LSD ain’t anything new to me.’
‘This one’s new to the market though. ChemX found the shortest high to date: three hours, but it’s majorly intense,’ she talked fast, except for her exaggeration of the word majorly.
‘I’ll be right.’
Lost leaned on the bar waiting for Cloudy to make his drink, but she dipped her neck down and kept his gaze instead.
‘So, what brings you here? I’ve seen you a lot, but you used to come with some friends.’
He kept his silence.
She raised her eyebrows.
‘Too personal? Not the sharing type? People ‘round here don’t have much to lose on a Friday night in Valley City.’
‘They don’t have much to say either.’
‘Well, that’s not true.’ She tilted her head, trying to see his tags. ‘Lost.’
‘Cloudy,’ he replied with a nod, tucking his tags under his singlet.
‘I was a dancer just a few years ago, got my RSA and RSD to work on the side. Most of the dancers at my company ended up trading drugs to fit their body into certain molds. I couldn’t keep up. Dropped dancing and stayed here. What about you? What do you do?’
Her smile scrunched up her face. He darted his eyes away from her, rubbing the back of his neck.
Finally giving up, Cloudy’s expression dropped, and she blew hair out of her eyes. With graceful flair, she poured the Jack Daniel’s in a shot glass and flicked a two-tone red and blue pill in another.
‘Go for your life,’ she droned, reciting the establishment’s catchphrase, and spun around to polish some glasses.
‘Thanks,’ he whispered meekly, looking at her boney shoulder blades.
Lost closed his eyes as he placed the pill on his tongue and downed it with the shot. The heat danced in his chest and after the initial rush, a sparkling remained.
He sunk into a worn rainforest-patterned armchair, staring at the graffitied wall. The woman had made a real mess of a Persian rug; it was bunched up like the Magic Carpet never escaped the Cave of Wonders, too depressed to rearrange itself.
Soon, the rug and its patterns started moving, intertwining with themselves. It melded with the graffiti wall, and the pallets and artwork moved like a woven basket made of snakes. He sunk even deeper into his chair made of jelly.
He began to drift upwards and met with the stars. The music disappeared and all he heard was a faint twinkling. Stars shot past him, their psychedelic tails bright against the night.
He lifted his arms out in front of him. His tattoos danced off them like ribbons cut from a painted canvas. He turned his arm and twisted his neck to look at the inner part of his upper arm. There shone a little blue hummingbird, brighter than the rest of his tattoos. It was just like the one his mother found on her travels in South America. She had bombarded him with photos, reciting a story for each one.
The bird peeled off his skin and flew up, disappearing into the clouds. It came back out, flapping its wings then gliding. Lost’s mouth hung and his eyes widened.
He saw a flash. The honk of a car horn. He slapped his hands against his ears as a plume of feathers shot up with a squeak. Its wings were stuck at shocking angles. Lost reached out helplessly, unable to move. Loose feathers fell in sick gracefulness. The bird wafted and fell along with them, eventually coalescing and disappearing, leaving nothing but the stars.
Lost began to thrash and scream, tears scratching at his cheeks. He started to descend. The ground shocked his feet and pain shot up to his knees. His heart pushed against his chest harder… harder… and harder…
The beating of blood in his ears became so loud that he lost his other senses. Every breath he took sounded like wind in his brain.
He pushed his hands against the wall to steady himself, but the wall pushed back, and he crashed to the floor. The graffiti was an unfocused kaleidoscope. The pounding in his eyes became unbearable. In a helpless effort to find some ease, he closed them. He found no comfort in still blackness, as flashing reds from the lights attacked through his eyelids.
The security guard’s hands were tight around Lost’s shoulders, pulling him up painfully. Their nails scratched at his neck, pulling his chain from underneath his singlet.
Lost swatted at the guard’s hands but hit his too-close face instead. The other guard pulled Lost’s arms behind him.
‘No!’ Lost screamed. He took a breath, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m sorry.’
‘Boy, we need to make sure you’re okay to go home. If we don’t think so, we call.’
The other guard loosened his grip as Lost’s back straightened. ‘No. Please. Don’t call. Seriously, I’m fine.’
The guards gave each other concerned looks.
‘It was just a minor freakout. Just let me pay my tab and go home. I don’t live far.’
‘What did you take and at what time?’
‘Jack and Ellis Dee, at like… eight.’
The guard checked his watch, ‘It’s about eleven now, we’ll do a fifteen-minute monitor. And you have to drink a whole bottle of water.’
Afterwards, Lost pushed himself up and towards the exit. The world seemed to move in double vision The murmur of the guards and bustle of the bar were distant hums.
Outside, the hot air and fatigue doused him in an immediate sweat. He attempted to grab a hold of himself and practiced acting sober for the next club. Or maybe he could grab something from the twenty-four hour DrugMart and head to the park.
He squeezed his face between his hands as he weighed his options. He dragged his hands down until his arms dropped at his sides and his head looked to the sky.
Stargazing, he thought. DrugMart it was.
The path felt horribly wide and impossibly long, but even at his pathetic pace, it was worth it.
He tried to reach for some sort of grasp on the world with a deep breath but instead it came out as a shudder. He hugged himself. He felt that his mind trailed behind his body, and his soul was still stuck in the stars looking for birds.
Somehow, in his daze, he heard something like pebbles hitting concrete and then a hiss. He slowed his pace even more, but the sound felt too far away to make sense of it. He continued walking.
Then again. A rattle, then a hiss.
His head perked up like a stray dog, beckoned by some curious child playing on the street.
He recognised it.
While much of the world still felt disconnected, he turned into an alleyway. He crept like a shadow behind a young man focused on spray-painting a brick wall. Lost looked up at the half-finished artwork.
‘My mum liked birds.’
‘Ah! Oh my — holy frick. Geez. Gosh.’
The young man jerked and swung around to face Lost.
Had Lost’s mind not been so fogged, he would have laughed at the man’s stupid curse words. Instead, his facial expression remained blank.
‘You right?’ the man said.
‘Just looking at what you’re making.’ Lost swayed, almost losing his balance.
‘Hey, maybe take a seat, buddy,’ the man said, helping him to the ground.
Lost looked at the floor, muttering, ‘buddy’.
The man turned to the wall.
‘I don’t really know what bird it is, I’m kinda just making it up. I’ve never seen anything outside like a crow or pigeon in my life.’
Lost looked at the man blankly.
‘Kinda looks like this.’ He raised his arm to show the tattoo.
Unsure how to react, the man replied, ‘That’s cool… you make that?’
‘I drew it after my mum died. She was a nature photographer.’
There was an awkward silence as Lost’s eyes watered, still staring at the painting.
‘… you wanna help me finish it?’ The man stooped down, squatting face-to-face with Lost, extending the can out to him.
Lost stared at it for some time, and the world felt a little more tangible.
Author: Ricky is a copywriter by day and creative writer by night. Discovering her passion for writing while she was a law student, she switched to a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and is now in her third year. While she likes to dabble in everything, she finds herself writing about the complex, shocking and straight-up wild events and relationships in her life. You can find her work in Issue 16 of QUT Glass. Follow her on Instagram @rickyjadee.
Artist: Suzanne S. Balanay endeavours to capture the beauty and challenges of life through art. From watercolour to oil painting, a brush has always been comfortable in her hand. Fascinated by the subtleties of facial movement and the expression of body language, she focuses on portraiture and its delicate detail. Born in the Philippines and now living in Brisbane, she offers art classes from her home studio. Find her on Instagram @suzannesbalanayart
Editors: Euri Glenn and Brock Scholte