The place stank of stale sweat and fresh urine. The stranger paused in the doorway… not hesitating, but just watching for a moment. The living room was packed with human refuse. Crackheads, looking like skeletons draped in dirty brown skin and filthy rags, sat shaking and moaning in drug-induced euphoria. There must have been twenty of them crammed into the tiny room; their unwashed bodies were lined up along the wall and stuffed into every corner like piles of living garbage. A thick, smoky haze hung low in the room, obscuring the finer details of the roach-infested crack-den. A battered sofa, rescued from the side of the road, sat over by the broken-out window. Three men occupied it despite the flies swarming around a lumpy brown stain on the armrest. Two were arguing over their make-shift crackpipe… constructed out of a straw and an medicine bottle. The third man simply sat and stared off into space while he openly played with himself. There was a gaping hole in the right wall, through which the occasional breezes of 40-degree night air circulated into the tiny house. The air did very little to ease the stench.
Somewhere, a baby was crying.
The stranger stepped over an unconscious man and entered the room. Most of the addicts didn't even see him, but those that did just mumbled and looked away. Even in their numbed condition, they knew that they wanted nothing to do with this one. He was a walking contradiction... both tall and short, thin and muscular. His face bore the wrinkles of an eighty-year old man, yet was still as smooth as a newborn's skin. His dark trenchcoat hung off his broad/narrow shoulders like a cape. On his way through the house, the stranger passed the kitchen. He looked inside and saw seven more addicts. They were trying to cook up another batch of drugs over the bare flame of the gas stove. It was only a matter of time before one of them set themselves on fire.
The stranger smiled and moved on. He walked straight to the back of the room, where a closed door sealed off the house's only bedroom. As he approached, the door opened and a young man stepped out. He wasn't wearing a shirt and his pants were undone. He was looking down, adjusting the zipper on his pants and chewing absently on a toothpick. He didn't see the stranger until he had almost bumped into him.
"Huh?" he looked up at man standing before him. "Who you?"
As a response, the stranger simply reached up and placed his hand on the young man's bare chest. It wasn't a punch or a shove… it was something else. When the hand touched his skin, the youth drew a sharp breath, as if surprised. His eyes widened, and the toothpick fell from his cracked lips. He staggered off to one side and collapsed, wheezing and coughing. No one bothered to help him, even after he went into convulsions and coughed up his left lung.
The stranger continued into the bedroom and closed the door behind him.
Two people lay upon the bed. A man… obviously not a crack-head from his physique… and a young girl who couldn't be any more than sixteen at the most. They were both naked. The man must have been the dealer, and the girl was just someone who didn't have enough money for her fix. The baby... only a few months old... was crying in a tattered basket on the floor in the corner.
Upon the stranger's entry, the girl snatched the freshly-stained sheet up and covered herself. The man jumped off of the bed.
"What the fuck?" he said. "Who the fuck are YOU!"
The stranger, who was suddenly several feet closer to the man than he should have been, reached out and cupped the man's testicles. He didn't squeeze or yank. He just caressed.
The man screamed and ran from the room, holding his shriveled, desiccated manhood in his hands. The bedroom door closed and locked itself behind him.
The stranger looked at the girl.
"Rebellion." he said simply. His voice was soft, almost musical. Yet it had an undertone that was threatening in a way that couldn't be described with words. Oddly enough, his voice was clear and audible despite the wailing of the child in the basket. The stranger looked over at the baby, and then took a step over toward it.
"No!" the girl leapt off of the bed and dashed across the room. Her skinny limbs made her look like an animated wooden puppet. Dropping her sheet, she snatched up the basket and held it protectively against chest. Her normally small breasts were still swollen with milk, and the right aureole bore fresh suck-marks. They were much too large to have been made by a baby. The drug-dealer's seed ran in a milky rivulet down the inside of her left thigh.
"Concerned?" said the man. "Yet you bring your child to a place where you yourself should not be?"
"What'cho want? What'cho do to Sammy?"
"Sammy." the stranger just repeated the name and said nothing more.
"What'cho want?" The child wasn't crying now… it was screaming.
"Your parent's love you, Rebecca."
"But your mother's prayers avail you little. So now I have come. For you. For the child."
"No! Leave us alone!" back up until her thin buttocks were against the peeling wallpaper. The baby still screamed in its basket.
"A deal has been made."
Eyes wide with fear, the girl began mumbling. It was the Lord's Prayer.
"God?" said the stranger. "You don't understand girl… God wants you to die."
The girl stopped, with 'Give us this day…' still hanging on her lips.
"Right here in this room. You and the child. But I am here to help you. I'm here to offer you…hope." The stranger smiled, his teeth were white and perfect.
"Your parents love you. Especially your father. Your rebellion broke their heart… would you twist the knife further by denying them this…?"
"I…no… please help me…"
"And the child? … crying… born addicted. Doomed to a short life of screams and pain. I can help her as well. I can save you both. A second chance for you, and a life for the child you hold in your arms."
"Help my baby." she held out the basket containing her screeching child.
"Come." The stranger held out his hand, fingers extended. The girl stepped forward and, after a moment, reached out and took it. The stranger's grip was cold and firm. He pulled the naked girl toward him. Her eyes met his, and she began to cry.
"Shhh...." the stranger said.
He reached into the basket and stroked the baby's cheek, while at the same time leaning forward to plant his lips on those of the trembling girl.
Joyce took the baby in her arms and rocked it gently back and forth.
"Oh, thank God!" she said. Her husband Harold simply stared at the policeman who had returned their grandchild.
"Crack house on the other side of town." said the cop. "Burned to the ground, but the baby was outside in somebody's car. A bit cold, but otherwise okay."
"What about Rebecca? Our daughter?"
"Sorry," the cop shook his head, and then added, "But nothing's been identified yet. She could still be out there, I mean-"
"I don't think so." said Harold. He looked at Joyce, who wasn't paying him or the cop a bit of attention. "I think… I think we all know she was in that house."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I'll let you know if anything else turns up. One way or the other." The cop got back into his patrol car and drove away. Joyce wiggled her fingers in the baby's face, making baby-talk and trying to get the child to laugh. The little girl squealed with glee.
"But I asked for them both." said Harold.
"I know. So did I."
"I prayed and begged God to give both our babies back to us. I got down on my knees and prayed every night… and I know you did, too." said Joyce. "But don't worry… It is all according to His will."
"Yeah," said Harold. "God's will."
They turned and headed back into the house. As they walked, Joyce played with the smiling baby.
"She's so quiet." Joyce remarked. "Just like Rebecca was when she was this age…"
Copyright 1998 by Marc Washington (Dark Icon)