The Incident of 19 February

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was in my last year of Masters. Last semester.

I was doing a lot of junk around that time. We were scoring from Rajinder. It was really convenient. He lived close – R.K.Puram. More importantly, you had no fear of getting caught by cops while scoring. Rajinder was a cop himself.

He was an inspector or something. Not high up. He had a contact in the narcotics department who supplied him seized smack. He used the stuff too. He was basically a user and sold the stuff to keep his habit.

Nothing comes close to the gut wrenching sweetness of junk. Junk addiction is like falling in a highly destructive but immensely gratifying relationship. It just strikes me that my relationship with Rosa mirrored my junk habit but more about that later.

A junk user has only two phases: in and out. When you are a user, your every thought revolves around junk. If you have it you don’t care about anything else.  When you don’t have it, the only thing you care about is how to have it again.

 *

I really can’t remember how we first scored. It has to be from Old Delhi, I suppose.  That is where we started scoring from in the beginning. Someone must have tipped us off. It is pretty openly done around that area, anyway. Junkies sit with their foils and run lines, usually covering their heads with a cloth, in the corridor that houses the LIC building and stretches from Ramlila Maidan to Delite Cinema.

(I still remember what Peter had said of junk, before we got on to it – “it is a drug of the fallen.”)

On the other side of the road lies the GB Pant hospital. The bus stop next to it teemed with junkies as well. This entire region is like the junk capital of Delhi.

We must have asked someone we spotted with a foil to get it for us. This is the least effective way of scoring. Junkies are bastards and they have no conscience. They will take your money, ask you to wait and run away with it. Or else, they would give you dirt packed neatly in small bits of paper. This happened a lot to us initially. But we had to go through it as we had no direct contact with those who sold the stuff.

I remember vividly one of our initial scoring trips. We had gone there in the evening and left the auto at Zakir Hussain College, which lies close to GB Pant hospital. We walked past the stable, with the horses neighing at the setting sun with a dreary melancholy, the wafting smell of beef being fried on the other side of the road in small stalls – for two rupees you could get quite a lot of it. Snacking on Old Delhi delicacies like this was a pleasant part of the scoring process.

By then, we knew this junkie who lived in Ram lila Maidan and sold stuff. It was Robi who made a contact with him. Robi led these expeditions. We first checked for him next to bus stop outside GB Pant but he wasn’t there. So we went and looked for him at Ram lila Maidan. Not to be found. We went to his house next.

After walking the impossibly narrow and dirty alleys of old Delhi’s slums, with open sewers on both sides, people looking at you suspiciously – we stood out of course, in our clean middle class clothes and appearance – we reached our contact’s house. Robi called him out but no one responded. So we walked inside, climbing a small and decrepit flight of stairs. His wife and kids were inside but they had no clue about his whereabouts. They were really hostile to us so we got the hell out of there.

On our way out we met someone who said he could score for us.

We trailed behind him. We did not offer him money upfront. He said that was fine. That he would take it once we were close. “A lot of people will take your money and run away. I am not like that. I can see that you need the stuff. Don’t worry, I will get it for you,” he said. Of course, since there are no free lunches in world, we were prepared to give him one pudiya out of what he scored for us.

After some more walking in those lanes – it was already dark by now – we reached another old, ramshackle house. Standing at the door, he asked us to wait outside. We saw no reason to suspect him – he had to come out the same door – so we gave him the money.

Minutes passed. We stood outside, smoking, avoiding direct eye contact with passersby.  Half and hour and he still didn’t come out. We began to get restless. Finally, Robi walked in and I followed behind. We came across a large courtyard with no one in it. The house was in the center of the courtyard and its door was closed. The bastard had slipped through another small opening between the wall of the house and the wall of the courtyard.

Desolate and desperate, we went back again to GB Pant, swearing to beat up the guy if we ever managed to catch hold of him.

It had begun to drizzle by now. But we didn’t care. We wanted to score at any cost. It would have been soul-destroying to return empty-handed. We asked around again. We still had a hundred rupees left. Enough for two pudiyas.

It was then that we came across the one eyed Bengali man with pockmarks all over his face who sold bananas or something during the day and got high on smack at night. He said he knew where to get the stuff from. We tagged along. Just behind Zakir Hussain College was a park. The boundary wall to the park was broken and junkies were going in to get their fix. The Bengali asked someone to get two pudiyas for us and told him we will pay once he got it. That man never came out again.

I am not sure how we scored finally but we did. The wretched face of the Bengali has somehow stayed with me after all this years, like a living nightmare. Just like junk is.

We immediately went inside the Sulabh loo next to the stable, got inside one of the stinking latrines, the inside of the commode caked with shit – we could not care less. Robi took out a foil and we chased some lines before getting out and hailing a rickshaw, drenched in the rain and the over powering relief that junk gives you, by now. Of course, since we had no money left, we had to drop the rickshaw in JNU near Ganga Dhaba, tell him we would be back after buying cigarettes and disappear.

The point of telling this particular story is to illustrate how painful it can be score if you don’t have a proper contact. Which brings us back to Rajinder.

Rajinder did not give stuff all the time. Only after he came back from office. We used to wait for him on the street outside his house. The scooter parked outside his apartment was a sure shot sign he was there. But he would not come down immediately. He would fix himself first. Junkies would make a proper queue which covered half the street. He would go to everyone in turn, like a priest giving communion, and give them their share. His stuff was good too. Another Sulabh loo stood next to a shopping complex further down the street where we would get our initial fix to beat the withdrawal blues.

So, on 19 Feb too, we were high on Rajinder’s  junk, probably in Roy’s room in Chandrabhaga when we got to know a commotion had broken out near Administration Block.

Oh, on that getting caught by cops while scoring junk: it happened to me only once.  Roy and I had gone to score. Same area. We managed to score without much trouble; we were getting better. The guy who helped us get it wanted to run a few lines. So all of us – there was another hanger on – got down in this open ditch just in front of the hospital. We realized that we had run out of smokes. You can’t chase stuff without that. You need to smoke after you pull in the junk smoke to keep the latter in and blow it out slowly to hit you properly. So I volunteered to get some smokes. I went to a tobacco shop close to where we were doing the stuff. We used to buy smokes from there often, in fact.

I bought what I had to and turned around. I saw all three of my comrades standing, out of the ditch. Being interrogated by a couple of plain clothes policemen. I asked the shopkeeper –“what do you think happened?”

“Are you from Japan?” he asked me in return. He knew I was part of the same gang.

The plain clothes cops left in a bit; they took the other two with them but left Roy behind. Roy told me later that he said he was a JNU student and was conducting some sort of research in the area.

So, back to the incident of 19 feb.

We went, all three of us I remember – together for the last time in fact – Roy, Robi and I. We sat on the rocks just opposite the Ad block, the perfect view possible, and began to roll a joint.

Students were agitating. Not less than a hundred. The issue had been building up for a long time. The JNU admin was not paying the minimum wages to workers who had been doing construction work in the campus. Students had been fighting on their behalf for a many months but the admin was paying no attention.

By students I mean the radical sorts. SFI and AISF, of CPM and CPI respectively, were not particularly active in this movement. It was Democratic Students Union – a far left group – and AISA – CPI (M-L)’s student wing – mostly.

The movement was being led by JD, a phd student, big beard and all. I smoked up with him a few times but I didn’t really like him. Just. I think the feeling was mutual. I particularly didn’t like his girl friend Rhea. She was also a political activist. Kind of De Beauvoir to JD’s Sartre. I once asked JD what he thought of Kundera’s dictum that all extremism in art and life is a veiled longing for death and Rhea started about how death in India was a patriarchal thing with women not being allowed to go to funerals.

JD was there that day. He came and asked if we had something to smoke. We did. So we rolled and smoked one with him. Students continued to assemble. Double the previous number by now. I had seen many agitations by then but it was obvious that something was going to happen today. Violence was in the air, the slogans had that extra edge, the upraised arms seemed to mean business.

JD smoked and left. Some other activists also took a break and came to smoke. We had no interest in participating, of course. We were fine, watching.

Suddenly, an ambassador came in. The proctor was inside. The students gheraoed the car. They stopped him from coming out. The driver left. Someone got a rope and tied it all around the car. Others wrote slogans on the body of the car. Someone got on the top of the car. It all happened in an instant, almost.

It was then that I had my first good look at Che – he got that name later. He was standing atop the car, raising slogans. He was clearly the most visible amongst all the other activists. He was everywhere, raising slogans, putting up posters on the walls of the admin block.

Rebecca was there too – an NRI girl; she was quite active in this movement and on that day particularly. I was friends with her. She asked me to join, push the car, which they were doing but I denied. Later on, I thought about my refusal. It was a purely instinctive reaction. I am an observer. Participation is not for me.

This went on for quite a while. The crowd kept on swelling. In between, a small group of students from Sutlej were also trying to make their presence felt – protesting about the sorry state of furniture in their hostel.

Negotiations began. A group of teachers, including my Head of Department, came to plead on the behalf of the admin to release the proctor. The students refused. In between, even those who had no connection with the movement with would come in and peek in the car to look at the imprisoned proctor – like an animal in a cage in a zoo.

At some point, the Vice Chancellor called in the students who refused to compromise, demanding better wages for the workers. Dusk fell.

The proctor was released finally. He would later complain that he was not allowed to read Namaz – it was a Friday. The students denied saying it wasn’t true. I don’t know the truth.

The admin reacted with vengeance. Ten students were rusticated, including Che, JD and Rebecca. Later on, the admin said they could be re-instated if they paid a monetary fine of 10,000 and wrote an apology letter. The students had gone underground already. Che would tell me later that he lived in the house of a staff member for quite a few days, coming out only at nights.

All of them gave an apology, except Che – which is the primary reason I became interested in him. In any case, I don’t think his family would have had the money to pay the fine, which was not the case for others. Che was not a proper student too; he was studying Pashto part-time. Everyone else was from a middle class background, with parents willing to bail them out. Incidentally, those from Sutlej protesting the sorry state of furniture and curtains in their hostel were also fined but it was later revoked.

It took a very dramatic University General Body Meeting to pressure the admin to take the other nine in. It took place in the basket ball court outside my hostel, Tapti, and went through the night. Those supporting the expelled students stood on one side and those who were not, on the other side – SFI and AISF. This was the first time I openly defied my so called party affiliations and voted for the expelled students.

We won. I remember an emotional Rebecca hugging me. It was already morning when the UGBM got over. The rusticated students got in and got on with their lives. JD finished his phd and is now teaching somewhere. I saw Rebecca a few months ago. I could not recognise her at first. She just looked different. She is doing her phd now and keeps off politics.

Che was rusticated and debarred from writing JNU entrance for an indefinite time. We became very good friends after this incident and continue to be. I still can’t say if the incident was responsible in any tangible way but I dropped out of my MA – I just didn’t write my finals; I did smack all night before the first exam and was in no state to go for it.

The movement just petered out. Everyone forgot about the workers. Some said JD was satisfied with his shot at glory and that was enough for him.

So much for student- workers unity.

* * * * *

Abhimanyu Singh,29, is a senior correspondent for The Sunday Guardian, Delhi. He has written for The Hindu, The Caravan, The New Indian Express, Motherland and Ink Magazine, previously. His poems have appeared in on line journals like Pyrta, Kitchenpoet and Red Poppy Review. He has made short films, played music in bands and solo, organised and participated in poetry readings and acted in plays. He counts the Beat writers as a major influence. The excerpt is from a novel he is currently working on. This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Snow Sharks

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tanley Burbage and his brother Frank had a reputation for putting on wild parties back in high school in the small town we all lived in during the early ‘90s. They were so wild as to be almost mythological in scope. I know that on one occasion a party went on so long and so hard that Stanley and Frank woke up the next day – with probable hangovers – only to find that butter knives had been shoved into the drywall of their parents’ TV Room. This was all hearsay, of course, because I never actually attended one of these shindigs. I almost did, and I say almost because I wound up going to the Burbage residence on the fringes of town one day after a party happened. I thought the party was happening on a Saturday, not a Friday night. And I don’t think I was ever formally invited, either. I think someone might have suggested it to me in the halls on the way to class, and I wouldn’t have put it past them to give me the wrong date just to embarrass me. But maybe I just got confused. I don’t know. Memory is such a fickle thing, though there are indeed some things you never forget.

Now, I wasn’t a complete loser or geek growing up, but I did spend a fair amount of time to myself, so I wasn’t really “in” with any social group or strata. Perhaps, this desire for solitude and singledom set me apart from my classmates. The only thing I was good at, in social circles, at least, was bringing music from the big cities and making dub cassettes of the CDs I’d bought for interested parties who were curious as to what I was listening to on dubs on my walkman in Math or History class. I introduced people to a lot of stuff. I was the first kid to know of Nirvana in my school, weeks before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became a bona-fide hit. I must have made dozens of copies of that Ministry live album, In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up. I turned a few people onto Hüsker Dü – unfortunately, long after they had broken up. But that was ultimately the extent of my interaction with most people. So maybe I was cool enough for my tastes in music to get a suggestion to go a Burbage party – at least, on one occasion – but not cool enough to be given the proper date. That’s the only explanation I can come up with. Sorry if that sounds lame. I really don’t have anything else to offer.

I borrowed my parents’ car that fateful Saturday night in January, right before the exams period kicked in and just right after Christmas and New Year’s, and headed to the Burbage house. It was a fairly extravagant house by small town standards. I wasn’t really sure what their parents did – I never asked, and nobody bothered to tell me – but I knew that they were loaded. They had a nice wooden frame home, a two-story deal, and it was pretty intricately furnished with all sorts of weird art from Africa and other places. I wonder if that stuff ever got trashed, but I can’t say that I know for sure. Anyhow, I was naturally a bit surprised to pull into their long driveway, only to find it mostly devoid of other cars. I guess I thought I was a bit early, even if it was maybe nine o’clock at night – time enough, I figured, for some people to be trickling in. In any event, the most memorable thing about that drive is that once I got past the dense pine and maple forest to the clearing where the house stood, I saw a couple of figures flickering in the light of what appeared to be a bonfire. It was a cold enough night for it. I parked and got out of the car, and upon walking up to the house, I could make out the figures: Bryan and Erik Angel. Despite the last name, they were anything but. In fact, they were really known as the Devil Brothers. They were always trouble-makers, and I did well to generally steer clear of them. For instance, they were both cast in the same high school drama play that their homeroom put on as part of a fall festival of the arts in front of the entire school, and the brothers spent the entire time bungling their lines, dropping f-bombs that weren’t in the script, and, what’s more, dry humping and kissing each other full on the mouth at every opportunity they could get. (This was also not in the script.) This wound up getting them a stern lecture by the principal, though I don’t think they got suspended. Probably a phone call to their parents for their rather incestuous behaviour – which the brothers likely found to be hilarious, especially given all the laughs they got from the audience.

I also was one the receiving end of a Devils Brothers prank. They wound up calling a local computer supply store after hours and left all sorts of rude messages on the answering machine. Then, at the very end, they would say it was me. Well, a cop pulled up in my driveway one day, and I had a whale of a time explaining to him that I hadn’t made the phone calls. However, the cop let me listen to the recordings on a portable cassette player he had with him, and, sure enough, it was the Angels. I told him so, and it would come to pass that, sure enough, it was them. The cop wound up telling my mother at work one day afterwards about this, and he thanked me for my help solving the case. He also told her that no charges would be forthcoming, because he believed that they would be in enough trouble from their parents. As if! Anyhow, I never got an apology, so, needless to say, I stayed pretty clear of those jokers normally. If I could help it.

When I saw what they were doing in front of the Burbage house that night I pulled up in my parents’ car, it gave me a great pause. They had arranged some logs to form a rather large swastika, which, of course, was on fire. The duo were laughing manically and adding fuel in the form of something in a small tin – motor oil, I guess – to the flames. I just gave them a wide berth and continued on in the frigid cold to the door of the house. I don’t think they understood the gravity of what it was that they were doing. I’m sure, to them, it was just something of a laugh. Of course, six million Jews would obviously beg to differ.

I went inside, took off my coat and boots, and set about proceeding directly to the kitchen, where I supposed there would be a natural supply of beer in the form of a keg that I could crack into. On my way there, I passed the TV Room, and noticed through a bit of a crack in the door that Jerry Harris was upright on the couch with Sarah Dillabough sitting in his lap. They were necking, lips entwined together as though they were permanently glued. I paused for a moment and smiled, thinking of the gossip I was now in on. They seemed like such an unlikely pair. Sure, they were both jocks, I suppose, with Jerry being on the basketball team and Sarah the star of the volleyball squad, but I’d never thought they would actually get it on or be a couple. I thought about this, listening to the muted strains of what was a Nine Inch Nails song from the Broken EP, “Wish” probably, being played from what I thought at the time was presumably the kitchen, when a hand clapped me on the back and gradually nudged me forward down the hallway.

I turned my head around and the lanky six-foot-five giant Derek Michelin, also a star of the basketball team, stared at me shaking his head.

“Let them be,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “They’re just having some fun.”

I turned beet red and offered an apology, muttering something about my surprise at see the two go at it so amorously.

Derek seemed nonplussed at my mumblings.

“Go on,” he said, waving me off. “Stan’s in the kitchen eating. Talk to him if you want.”

Derek then walked the opposite way down the long hallway, and rounded a corner into some other room. That was the last I saw of him that night, so it’s possible that he left not long after encountering him. Or maybe not, given what happened later. I have to wonder if he was in on the whole thing, playing guard dog for the Angels. Who knows?

When I got to the kitchen, Stanley Burbage was, indeed, at the table eating. However, I was shocked to see him lifting a spoon of brown crystals to his mouth from a tin of instant Iced Tea mix. I’m must have raised an eyebrow, because he immediately explained himself, “There’s nothing left to eat in the house. Nothing.”

“How can there be nothing to eat?” I asked rather naïvely.

“Big party last night,” he said. “Everyone was here. Everyone. They ate everything in the fridge and in the cupboards. And me and Frank have no money until the folks come back in a couple of days, so this is all I have left.”

“Oh,” I said, sheepishly. I glanced at the nearby sink, and, sure enough, it was loaded top to bottom with dishes and glasses. There were even some dirty dishes on the counter, and a small pile on the floor. Clearly, the Burbage brothers had been eaten out of a house and home. Almost literally.

“There’s no beer, either, in case you were about to ask,” said Stanley. “Pretty lame. So what brings you here on a Saturday night?”

“I thought there was a party,” I said. “Someone said to come down here tonight.”

“Well,” said Stanley, “That was last night. There’s only a few stragglers from yesterday here. Frank’s gone, but Derek’s here somewhere. The Devil Brothers are here. Also, there’s a bunch of guys who had enough LSD left over from last night that they’re now out tripping out in the back yard. All of ‘em are up in a tree. They say if they come down, snow sharks will get them.”

“Oh,” I said, noticing that the dying strains of the Nine Inch Nails song was giving way to a Love Battery tune on a portable stereo on the kitchen counter. One of my mixed tapes!

“Say, could you do me a favour?” asked Stanley, taking another spoonful of Iced Tea mix. “Could you stick your head out the back door and yell at them to come down? I’m tired of hearing them hoot and holler back there, and I’m sure the neighbours probably can hear ‘em. Don’t want to get in shit.”

Funny, I thought. The neighbours must have lived a good half mile away.

I agreed, though, to go out back and see what the group of fellow teenagers were up to. I borrowed a coat on a peg by the back door and threw on an oversized pair of work boots that happened to be by the door as well, and ventured back outside into the cool, cool night air of winter. As I closed the door behind me, so as not to have a draft of air come into the house, I swear I thought I heard Stanley say, “Who invited him?” But maybe that was just my imagination.

I walked outside, turning the light over the back door as I walked out, and immediately my foot sank more than ankle deep in the crusty snow. There were no discernable tracks that I could see, at least once you got past the back door area, and the thin orb of light cast nothing in the way of anyone being out here for a few days at least. I found that odd. If there had been someone out here, they must have come around from the front of the house or through the woods. It was just my lone steps crunching through the snow, as though nobody else had bothered to make the trek. I carried on, my feet sinking with each careful step until I was out of the light cast by the back door bulb. I walked all the way out to the very edge of the backyard, calling out the odd “Hello” every now and then. Nobody answered. However, I quickly found what I was looking for when I got to the very edge of the property line and the backyard gave way to forest.

Up in the branches of a tall, thick maple tree, I could barely see a few figures shuffling about overhead. It took me a few seconds for my eyes to adjust in the dim moonlight, but I saw that the figures were Andrew Irving, Dale Morrow and Theodore Lindsay. All of them were up in the same tree, all of them seemingly shuddering in the dark.

“Dude!” Dale suddenly screamed. “There are snow sharks down there! Get up out of there!”

“Yeah, man,” said Andrew said, barely hanging onto a branch “I ain’t getting down from here! It’s dangerous down there!”

About then I realized that I probably had my hands full.

“OK, how much LSD did you guys take?” I asked wearily.

“There are snow sharks out there, man!” Andrew replied in turn. “Get up here in this tree or you won’t be safe!”

“Yeah, there’s snow sharks!” added Theodore. “Get up in this tree before you get into some real trouble!”

“I am not getting up in that tree,” I said. “You guys need to get down here. You must be freezing.”

They stayed silent for a moment, and then I heard someone making the ba-dum sounds of the theme from Jaws.

“Holy shit!” cried Andrew. “There’s one now!”

“Yeah, man,” said Dale. “There’s one coming up on ya! Can’t you see the fin?”

“Oh no!” shrieked Theodore. “He’s about to get ya! Hold it, hold it! Man, he’s gone!”

There was silence for a few beats. Then Dale spoke up.

“Shark got him,” he said, his voice now lowered a pitch, almost in reverence. “I knew that it would happen.”

“Damn asshole wouldn’t get up in the tree,” said Theo. “It’s safe here. I won’t be coming down.”

“Not until these snow sharks go away,” said Dale.

The trio then grew quiet, almost sombre as though they were in mourning somehow. Even though what had happened had only taken a minute or so, maybe less, my patience was running pretty thin.

“Would you clowns knock it off?” I yelled up into the tree. “There are no snow sharks. I’m here. I’m still alive. Would you get out of there and get into the house? Stan’s worried about you three.”

A branch shifted up in the tree, and for a moment I thought the guys were about to get down out of there. No dice, however. I glanced back up and now saw Andrew huddling against the trunk, holding on for dear life. I felt that there was nothing I could do or say would get these morons out of the tree. My efforts would be futile. They would be still there in the morning, by which time they would be suffering from hypothermia or some such thing. I have to say I felt sorry for them, but I wasn’t going to stand around and let these guys get the better of me. Let them be, I thought. And let them hang out up there until the LSD wears off. I had had enough of this bullshit.

So I turned around and started trudging back to the house. I got about halfway there before I started having thoughts of leaving this “party”. Nothing was happening, nothing great anyway. There was apparently no beer, and, despite the presence of Sarah Dillabough, no girls that I could see – part of a reason for coming, I suppose: the hint or possibility of something happening with someone. In fact, there just appeared to be a loose handful of people who were Burbage hangers-on. Boy, did I ever feel like a fool. There was nothing, nothing, going on. I was going to tell Stanley this when I got back to the kitchen and then take my leave, but when I finally got back to the house and returned the coat and boots to their original location, I noticed that the kitchen was empty of any one person. Just the strains of some Velocity Girl now playing on the stereo was the only sign of life. Stanley’s tin of Iced Tea mix was sitting on the table beside a spoon that had been clearly licked clean. I peered inside the tin. It was empty. Completely devoured. Stanley had gone to town on it.

I stayed awhile, sitting at the kitchen table, hoping that someone interesting would stop by and say hello. Ok, and the real reason I stayed there was because I wanted to listen to my mixtape. I was incredulous that someone had thought that I was important enough to put on my compilation. I wracked my brains and tried to think of when I had given Stanley or Frank Burbage a mix. I couldn’t think of any. That didn’t mean that I didn’t make one for them – God knows I made a lot of stuff for a variety of different people that I practically lost count. And I’m sure that the music was popular enough for it to get dubbed to second-generation tapes for others to impart. Still, I was flattered, and I must have stayed in that chair for a solid half-hour waiting for the tape to end. When it did, I went and flipped it over, and listened to some more. Nobody came into the kitchen during that time, though the Angels must have, at some point, doused the flames of their burning swastika, and entered the house. I was too busy listening to the music to pay much attention, I guess.

Eventually, when I grew tired of my solitude – it was fine if I were all alone, but at a party (for lack of a better term), the loneliness eventually washed over me – I got up and went back down the hallway to the front door to gather my stuff and go. The rest of the house was eerily quiet; there seemed to be no signs of life to be found anywhere. I didn’t even know where Stanley had gone to mutter a goodbye. However, as I passed the door to the TV Room, I noticed that it had been thrown wide open. Curiosity got the best of me and I peered in, double checking that Derek wasn’t somewhere behind me to lay a hand on my shoulder. I immediately noticed that Sarah was now gone – she had seemingly deserted the house much like most everyone else (and I have to wonder if she played a part in setting Jerry up for what happened next, though I don’t know for certain still to this day). Another thing of note: there were beer bottles littered all over the floor. Jerry was lying down on the couch, clearly passed out. So there must have been some beer in the house, or some that Jerry had brought with him – either that or Stan lied to me so I wouldn’t tap into his supply – because in the space of perhaps a bit less than an hour or so, Jerry was clearly lights out. Probably passed out drunk. But then I heard something. Snickering. Suddenly, the Angels – or Devil brothers, if you would rather – appeared from one corner of the room, and I saw that Bryan had a point-and-shoot camera in his hands. I don’t know what prompted him to bring one to a party, and I wonder if it had belonged to the Burbages. In any event, Erik eventually stood over in front of Jerry’s upturned face and I then heard the sound of what appeared to be a zipper being pulled. I could only see Erik’ backside as he was turned away from me, and, a moment later, he started wiggling in front of Jerry, and, not long after, Bryan came up beside Erik and started taking pictures. They were oblivious to my presence. The flash blinded me. Clearly, something weird was going on, but, as I noted before, I wasn’t a fan of the Angel’s antics, and just decided to get on with it and go. They were up to something, and something that I probably wanted no part in. I staggered away from the door and found my jacket and boots, and quietly put them on and left, being careful not to let the door slam behind me on the way out.

It took a few days into the school week to finally see what trouble the Angels had wrought. The pictures were everywhere. In the bathrooms. Inside people’s lockers. Hidden in dead ends of hallways where the custodial staff usually didn’t look or clean very well, but crowds of people gathered to gawk during break. It was completely humiliating. In the photos, Jerry’s gaping passed out mouth was open, and into it was (known only to me) Erik Angel’s flaccid penis stuck inside of it.

Jerry Harris stopped coming to school not long after that.

The story, as I would learn later, was that Jerry was so embarrassed by the photos, his sporting reputation literally in tatters, that he wound up telling his parents what had happened by bringing home once of the pictures. I don’t know what that conversation must have entailed, but it would turn out that Jerry simply transferred schools – not an easy thing to do in a small town. He wound up living with his uncle in the city two hours away.

I would, in the months ahead, come to regret my inability to have done anything at the gathering I’d found myself drawn to. Not just for Jerry, but others as well. I could have, for one, offered to buy Stanley Burbage some food – I’d had some money in my wallet that I had on me, after all. That might have ingratiated himself upon me, and not mutter what I thought I heard him say when I left through the back door of his house that night. I could have also done something more, possibly, to get the trippers down from their tree. I could have goaded them with more drugs, in retrospect, just to get them down and help them. That would have gotten them into the warm house, instead of having them nearly freeze to death in the cold. However, and this is the most important thing, if I had leaned in and spied on what the Devil brothers were up to with Jerry Harris more closely, or, put another way, maybe if I’d cared more, maybe I could have put a stop to it and prevented his humiliation.

But I didn’t.

I told you I never really attended a party at the Burbage’s. I missed it by a day. But after that, I never went back there. Not even once.

Too many sharks hiding in the snow, I’d decided. Too many sharks hiding in the snow.

* * * * *

Zachary Houle lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where he works for the federal government as a Project Officer and is also an Associate Music Reviews editor for PopMatters.com, a pop culture webzine that reaches 1.2 million unique visitors a month. He also contributes regular book and music reviews to PopMatters. Houle has been awarded a $4,000 emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa to write fiction, and was a Pushcart Prize nominee for a novella that appeared inMidnight Mind. His fiction or poetry has also appeared in places such as Broken Pencil, Word Riot, Pindeldyboz, Kiss Machine, The Danforth Review, Girls with Insurance, Thieves Jargon, Friction magazine, Megaera, and many others. His poem “Ode to the Long Lost Mini-Pops Album” was published in the book anthology In Our Own Words, Vol. 7 (MW Enterprises, 2007).