Editor’s Note: Content Warning for Drug Use
As the luck in the packs does not change, Michael sits in his chair trying to stay enthused so that his chat does not know how much that measly eighty two rated card affected his bank account. The packs begin to get slightly better, and then go right back down in their regular slope. Michael decides that he has had enough for today. He ends his stream with no warning to his thirteen fans, leaving them confused as to why they got only seven and a half hours of streaming today.
Opening the fridge to the repulsive stench of spoiled milk and half-eaten canned tomato soup, he asks himself if he should just quit streaming and get what his family calls “a real job.” With half a Campbell’s soup in hand, he walks over to his monitor to see if there are any job openings nearby. The only available positions near him seem to be quite tragic: a cashier at the rundown Sunoco gas station or a waiter at Bertucci’s thirteen miles away. Both pay the same, $7.25 an hour, the Texas minimum wage. The long bike ride is worse than the cigarette smell that the gas station has, leaving Michael with only the interview left to complete. Calling it a night, Michael falls asleep to the three am Houston traffic.
The next day, with his best sweatshirt on, Michael walks into the gas station looking for a job. After the interview, Michael is confident that he has secured the job and decides that he deserves to treat himself for going out to the gas station instead of wasting away in his room playing FIFA on camera until he is ready to punch a hole in his wall. He buys himself a box of Pop-Tarts and a beer, the treat he deserves after this successful day. On his walk back home, he notices a bar and decides to go in. After all, he deserves it.
The next morning, he wakes up with a severe headache and a voice message on his phone. He opens the message. It’s the manager of the gas station. He didn’t get the job. The taste in his mouth turns bitter with rage. He needs that job. He grudgingly unlocks his computer and begins to stream. As a starting point he puts in $100 into today’s packs, the remnants of what’s left over in his bank account. Finally, after an hour and a half of no luck, he gets a walkout. As he walks across the stream, he hears a noise coming from his computer. Someone had donated two dollars. Not much, but it’s a start. Pack after pack, his luck seems to be shifting, getting slightly better and better players every time. After another forty five minutes, he gets the flash of light, indicating a good pack. Crossing his fingers, Michael watches as an icon walks out of the pack and does that little animated celebration everyone was waiting for. Maradona. Michael watches his stream go crazy, numbers rising from thirteen to twenty to thirty six viewers. Someone donates $15. Slowly but surely, Michael is making his money back. For the first time in his FIFA career, which is also his only ever career, Michael has gone positive at the end of the stream, actually gaining three dollars.
As Michael contemplates what to do tomorrow on his next stream, he begins to smell smoke. He wanders around, searching for the source of the scent, until he eventually stumbles into the kitchen where he notices that the oven is still on. In the oven are Michael’s, now charred, attempt at cookies that he was going to treat himself with. Panicking, Michael throws the cookies out of the oven and tries to put the fire out. The severity of the situation does not occur to Michael until he hears a knock on his door. He sprints out to open it, and one of his neighbors is there with a fire extinguisher.
After an alarming ten minutes, his neighbor finally leaves him alone with just a very dark patch left on his floor. Only now noticing that the fire alarms are going off, Michael uses the anger that is pent up inside of him and uses a crowbar to knock the fire alarm out. With some peace and quiet now flowing through the house, Michael walks toward his bed. Looking down at his bed, Michael begins to bawl. Tears rolling down his cheeks, his shoulders tremble.
The next morning, Michael walks down the street looking for any money making opportunity, even asking kids running a lemonade stand if they need a hand. As he walks past the CVS, he decides that clearly this won’t work. On the walk back to his house, he decides to take a shortcut, leading him through the back alleys of Houston.
A man stands in the middle of the alley on the way to Michael’s flat, almost as if he is another roadblock in Michael’s life. Michael contemplates what to do, whether to speak to him or not. Deciding that he has hit rock bottom, Michael decides to just say hi to the strange man.
“Hello,” Michael says politely to the stranger.
The man looks up at him and gives him a size up. He looks up and down, as if surveying if Michael is a threat.
“Hey, I have something you want,” he replies with a hoarse voice.
Michael begins to wonder what it is that he has. Money? A job opening? Some luck?
“And what is it that I want?” Michael asks, genuinely curious, but also a little nervous for what he is going to hear.
“Heroin,” he replies.
The word bounces around in Michael’s mind as if it is a skipping stone going across a pond. Michael’s immediate reaction is obviously to reject it and walk away, but the more he thinks about it, the more the idea seems to be a good one.
“I don’t have money on me,” Michael finally responds to the stranger.
Hoping that that might be the end of it, he begins to walk away.
“Don’t worry, first dose is always free,” the stranger responds, knowing that this first dose would lead to another and another and another.
“Sure, why not?” Michael responds, somewhat knowing that he shouldn’t be doing it anyway. “How do I take it? Do I like snort it or something?”
“No, I have a spare syringe for you. Don’t worry about it,” the stranger responds, reaching into his back pocket. “I guess this will scare you if you’re an anti-vaxxer.”
“Just give me the damn syringe,” Michael responds, just wanting to get it over with.
He grabs the syringe, already filled with a dose, and looks for his radial artery. Being a med school drop-out, he knows how to get an artery to bulge out. He cuts the circulation going into his right arm and then injects the grimy syringe into his bloodstream.
There is not much immediate pain, just like a normal vaccine or blood test, and Michael does not feel any different with heroin as without.
Thirty minutes later, and a calm passes over Michael. It is as if his troubles in life just disappear, and all of a sudden he is just peaceful. Unfortunately for Michael, this only lasts for about 45 minutes. Now Michael is back to normal, except for one thing. He has this strange cramp in his jaw. Not much to worry about. It should leave in a day or two, Michael says to himself.
A day passes by, and Michael has gone to see the stranger another time to get another dose, this one not quite as cheap. The jaw cramp has yet to leave, but that isn’t too much of a problem. Instead he now has these continuous muscle cramps that come and go but are mostly just annoying. He ignores the symptoms, not wanting to realize what he knows they are. The days pass by, and he continues to make a few dollars here and there on stream, mostly looking forward to when he could afford his next dosage.
A week later, he finally could afford a small dosage. This starts to become routine, meet up with the man, whose name turns out to be Theo, get the dose, go home, and enjoy.
“Hey, Theo,” Michael says as he walks closer to joy.
“Michael,” Theo responds, not looking up.
He is wearing an OffWhite sweatshirt and Fear of God jeans. Theo is a dealer, and because of that, lives quite fruitfully off of the money he makes, just with the bad part of being constantly scared of getting caught.
“So, can I have it,” Michael asks, handing over the $50.
That is all that he has made over the last week and was going to pay for a bit of his rent.
“Sure, whatever you want,” Theo hands it over, once again, in quite an unclean syringe.
Michael thinks about just wiping it down, but that seems like a lot of effort for such a small benefit.
“Thank you, man. I’ll see you soon.”
Michael walks away, trying not to let the excitement show, so Theo doesn’t think he is a complete junkie.
As the days roll by, Michael seems to be getting more headaches and is having trouble swallowing. And a month later, he goes to see Theo again, this time for a bigger dose.
As Michael walks towards Theo, he takes the money out of his back pocket, $150, the most he ever made off of streaming. Theo is there waiting. Michael is becoming his best customer, and he could see that that wouldn’t change anytime soon.
Michael is about to hand the money over when his muscles suddenly stiffen and he loses consciousness. Michael falls to the ground and begins to convulse. White foam comes out of his mouth, and his eyes roll back in his head. Theo panics and sprints away with the money. He leaves a syringe next to Michael.
Weeks go by, and a stench begins to come from the alley behind Alonzo’s Pizzaria. Finally, a customer decides to go and see what is producing this horrid odor. It is a surprise indeed. The flies buzzing in and out of the man’s nose and mouth is enough for a scream to crawl out of the former customer’s mouth. He is glued to his spot, looking at a man sprawled across the asphalt with open eyes, but no pupils.
As police come onto the scene and bring the body back for an autopsy, it is clear that he has died because of untreated tetanus. As the police swarm the scene like the bugs across Michael’s body, they find something. A single shattered syringe.