took three days and nights, but once I had the money I got myself down to The
Row and got high. The crack hit my lungs, I phased out, sunk into the floor,
and everything else was gone – the taste of come stuck between the gaps in my
teeth, the pain and itch in my asshole like it had been ripped wide and was
trying to knit itself back together, the general aches and nausea all over my
damn carcass – it all faded, it was all forgotten, and I floated away on that
cloud, floated far, far away –
until it wore off and I hit the earth with a crash. I didn’t know how long I’d
been gone, maybe a couple of days, maybe a few. It didn’t matter, I was back.
Staying on the ground seemed like the best course of action. I curled into a
ball, my insides feeling like they were on fire. Everything hurt again. It all
came back just as fast as it had left. Faster, even. I checked the pipe but it
was empty. I’d kept myself floating until I couldn’t anymore.
me, there were groans. Others waking, others still under, some writhing on the
ground, unable to get up. There was a stink in the air, the fetid mix of sweat,
piss, shit, and blood. I stuck my hand down my pants and checked. I’d fouled
myself while I was under.
used the wall to get up, took a moment to steady myself while the room span.
The nausea was the worst. I braced, ready to fill the place with vomit, but it
never came. The bearded guy that was curled next to me, we looked to be a
similar size. I checked his pants and they were clean. Clean as I needed them
to be, anyway. I took my own off, wiped myself down, and threw them to one
side. They landed on someone’s face, couldn’t tell if it was a he or a she, and
they moaned and grabbed at them and hugged them like a child’s toy, then puked
a little but didn’t let go. I took off the guy’s pants and pulled them on. They
were a little loose but I found a belt on someone else and cinched it tight.
there were voices. Raised voices. I couldn’t make them out, but it sounded like
someone was preaching. I wondered if the Catholics had made their way down
again, trying to save us, or if maybe the cops had come back, were giving us
the warning to come out quietly before they came in loudly. It had been a while
since I’d last heard about the cops coming to The Row though, not since that
dumb bitch had stole the baby from its pushchair with the intention of selling
it on the black market. It never happened. The dumb cunt fell asleep with the
baby in her arms, rolled over in her sleep and smothered the thing. It hadn’t
happened on The Row, but the cops and everyone else figured it was the best
place to find her. We all took some lumps that day.
went to the window, hung with ragged curtains and the glass coated with old
newspapers and black mould. I found a gap to look through, winced against the
light, checked who it was. The Catholics I couldn’t give a shit about, they
would stand out there hollering and praying, but they’d never come inside. If
it was the cops, I wanted to make sure I had a head-start out the back door.
as I could tell, it was a preacher. Couple of them. They didn’t look like any
preachers I’d ever seen before. There was a group of junkies gathered around
them and a couple of dealers, some of them sitting cross-legged on the floor,
all of them narrow-eyed against the glare of the sunlight.
went out to get a better look, but by the time I got there the two preachers
were walking away and the gathering had dispersed, talking among themselves.
Some of them clutched slips of paper, clutched them tight.
caught a guy I recognised, a double-amputee on his wheel-board, dragging
himself along the ground with one scarred hand wrapped around a brick while in
the other he pressed his own slip of paper to his chest. “Hey.”
looked up at me with suspicion, clutched the slip tighter. He looked worse
since I’d seen him last, the tip of his nose was blackened and rotten away. I
could see up his nostrils like I was looking into a death’s head. “Whut?”
nodded after the leaving preachers. “What was that all about?”
spreading the good word.” He made to wheel away but I stepped in front of him.
got somewhere to be.”
that you’re holdin?”
a your business.”
me take a look.”
you think I’m gonna do? It’s a piece a paper, ain’t it? What good’s that to
ain’t no piece of paper, and you know it! Get outta my way afore I knock you
ain’t gonna knock me down.”
chew your fuckin balls off, swear to God.”
me see the fuckin thing, damnit.” I held my hand out.
cos you didn’t have no money ain’t mean you got a right to come and try and
take it offa me, you son of a bitch!” He lowered his head but before he could
charge I stuck a foot under his board and flipped it over, sent him toppling.
When he hit the ground I reached down, grabbed the paper from him. He screamed
and tried to roll over, his arms flailing, brandishing the brick, but I kicked
it out his hand then pressed a boot to his chest and pinned him down. I
straightened out the piece of paper, crumpled from his death grip. It had been
crudely cut round the edges, hands unused to using scissors for crafts, and
made to look like a ticket. It read:
enshures the holder entranse to Heven at the time
of his or
By the Will
I read it over a couple of
times. The amputee writhed below me, screamed and cursed. His face was bright
red and there were tears in his eyes, streaming down his face.
it back, motherfucker! Give it back to me, you piece of shit! It’s mine! It’s
ain’t you the lucky one.” I crumpled it into a ball and dropped it on him, took
my boot off. He scrambled for it, grabbed it tightly in both hands. He cried
harder, pressed it to his face. I left him on the ground, followed the
preachers down The Row, caught up to them at the corner just as they started to
make their way up the pathway towards the house there. “Hey!”
stopped, turned. Like I said, they weren’t like any preachers I’d ever seen
before. The guy was pale, and thin, his cheap grey suit ill-fitting, his
chicken-neck looking breakably small inside the wide collar. He had a red
goatee, and a shaved head, and across his forehead were tattooed three
swastikas. The backs of his hands were covered with ink, too, and they also
looked decidedly Aryan. The girl by his side was black. Her kinky hair was wild
on her head, pointing outward in every direction but down. She wore an orange
dress and walked on bare feet. There were dark scars on her face, on her right
cheek and round her eyebrows, a couple on her lips. The scars on the insides of
her arms were pale, and they were dotted all up and down the insides of her
elbows. I reckoned if the guy hadn’t been wearing a suit, he’d show similar
you, brother?” the preacher said. The girl smiled at me. Her teeth were yellow,
but they were all there.
game you playing?” I said.
looked at each other, then back at me. “No game, brother. Just spreading the
word of the Lord.”
tickets to His home, looks like.”
all welcome in His house.”
If we can afford it.”
merely a messenger, brother. The Lord spoke to me, and this is the mission He
chose to bestow.”
He came right on down, told you there ain’t enough junkies and whores stinking
death, we’re not what we were. All will be forgiven. We’re washed clean in the
blood of the lamb at the moment of our passing. These tickets ensure that. They
ensure we ain’t gotta go through all the suffering of Purgatory, or be cursed
to the eternal damnation of Hell. If we have a ticket it shows that our
intentions were good, that we craved redemption and that we were worthy of it.”
looked at the woman. She stared at the guy with something like awe in her eyes,
nodding along with everything he said.
can cut the bullshit with me, brother.”
preacher smiled. “No bullshit.”
chose to speak through you, huh? A shining bastion of the white race.”
preacher touched the tattoos across his forehead without thinking, grazed them
with the tips of his fingers. “It’s not hard to see the error of your former
ways when God Himself tells you you’re wrong.”
your redemption is as a ticket tout?” I turned to the woman. “What’s your role
in all of this, honey?”
don’t talk none,” the preacher said. “Go on and show him why, Luann.”
opened her mouth wide, stuck out her tongue. Stuck out what little tongue she
herself a fit and bit it off,” the preacher said.
God visiting you, too?” I said.
the preacher said. “God ain’t never visited Luann, here. But she was the first
to listen to me, the first to buy a ticket. These,” he indicated the forehead
tattoos, “she knew that when I was speaking the word of the Lord I was a
changed man, and these damn things didn’t matter one jot.”
by my side ever since. She understands what an important mission the Almighty
has sent me on.”
preacher looked me up and down. “You interested in a ticket, brother?”
much they cost?”
much can you give?”
I got a penny, that enough to get me in?”
preacher and Luann looked at each other. “Well, ideally we prefer a fifty
dollar minimum. When you consider the reward you’re gonna reap, it really ain’t
too much to give.”
snorted. “Fifty bucks, huh? That’s a specific request the Lord has made. No.
No, I ain’t interested. Ain’t no scrap of paper gonna keep me from where I’m
might be surprised, brother. The second you done paid for it, the moment it’s
in your hand, you’re gonna feel it. You’re gonna know.”
looked them over a last time. “Nah. I ain’t gonna know.”
went back to the city, needing to make some more money. I hung round the usual
places – the porno theatres showing the queer flicks, the public toilets with
the glory holes in each stall. I wanted to be high. Being straight wasn’t my
preferred frame of mind.
couple of days passed. The weather was turning colder and I was sleeping under
a vent round the back of some cheap burger joint. I forewent food and scraped
together my dirty notes and my loose change, went back to The Row. I hadn’t
finished with the last trick not a half-hour before, and I could still taste
him. No matter how much I spat, it persisted.
got to thinking about the preacher, and Luann.
Row beckoned, it called, it was a siren song that was deep in my blood and drew
me forth, but I walked to the end, to the house the preacher and Luann had gone
into. I knocked, but there was no answer. The siren song persisted, it was
practically a screech now. My hands shook, they balled into fists that tapped
against my thighs. A cold sweat broke out on the back of my neck. I knocked
harder, rattled the door in its frame, but still no answer. I began to wonder
if they’d gone, if they’d moved on somewhere else, spreading their word and
selling their tickets.
went round the back. The door there was unlocked, and I went inside, found them
in the front room. Unlike the other houses in The Row, crammed head-to-toe with
crack heads and junkies, it was just the two of them. Luann was sprawled over
the threadbare sofa. The preacher was propped with his back to her, his shirt unbuttoned
to the navel, exposing more Nazi tattoos, and his sleeves rolled up past his
elbows, where I could see fresh track marks leaking blood. A rat scurried
across the floor, disappeared into a hole in the corner of the skirting board.
I watched the preacher and his woman. Luann’s mouth was wide open in a
grotesque smile. Her eyes were closed, but they flickered. Her little stub of a
tongue probed at the air.
preacher’s coat was on a nearby chair. I went to it, searched his pockets,
found the tickets. I took one. Only one. I made to leave.
ain’t worth nothin if you don’t pay for it,” the preacher said. I turned. He
watched me with one eye. “In Medieval England, they sold penitent slips.” He
blinked a lot, tried to open his other eye. “The slips reduced their time in
Purgatory. That there in your hand, it’s better than that. It’s gonna take you
straight to those pearly gates.” The preacher ran his tongue over his dry lips,
swallowed. There was a click in the back of his throat. “Now, if those lowly
peasants could afford a few pennies to cut down on their damnation, I’m sure
you can too. You been gone a few days now, you gonna tell me you ain’t been
working? I can smell it on you from here, brother.”
balled the ticket in my fist. The preacher grinned. I wanted to tear the ticket
and throw it in his face. Instead, I took out the cash I had, dropped it on the
floor, and I left. Behind me, on the sofa, Luann made a noise. It might have
been a laugh, it might have been a tongueless ‘God Bless You’.
stopped in the doorway, turned. “What?”
giggled, high as fuck. It sounded like she was gargling mouthwash.
a good life,” the preacher said. “Have a better death.”
held up the ticket. “How many of these y’all kept for yourselves?”
preacher sniffed, sat up. He blinked a few times, said, “We don’t need them.”
touched,” Luann said. Spit hung from the corner of her mouth.
right,” the preacher said. “We’s touched. The tickets ain’t gonna make no
difference to us.”
far you planning on spreading these things?”
as they’ll go.”
every junkie and scumbag gets into Heaven, right?”
it’s God’s will.”
ain’t God’s will. It’s yours. This right here, it’s just a slip of paper.”
really think that,” the preacher said, “then trash it.”
went into the kitchen, took a look round. They thought I was leaving, because
they started laughing behind me.
was crack pipe on the counter, the glass bowl blackened. I smashed the end off
it, so it was jagged, then went back to the preacher and stuck him in the neck.
His laughter choked off, he started gurgling. I waved the ticket in his face.
“This works,” I said, “I’ll see you up there.”
was laughing still. She hadn’t realised what had happened. I walked past her,
left her laughing on the sofa. I closed the door when I left the house, but I
could still hear her as I walked away, could still hear her that whole night
through, while I tried to sleep, the ticket clutched to my chest.
Heatley’s work as appeared online and in print for a variety of publications
including Thuglit, Crime Syndicate, Horror Sleaze Trash, Spelk,
and the Flash Fiction Offensive. He is the author of An Eye For An
Eye, and the forthcoming Fatboy, from All Due Respect. He
lives in the north east of England.