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Tickets to Heaven-Fiction by Paul Heatley
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

ticketstoheaven.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2017

Tickets To Heaven

By

Paul Heatley


          It 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.

          Around 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.

          I 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.

          Outside, 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.

          I 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.

          Far 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.

          I 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.

          I 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.”

          He 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?”

          I nodded after the leaving preachers. “What was that all about?”

          “Just spreading the good word.” He made to wheel away but I stepped in front of him.

          “What’s your rush?”

          “I got somewhere to be.”

          “What’s that you’re holdin?”

          “None a your business.”

          “Let me take a look.”

          “Fuck you.”

          “What you think I’m gonna do? It’s a piece a paper, ain’t it? What good’s that to me?”

          “This ain’t no piece of paper, and you know it! Get outta my way afore I knock you down!”

          “You ain’t gonna knock me down.”

          “I’ll chew your fuckin balls off, swear to God.”

          “Let me see the fuckin thing, damnit.” I held my hand out.

          “Just 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:

 

ADMISION – 1(ONE)

TO HEVEN

This tikket enshures the holder entranse to Heven at the time

of his or her deff.

By the Will of God.

 

            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.

          “Give it back, motherfucker! Give it back to me, you piece of shit! It’s mine! It’s mine!”

          “Well 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!”

          They 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 track marks.

          “Help you, brother?” the preacher said. The girl smiled at me. Her teeth were yellow, but they were all there.

          “What game you playing?” I said.

          They looked at each other, then back at me. “No game, brother. Just spreading the word of the Lord.”

          “And tickets to His home, looks like.”

          “We’re all welcome in His house.”

          “Uh-huh. If we can afford it.”

          “I’m merely a messenger, brother. The Lord spoke to me, and this is the mission He chose to bestow.”

          “Sure. He came right on down, told you there ain’t enough junkies and whores stinking up Heaven.”

          “In 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.”

          I looked at the woman. She stared at the guy with something like awe in her eyes, nodding along with everything he said.

          “You can cut the bullshit with me, brother.”

          The preacher smiled. “No bullshit.”

          “God chose to speak through you, huh? A shining bastion of the white race.”

          The 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.”

          “And your redemption is as a ticket tout?” I turned to the woman. “What’s your role in all of this, honey?”

          “She don’t talk none,” the preacher said. “Go on and show him why, Luann.”

          She opened her mouth wide, stuck out her tongue. Stuck out what little tongue she had.

          “Had herself a fit and bit it off,” the preacher said.

          “Was God visiting you, too?” I said.

          “No,” 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.”

          Luann beamed proudly.

          “Been by my side ever since. She understands what an important mission the Almighty has sent me on.”

          “Uh-huh.”

          The preacher looked me up and down. “You interested in a ticket, brother?”

          “How much they cost?”

          “How much can you give?”

          “If I got a penny, that enough to get me in?”

          The 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.”

          I 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 going.”

          “You 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.”

          I looked them over a last time. “Nah. I ain’t gonna know.”

 

*

 

          I 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.

          A 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.

          I got to thinking about the preacher, and Luann.

          The 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.

          I 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.

          The 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.

          “It 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.”

          I 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’.

          I stopped in the doorway, turned. “What?”

          Luann giggled, high as fuck. It sounded like she was gargling mouthwash.

          “Have a good life,” the preacher said. “Have a better death.”

          I held up the ticket. “How many of these y’all kept for yourselves?”

          The preacher sniffed, sat up. He blinked a few times, said, “We don’t need them.”

          “We’sh touched,” Luann said. Spit hung from the corner of her mouth.

          “That’s right,” the preacher said. “We’s touched. The tickets ain’t gonna make no difference to us.”

          “How far you planning on spreading these things?”

          “Far as they’ll go.”

          “Until every junkie and scumbag gets into Heaven, right?”

          “If it’s God’s will.”

          “It ain’t God’s will. It’s yours. This right here, it’s just a slip of paper.”

          “You really think that,” the preacher said, “then trash it.”

          I went into the kitchen, took a look round. They thought I was leaving, because they started laughing behind me.

          There 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.”

          Luann 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.

The End


Paul 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. 

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017