Skids - Prologue and Chapter 1
Night wraps itself around the small guard shack I’m paid to sit in 4 nights a week. This may sound like a crap job but compared to what we used to do it feels like winning the lottery.
I’ve heard about life coming full circle but never knew what it meant. Maybe I’m too young. I think this is one of those times though. I can see the place we used to call home through the small side window. Staring at that building brings back memories of a life not long ago. But when compared to this life, our new life, its worlds from the one before.
This is my second job and the fact it’s at night gives me a lot of time to think of how things were, how they are now and how I hope they can be. You’d think with the 2 jobs and a full college schedule I wouldn’t have time to think but it’s good to think. It also reminds me that our town, Las Vegas, isn’t just gambling, alcohol, drugs and sex. There is a community that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to know about. The gambling, alcohol, drugs and sex is there, but that’s not all there is. It took moving into this new life for me to be able to see that. I’m glad I can see it. It makes you know you aren’t alone.
When I was part of the life people would always be present. Sitting here I’m lucky if I see two people a night. While it’s different, it’s a welcome change.
Things have changed for the better. But just like everything in life there’s a flip side. Being able to let that change happen wasn’t easy. You’d have thought it would be but when you become part of the darkness that darkness doesn’t want to let you go. And when you struggle, you remember its embrace and have to fight not to run back to it.
I’ve been trying to talk about these things to a man I trust for a few weeks now. There has been a weight on my soul that would sometimes cut off the air to my lungs. This weight was screaming at me to let those things out. Punishing me in a way I didn’t know was possible.
I’ve read a lot of books on different subjects and one of them was diagnosing common medical and psychological conditions so at first I thought I was having anxiety attacks. It had the symptoms of one. But it wasn’t that. This thing had a purpose, I didn’t see how anxiety attacks had a purpose other than to scare you to death. Though this did that too.
Once when I tried to speak the words out loud about the life we’d lived I found my tongue unable to move. It would act as if it had swollen to the size of my mouth and no sounds could pass over it.
I’m naturally an introvert so spoken word doesn’t always come easy, but this wasn’t a difficulty in finding the right words, this was me not being able to find any words.
I sat there looking at the man I was trying to talk to and felt like a complete ass. He smiled, patted me on the shoulder and said we’d talk later. After that first time it became a common occurrence. He never judged, he’d just let the moment pass and move behind me so I could compose myself without an audience. It was one reason I trusted him. He knew when to stay, when to go, when to push and when to share the silence.
After a few minutes my tongue would work again and I’d wonder what the hell had happened.
After this became the norm he gave me a journal and told me that since I liked to read and write I should try to write the things that my mind wasn’t ready for me to speak aloud. When I asked him what he meant he explained that sometimes we may think we want to relay something verbally but our mind can associate those things with a painful memory and try to protect us by not letting it come out. I don’t know why but that made sense.
The weight on my soul stopped coming after he gave me the new way to express my thoughts but a new weight came with it. The journal couldn’t weigh more than half a pound but every time I picked up my backpack, where it lived, it seemed to weigh 100 times what it should have.
I knew it was all in my mind but it didn’t stop the bag from feeling like 50 pounds of rocks. Every time I left home to catch the bus to school and again to come to this job my shoulders would ache from the weight of my pack. It was something I couldn’t explain.
I’d take it out each night and stare at it for several hours. The pen I meant to write with would rotate itself through my fingers until it flipped itself back over the top of them and start its dance all over again.
I’d never opened the journal until tonight.
The pen would no longer do its acrobatics after the pages became visible. It felt like something drew it to the blank lines that resided on each page. Like it knew it had a job to do and that job wasn’t being done.
Now that I’ve put these first words down I have to decide when I want to start.
I don’t think there’s a need to go in chronological order so I’ll start when we were in a place where we felt safe for the first time in a long time, for some the first time they could remember. The building I stare at 4 nights a week through the small window in my guard shack, our first home.
The sun woke me up as it came through the corner of the window’s covering. It was cheap aluminum foil but worked to keep the desert sun from beating down on me most days.
The house was quiet. Everyone still asleep.
I shouldn’t call it a house because it wasn’t a house. But to us it was and that’s what mattered.
My room was the furthest back on the east side. I looked back while tiptoeing out trying not to disturb the others that were sleeping in there as I made my way to the kitchen. The people in my room were the only people in the world I trusted. Hell, we were the only people any of us trusted.
I glanced into the other rooms as I went down the hallway. Bodies were strewn on the floor. Some in sleeping bags or blankets, some on cardboard and the rest simply on the concrete floor. The areas near them were littered with cigarette butts and plastic cups.
The kitchen was void of people and when I looked inside of the 30 year old refrigerator, it was void of anything edible. Just an empty keg. In the midst of the party we must have run out of ice to cool the keg because all the food was dumped in the sinks and the keg moved to the fridge.
I looked through the food and found a half-eaten loaf of bread that hadn’t gone bad like the rest of the food.
I lit a candle and held the bread over it, making my breakfast.
It was good to have a roof to sleep under but sometimes the temps, as we call them, didn’t think much. It wasn’t their fault though, they weren’t living like we were. We lived on the streets until we found this place. Out of the 25 of us here the last 2 nights, 20 would be gone within a day, if not sooner. Ask them to clean their own mess and they usually run.
They were the ones that thought it was romantic, in some way, to be on the streets. Thought it made you tough or cool or something. They came with money and our flop was known to be safe, so we never argued when they’d show up. Using their money was easier than the things we’d have to do to make it ourselves. This isn’t to say that some of them didn’t have a difficult life at times. The ones that did we’d usually try to steer to family instead of coming to our side of life. This was a last resort. Some listened, some didn’t. Some lived, some didn’t.
Letting the food spoil really pissed me off though. Again, it wasn’t their fault. They didn’t understand the necessity of rot free food. They could get hungry and go home. For most of them it usually wasn’t as bad for them as they thought. They weren’t like the rest of us that had to live like this. We didn’t have a choice.
The choice of this hell was a lot better than the hell we’d come from.
My fingers started getting hot when I realized I was burning my toast. It’s not as hard as you’d think when you cook by candle. It’s an art that very few in the United States have come to master.
I imagine that other third world countries, like the ones I’ve read about in the papers in the trash, have it down. They have even less than we do, though at times I’d challenge that thought.
It took me 10 minutes to make 4 pieces. 2 and a half minutes each, 1 minute and 15 seconds per side, 2 inches from the flame. As I said, it’s an art.
I walked from the kitchen into the living room, stepping over people as I made my way to the makeshift stage for a band we’d built. We weren’t passionate about much but music made that very short list. The only thing that beat it for me was reading or writing. Words just made sense.
Sometimes I’d play on an old guitar I’d found and taught myself to play. A few times actual bands came through and would play for us. They were usually rich kids wanting to slum it while acting like they had a following in the residents, both temporary and permanent, of our home.
I sat on the edge of the stage looking around.
That was a strange thing to call this place. The sign was still painted over the door telling me what it used to be. Mike’s Metal Molding. The stage I was sitting on was mostly made out of the scraps Mike had left behind when he closed.
We’d found this place 9 months ago. It was obviously used for some kind of fabrication. There was a large bay area with holes in the concrete floor from machines that had been secured there. After you passed through the bay area there was a room with counters, sinks and cabinets. We’d turned this into our kitchen. We’d even hauled the old fridge in here after cutting into the electricity from the street lights.
The hallway that entered into both the bay area and kitchen went 25 yards to the north. There were small rooms, some with windows looking in and out, that I assumed were offices before. They were bedrooms now.
The last room on the east side was the largest. It had a view of the tracks and let the morning sun in. This was my room when it was just the 5 of us here. When there were others we all shared it, like now.
It was the closest thing we had to a home but I hated the way we found it.
There are 2 girls in our family and they could make more money during the summer than we could.
It’s strange really. When it’s hot the straight men get lonely. When it’s cold the gay men come. So our way of survival was splitting the year as best we could. It was the desert though so the girls got the worse of it. And it’s also Vegas, men never tire of women. Some come here just for that.
That day we’d been on Industrial hawking the strip clubs, waiting for the drunks to come out. You could always see the look in their eyes when they hadn’t been completely satisfied by the show inside or couldn’t afford the “extras” that the Vegas clubs offered. They were hungry and we knew how to feed them.
Skirt up, shirt either cut off or tied in a knot. Weekdays, pigtails worked best. Weekends, like that night, the hair was down. Man, the girls hated that. I couldn’t blame them, it’s the desert, it’s hot.
There were 2 guys that come out of the strip club and staggered to an older SUV. We were watching as they each opened a beer inside the vehicle and drained it without stopping for a breath.
I didn’t have a good feeling about them. They wore cheap jeans and t-shirts, were walking out of the club before 10 O’clock and were drunk. They’d obviously been there a while. The other thing was they were big. Not professional wrestler big but bigger than we’d usually get involved with. And there were 2 of them.
“I don’t like them. They’re already drunk and it’s still early. We should wait.” I said.
The girls looked back at me. I was the de facto leader of the family. It could have been because I was the oldest or because I’d been on the streets the longest. Either way they always looked at me to tell them what to do. They didn’t always listen though.
Harmony tilted her head and looked at me. She was almost my age and joined us a year and a half ago. She was the first girl. She was 16 almost 17, a year younger than me, actually not a year. More like 8 months. She took a step back towards me when Jenna spoke up.
“Come on James, they’re drunk. They probably can’t even get it up. We need the money. I can do it alone.”
Jenna was the newest, joining us 10 months ago. Harmony had found her outside one of the hourly motels near North Vegas, beaten half to death.
She sat with her until we came to find her. Once we did we brought her back to the place we were crashing at. She still felt like she had something to prove. She was 15.
“Jenna, James said to wait. Let’s listen to him.” Hunter said walking up to her.
I’d met Hunter 21 months ago. You could tell he was new to the streets then. He carried himself with a veil of shame that weighed him down. It almost made him an easy victim.
He was on his knees behind a small casino in, what they call, downtown Henderson the first time I’d seen him. There was a man standing in front of him with his pants halfway down his legs. He also had a knife pointed at Hunter.
I had to stay quiet and watch first. I’d been on the streets long enough to know not to rush in trying to save someone that didn’t need it. Especially when weapons were involved.
Sometimes guys couldn’t get off without a sense of violence. They’re fucked up, not much else to say about it.
Hunter kept looking up at the man and I finally heard him tell the man to kill him. He wasn’t getting anything for free.
With that I took out the homemade billy club I carried around and moved quietly beside the man. His attention was still focused on Hunter when I slammed him on the side of the head. He fell on the ground and I grabbed Hunter.
He was in a mood that night cause rather than getting up, he punched me. I stumbled back and he seemed to come out of his trance, realizing what was going on. He ran over, helped me straighten up and we took off. We’d been brothers since. He was 16 now.
“Hunter, you guys got my back. I’ll be fine. We’ll make more if it’s both of us.” Jenna said looking at Harmony.
Tristan moved out from the shadows next to the building behind us.
“There ain’t no cops so if we doing this we need to hurry up.”
Tristan was the first to become part of the family 2 years ago.
I’d seen him walking around looking in dumpsters around some rundown apartments. I followed him for a while. A lot of times if a family is homeless they’ll let the kids go look for food because they won’t get arrested and if people saw them as young as he was, they’d give him food or money.
Unfortunately the money usually fed an addiction of some kind.
Once night came on I figured he wasn’t going back to a family. I walked up next to him and started talking to him. I let him know we’d do better together than apart. He looked up at me without saying a word, studied me and nodded. It was a year before he would speak. He still didn’t say much but was getting better each day. He was 11 then 13 now.
Jenna went out on the street and began walking towards the SUV. Harmony looked back at me not sure what to do.
“Go with her. Don’t let them leave the block.”
She nodded and ran up to match pace with Jenna.
Hunter looked at me shaking his head. Tristan went back to his post, looking for cops.
The SUV started its engine and began pulling out of the parking lot when it stopped.
I could hear the driver telling the passenger to look at the girls walking up. The passenger jumped into the back seat. They definitely wanted something.
They pulled out and stopped next to Harmony and Jenna.
“Hey you two. What you doing out here?” the driver asked, his words slurring.
Jenna moved up to the door and put one hand on the window frame while the other ran through her hair.
“That depends, you looking for something, sweetheart?”
The driver looked at her and then at Harmony.
“Maybe. How much?”
“That depends, honey. Is it one or two of you playing?”
The driver looked back at the passenger sitting behind him who was nodding his head vigorously.
“Both of us.”
Jenna let go of the door and stood closer, pushing her breasts towards him.
“You boys want one or both of us? We love team work.” She said looking back at Harmony.
“How much for both of you?”
“150 gets you both, 30 minutes. Half and half.” Jenna informed him.
Half and half. It meant oral and sex. It always made me sick hearing the girls say what they’d do. I did the same but it was different with them. I almost threw up.
The men looked at each other and nodded.
Harmony walked up to the truck, standing behind Jenna. She put her hand on the small of Jenna’s back.
“There’s an empty lot across the street. That okay with you?” Harmony asked.
“Yeah. Climb in.” the driver said.
They walked through the headlights of the SUV. The lights silhouetted their bodies making them seem almost ethereal for a moment. Then the darkness took them back.
Both passenger side doors opened and they climbed in. Harmony in the front, Jenna in the back.
We watched as they moved forward slowly and pulled underneath the highway into the empty lot. There were no lights to see what they were doing and traffic was light.
We could hear the mumbling as Hunter and I made our way across the street and then I heard Harmony’s voice start to raise. We froze where we were, trying to figure out what was going on. When I heard her scream I started to run.
I got to the SUV, opened the driver’s side door and found the man with his arm raised at Harmony, hand in a fist, the other hand trying to rip at her clothes.
Hunter slid beside me opening the driver’s side passenger door and found the man on top of Jenna trying to rip her clothes off.
I grabbed the man’s foot and started dragging him back. He was drunk so his reflexes weren’t as quick as they normally would be and when I pulled him out of the vehicle his face came down on the frame of the car.
I saw blood splatter on the seat as he hit the door frame and kept pulling.
Hunter had climbed into the vehicle and grabbed the man around the throat. He was trying to choke him out when the man started grabbing at him while moving back. They stumbled out of the vehicle landing on Hunter, causing him to lose his grip.
The man was sober with anger at this point and jumped to his feet. He began moving towards Hunter when I jumped in the way.
He swung and hit me on the side of the head. The impact almost knocked me out as I fell to the ground.
As I sat there I saw the girls get out through the doors they’d entered and I felt better.
The man must have heard the doors slamming because he started moving to the front of the SUV. I got up and jumped on his back using the same choke hold that Hunter had tried using. Normally it doesn’t take long to choke a person into unconsciousness, if you’re doing it right, but this guy didn’t want to fall.
He reached behind and got a grip on my shirt. He was trying to throw me over his shoulder. The guy knew how to fight. That was a bad sign.
He was still trying to get me over his shoulder when I let my right arm go free. I went into the back pocket of my jeans and pulled out a 6 inch long nail that I’d found and sharpened. I threw my arm over his and pushed the nail as far into his gut as I could.
He let out a cry and pulled harder. I pulled the nail out and jammed it back into his stomach.
He finally fell to his knees and then to the ground.
Harmony was next to me first. I shook her off and told her to check on Hunter. He’d still not gotten up after the fall from the vehicle.
Tristan was on the other side of the SUV pulling Jenna around. She was crying and saying how sorry she was.
Tristan came to me next and we looked down at the man on the ground. He was lying face down but blood was starting to pool around him.
We took his jewelry and wallet then did the same with his friend from the driver’s seat who was still out from his when I drug him out of the SUV.
Hunter had finally come to and was on his feet. He looked around at everything and went to the man I’d stabbed. He checked for a pulse like we’d seen people do in the movies. He looked at me and nodded his head.
We thought about taking the SUV but saw a pair of headlights starting to come down the road. I grabbed one of the men’s cheap flip cell phones from the truck, took Harmony’s hand and we all started to run.
Across the tracks we found a building that looked like it’d been empty for a while. Hunter broke a window and we listened for an alarm but didn’t hear one. He climbed in and opened the front door.
We went in and couldn’t find anything that looked like it had been used in months, just a sign above the door for Mike’s Metal Molding. We moved to the back of the building, I dialed 911 and told the operator I’d seen two men trying to attack a couple of women off Industrial, that a man had stopped when he saw them, got into a fight with the men and I thought one was hurt because he fell and didn’t get up, then the man that stopped ran to his car and took off. When the operator started asking questions I hung up, took the battery and sim card out, crushed the phone and broke the sim card. We were all scared and confused. We didn’t know if we should run further away or just stay put.
A hand touched my shoulder bringing me out of my memory.
I looked into Harmony’s eyes. They were a brown that I’d yet to find a way to describe. They had a shock of gold to them that made them different from any pair of brown eyes I’d seen before. They were beautiful beyond description.
Her hair matched the gold in her eyes. It wasn’t just blonde but something beyond that ordinary color. It fell below her shoulders and framed a face that wasn’t made for this life. Her nose angled slightly upward to match her high cheek bones. Her lips were smooth and thin but full. They’d yet to be scarred by our life and I hoped they never would be.
She should have been out falling in love and having boys fall in love with her, being a model, being in school, doing anything but this. Not letting men use her for their pleasure. It killed me every time I looked into those eyes.
She looked toward the toast.
“Couple of those for me?” she asked in a voice that was high but elegant at the same time.
“Of course they are.” I answered handing her 2 pieces of the toast.
She was always the second to waken. This time in the morning, no matter who was here, always seemed to be ours. It almost made me feel normal.
“They really trashed the place this time, didn’t they?” she asked.
“Yeah. Did you see the food?”
“No. I saw you so just came over.” She replied moving a little closer.
“They threw it all in the sink to keep the keg cold. Food went bad. Bread was the only thing left.”
She chewed on her toast shaking her head.
“We’ll survive. We always do.” She said, sure that she was right. “We’ll get the temps to clean the place.”
“Yeah, that always works out.” I said sarcastically. This made her laugh.
She went into the kitchen, moved some things around, poured water into a can, held it over the candle and then came back a few minutes later with 2 cups of instant coffee.
“I hid these when I heard the word keg.”
“Damn good idea.” I told her.
We sat in silence drinking lukewarm coffee. There were at least 20 people passed out in the place. We’d have to wake them soon. Too many of them had parents that would have already called the cops to find them. They didn’t know about this place and we liked it that way.
Harmony put her hand on my knee. “What happened to that guy Jasper last night?”
Hearing her ask about him made my heart jump into my throat.
“You mean the pretty boy that was hitting on you?”
“He wasn’t hitting on me. But yeah, him.”
I looked down at the ground. “He left.”
“Did he leave on his own?” she asked looking at me.
“You mean did he leave with a girl?”
She took a drink of her coffee and squeezed my leg.
“You know exactly what I mean, James.”
I looked up at her.
“He wasn’t a good guy. I didn’t want him hurting you. I asked him to leave.” I told her.
She jumped to her feet and turned to look at me. Her eyes met mine and I couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
She leaned in and gave me a hug.
“Huh? For what?” I asked, confused.
“Just being you. I’m gonna get the others up and we’ll start getting this crap cleaned up.”
She turned away, gingerly stepping over the passed out people. She paused for a moment before turning down the hallway and looked at me. We locked each other in a stare for what seemed like minutes before she disappeared behind the wall.
I went out the front door and stared at the lot across the tracks. I could still see the SUV and the man on the ground, lying in blood. They weren’t there of course but the memory still was. It always would be. I’d never heard what happened to the man. We’d hid in this building for 3 days without eating after that. I just assumed he died because sometimes I saw him in my dreams and he was never alive in them. I never told anyone about my dreams.
I looked at the sky wondering if there was anything there. If there was something that knew all the bad I’d done, the hurt I’d caused and felt.
I heard Hunter yelling at people to get up and start cleaning so I made my way back in. Tristan was walking around with a trash bag trying to pick up what he could while “accidentally” bumping into everyone he came close to.
Jenna made her way out with Harmony and started helping Hunter and Tristan with waking and cleaning.
This was my family. It felt good to have a family.