ive me another hit.”
Jamie held out his hand, expecting someone would put a pipe into it. But his fingers just hung there, empty.
“That’s it, man,” said Donnie, the guy whose mother owned the cabin.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” said the red-headed guy, Travis. “There’s got to be something else here, somewhere.”
Travis, whose eyes were looking as red as his hair, hopped up from the torn black leatherette couch and began pawing through the litter of plastic soda bottles and unbleached coffee filters, baggies and empty cold medicine packages, hunting down an overlooked kernel of crank they’d been cooking up in the kitchen, or bud of marijuana they’d been growing out the back door. The longer he searched, the more agitated he grew, flinging the filters up in the air, scattering the soda bottles across the floor.
“Chill, dude,” Jamie said.
This was why he wanted to keep his crank consumption under control. He was doing pretty well at it too; he was proud of himself for that. It was probably because he was far more intelligent than your average meth head. He remembered half these tweakers from kindergarten. They were stupid then, running around in circles until they fell on the floor, just like Travis there.
“What are we gonna do?” said Travis.
“I’m gonna go see DaShawn,” said Donnie. Donnie’s mom thought it was nice that Donnie brought his friends up there to hunt and fish. Said she was glad the place was getting some use, now that she’d moved down to Mobile. “Anybody coming?”
“I’ll go with you,” said Tiff, who danced down at the Go Go with Taryn. Wait a minute: Where was Taryn? She’d never shown up — was that last night? The night before? It was hard to keep it straight.
Jamie should get out of here too. Go see what had happened to Taryn. Check in on the old man. Change shirts.
Plus, he had the nagging feeling he was forgetting something else. Something important. What was it? He cycled again through the list of possibilities: Taryn, Dad, cats….
Ah, fuck it. If it was important enough, someone else would do it.
Donnie and Tiff drove off, leaving him here alone with Travis, who was still bent on getting high.
“Do you have any Xanax?” he asked Jamie. “Oxies, maybe? From the store.”
“Nah, man. There’s nothing left, and they won’t give us anymore.”
“Shit. I need something.”
Come to think of it, Jamie was starting to feel a little peckish too.
“Let’s go check the woods,” said Travis. “Maybe something’s growing out there that we missed before.”
Jamie didn’t want to point out that, on the off chance that a baby marijuana plant had pushed through the earth and sprouted leaves overnight, the leaves would still need to be dried before they could be smoked. But what the hell. He followed Travis outside and into the dense trees, blinking against the afternoon sun.
As suspected, there was nothing growing, though they kept pushing deeper into the forest. Jamie stepped on a bed of moss, and with a loud ribbit, a toad jumped up and hopped away.
“Shit, man,” said Travis. “Damn near gave me a fucking heart attack.”
“I read this article once,” said Jamie, “said you could get high from licking a fucking toad.”
Travis’s eyes locked on his. “Really?”
“Yeah. It’s this special kind of toad, they’re all over the place in Australia, like cockroaches, but they got them here too.”
“What do they look like?”
“They’re big, I remember. Reddish.”
Travis let out a whoop of laughter. “I ain’t proud!” he cried.
He dropped to his knees and began pulling up the moss, turning over wet leaves, trying to scare up another toad. “Help me, man!” he said to Jamie.
This was ridiculous, Jamie thought again. He should just go home. Quit all this shit forever. Get it together, open the MAL back up. He pictured himself going home, carting all the garbage that had mounted up in the apartment outside, doing some fucking laundry, clipping the old man’s crusty fingernails and giving him a fucking shave….
“There’s a swampy kind of place,” he told Travis. “Follow me.”
It would be so much easier, facing all that shit, if he was just a little bit high. In fact, cranked up, he could probably clean the apartment in an hour. Have the MAL up and running again in a day, convince the authorities to get him back on the drug list, have access to everything everybody needed and know how to work all the systems this time. In fact, shit, if his sister came home, as she was planning, then it would all be easy peasy, Cora was totally squeaky clean, she’d be able to get anything at all.
He heard the chorus of toads at the same instant he remembered: His sister. That’s what he was supposed to be doing, picking her and Juliette up at the airport. He’d come up here to get a little crank, just enough to fuel him through the late night drive to Little Rock and back, and then something happened. Remembering — or more accurately, not remembering — a huge pain blossomed in his forehead like a black flower, a chrysanthemum with petals made of writhing snakes.
Cora was going to be so mad at him. He’d screwed up again, big time. And where was Taryn, anyway? And what day was it, what month, what year?
The toads, the frogs, whatever they were, were everywhere. They looked smaller than the ones in the picture he remembered from the article, and more brown, or was that green, than red. But they were here.
He lunged, the way he’d remembered doing as a boy, grabbing and feeling the small, quick, wet thing slither through his hands again and again until finally, by some miracle, he captured one. It was tiny. He could feel its heart pulsing, fast as wings, inside his cupped palms.
Before it could escape, he brought it quickly to his mouth, and licked.