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"Homecoming"

Sickly sweet smoke poured down the back of my throat to my lungs as the vanilla coated my mouth. That taste only stays sweet for a moment before it turns bitter, so I washed it down with a colt fast. The bowl was making its way around the room slowly, getting packed and repacked and scraped and cleaned over and over. I felt a smile creep to my lips and didn't have the energy to stop it, so it came out looking like a tribal death mask instead - pained and relieved all at once.

Part of me wished that the night would end so I could go back to my suburban life and forget about my roots, but the rest of me felt nothing more than nirvana. I was home, no matter how I tried to deny it. A thick beat etched its way through my skull into my brain and I knew my head was bobbing with it, regardless of any conscious control. The bowl passed into my hand and a deep laugh spilled out from my mouth as I lit the resin and let the smoke sear my throat. As the hot smooth glass left my hand again more colt chased the fire from the back of my mouth and slipped down smoother than blood. I exhaled finally and as oxygen flooded my brain, someone called my name and too quickly, I turned. Before identifying the perpetrator, blackness overwhelmed me.

A green glow was the first thing to pierce my darkness, and finally formed numbers in front of my eyes. Nearing 3 am., I looked at my surroundings. Leather upholstery dyed in a deep cherry caressed my skin and chrome glinted over any available surface. The same thick beat was pouring out of the speakers, causing everyone to have the same careless head bob. Next to me sat a piece of granite and titanium, topped with a shock of blond hair. Instead of the flavour of cheap vanilla, the rich scent of Cuban tobacco infused the car. He turned to me and as he took his eyes off the road his hand slipped around mine and squeezed. Under my own hand I felt chilled steel. He turned back to the road and with a tense whisper I remembered only in my nightmares, told me that my vest was under the seat with my holster.

I had never had a holster before, and this one was beautiful leather and most certainly not mine. The initals that had been carved into it previously were obliterated though, and the only ones that remained were my own; C.B. The vest was not my first one, one that I had to pad myself to make it fit properly, being the smallest and weakest of the group. This one fit perfectly, and as I fastened it around my ribs and stomach, a sense of peace filtered through me. I turned to thank him, but doing that made my head swim again, so I held still and avoided passing out. I slipped my shirt back over my head as he told me the nature of our trip. As I no longer would be recognized as the member I once was, extra steps had been taken to ensure my safety; the vest and piece among them. The job was a familiar one and it confused me why I was even included. Simple drop off and pick up, an old routine that fell under the category of safe enough for a baby to run. When we had done it so many years ago, we had been babies. I opened my mouth to ask why I was needed for such a simple job, but he turned at me again and explained that the run was in my honor - it would only be appropriate for me to take up my old mantle again as the runner. Somewhere between the malt and the hash, it made sense in a nostalgic way. Once more, for old times' sake.

Street lights became more sparse until working ones were finally only a memory. A telephone pole leaned drunkenly over the edge of a fence at us, but like a sleeping sentinal allowed us to pass. A mud-dog ran across the street in front of us, missing most of its tail. Finally, we rolled up to a house without windows or doors, only boards where both should have been. Police tape had once guarded the front porch, but weather had erased the chalk outline I remembered having been there years earlier. I sat up straighter, my muscles tensing reflexivly. I heard the soft click of hammers being pulled and the snap of holsters being loosened. In the passing years, it seems that we began to realize more of our own mortality. As we buried more friends and brothers, we became more careful. We were careful to the point of paranoia this time. For a simple little drop. What were we afraid of? We knew Death held the title to this house. Maybe we were scared of him knowing we were there. Maybe we knew there were other things worse than Death and they knew we were there, too. Whichever it was, we had apparently not become more intelligent with our awareness and with a rush of air, we stepped out of the Caddy and headed towards the side door.

Inside the house floorboards were rotting away and wallpaper peeled. A smell like fresh compost wafted up from the basement, and I whispered a little prayer to a God I no longer thought I believed in. I went into what was once the main room and began looking for the familiar plastic baggie I knew would be stashed there. Instinctivly, my fingers felt around the worm-eaten bookcase and behind the mothball couch, still too numb to consider what I was doing with much conscious thought. Finally, I grabbed the prize hidden under the last cushion on the couch, and coughed three times to let anyone within earshot know that we were finished here. As my old flame and master took the bag from my hand, he gloated to the others about how I was the best runner that had ever been a Knight. As he said this, the three other surviving members circled me and altogether they demanded that we celebrate. I was confused and wanted to leave as soon as possible, but it was explained that the house had been under survellience in the last two months, and we shouldn't move too fast in or out of any neighborhood around there. The bowl appeared like magic out of a pocket and ignoring my protests, the first ounce began to disappear. Feeling trapped as the bag passed around, I tried to break from the center of the circle and sit with the others. I was pushed back into the center and told to hold still. The run was still in my honor and I would begin the bowl and end it.

The first hit didn't feel like enough, especially with as much as I had already had that night. It must have hit me harder than I thought though, because I missed the fact that no one else was really hitting it. In fact, when it got back around the circle to me, the original bud was still good. The second hit felt harder, and that was when I noticed the aftertaste. It was bitter, almost like rubbing alcohol. I hit the bowl again, thinking I had gotten a bad drag. The third try was when it hit me all at once. I finally recognized the errant flavour with a mild sense of panic. Noticing my concern, my three old friends calmly stood and slid my holster off my shoulders and bound my wrists with it. I was told that because of years of loyal service, I was being protected, and in turn was protecting those to whom I owed my life many times over. I was told to kneel and bow my head, but when I tried, my muscles refused to obey. Somehow, I believed the cold voice telling me that this was all going to be alright. I was picked up and placed into position. I couldn't move my lips to ask what I had smoked, but the realization was making its way through my brain and I managed to find the word "formaldehyde" lurking around. As my knees lost feeling and my hands wrung around in their binds, my list of sins was recited over me, a mockery of Saint Peter's heavenly vocation. For decieving those who trusted me by hiding my true sex, I was sentenced to two years. For running from the responsibility of meeting up with older members to have my past slowly cleared away, the sentence was seven years, as long as I had been hiding. For denying my talents as a runner and later as a woman from the gang, ten more years were added. Nineteen years altogether - and according to my current age, the equivilant of a life sentence. For these, and all other crimes against the Knights, the last members alive had decided it was time to meet out justice and protection. I was protected by never having to hide again. They would be protected by my eternal slience. Hard cold fingers slid the vest out from under my shirt, and I forced my head to tilt up just to look one last time. It was held tight and tilted back into position, and I was told not to struggle. That sound of a hammer being pulled back reached my ears again and I couldn't even find it in me to squeeze my eyes shut. All I saw was the rotting floorboards and my muddy jeans. And then -

End