Sparkle by Jessica Rosen
Image by Nicholas Slim
The day was bathed in sunshine. Rob decided to walk to the office. He wanted fresh air and exercise after working on the Boordat account until after midnight. Now, here he was, going back in at 6:30. The pinks and golds of sunrise went unnoticed as they became a steady glow of early summer sun while he left his brownstone.
Caffeine was a necessity. He swerved into Starbucks and swerved right back out. Way too crowded. He still needed a kick in the pants. Exhaling forcefully, he looked around. No coffee shops, no carts. He couldn’t even smell coffee in the warming air. No wonder Starbucks was crowded, it was the only place to get coffee around here.
“Sparkle, dude? Wake you up all day.” He ignored the guy behind him. The guy didn’t ignore him. Came right up and stood next to him. Rob gave him the once-over sidelong. No homeless stink. Navy polo and jeans, new running shoes. “Look like you could use something, dude. Sparkle’ll fix you up.”
Rob was no babe in the woods. He’d heard of Sparkle, the new high on the streets. Calculating quickly, he knew the Boordat presentation sill needed the final touches. The client would be at his office at 9:00. Coffee wasn’t going to be enough. He gave the guy another sideways look. Didn’t seem to be a sleaze ball. How bad could it be?
He gave the guy a short nod. Gripping his laptop bag tightly, he followed the guy up the creaking stairs beside the Starbucks to the floor above. The front room could have been in any middle class apartment in the city. Except for the people on the flowered furniture, they seemed mismatched: a dumpy woman with shadowed eyes, a nerdy guy who twitched and another businessman in a power tie.
His host disappeared through a doorway. Time was wasting. The project needed attention. He considered leaving when the guy stuck his head out. “You coming or what?”
The kitchen was a lab. There was a glass still on the counter. Rob was more interested in the mirror on the table. Nostalgia hit when he saw the lines of white powder. “First time with Sparkle, right? You gotta get tested for Fire. Dab it on your gums and wait fifteen minutes. Sparkle Fire’s bad news, dude.”
“I don’t have fifteen minutes. How common is this Sparkle Fire?”
“Real rare, but real bad. I don’t take a chance.” The guy’s voice was firm. Rob licked the tip of his finger, dipped it into a line and rubbed his gums. There was a little rush. He checked his watch. Just after 7:00.
“Look, I have to get going. I’m fine. Let’s get to business.”
“Your watch,” the guy pointed.
“For one hit? You’re crazy.” Rob grabbed his case.
“Five days of Sparkle for your watch, dude. Don’t want your money. Got enough. Like the watch, though.” No surprise. The stainless Tag Heuer cost four grand.
“Look, I’m too late to argue. A week for the watch.” A week. He’d probably never use it again. This was nuts.
“Deal. How you feeling?”
“Fine. I’m fine. No Sparkle Fire, see?” As he pulled off his watch, the shine on the face rippled and radiated little electric arcs. The sparks surrounded his hand, then the other, crawling up his arms and across to the guy when he handed over the watch. Rob didn’t mention it. Nothing he couldn’t handle.
The guy squinted at him, looking at his eyes. Rob held his breath. He needed to finish this. His mind was racing ahead, listing the details for the presentation, when the guy snapped his fingers. He blinked and brought his attention back to the kitchen. “I don’t like it,” said the guy.
Rob had wasted enough time. In a swift motion, he snagged the glass tube and bent to the mirror. Distantly, he heard the guy protest as a thick line disappeared. Sniffing, wiping his nose, Rob heard, “Dude, that was so uncool. I don’t like it. You looked like you were burning.”
Rob had to close his eyes. Even so, the electric arcs sizzled in the darkness. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. Rainbow auras flowed and swelled. The guy snapped again. Echoes and distortions made him flinch. Words ran together incomprehensibly. Colors oozed from them. Dimly, he felt air rushing past his face. He was moving. The light was too much. It drew him with crackling brightness even as he flinched from its heat. Darkness was a disappointing relief. He tipped over, falling endlessly, bouncing when he landed. A distant squeak and click sent shock-waves of magenta and white arcs through the darkness. This storm of crackling colors held him in its spell so well, he lost himself. Lost his thoughts. Lost his name.
When the burning began, his gasp threw a fountain of hissing neon colors into the air. It started in his hands. Soon it was boiling his brain. Somewhere, someone was screaming. Pain blossomed on his face and the sound stopped. The burning crawled through his muscles. Someone was there. Fumbling, he let himself be guided. Felt the little burn in his nose. He reached for it desperately, the flames consuming him, lighting up the dark room. Abruptly the pain doused, the fire turning muscles to embers that glowed, dancing shadows. Arcs returned, sounds leaving gemstone colored auras. The world fell away.
Each time the flames licked at his body, someone put them out. He fell into the depths of a lightning storm of sizzling greens and blues shot through with gold threads. This time he was jostled. Still bathing in the returned relief, he felt the hiss of cool air on his face. Hot muscles stretched and bunched. Grotesque noises sent dark colors crashing into him. He dodged them, bumping into unseen shadows. Bright lights drew him in only to singe him. He found darkness, stumbled in. Putrid scents glowed, clawing at him. He fell into their grasp.
When the burning began, no one put it out. He reached out, cried out, collapsed as the lasting flames slowly turned his muscles to ash. Something lifted what was left of his body. Distant voices filtered through what remained of his mind.
“Vegetable. Looks like Fire got him. No ID. Doesn’t matter, he’s gone now.”
Jessica Rosen writes short stories in a wide variety of genres. She’s also at work on a series of romantic suspense novels. After a several year hiatus from writing, Jessica returned with gusto in 2008. Five novels and dozens of short stories later, she is honored to join Escape into Life. More of her short fiction can be found on her blog Girl Meets Word.
What a vivid, intense piece of work, Jess. Well-done. Keep up the good work!