There’s a new drug on the market with mysterious origins. Blissful, fun, and highly addictive. In the heart of Toronto, the Crystal Moths distribute their first batch of the cutting-edge black-market goods to their street-crew. If only their plan could be executed so easily. As it turns out, the cops aren’t the only ones who are gunning to take’em down.
Ash is October’s short story that is the starting point of something new, combining worlds that should have never crossed. Enjoy the story in written form, the artwork, and in audio through the podcast with improv synths. The new era has begun.
Listen to Ash
I hate dealing… I’ve been doing this since I was a little brat, and it’s way more work than the payoff. Every day we put our lives on the line in hopes we can get a bump up the ranks and a sweet pay increase. Still, I don’t have many options. In this new ‘organization,’ I’ve gotten the hint that the bosses aren’t gonna give us anything more substantial. We have a role to fit, and they aren’t interested in sharing the profits. Bosses need workers, and druggies need the product, and the ‘company’s’ pocket gets thicker.
Let me tell you when a new shipment comes in, it’s time to hustle. This particular shipment came in at around, like, 2 AM – which is fairly common. We usually don’t know what day or the specific time. Your phone will buzz, and you better stop whatever the hell you’re doing and get down there to get your piece of the goods. If you don’t, tough shit. The rest of the street-crew will take it and sell it. At times, they’ll despise you for it too. Other times they’re glad to take the cash. It depends on the drug, the amount, and everyone’s workload. The game is: sell the drugs fast, so the bosses don’t expect you to front the cash. If you don’t, say your goodbyes to your loved ones.
I was half-tanked this specific evening, playing pool. My girl came and visited me later and stayed the night. She has no idea what I do. I like to keep it that way, way less headaches. Still, when you get a phone call at 2 AM after a drunken mattress tangle, she starts to raise an eyebrow. Maybe I’ll tell’r one day so she stops thinking I got a side piece.
So, I sobered up, got dressed, remembering to tie on the white rag on my arm – bosses get pissed if we don’t show loyalty. What kind of name is Crystal Moths, anyways? The rag symbolizes a moth, I think. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. They’re the biggest players in the game and always have work. Most people would – and have – killed to be a member of the Crystal Moths. I don’t ever want to lose my gig, no matter how much I bitch about it.
The drive over wasn’t long (yes, still sobering up). Even though Toronto never sleeps, you can get to the docks from North York fast if you know the roads’ ins and outs. I’m no fool and parked my car a few blocks away. I suppose if a police bust occurred, I’m fucked. But, if I had the car closer, they would get the plate. It doesn’t matter. Eventually, I got to the docks to meet the rest of the Crystal Moths. Our direct boss, a couple of goons, and a higher-up that haven’t seen in a long time stood with six street crew members. I was the last to arrive, it seemed, just on time too.
All of them had some representation of white clothing. Shirts, bandanas, suits, you name it. This higher-up . . . his name is Mastema, which I highly doubt that’s his real name. Seriously, think about what kind of name that is. I grew up in a hardcore religious family and remember a thing or two. If you didn’t, look it up.
I know the street crew pretty well. We’re all hungry to feast ourselves onto whatever goods there are. The boss has been stingy on the smack and coke, and that stuff sells for top buck. I know enough junkies who are dying to get their fix. Well, that all changed after this night. Junk and lines aren’t the only product on the market. Plus, this is just another job, another paycheck to me. Everyone has to pay bills, and you have to fend for yourself. Not to mention I got to pay for my kid’s child support. Don’t get me started on his mom . . . whatever she likes to say, my work is no different than some corporate sleaze climbing their way up to the top, squishing everyone they can. I’m just squishing junkies.
Our boss was quiet, her hands cupped together, face cold. Like Mastema, who was pacing back-and-forth, she was wearing a full white blazer. What makes this pickup more interesting is that Mastema was there. I think the last time I saw the guy was when he recruited me. The Crystal Moths are stingy with who they hire, especially after that incident in Edmonton. It involved some hotshot vigilante and the exposure of our plugs in the police. Since then, Mastema personally screens everyone who is involved with the business.
Mastema kept his eye on all of us. He always looks sharp, dressing in expensive suits, long hair. His skin is so pasty, and his eyes are so bright, they almost look white. Hell, the guy looks like a vampire if you ask me. I’d never say that to his face. There are stories of him gutting people that say the wrong thing. Not that I have witnessed it, but I prefer not to find out.
He looked tense, fiddling with his golden rings. This isn’t like him at all. There’s no point in saying anything because no one talks until a boss talks. I’d love to have a smoke too, ask the other street dealers how they’re doing. We’re semi-close. I keep them at an arm’s reach, with my kid and all. Small chat will have to wait for another time.
The warehouse doors are slightly open, where two other guys come out, wearing white dress shirts. They’re holding crates. It must be from overseas or something. The two Crystal Moths dropped the wooden boxes in front of Mastema and took their place with the other goons. One of them was holding a crowbar. Mastema stopped walking right in front of the crates.
“We have something new,” he said in that creepy, calm voice he has.
His words did grip my attention.
“In these two boxes, we have a particular product that is going to revolutionize our business.”
A few of us exchanged glances, having no idea what the boss-man was getting at. I looked at our direct superior, whose gaze was on Mastema. Mastema nodded at the man with the crowbar. The guy leaned into a box and cracked it open, handing Mastema a black plastic vacuum-sealed bag.
“This,” Mastema said. “Is the future. No one else has their hands on this product, except for us.”
“What is it?” A street-crew gal – Sierra is her name – asked. Way bolder than I am, as I stayed silent during this whole thing.
Mastema casually chucks the bag at her. “Crack it open and pass it to your colleagues. Understand that because we have exclusive access, so no one anywhere has tried it before. You will need to persuade our clients. Lace it. Taste it with them. Use any method you prefer, as long as you move it.”
Sierra peeled the bag open, pulling out a palm-sized charcoal diamond chip. She passed the bag around as each street-crew member grabbed a piece. It was my turn, taking out one of these new . . . drugs. It was brittle along the edges, like it was about the flake off, but had more of a leathery texture in the centre, like a leaf losing moisture or something. This was organic for sure.
“It’s highly addictive, so be careful. However, I encourage you to try and familiarize yourself with our new product.”
“What’s it do?” Sierra asked.
A devilish grin painted on Mastema’s pale face. “It makes a Frisco Speedball look like child’s play.”
Silence. We were all staring at these strange diamond-shaped drugs. I had never seen anything like it. The street-crew – including myself – had so many questions about it, but most of us were too afraid to ask. I heard of Frisco Speedballs before. I don’t know if the others have.
“Some of you are so young,” Mastema sighed. It was a weird thing to say because the guy looks no older than the rest of us. But the way he talks, though . . . it’s like he’s had past lives or something. I’m not spiritual anymore but just telling you.
“Ever shoot up a concoction of cocaine and heroin as you’re about to peak on a tab of LSD?” Mastema asked.
“It’s an exultant ride,” he said.
You have to be really ballsy or fucked up to want to do that. I haven’t, despite my abuse background – hence the child support – and there was no way in hell I was going to try this… this…
“Ash,” Mastema said. “It’s similar, but more cohesive, more addicting, and a lesser burnout. We don’t know the long-term effects yet, but that’s why we’re selling, isn’t it? You grind it until it is a fine powder, self-explanatory. Snort it, smoke it, lick it, or whichever creative method works for you. The effects will vary.” Mastema grabbed another plastic bag and raised it. “This is a historic moment, and you have the honour of being a part of it.”
One of the street-crews, Bari, smells the ash he held. It had no odor. “Where does it come from?”
“Not for you to know,” Mastema said.
“People are gonna ask, whadda we tell’em?” Bari asked.
“Get creative. I don’t care,” Mastema said.
After that, we chatted about prices and split the drugs. Two crates of this shit. We were pioneers embarking on something no one has heard of. It was the last time I laid eyes on Mastema too. I’m sure he’s off handling the business.
As you know, this ash stuff is taking the world by storm, and no one knows where it comes from. I still don’t know where they got it or what the hell it is. Since that night, I just sell it. No way have I tried it. I’m clean now. My kid doesn’t need a deadbeat father. Most of the time, I grind it up to disguise it, which makes it just look like some charcoal or. . . ash.
“How much does it go for?” the silvery voice spoke.
I say, “well, a gram can be two-fifty. It depends on how supply, and where the cops are at.” My voice reverbs in the darkness. The moment holds. “Look, I told you names, everything, we change our meetup spot every time . . . “
The elegant hand slides the glock on the splintered table back into the dark, away from the open black bag. I can barely see the gal sitting behind the beaming light. Christ, the brightness is annoying, and these zap straps, she’s a real piece of work. Who ties them this tight? A droplet of blood falls from my nose and onto the unfinished table, soaking into it – a reminder of when she hit me in the face and put me here.
She reaches for the black bag, exposing her pasty skin and the glimpses of her blonde hair. I still can’t see her damn face due to that light. The gal snags one of the diamonds and inspects it.
“You said organic?” she asks. The ash is fresh enough that she can spin the diamond between her thumb and index finger.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Well, I don’t know. It sure as hell isn’t made in a lab.”
“It’s a scale,” she says.
“A scale? Like a reptile?”
“Yes, dumb shit. You can have them as pets. They are in the wild?”
Belittling me . . . she thinks I’m a joke. I’m not. I’m a simple man because I choose to be for my kid. I say, “okay, lady, why hasn’t the news said anything?”
I can see her smirking under the sharply cast shadow. She pulls on her hair in the dark, dragging it off. The real darker hair is a short, sweaty mess as she drops the wig on her lap. She frees the wig, pushing the chain-linked light out of the way.
Now I can see her whole face. A young gal, man, can’t be much older than my baby sister. Mid-twenties. Her cold eyes and confidence say otherwise like she’s seen shit. She speaks, “the news knows, but they’re all part of the game. Everyone is fabricating this bullshit narrative. Give it time, and some independent studies will come out on the web.”
I brush her words aside and ask, “you’re clearly not a cop. What do you want?”
She leans forward, and I see a nasty bullet scar on her chest, under that tank top. “You street dealers have no idea how deep the Crystal Moths run,” she says.
Scar . . . independent studies. Mid-twenties, pasty gal. Yeah. No fuckin’ way. . . “Hey,” I say without thinking, eyes locked on the scar. “You’re that girl, aren’t you?”
The gal sits back, letting go of the light. It swings like a pendulum, casting sharp contrasts on her now stone-cold face.
“Yeah,” I say, now certain in my forthcoming claim. “You exposed the cops out west with the video. The Crystal Moth bust in Edmonton. The journalism student with that website everyone goes to . . . Lola.”
The gal chucks a burner phone on the table, standing up and clicks the light off. “Cops are on their way,” she says, walking away. Her boots echo in the open space as I keep shouting, “Hey! hey!” hoping she’ll come back. That bitch! She doesn’t listen. Eventually, a door shuts, and I’m left alone in the dark. Mastema is going to have my head.