Tripped Out

By: Lorelei James

A Blacktop Cowboys® Novella



One Thousand and One Dark Nights



Once upon a time, in the future…



I was a student fascinated with stories and learning.

I studied philosophy, poetry, history, the occult, and

the art and science of love and magic. I had a vast

library at my father’s home and collected thousands

of volumes of fantastic tales.



I learned all about ancient races and bygone

times. About myths and legends and dreams of all

people through the millennium. And the more I read

the stronger my imagination grew until I discovered

that I was able to travel into the stories... to actually

become part of them.



I wish I could say that I listened to my teacher

and respected my gift, as I ought to have. If I had, I

would not be telling you this tale now.

But I was foolhardy and confused, showing off

with bravery.



One afternoon, curious about the myth of the

Arabian Nights, I traveled back to ancient Persia to

see for myself if it was true that every day Shahryar

(Persian: شهريار, “king”) married a new virgin, and then

sent yesterday's wife to be beheaded. It was written

and I had read, that by the time he met Scheherazade,

the vizier's daughter, he’d killed one thousand

women.



Something went wrong with my efforts. I arrived

in the midst of the story and somehow exchanged

places with Scheherazade – a phenomena that had

never occurred before and that still to this day, I

cannot explain.



Now I am trapped in that ancient past. I have

taken on Scheherazade’s life and the only way I can

protect myself and stay alive is to do what she did to

protect herself and stay alive.



Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales.

And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a

point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more.

And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that

he might hear the rest of my dark tale.



As soon as I finish a story... I begin a new

one... like the one that you, dear reader, have before

you now.





Prologue



Liam Argent, age sixteen…



Lurking in the shadows of buildings, wearing a black hoodie, jumping every time a siren sounded in the distance…yeah, he was some cool customer, all right.

Ain’t like this is your first drug buy, Argent.

As if his conscience needed to remind him of that fun factoid.

Liam checked his calculator watch for the tenth time. Pointless, really. Dealers ran on their own schedule. When they said “Be there at ten,” it meant be there between nine and eleven o’clock. A few times, his source “Junior”—likely not even his real name—hadn’t shown up at all. His excuse was “family obligations.”

He swung his arms a couple of times to keep warm, which caused his coat to ride up his forearms, exposing his skin to the frigid night air. He’d grown four inches since last winter and now his coat didn’t fit. He hadn’t mentioned it to Gramma because she’d feel guilty that a new coat wasn’t in the budget for this month. He’d have to make do. Like he always did.

A Gran Torino pulled up to the curb. Liam waited, not sure if it was Junior since he never drove the same car twice.

The passenger window rolled down. Junior motioned for Liam to get in—all while the car kept inching along.

Liam didn’t hesitate, not even when his common sense screamed at him not to get into a drug dealer’s vehicle.

Ain’t my first drug buy, remember? he said snarkily to his conscience to shut it up.

The interior of the car reeked of clove cigarettes and bleach. Liam held his hands in front of the vents blasting out hot air, grateful for the warmth as he waited for Junior to speak first.

“Kid,” Junior said as he picked up speed and turned onto Hawthorne, “where are your gloves?”

“I…ah…left them at school.”

Junior harrumphed as if he didn’t believe him.

They kept driving until Junior found a spot he saw as safe to make the exchange. He threw the car in PARK and left the motor running.

Liam dug in the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a crumpled wad of cash. Even the damp paper smelled of stale grease, courtesy of the restaurant where he worked. He cleared his throat. “Look, I’m ten bucks short. So, can I owe you ten next time? I promise I’m good for it. Or do you want to cut ten bucks’ worth out of the bag?”

Junior took the money and smoothed each bill out before shuffling them from the highest denomination to the lowest. Without looking up from his ritual, he said, “I ain’t the bank, letting you run a line of credit, kid.”

Liam said nothing.

“Nor am I in the bidness of dividing bags I already parceled out.” Then Junior looked him in the eye. “What’s your deal, boy? I get a message from you every two weeks. Always the same amount of product. No more, no less.” He gave Liam a head-to-toe once-over and frowned. “You ain’t got the desperate look of a full-time user, although that coat has seen better days.”

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