by Nick Gardner


Skooder’s Ma is jabbering about if he’s gonna shoot Dopeboy or what? He’s been kicked back sorting blue and green pills, while Ma’s jawing gob dribbles overdose foam, face all pocked and scratched to shit. She says, You don’t go right now, I’m pawnin the TV!

Ma’s been on him about shooting Dopeboy since she started blowing her checks on eightballs and lumped up enough debt even the lottery can’t save her. Ma says, Bout damn good as a no-legged mouser cat, pops the prescription cap, waterfalls pills down her throat, and clomps off to the bedroom.

So Skooder clicks the TV to static, says Shit, Ma, and loogies in the sink. He fusses the belt tight around his fifteen-year-old skeleton, bangs out the door like business with a name tag.

They call him Skooder cause he’s always zooming around on that green electric Razr. But the Razr ain’t started in a minute. He fucks with the toggle, feeds pills into the pill tank. Nothing. So he steel-toes the Razr off the trailer deck.

Skooder hoofs it to town along the trail of Percs and Oxys, right along the shore of the river in which pills bob and buoy with the current. Ma says she’d rather die than poke around state detox, rather not lose her son, but if Skooder don’t plug Dopeboy she’s gonna have to give him up—not enough scratch to pay Dopeboy back and keep feeding a mangy son. So the gunning down and pillaging of Dopeboy is the only salvation. Otherwise Ma will send Skooder  off to be fostered by the Christians in the double wide again. Them bougie-ass Doublewides skeeve him. Rather have the gum filled bullet holes and seeping roof of home.


Skooder’s too late to Dr. Jake’s Pillmill. Government pill truck’s are already offloading and the queue snakes out past Micky D’s so he’d never get an appointment before closing. There’s researchers from the city all around questioning their questions on everyone, trying to put together why folks are stupid rather than smart. There’s Caseworkers always trying to talk you into detox. And all the while the line of mangy folks sways and pukes dopesick on the snow-slopped curb.

Skooder’s fisting a bit of Oxy down his gullet when a Caseworker with too much white and a tie bends right to his very face, says, Why are you not in school, son? Do you have a mother and father? I can help you.

Animal comes by then and kicks the caseworker a sharp one on the shin and caseworker scampers. Animal laughs.

Animal’s a middle man and fresh from his appointment with a five gallon bucket-full and a grin. A skeleton with no meat, he crooks a Oxy pill from the panda bear head of his Pez dispenser, Real killer of a refill today, my Skood. How you holdin up?

Shit, Skooder spits.

You’re just the man I’ve been lookin for though. I’ve got a hustle, my Skood. You in?

They head back to the house pulling pills from penguin and polar bear mouths and mawing them. Animal explains how he smuggles his Oxys in plastic Pez heads but can’t get no egress to the high school. Too much sketch to be let through the doors.

Says, Skood, you got an honest face. Ain’t the type to fuck me.

Back home in the kitchen Skooder toasts cheese sammies for the two of them while Animal measures pills he’s fronting with an ice-cream scoop. They pile the pills into Kilamanjaros, the White House, an Oxy Eiffel Tower.

The Principal

At school the next day, Skooder’s trifling away an Oxy here, an M there. Dag tries to rob him, snookers Skood for three of them things, so after knocking Dag’s head bloody, Skooder’s dragged by his MacBethean hands to the principal’s for premeditating a sucker punch.

Busted! The principal shakes Skooder’s pill-filled backpack.

Inside his office the Principal empties out two Pez dispensers of Oxy, smitherenes the lot with a glass paperweight, and snorts the piles of powder through a thousand dollar bill. He says, Big trouble, my boy. Big, big trouble.

Principal grinds powder out of Oxys like the sun never gonna shine again. You know Oxy was schedule III, but, guess what? They just voted last month. Now you’re distributing Schedule II. Principal wags a finger in front of his red eyed leer. Coulda read that in the paper if you were up on current events like you’re supposed to do.

Skooder says, Shit, spits in the wastebasket.

Son you’re so grubby a skunk’d give you a bath. How about we shake out a deal? What do you want more than anything right now?

Skooder wants his backpack full of pills returned, but he also wants his scooter. Feet have been fungusy like sliced meat packed up in dingy Tims for a while now. Makes it hard to walk.

Principal says, It’s a deal. And just moments later Skooder finds himself scooting away on a brand new Razr with no backpack, only a scrawl on a post-it recommending him to the Sheriff as a snitch.

The river sparkles like a fool’s gold as Skooder stops to sit on the bank. He sticks a straw into the baggie of crushed Oxy that Principal let him keep and breathes in a powder clot.

The Detective

Skooder knows he’s gotta bust Animal’s ass before the middle man sees him for a narc. There’s lines at the Pillmill and Animal posts by the back where the queue funnels out. Animal pawns pills on the low to those still needing when their prescriptions run out.

It’s an easy bust, just go over, ask Animal for a re-up and the microphone taped to Skooder’s chest hears all. Animal hands over the dope and Skooder says his Shit, while the fuzz buzzes all over the place, busts Animal, rolls him off to jail.

Animal says, I’ll kill you, motherfucker.

Skooder just says, Shit, and spits into a snowbank.

The Mayor

There’s a moment a month later where young Skooder stands in front of the mayor getting spangled with a gold star on his chest for exemplary snitching and Skooder winks as the camera clicks, like a cat winks at a goldfish. He winks as the mayor pooches his beer gut, shines his mouthful of white. Mayor says, I bet you’d clean up nice, my boy. And my daughter needs a date to the prom. How bout it son? We got a deal?

Skooder says, Shit. Just like always.

Soon enough, the prom, fine duds and dresses. Before the prom Mayor said, You just don’t let me catch you. But now Skooder’s craving, hasn’t had a pill all day.

Mayor’s daughter got her eye on Skooder, digits grasping his digits. There’s dollar bills in Skooder’s pocket. Given from the mayor for Skood’s prom-courting of the daughter, to buy them something nice, and finally Skooder pleads to take a squeege, slips off behind the bleachers, out to the parking lot where Dopeboy’s Jag purrs ferocious.

Dopeboy don’t know what’s up. He says, My dude. Little man comin up! Snappin on Skooder’s suspenders, messing up his hair. Dopeboy prowls the bougie school, sells to priest and plaid-skirt student like all’s equal in the eyes of the Lord.

Skooder slides in the passenger door all buddy-buddy and ain’t nothin owed. Daddy’s-boys single off from the prom, drop by and Dopeboy slies them pills at mark-up.

Skooder’s watchin Dopeboy’s piece peeking out the beltline. Gold-plated, handle inlaid with a naked woman. Dopeboy catches Skooder’s stare, grins, pulls the gun out. Says, Shit’s real, my dude, wanna hold it?


New President’s elected and everything’s gonna change. Yeah, new dude in the Oval Office going hard on drugs, motorcading up and down the territories, promising to put out ancient fires, get folks back working, back on God. Gonna piece together families gone estranged. Gonna get poor folks like Skooder rich and straight. But the Skood’s already got himself rich, slingin out the back of the Jag, cruisin the river night-in-night-out.

Animal, the middleman, says, Come on Skood, they coming for your shit-n-all. Pres is crackin down.

But Skooder only says, Shit. Spits on the jailhouse visiting room glass. He texts Mayor’s daughter with a heart and a smooch-face. He ain’t gonna buy that President’s shit like he ain’t buyin the next one’s.

Skood rolls on and on in time. One day drives by the Caseworker. Been beat to hell, clothes tattered. Come up to the window to cop like he ain’t no better than nobody, and Skooder looks to the haze in Casework’s eyes and their ain’t nothin left. Not new President, not nobody, nor a bit of light alive in there. Like the river, the stinkin brown rush of it might pull the Caseworker under. It’s the only other place to go. Nobody gonna savior them up from these rapids. They’re living in pills which means their living in sin. President’s just gonna talk about their moral failure, tell them to save themselves, let them swallow all them pills, keep swallowing.

Nick Gardner is currently enrolled in the MFA fiction writing program at Bowling Green State University. His poetry and fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Ocean State Review, Main Street Rag, Inlandia, What Are Birds Journal and others. His book of poetry, So Marvelously Far was published in 2019 through Crisis Chronicles Press. He lives in Mansfield and Bowling Green, Ohio.