Spyder walked with his head down, not allow-ing himself to look around no -matter how odd or enticing the visions: black hooves, crows chatting wit_ats, the suddenly sinister insect-silhouettes of panhandlers he'd seen _housand times before.
He smelled musk and ambergris, cook fires and sewage. It reminded him of th_oroccan souks, but he was very far away from Morocco. In fact, very far awa_rom anything familiar right now.
A sense of relief came over Spyder when he entered the tattoo studio an_losed the door behind him. A couple of college girls were inspecting th_lash designs on the walls and giggling nervously to each other. They didn'_ave wings or horns or extra eyes. They were a beautiful sight. Spyder coul_ear Lulu in the back with one of her piercing customers. "You'll feel _ittle pressure and then a slight sting, but that's all," she said. "Relax."
Hungry for a normal moment he spoke to the college girls. "If you have an_uestions about the tattoo work, that's what I do around here, so you can as_e."
The girls looked at him and the taller one, a café2dau-lait brunette wit_right green eyes, said, "How much for the black panther? That's a rea_raditional one, right?"
"Yeah. All the pieces on that wall go way back. And we charge by the hour, s_he price depends on how big and where you want it. We have a hundred dolla_inimum."
The girls whispered to each other, then turned to Spyder. "We're going t_hink about it. Do you have a card?"
Spyder went behind the counter and found one of the studio's cards. He fel_elf-conscious handing it to the brunette. The card had a symbol on it. Spyde_new it was something Celtic, but he had no idea what it meant.
"Thanks," said the dark haired girl, letting her fingertips brush agains_pyder's as she accepted the card. Under normal circumstances, Spyder woul_ave taken that as a signal to go into his charming act, complete with self- effacing patter and a certain calculated awkwardness that gave him the look o_omeone who might need just a little looking after. Today, however, all h_ould muster was a tired smile. "Any time," he said and turned away from th_irls, looking for his appointment book so he could cancel everyone set fo_hat day. Maybe for the rest of the week, he thought.
His head and body ached and his hands shook a little as he leafed through th_ppointments. "Every rabbit hole has a bottom," he said quietly, rememberin_omething that Sara Durango had told him after giving him his first hit o_cid when he was fourteen.
Lulu and her female client were coming out of the back room when Spyde_ettled on the numbers he needed to call. He didn't look up, not ready to dea_ith the world, much less make eye contact with Lulu or the girl.
"Remember," said Lulu, "you're going to want to soak in a sea salt bath an_se that antibiotic cream every day."
"Every day," said the other woman. Spyder heard the little bell over the doo_ing as she left.
Spyder had to concentrate to make his fingers punch the right numbers into th_hone. It rang a few times then gave a subtle click as it switched over th_oice mail. "Hi. This is Spyder Lee over at Route 666 Tattoos. Sorry, but _ave to cancel our appointment for this afternoon." He settled back in hi_eat, giving Lulu a pained smile. "I'm not feeling that well and… holy shit… ."
Spyder set down the receiver and stood up, coming around the counter.
Something was terribly wrong. He took Lulu gently by the arm. "Goddam," sai_pyder -leading her to a chair. "What happened to you?"
Lulu looked at him, puzzled. "Nothing happened to me. You're the one who go_tomped, 'member sugar?" She laid her hand on his cheek. The hand was cold an_he skin was stiff, like dried-out leather.
"What happened to you?" Spyder repeated more insistently.
Lulu kept smiling. She had to. She had no lips. All the flesh from the lowe_art of her face had been cut neatly away, leaving her with a permanent leer.
She wore a low-cut shirt and her dry white skin was criss-crossed with ol_cars and stained stitching. Spyder thought of the cheap boots and vests he'_ought on teenage roadtrips to Tijuana. Bad leather sewn together crudely an_arelessly. Most disturbing of all were Lulu's eyes. They were gone. Over he_mpty sockets torn scraps of paper were taped, each with a smeared, childlik_rawing of an eye.
"What the fuck happened to you?"
The exposed muscles around Lulu's mouth twitched a little. She reflexivel_ulled away from Spyder and covered her face with her hands, then quickl_owered them. "Oh my god, " she said. "You really had your brains rearrange_ast night."
"Tell me I'm fucked up," Spyder said. "I've been seeing the most horrible shi_ll day. Monsters. Buildings that aren't there. Dead people."
"Not dead, most likely," Lulu said. "There's a whole lot more range betwee_ead and alive than they taught us when we were kids, Spyder."
"What are you talking about?"
"There's a lot no one taught us. Deep, dark secrets. Other worlds. Other kind_f people. Hidden, but right in front of us."
"This is a mistake."
"I wish. There's monsters in the world. Some of 'em were born and some wer_ade. I was made."
"This isn't happening. I'm still in the alley. I'm knocked out and I'_reaming."
"I'm so sorry, darlin'. You're not ready for this. You were never supposed t_ee or know about it."
"Know about what?" Spyder shouted. "What are you?"
"I'm Lulu, baby. Just Lulu." She sat down next to him again, a horrible, broken toy. "You're just seeing another part of me. And I'm so sorry fo_hat." Tears fell from her empty eye sockets, staining the paper drawing_aped there.
Spyder walked across the room and sat on the floor with his back against th_ounter. "I refuse to accept any of this," he said.
Lulu got up and locked the door to the studio, then sat back in the chair i_ront of Spyder. "Darlin', we've known each other since we were six years old.
You're the first person I came out to," she said. "I guess I'm coming ou_gain."
Lulu leaned forward and laid her hand on his knee. "Please don't touch me,"
Spyder said. She withdrew the hand.
"I'm not really a monster," said Lulu. "I'm a damned fool, but I'm not _onster. I just got into something a little over my head."
"That part's obvious."
"I just had my eyes opened, so to speak," she said, -pulling her expose_uscles into a smile. "Just like you." She slid down next to him on the floor, careful not to let her body touch his. Spyder shifted away from her a fe_nches.
"Remember four, five years back when I was all strung out on oxy? I couldn'_ork. Couldn't do much of anything but steal and score."
"You still owe me a CD player," Spyder said.
Lulu let out an airy laugh, like wind through a keyhole. "Rehab didn't work.
Then, I met some people through this dealer. They said they could get m_lean. Make my hands steady, so I could work again. Did I want to try it? O_ourse, I said Yes."
"When was this? I remember you getting better in rehab," said Spyder.
"Jesus, Spyder. I didn't last a week there," Lulu said. "I wouldn't let yo_isit, remember? I always called you? I checked out and was on the stree_coring until I met these people."
"Who were they?"
"Real monsters. Born monsters," she said. "But I didn't know that back then.
They offered me the deal of a lifetime. I'd get clean, get healthy and get m_alent back. They promised they could make me better than ever. Can yo_magine what that meant to me back then?"
"How'd you end up like this?"
"You know how dealers are. The first one's always free. Then the price jus_eeps going up. You got a cigarette?"
Spyder pulled a pack of American Spirits from his jacket pocket, took one, gave one to Lulu and lit them both. They smoked in silence for a few moments.
Lulu blew a series of small smoke rings through the center of bigger rings, something Spyder had been watching her do since junior high. "The price fo_iving me back my life was my eyes," she said, "They said that sight's mostl_n the brain and that in this Sphere of existence, they could make it so I'_ee better without them." Lulu took a long drag off the American Spirit.
Spyder wanted her to stop talking. "They were right, only they didn't tell m_t wouldn't last. Every year or so, my sight would start to go and they'd sho_p, ready to deal. They'd already taken my eyes, so they took something els_ach time. Stomach. Liver. Skin. I don't know what all anymore. But not m_eart. You'd be surprised what you can live without, but not your heart."
Another long drag. A cloud of blue smoke. "Each time, they'd do their littl_oodoo so my body'd keep going, till the next visit. No one ever noticed th_ifference. When they took my eyes I saw a whole new world. The world, _uess, you're seeing now. Shit, Spyder, no one knows anything. All th_eachers and cops and priests and shrinks they sent us to, they don't kno_hat's really going on. When I saw the real world, knowing how long I'd bee_lind scared me a lot more than the monsters."
"You think this is some kind of goddam gift?" asked Spyder.
"For you it is. You got it for free. It cost me a little more."
"Fuck this world and fuck this gift."
"I'd rather fuck your sister."
"I'll trade you for your mom."
"Deal," said Lulu. She stuck out her hand, the traditional end to a stupi_oke that they'd done since they were kids. Eventually, Spyder shook Lulu'_and.
"Goddam," said Spyder. "It is you, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is."
Spyder slid his arm around Lulu's shoulders and pulled her to him. She hugge_im and laid her head on his chest. They sat on the floor until the sun wen_own and the studio was dark. People knocked on the door, but they ignore_hem.