There were a few moments in time when Vlad Masters was not conscious to the world around him, though his eyes were open and his breathing had not slowed to that of sleep. His body was erect in the passenger seat of the car, the hands stiffly gripping the knees and his feet placed neatly together on the carpeted floor. Like someone lulled into a trance, his eyes were wide and his face was frozen in horror, but he remained unmoving and if there had been, say, a semi-truck barreling toward him, he would not have reacted; if a wasp had landed on his neck and he'd been allergic—and he was (it had become apparent when he'd been five and had been stung and had had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance)—he would not have moved, even if it meant preventing the imminent penetration of his skin. And like his body, which may as well have been stoned, his mind had lapsed into a period of sleep-like nothingness in which he was not aware of the eerily still night that enveloped him.

The convertible was parked in a space outside a liquor store, one that remained open into the late hours of the night and advertised such in bright neon letters—"OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY, ALL WEEK EXCEPT SUNDAY"—and in the emptiness that encompassed the small strip mall on this surprisingly lonely Friday night, the light this sign radiated created for an uncanny but somehow too entirely perfect scene to hang framed in the form of a picture on the walls of some Gen X to gaze at after a long day at work and reminisce in memories of the glory days. The car sat alone on this cracked concrete desert, save a car that belonged to the employee working the store, and if he had been conscious—truly conscious, that was—Vlad might have scoffed at the Mazda sitting next to his own luxury vehicle, finding it terribly ironic that he could have the money to purchase such a car but be found at such a lowly place as the liquor store in the late hours of that Friday or the early hours of Saturday—however you chose to look at it—as only a jobless, homeless addict might, scouring the streets and purging abandoned couch cushions in search of change to fund the expedition. He would have been very embarrassed sitting in his car after having parked it beside this broken-down rattler—in fact, if he had been responsive, he would not have allowed his vehicle to leave the sanctity of the highway. But he was not, and he would not be, not until Frederick had finished selecting his drinks; this, however, would not take more than a few moments, because when it came to Frederick Showenheimer, what he wanted and where it was kept, exactly, in the majority of the liquor stores he shopped at were constants. Freddy liked hard liquor, the stuff that would make you vomit until there was nothing in your stomach and your face turn blue and cold like the skin of a corpse after you had taken no more than a few sips.

Frederick had had his share of overdoses in his day, because despite his outcast status, he drank like a frat boy when surrounded by women, and often crashed parties to pillage their stash of alcohol and drugs, which he would use with his tight circle of friends; aside Harry, he had grown up with Monica, having met in the first grade when some kid fell off the monkey bars, breaking his arm, and the two of them couldn't help but laugh. In the principle's office, they became acquainted, and were inseparable thenceforth. By high-school, they shared credit cards and bank accounts to practice-kisses when the time came they would meet their significant other. Monica, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed witch—this opinion derived from her Wicca upbringings, but Frederick found it a harsh and rather degrading assertion—sat in her bedroom and wrote poetry by candlelight as a way of expressing the pain bestowed upon her by her father's refusal to accept her homosexuality. In death—together the two had lay in a puddle of 190-proof Everclear, which she had somehow gotten her hands onto, although he would never know how, exactly—Monica adopted the name Lydia, for she had always loved the name—it had belonged to her grandmother, who had replied when she'd questioned at the age of seventeen, just discovering her sexual origins, if she, like her son, believed it to be wrong, "Aren't we all, just a little?"—but had never managed to find the money to alter her own in life.

In and out of their circle were an array of drug-dealers, and the three of them smoked the nights—and days, for that matter, when they did not feel like going to school—away in the sanctity of Frederick's bedroom, the walls in which plastered with posters of the greatest ringmasters (George Claude Lockhart and Tommy Hanlon Jr., as well as several other posters he'd purchased at the smaller circuses he'd gone to of lesser-known figures) and a jumble of photographs he'd taken himself of the circus in all its glory and some gothic artwork that might have made anyone else cringe but would lull him to sleep if he stared at it long enough, with whoever was supplying. Together they'd smoke weed, inject themselves with methamphetamine, snort cocaine, use a variety of hallucinogens and mushrooms, or perhaps a few, in a pinch, but usually they refrained from using everything at once. On the night of his death, however, shortly after turning twenty-five, he and Monica had used a good deal of everything, and the illegal liquor they drank when they'd finished had sealed the deal—or, really, their fate. Harry had been recruited to drive his mother to her rehab once again on this night, and the morning prior was the last time he heard from his lover, who had sent a text message in reply to his in which he explained his absence and wished him a well time. "It's O.K., babe," Frederick's text had read. "I'll drink the pain of your absence away—Monnie says she's got some real hard shit ;)"

Harry, assuming Monica had raided her father's liquor cabinet and had found some whiskey or vodka or gin or rum—something potent but would go down easy for his significant other—had thought nothing of it, and taken his mother to rehab as planned. The next morning, he took his car over to Freddy's house, a luxury home only the wealthiest people could afford—and thus his parents had no trouble—with the intention of making love to him in apology for going M.I.A, and was met with the sight of several police cars parked hastily about the street and in front of his driveway. There was an ambulance as well, and the drug-dealer that had hung around, a tough kid that had come from a Christian home and dubbed with the name of Ellis but insisted he be called the title of his favorite wrestler, the Undertaker, was being removed from the home on a stretcher—Monica and Frederick, however, were being taken to another vehicle, one that was very much like the ambulance but instead sported the name of the city's morgue on its side in morbid Victorian lettering. They were not on stretchers—rather, they were in body-bags. One of the policemen exiting the house carried several bags with evidence in them. In one, the empty bottle of Everclear.

That night, Harry would be admitted to the hospital after ingesting perhaps enough alcohol to tranquilize a large elephant and was found unconscious on the floor of his bedroom. In cruel irony, however, as seems to be the case so frequently, the blonde-haired boy did not die.

It would seem that Frederick should despise the stuff with everything in his lanky body, but he did not; rather, the idea of submerging himself in the sanctity of alcohol attracted him now more than ever, because now there was no Harry to lose, to harm; no parents to leave wondering what they could have done to prevent the tragedy. Now, Frederick felt completely detached from everything, all of his worldly ties loosening and allowing him to act unreservedly, as he pleased, without consequence, no longer weighed down by the idea that he might cause the people he cherished some sleepless nights in the long-run if he did. And this is the most liberating feeling one can feel—it is like knowing your parents will be gone for the weekend and you are given the freedom to open your house up to every kid in your high-school. But Showenheimer's party was endless, his mother and father never returning, and so he had no trouble snatching bottles of Schnapps and Scotch and Korn off the shelves, a smile—perhaps the most natural yet—tugging at the corners of his lips with the idea of his release from the prison that was love and family. In fact, he was so overjoyed that he might have paid for the liquor he was carrying in his arms—at least a hundred dollars worth—but he had no money on his person, and so he simply walked to the door, only to be intercepted by the Mazda-wielding clerk.

"Hey, you have to—"

But that was as far as he got, because in that moment Frederick whipped around in one swift motion, with such grace that the bottles of liquor did so little as clatter slightly against one another, and glared into the brown eyes of the salesclerk, his own twinkling calmly, although there was no denying the enjoyment—rush, buzz, high (all words Freddy used to describe the affects of the drugs he ingested)—that underlay. And as the brown left the chunky clerk's pupils to be replaced by the ruby red of Frederick's class ring, so did all the emotion that had been so clearly exhibited on his features—the fear, the need to defend what was his (at least until nine A.M., that was).

"I'll be taking these," Frederick said softly, tapping a bottle with his knuckles, enjoying the sound it made with an odd meticulousness.

"Yes, sir," the clerk said tonelessly, his eyes staring straight ahead as a corpse's will, the features stiff and cold and unmoving.

Satisfied, Frederick turned and left the store in which this clerk would stay for several hours in such a fashion until they'd gotten safely away from the strip mall and onto the highway again; the bells on the door clanged as it was shut, and the gangly boy walked to the convertible with his liquor. After a moment of attempting to open one of the doors with a jumble of bottles in his arms, one of his booted feet struck the door with enough force to draw Vlad Masters from his unwilling slumber. And, unsurprisingly, he did, starting slightly and then slowly and confusedly glancing about the car for clarification of what had just happened and where he was, exactly; in truth, Frederick did not think he'd seen Vlad so utterly out of his element before, and he would be lying if he said he did not find this quality attractive, but while he could have stared at that face for ages—the lips slightly parted, the eyes wide and shiny, the nose out questioningly in a manner that could have gotten him up with little trouble—the liquor was growing heavy, and he jabbed the door again with the toe of his boot. At this, the man's gaze abruptly shifted to the place Frederick stood just outside the door of his car, bottle upon bottle of liquor in his hands, a small, indulgent smile pasted onto his face.

And Vlad did something that Frederick had seen no other do upon emerging from the trances he induced: the man threw back his head, and shrieked.