A woman’s scream rises over a cluster of tin-sheet shacks and into the thick night air. She’s just watched her son punch her drunken boyfriend in the mouth, blood and spit flecking on white knuckles.
“Bowie!” the woman screams at her son, but she goes ignored.
“Stay down, you lowlife!” Bowie lurches at the older man now curled up on the floor, but he’s choked back when his mother yanks him by the collar. He swings his body violently around to break free of her hold, and — out of anger towards everyone and no one in particular — he shoves her down onto the sunken couch behind. He instantly feels sick when he looks down and realizes what he’s done, dark locks sprawled across his mother’s frightened expression. She’s so frail in her blue summer dress, all thin neck and jutting collarbones that Bowie has inherited. For a split-second, he thinks about pulling up the strap that’s fallen off her shoulder, but instead he snatches his hoodie off the couch and steps over the drunkard now passed out cold. He shoves the door open, ignoring the sobbing behind him as he steps into the moonlight.
Acid Town’s usual crowd is crawling. A barter is going down in front of Bowie’s home just as he emerges. Across the street, two women, dressed modestly and still posted at a sure-fire corner, coo something at a man as he passes by. Somewhere in the distance, there’s a pained howl that Bowie knows better than to mistake for a dog. He feels for the folding knife in his back pocket.
In Acid Town, leaving home without a weapon might as well be suicide. On an island where the poor and criminal are hoarded together for the government to contain and forget, it’s dog-eat-dog. Bowie learned this at five-years old, when he witnessed his father fight and stabbed over a coveted stash of antibiotics from the mainland. As he watched a pair of strangers chase off the knife-wielder and attempt to seal his father’s wound with their bare hands, Bowie learned also this: that when it comes to order, compassion is Acid Town’s only military.
Coincidentally and almost comically, Bowie makes a living off homemade blood-stop powder, or magic powder, the townspeople call it (the result of a kid who played in dirt and who figured out that hey — the funny-looking clay in the backyard stops bleeding). With a government that provides hardly more than running water and electricity, and where violence measures the days, medical supplies are among the most valuable barters in Acid Town. Bowie feels lucky to have gotten this far without having his fingers chopped off one-by-one until he was willing to give up his recipe. He knows at least two or three lives have been saved by his magic powder, and people are willing to give him a lot for it.
Bowie’s a good couple miles away from his home by now, still livid. He swears he’ll implode or at the very least slap the town loon that’s been noisily following him for five minutes now, but just the sight of the cemetery in the distance soothes him. He’s able to shrug off his unsolicited companion by offering him a pinch of magic powder in the crumbled paper he finds in the pocket of his hoodie. Then he veers left into the cemetery; it’s a sprawling patch of land behind the hub of the town, scattered with rocks, wooden crosses, mangled dolls — remembrances. His father’s body is buried somewhere in the grounds, but the marking was scrambled and lost years ago. Besides, it’s the area past the cemetery that really matters to Bowie.
Most consider the cemetery and its surrounding area condemned and haunted — not even crime dare trickle into such an eerie block of the town. But past the graves and over a small knoll, Bowie has found the perfect mix of concrete and vegetation: an Olympic-sized pool, once part of the government’s long-forgotten plan to build a grand sports arena. At the threshold stands a towering brick wall, “I” missing and “M” hanging by a wire where “COLISEUM” intended to arch over the entrance.
Once Bowie’s through the entrance, something in his chest loosens just a little, and a deep sigh escapes him. He makes his way to the empty pool, down the creaky ladder and onto curved, smooth surface. He walks over his own litter of graffiti, bubbled letters and strange abstract creatures, until he reaches a star the size of his body in the center of the pool. He lowers himself onto this spot, back against the cement, eyes to a sky where there isn’t much to see. But it’s enough for Bowie. It lets him dream of a world beyond Acid Town.
He closes his eyes.
He can do more for his mother. He can make more than magic powder. He can cure people.
A passenger plane from a luckier land roars across the sky; it stifles the steps of the town loon as he hobbles his way towards the dreaming boy, brandishing the folding knife that had fallen out of the latter’s pocket.
Bowie dreams deeper. A slice of metal swings through the air.