Peter Stenson is sober now, but he used to be what he calls a “trashcan addict.” He’d try “anything and everything that was set in front of him.” That’s a lot like the characters in his new novel, "Fiend.” After a week-long meth bender, his protagonist, Chase Daniels, peers out the window, and realizes he’s living in the zombie apocalypse. Zombies become a metaphor for addiction. Think about it: lifeless bodies shambling towards their next “hit” could describe the walking dead or addicts. One reviewer wrote, “'Fiend' feels fresh in a stale genre" and is “a masterful illustration of how painful and overwhelming addiction can be.” Peter Stenson, who lives in Denver, wrote this novel while he was getting an MFA at Colorado State University. He graduated just last year and speaks with Ryan Warner.
Read the opening paragraphs of the book below. [Warning: contains sensitive language.]
M O N D A Y
8 : 5 4 a m
So Typewriter John and I have spent the last hour lying to
each other, faking concern, panic, and desperation, all the
while helping the other look for the last hit. The thing is, we
each know the other is holding on to an eraser- sized shard. It’s
like a standoff, both of us wanting to be left the fuck alone
for fi ve minutes. Finally Typewriter caves, says he’s going to
take a shit, which I know isn’t true because we haven’t eaten
in close to three days.
I pull out the tiny bit of glass. Burn it. And it’s barely two
hits and I’m spun bad, like from our weeklong bender, but this
one really does it, because when I peek through the G.I. Joe sheets
we’ve draped over the windows, I see a little girl playing
with a dog. I’m thinking this is kind of sweet— this blond
child crouching on all fours, inching closer to the dog, like
maybe she’s playing a game of make- believe where she’s a dog
too. But then I notice the dog is shaking. And it’s a big dog, a
rottweiler, and he’s shaking, his head down, his tail covering
his nuts. What the fuck? I’m about to return back to our cave of a world because the sun is
ungodly bright, but I see the dog take a snap at the
little girl. She dodges him just in time. I think about pounding
on the glass. I need to warn this kid. I need to do something.
But I don’t. I stand there. The little girl creeps back to the dog, and
once she gets close enough to touch it, she does, only her touch
isn’t a pat but a lunge for the rottweiler’s throat. It reminds
me of this time I saw an elderly woman crossing the street,
she almost made it across when a black Hummer turned right
and came straight at her not slowing, and the old woman
looked up in time to see her fate as an extravagant fl aunting
of male testosterone, and she crumpled, lost underneath tons
of metal. The little blond girl rips open the dog’s throat.
I rub my eyes. Blood spouting like Old Faithful. Her white dress now
tie- dyed, swatches of brilliant red on cotton.
I close the G.I. Joe sheets. I sit down. I’m telling myself that it’s gone
too far this time, this latest run, smoking half an ounce of scante, that I
need to chill the fuck out, like KK said. I tell myself that this is it. That I
will leave this house on the outskirts of St. Paul, go find something to eat,
take a handful of Advil PMs, and call it a day. Call it a career in smoking
speed. Never have I experienced such vivid hallucinations. Sure, tracers
and voices and shit like that, but not seeing carnage on this scale. I laugh to
myself. I try to analyze my hallucination— the little girl represents
innocence, and it’s probably signifi cant that she’s blond,
because KK’s blond, and that ties into innocence, because we
were close to that, her and I, at least in the beginning. And
the dog, maybe that’s man’s best friend, maybe it’s the natural
world, maybe primal nature. And the subversion of the
natural order, the child killing the dog, that’s pretty simple—
innocence wins out.
E V E R Y fucking epiphany and realization and coded message
all tell me the same thing: I need to get clean.
I’m rubbing my hair. It’s greasy like a motherfucker. I
smell my breath. It’s like abortions. Then I look around Typewriter’s
house and it’s disgusting, that eerie shade of manufactured
darkness, the sun doing its damnedest against the
strung- up sheets to tell us the world is still going about its
boring- ass business. I’m on the one couch left over from his
mother, the only thing he hasn’t pawned. I hate my life. I
think about Typewriter smoking shit in the bathroom. Maybe
he has more than a shard? I stand up because I could really go
for one last hit, a nightcap.
[Reprinted from FIEND Copyright © 2013 by Peter Stenson. Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.]