Thursday, June 14, 2007
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Nobody seemed to find this statement strange, everybody being busy as they were milling and talking and admiring the fantastically gross art that adorned her walls.
"I want to walk through the empty streets," she droned, "But all the news reports recommended I stay indoors."
Several people wandered off, moving towards the groaning buffet table where explosions of cheese interpolated with grapes and figs stood in variegated baskets. They began to coo excitedly as they closed in, picking up speed, so that they were virtually sprinting by the time they reached the table's edge. Reaching out with tremulous fingers they hestitated, hands hovering before the succulent food like hummingbirds, moving from side to side as they sought something particularly delightful to eat first, but paralyzed by their indecision so that they ate naught.
"I've got a cupboard with cans of food," said the hostess, reaching up behind her head to begin undoing her magnificent coiffure. It was done with amber and bronze pins, and rose like an ornate beehive towards the vaulted ceilings. Each pin was a foot long, and wickedly curved, seeming to capture the light and mellify it, to absorb and jelly the luminescence that was incandesced out of the lambet light that the candle flames phosphorized with wicked radiance. She held each needle up and then plunged it matador style into passing servants, the length disappearing into buttucks, shoulders, breasts. The servants were quite composed, possessing an almost British mien, and did not complain.
"And it won't be a pretty sight," she admonished the remaining group, who broke out into comradely guffaws, bending over as if suddenly cramped with the worst of Montezuma's curses, faces scrawning up and mouths opening wide to reveal carried teeth and long, lizard tongues that unrolled like Oscar carpets down their jaws and chests and across the floor, interlacing amonst each other and soon the whole group was enmeshed in their own tongue web, a throbbing, pulsing mass of spittle wet red flesh.
"To someone," the hostess said, turning to leave, "Someone I used to know."
Monday, March 5, 2007
At the O'Malleys in the South East, far from such violence, the drinking was beginning in earnest. The bar was crowded, Molly handing out ales as fast as she could pour them, her large son Jack looming over her shoulder and ensuring a modicum of good behaviour. In the back of the inn, away from the bustle and with his boots up on the table sat Sir Lawrence Temple, Viscount of Palmerstone, inverterate gambler and dissipated nobleman. At the bar stood his sometimes accomplice, a courtisan by the name of Stella Watson, paramour of such societal luminaries as the Chief Magistrate, the Bishop of Belfast and various members of the House of Parliament.
Sir Lawrence surveyed the bar casually. Already several drinks into the wind, he was carefully paring dirt out from under his nails. A plate of half eaten roast sat by his elbow, a glass of wine just beyond it. All added onto his prodigous bartab. A slow night, but perhaps later he'd meander down to the docks. Try his hand at some cards, end the losing streak he'd been on. He was going to get lucky tonight. He could feel it.
The front door opened, and sharply dressed gentlemen entered. Wearing clothing of an enviable cut, clean faced and toting a leather brief case, he stood out as an anamoly in the rough crowd. Stella's gaze caught Sir Lawrence's, and a subtle nod was exchanged. The man approached the bar, and with an artful step Stella insinuated herself by his side.
"Good evening," she said with a smile. Confidence she had in spades.
The man, handsome in his way, returned her smile. "Good evening, miss."
The pair began to exchange words, and Stella quickly learnt that he was a barrister, in the area to inspect a recently acquired purchase of a residence for a client, and not perhaps the most of exciting conversationalists. However, she couldn't get a read on him - coward? Easy mark? Too hard to tell. Losing her patience, she signaled for Sir Lawrence to approach and try his hand.
With a sigh, the nobleman lifted his feet off the table and rose unsteadily to his feet. An attempt to drain his glass of wine failed upon his realizing it was more than half full, so goblet in hand he crossed the bar floor and approached the man from behind.
Loudly, he addressed the man. The barrister turned, face civil, and acknowledged Sir Lawrence. In a moment of drunken clarity the nobleman discerned his foe for a weakling, a coward who was already intimidated at being caught with his 'wife', and so decided to press his advantage. In loud and angry tones, he accused him of attempting to cozen up with his wife, and challenged him to a duel.
To his surprise, the man readily accepted. Taken aback, but determined to press him to his breaking point, Sir Lawrence followed the other outside into the dark street. If he but had his sword, he'd no doubt make short work of the man. His confidence remained high, however; the craven would break before real fists were thrown. Watching the barrister remove his coat calmly and prepare to fight, he couldn't help but feel a greater sense of disquiet. The man was remarkably self-possessed.
Seeking an opportunity to back down, not intent on really brawling this early in the night, Sir Lawrence demanded a full apology. The man turned to Stella, ignoring the nobleman, and received a light slap across the face as a result.
His reaction was instantaneous. If Sir Lawrence had hoped to push him over the edge, he had succeeded admirably, but in exactly the wrong manner. With a scowl that barrister leapt at the nobleman, heavy fist swinging towards his temple. In desperation, Sir Lawrence lashed out with a blow at his neck, and connected solidly. The blow knocked the man off balance, and with a heavy thud he fell to the muddy ground.
Turning to Stella, Sir Lawrence flashed her a grin. See that? he seemed to ask, Not bad. Sir Lawrence turned back to his foe, ready to finish the job, and froze in horror. The man had gathered himself, and turned a face wracked by hideous passion and hatred towards him. His lips writhed back from bared fangs, and his eyes slit into an viper's gaze. It was the face of a demon, a devil, a creature of evil, and Sir Lawrence could but croak out an oath and fumble for his pistol as the thing gathered itself to leap at his throat.
Sir Lawrence had but a moment to draw his gun, the alcohol lubricating his movements so that he was able to fire off a shot right at the thing's head before it could reach him. The gunshot was deafening. All sound ceased from with the pub. The barrister's head snapped back. And then slowly righted, the bullet embedded in its forhead. But stopped by the bone. Sir Lawrence gaped. Turning, he spotted Stella moving towards the monster's brief case.
"Stella!" he roared. "Run!"
And then it was on him, bearing him to the ground. Struggling, Sir Lawrence pressed the muzzle of his gun against the demon's temple, and fired twice. The second shot did as little shot as the first, and the third caused his gun to backfire into an explosion of metal and fires, searing his hand and face. And then the creature dug its fangs into his neck, and tore free a hunk of steaming flesh.
Stella needed no further urging. She ducked back into the pub, and was met with the surprised gazes of all those within. The gunshots had been clearly heard. And while Belfast was a town torn by sectarian violence, gunshots were still a rarity in the streets. For a long, frozen second, Stella stared back at all the frozen customers, and then pointed back out the doors and yelled, "Sir Lawrence is in trouble!"
The crowd rose to its feet. One of their own was being attacked. Jack rounded the bar, catching a wicked, spike shilleleagh that his mother tossed him as he went, a half dozen other men at his back. Pushing out the front doors, they paused, shocked: blood had splattered everywhere from Sir Lawrence's hideous wounds, the creature still astride him, ravening and inhuman.
Of all those assembled, only Jack didn't hesitate. Moving forwards, he brought the spiked head of his club down as hard as he could between the monster's shoulderblades. The effect was instantaneous - the demon turned its bloodied visage to the hulking youth, and bared its fangs. Jack took one good look at the Devil's face, and ran.
Pinioned beneath the creature, shocked by blood and terror, Sir Lawrence passed out. The tableau was frozen until Stella stepped forwards, disgusted at the paralyzed men, and picked up the shilleleagh herself. With a cry, she urged them to act like men, and attack the beast. But it was her cry itself which sent it running, and with admiration and increased respect the five men helped her bring Sir Lawrence into the bar.
His neck was a gaping mess. Blood slicked his clothing. A doctor was summoned, and in the hubbub Stella slipped aside to examine the contents of the briefcase. A legal contract. Pages written in Latin, detailing some mystic rite. Over 4,000 pounds stirling in bank notes. Pocketing the money, Stella stuffed the papers back into the briefcase. Sir Lawrence was being moved to the loca hospital. The night was just beginning, and trembling, feeling the after effects of adrenaline and shock, Stella rose to follow. The night was just beginning, and she wanted answers.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The fitful light played across the mottled hide of the dungeon beast. It was a lascivious maggot of a thing, spindly spines lining its flanks, its belly bloated and pale, marbled with fine veins that hinted at heinous viscera within. A thousand men had tried their blades against its malice, and all had failed! Their skulls were arranged in rising rows around the beast’s chamber, polished and kept gleaming by the monster’s friends. Only those with sincere death wishes ventured down here, because to come otherwise was to nurture false hopes, and all knew that false hopes were worse, far worse, than a death wish.
This had been proven by the Grand Vizier Al’ Makabar. He had spent two years locked within his ivory tower in the center of the capital city debating the point with endless scores of summoned demons and visiting angles, putting the question to each: was it better to accept whole heartedly an assured death, or suffer a much greater disillusionment in that final moment when one’s hope turned to ashes in one’s mouth as death reared its fulsome head and tore one’s body apart?
The angels and devils had disagreed. Grand Vizier Al’ Makabar had anticipated a long purgatory of scholastic studying till he could emerge victorious with a definite answer, but found instead that he more often than not had to play mediator, referee, judge and host to the yelling throngs that began to gather in his tower. From the lowest levels of Acheron to the Elysian Fields, word got out that an ongoing party was going on in his tower, and each night greater numbers appeared to talk and hang out on what was tacitly agreed neutral ground.
This pissed the hell out of Mrxaaxarat, a connubial devil who had run the Number 1 hot spot until that moment. As a young imp, Mrxaaxarat had had the uncommonly good fortune to discover the abandoned home of a Greater Pit Fiend, one who had displeased Lucifer and been banned to a prison on the seventh level of hell. Mrxaaxy (as his friends called him), had wasted no time – moving in, he’d put word out that free lava and pureed souls were to be had at his joint, and soon a motley crew of devils and demons were gathering at his place.
But Mrxaaxy wasn’t content with a handful of devils – he wanted to score it big, so he began to print a scandalous news sheet that documented the private sexual lives of the most sanctimonious angels. Soon his broadsheets were mandated reading everywhere, and many came to his hell hole to learn the latest gossip straight from his mouth. Bloated, with his black hair slicked back in the latest fashion (which changed daily), he presided over it all.
As much speculation revolved around the source of his information as the information itself.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
"Sir, it's time," said the butler. He'd been standing there for a long time, and must have said that at least four more times than I could remember. I finally looked at him. He was dressed in a black tuxedo, on which several different playing cards were stapled. I'd stapled them myself. While he had lain on the floor, unconscious. The reason he was knocked out was because I'd knocked him out myself when he'd entered my bedroom unannounced. I had stood on the ladder that was propped up by the door for over three hours, waiting, with a massive Ming vase held above my head. When he'd finally opened the door and peered within, seeking my supposedly comatose form in the gloom, I'd brought the Ming vase down with audible relief. To tell the truth my arms had fairly been on fire, and the vase had begun to tremble wildly in the air. The hippodrome
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
The little man was seated on a particularly large root, perched up on the wrinkled knee of wood, and puffing away contentedly on a long silver pipe. He was, Timothy gauged, perhaps little over one foot tall, had a wonderfully flowing white beard and was dressed in rich, subtle greens and alarming reds.
"Hello," said Timothy. The little man cracked open an eye with a vivid emerald iris in it, and examined Timothy.
"Hello," replied the little man.
"You're very small," said Timothy, and then covered his mouth with his hand.
"Aye," said the little man, nodding in agreement. He closed his eye and returned to puffing his pipe.
Timothy ground the toe of his shoe into the path. It would be polite to keep walking at this point, to mind his own business and not force conversation. He shifted his fishing rod to his other hand, and then frowned, trying to decide what to say. He couldn't come up with anything witty or clever or interesting.
"I mean, you're really really small," said Timothy, deciding to press his point.
The little man cracked open his eye again and looked at Timothy with mild disaproval. Deciding that Timothy's comment was not worth responding to, he took a puff of his pipe, blew out his cheeks, and then exhaled a white stream into the air. The smoke curled about him, grew thick and opaque, and when the wind dispelled it a moment later, the little old man was gone.
Timothy's frown deepened. He quickly looked in all directions, but saw only the old wood spreading in all directions, moss green and dark and still. Perhaps he had been rude? Sighing, trying to figure out whom he could tell amongst his friends that would believe him, Timothy hiked up his rod and continued walking down to the stream.
The woods stopped just at the slippery bank of the narrow little stream, allowing the bright sunlight to cover the water with a dancing sheen of leaping diamond glints. The brook babbled excitedly as it rushed along, undercutting the bank in certain places and splashing itself to pieces on certain large, dark rocks that emerged above its surface. It was quite shallow - Timothy had waded across it and gotten wet only to his knees - but there were some deep parts where it curved to the left or right, and in one such well he had seen an incredibly large trout.
Walking along the bank, shielding his eyes with the blade of his hand, Timothy peered into the water. For the most part it was impossible to look through the crinkling brilliance of the quickly flowing surface, but where the brook curved the depths grew pellucid and clear, the water's surface still and serene. Looking down, Timothy guessed that the stream's bed might be a full meter below, or even more. Humming happily to himself, pole swinging on his shoulder, he walked along the bank, searching for his trout.
He didn't really believe he'd find it again. When he'd told his dad and mum about his plan, they'd indulgently agreed that they would cook up his catch and assured him that they believed in his fishing prowess. Timothy knew that they were just being nice, but that was fine because he didn't expect to catch anything anyway. It was just nice to be out in the warm sunshine, smelling the sharp mineral smell of the stream and the deep, leafy mold smell of the woods. He would probably sit down in the shade soon enough, eat his sandwich and pull out the latest Superman comic he'd bought that morning.
There it was. Timothy stopped stock still. The stream curved away from him quite sharply, and in its elbow the stream's bed dropped away into the darkness. The water's surface was still, completely untouched by the hustle and bustle that churned the surface a mere meter or so away. And hovering in the depths, gleaming a brilliant silvery white, was a trout as long as his arm.
Timothy gaped down at it. The water was so clear the trout seemed to be hovering in the air. Tendrils of river weed rose from the depths like ruined greek columns, burnt into amber by the sun, and Timothy realized that he was holding his breath lest he alert the trout and cause it to dart down and away. Slowly, ever so slowly, he brought the rod off his shoulder, and without pausing, without thinking, cast his hook into the water and watched it sink down towards the fish.
It was only when the hook was a mere foot from the trout that he realized he had completely failed to bait it. His stomach clenched, he groaned aloud, but rather than real the hook in he decided to play it out and see what happened. He'd probably ruined the whole thing. The little hook danced and fluttered down into the water, and then paused before the trout. Timothy watched nervously. Would he go for it?
With a casual lunge, the trout eased forwards and inhaled the hook. Timothy let out a shout, and began to haul the rod up and back, pulling the trout towards the surface even as he frantically reeled the line in. The spine of the rod began to bend, forming a perfect parabola towards the water's surface. God it's heavy, thought Timothy, pulling and stepping back up the bank. Slowly he forced the reel round and round, and then with a splashing flop, the trout leapt out of the water and onto the bank itself.
It gleamed in the sunlight, a brilliant metallic white, easily as long as his arm and as thick as his leg, glittering and seemingly made of silver and ivory. It didn't dance and flop like most fish would, but instead lay still, gills flaring and revealing the delicate pink flesh beneath. Cautiously, Timothy approached the massive fish, unsure as to whether he should bash it in the head like his father did.
It was a beautiful fish. Looking down at it, Timothy was struck by the bright green color of its eyes. They seemed like little chips of emerald pressed into its skull, glowing brightly as they reflected the sunlight. They swivelled and latched onto Timothy, and then the trout spoke.
"Return me to the water, young master, and I shall grant you a wish."
Timothy gaped, rubbed his hand over his face, and then stared down at the fish again. It gazed serenely back up at him.
"You're a fish," said Timothy, unable to believe that he was speaking to it.
"Aye," said the trout, with a trace of annoyance in its otherwise august voice.
Timothy didn't know what to say. The trout was talking to him. Was he dreaming? Nobody would believe him now. He couldn't tell anybody about this at all. If he told his parents he'd been talking to a fish, they'd either laugh or send him to bed.
"I mean, you're really a fish," said Timothy, almost stammering, "A talking fish."
The fish's gaze grew cold. Then it flopped on the back, jackknifing as if trying to find a more comfortable spot to lie on. It spasmed again, and suddenly the trout was gone and the little old man was lying before Timothy on the bank, sopping wet and carefully removing the hook from his mouth.
"By crook and hook you are a damned stupid boy," said the little man crossly. "I've not the patience to treat with you, no matter that you cast an iron hook without bait in the middle of Samhain Day. I'll not follow the rules if it means dealing with a clod like you!"
"You're the little old man!" Exclaimed Timothy in surprise, and then said nothing but gaped as the little man stamped his foot furiously and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
There was complete silence in the woods. Timothy slowly rubbed his face again, and then peered into the water. He looked back into the woods, and scanned the length of the bank. There was nobody there. Scratching his head, he walked over to a patch of grass by the base of a large tree, and sat down. A little old man and a talking silver trout. How strange! Nobody would believe him though. He didn't quite believe it himself. Shrugging, he drew forth his sandwich and his comic book, and lay back into the worn bark of the tree to enjoy the golden sunshine.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The wind’s creeping around out there like a lonely ghost. I can hear it whispering down the mine shaft at me, asking me to come on out. I can hear it slipping through the pine trees, shaking them gentle like, and every once in awhile it picks up some and laughs, a hollow, thin laugh that dies away but keeps coming back.
I wish Jeb were here. He’d know what to do. I’m sure he wouldn’t be afraid of no wind. He’d lean back on the back two legs of his chair, big ol’ boots up on the table, and tell me that the wind can’t do nothing to do hurt one, it’s just the wind, is all. I’d probably laugh and bob my head and feel a right fool, but Jeb ain’t here and it’s awful dark and I’m surrounded by dead people and then wind, it’s out there, it’s whispering and calling down to me and I’m scared I may go on out to it.
Rob and Nate and Petey are all dead. They’re down here with me, legs kicked out, hands open and fingers curled in like crab legs. They’re all quiet and cold and they don’t hear nothing or say nothing. No life in them, no movement. They’re dead, and they ain’t never going to go down to the Iron Horse Saloon again and order themselves a drink of whiskey and sit down to play cards. Who’d a thought their lives would end here? At the bottom of this dark hole? Did their momma’s think that’s where they’d end, when they held them in their arms when they were just little babes?
And the fool thing about it all is that there’s no damn gold in this mine. The vein’s all mined out. I don’t know what Rob and Nate and Petey were playing at. There’s no gold here, none, the mine’s as dead as everybody said it was. So why’d the three of them jokers let on that they was scooping up the yellow rocks by the handful? I’ve searched the walls and cracks and their packs and buckets and ain’t found a thing. Not a sparkle, not a glimmer, nothing.
I didn’t want to do it. I sure didn’t. Not that I thought Rob and the others were good fellas, nor that I’d let their teasing drive me to this point. This was business. This was cold business, and as Jeb always says, when it’s business, it’s business. They should of known that. I tried telling them as much, but they didn’t take me seriously, didn’t listen, and now they’re dead and growing cold. But there ain’t no gold here, and I’m grown too scared to step outside.
I know the wind can’t last forever. It’ll be dawn soon, and then the sun’ll come out and it’ll be ok. I’ll be able to leave then. Won’t be no wind to scare me or ask me to come out and dance under the moon. But I just don’t know what I’ll do. I won’t be able to get on the train without the money, and I can’t stay in town with blood on my hands. I have to get out, but I don’t know how, and I’m deep in a shit hole, as Jeb would say.
Maybe I could explain it all to him. Show him how it wasn’t my fault, and how Nate shouldn’t of tried to grab the gun, like. That just wasn’t going to be allowed. Business is business, and they should of understood that. Would Jeb understand? I guess he wouldn’t. He’s a stand up guy, and killing ain’t in his books, even if it was ‘cause of business.
I feel so lonely and scared right now and I just don’t know what to do. I got to get on that train and get out to
I just don’t know what to do. I sure wish the boys were alive. I wish they weren’t dead and staring like they are. I wish the wind would stop. I wish the wind would stop calling for me to come out. Telling me there ain’t nothing to wait for. That it was all for nothing. That I can’t never do something right. That I done messed it all up again. But this time I done messed it up bad. I’ve killed people, and I’ve got blood on hands, and they’re going to string me up and make a day of it.
If I had any more bullets I’d shoot myself. But I used them all up on the boys. Even when they was dead I wasn’t sure and I shot them and shot them again till I was all out. Guess that’s their funny revenge on me, sure enough.
The wind’s calling to me. I can hear it, like a voice in the next room, just asking me to come out. To step out and drop all my worries, and leave the dead and the gold and
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The bar was three blocks from the police station, and stood in the shadows of an iron overpass. Every hour or so a train would cross, and the occupants of the bar would pause, their conversation and the music drowned out in the rattle and roar. During one such moment, the front door opened and two men entered. They both took off their coats and walked over to a table.
“What will you have?” asked the larger man.
“I don’t know. I don’t really feel like drinking,” said the other.
“Ah, come on. First round’s on me. What do you want?”
The smaller man draped his coat carefully over the back of the chair, and then sat down. He let out a sigh as he stretched his legs out under the table. “I don’t know. A beer. Whatever you’re having.”
“Excellent,” said the larger man, turning energetically towards the bar. He walked over, and smiled at the man behind it. “Evening, Joe. Two beers, please.”
The bartender looked over at where the other man was seated, and began filling two glasses. “Everything alright there, Mick?”
The larger man nodded. “Sure, everything’s fine. Rough day, is all. You know how it is.”
The bartender nodded, and set the glasses on the bar. The larger man paid, and then brought the two beers over and set them on the table.
“There you go,” he said as he sat down. “Salut.” He raised his glass and clinked it against the other’s, who set it down without taking a sip. The larger man smacked his lips in satisfaction, set his beer down, and looked about the bar to see if he recognized anybody. After a moment he turned back to the other man and frowned.
“Come on now. Don’t get like that.”
“I’m fine,” said the smaller man. “No, really.” He sat up, and took his beer. He looked at it, but didn’t drink. The larger man gazed at him steadily.
“I wouldn’t have done it if I had a choice,” he said.
“I know,” said the smaller man.
“Well then. You going to drink that beer, or are you planning on taking it home with you?”
The smaller man raised it to his lips and took a drink. He set it down on the table. The larger man leaned back in his chair, staring intently at the other.
“I didn’t have a choice,” he said.
“I know,” said the smaller man.
“You saw him,” said the larger man. “He was about to go for his gun.”
“Yeah,” said the smaller man. “You did what you had to do.”
“I just did what I had to do. What you would’ve had to do if you’d been in my position.”
“Sure,” said the smaller man, and took another drink of his beer. “Absolutely.”
“Right,” said the larger man, and looked about the bar again, searching the faces. They sat in silence for awhile.
“How do you know he was going for his gun?” asked the smaller man.
“I mean, I didn’t see him make a move for it. How did you know?”
“What did you mean, how did I know? I just knew. I saw it in his face.”
“You saw it in his face?”
“Hell yeah. I could tell as plain as day he was going for it. Couldn’t take the chance.”
“So you’re saying there was a chance he might not of been?”
“What, you a lawyer now?”
“No, of course not. If you say you could tell, then that’s good enough for me.”
“Damn right it’s good enough for you.”
Both men drank their beers in silence, neither looking at the other. The large man finished his beer, rose and got a second one. The smaller had yet to drink half of his.
“So you think I murdered him, do you?” asked the larger.
“No, I didn’t say that.”
“You pretty much did. Say it. Just say what’s on your mind.”
“Ah, lay off, will you?”
“No I won’t lay off. Say it to my face. You think I gunned the man down without cause.”
“No, I don’t. I already said. If you could tell, than you could tell. That’s good enough for me.”
“No, seriously.” The larger man sat up straight. “Let’s go down to the station. You can tell the Captain. Get it off your chest.”
“Jesus, will you cut it out already?”
“Look me in the eyes.” The larger man moved his head from side to side as he tried to lock his gaze with the smaller’s eyes. “Come on. Look me in the eyes. Mick the killer. Say it.”
“Look, all I was saying was that I didn’t see him go for his gun. That’s it. I didn’t see him go for his gun. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying you weren’t right.”
A train began to pass overhead. It filled the bar with its cacophony. The bottles on the shelves shivered, and all conversation stopped. The two men locked eyes. After a moment, the smaller man lowered his gaze. The train finished passing, and the sound of its passage faded away.
The smaller man raised his beer and finished it. The larger watched him. Rising to his feet, the smaller moved towards the bar. The bartender stepped over.
“Rough day?” he asked.
“You know how it goes,” said the smaller man. “Another beer, please.”
“Sure thing,” said the bartender, and held a glass under the beer tap. The smaller man watched the beer fill the glass, the foam curling and thickening on top. When the bartender set the glass before him, the smaller man turned and looked at the larger man still seated at the table.
“Actually, make it two,” he said. “It's been a rough day for both of us.”
Tor reached up and wrapped his fingers around the handle of his Great Sword. He wished he had a full length mirror, but he knew exactly how he looked without one. Tall, heavily muscled, intimidating in his silver chain armor, rugged. Square jaw. Bowl cut blonde hair. A hint of savagery modulated by stern earnestness in his gaze. He flexed his fingers and drew his Great Sword. It slithered free with the sound of a metal snake gliding over an iron log. Holding it before him, he felt good. He felt sure of himself.
“I am Tor, warrior of the planes and valleys, and I am here in the role of your nemeses,” he said. “I am Tor.” He waved the sword slowly from one side to another. Soon its silver length would be dark with blood. The tip, wickedly fine like the point of a needle, would slip through leather armor. It would rupture chain mail. It would break skin. It would draw blood. It would sever muscles. It would puncture organs. It would kill people.
“I am Tor, and I fight for Good. I am Tor, and I am a warrior in the service of the Light.” Tor looked down at his sword. He held it before him with ease, his arms corded with muscle. He watched the sword, bemused. The sound of revelry below intruded in his mind. The time had come.
Sheathing his Great Sword, Tor exited the room and stopped in the dim passageway. Alutharian was walking towards him, clad in his ceremonial purple robes. His long white beard seemed luminous.
“I am Tor,” said Tor, distractedly.
“Good evening, Tor,” said Alutharian. “The rest are already below. Let us join them.” The pair of them walked silently down the corridor, Tor’s hobnail boots causing the wooden planks to creak, Alutharian’s slippers whispering almost silently over them.
The common room was large, filled with the light of numerous torches and a massive central fire. Commoner’s with rubicund faces stood, holding their tankards aloft and in the midst of song. They wore tunics, jerkins, breeches, boots. Their tunics were of various faded colors, red and grey being the most common. Their song was loud, and seemed without end. Tor’s companions were seated at a table in the corner of the room. They sat silently as Tor approached.
“We are all gathered,” said Alutharian, nodding in approval. “Let us waste no time. The Dread Pirate Blackbeard awaits.”
“Indeed,” said Grimnush the dwarf, rising to his feet. He was clad in heavy plate armor, and his beard was long and lush, the color of coals after the fire has dwindled to a whisper.
“Indeed,” said Hersimmon, rising to his feet. He was clad in black silks, and the handles of numerous small blades emerged from his belt, from a bandolier across his chest, from nooks and crannies. He was svelte and lithe, and seemed more a shadow cast across the wall than a person.
“Indeed,” said Tumira, rising to her feet. She was tall and dressed in earth colored robes, tightly wound about her womanly figure. All turned to consider her. She was beautiful, and seemed more puma than human. She held a long staff in one hand, and the symbol of her god in the other.
“I am Tor,” said Tor, and stood still as the others began to step passed him towards the front door. None met his eyes, seeming instead to look through him. All the peasants were still in song, on their feet, arms thrown across each other’s shoulders. The fires made the room warm, and shadows danced everywhere in time to the music.
The street outside was already painted in dusky hues. People hurried past the
Alutharian had the lead. He moved with long, stiff steps, his head held high. Behind him walked Grimnush the dwarf, his small legs moving quickly and heavily, his head lowered, a large axe now in his hand. Beside him strode Tumira, her staff clicking on the cobbles with every other step she took. Behind them glided Hersimmon, silent and unobtrusive. He seemed to waver from one side of the street to the other, his face hidden under a voluminous hood. Tor brought up the rear. He would occasionally reach up to his Great Sword, palming the hilt.
The buildings pulled away on both sides, and the ocean was before them. In the tumultuous setting of the sun, the water was painted a flat iron color, visibly darkening. Ships and boats bobbed alongside the piers. Piles of crates, the reek of fish, massive nets hung to dry on lines. A massive galleon to the left was the Dread Pirate’s ship. He had docked openly that morning, much to the consternation of all.
“Hersimmon,” whispered Tor when the other drew close. “Hersimmon.”
Hersimmon paused and turned to the warrior, his face hidden by the hood. “What is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” admitted Tor. Thinking had never been his forte. “Something is not right.”
Hersimmon didn’t reply. Instead, he moved off to the right, and disappeared behind a pile of crates. The others were moving towards the ship. Tor followed. They approached the galleon openly, and saw that there was no movement on the deck.
“Dread Pirate Blackbeard,” roared Grimnush, “We are come to slay you!”
There was no response. The four adventurers stood silently, waiting.
“Dread Pirate Blackbeard,” roared Grimnush, “We are come to slay you!”
Still there was no response. Alutharian scowled, and began to move towards the gang plank. Tumira followed, as did Tor. Grimnush remained where he stood, mighty axe in one hand, other hand raised to cup his mouth. Alutharian reached the base of the plank, and without hesitation began to ascend. The plank creaked with each step. None moved to the railing of the ship to challenge them. Tor couldn’t see any pirates on the rigging, in the crows nest, anywhere. There were no lights lit in the port holes. There were no signs of life anywhere.
“Dread Pirate Blackbeard,” roared Grimnush from below, “We are come to slay you!”
Alutharian gained the deck of the ship, Tor and Tumira stepping out behind him. The expanse of the great deck was sheeted in shadow, still and mysterious. The deck of the Dread Pirate Blackbeard’s ship, thrilled Tor.
Alutharian raised his hand, and began to mutter an incantation. His words were thick and seemed to churn the air. From his hand began to emanate a glow, and then a ball of fierce white light arose into the air, banishing the shadows.
“There are none aboard,” said Tumira. “Where did they go?”
“They must be hiding,” said Alutharian. “They must be hiding.”
Tor reached up to the hilt of his sword, and almost drew it. Instead, he gripped the handle, and then relaxed his hand and dropped his arm. “They may be below decks,” he said.
Alutharian waved his hand to one side; the ball of light drifted after, and illuminated the stern of the ship. The prow became covered in shadow as the light moved away. Frowning, Alutharian waved his arm back towards the prow; the stern grew dark.
“Perhaps we should explore below,” suggested Tumira, nodding to Tor.
“I am not satisfied that there are no pirates on deck,” said Alutharian.
“But we cannot see any pirates,” said Tor.
“Exactly,” said Alutharian. “It is possible that they are avoiding my light.”
“They could not move so fast,” said Tor.
“It is possible,” said Alutharian.
Tor frowned, “I suppose,” he conceded. Alutharian moved the ball of light towards the stern once more, and scrutinized that portion of the deck. The ship shifted slowly from side to side in the tide, seeming to sigh with each roll. The town stretched out along the coastline, a dark huddled mass with only the occasional lit window to betray presence of life.
Grimnush roared his challenge from below.
“I am going to explore the cabins,” stated Tumira. Alutharian ignored her, and cast his light as fast as he could towards the prow. Tor turned to follow her, and together they approached a large hatch that stood open, revealing a ladder descending into the hold.
Tor stepped forwards, and lowered himself onto the ladder. The rungs were smooth, stout. He began to descend, and Tumira followed him down. When they reached the floor below, they stood uncertainly. The darkness was complete.
“May my god grant us light,” said Tumira. A soft aureate glow began to emanate from the tip of her staff. Tumira turned to Tor. “That is the light of my god,” she said.
The hold was filled with crates. Some were open, and spilled masses of gold coins and jewels onto the wooden floor. Rolls of expensive cloths and carpets were heaped haphazardly about. A massive gilt chandelier lolled ruinously to one side. A mess of finely carved dinner chairs upholstered in red velvet were piled like driftwood. The hold was empty.
Tor reached up for his blade, and drew it smoothly. Tumira looked at him. Tor looked down at his blade, and then sheathed it.
“There is nobody here,” she said. “Let us explore the cabins.” Moving together, they moved towards a door, and opened it. Tor shook his head. This was correct, but it felt wrong. He couldn’t figure out why. They were adventurers. They were exploring the Pirate ship. That was as it should be. But something felt amiss, like a subtle spice missing from a complex dish. Something was amiss, but he couldn’t pin the cause.
The door opened to a narrow passage. It reminded Tor of the hall in the
Turning to the left, the steps opened out into the large belly of the ship. It was filled with the light of numerous torches and a massive central fire that blazed in a stone hearth. Pirates with rubicund faces stood, holding their tankards aloft and in the midst of song. They wore tunics, jerkins, breeches, boots. Their tunics were of various faded colors, red and grey being the most common. Their song was loud, and seemed without end. The Dread Pirate Blackbeard sat at a table in the corner of the room.
The light about Tumira had faded. She stood still before Tor. He reached out with one hand, and gripped her shoulder. He shook her gently. He then moved her to one side. As if imbued with momentum by his push, she began to drift towards a large bar that lined the side of the belly of the ship. Tor watched her. She drifted towards the bar, and then stopped by an empty table. She sat down, leaned her staff against her chair, and propped her chin in her palm.
Tor turned to where the Dread Pirate Blackbeard sat. None of the pirates seemed to have noticed Tor or Tumira’s arrival. Slowly, as if moving through honey, Tor began to move towards the pirate. He wove his way through the men, listening to their song. The pirate’s table seemed incredibly far away. Tor reached up to his Great Sword, and felt a sense of purpose infuse him.
Finally he rounded the last table and reached the Dread Pirate. The man was large, broad shouldered, with his famous black beard pleated into countless braids across his barrel chest. He was watching his men sing, face expressionless. Tor stared at him, blinking.
“I am Tor,” said Tor. He paused. There was more he wished to say, but he couldn’t remember what it was. “I am Tor,” he repeated, and then reached up to wipe at his brow. The Dread Pirate ignored him. Slowly, Tor reached up to his Great Sword. He began to draw it. Half way, he stopped, and then released. The sword sighed back down into its sheath.
The belly of the ship was warm with the heat of the flickering torches. Shadows writhed across the bulging boards of woods. The pirates were swaying from side to side, arms across each others shoulders. Shadows moved amongst them as if lashed by the light of the fires. Tor felt unsteady on his feet. He was Tor, warrior of the planes, steadfast in courage. He wiped his hand across his brow. Turning, he walked away from the table. He crossed the room. He ascended the steps. He walked down the passageway and stopped at a door.
Pushing it open, he stepped into a bedroom. He moved to the center of the room, and stopped. There was a window before him, looking out over the waves. The sun was setting. The final dying red light caught the tips of the waves, and made them appear like red tile roofs. Taking a deep breath, Tor felt his shoulders relax. He reached up for his Great Sword, and drew it. He looked along its length.
“I am Tor,” he said, and closed his eyes.
Saturday, January 6, 2007
Easing forwards, gun held with both hands and pointed down at a 45 degree angle, he approached the door. It was plastered with stickers, ranging from deliriously doped up happy faces to caustic opinions about Bush. It was ajar, from from the crack emanated the sweet smell of Mary Jane. Jerusalem shook his head. Somebody was smoking reefers.
Moving right up to the door, he peered in through the crack to the dim interior. All seemed still. He couldn't see Marco anywhere. Or his albino rottweiler, Pugsy. They were in there alright though. Marco's bright pink VW bug was parked outside, with Pugsy's empty sidecar tacked alongside. They were in there right now, getting high and dreaming up ways to spend the MPD's money.
Deciding to be direct, Jerusalem kicked up the door, booting it with his heel so as to not crunch his toes, and barged in. The shoulder rebounded and caught him on his shoulder, knocking Jerusalem to the side. He was a big man, but not everybody knew how bad his balance was. It had saved his life twice, and he'd decided since the first time to keep it a secret, his trump card in a potentially fatal encounter.
"Marco! I know you're in here!" bellowed Jerusalem into the empty building. His voice echoed in the dark, cavernous room. "Marco?"
"Polo," came a sarcastic drawl, the voice echoing out of nowhere, seeming to come from all corners and none at all.
Jerusalem spun around, almost squeezing off a shot, raising his gun and darting it menacingly in several directions before forcing himself to pause. "Listen, Marco. Give me the money back. It wasn't mine to give. It ain't yours to keep. So give it back, and I'll pay you in a week or so. Understood?"
There was a pause. "Are you for real? You come barging in here with a gun, demanding my money back?"
"It isn't your money," said Jerusalem through gritted teeth. "It's the MPD's raffle money, and if I don't get it back you'll be dealing with the entire force tomorrow when they come barging in here with SWAT teams and tactical squads and everything."
"They can't come in without a search warrant," said Marco. Jerusalem could still not pinpoint his location.
"Probable cause," he bluffed.
"Probable cause?" asked Marco. "Do you even know what that means?"
Growing desperate, Jerusalem decided a show of force was called for. Raising his arm, he turned his face away, closed his eyes and squeezed off a shot. The boom was deafening, and the kickback sent his arm jack-knifing up.
"What the fuck?" yelled Marco. "What the fuck was that?"
"You know what that was," stammered Jerusalem, turning to stare into the darkness once more. "And there's another five of those coming your way unless you pay up."
A dull, moaning growl emanated from the depths of the building. "Pugsy?" asked Jerusalem cautiously. "Is that you?"
There was a patter of feet, a second, raw growl, and then a white ghostly shape emerged from the shadows and began to charge Jerusalem, snot-like drool splattering from his red open maw. Jerusalem panicked, raised the gun, and placed a bullet in Pugsy's head. The crash of the gun firing was terrible, and the rottweiler spun around, back spasming, and fell to the ground.
"Shit," said Jerusalem, looking down at his watch. "I've got to go catch a movie." Turning, he shoved the gun into his belt, and ran out the door.
Friday, January 5, 2007
Jimmy listened with horror to the screams up on deck. The ship creaked and groaned about him, the massive hull filled with shifting crates and the sploshing of the ankle deep water as it surged lazily back and forth with each loll, but the ambient noise did nothing to disguise the sound of men being murdered.
The pirate ship had taken them by surprise. It had been under the disguise of a merchant trader, albeit a ragged and disreputable looking one, and had hailed their ship and approached them in a friendly enough manner. It was only when they were close that the lookout had detected something amiss on her deck, and called out a warning below, but by then it was too late. Captain Ruther’s had attempted to flee, and when it became apparent that the wind was against them, had ordered the cannon hatches opened and for the men to prepare themselves to be boarded. It had been a slaughter.
Jimmy had always dreamt of this moment. An opportunity to shine. He’d always envision the cannons blasting away at each other, but never imagined what immediate damage they might do to the ship about him. He’d pictured himself grasping a sword and developing a natural talent for fighting on the spot, defeating a handful of pirates before turning to save the Captain, or even better, swinging out over the glittering band of sea between the two ships and leading a counter-attack onto the very deck of the enemy ship.
Nothing of the sort had happened. When the first cannon had fired, the railing and a good chunk of the Antaria’s side had exploded into splinters and sound. Jimmy had fallen over in fright, and then realized as he sat on the deck, men running about him, that a long sliver of wood and slipped into his left bicep. He couldn’t feel a thing. Slowly, almost wonderingly, he’d drawn it forth, gleaming and bright red, the rough wood beneath looking almost furred under the blood. Then the pain had hit him in a raw rush, and he’d crawled behind the water barrel and vomited.
The cannons had continued to boom at each other, calling out like furious members of Parliament trying to drown out the opposition. The Antaria had shuddered and begun to list, and then men, haggard looking men with naked blades and rifles had begun to swing out and onto her deck. Jimmy had seen Sewert go down before a gleaming black man covered in scars. Roger and Tim-Tom had both been blasted apart by an errant canon ball. That had proven enough for Jimmy. Letting out a wailing cry, abandoning all thoughts of heroism, he’d muscled the main hatch open and thrown himself down the ladder into the dark hull below.
Lying in the brackish water, half paralyzed by fear and pain, Jimmy listened to the battle being raged above. Several large holes had been blasted in the side of the Antaria, and sunlight and the tips of waves poured into the otherwise murky hull. He could see the far end of the pirate ship from where he lay, dark and barnacle covered, and full, no doubt, of stolen plunder and the bodies of many a captured and tortured cabin boy like himself.
He forced himself to sit up. He should go back up. He should go help the others. Not that they’d appreciate it. Sewert had been his only friend, and now he was dead. Which meant this was a great moment to redeem himself. To show the others he was a true member of the crew, and not the coward and landlubber that they took him for.
The hatch above him opened. Jimmy stared up in shock, anticipating bearded faces to stare down at him with scowling delight. Instead, he saw Robby, half turned to face something else, intent no doubt on jumping below and escaping in similar suit. A shot rang out, and Robby let out a cry, falling forwards, hatch closing behind him, body plunging down into the hold and crashing into a crate. Jimmy stared wide-eyed. An arm extended from the broken mass of wooden slats, blood splattered across the hand. Dead, he thought, dead!
The cannon’s continued to boom, but more infrequently now. The ship was listing, but only just – they weren’t about to sink. Clearly the pirates wished to keep the vessel, to give themselves time to plunder it properly. They’d be down here shortly. They’d kill him on sight. Stab him through the throat. He had to buy himself time. Could he hide? Hide in a crate? No – all the crates would be thrown open. The whole ship would be searched. Could he find himself a nook to stow away in? Heave a crate out one of the side holes in the ship, and use it as a raft with which to escape?
Standing on shaking legs, Jimmy listened. Men were yelling, and he could hear the Captain’s voice giving out desperate orders. No doubt a last stand on the bridge. Boots pounded the board above. The cannon shots had ceased. The pirates were closing in for the finally kill. He had to convince them to leave him alone. Could he join their ranks? If the others were already dead, than that couldn’t be betrayal, could it?
Moving slowly, Jimmy sloshed over to where Robby lay dead. The impact with the crate had shattered both his back and bones and the flimsy crate itself. Large blank eyes stared up at nothing. Robby had been a bastard, teasing him and asking him to sleep in his bunk every night, but he didn’t deserve this. None of them did, no matter how they treated him.
An idea struck him. Pretend to be dead. When the pirates turned their backs on him, he’d grab a knife and kill their Captain. Sneak up and slice his throat. He’d no doubt be killed as a result, but it would be revenge. Revenge for the men, for the ship, for the
Standing over Robby’s corpse, Jimmy realized that the gunshots and screams had ceased. There was no time left. Soon the pirates would begin searching the ship. He had to act, had to act now. Inspiration hit him. Reaching down, he began to smear his hands in Robby’s ruptured body. Hot blood sluiced over his hands. Then, as if washing in a cold stream, he began to splash and rub the blood across his neck, doing his best to soak his collar, to make his appearance as gory as possible.
Footsteps above. The murmur of voices. There seemed to be no end to the amount of blood. It darkened the water about his feet, soaked the wooden frame of the crate. Hands hot and slippery, Jimmy began to scoop blood directly out of Robby’s chest with which to splash across his chest.
The hatch opened. Jimmy’s heart clamped as if gripped by an iron hand, and he spun to look up at the bright square of daylight. A head, silhouetted, looked down at him. Too late! He was caught, caught red handed, and now they would never believe that he was dead!
“What the devil are you doing, Jimmy?” asked a stunned voice. The voice of Lambert, the first mate.
“I – uh – I –“ stuttered Jimmy.
There was a moment’s pause as Lambert seemed to try to understand what he was saying, and when he asked again, his voice was incensed with disgust, “I said, what the devil are you doing?”
“I’m trying to, I mean, I thought the pirates had – but they haven’t, but I wanted to trick them into –“
“Get up here. Get up here right now, you filthy freak.” Lambert’s head retracted. Jimmy continued to stare, frozen. Then he looked down at his blood smeared hands. Looked down at Robby’s shattered body. Did Lambert think…?
Slowly, and then with increasing speed, Jimmy ascended the wooden ladder to the deck. Poking his head out into the sunshine, he saw bodies piled about, sliced and cut and blasted and pooling blood. The pirate’s ship floated silently astern, and about ten men were sitting on the deck, arms tied behind their backs, expressions alternating between glum, furious, and stupefied. The Captain was conversing with Hodgers, and Lambert was standing to one side, glaring at Jimmy, bloodied arm held to his chest.
Jimmy emerged from the hatch, and slowly the others turned to stare at him. A good half of the crew were dead, with another quarter badly injured. The Captain walked up to where Jimmy stood with Lambert, and stared at Jimmy in surprise.
“What on earth happened to you?” he asked.
Before Jimmy could reply, Lambert interjected. “I caught him smearing Robby’s blood over his face. Down there in the hull, by himself.”
The Captain turned from Lambert back to Jimmy. “Is this true?”
“Yes, Captain, but it’s not –“
“The little freak was taking revenge on Robby, is what. I’m sure of it. I’d heard rumors of Robby’s giving him the eye, and he thought the middle of a battle was a good time to get his stinking revenge on him.” Lambert looked disgusted, incensed.
The Captain’s gaze had become stony. “Is this true, Jimmy?”
“No, Captain! I mean, yes, Robby had been making advances and what all, but I didn’t kill him! He fell through the hatch, and I thought, what with the sound of the pirates likely to win, that I –“
“And what were you doing down in the hold while the rest of us were fighting for our lives?” asked the Captain.
Jimmy blinked, and then raised his wounded arm. Compared to the wound Lambert was sporting, it seemed insignificant. “I was recovering, Captain, I mean, I was hurt, so I decided – I decided to –“
“To run away. To flee battle,” said Lambert. “Like a coward.”
The Captain raised his chin. “You fled your comrades, you hid, and then you took the opportunity to kill Robby.” He leaned forwards and examined Jimmy like a bug. “Not only kill him, it seems, but bathe in his blood.”
“No! I didn’t – I mean, I did decide to use his blood to cover myself, but that’s because –“
“I’ve heard enough.” The Captain turned to Lambert. “Tie him up with the pirates. Keep him in the hold till we reach Port St. Lucie, and then we’ll hand him over to the authorities.”
Jimmy shook his head, unable to keep abreast with how quickly events were developing. “No! You don’t understand! Please, listen!”
Lambert turned and cracked Jimmy across the face. Jimmy stumbled, eyes filling with water, vision blurring for a second.
“Tie him up,” he heard Lambert say, “He’s worse than the bloody pirates.”
Copyright 2007 Philip Tucker
Thursday, January 4, 2007
The phone rang, a shivering brittle sound, and I jerked awake. The room was dark, street light filtering in through the window slats, burnt orange and faint. Susan stirred next to me, pushing her face into the pillow in an attempt to block out the sound as the phone rang again. I pushed myself up into a sitting position, saw that it was past 11PM, and answered it.
“Hello.” I spoke softly, hoarsely.
“Hello Tim. Did I wake you?” It was Matty. I sat up further, suddenly and terribly awake.
“Matty, what’s wrong?” Susan heard my tone, and opened her eyes.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, “I mean, I’m just having a coffee at Sam’s. Just a coffee. That’s alright, isn’t it? I was wondering if you might want to join me.”
“Where’s Steve?” I asked.
“Steve?” Matty laughed, “God, I don’t know. Probably asleep by now. Either that or watching TV waiting for me to come home. But I just wanted some coffee first, you know? Were you sleeping?”
“No, I wasn’t sleeping. And sure, I’d love some coffee. Are you ok, Matty? Really?”
“God, I don’t know. I mean, probably not. But what can you do, you know? I’ll just put some extra sugar and cream in my coffee, and everything will be just fine.”
“Hold on, ok? I’ll be there in about ten minutes. I’ll be right there, ok?”
“Ok, sure,” said Matty. “Take your time.” She hung up.
“Is she ok?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. She wouldn’t say. But you know how Steve gets about her leaving the house without him at night. So I’d better get over there.” I stood up, and began fumbling around in the dark for my jeans. Susan turned on her bedside light, and passed her palm over her cheek.
“Do you want me to come?”
I shook my head. “No, best not. I’ll call you, alright?” Susan nodded, and I sat down to pull on my shoes.
“Maybe this is it,” said Susan. “Maybe she’s finally had enough.”
I paused, laces caught up in my fingers. “Maybe,” I said, but I didn’t believe it.
Large rectangles of white light splashed out across the parking lot from Sam’s windows. There were a handful of cars and trucks parked outside. The usual for a Wednesday evening. People driving down the Interstate, locals who hadn’t wanted to go home after the bowling alley closed. Drunks. I parked next to Matty’s battered yellow Honda, and climbed out. The air was cold. I examined the windows, and saw Matty sitting in a booth by herself. She was stirring her drink with a straw, and gazing blankly at the empty seat across from her. She looked like a victim in an asylum, stuck behind one way glass.
Sam’s always played old songs from the 50’s and 60’s. Old tinny speakers were set up in the corners, and you could always faintly hear music played as if from a distant room, or from a fading dream as you awoke. Two women stood behind the chrome bar, talking to each other around their mouth fulls of gum, and the place seemed to have settled down into a gentle stasis. Nobody was calling for service. People were hunched over their coffees and food with far away gazes in their eyes. I moved down the length of the Diner and stopped before Matty’s table. A half eaten ice cream sundae was set before her, and her strawberry milkshake had mostly melted.
“Hello,” I said, and slid into the booth across from her. She looked up, and I scanned her face for bruises. I couldn’t see any.
“Hello Tim.” She smiled distractedly, and then looked back down at her milkshake.
“I thought you were going to get some coffee,” I said, trying to get a smile from her. She smiled, a slight smile, but didn’t look up. The smile slipped away.
“Yeah, well. I thought I might as well indulge myself. What’s the point of being an adult if you can’t order ice cream before dinner when you feel like it?”
I sat back and bracketed the edge of the table with both hands. “Sure. I guess I’ll have an ice cream too, then.” I looked at the service bar, and the stationary waitresses. “If they ever come over.”
Matty smiled again, but stayed quiet. I frowned, trying to think of a way to talk to her. To broach the subject without being callous, or too blunt, or anything that could upset her. Finally, I opted for the general approach.
“So what’s up? Why you out here by the Interstate at this time of night?”
Matty frowned as if I’d asked her why she didn’t like Brussel sprouts, and gave me a half shrug. “I don’t know. I felt like getting out.”
“Getting out,” she said, looking up with a flash of annoyance.
“Getting out,” I agreed, nodding.
She set her milkshake aside, and the raked both hands through her hair, breathing out slowly, deeply. She planted the heels of both palms onto her temples, and so supporting her head, stared at me. “I’m so tired, Tim. I’m so tired.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded again.
“Steve yelled at me again. I mean, he didn’t even hit me or anything. He just yelled, and I started crying. I just stood there and cried like I haven’t cried since middle school. It was awful. I couldn’t even wipe my face. I couldn’t move. I just wanted to lie down and curl up.” She shook her head, remembering.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Nothing, really. I was telling him about Rachel and her mother, and how Rachel can’t wait to move out and get her own place. I must have said something that annoyed him, because he just looked over at me and told me to shut up. He didn’t do anything, but I could tell it was there. It was there, just under the surface. Like as if it had cracked an eye open and given me a look, wondering if it could be bothered to stand up and pad over to me and catch me one. And I just felt this awful feeling of hopelessness. I mean, what the hell. What the hell.” She started crying silently, without moving, tears welling in her eyes, brimming, and then falling.
I reached across the table and touched her arm. “Matty. Please. Leave him. You can move in with me and Susan. You can stay with us for as long as you want. Anything. Just get out.”
She sat still as if she hadn’t heard me. I watched tear after slow tear well and slide down the curve of her cheeks. A sensation of complete and utter helplessness consumed me as I watched each tear.
“I don’t know how we got here,” she said, and I wanted to let out a cry of exasperation. “How did things get this way?” She looked up at me, and there was such rawness in her gaze that I felt my annoyance sluice away. “We can be so happy together. You never hear about those times. You and Sue and Rachel only hear about when the bad stuff happens. But we can be so happy together.” She reached up and wiped at her face with the hem of her sleeve.
“We cooked hot dogs the other night. Nothing special, just stupid hot dogs. And this song came on, this song we’d both used to love, and then we were singing it, and he was beating the rhythm with the spoons on the table, and then we just started dancing together. Like we used to. Just dancing and laughing, and then we stopped and he looked at me in this incredible way, and I just wanted to stop breathing. You don’t know how he looks at me, Tim. How good it can be.”
“But Matty, he hits you. That’s not right. That’s never right. Nobody should ever touch you, ever. I don’t care how good it feels, how good it can be, you can’t be with somebody who hits you. You just can’t.”
She looked at me sadly as if I simply didn’t understand. “I know. I’m not stupid. I know he shouldn’t hit me. It’s not like I haven’t seen all the same movies you have. I know.” Her voice sounded hollow, groined and empty. “But I just can’t leave him. You don’t know how I feel when I’m with him, when it’s good. I must have been dead before I met him. When things are good, they’re so good. So fucking unbelievable.” She looked down at the table, and then pulled the shake back across and began stirring it again. “And I can’t help but think – what if there’s a way to make it good all the time? To go back to how things were? How could I give up that chance? Just walk away from it?”
I shook my head. “Matty,” I said, my heart breaking.
She smiled at me, a smile so sweet and sad and mature that it made me feel like I was twelve years old. “Listen, thanks for coming out here. I’d best be getting back. I don’t want to upset him any more than I have already.” She stood up.
“Matty, please. Let’s talk some more, or have that coffee, or –“ I stopped. She was listening to me, but I could tell she was focused on something else. Perhaps she was replaying the conversation she would have with Steve when she got home. Perhaps she was replaying a good memory. Perhaps she was just feeling sad and detached.
“Thanks for coming out, Tim. That means a lot to me. It really does.” She reached down and gripped my hand. Her skin felt dry, tight, brittle. “You’re my best friend. My best friend in the whole world.” She smiled again, and then turned and walked away.Copyright 2007 Philip Tucker