Monday, 18 June 2012

Liver of Darkness

It all begins with a call that comes in at six. It's Wall's on the other end, shitfaced. He tells me I've got my wish granted, we're going out drinking tonight. Under my breath I curse whatever malevolent genie that pulled this one off. Wall goes on, saying how he was supposed to hang out with his girlfriend tonight but got hammered with some good ol'boys from his classes instead. He'd called his girlfriend two hours late and told her the good news. She told him to go fuck himself and hung up. Smart girl, can't blame her really.

    He tells me he's headed to Blacklight, and that I should be there too. I've seen and done this all before, I know exactly how this'll end and here's the hint: not well. I must have early onset dementia cause I actually agree to meet him there at eleven. That gives me a few hours to get ready and back out if I want to. I won't though.

    An hour or two later I call Jay and ask him if he wants to join in on the “adventure”. He's hanging out with his girlfriend and tells me he's gonna sit this one out. Probably the smartest move that's gonna be made tonight. He wishes me luck though which is good cause luck is the only thing on my side right now. Looks like I'm flying solo for this one.

    I leave around ten to hoof it downtown. By the time I get there it's ten-thirty, half an hour too early. This is a deadly sin among the night fiends, and the penance is desertion in downtown desolation. I head into Coopers, the first and last resort of drinking sanity. The usual suspects of the six to eleven run are here; middle-aged hipster wannabes drinking what passes for Cosmos, clingy cougars getting their drink on before the arrival of their prey, and of course those sad unfortunates who can actually stomach the in-house food and come back every week asking and paying for more. Out of all of them I recognize no one so I head up to the bar and order beer, hoping it'll dull the headache I can already tell is coming. I cozy up to a side table facing both the entrance and the TV. I pretend I'm on the wait for someone or that I give a shit about the Raptors game that's playing.
    The former is technically true and after three beer the latter's coming as close to being true as it's ever going to get. Finally tired of being the single guy creeper in the bar (no one ever wants to be stuck being that asshole) I say fuck it and head out into the cold.
I walk the night, spin rota fortuna and hope it lands on a decent bar. A few blocks away I end up at The Lounge, not a bad spot really if you're not crippeled by clausterphobia. In some of the more cramped parts of this place even liliputians and Gary Coleman would be hard pressed to maintain elbow room. I forget what I order or if I even order something at all, but the bartender reaches down and hands me a beer. Beer in hand, I make my way over to where the band is playing. I didn't catch their name, hardly ever do, but their music's good, even tempoed with undercurrents of jazz and funk. The small crowd gathered in front sways back and forth to the music like millenial flower children, all calm smiles and gentle rocking.
I don't know anyone here but it's my kinda scene all the same. No overblown egos in this place, that's for sure. In fact it's a damn fine place to lose your ego, just flow free with the music and forget your worries.

    I look over to the base player, see his eyes wired open and staring at the crowd like he doesn't reallly see us. He's on something, has to be, but that doesn't affect his playing bass. He wails on it like it's an actual part of him, just a third arm or leg, it's hard wired into his soul even. During the last winding end of a song his get even bigger, take on a reverent gleam. Whatever Crystal Dragon Jesus this guy is praying to it can only be worshipped through song. Beside him to the left the keyboardist effortlessly switches instruements, changes it up to a baritone sax. Her deft fingers wring from it a sweet sounding cacaphony making all of us, even me, groove and sway, willing victims to the muses' paramours.

    All of a sudden the siren songs ends, and the lead singer pimps his new CD, saying it'll be out in April, not February since February's already past. The band start to pack up and the drone of conversation moves it's way from the back and filters all over the bar. I'm once more a sailor with wax in his ears, and I finish my beer and decide to leave. I ask the guy at the door if I need a stamp to get back in. He tells me not to worry, he'll remember my face. I'm not sure if that's a comfort as I descend the stairs and head out into the cold once again.

    By now Coopers has picked up and there's a band playing too. The “band” turns out to be one guy playing techno on a keyboad. He plays the stuff Moby would still be playing if he were still playing. It's fast paced beats that hint at Soul. The crowd seems to like it, nodding their heads as if giving their consent.

    I pour a few more beers into me (tha's what now, six, seven?) before I notice her. A short but classy skirt shows off her flannel leotard clad legs. Cute tiny nose on a pretty face that's framed by curly brown hair that has just a tint of orange. She's talking with her friends for a bit before they go over to the bar for drinks leaving her alone to dance to the music. She dances real classy too, grooving her hips from side to side in tune with the music. Some part of me thinks she's probably a pretty cool chick, says to go over and say hi. I know I should, I really should but my body won't respond. Can't respond it seems.

    The next song, I figure. I'll go over and introduce myself after the next song. The next song comes and goes, making me a liar. Self-deception is warmly reassuring sometimes as I promise myself I just need another drink in hand before I try anything. Yeah, right.
In between the guy playing techno tells us that Apple is coming out with an update to OS X. He says that in keeping with the cat motif they're naming it Pussy. He puts on a cat mask, meows into the mike and then gets back to business. He laces the next song with purrs and mews, I half expect him to turn to the side and cough up a hairball. The curly hair girl goes over to the bar for a drink and I decide to do something incredibly stupid. Instead of going right, over to the bar, I go across the street instead and pay five bucks to get into Blacklight.
Inside is just what I expected. There's no style here, no flair, just some jacked up blacklight and the lowest common denominator put up for display everywhere you look. It's one big dance floor, a gradiated altar to the false pop idols that are the newest flavor for the next fifteen minutes of infamy. I scan the crowd for Wall, see nothing more than a chorus of flesh scantily covered in black tank tops and low riding jeans. I wander around, trying not to upset the committed bacchannal. I bump into Wall's friend Paul, who stares at me through one half-open eye like a deer in perpetual headlights. He seems to recognize me, but doesn't know from where until I ask where Wall is.

    He waves vaguely over to the flesh pit near the bathrooms. “Over there,” he slurs.

    “Are you sure?” I ask, carefully, not wanting to piss him off since he sometimes has a mean fucking temper. I've heard the stories. “I didn't see him when I passed by.”

    “No, naw,” he replies, waving again like he thinks I didn't get it the first time. “Wall's over there.”

    I shrug and head where he's pointing. I run into a guy I haven't seen for over two years and barely even remember. We talk about women for a bit when his face goes blank and motions to look behind me. A girl's on the table in the back, dancing for everyone to see. She gyrates slowly, suggesting everything as she lifts her arms above her. She reminds me of a serpent, of a vampire, of a stripper, of all three. She gathers a crowd (including a few bouncers) around the table to watch her, not surprisingly it's mostly men. It's a separate kingdom from the rest of the bar, with herself as the obvious Queen. She is Circe, and those gathered round are her swine.

    I turn around and throw myself back into the crowd. I look around the pit and try to take it all in. I'm not going to remember it all of this, there's too much beer misting it all up. Out of the corner of my eye I think I see someone swallowed and devoured whole into the crowd. To my left is a guy and a girl grinding on the dance floor, the guy has one hand down the front of her pants while the other reahces up to grope her tits. Freaked out I get the fuck out, emerging out of the pit somewhere near the bar and run into Chris and Ashley. I catch my breath while we exchange drunken pleasantries, then I tell them they're too good for this place. It's true, they're good people and shouldn't have to slum it at the Blacklight. I take my own advice and leave. I remember that the second band should be starting up at Cooper's and I still have my stamp. I get in the doors and head to the Men's Room. Who I meet in there takes me completely by surprise.
I honestly didn't expect to meet him tonight, not since the Blacklight, perhaps even sometime before then. But here he is, the man himself, in the flesh. I almost call him Kurtz when I greet him.

    “Wassup dawg?” he greets me back. He goes for the high five but his alcohol intake won't let him connect it. He leans on the corner then laughs maniacally, like that's the funnies shit in the world. He asks me how my night is but doesn't let me finish (or even start) before he launching into his own alcoholic exploits. By the time he's gotten to ten o'clock in his sage I'm almost impressed that his liver hasn't shut down already. He doesn't finish, stops right in mid sentence when he sees Greg and runs over to him. He sneaks up behind him like you can only do in a noisy bar then latches onto his leg and starts mock humping it. Greg looks confused and pissed til he turns around and sees who it is.

    “You crazy motherfucker,”Greg smiles. “How you been?”
Greg treats it like it's the most natural greeting in the world. That's the charm of Wall, I guess. It's a natural charisma that let's damn near everything he does slide. He'd be a great politician, one of the radical kind I'm sure.

    We all watch the new band play for a bit, they're not half bad but not exactly good either. We talk a bit catching up, and then Wall tells me he's going over to the Blacklight while Greg is nowhere in sight. I stay, my decision already made for me when the girl with the Curly hair comes downstairs and starts dancing again. I want to go over, all I need to do is take five steps to the left, but my muscles are atrophied and my bones are turned to Jell-O.

    Time speeds up, goes lightspeed: last call flies past, the band stops playing and the lights turn on with full intensity, all in the space of an eyeblink it feels like. There's no time anymore, no time left. We're all herded outside, and I catch Wall outside the Blacklight.

    “I knew you'd come back here,” he says. We start walking through the mixed crowd that's spilled outside onto the streets, pass by faces in the crowd that are only half-remembered. We're both too poor to spring for a cab ride, so we hoof it. Wall stumbles on the way home, once then twice then too many to count. Each time I help him back to his feet. We get to his place and he invites me inside for greasy after bar snacks. It takes him five minutes to get the key in the door, and his after party plans crumble when he does, straight onto the floor. I try to help him to his feet for the last time tonight but he waves me off mumbling something I don't quite catch. I'd like to believe it was “...the horror” but I severely doubt it.
    I call a cab and leave and in the back of the cab I lean back, try to reflect on tonight's events.

    I can't though; everytime I try my mind goes back to think of a short classy skirt and curly brown hair with just a tint of orange.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Beyond the Dragon Doors

It started off as a medieval fantasy version of Waiting for Godot set in the realm of the 8th Age. I'm not really sure if the finished product bears that description anymore. As always you can find the other great entries to this week's Flash Fiction Challenge at Chuck Wendig's terribleminds.
Feel free to leave a comment and please to enjoy!

In the year of the Prophet Giames, 1282

    In the fortress-city of Rhea, a bastion of Prizraki strength in the increasingly hostile and rebellious north of Secunda, lies the Palace of the Conclave. Deep within this palace, past many guards and barricades, is a room where the highest Prizraki Lords dwelling on the Second Continent meet twice a year to direct the course of their great Crusade against the false prophet and his legion of followers. These wise lords of a foreign empire sit at the ancient Stone Kings Table in a room locked and protected by the Dragon Gates, large metal and stone doors that bore the relief of a great dragon upon them. There, in their consummate and communal wisdom, advise Grand Prince Pietrov IV, the Voivode of Voivodes, of how best to wage his war for control of Secunda. That is how the heralds and the priests of the Prizraki Empire tell it. Of course there are rumors to the contrary. 
    "He's taking his sweet damned time," Prince Rivka said aloud, to everyone and no one in particular. The other gathered lords did their best to ignore his complaining. They were well used to the Prince's temerment, though they mostly tolerated it because he was the third son of the emperor and cousin to the Grand Prince. "He's been keeping us waiting for hours now, with no word or messenger to tell us how long he will continue to be."
    "I'm starting to believe our great Voivode General forgets we are his peers,"Rivka continued, "and not some motley band of common foot soldiers under his command."

    "He'd be lucky if we were under his command," Grand Baron Zoktair snorted. Out of all of them, the Baron had spent the least amount of time in Secunda and had the greatest amount of contempt for the people, culture and traditions there. He hadn't even bothered to learn the local languages, not even the common dialects. "I wouldn't be surprised if half the Northern Legion were infected by the heresy already. Most of them aren't even Prizraki, but baseborn local shits.Can't know where their loyalty lies."

    "A rusty saw is of no use to the woodsmen," High Exarch Tzesarvic piped in. No one was certain if he was quoting scripture or not.
    "We will not hold Secunda if we continue like this," Baroness Elena said. She was Pietrov's second wife and half his age, but that did not mean she was meek. She was as fierce as her husband when it came to matters of the realm. "The breakdown of the rebels alliance was pure luck, one we might not get again. We need to consolidate our gains and try to win back the support of the people."

    "Agreed," Baron Gubanov said. Although born across the sea in Prima, Gubanov had grown up among the people of Secunda. He felt he knew them better than anyone at the Conclave, even the It's time we stop bullying the local people here and stop those decrees that are clearly not working."

    "What are you suggesting then?" Zoktair spat, pointing his finger at Gubanov like it was a flaming sword. "That we end the pogrom? Let the heretics continue to mock the Almighty with their debaucherous ways? Perhaps we should all put down our swords and embrace them and the rest of the rebels like long lost brothers and sons?"

    "Blasphemy," the High Exarch shouted, spittle flying from his mouth. "Pure and utter blasphemy. I will not hear it."

    "The plan has some merit," Elena said calmly. "Back in the homeland we let the pagans on the fringes of the Empire live their lives in peace so long as they bend the knee and give oaths of loyalty to the Emperor. Why couldn't the same be done here?"
    "Good lady, I apologize but I fear your sex must be getting the better of your intellect," Tzesarvic said, shaking his head. "To be shown the truth of creation and to firmly deny it as the heretics have done is the greatest sin possible. The fact that they've turned their backs on the Esher and follow the flashy words and empty promises of a false prophet is akin to spitting in the face of God Himself. No tolerance or mercy can be given here."

    "I'm not certain of God, but I know you're doing a wonderful job of spitting in our faces," Rivka said. He made a show of wiping his face with his sleeve.

    "You insolent little --- if you weren't the son of..."

    "But I am old priest and you had damn well remember it. My father is not a young man and when he dies..."
    "When he dies one of your many brothers will be emperor," Zoktair interrupted. "Not you."
    "You'd better pray that's true Baron for if I do become emperor my first act will be cutting off your fat pompous head and mounting it on a pike in my dining room."

    "Do you really think I'm afraid of you, boy?" Zoktair said, getting to his feet. "You, who can't even hunt down a pack of fucking rebels in the woods and you think you can take me on? I'll strangle the life out of you first you piss-ant little..."

    "Gentle lords enough," Gubanov said, his voice loud enough to echo in the chambers. "This bickering is pointless. Every time this council convenes we do nothing but argue over petty strifes. I shouldn't have to remind you that we may still lose this war, yet we continue to squabble like children. If it weren't for the Voivode..."

    "Who is still not here," Rivka said.

    "Thank you, o great oracle" Zoktair said. "Please, regale us with more of your wisdom. Does the sun really rise in the east and set in the west? Does bathwater really clean one's stink? Pah! If you were as good at catching rebels as you were bandying about and wasting our time this war would've been won long ago."

    Rivka's rebuttal was cut off by the booming sound of the dragon doors opening. The lords turned to look, expecting to see the large, glaring form of the Voivode framed against the doorway. Instead they were met with the near cowering form of an army messenger, tired and out of breath.

    "My lords..." he wheezed.

    "Yes, what is it boy?" Rivka growled. "Spit out your damned message already. No doubt news that my dear cousin shall not grace us with his presence for yet another day.

    "Stop bullying him Rivka," Elena scolded. "Give the boy a chance to catch his breath and speak."

    "It's the Voivode, my lords," the messenger said. "He...he's..."

    "Yes?" Gubanov said. He could feel his heart racing and the small dark chill up his spine that heralds dark news.

    "He's dead my lords. Felled in a rebel ambush on the road to Rhea."

    The messenger continued on, filling in the details of the Voivode's death to the demanding lords.. But Gubanov didn't listen. He couldn't. He could only look about the room, wondering what the future held in store now. Pietrov's son was still a babe. One of them would have to become Regent until he came of age and he knew the Conclave would not survive the decision. He wondered if Prizrak itself could. Before he knew it he was walking past the lords, past the messenger and past the dragon doors, into the long winding hallway of the palace. He was halfway down the first corridor when he heard the real shouting and yelling begin.