Charley Miller’s Bar

CMB

Charley Miller’s Bar was an exercise in contradictions. It combined a variety of old world looks and new world technology to create an atmosphere that had become the talk of the town. The floor in the center of the bar was nearly always covered with ice which kept it cool even when the weather was hottest, and no one ever seemed to question why the ice never melted.

It was a custom whenever a patron made a toast, cheered an event, congratulated a constituent, or consoled a friend for the entire bar to throw their emptied ice filled mugs to the floor in the center of the bar. The broken ones were disposed of and the whole ones recovered and washed for reuse. In addition to this practice, the bar boasted several menu items that had been favorites of the town for nearly a century.

It had been opened near the water in a small Port near St. George for more than seventy years. At least that was as far as records could count or locals could recollect. Aunk Miller’s family had owned it since they had traveled from Cairo in the early 1700’s. Mystery and intrigue had come with them to the states as well as a great deal of British wealth, and industry. As the town grew so did the notoriety of the iterations of the bar.

It had been Miller’s Saloon in 1712, and was run by Bahman, the 29 year old son of Charley’s great great grandfather. It was renamed The Watering Hole in 1755 and passed in ownership to Aunk’s father Frederick, it then became Aunk’s and was renamed The Egyptian Tavern since 1912, and now in 2012 it was known as Charley Miller’s Bar.

Its current fame was due to a reality TV show known as Bar Fight, a food station show where local bar establishments squared off to determine which had the best fare, drinks, and ambiance. The Bar had been featured as number one for several weeks, and tourists as well as locals poured in to partake of the bars offerings.

Aunk was a very old man now, it was his grandson, Charles Miller who had taken over and renamed the bar. The twenty seven year old owner had been in and out of the bar most of his life and knew well many of the patrons and also the history of the bar and its owner, though he did not share much information about his family.

What was well known was that Aunk was the owner with the greatest longevity, and that the Egyptian Tavern had been a widely recognized and respected establishment long before Charley was old enough to have learned to walk. Aunk Miller had been the owner for more than 75 years at least that’s what had been recorded. But that wasn’t his real name, and no one knew what his real name was or why his family had given him that nickname. They had been calling him that since he was a little boy. There was one tattooed elaborately on his left shoulder. His grandma had told him the left was the sinister hand and Aunk had just laughed and said to his grandma, “Don’t worry grandma, I can handle the sinister one.”

It was said that Charley’s great great grandmother had married a man from Egypt. No matter what the social implications may have been of her marrying a foreigner, no one ever outwardly displayed anything but respect for her husband or his family. He lived a long time and was almost one hundred years old when the bar was given to Aunk’s grandfather Fredrick and renamed. Fred had been twenty six at the time.

Charley wanted the bar to be known worldwide, and that meant exposure. Aunk had no objections to that kind of notoriety. There were other reasons why people would want to come to the bar. Notoriety was a useful thing when it was certain you needed to be found.

Midway through the bars Battle of Onion Rings, as the show’s current episode was called, the phone rang. Charley was in the middle of an explanation of how his great great grandmother’s hand ground Egyptian spices and daily made batter created an onion ring that was a delicacy, when one of his barmaids pulled on his apron and he had to excuse himself. When he returned his face was pale.

Eunice Baker, a local woman had been crying on the other end of the phone. She sounded delirious, and it took several minutes for Charley to calm her down so he could ask her what was wrong. All he could get out of her was that she was looking for Aunk, that she was in trouble and didn’t know what to do. Charley promised to call his grandfather as soon as they finished the show, but he was shaken and it took several minutes before he could get back into the swing of his earlier enthusiasm. After another few hours of filming, chicken strips and shrimp dishes, the film crew packed up and Charley called his dad to locate his grandfather.

Charley’s father was an importer, and brought Egyptian goods to the States. He sometimes also arranged tours for people interested in travel to Egypt. He did not seem alarmed. He attempted to calm Charley and promised to contact Eunice Baker soon.

***

Eunice Baker was married to a man named Tom. Tom Baker had been what you might call a tempered man since he was a young adult. He had not been good in situations of adversity. In addition to this he seemed to lack a tolerance to alcohol. His coworkers liked on occasions to bate him to drink in order to be entertained by his bad behavior. It had sometimes ended in charges for destruction of property, and occasional assault charges, but Tom had never seriously hurt anyone.

Eunice worked for a local fishery, and many of the people she worked with knew and liked her husband, at least when he was sober and happy. But their current financial state had been cause for Tom to spend more frequent nights hanging at the bar with his coworkers. Several rounds had found their way to the floor in sympathy for his current distress mirrored by his friends. The barmaid had signaled closing and turned off the tap. Tom had gotten angry but his friends grabbed him by the arm and ushered him home.

Since he had not been allowed to let off his steam at the barmaid, he took his anger out on Eunice. At first she had tried to be understanding but he took this as being patronizing, then she tried to comfort him but he did not want to be pacified.

“You’re hopeless,” She had said and stood to walk away. But Tom grabbed her arm and swung her around. The slap that grazed her cheek stung but did not have its intended impact due to the momentum of her spin. She did not stop, but continued to spin until she was facing the other direction and could run away. She headed for the kitchen, and grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on. She did not intend to hit him as hard as she had, but he came up unexpectedly fast behind her and the large crescent wrench which had until recently been the means by which she shut off her water, hit him across the temple. As his body fell to the floor she held in a scream. Blood oozed from a deep gash and Eunice stood frozen in shock, gasping and staring in horror.

It’s possible that she fainted. When she revived she was sitting slumped near her husband’s body. She didn’t know what to do so she put his body in a large sheet and used a wheel barrel to dump him in the compost bin on the side of the building. Next to it were several blocks of baled hay, and chopped fire wood. She went back into the house. She wasn’t certain what to do and she was still quite shaken.

She picked up the phone and called Charley Miller’s Bar. When Charley didn’t answer she broke into tears and the barmaid asked her to hold on. When Charley came to the phone she burst into tears again and began shrieking.

“I don’t know what came over me, I’m in trouble and I need to speak with your grandfather.” she said breathlessly.

“I don’t know where he is….” was all he could get out before she trailed off into another series of unintelligible babbling.

“Calm down, don’t worry I’ll find him, what happened?”

“I can’t explain over the phone, just please have your grandfather call me as soon as possible.” she answered and cradled the phone.

Now all she could do was wait.

When Aunk arrived he was driving a garbage bin, a truck with a long rectangular vessel at the back. It was used to collect tree trimmings, compost able items, and large recyclable items. Aunk stepped from the truck and approached the house. When he got to the door Eunice came to the screen with her finger to her mouth.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything,” he said.

Eunice nodded as if she understood. “If you need anything there’s plenty of stuff in the compost heap.” she said.

“Fine then, why don’t you run your errands and when you come back this evening I’ll have everything taken care of.”

Eunice gathered her things and left the house. When she was gone Aunk first cleaned the blood stained kitchen. He used clean gauze linens he had brought with him, which he placed in a bag, he would need them later. He waited until it had gotten dark and then he went to retrieve Tom from the compost. He placed him in the back of his truck on a bed of hay and placed the bag with the bloody rags beneath his head.

He knew that Tom had not done well in his life, but like many men he might not have deserved to die.

When Eunice returned, her house was restored to normal. She put down her bags and walked into the kitchen. The faucet had been repaired and the wrench had been removed from the counter. Everything was clean. She was sad but she was still feeling a little overwhelmed. She could not bear to look into the compost container; she would save that for the early morning light. So she sat in her kitchen chair and had a glass of tea then she went to bed.

In the middle of the night she thought she faintly heard the whistle of a train and the sounds of a locomotive steam engine, but there had not been such a train in this area for years. She had returned to sleep peacefully, but when she woke she rose with trepidation and went to look into the compost container. When she got outside she was stunned to find what seemed to be a large copper and gold toned sarcophagus. Though it looked like it had been combined with the parts of some steam type machine, it could only have been that. It was not locked or sealed and the top opened with ease. Eunice opened the lid and was startled to find inside a newly wrapped mummy. She released the hood and backed up. She didn’t understand what was happening.

Inside the sarcophagus was the newly wrapped body of her husband Tom. From the looks he had been covered with wrappings that had been covered with his own blood. Eunice was horrified and paced the floor trying to think of what to do. She had just about decided to go to the police and make up some crazy story, when the bell rang. When she answered the door, Tom stood there alive and fully healed.

“The least you could do is let me in out of the morning air, or am I to catch my death of cold into the bargain. You’d think after last night that I had been through quite enough.” he said. “One day I shall have to endure the ‘til death do us part, but let’s not do it again this way shall we.”

Eunice did not know what to say, so she opened the door and let him in. She followed him to the bathroom and ran him a steaming tub of water.

“Not too hot, I don’t think I’ll want a bath that warm ever again. Seems I can remember feeling the steam surging through my blood. But maybe that was all a dream.”

“You ain’t mad at me are you, Tom?” Eunice asked as she cooled the water in the tub.

“I don’t think I could be even if I wanted to. All night all I could think of was how wrong I had been to hit you and what I could have done for things to go differently. What happened was my own fault.”

Eunice looked at him. Something was definitely different. He looked like himself, but it was not the Tom she knew.

In the dark of night Aunk had taken him to the chilly caverns below the bar and laid his body on a table etched with hieroglyphs, and as he dealt with the preparation of Tom’s body he laughed and talked to himself.

“Grandma was afraid of the devil, but he ain’t got nothing on the power of Osiris.” He laughed again. He wrapped the body in oils using the blood stained gauze he had used in Tom’s own home. He filled the sarcophagus with items gathered from Tom house and lined the bottom with straw collected from the side of his house. Inside he placed a drop of Tom’s blood, and laid the body in the nest of things gathered there. He poured a mug of beer and set it at Tom’s feet. When all was done he would return to Eunice.

***

Aunk had been the caretaker of this artifact for more than two centuries, though none knew and any time death would approach he would lie in the sarcophagus and Osiris would spirit death away and leave its essence in the caverns below the bar. The stone walls themselves were as cold as death and no mortal could stand to linger there for any duration. Aunk, once reviving himself, would take a new wife, have a son, and train a new custodian for the family business. The bar must always exist for the caverns to go unnoticed. His family was large and prosperous, and his sons and his son’s sons offered redemption to mankind.

In the beginning, they had not known the power or the purpose of the sarcophagus. They had attempted to bring back lost loved ones but had discovered that good people who had lived well and were loved no matter how short had no reason to return and usually ended up ill tempered, or evil in nature. After this discovery they only brought back those who needed to change their Karma, redeem themselves, or improve their lives and the relationships with the people in their lives.

Aunk had been the caretaker of the Sarcophagus of Osiris, as it had been named, though the body of Osiris had never lain inside, since 1810 after the death of his great grandfather who had held caretaker-ship for more than a century himself. Though he could have easily continued, he had begun to feel the weight of the evil and inconsistency of mankind. His son, though he had thought immortality a fine trait, had decided that to protect the aged container and it’ caretaker was just as noble a calling. His great grandfather had enjoyed more than 115 years of living well, and he had helped thousands of individuals change their lives for the better. He sat and tried to remember what the old man who had given him the caretaker-ship had said.

On his 30th birthday, Aunk and his great grandfather had gone for a walk. There was no need for him to explain where they were going or what they were going to do. Aunk knew it was time and he was prepared. He hugged his great grandfather and thanked him for being good to his family. They sat in the bar and made a toast together, tossing their ice filled glasses to the floor in respect for the dead. He knew it was the last time he would see him alive. He sat and recollected the story of how the sarcophagus had come into their lives.

***

Bahman, his grandfather, had been a boy of twelve in 1695, at the time of its discovery and he had been the thirty-seven year old foreman of the dig. It had been discovered by a team of European archaeologists and in the beginning no one had ever explained why it had been given that name.

When it had first been found all the crew was buzzing hoping to find riches and the mummy of some ancient king. The sarcophagus looked more like a steam operated machine fashioned to look like a replica of an ancient burial container rather than an authentic artifact. They were disappointed to discover it was empty.

On the first night after they dug into the chamber, an old man approached him and bid him wrap his aged body in blood covered linen wraps and place his body into the sarcophagus. At first he thought him mad and struggled with the old man as he attempted to bleed himself. In the process he was stabbed and lay dying near the old man, who asked him as he lay bleeding, “If you will take my place, you will live the lives of many men, but take care, besides the caretaker only those seeking redemption may be entered into the box.”

He did not understand. A proud and educated man, he did not want to die and leave his son to live alone. So he agreed to take the old man’s place. The old man stabbed him again and collected his blood in a gold and copper vessel at the base of the tablet upon which the sarcophagus was placed. He soaked the wraps and bid the terrified lad who had been with him to assist him with wrapping his father’s body. Despite his fear he did as the old man said. As they wrapped him the old man explained many things.

“A drop of their own blood will bring them back as they are but better, a drop of a youth’s blood will take away their age but the formula for how far is not known though always an adult, a drop of the caretaker’s blood will pass the responsibility on to the next. It must be a deliberate act to activate the transfer. It will not occur from a cut or an injury, but must intentionally be place into the container by the individual to whom it belongs.”

When his father had taken his last breath, Bahman and the old man lifted him and placed him into the sarcophagus. The old man dripped his own blood into the container and placed at the base of his feet a chalice of wine. “In celebration of life, from now until the end.” he said and closed the lid.

He sat with the boy in silence for a time. When several hours had past, he bid the boy help him up.

“I do not have long. I shall not see the morning. Bid your father bathe, drink the wine, and thank Osiris for the second chance. Be he a better father to you, and live a life that helps mankind and he shall pass on unto your family the opportunity to offer the same to others. Do not forget the things I have told you.”

“Are you the devil?” young Bahman had asked.

“No sir, nor will your father nor any caretaker ever be. And they need not fear him. The only evil that any need be concerned about is that within mankind itself.

Bahman struggled to hear the old man. His voice was getting raspy and week. “Let the good pass on.” he kept repeating but Bahman did not understand.

He had walked with the old man the entire night and left him near a tavern. He would not see him again. He returned to the dig site before sunrise. When he went inside his father sat at the edge of the basin of water. Bahman relayed the old man’s instructions and information and after his father had followed them to the letter, he apologized to his son and promised until it was his time to pass on the caretaker-ship he would not leave him again.

He sold everything he owned in Egypt, married the daughter of a wealthy archaeologist, and moved to the New World. Convinced the sarcophagus was a fraud his father-in-law gave it to Bahman’s father as a wedding present. When they reached what would later be the port of St George, Bahman’s Father began construction of their home as well as laid the foundation for their business. Everyone thought he was crazy to build on top of the stone shelf. They delved with dynamite for weeks and built the structure right on top of the stone itself. No one knew the caverns directly below would become home to the sarcophagus.

As time passed and his family prospered, his father bought all the land surrounding the business, including the beach property, the dock, and the land on which the shelf rested. It was secure and people did not approach. It had grown eerie and dangerous looking.

Bahman’s Father had been a member of the community for thirty years before he had cause to venture to use the ‘box’ as they lovingly called it. A young girl had fallen from one of the cliffs and drowned. Her mother was in anguish, and his wife bade him help if he could. She knew little of the box, but knew that Bahman’s father had helped others.

The girl was a rebellious youth, troubled and unruly but her mother loved her. Aunk’s father put her in the wagon and took her away. The girl showed up on her mother’s doorstep, the next morning. She was tired, pale, and ever so sorry to have caused her mother to worry. She assured her she had only passed out, that her breathing was shallow but she had not died. She was able to convince her mother, and no one else knew.

***

Eunice sat in sheer disbelief. She had assumed that Aunk would dispose of Tom’s body, not resurrect him. This was certainly better but how was it possible. When Tom was done with his bath, he collected the ice cold mug of beer and made a toast, “In celebration of life from now until the end, and thank you Osiris for giving me a second chance.” He then downed the entire mug of beer.

He looked at Eunice earnestly then said, “We are never to speak of this. Aside from being considered as having lost our minds, it would be a disservice to Aunk and his family. He must have risked a great deal to be able to accomplish this. We must be certain we are never the reason that he comes to any harm. ”

“But what we do about the sarcophagus?” asked Eunice.

The two sat in silence and thought for a moment. The morning was passing rapidly and it wouldn’t be long before people were out and about and someone was sure to notice an ancient sarcophagus sitting on the side of their house.

Tom threw on a robe, and Eunice followed him outside. When they got to the side of the house they were surprised to find the sarcophagus had been removed. Tom shrugged his shoulders and looked at his wife.

“I guess they thought of everything.” Tom said and escorted Eunice into the house.

From then on Tom was a model citizen, a devoted husband, and a credit to mankind. Most of his coworkers and friends found it remarkable that he was no longer affected by alcohol. When they sat in Charlie’s and made a toast, Tom would raise his glass, smile and nod his respect to Charlie and turn his mug upon his napkin. He no longer drank iced drinks, and when he had finished his toast he would stand and bid his comrades good evening and go home to Eunice.

Charley Miller’s Bar © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights

Cryptic

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“Walter Abrams, I am placing you under arrest for the illegal and immoral use of malefic magic which has led to the death of one individual, the zombification of at least four others, kidnapping, torture and extortion.”

He laughed. A scary sound, part bark, part howl, a sound of pure sinister glee. It went on for a quite a while. Granted, I was still being held by his zombie minions, without a gun or any other of my tools, but there was no reason to be disrespectful.

“Mr. Engram, may I call you Clifford? I think you are confused as to ‘whose on top’ at the moment. To be fair, my knowledge of your history indicates you don’t take well to authority figures.” He was looking at my amulet, touching the Phoenix stone with caressing motions.

“So you understand what I will need from you next, don’t you Clifford?” He reaches behind his back and brings out a ceremonial dagger. He gestures to one of his other robed figures, this one with a giant hart on his robes to take his place at the dais holding the amulet. I was starting to sweat uncomfortably as I suspected what the next step in this unfortunate ritual was going to be.

His pace toward me reminded me of a cat stalking a mouse. A sensual slink as his eyes lit up with madness. His zombies pulled my arms wide open and the two others ripped open my shirt. The clatter of the buttons bouncing everywhere echo around the chamber. No understanding of good fashion.

I strain myself trying to pull away from the undead duo. I am not weak. These guys were probably out of my weight class when they were alive, but dead, they are in a whole other league. Okay, plan B. “Walt, can I call you Walt? You know there is more to my amulet than being a lens for your god blob, right?”

He stopped. Good. Nothing like a lust for power to make a megalomaniac pause. “Do tell, Clifford.”

“It’s a Phoenix stone.”

“And?”

“With an honest to Phoenix within. Using the Phoenix you would be able to channel the power of the God-blob into yourself and control it with the necklace.” Sincerity sells it. If he knew the right incantations he truly could bind the power of the god.

“Go on.”

“Well, wouldn’t that be better than trying to raise some snotty nosed kid until he would be old enough to tap the power of the god himself. Right now, all the god can do in him is sleep until he reaches magical maturity. In the meantime, you’ll have to cater to him and listen to him tell you what to do. Walt, does that sound like a job for you?”

He gives me a curious look and then stops to ponder it for a moment. “As far as the raising, I would not have to be bothered. The woman, she is a governess, once properly conditioned… would have those responsibilities. The Guild would train him in the ways of magic. But what you say is true. I could harness the power of the god myself.”

Then he turns to me and gives me a look, you know the one. The ‘I want this but I can’t trust you look’. His next query seals the deal. “Why didn’t you do this yourself? You could have been a god and you choose to hunt for charlatans for a living, under the heel of petty bureaucrats, no less? I find it a little difficult to believe.”

Look convincing…”Yes, I could have done this myself, but I am already cursed. I am fated to be forsaken by all gods and when I die no god would have me. The necklace, a gift from an aunt is just a tool to find magical artifacts, nothing more. Look at me through the device, you will see my death-shroud around me.”

Doubt plagues him. He walks over to me and slashes my chest with his knife. Three cuts, lacerations which will require stitches and painful as hell, yet not fatal. He is going to complete his own ritual. Damn. I thought I had convinced him. He turns and walks back to the dais. Placing his eye to the stone, he Looks at me. He gasps. “Death walks with you.”

I make my move. “Phoenix, ego dimittam te. Convivium, invaluerit ut nostri pactum demandis.” The amulet glows for a moment as my blood touches it.

“No!” He threw the amulet to Brother Hart as it roars to fiery life. Brother Hart is instantly consumed by the red and blue flames, and Abrams fell back screaming. His robes burst into flames, the skin on his face catching fire in the light of the Phoenix. The Phoenix looks more like an angel on fire than a bird.

The other brothers turn and begin chanting and incantations. The words die on their lips as each bursts into flame. I walk over to the Phoenix, who dims its light as I approach. “As per our pact, I have feasted. Only one of your foes survived because he did not take arms against me. You have kept your agreement.”

“Will you stay?”

“Ours is not a compulsion, but a choice. You met the pact agreements and I have feasted. I am content. What of the god?”

“I’ll handle it.”

“Can you do one more thing for me?”

“For such a repast as this, I am still in your debt.”

“There are still zombies within the hallowed grounds of this cemetery. Can you draw their Fire to you, ending their unlife?”

“Of course. I await our next meal together, Ingram.”

“I told you, I don’t use that name any more.”

“It is the name I am bound to, it is the name I serve. You are Ing. You bring the peace of the grave. I serve. It is our fate.”

“I hate you.”

“As it should be. Farewell, Ingram.”

A Drink and a Smile

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A tale of Clifford Engram, Paranormal Investigator

“Two fingers, Gin, neat.”

I hate Gin. I never drink the stuff unless I am going to talk to a Dweller-in-the-Darkness. They hate it more. I discovered this quite by accident, but I never let it get far from my thoughts when I am about to make a deal with the devil.

The pub he wanted me to meet him in was just shy of a complete dive. You know the place, a redneck bar where everyone is wearing plaid shirts, blue jeans, shit-kicker boots and every third person shaves their head close, wears white tee-shirts and swastika tattoos. A place I wouldn’t normally want to be caught dead in.

Considering my Black face, it’s the kind of place I might only be caught dead in.

There are fifteen people in the place. The bartender called it a slow night when I got here an hour ago. The people seem amiable enough, they drink their drinks, they hit on the waitresses, they flirt with the local girls who are here trying too find someone to spirit them from this one horse town called Desolation, Oklahoma.

Why does he want to meet here, you ask? Something about a nexus of pure evil that runs through this town making it easier for him to manifest. Whatever. The sooner I get out of here the sooner I get back on my case.

I get up from the bar and stretch, noting the quick but covert glances from at least three of the biker types who came in earlier. My cane is propped against the bar, but I don’t actually need it anymore. My injuries were completely recovered. I could move my right hand and left leg easily. I could still feel the enhanced strength in the binding sigils in my right hand and left leg. With them running down my back, my strength was twice what it had been in the past.

If he didn’t get here soon, a fight was liable to break out just because it would improve their evening.

I could see the patterns. They were circling me, sizing me up. Two of them had already walked behind me to see if I would respond to their presence. The third was coordinating two others who were “smoking” out front.

I feigned being overheated and took off my long coat draping it across my seat. No need to get blood on everything I was wearing.

I make eye contact with the barkeep. “Another, and keep ’em coming.”

The gin slid down the bar and down my throat with equal facility. I stretched in preparation. I was looking forward to this.

We were all poised to begin our dance when a woman wearing a skin-tight red dress walked into the bar. She looked and smelled like every sexual dream you’ve ever had. Her movement was fluid, rhythmic, her eyes, green and luminous, lit up even darkest corners of the room. Everyone turned to see her.

Every eye that met hers felt the come hither electrical attraction. Until she got to me. I got nothing. No energy, no electricity. Only the stench of the grave. She walked up to me and kissed me on both cheeks before waiting for me to pull her stool out for her. I obliged, noting her arrival seemed to, at least for a moment defuse what was surely going to be a brawl to remember.

“Scratch.”

“Ingram. Are you going to buy me a drink?” Her voice was a breathy contralto, with a soft country burr. She might have been from around here, but not for a long time.

“You know that’s not my name.” I noticed the intonation on the “i” instead of the “e”.

“I know you don’t like me to use it.” She batted her eyelashes as if to say make me stop.

“Bartender, a gin for the lady. Neat.”

“No need to be rude, Clifford.”

“Tell me what you know and I may find it in my heart to buy you something more palatable.”

“How about that tall one over there, with the swastika on his forehead?

“Once I’m gone. Knock yourself out.”

“Why so hush-hush? You know you can trust me…”

Only as far as I could throw her…

“Nicolas, less flirting, more talking. Or I may forget our arrangement.”

She pouted. A lovely turning out of that luscious lower lip. “In this body, please call me Natasha. As for your inquiry, They’ve been here. They’ve been through town time several times. Each time to take on a small group of renegades and their human flunkies and disappear before sunrise.”

“Renegades?”

“You know all of us are not created equal. Some of us are naturally beautiful, like moi, others of us are gifted with other capabilities. Renegades have a gift for…violence, shall we say. They also have a knack for not following orders, so no one wants to work with them. They are beyond the standard level of violence for my kind, branding themselves renegades from The Cause.”

“Your people are still trying to take over the world? Have you learned nothing from the beat-downs the Agency have delivered on you decade after decade?”

“We are ever hopeful, ever watchful and know you’re all quite mortal. Where you have been diligent, your descendants might not be. Probing the defenses from time to time is how our operatives maintain their edge.”

“And how you get rid of the chaff and undesirables you don’t want or need to be feeding.”

A quick hair flip, she turns and leans in. “You have been quite rude this evening. What’s come over you? We used to be so good together. I remember when you were so friendly a decade or two ago. Now you treat me like a spurned mistress. What could have changed you that much?”

She leans in and sniffs my neckline. “Clifford, is that a woman, a human woman, I smell on you?” Another sniff. I don’t bother to push her away, if she doesn’t want to go, I would have to get supernatural to move her. “Hmmm. I smell nature and plants, she’s older than you. Magical, too. Strong magic. Voudoun, I am guessing. Is that a thigh I smell on your cheek?”

She smiles and leans back into her drink, taking the poison in one strong gulp. “And to think I went out of my way to find something special for you.”

“Where are they, Natasha?”

“They haven’t gone far. They would have come here tonight to deal with this group, but I decided I would handle them myself. They are waiting for you in town. Be careful, Clifford. Demonic cars don’t escape Repossession for long, but while they are free, they raise Hell on Earth. He also has a young man working with him.”

“Have they already made a Pact?” A blood pact would make them only about ten times more dangerous than a lone demon car.

She leaned forward onto the bar, breaking the final bonds with her human host. A pool of inky darkness formed beneath her chair. It undulated barely perceptible to the human eye.

“Yes, but I wouldn’t be too hasty. I think you might be able to turn them, if you’re nice enough. Like you used to be. Now go. I will take care of the riff-raff here.”

“No waitresses, no bartender, I know they’re clean.”

“But they have murder in their hearts.”

I looked at the bartender and his two waitresses. What she said was true. They were capable of murder and considered it on more than one occasion. Working in Desolation, Oklahoma, who wouldn’t? “Thinking of murder and being a murderer are two different things. Do what you want with the rest, but if I come back and find anything but a happy establishment, there will be hell to pay. Got it.”

“Party-pooper.” The inky darkness started to spread.

“What’s wrong with her,” the bartender asked, curious.

I reach into her purse and pull out a roll of cash, nothing but hundreds. I throw it to the barkeep. “Get out and take your girls with you. Don’t come back till sunrise. As a matter of fact, don’t even look back now. OUT!” The waitresses run to the bar and the barkeep grabs a shotgun on the way out. I like a prudent man.

I stand up and put on my jacket. “They’re all yours.”

“Bye, Clifford, come around more often. I miss you.”

I walked past the pool table and the large fellow with the swastika on forehead swung his pool cue with lethal force. I put up my right arm and let my connection to Fenrir loose. The cue shatters into toothpicks, some of which fly back into his face penetrating his flesh deeply. Unpleasantly.

He screamed and jelly from his eyes, along with copious amounts of blood splashed behind his hands. He never saw the spear of darkness that penetrated his upper torso and pinned him to the wall. Spears of darkness whirled around chair legs chasing the rest of the less savory fellows who weren’t quite sure what was happening yet. The more aggressive drew weapons, knives and the poorly cared for things they called guns. One fellow even got off a shot missing due to his terror of the black tendril coming right at him.

I didn’t even have to bother deflecting his bullet. The two from outside rushed in and before I could do anything stepped right into Natasha’s shadows. One fellow, he was a bit quicker on the draw than the other managed to get a cross out his pocket.

Unfortunately for him, he fumbled and dropped it. It landed on the ground and the darkness spread around it without touching it, like a drop of soap in a oily sink of water. Dwellers hate those things.

It was the closest anyone came to a victory tonight. I hope he enjoyed it. Because when Natasha’s done, he’ll wish I had just snapped his neck.

Now I have two problems to contend with in this town. Renegades and a demon car already in Pact mode. Normally I would let them take care of each other but that isn’t possible without a lot of collateral damage. While Desolation is a nexus of unrepentant evil, there are still plenty of good people caught in the crossfire.

That is, besides Natasha and her clan. They’re an evil I can manage.

I’m so glad I stopped dating her.

A Drink and a Smile – Fenrir and Phoenix © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved

written-for-30 (3) copy

Betwixt

All Rights Reserved © Sharon Wish

Paolo will sit in a dimly-lit coffeehouse after work.

Dirty work often required something to wash the taste and the smell from one’s mind. Paolo Diaz was an Agent of Order and of Chaos. Two monsters which invaded his dreams as a child.

They came on the fire and smoke, burning his eyes and nose, flames set to drive his family out of their homes. As Paolo died, he railed and cursed a heaven which allowed such evil. And these two came, one a visage of soothing beauty. Cold to the touch, she lifted his chin, examined him and deemed him worthy. “He will grow strong and beautiful.” The other monster, slapped him in his child’s face and said he was broken. “Listen to the screams in his head. It is all he will ever hear in the dead of night.”

He went to work for them. As such, his work lay Between.

The smell of burning coffee soothed him. It’s bitter aroma filled his nostrils, taking him to his childhood in Colombia; before the fire, when he was happy.

Paolo hated his job. Not the work, but the people. His hands trembled with the exertion, the rough fabric gripped tightly as he held the corrupt businessman over the edge of the roof. He marveled at the strength he had been given. The man was as light as a feather but heavy was his soul, heavy with the evil that men did. He was out of balance, this businessman, Victor Dawson. His spiritual checkbook declared bankruptcy. Paulo was here to repossess his soul.

Paulo smelled the fear, the man was redolent with it. Dawson offered Paulo money, wealth, women. Paulo declined politely. He no longer needed such extravagances. Paulo was a man between; he was between here and there, thither and yon, left and right, good and evil, gifted and cursed.

Blessed now with the strength of ten men, unable to touch anyone tenderly for fear of harming them. He was promised this power would come with the capacity, a sense of rightness. As the man dropped to the pavement, his sins expunged, Paulo felt no right.

Or wrong.

He was an agent of the Balance. He was Between. He listened for the solid meaty sound. He noted the slight bounce and then the horrified screams of passersby.

Paulo stepped from the roof himself and was between here and there.

He appeared on the street, suddenly but no one noticed, he was Between their awareness of now and then. He was now. They could see him but didn’t.

His work completed, his phone received a text. “Well done, Pachjo”. He hated when they called him that. Only his mother could call him that as a child.

He already sensed the next place he was to be. His next subject in need of Balance would be in a coffeehouse five blocks from here.

He hoped he would have time for a cup. Of course he would.

Betwixt © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved

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