From the cover of the Led Zeppelin album. A Halloween tale.
In Through the Out Door
The white suit and hat were what I chose to wear though I had kept them in the back of the closet for years. The pants were a little frayed at the bottom, for at the time I had them made pants coming down to the heels were the fashion. That getup was what I wore the day I dropped her off at the airport. In my dreams I can still taste the last kiss she gave me. She never came back. Her half torn off face in the morgue was all fate left me.
Drink helps me forget that half face. Sometimes the nightmares make me remember.
Eventually, I got rid of everything that reminded me of her, including my friends. Except for that suit and hat.
I pushed open the door of the Saturn Bar and stood there for a moment. It was a dive with a musky odor like permanent mold mixed with stale tobacco. Looked like there’d been a minor ruckus, too. No one had bothered to pick up the two chairs lying on the floor, nor the empty beer bottles and crushed cans. An odd thing were the rafters. They were covered with little squares of paper, haphazardly, like memos long forgotten.
I stepped in. The floor protested with creaks as if I were stepping on sore muscles and brittle bones. In a way I was right, for the boards were sunken and raised like they’d been warped in some great earthquake. An old black couple were sitting at a table on the right against the wall. They were dressed in silk scarves and colorful beads as if they were dressed for Mardi Gras. The old guy said something, and the crone cackled with a mouth lonely of teeth.
There was a bar cluttered with empty bottles and half filled ashtrays. Two meaty hands were resting on it. The owner of the hands wore a stained t-shirt with the sleeves torn off exposing his massive arms covered in tattoos. He stood motionless and stared at the wall. I strode to the bar with thunks and creaks accompanying the nearly mute music; not the best bravado style. There was a red cushioned stool. I slid on. He finally looked my way, raised half his face a notch, and rasped, “Whatta’ll be?”
I couldn’t answer right away. That movement of his face flashed a dark memory from the morgue. I pushed down the brim of my white hat with one hand and took out my pack of Lucky Strike with the other. “I’ll start with a beer.”
There was the sound of grating ice and a metal cap rocking on a cement floor, then a brown bottle slid into my waiting palm. The first cool stream was rushing down my throat when the clank of steel from a dark corner swiveled my eyes left. A blonde with sunken eyes and cheeks in a dungy tattered dress snarled and strained against her chains. I guess she was supposed to be a zombie. I’d forgotten it was Halloween. Shaking my head with a grin, I repositioned my eyes. In the mirror, stretching across the back of the bar, a broad was leaning on a jukebox. Her long black tresses streaked over her low cut red dress. She smiled with pearly fangs. Despite that, there was something attractive about her. I beckoned for her to join me, but she just caressed the jukebox. In that instant the music went up and slowed down, not by a ruinous amount, just so I noticed.
From behind my left, I heard a heavy thunk followed by a long swish. I moved my focus in the mirror. The dude with the hump on his back must be Igor. He caught my eye and shuffled nearer; seemingly the only one capable or willing to move. I finished my beer while I waited for company. He had a hard time getting on the stool, but I just watched. Wasn't it part of the show?
Looking into his grin, I asked, “Take a drink?”
His grin widened. His Adam's apple rose as he rasped. “Certainly, my pleasure.”
I wondered if the loud whisper was all he could manage.
The bartender was looming over the hump. I ordered two double whiskeys. Igor and I raised our glasses. He gave a toast, “To your health.” The glass was half empty when he laid it down while wiping his mouth on his sleeve. His eyes bored into me as he asked, “Are you ready to begin?”
“Are you ready to start the ritual?”
“The burning of the wish.”
I was getting irritated. “Whaddya talking about?”
He grabbed my arm. “You really don’t remember?”
My arm in reflex jerked away. “Keep your hands off.”
He lowered his eyes. “Beg pardon. I’m nervous. We all are. Let me explain. See those papers up there? They’re wishes that patrons here have written down hoping the one who comes here on this night chooses it.”
I couldn’t help snorting in derision. “Then, they get their wish, huh?
“Well, it has to get burned first.”
“You do... with your Zippo”
“What if I don’t have a Zippo?”
“You always have one.”
Igor was right, but how did he know? A lucky guess or what? I took out my Zippo and jerked a cigarette out of the pack. The clink the Zippo made as it opened was joined by a chorus of chains. The blonde zombie was all ears. Lighting the cigarette, I enjoyed the nicotine as I thought about what Igor had said. He insinuated that I’d been here before and gone through the ritual, yet I couldn’t recall. I was curious about those paper squares. What were the hopes of those who had given up? I took another drag, crushed it out, swallowed the last of my drink, then stood up. Those messages half a foot above me; I couldn’t see what was keeping them from falling off.
“I’ve been here before, haven’t I?”
“You were here five years ago.”
“And I picked a wish and burned it.”
Igor drained the rest of the drink. “Yes.”
Igor grinned and gushed out the words, “Teach them a lesson.”
It was coming back to me. I pinched the one that read RELEASE THE VAMPIRES and it smoothly peeled off. That excited the red-clad broad at the jukebox; a glob of saliva oozed out of her mouth. Looking over the others, I found DIG UP THE DEAD and peeled that off. There was no need to look in the corner; the rattling of chains was enough. I took another square and placed all three on the bar. The last one had produced moans from everyone.
I told Igor to go back to his corner. He did, but he sulked. I pretended to ponder the wishes, looking at each in turn and arranging them in various patterns. But I had really decided as soon as I saw that last one. Finally, I flicked open the Zippo, produced the spark, and held that last square high over the flame. It took time. The zombie rattled her chains, the vampire snarled and dug her nails into the jukebox, and the black witch wailed. And Igor wept. None of them scared me; they were past their time. You could tell from all the cute caricatures. We ourselves had replaced the monsters.
I wondered how much Fate had construed my jealousy at her infidelity as hatred. How heavy had it weighed on the scales? Enough to get her killed along with hundreds of innocents? I didn’t think so. Someone’s heavy finger had been on the scales.
The bottom corner turned brown, then it caught fire. I turned it around so that the flame was at the top, and watched as it burned the words END IT ALL.
Igor and the rest flickered in and out of existence as the flame ate its way up the letters. I guess they were fighting all the way. I crushed the ashes and wiped the black off on my jacket and pants. Something whisked me to the door, and through it I stepped. Down was my shadow. The lights went out. My shadow vanished, and I walked into the starless night.