It was such a quiet night that I was able to hear the crack of a new arrival somewhere in the distance. It wasn’t a mystery who it would be, so I poured his usual drink and sat it on the bar, then waited. This place used to be bustling, I miss those days. The times when the television and jukebox competed for attention, all over the anguished screams of the patrons. Feels like it was just yesterday that I watched man and woman alike tear themselves to shreds, the memory is enough to bring a smile to my face.
The wind carries in a blast of snow filled air when the door opens. Caught in the maelstrom of downy flakes is a man in a trench coat, Josh, I call him. I can’t be sure how many times he has been here, but it’s safe for me to call him a regular.
“Hot damn, Louie, this snow is crazy.” He says, shaking himself off and stomping his feet on the floorboards.
“You can thank the Democrats for that.”
“Might wanna make it a double tonight.” He leaves his coat hanging on the hook by the door and makes his way over to the stool.
“Way ahead of you pardner.”
“Thank you, thank you.” He downs half of the rye before sitting down.
“Rough day?” I ask, before replacing what he drank.
“Yeah, you can say that.”
When Josh first met me he was just a confused kid. He was twelve, going on thirteen, and first love had really taken a toll. His parent’s found him still swinging from the rafters in the basement. While they were pulling him down and administering CPR and calling the paramedics, I was helping him up off of the ground. In his mind, happiness was never going to happen. Every smile he had would always be forced. What was the point? Is the question he asked me. I told him that was for him to decide, everyone has a different take on the matter. It was obvious that he didn’t want to stay, so I sent him back. He wasn’t the first that I took pity on.
“You want to talk about it?”
“Nah, not really.” He closes his eyes and rests his head in his hands. I could touch him and see exactly what seems to be the bother, but that would be a breech of our mutual trust. Our silent agreement is that I don’t employ my typical tricks on him and he doesn’t tell people that I’m secretly a nice guy.
“Sounded like you came in a ways away, did Karen bring you?”
“You know it. Two pieces, fucking bargin if you ask me. I would’ve froze to death if she hadn’t pulled up.”
“Yeah, she has a knack for knowing where the lost roam.”
“Say, it’s pretty quiet in here tonight, what gives?”
“That is the million dollar question.”
The door bursts open and a pale skinned man stumbles his way in.
“You mind closing that Mac, you’re letting all the warm air out.” Josh says from his stool.
“Oh, oh, yeah.” The man replies, turning and pushing the door shut like it weighs a thousand pounds. “Sorry, sorry.” He limps his way to the stool near the door and drags himself onto it. “How about something to warm the bones?” He asks.
“You want that neat?”
“Coming right up.” I grab the bottle of FireWater and pour it into a glass. Sparks whiz past the rim as the black fluid settles.
“How is that stuff?” Josh, asks in a whisper.
“Oh, it tastes like hell.” I say smiling.
“You fella’s are going to think I sound crazy.” The newcomer says, “but, I don’t know where I am.”
“You’re at a bar, Lou’s Place, to be exact.”
“You Lou?” He asks, pointing at me.
“Yup, I’m Lou.” I say before sending the drink sliding down towards the end of the bar. As soon as the man grabs it he begins to scream. The process of the glass fusing to his hand is not without pain.
“Jesus! Sweet Jesus! What is happening.” He screams, unable to lift the glass from the bar or himself from the stool. I don’t usually like to do these types of things whenever Josh is around, but being a slow night and all means I have been starved for some entertainment.
“Jesus?” I laugh, stepping towards him with an outstretched hand. “That’s who you are calling upon now?” It’s the fear in his eyes, the recognition, that always gets me excited. “Jesus has no plan for you now.” The nail of my thumb digs into the flesh of his forehead, piercing the veil that covers his third eye. No blood trickles from the wound, only a dingy yellow light. The screaming stops as his eyes roll back. “Let us see what brought you here tonight.” My other hand moves up and pokes the power button on the television hanging above the bar and on screen the final moments of this man’s life come into view.
“What a sick fuck.” Josh says, watching the screen. “They were just children. Come on Lou, haven’t you seen enough?”
“Just wait. Here comes the good part.” We watch everything unfold through his eyes as he throws a shovel full of dirt into the shallow grave. He pauses, looking down at the girl’s bloody face and the dirty teddy bear next to her. Then comes the light, sweeping through the trees. He drops the shovel. There is a voice, yelling “Police! Freeze!”. He runs, panting as he jumps a creek bed and vaults over a downed tree. A gun comes into view, in his hand. Shots are fired. A grunt comes from his mouth and he looks down, placing a hand on his chest. It is a fatal shot to the heart. The last thing he sees before he dies is a starless sky. I pull my thumbnail from his head and he slumps over onto the bar. “Fifteen victims.” I say, walking away from him and back to Josh.
“Shouldn’t have been hard to decide to send him here.” Josh says as I fill his glass.
“Funny thing is, he is the one that made that decision.”
“Well yeah, I mean, he did those horrible things.” He picks up his glass.
“No, he made the choice. He believed that he was coming here, so he did.” I lean back against the wall and cross my arms. “Same reason you came here when you were a kid. You had learned that taking your own life meant eternal damnation, so it did. If you had believed that killing yourself meant you went straight to heaven, or even if it would send you to a land of gumballs and bullshit, that’s where you would have ended up.”
“I guess that makes sense.” He says, but the way his brow is furrowed makes me think he doesn’t fully understand. “So, like, could I create my own version of hell?”
“No, no, it doesn’t quite work like that. Do you think that guy thought he was going to get picked up in a snow storm by some broody broad and dropped off at a bar operated by the Devil himself?” I chuckle. “Course not. All he knew is he was going to hell for the things he did. He probably imagined a lot of demons and fire and sulphurous seas. Sure, that would’ve been the case some years ago, but I got sick of that. All the whipping and yelling and banishing. It’s exhausting.”
“So you started this place, where you could low key torture people.”
“Hey bud, I provide a service here. It’s not all jerk-offs like that one who come in here. Sure, we get the few here and there, but some people…” I sigh and look at the clock on the wall, two minutes to four. “Let me put it this way, some people believe in me way more than they believe in themselves. People that are down on their luck or haven’t had the easiest of lives. Look at you, you thought I was the one making you miserable as a kid. I don’t mess with people’s lives, they do a good enough job of that on their own. A good majority of the people that come here don’t deserve it.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s just human nature to expect punishment?”
“It’s human nature to expect the worst of things to happen. You people, you just try to find excuses for failure instead of finding examples of success.”
“Having to die doesn’t help.” Josh says, leaning back in the stool.
“No, but again, you only have yourselves to blame for that. Death is just a transfer of energy, y’all went and made it sound so damn bleak and permanent. It’s downright depressing to think that all those hours lived amount to nothing. Just a big span of wasted time. No wonder I’m always sending people back from suicide attempts.”
“I should probably get going, Louie, gotta work tomorrow.” He leaves his half finished drink on the bar when he gets up. “I know that if I don’t go now, Gaap and Stolas are going to keep me here all night shooting the shit.”
“Those two love to talk, that’s for sure.”
“Thanks for the drinks, what’s the damage.” He makes a motion like he is chopping his hand off.
“Nah, get out of here, kid. You know your limbs have no value in this establishment.”
“I hope not, Mr. East, I hope not.” He smiles and walks to the door, pulling his trench coat off the hook. Just as he vanishes into the blizzard outside the child rapist starts to stir. When his head lifts up, he sees my smiling face, each tooth in my mouth slowly transforming to a point. Two horns sprout from my forehead as I run a hand through my black hair. “We are going to have so much fun tonight.” I’m sure that Josh can hear his screams outside.