Full-bodied

Here’s a thing I wrote that gave me the squicks a bit.

Full-Bodied 

“Ah, hold on.  You’ve got to give the tannins time to settle. ”

David’s eyebrows floated up, but he sat the bottle of merlot back down and stepped away.  Brad smiled.

“Yeah, good.  There you go.  It just needs to breathe.” he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.  “Trust me, totally worth it.”

David worked up a smile for the other man.  He was trying to be a good guest, but all he’d really wanted was a taste of a good wine and maybe some crackers.  He looked around the room, trying to spot Mona.  He though he saw the top of her head from across the room, her pixie cut poking up above a group of other wives.  Brad was saying something.  He turned back to the other man.

“How do you like the Caddy?”

“Oh very nice.”

“Told you you’d love it.  Like driving a cloud.  Carol’s thinking about the Escalade – last year we leased, but that just gets expensive.  Say, did you hear Bob got his hands on a Lexus?”

David’s brain turned the sound down as he stared just over Brad’s shoulder.  The bar had a mirror over it, and he could track the other guests.  Dimly, he registered the other man was droning on about mortgages and wondered if he could will himself to die.  Would that be ruled suicide on his part, or murder on Brad’s?  He saw his wife slip away from her group and head his way.  He breathed a sigh of relief.  Someone up there was feeling merciful.

Brad smiled and waved, and his incessant flow of chatter stopped long enough for David to turn and greet his wife.

“Hey you.  Enjoying yourself?”

She rolled her eyes, a gesture Brad couldn’t see from where he stood and smiled.

“Oh yes.  Delightful.”

David turned and led her to the bar.  “Brad here was just telling me all about their 30 years fixed mortgage.  Fascinating stuff.”

She turned as if to kiss him and whispered in his ear.  “You bastard.”

David laughed, and they separated.  He pointed at the wine bottle and the glasses.  “You going to finally pour that?”  He asked Brad.

Brad laughed and tilted the wine into the glasses.  It was a claret, the scent unique – a berry scent with a sharp tinge to it.  David tasted it.  It was warm, and coated his tongue, but the berry flavor was strong and tinted stronger with that other taste he couldn’t place.  It went to his head, his lips tingling.  He looked at Mona, who had flushed from the drink.  She giggled.

“This is great.”

Brad smiled.  “It’s our own vintage.  We make a few bottles every year.”

“It’s fantastic.”  Mona said.

A tall blonde, built like Bridget Bardo and wearing a dress that looked like it was made from Cling Wrap, tapped Mona on the shoulder.  She turned and smiled, put down her wine, and the two hugged.

“Oh good.  Carol’s been looking for her all night.”  Brad said.

Carol led Mona off again, toward another group of women that looked as though they all shopped at the same plastic surgeon.

“Ah, hens.”  Brad said.

David grimaced and suppressed the urge to pop him in the nose.

“Have another glass.”  Brad said.  He refilled David’s glass.

David shrugged and took a drink.  It was still sweet and sharp, and maybe just a bit more delicious than last time.

“Good, right?”

David nodded.  He was starting to feel a bit more relaxed.  Convivial, even.

“Say, did you hear about the Wilkersons?”

David shook his head.

“Damn shame.  Bankruptcy.  They caught Tonya trying to snog the bank president for a loan.”  He laughed.  “Can you imagine?  Like a cow on a pogo stick.”

David didn’t laugh.  Instead, he took a deep draught of his wine – somehow the glass had been refilled – and looked around.  He didn’t see Mona anywhere now.  In the background, Brad was droning on about some sports team or other, reciting stats and yardage like the world’s most boring fucking ticker tape machine.  He suppressed the urge again to punch the man in the face, and set his wineglass down, and excused himself.

He wandered through small groups of men and women, chatting in corners and against walls, their voices like the droning of bees.  The wine had been stronger than he’d thought, and left him both a little disoriented, the room feeling a bit squiggly.  It had also been drier than he’d realized, and his throat felt scratchy.  He swallowed, and approached a small group of women.

“Sorry.  Sorry to interrupt.  Have you seen my wife?  About yea tall,” he held up a hand, “dark hair, pixie cut?”

They shook their heads and he went on his way.  He heard giggling behind him as he left but chalked it up to a conversation.  The next groups he encountered – a group of men in suits, and a mixed group of couples hadn’t seen her either.  He stopped and leaned against a wall for a moment.  The wobbling was getting better, but his head ached a little, and the scratch in his throat only felt deeper.

He looked around and saw he was deeper in the house.  The light was dimmer where he stood, and the crowd had thinned out.  He looked around and saw another couple, standing in a darkened corner.  He took a breath to steady himself, swallowed, and approached them.

One was tall, and the other – rather small.  He squinted in the light.  The tall one was a man dressed like a woman – he assumed she was, anyway.  Either that or Adam’s apples weren’t unique to one gender.  She spoke up, her voice deep.

“Can I help you, honey?”

“He looks lost.”  The other voice was high and came from below his waist.  He looked down, at a small man in a white suit, a rose in his lapel.  The man smiled up at him, the thin mustache over his lip writhing.

“My…wife.”  David said.

“Yes?”  The big woman said.  David looked up this time.  She was wearing heels and fishnets and a bustier.

“She’s uh…about this tall, with dark hair and a pixie cut.”

“When did you see her last?”

David cleared his throat and rubbed it.

“Are you thirsty?”  The little man asked.

David nodded.

“Here.”  A wineglass was thrust into his hand, and he drank deeply and greedily.  The taste was heaven – berry and that sharp taste.  His thirst abated, and even his head stopped throbbing for the time.  He nodded his thanks and gave the glass back.

“Better?”  The woman asked.

“Yes, thanks.”

“You were saying?”

“My wife – she was with Carol.”

The woman tsked.   “Aw, she’s probably lost to you then.  That woman knows how to party.  You should just give up and wait it out.”

David shook his head.  “We need to go home.”

“Oh, honey.  Good luck with that.”

“Congratulations, though.”  The little man said.  “She sounds tasty.  Delicious, even.”

David frowned.  “Uh, thanks.”

He wandered away from them, his throat and head better.  The house grew darker as he went.  He eventually came to a crossroads of a sort – a hallway that branched right and left.  To his left was a large steel door with a fancy electronic lock.  To his right, the hall stretched to a single door.  His throat itched, and he wondered if there was any more wine.  A dull throb started behind his eyes, and he stopped to rub them.  He pressed until he saw stars, then took a breath and headed to his right.

The door at the end of the hall was unlocked, though he knocked first.  A voice, soft and feminine, answered.

“It’s open.”

He tried the knob, and the door opened easily.  It led into a room with a recessed center, steps leading down to a deeply carpeted square filled with plush pillows.  Carol leaned against one side, a smirk on her full lips.  She called over her shoulder.

“Honey, David’s here.”  She turned back to David.  “Hi, David.  Come sit.”  She patted the pillows next to her.

Brad came out from an adjoining room, shirt off.  He was chiseled and hairless.  This is not weird at all, David thought.  He walked down to the reclining area.  Carol smiled up at him, and Brad joined them, flopping against a pillow.

“Hey, buddy.”  He smiled.  “Sit.”

Carol patted the pillows next to her again.  David’s throat was dry, and the light in the room was doing painful things to his head.  He thought sitting sounded great.  He dropped onto a pillow, and Carol ran a hand over his arm.

“You okay?”

David started to nod, then shook his head.  He rubbed his throat.  He was so thirsty.

“You like that wine, Dave?”  Brad asked.  “Yeah, those tannins make or break the thing.  You really got to be careful, though.  Aging that stuff’s a real bitch.  You know, my grandfather came up with the recipe…”

His voice faded into the background as David tuned him out.  The sonovabitch could really talk, and all he cared about was his miserable throat.  Carol rubbed his arm again.  Mona would do that sometime.

Mona.

He opened his mouth to ask about her, but Brad just kept talking.  David tried to tune him out, though his throat hurt so bad.  He swallowed, and took a breath.  Brad kept talking.  Jimmy felt the blood rush through his temples, and his rage grew.

“..so I said, why not oak casks? And…”

“Shut up.”

Brad stopped talking.  “What?”  He asked.

“SHUT.  UP.”  David turned red.  He started to mutter an apology.

Brad laughed and waved a hand.  “It’s okay, buddy.  It’s the wine.  Say, you need more?”

David thought of the sweet berry taste, the cool liquid hitting his throat, soothing the fire there.  He thought of the pain in his head abating, and that pleasant tingling.  He nodded.

Brad looked at Carol, who was smiling at her husband.  “You heard him, honey.  Let’s get the man a drink.”

They stood, and started out of the room.  A thought occurred to David, and he stopped in his tracks.  He worked up some spit and swallowed, enough relief to speak.

“Mona.”

“Who, dear?”  Carol asked.

“My wife.  She was with you last.”

“Oh, yes!”  Carol laughed and made a shooing gesture with her hand.  “She’s just around the corner.  Probably involved with the wine.”

They began walking again, and David followed.  They walked down the hall, and then continued past the crossroads, their feet whispering on the tile floor.  They stopped at the big metal door.  Brad leaned in and pressed his finger into the electronic panel.  There was a beep and a click, and the door popped its seal with a hiss.  Carol tugged it open.

They passed through the threshold, into a dark room.  It smelled like berries and that sharp smell that had eluded David all night.  He took a deep breath, and his throat and head throbbed in response.  The smell filled his senses, need rippling through him.  Brad flipped a switch, and banks of lights overhead lit row by row.

The light showed David what had been hidden – naked men and women strapped to the walls, surgical tubes inserted into their veins and dripping into metal tubs below.  The room was filled with the near-constant pitter-patter of liquid on metal.  Deeper in the room were fermenting vats and crates of berries.  David scanned the room and saw Mona, stripped to her flesh, tubes from her arms dripping into a metal tub below her feet.

He approached her, and ran a finger over her skin.  It was soft and supple.  The smell was stronger by the tub, and he finally realized the scent – blood.  His stomach churned, and a voice in his head screamed in horror, but was dwarfed by the monstrous thirst he had developed.  Carol stooped beside him and dipped a glass in the tub, coming up with a glass half-full of his wife’s blood.  She topped it off from a nearby pitcher, and handed it to him.

Inside, the screaming continued.  He looked at Mona, and she did not stir.  His throat ached.  His head throbbed.

He raised the glass, and drank deeply.

High Noon

It was hot. Damnable hot, the Sherriff would have said. Not that Anders approved of such language, but looking at the dust that occasionally swirled in under the saloon doors, he thought it apt. He sipped at his beer and watched the man across from him fidget with his pocket watch. It was gold, the case worked with an intricate scroll. The man’s fingers were deft and made the watch walk around his palm and over the back of his hand, then into his pocket and back again. The man flipped it open and scowled at the time, as though he could cow it into changing in some way, then closed it again and resumed playing with it. Anders looked up at his eyes and the sweat beading on his forehead.

“Tell me,” Anders said.

The man across from him, Burton, was lean. His eyes showed a bit too much white and were bloodshot, but they were sharp. He sat in his chair with an ease that belied his hands, the midday heat in the saloon not fazing him. Occasionally, a patron would walk through the doors and belly up to the bar, and Burton’s eyes would follow them, tracking them like a hawk might track a mouse. His free hand hung over the back of the chair he was leaning in, his hand close to the big gun he wore on his hip. It was a Colt, like the officers wore in the War. He flipped the watch over and over in his free hand for a moment, then heaved a sigh and looked up at Anders.

“I ent crazy, so you know,” he said.

Anders shook his head. “I’m not here to make judgments, Burton.”

“Aye, ‘spose so. Still, I can’t have a man of the cloth thinking I’m crazy when what I need is absolution. Why I liked Chalmers. He ‘us a good ‘un. Listened and kept his opinions to hisself. Judge not lest ye be judged – you know that ‘un?”

Anders nodded. “I know it well,” he squashed his impatience, “What’s troubling you?”

“Didn’t used to be much of a godly man,” Burton began, “Nowadays, I believe, but I’m not sure I can forgive Him.”

Anders let a slight frown crease his forehead. “You think the Lord has wronged you?”

“Aye, but not before I wronged him.”

“So, it’s a punishment,” Anders said.

“Aye, but not as you’d think, and harsher than that, too.”

“What do you consider harsh, Burton?”

“You wouldn’t believe me,” Burton said.

Anders eyed the man and wondered if he were being strung along. He hadn’t the time to be played for a fool and didn’t cotton much to being taken for one.  Burton shifted in his chair and checked his watch again, his tongue reaching out and touching his lips tentatively. Anders thought that then again, maybe the man was simply uncomfortable telling another man what was obviously a deeply held belief. He also thought it possible the man hadn’t called him here to debate theology.

“Why did you call for me, Burt?” Anders asked.

Burton picked up his beer and took a long swallow.

“Ent never confessed before now. Figgured it might make things different. Maybe get me some forgiveness.”

“Here?” Anders asked.

He looked around. It wasn’t a booth in the church, but it was as close to private as you could get in town. The tables were spaced a fair distance apart, and the men who were there talked among themselves in low tones. It was too early for carousing, and most of the barmaids were still off shift. He leaned in, his elbows on the table as Burton nodded. Then the other man took a deep breath and began.

“I’m not a bad man, pastor. You see, I ent got nothing against nobody that ent got it coming. I ent never killed a man that didn’t need killing. Except…,” his eyes shifted to his watch, and the saloon doors.  “It ‘us the Cutler boy. Had to have been four, mebbe five years back. I was walking the boards here – back then I ‘us the night watchman. Sherriff was off in Carson, or Reno – I forget.

“Anyway, I had just made my round when I stopped at the depot – ‘usn’t much back then, just a set of rails and a saltbox. I remember the moon was big that night, and the stars were tossed across the sky like sparks when Gemmel’s hammer hits that anvil of his. The desert was quiet – seemed like sommat had scared off the coyotes, and all you could hear was that wind scraping across the desert, like a knife on stone.

“I’m ashamed to admit this, preacher, but I ‘us scared that night. The Gantry boys had been seen just a few miles west – big boys, and mean, and accused of everything that rhymes with rape and murder. So there I ‘us, smokin’ my cig and watching that sky, and I hear something behind me. Sounded like a footstep, like someone sneakin’ up, like a thief in the night.

“I called out. I says ‘Hey if you’re there, let me know.’, and they didn’t say nothin’. So, that sound comes again, and I say again, ‘Hey, let me know you’re there. I got this Colt, and I don’t wanna shoot ya.”

Anders stopped him. “Why didn’t you turn around?”

Burton’s eyes looked wet.  “I ‘us afraid. No man wants to see his end comin’, and I figgered if it were the Gantry boys, let ’em shoot me down while I was lookin’ at that sky.”

Anders nodded. “Go on, Burt.”

Burton heaved another sigh and continued. “So I calls out a third time. I says, ‘Damn it if yer gonna shoot me down, do it, ya yellowbelly.’ That sound came again, and I’d had it. If he ‘usn’t man enough to end me, I’d end him.  I drew, and spun, and shot him dead in the eye.

“Wasn’t ’til the smoke cleared that I saw what I’d done. There was the Cutler boy, dead as a doornail in the street.”

Tears rolled down his face. “‘Usn’t my fault, preacher, you gotta believe me! That boy was deaf and dumb, and prone to wanderin’.”

“What did the court say?” Anders asked.

Burton sniffed and wiped his eyes. He took another long swallow of beer and tried to get himself under control.

“They said ‘usn’t my fault. I couldn’t have known if it was a Cutler or a Gantry, and since the boy was touched, I might’ve just done him a favor.”

“You ever do anything for the family?”

“Aye, I paid for the boy’s burial.”

“How’d they take that?”

“Not well. The mother, she ‘us never a talker. Now she barely utters a word. The father, well, he’s never forgiven me.”

He seemed about to say something else, but just then the bell over the schoolhouse chimed once, loud and deep.  Burton looked down at his watch and closed it, then put it away. He stood and straightened his clothes and his gun belt then tossed a few coins on the table.

“Thanks for the time, preacher. I’ve gotta be going.”

He walked to the saloon doors and hesitated. He looked back and called to Anders.

“You should come, preacher. I might need rites.”

Anders realized what time it was. High noon. He stood and paid for his drink, then met Burton at the door.  After a moment, they walked through, Burton into the street, Anders taking up position outside the saloon doors. Outside, the sun was harsh and high and threw the world into stark relief. Dust eddied and whirled in little devils, and here and there men and women shuffled up against storefronts or into buildings, seeking shelter. A little ways down a man stood tall in the sun, his shadow long before him. He wore a gun like Burton’s and looked ready to use it. He called out.

“You ready?” The man called. Anders could just make out his features – it was the Cutler man.

Burton just nodded. They stood, frozen in readiness across from each other. Anders imagined he could see the sweat trickling down Burt’s face. He pulled a handkerchief and wiped his own. Time seemed to stretch, each moment an eternity, each eternity an infinity. Somewhere further down the road, leather on a harness creaked.

The bell tolled, true noon. The men moved in a blur, their hands reaching for iron, their fingers twitching. There was the sound of thunder, and smoke filled the air. Anders heard a body hit the ground, and when the smoke cleared, he could see it was Burton. The man lay with his pistol beside him, the iron glinting in the sun. A red pool spread from under him, turning the sand and clay to red mud. Down the street, Cutler holstered his weapon and walked away. Anders went to the dead man.

His eyes were fixed open, the pupils pinpricks. He was staring at the sky, the blue above indifferent to him. Anders reached out and closed his eyes. He checked the man’s breath with a small mirror. No mist marred its surface. He took the small Bible from his pocket and began to read.

Forgive us O Lord, as we forgive those who trespass against us -“

               A gurgling gasp beside him interrupted him. Burton sat up, his features contorted in pain. He clutched his chest, and his free hand grabbed Anders’ shoulder. His grip was painful, and his eyes frenzied.

“No forgiveness.  NO FORGIVENESS,” he wailed.

Anders fled.

 

 

 

Catspiracy

I was feeling silly. This popped out.

“My name is…Jeff.”

It was a less than impressive introduction for a sorcerer, and Martin felt underwhelmed.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Jeff rocked back on his heels.

“No, uh, Maestro of the Mysterious, Wizard of the Secret Skull?”

Jeff wrinkled his nose. “No, I mean…no. I once saved Flatbush from a sea monster, but you know, that’s not that impressive. It’s right by the sea. I mean, if I had saved like Kansas City or Minneapolis from a sea beast, then you’d really have something. Anyway, how can I help you?

“I need someone cursed.”

“Okay, but that’s gonna cost extra. Black magic isn’t cheap. What’s the name?”

Jeff pulled out a notepad and stubby pencil, licked the tip, and poised it over the paper.

“It’s, er, Fluffy. Sir Fluffington the Third actually, but..”

“Wait,” Jeff’s arms dropped to his side, “Is this a cat?”

“Yes?”

Jeff sighed and put the notepad and the pencil back in his pocket. “I don’t curse cats.”

“Why not?”

“You remember that earthquake in ’85?”

“Yeah?”

“Cats. Tried to curse one, and as revenge the little bast-” he looked around, “fluffballs crawled into the fault and purred until our china fell off the shelves. I lost a perfectly good Precious Moments figurine that day.

Martin held up a hand. “Are you trying to tell me that quake was caused by cats?”

Jeff nodded solemnly. “Also, the great furball of ’62, but Frank should have known that they don’t have souls.”

“So you can’t help?” Martin asked. His face had begun to fall.

Jeff shook his head. “Sorry. Can I interest you in a love potion? Maybe a charm to ward off warts?”

It was Martin’s turn to shake his head. He slipped his wallet back into his pocket and made his way to the front door, his step a slow shuffle. The bell above the door rung once when he stepped through. When he was gone, a gray cat leapt onto the counter and sat, grooming itself.

“Well done, Jef- hhhhurrrr, hhhhhuuuurrrr, hhhhuuuuurrRRRK – Jeff.”

“Thank you, Sir Fluffington.”

Jeff lifted the hairball gingerly and placed it in a jar under the counter. Sir Fluffington continued to groom as Jeff busied himself around the shop. The jar was almost full. It was almost time.