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« Chapter Five - Truth | Main | Chapter Four Teaser »
Friday
May032019

Chapter Four - Tequila

The Spireton was more shack than bar, and shack was a helluva compliment. Six scarred tables from a nearby bingo hall were placed haphazardly in the room. A row of red vinyl stools lined up against the bar, all ripped but one. Water dripped from a crack in the ceiling into plastic pail. It wasn't raining out. A yellowed sign behind the greasy haired bartender read Occupancy: 54. Between us and the other patrons we still had 49 more to go.

"Do you have Tequila?" She leaned against the bar.

The bartender peered down her t-shirt. "Might have a bottle somewhere. Don't sell much of that stomach-burner."

"Do you have any lime?"

"This ain't some fucking fruit bar." He ducked down below the bar and started to rummage in one of the cupboards. After a bit of clinking and crashing he pulled out a dusty bottle with a golden label and black writing I couldn't make out. "My cousin brought this back from Mexico. Tastes like turpentine if you ask me."

He set two highball glasses in front of us and poured until each were half full. The liquid was the colour of a bush fire.

"You want some coke in that?"

"This will be fine," she said.

He looked down her shirt again and then back at me. A voice from one of the bingo tables yelled for a pilsner.

She handed me one of the glasses.

"How are you doing? Things beginning to straighten? This will help."

She brought the glass to her lips threw her head back and drained it. Damn, there had to be four fingers in there. I took a sip and my mouth caught fire. I'd drank tequila before, but never like this–I was thinking the bartender's cousin had brought him turpentine. She made a flipping gesture with her wrist. I brought the glass up again and finished it. I slammed the empty glass back down gasping, trying to stifle a huge cough. Someone snorted from the back of the room.

"Two more."

"I like a goddamn chick that can drink." The bartender sloshed another four fingers into each glass and winked.

"You wouldn't like me after a few of these. Trust me." She carried both glasses over to a bingo table and slid out the chair. She put both drinks in front of me and repeated the wrist thing.

"I--"

"Drink."

Pilsner guy started to say something, until she gave him a dick-shriveling look. She got up, walked across the bar to a dusty jukebox. I watched her bend over,  someone muttered "damn". In a long pull, I drained one of the glasses. The fire travelled down my throat, swirled in my guts and then found some unknown path up to my skull. A wheezing violin player cranked up, followed by wavery mandolin strings. A high-pitched voice sang about shifting sand. I brought the other highball to my mouth, the rim felt thick on my lips, invisible odours drifted up the sides, my eyes watered. I knew the song. I was just about to name it out loud and then my head folded in on itself. I fell back in my chair, reached for the edge of the table, and waited for my body to slam into the concrete floor. Instead, I went through it. My body tumbled and turned in an inky liquid, glycerin bubbles floated up. Was that up? One by one the circles burst with a soft ping.

I set the glass down. Empty. I was now sitting on one of the vinyl stools, but these were navy blue, and shone like a freshly waxed Corvette. It was a bar like the Spireton, but not quite. For one thing, the place was three-quarters full. A trio of musicians teetered on a stage crammed into the corner. They strummed a Hank William's cover.

"Buy you a drink?"

I spun around and glared at the chalk girl – it was her, but she was dressed differently. In Spireton, she had wore a painted on black t-shirt and tight Levis. Now, she was decked out in a peacock blue dress with a floral pattern, her black hair held back by a lime-green hair band. Her lips were still the same shade of stunning red. When she smiled, they opened up into arc of white that excited me and scared me at the same time.

"Where are we?"

"When might be a better question. We're still in the Spireton." She smiled.

The band stopped, there was scattered applause as they walked off the tiny stage.

"We went through a rip."

The word just came out of me. I looked down at my checked sleeves. I've never worn plaid in my life. I stared farther down into a pair of dust covered cowboy boots, shit-kickers we used to call them.

"Now you're getting it. I keep telling Walt that tequila works a lot better than water. Eventually you can do it with water or any liquid, but it's never as effective, or even as fun."

"Walt's the tall guy," I swallowed and touched my knee, "with the knife."

"That's what I call him. I don't why, but he reminds me of Disney. The theme park, not the guy."

"One of the scarier rides," I said.

"It's the only way you can straddle both lines. Of course, you need to be close to a rip. Eventually you won't black out any more, and it will still hurt when a rip is close. That's what you felt in the diner. You want a beer?" She held up two fingers and waved them at the clean cut guy swiping down the bar. "Black Label." She turned back to me. "Hell of a beer. Nothing like what we have now."

"We've talked about this before haven't we?"

"Yes, but I don't expect you to remember everything yet. When Walt first cut me, it was six months before my head cleared." The bartender plunked down two stubbies and opened them for us.

"Why?" I asked.

"It just takes a while that's all – you're wired to experience life in a linear fashion. Think about it this way: recalling the past can release a powerful emotion. It's more than simple nostalgia, for some of us it's a deep longing, or a pain we're trying to escape. We let our minds drift back to a different time, both when we dream at night and in our daydreams. You've done that right?"

I nodded.

"But why do it?"

"Walt figured out a way to go farther than dreaming. He tuned himself to the rhythm of the chronos."

"Chronos?"

"Time. He found its rhythm, its flow. And then he started to find the rips."

"Places it didn't flow?"

"Right." She closed her eyes in a such a long blink that I thought she'd gone to sleep. "But here's the thing. Walt understood that we stand in all those places at the same time."

"What places?"

"The past, present, and future. The rips were a short cut to each."

I took a deep swallow. The cold beer eased the lingering flame of the tequila. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't drunk out of my skull. People in crisp Stetsons and bolo ties swigged back mugs of beer. Most of the women were in dresses, hair piled up high and lipstick that gave chalk girl a run for her money.

"This is bat-shit crazy, you know that?"

"Yeah, you said that last time." She swigged her beer and winked.

Someone hit the table across from us, an open-palmed smack, and the place erupted in laughter.

"How did he find the rips?" I asked when the sound died down.

"I'm not clear on that. Something to do with astral projection." She laughed. "Remember that? There was a big movement in it for awhile – a couple of doctors swore they could prove it but no one took them serious. Everybody was wrong. Anyway, that's where Walt found the rips and Philo."

"Sorry, you lost me again."

"The thing you called a wolf." Her elbow spasmed. "Drink up." She gulped down the rest of her beer.

"What? Why – we just got, uh, here."

She turned her neck fast, like someone had grabbed it and twisted. I looked to a space behind her. A huge mother of a cowboy took a step toward us. As he walked, he unsnapped a side holster and pulled a knife out damn near as big as his hat.

I abandoned the beer, let the last swallow dribble down my front as I leapt from the stool. Out of the corner of my eye, another figure appeared, large and moving fast. A flash of metal appeared in his hand, and as if someone took a snip out of what happened, he was on me, his breath hot against my face, smelling of freshly toiled ground. I opened my mouth to speak.

"Walt."

A guttural sound, in-between human and animal.

"Let it happen," Chalk girl's voice from across the room.

It felt like someone had just sliced off my kneecap. My eyes slowly filled with ink. I slipped through a crack in the Corvette vinyl.

I awoke face down in the back of my truck. I got to my knees and stared at the empty parking lot. A neon Closed sign shone out of the Spireton bar window. The "C" and the "d" were burnt out. A memory flash, and I checked my knees. Both intact.

I climbed into the driver's seat. A note was thumbtacked to the steering wheel.

"Just Drive."

It was signed, "L".

 

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