Blood Dust

Posted on September 14, 2017

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This one is for Steve Duda who fell down laughing when I said I was a romance author. Well, take this for love, Duda.

Duke levered himself out of the muck in the street. He hurt. All over, he hurt. And, he had a powerful thirst. He looked up; dead ahead in neon and nicotine was Johnny’s. He stumbled forward, dried mud falling off of him, limbs moving like a wooden soldier. When he came through the swinging doors, Elroy stopped polishing the glass in his hand, but he didn’t put it down.

Duke shambled across the floor until his belly mated with the bar. Conversation skidded to a halt.

“Duke,” Elroy deadpanned.

Duke tried to speak, nothing would come out.

“Long time,” Elroy continued. The last time Elroy saw so many glassy stares was at the taxidermists. What was wrong with these people? Duke’s tongue felt like a dried bean in a whistle full of sawdust. He looked to his right and there was a full mug of beer. He grabbed it and swallowed. The liquid, sugar, and alcohol all slammed around inside him like his guts were in a martini mixer. The fat man owning the beer put both hands on the bar like he would rise. Elroy held him off by holding up his rag.

“Reallyfknsore,” avalanched out in a mudslide of words.

Elroy reached over and pulled on a sickle handle welded tight to Duke’s chest by time and the weight of passing automobiles. A good three inches of the blade was buried in Duke’s liver. More mud flaked off of his flannel shirt, and granules poured out of the wound onto the bar looking like a sad little pyramid of rusted iron filings.

“Can imagine.” Elroy wiped up the sand on the bar, ignoring the red streaks left by the moist towel. He nodded towards the wound “Might want to get that looked at.”

“Where you been Duke?” from the back of the bar.

“Lyin’in’street” Duke was looking for another beer and Elroy started to pull it.

“For twenty years?”

“Twentyyearsyoutalkingbout? Reallyfknthirsty.”

“Good thing you woke up, Duke, they was paving that street tomorrow.”

“Fkspaving?”

“Macadam.”

“Fksmacadam?”

“Macadam: concrete. Once you under that, ain’t no prying yerself up.”

“Whyn’t you come looking for me? I been lying there right out front.”

Elroy shrugged. “You sure, you ain’t dead? That’s some awful dusty blood you got.”

“Jsneedrinks’ll.”

“You want another beer, you gonna need some money. Ain’t no free drinks here for the living or the dead.”

The fat man whose drink Duke took was still staring at him. “You should hire him, Elroy. Betcha all kinds of people’d come to see a zombie bartender.”

“Whoozombiemutherfucker?” The fat man offered Duke another beer. Duke took it.

Elroy stroked his chin. “Think so?”

The fat man said, “Lord knows how you stuck on this long, serving drinks to the same people night after night. You need some new blood.” He laughed and hooked a thumb over his shoulder towards Duke. “Just like him.”

Elroy looked at Duke. “What do you say, Duke? You want to tend bar?”

Duke shrugged bits of dried onto the bar and the floor. Elroy handed him the towel and Duke shuffled around the bar. “Juswannafkgbeer.”

“All the beer you can drink, boyo.”

The fat man motioned for the phone and got the party line operator. “Yes, a zombie tending bar at Johnny’s. And get this, he’s one of our own! Duke is back.”

It didn’t take long before people started pouring it. Elroy wanted to sit back and count his money, but Duke was mostly good for pulling schooners of the lukewarm Frankenmuth lager and not much for the mixed drinks. Still, Duke was selling beers and shedding twenty years of mud apace. A jug band appeared, the way a double chin shows up in the mirror — one minute it’s not there and the next it’s unavoidable. Dancers on the worn planking sounded like buffalo stampeding through the room.

People were pretty much peaking toward their prime when Dolores parted the doors. Duke’s blood was somewhat thinned by then, and he felt significantly less dead as she sashayed up to him. She’d gone a little wide to the wheat and cheese, but her lacquered curls and sway stopped conversation male and female as the crowd sprouted more eyes than a box of needles. She looked left and right, daring people to keep looking, and they looked away, conversations picking up where they left off. The draft Duke was pouring  for the fat man kept right on pouring.

“Hey, hey!” said the fat man, “I’m not paying to water the floor.”

Dukes hands were white as the porcelain they gripped. Elroy came over and pried the pull from Duke’s hand, afraid he might break the man’s fingers right off.

“Where you been, Big Boy?” quipped Dolores. “You look like a statue trying to find 20 years of pigeon shit to complete it.”

“Been right here,” said Duke.

“Not here,” and she made a backhanded sweep of her hand, palm up, around the room, like a beauty queen in a parade.

“Well, right out front.”

“You left and never came back.”

“Got three inches of sickle in the liver for you, and I’m back now.”

“Three inches of sickle, you take twenty years, and now here you are, howdosay? Couldn’t a maybe come back a little earlier?”

“Ize right out front, how come nobody come looking? Must’ve been thousand people step right on me. How hard you been looking?”

“Hard enough dinna wanna marry a MacKenzie!” She said waving a wedding ring at him.

“But you did.”

“Woman gotta be take care of.”

“So do a man got mud in his blood.”

“Oh stop with the pity already. Pour me a drink.”

Duke carefully pulled the wasp-waisted schooner.

Dolores lit a cigarette, took a slug of lager, and leaned forward, “Give a girl a dance?”

Duke banged his way around the bar, his legs still moving like stilts. Dolores dragged him right up front of the band, like she wanted the whole world to see. She started swaying to the beat and Duke tried to hold her, but he moved like Pinocchio and she laughed at him. “I swear, I never thought you could get worse as a dancer, but I declare you outdo yourself. You dance like a broke-legged stork.”

He pushed her away in frustration. “Always done the bes’ can do, never enough.”

“I really loved you, you know,” she said. “You were never good for nothing, but I loved you.”

“’Bout now? I’m back, got me a job.”

She looked at him, and absolutely tittered. “Oh, Duke if you could see yourself now. It truly is the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen. Marry you. What are we going to do with Leon? Tell him it was a mistake?”

“I still got the sickle, maybe he wants it back?”

“Maybe I do,” said Leon, pushing his way through the crowd. He grabbed Delores by the arm and leaned in close, “You, I’ll deal with later.” He looked over at Duke. “You, I’ll kill now like I shoulda kilt you long ago.”

“You think that’s so, you better get your brother to hit me from behind like you did last time.” Delores screamed as Leon drew a wicked Bowie knife from the small of his back, swinging it reversed, tip toward the elbow, the spine of the blade tucked against his forearm so that from the front it looked like a punch. The whole blade would’ve hit in an upward slashing cut with the support of his entire body behind it. He put all of the viciousness of his vicious life into it, a killing blow, starting from a crouch and spiraling up, intending to cut through any defenses Duke had and take his head clean off in the fight’s first second.

It worked against him as Duke’s attack jackknifed like a broken doll and he stumbled forward under the blow to tackle Leon, who, having missed his target, was already spiraling away. Duke’s impact felt like a scarecrow to Leon, but as he was now risen to his toes and the blow took him in the floating ribs, it combined with his momentum to topple him over. Wrapped up with Duke, he had no way to break his fall and hit cheek-first on the heavy table behind him, crushing a chair with his mountainous frame as he fell to the floor in a series of sickening cracks of wood and bone.

Duke scrambled to his feet, coming up with a chair leg for a weapon. The band stopped and Dolores stood there with both palms over her mouth. She tried to step past Duke who put out a hand to stop her while people crowded around the body.

“He ain’t dead,” opined the first leaner-over.

“Yet,” said Duke, still holding Dolores with one hand and the chair leg with the other.

“Let me go,” said Dolores.

“He’s just going to beat you soon as he can, you know.”

She reached over as if she would touch Duke’s cheek, thought better of it, and pulled back. “If only you’d had the good sense to be found, you silly man. Running off like that, getting lost in your own front yard.” She barked a laugh, but was looking past him to Leon.

“What’ll we do with him?” somebody asked.

“Put him in the street, let him sort his own self out” said Duke, twice as angry after Dolores pulled her hand away as when Leon pulled the knife on him, but he let her go as she sank next to her husband. Eventually, they put him on a board and took him out; to where, Duke paid no nevermind. Most of the party followed, and the band rolled up for the evening.

He didn’t remember much after that. Elroy locked up and gave him a handful of money by the door. “People really loved seeing you, Duke. Your tips were so good, I wouldn’t insult you by paying a wage. But I don’t know about your temper. This might not be the job for you.”

Duke took the money and put it in his pocket, uncounted. Sometime during the night it had started to rain. The rutted road was already a quagmire.

Elroy looked out, “Yup, Duke, macadam. Progress, I’m telling you. By tomorrow, night, this road will be the same, rain or shine, snow or sandstorm. All this mud will be sealed away like Tutankhamen’s tomb.” He pumped Duke’s hand one more time and then ducked into the rain to get into his jalopy.

“Macadam,” thought Duke as he walked across the street. Just short of the other side, he dropped to his knees and fell forward into the mud. “Whathefucksmacadam?”

 

Posted in: Fiction, Writing