Last Call

Felix had been in a rare mood.  His promotion at the paper had brought out a side of him I had rarely seen in our twenty some odd years together, just when he got married, and unmarried and once or twice in the war after close ones.

To be honest, I get a little hazy after Tavern on the Green.  I guess we hit Mahoney’s, like we always do, then the Waldorf and then we started working down the line.  Down my line any way.  Felix usually bowed out right about when I start getting hazy.  He’s a real  fussy kind of guy.  You know, always meticulously dressed, impeccable manners, hates to be out of control, a real stickler for the rules.  I’m just the opposite- peccable – you might say.

He doesn’t ride me much, any more, just gives me those reproachful looks, but he always bailed me out when I needed it, always took care of me.  I’m a little shamed to admit it, but there were plenty of times when I needed it.  In college it seems he was either helping me scrape by some course, or pleading my case before the dean on some minor discipinary infraction.  Later, in the army, he actually saved my life, not once, but twice.  After, my career path took a few tortuous turns, not unassisted by my tendency to seek solutions in the bottom of a shot glass, but he was always there, solid as a rock, to grab me just before I stumbled off some precipice.  It was kind of a one way street though, and I never did get to repay him, or even really to thank him, and that’s why I wish just this one time I could’ve helped him out.  All those years of little failures never really seemed to helop me get my shit together, but I’ll carry the weight of this one ‘til my last ragged breath.

I remember getting on the subway, but I don’t know where we got on or where we were going.  Best I can figure out it was some where near Hell’s Gate. I remember telling myself I was going to take care of Felix, because he was so much further gone than me, being so much less in practice.  So I must’ve known where we were then.  I mean, I’ve gotten myself home in much worse shape than that.  Looking back, there were a thousand things that we could’ve done differently.  Or maybe we couldn’t ‘ve changed anything.  I don’t know anymore.  What we did do was we fell asleep.

When I woke up the train was stopped with nobody around and everything was really quiet, like we had been parked there for a while.  We must’ve slept for quite some time because I was sober enough to start to feel pretty bad.  I shook Felix gently a couple of times until he woke up.  I was feeling sorry for him, being such an amatuer and all, and Lord only knew how far we still had to go to get home.  Wouldn’t you know, that bugger popped his eyes right open as chipper as when he met me at the Green.

“End of the line,” I croaked, feeling kind of pasty.

“End of the line?  We’ve missed our stop?  I guess it’s a cab for us after all”.  And he stretched and got up.  Then he turned to me and smirked, “I guess the adventure’s not over yet.”

We walked up to the door and it took the two of us to pull it open.  You’d think they’d check the cars at the end of the night or something, but I suppose those guys are tired like anybody else and just want to get home.  Who knows, maybe this was the one time that that Jake didn’t check the cars, or maybe he thought somebody else was supposed to check our car.

We had to jump to the platform, and I wish I could say I felt as elegant as felix looked.  The station looked like something out of a movie.  Trash was everywhere, signs were hanging from the ceiling by one end, and it was as still as a post-nuclear attack.  As if reading my mind, Felix looked at me all wide-eyed, “Oscar, maybe the world ended and only those of us underground were spared.”  Then he burst out laughing and started dancing around arms akimbo.  That’s when I finally got it through my thick skull that he was still very very drunk.  Still going up  while I was well gone down.  While I could appreciate his mood, I couldn’t quite match it.  Not without another drink or two, anyway.  I figured what the hell, it was his night, one of four or five in a couple of decades and giving him a sideways grin I put my hands in my pockets to follow him.

I was a little surprised when we crested the stairs to find it still pitch black out.  I guess I figured the trains ran at least ’til dawn, but maybe it was different out at the end of the line.  The stairs opened into the middle of a cobbled square circled with ramshackle two and three-story buildings made of brick and, I couldn’t believe it, wood.  A street led out of the far side of the square into the night, but there were no others.  To top off the picture, a few gas lamps sputtered around, making the shadows shift and jump.  I spun slowly around and met Felix as he finished his own pirouhette.

“And we warped back in time!”  he shrieked, holding his belly as he laughed.  He even made me laugh.  I figured he was right, this was New York fer-chris’sakes, it might be weird, but it had to be explainable.  Maybe it was a set after all.  “Yeah, you and me and all the other drunk and homeless people sleeping in subways all over the world, sent back in time to repopulate some parallel universe.”

“Cool, do you think anybody could spare a drink?”  We both cackled at that one.  “If you don’t mind Ripple, I suppose one of our fellow survivors might help us out,” I replied. With an arm around each other we headed out to make a tour of our environs.  We passed by window after window of little shops,  flaking gold leaf paint on them declaring their wares:  a candy shop, a cigar shop, an apothecary, even a barber with a red and white pole (not red white and blue like now).  The jokes were getting pretty thin by the time we were half way round.  This place was deserted, not in like gone home for the evening, but like in gone.  I was getting the chills again, and it wasn’t just morning after stuff.  I was just about to say something when Felix grabbed my arm.

“Look,” he squealed and started dragging me down an alley so small I had nearly overlooked it in my stupor.  Just past a pile of crates and a jumble of debris, light and noise streamed into the alley.  We approached slowly, snickering inexplicably and looked into a dusty and grease streaked window.  A semi-circle of  faded, red letters, backed by half-peeled gold leaf stated “THE LAST EXIT SALOON” and underneath in smaller letters “For a Hell of a Good Time” and under that “FOREVER OPEN”.  Felix straightened from reading the fine print, smacked his hands together and said, “Avast, thar be grog me matey!” winked at me and opened the door.

I waited just a moment pondering how a business could ever make a go of it in such a God-forsaken corner of the Big Apple.ELABORATE METAPHOR, then I shrugged my shoulders and reached to grab the door before it quite closed.  Just as I did, a boney hand reached out from the shadows and grabbed the collar of my rumpled tweed.  I was too surprised to do anything but stare along the skeletal arm and thus into the face of the crone revealed in the half-light from the door window.  “Don’t go in.”

I hadn’t even realized she had dragged me to the side of the door, such was her desperate force.  “Let me go, woman, I’m with my friend.”  She let me go with her hand, but held me just as surely with her stare.  “Go if you must, but don’t eat or drink anything.”

I tried to laugh her off and wisecracked, “Not drink in the last open bar in New York?  It’s too late for temperance speeches m’lady.  Tell you what, I’ll split the difference with you, won’t eat a bite.”  My stomach had been feeling kind of crawly for a while anyway.

“Fool,” she spat, “this isn’t New York, not your New York, and if you ever want it to be, you’ll heed me, I’m the only sane thing you’ll find tonight.  Not a dram or a crumb.  Fool.”  She didn’t so much as disappear as thicken into the shadows and she was long gone by the time I realized that I was standing there alone with my mouth hanging open.  A sudden chill grabbed me and, while I didn’t exactly believe her, suddenly this didn’t seem like such a good idea.  I bolted through the door and found myself in a small foyer staring down a long room.  On the right was an ancient wooden bar, the kind with pillars supporting a carved frieze, and a half-silvered mirror runing the whole length between them behind the bottles.  And what bottles, there were far more that I didn’t recognize than that I did.  There was Black Jack and Green, Gilbeys, Tanquery, Dahlmorg, Laphroig and Stolies, but there were many more bottles with ancient labels faded and torn, some warped like blown glass and even some thrown from ceramics,.  There were Abisinthe and Mason jars, but what was really weird was standing right next to all of these unrecognized, yet some how familiar bottles were all of these bizarre ones that looked liked they came straight from Ten Forward.  I swear, there were even some liquids standing on the shelves all by themselves, kind of shifty and hazy, like force fields were holding them.

The wood of the bar was stained with smoke and dark rings and had that patina which only comes from long contact with human skin and breath.  There was barely enough room betwwen the leather upholstered stools and the wall to get by.  People were everywhere and from a room in the back drifted the most mornful song I ever heard.  It sounded like Jim Morrison singing Robert Johnson’s Walkin’ Blues, with a  load on.

I searched frantically for Felix, craning my neck to peer through the crowd as I worked along the bar.  I was frantic, how could he have gotten so far ahead of me.  I bumped into people of all descriptions, all drunk:  People in toga; people dressed from every period of European history; deformed creatures without noses or eyes, mouths on the sides of their necks; and I felt awful, grotesque things slithering around my legs, but the crowd was too thick for me to see them.  At first I thought I was much drunker than I realized, on the verge of blacking out, or maybe I was still on the subway and this was a dream, or maybe this was some sort of cast party.  All of these thoughts were flashing through my mind as I was bogged down by the crowd in this seemingly endless aisle .  At last I thought I saw him at the far end of the bar and I called to him over the din.  IS THIS PARAGRAPH NECESSARY?  DOES IT HELP THE STORY? DOES IT NEED EXPANSION?

He turned away without hearing and drifted out of sight towards the back.  I made a final desperate effort and gained the end of the gaunlet.  The hallway-like bar opened up to a dance floor on the left.  Felix was already in the crowd, dancing the same wild dance he did in the subway with some girl dressed like a flapper, bobbed hair, loose-tongued high ankle shoes and all.  They each had a glass in their hand.   Hell everybody in the bar had a glass but me, and let they liquid slosh and spill without a care.  For just a second the hard core professional in me cut in.  “What a waste,” I thought, “amateurs.  Amateurs and has-beens, they’re both such slobs.”  But even as I was thinking it, I was cutting through the crowd.  Nobody seemed to notice me, even the flapper when I grabbed Felix and knocked the drink from his hand, the thick octagonal thumbprint highball glass bouncing off of the scarred wood floor.

I must have looked mad drunk, lord knows, I felt it, but I grabbed him by both hands and shook him.  I felt panicked.  Only if I could make Felix take me seriously could I continue to believe in this madness myself.  If he laughed at me, I’d go straight to the bar, order something from one of the dancing clouds, and swallow whatever fate that mad woman had called down upon us.  Why did I have to meet her?  If it wasn’t for that witch I’d be enjoying this party just like the rest of these characters.

“Did you drink any of that?”  I looked him in the eyes and tried to convey all of my sincereity and sobriety in that look.

Felix looked at me, wary but respecting my sober air, “Didn’t have a chance, soon as I got it that babe asked me to dance,”  then he slid his eyes to the puddle on the floor, as if that explained the rest.  I caught his drift, he’d rationally answered me, now it was time to explain myself.  My vague misgivings and the converstaion with the crone wouldn’t sell him, not tonight.  It was time to explain myself with some fast thinking.

“Oh, heh, sorry about that,” I stalled, looking away, then an inspiration struck me.  “I just remembered where I heard about this place – they busted them a while back, you can’t believe the list of stuff they got on this place.  Half the hootch is moonshine, made in radiators and full of lead, the other half is loaded with drugs of one sort or another.  And the food!  This place is like a hepatitus petri dish.  I read they got a whole new strain here, something there’s no cure for.”  That last bit, I thought was truly inspired, and I figured that squeamish Felix would light out of here so fast I’d better hang on to his coattails just to make sure I didn’t lose him.  Nevertheless, while I was on a roll, I threw out a few finishing touches.  “They’re not even supposed to be open, that’s why they’re hidden away and open after hours like this.”  I leaned in close, “Felix this is a real ‘den of iniquity.’  We gotta get out of here ASAP before they bust this place.”

That did it, now I had his attention.  He stood up from where we had been huddled with our heads together and looked wide-eyed around the room.  “Holy shit,” he beamed, “what a party,” and cackled like he’d just signed Mike Hunt on the roster to be read by the substitute teacher.TOO CRUDE?  TOO SUBTLE?  BETTER METAPHOR

What was with this guy? I had really underestimated his mood tonight, he was a Felix I never knew; a kid with all of the adult fears and worries erased. Monday Felix was starting a brand new career IS THIS MENTIONED EARLLIER?STRENGTH MOTIVATION, and tonight he could give a damn.  Man, how I envied him.  I hated to be the guy to take him down, but I had promised myself I’d take care of him, and at this point I didn’t even feel that I needed the word of a crazy old woman for justification, this place was just wrong and I didn’t even want to stick around to find out why.

“We gotta leave, man,” I said, and grabbed his coat again.

“Okay, okay, relax Oscar,” he said as he put his hand over mine.  “Look, it only makes sense, while we’re here, let’s figure out where we are and how to get home, ‘kay?”

“Sure, sure, we can do that.”  I was so relieved I would’ve agreed to anything that got me closer to that door.

“So,” Felix shot me a sly smile, “Why don’t you work on that, while I work on that,” and so saying he hooked his thumb at the flapper.

I groaned.  “Alright, but promise me you won’t eat or drink anything.”

“Agreed,” he shot over his shoulder, already moving away.

“And don’t go anywhere,” I yelled across the intervening distance.  He just smiled back and gave me a dismissive wave.

I turned around, trying to think.  I figured my sincere impression would be short-lived and I didn’t have too long before Felix started thinking things like, well, maybe just one sip of your drink, dear.

Unfortunately, the only thing that came to me was that my bladder was excrutiatingly full.  Too full to think about anything else until I took care of it.  I saw the bathroom back the way I came, near the end of the bar, and made a beeline straight for it.  It was decorated just like the rest of the bar, dark wood paneling up to eye level, then inderterminently colored plaster above.  I was standing at the urinal passing the time by trying to decipher the various layers of graffitti scratched into the wood.  The one directly in front of me said “E. A. P. drained his pendulum at this pit”.  Some body had crossed out “drained” and put “swung”.  Would that be Poe or Prestly or both, I wondered?  A man took the urinal to my right and surprised me by breaking the time-honored code of men’s room silence.

“I’m not much for new-fangled contraptions, but I was mighty glad when they got these porceline gizmos”.  I looked to my right to see a man dressed all in black from his high collared tail coat to his scuffed boots.  Around his neck was a ribbony bow tie hanging over a white ruffled shirt.  He wore a top hat and was smoking a cigar.  Taken aback by this weird opener, I smiled and nodded and we flushed simaltaneously.  Just as we turned to face each other a fly the size of my hand buzzed directly at me and caused me to duck reflexively.  Like lightning my new found companion drew a sword from his walking stick and sliced the fly perflectly in half, starting between its eyes.  His extreme drunkeness was only betrayed by the fact that he knicked the wall above the mirror on his follow through.

“Damned barflies,” he drawled, staring down at the carnage.  My eyes were also riveted to the corpse on the floor.  “Hate to see the horse flies,” I mumbled.  The man in black looked up and stared at me with dead black eyes for so long I began to get decidedly uncomfortable.  “You would at that.”  Then he tipped his hat at me, resheathed his blade and made his way to the door, not entirely steadily.  I wasn’t too steady myself as I made my way to the sink., realizing that in this departure from the weird to the extreme I had finally stepped off the edge.  I washed my face and was just lifting cupped hands to my mouth when I looked into the mirror and saw a trickle of blood running down my reflection.  I traced it back up and saw it coming from the nick above the sink.  What had I been thinking?  I had to get us out of this mad house, if it wasn’t already too late.

I dashed for the door and once through it grabbed the first person I saw, a woman in leather pants and laced leather vest who looked vaguely familiar.  “Is there a phone here?”  I’m afraid the panic probably showed in my demeanor.

“Honey child,” she grated in a whiskey-throated voice, “you ain’t got a drink.  What you need is a drink, then things’ll be better.”

“I don’t drink,” I blurted, drawing stares from those in earshot.  “I need a phone.”

A hand at my elbow guided me away from the decidedly inquisitive crowd.  When I turned I saw a handsome, erudite gentleman steering me through the people to space near the wall.  “Did I hear you right?  You don’t drink, haven’t had anything tonight?”  He adjusted his glasses with one hand but kept the other firmly attached to my elbow.

“Well, I haven’t had anything here, which is what I take is important.”  I stopped us abruptly, not wanting to get any farther from Felix.  We were facing each other now and he squinted his eyes up at me.  “What do you know?”

“I know I’m running out of time, can you help me or not?”  He appeared to consider for a minute, then bent close and started speaking in a low voice.  “I’ll help you, but you gotta promise you’ll help me.”  A waitress came by and he stopped her long enough to grab two purplish drinks off of her tray.  He handed me one, “I take it I don’t have to tell you not to drink that,” he looked me directly in the eye, smiling as if at some private joke, “but there’s a minimum.  It will help you blend in if you carry it around.”  I was terrified Felix would see me with it and take it as some kind of unspoken okay, but I aquiesced.  My new friend, the professor, seemed to take my agreement on one subject to cover both.

He looked around furtively and reaching into his pocket he slipped a strangely bulky envelope into my hand.  I started to look at it, but he got very excited and put both of his hands on mine.  “Put it away, put it away!”  So without further ado I slipped it into the inside pocket of my tweed.  A look of instant relief came over him.  “You have to promise to deliver that for me, if you ever get out of here,” he whispered.

“Done,” I agreed instantly.  It felt like there was a klaxon was going off in my head, its shrieks building to an unbearable crescendo.  I had to do something to get us out of here soon, before my nerves gave out.

He looked at me a bit sheepishly, “There is no phone, no mail, no cable, no modem.  There is only the front door, and that’s only if you haven’t had anything while you were here.”  I narrowed my eyes at him, but before I could speak, he blurted, “I didn’t cheat you!  It’s all in the envelope.  Trust me, nobody else would’ve told you what I did.”  I was too tired to feel disgusted, or mad, or even put upon.  I just did what I should’ve done the instant I got in here.  I turned without a word and headed through the crowd to grab Felix.  He grabbed at me as I turned and I was only vaguely aware of him calling after me.  “Wait, wait, what year is it?”

Suddenly, it felt as if my buzz kicked back in.  The room seemed to have gotten bigger, the party wilder.  The band had kicked into a more rocking tune, like Hendrix if he’d put another album out.  Drunks crashed into me from all sides as I fought my way through the crowd.  I despaired of ever finding Felix as my vision began doubling.  I felt at any minute as if I would black out as I stumbled around, losing my balance in the confusion, unable to focus my eyes to differentiate faces in the crowd.  I was knocked to my knees for the second time by the hoop skirts of a woman whose powdered tresses left their marks on my coat and trousers, and this time I didn’t think I had the strength to get up.ADD M OR WEIRDNESS HERE

“Oh ho!,”  I was never so glad to hear that bastard’s voice.  Felix was bending over and picking me up under the arms.  “What a party!”  Was he still on that?  I pulled myself together and grabbed him by the shoulders.

“Felix, we’ve got to go now.  I’ve got a cab waiting, but I’m afraid he’ll leave if we don’t get right out there,” I lied badly.  As I spoke I was steering him in the direction I thought the door lay.

“That was rude,” Felix said.  I’m afraid I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, nor did I care, now that I had him in my clutches, I wasn’t letting go ’til we were out of here.  “I mean, you could’ve let me say good bye to the duchess.”

I shot him a mean glance.  I’m afraid I was feeling a bit put upon, him having all the fun while I lived out this nightmare for the both of us.  My instincts for the door proved right, for a change, and we found ourselves at the bar in less time than seemed possible.

I kept Felix in front of me and pushed.  This made for the worsening demeanor of the crowd in our immediate vicinity, but frankly, I could give a shit, I wanted out and I wanted out now.  Time seemed to dilate in direct proportion to the vicinity of the door and it seemed to take forever, but we finally broke through the crowd near the foyer.  Just as I began to get my hopes up, our way was barred by what I can only describe, cold sober or dead drunk, as a troll.  A least seven feet tall and nearly as wide with greasy black curls and arms as large around as my waist.  When he stepped in front of us, it was like a cloud blotted out the sun.

“We got a minimum,” he rumbled putting his hand on Felix’s chest.

“We paid, we paid,” Felix squared off against him, “now we just want some air.”

By benefit of a combination of my superior experience and sheer panic, I didn’t share Felix’s optimism for resolution of this dilemna through logical discourse.  Exasperated, I cast about for an alternative while he debated the human portcullis.  I must’ve looked at it two or three times before our salvation became apparent to me.  With my back to Felix and the troglodyte,I grabbed the old fashioned metal stand ashtray by the door, one hand on the pedestal and the other on the handle that arced over the top.  Swinging it in a circle, I stepped around Felix and continued my arc right across the brute’s shins, the thin metal base cutting deep.  His eyes got wide and he stared down at the blood soaking through his pants but before he got could focus and retaliate, I finished my swing, got my weight behind it and rammed him right in the balls.  His hands came together as he doubled over and I reversed my grip and smacked right him in the head, the soft spot at the base of the skull, twice.  I had dropped the tray and grabbed Felix before the hulk hit the ground.  His groaning carcass blocked the door and I just threw Felix over it.  I was forced to climb which was a bit of bad luck as the crowd had come around and decided to participate and I could barely overcome their grasps.

Felix had the door open and I hit him with both hands to push him through, but it was like hitting a wall.  I couldn’t see anything blocking us, but he was splayed out in front of me like a bug on a windshield.  The first of the second string caught up with me just then and I came completely unglued, striking out in all directions.  Bracing my feet against the our jolly friend behind me I gave a final superhuman effort and the two of us popped out of the Last Exit like the cork out of a champagne bottle, careening off of the far wall and puddling in the alley.

I was on my feet immediately, hauling Felix up by the lapels even as my stomach sank, knowing that there was no way we could out run or out fight that mob.  I had some crazy idea that maybe I could at least slow them down while he made a break for it, so I pushed him down the alley towards the square and spun to face our disgruntled hosts.  Only nobody followed us into the alley.  I just crouched there, too jacked up to comprehend what was going on and nearly jumped out of my skin when Felix put his hand on my shoulder.  He pointed wordlessly with his other hand at the grime-streaked window.  Each square foot of the glass had a face pressed squarely against it, their mouths making silent ‘O’s.  It was as if they were howling, but no sound arose.WHY NOT IN BEGINNING SOUND “SPILLED OUT”  Suddenly, the face of the bouncer appeared in the window of the door which he hit with such force that the entire front of the brick building shook.

That was enough to break us out of our reverie and we turned and ran for our lives back to the square where dawn was just breaking.  I ran smack into Felix when he stumbled and fell.  Picking him up was beginning to be habitual, but this time he wasn’t helping and I wasn’t up to the task alone.

“Jeezus, buddy,” I screamed, “what’s the matter!  Get up!”  I was answered by the sound of his retching repeatedly on the wet cobblestones.

“I, I don’t feel so good,” he managed through lips that still drizzled vomit.

That stone that had been growing in my stomach all night suddenly reached supulchrean proportions.  “Felix, did you have anything to eat or drink in there tonight?  Anything at all?”  I asked already sure of the answer

He was retching again, so I had to repeat my question.  “Just a pretzel while I was waiting for my drink,” retch.  I looked around nervously, the sun was beginning to come up, but it didn’t make the surroundings look any less forbidding.  I picked Felix back up and supported him under the arm so that I could half drag, half carry him to the subway.  All my remaining hopes were pinned on the trains running; right now I didn’t want to think about anything else, especially the ramifications of Felix’s condition, which I could only hope was going to get better instead of worse.

The only good news was that nobody was following us, yet.  We made it to the subway and I risked one last look over my shoulder before heading into the safety of its bowels.  Carrying Felix was getting harder and harder and I had to pause on the first landing, where the stairs turned one hundred and eighty degrees, blocking view the entrance from view.  I stood there staring up while I caught my breath, trying to let my terror subside.  I had succeeded as much as I figured possible under the conditions and decided not to press my luck by sticking around.  Felix had stopped retching for the moment so I picked him up and headed down.  He seemed to be getting heavier and heavier with each step.

Felix appeared to be coming around a little, but I couldn’t quite catch what he was trying to say, so I bent my head close.  That’s why I didn’t see them on the next landing, although I don’t know if it would’ve made any difference.  The first I noticed of them was the snickering.

“Lookie here, got a couple of fags out late, do we?”  The speaker wasn’t very tall, but his thinness, and a ridiculous old top hat accentuated what height he did have.  Underneath a long black coat he wore a horizontally striped red and white skin tight shirt and greasy black jeans.  His skin and that of the four or five ghouls ranged around him were white as corpses.  I saw the glint of metal in his hand as he played lazily with a butterfly knife.

Fifteen, maybe twenty seconds max, I figured, grabbing Felix and bringing him around face to face.  “Look shithead, I don’t have time to explain this, but you got one chance to stay alive,” I broke eye contact long enough to check on the living dead.  “RUN!”  I screamed as I ran down the last three steps and shoved him into the gang.  Two of them went down like duck pins under his momentum, a third tripped over his comrades as he tried to avoid Felix.  Ol’ T. Rex just smiled and came straight for me.  I’m more of a runner than a fighter, and I’ve lost enough cash at the track to know when my luck has run out.  I took my overcoat off, swung it half-heartedly a few times at the knife as I backed up the stairs.  Now they were all on their feet snarling and approaching me.  I knew they were going to rush me, but at least Felix was forgotten for the moment.  On my last swing I let the coat go, then turned and ran for the street.

They howled like a pack of mad dogs closing for the kill.  I could feel them closing on me as I hit the landing and ran into the sunlight spillling down from the street.  The first hand tore my shirt and I swung, determined to go down fighting.  I put everything I had left into that one punch.  I was prepared to die if I could just connect with that leer.  Instead I almost died for lack of it.  My fist sailed through the empty space where my pursuers had been and I almost threw myself down the stairs after it.  I only avoided breaking my neck by making a wild grab for the rail on my follow through.

Confusion and fear were mere unfathomable intellectual concepts by this point.  I had been so overtaxed, so exhausted, I wasn’t even working on adrenalin anymore, just inertia.  There wasn’t any more time to worry about what had happened to my pursuers than there was to rejoice at my redemption.  I hurled myself down the stairs in search of Felix. DON’T FORGET THE COAT

Even a body in motion can be stopped under the appropriate conditions.  In my case it was running into the rush hour crowds on the platform of the Grand Street station.  The improbability of the entire night crashed down on me, the way dream logic disappears when examined by morning light.  I wandered around looking for Felix, calling his name and beyond caring about the stares I was getting.  I phoned the house and left a message.  I phoned work and left a message.  I went back up to the street, but could not even begin to make the transformation between the busy intersection where I stood and the scene of the night before.  Finally, I took a cab home where I called in sick to work and crawled into bed, my shoes still on.

Felix never did show up.  For a while, the police suspected me, since the story I told had more holes in it than a Menachen-Goleb action film, but I refused to change it, even a word, of it and they finally had to let it slide, no evidence to the contrary presenting itself.  Of course, they let me know that “they were on to me” and that “they would keep an eye on me”, no doubt I’ll “slip up”, perhaps by selling Felix’s cookware and Ralph Lauren suits at a garage sale.  Some how, I just don’t think they’re up to cracking the case.

Nevertheless, I was a choir boy for a while.  Not because of them, but because I blamed myself and my sordid habits for the whole measely affair.  It took me a while to stumble on that packet that the old man gave me, I had completely forgotten about it in the aftermath.  Written on napkins, scraps torn from books and even a linen hankerchief, it told a tale of failure and temptation.  The Last Exit is a Limbo for those who have everything and throw it away on the human weaknesses we all trade in.  It seems small but if every person that the author listed was there, that bar really would have to be infinite.   the letter was addressed to his wife, and dated 1876.  I looked him up

took me a month or so, but I finally pieced together our itineray for that fateful night.  It seems we were unable to get a cab, and Felix didn’t want to wait so we headed for the subway, right across the street from Franklin’s on 45th.  The doorman remembered it well, said we were quite a pair.  Next, I got detailed maps of the city and the subway.  Not like you get to find your way around, like they use to do maintenence.  I researched neighborhood histories to try to find a station anywhere like the one we got off at.  The people at the city archives convinced themselves I was writing a book and became most helpful.

None of it helped.  I even remembered what the crone said and started looking for candidates in other cities.  I ran down ‘The Last Exit’in the records of every place in the English speaking world.  Nothing.  I never was much for choir so eventually I ended up trying to figure this out the only way I know how, the only way that really made sense.

Now I’m a regular at the watering holes on our route.  I always order the same things at the same times, and I always take the subway home.  See, I figure that somehow Felix and I got in some altered state and slipped in between the thin fabric that separates our world from – others.  We were just visitors and had a chance at getting out, as long as we followed the rules, which thank god the crone warned us about.  Felix fucked up, though.  Maybe if we could’ve stuck together I could’ve pulled him through, but that gang split us up.  The way I figure it is that with dawn, I came back and ended up at Grand St., but there was no dawn for him.  He ended up back in that derelict station.

Some people say that I’m just using this theory as an excuse to slide ever further into my debaucherous ways, but I’ve tried every thing else and I really think that this is the only way to get him back.  See, I still feel responsible.  The ghouls might’ve gotten him, but I believe somehow that he’s back at that bar, listening to the blues and dancing arms akimbo.  If I can’t get him out, at least I can keep him company.

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One Response “Last Call” →

  1. amberfromaustin

    February 6, 2017

    ELABORATE METAPHOR: please just keep this. It makes me laugh. 😉

    I feel like the first half of this story is far more detailed and elaborate than the last half. The ending seemed to come out of nowhere and felt rushed to be over. You could definitely extend the scene in the station.

    I have a couple other notes and answers to your notes that I’ll send you, but that’s my big takeaway. I liked the story itself, I think it would work better a little more developed.

    Like

    Reply

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