by Madeleine Marsh
Candy turns her back and unfastens her bra. Bending at the waist and leaning forward, she lets the black ribbon and lace drift to the wooden boards. The two men sitting at the edge of the circular stage get an eyeful. They have bills hanging from their fingers and tongues hanging from their mouths. It's a brief tease for a hundred bucks.
Rick looks, but only in passing as he heads for the bar and pulls out a stool. There's a woman sitting at the other end with her back to the stripper, finishing the dregs of a beer. She could be a hooker. Rick doesn't really care about her either. He might have been interested in the past, depending on price obviously. But he's not here for the skin or the sex. He's here because he thinks being around other people - normal people - is safer than being on his own out there on the streets.
"What can I get ya, cowboy?"
He frowns at the barman in the Sheriff get-up and shakes his head. "Dude, we're not in fucking Texas."
The guy shrugs, dropping the ridiculous accent. "Sorry. The tourists like it."
Glancing around the mostly empty room, Rick can't decide if he's serious or if he's taking the piss. "Quiet day?"
"Quiet month. Barely seen a soul since the summer. Beer?"
"Yeah." He wants to ask the guy if he knows what's going on but he doubts he's even aware of the carnage in his own parking lot. "Maybe that's because of the apocalypse."
The barman puts a cold glass of lager down on a sticky beer mat in front of him. Rick sorts out some change from the pockets of his pants.
"You mean that stuff on the TV? It's bullshit, man." He laughs, takes the change and leaves Rick to his beer. Rick watches him serve one of the guys who's managed to drag himself away from the girl on the stage long enough to get another round in.
It's peaceful in here, despite the thumping bass of the non-descript music the girl is moving to. Rick relaxes a fraction, drinks his beer and checks his pockets again, pulling out some rumpled bills, enough to get him drunk this afternoon.
Draining his glass in a matter of minutes, he looks over at where the stage is now empty. The girl's taken a break and the two men are enjoying lunch. He waves his hand until he gets the barman's attention.
He nods. "What food do you serve?"
The barman shakes his head. "We don't serve food, sorry."
"So... is there a place nearby? People bring their own?" He nods over at the two men. A second later the barman is off around the bar, shouting about patrons not being allowed to bring food inside and definitely not being allowed to eat at the stage. Then just as suddenly he stops, falls silent and something heavy forms in the pit of Rick's stomach because he can't see the expression on the guy's face but he can see the way he's hunched over, hand up to his face. After everything he's seen in the last couple of weeks he knows instinctively what he's looking at without seeing it for himself.
The dancer isn't on a break, the men aren't eating lunch. The men are no longer men. One of them sits back, turns slightly towards the barman and Rick catches a glimpse of pale pink skin, black lace panties and bright red blood.
Rick slides slowly off his bar stool and makes his way as quickly as he dares to the exit. He can't help the barman, he can only save himself and he does that as quickly and as quietly as possible, pushing open the door and stepping out into the sunlight, careful not to let it slam shut and alert the things inside that he's making a break for it. Then he hears the screams, not from inside but from behind him, and he doesn't have to look around to know he's no safer out here. Something growls, something too close to his left ear and he runs right, around the corner of the building, heading towards the back of the bar. Every sense is telling him how close his pursuer is, how little chance he has of out-running it. He sees the dumpsters and doesn't think, just throws up the closest lid and scrambles up inside. The plastic drops back into place over his head as he crashes down onto trash bags. Whatever it is that's after him slams into the bin but the top doesn't lift.
Rick spends over an hour relieved that the bar doesn't serve food before sunlight floods in again and he finds himself looking up at a young man with long hair.
continued in The House at the End of the World, Feb 2013
Last updated: 2012-12-19 06:27:10