2.27: Consequences, part 1

The day of the Golden Goose Festival dawned cold and grey. Henry walked, as though dreaming, out of the mustering dew of the park to the front door of the Hell on a Shell Bar. He knocked, waited a beat, and then rapidly knocked fifteen more times for good measure. That building sensation of electric anticipation still roiled around in his gut. He felt like a lightbulb whose drawcord had been grabbed, but not yet pulled. And he was still wide awake, though he had not slept a wink through the night.

Jamal, sleepy-eyed and wearing disheveled clothes, opened the door. “You have to stop doing this to me.”

“It’s a special day,” Henry said, sidling around the man into the bar. Like last time, he thought the room was empty until he sat on one of the stools. Then he saw the form of Clint slumped over at the end of the bar. Slumped, but still awake. “Long night?”

The old man adjusted the ancient flannel he had been using for a pillow. “This time of month always gets me,” he said. His words were quiet, but not slurred by drink. “I can never sleep.”

“Why’s that?”

Clint lifted his head. “I was hired on a festival day. Someone didn’t show up for their shift, and I did. That was thirty years ago, down at the docks. Same docks I work at every day. Same job. Same life. Same fish. Barkeep, fetch me something cold.”

Jamal wasn’t behind the bar. He had joined them in front. “You know I don’t serve booze before noon. Let alone before the sun is up.”

“Who said booze?”

“You want a glass of water?”

“Yeah, with just a shot or two of vodka.”

Jamal ignored the old man. “What makes today so special, Henry?”

“I’m glad you asked,” he said, with a flourish. “I have failed to do everything that I set out to do. Today, I get to reap the consequences.”

“And there isn’t anywhere else you’re supposed to be?”

“Of course there is. But the day doesn’t start until I go, so I plan to sit for a while.”

With a groan the barkeep bustled behind the bar, retrieved a sweaty bottle of pale ale from beneath the counter, and set it in front of Henry. “If today hasn’t started, then I guess you’re still in last night.”

He laughed, and took a deep drink. Clint watched closely. A line of drool connected his mouth to his flannel. “I haven’t slept either!”

Jamal gave the man a blank look. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

So the three of them passed time. Henry sipped in the corner. Clint lay on the bartop with his eyes open. Jamal sat with his chin on his chest, appearing time and again to nod off before shaking his head and surveying his bar.

When the first ray of sunlight pierced the window, Henry figured it was time to report to Teresa. He did not relish the conversation he might find there. He liked even less the prospect that he might have to bring it up himself. Up I get, he thought to himself, but stayed where he was seated. Over and over he told himself to move, but his butt stayed fastened fast to the uncomfortable stool. 

Then the building shook. 

At once the three men were on their feet, looking wildly around at one another. The building shook again, with a mighty reverberating bhruum. Henry and Jamal dashed to the window. Clint took a single step after them, but then collapsed sideways back onto his stool.

The shops of Main Street were dark. The sidewalks were empty. Everything looked much the same as it ever might, with the exception of the pile of rags and bones walking confidently down the center line, upsetting the world like an earthquake with every footfall. Emmaline Cass was leaving fissures in the asphalt as she walked.

Jamal rubbed his eyes. “This one of the consequences you were talking about?”

“I suppose so.”

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know.”

She made slow progress, dragging her bones down the street. Bhruum bhruum bhruum. Curtains were drawn in surrounding houses. Brave figures stepped out of their doors, saw what was happening, and then retreated back inside. Emmaline, bleach-white skull blinding in the sunlight, approached the intersection.

A siren sounded. From down the way a patrol car came speeding, dodging Tortus Bay’s massive new potholes, and screeched to a stop. Emmaline continued unperturbed, even after Leia leapt out of the car and began shouting in her direction.

Henry couldn’t hear a word, but he could see the sheriff’s face. Her eyes were wide and white. Her nostrils flared. She was dressed in a white cotton t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants.

“Should we go out there?” Jamal asked, but Henry was already gone. He watched Leia unravel, in the few short seconds it took him to reach the door. Sweat dripped down her brow. Her arm was quaking, even before she drew her gun. By the time she brought it to bear, it vibrated like a wind-up toy in her hand. She continued to shout indistinguishable words. More desperate for every passing moment. Emmaline did not turn around. Bhruum. Bhruum. Bhruu—Leia Thao fired her pistol.

The shots cracked off like a backfiring car. Despite her convulsions, the sheriff’s aim proved true. Three bullets struck Emmaline in the abdomen and right shoulder, sending forth a spray of dirty cloth and bone fragments. Emmaline stumbled, crouched, and stilled. 

Leia shouted again—words that Henry could now hear, standing in the open doorway of the bar. “Please stop! Right there! I don’t want to hurt you!”

Emmaline righted herself. She did not turn. She did not step forward. Her skeletal arms hung limp at her side. Her jaw hung disconnected from her skull. She leaned her head back, looked up at the rising sun, and then raised her arms.

Henry saw the concussive waves only an instant after the sheriff. Leia dove to the side, and was spared the fate of her patrol car. The metal was split in twain, and thrown aside in two messy halves. What was left of that blast shot down the street toward the park. On Emmaline’s opposite side, an equally destructive blast arched straight into the Tortoise Shell Inn.

The collision threw Henry back inside. He hit the ground hard. A column of pain raced up and down his spine. Black spots danced in front of his eyes, then expanded to cover his entire field of vision.

***

Henry blinked. He wondered why, even with his eyes open, he could see nothing. He blinked again. Slowly and blearily the sight of the world returned to him. From where he was laying, he could see the clear blue of the sky—and blankets of dust settling all around him.

The Tortoise Shell Inn had been destroyed. Nothing at all remained of the second story. Half of the barroom still stood, groaning under the additional burden. Everything else was splinters of lumber and the debris of pulverized furniture. Henry lay in the protective cradle of the door-frame. Jamal had been thrown into the corner by the window, but was already shakily rising to his feet.

Clint, who had the misfortune of remaining on the other side of the bar, laid beneath a length of collapsed beam. Only his head and one of his arms was visible. His eyes lolled. Blood dribbled out of the corner of his mouth. 

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