A Normal Night at the Heartlands Tombstone
by Patrick Fisher White
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“What would you like, beauty-bones?” asked Emily Doll of the Skeleton who had rattled his way to the bar.
He smiled at her and made a heart-shaped symbol with his glowing hand bones. He couldn’t talk but had something he desperately wanted to say.
“What’s that, hon? Didn’t quite get that,” said the wooden woman, batting her delicate eyelashes and playing coy.
The Skeleton made a fluttering motion with his hands, pointed to where his heart would be and then brought his fingers to his glowing smile to kiss their tips. He was not very good at mime, but he was earnest.
“How about a cup of the good stuff, darling? That about set you straight?”
The skeleton mimed an exasperated sigh and nodded. Emily giggled to him as she poured him a tall glass of dreams. They were kept fresh on tap for just such an occasion.
Emily Doll didn’t giggle to anyone else, not even in pretend. There was just something about the radioactive skeleton that set her brass joints loose. She kissed her fingertip and then placed that finger on the rim of his glass. “And that little something is to add spice,” whispered Emily with a wink.
The Amazing Atomic Skeleton mimed a sigh with such fervency that he nearly fell off of his stool... which set Emily to giggling all over again.
“Look at them,” said Sweet Anne Lies to Doc Rocket at the other side of the bar. He hadn’t heard her approaching but now, feeling her cold breath upon his neck, he didn’t move. For all his adventures and all his lives and deaths, Doc Rocket, the spirit of science, was just a man.
Within a moment Sweet Anne Lies had leaned in closer and placed her cold arms around him. He could feel her bosom upon his back and the fine hum where her heartbeat was not. His warmth was draining just as his heart was beating faster.
He mumbled something incoherent into his drink.
“Both of them are clueless, doomed and more than a little sad,” admitted Sweet Anne Lies to the Scientist’s ear, “But still, for all that they are, there goes the stuff of love.”
Doc Rocket finished his drink in a gulp. “Let me show you something,” he said.
“I’m yours,” Replied Sweet Anne Lies.
He took her by the hand and led her through the back, to the stairs that were rarely used and up upon the roof. The Whiskey Lilly had just settled into her heartbreaking guitar melody: “Eulogy” and Doc Rocket had lost all sensation in his now cold hand. He didn’t care. The cool night air revitalized him and the soft sounds of The Whiskey Lilly and The Amazing Atomic Skeleton drifted in from below, giving him the strength he needed to dance with Sweet Anne Lies.
They were alone surrounded by the stars and the sky and the earth. It was a quiet wonderland for lovers and astronomers to enjoy in equal measure, and they both soaked in it with reverence.
“Look at them,” said Doc Rocket, gesturing around the sky with one hand while spinning Sweet Anne Lies around in time with the drifting melody. “They are my purview, my sweet gal, and my sunshine.”
She felt it in her chest, her eyes and essence taking in the stars and the man who owned them. He held her close and she could feel his life.
“They give the worlds of the cosmos life and sadness. They give me adventure, distribute me across galaxies and peoples, and in the end define my existence.”
She wanted to kiss him but he moved the dance onwards in steps. She could see his eyes shine with reflected light and feel his heart beat inside of her. It was growing fainter and fluttering like a bird, but it didn’t spoil the mood. It never did, it was her gift.
“For each one, each and every one of them, there is one of me. A rocket, a man, a possibility...” He leaned in close and she grew excited by his scent, his closeness. “A Science.”
“Shut up and kiss me,” said Sweet Anne Lies.
He did. He did as hard and full as he could, holding her tight until every last inch of his soul, his life, and his passion had drained into her. It lasted for an eternity or for a moment, depending on the relativity of experience. By science’s standards it lasted until the end of the song.
And then the cool night breeze blew the ashes of him away, and she was not sad. Her cheeks glowed with the warmth of a thousand suns and each star above twinkled with his memory.
She did not know how much of what he said was true. Men lied to her, it was part of her function, but sometimes in her home here at the Heartland Tombstone she had met the truly extraordinary person, the different and the absurd. And just a little bit, she had fallen in love with them.
She looked to the stars and smiled, but was interrupted by the harsh shouting of a scarecrow coming from below her at the crossroads.
“All right, you son of a bitch, now you git yers!” shouted Sheriff Scarecrow Jack.
“Please,” pleaded the Reverend, “you do not have to do this! You do not—”
“Shut up, padre,” said the Scarecrow. He tossed one of his pearl-handled pistols upon the ground at the Reverend’s feet and placed his hand on the other one.
“Do ye remember January thirteenth, eighteen ninety-nine?” asked Scarecrow Jack.
The Reverend looked bewildered, confused and hurt. His rotted brain struggled in pain at the question but he somehow knew there was something important in the memory.
“Shut up,” said Scarecrow Jack. His hand gripped his revolver tight.
“There was a woman. Yer wife...” For a moment the Scarecrow was silent and neither man spoke. It was a moment of moonlight and legend and memory, where the world stops and remembers the face of tragedy. It happens every night, if you only know where to look.
“The Whiskey Lilly...” whispered Reverend Big Barb Nails.
“You killed her, Reverend, and you killed me.”
“No...” moaned the Reverend.
Sweet Anne Lies could hear his heart break from where she stood and could feel the pain beginning to well up inside of him, breaking upon him in waves of intensity too hard for a man to bear.
“Yes, padre, you did. Then you took those nails... You took ’em an’ you put out my eyes and you nailed me up like a scarecrow.” The Scarecrow paused at the memory; perhaps as a man he would have shut his eyes at the pain, perhaps as a man he would have shown something: as it was he scowled, as inhuman as the act which had created him.
“No. I... I was sick... I remember now there was a devil inside of me,” explained the Reverend.
“Ain’t no devil but what you take with ye, padre, it was you what taught me that... An’ I ain’t never forgive ye for it.”
They stayed silent for a long while. Finally the Sheriff cocked the hammer back on his gun and said: “An’ every night ye forgit, an’ every night I put ye back down fer what ye did. Ain’t no kind o’ justice, but it’s what we got.”
The Reverend collapsed upon the ground. He sobbed as a man utterly and completely defeated. Sweet Anne Lies felt every last bit of it.
“Draw,” said Scarecrow Jack and pulled his gun slowly.
Without a word the Reverend Big Barb Nails changed. He sprang upwards like a marionette jerked on its strings and the pistol was in his hands. There was a savage gleam in his eyes and a silent snarl upon his lips.
He was a different man, transformed by memory or hate or the devil carried inside him, it didn’t matter. He fired that pistol straight and true and emptied all six shots into the Sheriff Scarecrow Jack. The crossroads rang out with the sound, but the Sheriff laughed them off. He was made of straw, true; but more importantly he was made of hate.
He laughed off those bullets and then put six of his own into the Reverend Big Barb Nails. The Reverend Collapsed like a broken thing, ancient flesh and dead meat withering in the dirt to near nothingness as the years came upon him in a torrent.
Surprisingly it was the Sheriff Scarecrow Jack that buried him at the crossroads.
Surprisingly it was Crocodile Cadillac that won the next pot. The game had been fierce and tight, played for ever-increasing stakes on multiple levels. Whole countries lay spilled upon the table and with this, last and biggest of pots, the result was a tie.
“A tie? You Lie,” protested Mr. Money stubbornly. He had bet heavily and held every card he had ever dreamed of. He had traded kings for songs and songs for continents. The hearts and minds of man were compiled into the pot on the table and the fate of the future and the past written in cards.
Still, when you looked at the two contestants, none was the undisputed winner and even a dumb man could tell you it divided roughly even.
Neither man was satisfied with half and both looked stubbornly towards the other’s winnings.
“Another hand then, you nickel-eyed bastard!” growled Crocodile.
“Sorry folks!” called out Emily Doll from the bar, “You know the rules: closing time in five and no exceptions, darlin’s.”
The Sheriff came in as those words were spoken and folded his arms to look sternly at the card players. Begrudgingly they both stood and stretched their weary bones.
“A pity, a pity, but next time will certainly be mine,” said Mr. Money as he extended his hand.
Crocodile Cadillac scowled, looked at the hand and finally took it. “I doubt that, Money. I doubt it very much.”
And with those words they went their separate ways. The Sheriff returned to Sweet Anne Lies’ room where he quietly spread himself amongst the hearts and dreams of a nation’s worth of sleeping children.
The Whiskey Lilly finished her last song: “The End,” by The Doors, and The Amazing Atomic Skeleton mimed clapping so fervently that everyone left broke into applause.
Then he approached the bar.
“Come on bones, don’t make this hard,” said Emily Doll as he approached her. He put his palms flat upon the table, made a show of rolling up invisible sleeves and then, from nowhere he produced a green rose of perfect glowing beauty.
“Where did you...” Emily Doll trailed off as she saw the words engraved upon the rose. It was her name a thousand, thousand times. It was etched in the stuff of atoms and visible only to those with the eyes to notice.
She accepted it from the Skeleton’s glowing hand and felt its warm radioactive energy fill her with its touch. To any other girl it would have meant death; to her it was a thing of unparalleled wonder to feel anything at all.
“This... this is amazing,” she said breathlessly to the Skeleton. He leaned over the bar, trying to look nonchalant but nearly slipping in spilled drink. She laughed and with no regrets grabbed his head with both hands.
The sun was rising outside and they kissed until it did. If Sweet Anne Lies had been around to see the kiss between the glowing skeleton and the wooden girl she would have thought the event no doubt quite odd, even for her long, strange existence.
Instead she was still upon the roof in contemplation. The Sheriff had gone, but in his place had come The Whiskey Rose, who stepped daintily upon the crossroads at which her husband was laid to rest and remained a moment in thought or prayer.
The sky was brightening and the early morning light shone through the ghost’s beautiful transparent body, but she did not seem to mind. Instead she leaned over and kissed the head of the grave marker, saying simply, “I forgive you.”
And by the time Sweet Anne Lies had blinked the tears from her eyes at that confession the ghost was gone. Gone to await another night, another performance, and another chance to say those words to her husband’s withered face.
Sweet Anne only had to think on the event for a moment before she drifted down to the grave herself and begrudgingly bestowed her essence upon the rotten flesh and heartbroken body of the Reverend. It was not a great deal of power, but it would ensure he would rise again tomorrow.
Sweet Anne Lies did not know much, but she knew love, and by definition that meant she knew hope as well. Wearily she returned to her own resting place, drained of color and as cold as ice.
Tomorrow night was approaching fast.
Copyright © 2012 by Patrick Fisher White