“Hi, my name is Fred?” I stood in the entrance to a bar, my gangly form trembling slightly. This is where she works. I had never dared to go inside, but had seen her working here; moving kegs on a dolly, sweeping the patio, wiping the bar with a cloth. The pretty blonde girl with blue eyes so deep I could get lost.
“Are you sure about that bub,” a man sitting on a bar stool asked, suspenders fighting valiantly to support his rotund frame. “You don’t sound too sure. Why don’t you take a load off and sitt’er down right here.”
I shuffled over and hopped up on the stool next to him. “I’m Fred,” I said more assuredly and offered him an awkward handshake above the bar.
“Nice ta meet ya. I’m Hans, and this here is Betsy Jr.” A cat jumped up on his lap and then clawed its way up his belly and onto his back. “She don’t like strangers much, but hell, who does?” He laughed, which was a snorting, throat clearing, cackling sort of thing that shook his entire body and threw Betsy Jr. up into the air with every snort.
“I swear,” he said, petting the cat that gripped his shoulder tightly, “she smokes in my truck and then rips up the seats. And she pees on it. Well, maybe she doesn’t smoke. But she probably breathes fire. There’s definitely a funny smell.”
“She sounds nice,” I said politely, which racked Hans with another round of jumbling laughter.
“Ooowee, boy. You’re funnier than a bear in heat. Did you hear about that indian feller that came into town last week? Shout’in about some big medicine demon or whatever. Ya know I often suspicionate that sittiin on the toilet may increase one’s brain power. I believe it stimulates certain special areas of the nervous system while prohibitioning others, allowing for greater blood flow to the regions necessary for technological advance.
“Take a look at the Native American Peoples or the Aztecs. If they had developed even medieval indoor plumbing, just an out house mind you, those Conquistadorios wouldn’ta so easily kilt ’em all off now would they?
“See Fred. That’s what people really need. Brain power.”
“I see,” I said, swiveling in my bar stool back and forth. Shouldn’t there be a bartender?
“The problem is figuring out how to increase the flow of brain juice.”
I hazarded a guess. “Toilet seats?”
“That’s only the beginininering of the whole shimmer-bang. The ice burg is much denser underground. I been experimenting on Betsy Jr. here, and so far I’d say progress has been, oh I don’t know, progressing. It’s a very progressive type of laboratory.”
“Does Betsy Jr. use the toilet?”
“Yes sir she does, and let me tell you she’s the finest toilet pee-er in the whole wide galaxy. I seen a whole level of progress as soon as she started. ”
He leaned toward me confidentially and whispered, “I think she’s got mystical powers.”
A man in a black t-shirt came in from the backroom carrying a cardboard box. “You don’t look twenty one, mister.” He said at me.
“I’m Kyle’s brother. He said to wait until he was done.”
“All righty. I guess Hans can keep an eye on you. He tell you about the big medicine demon?”
“Hey!” Hans said. “I was just gett’in to that.” He glowered into his mug of beer for a moment.
“Anyway, this medicine man comes into the bar last weeks and says there’s some demon out victimizing folks. It only comes out after dark, when it smells somebody’s fear. It likes to slip from shadow to shadow, stalking its prey, feeding on the fear. When it’s ready, it sucks the poor fella dry and melts his bones, leaving nothing but a melting puddle of skin.
“They say the last bit to melt is the face, and you can still see who it was if the kill is fresh enough.”
“Really?” I said, somewhat incredulous and terrified.
“But that’s not even the worst part. ”
It seemed pretty bad to me. “It isn’t?”
“No, no, Fred. Not the worst by far. He follows his victims for weeks before he attacks. Don’t know why. Could be the fear. Or maybe he just likes the challenge of slipping from shadow to shadow unseen, noiseless, and completely undetective-able.
“What we do know is that he takes their minds before he kills them. Usually it’s right before, and then they melt into goo. But other times…they wander around mindless for days before they goo-ify.
“And sometimes they turn into zombies.”
I laughed. “Wow Hans, that’s some big medicine talking there.”
“I had you until the zombies, though, didn’t I?” He grinned.
“Yeah,” I said, looking out the bar window at the dwindling sunlight, little knowing that I would soon come to believe Hans’ tale and wish that it was only zombies waiting for us in the night. “You almost had me.”