'The End Of Days' Bar & Lounge
I had enough cash left for one more good drunk and that was the end of the bloody rainbow. As I eyeballed the keeper of the booze, nodding and pointing for another drink, I accidentally glanced in the mirror behind the bar and couldn't help but think of Armageddon. I don't know if it was the bleary woebegone grimace I barely recognized or if the roulette ball of depravity had finally found a home. The near shock peeled the scab off my buzz like sandpaper over a rough knot.
I lit another smoke and waited. Sooner or later, I thought, it'll come to pass -- Armageddon.
I heard the door slam, helped by the wind. Two leather-backed seats away, the wood floor scraped a chair across itself and an angel sat in it. At least, that's how I saw it. She ordered a gin and tonic with a twist of lime. Lime, I thought, must be canadian. I overheard the bartender call her Lilly. He had a harsh whiskey voice so I really wasn't sure. Coulda been Billy or Milly or maybe even Gunga Dilly for that matter. Like I said, I was working on a bourbon drunk; one more sheet and I'd be gone with the wind, whirligiging to my motel room where a bottle waited patiently. Whatever her name, she had to be the angel of death, right on cue.
Behind me at a roundtable sat the Four Horsemen. They drank beer by the pitcher, imported from the Gates of Hell brewery in Texas, into which they liberally poured red wine, imported from the grocery store down the street. They spoke in muffled tones like spies from the underworld. No doubt discussing the particulars of the impending Apocalypse. For the sake of humanity I felt I should challenge them to a duel. But, I was pretty drunk and didn't think I'd be able to take all four. Maybe Pestilence and Famine, but War and Death? I'd probably be biting off more than I could chew; wouldn't be the first time. Besides, humanity and I hadn't been on speaking terms since Delilah left with my Cordoba and the bank account. Not her real name, but, it should've been. I really liked that car. Anyway, the angel of death was nearby, maybe that's why she was here.
The door banged shut again and in walked two men wearing cowboy hats and knee-length black coats, their boots thudded the hardwood floor untimidly. One had blonde hair, the other, ink black; both tied back in long ponytails. I recognized them at once. A surge of hope rose and fell, a heaving swell on the open sea of life's fortunes. Although, I hadn't eaten for a couple of days so it could've been nausea. Something rose and fell. The Archangels Michael and Gabriel bee-lined for the table against the wall, putting their backs to it and facing the Horsemen. It was adjacent the wood stove which crackled and stuttered as they passed. This is it, I thought, my chest tightening, showdown!
Not wishing to spoil the party, I scooped all but a few bucks off the bar with the idea of getting the hell out of there, when the angel of death put her soft tanned hand on my arm. At least, it looked soft. I hadn't noticed her slide over; she could've just appeared. Angels can do that, you know. A boggy warmth rolled up my back, flushing my neck, moistening my armpits. My heart raced momentarily, which worried me. Was I having hot flashes with a heart attack chaser? Surely her touch couldn't inspire such passion. Or, could it? Well, I suppose. The last time I rolled in the hay hula-hoops were two bucks a piece.
She brought her full red wet lips next to my ear and whispered seductively, "Don't go yet. The fun's about to start."
I made an effort to smile and nod as though savvy, but, blithe, I did not feel. The stench of imminent death saturating my now sweaty shirt, short-circuiting the calm I'd been cultivating, kinda put me off my game. I was uncertain how to proceed. My tombstone flashed, bearing the inscription: Here lies a man of meager means who fought hard, but the chips were stacked against him from birth and he died like he lived -- a drunk and a coward. I shook my head and it vanished. Another immediately chiseled its way in: He died like he lived -- clueless. I couldn't resist a smirk and raised my glass in salute.
Through long, curling, ebullient lashes, the angel of death peered at me with mischievous eyes a deep shade of purple, vertiginous whirls that brooked no resistance. Concern, or indifferent curiosity, wrinkled her otherwise flawless features. I guess she never met anyone who could engage in private conversation with himself while sitting next to her. Surprised me too.
Something from the distant past swept over me and I swiveled my chair to glare balefully at the Horsemen. I glanced at the backs of their leather jackets expecting to see appropriate designations and was temporarily confused. Instead the word Vampires was writ bold, large and slanted. They're disguised, I thought, how clever. They ignored me. I have to confess, my best scary face no longer had any effect. I dropped it with a shrug and looked over at Michael and Gabriel; they smiled back. Not friendly like, but not sarcastic either. A gesture of acknowledgment, no more. Archangels, I surmised, a serious no-nonsense bunch.
I re-elbowed the bartop and took another sip of bourbon-coke through the swizzle stick. A sissy habit, I know, but one I was quite fond of. Ice crashing into my teeth spiked an otherwise flattened brain wave; we can't have that. The angel beside me ordered another for herself and me. I had to smile now; I was a bought man. Dozens of comments and phrases from my youth cascaded down the wind-swept slopes of my brain, eventually avalanching to befuddled chaos amid dense fog. But the ruination of the Ages was upon us, I reminded myself, so anything would do.
Forcibly resisting the temptation to glance at my reflection, I turned to her and mumbled, "Thanks, hon." I could barely hear myself, so I said it again with a bit more steam behind it. I'd been driving downhill at full speed and was suddenly asked to pull a u-turn. Grinding gears and burning clutch I spun and hit the gas.
She smiled broadly, showing snow-white teeth, and clinked glasses for a toast, then slammed down a shot o' gin like an Irishman at a wake. Something was seriously wrong with this picture, I decided. Was I to be sacrificed? Was she part of some devilish plan to seduce me and steal my soul? Whatever for? I'm nobody. How did I fit in to all this?
The shortest distance between parallel universes is where they intersect along an edge, which is no distance at all. In other words, a person could just introduce himself and start jabbering. I pivoted towards the angel but, lo and behold, she was at the rear of the bar bent over the pool table. How does she do that? Her blonde hair fell wildly about her shoulders; tight jeans accentuated her divine qualities. She hadn't asked me to rack 'em up, so maybe she wanted to be alone. That didn't make sense, though, after buying me a drink and all. Watching her move, I became inspired to throw down the gauntlet. Maybe that's how it worked? A human had to offer himself, to go willingly, for the bargain to be set in stone. If I played her and lost, what would that mean? Would I forfeit my soul? But, what if I won?
In the land of limbo, I waited for a sign. And waited. The road to perdition is paved with lost opportunities.
As dusk descended, the dark-clad bartender tossed a couple o' pieces of wood on the fire. The Four Horsemen conferred in hushed tones. The Archangels sat staring blankly, fatigue circling like buzzards in their eyes. The angel of death played pool by herself. Wind clawed the front windows and rattled the door, testing, seeking weakness. Snow swirled like confetti from on high celebrating the end of days. The stove sizzled and popped.
I could hear the muffled clack of pool balls, the lazy shuffling of the bartender as he busied himself, and the clock motor gently whirring, ticking off the moments of a life. All was quiet and serene as I lit a smoke and ordered another bourbon and coke on the rocks.
Armageddon, bring it on.
THE BITTER END