Something’s wrong in Club Blaze tonight. I can’t put my finger on it, but the heaviness of the air is pushing on my lungs, and I can hardly breathe. The metal band playing their rolling, heavy rifts would normally have me sky-high by now, but I’m anything but.
“Come on, Zack Kullis,” I say to myself, “get it under control. The bar is hopping. If you want the big tips that come with Friday nights like this, you better keep your ass moving.”
The fucking Blazing Skull fresco plastered on the wall behind the performers appears to be smiling, leering even, and I swear it’s staring at me. Shit! It’s not just staring at me, it’s trying to get into my head. It wants my thoughts known to it.
Wow! What’s come over me? I’ve worked here a long time, and I’ve seen some strange things go down but I’ve always been able to look the other way and not worry about them. But the very atmosphere tonight is a choking, threatening force, an entity even, one intent on wreaking havoc on me.
The mere scent of beer coming from the bottles as I open them causes my stomach to retch, and as for pouring one on tap, it’s nausea city. I can hardly stand, doubled over the way I am from the pain deep within my gut, forcing its way up my esophagus, and lingering in the space between the back of my throat and my trembling lips.
Sweating like I’ve just stepped out of a sauna, my fancy bartender’s garb – black tuxedo pants, cumberbund, long sleeved white shirt, and a hideous black bow-tie – is drenched and trapping the heat against my body. Steam! My God, I feel like steam is pouring out from within and frying my skin. Boils pop up before my eyes, and I rush to run cold water over my hands to keep the burns down, knocking Joe, the other bartender, to the side.
“What’s wrong with you, mother-fucker?!” he shouts.
Pointing to my blistered hands, I say, “I have to get water on these burns now!”
“What burns? You’re one crazy fuck tonight!”
What the . . . ?
There are no burns! How can this be? Just moments ago they were all over my hands.
The fresco laughs at me, the fleshless skull opening its mouth wide, flashing those perfect white teeth in my direction. The flames go wild, and within seconds the back drop to the stage ignites and the band is engulfed in a deluge of red, orange, and yellow. The dancing armada of heat demons sets the leather jackets of the band members on fire, and soon their faces match that of my nemesis, as peeling flesh falls from their faces to the floor. Five flaming musicians cavort on stage as if possessed, the intensity of their music reaching a crescendo unlike anything I have ever heard before.
Wild, burning banshees sing of a place much like the stage is now, one filled with torture and pain. But . . . but the band doesn’t appear to be in distress. Can it be? Is this their normal state of being?
Before I can react to the fire, to get to an extinguisher at the side of the bar, the flames reverse themselves and traipse back to the fresco, where they once more become mere paint and fabric. And the band . . . the band and all that was once consumed by the fire is now back to the way it was.
My head! What is going on? This can’t be happening? The painting is causing this. I know it is.
“Damn you!” I shout, staring at the painting. “Stop this shit!”
Joe pulls me back from the edge of the bar. “Zack! Calm down. Go outside and get some air. Pull yourself together.”
Yeah, that’s what I need. This place is closing in on me tonight. That’s all. A little air and I’ll be just fine.
It’s no easy task working my way through the patrons. The joint is getting more packed with every minute. But I have to get through. Even the participants in this crazy drinking, dancing, and orgasmic frenzy of emotions coming from I don’t know where are looking non-human. Their outward personas vanish beneath their false veneers and I see them for who and what they really are.
Putting my hands over my eyes, I force myself through the gathering of miscreants and, after what seems to be an eternity, I find myself in the parking lot. Oh, shit! The parking lot is empty. These people inside; where did they come from? How did they get here?
“A little confused, are you?”
I turn and see Mr. McRob leaning up against one of the porch supports, striking his match against the timber and lighting up a cigar. Cuban. Damn, I remember the aroma from the pre-embargo days.
“Remember these, Zack? Ah, you do, don’t you?”
Before I can answer him, a lit cigar is in my hand.
“Go ahead, my friend. Indulge. I have plenty.”
Standing a few feet apart, puffing on the best of the best, and wondering how he got to me so fast, I simply say, “Thank you, sir.”
He laughs. “Call me Blaze. Everyone else does. Well, almost everyone else. Sometimes I get called rather vile names. People can be rather crude, you know.”
I’m not sure what’s going down, but I haven’t physically laid eyes on Mr. McRob since the day I was hired. And that’s been a long time. Why now?
“Why now? I’ll tell you why now,” he says.
How does the bastard know what I’m thinking?
“Let me explain what’s happening here, Zack. Club Blaze is a little more than a gin mill with heavy metal music. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. Damn me. Truth be told: it’s a lot more. See, we cater to some pretty special people.
“Alas. The special people are pretty much gone. You know the back room where you thought the high stakes poker games were going on?”
“The games were going on, but other things were happening as well.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Please, call me Blaze, Zack. Deals were being made. Special deals; deals with a purpose, a special meaning.”
I’m still confused. What does all this have to do with a full joint, an empty parking lot, a wall painting becoming alive, and non-humans hiding inside the bodies of what appear to be humans?
A sarcastic laugh reverberates around me from all sides of the parking lot. “Oh, Zack, you are such a virgin when it comes to the ways of the world. My world, anyway.”
He walks to the road and beckons for me to join him. Gingerly, I walk to where he waits for me.
“What we have here is a crossroads, Zack. Two paths intersecting; two choices to be made. And for me, deals to be made. Some people are rather unhappy with their lot in life and work out a deal with me to gain riches, a longer life, or maybe some guy wants a hot floozy to scratch his scrotum for awhile. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I totally understand what he’s saying, but I don’t know if I can believe it or not. This is too far over the top. It just flies against logic.
“Fuck logic, Zack. You’re working for a bit of a bastard. Sorry you have to find that out, but better now than later, huh?”
“Yes, Blaze. Better now than later.”
“Great! We have some common ground. Now we go back to choices and deals. What do you want from life?”
“Nothing much. I have a job, make some decent money, and my wants are really not that exorbitant. I’m pretty content with things the way they are.”
“Oh, Zack, come on now. Surely you would enjoy riches and all that comes with it.”
“Not really. I live alone, and my salary here is quite good. I enjoy my job, for the most part, anyway – tonight was wonky – but there’s not anything else I need.”
“I’ve been burned too often. I need a break there. When the time is right, things will gel. Until then, I’ll just wait.”
Blaze is pissed. He wants to make a deal, and I’m not amenable to his little game.
“Let’s up the ante, Zack. What would happen if you were fired from this job, you searched high and low to find another one, only to find out you’re too fucking old to be considered? What then?”
“Social Security, maybe?”
“I don’t think so, Zack. It’s not very secure anymore, is it?”
This isn’t sounding too reassuring. I’m thinking my job is heading south, and my options are not too high in the sky.
“So what are you suggesting, Blaze?”
“There we go, Zack. I’m just suggesting we make a deal. As you can see, I’ve tapped into everyone else around here. My present clientele is waiting for their time to pay up or shut up.”
“So I’m fresh meat?”
“Interesting way to put it, but it’s true.”
Blaze is really pissed now. “You don’t have a choice in the matter.”
The final ashes fall from the exquisite cigar, and as I stomp the butt out in the lot, I stare into the faces of everyone from inside the club.
“Well, Zack, it seems to me that keeping your job is pretty high on your list of wants. If you don’t deal, that job is gone. What do you say?”
Fuck, he has me. I need a job. “So what’s the deal?”
“Usually, I would love to play some poker, but we have an audience. How about we flip a coin? You call it. If you win, you not only keep your job, but you’ll own the club. What a deal, huh?”
“My coin, and it’s heads.”
I take a quarter out of my pocket, stare at the entourage around me, and flip it high into the air. There is electricity in the air as everyone waits to see which way the coin lands.
“Hey, Blaze” I say, “it’s heads. Heh, heh. Looks like I win.”
The assemblage murmurs in shock. This is not what anyone expected.
A rumbling comes from deep beneath, its intensity building the closer it gets to me. The ground opens under the club and swallows it up. My parking lot companions, other than Blaze, turn into so many variants of wispy personas and vanish into the night.
“Blaze,” I say, “I thought the club was mine.”
“Oh. It is. We just never discussed where the club would be when you owned it.”
A sinister laugh taunts me before I stand alone at the crossroads.
I turn my coin over in my hands. Go figure. This quarter has two heads . . .
~ Blaze McRob
© Copyright 2013 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.
Heed the Tale Weaver: Celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Damned. Through May 7, 2013, upon each new post, a comment you will leave. A package of ghoulish goodies tainted with an offering from every member of the Damned awaits one fated winner – glorious books, personalized stories and eternal suffering at your feet. Now Damn yourself, make your mark below! But remember insolent ones, you must leave a comment, a “like” will not earn you a chance at our collection of depravity. Do not make the Damned hunt you down.