Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and mature content.
The sign that stated Gutterson’s Guns Galore right above the door in faded red, was average in every way imaginable, and could not have done more injustice to one’s expectation about the place. It would be like telling a mole that there is no such thing as sunlight, that it was free to pop to the surface whenever it fancied.
Hand carved into the thick double doors, were flower shoots. Daintily nestled in the center was a quail, which the flowers were frolicking around. I leaned against the doors, which groaned in protest as the quail parted.
We entered a new world.
After being in the gloom and humidity, the dazzling lights bombarded my dilated pupils as if pierced by the beam of a high-powered flashlight, and my skin puckered up as it collided with the arctic blast of the air-conditioning. Certainly painful, glorious all the same.
Hands shading my turquoise eyes, I was coerced to look down just as on all my previous trips, and once again could not resist the itch to titter at the reception. Resting on a single branch was a rather plump squirrel. ‘Welcome to the Nut House’ was printed on the mat, a greeting that swirled around the crouching rodent. The borders were adorned with cheerful leaves and acorns.
Finally adjusted, Vinny and I descended three steps into the depression that contained all the extravagance. We exchanged stares of awe and relief. His eyes were big as saucers. I’m sure mine were too. No matter how many times I dropped in, it was always a spectacle.
Furniture was arranged all over the place. Incandescent colors exploded off the tedious background of wooden wall and floor. Lots of couches and decorative tables twinkled amidst the landscape; framed pictures and posters interspaced along the walls harmonized with the decor, unlike the king-size television screen plastered to the ceiling that stuck out like a charred cookie, dwarfing all other items. The interior of the shop was far more spacious than one could ever fathom from an outside view.
Vinny disinterestedly patted my shoulder, “I’m gonna go bury myself in that bed over there in the far corner.”
I agreed, “You do that, you’ve earned it.”
I was about to select myself a spot when “Kevin, over here,” called in a familiar baritone voice.
Every time it came as a surprise to hear that honey-filled husk. A good surprise. Only this time something was amiss; it had an apprehensive edge.
When I looked back for Vinny, I found him departed, shambling towards the target. I called after him, “Maybe you can get a telepathic message through to Kelly.”
He kept walking. I split to my left, rising out of the goody pit that I so desperately wished to embrace.
Beckoning from behind the mini-bar countertop, stood an aged man. Short, gray hair formed a horseshoe atop his head. He was put together like a bowling pin: his head was narrow, and the fitness of his youth still clung to his torso. Of course, that was beneath some stingy flab that the elderly cannot help comes upon them. Since I’d been here last, Gutterson had added a juicy chocolate finish to the counter. I wouldn’t have detected that latest edition if it hadn’t been for the illumination from the five cordial lamps dangling above it.
Dallas sat across from the elderly man, on one of the elevated white stools. He was drowning in liquor. I guessed, since no one else was near, that he had guzzled the dark brown contents of that half-empty bottle greedily, by his lonesome. The others were trying to soothe their nerves by dissolving into cushy sofas and bean bags. Only one glass was in sight. He was filling it again, already.
“Slow down there, son.” Gutterson advised Dallas. Taking the bottle by the neck, he removed it from reach of Dallas, pulling out a second glass from a shelf below the counter and offering me a drink. He didn’t care about minors and legalities; no enforcement agency was going to bother him about something that didn’t even exist on the maps. Besides, it was highly unusual for someone of drinking age to visit, nevermind that he didn’t get much company out here in the marsh. Because of its seclusion all appointments were scheduled, and drinks on the house.
“I don’t drink.” I said. “You know that.”
“Now’s as good a time as ever to start,” he replied gravely, returning the cup and bottle to their respective homes.
He only had a small stash of such beverages on hand, in about twenty cubbie holes behind his head, and possibly a small cellar somewhere. After all, this wasn’t a bar, it was exclusively a gun store.
On second thought, maybe I could use one… Nah. Stay focused. Focus up.
“Shout out to Dudley,” Dallas whined and washed down one last swig.
I suppose even his type could be tender--at times.
The sturdy man’s glittering eyes settled back on me. Broad brows slanted on the slopes of his forehead in urgency, mouth firm. His thin, snowy goatee seemed as if it was a second, larger mouth open in silent fear. Never had he told me his age, nor had I asked, but it seemed he was edging up toward sixty. That judgment was based upon his appearance coupled with what I knew about him.
He began, “I’m prepared to help you. This boy here, burst in first, but I couldn’t coax a clear version out of him as to whatever happened out there.” This was the first time Dallas had ever been here; he was a new face to Gut because I never talked about him. “The rest just meandered on in looking stunned beyond all reason. Now, before we can get to business, and before everyone gets too jumpy, it would do wonders to get that stuff out of your systems.” He stopped and examined me further.
I probably don’t look too great. I glanced around at my companions. Same as the others.
Almost hesitantly he added, “Huh, this must be pretty grim.”
I blurted, “We don’t have time to regroup! You don’t even know the half of it, Malibu!”
“What on earth could be so traumatizing?” Gutterson demanded.
“Don’t you see? Dudley isn’t here because he was attacked by a monster!”
He stammered, brain trying to process, “Dud, Dudley...is, wa...was...”
“God only knows what it was, but it flies, and it's big, and it must know where we went.”
Dead space followed. I lingered on my own words, troubled that I felt it was coming back for more.
“I have a history with monsters.” His voice was quiet and somber. “We could lose everything.”
Although I was horrified in many ways by this new prospect of his ‘history with monsters’ there was no time to explore all that it entailed. I snapped, “If we waste time, if we do nothing.”
“I think, I see.” The words dripped off Malibu’s lips, suspended in the air on little nooses.
I sure hope you do. We need to be quick, not knock our knees together.
“So it’s war?” I proposed.
“War.” he repeated. “So it comes down to that.”
Real smart! Just use the word war to dredge up memories from Nam and make him more hesitant.
“It's looking like fight or die,” I piped. “It has us trapped.” My eyes burned into his. “But we have one advantage. You and I know it.”
“We need a plan.”
“No,” I threw down the gauntlet. “You can’t comprehend the absolute threat of this thing. You didn’t see it. We need to act now.”
“NEVER rush into things, boy. Think. We are rational creatures. Don’t let anything take that away from you. There is always a better choice, even if it’s more difficult. We can make time to decide a course of action. It isn’t certain whether or not it will come back for more, and we’ll be ready if it does, but if not, then you are just asking for a fight in pursuing it. Especially up to your neck in ammo with the ability to start a riot on that monster’s home turf. I should know. With Vietnam, America bought themselves a load of trouble. Real mess. We need to think things through.”
Another point. Another valid one. Why do I have to be so bull-headed? The right intentions don’t necessarily end with good results. My intentions aren’t totally right anyway. You’re being a little selfish here, wanting to redeem yourself for this treachery towards Buck. That isn’t fair, not at the possible cost of further bloodshed.
“I hate being scared. I hate indecision.” I moaned. Of course you do, everyone does, moron. Say something less obvious next time.
Malibu softly offered comfort, “Don’t worry, son. You don’t have to do this alone.”
I turned away, hiding tears that started to burn my nose. It’s all your fault. Every bit of it. Yours.
“For now, you may be a failure,” I muttered under my breath, “but you’re damned sure going to change that.” That had kind of been my motto ever since the Estrangement.
I turned back to the father I never had. “I wouldn’t want to do it alone. Let’s huddle up.”
That got a brief smile out of him. “That’s more of what I like to hear.”
Somewhat relieved, I became conscious of the body signals I was receiving about my heart rate, now approaching normal but still pounding in my ears, and that half the amount of oxygen being drawn into my lungs was inhaled through my mouth. I made a conscious effort to primarily breathe through my nose.
Thanks to the muggy weather, my skin was clammy. Maybe one day soon I'd blow this town that might as well be cut right into the heart of a jungle, and wasn't half as sprightly (couldn't even lure a parasite to snack on you around here, it was that flat) though our latest resident was changing the livelihood of the locale. Is action not sold at an intermediate level? Ah, beggars can't be choosers.
I looked down at the front of my brown shirt to behold the sight of a full moon. The rocket beneath cruised, sweat-free, but the moon above was not so lucky. Oh, and the most pressing issue.
I had to pee.
I sensed Malibu anticipated that I had more to say, which wasn’t altogether a false deduction, for I had wanted to bark out an order or two and provide myself the illusion of control, but my bladder scrapped that harebrained notion.
“I’ll get back to you on that,” I substituted for what I had forgotten to say when duty rudely called, already scooting past the whimpering Dallas.
Over my shoulder I heard, casually as could be said when struggling to accept such a tumultuous state of affairs, “Take your time.” and then, just maybe, a lip being gnawed.
Oh, so now you’re pretending you can hear imperceptible actions, I clucked at myself in mid-streak.
Planting my arm, I swung around the end of the bar, careful not to crack my hip on the corner. I whacked it anyway.
Cursing myself, I completed the motion, scrambling to the left. A dim corridor swallowed me as I rushed forward passing a couple of doors and a mirror, in which I caught a fleeting glimpse of my tense image. Coming up was a fork in the hall. Crap. I’d only used the bathroom here once before. At my speed there was no time to gamble on eeny meeny miny moe.
This right must be right. It got darker. Pictures, vent system overhead, more pictures...DOOR!
In desperation I kept fiddling with the knob, in denial over choosing the wrong way. Clack Clack Clack Clack! rang out as I twisted in vain. Standing around made the pain in my abdomen sharper, and I found my feet dancing a jig for temporary alleviation. I kicked at the bottom of the door vehemently.
I accelerated my tempo back the way I’d come, but my regroup was blemished by the sight of a water fountain left unspotted on my first pass by it. Of all the…
I was beginning to wonder how burrowing creatures kept from losing their way in the maze of tunnels. Every thud drummed in my ears as my boots lowered the boom on the floor. Now I was finally traveling on that left fork, that right one I should’ve guessed from the beginning to avert extra mishaps. So why did it look like I was charging into a dead end?