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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dirty Man

Category: Issue 12

“Got a light?”

“Um, yeah, s-sure.” Bator fumbled around his pocket, eventually managing to extract the nearly empty Bic.  He spun the little wheel, sparking the flint and igniting the butane, and extended a trembling hand toward the cigarette hanging from the lips of the dirty man sitting across the table from him. He pretended not to notice the dried mud and bits of grass that clung to the man’s clothing as he asked,  “You smoke?”

“Yeah. Tried quitting a bunch of times, but, I’m hooked, you know? Can’t stop myself. Not that it matters now.” The dirty man leaned forward and sucked the proffered flame, setting paper and tobacco alight. He drew heavily on the cigarette, and sat back as he exhaled a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling, exposing a smile of loose skin under his chin.  Bits of dirt tumbled from his hair.

Bator sat back as well. He looked nervously around the bar, wondering if any of the other patrons were watching this tableau.

They weren’t. They were too caught up in their own petty lives, their cheating wives or overdue rent payments, their boilermakers and unfiltered Camels, to pay attention to anyone else.

“S-so. What now?” Bator asked. He was trying to keep calm, trying not to show any fear, but it was creeping up from his innards like a bad burrito. He decided to have a cigarette himself. Maybe that would help him relax.

“What next? Hmm. That’s a good question, my friend.” The dirty man paused, nodding. Then, leaning in, “But I think we both know the answer to that one.  Why don’t you tell me.  What would you do if you were in my shoes?”

Bator glanced down to look at the man’s shoes. There were no shoes. In fact, there were no feet. The man’s legs ended at his knees.

The dirty man followed Bator’s gaze, and then chuckled. “Yeah, I guess that expression doesn’t work does it?”

Across the room, the bartender yelled for last call. He looked at Bator, a regular here, and the man sitting with him. He called to Bator, “Anything for you or your friend?”

Bator, still trying to control trembling hands said, “Whiskey. Make it a double, Mike.”

“And for your friend?”

Bator looked at the dirty man, who answered the bartender in a gravely voice, “Got any coffee back there, pal?”

“No. This ain’t no Starbucks, Mac. We got hard stuff, and malty stuff.”

“Never mind. I ain’t stayin’ long anyway.” He turned to Bator. “Am I?”

Bator blanched. “Er, uh, I don’t know. I mean, why you asking me? I don’t know your plans.”

“Sure you do.” The dirty man took another drag of the cigarette. The ash on the end was getting long, but rather than tap it off, the dirty man just stared at it. He continued speaking to Bator as he watched the ash. “We have unfinished business.”

“I-I…we don’t have any business. Let’s just-”

“We do!” the dirty man slammed his fist on the table, causing Bator’s empty shot glasses to pirouette around each other.  A puff of dust mushroomed above his hand, and more dirt fell from his sleeve.

The bartender came over with Bator’s drink, and set it on the table in front of him. He studied Bator’s companion. “You fellas all right over here?” He was looking only at the dirty man as he spoke.

The dirty man looked at Bator. “We all right over here, my friend?”

“Yeah, w-we’re fine. Just f-fine.”

The bartender shrugged and walked away.

“So, my friend, why don’t you finish that drink, and we can go outside and settle up. How’s that sound to you?”

“There’s n-nothing to settle up.” Bator attempted bravado but fell short. The dirty man wavered before him like the air over hot pavement. Bator wiped a shaky hand over his face as if that would erase this scene from existence.

“Nothing to settle up? Nothing to settle up? You son of a bitch, I’m sitting without the ends of my legs because of you!”

This was becoming too much for Bator’s limited falculties. He had no place to anchor his world. Everything was spinning out of control. He had just needed a few bucks for some rock and a drink. But this guy wouldn’t give up his money. He’d fought back. Nobody had ever fought back against Bator before. It hadn’t been his fault this guy wouldn’t do what he was supposed to.

The dirty man leaned back in his chair again and stared. The man was studying him, smirking, probably reveling in Bator’s anguish. Bator’s eyes darted around the bar, throwing out glances like grappling hooks trying to find purchase so he could climb out of this nightmare.  But he knew none of these derelicts would, or could, help him.  A spasm of tremors rippled up his spine. The dirty man spoke, quietly, almost a whisper, “Why’d you have to hack off my legs?”

Bator, the surreality of his situation bleeding away his capacity for rational thought, snapped.  He stood up and yelled, “Because you didn’t fit in the hole, you stupid bastard! What was I supposed to do, stick around all night trying to dig you a bigger grave?”

The sad old men who were nursing their drinks at the bar and surrounding tables tried to make themselves smaller and pretend they heard nothing. Nellie, the well-worn hooker at the end of the bar who worked these sad old men for a few bucks, a few drinks, or a fix, looked at Bator and then quickly looked away.  Obviously her relationship with Bator had been strictly business.

“Sit down,” the dirty man said. Bator, looking wildly around the room, slowly acquiesced. The room was spinning too fast to be standing anyway.

“You didn’t fit in the hole,” Bator said again, more calmly. “I had to work fast.”

“That you did. What do you do for a living? Are you like a butcher or something? ‘Cause you hacked me up like a pro.”

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Bator answered. Whether it was the whiskey, the absurdity of the situation, or the fact that he had resigned himself to following the path of insanity, Bator felt some of his tension ebb away.

“I guess. Boy you sure did make quick work of it. But I’ll tell ya man, hobbling back here to find you was not easy. Nope. It wasn’t. It really wasn’t any fun at all for me, you know.  Not that the chopping up and burying bit was all that great either.”

Bator decided he was through with the ping pong match. “You weren’t supposed to hobble back here, dumbass! You were supposed to stay in that hole! Most people who have their throats slit from ear to ear don’t come back!”

“Well, I guess there’s always a first time, eh?”

Bator sighed. “So what now?”

“Now, I kill you,” the dirty man said matter-of-factly.

Bator, at the end of the thread connecting him to his sanity, said, “Okay. Fine. Do it. But let me ask one question first.”

“Sure, why not?” the dirty man replied.

“Why the hell didn’t you stay dead?”

“Don’t really know. Maybe the desire for revenge was so strong that I was able come back from the grave. Maybe the evil you spilled upon me took on a life of its own and crawled inside me. Maybe the devil wants another playmate and sent me to fetch you for him. I don’t know. All I know is you killed me, and now I am going to kill you.”

“All right! Closing up!” the bartender yelled. “I’m cuttin’ the lights and locking the box.”

“Time to go, man,” the dirty man said.

“Yeah,” Bator said.  “You better hope I stay dead.”

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Old Comments

  • I had no idea where this was going until I got to the middle of the story.  I originally thought it was going to be about a war hero or something - so I was really surprised!  Good for a laugh, though I’m not sure I was supposed to.  Great tone throughout.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  01:43 PM
  • Thanks!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  03:01 PM
  • “creeping up from his innards like a bad burrito”

    HA!

    It makes me want to write stories about bar jokes, eg.  “Horse walks into a bar, bartender says, ‘Why such a long face?’”

    Seems like there may be more to this Bator character. You could write a story with some time-frame shifts from before and after this particular incident.  I want to see what Bator’s girlfriend is like and what she thinks about the legless guy who’s clawing at their window or whatever.

    Cheers!

    Posted by julianyway  on  06/19  at  02:55 AM
  • You may be onto something there.  Hmmm.  Pondering.  Pondering…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/19  at  11:30 AM
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