The persistence of Evil
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A Tale From the House of Ashimbabbar
An Incident at the Lost Cause Bar & Grill
It must have been four, five months ago I last saw Old Doc Hannlyn. He drifted in near midnight, first time since his wife died, and waved to me as he headed for Raccoon Corner behind the model Corvair exhibit at the back of the bar. A few aged insomniacs regularly sip beer and swap tall tales around the table in that alcove, named by a former owner who misunderstood the term "raconteur" – thought it was a lodge like the Elks or Moose. He was never enlightened for fear of lengthening even further the intervals between his infrequent house rounds. Then Jimbo Parker brought in the stuffed raccoon which still presides over the storytelling nook and perpetuates the misnomer.
I slid a draft down to Manny and flipped the 78’s over on the Victrola so the last two sides of the 1946 Paul Whitman Rhapsody in Blue would play, then walked back in time to add my condolences to the chorus. Doc nodded solemn appreciation and ordered a round. A collective sigh slipped out: it had been a dry few months, but if Old Doc could still be counted on to buy every second or third round once a week, there remained hope for the world. And for my balance sheet.
The acoustics in the bar are unusual and I caught scraps of a few familiar stories between shuttling back and forth to accommodate the dwindling crowd of late drinkers. Then there was a little fracas with Andy Dawson when he couldn't get close to 8,000 points on the original Space Invaders video game so I wouldn't return his car keys. He insisted somebody had jostled his arm and demanded another chance, but calmed down pretty quickly once I offered to call his wife to explain why he should get in the damn taxi without giving me any more crap. He might have had one too many to drive, but that's a far cry from being drunk enough to want Trudy woken betimes!
By then, everybody had left except the raccoons and a young couple nursing a half-liter of house sauterne in the booth under the giant slide rule. I made a deal with myself: if I hadn't heard the next story (about as likely as a royal flush in five card stud), I'd clean up in the morning. Arnie Wallace had just started his new version of The Toad and the Ice Pick, so I decided that one didn't count. 'Come on,' I thought when he finished, 'a new one, somebody!' I really didn't feel like cleaning up right then.
"I've got one," Doc said, shocking everyone. Doc listens and Doc buys rounds, but he never tells stories. But for damn sure nobody was going to complain, no matter how bad it was. Nobody thirsty, anyway.
"An old friend, another physician, told me this a while back – lives in the city, nobody you'd know," Doc started off. I knew it wasn't going to be any boring medical case, 'cause, thankfully, Doc never talks about anybody’s patients, even before he retired and left all his to Young Doc. That's probably why he drives way over here to drink, from long before I stood behind this bar.
"This fellow's father died young and his mother slaved to put him through school," Doc continued. "Once he got established, she retired and he supported them both, not rich but comfortable plus a bit. They lived alone with later a local girl to help with the housework, an orphan from the home.
"Everything was pretty cozy for a few years until the man and the girl fell in love and started talking about a wedding. Mama kicked up quite a fuss, claimed the girl was too young for him and only after his money, but they married anyway. The bride predicted her mother-in-law would come around once she realized they truly loved each other, but that never happened. He said there must be some things worse than living in a house with two women who can't get along, but off the top of his head he couldn't name three.
"One day he got home soon after dusk, earlier than anticipated, pleased to see his wife's bicycle beside the back door, less so to see his mother's also, meaning they were both home. Just then a downpour started unexpectedly. He grabbed one of the women's slickers from beside the door and went to put the bikes up. He walked one bike to the shed and reached across it to open the door. That's what saved him, that bike between him and what sprang from the shed.
"'It snarled worse than a dozen rabid dogs,' he said. Huge teeth clamped on the bike frame, grating like iron on iron. It had to be a wolf, but the fetid smell wasn't wolf nor bear nor any other animal, none born of this earth. Eyes blazing in the dark, it snapped and growled, trying to get at him through the metal frame he held like a shield as it forced him back against the shed wall. It seized the frame in its jaws and, with a powerful twist of its neck, ripped the bike from his grasp. He felt a handle beside him, yanked up the pitchfork and stabbed the beast’s throat with desperate strength as the monstrous head turned back toward him. Scalding liquid spurted on him as an unholy shriek erupted. The beast shook itself free with a savagery that lifted him from the ground, tearing off his slicker as he slammed into the wall.