Barren Title.jpg

Barren

from "Out of the Shadows"

 

Darkness.

 

I imagined the humid August air, thick and sticky, cocooning the surrounding forest in the breezeless night. The cicadas chirped a dissonant chorus that masked the movements of hundreds of other midnight creatures, and the scent of sweet pine filled my senses. A deer and its fawn treaded lightly, emerging from the shadows beyond the forest’s edge, and before moving on down the barren road, they stopped and considered me, a grizzled man standing on his quaint cabin’s porch.

 

My mind also conjured Sarah and little Annie, standing on either side of me, their arms wrapped tightly around my torso. I smiled at the perfection of everything, relishing in the sweet bliss that flourished in my chest when things were as they should be. But as with all good things, my idyllic daydream ended, and I forced myself to admit the one truth that fueled my current existence.

 

I am alone.

 

“Catch ya tomorrow, Bear?” came the gruff voice that had broken me from my reverie.

 

Turning in my barstool, I opened my eyes and saw a short, hefty, bald man waddling toward the exit of the bar. I nodded my head at him and said, “Does a grizzly shit in the woods?”

 

The large man guffawed, which quickly became a coughing hack, his lungs retaliating from the two packs of cigarettes he inhaled daily.

 

The sun had peaked above the horizon and now rose into the morning sky, pushing smoky, orange beams through the window shades. The shot glass in front of me was filled with the cheapest whiskey Gravediggers offered, the light from outside refracting through it onto the wooden bar.

 

I looked around at the other third-shift workers who frequented Gravediggers, the only bar in town that stayed open until eight in the morning for those of us unlucky in life. Many of them fell on hard times and weren’t able to snag a nine-to-five.

 

Me… I lost mine. Although “lost” probably isn’t the right word; it’s not like I just woke up one day and my job was gone.

 

I picked up the glass, swirling the whiskey around, and then I sipped it slowly. I felt the warm shivers shake my constitution as the liquid first hit my tongue and then rolled down into my throat, leaving behind the faintest tinge that reminded me I was alive.

 

I’m not a picky man when it comes to my drink. Cheap is fine. Hell, it means I can have more of it. It’s not the taste that draws me back, day after day…

 

I don’t get these assholes that order a shot, and as soon as it’s placed in front of them, they snatch up the glass and pound it down their frat boy gullets, not even taking a moment to breathe and savor the experience. I just don’t get ‘em.

 

My ex-wife calls me an alcoholic. But I’m not. Alcoholics drink alone, and I’m never by myself when I drink.

 

“One more for the road, Mama!” I called out to the bartender. You have to understand though: she’s not actually my mother. Her name’s Deb; a short, older woman with straight gray hair that always fell perfectly around her face, subtle eyeglasses that didn’t overshadow her smooth skin or her twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile that delighted everyone, no matter how bad the day had been. She was also easy on the eyes, if you ask me, and I’m generally not one who takes to looking at women twenty years older than me. Take all of this and add to it the fact that she was born and raised in the hills of Tennessee, making all of her charismatic words come out with a thick and charming drawl, and it was impossible not to become disarmed in her presence.

 

Her nurturing disposition and genuine warmth had made most of her clientele take to calling her “Mama.”

 

“Bear!” she hollered at me from the other end of the bar where she had been singing along to her favorite Lyle Lovett tune on the jukebox. She waved her hands in my direction, shooing me away. “Why don’t ya go on home and get some rest. Ya don’t need no more whiskey. Save some for the rest of us!”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” I dismissed her, grinning at her sass.

 

She flung her white hand towel over her shoulder and leaned on the bar in front of me. “I’m gonna keep on sayin’ it, ‘cause I love ya: what you need ain’t in the bottom of that glass, and you know it.”

 

“What if it’s whiskey I need?”

 

She cackled joyously, bringing a smile to my face, and she playfully snapped her bar towel at me. “Well, ain’t you a funny guy, Nick Barren?”

Copyright © 2015 Timothy Boyd

 

To read more, use the button below.  "Out of the Shadows" is a collection of supernatural thrillers.