"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she has to trip and fall on her fat butt here"--Rick in Fatablanca
Vivo's was a dive on Forty-ninth. You know where the Dolby theater used to be the one that had x-rated movies? By the stoplight that never worked? Yeah.We have the Red Light District and then we have Low Town, where the real scum hangs. That's where Vivo's was. No high-class prostitutes here, man. They didn't like the streets in Low Town. Too many freaks. It's cleaned up a bit by now, 'course. New D.A. did that. Hot-shot. You gotta admire that dedication though. I just don't have that anymore. Seen too much, and it gets to a guy. That's what it comes down to, y'know? Yeah. My mind's eye I can see the plant over there across the river, spewing out all them fumes. Dumping waste. Petro-chemical something. I dunno. Governor didn't care. Local didn't care. Not about the little guy. And he had to put food on the table, y'know? So, there was Low Town area, and that was my beat for twelve years. Till the new kid came, my D.A., and shut that plant down. Till she came. Now, Vivo's was a pretty good place for a dive. I oughta know; I've seen enough of them, had bad hamburgers, drunk stale beer. Vivo's had a sticky floor but decent selection, and they had this cook Alma who made gumbo and hot fries. Word on the street was she was voodoo yeah, maybe. Alma was the cutest voodoo I ever saw, though. Blond, hazel eyes and one of those wrap things on a lock of hair by her left ear, small hoop earrings. Freckles. You ever hear of a voodoo witch like that? But the word was, you had a prob and you went to Alma. Vivo's had live entertainment too. Every so often when they weren't getting high at home, this skinny boy band would come in all ragged and scream and play air guitar. And this old guy with an accordion would come about once a month. Customers didn't care about that, though. Fat Louise, that was who they waited for. I first heard of her, oh, May '97, back when the yuppies uptown were still deciding whether or not to sell houses on the Internet and CD's were still pretty well known only as stock portfolios. "Why you need a new one?" I asked Alma and she just shrugged. "That's how it is." "She any good?" "We'll see." Well, I didn't see, for about a year. Too busy with gang problems. Yeah, even in Low Town we had 'em. And it was bad back then. So finally I made it on a Wednesday night. Crappy weather kept people at home, so I was free to watch. Damnedest thing came out on stage, while Alma was servin' up some spicy shrimp thing with griddle cakes. I mean, the woman was fat . Grotesque. Talk about lumps of flesh and all that. She rolled onto the stage, this broad. "I'm not hungry, all of a sudden." "Just wait," Alma said. And at that moment, the damnedest sound came out of those frog-lips up there. I mean, it was amazing. Four hours I stared, and so did everyone else. Four hours later, when she cut it, I was still dumb-founded. I came out of my trance to see a full house, and my dinner un-touched. I never missed a Wednesday after that. No matter what. She was hypnotic, for crying out loud! So, in December, I went one Wednesday as usual, and she wasn't there. Alma shook her head. "Coronary." That wasn't right we shouldn't be robbed of the voice. But there you were. Something occurred to me then. "You don't sound too upset." She shrugged and went on chopping vegetables. Now, you grow up with Low Town around you, and you get used to a lot of things. I've seen it, on children not more than seven, that hard look. Lot of tattoos down there, lot of guys and girls who've done time or juvy or who will. Even so, I'd never seen that on Alma. "Awful calm, you are," I said again. "It's being taken care of," she said, not looking up from her chopping. "Huh?" "I'm going to reanimate her." As if this were an everyday occurrence. Right. "Well, I think I'll be going. . . ." "Sure, come back next Wednesday." She didn't look up as I left, either. Next Wednesday came. I'd arrested two graffiti artists and a druggie by seven. I had to go by the place on my way around, y'know, but I didn't go in. Or the Wednesday after that. I heard things, though. You're on the street, working, you hear stuff all the time. Walk the streets, you'll get it. You know people. Junkies started talking about this skeleton thing wandering Vivo's. "Freak you right out, man." Yeah, sure. Stage props, I thought. About a month later, I was walking up the street when I saw a skeleton. No, I mean, it was coming toward me. Too much contact high or something, I thought, and ducked into an alley. There it was, staring at me. "Um. . . " To say I didn't believe in spooks then would have been extremely stupid, illusion or no, I thought. It was right there. The thing leaned forward then and put a bony finger on my cheek. You ever have a skeleton do that to you? No? Oh, you have a normal life. Yeah, I used to! Anyway, it says in this raspy voice that sounds just like Fat Louise's, "So nice. You were one of my favorite people in the audience. Come back?" It left me shaking in the alleyway, and I booked it for the street. Cloudy, dank day, and that's the last place I wanted to be if it came back. I stormed into Vivo's an hour later, still shaking. "What're you trying to pull, Alma?" She looked up placidly from wiping the bar. Not many customers tonight. "What do you mean?" "You know what I mean! What the hell are you agh!" I screamed as the thing tapped me on the shoulder. "What is this?" "She likes you." I backed away from the skeleton but I kept on Alma. " What is it?" "'It?' That's Louise, of course. I told you I was going to reanimate her." "That's not possible." She shrugged. "All right, then the thing next to you, following you around, isn't real. So then what are you afraid of?" "Huh? Who the hell said I was afraid!" Alma leaned forward. "You're afraid because your subconscious knows that it's real." "Don't give me that parapsychologicalistic junk!" She shrugged and went back to wiping the counter. I stormed out. Damn thing followed me around the whole beat, like a puppy, and nobody came near us. I mean, not even the crazies. Except one who leered and said "Hey, didn't know you were into necrophilia. . . ." I woke up in the middle of the night with a touch on my shoulder, and I fell out of bed to get away from it. You ever wake up in a dark room with a skeleton staring at you? Yeah, it's disturbing. I stormed back into Vivo's next day. "Get it away from me!" "She likes you," Alma said. "Let's say you're right, okay? That you really did 'reanimate' her. What the hell were you thinking? It violates all the laws of nature!" "According to whom?" "The Bible!" "If that's the case, then your doctor violates 'laws of nature' frequently. And so does that agnostic you work with." I was fuming by then. "All right, then. What about life? This is wrong!" "Is it? She wants to sing, and we need to have good customers. They aren't bothered by it as much as you are." I thought about the empty streets when I walked around now, and told her so. "If that's the case, then why is this happening?" She shrugged. "Maybe they have as much trouble on some level with it as you do. Or maybe it's just a bad day for police activity." "Poor baby, let me sing for you, then you'll feel better," crooned the skeleton. "Get away from me!" "This is wrong," I said to Alma. "I'm gonna. . . ." "What, report it? To whom? They'll just stick you in a funny farm." She was right. No matter if Alma had really resurrected the dead bones, or if it was an elaborate illusion, my career was screwed if I talked. I stomped out, the skeleton following me like a puppy. "Go!" I yelled at it. Next day, I decided, I'd get my route changed. The other guys at the precinct couldn't resist this one. They heard about her word on the street moves fast. "Yeah, when we get to see her?" Hernandez asked. "I hear she's a looker." "Yeah, so what's she doin' with you?" "I hear she's got you wrapped around her lil' finger!" "Woo woo, he's whipped!" I went to the library and yanked out everything I could find about voodoo. Maybe Alma had done it; in that case was I worse off or better? I couldn't sleep with the skeleton in bed with me. This just had to stop. So finally, one Wednesday, I faked being ill. She went out to do her singing, and I hopped the first train to Chicago. Didn't care anymore about job, home, whatever. Just wanted to get away from whatever it was Alma had cooked up. I stayed out there two years. Kept a low profile, got a desk job. Missed police work. Missed Vivo's. Missed Low Town. So last week, I moved back here. One of the first things I heard was there'd been a kitchen fire at Vivo's and Alma was killed. That was too bad, I always liked her. But hey, that's what happens in Low Town. I'd look out the window of my own apartment up at the condo section by the library, and sigh about it. No more gumbo, no more sweet Alma. Yesterday, I realized another good reason she should be alive, when I saw the skeleton again. I don't think it's seen me yet. Word on the street is she's Alma's ghost looking for a home. I know better though. So, here I am, poring through some tomes on death and rebirth, and witchcraft of various kinds. No luck, so far. But maybe, I figure, I can raise Alma and her soul will tell me how to get rid of that thing. My soul will burn in hell for it but that's the price you pay. Meantime, I'm just looking over my shoulder every ten minutes, to make sure it hasn't found that I'm back yet.
x x x
Something tells me that our protagonist might have been better sticking to karaoke bars. Of course, then wed never have been treated to this terrific story. What say you, anotherealmers? -GM
About the author:
J. A. Howe, author of Anotherealm's top story for May 2007, lives in Worcester, USA, and says, "Mostly these days I work in the land of Kritter, a fantasy land of which I've published a couple stories in both non-pay and more pro markets -- for instance, Ultraverse and Beyond Centauri.
also have a science fiction ebook coming out at http://thereadersretreat.com." Howe's website is located at http://howewriter2000.4t.com When not writing, Howe enjoys being "an amateur philologist, actually.
I love languages, and collect stories and fables in many different ones so that I can read in the original. Currently, I'm studying Georgian. I also like bird watching and historical reenactment."
As to future plans, Howe declares, "More stories -- I can't stop writing!"
Howe's favorite authors are Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, James Joyce and John Steinbeck.
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