2750 Words

Fredericksburg, VA 22401                         Copyright 1996 by Steve Johnson




                              Steve Johnson


      The band was called Death Screams of the Apocalypse. They weren't loud enough.

      "666 -- Christian fools!

      666 -- Satan RULES!

      666 -- Battle cry

      666 -- Die, die, DIE!"

      Sarah Tonnen sniffed through her left nostril (the unpierced one).


      She sipped her Double Jolt, made a face; the Quaaludes were dissolving, turning the cola sour. She shook cocaine from the table into her glass, tore open a packet of morphine, stirred it all together and slugged it down.

      The cocktail hit harder than a runaway ValuJet. Sarah was not impressed. There wasn't a whole lot left she could do for the first time.

      So she stood up, threw leather over her bare, bony shoulder and stubbed out a joint. Across the booth from her, Jasper Van Wie was slumped in a boneless position near the bottom of his seat, his eyes rolled up in his head. They were as pink as coral.

      Sarah snorted again. World of wimps. Let Van catch up to her if he could. She was going places, like right now.

      Sarah stepped out onto the highway.

      Big lights, far away, came bearing down on her. A truck. Big. Coming fast.


      Sarah waved her coat like a matador and urged the truck closer. Come on, baby, she yelled in a whiskey-hoarsened voice. Don't crap out on me now. Let's see who chickens first.

      She saw it now. It was a high-backed pickup truck, with rows of pipes ranged along both sides. The truck's air brakes made a puff and squeal when it was still fifty yards away.

      Sarah turned her back in disgust. Her last thought before the copper pipe slammed into the back of her head at seventy miles an hour was:



      She awoke in a hospital bed -- no, not a bed, a chair, with no idea how she got there. She tried to stand, but her hair was tied to the back of the chair.

      She felt behind her. It wasn't her hair that was tethered. It was her head. Cables bunched into a metal fitting that protruded from the back of her skull.

      The slightest move might pull them loose. Might sever connections in her brain.

      She felt like jumping to her feet anyway, ripping the wires loose. She wasn't going to be confined, goddamnit. She wasn't going to be careful and obey a lot of rules. Because hospitals, she knew, were Rule Heaven. They made the Court of St. James look like Animal House.

      So she really, really wanted to yank her head free. To hell with the consequences.

      But she didn't.

      She was still pondering that fact when the nurse came in.

      "Oh, dearie, you mustn't try to move," she said. Sarah wanted to lure her close and bite off her nose.

      But she didn't.

      "They have to get the readings right before they unhook you," the nurse said. "Poor girl, you've lost your corpus callosum. The two halves of your poor brain can't talk to each other any more."

      Her right hand clenched into a furious fist. Her left hand lay calm on her lap.

      "But you'll see, no silly brain injury gets the better of Ontario Health Insurance Programme. We've got a nice new electronic implant that'll fix you up good as new. You'll see."

      Sarah tuned her out. That was why she wasn't acting on her impulses anymore, the way she had all her life. Her left brain was no longer in charge. She could pick and choose which whims to indulge, which to leave unexpressed.

      This could be a lot of fun.


      Van didn't get it.

      "Whaddya need money for, Sarah? OHIP paid for your stitches, din't they?"

      Sarah handed him a case of Chivas Regal off the stack in the loading door. The warehouse was a mess, all dangling cables and heaps of trash, but her mind's eye knew it for what it would be.

      The chrome-enameled bolt in her forehead was the size of a quarter.

      "They paid, but that's all," she said. Van stood there with the whiskey; he didn't move.

      "So?" he said.

      "So aren't you just a little tired of wanting a drink and not having the scratch handy, eh? Own your own club, you drink for free. That's all there is to it, Van. Which part don't you get?"
      Van shook his head.

      "Licenses, inspectors, cops --- sounds like a lotta work for free booze," he said. He spread his hands in a Gallic shrug, so the crate fell on the concrete floor.


      "Don't sweat it," Sarah said. "Plenty more where that came from, eh? Help me mop it up."

      "How much you making on this gig, anyway?" Van wanted to know.

      "This here is only a hundred," she said, gesturing at the broken crate.

      "A bottle?"

      "A case. Wholesale," she said slowly and distinctly.

      He got it now.

      "How do I get hooked up with this?" he said.

      She looked him over for about three seconds. Her left eye blinked.

      "Start your own club," she said.


      Van drank in the Chrome Bolt every night, chatting up the customers. He didn't drink free after the first week; Sarah noticed her profits pick right up when she cut him off. But he just started cadging drinks from the customers instead.

      Sarah was deep into negotiations with a reasonably trustworthy crack dealer from Quebec when she heard the splintering crash near the bar.

      "I'll have to call you back, eh?"

      Her right hand picked up the gun. Her left hand put it back down. She stopped, holding them in front of her eyes, weighing rage and reason until the right one curled into a fist.

      No gun. But she did promise herself a nice long session with the cattle prod, when this was done.

      She pushed open the doors into the main barroom. Blue flashes from the ceiling strobes lit her face.

      Van was reeling behind the bar, loose on his feet. The full-length mirror behind the bar was off its mountings, leaning on the top of Van's head. Most of the bottles had already fallen to the floor.

      But why was everyone chanting?

      "Van! Van! Van! Van!"

      Van looked straight up to God and spat a stream of amber whiskey right into the strobe lights. Their blue glow flickered and popped into darkness, but the light continued to burn. Burning whiskey dripped onto the bar, and into Van's mouth, lighting the whole room.

      Then Van spotted Sarah.

      "Hey, Tonnen! Join th' party!"

      She stared at him. His lip was on fire.

      "What is your major malfunction, numbnuts?" she said.

      He looked dumbstruck. And just plain dumb.

      "Get out, Van," she said. That, he could grasp.

      "You're a wimp," he said thickly. "Y'said I was a wimp, but you're the wimp. You're the one that sold out."

      He stood up slowly, straightening his clothes with drunken dignity. A key fell out of his pocket. He stooped to retrieve it.

      The mirror crashed down across his back, fragmenting into millions of shards. He lay, poleaxed, in the welter of whiskey, his blood staining the amber lake in growing rivulets.

      There was something familar about the scene.


      OHIP paid to stitch Van's face together and rebuild his lip. He was out in a month.

      Business dropped off at the Chrome Bolt about a week after Van got out of hospital. Sarah heard rumors of floating drug orgies, held in a different town every night. At their center was a wild-eyed animal with scars on his face.

      She was running short of ready cash. She had to buy Valium on credit, which was a sucker's game if she kept it up. And touching her brain bolt with a battery was losing its savor.

      She did it again anyway, feeling her toes knit. Yeah! Lightning exploded down her spine. She was eternal, immortal, stretched out everywhere at once like a red-hot guitar string thrumming to the music of the spheres. Just like always.

      It took every ounce of her willpower to pull the battery away from her bolt.

      She wiped drool off her chin, grinning.

      She had something Van couldn't offer.

      The place was almost empty, except for two preteens nursing their coca-shakes and enjoying the free air conditioning.

      "Hey, kid. Wanna real rush?" she said.

      They both looked up eagerly. They'd been hoping she would get around to corrupting them.

      Sarah held up a hundred-dollar bill.

      "Go down the street to Planet Hardware and get me two more chrome-plated surgical steel bolts. Don't get the stainless steel kind. Got it?"

      The kids snatched the money and headed for the door. If she never saw them again, she'd close early and go on down herself.

      "Oh," she said before the kids left. They turned.

      "Pick me up one of those nail guns, too."



      The Blue Bolt was jumping again, busier than ever. Most of the patrons sported head bolts now, gold or silver or even black chrome. Sarah was glad to see the black ones; it meant someone, somewhere, was making bolts especially for pierced brains.

      A special new door led to the curb where ambulances parked. Besides newly-pierced studs waiting for OHIP to repair their heads, there were often drooling Frankensteins cases who thought it'd be cool to pierce their brains sideways, like from ear to ear.

      Usually they survived, but their short-term memory didn't connect to long-term anymore, so they couldn't learn anything. Sarah took the PULL signs off the front door; that kept a lot of them out.

      She didn't do piercing on the premises any more. Until she got a medical degree, that would be courting cop trouble.

      She'd been too busy these past two months to think about Van at all.

      A liveried waiter offered batteries to passersby from a glass tray. Headlights from outside glared on the waiter's chromed nipple-rings, Sarah's nod to tradition.

      They positively glowed. Those headlights were closing in awfully fast.

      A motorcycle hit the glass just left of the front door. Being bulletproof, the glass popped out in one piece. Being heavy, it didn't fall very far into the room, even with a speeding bike behind it.

      Being twelve feet high and ten feet wide, it took out three tables and a booth.

      Harlan Ellison and Charles Platt were directly in the path of the glass; their heads popped off vertically. Brian Mulroney's didn't come off, exactly; it just rolled around his shattered neck vertebrae like a cup and ball game.

      The biker was exceptionally brave. He lay in a welter of glass and metal shards, but his flak jacket and helmet had prevented cuts and bruises.

      They didn't help much when the other nine bikes rode in over top of him.

      Van was in the lead, swinging a length of chromed bike chain. More glass shattered. Sarah resolved that next time, she would buy plexiglass, and hang the expense. This was getting old.

      Van's buddies threw Molotov cocktails at the customers, not the fixtures. Sarah understood that, too; she could always rebuild, but if enough studs wound up as crispy critters on the premises, people might stay away.

      On second thought, that rep would attract a whole new crowd.

      On third thought, she wasn't up for that scene.

      Sarah ducked under the bar just before the beer kegs blew up, one after the other like a string of bombs. She didn't hear the shotgun blasts till later.

      Beer cascaded from the bar like a waterfall of hops.

      Sarah weighed a hundred and five pounds soaking wet, like now. She wasn't about to challenge Van and his steroid freaks in any sort of physical way. Let 'em trash the bar; she had no control over that.

      But she did have a celphone.

      She dialed the insurance company to file her claim. Then the cops.

      Then she called Owen's Fine Wine and Spirits. She had to shout, but she had plenty of time.


      Van leaned back against an abandoned trailer-truck, a spaced-out grin on his face. Around him, the nightlife of Toronto danced, drank and posed in the circle of light from a burning heap of tires.

      Everybody was here. The preteens, the neohips, the bikers (those who hadn't been pinched after the Blue Bolt raid), even the studs. That was what Van really craved: Sarah's groupies, wearing the badge of her cult, hanging around the edges of Van's tribe because they had nowhere else to go.

      All this was clear to Sarah as she watched Van from the shadows. She could read him like a bathroom wall.

      She stepped into the light, pushing a covered wheelbarrow ahead of her.

      "Sarah," he said, standing up. He was scoping her for weapons; she dropped her purse without being asked.

      "Van," she said. "Feeling threatened, boy-type?"

      "Yeah, right. Tell me another one."

      "Why else did you trash the Bolt, asshole? Something to do?"

      Conversations died. People drifted over to listen.

      "Fuck you, Tonnen, and the horse that rode you in. I can take you, chica."

      "Any time, anywhere, Van?"

      "Any place, any time, anywhere!"

      She uncovered the wheelbarrow. A double-dozen bottles glittered in the firelight.

      "Prove it," she said.

      Everyone gathered around the fire.

      "We're gonna shoot that alphabet, Van," she said, setting out rows of shot glasses. Very long rows.

      "Now," she said. "We start at the top. A is for Absinthe."

      "I've had that," Van said.

      "Doubt that, boy-type; it's so illegal there's no market. Wormwood essence in 160-proof alcohol. Causes blindness, madness, and a peculiar degeneration of the tongue."

      "Bring it on," Van said.

      He tossed off his shot of the viscous, clear liquid. He tried to grin, but his cheek muscles were spasming too hard.

      Sarah gave him a thin, cold smile and drank her own.

      She poured two more shots with her left hand. Her right was shaking too bad.

      "B is for Bourbon," she said. She poured several more, to cover the time until her shaking stopped.




      "Frangelico ..."

      Van was a macho addict. He held on until Midori before puking his guts out. Sarah, less worried about appearances, regularly blew chunks every third shot. Eventually all that came up was liquid.

      Drinking duels are not noted for sportsmanship.

      When she lost most of a bottle of Stolichnaya getting the glass full, she knew it was time. She looked over at Van. He was gone.

      No, there he was. On the ground. Staring into the asphalt in puddle of puke.

      Sarah smiled.

      Several of Van's biker buddies backed away when they saw the Smile. It was not exactly a polite smile, nor the baring of a feral carnivore's teeth. But it was controlled, and it was savage, all the same.

      She retrieved her purse from where she'd flung it.

      Sarah strained to turn Van over. He'd put on some weight. But eventually she got him onto his back.

      She took the nail gun out of her purse. Her other hand dialed 911 on a cellular phone.

      "Queens College Hospital? Yeah, I want to report an industrial accident," she said. "My boyfriend just took a nail in the head."

      "When did it happen?" the dispatcher asked.

      "When can you get here?"


      The Chrome Bolt was quieter now that the restaurant was on the first floor. Special customers still frequented the upstairs, but the floor was heavily soundproofed.

      "I still don't agree with your investments this quarter, Sarah," said her business manager. "Munitions? D'you have any idea what the lead time is for a new weapons system?"

      "My point exactly," she said. "With another cowboy in the White House, the U.S. is going on another arming binge. And Canada can't help but be dragged along, like the last time, eh?"

      "How d'you know the Republicans will win?"

      "Hedging my bets. Even if Housen pulls it out, he'll have to appeal to the defense industries. So either way, it's a good investment, eh?"

      The tinkling of silverware reached their ears from the lobby.

      "What d'you think, then?" said Sarah Tonnen.

      "I think you need to do more research," said Jasper Van Wie.