Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls (35 page)

BOOK: Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls
5.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I mean, Kinsey’s great, but how much farther can you go playing at the Sacred
Yew? You ought to take it on the road. You could get as big as R.E.M. or
somebody like that.

could travel. You could get to be famous.”

looked at the beer in his hand. He popped it open and drained a third of it in
one swallow. Then he opened his mouth to answer Ann, and what came out was “You
really want me out of town, huh? I guess your boyfriend over in Corinth can
still get it up for you.”

JESUS. He hadn’t meant to say that. It was the demon. He should have stuck with
sparkling wit like “yeah” and “uh-huh.”

it was too late. Ann’s face had snapped shut, her eyes hardened. “You bastard,”
she said. “You couldn’t wait, you couldn’t even talk to me—”


up! You had to get a jab in right away, didn’t you? Like you were the one who
should be pissed at me. Like I raped you, not the other way around!”

shut up for a minute ”

up? Keep my voice down maybe? That’s real good, Steve. That’s so good you can
shove it up your ass.” Now she was turning away. She thought she was so tough,
but she was turning away to hide her tears. Before he could reach out and stop
her, she was pushing her way through the bar crowd, her head down, making for
the door. Steve started to follow, but the demon spoke up again: Wait a second.
She started all this, she fucked around on me. What the hell is she pissed off
about? Let her shove it up her own ass.

turned back to the bar and met the cold eyes of the new bartender, who must
have seen the sordid little melodrama from the beginning. But under the
coldness in those eyes was a strange sympathy, a look of solitude and wisdom.
The bartender raised one shoulder in a tiny shrug: Such is life, friend. And in
his long thin hand was another can of Budweiser, cold and frosty and waiting
for Steve to grab it.

prowled around the club for maybe fifteen minutes, staying in the shadows,
saying hello to people he knew but not stopping to talk to them. Instead, he
watched Nothing. Right after the show he had found himself wanting to talk to
Nothing, though he wasn’t sure what he wished to say. Maybe only to offer a
word of kinship. To say I can’t heal your pain, but I can see it. And you don’t
have to be lost. Not forever. So he waited and hoped that Nothing would move
away from his three friends, if only to go to the restroom or something. But
they huddled in a tight little knot passing a flask with a Grateful Dead
sticker on its side–-Ghost could just make out the roses and the grinning

two larger friends laughed a lot and sloshed the liquor in their mouths before
they swallowed it. But Nothing and Zillah were quiet. Zillah always seemed to
have his hands on Nothing, touching the sleeve of Nothing’s raincoat, speaking
occasionally (with his soft,
lips—but Ghost
would not think about that, not now) into Nothing’s ear. Leaning in close,
protective or predatory or both. Zillah probably would have followed Nothing
into the restroom.

stood silently, looking very young and a little nervous, his face lit orange by
the glowing eye of his cigarette.

a while the air inside the club began to press on Ghost’s face. It was heavy
with smoke and the neon-bright energy of the kids. A girl in black silk
shimmied to the music piping over the PA system. A boy with long unruly hair
played air-guitar furiously, miming a Steve Finn lick for his friends. Other
kids shouted back and forth, fluttering hands stamped in ink with the many-
logo of the

passed them on his way to the door. His head swarmed with their conversation
and their stray thoughts.

in the night, the air felt as clear and hard-edged as slivers of ice.

breathed it in deep and blew it out. Pale steam plumed from his mouth and his
nostrils. For a minute he stood on the sidewalk in front of the club, his hands
deep in the pockets of his army jacket fumbling with the objects he found
there. Rose petals. An old ace of spades he had found in the dead grass at the
end of their driveway, water-marked and crusted with dirt. A guitar pick, the
lucky one Steve had given him.

his hands still in his pockets, he crossed the street and stood in the middle
of the empty block.

Mile was not a large town, but it was big enough to have a couple of rundown
areas. The Sacred Yew was right in the middle of one. The kids didn’t care, and
Kinsey liked the cheap rent. Some of the shop windows were boarded up or
broken. Ghost stood in front of a building that had last been a dress shop.
Magic Marker signs in the display window still announced GOING OUT OF BUSINESS!
and ALL STOCK 75% OFF! and, optimistically, BEAT XMAS RUSH!

between the signs the window was soaped in great cakey swashes. Looking through
one of the gaps, Ghost saw a pink torso splashed with moonlight and shadow.
Above it, a smooth, featureless oval of a head gazed back into the dark
recesses of the building. A mannequin, left behind to preside over ruin.

did not turn when Ann came silently out of the club, her hair flying like a
banner behind her, cold tears dripping off her chin. He stood looking through
the window of the abandoned dress shop for a long time. The only voice in his
head was his own, and his thoughts drifted like the clouds up by the moon.
Then, sometime later, he sensed a presence behind him.

he turned, Zillah and Nothing were across the street, standing by the club

was still for a moment seeming to scent the cold night air. Then he started
down the street, walking fast, not looking back at Nothing. Nothing hurried to
catch up.

a moment, Ghost followed too.

turned away from the rangy guitarist without asking him to pay for his beer. He
had learned to know when a customer needed a drink on the house. The boy nodded
his thanks and walked away, already raising the beer to his lips.

Christian pulled the Michelob tap forward and began drawing another beer, he
glanced up at the bar clock—and his breath caught in his throat. The glass
was reflecting three lights at once: the purple
glow of the ancient TV set that flickered all night up in the corner; the green
luminescence of a beer sign across the room; and the yellow of someone’s
striking a match. That was all, but for a second those three colors flared
together, and in that circle of glass Christian saw the tawdry splendor of a
hundred Mardi Gras nights—the fire, the liquor, the beads, the burning glow of
Chartreuse—all up there in the dusty

wave of homesickness such as he had never known shuddered through him. It did
not matter that his bar had been way down Chartres, far from the heart of the
Quarter. In that moment he saw only Bourbon Street, the neon carnival going on
all night, the glitter that lit up the dawn. And he thought suddenly that New
Orleans was his home as no place had ever been—not in all his years. He must go
back. Better to face the dry danger of Wallace Creech than to stay in this dark
little town serving endless cups of bad draft beer through every endless night.

with an effort, he stifled his thoughts. Of course he could not go back. He had
abandoned his bar. When no rent check was sent to the owner, the bar and
supplies would be seized, would no longer belong to him. And did he wish to die
at the hands of one such as Wallace, to die for the dogged obsessions of a sick
old man, or to have to kill him and his endless string of true believers?

He would stay here, where fate and the highways had brought him. He would serve
beer and sell roses as long as they grew. He would put away money. Someday,
when he knew Wallace had to be dead, he could return to New Orleans. But for
the present, as soon as he had enough money, he would go north to look for the

drew another beer. Above the noise in the bar a loud voice said, “Hey, Count
Dracula, can we get a drink?”

turned, his shoulders stiff, his eyes frigid. But the two faces before him were
familiar and as comically surprised as he must look. The ridiculous smudges of
kohl around the eyes. The masses of ratted hair framing pallid cheeks. One of them
held a sticky red lollipop in his hand. They had let their hair grow longer and
wilder, and their style of dress was now tinged with punk. One wore a studded
leather collar around his neck; the other’s black denim jacket seemed to be
held together chiefly by hundreds of safety pins. Otherwise Molochai and Twig
had changed not at all since Christian last saw them, waving goodbye from the
windows of their van on that Ash Wednesday night fifteen years ago.

first clear thought was What happened to Zillah? Beautiful green-eyed Zillah?

must be safe. He blocked that thought, and his second one was They are here,
they are really here; the time passed as if I were asleep and they have found
me again.

Christian did something he had never done before, not once during a long, long
bartending career. He dropped the cup of beer he was holding. It foamed around
his boots and made a huge puddle on the floor. Kinsey came out from the back
and saw it and glared at him, and Christian could not have cared less.

gazed around at the kids in the club. They were all so beautiful. He loved
their choppy hairstyles, their costume jewelry, their ragged black or
multicolored clothes. He loved the way they all somehow looked like him, and he
wished he could make friends with every one of them. Most of them smiled at
him, and a few said “hey”—they all seemed to say that instead of “hi” or
“hello”—but he didn’t dare talk to any of them. He couldn’t make friends now.
Not when they might end up like Laine, alone in a culvert with rainwater
washing through their hair.


was content just to be among them, watching them talk, smoke, dance. Zillah was
beside him, and the others, so he wasn’t alone. And he had the show to
remember. The songs.

swaying at the microphone, bathed in golden light. Steve bounding across the
stage, playing guitar like the devil was chasing him. Ghost’s hands like pale
birds shaping the music.

stood still, trying to absorb every detail of the club–the smells of clove-smoke
and sweaty perfume; the mural sprawling across the wails, some of it faded or
rubbed away, some bright as the fresh blood on the walls of the van.

Molochai and Twig stumbled off to the bar in search of some drink called a
Suffering Bastard. Zillah disappeared with them, but a few minutes later he was
back. He gripped Nothing’s arm and nodded meaningfully toward the exit.

Zillah turned without a word and stalked away from the club. Nothing stared
after him for a moment, then ran along the sidewalk to catch up.

day it had been like this. Ever since slinking away from Steve and Ghost’s
house that was how Nothing thought of it. In broad daylight they had slunk
away. Now Zillah’s face was completely healed, and Zillah had managed to be
nice to him all night.

now Zillah was acting as if he had been disgusted with the show. Had the music
bored him? Was the club too small, too unglamorous? Or did Zillah just harbor
an unshakable hatred for Steve and Ghost?

BOOK: Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls
5.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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