Friday, December 10, 2010

Hot Town (A Serial): #1 The Hubcap Tap

What follows is the first installment in a planned weekly serial*.  It's going to have explosions and firefights and love scenes and spaceships and rock concerts and drawings and political meanderings and crybabies and more than a few cupfuls of coin and whatever dribbling philosophy is musterable...but mostly explosions and firefights!  This is Tom Willow's story (somewhat) and his exploits with the a cappella group, The Moonstrels, as they make a living roving and singing (and a few unseemly "ings" on the side).  So.  Sit back, put on your reading glasses, and enjoy!

*Essentially, this is part of the NaNoWriMo project I was involved in during November; though I've revised a number of things for the serial.  Essentially, I split the project in two: the serial you'll read below and the other half is my "working novel."

by Dustin J Monk

(Start at the beginning.  It’s a pretty simple rule, but if the story you’re trying to tell has several beginnings, where, then, to begin?  I could start at the very beginning: my birth.  I could tell you how I was born in a bathtub and, ten years later, reborn in a readingtube, and then born again, at the age of twenty-six, the age I am now, in a ship shaped like a flower and falling endlessly through space.  I could progress through each year of my life, detailing the big events until this latest, but that might get tedious.   But even my birth isn’t the beginning: if I started there I’d have to go back further, tell my mother’s story, my father’s, and my mother’s mother’s and father’s, and father’s mother’s and father’s and so on until the beginning of time, which even then, isn’t really the beginning.
What if I started at age ten in the readingtube?  You might like that beginning: there are all kinds of strange tests done to my body; there is even a manikin of me floating in a giant pool of jelly-water, waiting for my consciousness to inhabit it.  I almost want to start there, except that there are several years of little adventure, little movement.  Needless to say, there isn’t much to do in a readingtube.
I could start at the end, in this tulip-shaped ship.  It’s a varied dimensional color of red, quite beautiful to look upon I’m told, though unaffected human eyes are unable to see the differentials because the colors occur on a quantum level.  I’m not a scientist and, anyway, this ship isn’t beautiful to me: it is my prison cell.  No, I won’t start at the end or, at least, not at the very end.  I want you to listen for a little bit and judge for yourself if my sentence was warranted.  Maybe you can do something about it.  Maybe you can set me free.
There are other places to begin: my thirteenth birthday party when my mother collapsed from an aneurysm in front of me, her face burying itself in the angel food cake on the table; the moment I knew I was in love with Oh! My, the alto of the Moonstrels; waking up as my apartment building burned down around me.  You get the idea.  I could start anywhere.
How about this?  My name is Tom Willow.
Even my name isn’t enough, not quite.
Instead, I choose the Hubcap Tap because it is there, at that place, I can pinpoint as the moment everything began unraveling.)


The Hubcap Tap was a nice place, a clean place, the kind of place you could sink your teeth into, drink the night and your paycheck away.  It was the last place you’d expect to find yourself cowering behind the counter in a shootout.
            But that’s exactly what happened.
            It looked like a slow night: only five other patrons when I walked in.  Three were drinking in corners, alone.  The other two were playing fizzlepool, the table shimmering and sputtering as the signal faded and returned.  A waitress shambled between the occupied tables.
            I was in a sour mood despite the coziness the Hubcap Tap offered.  It’d been a long day working with incorrigible holograms refusing to acknowledge a blip in their systems.  (This is what I did: I revamped holographic programs for a software company in Peoria, Illinois until that night in the Hubcap Tap.  I never actually quit the job—I just stopped showing up.)  I ordered a pint of whatever was on special and two shots of muskrat from the bartender, a tall woman with a big gap in her teeth.
            (Most of my nights in those days were simple and unadorned.  I didn’t drink much, nor did I smoke the popular kaleidoscopic drug, ohuuuyyafla.  Usually, I ate a little dinner at a café two blocks from the street where I lived and, once home, retired to the easy chair where I could flip through current news events on the chip.  On a whim, purely coincidental and completely out of character for me, though, I found myself walking by the Hubcap Tap, as I did most nights on my walk home from the office, and decided, just this once, a quick stop, two shots and a pint, were in order.  It was the biggest mistake I ever made.)
            The jukebox—an antique thing in the corner—began playing music.  I thought it might be a Chuck Berry song.  As if the song was a signal, the instigators of the shootout wandered into the tap: two men, both unassuming.  (If you’d asked me then or if you ask me now what their faces looked like or what color of shirts they had on or even the type of blast-pistols they’d used, I couldn’t tell you.  I still don’t know why they shot the place up like they did, except that it led me to do everything I’ve done since.)
            It wasn’t even a moment before the first shot was fired.  I had the muskrat to my lips, about to shoot the glass when, instead of warm and spicy liquor at the back of tongue, there was bile as the sound of the blast-pistol’s shot echoed in my ears.  I threw the glass across the room, possibly aiming for one of the shooters but more likely just scared shitless and reacting badly, and hopped over the counter to hide from the shots.
            Somebody screamed.  The bartender went down in a heap beside me.  Blood dribbled from her gap-toothed mouth.  I closed her eyes and whispered I was sorry.  There was commotion around the fizzlepool table.  I peeked over the counter.  One of the shooters had one hand wrapped around a fizzlepool player's throat while his other hand held the blast-pistol pointed at the player's cheek.  Then the shooter shot the player.  Blood and brains went everywhere.  I tried not to throw up.
            The waitress snuck behind the counter.  She said, "Way out through the backroom," and motioned for me to follow.  She had a silver nose ring that sparkled like salvation in the dim tap.  (I remember the waitress’s nose ring, but not the shooters’ faces.  It is odd what details the mind deems important.)
            Then the shooters spotted us.  One of them told us to stand up, slowly.  We did.  The waitress looked at me and I looked at her.  I didn’t know what she was trying to convey with her look, but I thought my look said, I don’t even like muskrat.
            The shooters took us to the middle of the room.  Everybody else had been killed: they lay in pools of blood and spilled beer.  The shooters pushed me and the waitress to our knees.  “So this is an execution then?” said the waitress. (I thought then and I think now she knew these men or had an inkling this might happen.)              
            Everything was quiet for a moment.  I felt silence stuffing my ears, as if the Hubcap Tap was taking in a deep breath, its walls contracting, the fizzlepool table shimmering and sputtering and dissolving, waiting for the shots from the blast-pistols, waiting for two loud pops, and then whatever followed.

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