In the Saloon

The neon lights inside the saloon were bright and glaring. The marshal’s eyes stung from their harshness as he made his way down the diamond plate stairs leading toward the bar. Creatures of all shapes, sizes and colours sat and stood around it: a group of purple lizardmen from Solaris 7, soldiers, flicking out their long pink tongues as they spoken their hissed language amongst themselves; a hairy beast, a smuggler from the jungles of the Outer Rim, drinking beer from a large stein; tentacled beings with squishy orbs set on the end of long thin eyestalks; humans; silarians; drust; and, of course, city guards, always watching, black machine pistols hanging conspicuously in holsters at their sides.

The Marshal approached the bar and its tender, a burly green thing with six eyes set in a fleshy blob of a face, barked at him: “Whaddya want?”

“I’m looking,” said the other calmly, eyes turned down, “for an Arduinian.”

“Ya what?” The saloon owner grunted roughly. Patrons sitting close by turned to look. A bot squawked.

“I’m looking,” The Marshal said again, his voice growing cold and steely. “for an Arduinian. Has one come through here?”

He felt the focus of the place turn to him, felt the eyes – so many eyes of every different possible shape and description – stare in his direction. The Arduinian had been through here. Oh yes, it had. And within the alien cornucopia of bar patrons those who knew it weren’t happy about him walking in and asking questions.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” The bartender grunted and spat. “Arduinians are forbidden in this system, everyone knows that. Now I suggest you either keep your questions to yourself” – he furrowed his six brows – “or come back out the way ya came.” The disgusting creature bobbed its head back toward the door from where The Marshal had entered.

“I’m looking for an Arduinian,” The Marshal said, raising his voice. “And I’m not going to leave I until I get some answers.” The saloon was quiet now. Everyone in the place quietly watching the confrontation between the owner and this strange lawman who had wandered in, waiting for its resolution.

One of the drust sitting at the bar stood. The guards next to him turned and watched.

“I don’t think you heard the man,” it said. “We don’t like humans like you coming ’round here and asking questions. Best be on your way, fleshbag.” The drust grinned an evil grin full of giant sharp teeth. Its segmented eyes glinted in the light. The lawman saw it hover its smooth gray hand above the gun at its side.

The Marshal looked up. “I’m not looking for no trouble,” he said. He touched his hat with his hand. “Just some answers. But I tell you if you draw on me I’ll put you down faster than what’s what.” The marshal’s voice was cool and low. “And that’s a promise.”

“Get out, human!” The drust said. “Get out now!”

“I’m looking…”

The drust reached for the gun at his side but was too slow. The Marshal’s brass revolver was out, the barrel blazing, hammer slamming rapidly against the spinning chambers as its owner fanned six bullets into the gray thing standing opposite him.

The bar erupted into pandemonium. Someone screamed. Glasses shattered. Feet rushed for the stairwell and exits.

The Marshal holstered his weapon and looked down at the smoking bloody chest cavity of the dead drust. He closed his eyes and shook his head. He looked up and addressed the terrified bartender.

“Where’s the Arduinian?”

The Demons in the Fortress

The air in the room was cold and dusty, and as the particles swirled around me and danced in the light, I took a deep breath and sighed. I looked down to the floor, down to her crumpled body and the blood staining the concrete and sighed again.

Oh Jeanine.

I saw her face, on that bright summer’s day we were out in the field in the warm sunlight. I saw her mouth moving and her hair dancing around her in the mild breeze and her laughing and taking my hand and her summer dress swishing around her.

“I love you, Michael,” she said, and giggled. She kissed me on the cheek and then stuck out her tongue. “Even though you’re a big loser.”

And then she ran. She ran through the swishing blades of tall, tall grass going to hay and they rocked back and forth around her and I followed after her, my hands reaching for the flesh around her hips, to grab her with my fingers and squeeze more laughter out of her smiling face.

That had only been a week ago.

I saw her face, last night, in the dimness of the living room, the sky outside the sliding glass of the patio doors black as midnight, though it was only seven. All the joy and laughter was gone and there were only the long, sagging lines of exhaustion. Of disappointment. Of the weariness she felt and the things taking hold of her mind. Those things that had been hiding in the bright sunlight but had now reared their ugly heads again in the darkness.

“I hate you, Michael,” she said, and her words were colder than ice and burrowed into my soul. Her eyes were black and empty and she was a different person, one I didn’t even recognize her anymore. “I hate you.”

I tried to fight the things off, tried to chip through the wall of stone they’d erected around her. Assault after assault I launched against the dark black bricks beneath the ramparts, but to no avail. The demons laughed in their towers, invulnerable, God-like, knowing they’d already won.

“Please,” I said. “Please Jeanine.”

“No!” she screamed, and hit me, and her voice wasn’t hers, it was someone else’s. It was a tortured twisted sound like an animal. “No!” She hit me, over and over again and I just wished those brights beams of sunlight would break through the blackness of the night to heal her once more, just for a moment.

“Why are you doing this?” I said. “Baby, it’s me! It’s me! What’s the matter!”

But all that came in response were the blows and the laughter of the demons from above the portcullis.

I tried to stop her but she knocked me to the floor. She grabbed the poker from next to the fireplace and swung it and the sharp tong on its end dug into the hardwood next to me, splintering it. I kicked her and she she screamed again and I remember thinking at that moment that she was finally really gone. Really, truly gone.

She chased me into the basement, swinging the iron tool like an sword and I stumbled, rolling down the stairs, my back hitting every step and shooting electric fire into me. At the base of the landing I stopped and she swung the poker again and I ducked. The metal sunk deep into the drywall and dry powder flew everywhere. She was screaming now, like a madwoman. But it wasn’t her. It wasn’t the woman I loved. The demons had her.

I ran toward the shelves of the basement workshop, those cheap metal shelves she’d always so hated. Stumbling I fell into pile of old paint cans. As she ran toward me I reached for something behind me and my body belonged to someone else.

Blood came out of her mouth, in long, slow, choking spurts. The handle of the screwdriver bobbled back and forth from the one end of the blade, the other stuck into the side of her neck. She sputtered out wet red gasps. I took her in my arms and fell to the floor and she stared into my eyes and we both knew that she was dying.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

The rage never left her eyes. She spat in my face and her saliva was hot on my cheek. Blood poured from her neck onto the cold grey concrete of the shop floor.

Slowly, she closed her eyes, and in them I saw her last words: I know. I’m sorry too.

Oh Jeanine.

I walked back up the stairs, holding the fire poker in the bloodied hand, its end powdery and white.

The demons will be back for me, I know. All I can do is wait.