Fingers drummed the bar. Legs bounced as he sat on the stool. His clean-shaven head turned to glance across the bar to the door, turned back to me only to turn, quickly, a moment later, his dark eyes always on the move as if anticipating the arrival of someone or something.
A handsome man, despite his face being marked with a story’s worth of scars, the dingy white tank top he wore did nothing to hide his tattoos. A kaleidoscope of color and shading and sharp lines beginning at the wrist to spread up his forearm, reach along his muscled bicep, crawl across his strong shoulder to wander, out of sight, down his chest or wrap around his neck to spill down his back.
His name was Bullet. Or so he’d told me earlier when we’d found ourselves pausing at the curb before crossing the street together. “Why Bullet?” I’d said. He laughed. “My dad said I was dumber than shit. Musta been born with a bullet to the brain. So, it stuck, ya know? Bullet.” And we walked and talked, laughed, until our paths parted, me the pretty blonde turning left, he the tattooed bruiser disappearing right.
Two days later, another curb, another crossing, a shared smile at the surprising reunion, both on the same path, both with an afternoon free. So here we sat at a corner dive on Eidolon.
He’d agreed to an interview. A chat, really, the earlier mention of that bullet to the brain-comment from his dad intriguing me. I wanted to understand how a child grows with the weight of that kind of flippant cruelty. And this twenty-something dude with the large-breasted mermaids circling the shipwreck on his arm seemed like the best guy to ask.
But his fingers drummed the bar. His legs bounced. His head turned, again and again, his eyes forever glancing to the window and toward the door. Even the two beers he’d chugged and the microwave pizza he’d inhaled – one of three items on the bar’s excuse for a menu – had done nothing to calm him down. To say he was more than a little preoccupied was an understatement.
“We can always do this some other time if you-”
He turned to the door. “You feel that?”
I didn’t feel anything. The sun sometimes slipped behind a canopy of grey but the afternoon was neither hot nor cold. There was no draft to speak of. “Feel what?” I tried to catch his gaze.
“That…whatever the fuck it is,” he said, turning back to me. “I don’t know, man, but, shit, it’s driving me fuckin’ crazy.”
“I don’t feel anything. We can move, if you-”
“Nah, man, it ain’t like that. It ain’t no fuckin’ breeze or shit. It’s…” He turned back to the door and then back to me, his head ducking as his fingers rubbed his eyes. “I can’t get away from it. It, like, follows me or shit. Fuck.”
From the drumming fingers and bouncing legs to the hunched shoulders and dark circles under his eyes, he seemed stressed. Hounded, even. By what?
“Talk to me,” I said, swiveling my stool to face him.
“Man, it’s fate or something, you know?” He stayed still, his hand shielding his eyes as fingers and thumb massaged opposite temples. “You do bad shit, fucked up shit, you screw the fuck up, you pay. Always. That’s always the way. You pay and you’re done. Finito. Finished. End of story, man.”
“But haven’t we all done bad things-”
“Fuck,” he said, snorting with laughter. “I’m a good guy. I mean, you ignore this-” He gestured toward the tattoos, “And I’m good as fuckin’ gold. Scout’s honor or some shit.”
I grinned. “Or some shit.”
He sighed. “But yeah. Of course there are things I regret. We all do, you know? But there’s one thing, one big thing, I regret. Still. That keeps me the fuck awake at night, you know? Still.” A pause as he squeezed his eyes closed. “Every fucking night.” He shook his head. “Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“Tell me what you feel.” I thought of touching his arm, hoping to comfort, but decided against it. “Even if you don’t know, try. Try and tell me why you keep looking to the door.”
Eyes still closed, fingers and thumbs still on his temples, he spoke.
“I live across the street. Some shit hole. But, fuck me, every time, every goddamn time, I walk into the building or my pad, man, it’s just fucked. Not, like, the way it is. I mean, a shit hole’s a shit hole, right? It ain’t no mansion and I sure as hell ain’t no maid. But what I feel, it’s more…Fuck.” He paused. “It’s like I’m being watched. Like, in the walls or something. It sounds crazy, yeah, but, fuck, maybe I’m crazy. But there’s, like, the sound of…” He looked at me. “Slithering. Like snakes or serpents or something. In the walls. In the ceiling. In the boards. Under the floor. Below me.” He shook his head. “Is that a word? Slithering?”
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s a word.”
“Pretty and smart,” he said with a small grin. “Love it.”
I smiled. “You said it sounded like snakes? In the walls?”
He bolted upright. Turned away. Refused my gaze. “Fuck no, man. No way. Rats, maybe. Not snakes, though. That’s not what I meant. That’s just too fucked. Fucked, man. No way. No fuckin’ way, man.”
“You’re right,” I said quickly, but he was already sliding from the stool, bouncing on the balls of his feet, his hands checking his pockets, brushing the legs of his wrinkled, stained jeans, running over his too-thin torso, his gaze refusing me. In his mind, he had already left. “Definitely rats,” I said. “You should tell the-”
He stopped, his eyes on the window. A moment later, he walked the several steps to stand at the dingy glass. I followed to stand beside him.
“You ever get that feeling that it’s all done. That even though it ain’t obvious and everything seems fine or some shit, that it’s just over?”
He turned to me. His eyes looked wet, though I chose to doubt it was the advent of tears. “I dunno.” He sniffled. “Everything?” He shrugged it away. Looked back out the window to his building down the street. “Fuck it, man. Everyone’s gotta pay the piper someday, yeah?”
And he left, barging out of the bar to lope across the street before slipping behind the dented metal door, drawn back to that inescapable shit hole on Eidolon Avenue he called home as the sun ducked behind a canopy of gray.
Learn more about Bullet in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast