My skull felt like it needed to be glued together. However, hesitation has never saved anyone’s life. Not as far as I know. Recollections of the box full of Dekker brought the taste of ashes to my mouth. A breeze had called up a cloud of Bill, and I remember breathing him in. Disbelief influencing doubt -- it might have been a prank not a box full of my friend's ashes -- till I noticed little brittle chunks of bone as well as the gritty consistency of the ash. Poor Bill. He burned his life down and ended up getting caught in the flames. Maybe that’s what he always intended. Yet, I’m sure he counted on some kind of phoenix style resurrection.
What exactly he did to make even his friends unwelcome in Beecher’s Hollow barely raised an eyebrow. That is to say, as I walked the streets of said Hollow. When the box of Bill arrived, sure, I considered myriad twisted tales -- The Death of the Tommy Ks, Porcelain Fuck Doll, Gasoline After Drinking, or worst of the worst, Destined for Heaven -- any of which could’ve turned the town against us. I imagined Bill laughing at bar, a group of drinking buddies one upping each other with their exploits, and feeling too safe Bill Dekker told the tale that got him killed. But on the streets of Beecher‘s Hollow, I couldn’t give a drop of piss. I just wanted out before whoever set the boundaries discovered they’d been crossed.
I walked quick as I could. The other pedestrians did the same. We all seemed to be in a hurry to anywhere. Most kept their eyes on the road, while others watched their feet hammer the pavement. Many looked like their eyes had come loose years ago, swimming in sockets to half truth hallucinations. The sun burned down. The angle of shadows implied the hour, and for the majority that implication sent them scurrying for the shady comfort of neon adorned watering holes. I felt tempted to do the same. One two combo to steady my nerves -- shot & a beer. A box of ashes. The idea popped into my head inspiring temperance.
I followed the mainstream herd towards what I hoped would be the heart of town. Finding my best means of exit would have better odds downtown. Granted, the risk of being spotted increased. It might sound like my brain had yet to reason the chances of being recognized by a stranger are small. However, that implies I’d got into town and gone straight to bed. Unlikely. For all I knew I’d spent hours attracting attention, and it was only an ever shorter matter of minutes before the hammer came down.
Imagine a hooker that used to be the classiest call girl in the city till too many nights of hard living; fueled on whiskey and cocaine, battered by rough and strange sex, her visage needs more and more layers of paint to conceal the eight miles of worn highways she’s morphing into, but even then there’s still a sparkle in the deepest depth of her eye, one she learned to lock away too late for it to be anything more than a dim flicker. Burning passion traded in for burning STDs, she hopes, beyond any lessons experience inspires, there’s something left to lose; she’s says she’s doing fine when the truth is any step in the opposite direction is for the better. Imagine that, and there’s downtown Beecher’s Hollow. A romantic might call it the Portrait of Bourbon Street, akin to Dorian Grey’s, but that’s too kind.
For all the legends, Beecher’s Hollow looked wretched. A decaying art deco nightmare desperate to hide its decline behind neon veils. Said veils burning eyes blind to the rotted wood, chipped brick, myriad graffiti, and the grim rainbow stains on the pavement.
In a way, I wished I’d never learned the true of face of this so-called paradise.
I want to blame this revelation for what happened next. That said, I can’t blame everything on reality.
My stomach burbled, an amalgamation of hunger and nausea starting a civil war. One side craving content the other protesting the current inhabitants and even the remote suggestion of population increase. The two churning -- I‘ve got to be the only asshole in the world who ever felt the need to get poetic about an unavoidable need to puke. Not wanting to paint the sidewalk, mainly so as not to draw attention, I headed towards a nearby alley.
“Hey! Don’t go in there.”
Stopping at the mouth of the alley I saw a young girl running across the street. Black hair streaked blue, eyes behind a pair of mirror shades, she reminded me of countless women I’d never had the nerve to ask out in high school. My dream girl stepping back into the picture, seemingly no older than the last time I saw her.
She said to me, “Hey you stupid motherfucker, don’t go in there.” I glanced at the alley. The look on my face compelled her to say, “Yeah. You don’t want to go in there.”
I opened my mouth to speak. Instead of explaining with words I demonstrated my reasoning by spewing brown and red onto the nearby wall and ground. She jumped back, but made no sound of disgust.
Examining the puddle, mostly liquid, I remarked, “That red. I really hope I was having Daiquiris.”
“It looks like blood,” she said.
“It does.” Straightening up, and feeling immensely better I apologized. She waved the whole thing off.
“Not the first time I’ve seen a tourist pop. It happens.”
I said, “But still.”
“But nothing.” She handed me a few sticks of gum.
I thanked her then asked, “Why shouldn’t I’ve… done that in the alley?”
She shook her head, “Fucking tourists.” Pointing to a piece of graffiti, a massive sinister crow, she said, “Crows.” It meant nothing to me, and she must've caught that because she added, “Gang. Local gang.”
“Oh,” I nodded, “Territory and such.”
“Yeah,” she smiled, though I suspect her eyes would‘ve belied the expression. I noticed the dental floss stitching holding her jeans together, the heavy boots too big for her feet, and the homemade t-shirt for something called Y Creations. The fact she kept calling me a tourist made me realize she was a local. As such, she might know a way out of town.
“Well, I owe you one,” I said, “However, would you mind if I asked you a question?”
She shrugged, tried to slide a step away without appearing to move on purpose, “Two favors are better than one.”
“It’s nothing weird. I’m just wondering if there’s a bus or train out of town.”
Her shoulders dropped a bit. Feeling more relaxed she said, “No problem. There’s a train every three days…”
I gritted my teeth.
“…and a bus every evening.”
I felt myself lift off my feet. For a second I thought maybe I could simply fly out of Beecher’s Hollow. Soar over the wasteland.
“Where’s the bus station?” I asked.
She smirked, “Never seen a tourist in a hurry to leave.”
Worried she might deduce I was avoiding something, and worried even more so she might try to cash in on it -- I would… I have -- I lied, “Running low on cash.”
“Still, a new excuse to me.” She folded her arms across her chest. For a flash I recalled my mother disbelieving my insistence I hadn’t been drinking. Our debate devolving from wit to volume matches. I’d learned a long time ago honesty doesn’t always mean punishment or danger.
Keeping in mind this girl had saved me from the Crows’ alley, I said, “I was told not to ever come here, and somehow I’m in the one place I shouldn’t be.”
“Who told you never to come here?” she asked.
“I don’t know. They sent me a box with my buddy’s ashes in it, and a note saying never to come.”
She nodded, “Sounds like a Kelly thing.”
“Irish crime lords. Just be happy they felt like barbequing. Sometimes they send the head. I even knew a guy who got his friend‘s dick and balls.”
This was turning out to be a lovely part of the world.
She said, “Look, if the Kelly’s don’t want you here then I don’t want to be seen talking to you. No offense.”
I shrugged, “None taken.” It made sense to me. She had to live here after all. I was, with any luck, just passing through.
She chewed her lower lip a second, “The bus station is over on Leland Ave. Other side of town. I heard it’s set up out of sight so no one thinks about leaving too often, but I dunno. That could just be an urban legend.”
Either way, I said, “Just aim me in the general direction. I’ll find it on my own.”
She turned to point. Across the street a pair of men who looked like shaved gorillas jammed into three piece suits were glaring at us. A dim recollection of a miraculous poker victory crossed my mind, and I realized I’d beaten someone out of a seemingly sure win thanks to the river. The two started to cross the street. I felt certain it must've been them, and now they had their chance for revenge. The gorillas marched without concern for cars. I suspected cars were more likely to get wrecked hitting these beasts than vice versa.
The girl swore, “Motherfucker.” She knew well enough to put two and two together. Even if these brutes didn’t belong to the Kelly’s they meant trouble.
“Sorry,” I said, unsure what to say or do otherwise.
An odd expression flitted across her face, “You’re sorry?” Then she smirked, “Follow me!”
Before I knew what, she grabbed me by the shirt front and in the blink of an eye the two of us charged down the Crows’ Alley. I barely chanced to notice the moment we ran, the two gorillas crossing the road charged as well. The girl began cawing, sounding like a real crow. Caws called down from the rooftops lining the alley. I caught glimpses of shadows moving high above us. I’m almost sure I heard the flutter of wings. Glancing over my shoulder I saw the gorillas gaining ground.
Knowing I couldn’t keep running at the pace we were -- hung over or not I am not much of a runner. Thud-thwack, followed by a kind of zip alongside a scream. The girl slowed. I looked back. One of the beasts chasing us had vanished. The other scanned the roof line. He looked frightened.
The girl patted me on the shoulder, “Check this out.”
A shadow jumped from the roof. It fell to the alley below landing right on top of our brute pursuer. Weight and momentum combined to make whatever descended a wrecking ball. However, even as the gorilla’s face slammed into the pavement, the shadow snapped on a line causing the two to sail back into the sky, and over the rooftop. Gone in a flash.
“That’s how the Crow’s get ya,” she said and laughed.
We were safe for the time being, but I felt compelled to ask, "Who are you?"
She said, "Yvonne. Yvonne Munnin."