Tuesday, March 22, 2005

:::Sorrow, Soul, and The Good Life:::

The inside of Maggie's Brew was dim except for pools of yellow light that illuminated the steam rising from the patron's mugs and one spotlight that lit up the tiny raised platform at the north end. The walls were brick and the ceiling was high enough to disappear in the shadows up above the heavy wooden support beams. The crowd was low-key. They talked quietly, sipped hot drinks in the cool air, and waited. It was Thursday, and every Thursday night she would come. They never announced her, and there were no fliers with her name passed out or tacked up. If you came to hear her sing, it was because you'd been there before on a Thursday - maybe by chance or maybe because a friend told you to go - and every Thursday since you'd been looking for a way back in time - a way back to that first song.

Her voice was rich and sweet and full of tones from deep dark soul to golden aria. A chef from out of town had once described it as melted South American chocolate flavored with a bit of chili pepper. Word didn't spread too much because listening to her was kind of hard to talk about afterwards. Trying to explain it felt kind of like trying to explain love. You used what words you had, knowing that they would be inadequate, and mostly the people that understood where the ones who'd been through the same thing.

It was still a little early, and she hadn't made her appearance yet. The crowd seated closest to the platform relaxed into their waiting, emanating a sense of calm anticipation.

At the south end of Maggie's, where the crowd wasn't as thick, Jamie Mulligan was waiting too, but not for her. Jamie had never been to Maggie's before - Thursday or otherwise. In fact, that was the very reason that he had picked it. No one would have a reason to look for him or the person he was meeting in this place.

The door to Maggie's swung open. Jamie's right hand dropped to his jacket pocket, and he peered at the doorway through the dim light. Someone walked in, but it wasn't anyone he knew. He placed his hand back on the tabletop, watching it shake a little while he took another sip of coffee.

No matter what news his contact brought tonight, at least it would be over. Either way the dark times were going to end for him. He wouldn't even have to talk to the man to find out. It was safer for both of them that way. When the man walked in he would be wearing a scarf. If the scarf was dark, then things had gone well, they had listened to Jamie, and there would be no more secret killing in the name of patriotism. If the scarf was brightly colored... Jamie reached down and ran his hand over the outside of his coat pocket, feeling the hard shape inside.

At the far end, near the door, a lone woman stepped up onto the platform. She had long black hair and cream colored skin, and when she turned out to face the crowd, her eyes were closed. Just then, the door to Maggie's swung open again, and in came the man Jamie was waiting for.

Jamie didn't breathe. He leaned forward, staring through the gloom and feeling his heart beat. The scarf - it was dark! He took a deep breath, feeling a rush of emotion coming with it.

Then the man walked in front of the platform, and the spotlight lit up his bright, baby-blue scarf.

Jamie slumped slowly back against his chair. His eyes drifted down to the tabletop, not really seeing it, and his mouth hung open. This was it. He had his answer, and it was bleak. It was strange, but he had never really faced the fact that this could happen - that everything he believed in could fall away so quickly into nothing. The logical side of him had planned for it, perhaps, but he had not really prepared himself for what it would feel like. How do you prepare yourself to lose hope when you still have some left?

His right hand reached slowly down to his pocket. He scanned the room to make sure that no one was watching him which wasn't a problem, because everyone seemed focused on the woman standing on the platform. His hand came back up holding the gun. It was black and heavy and cold, just the way he wanted it to be. He placed it in his mouth, tasting the oil he had used to clean it. He thought about all that he used to believe in: that the good guys won, that justice would prevail, that heroes could make a difference, and that wrongs could be made right. If those things weren't true, what was left?

He went to pull the trigger, but something happened that stopped him. On the platform at the far end of the room, the woman had begun to sing.

The voice was deeper than he had expected. It rolled through the room - a smooth, black and blue song of sorrow that leapt up to catch the high notes. The energy built and built with every note she sang. It pushed at him, wrapping its arms around the place inside of him where it hurt the worst and pouring into him there. What had started out quiet, grew louder and louder, and when she got to the end, she opened her eyes and stared right at him while she held that last note. And what a note! It was pure golden light in the darkness.

Then, silence.

Jamie took a long, slow breath. He could feel his hand shaking again. On the platform, the woman waited with her head bowed. Carefully, Jamie pulled the gun out of his mouth and replaced it in his pocket.

On the platform, the woman spoke.
"For all you travelers that have stopped in tonight to hear the music...welcome back to the good life."

posted by D @ 12:17 AM |

I love stories - especially speculative fiction, and I named this blog Brief Glimpses of Somewhere Else because I think of each story as a window into another world.

If this is your first time here, I recommend "Legacies" and "The Great Puzzle", both of which were nominated for a 2006 Parsec Award. You can also find "Timmy, Jimmy, and the Beast of Tagmart" as well as "Late Shift at the Souleater" in the podcast anthology Voices: New Media Fiction available at podiobooks.com.

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