The man who ruined your relationship with your fiancée and then mysteriously disappeared has now returned to town. After such a long time you have now come face-to-face with Cotton Eye Joe
It was utterly impossible to see the man walking again. Not only because it set my heart on fire to see him, but also because I’d buried him in the desert a decade ago. Under the black monoliths where the sun never quite reached, in that queer place where time had never ventured, I’d buried him, screaming, in the never soil, and walked away after I’d read him a bible verse.
Never to bother me again. In that queer city of Babel, I’d found my path as a bartender.
“Whiskey,” Joe said, leaning over top of the bar, eyeing me. He was missing his fake eye, and instead it had been rudely stuffed with cotton. It drooled from the open socket, a spiral of white that drew my eye.
“Rude to stare, you know,” Joe said, watching me as I ducked behind the cabinet to get the bottle. Old, golden. Slow shipments out to this place.
“It’ll cost you, I don’t have much left.”
“And I’ve been dying to get a drink since I left Kentucky,” Joe said, looking around at all of the demons.
I joined him for a moment. About half and half here; red skinners with their horns on display, drinking whatever the stills had come up with that had been legalized by that blasted sheriff, long may he reign, and then I slapped the glass down in front of him.
He took it between cold corpse fingers and sipped at it, revealing row upon row of rotting teeth in his mouth.
“They say that a man could find his way in a town like this,” Joe said. “Do you think they’ll ever know what you did?”
I didn’t look at him. Didn’t want to see the look of triump in his one eye, or admire the stitching work the doctor had put into making him look alive again, instead of the shambling work-corpse he had to have been. Who had found him under the black timeless stones? Who had known where to look?
“The corpse-dogs are none to gentle this time of year,” Joe said. “But do you think they’ll forget that they found me with a bible, Ronald?”
“The whiskey’s free,” I said, not looking at him. “If you get the fuck out of my bar, and find another town to shamble through.”
He laughed, and I stared at the interior of his embalmed mouth, watched air whistle in and out of his stitched skin, and then he drank, a bit of stuffing spilling from his single open eye. “Our sins always have a way of catching up with us.”
“Even in hell, I despise you,” I said, quietly.
“Scotch?” Joe asked. “The dead will have their drinks.”
“I was under the impression the dead preferred coffee,” I said. “That’s another store in town.”
“They don’t serve the dead there,” Joe replied. “Bad for business to see a man with a grudge tattooed to his chest, much less for it to appear on the dead.”
Slowly my eyes circled down and I stared at the thing throbbing there, written in that script of the angels. Pulsing with life.
Then I looked back up at him and sneered. “After what you did to me, no grudge will impel me to make up for it.”
“Doesn’t matter none to me,” Joe said. “I’ve got a shift in the mines coming up. Got all the time in the world to figure out how you’ll make up for what you done to me, down here,” Joe’s lips parted into a corpse grin, black teeth and sodden breath.
I stared at him long and hard, and he stood up, downing the scotch.
“Til then, I guess you’ll sleep with one eye open, or else you’ll join me down in those mines, won’t you?”
Then the corpse-man walked out, leaving only a glass eye on the table to wobble about and stare at me.
I plucked it up between two fingers and plunged it into the empty whiskey bottle and drowned it in shitty tequila.
It’d only add to the flavor.