HadesMachine

The Many Lives of Laura…

The song, which preceded the story, is available for free download. I hope you enjoy it as much I enjoyed creating it.

Click here to download Terms of Endangerment

The arc sodium lamp above the weathered doorway buzzed loud enough to be heard over the muffled sound of the jukebox inside the Night Owl tavern; its light spilling a sickly pool of pale, fleshy illumination down the sidewalk. Occasionally the door would swing open, the volume swelling for a moment, then abruptly dropping as it shut once more. Moths fluttered around the lamp's cold radiance, oblivious to the goings on outside their tiny universe. The obligatory evening mist drifting in from the inlet glowed in the periphery while the street and few cars beneath were painted in haunted tones.

Jason Lee Hillier skulked up to the Night Owl, tugged open the door and let himself in. There was no bouncer. No one checked ID anymore. Since the quarantine, things haven't been the same - and Jason didn't mind one bit.

The jukebox belted out the standards, seemingly of its own accord. There's gonna be a heartache tonight... a heartache tonight... the Eagles plaintively sang from the tinny overhead speakers.

"Truer words were never spoken." Jason muttered under his breath as a smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth.

The bartender and smattering of patrons all turned to see who had walked in. An anemic, unassuming young man with a slim build and somewhat pointed features, five foot eight at best, with the hood of his sweatshirt covering most of his head. Faded blue denim jacket and matching jeans gave him the average working class appearance that blended into any crowd, but he looked unusually clean. It wasn't his complexion or aesthetic hygiene. His clothing was neat in spite of the blue collar styling, as if he had just taken them off the rack. Prior to the quarantine, this wouldn't have stood out as much as it did now. No one was truly clean these days.

He walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. "Diamond Knot."

"Sure thing." grumbled the bartender, looking down the length of his nose at the newcomer as if measuring his viability as a customer.

It didn't used to be that way. Anyone over the legal age was welcome, though most nights it was the local trash and bikers that took up residence in the well worn booths and atop the mismatched stools around the bar. Nowadays, business was falling off, decent booze was harder to come by, and people tended to stay home. Anyone out past dark was either a hard case, up to something, or just plain stupid - and this guy didn't look stupid.

Ralph poured the beer, set it on a creased and faded bar coaster, and pushed it towards his customer. "Six bucks."

Jason placed six neatly folded dollar bills on the counter, took his beer and walked to the furthest corner of the tavern, sat down rigidly, with his back to the wall and stared towards the door over the top of his beer, as if waiting for someone.

Weird dude. Ralph thought.

Things had been getting weirder by the day, especially after the incident last month where the part time animal control officer, Kemp, had cracked a pool cue over some poor bastard's head, and ended up jamming the broken end into his eye socket to puree the backside of the guys brain. He swore up and down the guy was infected and would attack us at any given moment. It took all night to clean up the mess after Sheriff Standahl had taken Kemp off to the holding tank. Ever since then, every variable in and out of the bar was under Ralph's strict scrutiny.

Clay and Lonnie Wilmeth racked another set of balls on the pool table. The brothers ran the local towing and salvage down past Raymond. While not being twins in the chronological sense, their similar build, familial resemblance and near identical wardrobe caused more than the occasional incorrect assumption that they were. Regular patrons of the Night Owl since before they were of the legal age, they worked as hard as they drank, and could be counted on for bouncing duties in trade for pitchers of Pabst.

Ralph called out, "Another round guys?"

Making eye contact with Clay, he nodded sideways towards the newcomer, indicating keep an eye on him. Clay nudged his brother, silently repeated the instruction, and went back to their game. "Naw, we're good for now." they called back, nearly in unison.

Jason sat still, occasionally taking a small sip of his beer, staring fixedly at the door. He'd been doing the same for nearly two weeks now, though staring at the other side from the darkened alley across the street between Gunderson's Dry Cleaning (strange name considering the owners were Pakistani) and Breaker Drive Smokes n' Stuff.

Night after night he'd sat still as could be. Waiting. The detritus of the alleyway bothered him, but there were no cleaner vantage points giving him an unobstructed view of the Night Owl Tavern. He sat upon a scuffed, orange, molded plastic chair, reminding him of high school classrooms. Though it was dark, it was safe to assume it wasn't sanitary. Every night he unfolded a fresh newspaper to sit on, and in the wee hours every morning he folded the used paper neatly into quarters, and placed it atop the overflowing trash bins before leaving his post.

A week past he'd seen her. It was Laura. It had to be. Nearly straight auburn hair to the middle of her back, a slender figure slightly taller than average - snug jeans and pert breasts pushing against a form hugging sweater. It must be her. She was back. He knew she would be. He seethed at the loser she was with. He touched her back. He slid his hand down her backside and slapped her ass as they entered the bar. She squealed in mock discomfort, then giggled as the door shut behind them.

Every night for a week Jason waited. It was Saturday again. This time, he had crossed the street, purposefully, rather than slinking into the dark alleyway. Tonight's the night, he thought over and over. The faintest tinge of a lopsided smirk tugged the corner of his mouth.

Two hours, twenty seven minutes, and forty three seconds had passed since he had ordered his beer and sat down. She was late. He would have to order another beer soon, or that annoying bartender might suspect something was amiss. Then again, if he drank too much beer, he would have to urinate, and if he was in the bathroom he might miss her arrival.

During his stay, a middle aged couple had arrived, followed shortly thereafter by a rather short but square framed biker, his leather vest decorated with a myriad of buttons and patches, though none of any affiliation. He'd be alone, or might expect a friend.

The middle aged couple sat at the booth parallel to him, the between space being the thoroughfare to the bathrooms. He felt their eyes upon him, but chose to ignore their impolite glances.

"Steve..." the woman whispered, loud enough to be heard over .38 Special from the jukebox speakers. Her husband seemed inclined to ignore her. "Steve!" She whispered hoarsely again.

"What, Mildred? Can I not just have one beer in peace before you go filling my ears with noise?"

A loving couple. They'll need to go.

"Steven. Isn't that... “ she paused for emphasis, leaning closer. “Sandy Hillier's boy over there?"

Steven looked over. "Sure. Why?"

"He's supposed to be dead!" Mildred's voice began to rise, and realizing this, she hushed herself to the still fairly audible whisper she had started with.

"Then that can't be him. You need your eyes checked."

"I'm serious!" she exclaimed, drawing emphasis on the 'E'. "He'd gotten bit by one of those... things. They found him with the body of that Breathwaite girl, Laura, and I heard he killed Mrs. Kalinowski's dog, Ruffles, too. I always knew he was no good."

"And you believe this why?" Steven asked, as tall tales were nothing new from his wife. Gossip and embellishment were her favorite pass-times.

"The cop - Not Stendahl, the other one - he got the call. Showed up and shot him dead on the spot. Carol told me, right after it happened!"

"I remember something about it, but come on now - you know Carol wasn't there. She probably overheard someone spewing stories at the salon. They all cluck like goddamned hens all day down there."

Mildred scolded her husband. "Language!"

Steven rolled his eyes. "It can't be him then can it? You need to use your head more and your mouth less."

Folding her arms and tilting her head back, Mildred stated as a matter of fact. "Steven Anthony Duffie, you are rude, and don't know how good you have it."

Having said her peace, Mildred sat across from him, glowering. Blissful silence. Steven swallowed the remainder of his beer, and motioned for Ralph to bring him another.

Jason had caught maybe one in three words from the Duffies, but it was sufficient. They definitely had to go.

The front door opened, and in walked the object of his desire. The excitement tingled through him like the feeling of sticking your tongue on a nine volt battery. Jittery, fluttering sensations radiated through his chest. She's here. She's finally here.

She arrived with the same lanky never do well. He had deep set eyes and gelled back, slightly curled dirty blonde hair. He couldn't keep his rough hands off her. It was unnerving. Again she giggled at his overtly promiscuous advances. They ordered drinks, and talked for a moment with Ralph before taking the last open booth, adjacent to the back side of the Duffies. They sat together. The man's arm slid over, around her shoulder.

Jason no longer stared at the door. He stared at Laura. His Laura.

She's letting him get all over her.

The man pulled her towards him. They leaned together. They kissed. It was not a chaste peck on the lips - it was long. Agonizing, and brazen.

Jason stood up from his booth, and walked towards Laura's booth.

The brothers Wilmeth stopped playing pool.

The Duffies stared.

The erstwhile biker turned on his stool.

Ralph cursed to himself.

"Laura. It's me. I'm back. What are you doing... with him?"

The man looked up at Jason with a sneer. "Hey bud, I think you're barking up the wrong tree here. She ain't no Laura, and you can go to hell."

He laughed. They laughed. Mildred gawked.

"Steven!" she hissed. "See! I told you it was him!"

From under his jacket, Jason pulled a twelve inch kitchen knife. Without breaking his glare at Laura's companion, he punched the knife through Mildred's throat. Steven, having just drained the remainder of his second beer, blew the contents of his mouth across the table, his staring dumbly at him through a spatter of blood and beer.

"Millie!" Steven shouted, reaching across for her.

Mildred slumped sideways into the booth. Gurgling bubbles escaped the gash in her neck as her life drained onto the cracked red vinyl seat. The look of surprise never left her face.

The man hooked his left arm up on the seat divider to pull himself upright. In one deft move, Jason plunged the blood soaked knife to the hilt into the man's exposed side, piercing the heart and killing him before he knew what had happened.

"Oh." was all he said, before collapsing on the floor.

The Wilmeths jogged between tables and bar stools towards Jason as he grabbed at Laura, catching hold of her jacket. Clay swung the pool cue in a wide arc, aiming for Jason's head just as he pulled Laura upright. Missing his intended target entirely, the thick end of the stick grazed the side of her head hard enough to send her sprawling to the sticky, stained wood floor.

Stepping over Laura to face Clay Wilmeth directly, Jason kicked as if punting from the fifty yard line. If he ever lived past this night, Clay’s testicles would never be the same. All the air escaped his lungs with a loud oof as he doubled over. The kitchen knife sliced upward in an underhand motion, sharpened side out, which nearly decapitated Clay. His body fell beside Laura.

"Clay!" Lonnie yelled. "Motherfucker!"

Lonnie swung his cue in a diagonal, choked arc, connecting with Jason's shoulder. A blast of pain radiated quickly through his upper arm, before becoming partially numb. He spun on the ball of his left foot, while his right collided into the side of Lonnie's right knee. It only takes a few pounds of pressure to break a knee, and by the sound of it, his was broken. Lonnie fell sideways to the ground, clutching his damaged joint and making an awful racket.

Jason set the knife down on the table the man and Laura had been sitting at; before reaching down to pick up Clay's pool cue. He checked the balance, lined up his shot, and proceeded to pulverize Lonnie's skull. He didn't stop swinging until the stick broke in half.

Laura looked up at Jason through tear filled eyes. Her sobbing hitched her chest, while her mouth formed a down turned grimace of unadulterated fear. As she crawled away from him, she slid through the growing pool of the Wilmeth brother’s blood, leaving a sloppy trail.

“I’m not…” she sniveled. “I’m not…”

“You’re not what?” Jason shouted down at her, disgusted with her display of cowardice.

Ralph and the biker had backed up to the far end of the bar, effectively cutting off the bartender’s exit. Having seen the efficiency by which this slight young man had dispatched four people in less than two minutes, the biker weighed his options and bolted for the door.

Steven, still moaning over Mildred’s cooling body, had pulled out his wife’s cell phone and dialed 9-1-1.

The tired emergency operator picked up.

“This is S-Steven D-D-Duh-Duffie,” he stammered. “At the Nuh-Night Owl on Breaker. He killed Millie…”

Jason turned at the sound of Steven’s statement.

“No, Steven. No you don’t.” he stated, as if admonishing a child.

Walking directly to the Duffie’s booth, Jason whipped the older man’s hand with the slim, broken pool cue end, knocking the phone from his grip. Steven clutched his hand, holding it close to his chest. Jason leaned across the table, picking up the dropped cell phone.

“You won’t be needing this.”

Jason hurled the phone across the length of the bar, where it skipped off the top of the bar like a stone across water, before hitting the wall and nearly dropping into Ralph’s lap. Ralph had crouched down behind the bar, hoping out of sight meant out of mind. The phone landing on him caused a startled yelp.

“I won’t allow you to ruin my night out with Laura.”

Leering at Steven, he punctuated every other consonant of his statement by prodding Mildred’s body with the sharp, broken end of the pool cue.

“Seriously, Steven. How did you put up with this?”

Prod. Poke.

“Answer me. How?” he snarled. “How Steven? HOW?”

As he jabbed at Mildred’s corpse harder, his eyes were locked with Steven’s.

“You make me sick.”

The cue whipped at Steven. Every hit resounded with a slapping whip crack.

As if he was crawling into himself, Steven sank further back into the confines of the booth. The gap between table and seat was too narrow to slide under – the girth of middle age living prevented him from any action but to lean up against the wall with his arms up to fend off the rain of blows.

Crack! Crack! Crack!

Steven was whimpering, taking the abuse with no attempt to defend himself.

Crack! Crack! Crack!

His face contorted into a whole new shape of pain. His arms dropped, as he clutched at his chest. He grew quiet and then slumped forward. A syrupy string of drool crept from his wet lips. His vacant eyes staring into the abyss of the teal salt and pepper pattern on the table top.

Laura had crawled backward, away from the battered, seeping remains of the Wilmeths. Her hands, arms, faded jeans and peach blouse were soaked with great splotches of blood. Speckles of red had sprayed across her face like freckles – her tears dripping them down her anguished face.

As Jason approached, her sobbing escalated. Her eyes grew wider, then squinted shut, as if not seeing him would make all this go away.

He always tried to keep a level head. No good came from hasty decisions, or rash actions. Getting worked up – angry, even – never brought things to a concise, logical conclusion. Unfortunately, such an unabashed display of weakness really pushed his buttons.

“Laura. Get up.”

“Noooo!” she wailed. “I’m not her!”

GET YOUR ASS OFF THE FLOOR!” Jason shouted.

Awesome. Now I sound like my father. I sound just like him.

He hated channeling this hereditary fury, but the switch had been flipped and matters of the heart must run their course.

Jason reached down, clutched Laura’s blood slicked forearm and pulled her to her feet.

Behind the bar, a distant voice spoke from the discarded cell phone in Ralph’s lap. He looked down at the device, as if never having seen a phone before. The emergency operator was still on the line.

“Sir? Sir? Are you still there? An officer is on their way.”

Surrounded by carnage, broken and tumbled bodies and chairs, Laura and Jason stood in the middle of the bar.

Laura’s body convulsed slightly with each hitching breath. The tears flowed freely, sending rivulets of blood and mascara down her cheeks and dripping off her jaw.

“Stop crying!” Jason barked. “What’s wrong with you?”

Ugh! Just cut it out. Stop. Stop. Stop it!

She was incorrigible.

He pulled her close in a gentle but firm embrace; running his fingers through her hair, taking in her scent. He noted traces of jasmine and vanilla lotion. The smell was intoxicating.

Tightening his fingers into a hair filled fist, he tugged her head back, exposing her throat. Her cries grew louder. She struggled against his grip.

He bared his teeth, and sank them into her neck. Laura’s expression contorted into a mask of incomprehensible agony. Her voice rose in pitch, her cries becoming a hoarse whine as the remainder of air escaped her lungs. Jason clutched her tightly as he tore into her neck. She couldn’t inhale. Nothing was working right. Numb blackness crept into her mind as her life came to an abrupt halt.

His face awash with gore, Jason pulled away from Laura’s throat. Her neck was a mass of raw, brutalized meat.

Finally, she had stopped crying.

“You’re not Laura.” Jason stated, dropping her body to the floor while spitting out masticated flesh.

Picking up the discarded kitchen knife from the booth tabletop, Jason stepped over the bodies, walked calmly to the exit, and left.

Ralph did not come out from behind the bar until the Sheriff deputy and paramedics arrived.

* * *

The sun had set hours before, a beautiful orange and rose strip of clouds along the horizon.

As the evening grew darker, a mist congealed and rolled in off the water. The Pierside Tavern in Hoquiam was just starting to come to life. Various neon signs advertising beers shone from the grimy windows. Several motorcycles were lined up near the entrance, alongside a lifted Chevy truck with mismatched fenders, and a pair of non-discrepant imports.

The occasional pair or group of patrons would arrive or depart. Since the quarantine, it was a rare occurrence that anyone arrived by themselves. Safety in numbers at all times.

Across Myrtle St. from the bar, Esther Fowler’s Chiropractic and Pacific Gold and Coin shared similar faded salmon painted frontages. A narrow breezeway ran between, leading to the parking lot behind the buildings. Jason Lee Hillier sat patiently in the pool of shadow between them.

The Many Lives of Laura Breathwaite was written shortly after I worked up a demo of the song, Terms of Endangerment. This takes place alongside but not directly in the contiguous storyline of the HadesMachine novels. Much of the storyline has been developed by way of songs, as I'd never thought I would have the patience to actually hammer out a novel, but by summer 2014, the first book will be out. Stranger things have happened I suppose. - Jake Hades, Sept. 23, 2013