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The Esoteric Cafe
Motherboard #5.B
© 2023 James LaFond
MAY/12/24
It looked like it used to be a dollar store, now bunker-like it grinned eyeless, not a window with which to peep, out upon the crumbled main street.
‘More like a maimed street,’ he mused, and another, deeper, inner voice agreed, ‘Like me.’
A picture of a gray light bulb on the fake stone wall, smeared over with concrete to make a proper canvas for the artist, flooded his mind with warm memories. The front door was an iron gate.
He was looking west, into the nearing sunset. The sun was weak and gray behind the perpetual cloud cover.
The rabbit at his feet seemed nervous, as it nibbled on the raspberry growing in the setting crease of the busted concrete.
A light was on inside of the square, fabricated cave. The buildings to the north, south and west had been largely demolished or stripped, imploded for the most part, profusely overgrown with weeds and maple. Maples 20 years old sprouted from some houses. The very rubble piles were taking on the character of hummocks.
A metal roller door rose noisily behind him.
Turning, he looked across the street, balancing on the crumbling curb. The asphalt was a river of rubbery gravel pocked with gaping holes, exposing the subterranean infrastructure that he once took for granted. He knew this road, it was Harford Road, perhaps a quarter of the way to becoming a weird canyon. Looking right, at the intersection of Northern and Harford, dominated by a couple of wrecked busses, he mused, “That will be a pond, is probably already a sewer cenote.”
The clack of the roll up door being secured by the chain, brought his attention back to the building across the street, seeming to have been a used car lot?
The simple brick building, had once featured glass fronts and was now boarded to either side of the rolling steel door, obviously ripped off the back of some retail outlet.
Within the doorway lurked five Somali’s, distinguished by their wedge-shaped heads. One absently fingered the edge of his machete. Another held a pry bar over his shoulder. Yet another had a wrist rocket strapped to his arm and was eyeing the rabbit, which, squeaked, “Bro, human shield!”
The walker did not think, but acted, bending on his one foot from the waist and pulling the rabbit up to his bare belly with a clicking and clacking of bone and something harder. He then used the left hook crutch and right foot to hobble into the gray Lightbulb Bar, the iron gates of which were opening in the hands of a striking figure—a man he was sure he knew, or knew upon a time.
“Brutha!” greeted the man, saluting him, “I’d shake your hand, but I see you brought a friend.”
The man was tall, thin, had long silver hair, a scruffy gray beard and wore a light blue suit, a bit ragged at the hip and offset by the black tie and the black combat boots. The man stood off behind him, the walker knew instinctively, confronting the hereditary foes across the crumbling street.
Behind him he heard a laughing voice, even as he set down the rabbit and saw a familiar face behind the bar. There stood a big, good looking man he once knew, wearing a fitted hat and a wry smile, “Poppy, rough couple of days I see. You need to let the world fend for itself—”
...and the man paused as they listened to the man in the suit. The rabbit sniffed the base of the bar stool before the taps.
The voice was shot with humor, “My friends, somebody is about to have a bad day.”
Poppy, refreshed that he had a name, turned and looked at the five Somali’s posed menacingly across the street. The tall man in the suit, turned, grinned and chuckled as he walked in.
“My good friend, Mister Poppy, so nice to see you out and about.”
They shook hands and he felt good, like he had a brother.
He looked at the two men as he set the rabbit up on the bar stool, and began to ask a question and the man in the suit answered, “Butha, if I didn’t know better I’d think you smoked all the weed in Baltimore. I think the bullet in the head wrecked your short term memory—speaking of which, Mamma needs to fix your gun sight there. I’m Drew, ‘Drew Drop,’ as in when I draw they drop. And this is Big Ron here.”
He began wondering what he used to drink when he knew these men. Ron, reading his face, declared, “Breweries are all done. Jaseman makes wheat beer, we got on tap here, in three strengths, dandelion wine, and oak peat Scotch.”
As he spake the menu he poured a dark beer, and a double of whiskey for Poppy, who remembered of a sudden that this was his drinking companion of old.
He turned to Drew, trying to recall drinking with him from within the haunted precincts of his shattered mind and came up blank. The man read his face and grinned, “My Old Friend, I’m a coffee man—have to stay sharp,” picked up a small glass of cold coffee from the bar top, and nodded out the door and across the wrecked street.
Poppy asked, leaning on his crutches and checking the floor, assured by the hard wood that he had scratched it often in the past, as there could not have been too many crutches like his clacking across this dented and scratched floor, “Why aren’t they packing AKs?"
The man in the suit smiled, indulgently and nodded to Ron, who related, “After the Crash and the Blight came the Ban, the military locked down the cities and barred interstate use or highway travel. Then they barred use of towers and satellites—they’re the only ones with coms. The phone ban is what set most people to suicide and insanity.”
The man continued, seemingly long practiced at this story, “As for guns, any blast, spray en pray or rifle report, brings down the drones to zip-tie yer ass for the rats. Only thing you can use is low velocity revolvers, got to be careful even with a single action. Rate of fire and the drones are down on you—the dog drones are the worst.”
“Oh,” he said as he took a drink.
Then, looking at the rabbit, Big Ron poured a shot glass full of beer and set it on the bar. The back pack howled, “That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” and the rabbit put paws on bar and sniffed suspiciously at the beer.
Drew then hissed, “Look at this across the street.”
Ron could not see, so walked out behind the bar, so smoothly that Poppy was envious of that perfect gait. Then, as the big man came out from behind the bar, one could see that he was a machine from the hips down, with what looked like a quarter beer keg repurposed for a hip assembly, supporting two steely legs with bicycle chain muscles and a bowling ball knee, his feet miniature tractor treads, rolling softly along on rubbery retreads.
Ron shrugged his shoulders, “We’re brothers of a sort—look at this wedge-headed coon!”
And they all four, including the rabbit, looked across the street where the machete man danced a weird, whirling dance.
Drew smiled, sipped his coffee, “What’s left of the day is going to be as bad as this twenty year old coffee.”
The back pack of Rabbit Jack protested, “This shit is embarrassing.”
Ron agreed, “I love coons. They entertain you even when they’re coming for you.”
Poppy wasn’t sure about all that, as a memory of a bucket-headed foe grimacing with deepest woe, rose in his sunken mind.
And he drank.
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