So I may have just written just over 3000 words today on this. So, here you go. Remember that this is a first draft, as well. I tried a little experimental bit in here, I’d love feedback to see if it works okay.
Jack woke the next morning, shivering and sore. It wasn’t that he hadn’t slept well – the spare room over the pub was actually cozy. The bed was soft and comfortable, and he’d been asleep maybe three seconds after his head hit the pillow, which may have smelled a little old, but was like resting your head on a cloud. When he awoke, however, his stomach cramped up, he was damp with night-sweats, and his head swelled and ached with the beginning of what was threatening to be a monster hangover. All along his ribs and back, he was beginning to bruise, and by the end of the week, he would look like a sick version of the Tattooed Man at a freak show, all purple and yellow thunderclouds up and down his torso. He would stare at himself in the mirror and imagine he saw shapes in those dark clouds: a sailboat, a bottle of Sailor Jerry, and Judy. Judy. Sweet Judy.
The sound of footsteps up the stairs brought with it the smell of bacon, and hot-buttered toast, which would have ordinarily been welcome smells, but this morning wasn’t ordinary – Jack hadn’t touched a bottle since that night, and hadn’t meant to have more than one beer the night before. There was another smell mixed in that he couldn’t quite place – everything in the pub had a faint fishy smell to it, so he wasn’t sure if he was imagining the smell of fried kippers or not. His uncle had loved them, but he’d never found a taste for them; in fact, the very smell of them ordinarily made him gag. Again, this morning wasn’t ordinary, and in this case, the smell of the kippers, mixed with the bacon, was provoking a reaction that was more than just a little rising of the gorge. Jack looked around the room, searching desperately for somewhere to vomit. He knew that Duck had shown him where the bathroom was last night during his little tour,
(Here’s a bed – I know it’s not much. No TV, no Magic Fingers – but it’ll keep you warm and dry.)
but everything was blurry and frantic, and the footsteps were getting closer, and his stomach was screaming for relief. The door was closed,
(Out the door, turn right down the hall and the first door on the left’s yer bathroom. Second door’s mine, so make sure you’re pissing into porcelain, and not your gracious host – that’d be yours truly, Duck winked and chuckled.)
and so, Jack leapt out of bed, wincing and gritting his teeth at the pain that shot through his body as he thrust himself at the door, his hand managing to land on the handle and grip it, steadying himself. He pulled open the door and was nearly face to face with Duck, who was carrying a tray with a plate of breakfast – eggs, bacon, toast, and yes, the dreaded kippers. It was almost too much for him to manage, but he lurched down the hall and into the bathroom, collapsing like a sinner at the feet of a porcelain god,
(Oh yeah, Duck said before retiring, one more thing: the pipes in this place are old. It kinda sounds like the end of the world when you flush the toilet. So, I gotta rule when it comes to doin’ yer business – if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down. You follow?)
and opened his mouth, forgetting all about
(They call me Mellow Yellow….)
Duck’s rule about the toilet, instead just relieved to be rid of the sour beer
(camel piss… it was camel piss)
that was causing his stomach so much pain. He thrust his face into the bowl and the smell of the old man’s urine and his fresh vomit made his stomach lurch again, and once more, and one last time for good measure, only the last time, all he managed was a thick, syrupy, yellow bile, and he wondered with a crazy grin forming on his lips if he should let it mellow or flush it down.
“Payin’ the ferryman, I see,” Duck laughed from the bathroom doorway. He held a towel in his hands and tossed it to Jack.
“Oh, I know,” the old man said with a knowing smile, “It feels like you’re dying. But don’t you worry. The boatman Charon is ferrying you across the Styx. You’ll come out okay on the other side, you’ll see. You just gotta pay your pennies. Huh. Pay your pennies. Pay your penance. Huh. Listen to your friend Duck waxing philosophical. I ain’t no scholar, boy, but I know a thing or two about hangovers.”
Who was this? Jack thought. This version of Duck seemed spry and sober this morning – a far cry from the exuberant but sincere drunk he’d met the night before. He was certainly a more seasoned drinker than Jack, who was still not sure what the old man was talking about.
“Styx?” he asked, spitting into the toilet and wiping his mouth with the towel.
“Yeah,” Duck said, grinning, and even sober, it was a frightening sight. “You know – Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto.”
Jack laughed weakly. “You are an odd duck, Duck.”
“Ayuh, I’ve heard that before, too,” he said, and reached out a hand. “Here, let me help you up.”
Grateful for the help, Jack reached out and grabbed the offered hand, but when Duck pulled, Jack cried out in pain and had to let go, collapsing on the floor. Duck moved quicker than Jack would have thought the man capable with his bad knee and grabbed Jack by his sweatshirt, saving him from knocking his head off the toilet.
Now that Duck was close to the toilet, he recoiled from the stench.
“Oh Lord, that stinks!” he laughed, and slammed the lid, then flushed. The sound that followed was indeed the sound of the end of the world, Jack thought. There was a scream and groan as the pipes rattled and strained against their bearings and threatened to burst. There was a faintly coppery, iodine smell that reminded Jack of spilled blood.
“It’s the sea air,” Duck said, suddenly somber, taking in the bruises he could see poking out of the bottom of Jack’s sweatshirt as it rose up his body during his fall. “The salt rusts the shit out of these old pipes. Still, she’s held together this long, she’ll last another while. This place’s been here for as long as the town itself, and I swear, it’ll be here long after I’m gone.”
Jack looked up at the man, sure that he’d ask him to leave, sure that he’d ask about the bruises, certain that he’d ask him again if he was in trouble; that he didn’t want any trouble, and if it was all the same, he’d like Jack to pack his things and go. Instead, he offered both of his hands to Jack this time, and braced himself up against the doorframe of the little bathroom.
“Gently this time,” he said, and tried to look Jack in the eyes, but Jack found his eyes darting this way and that, doing everything they could to avoid the man’s gaze. “On three, yeah?”
On three, Duck rocked his body back, and gingerly pulled Jack to his feet.
“You’re gonna want to wait about fifteen minutes before you try to have a shower,” he said, looking at the towel at Jack’s feet. “I’ll get you a clean towel. Why don’t you try to eat something nice and greasy, soak up the poison? There’s coffee and OJ there, and if you hurry up, the kippers will still be hot. Nothing worse than cold kippers.”
Jack’s face went a special shade of green, and for a second he thought he was going to be sick again.
“No kippers, please,” he moaned. “Can’t stand ‘em. But thank you.”
Duck didn’t seem offended, Jack thought, but instead shrugged his shoulders and grinned that nearly-toothless grin that gave Jack a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.
“No accounting for some taste, I s’pose. Oh well, more for me. I’ll leave you to it, then. Shower’s actually not bad once the water’s hot, so make sure you give it a bit. I’ll be downstairs when you’re ready.”
Jack nodded weakly.
The bacon and eggs were so salty they left Jack’s lips stinging, and when he gulped the orange juice down in three swallows, they stung even more, but he didn’t care. He could feel the cool, sweet juice trickling down his throat and into his belly, where it felt like a healing balm. If only he could get the food into his stomach without having to chew and swallow, that would be just about perfect, Jack thought. The coffee was bitter but welcome, and the toast – more butter than bread – found a welcome home in his stomach, where it soaked up what Duck had called the poison.
The shower was a lot better than he’d expected, but if the flushing of the toilet made the pipes tremble, the shower seemed to challenge them, daring them like a schoolyard bully to try something, just try! Somehow, they held together, and by the time Jack had eaten, showered, brushed his teeth, and put some (relatively) clean clothes on, he was feeling a little more human than he had when he woke up that morning after a blessedly dreamless sleep. All he needed now, he imagined, was some Aspirin and about two gallons of water; maybe some Gatorade, or one of those Rockstar drinks his old dorm-mate had been so fond of.
He crept down the stairs with his bag over his shoulder like he was sneaking out on a one-night-stand, or more aptly, like a burglar trying to flee the scene of the crime. He’d imagined he might be able to sneak out without having to explain his injuries; had even written a thank you note that he planned to leave on the bar before he ducked out with his tail between his legs.
When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he squinted at the light of day, but managed to look around the bar. When he didn’t see Duck anywhere, he walked to the bar, placed the note under a Samuel Adams beer coaster, and made to leave. He was just about to open the door when Duck startled him with the question he’d been dreading.
“The guy what did that to you – he know where you’re at now?”
Jack shook his head slowly. It had been three guys, actually. Judy’s brother, of course, and two of his friends to whom Jack had never had the pleasure of being formally introduced. This had been at Judy’s funeral, just two days past. At her funeral. After her casket had been lowered into the ground, and after the priest said his homily,
(From dirt we began, and to dirt we shall return, awaiting the glorious transformation blah blah blah blah blah…)
but at her funeral, all the same. Judy’s brother Matthew caught him sneaking away back to his car
(You fucking murderer! How dare you show your face here?)
and before Jack could even try to defend himself, either with words or hands, he found himself on the ground, being kicked in the stomach, in the ribs, in the back
(Hey, cut it out, Matt, you’re gonna kill him!)
and the next morning, he pissed blood, but he didn’t dare go to the hospital
(Don’t you go anywhere, you fucking prick! This, his dead girlfriend’s brother knelt and whispered in his ear, and it struck Jack funny – like an abusive clown, Judy would have said – that when he whispered, he sounded just like Judy, telling him that she loved him, telling him that she wanted him, telling him how much she wanted him inside her. But instead of sweet intimacies, he spoke the vow of the wronged; the righteous vengeance of the aggrieved. I’ll be back to finish what I started, and then I’m gonna dump your body in the water and fucking weight you down, you miserable son-of-a-bitch! You killed my sister, you asshole, and if nobody is going to punish you for that, then I will. You won’t see me coming, fuckface, but I’m going to make you pay for what you’ve done.)
because he knew full well that he would run into people who wanted him just as dead as Matthew did; as dead as Judy was, and he couldn’t bear to face them. So, he crawled into bed and locked his doors and slipped in and out of consciousness. He was pretty sure when he finally woke that his ribs were cracked or worse, and when he had thrown up this morning, it had been like being kicked all over again. That had been just two days ago, and he hadn’t even told his parents where he was going, so no – nobody knew where he was.
“That’s good,” Duck said, and had only one follow up question, which took Jack by surprise. “The beating you took – did you deserve it?”
(Come on, Jack, Judy teased, holding a bottle of Captain Jerry rum in one hand, and wearing nothing but her most devilish grin. Don’t you want some of this? I’m gonna swab your deck so hard. Don’t)
“I…,” Jack started, and then tried to continue, but all that came out was a
(laugh, Jack. But he had laughed. Judy always made him laugh. I don’t even know what that means, Jack tried to say, but he’d had too much to drink, and he’d stumbled, his legs struggling to keep him upright on the boat – a forty-foot yacht belonging to Judy’s father, which they’d snuck out at night, without permission, to celebrate Judy’s graduation. He hadn’t blacked out, exactly, but time seemed to skip. He had been standing at the top of the stairs, and then he’d stumbled, and then his face was between Judy’s legs, sucking and licking the soft, wet folds of her. He could hear her)
moan that seemed to say more than he could put into words. He had tried to
(say that she wanted him to fuck her, right there on the deck, pelted by the rain, fucking in the face of the storm, she said. But the ship was being tossed about by the storm, and he’d never)
tell her that he’d never piloted a ship that big before,
(been so hard in his life, and he wanted her, too, with his whole being, but the storm… Let’s go into the cabin, Judy. It’ll be safer in there. Let’s)
just little ones, and the storm was getting bad, and maybe they should
(head back to shore. But Judy had grabbed him, and tried to pull him back to her, and that’s when Jack slipped and fell backwards, and when she stood up to)
catch their breath and start all over again back on land, where they would be safe. I was cold and wet, and even if the storm didn’t kill them, they were likely to
(catch him, Jack heard the mat before he even saw it swing around, as the boat lurched to port so hard that they both lost their balance. He saw Judy laughing, laughing, laughing, bracing herself against the cabin, utterly unaware of the mast that was swinging toward her head. When Jack called her name out, tried to warn her, she just kept laughing with utter exhilaration. In those last moments, Jack thought she looked like a doomed goddess. She stood with arms wide, nothing but moonlight to light her body, her nipples rock hard in the cold spray, her body riddled with goosepimples. Her blue lips widened in a glorious grin, and that’s when the mast struck the side of her head, knocking her into the water, where she would)
die of exposure. But exposure didn’t get a chance; nor did it kill him, though he truly wishes it had.
Did he deserve the beating he’d received at the hands of Judy’s brother?
Yes. Oh yes. That, and so much more, Jack thought. Neither of them had any business out on that boat that night, drunk as lords and out of their minds with youthful delusions of immortality. Instead of telling Duck his story – and he supposed he would, if the old man asked, he simply nodded. He didn’t want the man’s sympathy; didn’t deserve it, he figured.
“Yes,” Jack said. “I suppose I must have.”
Duck looked long and hard at Jack, and seemed to respect his answer, because he put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder – gently – and nodded back.
“It’s a rare and honorable man who can admit when he’s done wrong, and take his medicine. I reckon whatever you did is done and paid for – though some sins are never paid for in full. I s’pose you’ll figure that out on your own, one way or t’other.
“Now, I told you yesterday I might have a line on some lodging for you, and I thought we might go introduce you to a cantankerous old friend of mine who needs a lodger. In fact, you’d be doing me a favor as well as him.”
“How so?” Jack asked, the haunted look not quite gone from his face. He still had one foot in the memory of that night, and was quite sure that Duck was right about paying for some sins for a long time. He’d been re-living the incident every night in his dreams ever since.
“Well, I’ll let him tell the story, ‘cause frankly, I’m tired of it, myself. Let’s just say he’s an old man who loves having something to complain about, and nothing would make me happier than taking that away from him.”
Jack smiled at the old man’s playful spite. “Something tells me there’s a story there, Duck. Maybe one involving a woman?”
Duck grunted in agreement. “Don’t they all?”
Jack couldn’t disagree.
“Come on, then. Best not to keep old Will waiting. He’s expecting us.”
And that’s all for now…. more another day.