By Ronald Cypress
The lime and indigo smog was thicker than usual, and Charlus couldn’t see the entrance to The XXII until he was right upon the tavern. The smoke didn’t really matter; it could have been pitch black and Charlus still would have been able to find the place. He struggled with the door, falling back as he tried pulled it open.
“Praise!” Charlus shouted after he got back to his feet and stumbled in The XXII.
The door screeched as it slowly closed behind him.
“I’m here, Thomas.” Charlus began to drag his feet towards the bar.
His regular seat was waiting for him. A few seats to the right was Saturday, the old man who was usually in that location. The three other people in the tavern were vaguely familiar to Charlus, but he couldn’t recall any of their names at that moment.
“Praise!” Charlus pulled his seat away from the bar and sat down. Thomas XXIII started to walk towards him. “It’s almost thirty degrees at my house, but nearly ninety over here.”
“That’s happening more often,” Thomas XXIII said. “Which one do you want?”
“Give me something light for the moment,” Charlus said. “I stopped by a few places and consumed some on the way. I just need something gentle at the moment. Don’t make it too hard, Thomas.”
“They say some spots are going to see snow soon.” Thomas began to prepare Charlus’ drink. “It will be able to snow in one spot, like just over a few house, and the sun can be shining brightly with clear skies a few houses down.”
“Madness,” Charlus said “Absolute madness.
Thomas XXIII brought Charlus a small glass with a thick orange substance in it.
The ground shook for several seconds. There were two far away explosions. No one in the tavern was alarmed by the events. Charlus took his glass and sipped from it.
“How’s Bayla?” Thomas XXIII asked.
Charlus grumbled something that the bartender couldn’t hear. He stared at his glass for a few seconds.
“She’s fine,” Charlus spoke up.
“And the kid.”
“That thing is the same.”
There was another explosion.
“Praise!” Charlus shouted. “What the hell could they be bombing now? It’s not like there’s anything left. It’s not like…”
Saturday leaned towards Charlus. “I saw a child the other day.”
“Praise,” Charlus whispered. “What are they going to do to us next?”
“The child lives a few blocks from me,” Saturday said. “It’s a boy, I was told. Thing has the top of its head and face is missing. There’s a body, the bottom part of a jaw, and a clump of skin with some bone underneath, but it doesn’t really have a face. The kid talked to me. Had the voice of a man, but the parents said it was a seven-year-old kid.”
“I know them,” Thomas XXIII said. “They’re good people. Sweet kid.”
“Sure,” Saturday said. “It’s just doesn’t look right.”
“Saturday, you need another drink?”
“Nah.” Saturday sat back in his seat and looked at the tall glass that was in front of him. “I wasn’t trying to be rude. I’m just saying.”
“I get what you were saying,” Charlus said. “And I agree with you. But there’s no telling what we’ll see next.
There was a loud thud on the front glass of the tavern. The men looked towards the noise and saw a familiar face and mouth pressed against the window. The enormous mouth had latched onto the glass. A pair of big, brown eyes stared back at the men. The face slowly slid across the glass. The men watched until it reached the end of the window and moved on.
“Thought you told him to stop doing that.” Saturday said.
“He doesn’t mean any harm,” Thomas XXIII said. “He can’t help it. And it actually cleans the windows.”
The ground shook.
“Wish we could get them to all go somewhere else,” Charlus said quietly.
“You don’t mean that,” Thomas XXIII said. “You know they’re part of our community now.”
There was a loud explosion, and a large flame appeared in the sky several feet away from the entrance to the tavern.
“I wonder what they’re trying to get,” Saturday said. “That must have been a stray.”
“Nothing probably,” Charlus said.
“There’s been some talk about a group of scalawags trying to get a coup going,” Thomas XXIII said. “They have to know it’s pointless.”
“With the way things are,” Charlus said.
He stopped and never finished the thought out loud.
“I saw a woman give birth on the streets not long ago,” Saturday said. “She just stopped walking, started grunting and making this howling noise with her legs open. Five, no six, little creatures dropped right out of her. Right there on the street. She was like us, but I don’t know what those things were that came out of her. Little gremlins if you ask me. Scared me to death.”
The entrance door swung open and a woman entered. She was holding something bundled in a blanket in her arms.
“Praise,” Charlus said when he saw the woman. “Bayla, what are you doing here?”
“It’s Morrow’s birthday.” Bayla began to walk towards her husband. “We were supposed to do something together for him. Did you forget what day it was?”
“Nah, I didn’t forget.”
“It’s your boy’s birthday?” Thomas XXIII asked. “Congratulations. How old is he now?”
“It’s two years old,” Charlus said. “That’s how old it is.”
A beeping noise came from the bundle in Bayla’s arms.
“I wanted you to stay home,” Bayla said. “I was hoping you could at least stay sober this one day.”
Charlus refused to look at his wife and child. He kept his eyes forward, focusing on an old liquor bottle. He recognized it as the first liquor he had drunk with his father years ago.
“I want you to come home right now,” Bayla said. “Thomas, no more drinks for him.”
“Do you even have money to pay?” Bayla asked her husband.
Charlus didn’t answer.
“Could I see the little guy,” Thomas XXIII asked. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him.”
Bayla moved some of the blanket away from her child so that the bartender could get a better look. The head was long and shaped like an oval. The face was cover with a light amount of black fur. Six legs with pointed ends emerged from the child’s small and chubby body. The body was also covered with black fur.
The child beeped a few times.
Saturday glanced at the child and then made eye contact with Charlus. They both looked down at their glasses.
“He’s a cute one,” Thomas XXIII said.
“Thank you,” Bayla said. She covered her child up. “Let’s go, Charlus. I want to make a special meal for Morrow. And I’m sure he misses you. He was crying after you left him this morning.”
Charlus looked up at Thomas XXIII.
“Go ahead,” Thomas XXIII. “We’ll be here tomorrow.”
Charlus slowly rose from his seat. He moved to Bayla’s side and looked down at his child.
Morrow made quiet chirping noises.
“You coming back tomorrow?” Saturday asked Charlus.
The ground gently shook.
“I’ll have to see what happens,” Charlus said.
He put his hand on Bayla’s back and began walking with her towards the front door. Outside, the streets had started to fill with gray smog. The family left the tavern and disappeared into the haze.