Here’s the story I’ve been working on lately. It’s been rattling around in the ol’ hatstand for a good year, so when the opportunity for a few hours of writing time presented itself last week, I hammered out a first draft. This is the 3rd draft with (mostly) minor revisions. Hope you read it. Hope you like it.
And PLEASE! Leave comments. The writing is never going to expand and improve if I don’t get any feedback.
Without further ado… I give you THE LIVING DEAD AT SIGFREID & ROY…
THE LIVING DEAD AT SIGFREID & ROY
by A.R. Howerton
The old cowboy tumbled through the front door of the diner, breathing hard and obviously panicked, and threw his back to the door behind him. His eyes darted across the expanse of the greasy spoon, then back again. He jerked back to look out the glass of the door, nervously hustling his face around the frosted logo that said ‘Georgia Rose Café’ in 20’s style block letters, frantic, as if he was checking to see if somebody was coming up on his heels. The inside of the café was quiet as a graveside as the scattered handful of customers and workers kept their eyes glued on this whirl of odd activity at the door.
The old man, seemingly placated that he was not followed, sunk, like an exhausted fighter collapsed in the corner of the ring. As he turned to face the room again, a weight seemed to drop from his face, its relief pulling the tension from his frame and shrinking his body by inches. The diners, the waitress and the cook all turned back to their own concerns – their meals, their race sheets and the comfort of their palms on their faces. Vegas was a town full of weird on its very best day, and it had been a long time since anybody in the Georgia Rose had seen anything worthy of more than a passing interest.
The stranger pulled himself to a full standing six-and-a-half feet, straightened the clean white-straw hat on his head, smoothed the sleeves of his black western shirt and the downslopes of his oversized moustache. He cracked his neck, twisting his head to one side, and took a deep breath, striding to the lunch counter with only a single cautious glance behind him. By the time he reached a stool and parked himself, he seemed to have regained whatever composure he had lost before entering the diner. He stretched himself out, one arm craning around the back of the chair, one leg dangling to the floor, the metal-plated tip of one dust-beaten boot scraping the tile floor as the other leg bent at a perfect 45 degrees with a heel hooked around the circular footrest. He reached behind to the small of his back and placed a gleaming nickel-plated pistol on the counter, resting his hand over the pearl handled butt of the gun.
“Can I get some coffee there, fella?” He said to no one in particular. His voice carried a thick West Texas twang with an almost undetectable tremble.
The cook, leaning against the counter a few feet away, barked from behind the paper he held in front of his face. “Starla! This guy wants some coffee!”
“Well? who broke your fucking arms?!” she bellowed back from the other side of the room.
The cook grumbled, shook the paper closed, slammed it down on the counter and muttered under his breath as he reached under the counter, coming up with the kind of non-descript cups they always had in a place like this. He also had a glass coffee pot that looked like it had seen its best days a few decades ago. The glass was stained in gradients of grey to black, with the rings getting darker as they moved to the bottom of the pot, making it a matching set with the layers of mildew in the corners that told a better tale of the diners age than anyone living ever could.
The old cowboy, turned his stool to take in the rest of the place, eyes moving past two rows of four tables each, identical 50’s style formica-topped tables with aluminum chairs. It was the kind of stuff that was stereotypical-standard for greasy spoons around the country, making every place seem like a truck-stop reconstruction of some old movie set. A young couple, dirty and desperate looking, sat huddled together, whispering harshly back and forth at a table on the left. On the right was a fat, balding, middle-aged man in a pink golf shirt and a giant garnet pinkie ring, pouring over the race sheet with three empty beer bottles and a half-eaten club sandwich in front of him. On the same side, at the table nearest the door, was a bruiser of a man, his heavily muscled torso barely contained inside a shiny purplish dress shirt with smatterings of diamond-shaped embroidery covering his mass like a bias-relief map. A tiny gold chain with a simple crucifix strained at the base of his thick neck. His black hair was slicked into an impeccable pompadour and gaudy rings adorned almost every one of his fingers, which impatiently tapped out rhythm on the tabletop. Beyond him was the door, which the old man eyed with visible discomfort.
“Whadda you keep lookin’ for out that window, pops?” asked the cook as he carelessly hammered the cup of coffee down, spilling an easy quarter of the fluid on the counter around it. He barely afforded the old man a glance. If he had, he might have noticed the six-gun resting under the gnarled fingers of a liver-spotted hand, not 6 inches from the steadily spreading pool of coffee.
The old man turned to face the cook, coming around slowly on the stool, his rheumy eyes hardening to a concrete stare as he leaned forward to respond, implying that his answer was for the cook alone. The cook leaned forward on the counter in kind and found himself transfixed by the intensity of the grey-green eyes staring back at him from the weathered face behind the big grey moustache.
“I ain’t one to tell tales now…”
The old man’s voice was a gravelly whisper and the words seemed to hang in invitation. The cook could sense the foreboding in those words, but he’d always been more curious than he was cautious, and nodded for the cowboy to continue.
“Was over to that magic show, the one over at that Casino with all the animals and them two fellas in the white jumpsuits. The ones with the white Tigers and the german accents.”
The cowboy took a long swallow from his cup and smacked his lips, wiping the excess from his moustache with his bottom lip.
“That’s some fine goddamn coffee right there. None of that fancy ‘ven-see cup-a-cheen-ohs’ or ‘lat-tays’ or whatever the hell they serve at them other places. Cain’t nearly even get a plain old cup’a joe no more.”
The cook was losing interest in the old crank and turned to open the paper again. The old man stared into the oily black pool in his cup and continued on, regardless of anyone listening.
“Yep. In town for a couple days with the boys to play some craps. ‘Let’s go see one a’ them shows’ they said… Never seen no crazier shit in all my days.”
The cook flipped and rustled the paper straight as he turned a page and rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, it’s a crazy magic show all right. That’s Vegas, Pops.”
“T’weren’t the show. Was this spooky lookin’ East Indian was settin’ in the back of the theatre. Wearing one of them white suits with no collar, like James Coburn in them spy pictures.”
“Nero.” Said the bus boy, hustling back with an armful of greasy dishes and bottles full of cigarette butts.
“What?” Asked the cook. “Who the fuck was talking to you, Tommy?”
“Nero. The guy was wearing a Nero suit.”
“Ain’t no fucking thing. It’s called a NEHRU suit, you jackass. Go wash some dishes you fuckhead.”
The cook turned back to his paper, shaking his head in disdain. Tommy stepped into the kitchen and dumped the dishes in a clattering heap next to the stainless steel wash basin. Then he scuttled back to the counter. He was small and slight and had a vague hunch in his posture. One too many beatings or one too many harsh words from bullies like the cook had left him nervous and twitchy. He came around the counter and sat on a stool next to the cowboy, reaching across to the coffee pot and filling the half-empty cup. Tommy hesitated at the sight of the barrel of the pistol, poking from between the old man’s fingers.
“So there was some Indian guy in a white suit? Everybody wears white in that show.” Tommy was clearly prodding the old man to finish the story. His voice was shrill with nervousness.
“He weren’t with the show. He was just standing in the back watching. Looked real angry. I only noticed him there because I was up to get to the head and he was next to the exit. He didn’t do nothin’ at first. Just stood there lookin’ angry and staring at them two in their shiny jumpsuits. You figure you gotta be some kinda queer to wear them things? The way they stroke them animals… ain’t like you calm a horse or pet a dog… seemed almost dirty. ‘Specially when them white Tigers come onstage. That’s when the shit really started.”
The cowboy shuddered and wavered on his stool, his feet slipping to the floor. Tommy looked to the gun, then reached out to steady the old man, who swatted his hand away.
“I’m allright goddamn it! I don’t need no goddamn help!”
“Goddamn it!” He shouted and pounded a fist on the counter as he set his legs stable beneath him, his other hand bracing his knee.
The fat man with the pinky ring looked up to the counter and the big man stopped drumming his fingers. The young couple in the corner just kept whispering. The cook spun at the sound with a stern look on his face.
“Settle down old-timer, or you’re out on your ass!”
The old man chuckled.
“We’re all gonna be out on our asses soon enough, son.”
The cowboy righted himself on the stool, moved his eyes from Tommy to the gun and back to Tommy, who was leaning as far away from the cowboy as he could without falling on his ass. The old man slowly removed his hat and set it on the countertop to cover the gun, gave Tommy a conspiratorial wink and ran his fingers through his thinning grey hair.
“You got a cigarette to spare an ol’ bastard like me?” he asked.
Tommy shook his head and quietly cleared his throat.
“No, sir, uh, I don’t smoke. I mean, uhm, no. Sorry”
“Ahhh.” The cowboy scratched at the widows peak of white threads on the top of his head.
“Just as well, I guess. Ain’t had one in damn near 10 years. Probly knock my lungs out my ass now.”
Tommy snickered and drew a harsh glare from the cook, who threw his head back towards the kitchen, the obvious signal for Tommy to return to work. Tommy ignored the gesture and turned back to the cowboy, who was staring straight ahead, his eyes full of water and his grey moustache full of brown liquid. Tommy inched forward on his stool.
“So what happened? What was ‘the shit’?”
The cowboy turned and squinted at Tommy, the teary eyes sharpening with some mix of anger and regret.
“You ever seen somebody get killed? Badly? Up close, I mean, not like it is on TV or the movies.”
The cook perked up behind his newspaper, cocking one ear to the conversation beside him as the cowboy continued.
“Fuck of the thing was, when them white Tigers come out, that little Indian fella stormed up to the stage, hollerin’ to wake the sun. Two security guards tried to grab him and he just waved his hands…”
The cowboy was waving his hands in front of him like a 3rd base coach calling off the steal. The two men from the front of the restaurant, obviously having overheard the conversation, moved slowly up to the opposite end of the counter as the old man went on.
“Never seen nothin’ like it. Waved his hands and the security guards… big fellas, mind… they went flying back as if they was kicked by a horse gettin’ gelded.”
“Then what happened” the big man asked.
The cowboy leaned back to look down at the source of the new voice and nodded as if in accepted invitation. All four of the men were rapt with attention. The cook had leaned forward into the counter, the newspaper rumpled under his hand clutching the edge.
“Well, like I said, he shot them security boys off to the side and then, no word to a lie, that little Indian bastard just kinda flew up there onto the stage.”
“What? Like levitated?” Asked the cook.
“That’s the word. Like he just lifted straight up off the ground and set down there in front of the magicians. Then he started yellin’ something bout desecratin’ the sacred Tigers, callin’ them two charlatans and frauds. Then he held his hands out and I’ll be goddamn if those white Tigers didn’t step up, nice and pretty, like a couple of housecats lookin’ for a pet.”
“White Tigers are from India… originally” said the fat man “I read once that they were a symbol of the ancient royalty of India and they were supposed to be some kind of animalistic representation of Hindu Gods”.
The group stared at the fat man until the cook, confusion clouding his sweaty and stubbled face, shook his head as if clearing the cobwebs and turned back to the old cowboy.
“So he threw some security guys around and crashed the stage to pet the Tigers? That’s it?”
“Lord no” exclaimed the cowboy, tipping up his cup to drain the last of the coffee into his gullet.
“That’s just how it started. Once them big cats were sitting at his side, he leaned down and whispered in their ears. The two magicians were stompin’ and yellin’ and lookin’ all over for more security to get the guy off of their stage. The Indian stood up and clapped his hands together and held em’ there and yelled something in whatever the hell tongue he was speakin’ – Indian, I guess – or maybe it was the very language of the devil, judgin’ by what came next.”
The cook rolled his eyes and jammed the crumpled paper into the garbage can behind him.
“Fuck sakes, you take a long time to get to the point!”
Tommy straightened on his stool and glared at the cook.
“Shut up and let him finish, Earl.”
Earl stepped back and flushed from his neck up, as if he had been slapped in the face. The old man smoothed the edges of his moustache and continued.
“Chaos hadn’t quite broken out yet, we was all just settin’ there wonderin’ what the hell was going on, but when he slapped his hands together and hollered, those two Tigers jumped like spring-loaded death machines and took the magicians down with one pounce. Blood came sprayin’ up from both men and stained dark across the sides of the Tigers. Now all this show was up on big screens so you could see close up. One fella had the full left side of his face tore clean off to the bone, big flap of skin just hangin’ there like a flap of wet leather slappin’ back n’ forth against his naked teeth. Well, soon as the blood started flyin’ and the Tigers were tearing chunks off of the magicians, and they were screaming like banshees, well, then the shit hit the fan. People started stampedin’ to beat the band and folks were getting’ trampled left and right. I was already up and at the exit, holdin’ the door open and trying to wave the women and children through. That little Indian he stood up in the middle of the stage, biggest smile on his goddamn face you ever saw, he reached up to the rafters and shouted out some more of that gobbledygook and threw his arms about like he was callin’ down a thunderstorm…”
The cook had been hurriedly rummaging through the cupboard at his knees and, not finding what he was looking for, rushed back into the kitchen shouting.
“Fuckin’ Holy Shit! STARLA! Where’s the goddamn radio? This guy says somebody killed Sigfried and fucking Roy!!! STARLAAAA!!!”
As the cook disappeared into the back of the kitchen, the other men, shaken and muttering amongst themselves, turned back to the cowboy, who was helping himself to another cup of coffee from the scorched glass urn.
“Good goddamn coffee, that’s fer fuckin’ sure. Only goddamn vice I got left at my age. Sure enjoy a good cup of coffee…”
“So this just happened?” asked the fat man.
“Bout 20 minutes ago, yep.”
“Did they catch the guy? Did they trap the Tigers? Are there fuckin’ Tigers running around out there?” asked the big man. He was sweating profusely and glancing nervously to the front windows of the café, fidgeting with his rings and wringing his hands.
“Worse than fuckin’ Tigers, friend.” The old man took another slurp from the cup.
“Well what the hell were you running from?” asked the fat man. “You came barreling in here like a scared cat.”
Tommy was looking out over the counter, trying to see into the back of the kitchen.
“HEY? EARL? STARLA?”
The old man ran a leathery hand across his scalp, leaving a red streak through the thin wisps of grey.
“Hey, you bleeding old man?” asked the fat man as he eased off of his stool and stepped behind Tommy to look at the cowboy’s hand. As he came to the cowboys side he realized that the hand was sitting in a pool of blood on the counter.
“That doesn’t look too good. You alright, man? We should probably call a doctor…”
The old man kept staring ahead and paid no mind to the fat man pulling at his hand to examine the wound.
“Ain’t nothin’ to be done about that. Like I said before. We’re all of us gonna be out on our asses soon enough.”
“EARL?!” Tommy climbed down from his stool and crept back to look into the kitchen.
The big man was still fidgeting and glaring out towards the window as if he expected two rabid Tigers to burst through the store front any second.
“Those are fucking bite marks” declared the fat man, still examining the wounded hand as the cowboy lifted his cup with the other. “Did you get bit? Did you get bit by a fucking Tiger? Shit! Hey! Hey! Call 9-11” he shouted to no one in particular.
“Ain’t no Tiger bite.” The old man explained. “Set yerself down and let me finish the goddamn story while I still got time. They ought to be here any minute now.”
“What? Who’s going to be here? What in the sweet bugger fuck are you talking about? You need a doctor!”
The old man chuckled again and sighed, ignoring the panic slowly building in the men around him.
“What happened next was, after he made that sign and shouted out that spell, or curse or fuckin’ voodoo-hoodoo-whatever-it-was, the lights blew out. Exploded, like there was some kind of power surge they couldn’t rightly handle, and, now this part’s pretty fuckin’ clear in my mind, cuz I wondered how they made these lights without power, but a big ol’ wave of green light kinda pushed from the stage out over the crowd. I felt scared then, like I ain’t never been scared before. I been bit by a rattler, shot in the guts, held my own wife dyin’ in front of these old eyes and watched her last breath fly away without being able to do a goddamn thing for her… and I ain’t never been so scared as I was right then. I saw that goddamn light comin’ right for me… and though I be cursed for a goddamn coward, I let that door slam shut and I hit the fuckin’ deck.”
“Look, mister. I really think you need to see a doctor. I think you’re in shock. You’re not even making any sense any more.”
The fat man was trying to tie an apron around the cowboys mangled hand while the big man muttered about Tigers and fumbled at his rings. His hands were red and chapped and blood was starting to show around the edges of some of the rings where he was frantically working the fingers raw.
“I done told you already, I don’t need a goddamn doctor.” There was almost no emotion in the statement and the color had completely drained from the old man’s face. It seemed obvious to the fat man that the cowboy was going to pass out or die from shock or blood loss. The cowboy leaned into the counter, as if his energy was failing, but he carried on talking nonetheless.
“What I saw when that door opened, was like to what hell itself must look. Every person inside that place was climbing on the others, clawing, tearing, ripping each other apart with fingers and teeth and hunks of bone and flesh, the whole place muddy with red like a goddamn slaughterhouse. It was a goddamn reckoning is what it was…”
“Fuck did you say?” asked the big man, still rubbing his bloody fingers, still frantically eyeballing the front door.
“I SAID THEY WAS EATING EACH OTHER. You fuckin’ half-wit.” The cowboy was failing fast, swooning on his stool and seeming more and more like a pass-out drunk.
“They were chomping and tearing and feastin’ on each other like there was no tomorrow, which I guess there ain’t. There was a few the light must not of hit, they got the worst, still alive, getting’ torn to shreds by those things that the rest become. Then the dead ones, they started getting’ the fuck back up. End of the fuckin’ world I tell ya. I ain’t never seen nothin’ like that. Was a little girl, maybe 6 or 7, she was settin’ there chewin’ on her Mama’s throat, just settin’ there in a pretty blue dress, covered with her Mama’s blood, chewin’ and smilin’ at me like she was eatin’ some taffy. She had the dead eyes. Them cloudy goddamn dead eyes. Her Mama was layin’ there, soaked black with blood and twitchin’ like a spastic and that little girl just kept on chewwwii…”
The cowboy slumped forward off his stool and hit the floor hard. The fat man caught the old man by the skull as it bounced back off the linoleum and called out for help.
“HEY! Where the fuck is everybody?! Where’d that little guy fucking go?! HELP! SOMEBODY CALL A DOCTOR!”
The big man had jumped from his stool and was backing away nervously, tripping over chairs and bumping into tables until his back hit the plaster of the wall. He was still pulling at the rings, which were now wet with blood that was dripping from his fingers and left a trail of red droplets in front of him on the linoleum. He cowered against the wall, clutching his hands to his chest and staining the purple silk dark and slick. The young couple at the front table had finally stopped arguing and sat, wide-eyed and still, staring at the fat man cradling the old cowboy and calling out for help.
“WOULD SOMEBODY FUCKING CALL A DOCTOR!!” He shouted. The fat man set the cowboy down on the floor and scuttled on his knees around the counter and stumbled to his feet as he dug through the cupboards and countertops, throwing miscellaneous items on the floor as he scrambled to find a phone.
The cowboy stirred on the floor and, half-rolling to put his hands beneath him, got up on his knees, then clawed at the counter and dragged himself up to sit back in the stool. He reached for the coffee cup in front of him and fumbled, sending it tottering off the far side of the counter and crashing to the floor.
“Fuckin’ hell!” he mumbled, and grabbed at the near-empty urn.
“Just one more cup of coffee for the road.” He lifted the pot to his lips and threw his head back, sending half the dirty brown sludge down his throat and the other half cascading down the sides of his face. He dropped the pot to the tabletop as if he had no more strength to hold it up and, as it hit the surface it shattered, glass bouncing to the floor and littering the puddles of thick red blood and watery brown water on the counter.
The young man at the front table looked at his companion as if looking for instruction and turned back toward the ruckus as the big man against the wall began to scream. He was screaming uncontrollably, clawing at the cross at his neck and pointing one blood soaked hand towards the front window. A hundred hands were slapping at the window, smearing it with dark grime and tapping out a discordant jazzbo beat. The young couple was still staring at the big man screaming and flapping his bloody fingers towards them. The young man had barely registered the thought to look behind him before the windows blew, dirty glass and sticky spray disintegrating over his head and around his face as another scream filled the air, this time from his girlfriend as her legs disappeared through the window in a sea of arms and faces, bloody and furious with movement. He jumped back and screamed as a wet gush of crimson mist flew from his lover as the beasts tore her bare midriff open and clawed her guts out onto the dark pavement.
The arms and hungry teeth came crashing through the window, burying him under a mass of diseased humanity that tore and ripped and shredded his flesh. In a split second his screams turned to panicked gurgling and moans as the noise of flesh torn from bone and blood, juices and raw human meat splashing the floor became secondary to the satisfied grinding of teeth and smacking of undead lips.
The big mans eyes rolled back into his head as he collapsed in a bloody silk heap on the floor and was immediately set upon by the horde of man-eaters as fresh screams erupted from the back of the diner. Tommy scrambled on all fours across the kitchen floor as a wave of bleeding, voracious fiends clawed at his legs, ripping chunks from his calves and ankles as he desperately clawed at the floor trying to escape their greedy mouths.
“HELP ME!!! GOD’S SAKE!!! PLEASE!!! HELLLLP MEEEEEE!!!”
The cowboy lay barely conscious draped across the counter and stared down at Tommy holding for dear life to a support beam that marked the boundaries of the kitchen and the counter area. A dozen filthy, bleeding hands clawed at Tommy’s legs and dug into the flesh of his calves probing for bone to drag him back into their fierce hunger. The cowboy pushed himself up from the counter and back onto the stool. He steadied himself with his injured hand and winced before slowly reaching for his hat. The old man’s withered hand trembled as he set the hat on his head and pulled it down tight to his forehead, cocked forward to block the sun. He took a short, tight breath and reached out for the pistol, heaving its weight by pulling his shoulder back towards him. He sighted down at Tommy on the floor and squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out, pitting the floor where Tommy’s head had been a millisecond before as Tommy and his screams faded back into the mass of undead flesh in the kitchen. The cowboy slumped against the edge of the counter and set the barrel of the gun underneath his chin, pointed to the sky.
“Sorry kid.” Muttered the cowboy. “Thanks for the coffee.”
He felt the first searing heat of hungry teeth tear into his neck as the final shot thundered in his ears and the world went dark.