by Gilbert R Emery
In the shadows of an alleyway, a figure huddles. He pulls a frayed collar of a military raincoat tighter around his neck as he stumbles out to the rain swept sidewalk, momentarily losing his balance. Cursing, he falls to the street. Using the building for leverage, he climbs shakily to his feet. Charlie Tuttle is a burnt-out vestige of a man. The once handsome face is grey and filthy now. He wears fingerless gloves, the better to pick through the detritus of an uncaring civilization. Sometimes his luck will change and he'll find a coin or two, enough to purchase an hour away from his reality. He fumbles at the bag with the bottle, the elixir of life. He pulls at the neck like a suckling pig. The fiery liquid courses down throat and he sighs with obvious pleasure. But, it's the last drop, a crisis. The shards of memory begin to form and coalesce like pictures at an exhibition of the macabre.
"Happy Birthday…I need to celebrate."
The sorrow rises up from deep in his soul. Growling in frustration, he throws the empty bag covered bottle at the nearest wall and it disintegrates in a shower of glass.
Across the street blinks a sad welcome in syncopated rhythm of red and green. The neon once displayed 'Dolan's' but lost the 'D' decades ago. It's a bar and grill like any other in this rundown section of town. A long rectangle of a window graces the front next to a weather beaten door. The door is opened during the summer months helping the wheezing air-conditioner cool the place. It's closed now against the winter winds that shriek down the street like banshees from an Irish nightmare.
Charlie can smell the odor of cheap whiskey and stale beer and he'd mortgage his soul for a taste. But, he has no money. Besides, the one time he wandered in off the street the bartender beat him like a dog and warned him that the next time would be worse. He almost misses the mark passing him on the street.
"Hey Buddy," grabbing at the well-dressed man, "can you help a guy out?"
"Man, you stink." The man angrily pushes Charlie out of the way and shakes his head stomping off.
"Bottles gone." Charlie whimpers feeling the memories disappear like a half empty beer can poured down a drain. He stumbles and trips, falling into the rain soaked gutter. Something glistens in a rivulet about to enter the maw of the drain. Realizing it's a bottle, he reaches grabbing for it just as it is about to enter the labyrinthine depths of the sewage system. A momentary flash of lightening outline the bottle in bold relief, a golden decanter. Charlie takes a tentative swallow. The familiar liquid burns down his throat as he moans in pleasure. Emptying the contents he is about to throw it away but, the bottle is still full. He gulps and finishes it in one gluttonous swallow. He laughs and begins to dance. Losing his footing, he falls to the ground. The bottle bounces out of his grasp. With speed brought on by his all-consuming need, he grabs the bottle before it disappears down the drain. Charlie gains his footing and begins walking towards the waterfront singing to himself.
"I've got a magic bottle."
He drinks his fill twice. Each time the bottle, miraculously fills again. The liquor and its warmth finely take their toll and Charlie passes out.
He is sitting behind the wheel of a car. He can smell the crushed leather of expensive seats. There's an odor of honeysuckle in the air. His headache is gone and he's lost that stale liquor taste. Someone is calling him.
"Hey Charlie, you gonna' sit there all day?"
She walks towards him. He can almost smell her perfume as he reaches a hands towards her.
"Jenny, I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you."
Something's not right, there's an odor of garbage and cheap whiskey. He's awake again and drunk but not enough to stop the headache or pain. Where's Jen? Remembering the bottle he reaches into his coat and finds…nothing. Standing up on shaky legs, something falls and hits the ground. A bottle. He lifts it to his lips and finds only emptiness. He tries again and in a fit of anger tosses the bottle away. He sits down burying his head in his hands.
Sobbing he says, "Oh God, please help me."
Something rolls towards him in the dark. Opening his eyes, he sees the decanter. He picks it up and, like a high priest, lifts the bottle reverently to his lips. Wondrous liquid pours down his throat burning its way to every part of his ravaged body. He revels in its warmth and soon passes out.
"Charlie!" Someone is shaking him awake. "Charlie, I smell smoke, wake up!"
"Jenny?" Charlie is in that long ago time again. She's getting out of bed and running towards the door. The nightmare is happening again. But now he's with her, living her past in real time.
"Jenny, don't touch that door!" His warning comes too late. He runs towards her as the door flies open. He reaches her as they are both consumed by the flames.
Not again! The tall rain-coated figure gestures towards the smoldering corpse. "How many does this make?"
"Four," the baseball cap with the letter 'B' stitched to the crown gestures towards the body, "including tonight."
"Hey Sarge," a uniformed cop interrupts the two men, "What do I do about this gold bottle?"
"Do me a favor," he glances at the decanter. "Throw it in the dumpster and forget that you ever saw it. I got enough crap on my desk to last me a month of Sundays."
Gilbert: I am a 67 year old senior. I've been writting for the past 20 odd years, mainly for my own amusement. This will be the first time that I attempt publishing. Contact Gilbert.