I really enjoyed writing this chapter. The reader gets his/her first real glimpse of the monster in action, which Wolf has been rather short on. The story's main themes--discrimination, alienation, lust, self-consciousness, transformational integrity (i.e., the validity of a change)--are all present in this chapter. I'm not really sure what's in store for Harry, but rest assured, it's probably not good.
She walks into the bar, a girl of twenty-two, a four-year-old child back at home, safe in the care of grandma. This place is a loser's joint, a steady cloud of cigarette smoke, pool tables with felts like apocalyptic wastelands, denizens with teeth as yellow as the pathways to their hearts. Hank Williams plays on the radio, an ancient dead crooner of tear-in-your-beer ballads, but she doesn't know this. She walks up to the bartender, calls him by name, gets a smile and a pint on the house. An ex-boyfriend hangs out in the corner with some of his buds, real go-getters, the kind of guys you have to watch your liquor around lest they throw you over their shoulders and carry you off to their caves. She didn't come here to tangle with them, but she should've known better. There are only so many watering holes in this backwater town. She was counting on one of the richies from the enclave to make an appearance, some good-looking guy tired of cocktail waitresses and his nagging wife, maybe needing to have a midlife crisis, start another family, raise a nice single mother out of poverty and wage slavery. Little Eric would breathe much easier in a big home with air recyclers and top-notch filtration systems. Her mother's house was like living in a barn.
At the far end of the bar there is a black guy she's never seen before. He's got high cheekbones, a smooth face, a professional demeanor. Looks strong, like he lifts weights. Wearing a collared shirt and slacks. Put together. Handsome. A real man. She gives him a smile, and he looks straight at her. She can't tell what color his eyes are, but they are vivid like living coals. He lets his stare linger for a second longer before walking straight toward her. Out of the corner of her eye she sees Brent (the ex-boyfriend) take notice with his trucker buddies, probably whispering something about coons or spooks or God knows what, but who cares, this guy looks like he could handle himself and Brent could use a good ass-whooping. The black man sidles up to her at the bar, extends his hand, introduces himself as Harrison Deforest, says he couldn't help but notice her, and would she please excuse his being forward, but he thinks that she is absolutely stunning. This is music to her ears; the guy looks rich and seems open to a good time. He buys them beers and they go and sit at a booth in the back. He tells her that he's an IT guy for the casino and that it's boring but it pays well. She tells him that she's currently in between jobs at the moment, but that she used to work at the casino golf course a couple years ago. The conversation flows well, consisting of the usual minutiae of life. He gets up and gets them two more beers. While he's gone, Brent and his buddies appear and sit down at the booth, all reeking of whiskey, their trucker caps resting atop greasy, sweat-stained locks.
“Baby,” he says, struggling to not slur his words. “What're you doin' to me, baby?” The two goons on each side stare at her like she's a piece of meat.
“Jesus, Brent, get the hell out of here,” she says. “You're drunk.”
“First you break my heart, then you try to pick up a nigger,” he says, shaking his head, his mutton chops curly like wool. “And not just any nigger, but one that lives in an enclave like he's better than everyone else. One with an attitude. You know he attacked the bartender at the Bear over nothing? Now he's doing his prowling 'round here.” Brent shows her his tobacco-stained teeth. He's gotten a little fat since she left him, after he slapped her. Never was much of a looker. Funny how standards change quickly.
“Is there a problem here?” says Harrison, two beers in hand. “You three are in my seat.”
“Well hell, I guess that is a problem, ain't it?” replies Brent. He reaches across the table and snatches a beer out of Harry's hand and puts it to his lips, while his buddies laugh. They are all large men used to throwing their weight around, tall, ponderous, lunkheaded.
“You want to step outside, Hoss?” says Harry. A throbbing vein has appeared across his forehead.
“Get outta here, blackie,” says Brent, tossing the rest of the beer at Harry, soaking his shirt. They all hoot and holler, slapping each other, confident and enjoying themselves, bullies back in grade school, stealing lunch money, but she sees something in Harry's vivid eyes, recognizes the unmistakable look of death. He reaches for Brent, grabs his arm, and pulls him out of the booth and onto the floor. His left hand comes down, hitting Brent square in the jaw, bringing blood to his lips, but the big man's been hit before; his meaty arms cover his face, preventing further damage, while his buddies seize Harry, pulling his limbs back, dragging him toward the door. Harry screams, curses, spittle flying from his lips, but no one makes a move to help, and Brent's back on his feet, vengeance in his eyes, following outside. She watches the door slam shut, observes the willful ignorance of the patrons, wonders if she should call the cops, flee, or just sit here and see who comes back.
Outside, the men have dragged Harry out into the back of the parking lot, closer to the woods than the road, and have proceeded to take turns wailing on him, mostly taking body shots, but Brent can't help himself, he strikes Harry in the face repeatedly, because this goddamn nigger represents everything that is wrong with his life; he isn't a man, he's the personification of entropic destiny; he is the powerful powerlessness than drapes itself around men like Brent, soiling their every deed, dampening their dreams, making them not into human beings but machines of meat, floundering in their own dumb inertia. Soon Harry's lips burst like ripe tomatoes, and blood streams down his chest, but his eyes gleam with a livid ferocity, even as his consciousness wans and waxes with every blow. They have likely broken his ribs and jaw, these fevered men, cracked his teeth and concussed his brain, yet with those eyes peering back at them, those green, glowing eyes, they cannot stop themselves, they cannot control the weakness in their hearts. Suddenly she appears, running toward them, her screams bringing them out of their violent stupor. Her hands are on Brent's raised arm; he pauses, turns toward her, a baffled look on his face.
“Jesus Christ, you've killed him,” says the girl.
“He ain't dead,” says one of the brutes holding Harry. “He's still breathing. Look at his eyes.”
They all look at his eyes. Harry has fallen away, melted into a distant dream, a soft foggy land of dispassionate observance, having shed his self from his body. The eyes that look back at them are not Harry's eyes, in the sense that Harry is a person, a union of flesh and soul. The windows close, shuttered with a snap. Something manic and dumb, a reactive beast of the abyss, peers out at them now, its only instinct to run and sniff and reap and maim. The two who hold it release their hands, having felt the tremors in its skin, seeing the hair sprout from its arms like insects crawling out of a bone. They step back, keeping their distance from it as it writhes on the ground, foam oozing from elongating jaws. One of the men runs to his truck to retrieve a gun, but the others stand mesmerized, captivated by the pale light shining down on it, moonbeams illuminating the mechanical workings beneath its flesh, the bizarre twists and turns of muscle and bone as they distort into an alien shape, a haphazard chimera of a beast built from the innards of man. Suddenly it ceases its gyrations and stands on wobbly legs, its head a mass of scraggy black fur, the proto-snout of a canine sniffing the air with raw nostrils. Its teeth are huge and twisted, stalactites emerging from the bleeding gum line. The girl can't help but stare at its genitals dangling at the bottom of its cavernous torso, its penis pink and wet like viscera. They have backed away from it, moving as a herd, eyes locked with those of the beast, when it suddenly lurches forward and seizes hold of Brent, plunging its fangs into his skull. The girl and the remaining man turn and run, their piqued curiosity vanished with the gruesome crunch of Brent's cranium; they can hear the crackle-snap of every bite as they flee toward the refuge of the bar. As they run, the vanished trucker returns from his vehicle, a .45 caliber Taurus Judge handgun loaded and ready, and takes aim at the creature, who is ignoring his presence, busy feasting on the remains of Brent. Boom goes the firearm; blood squirts from the neck of the beast, the shot wide of its head. He fires again, but the creature has moved already, leaping forward, the bullet only grazing its shoulder as it rams into him a half-second later, sending him sprawling to the concrete, the Taurus falling from his hand. He sees only the great jaws descending before blackness obscures his vision, the pain immense but brief, the distant mastication of his own flesh his last living percept.
We are nothing but stomachs on the move
Teeth with limbs
Bones that walk and talk and crawl on the earth
A thousand generations pass without a whisper
A death in the forest
A death by the waterhole
A heart severed by a human hand
What can we do but wander the earth
Deaf, dumb, and dead to the suffering of others.
The girl enters the bar, followed by Brent's remaining friend. Everyone turns and looks at them, taking note of their wide eyes, of how they clutch their stomachs and pant like they've fled for their lives. He starts blabbering, speaking in tongues, latching on to random patrons, spittle flying from his lips. They push him away, unsure how to proceed, his speech unintelligible, the raving of a madman, but then she speaks. “He changed,” she says, and they all look at her with muddy eyes, the salt of the earth, day laborers, men and women with calloused hands and hearts. “What do you mean?” they ask, speaking with one voice. “Brent is dead,” she says. “How?” they ask. Men have ceased their pool games; conversations are on pause. “A monster ate him,” says the girl. Someone laughs in the back, a shrill sound, and then others join in. The bartender picks up the phone; he doesn't know what happened, but he's calling the cops. “You don't understand,” she says, her voice deadpan, her eyes reflecting shock. One man comes up to her, bearded and burly, and asks what he can do for her. “Look outside,” she says, and the man waves at his friends, and soon most of the bar has formed together, a posse intent on investigating the source of discord. The girl, however, refuses to leave the bar. The burly man opens the door, and there it is, the monster, resting on its haunches, a mere foot away from them all. They stare at it like children behind the glass at the zoo. Its claws rest laconically on the concrete; its crooked teeth give it the expression of a foolish dog. Goblin ears rise from its matted skull. The stench of blood hits them like mace, and suddenly they are scrambling back, shutting the door, removing their revolvers. “Jesus Christ,” they say, looking at each other, befuddled. “What the fuck is that?” No one knows; no one knows what to do. It decides for them, crashing through the door, taking the nearest man's head off with one snap of its jaws. Shots ring out, blindly fired; several are wounded, but the creature is not, it moves with preternatural speed and fury, and no one knows what the hell is happening, it is incomprehensible, this chaotic situation, and they make animal sounds, primal pleas, pressing up against each other, pushing each other to their doom, hoping in their hearts that it will stop after one more meal, that its hunger has limits, but they bargain for seconds, and it takes no respite. The girl is the last; it finds her crouching beneath a table, her head down, her arms wrapped around her knees. “I didn't want them to hurt you,” she says, feeling its breath on her face. She raises her head up, looks at it, sees the eyes burning. When the police arrive, no one can identify her body. It took her life and her name.