By sean mcnulty
‘I have committed no crimes worth a long trial so I’ve little to fear from your psychomonic flummery,’ said Masterson. ‘This brain here’s impenetrable – it’s bolstered hard, you know. I had a platinum bracket installed in it a few years ago to protect against you headshrinkers.’
‘Perhaps that platinum bracket might get jolted out of place over the course of those whiskeys,’ responded Katrine. ‘I’ll be ready to pounce.’
‘I doubt you’ll get the chance.’
And they went on like that, the two of them. Acrid and unpleasant. A circumnavigation.
While procuring another round at the bar, Stinson got talking to an amiable older man who claimed to be the most respected man in town due to his slaughter of more than ten thousand whales including the one whose giant mouth now decorated the walls of the bar. He told Stinson a thrilling tale involving a small dinghy, a single concrete block, no life jacket, no breakfast or dinner that day, his wife just leaving him, the persistence of a terrible migraine, a terribly annoying boss at work, a great storm, and a terribly angry sperm whale – and he spoke of how he mounted that whale and was dragged under the water, more fathoms deep than he could recall, and after an almighty struggle, he ultimately beat the mysticete to its death with the concrete block. Stinson was taken in and included the man in his round of drinks as a way of showing respect; he did not know that this man belonged to a class of person whose presence in public houses was an experiment in drinking as much as humanly possible without spending so much as a penny – so his account of how he bravely defeated the whale at the bottom of the sea with only a concrete block as a weapon rightfully would have been challenged by another.
In the process of getting back to the table, one of the drinks (his own beer, in fact) was knocked from his hand by a stumbling fish girl. A giant of a fish girl: she towered over Stinson like the tallest building in a picture of one of those cities in America while he had the stature of the smallest and in order to see him you had to get up real close to the picture. She said something in Faroese which in good faith Stinson assumed to be Excuse me; but she was howling with laughter while she said it. Ah, she was drunk – as was he – it was a minor spillage and nothing to be getting upset about. Dagny having noticed the incident swiftly poured another drink and produced a tray for him so as to reduce the odds of a second collision.
When Stinson eventually got back to the table he found that Katrine and Masterson had disappeared. Their seats were empty. There was a red scarf spread across the banquette like a huge sickle-gash in the upholstery: Katrine’s – it looked like she’d thrown it down in a hurry. And a double of whiskey sat minus approximately three sips: Masterson’s – usually that would have been thrown down in a hurry too, but not this time.
Where had they scarpered off to? Without a word. Did they step out to the shops? Was there a comet passing overhead?
Stinson sat down again and waited for them to return and tried not to mull over their disappearance too hard. Just wait for them. He wet his lips again in the meanwhile, but the beer he realised was growing rank on his tongue, and maltreating his poor novitiate noggin; so he jumped to his feet decisively and went out the front door to see where they had gotten to.
The town was so still it was like a mime artist doing its Nobel-prizewinning performance of stillness on stage at the live ceremony in Stockholm. A fog was creeping in again, stealthily, almost resentfully, like it was not at all merry about the considerable sun and shine the town had recently enjoyed. Stinson looked at his watch, a rose-gold Constantin Vacheron his parents had gifted him for his 26th. The watch maintained a fine tock and a rich shine, but he was momentarily thwarted from viewing its regal face; his body was wobbling with all that drink in him, and so his arm wobbled too, and as a result time itself wobbled in accordance; when the face of the watch steadied itself enough for him to see, the big hand was on the two and the small hand on the nine. My, where had the day gone? It seemed like only half an hour ago they were having breakfast in the Iverson.
He looked up and down the street for Masterson and Katrine but there was no sign of them, so there was no other thing to do but turn down the alleyway that ran alongside Dagny’s. Now Stinson could have chosen other paths to take in order to search for his companions; he could have sauntered a little further up the road in the hope of running into them; or he could have walked down towards the harbour where Dolores Costello was resting in case they had gone there; or he could have just gone back to the Iverson and straight to bed and not thought about them again the rest of the night; or he could have just gone back into the public house, attempted to find the beer taste once more, and kept on waiting. But he headed on down the alleyway instead. Something grabbed him and drew him in; voices maybe; or tremors in the earth below like metaphysical markers.
He walked the darkened lane cautiously; his steps were strangers to such coarse textures these days. Could barely remember the last country walk he’d walked. Squinch. Squinch. It went. The ground. Half-squish/half-crunch. Like he was walking on a round of lightly buttered toast. And definitely not buttered well enough for Stinson’s liking if it had indeed been a real bit of toast. He’d have gone right back to the crockery to dig out another dollop.
It was pitchy all around him; however he could see a little glow ahead, a space that seemed to be lit at the very back of Dagny’s; so he kept walking, dodging thorny reeds that hung from the walls like plucked prison wire.
Upon reaching the source of the glow, he heard rustling sounds coming from beyond a large bush at the alley’s terminus, or what appeared to be its terminus, and making a turn at the bush, he was confronted by two bodies locked together against a wood fence, and mantled in low hazy orange by a rather ineffective backyard light. He could tell the bodies were two and not one because at least three legs were visible, then four, then two, then three again as their shapes flittered in the soggy sandy air. The outline of Father Masterson was undeniable, huge especially now with his shoulders hunched up and his body encasing another– Nosferatu taking a victim; and that victim seemed docile as a pair of arms were reaching around from behind the great shadow, and they were gripping and pulling the ghoul towards it, as though keenly – aggressively – soliciting the kill.