Harry Chapin's Waltz

By Jeff Williams

A Mare Inebrium Story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield

I don't care how many times I got sick and tired of the street trash, of the friggin' obnoxious hover car pilots, and of those skin joints with their endless shillers (and, I have to say, way overblown prices!!!), I loved visiting Bethdish. I mean, there ain't nothin' else like it in the universe, or at least in the Five Systems where I live.

The best on Bethdish of all, though, was the Mare Inebrium. I mean, tell me where else you could get yourself a good Tweezle Daiquiri, a plate of hot Ng-Ng crisps, and a good conversation with nearly anyone or anything? Never have figured out why species didn't matter there. Hey, never have figured out why those Triptych girls who hung out outside charged so little!!!!

Anyway, one time when InTex (the best damn courier service in the galaxy) was takin' volunteers for a Five Systems to Bethdish run, I dropped a whole palette in the shippin' center to make sure I was first in line. And then I made the whole three week flight to Bethdish with a load of packages and goodies to be delivered to he colonies there. But we couldn't get any help, so I high-tailed it outta there and got down to the surface.

"What time did you pull in, Beau?" Max the bartender said, placing that ice cold drink with the Wing-Bat floating on top right in front of me.

"Couple hours ago," I said, drool pooling at the corners of my mouth. I sucked down a large gulp of the stuff. "Ahh," I said, "perfect Max! Just the right amount of puree!" I took another gulp. "Yeah, we came into the Orbital Port early this mornin', but there ain't no one there free to unload. Some big science group has the place blocked up with all their gear."

"Oh yeah," Max said, "that discovery no one's talking about on that moon in the next system." I glared at him. Darn group nearly caused me to have to spend the whole stupid trip in space.

"Whatever," I muttered between gulps. "We couldn't get nothin' done, so I clocked out and came on down." Max seemed distracted, by what though I couldn't tell, and tell the truth I didn't really care. The stuff in my cup was all I needed to know.

"Listen," Max said quietly, wiping off part of the counter, "you see that guy over there by the jukebox?" Smacking my lips, I turned to look.

"The guy in the spacesuit?"

"Yeah." Max stopped wiping and rubbed his finger below his mustache. "That's him." Keeping his eye on the visitor, Max leaned closer to the counter so that he could speak even more softly. "I can't quite place the feeling, but something doesn't seem right about him."

"Throw him out," I shrugged, moving closer to the straw again.

"Well," Max replied, "he hasn't really done anything worth throwing him out over." He turned to look at the man again, and I turned my glazed eyes to spy him easier myself. "I mean, he just keeps standing there looking around the bar and looking down at the music player."

"So," I said slowly, "what'cha gonna do about it then?" Max's eyes lit up, and a smile that made me real uncomfortable plastered itself on his face.

"How'd you like two more of those daiquiris- for free?" he asked.

"For what," I said cautiously. I don't get takin' in easily, and I never trusted nothin' that was going to be given for free.

"Go talk to him," Max replied. "Figure out what he wants. Cheer him up. Get him to sit down. Anything but just standing there." He looked at me again, and then he looked down at the half-empty daiquiri glass. "Aww, your Wing-Bat's breaking up. Such a shame they don't last long at room temperature." That was low down of him. A low down dirty comment.

My face furrowed. "Two more of these and I won't be able to even crawl up to the floor." I looked back at the man by the jukebox. "Sure, I'll do it!" Max smiled and tossed an extra dry ice cube into the glass.

"My good man," a D'rrish called to Max, motioning with his claws for a refill on his can of nuke sludge. I picked up my glass of heaven and made my way through the crowd. I gotta say that I was already weavin' a little.

The man was wearin' a spacesuit alright, but it was a brand name or corporate outfit I'd never spied before. It was a kind a dull orange, with a small life support pack on the back, and control and monitorin' systems on the chest and on each wrist. It also looked kind a weird to me, like you could've crushed it together like some strange paper lantern.

"Hi there," I slurred. He wasn't a bad lookin' fella. His face was sort of boyish though he had to be in his early to late 30s. He also had powerful eyes, the kind I guess you might call steely hazel eyes. The guy had the darndest expression, like a cross between an amused child and a disapproving grown-up (kind of, in a way, like my ex-wife and me). That look nearly sent me back to the bar. Still, the thought of alcohol-induced blissful oblivion drove me on, and I sucked down more Tweezle juice.

"Hello in there," I said louder. He gave no indication that he'd even heard me. Of course, his face did seem to turn a notch in my general direction. "Buddy, you okay?" He turned slowly again and faced the jukebox. Under my breath I made a 'cuckoo-cuckoo' sound, and then I walked up next to the guy. "Fella, you stone deaf or somethin'?" The whole thing was gettin' ridiculous, and I was gettin' in the mood for a good fight.

"I came here," he said with some apparent difficulty, "I was allowed here for some reason."

"I came here for some reason too," I said cheerfully, motioning as well as my hazy nervous system would let me. I love Tweezle juice y'know. It's got such a kick. "Hey ol' buddy, wanna go to the bar and get snockered? That's my reason, uh-huh boy!". Slowly, he turned his eyes on me, and man, I ain't never felt so scrutinized in my life, like I'd been picked apart, analyzed, and stuffed back together in a split second.

"Maybe they want to feel-" he said, "-what was it?" He looked back at the jukebox and placed his arms on either side of it. "Intoxication is the word. Maybe I . . . maybe they no longer know that sensation."

Okay...the boy is a fruit case, I thought. That much seemed clear. I turned back to the bar, but I couldn't get ol' Max's attention. Too many customers swillin' down drinks that by right oughta been mine. Frustrated, I turned back and tried a new approach.

"Listen," I said, "My name's Beau Cockrell. Let's try this. You gotta name?" He again looked at me without really lookin' at me, just seemingly the subatomic particles streamin' round me.

"I was once called . . ." The sound of his voice was drowned out by the sound several plates of glasses crashin' and thunderin' near the bar as a fight broke. Some old lookin' guy with white hair, glasses, a white mustache, and a blue shirt with red suspenders was tryin' to get at the D'rrish with a bottle of Tabasco sauce.

"Ayyyy eeeeeeeee," he squealed. "Boal yew in a big pot 'o watta," he enthused. "Se've with unyown and red whine. It's a feast I gar-ahn-tee!"

"Sir," the D'rrish said indignantly, "I am an ambassador of the highest order, not some crustacean for your dining pleasure."

I laughed long and hard at that sight, and then I turned back to Mr. Enigma. "I'm sorry," I sputtered between laughter, "what'cha say again?" But the man in the spacesuit had already returned to the jukebox.

I gotta tell you, I was gettin' ready to blow the whole caper... and I was also pretty high from the drink. Free drinks or no free drinks, the guy was just too dense to communicate with.

Of course, 'bout that time my attention was takin' by a doorway I'd never seen in the bar before. At least it looked like a doorway. The room on the other side though must of been pretty dark though cause the thing was just pitch black. I didn't even see light reflecting in on the floor.

"There's a sound I once knew," the man finally said. "Something is in this... device."

"In the joke...in the jut...er, in the jukebox," I slurred with hope. "There somethin' you wanna hear?" I began shiftin' through my pockets, trying to find some change for the machine. "Sure I got some coins around here," I said as various odds and ends dropped from my pockets onto the floor.

"...and before the discussions collapsed," the D'rrish said (through his translator device) as some of the patrons walked around the bar with him as he cooled off from his encounter, "I tried to explain to the Imperial leader that destroying entire planets was not the answer." Ever seen a giant scorpion when you were piss drunk? Yeesh...

"It was something he heard," the man continued, "something I heard." His voice seemed to be soundin' almost sad, and it also sounded light years away. "It was just before the ship left lunar orbit. They want to experience the feelings."

"L-l-l-look b-buddy," I stammered angrily, "I ain't got no friggin' idea how many of y'er in there, b-b-but what d-do they want to hear?"

"The old memory is at once clear," he said, "and yet opaque." He looked at me again, and I felt like I was gonna hurl. "Who is Harry Chapin?"

I'd never heard of the guy. My only thought was that he must be some kind of singer. "Is he a musikian?"

"One who combines tonal frequencies," the man said almost in the manner of a computer, "in to pleasing groups of sounds. Yes," he turned back to the jukebox. "Harry Chapin was a musician. What was it I once heard?" I just shrugged and slurped everything in my glass down the hatches.

Suddenly, the jukebox whirled up even though no one had put any money into it. Bits and pieces of tunes played in quick bursts, and it seemed like the fella was listenin' to every song in the machine at once.

"Hey," I burped, "how'd ya do that?"

"We're the dance band, on the Titanic/Sing nearer my God to thee." The song blared out of the jukebox. "The iceberg's on the starboard bow/Won't you dance with me." The voice was gravelly, but the song was kind of cool. The words poured out, fillin' the entire bar though no one seemed to really care. I turned to look at the guy again.

"Are you satisfied now," I started to say to him, but that daiquiri must've really kicked in 'cause the guy in the suit looked ancient to me. His thinning white hair, his translucent and wrinkled skin, his flowing blue evening robes looked nothin' like he'd looked before. I shook my head and blinked my eyes, tryin' to get rid of the hallucination, but now the old guy'd been replaced by a baby with pure white skin and a large heard head with blue eyes. I blinked again, and this time the guy wasn't there at all.

"We're the dance band, on the Titanic/Sing nearer my God to thee." I looked and looked, but the man in the orange spacesuit was nowhere to be found. Confused beyond all hope of recovery, I dragged myself through the crowd back to the main bar.

"You handle it?" Max asked as he cleared a space for me.

"Max, he's v-v-vanished," I stammered, puttin' my empty glass on the bar. Max immediately set about mixing another Tweezle daiquiri.

"Good," he said, smiling. "There you go, Beau, one fresh drink, heavy on the dry ice."

I wanted to argue, but the glass of liquid pleasure in front of me seemed more important. I kind of decided to just forget the whole thing and get plastered, but just as the straw touched my lips, I noticed that the black door I'd seen earlier had also vanished. There wasn't nothin' but a big ordinary wall instead.

"Max," I said loudly. "I want my check!" The bartender looked confused, and he walked over to me.

"What's wrong," he said, "not enough entrails in the puree?" I slid the drink to him, and he placed my tab on the counter.

"I'm givin' the stuff up, Max," I said. "I ain't never until tonight halloose...halci...hallucinatededed before." I paid my tab and started weavin' towards the door. "I ain't never going to again neither." And I stumbled out the door and back to the transport to my ship.

I ain't never touched another drop of alcohol since, nor have I darkened the door of that place. Too weird for my blood.

The End

While herding a sturdy diesel across the highways of life Jeff Williams dreamed of becoming a writer. In between haunting railroad yards he scribbles cryptic notes on slightly-used paper napkins. He brainstorms these abstruse anagrams into the tales that you've just been reading. Jeff can be reached at jtwrccc@aol.com.

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