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InSickHealth
August 29th, 2010, 04:54 PM
Warning:
The following story contains strong language and subject matter
Mature readers only, please.
Mahalo!
1165

The Last Fight


Murphy sat quietly at the bar. His face showed a man aged far beyond the years he’d spent on this world. A disheveled mop of dark hair on his head was reminiscent of a homeless man on the sidewalk. As was his tradition, he stared into his pint between swigs as if it would give him an answer to any of his questions. He gauged the time only by the price of his bar tab. As he finished his beer, he quietly moved the empty glass to the end of the bar and waited silently. Still staring into his empty glass: another ghost of a drink resting on the aged mahogany bar. The bar had a million stories told through scuffs and water stains.

“Maybe you should get out and take on the world,” Amy suggested as she took his pint for a refill. This was one of the few times that he would look up at his bartender. He twisted his face to himself for never realizing that her hair was the same color of the pilsner he always enjoyed. He looked just to the left of her face, never wanting to make direct contact with her ocean blue eyes.

“Five years ago,” he began, “I would have taken that advice. But there’s nothing left here for me. Ya know, I was always convinced that I would do something great in my life. Maybe start a movement, or do something that would set me apart from the rest of the world. I wasn’t looking for fame, just something that I could be proud of.”

Amy rarely heard Murphy say anything besides a bad joke here and there. “Well, it’s not too late. You’re still young. What are you good at?”

He took a sip of his beer and shrugged, “This.”

“That‘ll dig your grave if you‘re not careful. But if you‘re that good at drinking, I‘d be afraid to see what else you‘re good at,” she said. She always wanted to help Murph. Ever since his first day in the pub, she knew there was something amazing about him. It was simply buried beneath disappointment and misery. He almost never talked about his past, but she had seen pictures from when he was in the Army years ago. A soldier with fire in his eyes. He was fierce, ready to run head on into anything. Not like the empty soul sitting here now. These days, his eyes were almost lifeless. His slumped stature said that he was just waiting for the world to finally consume him. She looked at the tattoo on his forearm, “Fight for anything. Give the shirt off your back for nothing”. She smiled to herself at the idea of him doing something big again. That soldier was hidden somewhere deep inside, and she hoped that everyone would see it again before his despair got the best of him. He could inspire millions if only he could inspire himself again.

There was another long silence as Amy subtly danced to the music in her head while she cleaned the bar. Something about the end of her double shift had reenergized her. The chairs in the dining room were up, liquor bottles were covered, and bar mats cleaned and stacked. She always let Murphy stay until the bar was completely closed. She liked to having him around despite his general lack of conversation. It was like having her own body guard. Whether or not he was able to fend off any attacks these days was questionable, but his presence comforted her. She always wondered how he kept in such great shape when his free time was always spent at the bar. If Murphy wasn’t there reading the bubbles in his beer, Amy would may have been concerned about the man walking through the door.

“Sorry, hun, but we’re closing up,” she said, “Shooters is right down the road. They’re open for another two hours, I think.”

“But this fine gentleman right here still has a full drink,” the stranger said. His southern drawl matched his wardrobe perfectly. The jeans tucked into cowboy boots reminded Amy of an old western movie. His black wide brimmed hat and duster seemed to hide him against the blackness of midnight outside. She almost wished he was wearing a massive belt buckle. His handlebar mustache reminded her of an oil man or a used car salesman. “Just lookin’ fer a quick drink with some good company. Then I’ll be on my way. Wadd’ya say?”

“Okay, well you have about fifteen minutes. What can I get ya?” she asked.

“Well thank you very much, ma’am. I won’t be trouble,” he said with a grin, “Let me get what he’s havin’,” he said, nodding over to Murphy. He strolled over to the bar carrying his organizer under his arm, and took a seat next to Murphy. He slowly lowered into his seat as the worn cushion on the bar stool molded to him perfectly. He held out his hand, “Lucas Stana, pleased to meet ya, friend!” He spoke just like a used car salesman. It was almost comical. Murphy slowly shifted his gaze from his beer to Lucas, and gave a cold nod before returning to his drink. His face showed disgust having to smell Lucas’s cologne. He considered moving, but he still wouldn‘t be able to escape that stench from the other end of the bar.

“You don’t talk much, do ya? That’s ok. Y‘see, I’m here on business, and my business brought me in here to meet you fine folks!”

“What kind of business are you in that brings you into an empty pub at closing?” Amy laughed, “Another professional drinker?” She shot an apologetic look towards Murphy, but he was lost in his own world.

“Glad ya asked, darlin’. I’m in the business of collections. You ever had to deal with a collections agent? We get a pretty bad rap, and the truth is, we’re not all bad guys. I‘m just a regular guy tryin‘ to do his job,” He explained. “It’s a shame that people always take their anger out on us. More often than not, it’s their fault that they’ve gone to collections. Guess people have a hard time acceptin’ it.”

Amy had what she called a “work smile”. It wasn’t insincere, but sometimes she forced when it she was in a bad mood or ready to get out at the end of the night. Her smile quickly dropped into a face of concern. Who the hell was this guy to come in harassing Murphy? As far as she knew, he never had problems paying his debts.

“Murph, what’s goin’ on?” She asked. She looked directly at him as if she might be able to read his thoughts.

Murphy’s eyes never left his beer. “Hey man, I haven’t missed a single payment in my life. My credit’s perfect. I think you’re in the wrong pub,” he said.

Lucas let out an entertained laugh, “Oh, no buddy. I’m not here for you…” He stopped talking and pulled a stapled pile of paper out from his organizer and scanned through the pages, “Nope. I’ve got good news for ya: you’re not on my list. You’ve got plenty of time!” He looked back at his list and looked directly at Amy. His smile turned to straight business, “Amy, darlin’, I’m here to see you tonight.”

“Yeah, you’re here to take my car, right? I bought it used… cash,” She chuckled. She continued to wipe down her bar area. She turned her head away and closed her eyes, trying to fight off the vapors from the bleach she was cleaning with.

Lucas’s face didn’t change. “I don’t think you understand. I’m here to collect on you. It’s your time to go,” he said. The comfortable atmosphere in the pub instantly dropped twenty degrees, and the back door slammed itself shut, launching Amy off the ground in a spin. She expected to see someone at the door. Nothing. He handed the stack of paper across the bar. She took it and saw her name at the top of the list. His voice was low with an heir of compassion, “I’m sorry, but it’s your time to go. You’re gonna have to come with me.”

Amy stood still. Her mind raced, but not a single thought actually crossed her. She realized he wasn’t joking. She was, literally, staring into the face of death. She couldn’t move a muscle.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Murphy blurted out. “I’m not letting that happen. That‘s my favorite bartender you’re talkin’ about.” He sat up and looked over to Lucas silently, daring him to respond. Lucas was motionless for a brief moment. He slowly removed his hat to reveal two small horns protruding from his forehead. His receding hairline seemed to be naturally tailored to the placement of his horns.

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I really am, but you have no say in this matter. Ya see, when a name is on this list, I have to collect. If I rolled over for every friend or family member, then I wouldn’t be a very good businessman, would I? No, sir.. As a matter of fact, I would be a pretty terrible businessman. You see where I’m goin with this, here?” Amy could do nothing more than follow the conversation. She was paralyzed with fear. She wanted to break out in tears, but couldn’t cry. It was as if she had no control over her body at all.

Murphy looked Lucas up and down before taking a swig of his beer. “So you’re a businessman, huh?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. I ain’t doin’ this for pleasure. I don’t imagine anyone would get pleasure from a job like this,” his straight face cracked a smile as he leaned in closer to Murphy, “It’s all about the numbers. Like I said, most folks aren’t too excited about this. But, ya see, I have a boss to answer to. He rides my ass and I’ll have one hell of a headache if I don‘t meet my quota.” He tried to pat Murphy on the back, but as Lucas reached out to him, Murphy shot him a glare that would make the devil himself retreat. Lucas slowly pulled back his hand and smiled, “Don’t blame yourself for this, pal! You’re walkin’ home tonight! You have plenty of time. There will be a new bartender soon.”

Murphy was fearless. His tired eyes were ready to fight. He stared down the demon, who had met him with equal ferocity. Lucas waited for Murphy to respond. This wrecked excuse for a man couldn’t take this fight if his life depended on it.

“Amy, can you do me a favor?” Murphy asked, never letting his eyes of Lucas, “I need you to lock the doors. We don’t need anyone else walking in on this.” Amy still couldn’t speak, but found herself able to move just enough to make it to the doors. Murphy continued, “If you are a businessman, then I have a proposition for you.”

“I don’t know what you can offer me,” he laughed, “but I’m all ears.”

“Shot for shot. Tequila. I win: Amy stays here. You win: You get both of us,” he offered flatly.

“Buddy, you sure you want to do this? You can walk home right now. If you can actually walk home, that is,” he said with a smile. He leaned in a little more, and the smile was gone again. His voice had a low, advisory tone, “You don’t need to fight for this girl, Murphy. You realize that you’re just wasting your own life, right? If I were you, I’d walk out that door, go to bed, and pretend this was a bad dream.”

Murphy didn’t blink, but something clicked inside him. He kept his cold stare as he grabbed his beer and finished it off. He let out a loud belch, “Luke, right?” Murphy slammed another empty glass onto the bar. Amy rushed over and grabbed it from his hand for to refill. She was in survival mode. Doing only what she knew she could do right now. “Look here, Luke. I’ve been coming to this bar almost every day for five years. Call it pathetic, call it a waste, call it what you will. This girl here?” he nodded over to his bartender, “She’s one of the few people that’s cared about me when I quit caring about myself. You call her a waste of my life again, and I don’t give a rat’s ass who or what the hell you think you are, we’re gonna have issues. We’re talking double or nothing on your original ‘collection‘. Shot for shot. You in, or are you scared of a burnt out drunk?”

Lucas took his beer and looked away as he elegantly lifted the beer to his lips and took a sip. He pondered the offer while he held his beer in front of his chest. He returned to Murphy and poured the rest of his beer down his throat. One small chuckle, “It’s you’re funeral, man. If you really want to throw your life away, so be it. But make sure it’s what you really want to do.”

A small, sadistic grin came across Murphy’s face, “Great. You’re buyin‘.”

“Amy, hun, we need two shots of Patron, lime and-”

“Two shots of house tequila, Aims! No training wheels!” Murphy yelled over Lucas, “And let’s get one more round of beers. We need something to enjoy while we get acquainted. We’re drinkin’ on my terms. This light weight doesn’t know what kinda trouble he just got into,” with his confidence rising, he imbibed the entire beer he was just given. He examined the empty glass in front of his face as if it had words of encouragement writen on the side.

Amy listened intently to every word that Murphy said. She didn’t question him. She quickly refilled the beers, poured two shots, and put the drinks in front of the two men. Even though she never said a word, she kept looking back at Murph. There were never any problems at the bar that she couldn‘t handle. She’d never had to rely on him, but she had no choice tonight. It was his turn to prove himself.

Murphy quickly grabbed his shot and raised it in the air. Lucas was taken by surprise and grabbed his own shot as quickly as he could. Murphy paused. He stared into space for a moment. The gravity of the situation set in for one brief second. He quickly snapped himself out of his concern. He shrugged, “To hell with it all,” He casually muttered. For the first time since she met Murphy, she saw the fight in his eyes. She always imagined what Murphy would be like with passion, but this was far beyond anything that she could have conceived.

Lucas smiled and raised his glass and toasted Murphy, “My thoughts, exactly, my friend!” They both put their shots back. Murphy dumped the poison down his throat like water and slammed his glass on the bar. The tequila burned down his throat until it settled into a ball of warmth in his stomach. Lucas drank his and slammed the glass so hard that it shattered into a plume of dust. Murphy wasn’t impressed. He had broken shot glasses before. He’d already broken two TVs in the pub this year. Lucas wiped his mouth with the dark sleeve of his duster. “Is that all you got? Line ‘em up! Let’s take another!”

“Who the hell are you? You think you’re gonna win this in a sprint?” Murphy heckled. “enjoy your beer. Amy, can I bum a few dollars for the juke box? I’ll get you back tomorrow. I don’t have cash on me, Luke‘s buyin the rounds tonight.” Amy fought back a smile as she handed her tip jar to Murphy. It was hard to be worried when she say how cool and calm he was in the face of death. She had never seen him like this. This must have been what it was like when he talked about drinking with his buddies in the Army.

Murphy looked in the bucket, and grabbed a couple of bills out of the jar. He stumbled slightly as his feet hit the teal, carpeted floor. He noticed the stain on the floor from a spilt drink on his first night in the pub, and made his way to the juke box. He stood there for what seemed like half an hour, trying to set up the perfect play list for his night. He worked the box like a gambler at a slot machine in Vegas. No hesitation, no regrets, no questions. Suddenly, when he came to his last song, he stopped, stared at the screen, and yelled back to the bar, “Luke! What do you want to hear? I got one song left!”

“It doesn’t matter to me. It’s your funeral,” Lucas replied.

“It’s Your Funeral… I don’t think they have that one.” he called back with a false innocence, “How about some Sympathy for the Devil? Or Highway to Hell? I always liked that one! Any preference? Or are you gonna be a little bitch? ’Cause I can play some N’Sync if that’s what you want,” Murphy laughed. Somehow, the lifeless barfly became a warrior. He was back in action. Amy was speechless. She had never seen him with so much energy.

“I don’t care! Quit delaying the inevitable and take your next shot!” Lucas snarled. He was becoming impatient. He sounded less like a salesman and more like a dictator. Amy could only compare his reaction to that of an abusive boyfriend from her past. She couldn’t be scared, though, being so taken aback by Murphy’s virility. She could have sworn that he was having a drinking contest with an old friend. He actually seemed to be enjoying himself.

“Let’s go for another, girl,” Murphy said as he walked back to the bar. She quickly poured another round and put them in front of their respective spots at the bar. “Luke, what are we drinkin’ to this time?”

Lucas looked at the pair of shots, and thought for a moment. Half his face smiled as he said, “Why don’t we toast to Sullivan? You remember Private Sullivan, right? If I‘m not mistaken, you were just a little too slow to save him.”

Murphy sat down and looked at his shot. The smile was instantly wiped off his face, “Oh yeah… Sullivan.“ Murphy stopped talking and stared into his shot. A look of pain and guilt crossed his face.

“What do you think he would say if he was here right now?” Lucas asked, almost curiously, yet still fully knowing his own intentions.

“Shit…” Murphy thought for a second. He was back in his drink. The pain was visible as he relived the situation in his mind. He always felt like he was responsible for Sullivan’s death, “I can’t believe that you know about him,” he slowly picked up his shot. Amy never heard about Sullivan, but she could tell that it tore him apart for all these years. A single tear dropped down his cheek. “I guess… if he was here… right now…” Murphy paused. He was miles away. Reliving that painful day. They were best friends. Brothers in arms. Attached at the hip from the first day of basic training. Murphy might as well have died with him that day. He would have died to save him.

“If he was here right now… he would say…” Then he remembered, for the first time since that day, what the two of them would say before every mission…

“See you in Hell, Murphy!”

“Just make sure you save me a barstool when you get there, bro!”

Murphy smiled when for the first time when he thought about Sullivan since he died. He chuckled when he realized the irony of the situation that he was in. The chuckle turned into uncontrollable laughter. It took Murphy a solid minute to pull himself back together. Even still, it was impossible to wipe the smile off of his face. He drank half his beer in two gulps and slammed his hand on the table, sending a slosh of beer across the bar. It sounded like a gunshot echoing through the pub, “He’d probably tell us to take a shot. Amy, another round! We’re doin’ doubles!” The fire was growing. She couldn’t pour the drinks fast enough. She placed them on the bar for the competitors. Murphy grabbed the other shot, holding both in his hands.

“Good call, Luke! I’m sure you know that he was a real drinker. TO SULLIVAN!” Murphy didn’t wait for Lucas. He simply held up one shot, drank it, and chased it with the second. Slamming both glasses on the bar as hard as he could, he let out an enthusiastic hoot. “You just brought Sulli into the game. Thanks, Luke. I haven’t had a drink for him in years. I know he appreciates it, too!”

Lucas took the first shot and winced. Each shot was burning more than the last. He then followed it with the second, and looked distantly across the pub as he choked it down. He took both glasses and slammed them to the bar. The whole earth shook as the glasses hit the wood. The windows rattled as Lucas let out a loud grunt working to keep his shots down. His dark eyes lit up to crimson red. Growling, “You think you’re funny? You think you are going to win this? What do you stand to win?”

Murphy leaned in and grinned at Lucas. His voice was low. Matter-of-factual, “Luke, I hate to tell you this, but I’ve already won.”

“Is that what you think? Another shot… NOW!” Lucas’s voice echoed like thunder throughout the pub.

Murphy shot Lucas a disgusted look. How could anyone treat any bartender with such disrespect, especially Amy. He laughed as he looked over at Amy. With every second Murphy seemed to gain more and more power. What was disheveled brown hair a moment ago now seemed like the trademark of a champion fighter. Amy knew that it wasn’t the alcohol. She has seen him act completely dysfunctional with far less booze. He was waiting for greatness, and the more hopeless that the situation appeared, the more he seemed to enjoy it. This was the moment he had waited for. “Really? Are you serious? Listen, that’s not how we treat Amy around here. If I didn’t have the doors locked-”

“If you didn’t have the doors locked, you would be running down the street begging for mercy!” Lucas interrupted.

“No… if you gave me a chance to finish my sent- You really don’t have any manners at all, do you? First, you’re disrespecting my girl. That‘s some bullshit. And now you’re interrupting me. You’re a horrible businessman, and even worse of a drinker. But like I was saying, if I didn’t have the doors locked, I would be kicking your ass out front right now! Back to the drinks… Two more rounds for me and the asshole, please, gorgeous.” He looked over at Amy and winked. She felt energized by his spirit. His voice went calm again, “Pour one for yourself, too. You‘re off the clock, right?”

The shots were poured. Amy came around the bar and sat next to Murphy. She had no fear. It was like Lucas wasn’t even in the room. There was no danger. No concern. No worries. Just Murphy and Amy. His smile was contagious. He was carefree and determined to have a good time. He turned towards Amy, “What should we toast to?”

“How about to a wasted life?” Lucas barked. He was becoming visibly irritated.

Murphy didn’t skip a beat. He looked directly into her eyes, “Wasted for life!” He yelled energetically as they held up their glasses. Another two shots down for Murphy, another pair of glasses slammed on the bar. Lucas growled as he took his first shot. His face puckered, and he held his second shot for a moment. His breath was heavy. Eyes closed, he took a deep breath, and drank his next shot. Lucas let out a deafening roar as he swallowed the fire water.

As the glass made contact with the table, the entire pub shook violently. The ground surrounding the bar cracked open. Flames spewed from the fractured floor to the ceiling. Everything around the bar area was consumed in flames. Lucas’s sleeves were burnt off, revealing arms that were nothing more than skin sagging off bones. The flesh on his face burned until it revealed his true scarred and blistered face. His shark like teeth were displayed through his evil grin. The small horns had grown, twisted and tangled around each other. “You think you can win this? I have never lost a collection! You’ve wasted your life in alcohol, so it’s fitting that this is how you will die. And I will take the collection that I came for,” he snarled. Amy froze. Her eyes filled with terror, she was, once again, paralyzed. The smile left Murphy’s face. It was time to be serious now. It was do or die.

“Amy, we’re ending this. Two more rounds,” he said in a low, serious tone. Amy worked up the courage to walk back behind the bar. Murphy looked at her hands, trembling uncontrollably as she laid out the glasses to fill. “Hey Aims,” Murphy was calm as he looked into her terrified eyes, “What are you doing after you close up tonight?” He asked casually. His voice carried her out of the hell that the pub had turned into. It was just the two of them, again. She chuckled and wiped the tears from her eyes.

“I was planning on catching last call over at Shooters. You want to come with?” As casually as she could she said, “I’m pretty sure I owe you a drink.”

“Yeah. I think I could use a drink after this. How ‘bout those shots for now, though?”

Amy grabbed the bottle of tequila and poured the shots like she had done a thousand times before. She tossed the tall bottle from one hand to the other and slid it back in the well behind her without looking. She placed the shots on the bar and pushed towards each competitor. Murphy didn’t hesitate. He grabbed his first shot, and held it in front of Lucas. “Drink,” he ordered. With an unbroken rhythm, he took the shot, slammed it on the bar, grabbed the next shot, held it in the air, drank it, stood up, and threw his glass across the pub into the flames. He tried to look past the flames, but the wall of fire blocked any view beyond. He didn’t hear a crash, but he was fairly certain that he hit the plasma screen TV in the dining room.

Lucas growled, grabbed his shot, and poured it down his throat. He held his glass in the air, ready to slam, and paused. He closed his eyes, and tried to hold himself together. He breathed heavily, and sat motionless for what seemed to be an eternal minute. With another shot of tequila in front of Lucas Murphy eyes widened, and he perked up as he realized that he stood on the edge of victory.

“Whatever you do, Luke…” Murphy paused as his mind went blank for a split second. He regained himself and continued, “Whatever you do, don’t throw up. Don’t think about throwing up,” Lucas opened his eyes and stared blankly into the fire across the pub. “Don’t think about how good it’ll feel after you release all that tequila. Don’t think about your mouth watering up. Don’t think about how it will taste when it comes up. And for god‘s sake, DO NOT think about kneeling in front of a toilet while you vomit uncontrollably!” he yelled. He looked on to the demon. Murphy’s eyes widened as Lucas’s body began to heave. “You still have one more shot. You’ve got this! Just one more shot of tequila!”

With that final mention of the drink, the demon forced down his next shot and lost control. He dropped his head and released a vile black and red liquid all over the bar in front of him. Amy turned away, knowing that the wretched sight would cause her to throw up, too. Murphy jumped back from the bar as he looked on with amazement. No mortal could hold that much liquid. It poured out in gallons. The peculiar color was a mystery to both Murphy and Amy. It reeked of sulfur and tequila. Lucas finally let out a final dry heave and held his head over as the last strings of liquid dripped from his mouth.

The fires quickly flickered out. There was no visible damage from the inferno. All the chairs were on the still up on the tables. There was no sign of any of the recent events, save the line of shot glasses along the bar and the shattered plasma screen across the dining room. Murphy laughed and pointed, “I knew I hit it! Two points!” Amy leapt over the bar and tackled him. He was effortlessly brought to the floor. He looked over, and once again saw his signature stain on the carpet.

Lucas stood up from his barstool as clean as he was when he came in: duster in tact, wide brimmed hat covering his small horns and receding hairline, and unscarred skin covering his face. He looked down at the two, smiled, and tipped his hat. “I must respectfully congratulate you, my friend. You put up one helluva fight. You‘ve gained my respect.” he said with a friendly smile and a slight bow. Lucas didn’t wait for a reply. He simply threw a small stack of bills on the bar, turned around, and casually walked out the door, whistling as he disappeared into the darkness of the street.

Murphy looked into Amy’s eyes and smiled. He looked young again. Incredibly drunk, but young. Like he had lost ten years. He laughed, “That alcohol is hittin’ me hard. I don’t think I’m gonna remember anything five minutes from now.” With that statement he laid his head on the ground, closed his eyes, and let out a comfortable sigh. Amy decided to let him lay their while she danced around again as she finished closing the bar.

She was overwhelmed with excitement. She knew that no one would believe what had happened, but she didn’t care. She was proud of him. She always wondered what kind of hero was hiding behind that weathered face. He was willing to fight for the girl that poured his drinks and harassed him to do something with his life. She wanted to believe that all that friendly nagging paid off, but she knew that it was inside him the whole time. He was just waiting for something great to come his way.

“Ok Murph, I think we have to get you home. I’ll give you a ride,” she said as she rounded the bar. She saw him on the floor and was almost tempted to let him sleep right there in the pub. He looked so peaceful and relieved that she didn’t want to disturb him. Still, she knew that she had to get him to a bed. He would definitely be in serious pain tomorrow, and needed to wake up in a comfortable bed.

“C‘mon, Murph. Let’s go,” she said as she knelt down next to him and yanked his arm. He was out cold. “Wake up, ya crazy drunk!” she laughed. Her face went blank, and put her fingers on his wrist. Nothing. The reality hadn’t hit her yet. She moved her hand to his throat and checked for a pulse. Nothing. She stood, and backed up until she bumped into a table. Tears poured down her face while she stood motionless. She stood and stared at Murphy for what could have been a minute or an hour. He was gone.

She walked over and knelt down again next to Murphy. A tear fell from her chin. She gently wiped the tear off of his cheek. She kissed him lightly on the lips and whispered into his ear, “Thank you, Murph. You were right, you were meant to do something great with your life. Thank you.” The tears were pouring down her face now. “Tell Sullivan I said hello.”

She quietly stood up and took the phone from the bar. She dialed 911 and waited for the reply. Her eyes never left Murphy, “Hello. This is Amy. I’m the bartender at The Last Chance Pub. My friend just died in the bar… Yes, I’m sure he’s dead. He has no pulse and is unresponsive… Could be alcohol poisoning… Okay, I’ll be here waiting for paramedics… No, I don‘t need you to stay on the line with me, thank you.”

She hung up the phone, and grabbed her sweatshirt. Balling it up and gently putting it under his head, “I can’t get you to a bed, but you at least deserve a pillow.” She laid next to him, her head on his chest. He was still warm. His face told her that he was happy and comfortable. He died doing what he loved. Not drinking, but fighting for someone he loved. She laughed one last time, “You know you just got me fired, right? I guess it’s my turn to find something to fight for.”

InSickHealth
August 29th, 2010, 06:19 PM
Critiques welcomed and appreciated

ppsage
August 29th, 2010, 09:14 PM
Very good story. Just enough twist on an aged premise. … My notes:

A disheveled mop of dark hair on his head was reminiscent of a homeless man on the sidewalk.

Maybe not mop, which, to me at least, implies health and youth.

Still staring into his empty glass: another ghost of a drink resting on the aged mahogany bar.

Like this. Maybe omit this second aged. It's kind of redundant anyway.

He twisted his face to himself for never realizing that her hair was the same color of the pilsner he always enjoyed.

A very contorted phrase. And image.

was low with an heir of compassion

air

He slowly removed his hat to reveal two small horns protruding from his forehead.

I think there is a very profound weakness in your story here because you haven't established any reason why the devil would be coming for Amy. She has not sold her soul and isn't the sort who ever would. And I don't buy that you can automatically conflate the angel of death with the devil. And even if you could, it's going to be hard for me to buy, on the current evidence, that it's Amy's time. And I wouldn't expect all this drama from the angel of death anyway. In my opinion you need to address this somehow. Hopefully it can be done simply. It's the sort of low and nagging detail I hate to confront in my own work.

“I need you to lock the doors.

I assumed the doors locked when the devil slammed them.

he imbibed the entire beer he was just given

Imbibed seems seriously out of voice to me

She couldn’t be scared, though, being so taken aback by Murphy’s virility.

Same with virility. In both cases there must be a host of better alternatives.

Murphy smiled when for the first time when he thought about Sullivan since he died.

This is a great reveal but poor wording. Sounds like Murphy died. For the first time since Sullivan died, Murphy smiled when he thought about him.

He chuckled when he realized the irony of the situation that he was in.

Don't need that he was in. Possibly, no one ever needs that he was in.

duster in tact,

intact

Keep working on this. In appreciation, pp.

InSickHealth
August 29th, 2010, 09:47 PM
Thanks, bro! Very insightful feedback. I definitely can't argue with any of it. I think I got lost, because Lucas was originally supposed to be the devil (Lucas= Lucifer and Stana= Satan). He was a very difficult character to work with, and I should have taken that as a sign to make a few adjustments.

And I definitely had a feeling that there were some redundancies that slipped through. Maybe I should have taken a full day off away from the story to be able to take a fresh look at it.

Mucho Mahalo. Glad you enjoyed it

Olly Buckle
August 30th, 2010, 02:03 AM
The first paragraph nealy put me off, I am glad to say it got much better after that.
"Murphy sat quietly at the bar. His face showed a man aged far beyond the years he’d spent on this world." I thought "What did it show him and who was this man" try something simple like "His face was aged beyond his years"
"A disheveled mop of dark hair on his head was reminiscent of a homeless man on the sidewalk" and this somehow made it sound like a particular man on a particular side-walk. (Dishevelled by the way, double ell, side-walk gets hyphenated in England, maybe not in the U.S.)

The "Fresh look" comment above makes me think you may not have revised it much, and there are a couple of typos I noticed reading but cant find now, I always start by revising when I come back to something, with especial attention to the beginning, it is the most important part, your reader will forgive you a boring or badly written bit later on, if it happens at the beginning before he/she is really involved they are likely to give up, which would be a shame, because although it is an old story in many ways (as pp says) it is very well told with a nice personal touch.

The language and content do not seem too awful to me and I feel the disclaimer at the top is sufficient here, but if you feel a piece requires a disclaimer in future please would you put it in the title, the idea is that a supervised child won't get to open the thread.

Thank you for an enjoyable read.

StrikingEagle
August 31st, 2010, 10:25 PM
Hello InSickHealth.

I have never critiqued someone's work before. Please bear with me because I'm hoping this process will help both of us.
I was surprised by ppsage's critique...by how much he discovered and revealed. Here are my comments:

First, I liked this short story. The ending was a surprise. After the first few paragraphs I didn't know where the story was
going, so when the devil made his sneaky entrance this was an interesting twist.

“That‘ll dig your grave if you‘re not careful. But if you‘re that good at drinking, I‘d be afraid to see what else you‘re good at,” she said. She always wanted to help Murph.
This section may have contributed to the ending of the story, but I do not feel pointing out drinking
is an attribute, implying drinking would provide expertise in other areas. I would remove the underlined section.

He held out his hand, “Lucas Stana
Intersting name...Satan spelt out of order. Which led me to wonder if the devil himself was not the one
who visited this bar for "collection."
He slowly removed his hat to reveal two small horns protruding from his forehead. His receding hairline seemed to be naturally tailored to the placement of his horns.
Apparently Satan has vicious assistants; however, with the quote just below, this sounds like Satan himself.
The ground surrounding the bar cracked open. Flames spewed from the fractured floor to the ceiling. Everything around the bar area was consumed in flames. Lucas’s sleeves were burnt off, revealing arms that were nothing more than skin sagging off bones.

Overall the story flowed well, kept my interest after the first few paragraphs ( I was expecting a typical bar fight), and was not as distasteful as I expcted based on your disclaimer. The title I thought was appropriate and should have given me a clue to the ending. I hope to read more of your works...keep writing.
StrikingEagle

InSickHealth
September 1st, 2010, 05:05 AM
Thanks guys.

on the disclaimer: I wasn't sure what would be considered appropriate for younger readers, and just decided "when in doubt"... Now I have a better idea of what to consider mature or inappropriate. And, yes, I will in the future include it in the title.

On Lucas: Like I said, he started out as the devil, but I realized that he was much better as a demon. While it made sense to me at the time, it was the biggest feedback that I received. I already have ideas on how to clarify that Lucas is a demon, but I'm just letting it simmer while I think of any other options for the next day or two before I go for a more polished version.

On my revision/fresh look: I didn't give myself a long enough break before I started revising. I learned that I need to take a few days away from it before I revise so I am actually reading the story and not just the words. I definitely need to work more on my revising process. Something to keep in mind for my next story.

I'm glad everyone enjoyed the story. I am going to post the final draft within the next few days, but I will say that it will be largely unchanged. More or less, I am going to clear up the Lucas issue, and fix a few little glitches that were pointed out to me (as well as a few that I found).

Overall, I had a great time writing this story. It was the first thing that I have written in a long time, and I'm very excited that it was so well received. I learned a lot from this, and hope I can deliver something of similar or higher quality very soon.

Aloha and Mahalo,
InSickHealth