Rubin grasped onto the sides of the podium. “Hi, my name is Rubin . . . and I’m an alcoholic. Recovering.”
A room of roughly sixty people greeted him. A room which, according to Rubin, looked way too much like a bar. Talk dammit, they’re staring.
“Haven’t had a drink in four months,” Rubin said in a squeaky voice. The idea of standing in front of people and discussing your private life almost forced his sober streak into early retirement. But they clapped hands, and he reciprocated with a smile. They’re not judging me. Just don’t tell them everything.
“I started drinking in high school like most people. All the usual reasons of course. Dad gave me a hard time, parents fought way too much, and . . . ”
Keep it together, man.
“. . . you can say I had some confidence issues.”
They hung onto every word he said. This is great.
“After high school it became a social thing, but it got worse after my mom died. Lost a couple of friends as well. Girls weren’t too keen on guys with self-esteem issues.”
A few people thought it wise to laugh, thinking it was a joke. But he could see most of them felt his pain. Probably shared it.
Rubin looked down just long enough to expose his discomfort toward what came next. “Then came the accident. Car flipped over and I fell out the window. Broke my pelvis, upper leg, dislocated my shoulder.”
Don’t tell them. “And my fiancée left me after that.” That’s enough!
The room was silent.
“Then I really got hooked. Drinking helped a lot with the pain. It’s much better now, but it still gets real bad on cold days like today.”
That’s when he noticed the girl sitting at the back of the room, next to an empty seat and behind a guy who looked way too happy to be sober. He couldn’t tell if it was the way her hair flowed over her ears or how she sat with her fingers intertwined, but something about her reminded him of his ex fiancée. God I miss her.
“What do you do for a living, Rubin?” a voice rose from the crowd.
“I’m the caretaker at a lumber mill outside of town. I used to teach, but that didn’t exactly match up with my drinking habits. Anyway. I only decided to come here now, because it’s hard to stay on track if you don’t have sober friends. Thought this might be a good place to start looking.”
They clapped hands and gave him a few awkward hugs, reassuring him that he was in good company. Rubin couldn’t remember when last someone gave him a hug. Perhaps he was on a roll of some kind; Mother Nature paying him back for his sobriety.
Whether that or a lucky streak, he broke free from the pack and approached the girl.
* * *
Rubin Murphy walked out the front doors and moved to the back of the parking toward his pickup truck. Traffic was light on the way out of town, which was odd, considering it was only 8pm. It puzzled him why they held the meeting so early. Perhaps recovering alcoholics weren’t supposed to stay out late.
A red traffic light, the last one before leaving town, forced him to a stop. An empty glass bottle rattled across the sidewalk. He recognized the sound before turning to look.
Just another bum.
Behind the drunken garbage-guzzler shone a bright light: Captain Bernie’s Liquor store. Open 24 hours a day. A little drink really would take out some of the sting he still felt after being rejected.
Moments later his car sped out of town and onto a winding forest road, away from the traffic, the lights, and the always-pouring bartenders.
A light fog rose from the ground and Kris Kristofferson started singing about freedom. Shadows moved in the roadside trees. Rubin frowned. He could make out a few animal shapes running within the now denser fog, making their way toward town.
He turned forward again and glanced up at the lack of stars. There were only a few left, and they had hardly a twinkle left.
He looked down just in time to see the brick wall that stretched across the road.
* * *
Rubin Murphy slammed the brakes of his Ford pickup, sliding it across the tarmac.
He had never been a superstitious man, but with fog as thick as snow and a ten-foot wall cutting through the road, he certainly felt a bit more open to the idea.
The music stopped and the car died.
With his sight fixed on the wall he fumbled to open the door.
The half empty bottle of Jack Daniels clattered onto the tarmac, Captain Bernie’s receipt still in Rubin’s pocket.
Rubin locked his fingers behind his head. The brick wall stretched out before him. It ran down the slopes on both sides of the road and into the forest; its distance stretched only as far as the boundaries of his intoxicated imagination.
He reached out towards the wall, his hand trembling, shaking.
His body turned rigid as his fingers grazed the wall and visions flooded his mind - visions of the truth.
His father appeared before him, sitting on his old living room recliner chair, half a bottle of Jack’s in his hand, two empty ones on the floor. The living room looked just like he remembered it, hoarded and conquered by smoke.
His father turned to him. “It’s all your fault! I would never have married that bitch if it wasn’t for you. You hear me? You fucked up my life!”
Rubin swallowed hard. “Yes, Sir.” He couldn’t recall how many times his father had said those lines to him, but he was sure it started when he was about seven.
The smell of burning tires drew Rubin’s attention to a car on the side of the road.
It was Melanie’s Renault, folded around an old oak tree. She had been the one driving that day. He just sat in the passenger seat, not saying a word as she shouted at him and accused him of drinking too much.
She was still in there, stuck behind the steering wheel, her body broken in half.
Rubin turned back to his father, emotionless.
A bottle flew through the air and shattered against his forehead. A cocktail of blood and alcohol poured from his face. He fell, his eyes burning like chili-scented teardrops.
Rubin crawled across the tarmac. He pressed his hands into a thick, gelatinous puddle, too thick to be blood. Wet tar stuck to his knees and palms, stretching like cancerous bubblegum as he tried to pull himself up.
Shadows surrounded him as black, tar-covered creatures rose from their tar pits. They crept on eight legs, inching closer and closer to Rubin. Clumps of tar dripped from their open jaws, their piss-yellow eyes lusting.
Rubin screamed for help, but none came.
Several of the beings enclosed him. They stretched their coal-coloured arms towards him.
They enveloped him. Climbed onto him. Crawled into him. Swallowed him, leaving him buried beneath the road.
The great wall disappeared, and Rubin’s screams were barely audible.
Joe Mynhardt is a South African speculative fiction writer and
teacher. While having dozens of short story publications in several
magazines, e-zines, websites and anthologies, Joe also tends to a tome
of story ideas scraping for a chance to be written. His influences
stretches over an assortment of writers from Poe, Doyle and Lovecraft
to King, Connolly and Gaiman.
In his spare time Joe blogs about haunted buildings and the horror
writing craft. He is also a moderator at MyWritersCircle.com and an
assistant submissions editor at The South African Literary Journal,
Read more about Joe and his creations at www.Joemynhardt.com or find
him on Facebook at ‘Joe Mynhardt’s Short Stories’.
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