Hell & Other Similar Shells

by Levi Dunn

Concrete steps rose towards the iron-railed concrete platform and into the black metal door draped by a clothed awning labeled with white block letters. “The Backdoor” spelled out against the entrance’s draped black. Long strips of structured stone formed the shell which the small bar resides within. Bars tend to harbor shells: half empty bottles flooding half empty people and the bartender agreeing with whatever you say. Mirror behind a wall of alcohol gives only a glimpse of yourself in the timeless, windowless, husk. Bars offer an escape from the ocean and into a shell, a place where we can placate our need for diversion from our real lives.

The bar wraps around a mirrored wall. Across from it is a mural with platformed booths. Keeping them apart are small black tables with cracked faux-leather chairs. Past that, where the long liquored wood ends, is a room with a couple of arcade machines, a cash-to-coins machine and a plethora of multiple tables and a booth. That room, turning right at the entry from the primary taproom, leads to a pool hall with booths, tables, and a repurposed deli bar. On the way back, across from the arcade’s entrance to the main room is a door by a shoddy statue of Jack Daniel’s. The two tiered wooden smoking patio.

Winding beach littered with shells. Shells that we cannot escape from when we escape into.

TOUCHDOWN! The bar went nuclear. Atomic screams tore across the worn paint, the mirror behind the bar shattered sonically. Lights flashed out inside the bar, the windows scarred with the plutonium rays.

They would all be damnably mad by the end of the night. That was when they split skin and came out – all plastique bones prepared and ready to blow. I would be in the blast, torn apart by waves of skin and discarded meat.

I rose and made my way to the bar. I stood in a line which seemed formed strictly for the express purpose of clotheslining any incoming patrons who would bumble from the door into us.

My first trip to the bar was greeted by a few other patrons. Tons of little shells moved around. One shell in each booth, each table, sometimes latching on to a pool stick, or splintering to go get another beer or food or out for a smoke – but can’t you still smoke in bars? The fragments always came back to the mother-shell. A piece of carapace discarded and rebound to the invisible social flesh.

The shells were like those of hermit crabs. Within the shell – in the bar seating of the booths and the tables – they appeared beautiful. Each conversation generated and responded to the whole energy of the bar.

Yet, within the hermit crab’s house lived an aberration of uncanny self. They were all the alien form hidden in the hard bones of the creature. The crab-thing would discard its shell and scuttle, sidling towards Babylon and burning Gomorrah. The castle would be haunted by the squelching slug-like gore of the necromancer kings who fell victim to their own dreaded dead spell.

I drank my bomb and went out to eavesdrop under the cover of cigarette smoke. The outdoor patio was covered in autumn evening. The baggy denim jacket felt unnecessary. The patio’s lower level had little of interest – hollow shells staring blankly in love and trading card games. The upper section was bustling. I moved from the door to a long mounted bench.

The liquor was already seizing my burning brain. It was the sweet creeping Jesus which blurred my vision and numbed my mind. Red bull sat disgustingly sweet in my mouth.

Cocktails are shells. Each served wholes comprised of parts, this one with its energy drink, peach schnapps, Crown Royal, and Amaretto. Swishing the shell around in my mouth I absently watched the entry to the main room.

That’s part of why we come to bars. To delude our sensibilities and silence our delusions of inhibition. Bars offer return to primal times. The cave wall is covered in dung denoting some forgotten tribe. In the forest of flesh a saber-tooth scream bears us under blaring and bouncing catharsis.

Homo sapien still hardly surviving stands still, waiting for the liquid threat to pass. We sip our drinks and hunt down our lost companions who vanish in the throng, and we gather our nerves for just one more round.

Just as in distant antiquity, we are devoted to the drink. It is the binding concept – the crying out of chemistry as it cradles our child minds with its wet hands. Dopamine and Serotonin slosh in drinks and sound in the roar of the frightfully delightful mammoth song.

The patio was a bullhorn cesspool. No orgies, which was a shame. No hard drugs, which are always reserved for the bathrooms of such upstanding joints as this. Debauchery on my right and the open sky quaking under the backdoor’s loud and laborious creak.

I asked the brunette to my left for a light. She sucked on her cigarette and looked at me like she was fighting back vomit. Was it the booze or the newly arrived company? She passed me the lighter. The people talked and streamed as they laughed and talked and gleamed and balked and the shell shuddered as its insides quivered. Unsure of weather its anxiety or orgasm, I decided to observe the strange sea creature that had washed up on the landlocked patio.

Against the railing to the next level a smartly dressed man sat. His hair was light charcoal, burning against the rise of his widow’s peak. To his left, my right, was a thin short-haired woman who rocked back and forth when she spoke passionately. She mainly talked to the woman directly across from the man in the suit – pretty blonde woman. To her left was another blonde woman, not as pretty. And on a separate table that was still in the shell was another man with a beard and a baseball cap.

Names are, as mentioned in order, the following: Douglas, Cheryl, Sharron, Diane, and Dick.

Sharron cries out loudly, her voice is a drunken cry. Mothers, when drunk, talk about their sons. This seems to be a theory which my childhood, adolescence, and young adult experiences confirmed. She doted about the child who was, for whatever reason, absent from the drinking patio.

The table was littered with beer bottles, cocktail glasses, shooters, and ashen plastic littered with decomposing cigarette decay.

“I just, he is so good – he just wants to do so many good things”, she spat a little on Cheryl, whose face held a sulfuric scrunch, “he told me, he t-o-old me that he wanted to ‘stop the bad guys’”. She does air quotes around her son’s speech because she is both a human and a pedantic asshole. “He told me that, he’s only five.”
Oh Sharron, what stars you have clutched to pull down the elucidation of the wheeling, wonderful, wizardly stellarium. Heaven’s brilliance shines in your bleary eyes. The soul spark flares with distant distortion as it is resurrected. The shell, the hollow vessel within the hollow vessel, now shakes with its moaning magnificent enlightenment.

A FIVE year old boy who wants to save good people from bad people. HONEST TO GOD, SHARRON?

The sea creature waggles a long appendage which is both finger and antenna; as if nodding its segmented many head.

How, oh sweet and sacred saint of scholarship and wisdom, would this weeping wasteland produce such a significant soldier in the coming war against The Adversary?

I write down: scour the databases on this miracle and report back to the living gore.

A phone sounded with the introduction to Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.

“There is more vengeance in the law field than the policing field,” the business man smiled.

His voice was a record scratch of top shelf bourbon. Two-hundred-dollar whisky, two-hundred-dollar suits, and two-hundred cents on everything that Sharron said.

The thin woman with dark hair, well into her fifties – same as him – shot him venomously hard look. The blonde who bubbled over the children she wasn’t with smiled.

They go on talking, but I drift away. I make my way back in after another cigarette – this one I took the time to enjoy.

Re-entry would have been better if I could smoke inside. Being removed from the noise for the better part of fifteen minutes left me reeling with its confused embrace bull rushing me into the iron golem who founded Jack Daniel’s. It moved, unsteady due to its hollowness.

I came back to my booth, crawled back into my shell – my spine going gooey and flaccid as I penetrated the social organism. I sat next to someone’s husband who sported a moustache from a bygone porno. Something reminded me of the same things, over and over again and again

Later on I saw Douglas stumbling through the main stretch of bar. His arm was wrapped around the woman who pressed closely to him. His hand, gleaming with the line of a missing wedding band which still stood on the skin, was firmly clasping the tight-jeaned ass of the blonde woman who was the object of his lust and the brunette scarecrow’s disgust.

He didn’t say it. He wouldn’t have. He practiced law, it was obvious now, he wouldn’t say anything honest if it wasn’t in the middle of the woods out by a drowning lake under the pretense that he could see your tits and confirm you weren’t wearing a wire.

His face reflected behind the bar between the bottles was tattooed with a worm-phrase. The living gore stained with infernal etchings. Is your little boy going to save you from me? The big bad receding hairline exited for the patio, disengaging woman’s ass as he readied his drunk self to return to the shell. Did the crab feel unbound from the shell? Was the world cool as the wind straddled the fleshy, spine-free crustacean-corpse.

I got another drink. Liquid cocaine, not nearly as good as powdered stuff – but it was fine. We were all slouching towards bedlam. Lower and lower our shoulders dropped towards the ground, towards the floor, towards the pit in the bottom of our stomachs.

We were all going insane, purposefully purchasing poison paid primarily by jobs which belittled and beguiled us to keep ourselves afloat in a world of ice, on a sea of Chivas, each clutching with dirty nails and torn tight denim to the raft of social pretense we each depended on to survive in the thrashing realm of hell. We were traitors, caught in a frozen lake with a bellowing Satan. And we were also the betrayed, our names and faces given out by students in the square along with pamphlets which read: COME SEE THE GREAT BABBLING CRAB THING.

A man hollered over a loud-speaker announcing who needed to come get their goddamn food. And it was goddamn loud as well. Real goddamn loud, louder than the blare of shitty bar music.

In the loud wake of the shrieking cook, I found myself slithering to and from the shell. Eventually our segments of dispatched hermit crab did not return – one leaving for the evening with her pornostached husband and another, who just “does not know how [she’ll] write a paper out of this,” departed as well.

Two of us remained. We talked about nothing much at all. Mainly relationships, because that’s what humans seem to care about – how we interact with who we interact with. It was pleasant bullshit, really. I wouldn’t consider it a valuable conversation to have overheard.

However, there was one more instance from my first visit to The Backdoor which would pique my interest. This was a rather valuable non-conversation.

The woman who poured the whisky and sprayed the soda was unnaturally thin; had the face of a mouse grafted on to her human skull; twitchy eyes and dirty fingernails; her hands rubbed up and down on the glass like a sad handjob; and that’s part of the strange air that bubbled around her – you never really knew if you were looking at her, or if you were just staring with a dumb drunk mind, and bars those are oddly good places to not be looking, sort of place where you see a lot but you don’t look at Jack-Daniel’s-shit-I hadn’t been staring at her as much as I was myself in the bar’s mirror when I saw her face flush with panic shift towards the entrance where this fat-asshole-cop beckoned. The mousey brunette with the twitchy eyes and stroking hands shot an uncomfortable look to a second bartender – who looked about the same but fifty pounds heavier and twenty years lighter – and the second girl gave the first permission to go.

The mousey girl didn’t curtly nod to me. She didn’t say that she was sorry she couldn’t make my drink – or explain anything. She was silent when she scuttled towards the exit, as I think anyone would be. She crouched low to clear the bar’s hinged horizontal gateway. She was ushered out into the parking lot – or maybe into some astral void, where old things sleep and dream of mousey brunettes to swallow whole, but most likely the parking lot.

The door shut and I switched back to my new psychiatrist. The singular drink maker asked me what I was drinking.

“Whisky and Coke,” I tell her.

I wanted to ask her why the girl left, why there was this commotion and strangeness.

     What do the cops want with her? I asked myself.

The door swings open and then the cops barge in. Twenty of them, each one in riot gear – tear gas became the haze of the day and drunks and adulterers were all getting the shit beat out of them and, well, okay maybe that didn’t happen.

But the way the brunette’s wet eyes twitched, and the speed she ducked beneath the bar, gave one the impression that – in her unique and individual psyche – that sort of scene had played out. She wasn’t openly crying, even if the mustard gas was insufferable.

She grabbed her keys and bag and then departed again.

I will never know that woman’s name, why she left, or where she went. I will never know what the cop’s wanted with her. Was she a serial killer who’d finally been busted, was she the long-lost love of some investigative journalist who finally got a hold of her via a connection with Louisville metro? Was she in handcuffs at any point that night – legal or otherwise?

I do not know where she went, but I can tell you where she’s going.

To hell or some other similar shell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Hacker, Steve. “10 Dive-ish Bars Open and Celebrating Christmas in Louisville.” Louisville Eater,23 Dec 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2017