I’m not going to pretend I had a plan with this one, it’s just whatever rambling spilled out when I gave my head free reign…
There was a rich low dead sky and only Jack to see it. Mutant fish circled in dirty water and Jack tipped his hat politely before spearing one of them with a knitting needle. There was a hush and he knew it wouldn’t last. Too many monsters lived and ruled, too little respect for calm and delight.
He had danced with bears once, in a circus, in front of the gaping slack mouths of locals and yokels, their fat slapping fingers and thick yellow drool. Three bears and him in a blue dress with yellows curls sticky-taped to his forehead. The bears never mauled him, although they would try and shred anyone else who came near them, but Jack, never. He felt they knew that he was lower, more debased than they were; he was twenty paces deeper into Hell than they would ever go. He had spent those days trading the last few scraps of his dignity for a bottle of gin and whatever half empty beer cans he could find, he called it a living.
The job wasn’t going to last for long, nothing was. Even then he was knew that in two years’ time none of it would matter any way. The bears would be dead. The ringmaster would be dead, every last one of the sneering, stretched faces in the audience would be peeled and blackened back to the skull. There wouldn’t be a brain left containing the memory of his clumsy lumpen dancing, no one would know he clapped his hands in time to the pounding of his feet, every memory would shrivel and shrink into nothing.
Except he would know. He had worked to conjure up this cowboy image, played out to no one, in the hope his memory would eventually fizzle out and he’d just be this guy, but it hadn’t happened yet. Jack swung the whisky shot to the back of his throat, a lava stream of pure oblivion and defeat.
“Hello Jack, long time no see,” said a smooth voice over his left shoulder, it was exactly what he wasn’t expecting. Resting his hand on the bar he swivelled his stool around to look at the dame. Clear green eyes, peeking out from a grimy face, a large duffel coat that showed off her curves not at all. A pipe and earrings made out of decapitated mice. He didn’t need to notice the accessories to know that she was different. Of course he knew she was different, he knew everything about her. She was trouble, with a capital T, and capital all the rest of the letters as well.
“Did you save me a seat?” The candy-edged lilt to her voice was beginning to crack into a threatening snarl, he knew how this conversation went, he’d had it plenty of times when the bars were still filled with drunken laughter. She’d survived. Of course she had, she would have made every deal with every devil. That they were the last two humans alive in a world of monsters was a delicious irony.
“Any second now you’ll be tipping that glowing pipe tobacco over my pretty little head, right?” Jack drawled, letting the whisky sooth his brain to a muddy soup, he’d need to be thinking like fudge to get through this, slow and squidgy; tac sharp thoughts would get him nowhere.
“I waited under that bridge, Jack. I waited for hours. You never came.”
“Well…I er forgot”
“Forgot?” The candy edge was gone now, all he could do was speed to the finale and be ready with some spit to put out the embers of what remained of his hair. Then a glimmer of a coherent thought made itself known.
“Wait a minute. What bridge? I was never meant to meet you under any bridge.” She faltered.
“You are Jack though, right? Jack of the rambling club, Jack of the lonesome wolf brigade? Jack One Leg One Arm?”
“Not me lady. I’m Jack of the dancing bears. Jack of the leaping salmon. Jack Two Legs”
“Oh Good Golly, I am so terribly, frightfully sorry, Christ how embarrassing.”
He swung back round to the bar,
“Another whisky barkeep, and make this one a double!” he shouted cheerfully, briefly forgetting that no barkeeps were left alive.