by K.C. Ball
Darkness lay deep and comfortable upon Key West.
The few who noticed figured it for just another power outage. The Florida Keys Electric Cooperative had never been the most dependable of systems, even when a minion of supreme evil wasn’t strutting about the city, plying his trade.
The minion in question, known to his many sudden acquaintances as Gnash, blinked into being outside Sloppy Joe’s Bar, at the corner of Duval and Greene Streets. Nothingness to full presence in a nanosecond. He towed a little man in a threadbare hospital gown in his wake.
Their sudden appearance didn’t seem to bother passersby, any more than the wide-spread darkness did, but then strange occurrences go unnoticed every day in America’s Southernmost City.
Gnash was tall, broad-shouldered and shaggy blond. A dude dressed for the Florida Keys. Worn flip-flops, tattered jeans and a faded red tee shirt, announcing, in cracked white letters across his chest, that the floggings would continue until morale improved.
He pointed into the bar through the building’s open west portico. The interior was lit by candlelight, but the fellow seated at the short bar was easy to spot. A large man, built with plenty of beef, sporting a thick, white beard.
The fellow pounded back the latest in a long chain of Hammers. Two ounces of Bacardi rum, one ounce of blackberry brandy, one ounce of strawberry liqueur and one ounce of banana liqueur. A drink that flowed like cough syrup and hit the throat like molten steel.
“You see him, Roger?” Gnash asked.
Professor Roger Cooperman, B.A., M.A. PhD, winner of the 1995 Heineker Prize for Literary Excellence, noted author of Ernest: A Complicated Man and His Simple Works, reach behind him to tighten the laces of his gown, trying to cover his scrawny ass.
“Is that Papa?” he asked, almost whispering.
“What do you think?” Gnash replied. “You’re the one with the deathbed wish.”
Roger sidled into the bar, careful not to lose his cardboard slippers or his gown, and eased up to the bearded man. He pointed to the fellow’s almost empty glass and was offered a seat on the adjoining stool. The bartender, duly summoned to do his duty, filled the empty and settled a new glass full of liquid courage before Roger.
The two men soon stepped away from the world, wandering into conversation about the intricacies of writing simple words and what it meant to be a man. Gnash stepped to a nearby parked car and leaned against the fender. He chuckled. Arranging the meeting had been more fun that taking candy from small tykes and that set very high on his list of jollies.
“Up to the old tricks, I see.”
The newcomer was dressed in pressed khaki slacks and a crisp pale blue oxford shirt. There was something about him that hinted he had arrived in much the same manner as Gnash and Roger, although with a more divine assistance.
“Hiya, Gideon,” Gnash said. “Too late. You can’t have him.”
“No. You can’t have him, at least not for another thirty-seven years.”
“What are you yammering about? The geek’s dying of inoperable cancer. I read his charts before I snatched him from that hospital in Seattle.”
Gideon joined Gnash against the automobile. He folded his arms across his chest.
“He was praying for a miracle when you arrived,” Gideon said. “God has decided, in His infinite wisdom, to allow that miracle.”
“The dweeb’s healed?”
“I’ll be damned.”
Gnash pushed away from the fender and brushed his hands together. “Oh, well, it’s not like its going to be forever, is it?”
“There is the matter of The Accord,” Gideon said.
“I didn’t lie to him.”
“No one said anything about lying.”
“Then what do you think I did?”
Gideon opened his right hand, palm up. A thick paperback book appeared from the ether and nestled there, open to a page near the front. Gideon didn’t even bother to look at the book, as he quoted.
“No tempted soul shall be delivered into his or her past or future, or given knowledge of his or her past or future, whatsoever his or her wishes.”
The book disappeared with the same suddenness with which it had appeared.
“That sort of violation nullifies any agreement you may have struck with him, don’t you think?” Gideon said.
Gnash grinned. “You should pay more attention to your timepiece when you go ambulance chasing.”
He reached into the air, collected a newspaper and handed it to Gideon. It smelled a bit mildewed and one corner was a mottled blue-green.
“Today’s Key West Citizen,” Gnash said. “Check the date.”
Gideon examined the newspaper. “July 20—”
He stopped, as he noticed the year. He stepped away from his perch and peered into the darkness, taking a closer look at the automobile. A brand-new Lexus. An HS-250 hybrid.
“You see,” Gnash said. “We aren’t in Roger’s past or his future.”
Gideon glanced into the candle-lit interior, toward the two men at the bar. He examined the newspaper again and this time noticed the headline.
“Oh,” he said. His voice lost its steam. “Hemingway Days.”
“Uh huh,” Gnash said.
“Dear God, you’ve delivered Professor Cooperman to an Ernest Hemingway pretender!
“Uh huh.” Gnash peered into the bar, smiling with an almost paternalistic pride. “A damned fine one, too. He could win the competition this year, even if he is so nervous he showed up two days early. In fact, I have guaranteed his victory.”
“You managed a twofer out of this deal?”
“You are evil,” Gideon said. “Do you know that? Pure evil.”
“Hey,” Gnash said, shrugging. “It’s a job.”
Published August 2009 at Alienskin.