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Cricket for Souls
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Cricket for Souls
A Short Story by Jason E. Castro
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Release: June 29, 2012
Editor: Joelle Walker
Line Editor: Penny Ehrenkranz
Cover Designer: Mike Zambrano
In the days following the Great Apocalypse, the world struggles to find normalcy while good and evil beings wage war for human spirits.
Grace Trebelhorn is a bartender at the Last Stop Inn, so named because it’s the last place along Route 440 to get a beer before reaching a dry township. But now, the name takes on a more profound meaning. On one dangerously rainy evening, Grace finally arrives at the empty bar to relieve her friend Randy. Soon thereafter, she becomes a simple spoil to be fought over by two adversarial beings bent on procuring her eternal soul. Her bar becomes their infernal battlefield—her darts—their weapons. For every barb thrown, every number circled, and every point assessed will potentially bring Grace that much closer to Heaven or Hell...
When an angel and demon play Cricket for Souls.
By eight o’clock, Grace had passed out on the bar. After swabbing down the floors again, she’d switched the TV to I Love Lucy on Nick at Nite. It was the episode where Lucy wound up on a train wearing a loving cup on her head.
She never heard the wind chimes announce her visitor.
“Excuse me, miss…”
Grace’s eyelids opened about halfway.
Her eyes popped open. Seated in front of her was a pale, slender gentleman in a top hat and coattails. He wore a spandex tank top under the jacket, and his fingers were adorned with several silver rings. He spoke with a slight European accent.
“Are you all right?”
Grace shook her head, making sure she wasn’t dreaming him up.
“I’m sorry, sir…what, um…can I get you something?”
His dark eyes brightened a bit.
“Would you happen to have some Bloody Mary mix?”
Still half asleep, she struggled to compute the question. Bloody Mary mix? Who the fuck orders a Bloody Mary in this place?
The man smiled politely, and Grace knelt down to open the small refrigerator under the counter. Lo and behold, a plastic bottle with a red tomato mix liquid looked back at her.
“I think we’ve got it. Yeah, we do.”
“Oh goody,” the man replied. “I shall have that, then.”
Nodding, Grace prepared the drink. She wasn’t exactly sure what to make of this man—granted, he was a customer, and she hadn’t seen one in quite a while. However, something about him seemed a bit off.
“We don’t have any olives. I hope it’s not a big deal, sir.”
“My name is Leigh. Leigh John…”
Still facing the mirror behind the bar, Grace scoped him out. He seemed nice enough, but she still thought about getting Randy on the phone.
“Leigh. It’s nice to meet you.”
“And yours, miss?”
She spun around and faced him, holding the drink.
She placed the drink down on the bar. Leigh reached for it with five slender, bony fingers.
“Grace. That’s quite the lovely name, dear.” He sipped from the glass. “Not bad…I really don’t care much for olives anyhow. You make a fine drink.”
“Why, thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” His eyes perked up even more. “Why, we could use someone like you where I come from—”
“It’s four dollars.”
Leigh placed a five on the counter. Grace took it and brought him back the change, but he waved her off. Smiling, she placed the dollar in her tip can and returned to her Nick at Nite.
“By the by, does this establishment have a juke…box?”
His tone of voice was strange when describing the instrument he wanted. One could almost reckon that he had no clue what a jukebox actually was.
“It’s in the back.”
Leigh rose from his seat, allowing Grace to get a better look at him. In addition to his frail appearance, he toted a bizarre walking stick.
“If you don’t mind my asking, what’s on the head of your cane?”
Grinning, he lifted the head of the cane for her to examine. An elaborate seven-headed dragon figure glared back at her with several sets of crimson eyes.
“I call him Toibheum. Rather fitting, don’t you think?”
Unsure of how to respond, she nodded and smiled uneasily.
“Now, about that juke…box?”
After pointing it out to him, Grace flipped a switch underneath the bar to turn it on. With a rattle and a hum, the machine came to life.
“I’m not sure if it still works. We haven’t used it in a while.”
“I think it will.”
For the first time, Grace realized this man had come in wearing no protective gear.
“I’m waiting for a friend,” Leigh stated upon returning to his seat. “I’m sure he’ll appreciate the music.”
Meatloaf’s “Bat out of Hell” blared from the speakers.
“By the by, would you happen to have a set of house darts?”
She wanted to say no. Why should I trust this jackass with Randy’s darts?
“I think so. Let me check.”
Instead, she scoped around for a crappy, older set. Something she could use to get this creep off her back for the time being.
“Isn’t there a set over there, dear?”
Grace turned around. Leigh had spotted Randy’s brass darts peeking out from the case near her tip cup.
“Oh yeah, there’s a set.”
“Good. Let me try those, then.”
She handed them over begrudgingly. He moved to the dartboard near the other side of the bar.
“Would you like to shoot a match, dear?”
Most times, Grace would be up for a game. After all, she ran Last Stop’s 501 team for several seasons, culminating in a championship a month before the asteroid hit.
“Not now, but thanks.”
“Why not?” Leigh asked, pouting. “Unless you’re engaged in some dreadful activity right this second, I think we should have a go.”
“I’ll pass,” she replied. “I don’t play darts.”
Leigh narrowed his eyes.
“Come now. You strike me as a savvy girl.”
“No, really. I have no idea how to play.”
“And why don’t I believe you?”
As Grace opened her mouth to say something else, her baby blue eyes spotted the swinging front door.
About the Author:
Jason E. Castro is not here to start your revolution, sell your furniture or sing your Top 40 hit. He is a fiction writer from Staten Island, New York, and you can read his previously published work at literary e-zines such as Danse Macabre, Mediavirus Magazine, Greensilk Journal and Sparkbright Magazine. And feel free to check out his novel “Rowdies,” published by Outskirts Press and available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
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