By the time it gets this late, the only people left at the bar are typically the losers, the drunks, and the ones who don’t have anyone to go home to. That, of course, does include me, but I pretend I’m above that. It’s all a girl can do to stay afloat in this town. I take another sip from the nightly special I’ve been nursing- probably my third or fourth by now- to take my mind off this downright depressing train of thought, when the door swings wide open and in steps, of all people, a cop. Which, first of all, woah. You know how it is with men in uniform. The stache, the jacket, the shades… I mean, is there something I can help you with, officer? He waltzes over to the bar, sits a few stools away from me, and orders… a glass of water? Weird. I’ve gotta know more.
A plan begins to form. I saunter over to the jukebox and slide in a couple of coins, queueing up a series of rather romantic songs, to say the least. While there, I discreetly smooth out the many wrinkles of my lucky yellow dress. Lucky indeed, I think to myself. When I return to my seat, I actually choose the next one over, to close the gap between Officer Handsome over here. It seems like, finally, I have his attention.
“So, officer, did ya come here after your beat?”
“My… beat? Oh, yes. I am done with patrol for the night, if that is what you are asking.”
“Gotcha. Are you gonna get something to drink? Figure you might wanna take the edge off- I’ll buy one for both of us.”
“Oh, no thank you. Though I appreciate the gesture, I do not drink.”
Then why the hell did you come to a bar, I think to myself. Either way, this banter goes on back and forth for quite a while, and at a certain point it feels like I’m talking to a brick wall. A brick wall with a chiseled jaw and warm brown eyes, that is. The songs I put on the box cycle on and on without him seemingly catching the hint. Frankie Valli, Etta James, Willie Hutch… all down the drain. You’d think he’s never listened to music in his life! I’m at the end of my rope here, and Johnny Law is none the wiser.
Finally, here comes the closer. This move has never not worked. My secret weapon comes on the jukebox- Jay & the Americans. As the chorus starts, I sidle next to him and start making doe eyes.
Come a little bit closer, you’re my kind of man,
I quietly sing along to the tune. To him.
So big and so strong, come a little bit closer,
I’m all alone, and the night is so long.
Wrapping my arm around his bicep, I lean in close to whisper in his ear.
“I’m gonna head outside for a smoke break, if you catch my drift.”
He responds, speaking at full volume.
“I think I understand, miss. I will follow you out.”
Another strange response, but my plan worked, so I don’t particularly care. I make my way to the back door as the song finishes playing, glancing over my shoulder to see Johnny Law staring at me from back at the bar. A chill runs up my spine, but I just shook it off.
Exiting the bar, I pull a cigarette out of my clutch- because I did fully intend on having one, all flowery language and metaphor aside- and fish out my lighter as well. The warmth of the flame and ash provides a strong contrast to the chill of the night air. For a moment, I am lost in my own world, trapped in a place of deep thought like earlier. And just like earlier, I am shaken by the arrival of the handsome cop.
I heard the door shut behind me, but I didn’t turn around quite yet. Had to keep up an air of mystery, after all. I soon felt him wrap his arm around my midsection.
“Mhmmm… awfully forward, aren’t you?”
And then… his arm wrapped around me. Again. And again. It wrapped around me four whole times until I realized something was wrong. I felt something poke me, and not in the fun way- something very sharp.
“Hey, wait, what the hell-”
I must’ve clocked in sometime around ten. It was just another one of those days- the kind where you wake up after noon with little recollection of how you got home, what you did last night, and why there appears to be a stranger sleeping on your couch. Pushing the thought out of my mind and shifting into “work mode”, I pull in and park in my spot. As I get out of my car, I notice a cop car parked outside, which was definitely a little worrying. Still, I soldiered on.
Once inside, I sidled behind the bar and bent down to fetch my cleaning supplies. When I surfaced again, I was startled by the sudden appearance of a woman across the bar. I recognized her face as that of a regular, and also that dingy yellow dress she always seemed to wear, but there was still something off about her. Her posture was far more straight and graceful than before, her eyes were wide open as opposed to their typical depressed droop, and, perhaps strangest of all, she wore a bulky jacket wrapped around her waist and a pair of aviators on her face. In all the time I have been working here I have never known her to come in wearing any clothing or accessories other than a dress; rain, sleet, or shine. Worse yet, they seem oddly familiar, like I’d seen them before.
“H-hello.” I said, attempting to hide my shock.
“Hello there.” she responded, with a grin that was less like a smile and more like an animal bearing its teeth.
“Would you like something to drink, ma’am? I’m not much of a bartender, but I’m sure the guy who’s supposed to be working now is around here somewhere.”
“Yes, I think I would appreciate that.”
Again, another odd response. I don’t typically work the bar, but I hear from the guys that do that she is never this respectful even when she’s sober- which, by all accounts, she should be anything but by this hour. Still, it’s nothing worth denying her service over, so I make good on my promise and head to the back rooms to see what’s up.
Looking at the shift schedule, it oughta be Ben tending the bar. Peeking around the break room and the kitchen, I find him eventually- lying face down on a couch, sleeping under a heavy blanket. Something inside me nags at me to wake him up, since he’s literally sleeping on the job, but I decide to let him get a little more rest. He wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t need it, right?
I return to the main area and notice that the woman in the yellow dress has moved away from the bar and instead sits a table, but she’s still staring at me uncomfortably. I brush it off and begin my rounds anyway- wiping down unoccupied tables, readjusting chairs, cleaning spills, and last but not least taking out the trash. Hauling the bags through the back door, I am immediately met with a positively disgusting smell, and I mean worse than how trash normally smells. Like… something died out here. Lucky for me, it’s not my job to clean outside the bar, so I’ll just notify the owner and somebody else will take care of it.
I toss the bags into the dumpster, like I always do, and they make a strange metallic clank that catches my attention. Peering into the dumpster, I can barely make out a few objects at the bottom: a pair of boots, a belt, and… is that a police badge? That’s genuinely unsettling. Before my mind can make any sort of conclusions or inferences, I force myself back inside so I can stop thinking about this and get on with my shift.
When I open the door again, I’m greeted yet again by the woman in the yellow dress, standing as still as a statue and bearing the same predatory smile. This time, she scares me so bad that I shout and fall back onto my ass.
“I am sorry, young man. I did not mean to startle you like that.”
“No, it’s… it’s okay, ma’am.” I manage to eek out a response before basically running by her to get to the back room again. I need a moment after that. While I’m collecting myself, I finally realize where I had seen her shades and jacket before: those accessories are part of the standard Highway Patrol uniform. The cop car outside, the stuff in the dumpster, her wearing a cop’s accoutrements… I need to wake up Ben. He’ll know what to do.
I escape to the back room and find him, unsurprisingly, still asleep on the couch. Figures, the one time I need him he’d be… Whatever.
“Ben.” I gently try to rouse him by pushing him. No response.
“Ben. Wake up, you’re still on shift.” Again, nothing.
“Ben!” I totally lose my patience and rip the blanket off of him. The sight I’m met with is nothing short of horrifying. Ben is only half the man he used to be- and by that I mean his upper and lower halves are completely bisected, sloppily cut in half at his waist. Blood has soaked through the couch and the inside of the blanket. I am nothing short of appalled. I instinctively reach to cover my mouth as if to silence a scream or stop myself from vomiting. I ran over to the phone to try and dial the police, but it was then I heard the door shut behind me.
“I did not have the time to recreate him before you arrived.”
I whipped around to see the woman in the yellow dress again, with her smile even wider and more threatening than before. She let the coat wrapped around her waist drop, and I instantly saw the reason why she had it there to begin with- just like Ben, she too had been cleaved in half. A ring of blood and gore circled her waist, and several flesh-colored tentacles oozed in and out of the wound, as if they were trying to stitch it back together.
“But I suppose I will have to multitask and work on both of you at once.”
With this, her upper body grew taller- or rather, the space between them grew larger as the tentacles stretched- and one long, sharp tongue wormed its way out of her mouth and toward me. I tried to run, but the barbed tongue lashed at me and struck my lower leg, causing me to fall forward. I felt it wrap around my ankle and pull me toward her. As I turned in horror, facing certain death, she spoke one last time with a wretched glee.
“Come a little bit closer…”