Thunk, the knife went into the table. A slight creak and it was in his hand again before. Thunk. He just barely noticed the server speaking with the bouncer. When the bouncer came over he looked up. The bouncer was tall, black, broad. He wore a white shirt with a silver chain, and his hair was cut close to his head.
‘Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You’re making my girls nervous.’ The bouncer sounded unafraid, but it wasn’t about being cruel.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I won’t hurt anyone.’
‘Yeah, that’s not the reassuring kind of thing to say. And who’s planning to pay for the table you’re carving up?’
He looked down at the dozen or so pock marks his knife had made. ‘Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I…’ the man paused to dig in his leather jacket pocket. He pulled out a matching wallet and offered a few bills to the bouncer. ‘Keep an eye on me. I’m not dangerous.’
The bouncer’s arms were crossed. He was thinking, and then he whistled. ‘Sherry!’
A woman walked over. Her bust was spilling out of her top, her bottoms barely enough to cover her ass. ‘Yeah, sweety?’ she asked.
‘Jack and coke,’ said the bouncer. ‘What are you having?’
‘Oh. Uh, I don’t drink. I mean, I do… Bloody Maria.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ asked Sherry.
‘You know, Bloody Mary but with tequila?’
Sherry shrugged and waltzed away. The bouncer sat down at the table. ‘So, man. You’re havin’ a bad day. I don’t like making people’s days worse.’
‘Yeah well. Common decency. I’m Mike. You?’
‘Was a private, but I walked in knowing more than half the others.’
‘You served?’ asked Mike.
‘I wouldn’t say that. Not really. No. I just ended up somewhere no one wants to be for a bit, but I didn’t stay. I left.’
‘No. Yeah—I mean I wasn’t told to leave. But there was something better.’
Sherry came back with a tray and set down the drinks. Both men took sips. Mike took the time to thank Sherry.
‘Alright,’ said Mike, leaning back in his chair. He was staring at the knife that kept going into the table then being pried out. ‘Let’s do two things. First, do me a favor and hand me the knife.’
Looking at it in his hands, it seemed like it couldn’t be put down or separated. It was a part of him after all. Wasn’t it? Or was that something else… or somewhere else? He let his hand fall flat on the table with the knife in it. When he lifted up his hand, the knife didn’t come with it. It wasn’t a part of him, he supposed. Mike took the knife and stowed it under his chair.
‘Good. Now, what’s your story, man? Why you in my bar stabbing my table?” Despite the anger in Mike’s voice, it didn’t seem like a rhetorical question.
‘Yeah, so’s everything. You ever talked to people before?’
‘It’s been a while,’ he answered honestly. He drank half the bloody maria. ‘I was on tour. You know, like a cruise. But we had guns and it was a desert. I was big into the army. As a kid. Green men in a box and stuff. I studied tracking and hunting and sorts of junk for years until I got the balls to enlist. Are you a veteran?’
‘Nah. Never seemed like my life was too valuable to the people I’d be signing up with.’
He nodded. ‘That’s true. Well, you know. It was a desert. The country changed a couple times, but it was always hot, and most people wanted us dead or thought we were heroes. We wanted some of them dead. We weren’t heroes, though. Not me at least, or my buddies. I saw some, though. Heroes, I mean. Well, I was on patrol. I want to take a leak behind a bunch of boulders. We got jumped. The rest of my squad died pretty quick, but no one saw me. I hadn’t actually been in a fire fight before. I didn’t realize how fucking terrifying it would be. And then I was alone. Our vehicle was stolen, our supplies taken. I was pretty much stranded.’
‘Okay, I’ll bite,’ said Mike. ‘Somehow you survived. Some miracle or another. The enemy take you in?’
He shook his head. ‘I never saw them again.’ He took his time to continue, first finishing off his drink. He licked his lips to clean the tomato stains. He munched down the stick of celery and licked the layer of salt and pepper around the rim of the glass. After chewing on a few ice cubes to cleanse his palate, he began to talk again. ‘I used the sun to head back south, where we’d come. Trouble is, directions don’t mean much of anything without landmarks. South is south, but you rarely go exactly south one way and exactly north the other. Just doesn’t work that way. The first night, I managed. At first the cold was welcome, but I was shivering. It turns into winter in the desert. Nothing holds the heat. I didn’t do so well the next day. Out of water. My head was splitting from dehydration and hammering sun. I swear, I knew I was gonna die. I found a rock to sit against and threw my shirt over myself for shade. It was the only shade I could find.’
Mike wasn’t saying anything. He was slowly sipping away at his Jack and Coke. He was leaning forward in interest.
‘The third day, well, I didn’t make it to a third day, really. I walked through the night, trying to use the moon, you know. I climbed this dune – they’re like a sea of mountains, the dunes – and I saw this outcropping. No mirage or nothing. Just a bunch of rocks in a sea of sand. It was the only landmark out there, so I started heading towards it. It’d disappear as I went down a dune, then come back up. I was so out of it, it really felt like I was bobbing up and down in an ocean. You know most deserts used to be oceans? Or at least lakes or seas or shit.’
‘No, I didn’t.’
‘A long time ago. When the world was supposed to be hot. Lot more water. I managed up one last dune and that bunch of rocks didn’t closer, man. And I don’t remember knocking out. I just slipped and then woke up somewhere else. And my headache and sunburn and pain was gone.’
‘Must have been a relief,’ said Mike.
He looked wide eyed. ‘You kidding me? It was fucking terrifying! Like I literally lost time.’ He shook his head. Sherry had come back over. ‘Another please,’ he said, handing her his empty glass. He gave her a few bucks. As a tip. It was the sort of place you tip often.
‘So? Who got you? Where were you?’
‘I don’t know, man. But what I remember… I woke up, you know that slow way where you’re body’s gotta work for it. And when I did, I was inside, but it was open. I could feel a soft breeze. And it wasn’t dry; there was water nearby. I could feel it. Plus, the sounds. Outside, I could hear birds. There aren’t a lot of birds singing in the desert. Mostly they just wait for the dead to pick on. So I look around and… I’m in a bed made of stone. Whatever the mattress was, I don’t know, but it wasn’t springs. And the blankets were all silk and shit. And I was naked. I jumped out of bed, looking around for my stuff, but that was gone too. Which I guess wasn’t bad. I don’t know. But when I looked outside, I saw the desert, and I didn’t understand. There isn’t a breeze in the desert. There isn’t water in the desert. That’s why it’s a fucking desert, man. So I go through the door – the only door in the room. And outside, I swore I’d died. There was this… garden. And it was full of so much life. Flowers and vines and trees and fruit and bees and birds and… just, you know, a really pretty garden. And there was this pool in the center that I ran for. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was. And that pool… I dunked my head in it and drank for minutes before I realized, it didn’t have a bottom. It was this… perfect blue. Like it was made of sapphires and every other blue gem in the world. But it didn’t have a bottom. And the taste… it was the purest water in the world, but sweet. Not like sugar. It was like… you ever eaten a flower?’
‘Well, they’re sweet but different sweet. This was like that. And then there were this hands on me, pulling me back. And saying things in some language I didn’t know.’
‘So the locals found you?’ asked Mike.
He took a sip of the drink Sherry had just put down. ‘When the hands let me go, the came to face me, and I realized I was surrounded. That garden wasn’t just plants and animals and things… it was full of people, but… they were part of the garden. Like, the blended in. Their skin was all different colors. Mottled colors. Purple and green and brown and red. And all different shades of colors too. And they had wings. Like iridescent wings. I thought they were angels, but they weren’t angel wings.’
‘How do you know what angel wings look like?’ asked Mike
Of all questions, that wasn’t the one he expected. ‘I don’t I guess. But I’d think they’d be feathered. These wings were like a dragon flies, but big. Person sized, almost. But the women – they were all women – were a little smaller than people. And their hair was all crazy. Like vines instead of hair. They kept talking in that weird language. I was distracted by…’ he blushed. ‘They always wear leaves and stuff in stories. They were all naked, and – look they had perfect little tits and they didn’t have bushes or anything and it was all weird but I thought I was dreaming or something and it was kinda hot.’ He stopped and looked at his hands, rather than meet Mike’s eyes whatever they might be saying.
Mike took a long sip to finish his Jack and Coke. He signaled to Sherry for another. He couldn’t have given less of a fuck that this guy was turned on by whatever he was talking about. He worked in a place that wasn’t even a strip club. It was a low key ‘escort’ bar for fuck’s sake. But he was pretty sure this did was insane. Sure, part of the story was probably real. Probably served. Maybe even got lost in the desert. ‘Don’t worry about it. What happened next?’ he asked.
‘Well, I said I didn’t understand when they kept yelling at me. Then this other one, she was green and a little bigger than the others. I think I counted… six or seven of them? She shouted at the others louder than they were shouting at each other and me. They shut up. She was stern, even with her soft features and pretty eyes… she was stern. She spoke with an accent. Not like one I’d ever heard, but she wasn’t a native talker. “Do you know into where you just dipped your head?”
‘I said, “No. I don’t know where I am. I’m just so thirsty. Or… I was. I feel better now. I’m sorry.”
‘Well, she looked at the others even sterner than she looked at me and said something. “I understand, but do not do that again. That is the eternal pool. Our kind protect it. It’s the essence of water. It shouldn’t be taken from lightly. You will not be thirsty again for all your days now.”
‘The others were leaving then, walking through doorways, or else calming themselves in the garden or something. “Where am I?” I asked of the one I was talking to.
‘”You’re in Water’s Garden. The only true oasis in this desert.”
‘”And what are you?”
‘”We are the water’s guardians.”
‘”But—I don’t want to be rude. I’m honestly scared, and I don’t know what’s going on. But, you’re not human.”
‘”No, we’re older than that. We’re fairies. There are many, though we are few. The desert is not hospitable to many.”
‘Now, I didn’t really see any reason to question that. I mean would you?’
‘I suppose not, in that position,” answered Mike.
‘It was then she started staring at my dick. “We’ve done our best to take care of you since you were found on the dunes. You aren’t the first visitor, and we do what we can. I see there is something else we could do.”
‘”Uh. I mean—“
‘”Here, touch me,” she says, and she grabs my hand with the gentlest hands I’ve ever felt towards her tit, she sighs and smiles. “We are visited rarely, and provided respect is paid, we enjoy the pleasures of flesh.”
‘Man, I don’t need every detail of, uh, what happened with you and a fairy,” said Mike, he was leaning back in his chair almost to the point of it tipping.
‘Right, right, sorry. Well, anyway, it was weird. With people, like, we do stuff and unless it’s a big fuck up the other just goes with it. Fairies, and I had all of them, man. They’re particular. It’s like a coloring book. They know what should happen where and when, and you do anything else, they’ll tell you you’re doing wrong. But when they reciprocate… I’ve never—“
‘Come on, man!’ said Mike.
‘Sorry. Well, I stayed there a while. It was timeless, and they were kind. I ate fresh fruit and made love with fairies, and I swear birds would land on my hand when I stretched it out and sing to me. Like Disney or something.’
‘If Disney had fairy fucking,’ laughed Mike.
‘Yeah, man. They were fascinated with my knife. They didn’t keep any of my other things. Said they stunk of the human world too much or something, but they kept my knife and said it was special. It was my old hunting knife. The army lets you do whatever when it comes to knives, so long as it won’t kill you or your squad. And one night, they said they’d do something it I didn’t understand, but I agreed. I mean, if fairies want to make your knife magic, you say yes,’ he said this as if it were a situation everyone has pondered. ‘So they did, and the next day, they gave it to me in a new sheath made of vines and leaves and things.’ He fiddled with his pockets and pulled out something woven in the vague shape of a knife. ‘See? It’s the only thing that seems real. They said the knife will keep the sheath alive.’
‘Damn, that’s cool,” said Mike. He wasn’t sure what else to say, but he did mean it.
‘And then, they sent me out in the desert. They told me which way to go, and in a day I was there. I reported to my superiors and all. I was sent to psych. I wasn’t cleared for duty, and I was discharged. And I just got my flight back. They wouldn’t let me go out to find that outcropping. Where the fairies live, and when I landed, I came to the first place I could find, and I’ve just been thinking.’
‘Thinking about what?’ asked Mike.
‘I know I’m not crazy, ‘cause I’ve thought maybe I’m crazy too many times to be. But I don’t know what I saw. And now I want to find out, but I don’t think I can.’
‘Why not? You find fairies once, you’re bound to find them again.’ Mike had no idea why he was encouraging the man.
‘That’s just it… I don’t think they let you find them. I don’t know if they were really on those rocks. I think that’s just where it looked like. I don’t think you can find them. I think they find you.’
‘So what are you thinking about?’
‘They saved me. I was gonna die out in that desert. And maybe if I did. Maybe I did die, and I saw heaven for a bit. But maybe if I do it again, maybe if I’m close to death again. I have to know I have to… understand.’ His eyes looked dead into Mikes with a hunger.
‘I don’t think they saved your life so you could end it.’
He made that quick kind of nod that people make when they don’t agree, but they don’t feel like saying it. ‘Thank you for listening, Mike.’
‘I’d like my knife back now, please.’
‘You won’t do anything stupid now?’
He shook his head. ‘No.’
Mike reached under his chair and handed the knife back to him. It was a nice knife. Carbon steel. You could see the forging, and you could feel the weight in your hands. He accidently touched his hand with the blade and didn’t even notice any pain when the blood drops welled. ‘Shit.’
‘Be careful,’ he said, putting it in its sheath. He gripped the knife in its sheath tightly, and then took a deep breath and smiled for the first time that night. Mike couldn’t act fast enough. The blade had streaked across his neck too quickly. He was still smiling as his blood sprayed Mike’s face. He was smiling as it pulled on the floor and he twitched. He was smiling without trying to stop the blood from flowing. And he was smiling when he lay still and the bar was screaming.
Late that night, when things were calming down, and the body had been taken out of the bar, Mike was stuck wondering what the man had been smiling about at the end. He wondered what he saw that made him so happy.