by Grant Riley
A second later the lights came back on. Jack, Kyle, Burt, and Nigel had thrown themselves to the ground as soon as the lights went out, Burt ducking under a nearby table, not wanting to be caught in the sights of the shotgun. As the lights came on all eyes went to the fallen, bloody body of Larry “Bones” Dow. What they saw caught them off guard.
Bones stood exactly where he had been, all in one piece, looking just as puzzled as they did. The pool cues were still in his hands, but his gaze was no longer on Gus. Instead hie stared down at his chest where he expected to find a gaping hole of blood and guts, but found himself to be unharmed.
"At least you missed him, Gus." Burt said as he crawled out from under the table. "Last thing we need is another murd-" He cut himself off, his watering eyes glued to the bar behind him. Jack, Kyle, and Nigel all followed Burt's gaze. Kyle stumbled back a step with his hand held to his mouth. Jack and Nigel didn't move, but couldn't tear their gaze away from the sight before them.
The bartender's body had been thrown backwards into a display of liquor bottles which were now smashed to the ground. In his right hand he still held the smoking shotgun, but where his head had been was now nothing but a gory stump of blood and bones. The mirrored wall behind the bar had been painted with blood and brain matter.
"He shot himself?" Burt muttered. "Why would he shoot himself?"
"It had to have been an accident." Kyle swallowed the hot bile that had risen in his throat. He closed his eyes and turned away.
Jack shook his head. "I don't think it was an accident or a suicide."
"Are you suggesting murder?" Nigel asked. The way the man spoke sounded like someone out of those old English murder mystery movies that show late at night on TV. Very prim and proper and almost overacting.
"We already have one murder on our hands, possibly two, and I think we should treat this as one." He tried his best to keep his voice calm and collected. Tried to hide the fear and confusion he was feeling.
Burt made no attempt to hide his. "Which brings us right back to where we were before." He wiped sweat from his forehead with the palm of his hand and slicked his greasy hair back. "Got a real whodunit on our hands and loosing suspects. Well, I can tell you one thing for sure is it wasn't me."
Bones gave a snorting chuckle. "Yeah, you were too busy hiding under a table like a little sissy."
"If trying to stay alive makes me a sissy then I'll be a sissy. I've kind of gotten fond of living."
"It wasn't me neither," Bones said. "No way I coulda run over there, blowed the guy's brain out, and got back here in the time that the lights was out."
"I don't think any of us could've," Kyle said. He'd taken a seat to stop his spinning head and churning stomach. "The only one of us that was close enough to him that would even have a chance was Jack."
Jack's face flushed red under his beard. He thought Kyle was about the only one of the group that he really trusted and now that man was throwing him under the bus. Clearly the paranoia was leeching its way into these men's heads and scaring them. He was scared too, but he would not let paranoia get the best of him. He would stay sane and rational and level-headed.
"He was the one closest to the first gentleman over there too," Nigel said, pointing at Harold's lifeless body still slumped against the bar.
"That's true," Burt said. He took a step away from Jack and closer to Nigel. Sides were being chosen.
"If that's how you want to play it, Kyle was right there beside me." He pointed an angry finger at his old classmate. "He could have shot him just as easily as me."
"He was just as close," Burt said. "But look at the guy, he's a mess."
"What's to say that's not all an act?" Jack shouted. "I'm not accusing him or anyone else, I'm just stating the facts. Everyone is getting paranoid and it's getting the best of you." He looked each man in the eye. None of them could hold his gaze. "Still, the only way to get something done here is to get the police. Their station's not even a mile from here. I could walk there and get back with someone in less than ten minutes."
"There he goes again," Kyle said and shook his head. "So gung-ho and anxious to 'get the police'. You're really just trying to escape and get as much distance between you and the cops as possible."
Jack threw up his hands. "I am not trying to run away! I am trying to get help before anyone else has to die."
"Is that a threat?" Burt puffed out his scrawny chest. "Let you go or you'll kill more of us? Isn't that what you really mean?"
Jack tugged at his hair and growled deep in his throat. "You know what? Screw all of you! I'm done playing the blame game and getting nothing done." He turned and walked to the door, yanked his heavy coat from the coat rack, and zipped it all the way up to his chin. He looked like he was stepping out to explore Antarctica and not just to walk a few blocks in Illinois.
"Now, you just wait." Larry Dow took a step forward and grabbed Jack by the shoulder. Jack reacted on instinct and spun around and knocked Larry's hand away. He'd done it with such speed and ferocity that it caught the big man completely off guard. Bones lost his balance and stumbled back a few steps, right into Harold's still body. The stool tipped and both men, living and dead, fell to the floor with a sickening thud. Kyle, Burt, and Nigel's mouths dropped in morbid stupification.
Jack's jaw was shut tight as he stared down at Bones with a mixture of pride that he'd stood up to the man and fear of how that man would react. The black clad biker's face was a furious red as he struggled to get to his feet. "I'm gonna kill you," he snarled. Jack wasn't going to give him that chance. He turned and walked into the bitter cold.
Jack Miller had heard the term white out before, but had never truly experienced it. Down in Antarctica it would snow so furiously that visibility was cut down to almost nothing. Beyond a few feet the entire world was nothing but a swirly, pulsing blanket if white. Scientists stationed there would have to rely on ropes tied from one building to the next to find their way through the blizzards. Lose the rope and they would lose their life. Stepping out the door of The Dive, Jack now understood the truth behind the whiteouts. He had no rope to guide him, but he thought he would be able to trust his own sense of direction to find the local police station not even a mile west of the bar. This proved to be quite wrong. The wind attacked him, tossing him back and forth on his feet so that after only a few steps he wasn't even sure where the bar he'd just stepped out of was. The snow slashed at his face like pins and needles as it danced and pulsated around him. It was as if the air around him were a living, breathing thing bent on destroying him. And even the sound of the storm harassed him. The wind roared in his ears like a banshee making it even harder to concentrate on where he was going or what was around him.
He took two more steps in what he'd hoped to have been west when a particularly strong gust slammed him in the back and sent him sprawling to his hands and knees. He was pushing himself back up when he sensed a sort of change around him. There was a sense that someone or something was nearby and he thought he heard a new sound mixing with the winds. Behind the roaring and howling he detected a new sound, something low and guttural. He fought to his feet and stood listening to the growling as it grew louder, closer. As he stood there forms began to take shape out of the snow. They were dark, moving shapes; three of them that stood about as tall as Jack's waist, one directly in front of him and two others advancing from either side, blocking off any chance of advancement. He tried to take a step back, but was frozen with fear at the things he'd guessed to be dogs. The one in front of him broke through the snowblind and gave Jack a clear view of it and he double guessed his thought of dogs. This thing looked more like a wolf than a dog, but that was impossible. Wolves didn't live in this part of the state and, even if they did, they wouldn't be out in the middle of town in this blizzard. He couldn't think of any other sort of dog it could be, though, with its dark gray fur with a slightly lighter underside, lips curled back over fangs dripping with saliva, and yellow eyes staring straight into Jack's own eyes. Jack stared back into the beast's eyes and felt like the animal was talking to him. It was daring him to move forward into its waiting jaws. The other two animals came forward and flanked the first wolf; each of these was identical to the first. All of their eyes were locked on Jack, but none of them made a move to attack him.
Jack forced a step back, never taking his eyes off of theirs. The wolves took a step forward, but still kept their distance. As fierce as the beasts looked and sounded Jack had a strange feeling that they wouldn't attack him. Like they were more prison guard than predator. It may have been a ridiculous hunch, but it gave him just enough confidence to bring the feeling back to his body and take another step back. The wolves took another step forward and halted, still growling and baring their fangs. Jack slowly moved backwards, never taking his eyes off of the advancing wolves until his back his something solid. Using his hands he felt around behind him and could tell he was backed into a brick wall. Extending his arms out to either side he felt a door with his right hand and shuffled his was sideways until he was directly in front of it. As soon as he took his position in front of the door the wolves stopped their growling and closed their lips over their fangs. They regarded Jack for another moment and then slowly backed away back into the tumultuous blizzard.
Jack’s mind raced trying to make sense of what had just happened. Where did the wolves come from? Why didn’t they attack? Why did they just leave? It was too much for Jack to handle right now so he brushed it aside. He turned to the door he stood against and saw the name of the building it belonged to. The Dive. They corralled me, he thought with a sinking feeling in his gut. I tried to get away and they pushed me right back into the nightmare going on inside this bar.
Confused and scared, Jack pushed the door open and stepped back into The Dive.