Hey everyone, I’m taking a nightly break from anime to give you a short story I’ve been working on for a while. Don’t worry, despite the image, there are no ponies in the story. I just like the picture. 😀

Bricks by Xewleer

To me, Saint Louis looks like the arteries and heart of a body. The highways, railroads and the rivers that surround it carry the trade blood of the nation. The great city is one of the oldest cities in the United States, especially west of the great Mississippi. Saint Louis dodders like an old man. The old man cares only for his garden, long ignoring the world around him for the pleasures of his own work. Occasionally, he may yell at his neighbors, but his wrath has found no new target in a good century. His grandkids made a good baseball team, though.

The blood of this old man is the color of the bricks that build any part of the city that matters, a deep maroon red. It is impossible to go to the city without seeing some sort of brickwork. Indeed, foreign architecture students often come to examine the brick work from house to cathedral. The Gateway Arch, like a garden centerpiece, stands proud, the last true gasp of pure ambition. I live in one of the thousand brick-made brick-like houses, usually two storied, with a front porch of some type. They stand like the unappetizing loaves of bread they appear to be.

I am one of the few people who continue to rely on landlines. I will not be reached at any time others deign to notice me; the annoyance to others, alone positively reinforces me. The beast rang it’s great bells. I grunted as the words began, “Oberon Doyle! Glad to hear your voice.” William Ebersbach crowed joviality. He meant every word, “Hey man, I want to meet up with you for a bit, talk about things coming up, alright?” I grunted manspeak for ‘Affirmative.’ “Right-o. See you at the Budapest.” I planted the receiver on its station and set to prepare myself for the journey at my oldest mirror.

I wore only the cheapest clothes in my personal style. Loose off-brand jeans girded my loins and ten dollar sneakers shod my feet. I kept my black hair, a gift from my mother, as with my Shakespearean first name, long and straight. Blue-green eyes were clear and quite sharp. I threw on a whiting grey jacket, tattered and old, and went out, fastidiously locking the door behind me. I unlocked the door again, turned off my Swiss coffee maker and exited. I cursed myself for a fool, if I had left it on too long the delicate pieces would melt in the heat. The door barred, I stepped off my property and into the street.

Eyes unclouded, my street is old, cobblestone covers it in sections and old men and women putter in their garden demesnes. Each one is a cranky king and a despotic ruler, so that my crabgrass is the object of many an injunction.

I do not spend much time socializing. I was never taught how to deal with idiots. I still go to college, and go to work, but everyone in either setting learned long ago that I am anti-social. Even the old men only refer to me as “Hey You.” I reinforce my non-personality with them with an easy tactic, deafness.

“HEY YOU!” Another crotchety old man stared at me. His claw grasped a white-washed fence post as pure as snow. “You punk! Grass is a little long,” He said. His eye did not have his accustomed disgust or hatred. I stared blankly. He stared back, and I looked away. I started my impromptu Thursday evening constitutional. His great, fat pug stared me down wall-eyed and clueless.

“Boy, I think I have you figured out,” He cackled to his himself as to me. “You don’t give a damn do you?”

I kept walking. I heard the skrit of his claws scratch idly at his border marker. His dog huffed. The obese bulk planted itself sideways in a disturbing prophecy of its death.

“Hmph. Maybe someday someone will knock you on your skinny behind and you’ll learn something.” I immediately forgot he said anything and walked down the street. Trees are everywhere in Saint Louis. An actual forestry service inhabits Saint Louis. Trees are so plentiful that only super-environmentally aware cities have the potential to rival the old man. Some of the trees that line the sidewalks are fifty to one hundred years old, gnarly as my neighbor’s knees and as green and white as nymphs and with the personality of ents.

The dark came in early. It was past the Autumnal Equinox by a week or so. Every day the night encroached a second sooner. I loved it. In this part, most of the meth labs and crack houses had been cleared out, rendering a certain amount of safety to those who lived among the red tombstones. Ancient African American matriarchs, fat and ponderous, sat out in the twilight watching in vague contentment at their grandchildren. They cried holla at me and I waved. I could not bring myself to hate them.

The cracked, ancient, Ent-lined sidewalks lead me to my haunt. The Budapest Cafe nestled itself in one of the dankest, eldest parts of the city. The brick became even darker. The uncared for houses adopted black moss and crumbled silently. Whispers may be heard when the wind is high. Bums slept in the trash cans so that the monsters, let loose by their alcohol and drugs, could not gobble them up. Perhaps they were real. Lovecraft did not dream of the horrors that afflicted them. I lifted my collar as the first drips of an autumn wind storm splashed on me.

The Budapest Cafe recreated Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, only, replacing the great windows with the ancient black brick. The manager, whom I called Libidochev, had come over during the height of the Cold War. Libidochev had desired to copy the famous 1942 painting, but the walls were load bearing. I found the door as usual, a disgusting green. The brass knocker hung limply. I did not touch it, as it would certainly dirty my hand, and besides, it was unnecessary, business hours reigned. The rain began falling heavily. It would be a brief storm.

I closed the door on the rain. The inside was warm, a bit too warm for me. Three inhabited the main room. The first was the fat and bald Libidochev, snoozing and no doubtedly dreaming of women. His pot belly showed under his dirty shirt. He knew good coffee though, and despite the appearances, I’d kill for a pure espresso with the cream he hand-makes.

The barista behind the counter made up the other half of the staff. She had been a Starbucks wage-slave for years, but got her own back by stealing parts from every one of Starbuck’s coffee machines, piece by piece. Eventually, she had as good a set as any major franchise. She did not greet me, or anyone, instead with bored flicker of eyes, she returned to the book she was reading. She was thin as a whip, with hair she tied into buns and braids both, hiding the absolutely absurd length.

The last was the writer. He was always there. He never left before I did and he never came in after me. He staccatoed his way through the days, typing something on an antique typewriter. I have never seen what he wrote. He wore more-or-less the same clothes, except that his shirt changed color regularly. He had some sort of agreement with Libidochev. Like Michaelangelo of old, Libidochev was his patron, and he spent his days writing what I could only assume is the Sistine chapel of erotic novels.

Despite the characters that inhabited this hovel of underground coffee houses, I liked it. The Budapest cafe was close, dark and smokey. There was enough light to see and read by, even, but not much else. Booths in the walls, usually inhabited by couples disgustingly showing physical affection by the touching of lips, were covered in red and brown faux-leather. Images depicting artistic renditions of the antique city of Budapest. Interspersed among the walking lanes were free-standing tables of some sort of hard wood. I sat in one of them. The chairs were comforting, despite their age, but never soft.

There is a poorly-lit stage in the back, and every Thursday is poetry night. Bohemians in black turtlenecks and every color of beret float out of the dank woodworks they called home. I suppose they were the last of their kind in Saint Louis, at least those who truly understood what it meant to be Bohemian. The poetry was dark, despairing and I liked it. The cynic in me fed on their quiet disgust of the world around them.

An espresso found its way to my table with a shot of creme expertly spreading from the perfect center. It was hard to hate the world when you smell the good brew.

The door opened once more and William Ebersbach walked in. He was everything I hated and wanted to be at the same time. He had muscles and wore them properly. He had a button down flannel shirt of an obnoxiously attractive color. His jeans fit him and mocked my own looser, cheaper jeans. I spent too much money on coffee for the tight designer junk. His blue eyes twinkled at me and his blond hair shone far too friendly. He was some freakish throw back to the ideals of Aryanism and was entirely unaware of it.

“Hello,” He said, with a single wave of his hand. I fastidiously failed at ignoring him while drinking my espresso. He sat across from me and waved at the anorexic barista. Libidochev, stirred by sudden movement and testosterone poisoning, grumbled, nodded and then fell asleep again. My gut clenched and roiled in itself, ruining whatever good feelings I had begun to gather together.

“Well, at least you look healthy,” I said, trying to hint that I didn’t really want to talk. He ignored it, or was too stupid.

“Been running earlier,” He distractedly scratched at an itch. “Great stuff. New sidewalk down on Utah. Great running stuff.” He looked around, wondering what to say, “I keep saying that you should exercise, tone up that scrawny body man. Chicks dig a guy with muscles.” I growled at him. He laughed.

“So Alberta was asking about you.” HER “She’s planning a halloween party. A little thing, some friends, and you never go to her parties.” Reasons exist. He waited for me to say yay or nay, I sipped my espresso. He looked at me like a dog who ate something it didn’t recognize, then continued. “Of course this is a costume party. I always thought you could do a neat Sherlock Holmes or maybe an H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Rice Burroughs.” As if. “Not that I’m saying you should do those ones. I haven’t decided yet. Monster clown…” He rambled on. It’s how our conversations went. He tried to get me to talk, and I refused.

“So what do you think?”

Crap, he wanted my input. “About what?”

“The party!” He let a hint of exasperation out. This was new.

“I don’t think I’ll go. Your girlfriend doesn’t like me too much.” She was a bright ray of anachronistic 1950’s sunshine that defied modern gender roles while gleefully baking them into pies. Delicious pies with apple fillings. In my minds eye I saw them married in the most traditional service that ever choked a Baptist. They would have a honeymoon in some place nice, but not too romantic. They would proceed to have a massive brood of child-brats. They would swing on her apron strings demanding fresh baked treats and attention while William would acquire a pipe and give advice on life as well as fair patriarchal guidance. Father knew best. They would then eat a gigantic spread of good food, made from scratch as anything less would shame Alberta and her family for at least seven generations forward and backward. She also acquired a degree in Architectural engineering that drove me up a wall every time I thought about it.

“Aw, man,” He said, his blue eyes sad. “It ain’t like that. You and her just have problems seeing eye to eye.” I lifted an eyebrow. “That wasn’t a short joke and you know it.” His tone lost more of the jovial attitude. “Look, you’re my best friend. She’s the love of my life. I want you two to be able to at least stand in the same room together. At least come to the Halloween party and try to make amends. She’s told me that she won’t bite, as long as you won’t. You should at least try.”

“Naw.” The writer banged something and the ‘ching’ startled me.

William didn’t notice; his eye ticked. I needled in with a well-timed slurp. Something was goading him deeper than my attitude. Maybe he hadn’t been doing well with the lady friend. Maybe he had a tough day doing whatever the hell he did. “I feel,” His hands made uncharacteristic shaking movements. “Strongly, that you should try. Whatever you had with her, I understand that it was bad. But it’s been years since you’ve seen her. She wants to make amends and I want this issue out of my life.”

“Like hell.”

Whatever held him back snapped. He yelled something German. He tossed the table aside and stood up. He grabbed me by the lapels and lifted me from my chair to his height. I felt my head slam against the ancient brick as his right hook bruised my jaw. “GET OFF YOUR HIGH-HORSE AND GIVE ME SOMETHING!” Through the stars I beheld something terrible.

I always figured that he was a nice guy. Maybe a little boisterous with a side of sexual frustration, but always harmless. Underneath THAT is the terrible anger. I believe that it is ancient, the type that was inherited from father to son for generations. It was the thing that drove weak men to beat their wives and strong men become masters of the world and science and themselves. I wondered, in that moment he and I stared eye to eye, how many times we had talked and my snark had caused him a second’s pause to stop, gather himself and go on like nothing had happened. How many times his innerself demanded my blood to assuage his ruffled feelings.

He dropped me. His eyes became bloodshot and he began to hunch. With a sob of apology he ran out the door into the driving rain. Libidochev had woken up startled and terrified. The barista shivered behind the counter; her bun visible over the counter. The writer had stopped, and was looking at me in a rather disappointed fashion.

Libidochev stumbled over to the black brick wall. He examined it, then the back of my head. He did not treat me gently and my hair absorbed the grease of his palm. His speech, peppered with the curses of his people, grated my ears. “No damage. Farok.” He sauntered back to his chair. “You not fear me, balfácán. And fine. Not much I can do in America. But I know you will be eaten, soul and spirit, by this, if not dealt with.” The barista brought out some hot milk in a glass for her employer. The writer resumed tapping and chiming, ignoring all around him and becoming part of the scenery.

I got up and got out. I staggered through the door jar, smashing myself against the brick skin and out into the lessening rain. I walked zombie-like, swinging too and fro trying to get my bearings. The eyes of the alley-hobos followed me, their nightmares forgotten in the presence of my own. I passed the ent-trees and the matriarchs. They judged me silently. I knew they would. A man walking in the rain without an umbrella screams necessary judgement. A lesser-ness. I thought to myself: Was I lesser than William, who fought his nature, than I who gave in? This was the pretty version. The old men and women, kings and queens and their demesnes all saw me from their porch thrones, surrounded by their animal bannermen. What did they think?

They saw me I’m sure. I’m not proud of it. Not proud of anything I did that night. I didn’t sleep. I went back the next day.

Past the disgusting green door knocker , there was only the barista, whose eyes did not even acknowledge my presence and the writer. I sat next to the stationary man with dancing fingers and waited. I fidgeted. His head bobbed ponderously with his movements,

“What? You want some wisdom from me?” CHING

“I don’t know.”

“You want me to solve your problems?”

“No…”

“What do you want?”

“I…”

“Were you ashamed, last night?”

I said nothing.

“Did you realize that what you did has only solution? That there are two consequences?” CHING

I said nothing.

“If you do as much as you are saying, then you shall lose your only true friend.”

“I don’t want that.” CHING

He regarded me, “Then you have one other choice. Talk to him and apologize. Say you will go to the halloween party. Go as something embarrassing. Humble yourself before him. He will forgive you, if you ask. He’s stupid like that.” Heplaced a cell-phone. It was a fancy touchscreen. William’s number was on the screen. All I had to do was press the button.

I paused. I knew that if I began this route, I would not stay the same. Things would change. And I realized something. I wanted to change. I didn’t want to be miserable. I called. I don’t feel comfortable with the conversation we had that day. It was personal. I cried a little. A lot. True feelings gushed and spilled from my lips like the creamiest, smoothest white chocolate coffee.

The writer nodded slowly as I spoke. He did not judge as I tearfully asked for his forgiveness. He may have smiled as I said I’d go to the halloween party. After I finished, he put the phone back in his pocket and continued his ponderous task. His typing was like a pianist performing. The fingers flew over every key and every ‘CHING’ was a musical climax.

Finally, I leaned back, chair resting on the wall-bricks and looked at the paper. The stacks and sheaths of papers he had been writing for years before I ever knew him. “Master Chief rolled in the golden hay, lightly stunned and charbroiled. It had been a long time since he had taken a rocket shot like that. A bright orange ball, glowing, smashed the other side of the barn. A woman in gold and red armor popped out like a transformer. ‘John… it’s been years.’ Her helmet popped open, revealing a gorgeous face with blond hair and full lips. She pushed Masterchief down and undid his helmet, locking lips with him, gently, but with passion. ‘Too long Samus, too long.”

I hope you all enjoyed it!

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