The Fable of Us(2)

By: Nicole Williams

I nodded my thanks but not my agreement. There’d be no breath-catching for me for seven long, gruesome days.

I knew the place just up the road he had in mind. Everyone who’d lived out here knew this place either by reputation or from personal experience. The Hide and Seek was an old hollowed-out train car that had been transformed into a bar of sorts. I didn’t know exactly how a bar was “of sorts,” but I thought it had something to do with the fact that while the place served shots like we were all waking up to the apocalypse, it didn’t follow with the bar trend of playing music or hanging neon lights in windows or offering a dance floor.

It was frequented by those who slithered in and out of society under the cover of night and those with more tar than blood pumping through their veins. You know, from their black hearts. At least that was the story I’d been told while growing up here.

The Hide and Seek wasn’t for my family and its “kind;” it was a haunt for the “other kind.” No Abbott had stepped foot inside it. Until tonight.

When the driver pulled into the rudimentary parking lot, equipped with enough potholes and mud bogs to keep out the expensive imports, I threw open the door before the taxi had come to a complete stop. I was out the door the moment the tires stopped moving.

The driver threw his arm across the back of the passenger seat and twisted around to ask me, “Do you want me to wait or leave, ma’am?”

“Wait please.” I was already moving toward the old train car, rusted out from age and humidity, tangled with vines and moss that had crept its way around it.

“The meter won’t stop running.” He pointed at the meter that was already approaching the triple-digit mark.

I nodded, continuing on my journey. “I know. I won’t be long. I just think I need a drink before I go any farther.”

A silver, untamed brow lifted. “Ma’am, from the look of you, you’re in need of a whole fifth of drinks.” The driver waved, shooing me on my way. “I’ll be waiting. Take your time.”

Firing off a wave at the driver as I powered toward the train car, I fought the urge to decipher “taking my time” as spending the next seven days here before staggering back to the cab and making the return trip to the airport.

It was my younger sister’s wedding; I had to be there for her. The sentiment might not have been returned, and a fraction of my motivation for showing up might have been derived from the fear of our mother sending a lynch gang for me if I failed to appear, but I was going nonetheless. I just needed a shot or two of the kind of courage that came in liquid form. With my family, no one had the right to judge me for turning to a bottle to face them.

After weaving through a brigade of beat-up trucks splattered in mud and hollowing out from rust, I made it to the train car. The entrance wasn’t visible from the parking lot, so it must have been hiding around the back. While most businesses would have placed a priority on putting the entrance in plain view of potential customers, The Hide and Seek seemed to want theirs to be difficult to find.

I hadn’t stepped foot in the place yet, and I already knew I liked it. Nonconformist. Waving its middle finger at the world. This relic of a train car had ten times the courage I did within these city limits.

When I stumbled around the back and almost crashed into a guy answering nature’s call up against the rusty metal wall, my impression fell a few notches. When it came to nonconformism, I drew a hard line at peeing in public, setting aside the fact that the entrance of The Hide and Seek wasn’t exactly the most public of places. Still . . . it was public enough to take your peeing elsewhere. Try behind that tree ten feet away elsewhere.

After I dodged the guy relieving himself, he offered a grunt that could have been an apology just as easily as it could have been a greeting. Grunts, in this part of the world, were a multi-functional form of communication.

Swinging open the screen door, I stepped inside The Hide and Seek, stitching on an expression that said I’d been here a hundred times and would come back another thousand. A quick look at the bar’s patrons glancing at me told me my ruse wasn’t working. With the way some of the guys were appraising me, the term fresh meat kept echoing in my head. Actually, when I took a second look around, it looked like I was the only woman in the place . . . or at least the only one a person didn’t need to play a guessing game to identify.

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