Under the Mistletoe

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A woman walks into a bar. She sits down, adjusts her little black dress, and orders a  mistletoe margarita.

A man at the end of the bar raises his neat tumbler, filled to the brim with translucent single malt. He confesses that he spent much of his youth in Japanese internment camps and runs through a list of recent troop movements in various parts of the adjoining territories.

(Image provided by Keech Ballard)

“Boring,” the woman says as she wrinkles her nose.

A man in the middle of the bar raises a schooner of beer, darker than amber in aspect. He confesses that he spent much of his youth in the Hamptons, and asks if she needs help getting across the border, any border will do.

“Not right now,” the woman says with little patience and no respect.

Everyone in the bar stands up. They turn to the woman, and bow together as one, way down low to the waist. They raise their heads an instant later, somewhat bewildered, and look around for a hidden lama or exiled imam, who is nowhere to be seen. Everyone resumes their previous false poses and empty conversations, humbled by the experience.

“Completely unnecessary,” the woman says with a soft sigh.

A man standing at the other end of the bar scowls at no one in particular. He suddenly announces to the room at large that they should grab her, tie her up, take her out into the desert, chop her living body up into very small pieces, and bury these as far apart from one another as is humanly possible.

“It’s been tried before,” the woman says with a look that will brook little or no opposition.

The woman swivels her wide hips. She slides down from the stool like a pool of water collecting in a desert hollow before it disappears as fast as it was formed. She looks in the mirror behind the bar and notes with some satisfaction that her lipstick is still perfect. She reaches in for a cigarette and snaps her little purse shut.

She adjusts a few vagrant strands of imaginary hair with her long slender fingertips. She smiles brightly and her eyes glow red for a moment of brief indiscretion, before returning to something better resembling a more natural state. She looks the man standing at the end of the bar brazenly up and down two or three times, as if she were inspecting a side of beef for subtle contextual flaws it might be tempted to conceal.

“I guess you’ll have to do,” she says to the man. “Come along, honey, before I change my mind.”

The man’s nose twitches, but he otherwise doesn’t move a muscle.

“Now, soldier,” the woman says. “Hop to it. Chop-chop. Do you want to live forever?”

The man walks toward the exit, moving sinuously, like an ice cream dream machine caught in the act of melting. The woman follows him out the door, tapping the cigarette against her wrist to the rhythm of the rhyme pouring straight from the jukebox tucked away in one corner, which lurches jarringly into action just then for no discernible reason at all.

“I wonder what that was all about,” the bartender mutters under his breath. He methodically wipes the shot glass gripped in one meaty fist, which shines like the clearest of all lead crystals, even though that’s not what it is.

“Only the shadow knows for sure,” the woman whispers to herself as she fumbles for her keys, which are buried somewhere at the bottom of her purse.


This story previously appeared in Las Vegas Authors Anthology, 2019.
Edited by Marie Ginga

Keech maintains an ominous presence somewhere (out there) in the desert southwest of the human mind. Keech has concocted a strange brew of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry since the current crisis began. A few of these manqué misfits are available as podcasts. Recent examples of Keech's variable mood swings may be unleashed at: Ellipsis Zine, Outlander Zine, Antipodean SF, and Kalonopia Collective.