Flittering through my rattled brain is the idea that things just aren’t quite right in Monkeytown. I see it in the play of

Claude Monet
the light on the water of the river bend. How the smoke from the ridge fire hangs in the air at twilight, painting purple on the horizon. The way that Maw Dobbs keeps shooting the horses.

         So I set myself down at the bar and order some of that rotgut that Pippy calls whiskey, and I drink it, and then I order some more, and I drink that, until I can think clearly. I think about the light on the water, the smoky air, and the smell of horse blood. And I realize, sitting here with a fresh splinter from the bar in my elbow, that this isn’t actually a mid-19th century frontier town. I don’t drink anymore. I haven’t seen a dead horse in months, the fire is on the other side of the Santa Ynez range, and there are no rivers nearby, only the Pacific.

         Phil Shallot once wrote that, “Love is the only thing that can’t be solved with a hammer.” I think he might've been wrong about that, but I’m not really in the mood to experiment. Still, that man was a genius. Bastard knew it, too, which is why I found his company insufferable and necessary. He’s the one who turned me on to Pippy’s Saloon, the one who was able to make it real enough so that I could get drunk there and get into fights and smash the piano with my face. Real wordsmith, that one.

         We were all shocked and appalled when he got mowed down by the blimp. That’s just not something you see every day: there he was, holding forth on the beach, flying his kites and shouting his poetry into the wind, and in between gusts we heard him yell, “By God, the Saracens will pay for this!” Then that half-deflated monstrosity sailed up and over the pier, swept down on him, and hacked into him with one of its electric propellers. The seagulls dove in immediately, eager for a piece of poet.

         Blood in the sand’s not entirely unheard of in our crowd, but there’s usually not quite so much of it. That was the end of Pippy’s for me: with no one to talk it into being, there was nowhere to sit, nothing to drink, nobody to fight. Other people said they could still get in, reading some of Phil’s stories aloud until the swinging doors faded into view and the sawdust-and-puke smell of the place wafted through them. I could never go in again, though. There didn’t seem to be much point.

         But all of that’s ordinary. Nothing odd or off about it. I’d never seen a blimp accident before, but in retrospect it wasn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility, and after awhile we weren’t even surprised by it anymore. So that’s not what’s not right, here. That’s just a small addition to the lore.

         Yesterday I sat myself down on the beach—upwind from the pier, so I could see any errant airships that might be headed my way—and stared awhile into the surf. Moving water’s always been a balm for me, in the usual way that such things are. Soothing rhythm of the sea and all that. Then the goddamn whales started beaching themselves, and I had to get out of there. Not much opportunity for contemplation with three tons of determined cetacean coming at you, except maybe for a brief thought about what it knows that you don’t.

         I headed back up State Street against the crowd, all going down to the beach to look at and perhaps dynamite the whales. I’ve seen my share of burst whale carcasses, and was in no mood for the sport. Red paving stones slapped at my shoes, and that gnarly guy with the broken trumpet who’s always under the overpass tried to sell me a pint of melted Ben & Jerry’s. “Gitcher goin’ real good,” he assured me, and showed both of his black teeth.

         I had plenty of melted ice cream at home, so I wasn’t interested. And it only added to the wrongness of the town. That guy should’ve known I was a no-sell just by the look in my eye. I thought about a beat down for him, but I’d lost my appetite for that since Pippy’s faded and the drinking stopped.

         What is it? What’s gone wrong with this place?

         And why can’t I get this goddamn jar open?

Ian Wood's work has previously appeared in Home Planet News. He currently lives in Santa Barbara, where he hides from the sun, doesn't go to the beach, and works on a monstrosity that will become a novel in the near future.

Find him online at writebastard.com

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