The Queen of St. Louis
by Terry Durbin
The Bump really fucked things up for most people, but not so much for me, and apparently, not for that bitch neither. What’re the chances the only two normal people left in a town the size of St. Louis would be me and her? A guy and a chick with history? Those gotta be some long odds, right?
Unless the game’s rigged.
Could be, I suppose. I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is this left-over city suits me just fine. I know day from night, winter from summer, sober from stoned, and hungry from full, but I don’t know hours from minutes, weeks from months, or good from bad anymore. Some’ll tell you I always had trouble with that last part – but it don’t matter now. All that morality shit went the way of eight-track tapes, typewriter ribbons, and people. The Bump did that. Of course not all the people are gone. There’s me and her – for now – and the poor bastards screaming inside every window and mirror that ain’t been broke, and inside those weird, glassy black arches that sprung up everywhere last August.
Then there’s the slugs. The slugs creep me out even more than the screamers, not just because they’re as ugly as something you’d scrape off the bottom of your shoe, but because it’s so fuckin’ easy to turn into one of ‘em. “Your future on ultra-fucked genetics,” BJ said. I mean who the hell could’a guessed that just eatin’ one of those funny-looking apples that came over from Beta – Tony called ‘em wereapples – would turn you into something like that. The only good thing about the stinkin’, piss-yellow, bags’a pus is that they have a taste for rats. And that’s fine by me, there’s lots’a rats.
Back in the day, Tony and me and T’shid and BJ practically owned this old neighborhood. Even when the assholes came in and started gentrifyin’ everything, we were still the ones in charge on the streets. And everyone knew it too. Those that didn’t learned pretty fuckin’ quick – like her. But it seems the lesson might not’a taken with that bitch.
I can fix that.
Maybe that’s what she wants? Maybe she wants me to take her down that alley in back’a Kosta’s Deli again? BJ said she liked it, but I didn’t think so. Nobody begs an’ screams that much, in spite’a gettin’ beat, and actually likes it. But you never know. Maybe.
BJ and T’ashid and Tony are all gone now. T’shid got sucked into one’a them arches about a week after The Bump, and Tony and BJ split town headin’ south. I don’t give a fuck. BJ had gotten strange anyway. In the days right after The Bump, while some of the old shit like TVs and the internet was still working part-time, BJ got obsessed with that shit. He read and watched everything he could find on it. He said scientists were sayin’ that our universe smacked into another one (the scientists called it, Beta) – BJ said it was like two bubbles bumpin’ together in a breeze – and when they hit they swapped some’a their stuff. Beej said even some’a the laws of physics and biology were changin’. Different universes, different rules I guess. That’s why electricity finally stopped workin’, and some other shit got weird, like the slugs, and the sky at night. Stars don’t look like they used to; they’re strange, ugly colors now and in different places, but that don’t mean nothin’ to me. It don’t fill my belly or get my rocks off. But she can do both. Kind’a a two-for-one deal. Beej said the food chain was getting’ all screwed up too, so there’s new rules now. Anyways, the King of St. Louis has gotta eat, right?
I’ve been following her since morning. She knows I’m here, I saw her look back as she crossed 5th headin’ for Berrian Street, deeper into the old neighborhood. She’s prettier than I remembered. Taller too. I almost forgot how nice a tall woman looks when she moves.
There’s lots of windows left in the buildings here along Berrian, and each one of them is filled with the faint, stretched-out faces of screamers. So’s that sixty foot tall, black stone arch that pushed its way up through the front of Kosta’s Deli. You can hear ‘em scream if you listen close enough. It’s a faint, high-pitched sound like cats gettin’ skinned way far off. BJ said the faces belong to people sucked in by the windows and the arches. He said they’re in some other dimension between us and Beta. It must hurt like hell. I’m fuckin’ careful around the windows and the arches.
There’s a shit load of slugs here too. I hate ‘em. I’ve seen those fuckers strip a rat to the bone in seconds. It’s hard to believe they used to be people.
The slugs are followin’ her like puppies. I count nearly two dozen of them trackin’ along behind. Maybe they want that wereapple she’s carryin’? There’s something super-sexy about the way she’s holdin’ it. Her fingers are long and pale compared to the red fruit. Yeah, hot as hell. I’m thinkin’ it might be good for the King of St. Louis to have a full-time queen.
Maybe she thinks so too. She just turned to face me. She recognizes me, I can see it, but she don’t look scared at all. The slugs following her slither out of my way as I come closer. “Hey,” I say.
“Hey back.” She’s smiling at me. It’s the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. There’s a nasty scar above her right eye where my class ring cut her that night behind Kosta’s. Feelin’ guilty for that, I take the ring off and drop it. It rolls across the pavement until it’s grabbed by one of the slugs. “You look hungry,” she says.
She offers me the apple and I take it.
Fuck genetics. It tastes wonderful.
About the author:
I’m a little bit older than rock-n-roll.
I’ve been telling stories since my teeth were new, and have been reading them almost as long. My greatest dream as a writer is to give my readers an experience they will remember long after they close the book. If you have just one moment when you say, “Oh wow!” or “Holy crap!” or even have a good “Oh yuck!”, then I’ve done my job.
I want my books to be like an old time county fair, loud, colorful, comfortable, and fun. So buy a ticket and climb on for the ride. You may get dizzy, and the seats may be sticky, but I think you’ll want to come back for more.