Short Story Contest Winner: Honorable Mention, Grant DeArmitt


Whiskey Said the Moon By Grant DeArmitt

The bar (or saloon as they said then) was called Zeke’s, after its owner. He was kind and funny, good at making a customer feel like a friend. But Zeke, admitted those customers, was not the main reason to visit his establishment in Blue Rose, Montana. That was the whiskey.


It was whiskey that brought the moon to Earth. Whiskey, that made sad songs sweet, that warmed travelers and cooled hot nights. That sparkled in the candlelight as if to remind her of the sunrise she always missed. From her perch above the world, she had watched the first batch ever distilled. As the centuries went on and whiskey made its way around the world, her desire to try it became a need. So one night, when she wasn’t needed in the sky, she went to Zeke’s.

The patrons noticed her dress first, shining as it did all by itself. Soon enough, they put together that it was only the gas lamps reflecting off the silk, but this did not stop them from staring. And though her human disguise was perfect, the drunkest among them could tell exactly what she was. The thought made them sleepy. Across the room, the piano player had noticed people were no longer listening to him. When he turned to see what had distracted them, he stopped playing.

“Good evening,” she said to Zeke.

“Ma’am,” said Zeke reverently.

“Whiskey,” she told him, and abruptness of it caught him off guard. She meant no offense, but the English language seemed to her a blunt thing, so she thought her order better match it. Zeke brought her a glass.

She lifted the drink to her lips and the smell surprised her. She had tried honey thousands of years ago, and because of the color, she had expected this to be similar. Still, she liked the bite. It was exciting, mortal. She upped the glass and swallowed the portion whole. A warmth spread from her throat to her shoulders, then across her arms even as it dipped into her stomach. On her previous visits to Earth, she was annoyed by the uncomfortable necessity of having a body. This drink made the experience worthwhile.


“Another,” she smiled at Zeke, who obliged. By then, the other bar patrons had remembered their manners. Keeping their mouths almost all the way closed, they did their best to act like they weren’t staring. But Sheriff Claybell, who had been playing poker, did not act. He stared at her, doe-eyed, and ceased caring about anything else.

Since his youth, Martin Claybell had been told he was a hero. First by his younger brothers, then by the Union Army, then by the people of Blue Rose. As Sheriff, he hadn’t done much that was actually heroic, but he was big and blonde and was seen every Sunday in church. For a town that hadn’t seen much action, that was as good as knighthood. Claybell shared their belief, and that night, he thought that the girl at the bar with the silver dress should know it.

Having rushed down her first glass, she decided to savor the next. She inhaled again, the sharpness touching her nose and making her lips curl up. When she sipped, she let the heat stay on her tongue. When she couldn’t bear the ache of flavor, she swallowed. The warmth returned, just as the large man with his silly mustache attended the bar next to her.

“Hello," he grinned. “My name is Martin Claybell, I’m the Sheriff here. If you need anything, Miss, ask for me.” It was an invitation to fall in love, one Claybell had used before.

“Thank you,” she said pleasantly, not looking away from her glass. If she held it just high enough, she could watch the gas lamps burn goldenly through the liquid. It made her happy.


When no further response came, Claybell said, “Is this your first time in Blue Rose? I can’t remember seeing you here before, and you’re the kind of person I’d call unforgettable.” Another honey-trap, a surefire ticket down the aisle.

“Yes,” she said. Claybell blinked.

“Well, what brings you around? Don’t tell me you came to our lovely town to sit at a bar alone.” Could she hear him? She seemed upset. No, wait, distracted. Was she drunk already?

“Whiskey,” she said.

Zeke, having caught on to her manner of speech, thought the comment was for him. He came over and waited for her to present her glass, but when he saw it was still full, put the bottle down. He nodded at Claybell.


“Game going alright?”


“Oh fine,” said Claybell, in Zeke’s direction but for the hearing of the girl. “Teddy’s going to have me cleared out by the end of the night, but I always was a lousy card player.” Claybell believed humility worked on some women, but used it sparingly.

“Have you been introduced to Zeke?” Claybell asked the girl.

“No.”


“Well Zeke,” Claybell said, “I’ve never known you to be a stranger!” Zeke apologized and told her his name. She smiled, because the way his balding head gleamed through the glass gave the appearance of a halo. She took another sip.

Claybell was lost. To be sure, he thought, anyone would have been. A less confident man couldn’t have strung a sentence together for her. He could at least talk to her, but a response seemed impossible. A memory of his childhood came to him then, of his father telling him about all the “types” of women. The silent type, if Claybell remembered correctly, was on that list.

“Well Zeke, I’d say she’s got the right idea anyway. How about one of those for me?” Claybell pulled up a chair and looked at her. “You don’t mind, do you?”


“No,” she said.


So there it was, thought the Sheriff, a game of patience. Well, that’s a game he could play. He would sit as silently as she and sip whiskey of his own, for as long as it takes for her to crack. Eventually, she’d give him an eye and let him know he passed her test. Eventually.

But two glasses later, she had still said nothing. In fact, she had forgotten about the man altogether, so focused was she on the whiskey. With each sip she found something new to love, some sight or smell or taste that charmed her. Near the end of the third glass, she even began to feel… well, she didn’t know what. She knew drunkenness, but this wasn’t that. The drunks she remembered were loud, clomping and staggering and breaking out into fits of violence or laughter. No, she felt quiet, like she was keeping a secret. She began her fourth glass.


When it was time to close, Zeke told her what she owed. As a response, she handed him the five finest coins he’d ever seen. They shone to make his world unreal, the only clear image in a blurry photograph. He stared at them at length, wondering what they were. Had he lived as long as she, he’d have recognized the ancient queen on their faces, read the runes on their behinds. But Zeke had lived much less, so he only thanked her for her generous contribution.

Claybell was embarrassed. He hadn’t gotten so much as a smile out of the girl. The Sheriff tried to quell his shame with drink, but the two only fed each other. By the time the girl was handing Zeke her silver, he felt he had to change his situation.


When she started toward the door, Claybell got off his seat. His legs were untrustworthy, so she had gotten a few strides away before he was on them properly. As a result, the smooth approach he planned was more of a lunge. What he might’ve meant as a tug on the elbow was a hard grip, like a parent puts on an unruly child. The girl merely studied the grip on her arm, uncurious and unsurprised.

“Hold on,” he slurred. “You’re not leaving alone now, are you? At this time of night?”


“Yes,” she responded coolly, removing her arm from his grasp. Again, she made to go.


“Now wait just a minute,” said the Sheriff, puffing his chest up and smiling in a big, sly way.


“You are the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in this town. And I will be damned if I let you leave without a kiss.”

He pulled her in toward him. His poker-playing chums, the only other patrons left, made whoops and laughs. Here was Courageous Claybell, they thought, making a move they never would have dared, sober or drunk. They toasted him. Zeke looked away, ashamed but quiet.

Claybell’s kiss was cruel. His hand gripped her arm tight enough to hurt. His mouth was open and he was laughing. This was a message he needed to send, that he was strong and she was not. That she had not gotten the best of him. The ugly kiss lasted for as long as he could hold her, so long that even his poker buddies shifted in their chairs.

When she finally wriggled free, he guffawed. He had won. She could piss off now, for all he cared. She was probably a poor lay anyway, he planned on telling the boys, the “delicate” ones always were. Before he started back toward them, Claybell decided he had time for a gloat. Something like, ‘Pleasure meeting you,’ or ‘You come back anytime,’ but when he saw her, his voice failed.

She was glowing. No, burning. No, changing, changing shades of white to become harsher and purer with each second. Hers was a light that you could hear, and it got louder and louder until it was the only sound in the saloon. It bored into the eyes of Martin Claybell and his friends, but for all that it pained them, they couldn’t look away. Something in their brains wouldn’t let them.

The sound of her light changed then, rising in pitch and intensity. A scream. The men felt a pressure against them then, a scalding breath that forced them down to the floor. Around them, the walls and ceiling of the bar began to fade. Darkness and stars and the gleaming sands of the outside were soon all they could see. Night, True Night, had entered Zeke’s, and her Daughters were not far behind.


“You,” said the girl to Martin Claybell, her voice booming over and mixing with the sound of her light, “Do you know what you have done? You belly-crawler, slobberer, mold-gatherer. You want a kiss? Have one.”

At her words Claybell rose, slouching toward the gleaming figure. His body, not under his own control, became intertwined with hers, searing the fabric of his clothing onto his bubbling skin. Claybell’s lips began to part, and for a moment he believed she was actually trying to kiss him. But his lips kept parting. His mouth opened wide, comically wide, and when it reached the widest it could go, it opened wider.

Crack.


Martin Claybell slumped to the ground, his famous smile split forever. The girl turned to his fellows. “And you,” she said, as they shook and cried and urinated, “you have kept poor company. I shall grant you better friends.” She motioned behind herself and, finally, the men were able to avert their eyes, just in time to see the Daughters of Night arriving in Blue Rose.


Angrily they marched in; the coyotes, owls, snakes, and wolves. The shadows, fairies, poltergeists and banshees. The cold winds and distant howls, the creaking of floorboards in empty houses, the certainty of being watched. The twins, Dream and Nightmare, the darkness that billowed as a cloak at their backs. The crows, the dead, the forgotten, the still to be. All come to avenge their eldest sister, caught up in thoughts of blood and retribution.


It was at that moment Zeke emerged from behind the bar. His shameful look down had saved him from being trapped by the sight of her, and he had taken cover when the walls started to disappear. But when he decided the little counter wouldn’t protect him from what was coming, his only choice was to act.

“Wait!” he cried. “Please, I wasn’t like them. I didn’t laugh. Let me go.”

“Laughter, silence,” she said, “It sounded the same to him.”

Zeke knew then that he was to die. He looked at the stars being blotted out by the encroaching horde and thought suddenly of his wife, of how he’d never see her again. A bitterness welled up inside him; how many late nights had he spent here, instead of with her? How many times had he stayed open just an hour longer, to make just a little more money, instead of going home to her? She was better than what was here.


And with that, Zeke understood what could save him.


“The whiskey!” he cried, leaping to his feet. “You can have as much as you want. The whole of it! Just let me go, and you can have the whole of it."


The girl cocked her head, curious. She motioned to the floor, where her sisters had already begun their work on the poker players. Broken screams bubbled from bloodied throats.


“When my sisters are done with them, they will come for you. Perhaps, bartender, for this entire town. How, then, do I not already have your whiskey?”

Zeke’s mind raced. “I’ll make more!” he declared. “There are only two bottles left behind the bar. Some six barrels in the back. Drinking as you’ve done tonight…”


He stammered. She smiled.

“No disrespect meant, of course, ma’am. But it’s just that, well, what I have now, it’ll only last…it won’t be long. You’ll be in want of it, before the year’s out.”


The girl considered this. It was true, she had drunk her share. She probably would have even had more, had Zeke not announced the saloon was closing. Still, another thirst clawed at her. She wanted revenge, wanted it in the way that a higher being wants it from one lower. Like the revenge we might wish on a fly who has landed in our soup. A cruel revenge, a total one.


“And what about when you are gone, mortal man? You approach your evening years. What will happen when I am thirsty but there is no one to fix me a drink?”


“I’ll teach my children,” said Zeke. “And they’ll teach theirs. You’ll have it for…” Zeke realized he didn’t know how long he should say. A hundred years? A thousand? It dawned on him that he had no idea what this girl was, much less how long she’d live. “…as long as you like,” he finished.

The girl did not respond and Zeke’s mind whirled. She had granted him the chance to bargain, and he needed to make the best of it. A final idea came to him then, an offer so bold that, even in his current danger, he considered not making it.

“And it won’t be for no one else."


The determination on the girl’s face softened. The little man had surprised her. She called her sisters back from the mess they had made of the poker players and, seeing that the front lines had stopped, the rest of the Night’s Daughters paused their march. All things were still as the girl pondered. Finally, she spoke.


“Zeke,” she said, “That is not your real name.”

“No, ma’am. It’s Ezekiel. Ezekiel Pudge.” She laughed, not unkindly, at the name.


“Well, Ezekiel Pudge, that is an excellent offer, and I will accept it.”

Zeke’s heart rose, elated at the news, at the thought of seeing his wife.

“But Ezekiel Pudge, know this. I am always watching. There is nothing I do not see, even on the nights you do not see me.” Here Zeke realized what she was. His knees shook. She continued. “If you are untrue,” here she motioned to her sisters, “we will return. And we will finish what we started.” She pointed to the poker players then, or rather, the mound of liquids and solids that was the poker players. “Are we agreed?”

Zeke couldn’t imagine a handshake was appropriate, so he bowed, very deliberately and very slowly, showing he meant her only respect. He looked silly, and she laughed again.


“That is good,” she said, then turned toward her sisters. “Now, we will go.”


On her command, her sisters retreated, dissipating into the wild and the air and the dreams from which they had come. Night herself took leave from Zeke’s, returning the walls and ceilings to where they belonged. There was just a girl left, still beaming softly. Zeke went behind the bar and fetched the two bottles he had left.

“The rest is in the back, I’ll go -” the girl held up a hand and Zeke stopped talking.

“This is enough for now. I will come back for the rest.”

“When?” said Zeke.

“Every night that I am not there,” she pointed up. Then, without a goodbye, she left.


Zeke buried Martin Claybell and his friends behind the saloon. Their graves were unmarked, because soon enough there would be a new Sheriff, and the new Sheriff might be suspicious. Zeke finished cleaning up, locked the place that bore his name but no longer his product, and went home. He crawled into his bed, next to his sleeping wife.

There were other strange nights in store for Zeke, who spent his remaining years watching the moon. But the rest of this one was familiar. The wind, no longer angry, was soft outside. The coyotes howled, but from far away. The only difference between this night and all others was that five stars were missing from the sky, softly glinting as they were in Zeke’s pocket.


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