The Bestial Cult of Hathor – Severe EditionJanuary 2, 2012
Terry Bringer’s rambling tends to become overbearing. I meant the character flaw of my protagonist would suggest why the poor soul had been fired from the Rathskeller in Wister Town, but the narrative was “too much.” I had culled half the story from my out-of-production Audio edition of the short tale, but now the edit is official – and the body of text has been polished yet again. Like the recent batch of revised Wister Town short stories, this one will eventually be rolled into the latest revision of the compilation entitled Horrid Tales of Wister Town – once work on all the others is complete. Until then, read the current version of my Bestial Cult of Hathor here, then go and take a look at the older versions of its sibling tales, Pointless Deprogramming and Damnable Diaspora – I’ll update those too, but old copies of the stories are currently available for those curious readers who can’t wait. Visit the Horrid Tales of Wister Town online.Enjoy –
The Bestial Cult of Hathor
I know – my home town sounds confusing and its details superfluous, but Wister Town Wisconsin is an old place, with lots of historic landmarks. The Rathskeller is one of them. The themed restaurant is actually in the basement of a historic two story building with a stage and genuine wood dance floor on its second level. On the outside, the whole place looks like a Swiss chateaus. The landmark is run by a locally elected committee.
Committee members used the entire second story of the chateaus for storing their belongings, instead hosting bands and dances. The garbage committee members keep at the Rathskeller looks better suited for a garage or landfill. I don’t know why anyone hangs-on to the junk – arms-length nostalgia, perhaps.
Anyway, before I digress further, as I’m wont to do, let me explain the Rathskeller committee. The state of Wisconsin had designated the building a historic monument because it’s original and inspired architecture. The Midwest state granted the Rathskeller restaurant a special tax status as long as a publicly elected committee maintains repairs and displays the local flavor and folklore of Wister Town. When I arrived there for my interview at the restaurant, the local flavor meant keeping those gross sausages no one ever ate on the menu. Pumping loud, non-stop polka music through the outdated and grainy speakers also constituted flavor.
The music CDs must have come from a bargain bin in a big department store outside Wister Town. I’m not a connoisseur of the accordion, and loathe yodeling, but even I knew the selection was shit. I grew up here in this town, after all. I know what decent Slavic folk dance music sounds like. What I didn’t know were the names of all the Swiss cantons shields residents display above their garages. Red was a prominent color in most placards.
The music that played for my interview was definitely not polka music. It sounded like a goddamn mariachi band. One of the reasons I left LA and came back home was to escape the crap – I guess I had forgotten its cacophony also clacked and wheezed here. Jesus, it seems wherever an accordion was used, the music turned to poo.
Whoever put on the CD that day either hoped tourists would not notice or they failed to distinguish Switzerland from Mexico. The Spanish lyrics should have given away the origin of the music, but the CD played until a background singer wailed “Ah, ha,” where a yodel should have gone – if the song had been a polka. I walked into the Rathskeller at that failure, and down concrete stairs into the dim basement restaurant.
Besides bad music torture, part of the process in establishing the Rathskeller a historic monument entailed the election of a committee. I said that, and their purpose was to maintain the operation and upkeep of the facility. As nobody wanted to manage the restaurant themselves, once committee members had pissed-off the last three managers, that job had opened-up. I had applied for that position – the only job posted in the local newspaper in weeks.
The day after I mailed my resume, someone from the Rathskeller operation committee called on the phone. I got a blessed interview! That day, I interviewed with Simon Ecker and Cheryl. Simon asked the only questions. He said things like “Your job as a Mental Health Manager works here.”
He made an analogy. “The work here is like the job duties you listed on your application.”
I had submitted my generic resume and had not completed an application. I only nodded my head, allowing my interviewer to talk in depth. He impressed Cheryl with his rather obvious assumptions. I surmised neither of them had any restaurant experience either.
Neither Cheryl nor Mr. Ecker had reason to be on the committee. They should be at home playing computer games. But I learned Cheryl couldn’t figure out how to retrieve her email and Mr. Ecker became irrationally angry at any mention that the “modern adding machine now did spell checking.” I bet he had crossed out the lines on my resume citing my experience as a software quality analyst. I tried examine the paper he held with the name I had printed and sloppy rows of black bars.
Mr. Ecker had brought my original, folded resume to the interview. Cheryl held a thin photocopy of my life, with the same blocks drawn through my experience. In reflection, the fact Cheryl actually had a copy impressed me. Mr. Ecker is such a Luddite, I imagined, if he bothered to give my information to Cheryl, he had copied my resume by hand, and used chalk on a flat rock.
After the performance, I hoped for Cheryl’s benefit, Mr. Ecker offered me the job and I accepted. I saw him twice more before they unceremoniously canned me. There had been an incident. I don’t want to say more because I’m not a crybaby, but I’ll say Cheryl came to the Rathskeller every week with her drunken and oversexed geriatric friend. You can think whatever you want and it was just as horrible. Afterward, I moved away and went back to California – the sunshine felt cleansing.
A year after the incident before I had been fired from the Rathskeller, I returned again to Wister Town. I first visited Mr. Brodman’s grave. He was the chairman of the Rathskeller committee that had canned me. When he was alive, that man had handed me my walking-papers. I poured him a bottle of Wisconsin beer at his snowy graveside, through my bladder. I planned then that my mother would call me in Los Angeles whenever the graves of other Rathskeller operations committee members were ready for watering. Although, I had found-out about Mr. Brodman’s demise on a social media website for high school and college class mates. When I had, I came right back home – for a weekend tops – and stayed with my Mom.
Feeling a bit relieved from my burden of vengeance, I navigated icy roads and drove to the Rathskeller. That afternoon, no committee members were present at the restaurant. Not surprising, no one at all appeared inside the restaurant, besides Paul, the cook, and Leanne, a waitress I never particularly liked.
“Terry,” Paul shouted from the kitchen, through the pickup window between the kitchen and dining area. He sounded excited to see me, even though we only casually knew each other. We saw one another only when I worked at the Rathskeller, and strictly on the premises of the restaurant. Leanne turned around and promptly disregarded me.
“I haven’t seen you since before you got let go. How ya’ doing?” asked Paul.
“I went back to California,” I answered honestly.
“That’s not cheap,” he told me.
“I know,” I said. “After six months of looking for work in Wisconsin, I sold my house and spent the next seven unemployed in California. I had that money to live-on, although I expect the government will rape me on a capital gains tax. I owned the house in Wisconsin for only those six months I lived here. I got a little extra money from the sale.”
“Yeah?” Paul stated. The question actually signaled the conversation had come to an end. Paul returned to preparing for the trickle of customers expected for supper. Given the road conditions this late February, there was bound to be fewer hungry, and typically thirsty, patrons than last year – even with the pathetic Swiss Mardi Gras gimmick the Rathskeller most recently hosted annually.
“Hey, are the W2 forms in the office?” I interrupted Paul. He needed to unlock the office door and retrieve the forms, unless the Rathskeller operations committee had found another manager. I had to ask. The manager would be in the office, because he or she was not in the dining area. “Does the Rathskeller have a new manager yet?”
“Nah, to both your questions,” answered Paul as he chopped slabs of pork. “Chrissy ain’t done with the W2 forms.”
Leanne turned up the volume of the skipping CD. The accordion actually sounded benign, in a jazzy sort of way, but the instrument still made a noise I rather not listen to. I planned to leave anyway. I told Paul goodbye and climbed the flight of concrete steps toward the front doors. Another flight of concrete steps, at the top of the wide landing, went to the warehouse of other people’s private belongings. An elevator, no one used, went to the top and foot of each set of stairs. The conveyance remained perpetually locked.
The outside of the Rathskeller looked like a big, old chateaus, crowded between a nondescript bowling alley and boring and sour middle school – as I recalled. I grew up a block away from this place, up the hill, in the brick house. During the summers, every weekend, live amateur accordion ensembles and drunken yodelers tormented me. That probably explained why I detested the instrument. Ironically, the memory reminded me why I first fled my hometown.
I remember, as a kid I had a friend who took accordion lessons. I refused to listen to the racket he made, so, I answered truthfully when he asked if I liked the instrument. His ten year old mind equated my criticism to hating Swiss people, and therefore him. The kid was a freak. A few years later, I got my ass kicked by a bigger kid because of that little prick. I’m surprised my nose was not broken back then.
I suppose there’s a certain Old World charm to Wister Town, especially the Rathskeller and the town square. But, sadly, the town just never grew beyond the Old World. Serving up physical landmarks for the memory of old people got the town stuck in slow decay. Tourists were encouraged to visit and indulge the elderly who would reminisce in spooky hazes. The Rathskeller had been deigned that forum. As the restaurant’s manager a year ago, I had put seriously thought into marketing the asset.
Just like business, I never had lessons in marketing, so my best ideas were often disastrous from conception. On that day dead Mr. Brodman fired me, I had thought about setting up booths, with tables and checkered tablecloths, outside the Rathskeller in May, when the snow and ice had melted. The restaurant could charge a two drink minimum for the company of an old person. Wister Town was full of the elderly – we could cart in the geezers from the neighborhood as they were needed. They would act as “volunteers.” In one respect, I’m glad the committee fired me. I had begun to think like the inbred cretins, again. (I did say I had grown up here).
At six PM, the sky darkened already – typical of winter in Wisconsin. Besides the obvious time zone difference, the bright skies in California took a long time before they faded, stretching the day longer. I had definitely taken the extended daylight for granted before buying a house in Wisconsin. I learned that when I went back to California, and missed the warm sunlight now.
A group of old men tottered toward the entrance of the Rathskeller, from where I departed. I tried squeezing past them, only to be pushed into the wrought iron fence surrounding the hibernating flower garden, now mounded in shoveled snow. I felt glad I never have to clear snow in Los Angeles, only brush ashes from my car when the hills catch fire.
One of the bundled codgers asked me “Young man, what d’ya think?”
The warm fog of his breath encompassed my head. I feared breathing until the cold air chilled the cloud and made the vapor dissipate. A couple other men pulled the man away from me. The padded jackets, stocking caps and scarves made recognizing the “regulars” impossible. I thought a committee member or two must be in the bunch. I chanted to myself “I may not know who you are, all covered up, but I know I’ll see you again soon.” Further, I mused I may just piss on all of their graves. There was nothing special about Mr. Brodman anyway.
The man talking to me wore a red insulated, zippered vest over a gray flannel shirt. He jammed his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. His arms shook violently in the cold. He asked me the question for which he wanted my thoughts.
“Shouldn’t a man be allowed to love his cows? It’s how you worship God. King Tut did.”
“Shh, Earl, not that one,” a man in a blue insulated jacket ordered through his green scarf.
Normally, I would have attributed the comment to drunkenness, and once inside, Earl will surely start on his way. But, at their age, anything could have caused the slip; diabetes, prescription mediation, a stroke or Alzheimer’s. Earl had probably already forgot he asked me anything.
The disguised men pushed Earl through the entrance of the Rathskeller. No doubt, they had scheduled a meeting tonight. It might even be one of those secret operation committee meetings I was once told took place every month. I never saw one when I worked at the Rathskeller. And when I worked there, I was at the restaurant all the time. I knew the number of skips on any particular CD of accordion hell stacked by the player.
I told myself not to even bother thinking of the place and decided I’d go back to my mother’s house. She allowed me to stay in her extra bedroom. The room stank of cat litter, but the accommodation saved money. I could always throw the blanket over my head when I went to bed. The simple remedy helped me attain another goal of mine; not to spend one more dime in Wister Town. If I’m not good enough for this town, then obviously my money isn’t either.
Despite the cold winter evening, I walked to my mother’s house nearby. Slipping across ice on the sidewalks and taking care slowed me and my trip took about ten minutes. The walk would have been faster if I had not spent all my energy shivering.
I had never become accustomed to knocking on her door, and walked straight into her three bedroom, two story home. My mother said when I entered “Terry, there’s a job in the newspaper you can probably do.”
My mother stayed downstairs because of her temperamental joints and poor heart. She went upstairs infrequently, and only to change the cat litter. In her mind, the cat could just poop outside if the animal got fussy about how things looked up there. Mom only changed the litter when she smelled ammonia in her kitchen; where she always spent most of her day.
“I’m not planning to stay in this town, Mom,” I reminded my mother.
“But you’re not working in California either. I didn’t raise lazy children,” my mother said. “The mail man delivered the paper this morning, but I haven’t checked my mail.”
“How do you know there’s a job in the paper if you haven’t looked at it?” I asked fairly, although I thought I knew the answer. Wister Town was such a small place that even stories in the newspaper were discussed across town before most people read the articles themselves. At the very least, conversations about news articles stemmed the spread of gossips and rumors in his town, albeit barely.
“My friend, Lisa, told me about it this morning.”
“The post office delivers the paper now?” I asked a little outraged at the arrangement.
“Yes,” Mom answered. “There are so few people that get it anymore. A lot of people look on the Internet for their news. It’s exciting.”
“I feel sorry for the mailman and all those paper boys,” I commented. “Why do you still get it? This is only four pages. And do they really charge seventy-five cents?”
“I like to read the paper in the kitchen,” Mom answered. “A weekly subscription is seven dollars.”
“That’s a dollar a day,” I said even more indignant. “You can get a subscription for the paper in LA for, like, a buck fifty.”
“No, the Sunday paper is a dollar fifty. The daily paper is a little cheaper.”
I gave-up talking my mother into dropping her subscription to the same amount of ink and paper I find on my windshield in LA, whenever I parked my car in a public lot. She had subscribed to an ISP, learned to use email, and she even read the local news online, but she was a creature of habit. Mom must have her newspaper in her hands when she sat in the kitchen.
After turning straight to the back page of the paper, I reported “Their website has the same content, but doesn’t include the want ads.”
“That’s how they get people to buy the paper, nowadays.”
“It’s lame,” I answered, frustrated.
Only one job appeared listed in the paper today. I told Mom “There’s just a Medical Biller position at the hospital.”
“Do that,” Mom cheered.
I told her “I know I lack the patience required for the job. The work involves telephone and in-person interviews with patients, or whoever paid their bills.”
“You can do that,” she insisted.
I claimed “I just can’t heartlessly wrestle money from the sick and injured. The idea feels wrong. Maybe, when I eventually sell my soul for work, I can do the job. I could be good at it, but I’d hate myself.”
“Why then, did you come back to Wister Town?” my mother asked. “Aren’t you running out of money?”
“I sold my house, Mom. I’m living on that. It will last me for a little longer, unless I get sick or hurt.”
“That’s why you should take the job here,” Mom stated.
“It says right here, there are no benefits,” I said, pointing-out the printed line to my mother. “I’d be in the same boat if I got in an accident, or something. Besides, I bet a lot of people here in town have blocked the hospital on their telephones. They will just throw away letters demanding payment. I’d have to knock door-to-door, in the snow. That’s a job for the mailman, slash paperboy.”
“All right, Terry,” my mother interrupted. “You’ve made your point. Do you want a cup of coffee? I know you like it, to settle yourself down.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. I was an admitted and dedicated addict. Although, I had not even started drinking the stuff until I originally moved to California. My girlfriend at the time turned me on to caffeine. I turned down espresso and didn’t like any of those caffeinated energy drinks. I wanted a long, slow burn, not a quick, citrus-flavored boost of energy.
“Why did you come back, Terry?” my mother asked again, rocking out of her easy chair. I stopped the woman and made the coffee myself.
“Mr. Brodman died,” I answered walking into the kitchen.
“Oh, he was one of your favorite teachers,” Mom remembered.
“Not anymore, not since he fired my ass,” I answered.
“Oh, Terry, since you went to California, your language has gotten so rude, hateful,” Mom said.
“It’s ‘cuz I’m older, Mom, and bitter,” I answered. “The only job I’ve got now is getting old, and I don’t want to do that anymore.”
“It’s hard,” Mom agreed. “You’ve had so many failures; you can’t get a job, and your accident, and two broken engagements.
“Yeah, I don’t think you can call those failures,” I replied. “That’s like when you told people I was sick, not in an accident. And the accident was completely out of my control. I don’t even remember it.”
“Shh, drink your coffee, Terry,” Mom commanded.
“I just hope you’re not telling people I’m a failure, Mom,” I said waiting for the pot to brew. “Because, yeah, I gave up painting a while ago, but I’m writing a book, while I look for a job. I stay busy.”
“But you haven’t worked in a year, except for what you did for your brother.”
“Yeah, I know,” I conceded. “That’s the first question I get, if someone ever calls me back. I tell them I’m writing and try to sell them the book.”
“Getting a book published can take twenty years,” Mom said.
“I know, and I might not make it. How old was dad when he died, sixty-three?”
My mother nodded her head.
“Well, there you go,” I answered. “If I win just under a million dollars in a lottery, I’ll make it until I’m dead.”
“Unless you get sick,” Mom said.
“And that’s what makes me a Socialist. Anything to get medical attention when you need it works. I don’t see why I have to trade my home for my life.”
“Well, if you’re a Socialist, you won’t even have a house,” my Mom stated.
The comment sounded like a threat, like my house would be taken away because of my political party. Well, I don’t have a house, because the people in power fucked up the economy. At least, I was glad the administration changed. But in all honesty, the politicians can keep playing games, as long as I’ve got the sunshine in southern California. I was eager to get back, now that Mr. Brodman’s grave had been adequately defiled.
“Why did you come back, Terry?” Mom asked again. “There’s nothing here for you.”
“I know,” I said. “I came back to see you, too. In all honesty, you’re in the last years of life yourself. I wanted to see you.”
“I’m sorry, Terry,” Mom said.
“I don’t know why,” I said. “Life has gotten everybody tangled up. Only the lucky get out alive.”
“There is Hathor, Terry,” proposed Mom.
“What?” I asked, completely confused. The woman was diabetic. She might be having an episode and babbling nonsense.
“She is a goddess from Egypt,” Mom said, seriously.
“What are you talking about?”
“There is a meeting tonight at the Rathskeller, where you worked for a little while. It’s in the paper today.”
I opened to the second page of the paper and at once saw everything that happened in Wister Town the previous day; primarily high school sports scores and obituaries. I didn’t understand why people would pay for a newspaper that someone, they never knew or care about, had already purchased with the announcement of their own or a family member’s death.
Sure enough, a sizable announcement in the paper declared a meeting tonight at the Rathskeller. The announcement clarified the meeting was intended for anyone of Celtic descent. The meeting looked like it concerned an ancestor club of sorts. Everyone in town always did have keen interest in genealogy. Heck, mapping out a family tree was my first exercise when I started grade school.
“It says you have to be Celtic to go to the meeting,” I told Mom. “You said our family came from Norway.”
“My father’s father did, your great-grandfather. Your dad’s grandfather was German.”
“So what’s this about?” I asked my mother. She had obviously made her rounds and had talked with her friends today, or the woman read the paper psychically.
“She’s a cow goddess from Egypt,” Mom said.
I offered flourish and condensed her story. “Right, because there are a lot of dairy farms up here. So, what do the Celts have to do with an Egyptian goddess?”
“The Celtic used to be mercenaries for the Romans. That’s where Wister Town got its colors. You can look that up on the Internet. I did.”
“So, this meeting is about high school football team’s uniform color? But you need to have Celtic ancestry to attend?”
“No, I meant to say the Romans introduced their gods to the Celtics and made the mercenaries worship them. But the Celtic learned about Egyptian gods from them, too, that’s where Hathor came from.”
“Geez, Mom, you should write a book. That’s the kind of stuff I would read.”
“Well, can you see what the meeting is about?” Mom asked me. “I am interested in what they say. People say Hathor will be good for Wister Town, especially us old folks.”
“Oh, so you think it’s a company moving into the city?” I asked, believing I understood a little more about the meeting.
“I don’t know,” Mom said. “I’d go myself, but my ankles and knees hurt because of the cold. It sounds interesting.”
“Oh, all right,” I halfheartedly agreed.
An evening at home with Mom would have probably ended up with us staring at each other, anyway, or she would fall asleep. Mom usually went to be early. I went back to the Rathskeller resenting the fact that everything in Wister Town revolved around the place one way or another. I couldn’t give a squat if the place burned down to the ground, despite its historical significance. I thought the fact unfortunate, a few idiots managed to gain control of the restaurant and the place had lost all its attraction for me. The only way the Rathskeller seemed could survive was the adolescent, ritual defilement of the graves its committee member. I felt justified and selected for the historic chore.
I put on my insulated jacket I had brought from California with the rest of my flimsy cold-weather apparel. I then started my downhill trek back to the Rathskeller. Many of the sidewalks were unsalted and already covered with ice. Sliding down the slicks made the trip a little faster, if not risky for someone my age without health insurance.
The skate in the dark, back to the Rathskeller, passed without any trouble. I entered through one of the four heavy, wooden doors at the front of the building. After climbing down the stairs, I saw the Rathskeller empty, though I heard voices. Paul cooked something sour in the kitchen and paid no attention when I entered the restaurant.
I refrained and did not disturb whatever pointless thing Paul did. I also did not see Leanne. The paper reported the meeting was held in the private dining room. The proper name of the room was painted in German letters above an open set of double-doors carved from dark-chocolate wood.
The meeting took place in the “weistube,” pronounced vish-tu-bah; a room off the dining area of the restaurant. Designed for wine tasting, the weistube was a traditional addition to the building that housed a Rathskeller. Everybody in Wister Town preferred beer. So, this weistube became the supposed meeting room for the Rathskeller’s operation committee.
The meeting concerning “Hathor” obviously took precedence over any other reservation for the weistube. Tonight, the heat radiating from the room felt excessive. The thermostat had problems when I worked here last year, but I had never felt such intense and humid warmth coming from the room before.
The men I had passed leaving the Rathskeller earlier sat inside. Although, I failed to recognize anyone stripped of winter coats and sitting fat in sweaters, except Earl. He spotted me once I stood in the doorway. A wild look burned in his eyes.
“Drive him out,” Earl screamed. “He is watched by a New World God. He threatens holy Hathor!”
Everyone sitting around the overlapping huddle of eight dark and heavy wooden tables – all pushed together – looked at me and stood up. Each one appeared alarmed to see me. A couple committee members restrained Earl. If I couldn’t outrun every one of these old timers, their expressions and movement would have been frightened me. The meeting attendees looked as threatening as the grouchy residents of a nearby nursing home.
“Hi Terry,” George Simon said. He originally served as the president of the operation committee, last year when I was hired then fired.
The man seemed all right, if not a little too pliable. He promoted the concept of unanimity to staunch controversy. I refused to believe he also condoned anonymity, but I guess I was wrong. Come to think of it, that was an easy tactic if he avoided taking responsibility. The man was a coward, and so was everyone on the committee. I skipped returning his greeting.
“We thought you went back to California,” George said.
“Brodman died,” I replied.
George nodded while everyone else in the broiling room stared at me. Sweat soaked many of them, but not because of me. Standing in the doorway felt as if I had opened the door of a baking oven.
“This is kind of a private meeting,” George told me.
“That’s not in the newspaper ad. It just said something about Celtic ancestry.”
“You’re not from Switzerland,” Carrie, George’s scrawny wife judiciously stated.
“Well, neither are a lot of the Rathskeller supporters,” George said. “I don’t think that matters.”
“My father’s side is completely German,” I said to Carrie. “That country is right next door to Switzerland. Check out a map.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Greg said nervous. He licked his thin lips. “But we have already called the meeting to order and started our discussion.”
“Go ahead, I’m not stopping you. I’m just here to find out what this is all about, anyway.”
“Throw him out,” Earl cried. “He blasphemes Hathor.”
“No, Earl,” George said. “I don’t know who told you that, but there is no evidence.”
“Is that why the operation committee asked Brodman to fire me?” I asked George. He had pleaded ignorance to my question when I asked him before I left town last year.
“I wasn’t at that vote,” claimed George.
“I wondered about that,” I told George. “So, a unanimous vote only counts for people that come to meetings, not the whole committee?”
“Objection,” shouted a woman furthest from the door’s entrance.
“That works in a court of law, Emma,” said another woman that stood next to the challenging woman.
“Well, yes, it is out of line,” George said. “Terry, you are interrupting this meeting.”
“Me?” I asked bewildered. “I’m just standing here and listening. If you’re going to throw anyone out, it should be Earl.”
“Oh, we need him this evening. I’m asking you to leave, Terry. Please leave,” decided George.
“That’s fine,” I said, feeling angry for having been asked to leave a public forum – I was not the one who started yelling. “Just tell me what this Hathor thing is all about.”
“Hathor lives! Praise to the beautiful and living Hathor!” Earl shouted.
“Shh, Earl,” many of the attendees croaked in unison. A few, less sharp, individuals staggered their solicitations for quiet. One snaggletoothed, old woman echoed Earl. She was also silenced.
“Earl, there, makes Hathor sound like a cult,” I observed aloud. “Out of a bad horror movie from the fifties.”
“No, Terry,” denied George. “It’s a way of life.”
“George?!” Carrie scolded.
“What is it, then?” I asked.
“None of your business,” spat Carrie.
“What, is this a cult of an Egyptian Goddess?” I asked, not seriously, but Carrie had always gotten on my nerves with her secret nonsense. Now seemed as good as any time to throw the conspiracy back at her. I told them all “The local churches held ecumenical meetings here in the weistube every Tuesday. Doesn’t that still happen? What will the Catholic and Protestant churches say about a cult?”
Everyone continued staring at me. The mouths of a few folks dropped open. I did not see Earl – someone probably held him seated in his chair, behind the standing attendees. Someone else must have put a hand over the man’s mouth. In this town, invoking the Christian faith usually provoked some reaction. Everyone here most likely considered themselves exceptionally pious.
Paul stepped behind me. I had not seen him leave the kitchen, even from the corner of my eye, but I did hear him approach. I could never forget his heavy, dragging footsteps.
“Terry,” Paul softly said, catching my attention. The cook talked to me in a hushed tone. He told me “You should leave before they throw you out. You don’t want to bring the cops here, do ya?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I answered Paul over my shoulder.
“Hey, I got some rosti you can have for free. I got it in a take out box already,” Paul offered.
“Yeah, I’ll take it,” I said turning around. I followed Paul back toward the kitchen.
I didn’t particularly enjoy hash browns covered with cheese, but my brother liked the stuff. I’ll give it to him, if I see him, within the next couple days, or my Mom will eat it. The carry out box will sit in her refrigerator until I see my brother, anyway.
Simon Ecker followed Paul and I to the kitchen. As he moved through the vacant dining area, weaving between tables lain with silver-plated, or plain silvery, utensils for fine dining, Simon botched his sneaky approach. The old man stumbled over chairs. He still lurked nearby, hidden outside the window that looked into the kitchen. I still hadn’t see the waitress, Leanne – not that I cared.
“So what do you know about this Hathor?” I asked Paul while we stood in the kitchen.
Paul gestured at the window and glared at me. He must have also noticed Simon following us. I nodded my head and confirmed Simon eavesdropped. Paul stepped closer to me and whispered his reply.
“You should have never come back to town the first time,” Paul told me.
I stared back at him with my brow raised and shrugged my shoulders, indicating I had no idea what threat or consequence Paul referred. Simon poked his head through the window. The heat lamps over the shelf lit the inside of his open mouth as the old man shifted false teeth with his plaque covered tongue. Paul saw him the same moment I noticed the warm glow of the man’s balding scalp. The gray tufts of hair he still possessed glowed like warm metal.
“Nobody is going to miss him when he’s gone,” I heard Carrie shout from the weistube. I ignored her dreary, mad and meaningless threat.
I took the foam box of potatoes from Paul and said good bye. Simon and I said nothing to each other as I walked past and on my way toward the stairs. At the foot of the concrete steps, I saw a door on the top landing open. From my perspective, I then saw fluffy and dusty yarn balls on the tops of a couple knitted stocking caps. A young animal belched. The noise sounded like it came from a kid, as in a goat, or a calf.
The two people who brought the animal inside jerked and bobbed about. Honestly, all I saw from the bottom of the stairs were the red and white yarn balls appear and disappear. The balls floated above the stairs like puppets driven by a manic puppeteer. I climbed the stairs, anticipating I would dodge a frightened and flailing animal just so I might get outside the Rathskeller.
Blood slicked the top of the stairs; the horrendous animal shat and vomited the spoiled ichor. Blood oozed from its mouth and streaked between its rear legs. Those were the parts of the creature that made sense. Maybe the thing began as a calf, but had then mutated. The thing had swelled into a pig-like shape, specifically the rotund belly and stunted legs. It also had four extra limbs; tentacles, actually. The tentacles were covered in the same bloody brown hide of the creature, and even ended in vestigial, cloven hooves.
The pair of tentacles on the top of the animal writhed and bludgeoned the slimy concrete floor with bony hooves, splattering blood against the walls, doors and elevator. The knocking rattled the stairwell. Everyone in the weistube must hear it, but I suspected most of the elderly patrons had hearing problems. The tentacles that had grown from the belly of the pig-calf monster dragged lifelessly on the floor, swirling patterns in the coagulating gore.
“What the hell is that thing?” I shouted between the knocks. The thunder of the creature’s hooves continued to echo in the vestibule and muffled my voice.
“This is the manifestation of Hathor, our loving goddess,” someone answered from the bottom of the staircase. “All praise beautiful Hathor!”
The writhing and panic-stricken thing bleated hoarse, vulgar coughs. The ropes wrapping its swollen neck complained, but held. Nevertheless, the sharp whine from the taut leash warned that the restraint was ready to snap.
“We pledge our love and offer our seed,” said one of the men who held the monster with ropes. The drooling older man unlatched the straps on his overalls using on hand.
“Not now or here, Willis,” commanded the second man, also holding the monster and wearing overalls. The man who had unfastened his clothes grabbed his end of the rope with both hands. His overalls clung, snug against his waist. The top half of the overalls covered his thick thighs like a skirt.
“What are you morons doing?” Earl shouted from the back of the crowd gathered at the foot of the stairs. “That man is watched by a New World God. Don’t let him near the body of Hathor.”
“It’s alright, Earl,” George said. He stood at the front of the crowd and on the first step. “That god has abandoned him. But he can’t leave here, now that he has seen our beautiful incarnation of Hathor.”
“Once an enemy, always a danger,” Earl screamed. “So sayeth Mars.”
“We’re not supposed to mention them,” somebody near Earl said. “That’s the Centuries’ Contract with the Catholic Church.”
“We got a new God, a beautiful Goddess,” Earl exclaimed.
“Everyone appreciates and shares your enthusiasm, Earl,” George said uselessly. Earl paid no attention to the somewhat rational man.
The wild man pushed his way through the mob. George attempted to calm Earl from the first stair and talked over everyone’s head. He seemed to exert no influence. Earl emerged from the front the crowd. As he dodged George’s attempts snaring him, Earl fell on the concrete steps. The snap of a small bone echoed in the stairwell. Meanwhile, the pair of strangers held the monster in place. Its flailing limbs spun in the air. The abomination belched more blood that trickled down the stairs, like an impotent waterfall, toward where Earl lay.
“Goddammit, I broke my finger,” cried Earl.
I leapt over the flowing blood and ran outside, into the cold night. I heard the beast inside the Rathskeller clack it’s hooves against the concrete floor behind the shut door. No other sound of pursuit came over the thunderous racket. Turning around, I watched the front door suddenly opened. Earl charged outside without his coat or any other cold weather apparel. When I saw him, I threw down the take-out container of potatoes and ran. The ice on the sidewalk made my flight treacherous and slow.
Before I reached the end of the block, more people erupted from the Rathskeller. They skated across the ice on the sidewalk gracelessly, but everyone stayed on their feet. The accomplishment heralded a long lifetime spent coping with Wisconsin winters. The old folks moved quicker than I expected, but not as fast as me, if unhampered by the cold and ice.
The sidewalks coated with ice on the blocks that sloped uphill were impossible to climb. My feet slipped backwards as if I pumped my legs on an imaginary bicycle. Desperate, I jumped onto the snow bank closest the street. I sank up to my ankles into the shoveled ice and snow, so my progress slowed even more. Mercifully, the terrain allowed me to move forward. I wish I had brought my car. The roads were covered with sand that kept vehicles from slipping. In fact, I heard someone in a truck now. The vehicle came from the Rathskeller.
I thought I spotted a dry patch of sidewalk, so I jumped off the boot-sucking snow bank. As soon as I tried running, my legs flew in front of me and I landed flat on my back. I slid, uncontrolled, downhill. While I lay moving on my back, I looked up and saw looming shadows of people come from the Rathskeller. They appeared as nothing but black shapes against the moonlit snow and still a block away. I picked myself up just as a yellow, beaten pickup truck paused on the street, opposite me. The barrel of a shotgun poked through the driver’s side window of the truck.
The driver fired the shotgun just as I dropped back down on the ice, completely concealed by the snow bank. I immediately slid downhill again. The blast from the firearm blew out the picture window of a white colonial house. As I slid, I heard a man curse inside the home. He ordered others inside the house.
“Turn off the lights,” the victimized home owner shouted. He commanded others “Crawl behind furniture.”
I stopped my slide, spun myself around so my head pointed the other direction, and rolled over. Somebody stepped on my back and pinned me, as best as possible on the slippery slope. I could probably knock my captor over, suddenly sliding into his other foot.
“Sorry, Terry,” Paul said. His boot pressed me against the cold ground.
The identity of my captor shocked me. This was the cook at the Rathskeller. He always seemed aloof to anything outside the kitchen. Paul had usually been helpful to me. I thought we probably liked each other.
“Paul?” I shouted. “What are you doing? Let me go. Those fuckers are gonna kill me.”
He tells me “I didn’t realize you saw the incarnation of Hathor. This is her first manifestation. The New World God of the Sun cannot know she is born yet; even the blind eye of the sun castes light. And it’s hot and jealous.”
“What kind of bullshit is that?” I protested. “Just get off of me. What have you got to do with this?”
“My grandparents used to own the Rathskeller. They once hosted secret Passion plays upstairs. These plays were resurrections of pagan gods. Hathor is one; the most beautiful and mighty of them all. She came from Switzerland with my ancestors – from the Canton of St Gallen, on the Rhine.”
Earl and a couple others from the Rathskeller appeared as they stepped and slipped past Paul. The mob stood over my head. The growing number of opponents became disconcerting, but they all were old men; I could take the lot of them. Only Paul presented a problem, a big one. The man was nearly twice my size.
“What is this New World God you guys talk about?” I grunted from beneath his heel. If I could talk him into letting me go, I could plow through the rest of these brittle pagans just fine.
Paul answered me thoughtfully. “He must have watched you in California, but would not follow you into winter. That is a lawless place when the world passes from old to new.”
“So what, Paul,” I shouted, giving up.
This cult, which apparently worshiped a side-show attraction, had hypnotized Paul. The freak animal I had seen definitely was a sick cow. Although, I don’t know what kind of mutation warped the thing’s body and made it grow tentacles. The moving limbs on the creature’s back amazed me. Come to think of it, I don’t know if the blood the thing puked and shat came from internal bleeding or whatever it had been fed. The thought crossed my mind that I may become an upcoming bout of bloody vomit.
“Just let me get the hell out of here,” I begged, then propositioned. “I won’t ever come back to this damn state!”
“Sorry, Terry,” Paul said. “You’re not leaving.”
I rolled over and, as expected, caught Paul off guard. The ice beneath me was too slippery and he could not keep me in one place. Paul fell over, and leaned broadly against a snow bank. I scrambled onto my feet as people in thick mittens reached for me. I yanked myself out of the pawed grasps of everyone, pulling off mittens as I broke free. The number of bundled assailants almost overwhelmed me. I felt overborne and suffocated beneath a mountain of pillows.
Shoving, I pressed my way up the side walk. My pursuers had as much trouble gaining traction on the ice as I did. I continued pushing forward until an attacker I forced uphill fell over. Another stuffed winter coat on bowed legs waddled forward and took the place of his fallen comrade.
No matter how much I pushed, the lynch mob-mentality of the crowd brought old people from behind and to my front. All the while, I through “Even if I escape this crazy monkey-pile, there was that crackpot with the shotgun.”
I reminded myself “There might even be more inbred lunatics waiting for me once I cleared the shooter’s allies.”
If one of these crazy cultists got me, the creepy asshole would probably mount my head over his fireplace. This cult of Hathor would butcher me and serve me in two portions. The Rathskeller would serve my guts in Schublig on a bed of sauerkraut. The rest of me would then go fed to their goddess thing. The horror motivated me.
I got lucky when I reached a shoveled and salted front walk. I bolted up toward the house and a salted walk, then leapt around the building, over the lawn and through the snow. The old coyotes who chased me could easily follow my tracks, but lots of luck catching up. I felt relieved I avoided the shotgun waiting for me once I broke to the other side of the block.
I watched headlights come around the corner and turn down a familiar alley I planned to sprint down. I had no other choice. I reached the alley before the cultists sealed-off one end of the block. Although, I suppose if I really needed, I could jump through another yard – I conjured my own optional escape routes.
I ran back to my Mom’s house, where I had left my car, and immediately suspected Hathor cultists had followed me. They probably knew where I stayed – news traveled fast in Wister Town. Because that seemed my predicament, this was my final farewell and I felt chased from my hometown. I was urgent.
I got into my car, with no pursuer in sight. Thankfully, the vehicle started and refrained from complaints about the bitter chill. I got the Hell out of Wister Town – a town of murderous cultists that worshiped an Egyptian cow goddess. I refused to come back for the other eight funerals. Once I crossed the city limits, I felt I left something behind, but I wasn’t going home again – I wouldn’t die and be buried in Yelloweed cemetery, in a pit he had probably filled with his own urine.