This story is by Shayla Danielle Schmida and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Friday night. Loud music. Pool cues clatter, glasses clink. Laughter rises up in waves under the flashing colors of the TV. Alcohol is heavy in the air. I am behind the counter pouring drinks, and he is across the room playing pool as if all is right with the world. How can he stand there, laughing and smiling and acting like nothing has changed when such terrible, corrupt deeds defile his hands? What kind of person is he to do such things and simply not care?
I guess people don’t always act how you think they would. I had liked Harkan Clay in the beginning. Everyone liked him. Whenever he walked into my bar he brought with him compliments and laughter, and never did he leave behind his sense of humor or forget chivalry. We often talked over a drink, and though I learned nothing about him or who he was in the months he frequented the Red Crow, I would have been the first to call him my friend.
I remember when I first saw him. He walked with purpose, chin lifted and eyes flashing with fire, walking with the stride of one who is fully confident in himself. All eyes turned to him the moment he walked through the door and we all couldn’t help but wonder who he was and where he came from. There was an aura of brilliance about him.
“Name’s Harkan. Harkan Clay,” he had said, sitting down on a barstool that would eventually be called ‘Harkan’s Stool’. “I’ll have an Old Fashioned.”
Old Fashioned it was, for that night and every Friday night after. Always the same thing. He would walk in with a big smile, ask me how my family was, have a drink, and play some pool. The guy was the most predictable person in the bar. To think he was the one…he had done those things. Standing here watching him from across the room, seeing the smile on his face and hearing the laughter, I still can hardly believe it. This can’t be the same man I ran into in the blackness of the night. The same man who has such a secret buried beneath that friendly exterior.
Halfway through his game he saunters to the bar. I half wonder if he will mention the other night, but no, nothing has changed. I can’t help but wonder how he does it.
“Old Fashioned for me,” he says, sliding onto his stool. There is a grin on his face. His fingers tap the counter and his head bobs a little to the music.
I start mixing his drink. I am beginning to wonder if I am going crazy, that our encounter never happened. It was all a dream, a hallucination. But then I remember what I saw that night.
The news comes on, thick headlines rolling across the silent screen in the corner.
“You seen that?” I ask above the noise, nodding to the TV. The story has been circulating for two days now. The body of a young man was found in a trash can behind a restaurant not two blocks from here. The victim’s name was Dalton Anderson, a young kid who frequented the bar. He had been a college graduate setting sail on a business venture sure to be a success, but it hadn’t been in the cards for him. Instead, he had been stabbed to death with a switchblade and dumped in an alleyway. It was the third body to be found in a month, and they had all been killed the same way.
Harkan’s dark eyes rise to the TV, where they rest a minute.
“Pretty terrible,” he says, shaking his head.
“It is,” I agree, sliding his drink across the counter. “It creeps me out to think he could be anywhere.” I watch his face closely, but no amount of emotion enters those still, black eyes. “I might walk by him on my way home.”
His eyes flicker, but he doesn’t crack.
“There are monsters everywhere,” he says with a shrug.
“Hard to believe someone is capable of that,” I reply.
His eyes meet mine and a chill crawls across my skin. I remember that cloudy, moonless night when I ran into him on the empty street. The night I saw the dark, wet stain on his hands, red and slick in the flickering neon lights, visible for only a second before they disappeared into his pockets. The look in his eyes now is the same one I saw that night. His chin lifts and his expression goes cold. Cold as ice. A dark glitter burns in those black eyes with an unholy flame, flickering with a silent dare I know I will never take. The sounds of the bar fade into the background and I am left with shaking hands and a splinter of fear in my heart that is slowly widening into a fissure of horror.
“There are a lot of counterfeit people out there,” he replies, fingers playing with his glass. “You never know which ones are the imitations.”
“No,” I say. “You never know.
Harkan lifts his drink. “Thanks,” he says, and goes back to the pool table. I watch him walk away, his words playing in my head, repeating over and over again to the beat of my heart.
I dry off a glass and set it down, glancing across the room where Harkan Clay is playing pool. He is bent over the table preparing to take a shot when his eyes raise and meet mine from across the room, and I feel my blood run cold in my veins. His eyes burn with hot and cold, sharp as a knife, piercing into my consciousness. The corner of his mouth turns up in a smirk, and for a split second I see the monster behind the mask. I see beyond the masquerade to the man he is, skin cracked with sins and transgressions, heart blackened and fouled. I see the devil laughing behind his eyes.
I remember the charming, charismatic guy who walked into the bar eight months ago and I realize they are always there, hidden in plain sight, disguising their fractured souls with lies and masks. They sit beside you on the bus. They are hidden in parks and cafès, at the grocery store and in movie theaters. They are in the woods and in the cities; they pass you on the street every day without you ever knowing. Copies of what we want to believe – imitation people, counterfeit lives.
He was right.
There are monsters everywhere.