The further he got from the Office and the pair of cops by it, the more damage he saw – smashed windows, wrecked signs, pummeled vehicles. But whoever had done it all had moved on to another area. He only saw a few scattered suspicious types, with scarves over mouths or blunt objects in hand, and they didn’t acknowledge him.
He meant to walk aimlessly, but regardless he ended up at a bar he had once had to clean up, years ago. He remembered it because a woman had attempted to stab him while he was working. She hadn’t been possessed, just mentally ill and drunk. The bar’s owners had refurbished the place quickly, and a week later it was as if nothing had happened there.
Tonight the windows and door were smashed and kicked in, but the lights were on inside. Not hoping for much, he went in. There wasn’t much alcohol behind the bar, much of it having been scattered over the floor. A man stood among the remains, opening a bottle of vodka and pouring a great amount into a mug. He was a large man with large arms that could snap a neck, and hard lines on his face placed there by plenty of scowling.
“Got some of that for me?” Bryan asked, straddling the one upright stool at the bar.
“This one’s all for you,” the barman said, and slid the full mug over to Bryan. He got another glass from under the bar and upturned the rest of the contents of the bottle into it.
Bryan held up the mug. “To you for staying open through all this.” He took a gulp and coughed. It had been a long time since he’d had anything besides cheap beer.
“Ain’t my bar.” The man drank from his own glass. “I just wanted a drink. But the bastards chased the owner off, smashed half the bottles, and stole the tv.”
“I don’t want to watch tv anyway,” Bryan admitted.
“Damned right. I can see what’s happening with my own damned eyes.”
“You believe any of this?” Bryan asked, at ease with this tough cursing man. “About tonight being the end of the world?”
The man’s hard eyes turned to hurt. “I don’t care anymore. Demons took my wife two years ago and my daughter last week. The world’s already over for me.”
Bryan looked down into his glass. “I’m sorry.” He wasn’t sure how much he was apologizing for.
“What can you do?” His voice lost its edge as he spoke. “If it were a human being that killed them I could scream at them and punch them. Ask them why. But what do you do to a demon?” He shook his head. “Nothing. Can’t do nothing to a demon.”
Bryan couldn’t say anything.
An ancient man with grizzled gray hair stumbled in and blinked at the barman in surprise. “You’re not Arnold,” he accused.
“No, I’m not,” the barman said. “Want a drink?”
“Of course I do,” the old man replied as if insulted. Bryan stood up another stool for him and the guy eased onto it painfully. “Look at this place. Look what they’ve done.” He waved his hands at the mess in the bar with emotion.
“It’s a damned shame,” the barman said. Bryan still wasn’t sure whether the man had had any part in the destruction.
“Don’t think I haven’t seen this coming,” the old man lectured them. “People go a little bit crazier every year. Every year the demons get a little bit worse. And when the news got hold of the things being real, just like tonight! People lost their minds!”
“You think it’s true then?” Bryan asked him, once again wanting to test the waters.
“What? The gates? Of course it is. You can’t see all I’ve seen and not see where it’s been heading.”
“I’m sure you’ve seen a good lot,” said the barman, who was certainly old enough to have been around for the beginning of the demons. Bryan assumed he must be humoring the old man.
“I remember when the things were running around with no control at all. Nobody was catching them. They just went and ate and went on to the next victim, and all the cops and doctors just couldn’t figure out why all these dead people just collapsed into dried-up husks.”
They had been capturing back then, Bryan recalled. But he said nothing.
“They thought it was some disease,” the old man went on. “Like a virus could do that. You’ve seen them. Well, on tv at least.”
Bryan noticed how the man had caught his words there, but didn’t point it out.
“A lot of good it does us knowing what it really is,” said the barman. “A lot of good the Offices did.”
The old man waved a hand dismissively. “They did what they could.” It wasn’t the response Bryan would expect from an old guy.
“Bullshit.” The barman banged a fist on the bartop and displayed a baseball bat he lifted from behind the counter. “If any of them were to show their faces right now I’d let them know how well they did.”
“Do you know someone in the Office?” Bryan asked the old man.
“Place tried to recruit me!” he exclaimed. “After my brother died. But they couldn’t kill me. The demons I mean.”
“But you turned them down?”
“I was already seventy-eight years old. Nearly had a heart attack from the excitement. What was I going to do chasing demons, with an ambulance following me around should I finally keel over? No, once was enough.”
They fell into silence at that, sipping their drinks.