Save my Seat
Lisa M. Miller
“Corey, Corey, he’s no good. Chop him up for firewood. When he’s dead, cut off his head, make it into gingerbread.” Danny’s face beamed as he extended his lanky arms, giving the worn pillowcase a shake.
“Well now, that was a real good one,” the man at the end of the bar said. Staggering toward both boys, he fished two quarters, a few pieces of lint and a BIC lighter from his pocket. “Here ya go, Happy Halloween,” he muttered. A cigarette desperately hung from his lips, sending ashes as well as coins into the treat bags.
Corey brushed away the gray flakes, disguising his disappointment with a polite smile. “Thanks, sir.” He and Danny thought it best to make Terry’s Bar the last stop of the night, hoping for spirited generosity. Maybe the crowd still had some drinking to do.
“Can we go now? It’s getting late, and I’m done parading around singing for my supper,” Corey whispered. He knew dressing like a cowboy at fifteen years old was pushing it anyway.
“Come on. Look at that guy across the bar. It looks like he’s been here all night,” Danny said.
A haze swirled underneath the dim, bourbon yellow lights, and the air smelled of smoke, stale beer and sweat. The deteriorating linoleum crackled beneath their feet as they made their way over to the disinterested looking man. It was hard to tell where his shaggy, pepper gray mustache ended and where his unruly beard began, but Corey knew there was no smile under any of it.
As the spokesperson for the two of them, Danny gave his usual spiel. “Trick or treat, Mister. Want to hear a song or a joke?”
The man lifted his head and locked eyes with Corey. His piercing steel-blue stare reflected his lack of desire to hear one Danny’s stupid songs.
“How about a story instead? The name’s Hector.” He nodded at the seats next to him.
Corey balanced on the wobbly stool while Danny tossed his bag of loot onto the bar, his vampire cape fluttering around him.
Hector downed a glass of amber liquid, his stocky, nicotine-stained fingers tapping the bar for another.
“Joe, I think these fellows here need to hear the Halloween story about our buddy Wyatt,” Hector said.
The bartender slid another glass in front of him and nodded. Joe didn’t seem interested in the storytelling.
After finishing his drink, Hector contemplated the few remaining drops as he swirled his glass. “It was a few years ago,” he said, lowering his already gravelly voice. “My buddy Wyatt came in and sat next to me in his usual spot. He asked the bartender for a double but never looked at me. I watched his hands tremble as he propped himself up on the bar. But that wasn’t all I noticed. His fingernails were outlined in deep scarlet like someone traced his nail bed with a magic marker. The wrinkles and folds of his hands had the same red streaks. Now I usually mind my own business, but you could almost see the steam rising from his head. Before I even had a chance to ask what happened, police almost knocked the door off the hinges as they busted in and grabbed Wyatt from his chair. As they were leading him outside, he yelled over to me to save his seat, because he’d be back. Once everyone found out the truth.”
“What truth?” Danny asked, his eyes wide as saucers.
“Well, his truth was that he caught his woman cheating on him and got into a fight with the other guy. He said it was self-defense.”
“What was self-defense?” Danny asked.
“Why, the reason he killed the man. Now either the wife lied, and the jury believed her, or he just outright killed that man. But it didn’t end well for ole’ Wyatt.”
“I guess that’s pretty wild, but how is it a Halloween story?” Danny asked.
Corey knew from the crooked smirk on Hector’s face there was more to it.
“I’m not finished yet. So like I said, it didn’t end well for Wyatt. They fried him three years later, on Halloween nonetheless,” Hector said. His silvery eyebrows arched while he shook his head in disgust. “I always thought he didn’t get a fair shake, and I felt bad for the guy. The least I could do was honor his final wish. I told the last bartender we should remove Wyatt’s seat so no one else could sit in it. He did tell me to save it.”
“What do you mean ‘the last bartender’?” Corey asked.
“Well, the chair was stowed away, but after a few weeks, the bartender brought Wyatt’s seat out again.”
“And?” Danny asked, unimpressed.
“And, you keep interrupting and don’t let me finish my story,” Hector said, getting annoyed. “Anyway, a few days after the chair was replaced, the bartender fell sick and never came back to work. People came into the bar, and I always said they shouldn’t sit in the seat next to me. They thought I was trying to start something, but I told them to suit themselves. But then, everything started happening. One guy sat in Wyatt’s seat, got into a car accident on the way home and died weeks later. Another fellow didn’t listen to my advice and tripped while walking out the front door and broke his neck. After he sat in the chair, of course.”
Danny squinted as he studied Hector. Corey hoped Danny would keep his mouth shut. “So wait, are you saying Wyatt put a curse on the chair? I don’t believe it.”
“Believe what you want. I’m just telling you whoever sat in that chair had some pretty bad luck. Right, Joe?”
Joe looked up from polishing glasses.“Yeah, I guess so. It could have been a coincidence, but we put that chair in the basement to be safe.”
“It’s here? In the basement? Can we see it?” Danny exclaimed.
“I told ya we put it away. End of story,” Joe said. “Hector, I think that’s enough Halloween stories for tonight. You boys best be going home. It’s getting late .”
As Corey and Danny left Terry’s, leaves danced across the empty, darkened sidewalk. Halloween was coming to a close, but Corey knew the night was far from over.
“Look! It’s not even locked. We can definitely squeeze through there,” Danny said. The hinges groaned as he tilted the window to the basement of Terry’s Bar.
“I really don’t think we should do this,” Corey said as he watched his friend slither through the small opening like a snake. He tied a knot in his sack of loot and tossed it aside. His leg swung like a pendulum as he tried to find his footing.
“You have to jump, it’s not that far,” Danny yelled from below.
Corey’s arms felt like they were filled with burning embers as he dangled from the edge. He released his grip and tumbled several feet to the dirt floor. Slivers of linen white moonlight poured in through the window, but Corey couldn’t make out their surroundings. His nostrils filled with the pungent smell of earth, rot and mold. The wall felt glazed in damp with a dash of grit as he blindly followed along until pain radiated through his body after stubbing his toe on something. It was Danny.
“Can I offer you a seat?” Danny looked like a king on a throne with his cape draped around him. He stood up and pushed the old wooden bar stool toward Corey.
“No, thanks. Can we go home now? You found what you were looking for.” The idea of a rickety old seat didn’t trouble Corey as much as the thought of Hector and Joe finding them breaking into the basement. He could only listen as his friend disappeared, the sound of dragging wood disrupting the earthen floor.
“Danny, come on already,” Corey seethed.
“How do you think we are going to get out of here?” Danny said while placing the seat against the wall. “I knew nothing was going to happen. That guy was just trying to give us a scare.” No sooner did Danny jump atop the seat, the old piece of furniture shattered into a pile of kindling. “I guess we will have to find something else?” he laughed while kicking the remnants aside.
Corey’s heart hammered in his chest as he navigated the basement for something to help them get out but came up empty in the inky blackness. Agonizing pain from his toe shifted to his shin as he collided with something solid and fell to his knees. Steps. He assumed the staircase would lead to the bar, deciding it was better to deal with Hector and Joe’s questions than to fumble around a dank basement. He already thought about pleading his case. How could someone tell two teenagers a story like that on Halloween and not expect them to investigate on their own? Corey slowly navigated each step until his hand found an icy, metal doorknob. A tug on his ankle felt as if it became snagged in weeds or a rope. He kicked away and jumped to the landing, his body flush against the door.
“Stop pulling on me, I almost tripped. I’m going to knock so they can let us out. Okay? Danny?” There was nothing but silence.
“I’m coming, I’m coming. I was trying to use a board to reach the window but no luck. Keep talking so I can follow your voice,” Danny yelled, barely audible from across the basement.
The arches in Corey’s feet cramped as he tried to move away from the opening in the steps. The doorknob needled at his back. He heard his friend’s voice get closer as he reached the bottom of the steps.
“Danny, wait!” Corey yelled.
The vibration of Danny’s hurried pace on the wooden stairs echoed before him, but Corey also heard something else.
“Save my seat,” someone hissed.
Corey wasn’t sure if he heard Danny’s deafening scream first, or the horrifying thud of his body plunging down the stairs. After a fraction of silence that seemed like an eternity, the sound of footsteps ascending stairs was unmistakable.