The Courageous Sheriff

This week’s flash fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig’s Blog is to come up (invent) a cocktail, name it, and for that to feature in your story somehow, and also be the title of your story. And so here’s my story. Hope you enjoy and feedback/comments are welcome!

The Courageous Sheriff

The bartender slid the drink across the dirty scuffed wood that separated them both. Johnathan looked at it with a mix of confusion and disgust. It was a muddy looking thing that was served in a raggedly cut half of a coconut. He eyed the rainbow striped stick that bobbed languidly on its side in the liquid. He picked it up limply and shook the brown liquid from it. “What’s-“ he began.

“It’s a pixie stick,” the bartender explained with a shrug. “Don’t ask me, I just make these things. You asked me for the special, that’s the special. The Courageous Sheriff.”

Johnathan looked up sharply and stifled a laugh, and the bartender continued it. “Again, I don’t have anything to do with the name of these things either. Don’t blame me. But trust me,” he said, seeing Johnathan eyeing the drink warily. “It might look odd, but it tastes good.”

“What is it?” Johnathan dipped a tentative finger in and licked it. It looked like disgusting mud but actually tasted pretty good.

“One ounce of Chocolate liqueur, one and a half ounce coffee liqueur with a couple dashes of egg nog.”

Johnathan picked up the coconut, trying unsuccessfully not to slosh any of the drink over the side and took a sip.

“Don’t forget the pixie stick,” the bartender reminded him, handing Johnathan a pair of tiny scissors to snip the end off the plastic tube holding the rainbow coloured sweet-stuff.

Johnathan’s eyes went briefly to the scissors. Weapon, his mind shouted. A miniscule weapon, but one nonetheless.

He took the scissors, willing his hand not to shake, and cut the tip off the pixie stick and watching the powder stream into the chocolate coffee liqueur like a rainbow. He realized he was still holding the mini-scissors. Slowly he lowered them to the bar, but kept them on his half of the bar, not pushing them back to the bartender’s side as someone else would do. Someone normal, he thought as he took a large sip of the drink that tasted more like a dessert than alcohol. Not his usual sort of thing, that’s for sure. But it was good.

“What’s this called again?”

“The Courageous Sheriff,” the bartender replied, seemingly having forgotten about the small weapon that sat in the shadow of Johnathan’s coconut shell cup.

“Ah, yes.” How could I forget that, he thought as he choked down a laugh with another swallow of the chocolatey drink. He slid the scissors off the bar and into his pocket. You never knew when something like that would come in handy. It could have come in handy earlier today, he thought bitterly.

He watched the bartender carefully, but the man had already moved away and was serving the next customer.

Johnathan waited, holding his breath as he listened to what the man with the young woman beside him ordered and was relieved when they both just ordered a beer, and not the special that required the small scissors to cut open the pixie stick.

He gulped down the remainder of his drink, slapped some bills on the bar top and made his exit. He didn’t think the bar man would remember the small scissors until later. Or maybe not even at all tonight.

He hoped that the drink would give him what the name implied – courage. Especially when he saw his face appear on the TV above the bar. He saw his name flashing underneath the picture of his mug shot. Johnathan Chase.

Thankfully the sound was turned down, so most people didn’t look up at the screen but Johnathan knew what the Newscaster would be saying anyway. Underneath his name were two words that said it all – more than the newscaster would be if the volume was up, attracting eyes around the room. Escaped Convict, it said in bright red, stamped underneath his name and washed out worn police station photo. He was thankful it wasn’t any more specific than that. That it didn’t say Escaped From High Security Prison. That was his cue to leave.

He shouldered his way out of the pub and into a fine drizzle that had a reddish glow from the neon lights of the bar’s name that flickered lazily and realized he was still holding his half coconut. He was about to toss it when he stopped his hand cocked behind his head and lowered his arm, and decided to hold onto it. He had the small scissors and now he had some coconut to nibble on in a pinch if it came to it. He took a bite of the meat that tasted a little bit of the liqueur. Almost $8 for barely anything, he grumbled.

It was dark. Johnathan didn’t know what time it was except it was night, and cold and rainy. The coconut seemed oddly out of place here, in winter in the Pacific Northwest. He shivered in the thin grey shirt he wore. He had taken it from the locker in the Sherriff’s office. From the night shift guard. He’d torn off the name patch that was sewn onto the breast. He wore it loose over the nondescript pants of his prisoners uniform.

He took a deep breath of the cool air. It had been a long, long time since he had been outside. Actually outside, and not just stuck in a small fenced in patch of outdoors. Everything looked like he remembered it. Except…he blinked. Did he just see what he thought he had?

Sure, he’d been locked away, kept separate from the rest of the living, breathing world for longer than anyone really should…but… He shook his head, and then shook it again, and looked into the empty half of the coconut he still held, wondering what else was in there besides pixie dust and liqueur. He looked across the parking lot into the darkness and then turned around and pushed the door he had just walked through back open again and stormed up to the man behind the bar, annoyed that the bar separated them. He shook the coconut fiercely. “What did you put in this?” he shouted, aware of eyes all around the bar turning in his direction. The bartender took a step back, bumping into the shelf that held various bottles of whiskey, vodka and gin.

“What?” the man said, his voice shaking slightly. “Nothing. I mean, just what I said. Nothing strange.” The bar man brought out a bowl of pixie sticks from underneath the bar, and a bottle of egg nog from the mini fridge behind him, and gestured to the two bottles of liqueur that sat side by side on the surface he was pressed up against. “That’s all. That’s it. We serve it all the time.”

Johnathan lowered his voice, and tried to control his face. He knew he must look crazed. He felt crazed. Anyone would, he thought, after what he’d just seen. But it couldn’t have been The Courageous Sheriff. It was barely a couple mouthfuls. He’d drank a lot more in the past, before his immediate past, that is, and he’d never seen anything like what was outside, at the other side of the parking lot, the dim reddish light of the pub’s sign reaching just to the other side of the parking lot and no more. A street light along the road just met the edge of the reddish light of the sign and it was in the middle of these two puddles of light he had seen the thing. At first he thought it was a deer.  That would make sense, he thought. That would be rational. There was a lot of forest around here. Lots of trees, lots of trails and wildlife that bled right up to the edges of all cities, large and small, in this part of the world.

Johnathan glared at the man behind the counter who still held himself as far away from him as he could, despite the wooden expanse between them and turned back around and out the door. He closed his eyes as he took the first few steps onto the pavement of the parking lot. He hoped that when he opened them, the thing would be gone. That it was just something he imagined in his fevered panic to leave the bar, his distracted mind at being spooked seeing himself on the news, and the risk of being recognized by one of the patrons.

His foot hit one of the concrete parking spot dividers and he opened his eyes. And met the dark ones of the creature who still stood in the patches of light. The thing was a man, Johnathan was sure. He was tall, and muscular, and would be nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that it only wore trousers. It was topless, exposing a well muscled stomach, chest and arms. That would be slightly odd, considering it was the middle of the night, and hovering around freezing. But Johnathan had seen plenty of strange things in his life. It was the antlers on top of its head that bothered Johnathan. At first he thought the …monster was wearing some sort of hat, and the antlers were fake. But in the light, it was clear that they grew directly out of its head, through shaggy brownish hair, that curled, almost shoulder length, under its ears.

Johnathan stared at it, his Courageous Sheriff coconut hanging limply, forgotten, in his hand. The creature stared back at him, its eyes dark and glowing, reflecting the light back as the eyes of animals do. Johnathan didn’t know what to do. And then the solution presented itself. The creature took a strange, loping step forward, towards him, and another, almost gliding across the smooth concrete. Johnathan heard a strange hollow sound as the thing moved and he looked down and saw not feet but hooves just like the deer he originally mistook the thing for. The deer-man stopped and raised his hand, hitching a single finger in a way that signalled he wanted Johnathan to come to him.

He stood, frozen, and shivered, though not from the cold wind that blew through his thin stolen shirt. The creature beckoned him again, and took another two strangely long strides towards him. Now it stood wholly in the red glow of the neon sign, just a hundred yards or so away. Johnathan saw its face – entirely human, except for the two antlers that jutted out of the top of its head, ending in three prongs on one, and four on the other.

The man-thing smiled, revealing strange teeth that looked…not right in a human face, and pointed a finger this time at the coconut that Johnathan still held.

Johnathan followed the finger, and realized he was gripping the coconut tightly, his nails digging in to its white flesh.

“The Courageous Sheriff, I see,” it said, in halting words.

“Uh, yes?” Johnathan didn’t know what else to say.

The man met his eyes again and Johnathan was shocked at how human they were. They were blue, and didn’t look any different from his. Except that they glowed in the dark.

“Then you need help.”

“I, uh…,” Johnathan broke the man’s gaze and found himself staring at the creature’s lower body. It wore pants that looked like they were made by hand, soft leather stitched together and skin-tight, showing off its powerful hoofed legs. “I just ordered the special,” he explained.

The thing laughed, a strange, strangled sound that caused Johnathan to look up again, trying to avoid the antlers. “That is what people order when they are lost, when they don’t know what they want. It is people like that, like you, who we are here to help.”

The deer man turned and headed for the trees on the outskirts of the parking lot. It bent a finger. “Come.”

What other options did he have? Not many.

Johnathan shrugged and followed it into the darkness.

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