There’s a gateway to hell in the men’s room at Cory’s Pub. It’s in the second stall, and you have to shut the door and sit on the toilet for it to work. One minute you’re squatting on the Jon, the next you’re in the underworld.
I went there by accident the first time. I guess everybody does. I was mixing beer and whiskey, and it always gives me the shits. There I was in stall number two, painting the bowl like Jackson Pollock, when everything went dark. I stood and yanked my pants up, sacrificing my skivvies for the sake of decorum.
When the lights came back on, I was standing in a bar–not Cory’s–a cool, divey place like I remember when I was kid in San Francisco. A band played on the stage, and rocking music and happy people filled the joint. That music was something. The singer looked like Jerry Garcia from the Dead, and the guitar player was the spitting image of Jimi Hendrix.
I stood there, still holding my pants up like an asshole, when this guy came through the crowd. He wore a sharp black suit with a red shirt underneath, and his face was all angles and cheekbones. Good-looking doesn’t begin to describe him. He stuck out his hand and said, “Hi there, Boyd. I’m the devil.”
I shook his hand, warm and smooth. “Uh, the devil?”
“That’s right. Satan, Old Scratch, Beelzebub,” he said with a grin. His teeth were white and straight and a little pointed. “But my friends call me Lou. You want to be my friend?”
I looked behind me, and I didn’t see Cory’s, just a sign for the men’s room. “Is this . . .”
“It sure is,” Lou said. “But don’t worry about that. You can leave whenever you want. Just go back through the men’s room there, cop a squat in the second stall, and you’ll be back where you started.”
The band was doing “Touch of Gray,” one of my favorite Dead songs. It was perfect, better than I’d ever heard.
“Or you can stay,” Lou said with a sly grin. “Janis is on next.”
“But I gotta give you my soul, right?” I took one halting step back toward the bathroom.
“Yeah, I have to charge a cover for the good stuff,” Lou said. “But not as much as you think. Just a sliver. You won’t even miss it.”
“Really? Uh, how many slivers do I have?”
He eyed me appraisingly, like a guy might size up a used car he wants to buy. “You’ve got a nice healthy soul, Boyd. I’d say you can spend a hundred slivers or so before, well . . . before we need to make other arrangements.”
I’d been spending the last ten years with my ass glued to a bar stool at Cory’s. Divorced, alone, in debt up to my eyeballs, just watching the years slide away toward a death I’d started wishing would hurry the fuck up. Now I was listening to Jerry Garcia and Jimi goddamn Hendrix live. I mean, it was only a sliver of my soul, and I could watch two of the greatest musicians ever.
“How much are the drinks?”
Lou smiled. “Complementary.”
That sealed it. “Yeah, I’ll stay.”
“Excellent.” Lou leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. I felt a little woozy, and he put out a hand to steady me. “That’s it. Enjoy the show.”
That was three months ago. I’ve been back every night. Each time I go back, it’s a little different. Sometimes it’s the dive bar and Buddy Holly is on stage. Sometimes it’s a swanky joint, and Sinatra is crooning. One time, it wasn’t a bar at all. It was a baseball stadium, and I watched Joe DiMaggio hit a home run off Cy Young. The drinks were always free, and if I wanted companionship, and maybe a bit more, I got that too.
Trouble is I haven’t been feeling so good when I’m not at Lou’s. When I look in the mirror, my face is all skinny, my eyes kind of dim and lackluster. I know why. Those little slivers of soul are adding up. A bunch of the regulars at Cory’s have the same look. It’s funny; I never see those folks on the other side. Maybe Lou makes it special for each person, like they’re own private paradise.
I’m sitting at the bar at Cory’s now, drinking a beer that tastes like ash, listening to stale tinny music from the jukebox. Over at Lou’s, the beer is cold and crisp and the music is pure and wild.
Cory walks up to me, swishing his bar towel through the air. He looks good, alive, like he doesn’t use the second stall in the men’s room. He always knows what’s going on down below, though. He must have some kind of deal with Lou. “You headin’ down tonight?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe I should slow down.”
He shrugs. “Your call. Want another beer?”
I look at the flat, piss-colored liquid in my glass and frown. “What’s, uh . . . what’s Lou got running tonight?”
Cory smiles. “Boxing match. Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano.”
“No shit?” I’m a huge boxing fan. I guess Cory knows that.
“You know the drill. Show starts when you get there.” He walks away, whistling, and stops to talk to another poor slob who also looks like he’s been spending a lot of time in stall number two.
I shake my head and push the beer away. When I get to the men’s room, I tell myself I’m just gonna take a piss. I know better. In five minutes I’ll be watching two of the greatest boxers who ever lived. I’ll drink, and I’ll laugh, and maybe there’ll be enough of my soul left to come back. Maybe not. Maybe Lou’s is where I belong anyway.
Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. He is the author of the Acts of War novels published by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, On Spec, and Pseudopod, among others. He occasionally offers dubious advice on writing and rejection (mostly rejection) at rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.