Inspired by Red Light District by jcbarquet
“Oh gods!” Corn’s voice was muffled by the steel sides of the barrel.
Trung shifted his grip on the bundle of hair he was holding, catching a few strands that were trying to escape. There was a series of gross, wet, hacking sounds, then heaving silence.
“I think someone left a body in here.” Corn mumbled. He started to throw up again.
“Man, you really over did it.” Trung said calmly. He was going to need a rag for Corn’s face. They were in the back alley behind the Black Iron. Rodrick was on the bar tonight. She would lend him something.
“I’m serious.” The smaller man muttered, around a wet burp. “Check it out.”
“Are you kidding?” Trung asked, incredulous. “It’s full of your puke.”
“Yeah, but—” Corn leaned all the way back over, quickly, as the god of the bad night demanded more. He vomited, retched, took a deep breath, took another deep breath, vomited again.
“Let me get you something to wipe your mouth with.” Trung said, tying Corn’s hair up tightly behind his head. Corn would be done soon. Trung recognized the burble double take vomit from his days as an older brother.
“Okay.” Corn groaned, voice echoing up from the marginally fuller trash barrel.
Trung let his hand go, watching carefully. The hair stayed. “Don’t rock your head too hard, okay?” He said. Then he turned and left the, now even more stinky, alley. The light of the street lamps flickered uncertainly, making the entrance to the alleyway look broken, like some old shadow had camped there and devoured half of it. Glass crunched under his feet, and the smell of road grease and rain overtook the smell of vomit, for which Trung was grateful.
He stepped carefully over the gutter and onto the street, turning toward the gritty, dark lights of the Black Iron.
“He okay?” A shadow on the wall said with the sparks that were its mouth. The shadow shifted, and it turned out to be just a woman, mouth lit up by an e-cig, voice dark and lowered by the same.
Trung nodded at her. “Allergies. He’ll be right as rain in a minute.”
She nodded back casually. Just a curious bystander. She sunk back into the shadows as he passed. The crowd inside consisted of a team of wet workers in a corner, mostly collapsed now and missing a member, a couple of regulars at the bar, and two young kids on a date with the old arcade machine in the back, their holo-gloves leaking light. The bar was lit, but the rest of the room was dark, made darker by the black and grey decor.
Trung slid his boots across the scratched synthetic wooden floors, taking in the much more pleasant smells of alcohol, food grease, tobacco smoke and perfume. Rodrick smiled at him with her million dollar grin.
“Is he going to make it, then?”
“Probably.” Trung grinned back, leaning on the bar. He couldn’t help himself. “Loan me a damp rag?”
She laughed. The lights above seemed to flicker and burn brighter for a moment. “How about I give it to you? Something tells me I’m not going to want it back.”
A few moments later he was back outside, damp rags, three of them, hanging from his fingers. The shadow was gone, and she hadn’t been back inside of the bar. Trung frowned, taking bigger steps as he scanned the street.
The air was cool and crisp, rising off of the wet pavement. The fug of the city, smoke and chemicals and rot, covered over the almost choking smell of wet tar. A car went past, hover consoles kicking up water with a zhur-zhur noise. A few people were on the streets, walking quickly or causally, or just leaning around.
Nothing unusual. The sky was dark blue overhead, clear now, but lit by the glittering towers that loomed above them, always.
Trung turned into the alley, relived to see Corn still crumpled over the trash barrel, moaning softly.
“How you doing?” Trung asked as he approached.
Corn groaned, with extra feeling. His hair was slithering down the back of his neck, but it had stayed out of his way. Trung smiled and picked it back up, holding out the grimy white bar cloths.
“Thanks.” Corn said, in a weak voice. He took them, wiped his mouth, spat, wiped it again. “Got any water?” He started to straighten in inches. Carefully, like any motion might be enough to anger his stomach.
Trung pulled out his canteen and handed it over. “Don’t you dare backwash.”
Corn snorted, opened the lid and poured some water into his mouth. The stream glittered in the blue light. Corn gurgled, spat, poured some more, gurgled, spat, poured some more, drank. Wiped his mouth. “Gods, I haven’t been that sick since I caught the pox as a kid.”
“I told you you had too much.” Trung said.
“Yeah, but no one serves good soy these days! It always smells like shit and tastes worse!”
Trung looked askance at the barrel. “Corn, was it really that good?”
“Yes!” Corn emphasized the firm word by bringing his palm down hard on the steel rim of the barrel. He then cussed quietly and began to shake his hand, handing back the canteen.
Trung closed it and slipped it away. “How about coming back up?”
Corn rolled his eyes. “It was worth it, man.”
Corn wiped his mouth again and folded up the clothes. “Rodrick want these back?”
“Nah, she said keep ‘um. She’s got a bunch of new ones coming anyway.”
Corn nodded. “Awful nice of her.” He looked down at the once grey now vomit crusted red bar cloths, and dropped them in the barrel. Then he began to straighten his hair.
“You feeling okay?” Trung asked, curious.
“Yeah, pretty much. Little shaky. You wanna head back to the bar?”
Trung chuckled. “Sure.” He turned away.
Trung turned back. Corn was looking back into the trash barrel.
“You’ll make yourself sick again.” Trung informed him.
“I forgot about the body.” Corn said, leaning closer.
“What?” Trung kept his voice level only through long practice. “I thought you were joking!”
“Nope.” Corn leaned all the way over, half his body in the trash barrel. “This sure looks like a leg to me.” His voice echoing oddly in the cage of steel. “Check it out!”
“Don’t pick it up!”
But it was too late. Corn heaved, shoulders rocking, and brought out what was unmistakably a human leg, covered in vomit.
Trung put his hands over his mouth, wishing Corn hadn’t tossed the cloths.