It was 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast United States. New York City was fixated on a dangling crane in midtown Manhattan. Weird stories and photos circulated the internet and social media. Most notably, a picture of a shark on the flooded front lawn of a New Jersey home. One of the more disturbing picture I saw was of a casket floating down an empty street. I've searched high and low for a copy of that photo more to prove my story than anything.
Caskets floating away during a flood aren't a new thing believe it or not. In New Orleans, the problem of airtight coffins popping out of the ground because of heavy rain fall became so bad most graves are now either lined with concrete or built above ground. Before Sandy, this phenomenon was unheard of in the state of Connecticut. I never saw it personally mind you. I just saw the picture I mentioned and a few stories from patrons at the bar I used to work at. Problem is, drunks aren't exactly known for their honest story telling.
The story I'm telling you took place the day after the hurricane. The bar I work at is located on the outskirts of Waterbury, Connecticut. My boss called me and asked if I could go check out the place and make sure it hadn't been damaged or looted. I said I would on the condition that I could drink for free when I got there. He agreed (Not much choice. He was flooded in) and I was in my truck and on the my, figuring I'd spend my afternoon relaxing at an empty bar.
There's something creepy about a city the day after a storm. Major roadways are abandoned. Street lights are out. One major intersection I had to go through simply had a stop sign stuck in a Home Depot bucket in the middle of the road instead of it's usual working stop lights. The power was out so most of the houses I passed were pitch black. Pure silence with the exception of my truck's engine and the country station I was listening to. Only one word came to mind at that moment. Apocalyptic.
I pulled into the strip mall were the bar was located. I locked up and moved towards the glass front door. The neon sign outside had been broken in the storm. "McKinley's Gin Mill" was written in hunter green gothic type on yellowing plastic. The break in the sign was in the top left corner were an Irish caricature grinned over a mug of beer. With the top left part of his head missing the single remaining eye made his smile seem more sinister than sarcastic.
I opened up and flipped the switch. The lights stayed off. Powers out signs broken, but I couldn't see any other damage. I grabbed a green Jameson bottle along with a portable IPod player we kept under the bar and made my way into the adjourning room. The way McKinley's was set up was as soon as you walk through the front door you're in the bar room. The room had wood paneling, and was decorated with photos, posters and signs scattered on the walls. Across from the bar was a 5 foot gap in the wall that lead to an area with a big screen TV, pool table, juke box, and a few tables. I put the bottle on one of the tables and set up my IPod. I enjoy solitude for the most part and the idea of drinking a bottle of Irish and listening to music while improving my pool game was welcome compared to how I usually spend my nights. Noisy 20 somethings taking Instagram pictures and comparing how drunk they are. I put my "Chill Out" playlist on and set up the table.
I was maybe halfway through my second game when I heard the bell over the front door tingle. I put down the pool cue to the sound of a scraping stool. I walked back into the bar room and saw the man's back. "You got a drink, friend?", he asked in a sing song voice. I made my way to the shelf with all of the liquor bottles. The man was dressed odd compared to our usual clientele. He was wearing a dark black suit, like the guy had just gotten out of church. "What do you want?", I asked. He rapped his knuckles on the wood. "Four Roses Bourbon. Three fingers neat if you don't mind". I reached up to the top shelf and grabbed the dust covered bottle. I took a clean rocks glass from the bottom of the shelf before turning towards the man and pouring the drink. The man grabbed the glass and I looked up at him. That was the first time I got a real look at him.
His suit wasn't Sunday best as I had originally thought. Patches of it had rotted away. It was covered in patches of mud, dirt, and pus yellow stains that shown past the black. The shirt underneath which had once been white was now a light brown with the same sickly yellow blotches scattered about. But that wasn't the horrifying part. His eyes were glazed over white with the only evidence of pupils being putrid milk colored dots. His skin was pulled tight against his skull like pale cling film. The right side of his face didn't even have that much. The bottom of his right eyeball was visible past a half rotten eyelid. Cheek bone, jaw, teeth, were all visible and a deep yellow color. He sipped the whiskey and brown liquor ran out through the gaps in his teeth. "Damn good stuff", he said with a half grin.
I pulled back and the man gave a deep laugh. "I know. I know. I look a mess. I caught my reflection in a store window. Don't worry. I don't mean any kind of harm...to you at least". I reached under the bar. My hand wrapped around a sawn off baseball bat we kept in case of a robbery. "If you use that bat you better make sure your first hit is true friend. I don't want to hurt you but I will". How did he know what I was thinking? Did he check under the bar when he walked in? Did he see the reflection in the mirror? He answered for me. "When you're dead going on 60 years you start to see things no one else does", he said while pointing at his half exposed eye. "The eye sees all I'm afraid. I see your heart racing. I see the bat. I see you Frank".
My fingers tightened around the leather grip. He took another sip. "I don't know how I know either. Please, let go of the bat. I just got out and would just like a bit conversation. Grab a drink pal. I'm buying". I let go of the bat and tried to feel the shelf behind me. I half swung my hand around until I felt fingers touch glass. I put another rocks glass on the bar top in front of me not wanting to lose sight of the stranger. When a man with half a face who somehow knows your first name asks to have a drink with you, you have three options. Option A is to try and kill him. That wasn't a choice if he knew what I was thinking before I thought it. Option B is to scream and run. But to who? The police? Sorry officer but can I trouble you to take care of this zombie in my bar? Yes, I've been drinking. Why do you ask? Option C. Have the drink and hope for the best.
I poured myself a bourbon and tried to avoid staring at his face. "Go ahead and look", the man said. "Before you ask, I don't know why I'm here. Well, not here here. I'm here here to have a drink and a conversation. Here though, that's a surprise. Woke up staring at silk. Clawed at it. Screamed. Don't know for how long. Could have been a day. Could have been 60 years. I didn't exactly have a calender. All I know is the box I was in started to move. The wood was old enough that after a few hits I cracked it. Ripped apart the top and made my way here. You can imagine it's been quite an interesting day for me". He chuckled. I drank deep and poured myself another.
"Is East Windsor road still three blocks down?", he asked. "No. Three blocks down is Kennedy Street", I responded. He looked confused. "Kennedy Street? Who's Kennedy? I'm talking three blocks that way", he said while pointing behind himself with his thumb. "Yeah. That's Kennedy Street. And that's Kennedy", I said while nodding towards a black and white photo of JFK we had hung on the wall by the mirror. "Kennedy...Hmmm. What did he do". I responded to the 60 year dead man the same way I would a drunk patron. "First Irish Catholic President". The man laughed. "Irish Catholic. God, I would have loved to see that. What else? First female president? First black man? First Atheist?". I stared at him a moment. Hope he's not racist. "We have a black President now. President Barack Obama". He laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. "My god! A black man as President. What a time! God. I have missed so much!". He rapped his fingers on the bar. "You believe in fate friend?".
I shook my head. "Well I do", he responded. "At least I do now. 60 years in the Earth. Only me to keep me company. I know why too. My pretty wife, well, I guess pretty ex-wife, killed me". He shook his head. "I knew that stew tasted funny. Anyway, My wife wanted to be with my friend Teddy. I knew at the time they were running around together. One night I go home and eat a nice home cooked meal. Next thing I know I'm clawing at the ceiling". He finished his bourbon. Dark brown trails on yellowed bone through gritted teeth. "I'll have my revenge. I'm going to walk down...Kennedy Street. Go right up to my house. Knock on the door and yell, 'Honey. I'm Home'. Then when I see her face, well, she won't be so pretty anymore. God, I hope Teddys there too". He stood up. "I'll pay you back friend. When I get a chance".
He turned around and walked out the door. As the bell above the door tingled, I fell to the ground shaking. I had finally composed myself a few hours later in the mid afternoon. I locked up, texted my boss about the damage and went home. I didn't sleep much and I ended up calling out of work the next few days. But, with a combination of sleep deprivation and repeating, "It was a bad Halloween prank", I finally found the courage to go back.
Then, a week after my return, I was opening up when I found an envelope shoved under the door. Inside was a newspaper clipping about an elderly couple who seems to have been ripped apart by an animal. Also, $9. Once I found out from the owner a glass of Four Roses cost $3 when they first opened up in 1951, I quit and left the state of Connecticut for good.
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