“I’ll be having another,” Ladbroc demanded as he slammed his flagon onto the bar, not even making the effort to lift his head from where it rested on his folded arms.
There was no response. After a moment he straightened himself up.
“I said, I’ll be having another ale.”
His blurred eyes scanned up and down the bar, trying to find someone to harass. The landlord was nowhere to be seen; nor were the serving wenches. He span around on his stool to address the room.
“What kind of a place is this when a …” His words trailed off into the silence. Broken chairs, overturned tables and dark lanterns regarded him. His only audience were a pair of chickens scratching for food on the sawdust covered floor. They appeared not to care if he had a drink.
With a heavy sigh Ladbroc got off the stool. He adjusted the sword which hung at his side and slapped the counter top. The pain drove away some of the numbness that had crept in with the drink.
“I s’pose I’ll be getting my own again then, shall I?”
One of the hens stopped pecking the floor and regarded him with its small black eyes. Ladbroc ignored it and staggered around the end of the bar. The first pump he tried spat nothing but air into his tankard. A second and third produced the same effect.
“Ah!” he exclaimed. “Dry barrels are no good when a man’s in need of refreshment. This place has been scuppered.”
On his way passed the seat he’d occupied he snatched up his hat, dusted it down and placed it on his head. It sat askew, his thin silver hair poking from under it. He lashed out at one of the chickens with a foot. The shot went wide of the mark by a fair way. Neither of the birds paid him any heed.
The daylight made Ladbroc blink. He stood there for a moment, swaying like an old palm tree. There was no more activity in the street than there had been in the bar. A warm breeze rattled shutters that hung on rusted hinges. Eddies of dust chased each other down the street. On a build opposite a monkey sat on the veranda picking at the flaking blue paint. Two of its companions were relaxing on an adjacent roof. They lifted their heads briefly to watch Ladbroc, then went back to picking fleas off each other.
The old pirate turned his wrinkled face towards the sky. The low hanging clouds reflected in his watery eyes.
“I’d say there be a storm coming,” he mumbled to himself. “Monsoon season!” This time shouted to the monkeys. “Best get inside ‘fore the storm hits.”
He lost interest in them when they failed to head for cover.
“Well this town’s about as much fun as a bilge.” He used the rail as support as he stepped down onto the road. “As there’s not a whore to be had round here I’ll take myself to the docks and get a boat aways.”
He staggered down the street between crumbling buildings covered in vines. By the time he reached the docks the clouds had gathered into grey mountains.
Beyond the last buildings lay the open sea. It was flat; a blue green cloth with barely a ripple to break the mirror image of the sky. There were no ships tied to the quayside. Discarded barrels stood in groups waiting to be loaded. The occasional cart littered the dock. No one moved in the taverns and warehouses. A parrot broke from the cover of an abandoned warehouse and headed for the green canopy of the forest that lay outside the town. Its hollow screech only added to the feeling of emptiness.
Ladbroc entered one of the inns and staggered back out taking large swallows from a bottle of whisky. He half climbed, half crawled up a pile of boxes and positioned himself on the highest one. As he sat looking out to sea the parrot returned. It landed next to him and gave a low call.
“Do you think they’ll be coming back?” Ladbroc asked the bird without turning away from the view. Not waiting for a reply he continued, “I miss all the others. You remember when this place bustled with life? When a man could get a woman and an ale at any time. Where’d they all go?”
The parrot hopped from one foot to another.
“Mayhapse I’ll just rest a while and wait for the ships to return.”
He curled his legs up and lay on his side. His companion dodged out the way, coming to land on another pile of boxes off to the right. The whisky bottle rolled around, the contents creating a pale cascade down the crates. Ladbroc closed his eyes. He let out a sigh and then his breathing began to slow.
The parrot watched the text above the pirate’s head. It nodded in time as each second ticked away. Finally, when Ladbroc had faded and the now empty bottle was all that remained, it took flight for the forest once more. It’s sorrowful cry echoing across the empty town.
28 August 2009
The world’s largest fruit bat is almost extinct in its native land of Malaysia. The last one will lead a solitary life until it is caught by hunters. In the digital world massively multiplayer online games come and go. The characters within them disappearing forever in just the same way.
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