Yesterday, in Drunkard’s God: “The Wine-Ogre”, we met . . .
. . . Sid, a crusty old lawman.
. . . Claire, an angel who lives in his hip flask.
. . . and a nameless wine-ogre!
The world used to belong to the drunkard’s god, and teetotalers like Sid were feared and hated. The cycle flipped. The teetotaler’s god rose to the top. And he’s still on top now.
That’s why people who drink too much wine turn into inhuman wine-ogres.
That’s why people who take drugs transform into monsters and then explode.
That’s why Sid’s got a cross that shoots Godlight.
And it’s why Sid thought Max was dead.
There’s no other possible fate for a teetotaler gone bad. Max turned on his god and went to the saloon, but they didn’t make him a drunkard. They sucked the life out of him. They drained him dry. They turned him to powder. And the teetotaler’s god would never have saved him.
He has to be dead.
But Max isn’t dead. So the wine-ogre said. Max is alive.
He’s an ale-man now.
Sid staggers to the steps of the Church and he sits down and he upends his hip flask and Claire falls out.
“Hey,” says Sid.
“Hi, Sid!” says Claire. “Did you know that Columbian drug lords can eat people’s souls? Also, second-hand smoke kills!”
“Knew it,” says Sid. “Lost a friend to second-hand smoke back in ’08.”
“Man,” she says, “your checkered history ruins all my fun.”
“What’s an ‘ale-man?'” asks Sid.
“It’s somebody whose skin’s been hollowed out so that you can pour ale in,” says Claire. “They’re lurking horrors who’ll get you drunk if they touch you.”
“Huh,” says Sid. “Didn’t know that.”
Claire beams. She spins around, unfurling her wings and glowing in every direction. “The more you know!” she carols.
“But it don’t make sense for Max,” says Sid. “What with them dehydrating him and all.”
“Enh,” shrugs Claire. “Lots of different kinds of ale-men. Like, there’s light ale-men that can fly, and dark ale-men that live in shadows, and German ale-men who are possibly heartier than the frontier types. Sometimes the drunkards’ll import a German ale-man in hopes of flipping the cycle back to the drunkard’s god, but it never works, because really German ale is overrated.”
“Oh,” says Sid.
“So maybe they rehydrated him—with booze!”
That night Sid goes home to his cold bed and he holds his crucifix tight and he doesn’t sleep for a long time; and when he does, it’s intermittent and light.
“Hey,” says Max.
Sid startles awake.
He flounders for his crucifix. It isn’t there. Sometime during the night he must have dropped it.
He looks around. His heart’s pounding so loud he can’t hear the night.
“Max?” he says.
But Max isn’t there.
Sid waits for morning. Then he goes through his day’s work. He goes through it hollowly. It’s like he’s just walking through the motions. It’s like the Law isn’t holding him together any more.
He prays in silence before the big statue of the Ten Commandments, the official one, with Aaron’s additions down at the bottom.
He arrests and cleans up a woman who’d started getting tipsy on life. She’s glad of it, and horrified about what might’ve happened, and she thanks him when he’s done. Her drab gray dress touches the ground as she curtsies. He’ll remember her sparkling smile for the rest of his life.
He wanders the streets of Respite looking for trouble to fix.
Then a stagecoach rushes by and almost hits him. He staggers back towards an alley. Hands are wrapping around his arms and mouth and they pull him back and in. He smells the reek of liquor before he shuts down his nose and tightens his sinus passages against the stench.
“Sid,” says Max.
“Let me go,” whispers Sid. “Let me go, Max. Won’t tell anyone you’re alive. Won’t do it.”
“You would,” says the ale-man. “I know you, Sid. You’d turn me in in a devil’s second.”
Sid is briefly confused because he doesn’t recognize that unit of time.
Then he shrugs.
“Yeah,” admits Sid. “I would.”
There is darkness all around Sid, now. He’s in the alley world, in the booze-world, far away from the bright-lit city streets. Max lets go, shoving Sid against the wall.
“I want to give you a chance,” says Max.
“You can still live, Sid,” says the ale-man. “You can go over to the drunkard’s god.”
Sid looks Max over. Max looks pretty much the same, except his skin’s just a bit sloshy when he moves and he’s got great splitting horns like a stag’s.
“You’re a horror, Max. A heck of a thing.”
“Don’t you understand?” says Max. “I can save you. He’s a good god, the drunkard’s god. He’s better. He frees you.”
“No,” says Sid.
Sid spits to the side.
“You’re drunk. You’re evil. You’re everything we always swore we’d never be.”
“Sid,” says Max.
There’s a pleading note in his voice. “C’mon, Sid. Don’t be like that.”
“It’s never going to happen to me.”
Now Max’s eyes harden. Now he’s standing straight. “But it will,” he says.
He reaches for Sid. His ale-man’s hand seals over Sid’s mouth. There is the reek of alcohol all around Sid and Sid’s feeling himself going fuzzy. So he does the only thing he can.
Sid pours out Claire.
“Hi, Sid!” says Claire. “Hi, Max! Did you know that marijuana opens a gateway to the Most Terrible He—”
Claire pauses. She assesses the situation.
“Oh,” she says.
Sid is fading. He can feel his soul twisting. He is becoming drunk.
“I’ll save you!” says Claire.
She opens her wings. Godlight flares in the booze-world. It sears through Sid. It sears through Max.
“Crusty old fool!” says Max.
Sid smirks, through the fog.
“Whee!” shouts Claire, the power rushing through her.
It burns both Sid and Max to shreds.