Drunkard’s God: “The Wine-Ogre”

Sid’s a crusty old lawman. Claire’s his hip-flask angel. Max is dead.

Sid’s in an abandoned saloon. He’s poking around at a weird spot in the floor. Finally, he takes out his hip flask and opens it and pours out Claire.

“Hi, Sid!” says Claire. She’s a little tiny angel, six inches high. “Did you know that your brain on drugs is like a cracked egg?”

“Aye,” says Sid.

“Oh,” says Claire, somewhat deflated.

“I think there’s a trap door,” says Sid. “But I can’t find it.”

Claire spreads her wings. She’s a little tiny angel, but her wings spread two feet wide. Each feather is like a dagger made of light.

A distant Heavenly chorus sings.

Claire sweeps her hands forward and claps them together. Red light shines up from beneath the floor. It shines brightest in a rectangle around the trap door. Then with a cracking sound like melting ice, the trap door opens.

“Woohoo!” says Claire. She pumps her fist. “Score one for the team!”

Sid peers down the stairs into the darkness below.

“A hiding hole,” he concludes.

“Ooh!” says Claire. “Did you know that the drunkards made bolt holes like this everywhere back when they knew the cycle’d turn?”

“Claire,” says Sid, flatly. “I’m a lawman.”

Claire stomps her foot. “I never get to tell you anything. I’m supposed to be infotainment, but you treat me like I’m just a utility angel.”

Sid shakes his head, unable to respond. He shines a flashlight down below. There’s a scraping sound and he can just barely see someone ducking out of the light.

“What do you know,” says Sid.

“I know that when people take drugs, they turn into evil monsters and then explode!” says Claire.

Sid looks at her. “Back in the bottle,” he says, flatly.

Claire pouts.

“Come on,” says Sid.

So Claire crawls back into the hip flask and screws on the lid. Sid puts the bottle back on his hip. He descends into the darkness.

“Hey,” he says.

He holds out his hand.

“Hey,” he says. “You don’t have to be down here any more. It’s okay. There’s amnesty.”

He shines his flashlight where he last saw the person. He can make out shelves full of dusty old wine bottles and behind them someone’s heavily dilated eyes.

Sid crosses himself. He’s a little sickened at the sight of the wine. But the drunkard’s his concern now.

“Come on,” he says. “You don’t have to live like this. How did you even survive? Down here all these years with . . . nothing to eat or drink . . . but . . . the . . . wine . . .”

Sid’s feeling a little queasy now, and all his senses are heightened. He’s in danger. So he feels around at his other hip for his crucifix. He holds its silver edge in his hand. He begins to back towards the stairs.

The shelf falls over with a crash. Broken wine bottles splash the devil’s brew along the floor. Sid yelps, turns, and scrambles up the stairs. Behind him it comes.

It is not human any more.

It has horns and fangs and great gnarled hands and it is a wine-ogre.

“Bucking elbow,” swears Sid, as its hands close on him from behind and his elbow slams into its stomach. “Slam!”

Miraculously, he manages to wriggle free of the creature’s hands, reach the top of the stairs, and turn. The crucifix comes out into his hands. He brandishes it at the wine-ogre. He shouts, “Stop!”

The creature doesn’t stop.

So Sid fires. He thumbs the safety off on his crucifix and he fires. There’s an explosion of Godlight. It burns all around the creature. It sears half the wine-ogre’s face right off. It burns the creature’s shoulder and its hand. The wine-ogre roars and stumbles backwards and falls. It hits its head when it lands. It is unconscious.

So Sid waits a while, to see if it wakes up. When it doesn’t he crawls down to it and he says, “You’re under arrest.”

There’s no amnesty for ogres.

Sid puts the handcuffs on the wine-ogre. He shackles its legs. He attaches the handcuffs to a chain. When the creature wakes up he leads it up into the dawn.

The creature is whimpering and crying now. “Don’t want to,” it is saying. “Don’t want to. Don’t want to.”

“You’re going to the sobering tank,” Sid says.

“Not fair,” it sulks.

“It’s your own fault,” says Sid. “You’re violating the cosmic order, being a wine-ogre like that.”

“Wasn’t,” says the wine-ogre. “Was perfectly natural.”

“Was,” agrees Sid.

The streets are almost empty. No one wants to watch what’s going to happen.

“See,” says Sid, “I remember back before, when I was the evil one. When the drunkard’s god was on top of the cycle, and the teetotalers like me were feared and hated. But the cycle turned. It spun right over, and now we’re living in teetotaler’s world. That’s why I’m a crusty old lawman, not one of the sober-trolls. That’s why Max is dead. And that’s why I’m taking you down to the tank. So don’t you lecture me on the way things are. I’ve been on the other side of things. I’ve felt the weight of the wheel. I’ve earned my righteousness with suffering. Mine and Max’s.”

They walk past the bank. They walk past the general store. They walk past the stables, though nobody rides horses any more.

“Max’s,” says the wine-ogre. Then it giggles.

“Eh?” says Sid.

“Max ain’t dead.”

“What do you mean?”

Sid’s voice is sharp.

“I remember what happened to Max,” Sid says. “He slipped over to the drink, back when people thought that was okay. He went down to the saloon. He said, ‘boys, set me up with a drink.’ And they all looked at him. And he laughed, and said, ‘boys, don’t you get it? I’ve been wrong all along. All my long sober days. Set me up with a drink!’ And they stared at him. And they were silent and their faces were long and they threw him in the sumper and sumped out his water until he died.”

“Ha ha ha,” laughs the wine-ogre.

So Sid jerks hard on the chain and it falls to its knees and it scrapes them on the dirt of the street, and Sid glares at it and says, “Drunkard scum.”

It doesn’t say much of anything all the rest of the way to the sobering tank. It doesn’t say much of anything till they get there.

Sid spins the wheel on the top of the tank to unlock it. He kicks it open. There’s a great sucking sound as the seal breaks. He shoves the wine-ogre in.

That’s when it speaks again. That’s when it shouts, guttural, “He’s an ale-man.

It doesn’t have time to say any more.

There’s a sickening crunch far below.

Sid closes the top. He spins the wheel to seal the tank. There is the snap of gears and the humming of pistons.

The wine-ogre meets the fate given to the drunk.

Drunkard’s God concludes tomorrow, with “The Ale-Man.”

3 thoughts on “Drunkard’s God: “The Wine-Ogre”

  1. Is Jane wondering whether the change in the wind is– like this? Replacing one questionable regime with another that’s somehow reciprocal? I sure hope not…

  2. Finally, he takes out his hip flask and opens it and pours out Claire.

    It may just be that I play too many computer games, but I visualised this as a Zelda like fairy in a bottle; with it taking a few good shakes to get the angel free of its cramped confines.

    Loved the story, although I am a little worried I might be an ale-man!

    ADDED TEN MINUTES LATER

    For the last ten minutes I have had ale-man playing in my head to the tune of the Blues Brothers Soul Man:

    I’m an ale-man, do de do dum, do de do dum.
    I’m an ale-man, do de do dum, do de do dum.

    OK no more coffee for me.

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