The local news, projected to the bar by way of their staticky, cafeteria tray–sized TV, warned of severe storm conditions, possible flash flooding. That afternoon, the odd car that passed by did not stop; everyone had a home to get to, or higher ground, at least. Jaundiced air stirred Hootie’s gut. Animal instinct, she figured. Get away. Run far, far away from here.
“End of days,” said Manny, the bar’s cook. “End of the world. Apocalypse incoming. The biblical flood. Make your peace.” He wiped a cloth across the counter, cleaning nothing. “What day is it, anyway?”
“Stop,” said Hootie.
“What year is it?”
“You know what year it is.”
Manny whistled, shrugged, sighed. Wiped the counter. Footage of a previous catastrophe from years prior was shown: a car spiraled down a rushing, brown river—not a river, a highway—the driver visible inside. Did that person die? The news anchors didn’t say. Turn around, Don’t drown! captioned the scene. Hootie found it deeply disturbing that no mention of the driver’s fate was made. Manny prayed to the crucified Jesus he had nailed onto the wall.
The bar was down off Route 66 in Arizona. Once there had been a sign with a name out by the road, but that had rusted and crumpled over, and by nature of the bar’s isolation there weren’t many regulars. So though the bar had once had a name, it was no longer remembered. Customers passing through—college students on a road trip, truckers pulling long hauls, seedy-looking types who didn’t do much talking—didn’t much care to know where they were drinking, or what they were drinking, or who was serving it to them. In lieu of a name, the owner, Carl, relied on a glowing red neon sign in the form of a flashing martini he’d bought on eBay to lure clientele off the pock-marked highway. Back. Forth. Back. Forth. The glass angled from side to side. A hypnotic pendulum: the olive rolling from north to south, from south to north—which way, traveler? Secured to the top of an old step ladder whose feet were locked in a wide barrel of concrete, the glowing martini was a beacon of light amid endless desert, and at night, amid an endless, black void. There wasn’t even a martini on the menu.
Wind billowing their shirts like parachutes, Manny and Carl wrenched closed the long-forgotten shutters. Chance of a dust storm. Zero visibility! Get home and stay there! The shutters gave with awful shrieks. One snapped off, had to be nailed up. Hootie watched from inside, one by one until the last window was sealed. The hammer pounded: an immediate sense of suffocation.
“I should get home before it gets bad,” Carl said, kicking shut the door behind him and Manny, his voice too loud for the hush that had fallen over the bar. “Gotta get back to Penny.” Penny was Carl’s dog, a slow Labrador. “She can’t stand storms.” Sweat formed a collar around Carl’s neck, staining his white t-shirt a sickly beige. He looked at Hootie.
“You gon’ be all right here?”
She shrugged. “Sure.”
Carl looked to Manny. “And you?”
Through the crack in the boarded-up window, Hootie watched Carl get into his rusted truck, watched as he used his blinker though no one was there to see it.
“And then there were two,” Hootie said.