The Neon Straightjacket
I was ambushed. I would love to tell you how heroic it all was but in actuality I was taking a leak and the bastard just came up from behind and buried his knife to the hilt in my shoulder. I remembered falling in my own piss as my attacker pulled the knife out.
He sliced my arms and legs and then took aim at my open fly. I managed to get a leg up and push him off. He had every intention of cutting my dick off and it was just the right amount of motivation to fight.
He charged at me again and I got that same leg up in the air to block him. He jammed the knife in my leg right above the boot top. I could feel it pop out the back of my calf and I howled like a dog in a bear trap.
My attacker tried desperately to get his knife out of my leg. Just as I felt the knife start to slide, a bullet flew out of his forehead in a cascade of blood and brain matter.
My people found me and rescued me from my blood and piss soaked patch of desert. Unfortunately I did end up losing my foot from the ankle down due to infection. Apparently, cleaning soldier-killing knives wasn‘t a top priority for terrorists.
I got shipped back home where I moved back in with my parents. At first all I did was sleep the day away. I didn’t want to leave the house. I was embarrassed about how I was injured and having a prosthetic foot. Physical therapy was going okay when I went but I still had a very noticeable limp. The people were the worst part. They hovered around like gnats, reminding me of my bravery and spewing pity like vomit.
Sometimes I would be hard on myself, thinking others had it worse. I lost a foot, some lost a lot more. Then I’d think, I don’t care if others had it worse, I lost a fucking foot. That made me feel selfish and even shittier than before.
When I slept I saw my attacker and his head spitting out the bullet that killed him. Like a movie I saw it from all different angles. Some nights he didn’t stay dead. Sometimes he slit my throat, other times he was successful in emasculating me, and some nights he just kept stabbing me until I woke up. I always checked my sweat-soaked sheets for blood. I was exhausted, depressed, gaining weight and ready to eat a bullet.
Things changed when I met an elderly woman at my doctors office. My mother insisted I see a psychiatrist. I could see her point but was doubtful it would help.
The woman stopped me as I was leaving and said, “Son, you look like shit.”
I appreciated her honesty and she had that cute little old lady vibe going on so I wasn’t too mad, at her anyway.
“Tell me do you have a job?” she asked.
None of your damn business, I thought. But I just shook my head.
“Well you’re in all kindsa luck cuz I’m looking for a strapping young lad like yourself.” She handed me a business card. “I was gonna stick this on the bulletin board but you take it. I think you’re perfect.”
I looked at the card. It was black with fluorescent green and pink writing. It said The Neon Straightjacket Bar and Grill. The logo was a man fitted with a bright pink straightjacket.
“Do you think this is appropriate to hang on the bulletin board of mental health clinic?” I was still looking at the little man, he wore a bite guard on his mouth like Hannibal Lecter.
“I find the people here have the most open minds of anyone. Working at the Neon takes a very special person.”
When I got home I sat on my bed spinning the card around. I had never heard of the Neon Straightjacket before but I figured what the hell, I had nothing to lose. I took my dad’s car and drove to the address on the card. When I got there I wasn’t surprised when I couldn’t find the place. The woman was just a senile, old kook.
But then I saw her sweeping the sidewalk. I pulled the car up to the curb and parked. She waved as I got out, her white hair looked fiery orange in the remaining rays of the setting sun.
“Oh, honey, I’m glad you‘re here,” she said.
“I’m still not sure I should be,” I said.
“You won’t regret it. I promise.”
She wrapped a tiny arm around mine and walked me toward the opening to an alley. I had a bad feeling, like I was heading into a trap. She seemed harmless but so did some of the people overseas who ended up having bombs strapped to their chests.
“You can call me Margaret. I own this place.”
She stopped dragging me along and turned to her left. There was a staircase that went underground. The bar must’ve been in the basement of the building. She lead me down the steps to a door. On the other side of that door was another door, this one to an elevator. We got in and she hit the single green button on the control panel. My stomach lurched with the closing of the doors.
“You don’t sleep much. You see monsters in your dreams.” She held on to my arm. “You’ve seen things, done things, things that scare you to think about.”
I shook my arm loose from her grip.
“Okay, seriously I’m not in the mood to be fucked with. What’s your game you crazy old bitch?”
“I hit a nerve. I apologize.” She kept her smile turned on and amped up. It was creepy.
“How far does this fucking elevator go.”
“What does that mean?” She was really starting to piss me off.
“The Neon Straightjacket is a special place. It was created for a very unique set of customers. These customers are no stranger to fear and monsters in the dark.
“When I need a new bartender I like to find a soul that is well acclimated to fear. You know fear intimately; the kind of fear you only feel when you’re just about to die. There aren’t too many people like you. Most of them actually end up dead. You tasted the fear and survived.”
“Lady, I don’t know what you think you know about me or what this is all about but I want out. Stop the elevator.”
“I can’t. You have to wait until we get to the Neon. If you don’t like what you see back up the shaft you go.”
I was positive I wasn’t going to like whatever I found at the bottom.
When the elevator finally stopped the door popped open with a ding. We stepped out into a lobby. The dark cranberry carpet was plush and wall to wall. The face of the Neon Straightjacket was all dark stained wood. It looked pretty fancy actually, all except the neon sign. The wood and glass said fine dining the neon sign screamed strip joint.
“Did you ever wonder what monsters do in their free time?” I looked at her, trying to figure out if she was serious or not. “The Neon Straightjacket is the place where evil comes to rest.”
She opened the door.
“We don’t open for a few more hours. I thought it would be nice to give you a tour.”
“What do you mean by evil?”
“Well let me tell you why it’s called the Neon Straightjacket. The patrons that come here belong in them and if you told anyone about this place they’d put you in one. This is where the bogeymen come to unwind.”
“And why would I want to work here?”
“Well why not? You’re not doing anything else but sulking, bitching and whining. You‘ve done a pretty good job pissing away your second lease on life.”
She had a point, I had wasted a great deal of time feeling sorry for myself. None of that made the rest of this lady’s story make any sense.
“So what difference does it make if you spend all your time up there serving the creatures in your head or these ones here.” She pointed at my head. “Those ones are far more dangerous. These ones want a drink, those ones want your soul.”
“Is that what this is? Are you trying to teach me a lesson?”
“Have you learned anything?”
I shook my head. I was more confused than ever.
“You see my dear, I need a bartender, the best ones are the ones that have given up, which you clearly have.”
“What happened to your other bartender?”
“He learned his lesson.”
“No matter what life throws at you, it’s better than being a bartender in Hell.”