Once again this installment of Free-Range Fiction is due to that Pennsly-’Tuckian Boot in my arse. That boot comes in the form of a writing-prompt challenge regarding setting. Here were the choices:
In the middle of a prison riot.
Chinatown during a hurricane.
In the Martian suburbs celebrating the Red Planet’s independence.
In a haunted mountain pass.
On the battlefield during a war between two races of mythological creature.
I chose Chinatown during a Hurricane. It came out fairly easily, if slowly. The word count is more than 1,000 — there’s 50 extra words, specifically description for those who have never been to Chinatown in Seattle. But like Chuck said in another post – Fuck the Police. I’m making my own rules. And this was an exercise to get me writing, so, it did its job — 50 extra words or not.
So please enjoy: Dinner With Margaret.
Seattle doesn’t often get hurricanes. Okay, it never gets hurricanes. But, with global climate change and all that hoo-ha, we were getting hit. It was going to make Katrina look tame. Or said the idiot from the weather channel. You know the one who looked like he probably played football in college but turned weather geek because he blew out his knee. There he was, standing out on Alki Beach, with the wind tearing at his blue parka, rumbling sensationalism and subliminal fear into the microphone, as the wind flicked his cheeks. I was watching him on a screen that had a thin layer of greasy dust on it in a place that I likely shouldn’t have been. But I was here. Seattle’s Chinatown, or rather, the International District as it was politically correctly named in 1962 – the year I was born. Despite the PC name, the locals still called it Chinatown; however, it featured not only Chinese, but also Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Africans, who have a little niche in the community because of all the bullshit that went down with the Japanese during World War II.
Surrounded by all this culture, we sat with dullness painting our faces – the bartender, a waiter, a cook and bus boy and about a dozen other people besides me, in a little dive lounge restaurant that no tourists visit, The Nettle Fish. It had been here since 1966 and incorporated all the foods there was in the district. Its menu was huge. Anyone with a problem deciding on drink or food normally stayed away. I always ordered the Moo Shu Mushroom and a Chau Tien. There we sat, in the red-tinged cave-like setting, eating PHO or Spicy Chicken or nursing a Kirin. The bartender kept asking everyone that came in if they knew which Margaret they had named the hurricane after, they would get happy hour prices. I said Margaret Meade. He charged me full price.
Like I said, I shouldn’t have been sitting there. And when the cops rolled in, I knew I should have been seeking higher ground – heading to some place east – any place over the mountains.
“Folks, you’re going to need to clear out,” he stomped through the restaurant, his thick thighs rubbing against his uniform pants. He was burly, brash and had a butt the size of a Ford Bronco. He also had this nasal tone to his voice that made me think of my Aunt Dottie in Ohio.
From my seat at the bar, I could see into the kitchen and I saw the bus boy and dishwasher dude duck into the walk-in refrigerator. The bartender was looking back and forth from customers, to cop, and towards the front door.
It dawned on me then that maybe some of these dudes were illegals – but hell, the cops weren’t here for that. They were evacuating the city. Hurricane Margaret. What a bitch. She sure knew how to wreck a Friday night.
I just sat still in my stool, sipping my beer. Chau Tien was tough to come by these days – especially the stout batch. I wasn’t leaving it.
“Hey buddy,” the smaller of the two cops approached me. I saw the bartender act like he didn’t hear him. “You have to hit the road – get out of the city. Don’t you see the weather channel there?” He flashed a night-sticked hand at the dusty TV.
“I’d like to finish my dinner,” I said without looking up.
“Take it to go,” the cop squawked.
“Moose and chicken,” I said.
“What did you say?” the cop said, trying to act like he was a fucking Scarface clone, only less tough.
I said nothing. Mini-Scarface got up right in my face. I could smell the toffee mocha on his breath. At least the cops here in Seattle had something better than Dunkin’ Donuts. “Sir, this does not need to get ugly; I don’t think you want to be in jail when the hurricane hits.”
Before I could answer, there was a crash from the back of the kitchen. The Ford Bronco cop came through the silver and black swinging doors, his eyes bugged and he looked to be as moving as fast as he could without alarming anyone else. He was on his little suspender radio calling for back up.
Scarface left my said and went up to his partner. They faced the kitchen and conferred quietly together. Sirens screamed past outside. I could see no movement, nothing in the kitchen. The walk-in door was closed. Behind me the waiter was getting flack from some lady about her food being delayed. He kept saying, “Hurricane and cops make house special fried rice late.” She wasn’t listening. I was watching the cops.
The cops stood watching the door. More cops poured through the door. I figured it was my time to exit. I took a last swig of my beer. The back-up pair of cops joined Bronco and Scarface. I set a twenty-dollar bill on the bar and walked slowly towards the door.
I put my hand on door to open it, froze, noticing the little bells that dangled to let the staff know someone was entering or exiting.
A roar came from behind me. Through the doors came this creature the size of a fifth grader, with grayish, brown hair, a duck-like beak and a heart-shaped face that indented deeply at the top of its heads. It had huge long claws and was doing this barking honk at the officers with snarling teeth.
“Kappa!” screamed a woman, who sat in a table behind the wall of cops.
The creature bellowed again, as if in response to the woman’s cry. Others were screaming, too, but like the woman behind the cops, no one was moving, except the creature. It was snorting and scratching its claws on the carpeting, and bowing its head as if to bull charge. I put my hand on the door, eyes on the cops and the creature. A fire hose of water began to erupt from the top of the creatures head. I dashed out the door, not looking back. I heard breaking glass, water hitting the sidewalk, and screams come from behind me. I kept running.
I ran the four blocks to my motorcycle.
“Eastern Washington, here I come,” and I started the bike.