“Who’s Daphne?” by John McNeeley

“She was a black star” Hatman said

“Who was?” asked Pale

“Daphne”

“Who’s Daphne?”

“She’s a black star, man!”

“Black star? In what way?”

Hatman looked at Pale as if he should’ve been able to read minds and just know the answer- “As in ‘no light’, but more powerful than the beautiful ones that shine bright. Those black stars got pull and before you know it you are sucked in! Daphne, she sucked them in”

“Oh”

They tried talking low, but the BBQ join they were in was blasting Rubber Soul, the entire album, at a very high volume. The tables were cramped, as Pale and Hatman devoured their ribs and chicken, jammed in between local artists and college kids. It may have been a cold New England night, but you’d never know it with the crowd at Reds. A funny thought must’ve run across Hatman’s mind as he grinned a big greasy red/brown smile with rib-meat between his teeth.

“What?” asked Pale

“Oh nuthin, just that she had me before HELLO” Hatman closed his eyes and lifted his head as if basking in an invisible sunlight.

“Who?”

“Fuckin’ Daphne! She was a black star I said!”

“Ahh! OK, OK, yes…and you got sucked in, I see”

Pale got a little squirmy, rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck side to side. He was happy to be back in the city he grew up in, but was never big with crowded places. Six years now he’d been living in the country, but every few months he’d take the two hour ride down to meet up with his old classmate Hatman with whom Pale had attended Grad school with. Hatman lived in the city and was a journalist for the entertainment section of the Boston Daily. Aside from a few emails about music, movies and books and the regular meet up at Reds, Pale actually knew little about Hatman.

“You still with that girl from Barre?” asked Hatman.

“We hook up time to time, but nothing serious” Pale shrugged

Hatman shook his head, “Distance man, distance. You are living pretty far off lonely roads from one another with a long ass ride in between. Daphne would bridge the gap and cover that distance in no time, and you wouldn’t be saying ‘nothing serious’ if it were her up in Barre. You’d be the fucking Mayor of Barre just to sleep in her warm bed”

A college kid from an adjoining table looked at Hatman like he’d seen a ghost, then the kid’s friend followed his buddy’s stare to Hatman and almost choked on his beer and quickly coughed and turned away. Hatman lowered his cap over his brow and looked down nervously.

“I know you!” the first kid said “you are the guy who writes that column for the Daily. You wrote a review on The Banditz new album and you gave them one star! You bombed them dude! That was not cool.”

Pale uncomfortable and puzzled, looked at Hatman who was smiling as if he knew some inside joke. He slid his chair over to the kid and waved his finger back and forth in front of his face as his voice climbed from a whisper to a scream “no No NO, you do NOT get to judge! I get to judge because I am paid to judge, you see. Their album was terrible! Every song sounded like a bridge that could not find a chorus and all the songs sounded alike! They have not lived enough life to write good songs. The Banditz got one star because they deserved ONE STAR!”

Hatman’s eyes were wild with anger as he slinked his neck side to side like a cobra. The kid’s face turned red from embarrassment as his buddy and a few other crammed-in diners looked on. When Hatman looked around, they cast their eyes down to their meals and got back into their conversations. The volume of the music seemed to diminish considerably during Hatman’s rant, but now it was back at full volume, muffling the voices and the clinking of dinnerware.

Pale did not like this. It was bad enough he had crowd phobia, and now to have so much attention drawn to his table after the run-in between Hatman and the kid, his heart was beating fast and he was sweating from more than just the buffalo wings he was eating. How much did he really know about Hatman besides his reviews and the small talk about music and such? Not much at all and now he felt as though he might not want to get together with Hatman again. He’d never seen this side of him and what if it got worse? Pale shakily lifted his glass of beer to his lips and took a few long nervous chugs.

Hatman watched his discomfort “Hey, hey, now it’s cool. That kid should have minded his business. How they even knew who I was is crazy! They don’t even feature my picture in the paper and I don’t like to be photographed anyway. I know my shit about music and that’s what I get paid for. Shit, how the fuck- I don’t even use my real name! Ha!” and Hatman went back to shoving ribs into his mouth- this time bone and all!

Pale sat there speechless. The college kids stopped eating and drinking, as did the artists and Rubber Soul stopped playing. Everyone was watching Hatman, as he swallowed ribs whole. When he finished his plate, he leaned over and grabbed the discarded bones of the college kid and ate them, making a horribly loud crunching noise as his teeth broke down the swine bones.

Hatman swallowed hard and rose up to address the patrons of Reds, “one thing Daphne taught me is that we are all mothers of consumption. We all consume- music, food, time, energy, money. Daphne was a black star my friends, and she taught me that the black stars are so ever grateful for the ones that shine. You know WHY?” and he turned to the college kid with whom he’d been in a spat with minutes earlier and raised his eye brows as if begging an answer

“Who the fuck is Daphne?” asked the kid, scared and puzzled

“YOU SON OF A BITCH KNOW-IT-ALL PUNK!” Hatman screamed as he grabbed the kid’s arm and started chewing through it as the kid roared in pain, “YOU THINK YOU KNOW BETTER THAN ME TO JUDGE MUSIC BUT YOU DON’T KNOW DAPHNE?” Hatman half yelled, half mumbled through mouthfuls of forearm flesh “DAPHNE WAS ALWAYS GRATEFUL FOR YOU SHINY LOUD IDIOTS BECAUSE YOU MASKED THAT SHE WAS EVER COMING AT ALL AND SO SHE CAME AS A BLACK STAR AND CONSUMED EVERY MAN AND NOW I MUST DO THE SAME IN HER HONOR!”

Once shock turned to horror everyone ran for the doors, trampling one another as they exited Reds and scrambled into the chilly night. Only Pale remained behind. He stood frozen in a corner near the exit and watched in horror as Hatman finished devouring the bones of the kid’s forearm. The kid had passed out and was slumped over the table, his face buried in a plate of refried beans. Hatman’s chest was heaving; his breathing wheezy as he leaned back in his chair wiped the blood from his mouth and tapped his hands on his stomach like he had just finished a satisfying holiday meal.

“Oh Pale, you look so, you know” and with that Hatman laughed “you gotta understand he shined too bright man, he didn’t even see me coming. Daphne would be proud. I mean, I know music, and man, this was a symphony, you know? That shit band The Banditz started all this. So help me they are next” Hatman stared out the window, his eyes glazed over. Silent blue lights illuminated the walls of Reds. Shadows cautiously approached and formed into police officers upon entry to the dinning area. Two had guns drawn on Hatman and one checked the faint pulse of the kid.

“She’ll consume you all” Hatman growled as he stood up and raised the steak knife above his head, “She was a black star” as the officers fired four shots into Hatman’s chest and he fell to the floor.

Pale’s knees got weak and he collapsed into a chair. For a moment he thought about how happy he was that the crowd was gone and his panic subsided. He thought about how much he loved the peace of the country life and how that girl way up in Barre was worth a try.

“Hey you, hey!” one of the officers was kneeling beside Pale with his hand on his shoulder “Who was he?”

Pale thought about how he never really knew Hatman and probably never even knew his real name “I don’t know, I mean, I don’t really know anything about him”

With that the officer asked “who was he referring to as ‘she’, as a black star?”

“Daphne”

“Who’s Daphne?”

To find out more about John go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-71-Sound/109603059113445

4 thoughts on ““Who’s Daphne?” by John McNeeley”

  1. I liked this. I have a shitty cold and it made me laugh because what happened was sooooo unexpected. I feel better.

    Thanks,
    Kevin

      1. I liked “Lie Steel”—great action and characters. I think the MC shoulda been pissed off at the end though. Maybe the cute little receptionist catches up to him on the street and gouges his eyes out, slices off his dick, and walks off into the sunset snackin’ on it.

        ha ha, guess I’m stuck on the cannibal thing,
        Kevin

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