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On the Night Side of the Ancient, Walnut Moon
by Joseph Paul Haines
Just past the whorehouse with the invisible walls, through the intersection of Was and Is, Johnnie's Pub and Pet Hospital sat nestled between two abandoned buildings which were, in every fashion, identical to the home in which Des Morris grew up. A Wyvern was hitched from the post in front of the Pub, right next to an eagle the size of a small elephant.
Des smacked the road-dust from his Levi's and pulled a cigarette from the inside pocket of his leather, burnt-orange vest. A crusted-cream colored mutt sat at his feet. The dog looked at Des' weathered face and whined.
"It's okay, Tween," Des said. "We're almost there."
The growth just above Tween's hind-leg was bigger than the day before, and the smell was far worse, that much was certain. It had started out as just a slight discoloration on his hair, a dirt brown patch that Des didn't pay much attention to at first. It wasn't until Tween started to favor his left leg over his right that the seriousness of the matter set in. Over the course of days and weeks and finally a month, the discoloration grew into a puffy, fungal, umber-tinted sore that stank of ammonia and rotted meat.
They'd been in the high country hunting the Questing Beast when the disease first appeared. Civilization had been a good hike away—more so because of the slow pace necessitated by Tween's wound—but they'd made it. They were out of food and water.
The tavern offered an end to both of their suffering.
"C'mon, boy," Des said, lighting his cigarette with his last match. Tween limped once, whined, and hobbled on.
Des pushed open the swinging doors to the tavern and stepped inside. The tables were crowded with other Questors. Some wore full suits of armor. Others wore flight suits. All of them were armed. Cigar and cigarette smoke filled the air with a deep blue haze. The air stank of spilled beer and tobacco spit. In the back corner, a jukebox blared John Cougar Mellencamp while a man in a baseball uniform argued with someone in a safari hat over a stack of silver pieces sitting on the pinball machine. Behind the bar, Johnnie served up shots of whisky, occasionally wiping his hands on the blue surgical gown he always wore.
Des looked down at Tween sitting near his boot heel. He took another step and Johnnie looked up from behind the bar.
The smile of recognition dropped from Johnnie's face when he noticed Tween following behind. "Hey, sorry Des. You've got to leave the dog outside. New town ordinance."
"He needs help," Des said. "This is still an animal hospital, isn't it?"
"Yeah, of course," Johnnie said. "We're just not allowed to have animals inside, is all. Leave him outside. I'll come out and take a look in a minute."