As Jonny Castle walked through the desolate town, he thought of his mother and her obsession with the hero from the movie Dirty Dancing. Not only did Patrick Swayze’s character inspire his name, but her favourite encouragement till her last breath was “Nobody puts Jonny Castle in the corner”.
He felt detached as he walked through the ghost town. A town abandoned by the younger generation, leaving the old folks behind during the last pandemic in 2009, the swine flu outbreak. "Go there, check it out and spin a story," his boss had said and here he was.
He snapped pictures of the buildings falling apart, shop lots with trees growing through the roofs, sidewalks splattered with bird sh*t. A few bikes and bicycles with missing tyres and parts broke the monotony of the lonely road before him.
He sensed a movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see an old man shuffle through a door 100 metres away. He broke into a slow jog to catch up with the only soul he'd seen so far.
The door swung open even before he could touch it. “Here’s your damn whiskey,” he heard, as he stepped into a busy bar.
Like speakers going from mono to stereo, the sound filled up the room. He felt claustrophobic, something he had picked up from his assignment in Venezuela when he had been shoved into a barrel for questioning the wrong people. Working alone didn't always favour him.
He immediately turned around but a big, burly man was standing against the door he had walked through. The man nodded towards the bar. Jonny, feeling light-headed, walked over, bumping into bodies that gravitated towards him like pins to a magnet.
"Hey Mister, here's your drink!" said the waitress as he sat on a stool to steady himself.
"What's this place called? Who are all these people?"
"These people?” she smirked. You are one of these people."
"Who are you?"
She sneered and shoved the glass against his mouth. “Drink!” she snapped.
It knocked his teeth and he moved back surprised at the hostility. He had been on many assignments which included dangerous and rowdy people but this bar was the epitome of oblivion to the world’s common courtesies.
He took the glass from her, and she walked off but not before she spat on the floor, missing his shoes by an inch. He studied the colourless liquid in the glass, wondering what it was before he threw it back and downed it in one mad gulp. He couldn't taste it, he couldn't even feel it going down his throat.
He looked around at the people when it hit him that no one was talking. They looked like bees lost after their hive had been knocked. Just buzzing around, literally. There was a strange static hum in the background, loud enough to give him a slight headache.
"Hey," he called out to the bartender. The bartender came over and scowled. "Where is this place? What's going on? What's that weird sound? Who are all these people?"
"Waiting," he grunted, except his lips weren't moving. It was like Jonny could hear him in his head.
"Waiting for what?" Was he moving his mouth or was he also communicating voiceless he wondered.
"What are you waiting for?" the bartender questioned back, enunciating 'you'. Jonny slammed the glass on the counter. He was many things, but if you asked anyone who knew him to describe him in one word, they'd say temperamental.
The glass shattered but no one seemed to care. Not even the bartender who was already walking away. A lady sat beside him. There was something odd about her. He stared at her and she turned to look at him.
He jumped off the stool. Her eye sockets were empty. "I have cried my heart out. I've cried my eyes out. But you are here now." All this he heard in his head, including her shrieking laugh that came after.
He ran to the door or at least where he thought the door had been. He walked along the wall, as he heard/felt the voices from the bodies who were all facing him. But he wasn't listening.
He saw the old man who had shuffled in looking out a window. He took long strides, bumping into more bodies. Jonny followed the old man's gaze, and there he saw it. He looked back at the packed bar, every single one of them, the whole place was filled with ghosts, chanting, “Nobody puts Jonny Castle in the corner”.
He had seen them before, they were looking familiar now. The man who had hung himself when Jonny had broken his story of embezzlement. That lady, his mother who had died of loneliness because he was too busy chasing after the next big story. The young man he had watched being eaten by a crocodile during the floods in Sarawak. All these ghosts were his stories, he had written about them.
He looked out the window again and stared at the body crushed under the slab of stone fallen off from the half-finished building just 100 metres away. He looked at the only part of the body not crushed, his hand holding the camera he had gifted himself during the lockdown Christmas. He didn't understand what was going on, but he knew he belonged as he heard a low static rumble rise from within himself, humming and harmonising with everyone else in the bar.
I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who dropped in on the first draft and gave me feedback. The most common comment was in regards to the opening, and I could see the disconnect. I have edited it and hope it has a better flow.
I also want to say thank you to @TheInkWell as this challenge has been helpful in seeing what others really think of my story. And yes, I look forward to more feedback :D
Thank you for reading,
Image sourced from pexels.com and edited