The Hall Burns

“How’s it goin’?” asks a passing bicycler.

“Hey,” I mumble in reply.

It’s one of those nights, just after midnight, where the town you are in is so incredibly stale and boring that you get the urge to stir up trouble just to have something to compare it to. I’m out walking because there is no gas in my car and the paycheck isn’t coming fast enough to refill it. It is my night off, and I have grown exceedingly tired of lying around.

I smell the faint odor of skunk and pause to try and tell where it’s coming from. The wind is gently blowing into my face, and just as I realize that the skunk is ahead of me, I see it rummaging through a flower garden in the house before me. I’m half-tempted to throw a few rocks at it to get it to spray the garden, but I’m too bored to put in the effort.

Forward I go, wishing I could be more aimless. There is no rush, but it is always onward, in one direction, with one goal.

A cat sits perched upon a blue Chevy truck. Right up top. Siamese, with a hint of yellow in the coat, though that could be a trick of the light from the amber glow above me. The cat perks up when I come near, so I pause and hold out a hand. It dares not approach. I take a step and it follows me, though when I turn around, it runs a few paces back. We repeat this back and forth a few times, and I decide to just walk.

Walking, walking, step after achy step. Another drunkard rides past on his 10-speed, holding a bottle in a brown paper bag, swaying a little with each cycle of the pedals. In some smaller college towns, he could be arrested for “Self-Transporting While Intoxicated.” No joke.

I’m downtown now. To my right is a drive through bank with an ATM. A small calico paws at the machine, appearing to beg for cash. The sight puts a very slim smile on my face, and I keep walking, moving toward the center of town.

Town is quiet aside from the low rumble of a semi-truck in the distance. The busiest street in town has so little traffic that I could nap in the center lane for awhile without being a bother. If I were with a group of friends out on the streets at night, that’s something I just might do if it garnered a laugh or two.

I run my hands through my hair, rub my eyes, and massage my ears. Ahead of me are two strays, play fighting near a garbage can. The can belongs to a sub sandwich shop, and they generally end up throwing out the spoiled tuna every night. It attracts animals of all sorts, but tonight must have been a popular night for the “Tuna Surprise!” special, judging by the cleaner-than-normal smell. Both cats run off when they hear me.

There is not a cloud in the sky, and the full moon lights up a baseball field almost as well as the poorly maintained stadium lights can. On the weekends, you might find a little league or tee ball game going on over there, but tonight it’s just a parked car and some frisky teenagers. Looks like the graveyard shift Police Officer forgot to lock up the gate again. He honestly didn’t remember to do it very often, but it didn’t do any good when it was locked anyway. If anyone wanted into the park, they just climbed the fence the good ol’ fashioned way.

Glancing behind me, I check my amassed cat army to make sure they were still coming. Forty or fifty cats have joined the ranks and more were coming every block or two. They make no sounds, silent as cats can be, and together we walk onward for our epic mission. Leading the pack are the four that I found tonight. The Siamese, the Calico, and the two Strays.

We stop at a gas station. THE gas station. It is the only one in town that stays open all night, and it is right on Main Street for the few truckers that come through town after normal business hours. It is small, and only employs a handful of people. At night, they’d be lucky to have two people on shift, discouraging the brand new hires from staying long enough to earn company benefits.

“How’s it goin’?” The clerk asks.

“Fine.” I reply. The cats follow me inside, silently padding along.

“Um… sir…” The clerk is about nineteen years old. She’s relatively cute, looks rather tired, has a nose ring, and a curling iron burn on her forehead.

“Right, no animals allowed? Don’t worry, they won’t cause trouble.” I go through each aisle, looking for what I need.

The cats keep pouring in, and the clerk’s mouth hangs open slightly, as if she forgets to protest half-way through the very first word. Her eyes barely glaze over and she rubs her temples just before putting her head down on the counter in resignation. One of the felines, a nice tan housecat, jumps up on the counter and rubs its head on her shoulder, purring gently.

I grab what I need and walk to the counter, the sea of cats swirling around my ankles, most of them purring happily. The clerk sits up, petting the housecat, and she raises an eyebrow at me.

“Is… this all?” She asks.

“Yup.” I say, without conviction.

“What do you need a tire thumper for?”

“It’s a secret,” I say, matter-of-factly.

“Ya know, if you just said, ‘It’s for thumpin’ tires,’ I would have known to keep my nose out of your business, but now I’m worried.” Her brow wrinkles in concern. “You aren’t going to smash these cats are you?”

“What?” I say. “What kind of sick mind even comes up with that? I’m not going to hurt the kitties! Jeez, how could you assume that of me? You don’t even know me!”

The clerk’s lower lip drops again. She wants to say, “I was just worried. I didn’t assume anything!” but she can’t find the words. I turn to leave.

“Smashing cats…. sheesh, you need to have your head examined.” I say as I walk out the door. I forgot to pay for the Tire Thumper, so I storm back in and throw some cash at the counter. “Keep the change,” I say as I storm right back out. The clerk is incredibly confused.

Two more blocks down Main Street, and I reach the Town Hall. Flood lights at the sidewalk brighten up the facade, showing off the Grecian architecture. The City Council spent an excessive amount of money on this building, hoping to inspire the rest of the town to follow suit, making the whole area gain land value in order to attract more residents. It backfired though, because the townspeople were so upset by the extravagant building that they felt their tax money was wasted when things like the baseball field were in a state of disrepair.

The City Council was made up of people who were generally out of touch with the community anyway, but they were powerful and wealthy, so no one stood up to them.

That was going to change tonight though.

I marched up to the front doors, army of sixty behind me, and took a deep breath.

“Ready, boys and girls?” I said half to myself. There was a barely audible shuffling behind me.

Turning, I catch the glint of one hundred twenty sets of glowing eyes, and the two bright spots where the flood lights were placed. The town is silent as it holds its breath for the most impressive concert to grace its streets to hit the very first note.

My army is Bach. It is Haydn. It is Bernstein. It is going to bring down the house. I raise my arms high, and all one hundred twenty orbs before me glance up and watch as I turn and bring my baton down through the front door to the building.

The opening pitch is a startling crack, followed by a tremolo of falling shards of glass, ringing to the ground below.

The bass line is the sound of two hundred forty padded feet running through the door and onto the pristine marble floor of the building.

The overtones are the security alarms blazing into the night, their steady rhythm keeping time for us.

The melody, the soft sweet melody, is that of the sixty-one voices singing their mews, meows, and screamingly bloodthirsty howls as I stick it to the man, commanding my feline army to destroy the very building that destroyed our community.

This stale and boring night is now alive. The void I felt is now filled with incredible energy, incredible vitality and vibrance. There is no vexation, no mortification, no vulgar or abhorrent vibe in the air. It is bright, clear, clean, free, and vigorous.

The Hall burns to the ground tonight.

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2 Responses to The Hall Burns

  1. Joe Carter says:

    I just got around to reading this. I love it. I will read this to my children at night.

  2. This is actually a very good piece.

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