“Hey don’t drink it all!”
The camel blinked and stared at me. I wasn’t sure how to answer the animal. I raised the bottle back to my lips.
“Save a little for later!”
By this time I’m drunk. I’m sure of it. It’s the only way I can explain a camel asking me questions in a bar. Wait a minute…
“You’re not in a bar. You’re in a “barn”.
A twinge of panic courses through my veins.
“Are you narrating your thoughts?”
Sheer bloody panic mode. I need to get out of here.
The camel grabs the bottle out of my hand with its mouth. It places the bottle on the ground and flips the cap on with its snout.
“Just save a little bit. Okay?”
The camel is ordering me around and I don’t like it. Something must be done about this rude camel. Where is the bartender? I’m going to lodge a formal complaint.
“You were in the sun too long. I told you—”
“Don’t tell me what to do! I don’t take orders from camels of any sort!” He said.
The camel licked its lips, searching for some words. “I need you to stay in the barn. I’ll get help.”
“You cowardly beast. Leaving me to waste away in this bar. Drinking my life away! Where are we anyway? Paris? London?”
A fly landed on the camel’s eye, but it didn't blink. The traveler stared into the inky blackness. He watched the fly rub its hands together.
“It’s plotting with the camel. Planning my demise in this infernal bar.”
“I know what you and that fly have planned. It’s the same thing those damned Vietnamese tried on me. But I won’t be tricked this time!”
“Listen just stay here. Don’t open the doors. It’s cooler inside than out in the sun. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
The camel walked out of the bar and slammed the door.
“What were you raised in a barn!”
The traveler chuckled.
“Well, actually it IS a camel. So it probably was raised in a barn.”
The stranger roared with laughter. He barked so much he choked on the dry air and fell into a fit of wheezes and coughs.
“I feel drier than a cat in a tailpipe. I need another drink.”
He looked around the bar. A wave of unease passed through the room. Something seemed off, but the stranger couldn’t place it. He stood up wobbled, teetered and fell face first onto the floor. A mound of course material took the brunt of it. The stranger checked his face. Intact.
“What the hell?”
He felt the ground and grabbed a handful of straw. He noticed a large pile of hay heaped on the floor. He breathed in its sharp tang.
“What kind of bar leaves piles of straw on the floor! What kind of place is this? Bartender! What is the meaning of this?”
The stranger lifted his head and looked around. The bar had changed. The bar counter and shelves of bottles had vanished. In its place hung rakes, shovels, and a scythe.
“The camel! That beast must’ve slipped something in my drink! He must know my secret. The one thing I swore to never tell anyone. The animal must’ve drugged me to get me to talk!”
He tried to lift himself off the ground, but his arm gave out.
“Maybe…maybe I’ll just rest down here for a while. I just need to close my eyes for a bit.”
The stranger laid his head on the mound of straw. His breathing slowed, steadied, and fell into a smooth rhythm.
Sunlight seeped into the barn throwing beams onto the floor. As the day passed the beams shifted and cast their glow on the sleeping stranger. A cat squeezed between two boards in the corner and examined the sleeping figure. The cat brushed up against the stranger's face.
The feline stared at the man. Curious about the intruder. It circled once, twice. Then sat several paces away. Waiting.
The stranger’s eyes focused on the cat. Unbelieving at first.
“Gary? Is that you?”
The cat swished its tail but didn't run or approach.
“Gary, what are you doing here?” The stranger chuckled then coughed. His mouth felt sticky. He tried to swallow but winced instead.
“Gary, how did you escape the fire?”
The cat blinked.
“It doesn't matter my boy. We need to get out of here. I have a bad feeling,” he said.
His voice grew weaker with every word. He tried to lift himself again.
“Gary, help an old man up. I don’t understand why I’m so clumsy.
The cat licked a paw and then wiped its head. Mindful to keep an eye on the stranger.
“Gary! Talk to me! Don’t ignore me you damned fool! Ga—!”
He choked on the last syllable. And coughed until he laid his head down on the hay, exhausted.
We need to escape this place before the camel gets back. It knows my secret Gary. It knows what I did to you, he thought.
The cat stood up and approached the man. It nestled into his chest.
I’m sorry Gary, I didn’t mean to.
The stranger fell asleep and the cat purred against his chest.
Two paramedics followed a man into the barn. He was disheveled and sunburnt. His T-shirt was soaked with sweat.
“Steve, grab the gurney!”
A paramedic knelt and checked the man's pulse. The second paramedic, Steve, ran back to the ambulance.
“How the hell did this happen again?” The paramedic asked.
“My father has dementia and he’s prone to wander.”
“Where the hell do you live?”
“Cedar Kills! That’s fifteen miles from here!”
Steve ran into the barn pushing the gurney in front. The paramedics began to work.
“How did you find him all the way out here?”
The man watched the paramedics lift his father onto the gurney. “He used to live here as a child. With his mother and brother. The house burnt down years ago.”
“He’s dehydrated. We need to push fluids,” Steve said.
“So he wandered back here often?” The other paramedic asked. He started an IV on the old man.
The old man opened his eyes. He looked at the camel standing to the side. He also saw an elephant and zebra standing over him. One poked his arm.
“Tell Gary that I’m sorry.” The old man whispered.
He looked into the eyes of his son. “And tell my son what happened here.”
“I’m your son.”
“No, you’re just a camel.”