BACCHUS AT LARGE by Avee Chaudhuri

BACCHUS AT LARGE by Avee Chaudhuri

For six straight days we drank bourbon with delighted urgency: men, women, and children above the age of twelve. The preacher was horrified of course. The Mayor betrayed no emotions. He simply knew what must be done to save the town. Twelve-year-olds were dancing in the streets and exposing themselves to livestock and wild animals. Many of the women had embraced the ancient, sapphic ways under this new regimen. The men were livid but the Mayor kept the peace. “It’s the whiskey, fellas. That’s all,” he said, knowing he was a liar. The Mayor was a man of the world and had been educated in France, then had practiced law and medicine and silversmithing in Brazil before an intense hankering for peaches brought him back to Texas.

For six straight days we drank, and Providence smiled briefly because on the seventh day we were assured that Addison himself, the dread distiller, would ride in from Kentucky and burn everything in sight, and then in the smoldering wreckage he would murder Jason Faulkner with his bare hands. Faulkner had worked at the distillery in Shively, and stolen from Addison about one hundred cases of whiskey, simply because he could. Then he came down to Texas on a wagon loaded with whiskey and books and seed packets for some land and privacy. He was a horticulturalist by trade and set himself up in consultation, in a house off the main square. The whiskey was stored in his basement. 

Faulkner was a womanizer too and something of an exhibitionist. He slept with Molly Ibsen under a canopy of blue azaleas in the public gardens, and that’s what set the whole thing off. Molly came home that afternoon without her usual despondent look and her husband was immediately suspicious. He followed her the next day and saw her screwing Faulkner in all these poses facing earthward. He was incensed, then aroused, then briefly conciliatory, and then even more pissed off. Intending to stab Faulkner in the eyes and groin, Tom Ibsen broke into his house through the basement, where he noticed the many cases of whiskey, all stamped with the famous Addison logo: a horse trampling a Delaware Indian. He decided not to kill Faulkner that night, and as it happened Faulkner wasn’t even at home. He was with the preacher’s wife high above town on the roof of the Hotel Sam Houston. 

The next day, Tom Ibsen wrote to Addison describing what he had seen in Faulkner’s basement. In a week he received a reply that Addison was on his way to murder Jason Faulkner and destroy the town which had harbored him. Only Ibsen’s home would be spared. Ibsen was so goddamn petty that the news from Addison struck him as fair and equitable. Ibsen drank a toast to himself and fell asleep at his desk. When trying to rouse her husband for dinner, Molly Ibsen saw the letter from Addison and took it to Faulkner. She was inconsolable. 

“Calm yourself, Molly,” said Faulkner. Faulkner told the Mayor a little of what transpired and asked him to hold a town meeting and the Mayor agreed because things had been far too peaceful and civil and he was getting fucking bored with it all and restless. Once in Okinawa, a man he had disgraced with his fists had told him that every crisis is an opportunity. But for so long there had been no crisis here on account of fair weather and steady trade. 

“Send forth the crier,” the Mayor said dramatically. Then he did a bump of cocaine. 

The town gathered and Faulkner addressed the citizens: 

“Friends, lovers and enemies. You know me as Jason Faulkner. That is indeed my name on the census but I have been known by many names over many lifetimes: Bacchus, Hanuman, Reynard the Fox.”

“What the fuck is your point!” someone shouted. 

“Goddammit,” Faulkner continued, “I am the god of wine and mischief. A terrible disaster awaits. I stole one hundred cases of whiskey from Brody Addison and he will think you all complicit and burn the town. Unless we drink all the whiskey.” 

“Seems to me,” said Colonel Bright, “that we oughta dump that whiskey in the river and that you oughta move along.” 

“And waste the wisdom of Solomon, the secret pleasure of Agamemnon?” Faulkner said. “We can drink it together in the spirit of fellowship. We can show that evil goddamn maniac that revelry will always triumph over murder and arrogance.” 

Faulkner repeated the claim that he was a living god and this upset quite a few people, particularly the preacher. 

“You’re simply a man. You fucked my wife and she didn’t come home smelling like ambrosia. In fact, she reeked of horse shit,” the preacher complained. 

The townspeople prevailed on their mayor to say something:

Why the hell not, said the Mayor. This is the time for spectacle and revelation. Atrocities in the Belgian Congo, the telephone, the phonograph, a transatlantic cable. They’ve discovered the lost city of Troy and canals on Mars. In about one hundred years, the millennium will be upon us and the world will surely end. The sea will swallow Texas, and we may or may not survive in the coming ether as unlimbered gnats. For so long, the Mayor sighed, all we’ve really known how to do together is kill, so why shouldn’t the king of satyrs appear in these woods and tell us otherwise. 

“Fuck it, I’m in. Faulkner, put me down for a case,” said the Mayor. 

Not to be outdone, Colonel Bright demanded two cases of whiskey, and soon everyone was clamoring to help hide the evidence of Faulkner’s crimes. Thirty or forty good men and women had come forward and the Mayor issued an emergency order that the children could drink. We started drinking in a concerted fashion. Musicians played day and night in the main square. The drunk children started using cocaine in vast quantities in order to stay awake so they could keep drinking. Old blood feuds were resolved and outstanding gambling debts were forgiven. Tom Ibsen even tried to reconcile with his wife, but by then, in her state of sublime drunkenness, Molly decided she didn’t need Tom or Jason or carnal knowledge of any man or woman. She wanted to be a gunfighter. The Mayor, seated beneath a statue of General Sam Houston, watched it all and thought to himself: somewhere, that old Samurai bastard is smiling upon us. 

Late on the sixth day we smashed up and burned all the empty bottles and crates from the Addison Distillery. The Mayor and his valets performed Pagliacci, a rough English translation that had us in tears. The point is it sobered us up. The musicians disbanded. The brothel, which in those six days had served as a hospital for victims of alcohol poisoning, was redecorated in its usual satin and silk finery, in its traditional arabesque. It was business as usual when Addison rolled up. The peach farmers were in the main square arguing with the monocled peach commissioner, threatening to form a co-operative. In the middle of it all, the Mayor wore his finest sable coat and twirled his walking stick, saying, “Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen!” 

Addison was gaunt and high-legged.

“Where is he? Where is Faulkner?” Addison asked. 

“Faulkner, we know no Faulkner,” said the Mayor. “we know a Bacchus, Bismarck, Hanuman, Cleopatra, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, and good old George Washington Gomez.” The Mayor kept going for minutes, fueled as he was by cocaine and insolence. 

“Enough!” Addison shouted. Then he brandished his pistol. 

“Hey there, Addison!” Faulkner cried from his front porch. 

The two men met in the center of the main square. 

“You are a thief. Where is my whiskey?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’ve ridden all this way for no reason.”

“The day after you left, I discovered one hundred cases of my whiskey missing. I have a letter from a man named Ibsen claiming to have seen one hundred cases of my whiskey in your cellar.” 

“That man Ibsen is a congenital liar. There is no whiskey here,” said Faulkner. 

Addison sighed and smiled wistfully, sensing Faulkner had outsmarted him in some way, and then he shot him right in the gut and then once more in the right temple. Faulkner’s blood crested in the wind, splattering among the peaches. 

“I am a Colonel of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I will ride freely,” said Addison. 

We buried Faulkner later that day in a shallow grave, and the Mayor spoke a eulogy in a variety of modern and ancient languages. Whenever Faulkner is ready, whenever the horn blows or the raven circles the mountain, what little we have laid on top of him, mere twigs and branches, and some handfuls of dirt, may be easily traversed. 

Avee Chaudhuri is from Wichita, Kansas. More of his work can be found at Fluland, FLAPPERHOUSE, and Necessary Fiction

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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