Richards stood at the top of Carnivale, the tallest and longest ski trail at Snow Pine Resort. Chairful after chairful of tourists paid $8 to ride up the shiny-new lift to the top of the hill, to look down over the colorful hills and valley below, and to down overpriced bottom-shelf Canadian beer.
The beer tent was overflowing with Canadians, Ohioans, and yuppies from the Buffalo metro area. A classic rock station had set up a tent next door, with a prize wheel, booth babes in skimpy German attire handing out pamphlets for a deck repair company, and giant speakers that pumped out a steady stream of bland tunes that set Richards’ teeth on edge. A pair of Snow Pine Resort flunkies manned the barbeque pit, keeping the coals glowing and the hot dogs and burgers sizzling.
Richards’ stomach growled in pain and hunger. Salt and red meat were his preferred hangover remedies. His head pounded, and he considered popping a Sudafed—low-grade over-the-counter speed—to ease the pain.
Despite the sunshine, Richards felt the bitter cold, the wind at that elevation chapping his lips and stinging his face. His red Snow Pine Resort employee jacket kept most of the cold at bay, and his green Nomex gloves—a pair he had worn a handful of times during the deployment—kept his fingers warm.
He stood at the top of the ramp that led down from the lift to the ground below, placing a hand on the metal bars of each chair as it passed over the ramp before slowing down to allow the tourists to disembark and scurry down, pretending they were skiing over snow and ice that was soon to come.
“So you were in the Army, huh?” asked Duncan, the clod-footed ex-jock. Richards knew him vaguely from high school. Duncan had lettered in the holy trinity—basketball, football, and baseball—because Ellicottville High School was so small and he was so damn big. Duncan wore his varsity jacket underneath his Snow Pine Resort coat, which was unzipped so people could see the edges of the school initials on either side of the zipper.
“Yeah,” Richards said, grabbing the blue frame of another chair as it came swinging over the ramp. Two young girls, probably just on the early side of high school, giggled as they lifted the restraint bar and jumped out of the chair, squealing as it slowly hovered behind them before swinging around the pulley to head back down the hill. Duncan’s eyes followed the girls.
“Look at that pussy,” Duncan said.
“How old are you, Duncan?”
“Uh, 29 this year,” Duncan said. “That’s the great thing about young girls! I keep getting older …”
“What movie is that from?” Richards asked.
“It’s from a movie. I’ve heard it about a thousand fucking times. What movie?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Duncan said. “It’s just something my dad used to say.”
Another chair. An elderly couple, slow to get out of the seat. Richards waved to the attendant in the shack.
“Hey, slow it down!” he shouted. The attendant looked up from his Guns & Ammo magazine, a cigarette dangling from his lips, and punched the slow button. The lift cable slowed to a crawl, and the old couple shuffled down the ramp, hands firmly locked together.
“What was it like?”
“How much time you got?” Richards asked. The lift sped back up.
“We’ve got another couple hours on shift, right?” Duncan asked. “Did you get scared?”
“It was mostly being bored,” Richards said. “And I was angry a lot. But yeah, I was scared.”
“Why were you angry?”
“I thought the mission was bullshit,” Richards said.
“I almost joined the Army,” Duncan said. “But then I got a partial scholarship to SUNY Canaltown. Division III football. Should have put me at wide receiver, but they made me a cornerback instead. I had to tell the recruiter he had to wait.”
“That’s great,” Richards said, not meaning it. “So why didn’t you join after college?”
“Oh, I dropped out,” Duncan said. “The program was bullshit. Wouldn’t start me.”
“Could’ve gone pro, if I kept at it.”
Another chair. Four women in their late forties, reeking of perfume, faces caked with makeup, margaritas and vodka on their breath. They giggled at Richards and Duncan. Richards forced a smile. Another one.
“So what kind of guns did you use? Like the M-60? That shit’s the bomb in Call of Duty. I think the Marines—”
There was a crash behind them, and shouting. They both looked back at the beer tent; two aging cougars were in the faces of a group of men in black biker cuts, manicured fingernails and bleached teeth flashing. The speakers from the classic rock station blared the virtues of that old time rock n’ roll. One of the Snow Pine employees came around the barbeque pit, red hot tongs glowing in his right hand, and shoved one of the bikers.
Most of the crowd started to shout and pull back as the fists began to fly. But some of them pushed forward, turning a fist fight into a full-blown melee. About a dozen people—old, young, men, and women—clawed at one another, smashing glass bottles, tossing beer into faces, throwing elbows, losing teeth. One of the bikers flashed a knife, and then there was screaming.
“Holy shit,” Richard said. A moving chair bumped into him, and he caught his balance on its frame. The family on board saw the fighting, and refused to lift their bar.
“We’re not getting off!” the father snapped. They sailed on through the roundabout, and began the descent back down the hill.
The attendant in the shack hit the kill switch, and the chairlift drifted to a slow halt.
Another knife. One biker turned on the other, stabbing him in the abdomen.
Half the crowd ran away from the chaos; the other half was already fighting, or joined in. An old woman swung her purse at the face of the town priest; the pair of teenage girls bit down on the forearm of the cook; he shook them off and shoved the hot metal tongs into face of the closest girl, who howled in animal pain. Men slugged one another, shattering faces and teeth. The biker group had devolved into a civil war of switch blades and iron knuckles; the women who had been screeching at them turned on each other, ripping the goose down out of tears in each other’s designer jackets.
The music played on, inviting the crowd to get those old records from off the shelf.
“We should do something,” Duncan said. “Holy hell.”
“Like what?” Richards asked. “You want to get in the middle of that?”
The attendant was outside of the shack now, shouting into his radio. A man wearing a Helly Hanson snowboarding jacket, his face covered in blood, his eyes ablaze, stomped up the ramp and made for the attendant. He slapped the radio away, then wrapped his hands across the attendant’s throat.
“Hey!” Richards ran over, dropping his shoulder and slamming into the crazed tourist at full speed. The man’s hands broke their grip, and all three men went tumbling down the ramp to the moist grass below. The attendant crawled backward while the tourist wheeled on Richards.
Richards shoved himself up just in time to dodge out of his way; then his training kicked in, and he was on the man’s back, raining punches down on the back of his head, which spasmed with anger and pain. The man flipped over, but Richards was quick and stood up, maintaining his position above the tourist.
He dropped a knee into the man’s stomach, causing a painful gasp to escape blood-soaked lips. Richards dug his knee down into the man’s diaphragm, and watched as his eyes went dull with unconsciousness.
Richards let up the pressure, not wanting to kill the crazy bastard.
“You alright?” Duncan asked, running over, fists raised high, ready for someone to rush him.
“Fuck, I think he tried to bite me,” Richards said. The man’s face, neck, and front of his jacket were covered with blood and beer. A liquid leaked out from one of the torn jacket pockets, darkening the orange and white fabric. Richards reached down and pulled out a glass bottle, no larger than a flask. It held an orange liquid that seemed to shine especially bright in the sunlight. On the bottle’s face was imprinted a logo of raised glass: a hieroglyph depiction of a man with a long beard, open hands, and massive wings. The image conjured sensations of recognition and lost memory; something about sixth grade history class, and ancient myth. He twisted the cap shut tight.
Beyond the ramp, the melee had devolved further, with a handful of people standing over limp bodies, kicking and tossing wild punches.
“We should get out of here,” Duncan said suddenly. “We should call the cops.”
“Yeah,” Richards said. He stood up, absently shoving the bottle into his work jacket. “Let’s pop smoke.”
Those not interested in the fight ran down the hill, screaming and crying. People caught on the lift shouted for it to get moving again, seeing the chaos below and wondering why the hell they were stuck mid-ascent. The DJ and the booth babes in the classic rock station tent had fled into the woods, chased by a pair of teenagers flinging sizzling hot dogs and shouting obscenities.
From the massive speakers, the singer declared that new music just doesn’t have the same soul.
The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre by Jonathan Raab is published by Literati Press Comics & Novels. It is available on Amazon for Kindle and paperback, and signed copies are available directly from Muzzleland Press.