Infinite Thirst

Or: The Misadventures of Yorick’s Skull, Part 1.

The skull of Yorick, deceased jester to a fictional court, rolls into a bar, occipital bone over frontal, until it comes to rest at the base of a bar stool. It stares upward and though sans-mandible calls out to the barkeep none the less, “What Ho goodman Carl!” The words are slightly slurred, whether for lack of larynx and lips or because this isn’t the first stop on the skull’s boozey itinerary it’s hard to say. The bartender, Dave, turns to see who’s calling him “Carl” (not being versed in Elizabethan slang) and sees no one.

It does not surprise Dave in the least to find no one standing there, what with the ventriloquism school next door. That sort of thing happens all the time, especially in the can, where at least once a month he has to re-hinge a stall door, after some shit-faced guerilla kicks it down thinking he’s being propositioned with dirty knock-knock jokes. Seeing no one Dave just stands there, doing what all fictional bartenders in empty bars do- cleaning a cocktail glass with a dirty rag, staring into space.

From the floor Yorick’s skull stares up at him wondering whether he’s dimwitted. It is one of the most impatient and judgmental skulls of a dead jester you are likely to come across. Death has a way of diminishing the excellence of one’s fancy and dimming the flashes of one’s merriment it seems.

The skull looks at Dave’s faded Megadeth t-shirt which reads “Youthanasia” below an image of a cloaked skeleton holding a baby, and manages, without a tongue, to “tut.” Yorick’s skull is now officially irritated. Whether at the shirt, with its artless wordplay and stereotypical depiction of skeleton as death-bringer, or simply at being ignored while thirsty… again, it’s hard to say.

Shifting its eyeless gaze from the t-shirt back to Dave’s blank face, Yorick’s skull decides Dave is almost certainly a simpleton (standing there as he is endlessly wiping the edge of a glass) and tries again, this time less jovially, to get the simpleton’s attention. “God’s Teeth man! Fasten thine belly cheat and pour my bouse.”

Dave is able to better pinpoint the voice’s location this time and leans over the bar. There is Yorick’s skull, half-grinning up at him, three teeth to the wind.

Dave’s not nearly as put-off by seeing a human skull at the base of his barstool as you might expect, what with the magician school only just upstairs. He actually laughs. “Ha! Good one guys.”

More than once a magician’s prop has materialized off its mark and in the bar. Once he lifted an overturned bowl of pretzels to reveal a cotton-tailed bunny and its attendant pile of turds. Another time he turned on the tap only to find himself pulling from the nozzle an impossibly long handkerchief.

He assumes the skull staring up at him is just another flubbed trick by an amateur magician with navigational problems. Until Yorick’s impatient skull begins talking again that is.

“Carl, thine is a bousing ken is it not?”

Dave does not even think to answer (which is not to say that he even understood the question) but just looks down at Yorick’s skull, blankly, the amusement fading from the corners of his eyes.

“By the Rood!! Are thou beef-witted? Shake thine ears! Mine is a thirst!” (If the bone-dome had even a thimble-full of blood, and a patch of skin for it to rush to, it’d be red with annoyance, of this you can be sure.)

Looking at that skull, hearing those words issuing from somewhere inside the dry, cracked cavity, a none too pleasant thought occurs to Dave: “This is not right.” He thinks, “A voice in the john? Sure. A cascade of playing cards from my shirt-sleeves, of course. But a voice AND a magician’s prop together? No. No no no.” 

You see it just so happens that the Ventriloquists and the Magicians are bitter rivals, a more theatrical version of the Crips and Bloods, decked out in sequins and velvet rather than blue and red bandanas. Each year the new class of students clashes, weaponizing their tawdry little stage miracles, and turning them on one another. There had already been a severe charlie-horse and a spate of fraudulent pizza orders attributed to this year’s feud. Point is there was no way the two would cooperate to materialize a talking skull.

Something was “rotten in Denmark,” as they say, and Dave was finally catching a whiff. He grabs hold of the closest whisky bottle, holding it by its neck, arm half-cocked, like a top-shelf glass hammer.

Misinterpreting this defensive reflex as affirmation that the dimwit has finally grasped his request for a drink, Yorick’s skull wobbles back and forth to gather some momentum, then digs a tooth into the wooden bar-side.

Dave is startled to see the skull move and feels a shot of panic as he watches the first tooth dig into the wood-grain, but his condition deteriorates rapidly into a state of good old-fashioned pants-shitting terror when understanding dawns. By digging one canine in, pivoting, then digging the other canine in, the skull is climbing the bar. 

Seeing this Dave ceases to think and ceases to breathe, frozen by the awful improbability of it. A skull is shimmying its way up the bar-side toward him like a giant beetle with a sclerite of browning bone. What can you say? Dave is predictably petrified. He forgets his name, forgets his bottle bludgeon, forgets to wet himself, and forgets to run. He just watches the scull’s ascent like a deer…  looking over a sheer cliff… er… caught in the glare of a rock climber’s helmet-lamp.

Upon finally reaching the top of the bar, Yorick’s skull is disgusted to find there is no drink awaiting him there. It angles itself directly toward Dave’s frozen, grimmacing face and croaks, “Od rat it! Fie upon the vessel then, thou recreant geck! Pour that bouse into mine eye socket directly!”

And, well, that was that. The skull’s angry demand to have whiskey poured directly into its eye socket was just too much, it was the straw that broke the bartender’s back, and alas, poor Dave fainted, falling over backward, bottle still in hand, like a tobacco store indian in a hurricane; the contents of the smashed bottle soaking his own eye sockets instead.

Exasperated, its nonexistent gorge threatening to rim its nonexistent throat at the spectacle of the dimwit passed out amidst the drink (which ought to be swishing between its teeth right now!) Yorick’s skull curses under its lungless breath and shimmies its way back down the bar-side. The night is young and death is long, so out the door it rolls to search elsewhere for some much needed fuel- Infinite jest begets a damn near infinite thirst after all.

12.02. filed under: !. fiction. 6