The argument had been going on for what felt like hours. They'd been at it when I came in, and they were still going three and a half beers later. I was trying out a new bar, since I knew Vicki would be at The Rooster with all of her (formerly our) friends.
"The hell it is!" That was the one in the raincoat, with the voice like gravel.
"I swear. You think I don't know?" His friends voice was almost squeaky, like a cartoon character. It set my teeth on edge just to hear it.
"I'll bet you anything it isn't."
"You name it, I'll bring it."
"Because you're totally wrong!"
"Bet me I am. I dare you."
"You don't have the guts."
I couldn't take it one second longer.
I spun in my chair, glaring at the two loud-mouthed bozos in their gloomy corner under the light that never worked. "What the hell," I said, enunciating carefully, "are you two assholes arguing about?"
Two pairs of eyes stared back at me. They could have been twins, round-faced and bearded, glittering eyes amid nests of matted black hair. One had a hat pulled low over his face. The other cocked his head at me.
"We're discussing what color the sky is," he said in his reedy voice.
I blinked at them. "Like hell you are."
"You don't believe me?"
"You can't argue about something everyone knows. You can just go look outside."
"It's night now," he said. "We're talking about what it looks like in the day."
The quieter one spoke up. "I've never seen it in the daytime."
"Uh huh." I turned back to my beer. "Next time just say, 'Fuck off, jerk,' like a normal person."
"You've seen the sky, then?" said Squeaky. "You can tell my friend what color it is?"
"Bet me anything?"
I glanced over my shoulder. "Shut up."
Uneven footsteps approached behind me. I stood up a little too fast and backed away. Squeaky was standing beside my chair. I could see now that he was all of four feet tall, tops. He rummaged in the pocket of his coat and pulled out a wad of cash, tightly rolled up and secured with a thick rubber band.
"Bet me?" he asked, grinning widely. His uneven teeth were small and brown.
I wondered just how drunk he was. At their table, Quiet-Hat was staring at me as though I'd just run over his dog, or maybe as if he'd just run over mine.
"Ten thousand," Squeaky piped up. "Or name your price." He waved the money again. I could see the outer bill was a hundred.
"Okay, fine." I raised my hands. "I'll bet you. It's blue."
Squeaky started to make horrible choking sounds. I took a step forward before I realized he was laughing. "Wrong!" he gasped. "Wrong, wrong, wrong!" He leaned in. His breath smelled like he'd been eating cold fishsticks. "It's a trick question. There is no sky." He started to dance, a weird little pirouette, waving his stubby arms.
"Whatever, dude." I gestured to my table. "Can I finish my beer now?"
Squeaky stopped and marched toward me. "You owe me an anything."
I tried to step around him, but he followed me as smoothly as a dancer.
"Bring me an anything," he said, his high-pitched voice boring into my skull. It was like having a hangover before I was properly drunk.
"Fine," I said. "Here." I plucked a cardboard coaster off the table. "Anything."
Squeaky's eyes blazed. He snatched the coaster and held it over his head like he'd just won the Heissman Trophy. Quiet-Hat gasped. "Offered and accepted! The bargain is made!" He gazed up at me, mockery dancing in his voice. "This is enough for now. But I will require more."
"Get out of my way," I snapped, and he did. I turned my back on them both, intending to finish my beer and leave.
"Tomorrow," Squeaky said from just over my shoulder, "you will bring me something metal." I felt an odd impact just between my shoulder blades, as though some small creature had landed on my back.
But when I turned around to give that ugly dwarf the thrashing of his weird little life, they were gone, both of them.
I didn't think anything of it that night, nor in the morning. All day at work, I was busy with projects and deadlines. But as the sun set in the evening, I suddenly recalled Squeaky and his creepy, rodent-like eyes. I tried to push the thought away, distract myself with a paperback on the subway or a sandwich from a deli on the way home, but every time I lost my focus, that hairy face popped into my mind. It wasn't until I pushed open the door of the dingy little bar that I realized I had walked here instead of home, like I'd intended. The room was darker, somehow, and mustier. I could barely see through the gloom, but as I stood in the doorway, the light gleamed from a pair of tiny eyes in the booth at the rear. My feet moved forward without any intent on my part.
"Have you brought me my anything?" His voice was like the squeal of dying brakes. "Something metal."
"What the hell are you-?" My anger wilted as pain flashed through my body, a twisting, crackling sensation. I coughed, fumbled in my pockets. Everything I touched seemed to be made of fire and needles, until I found the change from my sandwich. The metal brought a wave of cool relief with its touch. I held out a handful of coins.
"Good." Squeaky plucked up a quarter and sniffed it. "Tomorrow, I want something electronic." He grinned at me, that hideous, malformed mouth gaping wide, and then popped the coin inside. I heard it crunch between his teeth.
And that's the way it's been. Every day, I have to bring Squeaky his anything. It's taking up more and more of my time as his requests get longer, more specific. I'm distracted all day at work, accumulating reprimands and disciplinary actions. I'm afraid what he'll ask me to do next; he's toying with me, keeping his anythings vague enough that I can find a way around them. I managed to satisfy him with a cockroach last week, when he asked for "something small and alive." Yesterday, he demanded "something bleeding," and I fobbed him off with a steak from a butcher shop. He smiled in a way that said he knew what I was trying to do, and that he'd let me play out my rope as long as I wanted. He can afford to be magnanimous, after all.
He won the bet.
There is no sky anymore. Even in the daytime, now, I can see only the rocky ceiling of the caverns overhead. And at night, a vast and empty darkness, unmarred by any lights.