“Five Drinks in Siltown” by Frances Rowat

People say our moonshine screams, but it’s not true. The corn screams—kind of a thin piping whisper—but the moonshine that Braz distills from it’s just fine. It’s got this kind of oily ripple going, nothing more.

And it’s our drink. You’re going to come here, you’ve gotta respect that.

In Siltown, your first drink at the bar’s always moonshine.

* * *

Boneslush is sharp and murky. It’s part fermented goat’s milk, halfway to cheese. We’ve still got goats in Siltown. Only us locals eat their meat, but their milk doesn’t seem to do anyone any harm.

You can barter for cheese. It doesn’t have the same kick as boneslush, but it’s edible and it keeps well. You don’t get that at the bar, though. Besides whatever you and Braz haggle for the price of boneslush, you gotta hand over a bone. A small one. Usually a hand or toe bone, but teeth are okay too. Braz’ll drop it in the jar she’s serving the boneslush in and mix it with a long steel nail, then hand it over.

No one’s ever found the bone in the bottom of the jar.

Just remember that the bone’s gotta come from family that bore you no ill will.

* * *

Griefbark’s a kind of tea, made from the thorns and bark of those godawful brambles that crawl through the ground and around the buildings. It’s a bloody bright red, translucent and sour. Old Sandy goes on about how the brambles used to be raspberry bushes, and griefbark’s the colour of raspberry juice. Nobody cares.

If you’ve wept or slept in the last day you can’t keep it down, and it’s too bitter to hold in your mouth long. It’s a good challenge; whoever spits their mouthful out first loses. Makes a lot more sense than seeing who can hold their hand in a candle longest.

If you do keep griefbark down, people’ll leave you in peace to cry yourself to sleep. If you aren’t local, you’ll wake up in a corner of the bar with a blanket over you.

Generally you’ll be okay, although if it’s been a bad month I’m not promising someone won’t have gone through your pockets.

* * *

Potatoes are pretty nearly as tough as goats, and they keep better than corn. The first year, we just used them for cooking. But then people started travelling again, and coming through town, and that’s when we figured out that it’s just our corn that screams.

We also figured out too much moonshine don’t sit well with people who aren’t from Siltown.

So after the first shot, Braz’ll bring you potato vodka unless you ask for griefbark or boneslush. It’s not really our thing, though some of us use it for disinfectant or fuel. In a pinch.

* * *

Corn coffee isn’t real coffee; no one in Siltown’s seen coffee in years. Old Sandy keeps comparing it to chickory coffee. We grind up the corn, and roast it, and brew it into this gritty dark drink that’s . . . well, it’s real invigorating.

You’ve been on the road, right? You know it can get pretty rough now.

Corn coffee makes us fast and tough enough we get to make sure we’re left in peace.

Word gets out, I guess. Someone tried to steal some once. Got behind the bar while we were dealing with his friends.

He’d have been better off ordering boneslush and handing over the bone of a stranger. That would have been over.

Braz keeps him in the bar cellar. She says she’s working on something new, mixing blood and milk. The goat’s milk is fine; the problem is the blood from the thing in the basement keeps sublimating.

She’s collecting it like you do water with an evaporation still. Says it’s this kinda sooty mass, and she just needs to figure out exactly how to get it to mix with milk instead of clumping.

She’ll have a new drink for us to try real soon.

Frances Rowat lives with her husband, their dog, and a not-quite-startling number of cats. She spends most of her time at a keyboard, and enjoys knitting, jigsaws, and postapocalyptic fiction. She would like to thank coffee for existing, her extremely patient family for support, and her writing group for Wednesdays.

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