« on: June 06, 2014, 12:41:30 am »
It might be too much to lay on a bartender on a Spring afternoon, he considered, pushing open the heavy wooden door to the pub. The day was bright and the inside was dim. His eyes took a moment adjusting but before that there was a smell. Mike knew it as soon as his hand cracked the door open a fraction of an inch.
He stepped inside, let the door swing shut behind him, his eyes closed tightly to hurry their adjustment and for that time, in two breaths, in a hundred thoughts, in a passing series of reactions, there was that smell. The smell of some weeks past, walking into a crime scene he was told would be strange but didn’t prepare him for the paled faces of the uniformed officers or the hole in everything he thought to be true. He opened his eyes.
A half dozen or so stained glass light fixtures hung down from wooden beams on the ceiling, big round bulbs poking out of them. They colored the gouged tabletops a shade of brownish orange and lent a bit of yellow to the green cushions on the chairs and booth benches. The hardwood floor below was warped and far in the back a scratched pool table held up a half finished game, the cues abandoned and rolled away from the table. The bar itself was a row of red topped stools and ringed stains and four beer taps and one occupant, sitting at the center of the bar. No bartender was in sight. The man before him was alone in the pub.
“Afternoon,” he said without turning. He wore a green quilted vest over a blue work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His skin was flush red and he had a long grey beard and a bald pattern reaching back from his forehead. Mike couldn’t see his eyes and it bothered him somehow.
“Afternoon,” Mike said. He remained by the door then, resigning himself, walked over and took a seat by the man, one stool between them.
“You must be a friend of mine,” the man said, “been making a lot of those lately.”
Mike wouldn’t be needing that beer after all. On the far side of the old man, across the bar he spied a half empty bottle of Evan Williams. He got up, sliding the barstool across the floor, and walked around the old man. He grabbed the bottle and an upturned tumbler and poured himself a few fingers. The other man held his own glass out toward him, again without looking, and Mike obligingly topped the glass with the golden brown whiskey. He walked back around to the spot he’d first chosen. It was closer to the door.
Mike took a drink. He laid his glass down on the countertop with a thud and picked it up and took another drink. “I thought you were gone,” he said finally.
“I mean, gone gone. Beyond the Veil gone.”
“Ah,” the old man said. He inclined his head toward Mike and Mike got the impression he was looking at him with the corners of the eyes he could not see. “The Veil. That’s what you’re calling it.”
“Is there another word?”
The man pulled air in through his teeth. “Been a few over the years. The Beyond, the Great Outter Dark - fond of that one, myself, and so on. Nobody seems to want to call it what it really is.”
“And what is it?” Mike could hear a clock ticking away in the room and it was like a joke.
“Everything Else,” Mike repeated.
“Yeah. There’s everything - you, me, this fine glass of whiskey,” he took a pull from his glass, “there’s the Sun and Chinamen over in China. And then there’s Everything Else. Most folks don’t know about everything else but you, you and I, we know about Everything Else. You learn about everything else and you can just tell who knows and who doesn’t.” The man looked at Mike again without really looking at him. “You knew who I was the moment you walked in here. I knew the same about you. Same about that other son of a bitch came through here a few hours ago.”
“You met Sid,” Mike said.
“Wasn’t like you,” the man was slurring his words. “Dangerous, like.”
“Oh I’m sure he’s not dangero-”
“I’m telling you,” the old man cut him off sharply, “I’m telling you he’s dangerous.”
“What did he say to you,” Mike asked him.
“He was excited. Beside himself. Practically giggling and thanking me, kept on thanking me for everything I done. Kept telling him I didn’t do nothing. I didn’t do nothing but get greedy and stupid and then I came to the bar and I ain’t left since.”
“You’ve been here the whole time?”
“Always been here. Only sometimes I’m in Everything Else but even when I’m there I’m still here. Never know which is which. Can’t see anything since it happened,” and the old man turned to look at Mike for the first time.
Mike looked him straight in the face and still couldn’t see his eyes. They were not closed, they were not missing. There was no hole but Mike looked at him right where his eyes were and he couldn’t see them. He shuddered deeply and drank the rest of his whiskey.
“Sid tell you where he was going,” Mike asked.
“Don’t think he quite knows himself.”
Mike absently threw a few dollars on the bartop for whenever the bartender came back. He stood up, scraping the stool against the floor again.
“Ever going back to your apartment,” Mike asked the old man.
“Not mine no more.”
Mike nodded and left the man to the pub he’d be in forever.