Don’t ask me how I got there, because I can’t remember. I’d been drinking heavily that night, out on a bender to end all benders. I was angry, and the booze didn’t help. It never did if truth be told, but I couldn’t stop myself. I vaguely recall downing shots in a busy bar and making an ill-advised pass at an attractive young lady who was out with her boyfriend. Needless to say, this didn’t go down too well.
Punches were thrown, and I was forcibly removed from the premises. After that, the rest of the night is something of a blur. What I do remember is waking up in the squalid backroom of a dark pub, my head throbbing and mouth tasting of vomit. My body was covered in bruises, probably as a result of the fight, and my clothes were ripped and soiled.
All in all, I was in a pretty sorry state. What’s more, I had no idea where I was. I didn’t recognise the bar and was sure I’d never visited this establishment before. My first impressions weren’t great. I’ve been in some dives during my time, and this place was amongst the worst.
The couch I woke up on was filthy and the tired wood floors beneath me were suspiciously sticky. Meanwhile, my nostrils were filled with the mixed odors of spilt alcohol, cigarette smoke, and something fouler which I couldn’t quite place.
I fought through the pain inside my skull as I sat up from the chair, struggling to adjust my eyes to the bar’s dark interior. I was sitting at the back of the pub, facing the bar on the far side of the room. The place was quiet, nearly abandoned in fact. There was a faint background noise – a weird and slightly irritating low buzzing sound that reverberated around the room. I couldn’t place the sound and didn’t know where it was coming from, but I decided not to worry about it for the time being.
I slowly walked towards the bar and surveyed the room, confirming that it was nearly – but not entirely – empty. There were only four other customers besides me. A young man sat directly opposite me, glaring menacingly in my direction. He was clean-shaven but had long blond hair fashioned in a mullet, and he wore a shiny red shell suit and white trainers.
It was like he’d just stepped out of an 80’s theme party. I saw a bottle of beer on the table in front of him, but the 80’s guy wasn’t touching his drink. He continued to glare at me, making me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know what this guy’s problem was, but if he didn’t quit staring at me there was going to be trouble.
In a darkened corner sat a middle-aged woman drinking alone, sipping from what looked like a glass of brandy while smoking from a cigarette holder. She was a red head, dressed in a fur coat, tweed skirt, and high heels. Again, her look wasn’t exactly contemporary, and I reckoned her clothes came from the 40’s or 50’s. I reckoned there must be a fancy-dress party on, or something.
From looking at this lady, I reckoned she probably had a drinking problem, and it had taken its toll, with heavy bags evident under her eyes and her teeth stained yellow, likely from years of heavy smoking. She stayed in her corner, not interacting with the other patrons or looking in my direction. I decided to leave her in peace.
Next, I turned my attention to a couple perched on stools at the bar. They sat in close proximity, the man’s arm stretched across the woman’s shoulder, as they whispered to each other, the woman laughing softly at her lover’s jokes and suggestive comments.
In keeping with the bar’s apparent theme, the couple looked out of their time. The man wore a pin-stripped suit and fedora-style hat, while the dark-haired woman was dressed in a glamorous, shiny cocktail dress. They both looked like they’d stepped straight out of a 20’s gangster movie. The woman was elegant and attractive, and her intelligent green eyes marked her out as much more than a gangster’s moll.
The man had his back turned on me, but I caught the young woman’s eye, temporarily interrupting their flirtation. Suddenly, the man turned to face me. He seemed to be in a mean mood, and I noted the deep scar across his cheek and the barely suppressed rage behind his dark eyes.
“What the hell are you staring at kid?” he spat angrily.
I’m not usually the type to back down from a confrontation, but there was something menacing about this guy, and besides – I had no beef with him and didn’t need the hassle.
“Sorry pal, my bad.” I answered, raising my hands defensively.
“Just watch yourself buddy.” the gangster scowled.
Fortunately, he seemed satisfied with my submission to his ‘alpha male’ status, and so returned to his lady friend, although I noticed how she shot me a coy smile over his shoulder.
Finally, I looked to the barman for the first time, as he walked forward to greet me.
“Good evening sir, what’s your poison?” he asked in a friendly tone of voice.
The barkeep was an unremarkable looking man with thinning grey hair and a pot belly hidden underneath a checked shirt and denim jeans. His brown eyes looked tired and world-weary, although his voice sounded surprisingly kind and welcoming.
“Erm…I probably shouldn’t.” I replied sheepishly, “It’s been a rough night.”
“So I can see.” he said with a smirk whilst looking me over, “But hey, we don’t judge here. By the look of you, I think a large whiskey is in order. Hair of the dog, as they say. What do you reckon my friend?”
I laughed nervously, as the man’s amicable nature slowly put me at ease.
“Well go on then, you’ve twisted my arm!” I answered.
I reached into my pockets, only to realise my wallet was missing, as was my phone. I must have lost them both during the course of my bender.
“Shit!” I swore, drawing the barman’s attention. “I’m sorry pal, I don’t have any money.”
The barkeep shook his head and smiled, as he finished pouring my drink and placed the glass on the bar in front of me.
“Don’t worry my friend,” he said, “this one’s on the house. Then we can start a tab, depending on how long you decide to stay…Now relax, take a load off kid.”
“Okay, thank you.” I replied, whilst taking a stool and reaching for my glass. I still felt uncomfortable about this whole situation but thought I would take some time to get my head together, and perhaps see if the friendly barkeeper would front me the cash for a taxi home.
I was working my way up to asking him when the barman picked up a remote control and switched on the old television set above the bar. That’s when things got really weird.
He spent a few minutes flicking through the channels, showing a series of disturbing scenes – most of which were either hardcore pornography or acts of extreme violence. I’m not usually the squeamish type, but some of those images were truly sickening, depicting brutal murders and scenes of torture, all very graphic and realistic.
The barkeep paused his channel surfing for a moment, watching a sadistic talk show where two zombies tore chunks out of a guest, ripping his throat out with teeth and nails. And – as this violent murder played out – a studio audience cheered enthusiastically, as a smiling presenter addressed the camera.
Thankfully, the barkeep soon got bored of this grisly programme and he switched channels once again, ultimately settling on a soccer match. It all seemed fairly normal, that was until there was a close-up shot of the action, and I noticed the players were kicking around a severed human head instead of a ball.
“Jesus!” I swore, turning away from the TV in disgust as I reached for my glass and took a large gulp of hard liquor. I don’t know if it was due to the circumstances, but that drink was the best I’d ever had.
The barman kept the match on in the background but turned the sound down. There was no music playing in the bar, only the white noise – that irritating and slightly disturbing buzzing which seemed to be gradually growing louder and more intrusive.
It goes without saying that I was feeling pretty uncomfortable by this point. Not wishing to draw attention to myself, I scanned the barroom, anticipating that I might need to make a quick exit. I noticed then that there were no windows in the room, and the only lights were artificial. There was a door behind me, which I noticed was securely padlocked. This didn’t bode well.
I frantically looked to the rear of the room, noting a backdoor that appeared to be unlocked. I made a mental note of this while I continued to survey the room. The walls were adorned with disturbing pictures – photos of disasters and violent incidents, everything from the Hindenburg crashing in flames to Buddhist monks burning on the streets of Saigon.
These scenes of mayhem, destruction and tragedy only added to the menacing atmosphere. Furthermore, my fellow patrons continued to act very oddly, particularly the young man in the shell suit, who was still glaring angrily at me from the far side of the bar.
I shook my head, overwhelmed by the insanity of my surroundings as I reached for my drink, downing it in one.
“Care for another one?” asked the barkeeper.
I nodded my head in the affirmative, knowing I shouldn’t but somehow finding myself unable to refuse.
“What the hell kind of place is this?” I asked incredulously.
The barkeeper smiled ever so slightly before answering. “Well sir, technically speaking this is a shebeen…that is to say, we aren’t officially licensed by any earthly government or authority. But – despite our disadvantages – we try to offer a comfortable experience for our patrons before they move on to the next phase.”
“Okay.” I responded with a puzzled tone.
Frankly, his so-called explanation only raised more questions. ‘A comfortable experience’…in this shithole? Really? And what did he mean by ‘the next phase’? I was about to ask him when events interceded.
Suddenly, the man in the shell suit shot up from his chair, pointing accusingly at the barman and screaming with an intense rage.
“You’re a fucking idiot if you believe a word that bastard says!” he shouted, whist continuing to point at the barman. His dark eyes were full of hatred.
“Now sir,” the barkeeper replied calmly, “There really is no need for that kind of language.”
“Fuck you!” he shot back, “You’re the one who keeps us here! I going to make you pay, you fucker!”
In a flash, he lifted his beer bottle, smashing it against the table and creating a weapon from the jagged edges. Next, the shell suited thug cried out as he overturned the table and charged towards the bar, his improvised weapon in hand. I instinctively jumped up from my bar stool, preparing to defend myself from this crazed attacker, but the barman was way ahead of me.
I glanced across in time to see him pull a sawn-off shotgun from behind the bar, quickly aiming and firing at the attacker. The mighty blast from the gun reverberated throughout the room, as the buckshot tore into the attacker’s belly, throwing him backwards onto the filthy floor.
There was blood everywhere and the poor bastard’s guts were spilling out all over the ground. He screamed in shock and agony, the colour rapidly draining from his face as he tried in vain to shove his intestines back into his stomach. Meanwhile, the barkeeper re-aimed, firing again – this time blowing the man’s head clean off, splattering fragments of brain and skull all across the room.
“Jesus Christ!” I squealed.
“That guy never learns.” the barkeeper said calmly, as he emptied the spent cartridges from his shotgun.
“You just killed him!” I screamed in disbelief, while the barman simply shrugged his shoulders dismissively.
Suddenly, I heard laughter, and I turned my head to see the middle-aged woman smirking cruelly, seemingly taking a sadistic pleasure at the violent events which had played out before her. I shot her a disapproving look, but this only seemed to add to her amusement, as her mocking laughter grew ever louder.
The courting couple at the bar had remained oblivious to the shooting, before suddenly the gangster shot up from his chair, angrily remonstrating with his lover.
“What the hell!” he shouted, “I’ll kill you, bitch!”
He threw a punch, but the young woman reacted with astonishing speed and strength, grabbing his extended arm and snapping it like a twig. He howled out in pain, as she threw his body against the bar. To my horror, the young woman transformed in an instant, her formerly delicate features and kind eyes replaced by something primal.
I watched on as fangs emerged from her mouth and she bit deep into the helpless man’s throat, ripping out his jugular and spraying dark blood all over the bar. She continued to feed as the man’s body convulsed, the life slowly draining out of him.
I found myself in a state of total shock, unable to belief the sudden descent into bloody violence that I’d just witnessed.
“What the fuck is wrong with you people?” I exclaimed, not really expecting an answer.
While all this was happening, the older woman continued to laugh, her cruel cackle growing louder. But there was another sound assaulting my ears. The white noise…that damn buzzing. I felt like it was inside of my skull, so intense and overwhelming that I could barely think.
I knew I had to get out of there – I’d die if I didn’t. Fighting through the pain, I darted towards the rear of the bar, knowing it was my only way out. But the woman blocked my path, having finished feeding off her lover, his fresh blood dripping from her fangs as her eyes turned red, like those of a demon.
I ducked down and charged, somehow managing to avoid her grasp as I sprinted for the exit. I nearly slipped on the blood spread all across the floor, but thankfully I managed to stay on my feet, leaping over the mutilated corpse of the shell suit guy and never taking my eye off the back exit.
I slammed through the door, emerging in what I would describe as an enclosed courtyard. Immediately I found it difficult to breath, the air was so heavy and stifling. I panted as I looked up above me and was horrified to see the sky was colored blood red, like I’d suddenly stepped out onto the surface of Mars.
The courtyard had four high brick walls on each side, and the only visible exit was a heavy iron gate at the far end. But the path there was by no means clear. Guarding it was a huge figure, easily 7, if not 8 foot tall, dressed in dark robes with his face entirely covered by a hood.
This hellish entity stood tall, his head bowed as he guarded the gate and barred my way. He was truly terrifying and couldn’t possibly be human, but what really scared me was the beast he held on a heavy chain leash. A dog is what one might call it, but the beast was the size of a dire wolf, its eyes burning a demonic red and its snout filled with razor-sharp teeth.
The beast growled and pulled on its leash. Its hungry, hateful eyes were fixed upon me, and I had no doubt it would tear me to shreds if released. I was frozen to the spot, paralyzed with terror as I struggled to breath in the dense air. In my panicked state of mind, I considered fleeing back to the bar…Because, as bad as it was in there, I reckoned I had a better chance of survival.
But I knew I would never make it. If this hooded psycho released his hound, the beast would be ripping me apart in mere seconds.
I fell down to my knees, gasping for air as my eyes pleaded for mercy. The robed figure lifted his head ever so slightly, thankfully not revealing whatever horrors he hid underneath his hood. He loosened his grip and the dog barked so viciously. I feared the worst, but then he lifted his other arm, pointing at me with his long bony finger as he spoke in a deep and inhuman voice.
And what he said was…”IT IS NOT YOUR TIME. GO BACK.”
I didn’t need to be told twice, rapidly retreating as I sprinted back towards the bar’s back entrance, breaking through and slamming the door shut behind me.
It took me a moment to regain my breath and some degree of composure before I surveyed the scene before me. I expected to witness the same bloodbath I’d left behind, but to my astonishment, everything was back to normal, or at least as normal as things could be in a place like this.
The floors were no longer covered with blood and viscera, and the victims of the extreme violence I’d witnessed were alive and well, with no apparent injuries. The shell suit guy was sitting in the same spot as before he got shot, glaring back across the bar, and the 20’s gangster was back to flirting with the same woman who’d ripped his throat out, both acting as if nothing had happened.
The older woman in furs was no longer in fits of laughter, and the barman had laid down his shotgun, instead clicking through the TV channels, eventually settling on the same soccer match played with a severed head instead of a ball. None of it made any sense, but then nothing had on this crazy night.
It took me a moment to realise, but there was something different about the room. The front door – formerly closed and padlocked – now lay open, revealing a stairway leading upwards, and a ray of sunlight shining down, illuminating the otherwise grim and dark barroom.
I should have headed straight for the newly revealed exit, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet, so I called out to the barman to get his attention.
“Evening sir, what’s your poison?” he replied cheerfully,
I scratched my head in bewilderment, feeling a distinct sense of deja vu.
“Don’t you remember me?” I asked incredulously.
“Of course I do sir.” he replied almost defensively, “You came in for two drinks, went out the back, and then you came back in.”
I shook my head in frustration, taking a seat upon the stool and looking the barkeep straight in the eye.
“I don’t want a drink.” I stated firmly, “but I do want some answers.”
“Of course you do.” he exclaimed with a smirk, “Shoot away, my friend.”
I had my chance now, but the words stuck in my throat. Did I really want to find out the truth? Part of me said no, but a bigger part of me needed to know.
The first question was the hardest to ask, but I forced the words out of my mouth – “Am I dead?”
The barkeeper nodded his head, as if he’d anticipated this very question.
“Technically yes,” he replied coyly, “but, once you walk up those stairs, you should be okay.”
He pointed towards the staircase leading up towards the light. But I wasn’t ready to go yet.
My next question was a natural follow up. “This place…is it hell’s waiting room, or some shit like that?”
“Maybe…I don’t really know to be honest.” he replied, “People come in here, I serve them drinks, and they go out the back. Most never return. I don’t know exactly where they end up…heaven, hell, purgatory? Who knows? Not really my department. I just try to keep people comfortable and calm for as long as they’re here, and some stay longer than others.”
He motioned to the motley crew of patrons spread across the barroom. “And every now and again, they send someone back through. People like you, who aren’t quite ready to move on…”
My head was pounding, and I still didn’t understand. “But who are you?” I demanded, “What is your purpose?”
I saw his eyes light up, and his grin grew wider. “I’m the barkeeper…nothing more, nothing less…Look buddy, I get it. You want me to give you all the answers, but unfortunately, I can’t. Folks come through here, and I do my best to guide them.”
He raised his hand, motioning to the rest of the barroom. “I know this place is a shithole. There’s nothing I can do about that regrettably, but I do my best for my customers. That’s my job, and this is where my responsibility ends. I don’t mess with that scary son-of-a-bitch out the back. Couldn’t, even if I wanted to.”
I was literally flabbergasted. To have come so far, only to receive no real explanation. What was the point of it all?
There was only one question left in my head, which I asked through clenched teeth. “How can I avoid coming back here?”
The barkeep shrugged his shoulders. “Honestly, I don’t think you can. In the end, they all pass through here. My advice – for what it’s worth – is to make the most of the time you have, because life is chaotic and rarely fair, so you’ve got to squeeze whatever happiness you can from the whole mess… Now my friend, I think its time you headed home. Until we meet again?”
I felt like screaming out and thrashing the whole bar. What he’d told me was totally insane… But deep down, I knew the barkeeper spoke the truth. It was now or never. I had to leave this place or become trapped here forever. I took one last look at the barman and his ghostly patrons before turning my back and walking towards the door, ascending the staircase until the bright lights overwhelmed me.
The rest of my tale is probably all too familiar. I awoke in hospital, brought back to life by medical professionals after being clinically dead for several minutes. I ultimately made a full recovery and walked out of there to continue my life.
I won’t bore you with the details of what happened to me afterwards. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. I know I’ll end up back in that damn place no matter what I do now or in the future, and honestly, this terrifies me. One thing brings me comfort however – the barkeeper and his dedication to duty, as he serves up drinks to the damned, doing so with a smile.
So, even though I dread the day of my inevitable demise, I can at least look forward to savoring one last drink, served up by one hell of a good bartender. Until we meet again, old friend.
Credit : Woundlicker
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