Feb 18 2010

At The Bar

Published by at 5:03 pm under callie,characterization,Writing

The sign above the door was soot-stained and swayed gently in the same breeze that scattered litter across the landscape. “The Bar” was stenciled in block letters under the dirt: campy yet convenient name, that. Nice balance. Her main interest in the establishment at the moment, title critique aside, was the equally dirty window that seemed to show a light on inside. She angled her head to correct for the possibility that it was simply a reflection from the nearest street lamp, but moving didn’t change the perception of light coming through the window, however dimly.

The other buildings she had checked in her walk along the street had been either locked and dark, or empty and dark. An abandoned house she’d found in a cul-de-sac even had the dining table set with an uneaten meal, though the food had decayed into unrecognizability. A modern Roanoke, right in her own neighborhood. She reached for the solid wooden bar door and was unsurprised to find it unlocked.

The light she’d seen from the window was over the bar itself; the rest of the tavern was as empty as the other buildings. The tables were clean and ready for the customers that didn’t come, lacquered surfaces glowing dimly blue in the after-hours security bulbs set into recesses in the ceiling. A single spot of red over the door she’d just entered marked the only visible exit. She made the obvious choice and moved toward the bar.

Its surface was scarred from visible years of high use. She ran her hands across the rough grooves and scratches, the edges worn so rounded that she was safe from splinters. She cleared her throat to speak out, but the small sound was enough to draw someone from the shadowed doorway behind the bar: an average-sized woman, probably around ten years younger than herself, brown hair pulled tightly into a small bun at the base of her neck, lightly stained white apron covering black pants and matching long-sleeved shirt. The sleeves seemed a bit off, for a bartender, but it isn’t like this one was going to be busy enough to stay warm on the job, from the looks of things.

“Hey there, what’ll you have?”

She looked sharply at the bartender; while the question seemed normal for the setting, it certainly wasn’t for the current situation. The bartender sounded pleasant enough, but there seemed to be something a bit off. Perhaps it was just that she kept avoiding eye contact, staring around at the door and tables with an almost confused look.

“Information, if you’re serving. I’m not really thirsty.”

The bartender blinked a bit, as if the deviation from routine had caught her attention momentarily. She glanced toward her patron and answered, “We might have some of that left on tap.” She set a glass on the bar, as clean as the pristine tables, and drifted back to staring at the entrance.

She examined the bartender closely and thought quickly. There was no mirror behind the bar, another oddity, so she picked up the empty glass and moved enough to one side of the angled bar that she could watch the entrance as well as the bartender. Setting the glass back down in front of her, she learned forward so that she could read the bartender’s nametag.

“So, ‘Carrie’. Rather quiet in here tonight, isn’t it?”

Carrie looked over at the glass, but didn’t raise her gaze. “When it’s this quiet, you can listen to the hum of the electric lights. Sometimes I can hear songs hidden in that sound.”

“And do those songs tell you where your customers have gone?”

“Not really. But I know some of that, too.”

She gripped the handle of her thick glass, briefly, but made her fingers relax. Frustration wouldn’t help this situation get any more understandable. “Where, then?”

“Some of them are sleeping. A few faded away. Most can’t get past the blocks.”

“And where are those?”

“They don’t really look like blocks. But the people don’t visit me anymore.” Carrie picked up a towel and began wiping down the clean bartop.

“Where did they come from?”

Carrie looked up just long enough to meet her eyes, then back down at her empty cleaning. “They aren’t signed by the builder. Maybe they grew.”

She let go of the glass that she couldn’t keep herself from clutching tightly, and folded her hands into her lap. “What about the other people on this street? I haven’t seen a roadblock.”

“They left. Or maybe they were taken. I couldn’t see anything.”

“Did you hear anything?”

“Silence has its own songs, have you noticed?” Carrie ceased her wiping motions and stood still, head slightly angled so that one ear was turned upward.

“Yes.” She found herself staring intently at the wooden baseball bat propped against the back wall, and shifted her focus before her thoughts could take further shape. “Where do I learn more?”

“Not here.”

“I noticed.”

“Activity is the currency of the day. Keep moving and you’ll likely find more of the songs you seek. There are nothing but echos left here.”

She took Carrie’s advice immediately, as she wasn’t sure how much longer she was going to be able to sit calmly in that conversation. As she passed under the exit sign, she could hear Carrie ask, “Is an echo its own song or a memory?” and she hurriedly pulled the door shut behind her. At least now she had some clue of just how bizarre things had likely gotten elsewhere.

She decided to continue down the street away from the already-explored areas, though that way showed only more of the same dark and deserted structures. Another gust of wind blew a piece of crumpled paper against her foot and she retrieved it, smoothing it out enough to read under the glow from The Bar’s outside light. She frowned, and read it again. She carefully folded it and placed it into her right pants pocket, then moved off down the road in her chosen direction with more confidence.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “At The Bar”

  1. Derekon 19 Feb 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Yaaargh!! What did the paper say??!! hehe

    Excellent, creepy and surreal just as the previous ones have been. I liked the references to echoes and memories…seemed to shed a little light on exactly what is going on within this mind, dream, memory or alternate reality or whatever. =)

    Oh, funny thing too, I actually saw a real-life version of “The Bar”. It was during one of my forays in Denver with my old roommate Jen, only this bar was simply called “Bar”. LOL. We both noticed the flickering sign which caused us to laugh loudly and enticed us to check out what the inside was like. It was almost a mirror image of what you described in this story, except the bartender was male…but he was just as hollow and strange as Carrie in your story here.

  2. Reesaon 20 Feb 2010 at 2:42 am

    @Derek – Hehe cutting it off when I did made sense for the “chapter”, but was also convenient in that it delayed me having to make a really tough decision. I think we’ll get to find out what’s on the paper, even so.

    Glad you’re enjoying it so far, I am too! Ambiguity is a fun thingy. Also, nonsensical sense.

    That’s so cool you’ve been in a real-life version of The Bar! I love things like that, they always make me feel like I’m writing something fairly good if I’m mirroring slices of life. Sounds like a good adventure to experience!