Thursday, April 26, 2018

Welcome to The Bar at the End of Everything

I step out onto the landing outside of my room, and look out over the floor of the main room of the tavern where I live. The name of the place on the sign outside is The Bar at the End of Everything, but those of us who come here just call it The Bar. It’s a cozy little watering hole that’s actually a multidimensional nexus, and not the kind of place you just stumble across. You have to know some pretty heavy juju to get here, or have greased the palm of someone who does. The air here is always thick with smoke, some of it is from the ovens and some is from the patrons. Most of it will make a normal guy like me a little light headed. One thing is constant, no matter what world you’re on or from, folks do love an altered state of consciousness. Not many people hanging around just yet, but hey, it’s early. Not too early to have a belt of something strong, but early. I really like this place. Reminds me of all of the old inns and taverns we used to imagine playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was a kid. Oh well, enough reminiscing, let’s start the day.

My name in this place is Tole. I’ve had several others, but that’s the one I answer to the most. I’m not a native of the space where The Bar is located. I started out on an insignificant little rock called Terra. Now though, I live here in a room just at the top of the stairs, and I ply my trade out of this little dive. See, the cool thing about The Bar is that if you know how it works, you can get to just about anywhere, and any-when you can imagine. Yesterday I stabbed some leader of an orc tribe in the neck at the behest of a rival faction. You heard that right…an honest to god orc. Today, I’m sitting on my usual stool in The Bar hoping someone will come along and pay for my drinks. My life isn’t glamorous but it is glorious if, that is, you find glory in killing for coin. I do. I guess that’s why I do it. Don’t really care what I’m getting paid to kill or on what god’s forsaken world I’m doing it as long as the gold is real.

A mousy little fellow at the bar made eye contact with me as I came down the stairs, so I walk up beside him and sit on the stool to his left. I clap him on the back and say, “Welcome to The Bar at the End of Everything.  Most of the booze here is passable. That being said, I suggest the Nerillian rum or one of the darker beers. In my opinion, they’re worth the cost. As far as the food goes, they can feed just damned near any species that stumbles through the door, but I prefer the stew. It’s cheap, and it’s best to not ask what’s in it. Keeps a man strong though.”

“Thanks,” he says. His voice is kind of nasal and almost whiny. He offers me his hand which I politely decline with a nod of my head. “My name’s Smythe…John Smythe. Do you live here? I mean I heard there was a man who lived here who will solve problems in exchange for a little coin.”

I’m pretty damned sure that’s not his real name.  That just means he’s smart enough to try and remain anonymous for now. I look him over again, notice that he smells kinda familiar...sorta fishy, like sashimi,  and nod. “I’ve been known to take the odd job to pay for my room and board here, but I don’t work cheap.”

Mr. Smythe looks me right in the eye. Ok, so he’s got balls even if he’s not too bright. Staring a man in the eye in The Bar will get you cut, or worse, as often as not. “I’d like to know what kind of man I’m hiring before I strike a deal. How did you come to be a ‘problem solver’ and why work out of this place? Why not find a world with lots of ‘problems’ and just take up residence?”

“Storytelling isn’t one of my usual tasks, and if you’re as broke as you look, then fuck off. If you’ll pick up my tab then, what the hell, I’ll tell you a story.” He puts a coin on the bar. “One single, solitary, little old gold sovereign? Buddy, you just bought yourself a story but not much else.”

We move to a table, and I start, “I was born the son of a teacher and a human resources manager, so I guess it’s no wonder I eventually became a killer.” He raises his eyebrow at me and it occurs to me that he’s not from Terra, and he likely has no idea what a human resources manager is. ”A human resources manager is kind of a professional parent. Their job is to keep the workers doing what they’re supposed to be doing, while not breaking any laws in the process. It’s the kind of thing that will drive good people mad, and it has. The home my parents gave me was a good one, nice and stable. Kind of place that should have turned out just another worker drone for the world to grind to dust. In all actuality that’s exactly what I was until my 40th birthday. That day everything went to hell, and the shit show that is now my life turned down a different path.”

I down the rum in my glass and continue, “It was a glorious autumn day. In the place I’m from that means the temperatures are finally tolerable, and people have begun to do things outside again before winter gets here and screws that all to hell and back. There was a table covered in food, and my wife was busy bringing out more. Friends were gathered around, drinking and laughing. Everyone was having a really good time. I thought to myself that if my life was like this for the rest of my days, I’d die a happy man. Some days I kinda wish it had been…”

He nods knowingly, with a sympathetic look in his eye. Then motions for the bartender to bring us another round. “Please continue.”

“Ok, but if we’re gonna keep drinking I’d better get some food in me or this story will never get told.” When the bartender comes back with the next round, I order up some bread and cheese to go with the rum, and I continue my tale. “Anyway, there we were with music playing, and drink flowing when suddenly there was this low thrum that kinda made everyone stop. You know the kind of sound I mean? Feel it in your chest all the way down to...wait do you even have balls? Balls…testicles…gonads…reproductive organs…No! Don’t show me. I’ll take your word for it. The sound came three times and then a hole just kind of opened in the air right over my goddamn birthday cake. A scaly, talon tipped hand came out of that hole, and lighting shot from the fingers across the yard hitting each and every one of my friends right in the center of the chest. To a person they exploded with a thud into a fine spray of red mist. Only people spared were me and my wife. Honestly, I was just lucky. My beer announced that it wanted out, so I was standing behind a tree taking a piss. The bolt meant for me hit the tree and only knocked me down. My wife was apparently the target of this little raid. The hand grabbed her and pulled her into the portal, and I dove through after them without a second thought.”

The bartender came back with the grub, and I dove in with hunger I didn’t even realize I had. “You know,” I said through a mouthful of warm, butter slathered bread, “I still don’t know why he wanted her. Never got the chance to ask him. When he realized I had followed him, he turned and threw fire at me, laughing while he did. I threw my arms up in front of me and screamed, but to both of our amazement I didn’t die in a blaze of glory. Instead a glowing shield of blue appeared in front of me and stopped the fire cold.”

“When I looked up, old lizard face was about to shit himself. He looked at my wife who just smiled and spit in his eye as she lowered her hands from the warding gesture she had used. Never knew she could do that. Maybe that’s why he came for her. Like I said, I never found out. The sonofabitch said something in a language I didn’t know at the time, but I later learned roughly meant ‘Fuck the bonus,’ and he casually snapped her neck.  Something in my mind snapped too, and I was consumed with a need to see him dead. Partly because of what he had just done, but mostly because something in a dark part of my soul just longed to watch the piece of shit die.”

My prospective client fidgeted a bit in his seat, so I asked, “Everything ok?’

“Oh…oh yes,” he replied. “This chair is a little uncomfortable for me. Forgive the interruption.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “The wood is a little hard.” Dumbass, they’re bar chairs, not Barcaloungers. Oh well some people are pussies like that. This guys is probably his world’s version of the stereotypical henpecked accountant,  real Walter Mitty type.

I take another pull on the rum and a bite of bread and cheese. After I wash it down, I continue. “When he turned to look me in the eye again and started to call another gout of flame, he was face to face with a different man. A different man, holding a 9mm pistol that I always carried on my body somewhere.”

He raises an eyebrow at me. “What’s a 9mm pistol?”

“It’s a weapon that uses a small chemical explosion to hurl a projectile about the size of the tip of your little finger at a target at lethal velocity. It holds ten of those little chunks of death in each magazine, which is removable to put more in. Luckily, the laws of physics from my world were still in play. When I squeezed the trigger, the explosion happened as I expected.”

His eyebrow is still about halfway up his sweaty forehead. “So, they normally don’t work here?”

“Nope. Physics and thermodynamics here are a little…quirky. I guess the portal let some of the laws from my world bleed into his pocket dimension. Now all I’d get is a resounding ‘Click!’ from the firing pin hammering home. So am I teaching a class in metaphysics and chemistry, or am I telling a story? Because a class costs extra.”

“A...a...apologies again,” he stammers. “Please…”

“Alright then. Well, the first shot hit that mother fucker right in the eye he had just locked with mine sending some green shit spraying out of the back of his skull. The tunnel of light from the portal we were in didn’t really have walls for it to stick to, and I have no clue where it went. Wasn’t there to clean up later. He dropped to one knee and to my utter surprise didn’t fall down. I later learned that his species, the Goran, don’t keep their brain in their head. Handy information that. Alrighty then, center mass it is. Nine more rounds, slide-lock, reload and repeat until the target stops twitching. I used fifteen rounds to put his ass down. .”

John’s looking a little peaked at this point, probably not used to descriptions of violence. “You ok? Let me get the next round. You look like you could use it.” Get the next round…by that I mean put it on the tab I’m paying with your coin…dumbass.

The drinks arrive and I continue, “I walked over and looked him in the eye, you know, ‘cause he only had the one left, until the light in there winked out. As soon as it did, so did the tunnel we were in and I found myself standing in a street that ran into darkness in both directions just outside of a bar. Wait, I said that wrong, I found myself standing in a street just outside of The Bar. I drug his dead ass through the door, and pitched it into the hearth, then went outside and carried in my wife’s lifeless body. I sat on the floor and held her head, so her soul could watch the piece of trash burn. I must’ve sat there for twenty minutes before I heard someone clearing their throat. The bartender...I call him Bobby, mostly because I can’t pronounce his real name, offered me a drink and some advice. He said, ‘Get that corpse out of my bar before she starts to smell.’ When he saw my face though his mood changed. Men like Bobby know danger when they see it, so he offered to help me find a place to put her to rest. She’s back on Terra, on a hill where she loved to sit and watch the sun set. I haven’t been back there since; don’t really see the point.”

I finish the last bite of cheese and wash it down with the last of my rum. Funny, he hasn’t touched the drink that just came. “Bobby sold me a room for some of my wife’s jewelry, and I started my new life the next day.” I look old Mr. Smythe straight in the eye and ask him, “Now, you want to tell me why I’m about to kill you, or are we just gonna do this?”

I can sense he’s about to move a fraction of a second before he does. With a slight flick of my wrist, I toss the handful of salt I’ve been gathering under the table towards his eyes, move in closer to him, and finish with a thrust of the spring-loaded stiletto on my right forearm into the space under his left arm he exposed when he reached to cover his eyes.

After he rattles out his last breath and I’ve wiped my blade clean on his shirt, I sit back down at my table.  By the time I’ve sat back down Mr. Smythe has changed from his appearance as a mealy mouthed simp back into his actual form.  He probably thought I didn’t notice that he was Goran, young one at that. Surgery or magic can change your appearance, but smells are something else entirely. What the Goran call food gives them a smell that you just can’t miss. They smell a bit like bad canned tuna. Must have been some family member or maybe apprentice of the bounty hunter I put down all those years ago. Doesn’t really matter. Dead is dead. Shame too. I was almost starting to like the guy. Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering, Goran brains are in the thoracic cavity just under their left arm.

Oh well, his drink is paid for; no sense in letting it go to waste. I slam it down and lean back on my chair.  Bobby’s already bringing a mop and some towels.  He was a couple of steps ahead of me. He usually is.

Guess I should help clean up my mess.

Damn, I love my life.

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