Welcome to day twenty-seven of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!
Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from the residents’ bar!
“So what’ll it be, sir?”
The barman leans towards me with a smile: his blue eyes and his strong jaw remind me of the boyish looks I once had. But then again, everything reminds me of the past in some way. Every. Little. Thing.
I shake my head and he raises an eyebrow as if to ask if I’m sure, but he’s already started to move his way along the empty bar and leave me to my misery.
But I think the better of it.
“I’ll have a whiskey sour.” He nods. “Make it a double whiskey.”
“I’ll need your room number, sir. Resident’s only at this time.”
He tosses a look back at the ornate clock that hangs behind the bar, a large art-deco affair, each tick of which seems to fill the bar with an ominous tick. Or maybe the tick is just the blood rushing through my body, still pumping in my ears after the argument I’ve just had.
I show him the room key, but he doesn’t pay much attention to the number: he just needs to see that I’m meant to be here and he’s not going to be fired for serving me in this hallowed place. Despite the clock, time doesn’t move in a place like this. Once you have the room, they have the booze; once you keep the cash coming, they’ll keep refilling the glasses.
He moves around the bar to prepare my drink, glancing back at me every few moments. I can’t tell if he’s judging me or trying to read me. Maybe it’s both.
“I’ve only ever been asked to double the whiskey once before. And that didn’t end well.”
“I don’t really care.” The words snap out of my mouth unexpectedly. Do I actually mean that, or am I just still bitter and sore? “It’s already over anyway.”
It’s not his job to ask these questions: that’s what we paid the marriage counsellor for. But yeah, that didn’t work and I’m now at the stage where barmen and barbers are more interested in my relationship than my own wife.
No, she’s not my wife: she hasn’t been my wife in five years, not since the first time she slept with him then confessed everything to me, real tears and real words covering up those fake emotions. Since then, I’ve learned every one of her tricks: the working late, the long weekends with the girls, those nights when she just wasn’t in the mood.
“It’s not really a relationship any more. It’s over.”
There’s more noise from the other side of the bar, metal and glass clicking and touching like an industrial process in the making.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Were you together long?”
That youthful face says everything. This man, this guy, this kid, he’s from a generation that’s used to choosing their words carefully, not making assumptions about my relationship issues. Man or woman, wife or mistress, married or still mildly flirting.
And like you do with every bartender and barber, I open up. I share the whole story.
“We’re married twenty years, but there’s someone else. There has been for a while. I’ve given her everything, a home, kids, a life.” I lean back and look around the lounge, wondering if there’s anyone else around to share in my sorrows. I don’t need to find myself a one-night stand; I don’t even need to strike up conversation. I just want to drink myself into oblivion and have someone who will nod and smile along to every heartache that I share.
“We came here to put things right. We came here to make it all better.”
The barman nods and he smiles with that weird emotion, that mix of pity and understanding. He places a glass in front of me, a short glass of orange and white and yellow, a glass that should be comfort and warmth and escape.
I put my hand on this glass, ready to drink and his eyes light up, as if waiting for confirmation of a job well done.
“Can you believe that we came here to put things straight, to put it all between us? It was even her idea.” I look deep into this powerful, understanding blue eyes.
“She’s been here before. She’s been in that room before. With him. This isn’t about making it better; it’s about making it final.”
I take the glass and I drink. I drink as much of it as I can and I let it burn my throat. It burns all the way down, far more heat than sweet. Maybe it was a bad idea to double the whiskey? I don’t know: I’ve only had this drink twice before, such a long time ago that it was a lifetime away.
I realise then my regrets: this is her drink, not mine. She introduced me to the whiskey sour on our honeymoon, something that made her feel warm and comfortable. So why would I ask for this drink now? So I still want that connection to her? Even after everything she’s done to me?
I cough. That whiskey burns already, more than it should. Maybe it’s just because I doublet it up, maybe it’s because I wanted comfort and all I remember is heartburn.
But no heartburn has ever felt quite like this, never so intense.
I reach for another glass, a water that he offers without being asked, a glass that takes forever to empty and does nothing to soothe this pain. If anything, this just adds to the burning in my throat.
“It’ll be over soon.”
I look at his blue eyes and they look so familiar, so welcoming that there’s a reason this man-child makes me so comfortable. He reminds me of a four-year old boy at home, a child I’ve called my son, a child with blue eyes and a strong jaw.
He’s not my son.
The burning is intense now, and I drink some more water, but it’s no relief. My mouth is running and when I spit back into the glass, the water turns red with my own blood.
When I look at the barman, he smiles, but this is not a welcoming smile. There is a devious threat there, and I know now that was no ordinary cocktail.
“She doesn’t just want a divorce, Mike. She just wants you gone. You get that, right?”
The bar, the barman, the cocktail, everything fades to white as I cough again, as I feel my throat fill with blood.
About the Author
Ken Mooney was born in Dublin in the middle of the 1980s; he still lives there. He holds a degree in English Studies from TCD, which he totally uses every day during his day-job in TV advertising…totally.
He’s always been obsessed with stories, reading, writing and playing them; that explains the massive collection of books, comics, video games and discarded Word documents. His writing is a combination of all the things that he’s passionate about, all the way through high-and-low-brow.