I was sure I had walked down this side street hundreds of times. How could I have never seen this pub before?
All right, granted, there wasn’t even really a sign for it. There was just a very tattered-looking board sitting off to the side of a front window that was so caked with dirt it was impossible to see through.
Even so, mate, how the hell could I have missed a pub that was within about 15 minutes of home?
It had been a long day at a thankless job and, at best, I had a cold dinner and nothing else waiting for me at home. I definitely could do with checking out whatever they might have on tap, so I pushed the door open and walked in.
All right, it wasn’t nearly as easy as that sounds. When I tried to push against the door, it cracked open barely a foot and then got stuck. I had to shove myself against it, hard, in order to open it the rest of the way. Oddly, though, once I was inside, it swung shut behind me with barely a whisper.
There were tables arranged haphazardly all around the room, and they were lit with what seemed to be very tiny flickering bulbs. Perhaps they were even candles, but it was difficult to be sure. There were dim lights hanging over the bar that barely provided any additional illumination. The whole place wasn’t just shrouded in shadows; it was positively cemented in them. I could just make out the hazy outlines of a few customers hunched over some tables that were pushed close to the walls. There was a bartender behind the bar, polishing some pint glasses. He occasionally squinted at the outside of one and then attacked it extra vigorously. It was as though his towel was sandpaper and he needed to get another quarter inch off the glass, and there was nothing else available.
Well, I’d gone and done it now, hadn’t I? Even just standing inside the door, my eyes trying to adjust to the lack of light, I was definitely getting an incredibly odd feeling. This may not have been the best idea of my life.
“Welcome, guv’!” I heard the bartender call to me. “Have a seat! Plenty available!” His hand swept along the bar, showing the empty stools. “C’mon in and take a load off. Always time for a drink!”
That was it, then. No use, but to get a drink and then, perhaps, get out of here as fast as I could. I stepped over to the bar and hopped onto a seat in front of him. The bartender tossed his towel casually over his shoulder and put the glass down, asking, “So’s, what can I get for you? You name it, and we’ve got it in stock, guaranteed.”
I glanced over at the taps. There were five of them, but they were all unlabeled. That struck me as being just plain strange. After all, didn’t the breweries want to make sure that their stuff was advertised? That’s the whole point of the tap handles. I decided that, perhaps, this was turning into an even bigger mistake and started thinking of how I could get out of this without looking like a complete buffoon.
“What about a pint of …” My voice trailed off as I tried to think of the most ridiculous-sounding name for a drink. After all, if he couldn’t serve me, I’d have a perfect excuse to leave. “A pint of Brewmaster 2943 ale, please?”
The bartender turned towards the taps and then turned back, “Now, now … you’re not going to fool me with that one!” He smiled and shook his finger at me. “Everyone knows there’s no such thing as a 2943 ale.”
I started to get ready to turn and slip off the stool, but he continued talking. “After all, they shut down all of their works for renovations that year. I do, however, have their 2942 ale. You must’ve just misremembered the year. One pint, coming right up.”
As I turned back, he’d gone to one of the unlabeled taps and was, sure enough, pulling a pint of ale. Gods below only knew what this was going to taste like, but I’d ordered it, so I was going to have to drink it. He placed it on a small cocktail napkin in front of me and asked, “Would you like a shot of Firebreather to go with that? I’ve got a really nice 2890 that I think you’ll appreciate. Only another buck more?”
I leaned over and took a quick whiff of the pint. It certainly smelled like a decent brew, and at this point, my anxiety was shifting to curiosity. “Sure, I’ll take a shot to go with it.”
He smiled, saying, “I thought so, guv’. You look like the sort that enjoys a Firebreather with their Brewmaster. Ahhh… it’s the way they were both meant to be drunk.” He grabbed an obscure bottle from behind the bar and poured a shot, placing it on another cocktail napkin in front of me.
The liquid in the shot-glass was so strange that I could barely contain my surprise. 1t was a reddish-gold, and it shimmered. It almost seemed to be flowing up inside the glass. At this point, it seemed perfectly believable that there would, indeed, be some fire-breathing involved after it was swallowed.
“Go on, now, guv’. Drink up! ‘Ere, I’ll join you.” He poured another shot for himself, and stood before me, holding it. “Not supposed to drink on the job, but, y’know — a touch here and there, so long’s I can still serve customers and count the change, no one cares.”
I picked up the shot glass tentatively, and he clinked his glass against mine, “Health!” Reflexively, I downed my shot at the same time he did. “Ah, that’s the stuff,” he said as he slammed his glass down on the bar.
The Firebreather felt warm as it hit my tongue. Not warm purely in the “Wow, that’s alcoholic” sense, but it actually seemed to be a higher temperature. I could feel just about every taste bud on my tongue getting excited about it — some with pleasure and some, admittedly, in fear. I swallowed and continued to feel the heat of the shot as it coursed down my throat and made its way further towards my stomach. I grabbed the pint and started chugging from that glass, wanting to try and quench what felt like a growing fire inside me.
The ale slid into my mouth, cooling everything off and I continued drinking. Okay — this was really good stuff. I could understand why the two drinks seemed to go together, although I hadn’t known either was a real thing more than a minute or two earlier. After a few more swallows, I put the pint glass, half-filled, down on the bar.
“Good on ya, guv’. That’s five and fifty for the two. Want me to run a tab for you?”
I nodded, still staring at the pint glass and then looked up at him. “What the hell is this place? I’ve never seen it here before!”
“This place? Why guv’…” His voice trailed off some as he went back to polishing glasses, and I could hear a smile forming in his voice. “It’s the Nowhere Pub, of course. And, apparently, it was your time to come here.”
“What kind of name is the ‘Nowhere’ pub?” I paused as I processed all of what he’d said. The drinks must be starting to kick in already. “And what the hell do you mean, it was my time to come here?”
“The name? It’s a bit of a joke. So when someone gets home late to the missus, and she asks where he was, he can answer, honest-like, that he was ‘Nowhere.’” He started to chuckle until it turned into a laugh or two and then continued. “As for it being your time. Well … how to explain it?”
After a moment, he continued. “Here’s the deal, guv’. I don’t rightly know where you found us. But … that’s not where we really is. You head back out that door; you’ll be right back where you started. Leastwise that’s the case until the next person comes through that door … or walks out of it. For this moment, that door is yours. After that, though, all bets are off. This is also the Nowhere Pub because it doesn’t really exist anywhere a’t’all.”
I was sure I hadn’t heard him right. “Waitaminit … What do you mean it’s not where it really is? How can it not be here? I just walked in through the bloody door!” I grabbed the pint and waved vaguely towards the entrance before taking another sip and putting it back down.
“Yep, you did. And I’d be willing to bet that you hadn’t ever seen that door before then, ‘ey? And, if you walk back out of here after these fine drinks, one of which you didn’t even think could possibly exist … well, then — you’ll never see that door again in your lifetime. It’s the way with all the one-timers, and for reasons, no one has ever been able to fathom, you’ve been selected to join the club.”
“Join the club? What bloody club have I been selected to join?” I could feel the fire from the Firebreather shot really starting to expand in my gut now. I glanced over at the door, seeing that it was still closed. My anxiety from before was coming back, magnified by orders of magnitude.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. As a one-timer, you get a special … how you call it? Lull? Yah. A lull in customers, at least for a short while. To give you a chance to decide to stay or not. Howev’, once you choose, there ain’t no going back, either way.
“All right, ‘ere’s the way it goes. There’s a few folks — the Regulars,” he said tilting his head towards the dimly-lit and populated tables, and I could hear the capitalization. “Those’re a few of them. They can pretty much find the pub just about anywhere they go. It’s like they got a … Whatchacallit? … Talent for being able to home in here. They always show up, over and over again. They go off on all sorts of adventures, from jungle planets to space stations. But, in between those, they comes here to take a break. They have a drink or seven, share stories, hang out in their down-time.
“Then, there’s a few who are just here for one go. They enter and then leave again, but they can never find their way back — one visit is all they get. Unfortunately, the only way to know which group you’re in is to leave and see if you can ever come back. Me? Well …” He sighed. “I couldn’t bear the thought of being wrong. So, I was offered a chance to stay and tend the bar. There’s a small suite in the back. It’s got a nice bed and a wardrobe for clothes, plus a little bathroom for cleaning up. Every day, the bed gets made fresh, and there’s always clean clothes in the wardrobe for me — just my size. I don’t even ask how it happens. I just know that it does.
“The funny thing is … see … I’ve been thinking that, maybe, it’s getting on time for me to get off of this ride. It’s time for it to be my stop. P’raps, someone realized that too, and that’s why it’s your turn. The pub needs someone to keep the bar handled and seems to me that someone is about to be you, huh?”
I just sat there, staring at my glass, trying to fathom what he was telling me. A pub that didn’t really exist where I found it? Space stations and jungle planets? There was so much that didn’t make any sense. Then I looked up and really tried to look around the interior of the pub. It was as dimly-lit as it was when I walked in — as if it would be impossible for my eyes to adjust to the lack of light … Almost like it was supposed to be that way.
There was no way that this made any sense. But, on the other hand, what if it did? It’s not like I had anything even vaguely resembling a life. There wasn’t anyone who’d miss me if I just disappeared one day. And, if I was going to do that, today was as good a day as ever.
That led me to wonder how the hell I would be able to do anything behind the bar since absolutely nothing was labeled. I turned back to look at him, ready to ask when he smiled and spoke first, “Don’t worry about how to run the bar. I’ll make sure you know everything a’fore I hand it off to ya.”