A female in a red dress stands tall at the microphone, under the spotlight, singing about men who wronged her and homes left behind in a slow, soothing voice. Her face, while still beautiful, is the difference between scars and laughter lines.
The barman’s a drone, hover-class. Don’t ask him how he lost his original legs, he’s programmed to change the story every time. Other technological remnants mean he can reduce anyone to liquid if they get even halfway close to the singer. Come to think of it, she might beat him to it. For the most part, he serves the three-strong cluster of bar-stool regulars.
All of them are war-beasts, rhino-like in nature, each with the stopping power of a mountain and a wealth of lies. They’ll always tell you of females they’ve lain with, planets they’ve destroyed, wars survived. They never count on a time traveller in their midst. I know for a fact the only planet they ever destroyed was their own, and while I can’t say with certainty, any female they’ve ever gotten with was likely to be either blind or rented. If I fancy a bar brawl, I’ll remind them of that, but I chose a corner table for a reason. I can’t meld into shadow like my friend so have to make other arrangements: eyes down, lips sealed, except to drink.
Between the false veterans and this real one are the other rejects, the forgotten and the lonely. Notice how they sit in close proximity, hunched over their drinks, but never together. The pub’s name says it all. Down & Out. You come here alone, you drink alone and you leave alone. Only the regulars deviate from this rule but then I’m convinced they don’t actually leave, ever. In the dim light, most of the furniture resembles mummified patrons.
Some of them drink to forget, others to stop feeling anything and the rest of them because, at the end of it all, they damn well need to. Different species drinking different drinks for different reasons; it’s Chaos Theory at its finest.
A question, one of hundreds, no-one has asked is why I’m here. Why, with my more-or-less positive attitude, passion for travel and the only smile for light years, have I stumbled into this den of iniquity? Two reasons:
One, it’s cheap. Like it or not, a profitable way to earn is by selling booze to the depressed. Supply and demand, my dears, where there is a need there is also desperation. Eateries do well from the overweight; beauticians from the self-conscious; pay-to-play app developers from the bored and stupid. It’s harsh, the truth hurts, but it still happens. No one knows a good watering hole better than an alcoholic.
Two, I had a vague idea that Womble might have been here. There a fragments of memory resembling something similar to his, but it’s impossible to know for sure. Too much alcohol interfering, in multiple more ways than one.
Basically I came here on a hunch, for a break, and the best deal on cider this side of the Saturnine Cascades. Never judge somebody for drinking alone, for there will come a time when you will do it. Just, take it from me, don’t do it in places like this. I think the heavy, depressive atmosphere is near to claiming me as a regular. I’ll be a hat stand at this rate. It’s time to move on.
It’s time to face the music.