“And you can get a prostitute from the shadows any time of the day and night,” said Joe to his friend as they sat together and enjoyed a couple of beers in their local pub.
“I wouldn’t need one of them, I’ve got a wife at home,” said Ant, sipping his beer and wondering what his friend had been getting up to.
“Hardly saw anyone there except in the shadows the whole time. After I’d paid the bill to the dwarf behind the front desk, he went off somewhere and I never saw him again, and I never saw any other guests either,” said Joe taking a breather.
“What about cleaners?” said Ant, absorbed in his friend’s story.
“They must have come while I was sleeping because during the day the place was as quiet as a dormouse, not a peep from anyone the whole time I was there,” said Joe.
“Must have been strange for you,” said Ant.
“Not really at first, it was nice to have the place to myself, and you know I like peace and quiet,” said Joe looking at his friend who nodded his head to show that he did.
“And it was dark in there. They had these big heavy velvet curtains over all the windows half drawn that let in a shaft of sunlight, and thick carpets that took all the sound out of your footsteps,” said Joe signalling to the barman for another beer.
“What made you choose that hotel?” said Ant finishing his glass and also asking for another one.
“Well, after I got off the train I asked the taxi driver to take me to a quiet hotel away from any noisy streets and so that’s where he dropped me. At first I thought he’d made a mistake,” said Joe, sipping his beer.
“How come?” asked Ant, sipping beer also.
“The hotel sign wasn’t in English, there were hardly any lights and if I’d walked along the street I’d not have given it a second glance because it merged in with all the other buildings. The big windows at the front had huge leafy plants obscuring the inside and potted shrubs outside that broke up the outline. There was one dim light above the entrance that was open and when I walked in I saw by another dim light on the wall of the foyer a large open space with four chairs around a wooden table and at the other end was the reception desk with a man’s head poking up from behind it. I thought he was on his knees at first but when I approached pulling my suitcase behind me I saw he was a dwarf.
He was looking at me without the usual welcoming smile they have in hotel receptions but I was too tired to make anything of it.
'Do you have a room?' I asked him. He looked at his book and said: 'Number fifteen is available, on the third floor.'
'OK,' I said.
So after showing him my passport and paying in advance, he gave me the room key. As I picked up my suitcase, I turned to ask him where the elevator was, but he was gone. There was no elevator so I had to heave my suitcase up the stairs by myself.
The room was just like any other hotel room I’ve ever been in and after a quick shower to wash off the dust of travelling, I turned the air conditioning on and got into bed and was soon asleep,” said Joe, signalling for more beer.
“So it was a quiet hotel then?” said Ant, still on his second beer.
“Soundless,” said Joe looking around at the empty pub.
“What are you looking for?” asked Ant, also looking around.
“Why is it so empty in here?” said Joe, glancing at his watch to see it was just after nine pm and so not too late or early for other people to be drinking there.
“Don’t know,” said Ant, “but now that you mention it, it does seem a bit quiet.”
“You know Ant, I’ve been wondering lately why it’s so quiet everywhere I go; if I take a train I get the whole carriage to myself; the hotel was empty, and now this pub with no one else here but us,” said Joe looking at his friend with the question on his face.
“Well there’s the barman, he’s here, and the dwarf was at the hotel and the taxi driver took you to the hotel, and you said there was someone in the shadows,” said Ant, trying to make sense of his friend’s question.
“It feels like I’m an observer in some strange play with barely an actor to keep it going,” said Joe, signalling for his fourth beer.
“Let’s see what the barman has to say,” said Ant getting ready to ask.
They both looked up as the barman put the glass of beer on the table and then as he was turning to go back to the bar Ant said: “It’s a bit quiet tonight then?”
The barman stopped and then turned to face them.
“Quiet?” he said.
“There’s no one but us here,” said Ant. “In fact it’s quieter than a graveyard in here.”
“What do you expect?” asked the barman.
“Well, other people, friendly chatter, the ambience that comes from a bar when there’s people drinking and talking,” said Ant.
“As you can see, there’s no one drinking and talking, and this is not a bar. There will be no others in this place but us,” said the barman beginning to turn away.
“I don’t understand,” said Ant to the barman, who turned back to answer him.
“What is there to understand?” said the barman.
“I want to know why it’s so quiet, and why there’s just us here,” said Ant with a worried look on his face.
“It’s simply this,” said the barman, “this is where you go after a sudden death. It’s a place for you to realize you’re no longer alive, and as soon as you do then you move on to the next place,” said the barman.
“But I have a wife at home,” said Ant.
“And she’s still there; but you’re not. You can’t go back there anymore. Better get used to it,” said the barman and again turned to leave.
“Who are you?” said Joe suddenly speaking up.
“I’m the facility manager and as soon as you’re ready I’ll take you to the other side,” said the barman.
“But this can’t be, I’ve just come back from holiday,” said Joe looking confused now and wondering what was going on.
“I know, I was the dwarf in the hotel,” said the barman.
“If this is true, then how long do we stay in this place?” asked Ant who was beginning to suspect that maybe the barman was right.
“About as long as it takes you to know that none of this is real,” replied the barman.
“The last thing I remember was me and Joe driving to here in Joe’s car when a truck pulled out in front of us,” said Ant.
“But that was ages ago,” said Joe.
“Events can become mixed up here,” said the barman.
“It must be boring for you hanging around waiting for people to wake up and know they’re dead,” said Ant who faded away and then was gone.
“Where’s Ant gone?” said Joe getting to his feet and looking around.
“He’s gone on,” said the barman.
“I don’t understand where this gone on is,” said Joe looking puzzled and feeling frightened now that he was alone.
“It is but the next stage in your journey,” said the barman.
“But I don’t want to go on a journey anywhere, I like it here just fine,” said Joe.
“You are not here; this is a dream you will move on from sooner or later. It is a place you go to when you are suddenly pulled out of your last dreaming,” said the barman about to say more but was interrupted by Joe who exclaimed: “I want to go home, now.”
“There’s no way out of this bar room, not now,” said the barman walking back to the bar to polish glasses.
Joe took a sip of his beer and began to gather himself to make a run for it and that’s when the door squeaked open and a brightly dressed woman walked in to the dim bar.
She stood there momentarily as the door closed behind her taking with it the bright sunlight that was streaming across the floor to become narrower and narrower and then was gone.
She spotted Joe and walked over the wooden floorboards in her high heels to stand across the table from him.
“Hello Joe,” she said half under her breath as if fearful of being heard.
“Sandy! Is it really you?” said Joe getting to his feet, a look of joy spreading across his face.
“Shh,” she said, “I’m incognito.”
“Sit down and let me get you a drink,” said Joe signalling to the barman to come over.
The woman sat down and pulled out a cigarette from her bag and lit it, the smoke drifted upwards into the still air of the bar.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” said Joe as the barman hovered over them wiping his hands on his apron.
“Can I have a double whisky, straight?” she said to the barman who nodded his head yes and then looked at Joe.
“Beer,” said Joe not taking his eyes from the woman in case she too disappeared. The barman went off for the drinks.
“What are you doing here?” asked Joe with a gleam in his eye, remembering the last time he was with Sandy.
“It’s a strange story,” she said. “I saw you in the hotel you were in you know.”
“That was you in the shadows?” exclaimed Joe wonderingly.
“Yes, that was me,” she said.
“Why didn’t you come over and say hello? You weren’t working were you?” asked Joe.
“I don’t know, the last thing I remembered before being in the hotel was a man taking out a gun from his pocket and firing it at me and then I found myself there in that strange place, so I stayed hidden to see what was going on, and then I saw you come in and go upstairs to your room so I followed you. I’d heard your room number from the dwarf as he gave you your key. I thought to talk to you, but after knocking on your room door and not getting an answer I opened the door and went in. I just wanted to talk that’s all; and then I found myself walking through the door of this bar. What’s going on Joe?”
“I’ve been wondering that myself,” said Joe looking up as the barman brought their drinks over and placed them on the table.
“All will be revealed in due time,” said the barman who then turned around and headed back to the bar.
“What does he mean, all will be revealed in time? And where am I?” said Sandy looking around her at the empty bar.
“Well as far as I can tell we’re sitting in a bar, but according to the barman we’re not really here,” said Joe looking up at the barman who looked at Joe and gave him a wink.
“Not really here,” she repeated.
“According to the barman,” said Joe.
“If we’re not here then where are we?” she asked, a look of dread spreading over her features.
“I think you know,” said the barman.
The woman looked up at this unexpected interruption.
“It is where you go to when you die unexpectedly before your time, and you stay here only as long as it takes you to realize you’re not alive anymore and then you move on,” said the barman looking at her expectantly.
“Joe, I’m scared,” she said and reached out to him, but just as Joe went to take her hand she faded away right in front of his eyes and then was gone leaving Joe with an unwanted feeling of Déjà Vu.
“Do you get the picture now?” said the barman.
“I don’t know,” said Joe in a daze and shaking his head. “I think I’m dreaming and will wake up soon.”
“It’s up to you when you wake up, but until you do, there’s an opening behind the bar for someone,” said the barman who faded away and was gone, leaving Joe totally alone in the dim bar with a look of horror spreading across his face. But that’s how you get sometimes in a bar.