The window was like a massive painting of a tulip armory in pink and yellow helmets facing their three commanders - windmills made tiny by the distance. The sky blue melted into grey, tinted by tangerine. This eight-bedroom country house inn made of 1900s red bricks oddly stood amidst the vast meadow of endless green, dotted with pink, yellow, and some purple and red bits.
William marveled at the view that he would wake up to for the next thirty days or so and hoped he’d finish his draft by then with the inspiring vista. He arranged his few pairs of shirts and pants into the cupboard and placed his laptop, some books, pen, and notebooks on the working desk, directly facing the natural cinema as the slowly-setting-sun brushed his room golden.
He went down to the bar on the ground floor called Harod’s and was welcomed by a pesky fly. ‘Hello?’ He called. His voice echoed from somewhere in the deep. He nervously walked in. Apart from the sound of his breathing and occasional humming of the fridge, the place was silent as a tomb.
‘Hi, have you been waiting for a while?’ A man darted from the door behind the bar counter.
‘I just came in. Can I have whiskey on the rocks?’
‘Of course, have a seat.’
William settled on the high stool at the bar counter and watched his private bartender, a blonde guy with very light eyebrows and mustache on his egg-shaped face, pour that mahogany-colored liquid on a rock glass with three cubes of ice.
‘Am I alone here? I don’t see anyone.’ William looked around the bar then back to his bartender.
‘Ah,’ the bartender waved his hand.‘ You’ll see them a bit later. ‘Shall I switch on the music for you?’
The bartender went to the back of the house, and the music started playing. William smiled upon hearing the first song. He wasn't expecting to hear such a mesmerizing French song in a place where you think you'd randomly see the Godfather. He expected to hear some pop or alternative or even metal music in a bar with red leather couches, wooden elements, a billiard table on one side, and a darts board on the other. Random sports figures portraits hung on the walls and a framed boxing glove stood on top of a shelf, a priceless jewel in an alcoholic museum.
La Vie En Rose evoked some familiar feeling, but he could not figure out precisely what. Like a memory of a past life, sitting in the middle of a garden with a transistor radio on, watching rose petals fall one by one, slowly into the ground. It confused him and raised questions about whether it really happened or it was just a story he created in his mind. It happened a lot with him in the past. He mixed up his reality with the stories he wrote.
He looked at the slowly melting ice on the glass and swirled the whisky. He looked at his phone and checked his newsfeed. That’s the last day he could check social media before his phone would be chucked inside a box until he gets his manuscript done. At least that was the plan.
He heard people coming in and settling themselves in the bar. The bartender wasn’t private for him anymore. Drinks were poured and served one after the other. Laughter filled Harrod's. The bar was suddenly a happening place. Strawberry and mint-flavored smoke contaminated the air fused with the aroma of sizzling Buffalo wings.
William fell into the depths of social media black hole, and by the time he realized this online indulgence, he already had three glasses of whiskey, and his stomach grumbled. He looked at the menu and asked for a beef burger which was served after twenty minutes.
He took bites of the juicy medium-well patty tucked between the buns and lettuces and tomatoes. He left social media some time ago and rummaged through the New York Times articles before his subscription ends for no payment in hopes of getting additional ideas for his novel. He wondered what story he would come up with, although his concept was already there—life, death, flowers, and rebirth. The flowers part came in after seeing the view from his bedroom window.
William could eat massively, but his interactive metabolic system never allowed his body to show evidence. He felt heavy and sleepy with his skin and bones and burger and whiskey and decided to head back to his room.
‘Thanks, Carl,’ he handed the bill he signed and finally found out the bartender’s name on his bill.
He stood up slowly and turned his back on Carl. The brightly lit bar seemed dark. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head, thinking he was clouded by the whiskey. He opened his eyes and confirmed what he initially saw. The bar was filled with shadows. Shadows sitting on the tables. Shadows smoking cigars. Shadows playing cards. Shadows playing billiards on the far end of the bar. Shadows wearing suits. Shadows, everywhere.
He looked back at Carl, who stood there smiling as if he already expected William’s reaction.
‘What’s going on?’
‘You haven’t noticed until now?’ Carl asked back.
William realized he was sitting amidst the crowd of shadows all those hours he spent with his eyes on his phone.
He gave a questioning look at Carl.
Carl served him another glass of whiskey. ‘That’s on the house. You might need it. Have a seat, once again.’
He took a swig, and the coffee-colored liquid traveled quickly down. It was warm inside. But his back shivered.
Carl leaned forward. He was so close to William’s face he could feel his breath.
‘These shadows,’ he whispered, ‘were the shadows of the people who sold their souls to the devil.’ Carl sounded like a wizard passing down a curse.
William felt all the hair in his body stood up. His body froze, but his heart pumped faster than ever; he thought it would pop out of his chest.
‘The shadow is automatically cut from the body once the owner sells his soul to the devil.’
William thought, who sells their soul to the devil?
And as if Carl read his mind. ‘A lot of people sell their souls. Those who are in despair and have nothing more to lose. Those who can only think of two things - do or die.’
William thought of his desperate times when he lost his wife to his friend because he was so busy writing his novel that sold not more than a hundred copies while his wife found affection from someone else. On lonely nights he wanted to die in his dark house, wanting never to see the light again. They said when you dream, dream high because it's free. And that's what William did. Little did he know that he had to pay a very high price for chasing after his ambition.
‘They stay here for as long as their owner is alive. And once the owner dies, the shadow perishes quietly and dissolves into the eternal darkness.’
‘Where do they live?’
‘Here,’ answered Carl, his arms spread wide. ‘They were here all along.’
William wondered. It was dead quiet when he entered the bar at sunset.
Again, as if reading his mind, Carl spoke, ‘you only see the shadows in the night. They are nowhere to be found during daytime.’
'So, this is like a purgatory?' William asked.
'Hmmmm. More like a waiting room.' Carl's tone was that of a Real Estate Sales Man, showing a property to a potential buyer.
‘But, how can shadows know how to smoke or play billiards or drink?’ He remembered earlier, Carl mentioned orders even before the customers placed them. He interacted with them the way a bartender normally does to human beings hence, William thought the bar was filled with regular 'human' clients. He was just too busy looking at his phone earlier to not notice the bizarre situation around him.
‘They carry all the memories of their owner up until the day they were cut off,’ Carl said. ‘So they do the things their owners did, they mimic them.’
William’s vision started to spin; he suddenly felt vertigo that he never had.
‘And how’d they find their way here?’ he asked Carl.
Carl grinned. His face was blurring in William’s vision.
‘Same way you did.’