Contest #233 shortlist ⭐️

The End of the World

Submitted into Contest #233 in response to: Set your story in a bar that doesn’t serve alcohol.... view prompt

12 comments

Speculative

It’s hard to find The End of the World.  That’s intentional of course, wouldn’t do for the tourists to latch on.  A small smoke filled room, where cigarette butts litter the cracked, wooden floor like so many tumbleweeds.  The crooked that call this hole home sit around talking in small groups.  

You walk down a cobbled street as the darkening sky makes shapes of the buildings that loom on either side.  The cobbles are uneven, so while it may seem that you’re a cold, brooding thing, your head bent against the driving rain, you’re really just trying to not trip.  Your fedora diverts the rain from you, and down onto the raised collar of a dusky trench coat.  Through some small miracle, a perfectly dry cigarette sits between your lips.  The light on its tip a personal warden against the closing night.   

You trace a path into an unlit alley, and walk to the familiar stairwell.  Down the cracked cement steps.  Three knocks on an imposing iron door, and a vent at the top slides open.  Maurice’s massive hazel eyes fill the space.  In the coming dark, you can only see the whites of them.

“Password.”

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”  The Harry Potter reference has always made you roll your eyes, but someone still thinks it’s funny.  Namely that’s Maurice, and you’re not going to be the one to tell him that it’s not.  There are enough things threatening your life expectancy already.

The vent slides closed, and the door swings open on silent hinges.  Maurice is there to shake your hand, and take your dripping coat.  His frame is a massive, hulking thing.  Muscles bulge from him, accentuated by a too tight, modern marvel of a cotton shirt that somehow doesn’t rip under the strain.

“Full house” Maurice offers.  You nod in response.

 You toss your cigarette onto the floor and crush it under the tip of pointed boots.  From the closing door behind you, a thunder crash booms and lightning flashes, leaving you momentarily in silhouette.  Through some random act of nature, you know you’ve achieved the perfect entrance, and there’s an admiration in the eyes that witness it.  

Smoke clouds your vision, but it’s clear the bar is packed.  Misshapen and mismatched wooden tables are strewn about the room as if cast by an angry toddler, and at their epicenter is your target.  The bar at the end of the world.  Your feet trace the well worn path across creaking floorboards, boots clicking with each step.

As Maurice indicated, the tables are packed.  Villainous looking characters hunch over their drinks, talking in low voices while avoiding eye contact.  Mustaches are twirled, cigarettes are smoked, deals are made.  These are hard people, violent people.  The center of the tables are littered with empty containers, some stacked into elaborate forts, and others crushed and cast into a pile.

You find an open bar stool, and saddle over it.  Mike’s the barman tonight, a balding man whose arms are a network of scars and tattoos; he swears he’s only 40 but his cracked features and missing teeth make you doubt it.  A lit cigarette dangles from his lower lip, an inch of ash hanging precariously as smoke drifts across his face.

“What’ll it be, inspector?”

“Apple.”

“A man of classic taste…” 

Mike trails off as he turns around and reaches into a dirty white fridge.  The compressor rattles on as he opens the door, angry at the intrusion.  Mike turns around, and slams the juice box on the counter in front of you.

“Need a straw?”

“Brought my own.”

You reach into your tailored suit jacket, a pin-striped masterpiece from the french quarter, and pull out a foot tall silly straw.  The transparent green plastic arcs gracefully between each end in gentle curves and spirals, and near the top completes three consecutive loops.  Holding it in one hand, and the juicebox in the other, you puncture the seal in the top.

The man next to you whistles in admiration, he’s an ancient thing that’s clutching a box of prune juice.  You can’t stop staring at the inch of silver hair that sticks from his ear.  

“That’s a nice piece there”

“It’s inherited.”  

The words conjure up memories.  You’re five again and watching your dad use the same straw.  You stare in wonder as you watch the glorious liquid cascade through the spirals and arcs.

The conversation ended, you bring the straw to your lips and watch as the liquid races up through the straw.  It glides across the curves, shoots up the spiral, and twists through the loops until…

Awareness floods you, the foreign taste in your mouth an instant betrayal.  You spit it out and shower the bar in front of you with scarine sweet, purple liquid.

“MIKE!  There’s grape juice in this box!  I fucking hate grape juice!”

In an instant, the gravity shifts around you.  The bar goes silent.  Giving a man the wrong juice, they all know that’s worth killing for.  You see the fear go into Mike’s face, as he looks at you, and then at the box. In your hands.  At the purple juice in your straw.

“But, but Inspector, look at the box, it says apple!  I swear, I had no clue!”

Anger clouds your vision at the slight, your pulse is racing, and you’re itching to grab the gun that’s holstered inside your suit jacket.  But you humor the man, and tipping the all white container forward read the word ‘APPLE’ in capital, black letters.  

Methodically, you remove your straw from the container, blowing air backwards through it to purge the vile liquid.  It makes gurgling noises in the container as you blow through the straw.  You finish removing it, and dab both ends against a bar napkin, your mouth drawn into a thin line at the distaste you feel.  In one swift, violent motion you grab the juice box and hurl it against the back of the bar.

Grape juice explodes in a shower of droplets as the box bursts.  Behind the bar, Mike flinches at the explosion.  You stand, and kick the stool out behind you.

“Control your supply Mike, I won’t be so level headed next time.”

He nods in sheer terror, unable to meet your eyes.

You whirl around, and stalk out of the bar, grabbing your jacket from Maurice at the exit.

“I don’t know what was going on during meal time today, but Tommy definitely had a cranky day.”  The teacher pokes your pudgy belly and wiggles her finger around.  “Didn’t you, little guy?”

You stare back at her in pure hatred.  Vile, contemptuous woman.

“You should have seen him throw his juice box; he might have a future in baseball!  We know he hates grape, but the thing was mislabeled.  Nothing to do about it.”  The woman gives a shrug as she chats into the phone.  “Just a small thing though, we’ll have him ready for pickup this afternoon.  Yeah, that’s him crying in the background.  We’ll try putting him down for a nap and see how it helps.”

Hated, evil woman.  Giving me that horrible grape flavor, she did it out of spite.  And now she’s carrying me back to the cribs!

You scream at her.  The injustice, the cruelty of the day pours out of you in a torturous cry.

I DON’T WANT TO NAP.  I’M NOT EVEN TIRED.  I’VE NEVER ONCE BEEN TIRED.  I HATE THIS CRIB IT’S NOT EVEN COMFORTABLE… well actually it’s not bad here.  And if I wiggle over onto my stomach, oh it’s actually quite nice.  Mmmm, yes actually I do feel a little tired I guess.  Maybe I’ll close my eyes for a few minutes.  Maybe, I’ll just rest…

January 17, 2024 12:54

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12 comments

Tom Skye
19:47 Jan 31, 2024

This was a clever idea. I thought it was going to be a commentary on the bad behaviour of people in a bar. Like it was never the alcohol, it was always part of who we are. The twist really caught me out. Great work and packed a punch in a short space of time. Well done on the short list. It was well deserved

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Ian Patterson
00:18 Feb 01, 2024

Thank you for reading and the encouragement!

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:59 Jan 28, 2024

Funny one. Congrats.

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Ian Patterson
13:53 Jan 29, 2024

Thank you!

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Alexis Araneta
12:21 Jan 27, 2024

Congrats on being shortlisted ! Well-deserved.

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Ian Patterson
18:21 Jan 27, 2024

Thank you, Stella!

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Martha Sanipe
19:24 Jan 26, 2024

Loved the ending...and hope the hero had a nice long nap!

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Ian Patterson
20:29 Jan 26, 2024

Haha! I was writing the ending as we were putting my daughter down for a nap. Sometimes reality bleeds in!

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Mary Bendickson
17:23 Jan 26, 2024

Excellent enough for a short shortlist. Congrats! Made me laugh.

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Ian Patterson
20:28 Jan 26, 2024

Thank you! I was hoping to get a few laughs, I was chuckling as I wrote it.

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Andrew Krey
01:19 Jan 22, 2024

Brilliant spin on the prompt, and nice timing on the start of the reveal. It created a brilliant visual of the children at ‘play’. Well done.

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Ian Patterson
01:35 Jan 22, 2024

Thank you for the kind words!

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