A short story about an otherworldly woman in a bar who ensnares the men around her.
Dance of the Violin
The Lucky Lion's Mane was a traditional gathering place for men after they spent all day at the factories. There they worked for a mere pittance that would never truly help subsist them solely, let alone with their families. Yet somehow these hardworking men (with heavy help from their wives of course) managed to survive by their bootstraps. Happiness was somehow abundant in the community despite the dismal likelihood of dying before old age setting about in the bones. A man could only really enjoy his youth until around his twentieth year when the stress of factory life would finally start playing catch-up. By his thirtieth year, he would age like moldy cheese, looking closer to forty-nine than twenty-eight. The ladies, if one could call them that, rarely faired any better. The sooner a child was born, the sooner they could help to support the already failing parents, with only trial and error hopefully allowing the child to live that long anyhow. As vicious as the cycle of poverty was, it was all this community had and they wore it as well as broken men could.
These men who frequented their beloved bar all owed some sort of financial quantity to the barkeeper who took his payments in the form of the laughter and life the debtors brought with themselves. He was not rich himself, but always found a way to keep the place open by any means be it unsavory or not. Patrick O'Neil was perhaps the quintessential Irish man who loved his drink but loved a good fight more than anything. Often his men would gather after hours to have a betting match, of which he would keep a good portion of the proceeds. How the patrons could always find ways to pay for a bet and not their tab was beyond him, but as long as the money flowed back into his hands that was all that mattered to him. The Lucky Lion's Mane bar had been in his family since before even his father was born. Both Patrick and his father, affectionately referred to as Old Man O'Neil, were both very elderly, with the latter being older than sin. The pair were a bit of a curiosity to the patrons, it being said that they were as old as the earth itself. Old Man was worse for the wear, but still somehow appeared to be in better spirits than a factory worker a quarter of his age. The locals held the strange superstition that owning a bar would stave off old age and allowing them to live past their fifty-fifth year (which seemed to be the number that they all died by).
One inhabitant of the establishment was particularly observant. Brady Byrne and his fore fathers had all been frequenters since time immemorial. Though he was not a close friend of the O'Neil pair, they respected his lineage and always waved his debts. Sure, sometimes that involved a small crime like a game of fixed dice or beating a man's face in, but he was fine with that. At the end of the day, Brady only yearned for a haven from his typical nagging wife and three screaming brats. At twenty-nine, he was considered almost barren for only having the four, but he did not want more than that. Already his wife, Maria, was begging him for another when they had just had twins three years ago, and a baby in the last six months. His troubles were worsened by the mortal fact all four were girls with the attitude of their mother. He only married her because she was pregnant at sixteen by his already wed brother; and what kind of decent man would doom a child to being born a bastard? Brady wished he wasn't a good man sometimes, but he still loved his family in the tough way every other father did. The only place Brady felt was home happened when he could stare at his sorrows in a pint and piss them out later. That was the life he knew, and he desired nothing else, even if it meant he would die in fifteen to twenty years of his habit.
Every day of his life had been drastically the same in every way. To him, there was a comfort in that and he knew nothing else. Since he started working at the factories with his father as soon as he could follow directions, he had been coming here. He started off by drinking watered down beer, but by ten he could hold his own weight in the yeasty beverage. When his mother objected, she was promptly beat into submission and never complained again with him nor five proceeding sons. Six out of seven days of the week excepting the holidays of the Church (which rudely included Sunday), Byrne was there. He had never left the city but twice when each of his parents passed away and were buried in the Catholic cemetery outside of the city limits. Humans were probably not created to hide away in the smog and the gloom, but the people of the city adapted to the grueling twelve or more-hour days and little rest. Men had the bars and women had housework and children to entertain them. Shamefully Brady once wished he was a woman, so he could escape the factories, but then he remembered that women had to give birth and that wish was done for.
Like life tends to do, it was slowly breaking the bodies of the mortal realm. Time had to catch up to the Old Man O'Neil sometime. He was severely in debt with Time and was likely three lifetimes over his limit (at least for the area he lived in). Brady had begun to notice that he was coughing more than usual, and his piano playing was rougher than normal. Woe to the man that believes his music brings happy tears to those he plays for when they are really tears of shame for the attempted musician. The jerky movements, normally quick and slightly agile, were slowed to the erratic beat of a dying drum while his breathing acted like a fish thrown from the water, puffing for the freshness of the salty seas. The one bright light dimmed from his eyes like a leaking flame into the starry skies as the heart was skipping to the tune of exploding suns from far unfathomable distances. The air was filled with the sickly aroma of the funeral dance by those left behind. That night was surely the last anyone would see him again.
The very next morning a sign was posted in the grimy windows of the Lucky Lion's Mane. Patrick O'Neill secretly fathomed that no one would see it and he could be left in peace from the players who never could quite play. But inside him he knew that his men needed the supplemental music to aid their dripping dreary death throes towards the end. Sometime around noon, a woman with faint resemblance to everyone he had ever known lilted into the bar with floating feet. This lady was the opposite of ordinary, as if she was made to hold unearthly beauty to cover the sins she attracted with an ethereal glance. If Lilith herself was present among men, then this creature surely was it. Apple red hair poured forth from her divine head, roaring about her in an invisible wind. Her eyes were the color of new rust after a fresh rainfall, and her skin pale as an Irish snow.
The bar is an unspoken territory of menfolk where women never wandered. This premise was likely due to the drunken beating by the embarrassed pride of her husband, or women were always far to bogged down with pregnancy to care. The faerie-like woman waltzed in a dancing step straight through the creaky door, unaware of the social sin she committed (if she even cared). Right up to Patrick she went and spoke with words like an opera singer on the eclipse of a high soprano note. She was telling him she could solve all of his problems if he would allow her to play her violin in the bar for the night the moon was fresh in the deepened skies. The man melted into a boy once more, unable to resist a pretty thing begging him for his mercy. Curiosity was flowing out of Pandora's box all around the patrons' present. With a low murmur of mumblings, it was established she be there tonight before sunset to play her little song and dance for the hungry men. She sauntered away with the look not even heaven would show approval for.
The Lucky Lion's Mane was packed in more than it had been since time began. Brady and his brothers were by the front of stage (really a small area without any tables or chairs). Just like any man who had seen or heard of the mysterious being, they were all hoping for a personal show after the night let out. No respectable woman would come into a man's gathering, especially without the company of another of the fairer sex. After the sun had begun the steep climb to the other side of the world, she finally came, taking away the final breaths of all the men gathered. This time, she possessed only a battered case with a small devilish violin that looked worse for the wear. The white dress she wore hugged her body with the fear a mother has for a growing child. Her feet were bare and helped to show her ankles as if to please the men for an erotic effect. Her face was covered by a mask fit for a king's masquerade with blood red gems set lovingly about the owl's dark face. The contrast between the mask and her even poorer attire only served to enhance her questioning aura and highlight her beauty.
Very delicately she pulled out the oaken violin from the bedeviled case, looking out onto the eager audience. No man could look her in the eye for very long, for her eyes were filled with an other-worldly flame that made one feel as though his soul would burn up in an instant. Just gazing at them would give one a feeling of the animosity from Hell itself. Slowly, as if gathering the souls of the patrons, she started her song. The melody sounded like nothing a human should ever hear. It was though the spirits of all the damned undead were joined together in a heavenly choir. Soothing evil screeches rushed out, grabbing and crushing delicate hearts with hooked hands. Tiny devils danced on the notes briefly played, bringing damnation for all who could hear the dance of the violin. What only took a few minutes was elongated to a rapturous moment.
After the song was played in full, sour air clung to the lungs after every breath. The menfolk felt as though their lives had ended prematurely, only wishing for the eternal rest of the halls of Valhalla. Brady's head ached with thousands of unwelcomed parasites attempting to burst through his skull at once. His body fared no better with large bruises that had appeared with every wallowing note. That night he went home under the full moon a new man who died a little death. He slept as long as he could; even his wife and girls knew to let him rest. The wife remarked on the new wrinkles and grey hair he seemed to have collected from his factory job. She bravely added that perhaps he quit drinking and smoking, then he wouldn't look quite as bad. Luckily for her, Brady was much too tired to care as he was getting ready for another grueling day at the factory. For the first time in a few days, he headed over to his bar after work to see how life was fairing for everyone else.
The current scene at the Lucky Lion's Mane seemed as if it had been fast forwarded a few years, as every man who attended the violin concerto was in the same state as his newly found fragility. Brady came to a full stop when at the counter he saw Old Man, freshly renewed from the grips of death, his sickened son trailing behind in stupor. Old Man now appeared to be more of a brother than a father to Patrick, his heart beating clean blood once more. He chirped a hallo to Brady and asked him how he faired. Brady asked the same of him, feeling it would be impolite to beg an explanation. The older man smiled crookedly as he often had with his jauntier melodies. From there, he went on telling the younger man of how he dreamt of dying after a nasty cough in his chest. He had no fear when his younger sister, Lilliana was once again playing the violin for him.
Lilliana was only seventeen when she disappeared after a long walk in the Irish country side hunting for the faery folk she always wanted to see. Her hair was red, and her skin was pale. Seeing her again, Old Man had remarked, brought him back to life now that he finally knew she was faring well somewhere. The night he played the piano with vigor never seen before, as though he was accompanying a ghostly string instrument. All was well until his son died before him a few short years later, as though every tune from the beyond was suffocating the life from him. The Lucky Lion's Mane stands today tucked in a back-city corner covered with soot. Though no man has had a drink there for years, a blessing of a song plays every full moon between two invisible musicians competing for love.