A barfly and an invisible friend make a pub night even more interesting. For Bard's Hall.
|The Brazen Head - Dublin - St. Paddy's Day
Dylan sat at the bar, waiting. A young man with sandy blond hair made to sit on the stool next to him. Dylan threw an arm out to stop him. "Hey, now. I've got a friend comin', and he's going to need that seat."
"A friend, eh? Well, that's generous." Dylan heard his companion but didn't see him. Hadn't seen him in years.
"Eh. Here's the man now, so shove off, mate," Dylan said to the would-be sitter.
"I don't see anyone," he said.
Dylan scoffed and gave the guy a look as if the quality of the scoff explained everything.
"You're late," Dylan said to the new arrival.
"Only by about 20 years. What's that to either of us?" The new voice floated clearly through the pub for those close enough to hear it.
The man seated on the other side of the vacant stool looked askance to see who had spoken, and upon seeing no one next to him, he kept staring.
"Just because we have all the time in the world is no reason to squander it." Dylan pointed out.
"Oh, what a load of nonsense. You were always much better at wasting time than I was."
The man on the next stool over stopped his staring to say, "Hey mate, have you resorted to ventriloquism to keep a seat saved? That seems a bit extreme."
Dylan laughed, sharp and sudden.
The voice next to him said, "That's a new one, eh?" A smile was evident in his voice. "Usually, everyone is just thinking I'm a ghost."
"And wouldn't that be a turn? If you-"
"Don't say it!"
"Right. Sorry." Dylan had enough sense to look mildly abashed but no more than mildly. He sighed and said, "I sure could use a pint about now."
The barmaid appeared with a full pint and placed it before him. "Ah, darlin'. You're a peach. You're lovely. You'll have all the men lining up on the streets for a chance with you." He tipped the glass in her direction and took a sip.
The voice asked her, "And what's your name, then?"
Working night in and night out with people, she was more than used to dealing with the unusual and the extreme. No matter that it sounded like the voice came from an empty seat, must have been a trick of her mind. "Annie," she answered.
The man the next stool over stopped her before she could get too far. "Have you been listening to them? I mean, him? He's doing some kind of voice so that he can save that seat, there."
Before she could answer, all of their attention was diverted by a commotion at the door. "Where's Annie?"
The barmaid turned and looked. "John?" she asked, clearly shocked.
"I need you to take me back, baby!"
Another man burst through the door behind him. "Annie?"
"I should have done this ages ago. Will you go to the museum with me?"
"Uhhhh." Annie looked shocked and frozen, and soon enough, there was indeed a line of men down the block looking for a chance to be with her. She looked over at Dylan. Hadn't he just said . . .
The voice from the empty chair said, "Well, now look what you've done!"
"Technically, it's all your fault, and I'll not take the blame." Dylan was rather contentedly sipping from his drink and paying as little attention as he could to the scene unfolding in the bar.
"You'll never learn, will ya? To watch what you say?"
He shrugged. "I can only worry about so much at a time. Can't keep track of it all. I'd go raving mad."
Annie had been doing her best to ignore her sudden popularity as well and had caught this last exchange. "Alright," she said. "You are coming with me."
She pulled up the pub divider and hit something that she couldn't see. Something hard but with a little bit of give. Something that shouted with sudden sharp pain.
She reached around and grabbed Dylan's collar, and dragged him through to the back of the pub.
"You are going to tell me what is going on here. I won't take no for an answer." She stood her ground.
It was novel, really. This was a tale that they'd never had the opportunity to tell. "We'll tell you. But good luck believing us."
Dylan began. "It all happened here, at The Brazen Head, 220 years ago. On St. Patty's, if you can believe it. The pub was overfull, just as it always was back then. The flames from the candles lighting the room only added to the heat. A man who came here thirsty would only get thirstier as the night wore on.
"I was well on my way to the oblivion I'd come seeking. I slammed my empty glass down on the table to get the maid's attention. She was busy across the way, listening to the tales of an old man, telling her how to avoid losing favor with the fair folk. To get their attention, I asked them if they really believed in all that old nonsense."
The voice of the other, invisible man, scoffed.
Dylan said, "Shut up, you. I'm telling it."
He continued. "The girl was shocked that I didn't believe her. I didn't really care either way. I tipped my empty glass towards her. She scowled but came over and took it and returned it to me refilled. I was content to sink back into my glass and move on but then this one," Dylan gestured to the empty air, "had to come and make a big deal out of it."
"He came over with his stupid red hair and his stupid green eyes and says, 'Don't believe in the fair folk, eh?'" Dylan had dropped his voice into a mocking lilt.
The voice interrupted, "Well, I didn't say it like that!"
"Shut up, I said. I'm telling it."
"Not anymore, you're not!" put in the other voice. "I said, 'Alright then, give us your name, boyo. If the fair folk aren't real, then it won't mean a thing, will it?' The maid there at the time overheard me and smiled, said his name was Dylan O'Shea and I thanked her for the courtesy. But I said I'd need to hear it direct from him.
"Dylan here looked me in the eye, sweet as you please, and spoke his name, so I invited him outside."
Dylan interrupted, "Alright, my turn again. You wouldn't even be able to tell this part. We get out there, and he changed. Before, he'd been just a man. Just a friendly-looking man. So friendly looking that it was almost annoying. In that alley, he turned into something else. Something wild and strange. I remember the touch of his gnarled barkish hand upon my head and an ancient, powerful energy coursing through me. And then, darkness."
He turned towards where the other voice was coming from again and said, "You know, it took me years to realize what you had done to me."
"When did you? I don't think you've ever told me about the first time you realized. Just the highlights over the years since."
"It was a girl."
"Isn't it always?"
"Yeah, well, I was asking her what she wanted out of life. I was suffering from one of my more existential moments. She said that she wanted to be able to live off of the money she made from her paintings. I told her not to worry, and that one day soon she'd be world-class."
"And she was?"
"Oh, yeah. She stopped in to thank me. Gave me one of her paintings. It was me, in this pub. Only thing to do with me that I ever liked the sight of." Dylan paused, a soft, fond smile on his face.
"Wait! Was that the night that I showed up, and you asked me what I'd want out of life?"
"I didn't answer you because it's a stupid question. But you, you said that you'd like to spend more time in the world and less in a bar. But that was the problem. Time, if only you could have more of it. I asked you who would want to live forever."
"And I said, 'I'd got for it, I think. Maybe I will. I'm going to live forever!"
"And here we are, 220 years later."
Here Annie finally interrupted, trying to get beyond her own confusion. "Wait, so anything you say comes true?"
"Well, not everything." He looked slyly over at his invisible companion. "That would have been a real curse."
"You can't see me, but I'm rolling my eyes over here."
Annie spoke again. "Sorry, why can't we see you? I mean, I assume something was said?"
"What a way to put it!" says the disembodied voice. "Do you want to tell it, or shall I?"
"I'll do it," said Dylan. "We were at the pub again. This very one, it's a bit of a tradition. He asked me how I was enjoying my extended lifetime. I said something about how I'd like to add some addendums, maybe some invincibility. I can live forever, but I can still get a paper cut? What kind of sense does that make?
"Anyway, a few pints further in, and I may have admitted that living for so long might not be all that it's cracked up to be. I still wasn't getting anything done. As it turns out, when you can live forever, that just really means that you have more time in which to put things off. There's always another day, ya know?
"I looked up just in time to see the expression on this guy's face. He had known all along, of course. So I said, 'Wouldn't it be fantastic if I never had to see your smug face again? I think that would be grand."
"So I turned to take a sip of my drink, and when I turned back around, he was gone." Dylan looked a little sheepish. "I asked him where he went."
"And I said, 'I'm still here. You Bastard."
"That was, how long ago? About a hundred years?"
A sigh floated across the air. "Yeah. Long time to not be seen."
Annie tried to see him, even just an outline, but there was nothing. "Sorry," she said, "But why don't you just say like, 'Hey, wouldn't it be cool to see your smug face again?"
"Tried. There's no guarantee on what works and what doesn't. Not everything I say come true, but anything might."
Silence hung in the air for a long time. Annie burst out, "I think you should try it. I just feel like you should."
"Yeah?" Dylan asked.
"Yeah," said the voice.
"Alright. I guess it would be cool to see you again, man."
"Come on, seriously? No wonder it's never worked. That was crap!" said Annie. "Once more now, with feeling!"
Dylan offered his typical knee-jerk response whenever emotion was mentioned, "But . . . I hate feelings."
Silence answered him as a fitting echo for the emptiness of his words.
"Alright. I know how I'm going to do it," he said. He turned and directed his attention to the last place he'd heard the voice come from.
"Meet me here tomorrow night, man. I'll see you, then."