The Fickle Gods Own Bartender

600 words –

“I’ll have a scotch on the rocks when your done serving those sissies at the end of the bar!” a belligerent customer bellowed.

Willie the bartender glanced over his shoulder at the loudmouth on the other end of the bar while continuing to serve the two men beer and pretzels.

He’d seen his type before. A mean drunk. Rather than violently kick him out, which he had every right to do, Willie walked over to him and looked him straight in the eye. Something in his stare caused the rowdy customer to instantly calm down.

“You sure you haven’t had enough for the night buddy?” he asked. The would-be customer slid off the bar stool and muttered that he was taking his business elsewhere as his unsteady legs propelled him towards the door.

In Willie’s world, the bar was a waiting room for restless souls, not yet gone on to any reward, and not likely too either. The tortured souls who sat at his bar looked for advise and solace. They were confused and he found that most were looking for heaven. They came to the bar to learn about their next step in the process of passing from one life to another.

They told him their life stories over shots of tequila and whiskey; wondering why their drinks didn’t make the misery of this alcoholic purgatory disappear.

Then there were those carefree souls who laughed and partied through the endless nights, calling Willie, “St. Peter,” and begging him to escort them through invisible Pearly Gates. But it wasn’t Willie’s job. All he was supposed to do was listen and offer his two-cents worth while serving endless alcoholic drinks.

Long ago Willie realized his karma was damaged beyond repair. That was why the gods (there had to be more than one) put him where he was. A lifelong alcoholic who drank himself to death and was resurrected as a messenger between worlds. What irony. The gods sense of humor was impossible for Willie to understand. He was a hostage for eternity.

One day all that changed.

The god of chaos sent other deities spinning through dimensions and worlds unborn, in a burst of cosmic energy that tore souls loose from the places they were stuck. Adrift, the souls turned to space, eagerly looking for new landings. New starts.

Willie found himself on earth again. It was 1923 and he owned a whiskey distillery that supplied gangsters from Chicago to New York. As he watched the last truck pull out, packed with crates of his signature booze, Willie had a nagging feeling that the good times weren’t going to last. He was rich beyond his wildest dreams, but business was just too good to walk away from. Besides, he felt alcohol was part of his destiny. His rise to glory.

Willie was on to something. He just didn’t realize it then.

When the mobsters attacked his distillery one night he was killed playing a game of poker with his two bodyguards. His suddenly rich wife buried him quietly.

Dimensions shifted. Alternate universes collided. The gods fought for time and space. New worlds were springing up in far away solar systems. Galaxies groaned as solar systems stretched and contracted, collecting stars like seashells on earth’s beaches.

And Willie found himself pouring a beer from behind a long mahogany bar while listening to a sad soul’s story. He sighed because he knew it was going to take a very long time.

The gods shrill laughter echoed throughout the heavens, and meteors continued to scream through outer space on a mission to mock mankind.

Eternity

Eternity has teased the galaxies since the dawn of time, hinting at a false permanence among the stars, only to disappoint. Cosmic things keep changing.

Universal chaos is a constant in oxygen-deprived deep space where civilizations struggle to emerge among the primordial planets, with dreams of eternal bliss.

There is no end, and no beginning in eternity. It just is. A state of inter-galactic flux that favors no species. All struggle to survive while searching the heavens and praying to ancient gods among the constellations for immortality. Eternity.

Stellar souls sing songs of heaven, vainly courting eternity with diverse beliefs.

The Waiting Room

Somewhere between the unknown and reality there’s a waiting room for souls. Their expressionless faces reflect the rigors of their lives.

The souls have different expectations about their fate. Beliefs of a lifetime wait to be validated. Hopes of being reacquainted with loved ones go unspoken in the silence. 

When the doors of justice open they go inside. A panel of life forms from throughout the solar system waits to judge them according to universal laws. 

Good and evil is balanced upon scales based upon what they did in life. There’s no lawyers to plead their case – just their deeds.

A Hung Jury at Brimstone

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Badlands Billy stoically waited to be hung.

He was wanted for stealing souls in Brimstone, and was captured in a saloon there by two zombie bounty hunters. Not without a fight however.

One of the zombies lost his hand when Badlands Billy hacked it off with his hatchet during the melee. Saloon patrons tried to stay out of the fracas, but there were still some injuries from errant bullets buzzing around like mad bees in the increasingly smoky saloon.

When it was over, the two zombies had Billy hogtied and drug him to the sheriff’s office where he was thrown into jail. The Sheriff, a second-level demon, paid the zombies their bounty then unceremoniously kicked them out of his office.

“Next time take a bath you smelly bastards!” Sheriff Bodi shouted, “You’ve stunk up my jail again!”

He turned to Billy and looked him over critically.

“You don’t look stupid,” he mused out loud. “But anyone who thinks he can get over on the Master has to be an idiot,” he firmly declared.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it lawman.”

“I have. But the difference between you and me is, I’m smart enough not to. That really pisses Lucifer off, you know.”

“Why don’t you let me go Sheriff? You know my gang is going to show up soon and there will be hell to pay.

“Another level, here or there, doesn’t particularly bother me Billy.

A day later, while the sheriff waited for the judge from Tombstone to arrive, Billy’s gang rode into Brimstone on black horses. They trotted up to the jail house and got off their silent steeds without exchanging words. All five of them were pulling out their pistols when the towns inhabitants opened fire! They were expected.

Bullets rained down from porches. Every window and door had a shooter busily firing at the gang. Like Billy, they were all level one demons and were dropping like fetid flies. When the firing stopped they lay scattered on the dusty street in front of the jailhouse. Their riddled bodies seeped blood that trickled down into the dirt in little pools.

Level one ghouls bid on the bodies afterwards. Their flesh sold for far more than beef. It was one of many reasons why Brimstone didn’t have a coroner. When Billy learned of his gang’s fate he howled like a wolf all night.

“I guess that’s it for you wise guy,” the Sheriff later mocked him. “I expect the judge tomorrow so you better get ready to be served up on someone’s plate when the death penalty is handed down.”

“What? No jury, or trial? I thought even level one demons had some rights.”

“There’ll be a jury, and you’ll get your trial. But at the end of the day, the devil always wins.”

The trial was held at the saloon. The judge arrived with two officers of the county court who immediately set up rows of chairs and constructed a crude platform where the judge would sit on an old stuffed chair from one of the upstairs whores room.

When the sheriff escorted Billy into the saloon cheers broke out. Apparently Billy did have some supporters in the crowd. The jury consisted of level one demons that weren’t too drunk to sit upright for an hour. Billy’s peers.

The judge slammed his gavel on a little desk in front of him and called for silence. He looked down at Billy with undisguised disgust. Even a stupid soul-stealer like Billy knew that wasn’t a good sign.

“You stand accused of stealing souls from humans who are the Master’s playthings. By poaching on Lord Satan’s subjects you have crossed the line of no return. Your fate now lies with this jury,” the judge said indicating a group of 12 demons sitting unsteadily in two rows of rickety chairs. “How do you plead?

“I’m as innocent as a new-born babe, your honor.”

Rolling his eyes in scorn, the judge called on the first witness. A parade of previously paid witnesses spent the next hour testifying against Billy. The jury bravely tried to stay awake during their testimonies, but occasionally one of them would slip off in his chair, only to waken startled and blurry-eyed before regaining his seat.

“It’s time for the defense to state their case,” the judge declared.

Billy’s lawyer slowly stood up. His rumbled jacket had vomit stains on the front. Blood-shot eyes searched the room before settling on Billy. “You my client?” he asked Billy after letting out a long belch.

“Yeah,” Billy admitted in resignation.

The lawyer, Travis Goldblot, turned to the judge and bowed. “If it pleases the court my client begs for mercy and a lower level of hell. He didn’t mean to do it.”Β 

The judge dismissed him with a wave of his long skeletal fingers, and turned to the jury. “All right you lazy bastards! You go over to that room behind the bar and make a decision on what we should do with this piece of scum.”

The decision only took ten minutes.

When the jury assembled before the judge, ten of them looked pale with fright. The eleventh jury member appeared to be unconcerned. He was casually chewing on a wad of tobacco and talking with the twelfth juror when the judge asked for their decision.

The forlorn speaker for the jury stood up and mumbled a reply.

“Speak up damn you!” the judge groused.

“We have a hung jury, your lordship,” he admitted.

The saloon broke out in roars of laughter! This never happened before. The accused in any trial was always declared guilty. That was part of being damned. The situation was so unique that the judge sat there in shock during the chaos.

One of Billy’s supporters in the crowd shouted, “Free drinks on me!” causing a stampede to the bar. The judge and the two county officers seemed to shrink in stature as they slithered past the revelers and out the batwing doors.

As It Stands, even the devil’s minions get out of line sometimes.

Flights of Fantasy

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“The next flight will be in one hour,” a man’s voice blared from the speakers in the small airport’s lounge.

“How did you find out about these special flights” a young woman asked the elderly man sitting next to her. He straightened up in his seat, and said someone – a stranger – gave him a free ticket when he was wandering around the streets looking for eats.

“I’m a traveling man,” he said, as he ran his thin fingers through the silver wisp on the top of his head. “Been there, and done that,” the old man claimed with pride in his voice.

“That’s funny,” the young woman said. “A stranger gave me a free ticket too.”

After that they sat in silence as more passengers slowly arrived. The plane only held twelve passengers at a time. They were all there when a green light above the outside door – leading to the tiny runway that led to the waiting plane – blinked on and off.

An airline employee opened the door and gestured for the group to come over and hand her their tickets. This was done quickly and efficiently. Fog was settling in as the group followed a waiting guide with a flashlight towards the plane. They could hear it’s props whirring in the growing dusk.

The passengers approached the temporary stairs leading up into the plane. Two workers stood on either side with flashlights, waiting to roll them away after the last passenger boarded.

One-by-one they walked up the steps and disappeared inside. There were no stewardess, or stewards. The pilot’s voice came over the inner com and asked everyone to buckle up their seatbelts. A moment later he appeared from the front cabin, closing and locking the passenger door.

“Seems odd that we’d take off this late and in the fog,” the young woman said out loud.

Someone in another seat said, “Don’t worry about it! It’s better than the alternative. Am I right?” he asked the passenger next to him, a frail man with nervous eyes.

“Yes…I suppose so,” the thin man meekly agreed.

“Doesn’t anyone wonder how we ended up here?” the young woman asked the old man next to her.

“Most know,” he replied. “Some are slower to accept what happened, however.”

“What happened?” the young woman demanded.

“That chap that gave you this plane ticket was death granting you a final fantasy before taking you forever into his gloomy realms.”Β 

“I still don’t get it. What’s my fantasy then?” she asked.

“The same as all of ours. To escape death even though we know we’re going to die someday. These flights of fantasy help keep us grounded up here,” the old man said, while pointing at his nearly bald head.

As It Stands, I think we all secretly harbor the fantasy we won’t die.

One Last Drink

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Bobby O’Reilly raised his shot glass of fine Irish whiskey and toasted the devil who wearily raised his in recognition, and tossed it down in one gulp.Β 

Being a clever lad, Bobby knew the devil was coming after him, and had come up with a plan. He may have been somewhat of a rascal, truth be told, but his superhuman ability to consume alcohol made him a legend in the local pub and around the countryside.

Bobby reasoned that the first place the devil would look for him would be the pub where he was known to spend most of his day drinking and gambling. When the devil showed up one muggy afternoon, Bobby waved and invited him to take the empty chair across from him at a table.

“A fine day to you Lucifer,” Bobby began, “I’ve been waiting for your sanguine presence. Bar keep! Send one of your lasses over here with another shot glass will ya?”

“Now, aren’t you a fine piece of work,” the devil chuckled. “Are you really so eager to forfeit your soul this day?”

“Not at all. I’m just a poor man wondering if you have the guts to make a deal with me? I’ll put up my soul. What will you offer, should I win?”

A bar maid set down a shot glass in front of the devil who was considering Bobby’s audacious offer. Bobby picked the bottle of whiskey up and poured the devil a shot. The devil tossed the shot down and then laughed so loudly everyone in the pub looked over at them.

“You know that’s an interesting offer O’Reilly. I enjoy someone who has the gall to try to trick me. But what’s to keep me from ignoring your offer and taking you to straight to hell with me right now?

Bobby poured himself a shot, and refilled the devil’s glass.

“Because I’ll pray to God to take my soul, and will confess and repent for all the evil I’ve ever done the moment you make a move on me.”

“There’s no guarantee it’ll work for you boyo. You’re quit the sinner. That’s why I’m here. But I’ll tell you what. To avoid having to wrestle with God over your miserable soul, I’ll take you up on your offer. If you win, I’ll take you off my list until Judgement Day arrives. At that time we’ll see what God decides to do with your wicked soul.”

“Fair enough,” Bobby agreed.

“What’s the challenge,” the devil asked.

“You have to drink me under the table. The first one to pass out loses.”

The devil raised his glass and casually tossed it down with a twinkle in his eye. They were still drinking after the bartender closed at 2 a.m. He left a light on near the two drinkers and hoped his friend Bobby would be okay as he locked the doors up and left.

To the devil’s surprise Bobby seemed to get stronger as the night wore on. He told bawdy jokes and rattled off limericks gleaned from public loos. When the bartender opened up the next morning there were empty whiskey bottles scattered around the floor and Bobby was opening a new bottle.

The devil was a little pale, but still smiling and listening to Bobby’s blather. The hours flowed by until it was dark again. Bobby was no longer telling bawdy jokes and the devil was starting to look downright haggard.

The devil got to thinking about how many souls he could have captured if he wasn’t locked into this damn drinking duel for the last 48-hours with this crazy Irishman. He decided Bobby wasn’t worth the effort right now. He knew he could outdrink him, but wasn’t sure how many more hours (and lost souls) he wanted to waste.

“That’s it O’Reilly! I’ve better things to do with my time. We’ll meet again somewhere down the road, I assure you. For now, your safe you weasel.”

“Oh, c’mon mate!” he mocked, “One last drink!”

As It Stands, this tale is a testimony for good Irish whiskey; my favorite liquor.

Ghost Radio

Listen to the story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

3-2-1…you’re on the air!

“Hello folks! Glad you could make it to my broadcast – The Tom Mahon Hour. We have a lot to talk about tonight, but before we do, I’d like to ask you something; do you believe in ghosts?

The reason I ask, is the production crew has been complaining of some wacky things going on in the studio lately. Things disappearing…and reappearing again somewhere else. Stuff like that.

I’ve got to tell you right now that I don’t believe in ghosts. If you do, call and let me know why, okay?

Let’s move on to the controversies that are currently surrounding our state legislators and crime in the local neighborhoods. Hello caller, this is Tom…what’s your name?”

“Jacob.”

“Okay Jacob, what’s your beef this evening?”

“I want those young hoodlums to quit walking over my grave.”

Pause.

“I’m sorry Jacob, I think we have a bad connection. Did you say someone’s walking over your grave?”

“That’s right! I’m getting sick of it and if it doesn’t stop I’m going to have to resort to haunting them, and the neighborhood!”

“Oh boy…they’re out tonight!” Tom laughed while hanging up on the caller.

“That’s what I like about doing this show, listeners. There’s always something new under the sun…or like in this case, the phone. Stick with me a minute while our sponsors get their messages across this windy night in Chicago.

Tom took the opportunity to see what Dexter, the production’s sound man wanted.

“What’s up Dex?” he asked.

“Someone outside wants to see you.”

“Who?” Tom asked with real interest. This wasn’t a common event.

“He says his name is Jacob.”

Tom froze. “The guy’s a nut. Tell him to leave. Say you’ll call the police.

He hurried back to his swivel chair and flipped the mic on just as the logo music ended for an ad about blood pressure medicine.

“Back again callers! I have a hunch it’s going to be a long night. Going ahead and sip on something good, and share your thoughts. This is Tom Mahon, and I’m listening.”

The next forty minutes went by quickly as people called in to complain about local issues and corrupt politicians.

“I’ll take one more call before calling it a night. Hello, this is Tom.”

“This is Jacob, and I’m not happy with you Tom. That was pretty rude, hanging up on me like that.”

Tom stared at the mic with growing horror. He didn’t like the sound of this guy’s voice.

“I told you, I’m getting tired of people walking over all over my grave. You know that empty lot you live by on Elm street Tom? Well, that’s where I was buried. Things were fine until the developers built your brand new neighborhood around my final resting place. I want it to stop!”

Somehow Tom stammered, “You’re crazy! Leave me alone!” He turned the mic off and sat there ashen faced. His heart was beating so fast he had to take a couple of deep gulps of air.

“Hey Dexter!” he shouted at the sound room. “There’s a caller named Jacob whose crazy…”

“Yeah, I know,” Dexter said. “I was listening you know.

“Don’t ever let him through again!”

Tom was still shaking when he went outside and got into his car. It would be light soon and thoughts of Jacob would dissipate during the day.

When five o’clock rolled around it was time for Tom to go to bed. He started work at midnight. All he needed were six hours of sleep.

He woke up with a start. Someone was pounding on his front door! He slipped his robe on, walked out into the living room and turned the porch light on. Leaving the latch lock in place, he peeked out the opening.

He didn’t see anything at first and started to relax thinking it was just some kid playing a prank. Then he looked down on the porch. There was a pile of foul-smelling dark rich earth spread out covering the tile.

It was 10 o’clock and he decided to stay up. He couldn’t sleep now if he wanted. This was getting out of hand. But how could he tell the police that a pile of dirt was a threat? There was the phone call from the night before. Would it be enough?

By the time he got to work he had a pounding headache. It was clear and cold outside. He welcomed the cup of hot coffee Dexter gave him as soon as he entered.

“Are we doing open mic night again, or do I have a guest tonight?” he asked eagerly.

“No guest. Sorry. It’s open mic again.

Tom sat in his leather swivel chair and held the hot cup of coffee up to his mouth and inhaled the aroma. He took a couple of aspirin and looked over a list of topics his producer, Dan, lined up for him.

The first hour of phone calls went smoothly with some lively topics. Then Tom’s jovial tone stopped abruptly as the caller identified himself as Jacob! He looked over at Dexter with panic and surprise in his eyes. Dexter looked shocked and was shaking his head.

“I’m about to lose my patience with you Tom. You find a way to keep people from walking all over my grave or you’re going to be seeing a lot of me in your dreams! This is your last warning...”

On the way home from work that morning he decided to contact the developer who was, an old classmate, and find out what the status of the open lot was.

That they were friends, was another reason he decided to buy one of his new homes, on the newly named Elm street.

“What’s that status of that empty lot at the end of my street,” Tom asked.

“It’s not a full lot. I’m not sure what to do with it.”

“There’s something you should know Rory. The neighborhood kids have been playing there frequently and there’s been a couple of injuries. At some point some angry parent may try to sue you for damages.

“I had no idea! Thanks for letting me know pal. I’ll get right on that and put up a fence with warning signs. I can’t thank you enough for bringing this to my attention.

Tom left feeling relieved. He hoped the ghost – which he now believed in – would allow time for the fence to go up before haunting him.

True to his word, Rory was at the open lot the following day with a work crew, who put up a solid wooden fence around the lot’s perimeter. No trespassing signs were also posted.

Four nights later. Tom was feeling normal again. His logic was badly bruised by the experience, but he was glad it turned out well. That night on open mic all of his callers were animated, and he was enjoying himself.

“Hello! This is Tom Mahon, how can I help you?”

“My name is Issac, and a friend of mine referred me to you to get some help.”

The skin began to crawl on Tom’s arms, and the hairs on his neck bristled. “What’s your friend’s name?” he reluctantly asked.

“Jacob. He says you can get people to stop walking all over my grave...”

Tom’s scream reverberated across the airwaves…

As It Stands, you never know what you might hear on the radio.