“Just one drink.”
Tock-tock. Tock-tock. Tock-tock.
The pounding of his leather shoes on the breaking asphalt echoed through the caves of his mind, trying to catch up to his heartbeat. He was limping. Pain crawled all over his body, like the legs of a billion little spiders, startled by the beam of a flashlight.
His head was pounding as well, and so was everything else. As if the blood in his veins had started to boil, searching for a weak enough spot on his skin to pierce through and sprout out. Visit the Great Geyser of Broken Body, and don’t forget to buy your souvenir photo bundle at the gift shop. A once in a lifetime opportunity, ending soon!
He wiped the sweat from his forehead, blending it with the lukewarm blood running from his nose, and smearing it all over his face. It burnt his eyes like the water of a completely over-chlorinated swimming pool. He liked that comparison; although he knew that it actually wasn’t the chlorine that caused the burning, but the things that reacted with the chlorine: mostly blood, sweat and urine.
(Just piss off! Piss off as fast as you can!)
Without slowing down he looked over his shoulder. Old factory buildings pierced into the starless sky behind him. The pale light of the street lamps reflected in their window panes, staring at him like compound eyes of a giant insect. A dying insect, as more than half of the windows were broken, turning its eyes black and blind. Quite a few cars were parked on the street, but most of them looked like they hadn’t been moved in weeks. Otherwise there was nothing. And most importantly, nobody.
(You might think that! Sheep always think that, don’t you know? And then the big bad wolf jumps out of the tall grass and tears out their larynx!)
He took a deep breath; and the sharp pain in his lungs notified him that one of his ribs was broken. At least one! He slowed his steps to look down at his shirt: a blood-stained sweat-soaked mess. He looked crappy – and he felt that way, too. The few things that could change this were a shower, a bed, and a doctor’s visit. But all that was just as far away as fresh penguin steaks from a polar bear; and therefore he went on to the next best thing that seemed immediately tangible: a drink!
Maybe his mind had already become too excited about that drink, and was prematurely projecting its reality-reducing effects onto his battered senses. Or maybe he wouldn’t have noticed the missing stringency in reality, even if a giant floating arrow had pointed down to it. Whatever the reason, he had already pushed the behavioral pattern labeled “common sense” far, far away – and started walking towards the BAR.
(Just one drink! A teeny-tiny one!)
Hundreds of lanterns suddenly lit up, floating in mid-air like circus-trained fireflies, but were probably just mounted to thin metal rods sticking out from the ground. They formed a broad trellis, leading him through a beautiful garden, filled with flowers and trees that appeared to be growing out from underneath the house he was approaching. Only house wasn’t the proper term to describe it. It was a mansion! No, a castle! Well, no, more like a palace! But not in an exaggerated way – like most palaces, that were just built to impress and intimidate – but just right. Amazing, but in a nice, timid way. Overwhelming, somehow, but still small and simple. Menacing, but inviting.
A place that looked so out of place in this abandoned part of the city that even someone with at least one broken rib and a pretty severe concussion should have noticed the flickering in the circuit of reality it produced. But when he limped up the three wide steps leading up to the front door, passed the three simple letters forming the word BAR above its frame, and finally set foot inside, he still hadn’t noticed it.
(Two drinks, at most…)