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Bar

Burt had finished for the night. It was a cloudy Wednesday evening and he was more than ready to head home and clear his head of the tiresome antics of the day. He leaned over the counter drearily, setting down a mug he had poured for himself. The bar’s neon lights buzzed like static in the back of his mind, the old TV monitor blaring its usual nonsense from the corner of the room. The scotch in his glass was sour and lukewarm, lingering on his lips as he blew a sharp whistle, startling the drunkard at the corner booth.

The man in the booth kept still, his mouth hanging open slightly as he stared at the floor with vacant eyes. Burt took a moment to eye his appearance, scoffing internally at just how much of a perfect picture of the bar's typical customer he looked to be. He was wearing a torn overcoat, his legs draped with filthy jeans and a single, battered shoe sitting on his left foot, his yellowish toes sticking out of the end. With the amount of bums he had seen over the years, Burt often pondered if they were factory-made, cloned, even; dipped head to toe in grunge as they moved along the manufacturing line.

“Hey,” Burt called out, jangling the bar keys in his hand. “Bar’s closing. You got two minutes, or I’ll throw you out myself.”

The man flicked his gaze at Burt, shooting him a cold, emotionless stare, pure numbness behind his bloodshot eyes.

“You deaf or something?” Burt spoke, keeping his composure. Though he maintained an unchanged demeanour, he couldn't help but feel somewhat unnerved.

The bum’s mouth quivered as he slowly cracked a smile, his missing teeth and rotting gums on full display. In less than a moment, his corpse-like eyes had suddenly swelled with life.

“The name’s Leslie," he spoke gruffly. "Would you like to hear a story, son?”

His voice was deep and rough, no doubt scarred by countless nights of chain-smoking and heavy liquor. It reminded Burt of a cowboy from an old western movie. As he pried himself from the table, empty beer bottle still in hand, and staggered forwards towards the counter, Burt half-expected to be asked to duel.

“I’ve no time for the words of a drunken bum, especially not at this hour. Beat it.”

“You a bartender, aint’cha? I thought folks like you were the listening type.” Leslie spoke, pulling up a stool.

“Yeah, during opening hours."

Burt flashed his watch, showing 2:58 in blocky, digital numbers. It was a simple model with a slight crack on the surface, worth hardly more than a handful of bills second-hand, but still enough to make most of the bar's patrons eye him with jealousy. But not Leslie, it would seem.

"And only to people who pay their tabs.”

“Well, we still got a couple ‘a minutes left, don’t we? I’m willing to pay for the extra time.”

Leslie grinned as he waved a crumpled 50 in his hands.

“Found this sitting in the gutter outside." he spoke, scratching his stubbled chin. "Some rich fella must've dropped it.”

Burt sighed and rubbed his hands down his face, contemplating the decision. He ached for the soft touch of his apartment sofa, but 50 bucks was 50 bucks. Besides, it wasn't as if he really had to listen. All he had to do was stand there, Leslie's words going in one ear and out the other, and he'd still get the money.

“Two minutes, alright? That's all you got. Whatever you want to get off your chest, make it snappy.”

Leslie chuckled quietly and set the 50 down on the counter. It was covered in fluff, and smelled faintly like the inside of a trash bag. Reluctantly, Burt peeled it into his palm and placed it into the cash register.

“First, a drink.”

Another drink?" Burt raised his eyebrows, tilting his head forwards in disbelief. "With the amount you’ve had already I thought you might've passed out before you even reached the counter.”

Leslie glared at him. He fished around in his pocket and scattered a handful of dirty coins in Burt's general direction.

"Consider that a tip."

Burt sighed. “Fine. If you insist. I take it’ll be the usual. But don't expect me to give you any CPR."

Leslie grunted in affirmation. Burt turned on his heel, stepping to a shelf of liquors and scanning across each row until he came to the Almond Ale. The bottle was sticky in his hand, gluing his fingers together as he set a pint glass down on the counter and began to pour.

“I like it a little foamy.”

“Does this look like a restaurant to you? You'll get your beer how you get your beer.”

The glass beamed a bright orange as the last few droplets trickled down its side from the neck of the bottle. Leslie's eyes filled with satisfaction as it came into his hand, his darkened tongue caressing his lips. He tipped his head back, gulping mouthful after mouthful of the drink without a moment of hesitation, at last setting down the glass when it was half empty. Burt was both sickened and a little impressed.

“So, what’s on your mind, tough guy?” Burt asked, grabbing a nearby glass and polishing it with a rag from under the counter.

“You ain’t gonna pour one out for yourself?" Leslie replied, gesturing to the liquor shelf. "I seen you work up and down the counters all day, you look like you could use a pint, too.”

Burt stopped and rapped his hand along the counter in contemplation.

“As a matter of fact, you’re absolutely right.”

He smiled slightly as he filled up another glass with the same ale.

“Didn’t think you were the type to have some manners about you.”

“Hah!” Leslie replied. “Well, that's what most people assume. I don't blame you, really. Heard you get some real nasty-type folks around here late at night. Cheers.”

"Cheers."

A quiet ting echoed through the bar as Burt brought his glass up to meet Leslie’s. He took a small sip, exhaling gently and wiping the foam from his mouth as Leslie finished the last of his glass.

“Good, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, it's alright. Still, we've got better stuff than this. Cheaper stuff, too. A little variety wouldn’t hurt, would it?”

“Aha, well, uh...that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about," Leslie began. "You see that parking lot out there?”

Leslie pointed to one of the bar’s windows. Outside sat a greyish, dull-looking parking lot, scattered with bums.

“Yeah, what about it?”

Leslie’s face stiffened into a darker expression, his friendly tone drooping somewhat.

“Do you know what was there before the parking lot?"

“Can't say I do, no.”

“Ah, that’s a damn shame. Here, I’ll explain.”

“I’m all ears.”

Leslie inhaled deeply through his nose, as if what he was about to say was of great importance. Burt felt himself dissociating, daydreaming about getting home and watching shitty late-night television.

“It all started when I was a younger lad. Those were times a lot different to now, back when I had real life goals and aspirations. What a concept, huh? Can you believe I was a chemist once upon a time?"

"Yeah, crazy..."

"Anyway, I digress. Back in those days, I had an apartment not too far from here. Horrible place, mind you. Makes this part of town look like paradise. Completely run-down and slap bang in the middle of these soul-sucking city buildings. You get the picture. My only escape from the joylessness of it all was a little field that was once in the place where that parking lot is now. You follow?"

"Mm hm."

“That field was...my little haven, my escape from the worries that troubled me in my day-to-day existence. I'm sure you have something similar, be it a physical location or not. Everyone does."

"Uh huh."

"Whenever I felt down, I would drag myself to that patch of nature to cheer myself up again. And I would always, always, go back home with a smile on my face and a head full of hope.”

“Sure does sound like a nice little area.”

Leslie nodded solemnly.

“Believe me, it was. But the point is, this little field was like an old friend to me. A best friend, even. And you know what the best thing about it was? There was this little almond tree right in the middle, surrounded by these bright pink blossoms. And when that tree bore its fruit, oh ho, it was like Christmas. Each year, I’d run to that tree like a little kid running down the stairs to open his presents. One by one, I'd pluck those almonds off the branches until I could barely carry them all back home again. I’d make almond pie, almond soup, almond whatever, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.”

“Hence the choice of liquor.”

“Exactly. So imagine my surprise when one day, I get to the field, and there’s a big plastic barrier on the front gate. I look inside, and I see a bunch of construction workers. They’re tearing the place apart, uprooting plants, cutting down trees, the works. And I see a poster up on a nearby lamppost saying, ‘NEW PARKING LOT COMING SOON’ in flashy letters.”

“Okay.”

“And at this point, I’m infuriated. At first, I was just shocked, in denial, even, but soon comes this...primal rage that inhabits every little inch of my body. And I'm holding myself back. I'm trying not to let myself go over the edge, I really am. But the final straw is when I see a guy with a chainsaw start walking up to the almond tree. In my head, I’m saying, ‘no, please no, god no, anything but this, not the almond tree’. But I know it’s inevitable. I can’t take it. Just seeing him rev the damned thing into action pushes me to my breaking point."

Leslie paused, allowing some of the bitterness to evaporate from his words.

"Do you wanna know what I did?" He continued, adopting that darker tone once again.

Burt tensed up slightly, growing increasingly wary of the man in front of him. His senses sharpened; he was no longer daydreaming. Leslie had sucked him into his story. He grunted quietly as his stomach seemed to twist itself in knots, causing a moderate amount of pain. Whether it was the building tension or the dodgy, reheated leftovers he had consumed a few hours ago, it was hard to tell.

“Well, do you wanna know?”

“Hit me.” He spoke, stone-faced.

Leslie smiled.

“Good answer. Here’s what I do. I kick down the barrier and I sprint inside with the speed of a fucking cheetah. I can hear the voices of the workers yelling at me to get lost, but I’m not listening. I’m focused only on the guy with the chainsaw, who luckily for me, is wearing protective headphones. He's facing the opposite direction, and I reach him in no time at all, just as the tip of the chainsaw is slicing into the bark. The sheer force at which I slam into his body is enough to knock it from his hands. The two of us go tumbling to the ground together, and quickly, I get back to my feet. And I look down in front of me."

“And what do you see?”

“It’s wedged in his stomach, spraying blood and viscera everywhere. The guy is choking, coughing, begging me for help. He’s screaming, too. Agonizing screams, like the type you hear in nightmares. I look around me at the horrified faces of the construction workers. They’re too scared to move, too distracted to make a grab at me. I sniff intently, and that’s the part I’ll never forget. The rich scent of the man’s blood mixed with the sweet aroma of the blossoming almonds."

Burt’s breath quickened, and he struggled to keep it under control. He wondered if Leslie could hear the sound of his heartbeat rising in his chest, or the pained gurgles of his stomach, or the dull ache pulsing through his head. This guy's a fucking psycho, he thought to himself.

“I grab the chainsaw, and I hold it high above my head like some sort of trophy. I’m laughing all the while, even as I smash the blades down into the man’s head. A final explosion of gore and brain matter soaks the tree, as well as my clothes. I drop the chainsaw at the man’s torn-open stomach cavity and book it. All I remember of the next 10 minutes are scared looks from pedestrians and bewildered mothers with crying babies passing me by as I stumble back to my apartment. Soon enough, I get back inside. I take a shower. I change my clothes. And I lie on the bathroom floor as a wave of clarity sweeps through my brain. My field, my haven, is gone. But now, I have a new way to unwind, a new haven. Vicious, cold-blooded murder. The kind that you relish for every second it's drawn out."

“Ha…ha…that’s, uh… quite a story, there…Leslie.” Burt responded shakily, betraying his attempt at sustaining a calm appearance. It wasn't the first tall tale he'd heard at the bar, not by a mile, but something about Leslie's storytelling made him believe every word. Deep down, he knew that this wasn't a story; it was a confession. He shuffled uncomfortably away from the counter, grabbing his glass and taking one last gulp before pouring the rest of it away.

“Cool story, huh, bartend? It's not one I tell often, for obvious reasons. I know I've given you a lot to think about, especially at such a hazy hour, and I don't want you to think I can't see you inching your way over to the telephone hanging up on the wall on the other side of the room. I'm afraid I have some bad news to deliver. You won't get to call the police, if that's what you're thinking of doing. Hell, I'll be surprised if you don't pass out before you even reach the end of the counter.

“Hah…and, uh…why is th-that?” Burt's vision was blurring, a film of sweat lying across his brow. Something was seriously wrong, even more so than Leslie's story.

“Because you know what else smells like almonds, bartend?”

“…What?”

“Cyanide.”

Burt froze.

“E-excuse me?”

“You remember when I got you to look out the window?”

Leslie reached into his inside overcoat pocket, pulling out a sachet of some powdery substance.

“I put one of these in your ale. Surprise! You didn't seem convinced when I told you I was a chemist. These babies are beautiful, by the way. My own special creation: completely tasteless, easy to conceal, and they work wonders on the human body in just minutes, plenty of time for me to spout my dialogue, of course.”

Before he could get another word out, Burt doubled over in pain. His whole body felt as if it was on fire.

“What…what the f-fuck have you done…” he barely managed to get out, froth already building in his mouth. He leant against the counter to hold himself up, but the vertigo was just too much. Within seconds, he had collapsed, seizing on the floor as the poison spread through his body.

“Ever since that day at the almond tree, I’ve lived a vagrant lifestyle. Not only does it make occasions like this far easier to get away with, but it's a sign of new beginnings. I'm a changed man, a man who doesn't need material comfort. Not anymore. Sure, it may be cold, tiring work, but moments like this make it all worthwhile."

Leslie grabbed the ale bottle by the neck and took a generous swig.

"Ah...still can't beat that hearty texture. Here, let me pour one more out for you."

A splash of the ale soaked Burt's face, making him gasp for air. His face turned from pale white to a subtle shade of blue as Leslie stood up from his stool and stretched.

"You can keep the 50. Thanks for your time, bartend."

And with that, Leslie turned heel and stumbled outside, knowing the squeak of the bar door as it shut behind him would be the last thing Burt would ever hear.



Written by Cornconic
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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