Even in this modest light, with a bare finger you can trace every grain of polished alder, each vein folding upon the next, from the way they strand one-by-one to flow dark together between stool and tap until the bar runs Stygian in this twilit clearing of people and their sequestered companies.
Adam Brooke runs his hand across the wood, stealing to a stool through a shifting forest all about, coats rustling as they breeze within this anteroom or to any of countless boothed dens about the dells of the Avalon Bar & Alehouse. It can’t be long past midnight—the human forest hasn’t yet thinned—but that nightly throb is beginning in the back of Brooke’s head, creases of his palms, the space between each breath. He leafs another note across the counter, swept up by the barman’s paw, to hear that familiar umber stream, swirl and pool to white-water froth round the glass’ rim as it’s nudged within reach.
It’s only temporary—makes this the easiest place to be, just be, and not have to inhabit that world outside with its prowling cars, ditches running oily tributaries, a night sky brought low and grey by imitation light.
In the Avalon, the night sky is alive. While there’s no moon—a new moon, perfect for things to go prepared unseen—budding fairy lights shine to and fore like shuttered stars or namesake will-o’-the-wisps alongside the chitter and creak from a beam-boughed canopy above. There’s life up there, quietly about, and business to be done, all around and ready to be heard.
Something begins to tap out a skittish melody in a far-off nook, testing piano keys from soprano chirrups to chords in call and softer response. The barman lumbers up and down his hollow, patrolling with clinks of glass, grunts and babbling taps with every new custom, the forest shifting with the human breeze.
Two bar-goers alight on stools beside Brooke, inch away from him as they order, ruffle, and croak at each other about how a shipment is late and it can’t go like this forever because friends only go so far, until one spies their unwanted third and they take wing elsewhere.
The pool rests shallow in Brooke’s glass and you can almost sway along with this world, though maybe the stars can’t twinkle just right and the only greenery is liquor bottles lining the back wall. Carved leaves etch the dead wood beams overhead. Another drink. This ambrosia leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The piano hits a flat and that ache feels stronger than before, in your teeth and fingernails.
Brooke chews them together. Where is she? What time is it?
Patter to the left. Bare feet. Scrape of stool against floor. Her voice is keened high.
“Good evening, Mister Brooke.”
“G’evening.” He knocks on the bar. Of course. It’s dark and late and the barman is slow. The glass is filled again. Brooke drinks.
There’re more eyes on him than hers. There’s a word on the human breeze. Pesky? No, but they’re getting close. Every night, the Avalon closes in on them.
“You smell different.”
“Mmm.” Another scrape. She leans into him, cold. A child’s arms circle his waist. “Not yourself at all. Like lavender and sweetgrass but too much too strong.”
“Not my aftershave.”
She snickers. “After. Shave. No, course not, silly. Wasn’t saying that.”
A sip turns into downing the whole thing. It has to be the last. Brooke glances down.
“Can we just- please?”
Colour catches in the glass. Tonight, one eye is cornflower blue, the other green as spring, both round and luminous; a flicker and they trade places. Both smile with her.
“Check your pocket.”
His fingers find just the one.
He takes it out. He tries not to shake.
The berry is no bigger than your thumbnail. It is a jewel, redder than blood, brighter than life.
He holds it. He eats it.
It tastes better than anything else. Brooke runs its juices round his mouth till he has to open for breath.
“Yes, and later, more.” She nuzzles into him and there’s the rustle of a sigh.
“Much, much better. Just like so. Like- like March rain on the open earth, like something old and knowing and- something growing anew. Can’t you smell that?”
Rory is a BFA Creative Writing first-year and wannabe writer/editor. Exploring ideas of relationships, perspective and the everyday-weird, he wants to build a short story folio before giving it all up and just writing that big ol’ urban fantasy novel.