Peter stood polishing glasses and facing the big ornate mirror behind the optics, he found his eyes were continuously drawn to the man at the far corner of the bar. He had been coming in every day since the start of December; he was a model customer in every way. He was polite, a big drinker, and a good tipper, he would sit at the same corner of the bar every day and drink his way through a bottle and a half of Irish whisky. The amazing part of it all was, he would get up and walk back out the door as if he had not touched a drop, and Peter had never seen him argue with anyone or get loud. But yet something about the man-made him feel uneasy, he had spent hour after hour trying to pinpoint what it was but he was still none the wiser.
Now he found himself once again analyzing every little nuance of the stranger’s behavior, from the way he lifted his whisky glass to the way he held his cigarette. There appeared to be a faint sense of aloofness about the whisky drinker, it was almost as if he was here and yet not here. The only difference Peter could see in the man was a subtly one, the nearer it got to Christmas the longer the man stayed at the bar and the more whisky he consumed. Lately, the man’s consumption of alcohol had crept up to over two bottles of Jameson a day, yet he seemed no more affected by the larger volume of liquor than he had been when he started drinking here. The man still walked from the bar the same way he had entered, he remained sure of foot and without a hint of slur in his voice.
Long after the last punter had staggered home, Peter remained behind the bar cleaning up. However tonight he just could not concentrate on his work, his mind was filled with off-the-wall theories regarding his mystery punter. This whole thing was getting more ridiculous by the day, why in the name of God he should be obsessed by this man was beyond him. This was a busy downtown bar and all kinds came through the doors, even more so during the festive season.
It was not as if Peter was a rookie at this job, he had been tending bar in different cities since he was a teenager, he always believed he had seen and heard it all. Yet here he found himself obsessing over this guy like a schoolgirl over a high school football star, he wondered if he was beginning to lose his marbles. Maybe he needed some time off to build a life for himself; it just was not healthy to find yourself too interested in the lives of others. Peter had only one more chore and that was him finished for another night, he just had to wipe down the countertop and put the bar stools up.
He lifted the bar mat and gasped at what lay beneath, the guy was a good tipper but this was ridiculous. A crisp hundred-dollar bill was folded neatly beneath the beer mat, this over-generous tip just serving to reignite his obsessive curiosity about the man. Later as Peter made his way home through the empty streets, he made himself a promise, he would sit down with the mystery man and try to have a chat with him. Then he would attempt to put his burning curiosity out of his mind for once and for all, after all the guy would eventually disappear off the radar just as quickly as he arrived.
The next couple of nights were hectic at the bar; many of the local offices were having their Christmas drinks parties. Peter had hardly the time to bless himself and the whisky drinker faded from his mind, the big day was looming large on the horizon and the silly season was in full flight. He suddenly found himself in great demand, not only as a barkeep but as a confessor and target for quite a few tipsy office girls. It always amazed him just how amorous some ladies felt when they had a drink on board, he had quite a collection of phone numbers given to him that he would never use.
The same ladies, who whispered the most outrageous things in his ear when drunk, would scarcely look in his direction when they were sober. One thing was for sure, the Christmas time brought huge celebrations and equal amounts of guilty regrets. Peter went about his job and watched the carnage that was the season of goodwill but did his best to remain detached from the helter-skelter of emotions fueled by the liquor.
It was the day before Christmas Eve before the stranger entered his mind again; he had left a colleague looking after the bar while he popped out for some last-minute shopping. When Peter got back to the bar, the stranger sat in his usual corner. His colleague whispered urgently in his ear, telling him the guy was well into a bottle of whisky. The bar had not yet begun to fill up, and only a handful of punters came and went. At some stage during the quiet period, Peter found he was alone in the bar with the stranger.
Peter filled a large glass of Jameson and left it in front of the man, wishing him a happy Christmas. Moments passed in silence before the man lifted his head and thanked Peter; there was an unfathomable look in the man’s eyes. Something crossed between pain and sadness, then he spoke softly. “Many happy returns my friend, may it pass quickly and take its ghosts with it”. A cold shiver passed quickly down Peter’s spine, something about the man’s reply conjured dark images in the back of his mind. Peter stood there for what seemed an eternity and could not think of anything to say, in the end, he returned to polishing the glasses and watching the whisky drinker in the mirror.
An urgent little voice in the back of Peter’s mind warned him to give the man a wide berth; it was as if he suddenly discovered the stranger carried something terrible and contagious. But for some inexplicable reason he was now more curious than ever regarding this man, the small voice in his head spoke more urgently, “Curiosity killed the cat” it said.
This night turned out to be another hectic one and Peter was run off his feet, at the end of the night he exhaustedly ushered the last drunk out. After securing the door he returned to the bar to find the stranger still seated in the corner, briefly he wondered how he had missed him while clearing the last stragglers out. Peter’s first impulse was to storm over to the man and aggressively ask the man to leave, but the urge to learn what was the man’s story had not gone away. Peter was no novice when it came to drinking, but after a little over an hour, he found he was slurring his words. The man had a tolerance for alcohol like no one he had ever seen, it was as if the whisky had turned to water in his glass.
They had been chatting and sinking whisky for the past hour and Peter had barely managed to get any meaningful conversation from the stranger. At this rate he would pass out from drink before the man told him anything, in the end, the Dutch courage took over and he asked the man straight out. This is where things began to get interesting, either the man was delusional or he was taking the piss out of Peter big time.
He told Peter a story straight from the pages of a horror novel, what put the icing on the cake was when he told Peter he could prove his story. By now the drink was kicking in and Peter was past the point of rescue, in for a penny in for a pound he told himself as he locked up and they left the bar.
Peter did his best to will himself sober; he had made some colossally poor decisions through drinking in his time. But this had to be the daddy of all his stupid moves, here he was steaming drunk, in a car with a man who had consumed over two bottles of whisky driving him to God knows where. If that was not bad enough the stranger was taking him to see the ghosts that haunted him at Christmas, this was insanity at its best.
By the time they reached the big house on the outskirts of the city, he was beginning to sober up. But before he had a chance to demand the man take him back to the bar, the stranger was at the door unlocking it. Judging by the size of the house and grounds it was easy to see how the stranger could afford those generous tips. With little choice left to him Peter followed the man inside, he found himself in opulent surroundings of a bygone era.
The stranger stood in a doorway at the far end of a long hallway; he beckoned to Peter to follow. By now all but the smallest of effects remained from the whisky as the adrenaline pumped through Peter’s system. With pounding heart, he walked into the huge living room, if the things seated around the room had ever been human it must have been a very long time ago, they whispered among themselves in strange lisping tones. The scream from Peter was cut short as the stranger pulled the razor-sharp blade across his throat, just before the darkness took over completely the man spoke. “I am sorry Peter but they always insist on more company for Christmas”.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in