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An inky alley leads to the grime-ridden walls of an old pub. The door that promises the stench of rot within is offset, weathered by rain and age. But the signage is almost modern, lit by neon lights that blink the words “Oarmen’s Hollow.” Beneath it, another sign, “open whenever.” But the second sign isn’t fully lit, only the letters “open eve” buzz with life. Evening. On the eve of the day. Eve of the holiday. No one knows what’s meant by it, but more importantly, no one cares to know. It’s an empty old place, where no one dares visit.
But it’s stood for decades now.
And on the eve of the week, it’s lit with string lights, dressed in fading streamers, and that offset door is forced open to the public. It welcomes a party but promises not what party will be given. Because what party could be had in a back alley more wrought with salty sea smell than the seamen themselves.
But as long as it promises ale, what more could they ask for?
The seamen of the week wander their way through that tilted frame, matching it with their pre-party excitement. What should have been a barrel a ship already became a barrel a man. And their rosy, plump cheeks boast of a barrel more, several barrels more.
Their waitress is a skeletal thing. She steps to their table with a rickety gait, her hair straw in color and texture alike. But she’s supported by the shadow of a man. He stands as thin as she, but it’s hard to discern if he’s even human. What hair color, what skin color, what clothing color, it’s all hidden under that thick blotting shadow. Even the hand he holds on her waist is a strong contrast, spilled ink to pallid skin.
But the seamen don’t see him.
One reaches a lecherous paw forward, prepared to latch on with an anchor’s weight. He doesn’t even notice his fingers are stroking through the shadow of a man. He doesn’t even notice the bluing tint of his skin as he reaches further. He doesn’t notice until he’s writhing in panic and pain. His fingers retract to his stinking side, but what fingers? Four stubs hold cold in the night air.
And the other seamen laugh.
They jeer at him for his tendencies. They act it normal to lose four fingers for one falter of self-control. And the waitress goes on to take their order, as the shadow that rests against her pulls her closer. He spits those four, dead fingers onto the floor at the sick seaman’s feet. And the seaman tumbles backward from his chair. The others go on, ordering food for him when he doesn’t answer their lifted brows.
What time do the festivities begin? They all want to know. They’re all thinking of their snag for the night, or perhaps shag. Their accents are thick, drawled, and drowning in booze. But the waitress remains poised, clacking their steins to the table. She announces it’s already begun. And they laugh. How could it have begun? They’re the only ones present.
More will come. It’s a promise. More will come. More of a threat.
She returns to her station at the bar, where a bartender wipes down three clean steins. He has a row of twenty-some before him, but he’s still cleaning more. He wipes them with careful precision. He wipes until they squeak with cleanliness. Despite his meticulous focus, he never once looks at the steins that pass through his fingers.
In fact, he doesn’t look at anything. Where two eyes should form above his nose, there’s nothing more than eyebrows—white hair as bright as sun-bathed snow. They stem from a sun-kissed skin that burns red in the orange light. A sun-blessed man with a delicate touch. He turns to his companions, seeing them both, and asks with his weak smile. The festivities have begun?
The pale waitress nods.
Shadows glide through the thin walkways between tables, set up on stools at the bar, and rest across from one another in booths. They sing a similar tune to her shadow, but bring an electric excitement he struggles to produce. The lights overhead flicker, brightening the dingy old wood in a warm glow.
It’s certainly begun.
She attends to them with a similar interest for the seamen. This is her job. This is her calling. But it doesn’t bring her joy. Her second-half, her drifting man, he’s the one who pleasures in this work. He wriggles free from her side to interact among his kind, exchanging a cold breath for a chilling chuckle. Their stories go on for hours, but no one else hears them. Not the waitress, not the sun-blessed man, and not the seamen whose banter only grows.
The party continues without a hitch. Each kind keeps to their own, partially due to being too drunk to stand with anyone else. And the shadows weave in and out of the pub. They cheer with the fading streamers, they rest against the twinkling string lights, and they call out to their passing friends. Join the festivities. Join the party. The more the merrier!
But the seamen are alone. No fleshy folk dare join them, and they call out to no one that passes. They’re all but collapsed over the wood of the table, and the shadows have taken to snickering behind their backs. They could snicker beside them, before them, in them, and these seamen would never be the wiser. But alas, the shadows believe themselves to be classy folk.
The waitress wrangles her drifting man back to her, easing him into the crook of her side where he fits seamlessly. As the moon continues easing through the black sky, the customers will only increase, and these drunken seamen have overstayed their welcome.
Send them on, please. She asks this of the sun-blessed one, not of the wavering shadow beside her. And that’s always been a sore disgrace. He reaches for the sun-blessed man, prepared to remove a few fingers, toes, maybe even a limb, but remains frozen in place at the waitress’ side.
Sirs. It’s a simple call, a gentle call. Sirs, I must ask you to make space for the others. He slaps his wet cloth over his shoulder and crosses his arms over his chest.
The first seaman to wake blinks the blur from his eyes but not soon enough. He screams in surprise, teetering on his chair. He hadn’t noticed the sun-blessed man, he hadn’t even known there was a bar to be sat at. And the lack of eyes, the unusual feature, is enough to set his heart ablare in his chest. It screams for attention, pounding from one ear to the other.
Maybe it’s the four blue fingers under the table that he suddenly notices, maybe it’s the strong aversion he has to the sun-blessed man, or maybe it’s the booze awash in his blood, but he takes one strong lunge up from the table and screams with bloody fury. It shatters the cheer of the ghostly party-goers around him. And it shatters the kindness in the sun-blessed man.
I’ll have you restrain yourself, sir.
Grabbing his stein from the table, that seaman swings it forward. It connects with the sun-blessed man’s head, sending him back a step. He should be able to dodge—he’s had plenty of years of practice, and the seamen are always a rowdy group—but he wants that particular strike to hit him. He’s tired of serving these ill-mannered men, and he’s ready to make a point about it.
The shadows around them gather, surrounding the seamen at their small table.
I’ll ask one more time. I’ll have you restrain yourself.
But his ask falls on deaf ears pulsing with blood, adrenaline, and fear. The seamen rise as a unit, fighting alongside the first. But what are they really fighting? Their self-respect? Their entrance to the pub? Their last hold on life? The shadows consume them, bluing them in the way the first seaman lost his fingers.
And the sun-blessed man turns away. He has no control over his guests. Their lust for revenge, their inclination towards murder. It’s just written in them, the way it was once written in him. That’s why his eyes were taken from him. That’s why he pays his penance standing watch over a pub that serves only the worst patrons. That’s why he’s made to hold parties in honor of their successful haunting.
Well done serving that old woman a heart attack. She had several years left but no more. Well done ruining that building for any that thought it grand. It could have been a glorious sight, but you stripped it of its reputation. Well done scaring the children that once danced in joy in the alleys behind their homes. Now they fear their lives will rot away if they as much as dare to step from their doors.
Well done serving the worst men that remain floating in this wretched place.
The sun-blessed man ends the party short that night, dragging his tilted door closed to the public. He tears down the streamers, extinguishes the string lights, and even unplugs the pub signage. For that one night, he doesn’t want to atone for his sins. For that one celebration, he wants to sit on the roof, wallowing over a stein of his own.