A Short Story

Ted stared morosely into his glass. The melting ice shimmered strangely in the dim light. This one was almost empty … should he get another? The thought made his mood even more sour. How had he let himself get so empty? What had changed so drastically?

Cheryl walked up, wiping down a just vacated spot at the bar. “What’s going on Ted? You look a little down today.”

Ted looked up, forcing an ironic smile on his face. It really was not THAT hard to smile, Cheryl was a very pretty woman and sweet as well. “Guess I misplaced some of the magic lately. Or maybe it has just run dry.”

She smiled that room lighting smile that had all her customers mesmerized. “Would you like to talk about it?”

As with everyone else, her smile combined with her amazing eyes caught him full force, making him feel once again as if all the breath had left his body. He gave himself a little shake, laughing at, and to, himself in the process. Then, with a more natural and relaxed smile, “Don’t mind me. I just need to get out of my head for a bit. Any new ones recently? I could use something different.”

Cheryl smiled that smile again. “That’s the Ted we know. Let me see what I can come up with.” She walked a few feet down the bar, and started selecting bottles and looking at them. “Why no computer today? How is the book coming anyway?”

Ted chuckled. “I guess that is part of the problem. Lot’s of thoughts, none of them quite making it to the page. I seem to be lacking inspiration lately. Not sure hanging here helps either.” He chuckled again self-consciously.

Cheryl just looked at him sarcastically and said “Hush!”, then continued to prepare whatever concoction she was creating. Ted snorted, already feeling a little less in the shadows, and looked around the bar that had become his second home recently. Kind of empty, but then again it was still early and the middle of the week. Most people with more traditional lives would be working now. The dim sunlight indicated the approaching winter. It added to the unintended gloom of the bar.

The reflection of the lights in the polished surface of the bar once again caught Ted’s eye, reminding him that he not only needed to get that lens filter fixed, but if he wanted to do some creative photography he really needed to actually bring the camera. For a second, the shadowy mood threatened to return, but then Cheryl planted her newest creation loudly in front of him with another smile. Ted could have sworn that her oddly colored eyes were actually twinkling. “See if you can guess what’s in it,” she teased.

Ted looked a the drink, giving it a sniff. It was definitely a PRETTY drink. It looked like it should be in a fancy glass with an umbrella. It did not smell specifically unique, though it had an undercurrent of something not quite familiar. A quick sip had him surprised at how refreshing it was. “This could be dangerous!” Ted said with a smile. “You can’t even tell there is alcohol in it. So what is it?” He took another sip, savoring the unusual flavor. It seemed to be lifting his mood almost instantly.

With a musical laugh, Cheryl tutted. “You are not getting off that easily. YOU have to figure it out!” Once again Ted was sure he saw an actual sparkle in her eyes.

“Trouble maker!” he said with a laugh. He took another sip, this time letting it linger in his mouth so he could savor the flavors involved. He was finding it unexpectedly difficult to isolate specific flavors, something he was usually pretty good at. There was that tantalizing unknown that he had smelled earlier. He still could not quite identify it. He slipped into hyper-focus mode, trying to solve this new riddle, putting almost all of his attention in the tongue and nose. As often happened when he was this focused, he found himself staring at an unusual angle. This time his gaze was at the reflection in the bar.

He still could not quite identify what was in the drink, though it seemed now to effervesce, something he had not noticed at first. His tongue was actually tingling, and the feeling began to spread, at first just to his mouth, but gradually spreading through his whole body. It felt as if something he had been lacking for a very long time was suddenly washing through him. His whole being shuddered with both pleasure and … strangely … gratitude. At the same time, he found himself drawn more and more into the reflection on the glistening bar. It almost seemed as if the reflection was taking on a reality of its own. It was getting sharper, physically drawing him in. He found himself slipping into a meditative state, his head and shoulders feeling heavy, almost sliding towards the bar.

Ted took another healthy sip of the drink, enthralled by the images in the bar. Suddenly, with a startled jerk, he fell forward hard. A few things happened at this point. His focus returned to the here and now, for an instant. However, expecting to suddenly smack his head into the bar, he found himself continuing to fall, as if the bar was not even there. He had the sensation of doing a full somersault, which completely disoriented him. The sensation of falling where falling was not possible; flipping even, totally freaked out Ted’s senses, ultimately making him extremely dizzy. Pure instinct forced him to let go of his drink as he reached for anything to try and steady himself. The distinct LACK of any sound or sensation involved with a dropped drink disoriented him even further, until he did not know which way was up. For a moment everything was spinning, and Ted could not quite find his bearings; could not quite figure out what the hell was going on. His whole sense of reality skipped for a moment.

And just as quickly, the craziness stopped, and Ted was just sitting there at the bar, his unscathed drink before him, everything seeming as it should be.

Totally freaked out now, Ted stood up quickly, causing his bar stool to fall backward with a loud thunk. As such noises tended to do in such a setting, it seemed that suddenly every eye in the place was focused on him. He took a deep breath and clenched his fist a few times, gaining control of himself.

“Everything OK Ted?” Cheryl said, eyes still with that bizarre sparkle, an amused smile on her radiant face.

Ted shook himself, and smiled sheepishly as he picked up the bar stool. “I guess that drink was stronger than I expected!” He looked around, shrugged at the curious glances, and settled down back at the bar. “You have me stumped this time Cheryl. What IS this creation?”

Cheryl placed a hand on Ted’s, stopping a mild tremor that he had not even realized was there. “Let’s just say it’s just what you need, and leave it at that.” Normally Ted would have had an irreverent response to this, but he was still reeling from the recent weirdness, so he just smiled and nodded his head. He rally had no clue what had just happened. But at the same time, he found that the negative space that had threatened to take over earlier was completely gone. Whatever had just happened … he was apparently enjoying it.

“Whatever it is, it sure seems to be working!” Ted smiled his more normal full faced smile, one he had been complimented on many times. “It definitely shifted my mood!”

Cheryl said “I aims ta please!” with a impish grin. “Gotta go!” She hurried off to help a group that just sat at the bar.

Ted looked around again. If he did not know better, he would think that Cheryl had drugged his drink. Everything around him looked somehow different, as if he was seeing it all for the first time. “Don’t know what it is, but I like it!” he said to himself, taking another good swig. He felt more himself, and found that some of those percolating ideas he was complaining about earlier were suddenly solidifying into something more concrete. Definitely magic in that drink.

With this new refreshed outlook, Ted decided that staying in the bar all day, especially on a decent day like today, was not in his best interest. At least when he brought his computer he got some writing done. He looked at the clock, having no clue what time it was.

His mind flipped again.

He took off his glasses, gave them a thorough cleaning. Wiped his eyes even. Put the glasses on again and looked back at the clock. Yep. He was definitely on drugs. Either that, or he had finally given up on that whole sanity concept. Something was definitely wrong here. “Um, Cheryl? When you have a moment …”

She did not take long to get to him, but his at this point severely troubled mind had lost any sense of time, and looking at the clock was NOT helping at all. “What can I do for you hon?” She asked. Ted thought he heard a current of humor in her voice.

“When did you get the backwards clock?” Ted asked.

Cheryl smacked is hand. “I see you have slipped into a silly mood now. That is the same clock that has always been there!”

Completely flummoxed now, Ted slipped into his usual defensive mode, self-deprecating humor. “What can I say, I am a light weight!” He lifted the suspect drink, toasted her, and took a very large gulp. She laughed and walked away. Under his breath, Ted muttered to himself, “Yep. I have completely lost it!” More loudly, “Cheryl, can I have some caffeine when you get a chance?”

Ted was generally used to the unexpected. It was what gave life spice, and frankly what inspired him to be a fantasy fiction writer in the first place. After all, ultimately there was nothing more fantastic than real life. People would read fiction to escape, but it had been his life experience that reality was actually much more interesting, if one had the eyes to appreciate. Almost all of his books were actually based on real occurrences. It dawned on him that part of his current lack of inertia is that “reality” has stopped inspiring. Whatever was happening here was definitely weird. But it was also renewing his inspiration tanks. As Cheryl said, this was just what he needed. Still, the backwards running clock was a mystery. Cracked sanity was definitely a continuing a possibility.

Ted looked around some more, forcing himself to pay attention to detail. He definitely needed fodder for the newest book, maybe whatever was happening now would give him something more to work with. Already noticed the backwards clock. Could there be more to find in his possible break with insanity? He continued to sip the funky drink as he observed his surroundings. Backwards clock. What else? Wait a second? Is that sign SPELLED wrong. No way!! Maybe it always has been? Couldn’t be. WTF? More? Could there be? Wait, can’t be sure, but didn’t the stools have three rungs on the back before? Seriously, what is going on?

Something was definitely wrong. And Ted was not completely sure it was a pleasant thing, as much as it had reawakened inspiration. Had he really slipped a mind disk? Sanity was always a relative thing in his mind, but this was going way beyond. What was really going on? Maybe he just needed some fresh air. He pulled out his credit card, and indicated to Cheryl he was ready to leave when she had a moment.

The bar was getting busier, so she was not able to wander back his way that quickly. “Leaving early today she said, with a fake frown. “Was it something I said?”

“I figured some fresh air will do me good. I’ll catch you tomorrow!” With another one of her amazing smiles, Cheryl gave him his tab. He took a quick look. The second look was not so quick. That was NOT a dollar sign symbol. Um, huh? Shrugging, he pulled out the old trusty debit card. Hopefully it would still work … despite the bizarre symbol. He crossed his fingers as she ran it. Success. Apparently a symbol was just a symbol. That was kind of reassuring.

Tab paid, Ted said his goodbyes and headed out. Cheryl gave him a wink as he left, adding to the surreality of the situation. The weather was definitely on the colder side, and he was walking, since he didn’t drive. Or at least that is what he was expecting. As soon as Ted walked out the door, he encountered relatively mild weather. It was not warm by the standards of summer, but it was sunny and much warmer than when he had walked out this morning. Once again, um, huh? Then again, weather can change like that. Maybe nothing to worry about. He started walking back to his hotel, thinking as he did where he would go next. Maybe some of that shopping he keeps needing to do. The walk back to the hotel was nothing unusual. Back in the room and everything was still fine. Maybe he had just had a moment. His off mood combined with the odd but strong drink Cheryl had given him. He got back in the room and decided he needed to use the toilet, only to find it seemed to be leaking again. He went to the front desk to say something, and they promised to have someone come and take a look. Within ten minutes someone was knocking at his door.

Glad that normalcy had returned (even if he sort of enjoyed the surreal), Ted answered the door, and almost keeled over. The maintenance worker that was there was not the usual one. Not odd in itself, but he (?) was also … apparently not human. This was definitely unexpected. Ted was already getting that things were not as they should be, or that he had really lost his mind, but this one had him completely unprepared. Even his capacity for imagination and the adjustment to the unexpected did not prepare him for THIS. For before him was something right out of one of his books, or any good fantasy novel for that matter.

“You have something wrong with your toilet?” the being said with a deep, guttural voice and a hard to understand accent.

“Um yes,” Ted answered. And unable to restrain himself, “By the way, what ARE you?”

Resignedly, as if asked this many times before, “I am a troll from the Grddberg Tribe. Do you want your toilet fixed or what?” Ted, embarrassed now, let him in. While the troll/maintenance worker did his thing, he laid on his bed staring at the ceiling and wondering when exactly he had gone insane.

Within a few minutes the creature had finished the job, and Ted thanked him appropriately even if he was still worried about his own sanity. After all a job well done is still a job well done, no matter who is doing the job. He then went back to his bed, with appropriate cartoons on the TV, to wonder where he had completely lost the plot.

After a few minute wrestling with the concept that so called sanity actually MATTERED, Ted got up and prepared to go out again. Sanity was basically not much of an issue with no food in the house. At least that is what he told himself. He would go out and get a few things to restock the larder.