[EXT – THE PUB – EVENING]
“Beer? Beer? And you, man? You want one?” Max asked everyone at the table, one by one, whether they wanted another round instead of taking the initiative and just doing it. Luke hated that. Max had to make a big deal out of everything.
“You want one?” He asked again, “Yo, Luke, you there, man?”
Luke lifted his head from his phone, pretended to shake off the accumulated dust of focused concentration and stretched. He let his loosely curled fist fly outwards recklessly.
“Oh, sure, man. Yeah, whatever.”
“Alright. You get next round.”
It was just beginning to get dark and so the people of the night were marching in. Slowly, like sand falling or water dripping into a cement bucket, more and more people began to flow through the doors of the pub. Luke knew that he’d have to leave soon if it got any worse.
So many heels. So many suits. What the fuck? Luke though to himself. This was a punk bar. What is happening to this place?
Max returned with the beer just in time to see Luke drop his attention back to his phone. The light from the small electric brick shone brightly and painted Luke’s already pale face paler.
“You gotta give that thing a break, man. We’re out tonight for a reason.”
Shelby laughed and waved her cheap plastic tiara in Luke’s face. “It’s my birthday, peasant, and you will do as I please.” Luke looked up just in time to see the Hipsters on the nearby table give his friend a funny look.
“Maybe we should just get going?” Luke suggested.
“What? And let you walk out on the next round? Not a chance in hell, buddy.”
Max lit a cigarette. Luke watched as the lighter sparked. It was an explosion, a supernova, contained within a small plastic box. With a whirr and a flick, man could create fire. Luke wondered how long it had taken for the first human to reach that point.
The glittering plastic of the tiara flashed again. “Come back to us, Luke.” Shelby laughed.
“You’re a too deep thinker.” Floor had to add. There were times when her English was impeccable, but after a few beers it became all to obvious she was an exchange student. No one in the group ever corrected her though. That would be rude.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Let me go get another jug. I just need to get up and walk around a bit.” Luke admitted.
“Alright, dude. We’ll wait here.”
[INT – THE PUB – EVEN MORE EVENING]
Luke was totally pre-occupied. He just wasn’t there at all. Somewhere in the distance, there were the sounds of pool balls clacking against each other, muffled music and laughter. The pub’s door was as insubstantial as a silk curtain. His own footsteps were distant memories. The only thing that tied him to the physical plane was the acrid, mossy pub stink.
“A jug of Pale, please.” The transaction was over before he even realised. Somehow he’d payed, and somehow he’d wrapped his hand around the frosty jug.
The walls around him were too familiar; too real and totally fake at the same time. He could repeat by heart the order of the retro signs nailed to the wall, probably tell you how full the keg was after each pull of the beer tap and give anyone a precise description of every stereotype who called the pub home. It was all so true… and it was driving him absolutely mad.
Something flickered in the far corner of reality, something that looked like the spark from Max’s lighter, but on a much grander scale. He couldn’t help but turn his attention to the far corner of the room.
There, between two pool tables and two bathroom doors, GIRLS and BOYS, stood a tall black figure. Luke had seen some far-out get-ups in his time, but this one had to take the cake. Who the hell would go out at night in a black robe, black gloves and black, broad-brimmed hat, especially to a place like this?
The midnight wanderer stood bolt upright. Shit, this guy’s tall. He wondered why he hadn’t been born with a few extra inches here and there. He started to doubt himself and to compare himself, once again, to a stranger. But the wonderer just kept growing… and growing and growing. The black figure was about seven feet tall before the tip of it’s hat touched the roof of the bar. It began to spread its arms out wide…
Luke’s feet suddenly found themselves drenched in sticky beer. The jug he had been carrying two seconds earlier now rolled lazily on the ground in front of him. Someone was already laying down paper towels at his feet and saying something about “having a big night, huh?”
He couldn’t hear them. He just kept staring at the corner of the room where something… strange had just happened. What was in those drinks? He though to himself, half as a joke, half as a legitimate worry.
“Hey. Hey! I said: Are you okay?” Some red-headed woman in a patched denim vest was tugging at his arm, shaking him loose from the sudden psychosis.
“Oh shit…” Luke scrambled. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m okay. Shit. Look what I’ve done.”
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” There was some long-haired creature at his feet, dabbing away at the floor with a huge wad of damp paper towels.
Luke looked back over to the pool tables, hoping to spot where the midnight wanderer had gone, but what he found was something much worse. A far more horrifying ghost was staring back at him with a disgusted smirk on her face.
It had to be Nicole. Who else would it be? Bloody brilliant.
The girl was short, dark haired. She looked, as always, as if she had been carved out of delicate porcelain and then speckled with chocolate dust. Her dark lips twisted and wriggled. Her arms tensed, highlighting the barely visible muscle underneath, as she leaned against her pool cue. She stood among three older, taller men, all in various patterns of flannie and beard.
[EXT – THE PUB – APPROACHING NIGHT]
Luke was quickly on his bike. He didn’t care if he’d just spilled fifteen dollars of amber across the floor, or made an ass of himself in front of every stranger at the bar. He just had to be away from her. She was history come back to haunt him, a phantom that he thought he had put to bed.
Max jumped in front of the handlebars before he could kick up the stand.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, man?” He asked, “What’s up with you tonight.”
“Nothing. Nothing. I just… gotta get home.”
“What? So you can sit in your room and wallow some more, huh? Is this still about the break up?”
“No.” Luke lied.
“It’s unhealthy, man. You can’t keep focusing on it. You’ve got to distance yourself from it. Sitting there, looking at her Facebook page isn’t going to win her back, ya know?”
Floor and Shelby quickly caught up. The world was already muted colours and noise, but the sudden attack by his friends had reduced his universe to a couple square feet of bubblegum-stained ground, a rusty bike and four drunk bodies.
“It’s better than being here right now.”
“Nooo,” Shelby complained, “Stay with us. We’re just about to head down to Sugar.”
“My feet are soaking wet, guys. Just let me go home and I’ll come out again later if I feel like it.”
Max wasn’t entirely convinced by the excuse, and Luke knew it. But Floor was more understanding. Ahh, good ol’ Floor.
“It’s okay! Just go and get changed. We’ll be out all night anyway.”
“You know he’s not coming back if we let him go, right?”
“He’s a free man, you know, right?”
“But Luuuuke! It’s my birthday!”
As his world began to spiral out of control, Luke knew he had to escape. He put his damp foot down hard on the pedal and pushed his way around Max. His friend had to jump aside quickly or have his toes run over. Luke waved half-heartedly and called back, “I’ll see you guys later. I’ll message you.”
“Goddammit, Luke.” Max shouted after him. Floor placed a hand on his shoulder as they watched their friend disappear into the night. They knew where he was going. They knew that he’d be spending his night in a world that was not their own.
Operation Electric Forever, was created during the SA Writers Centre Digital Writer in Residence program during 2016.