By William G. Muir
The door to the Last Turn tavern opened. The neon sign above the door offered just enough light to let those who paid any bit of attention know that the individual was probably a man, and definitely shorter than average. All doubt about the mysterious person’s gender were laid to rest once they stepped across the threshold. The lights that hung above the pool table, which sat just to the right of the door, cleared up any question of gender to those who had been watching as the man made his way from the door to the pay phone.
No one ever paid attention at the Last Turn.
The short man who was making his way to the pay phone had started to lose his hair at far too young of an age, it had recently started to go prematurely gray as well. This unfortunate combination had gone a long way to making him appear to be twenty years older than he actually was. The strange limp he had recently acquired wasn’t doing anything to dissuade people from thinking he wasn’t a young and vital young man. Not that he was, yet he wasn’t as decrepit as his appearance made him out to be. At least not yet anyways.
He reached out his right hand and lifted the receiver from its cradle. Just as quickly as he had taken the phone’s receiver into his hands, just before he could lift it up to his ear, he slammed it back down. He then lifted the receiver back into the air and slammed it back down several more times. He then let the receiver drop from his hand and fall to the floor. Before turning to leave he kicked the stool that sat beneath the pay phone.
This outburst failed to turn any heads away from their drinks, or whatever else that held the customer’s interest.
Having failed at his attempt to make a phone call, the short bald man made his way over to the bar. After covering the few feet from the out of order pay phone to the bar, the man then climbed up on the stools, that sat at the bend in the bar. He motioned to get the bartenders attention. It was moments like these that he wished he was at least 5’6” or even taller. All his life he had to live in this world that was designed for taller men than himself. It made his life a daily hassle, he just wanted to know one time what it was like to sit on a bar stool without having to climb up it.
Before he could continue to contemplate what life would like if he was taller and he had full head of long blonde hair the bar tender placed a glass down in front of him. She then filled it with a single malt scotch whiskey and smiled at him.
It had been a long time since a woman had smiled at him. He took the glass in his hand, tilled it towards her and then lifted it to his lips. But before he took a sip he paused, then put the glass down on the bar.
“Why scotch?” he asked the bartender.
“Pardon me?” the bartender asked in response to his question.
“Why did you pour me this scotch,” he asked again. “I hadn’t order anything, yet you poured me a scotch.”
The bartender began to chuckle, she placed her hand to her mouth so that she could regain her composure. “You really are silly, Ben. You always order a scotch.”
“How do you know my name?”
“You come in here every Thursday, sit in that spot, and have a scotch.”
Nothing about this night had seemed right to Ben. Now he was sitting here in this tavern he had never even laid eyes on before. He wasn’t even sure if Louisville had a place called the Last Turn. It sure as heck couldn’t be a new place, word would have gotten around if it was. And what was he doing on this part of Seventh Street anyways. No one ever had a legitimate business in this neighborhood. It was nothing but strip clubs, adult book stores and sleazy bars. This was not the part of town a respectable gentleman, as himself, should be seen in.
This was the last place he expected to be tonight. He had been spending a quiet evening at home playing World of Warcraft when he received a mysterious call from a familiar voice. His brother Robert had been involved in some sort of ordeal. Ben wasn’t sure what all had happened, Robert sounded as if he was several feet away from the phone as he was trying to explain what was going on. The sound of a woman screaming could be heard in the back ground along with what sounded like a child crying. It could have also been someone chanting. It wasn’t clear enough for him to make out.
What did come across as clear as crystal was the last voice he heard. It sent chills down his spine to think back on that voice. It was so deep, so menacing, so other worldly. Ben could only image that this was what Satan voice sounded like. Whoever it was on the other end of that call had clear instruction for him. If he ever wished to see his brother alive again, he would have to follow the instruction he found programed into his GPS.
That was how he ended up outside the Last Turn tavern. He had been following the GPS when his car broke down. Even though this was the sleazier end of the city, it was also the least populated. It had been about two or three miles since he had seen any other establishments, he was beginning to think he was on the outskirts of the city.
He reached into his pocket to get his cell phone. He tried to look up the numbers for a tow truck, but he wasn’t getting a signal. He decided he needed to get out of the car, it had to be the metal frame that was blocking any signal. He was sure that was the reason. As Ben stepped out of the car and started searching for a signal, that was when he first notice he was outside the Last Turn.
His phone fell from his hand and was smashed to pieces as it struck the ground.
“That can’t…you must have me confused with someone else. I have never stepped foot in here before tonight.” He said.
The bartender put her hand over his and once again smiled at him. “That is what you say every time you come in here.”
“No!” Ben said forcefully. “No! I have never even heard of this place. I’m not even sure I am still in Louisville.”
He very well could have passed beyond the city limits. He had been paying close attention to where he was being told to go. While he was studying the GPS he could have very well driven out of the city. The last time he knew for sure that he was in the city was when he was in the heart of downtown. It was hard not to notice the bright lights shining in his car from every angle. But he had left those lights behind several miles back. He was now out where the street were almost as black as the starless night itself.
“Look sweetie, you seem like a nice enough fellow. So tonight I am going cut this bit short. Hopefully. Your name is Ben Lawrence, you come in here every Thursday night. You sit in that spot and I pour you a single malt scotch. Most nights you drink it, your face gets scrunched up and then you sip it out. That is when I ask you isthere is a problem. You then tell me your car has broken down and that you need to use my phone. You say it a matter of life and death. When I tell you that the phone doesn’t work you leave.”
Ben couldn’t believe what he had just heard. He lifted his right hand to his mouth. He just looked hard at the woman, she had just told him things she couldn’t have known. “Who are you, and why would you tell me any of this.”
The bartender reached bellow the bar and pulled out a glass. She then picked up a towel and began to polish the inside. “Me? I’m just your friendly bartender. As for why I told you this, you asked me why.”
“So let me get this straight, I come in here every Thursday and I do all that stuff you just said. Yet I had never asked you why before.”
“Honey, you like most people go through life never questioning what is happening around you. That is how you ended up here. That is why you always end up here. On this night you missed something.”
Ben looked down at the glass of scotch that sat on the bar. His left hand was still wrap around the glass. All he could think of was why had he come into this tavern in the first place? He told himself that it was to use the phone. But how could he have known there would have been a pay phone in here. In this age when most people had cell phone, the pay phone had become an endangered species. Even if one was lucky enough to find one the likelihood of it actually working was almost zero.
And good luck trying to get any business to allow you to use their phone. Unless you walked in carrying your own head they would smile at you and in the politest way possible tell you to go fuck yourself.
He had not come in here to use the phone. At least that was not the subconscious reason Ben had walked into the Last Turn.
“I don’t drink,” was all that Ben could mumble to himself.
“Pardon me dear,” the bartender put down the glass she had been polishing and picked up another.
“Nothing, it’s not important. How much do I owe you for the drink,” he slid down from the bar stool and reached into the pocket of his jacket.
As he pulled out his wallet and was about to open it so he could pay for the drink he never touched, the bartender grabbed his hand. “Look around and tell me what you see?”
Ben looked up, “What are you talking about? If I look around I know what I will see.
“Are you sure?” The bartender asked in an urgent manner.
“Yes, just a bunch of miserable sods trying to drown their sorrows.” Ben tried to pull his arm out of the bartenders grip. This just caused her to dig her black finger nails into his arm deeper. If it wasn’t for the sleeve of his jacket, Ben was sure she would have broken the skin.
This is pointless. Ben knew that there were people in the tavern when he had walked in. He had almost tripped over a guy passed out on the floor when he was making his way to the pay phone. But seeing how he would like to get his arm back sometime tonight, and not have it and his jacket sleeve shredded by the bartenders nails, he decide to indulge her. It was the least you could do for an insane person.
“Fine,” Ben said as he quickly turned his head to scan the barroom and then looked back at the bartender. “Are you hap…”
Not exactly sure what he just saw, Ben once more looked back into the room. This can’t be right… All he could do was just stare. He dared not even blink, if he did he was sure what he was witnessing would disappear. “That’s not possible.”
“And what is that?’
Ben turned back too look at the bartender. A look of disbelief had now taken over his face. “It’s empty. The whole place is empty. That just cannot be.”
“And why is that?”
“There were people in here when I walked in.”
“When I came in here most of these tables were full. Over there, at the pool table, was like this middle aged biker guy and what appeared to a girl way to young for him. She might have still been a teenager. There was even a guy sitting next to me at the bar.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“What do you mean I am sure about that,” Ben was beginning to feel indignant. He wasn’t sure what exactly was going here, but he didn’t like it. Not one bit. He couldn’t help but feel like he was being made a fool of. “I know what I saw, and what I saw was a barroom full of people.”
The bartender put down her towel, moved the glass of single malt scotch whiskey out of the way and leaned on her elbow. “Is that what you know, or is that what you believe?”
“What do you mean is that what I know or is that what I believe?” At that moment an image from his childhood flashed into his mind. “You make as much sense as the Dungeon Master.” Ben wasn’t sure why he thought of the diminutive character from a cartoon he use to watch on Saturday mornings. He just knew that it fit.
“I would have thought Yoda would have been a more apt comparison. But Dungeon Master will work just as well.”’
“Why is that?”
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?”
“Figured what out?”
“It is my job to help people like you see the truth.”
“About the world they live in.”
With that the bartender walked into the backroom.
Ben looked around the room one more time. He was sure there had been people in it before. How could he have been so wrong? There had been a man sitting right next to him. He could recall every last detail of the man as if he was currently looking at him. He was a rather large man, one who hadn’t missed a meal in some time. It was kind of hard to tell when someone is sitting, but Ben was sure he was a tall man as well. Something that he always envied and despised in other men. The man also had what appeared to be a full thick head of hair. Somewhat odd in a man who was well into his middle age.
As Ben scanned the room his eye did not detect one living soul in the room. How could this be?
There was one thing he knew for certain, he wasn’t going to remain in this tavern one second longer. What had the bartender told him, that every time he came into the Last Turn he ended up storming out. As far as he was concerned it was past time for him to exit this place. He was sure that the bartender had drugged him in someway or hypnotized him. She had done something to mess with his mind. He wasn’t going to stick around and let her take further advantage of him.
In one quick fluid motion he made it from the bar to the door. It was almost as if someone had blinked at the right moment and missed seeing him move. None of this was registering in his might. Strange things were happening in the Last Turn and Ben no longer wanted to be part of them. The sooner he was through this door and out of here the better.
There was a gas station not too far from here. It was probably closed by now, but the pumps stayed open for customers that paid with plastic. He was sure that someone would have a cell they would let him use.
He grabbed for the handle of the door but it was not there. He knew that he saw it. His vision had been focused on it while he was walking over from the bar. But when he reached out to hold of the handle so he could open the door, it was not there. All he felt was air. Ben looked down just to prove to himself he had not gone crazy. And there it was. Once more he tried to take it in his grip, but all he got was a handful of air, just like before.
Whatever. He wanted out and there was nothing in this tavern that was going to stop him. He would tear this place down with his bare hands if he had to. He was getting out of the Last Turn and that’s all there was to it.
If the door handle wasn’t going to cooperate with him, then he would have to push the door open some other way. He placed the palm of his hands against the door and began to push against it. It just stayed in place. Their was no give in it what so ever. He pushed even hard, but it would not budge. Finally he dipped his right shoulder and put all his weight into it. Nothing!
Maybe I need to pull on the door to open it. How do I do that if I cannot grab hold of the handle? Ben began searching the door for some kind of handhold. If he could just get some purchase, just maybe he could pull the door open with some brute force. He examined the door, he even looked along the edge of the door in hopes that he could find some space to he could fit his fingers into.
As he started to feel along the edge of the door he discovered something extremely important. There was no door. At least not standing in front of him anyways. The door he had come in, and he sure this was it because he hadn’t seen any others, wasn’t there. Sure it looked like it was there, but it wasn’t. He knew this because there was no seam between where the door should have been and where the wall began.
What was there appeared to be a door that had been painted onto the wall. As he pulled his hands away they were covered in red paint.