Story seed and character questions courtesy M. Kirin:
Write about a character as they walk into a bizarre bar filled with the strangest people. The catch? The bartender tells anyone who enters that they’re on “The Last Call” but continues serving drinks, and the band continues playing music. Double catch? This character has no recollection of how they got to this place.
The Last Call
By A. M. Sigsworth
Ever had one of those days where you walk into a room and forget why? Cause that’s the kind of day I was having. At first, I thought I must have zoned-out for a second and had wandered in without really thinking about it. Whatever the place was, it was not desirable. In any way. It was a bar of sorts, filled with many a strange creature. Nothing I wasn’t used to, mind. You see all kinds of things in this galaxy. But as individuals, these people were dangerous to be around. Anyone with survival instincts would tell you the same. The looks in their eyes were absolutely horrible. One customer, a hooded figure, was staring at me from the corner. All of them were would-be and could-be murderers. Many fights must have taken place there, you should have seen it. Especially going by the barman’s demeanour. He said “Last call”, and continued wiping-down a glass, but kept looking around as if anticipating any trouble, then flashed me a sinister gaze. The walls were overflowing with grime, the floor was a minefield of spilt alcohol and the chairs were knocked-over in every which-way. The barman sighed. I knew that feeling. Even the band’s song was horrible; it was this weird electronic, tinny, steel jazz rock piece. Not so much pleasant background noise as “humorous eighties murder-montage contrast soundtrack”, given that it made me picture everyone in this bar being slashed to death to be freed from the hell in-which I was standing. If not by me in act of mercy, but by one of the drinkers in an alcohol-powered state.
A wise man would have left. And I would have done, but on my way out, I thought best to check the time. Having no watch, I went for a clock on the wall. But the time was wrong. I could just sense it. Call it time traveller’s instinct. Normally, these things don’t worry me, but as a time traveller, such things naturally make me annoyed. If you were a time traveller, you’d be annoyed by these things too. And if you are a time traveller but aren’t annoyed by these things, then you’re not a very good one.
And in my annoyance, I went over to the bar and leaned on it to ask the barkeep “Is that the right time?”. He informed me (through a grunt) that it was.
Then he said “Last call” and the band started playing the same song again.
That was when I knew something was up. Cause I’ve been to a whole lot of bars. All of them complete crap, and their house-bands have always been absolutely awful but none of them have ever played the same song twice. That, and the fact that the barman declared “last call” twice but carried-on serving drinks anyway.
Which meant being inconspicuous. No one else seemed at all bothered by these oddities, so they were most likely a part of it. As a seasoned time-traveller, my first guess was that it was a time loop. In which-case, a chronon field was influencing the vicinity to the point of local time repeating itself.
So it had fallen to me to investigate based on an old rule of thumb I learnt at time travel school (not really called that): never ignore a coincidence. Once you travel through time, your perception of reality changes. You become more aware of things. Not only was there an apparent time loop, there was also that matter of me not remembering how I got here. These kind of things are mutually exclusive almost never. Whatever was happening, I was a part of it. And yet, I wasn’t. I was separate from the time loop.
Should you ever find yourself wondering if you’re part of a time loop, in most cases it means you’re not. Because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to observe it or be aware of it. But if you are a part of it while also being aware of it, I feel bad for you. Seriously, I can’t imagine a worst kind of Hell.
As I was standing in the middle of the bar considering my next move, a hand brushed my shoulder. Spooked, I turned around to see the hooded customer. She didn’t just look at me, she gazed right into me. Past my eyes and just… into me.
“Are…” her voice was hoarse and straining “you… a… t -” she was struggling with this.
“Time traveller? Yes.” She nodded in the affirmative, grabbed my wrist and pulled me over to her table in the corner.
** ** **
Barkeep called for last orders. The band started playing the same song again.
I was sitting with her. She gave her name as Amser Caethes.
“I have been here for some time”, she said. “Too long to know. I tried keeping a tally on the wall, but it was removed every time the loop reset.”
“How old are you?”
“How am I to know? I may be as old I as look, or if it may be a side-effect”
I leaned in close.
“Side-effect of what?”
“Long-term exposure to free radical chronons.”
Free radical chronons? A lead had emerged.
“You know about them?”
“Of course. I’m a time traveller myself. I came in here on leave, but the time loop kicked-in.”
“But did you come in here for any specific reason?”
That made her smile a tragic smile.
“You know, I thought I did. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Cause I came in here for a reason that escapes me, too. Why did you know I wasn’t a part of the loop?”
“The people around us have repeated the same pattern for the past -” the barman called for last order, the band started playing the same song again, “- however-long, and you’re the first element to act independently. As soon as you walked in, I could tell you were an escape thread.”
We both sat there, assessing the situation.
“Then if we retrace my steps, we could find a way out.”
“It’d be no use. I’ve tried to leave this place many times. The corridor leads back here. It’s not just a time loop, it’s a space loop too.”
I got out my notepad (all time travellers should have these).
“Don’t bother, it’ll only be erased when the loop resets.”
“Fine. Fine. Guess I’ll have to commit everything to memory then.”
“We both don’t remember how we got here. Trust me, the loop affects the mind.”
She took another drink while I leaned back.
“Hmm… only somewhat. We’re aware of being in a loop, so there must be less influence on the brain. You might not be able to remember everything, but we can use deduction… … …plus, I’ve only forgotten about before I got here. So it’s not like we’re going to lose our mental capacity while we remain.”
“You speak as if… someone were controlling this?”
“I’m guessing you didn’t do well in temporal theory. Fascinating things, time loops. They’re caused by a disturbance in chronon fields, either naturally as a result of temporal distortion from high levels of local time energy being released whenever anyone makes a journey, or artificially if there’s some sort of interference through technological means.”
She smiled again, but not a tragic like before. She seemed happy now.
“I see you know you’re stuff.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I didn’t get top marks for no reason. Anyway,” I got up and walked toward the exit, “I’m gonna see if you were right.”
I began to walk away, then turned to look back.
“You said this was a space loop. Space loops and time loops don’t occur together, that just doesn’t happen”.
“If you’re sure.”
I looked back at her for a moment, in fact unsure. In complete honesty, I didn’t know if she was going to be alright on her own after an intolerable amount of time being so.
“I’m sure”, I said and walked away.
** ** **
She was right. This was a space loop. The exit corridor lead straight back round to itself. And there was only one turn. It was impossible for it to be a design flaw. But when I got back, she was there. Everyone was there, just like before.
Sorry, what was I talking about? Something about a cantina? I was telling you a story, right? It was weird. Just… listen to this. And just go along with it, trust me, it gets weird. This story begins with… what’s the phrase I’m looking for? Ever had one of those days where you walk into a room and forget why?