The door opened slowly, as if the person on the other side felt they had to be cautious of it. Once fully opened, a man in ragged clothing stood in the doorway, the light illuminating him from outside. The sun was setting behind him and surrounded him in a halo. The man hesitated for a moment longer, then took a step inside. He took another as the warmth of the bar invited him further in. He took a final couple steps in and closed the door behind him. There was no hesitation in that act. He felt safe now.
With the door closed, the man took a few more steps inside. His eyes were open wide. He looked surprised and comforted by the surroundings. He walked further into the bar, staying away from the stools, his eyes fixed on the booths at the end. He wanted to sit, maybe to sleep. No one stopped him. Morton went to the nearest booth, sat in it and tensed. He expected someone to tell him to leave. When that didn’t happen, he relaxed.
A woman came to the table, a smile on her face and a menu in her hand. “Hi. Welcome. Can I get you anything?”
Fear came into his eyes. He met her eyes, saw kindness and took a breath. “I…don’t…” He took another breath. “I don’t have any money.”
She left the menu on the table, reached out and touched his arm. When he met her eyes again, she smiled. “Don’t worry. I’ll get you a coffee, on the house.”
He frowned. “Coffee?”
As he questioned it, the knowledge of the beverage entered his mind. He didn’t question it, but shook his head instead.
“I would appreciate that, yes.”
She smiled again and walked away. When she did, he touched the table and the bench he was sitting on. The bench was covered in leather, but it was a much softer leather than he had ever felt. Maybe the nobles had leather like this, but somehow, he doubted that. He had worked in a leather store for a while. Nothing there compared to this.
The wooden table was odd as well. It was smoother than any wood furniture he had ever touched. It was varnished, but with a much thicker coating than he was used to seeing. He looked around the bar and slowly examined things with his eyes. As he looked, words of the items came to his mind. Though it was disconcerting to have the words of these unknown items come to him, he was not afraid. It seemed right that it would happen. As it seemed right to walk through the door of this place.
At the back of the bar, was an electronic dart board. Behind the bar were more liquor bottles than he had ever seen. The lanterns hanging from the wall looked like gas lights usually found outdoors, but the lights were steady. Electricity gave the lanterns their lights. His eyes wandered to the white round thing on the wall with the black numbers. It was a clock. The electricity made it move. It kept time.
And then it didn’t. As he watched it, it moved backwards. He didn’t think that was supposed to happen.
“It doesn’t work right in here.”
Morton looked to the man standing near the table. He was dressed oddly in a blue button-down shirt, and blue pants of fabric he’d never seen. The man wore a belt with a holster and a pistol, but the pistol was far different than the ones Mort had seen. The man also wore a brown hat with a wide brim. Even with the pistol, the man looked kind. “Why doesn’t it work right?”
The man smiled. “Time is weird here. But you know that, don’t you?”
“I was starting to suspect something was odd, but I didn’t understand.”
Morton looked away. “I…”
“Have no money. I overheard. That’s why I’m offering. Are you hungry?”
Morton looked down and nodded.
The man sat in the booth, placed his hat to the side and held his hand out to Morton. “I’m Theo.”
Mort looked at Theo’s hand for a moment then shook it. “Morton. Mort for short.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Mort nodded. “Why are you helping me?”
“Look around. Only certain people find this place. Only people who are supposed to find this place find this place. When someone walks through the door, they are family, no questions asked. If someone is hungry and can’t afford to pay, we help them out.”
“That’s not the usual way of things.”
“A Bar Called Always is not the usual place. How about we get you some soup?”
Mort nodded. “Soup is universal, isn’t it?”
Theo laughed. “At the very least, it’s timeless. We’ve had a lot of visitors here, but so far, no one who isn’t human. This bar is locked out of time and opens to many different places in the human time stream.”
Morton frowned a little, trying to understand. “Have we lived a long time then? There is speculation.”
“Do you know what year you’re from?”
“I was born in the year of our Lord 1503, in England. I have lived around thirty years. I lost track.”
Theo nodded. “Humans have been around a long time and will be around for a lot longer, from what I gather. When I go home, it’s 1876. There have been people from far further in the future than that.”
Mort looked overwhelmed. He looked about to say something, but a bowl of soup was placed in front of him at that moment. He looked down at the food, then looked to Theo.
“Chicken soup with rice.”
Mort picked up the spoon. “Soup may be timeless, but it does not look the same at home.”
“Might taste different.”
Mort nodded and dug in. Though it did taste different, it was good, and he enjoyed every bite. When he was done, a dessert was placed in front of him. He looked to Theo.
“What is this?”
“Chocolate cake. Best I’ve ever had.” Lucy placed a piece of cake in front of him as well. Theo grabbed a forkful of cake and popped it into his mouth. “Try it.”
The information for chocolate came to Mort’s mind as he used the fork to poke at it a bit. Finally, he took a small forkful and tried it. As soon as it touched his taste buds, the sweetness exploded in his mind. He closed his eyes and savored the flavor. The sweetness was a bit more intense than he liked, but it still intrigued him. He tried the coffee, which had been brought over some time ago, with a forkful of chocolate cake and found it to be a fine mix.
Theo finished long before Mort, and watched as the man finished the dessert. It took a while, but he left Mort alone, as he looked to be enjoying himself. When Mort was done, he placed the fork on the plate and leaned back.
“Yes. It was very good. Thank you.”
“Welcome. How about you tell me a little about yourself? Why don’t you have any money?”
“I haven’t been able to find work. My family are poor farmers. I was one of ten children. Most of us didn’t survive. There were problems on the farm and we lost it before I was old enough to help. There was no work to be found. Mother and father moved us to London, but that proved fatal. Mother died not too long after the move. Father left the rest of us on the streets to fend for ourselves. It didn’t take long for my sisters to find a brothel. I did what I could to earn my keep, but as soon as I was old enough, they turned me loose onto the streets. I did what I could to earn money, but it was never enough.”
“Well,” the feminine voice said from the end of the table, “you can stay here for the night if you need. You look like you could use a good night’s sleep.”
Mort looked to the bartender. “I would appreciate that.”
“Mort, you can stay here as long as you like, but if you do stay, you’re going to have to earn your keep. You look like you’re strong enough to help me out.”
“I… Yes, of course. Thank you. I’ve never been afraid to work, I just have problems finding it.”
Lucy smiled and took the dirty dishes. She came back a moment later and refilled the men’s coffee cups. “There’s a room in the back. Well, actually, there are two rooms. I sleep in one. You can have the other. There’s a shower, too.”
Mort looked confused. “Shower?” He smiled as the definition came to him. “That would be appreciated.”
“Great. Relax until you’re ready, then come talk to me. Theo’s good company. I’m sure you’ll have lots to talk about.”
Lucy nodded and moved away.
Mort looked to Theo as if waiting for something more.
Theo smiled. “How did you find the bar?
“I saw a door where there was no door before. I had an overwhelming need to open the door. Since I had nothing left to lose, I decided to open it.”
Theo nodded. “Sounds familiar.”
“How did you find it?”
Theo shook his head. “Tonight is not the night for my story, Mort, it’s for your story. Tell me about home. I know you didn’t have a good life, but there must be something interesting that happened in your lifetime.”
Mort took a deep breath and took a moment to think. “There was a war going on.” He laughed a little. “I even failed at being a soldier.”
Theo leaned in a little. “Tell me about it.”
Mort smiled for the first time and started his tale. “I failed the first day of training. I accidentally shot my commanding officer in the foot with a crossbow. Instead of hanging me, they kicked me out and told me that I would never be allowed back in.”
Theo was taken aback. “Why does that make you smile?”
“A moment before I shot him, he was boasting about the fact that he had never been wounded, even with all the combat he had seen. It may seem morbid, but I thought it fitting that he was shot while off the battle field. I didn’t mean to do it. I was trying to draw the string back while holding the arrow in place and my hand slipped. My life is full of stories like that.”
Theo stared at him for a moment. “Tell me more. Please.”
Mort smiled. “All right. Let me tell you about the time I walked in on a certain member of the court having relations with a woman, not his wife and nearly took off his head with a platter.”
Theo smiled, leaned back and listened to Mort’s story.
“Mort! Welcome back! How was your trip?” Lucy called to him from the other side of the bar. She was pouring a drink for a regular customer.
Mort sat down on a barstool and folded his hands on the bar. “I learned a lot, but it was hard. The world is very different in Theo’s time. Moves much faster. Maybe too fast. I was able to find a job at a…ranch, but I almost killed the owner on the first day while saddling his horse.”
She gave him a look full of pity. “Not going to stay there?”
“No. I keep forgetting the words and though things aren’t too much different, they are different enough. I feel out of place. I think the only time for me is my time, no matter how bad it was.”
Lucy finished pouring the drink, nodded to her other customer and went to Mort. “I wish you wouldn’t. It seems like a nasty place for you.”
He shrugged. “It may seem like that, but I don’t know what else to do.”
“Stay here for a while. Let me teach you more about being a bartender. Maybe that’ll help.”
He looked into her eyes. “Why?”
She breathed deep. “Maybe I have an ulterior motive. Stay here, Mort. Let me teach you more.”
Mort looked at her for a moment, but didn’t question the look. She was hiding something, but she wanted to help. Maybe that was enough. He nodded. “All right. I’ll stay. Thank you.”
Lucy smiled. “Good. Relax for the rest of the night. Think about Theo’s world and about what you learned. We’ll start tomorrow.”
Mort nodded and ordered a drink and some food. Tomorrow was a new day.
Lucy trained Mort for five months before she finally told him the truth. They were cleaning up for the night, the last patron had just left the bar. Lucy closed the door, hoped no one else would come in and pointed to a booth. It was late enough, she doubted anyone would come in.
“Join me, Mort.”
He nodded, put the rag down and went to the booth. Once they were both seated, Lucy took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant.”
He smiled. “You’re going to have a child?”
She gave him an oddly annoyed look. “Yeah. Do you know how long a woman is supposed to carry a child?”
“I believe it’s nine months, yes?”
“Yeah. I’ve been pregnant for three years.”
Mort was silent for a long time. “You don’t show it.”
“I became pregnant three years ago when I went back home for a visit. I stayed there for three months, but I had only found a temporary replacement for the bar. I came back here after I found out I was pregnant. I kept waiting to show signs. Once day, I went home, to see a doctor. I pretended I didn’t know I was pregnant, gave them all the symptoms. They did a test and told me I was three months pregnant.”
“I don’t think I understand.”
“Time doesn’t move here. The world outside that door does, but the world in here does not. We go through food and drink like every place else does, but time stands still. At least for those of us that stay here long enough. It doesn’t seem to affect visitors, just those of us who have worked here.”
“Are you sure?”
“The bartender before me left a diary. Before he left, he told me where to find his diary. I didn’t think to read it until I found out my pregnancy wasn’t progressing. He wrote in his diary that he noticed he wasn’t aging. He had been here for at least fifteen years.”
“That’s a long time.”
“I want to come to term and have this child. I have morning sickness, it should go away after the first three months, but that’s not ending for me.”
“I’ve heard of morning sickness. I’m sorry that’s happening.”
“I want out, Mort. I need someone to take my place. If you want it, you can have it.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but then shook his head. “I have no words.”
“Think about it. But please don’t think too long. I’d like to go home. Soon.” Lucy started to get up.
She paused. “You remind me of me, Mort. I wandered in here with a similar story. You’re lost, so was I. You’re a good replacement.”
“Tell me why you stayed?”
She sat back down. “Because it kept me from having to figure out how to live in the real world.”
Mort folded his hands on the table. “I figured out how to live in the real world. It just didn’t seem to like me. Why do you want to leave?”
She laughed. “I found love. Then I got pregnant and realized he was not the right person for me. But I still want this child. It’s my child and I want to raise her or him.”
Mort nodded. “You’re wrong about me, but I understand your desire. Would I be able to leave as long as I found a replacement?”
“Yes. You can leave without a replacement for short times, a few hours at most, as long as a regular is here to watch the place. Couple things you should now, the door does not lock, but no one comes in at night. When it’s night in the real world, it’s night everywhere in the real world. Gives you time to sleep. Also, if someone wants to spend the night, they can, but don’t let too many people stay for too long. One extra person, maybe two is the max. We only have the two bedrooms. No one sleeps in this part of the bar. Ever.”
“I don’t know. That’s what I was told by my predecessor. I decided not to change the rule and decided never to find out why. I have a feeling that’s when the supplies are delivered, but I’m not sure.”
His eyes went wide for a moment. “I never wondered about that.”
“We never run out of anything and somehow we have electricity. I don’t question that either. I guess I didn’t care enough to find out. I just needed a break from the real world for a while. Now, I’m ready to go back.
He held his hands up. “I understand that, Lucy, but I haven’t agreed yet. Please give me a few days.”
“I’m sorry. Sure. Take a few days.” She got up. “Thanks for thinking about it, Mort. And I’m sorry if I said anything mean.”
“You’re agitated. I understand. Go sleep. I’ll finish up here.”
She nodded her thanks and left for bed. Mort sat in the booth for a long time, thinking about his options.
The door opened, and the bartender called out. “Theo! Welcome!”
Theo looked to the bartender and smiled. “Mort. It’s good to see you again. How to you like the job?”
“It’s wonderful. I’ve learned so much. Care for your usual?”
“You remember what I drink?”
“To be fair, whiskey is easy to remember. But, with all my shortcomings, it seems as if the best job for me is bartender. I have a mind for drinks. So far, I have severed thirty regulars and remembered all of their usual orders. Your whiskey is coming right up.”
Theo moved to the bar. He sat on a stool and smiled to Mort. “Thanks, Mort. I think you’re going to do just fine here.”
Mort smiled as he made the drink. “That remains to be seen, Theo. Optimism is for the lucky. I’ll keep my head and be grateful for what I have.”
Theo stayed silent as Mort finished pouring the drink. He poured two and placed one in front of Theo and kept one for himself. Mort raised his glass and Theo did the same.
“To continued customers.”
“To luck and Optimism.” Theo touched his glass to Mort’s. “To our new bartender. May he be here for as long as he wants.”
Mort smiled and took a drink. He hoped to be here for as long as he wanted, as well.