The work was going well. They were expected to clear the area and get to the actual dig site by the end of the week. Chauncy was excited. It was the first time anyone had set foot in this area for a hundred years. It was too dangerous before then. Too many time ripples. The higher ups were worried that if someone were caught in a ripple, they would never be seen again. They might also damage the time stream.
This hadn’t happened as of yet, but Chauncy understood the precautions. He didn’t want to get caught in a ripple any more than his higher ups did. But the site was almost cleared for excavation and he and his team would be able to see what England 100 years ago looked like. It wasn’t that long ago, but the time bombs dropped on the site 150 years ago did some strange things to the area. Objects as small as breadboxes and as large as buildings were pulled to the then present or were shoved into the past. It created havoc.
The Time Stream Constables found most of the items some fifty years ago and repaired the time stream, but this site had been too badly damaged to repair. And all items that were removed from the time stream did not go back to their original points. They were stored in a warehouse for examination.
Most other parts of the city were back to normal. This place was the last remnant of the Mistake that caused all the time issues. The higher ups decided to examine it to find out what happened when an area was left to the ravages of the time bomb.
Chauncy looked out his window to the streets below. Even this close was safe. Just to the other side of the wall, was not. In a week, he would be going beyond that wall to find out everything he could. It was all a man could do to sleep.
Chauncy moved the piece of wall out of the way and exposed a condemned building, or rather, it’s boarded up doorway. The wall was light. He suspected it was drywall from around the 20th century, in what used to be the United States. There were a lot of these walls, but no one knew why. This part of the London was the only area that had relics from other parts of the world. The other parts of London affected by the time bomb only possessed things from other times in England.
He left his musings for another time. The workers would remove the drywall, catalogue it and place it in the truck heading to the warehouse. For now, Chauncy wanted to see what was under the wall. Behind it was the condemned building and the boarded-up doorway. The doorway looked to be falling apart, the building around it looked brand new. The sign looked to be about fifty years old, the staples holding it in to the deteriorated wood, looked shiny and new.
It was like this everywhere in the Time Sector. Some parts were old, some were new, and nothing seemed to be of the same age. There was a car down the street that had at some point, four tires. One tire looked brand new, one had rotted away completely. The other two looked used, but not too used. The vehicle would be examined to see if all of the car was like this or if it were just the tires.
It all fascinated Chauncy, but he and the others still didn’t know why it happened. They did know that no other part of England hit by the time bombs had seen this type of variants. Most of the time, the object moved out of time was exactly as it had been in the time it was moved. For instance, the 14th century manor that ended up in the middle of the Thames 150 years ago looked as if it were recently built. When they returned it to its time, they found out it was recently built. Another building from the 14th century, a home, ended up in a farm field 60 kilometers outside of London. It looked old. It was preserved, but old. When the Time Stream Constables looked into it, they found it had been moved from 22nd century London. But all of it looked to have aged the right amount.
Here, there was old and new, mixed. A puzzle for the ages. There was speculation that the bomb that hit here was defective, and that it didn’t go off fully. No one really knew that, but that was part of the fun. Chauncy couldn’t wait to find all the answers. He took pictures of the door way and parts of the building then moved on to the next area. The building had been condemned long ago due to a weak roof. He was not going in until it was cleared.
Chauncy sat in his room, looking out at the dig site, wondering if it was worth it. He had been here three months. This evening, after a long day of work, he had come back to the room to find a message from his wife. She was tired of being second in his life. She was leaving him for his brother. Lawrence had been kind and understanding and had listened to her everyday as she lamented Chauncy’s absence. Fine. He didn’t mind, well, too much. Soon Sheryl would learn why Lawrence could be there to listen all the time: he hated working. She would see her mistake, but she would probably not come back to him.
Sheryl was right: he preferred his work to his wife.
Chauncy sighed and stared out the window. His work was going well, but he didn’t want to be without Sheryl, despite it seeming the contrary. She was smart and understood when he talked to her. And she was pretty. He sighed again. He wanted a drink but knew alcohol was hard to find in this part of London. He looked out the window to the building with the condemned sign on it and frowned. The doorway was different. Even in this low light, he could tell that. Curious, Chauncy got up, slipped on his coat and went to the dig site.
This close, it was obvious how much the door had changed. The wood was brand new, smooth to the touch and there was a shiny brass door handle. The condemned sign was nowhere to be seen. When he touched the door handle, he felt nothing but peace. He also felt an urge to enter. Chauncy looked around and opened the door. He entered and found himself in an old bar. Or maybe old, he wasn’t sure. From the history books, he found that most eras had a few things in common, restaurants and bars were amongst the top ten.
This one showed very little difference to the ones he had been in his time. There was a bar close to one wall, with space for liquor bottles and glasses to his right. It was a long bar, and there were some booths set up to the left, but most were in the back. He stepped in and closed the door. He looked to the ceiling and saw no damage. Somehow, he doubted he was in the condemned building, but he wasn’t sure.
As he walked further in, he looked around and found a few rooms in back. There was even a bathroom. Nothing worked, there was no electricity, but he had a feeling he could wire this place. As plans came to his mind, he pushed them aside. Why would he build here? No one was allowed here. But a name came to him and he had a hard time denying it. Always. This place was A Bar Called Always.
Even from the back room, he heard it. The voice was shy and feminine. He went back to the bar and saw a woman with spiked hair leaning against the door. She looked at him with fear in her eyes.
“Hello. My name’s Chauncy. What’s yours?”
It was an odd name, but he didn’t question it. He felt it was a nickname. Jersey looked to be from the 1980’s, the punk era. She had spiked black hair, and wore a black jacket, black jeans and boot and a t-shirt with a picture of a screaming man on it. She also had black make up around her eyes.
“Are you open?” Her voice still sounded terrified.
“Truth be told, Jersey, I just found this place. I can’t offer you anything but company. You sound scared, are you all right?”
“I guess. Are you from England? You sound like you’re from England.”
He tried to hide his hesitation by moving forward, toward her. Technically, he was from England, but he was beginning to suspect it was more complicated than that. He decided to simply say, “Yes.”
“What’s an Englishman doing in Chicago?”
“That’s a very long story. Would you mind telling me something first?”
She crossed her arms. “Maybe.”
“How did you find this place?”
“I was running and I needed a safe place. I saw the door and came in.”
“What were you running from?”
She frowned, but decided to trust him. “It’s more who. I went to the wrong place and a group of guys decided I was an easy target. I think they were going to rob me. They tried to grab me, I decided to punch one of them. They decided to try and jump me. I ran out of the club and ran up the street. I saw an alleyway and this door at the end of it. I don’t think they saw me.” She frowned. “What’s your story? Why are we both in this abandoned bar?”
He looked away, took a deep breath to give himself a moment to think and decided. “Jersey, I would ask that you trust me for a moment longer. I would like to see what happens when you open that door. Would you do that for me?”
“Why? What’s going on?” She sounded curious more than fearful, and he saw that as a good thing.
“I have a theory, but I want to test it first.”
She looked him up and down. He was dressed in a white lab coat that covered most of him. She could see his pants, knees down, and his shoes. He looked like a scientist. Also, he just didn’t seem like a scary dude. She nodded. “All right.”
Jersey moved from the door, opened it and looked out. Chauncy joined her and they both saw the same thing: the alley from her world.
“Yep. That’s what I thought. That’s my world out there.”
“Close the door.”
“Now let me.”
Jersey frowned and stepped away from the door enough to allow Chauncy to grab the handle. He opened the door and Jersey gasped. There were in what looked like a ravaged city that was walled in. Halfway across the street was a concrete wall with barbed wire on top. Beyond that, a building made of glass. She started to step through, but Chauncy stopped her and pulled her back. He closed the door and pointed to the stools.
“I have a theory, but you might not believe me. Will you sit?”
“Yeah. God, I wish there were drinks in here.”
“So do I. And I’m not known to drink.”
They moved to the stools, tested one or two and moved to a booth at the back instead. The stools seemed a little unstable. Once they were seated, Chauncy told Jersey what brought him to the bar tonight.
“And just as you thought the name, I came in?”
“It seems that way.”
“Look,” she covered her face with her hands for a moment, “My dad is into Star Trek and Star Wars and all those things, and he reads a lot of sci-fi, and so do I, but this doesn’t seem real.”
“You saw for yourself what happens when each of us opened the door.”
“I know but… why us? Why are we here?”
“I don’t know. We each needed a safe place. It’s possible somehow this bar picked up on it.”
“But that just seems so out there. I mean, I don’t know, I guess it’s more of,” she took a deep breath and stopped talking to really think of what she was trying to say. “Look. It still comes down to why the two of us. We can’t be the only two people in the history of humans, assuming this goes to different times, that need a place like this at this time.”
“Maybe we are. Or maybe it did choose us for a reason. I love being a time archeologist, but when I was younger, I helped in a bar. I have wanted to own a bar for most of my life since then. I just can’t do both. And I won’t give up being a time archeologist. Do you want to be a bartender?”
“Never really thought about it. I just turned 21. Tonight was my first time in a bar.” Her eyes grew wide in frustration and anger. “And I nearly got killed or worse.”
He let his theory go. “Well, it may just be a coincidence.”
She turned her head away. “Maybe not. I was trying to run away.”
Their eyes met across the table. “Why?”
“I like my parents and all that, or I used to. Dad lost his job a year ago. Can’t find anything. I moved in to help out, but he’s been drinking and got mean. My older brother is taking mom in but not dad. We’re thinking about putting him in rehab again, but it didn’t work the previous two times. I don’t think it’s going to work this time either.” She sighed. “I can’t find a job, either.” She laughed. “Probably because of the way I dress.”
They sat in silence for a moment as they both thought their thoughts. Finally Chauncy came to conclusion.
“Jersey, this place is calling to me, begging me to take care of it. I have already figured out how to get a generator in here and how to wire all the lights and what type of things we should have in here. But I need a bartender. I think you will do. I don’t care what you look like. Just do yourself a favor: if you accept, don’t leave your time without telling your family something. Perhaps not the truth, but tell them something.”
“This just seems a bit to perfect, you know?”
“There will be hard work ahead. I will need help with wiring the place and bringing in supplies.”
“This is nuts.” She stood up. “No way this is real.”
With that, Jersey ran out of the bar, slamming the door behind her.
Chauncy sat for a few minutes more, then stood and left as well. He would be back. A Bar Called Always needed to exist.
It took a few months of working at night in order to get the bar in shape. He did most of the work himself. During the renovations, a few people wandered in. Some gave their time, some only their story. Chauncy didn’t mind. He took the help when it was offered, and never told anyone they had to help. He had decided on two bedrooms in the back. One room he set up a modern generator. He had to fill it every week, but it worked fine to keep the lights, refrigerators, and ice machine working. He thought a stove might be a good idea for food, but wasn’t sure if that was necessary.
Also, he was having a hard time understanding why no one in his time had found him out. He kept requisitioning odd pieces of furniture from the warehouse, for research, but wasn’t returning anything. The ice machine, and various refrigerators for the beer were the time warehouse. He didn’t want to use things specifically from his time. It seemed like a better idea to use things that didn’t look to modern. He wasn’t sure why, but he listened to the ideas.
For the booths, stools tables, and counter top, he refurnished what was already here. He went with leather, as leather was timeless. Varnished wood was timeless as well. A Formica table, or vinyl bench would be dated. Anything he could use from his time would be too sleek, and not very welcoming in his opinion. Wood and leather fit what he was trying to accomplish.
At the end of the six months of renovations, he decided that gas lanterns would be a nice touch. They would run on electricity, of course, but it seemed like a touch of old world England might place folks from older times at ease. Chauncy wasn’t sure when people would come from but he liked the way the lanterns looked, and went with it.
When all was said and done, he stood behind the full stocked bar and sighed. He still didn’t know who would man the bar, but perhaps for the moment, he could. As he stood there, looking out over the bar, polishing a glass, the door opened.
He turned to the door. “Welcome.”
A man stepped through, slammed the door shut and leaned against it heavily, looking for a lock. He looked like he had been through hell. When he didn’t find a lock, his scared eyes found Chauncy. Fear came back. “Please don’t hurt me.”
“Why ever would I do that? Are you all right?”
“They’re trying to lynch me.”
The man looked young, barely 18. He was dark skinned and wore a brilliant white button-down shirt and nice pants. His shoes were without wear.
“Lynch?” And he remembered what the word meant. He also remembered that for a while, that was a popular “sport” of people in the south of the United States. Chauncy’s heart broke for this young man. He walked around the bar and held his hand out to the young man, who still seemed leery.
“My name is Chauncy. You’re in A Bar Called Always. This is a safe place.”
“Terrance.” He tentatively reached out and shook Chauncy’s hand. “You’re not from around here, are you? You don’t sound like the others do.”
“I’m from England. And you?”
“Alabama.” He looked to Chauncy. “I was going to say you should know that, but we’re not in Alabama any more, are we?”
“I have a tale to tell you, Terrance. Will you join me at the bar? I can give you something to drink, if you wish?”
“I…” He looked to the fully stocked bar. “Do you have cola? I’m not sure I want to drink anything.”
“I do. Come, sit. Let’s talk for a bit.”
Terrance nodded. “All right. Sure.”
Chauncy smiled and led Terrance to the bar. Once the boy was situated, Chauncy went around the bar and poured the customer a drink. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do about a bartender, but one thing was for sure: A Bar Called Always brought people that were in need of a safe haven. He would provide that for as long as he could.