Though no one really planned it, the third Friday of the month was starting to become the meeting night. Most of the regulars were here, and though the bar was not packed, it was steady. Mort noticed that Larry, Terrance, and Bert were not present. A few others weren’t at well, but he watched for those three on a regular basis. Terrance, he kept an eye on, mostly due to the man’s age. Mort wasn’t sure how long the man had, but he hoped to see him again.
Larry and Bert came when they could, but with Shana to take care of, he wasn’t surprised they weren’t here. Others trickled in, getting their drinks and sitting with friends or new faces to talk of life. Mort enjoyed these nights, as did Chauncy. Mort told Chauncy of these gatherings and the founder of A Bar Called Always came when he could. No one knew who he really was, but Chauncy preferred it that way. He didn’t want to have to field a bunch of questions about the existence of the bar. Chauncy felt he knew as much as anyone else.
“Hey, Mort. Got any new beers?”
Mort smiled kindly to the woman in front of him. “Lana, nice to see you.”
“It has been a while, hasn’t it?” She simply wicked and waited for Mort to hand her a bottle of beer.
“This is an interesting batch. One of the first beers made in the U.S.”
She took a sip. “Not bad. Not what I’m used to, but not bad. Thanks.”
She walked away as he smiled. He wrote the price down on her tab and turned to another customer. Lana walked over to the dart board and started playing a game with a few other patrons.
It was close to the end of the night. How most patrons knew the time in this place was beyond Mort’s understanding. A few had already gone, but Lana, Theo and a few others were still around the dart board, talking more than playing. The door opened, which surprised Mort. It was late for regulars. He started around the bar, wondering if it were a new person.
The door finally opened fully, and the bar filled with red light. All the patrons turned to the door and saw a man in shadow. Beyond the man was the source of the red light. Close by, a mountain was spewing forth fire. A volcano was erupting.
“Shit! Close the door!” Someone yelled as they realized the lava was flowing toward them.
The shadow of the man yelled incoherently, and he tried to turn around. He saw the lava was closing in on him and he turned back to the bar. Several people ran toward the door. Theo reached the man first, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him through. Mort reached the door second and slammed it shut. As if in the distance, a mighty fire seemed to destroy a door. The noise was gone quickly, and everyone turned to the man, who was hitting Theo and screaming.
“Oh my god. That’s a cave man.”
It looked to be true. The man’s hair was long and unkempt. He was dirty and wore crude animal hide as clothing. He wore no shoes.
Mort was trying to find a way to help Theo. Lana finally went to the men and waved her hands in the air to get the newcomer’s attention. She also called to Theo.
“Let him go, Theo. He’s freighted.”
Theo let the man go and tried to get away. The newcomer raised his hand again, but Lana stepped forward. The man bared his teeth in anger. She held her hands up as if to reassure the man she meant no harm and had no weapons. She spoke in a quiet voice.
“It’s ok. We won’t hurt you. Are you hurt or hungry?”
His mouth was open, as if he were questioning the world around him. Lana thought he might be. He was not looking into her eyes, but she didn’t know if someone from that time would look into her eyes. She tried another tactic. She patted the seat in the booth nearest her.
“You can sit if your tired.” Lana sat down in the booth and saw that he was watching her. “Someone get him something to drink and eat. Water and the closest thing we have to a vegetable or fruit. Uncooked.”
He watched as she spoke, then regarded her carefully as she sat. He looked to the other people in the room and saw that they were backing away. The man carefully sat on the ground, but looked to still be on his guard. He grunted and made a few other noises. Theo, nervous about the man, had his hand on his gun, but was in the back of the crowd. He wouldn’t pull his gun if he didn’t have a clear shot, but he wasn’t afraid to kill the man if he had to.
Mort came out of the back with a mug of water and an apple. It was clean but not cut up. He didn’t know if the caveman would know what it was, but it was worth a shot. He carefully made his way to Lana and placed the items near her. She took the water, stood and then sat cross legged on the ground, like the man. She drank the water from the mug and offered it to him. He took it and sniffed. He frowned, but drank as she had. He looked surprised, then drank down the rest of the mug. As he handed the mug back, he made happy noises.
Lana took the apple next, and bit into it, to show the man it was safe. He took the apple and looked at it quizzically. Before Lana could say anything, the man ducked and guarded his head with his hands. He screamed as if confused or hurt. He shot up from the ground and slammed into a nearby post.
Lana stood and tried to stop him, tried to reassure him. The others scattered, afraid of getting in the way of his large, muscled hands. Lana reached out to him.
“It’s ok!” She said in her most soothing voice.
He looked angrily at her and she held her arms in front of her, palms up, as if trying to offer him something. He apparently saw it as a good sign and reached out to her. He touched the fabric of her sleeve and screamed again.
Mort saw this happening and understood that the bar was giving the man information about the fabric. It had probably also told the man what an apple was. As the man screamed again, it finally clicked home for Mort.
“He’s pre-speech! The bar’s telling him things in his head and he doesn’t understand what it means or where it’s coming from! We need to help him get out!”
Though Mort spoke loudly, he did not speak menacingly. He tried to get others to herd the man to the door, but the man wouldn’t go. Mort felt the man might be afraid of the possible lava.
Lana saw that the man was becoming more and more frightened. Theo saw it, too. He slipped his gun out of it’s holster and held it behind his back. He also tried to get in a better position. He didn’t want to use the gun, but would if he had no other choice. He wasn’t sure it was a good idea to shot anyone in this bar, but he would deal with the consequences later.
People were still trying to move the man to the door, to get him to turn the knob; only he could get himself home. The more they tried to explain, the more agitated he became. Finally, Lana stood in front of the man and turned her back to him. She yelled at the bar.
“Everyone stop!” she looked at the others in the eye for a moment and then continued. “He’s scared. We need to let him calm down. When he’s calm, he’ll probably leave on his own.”
“Lana, he’s scared because this place is feeding him information.”
She turned back to the man. “Then let him sit on the floor and we can leave him be.” She sat on the floor, cross-legged. The man watched as she touched the floor in front of her and looked at him kindly. He grunted and finally sat down in front of her. He made some more noises and settled down. He kept looking around as if expecting more noise to come to his mind.
Lana didn’t say anything, she didn’t even look at the man. She only sat, looked at the floor, and breathed calmly. After a few minutes, the man seemed to calm as well. The other patrons started to drift away, but no one else left. They went to places where they could watch the man, but not make him feel uncomfortable. About a half an hour later, Lana stood. The man did as well.
Without saying anything, she led him to the door. She pointed to him, then to the knob. He frowned and grunted, but touched the knob, then grasped it. He tried to turn the knob, but nothing happened. He grunted and turned the knob harder. It did not budge. He screamed and yanked at the door. Lana reached for him to try and help him. He bellowed when she touched his arm. In a blink of an eye, Lana was sailing toward the bar. Everyone heard when she fell in to the stools. The man had backhanded her hard enough to send her flying. A second after she hit the bar stools, a shot rang out. Silence, and the man, fell at the same time.
The patrons turned to look at Theo. He looked terrible. He also had his revolver out. His arm was poised, and steady. There was no tremor in his hand as he lowered the gun. He sighed.
“Someone check on Lana.”
That got people moving. They stretched her out on the ground, as she confessed to being dizzy. Theo went to the caveman and checked for a pulse. There was really no need. Theo was a good shot. There was a gaping hole in the man’s head. He was dead. Theo moved the man out of the way and went to fetch towels to clean up the mess.
“Second death here.”
“I’m really sorry. I don’t like killing and I didn’t want to kill anyone in here. I wasn’t sure there would be any odd, well, occurrences because of it.”
“Everyone here seems all right. Even Lana. She already went home. You’re the only one still here.”
Mort and Theo were sitting in a booth at the back of the bar. They had moved the body to Theo’s time. The door to the bar opened in Theo’s time in the middle of the dessert. Theo hid the body and was planning on burning it. Others thought it was a better idea than trying to bury it. Burying it might lead to confusion in the human time line. No one knew if a man from that time lived in what would become Texas. Burning the remains lessened the possibility of remains.
“The moment he came in here, I knew there would be trouble.” He shook his head. “Mort, I’m scared to leave. I don’t know that killing that man here didn’t change anything out there.”
“He was about to get torched by lava. He wasn’t surviving.”
Theo was silent for a moment, then looked to Mort. “I wonder why the door wouldn’t open for him?”
“When we closed it behind him, after he came in, there was the sound of wood being set afire. I think the lava destroyed his side.”
“I didn’t think anything could destroy the door.”
“It is only wood.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“It doesn’t make me feel very good either, but there is nothing we can do. A Bar Called Always never promised forever.”
Theo stared at Mort for a moment before both men laughed. “All right. I get your point.” He stood. “I guess I better call it a day. I got a body to burn.”
“Is it safe to do so, where you are?”
“Yeah, only thing out there is some spiders and insects. And my horse.”
Mort stood as well and walked Theo to the door. “Keep safe and come back, my friend.”
“Not much keeps me away.”
The men smiled at each other and shook hands. Theo left and Mort closed the door behind the cowboy. As Mort touched the door, he noticed something had changed. It was a small change, but it was there nonetheless. In the wood, running from top to bottom, about a millimeter thick, was a black mark. It was to the right, close to the hinges. He doubted anyone would notice, but he had stared at this door many times. It was as if someone had taken a piece of charcoal and drawn a very thin line on the door.
As Mort stared at the line, he understood. A patron of A Bar Called Always had perished. The door was now incomplete. When Shana died, the door was not harmed; he felt that meant the door was for Bert, not Shana. He always wondered if it meant that the door size was an indication of how many people could come to A Bar Called Always. Mort didn’t know. As he touched the line, it suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea if the line was there due to the man’s death, or to the man’s door being destroyed.
Mort contemplated the line for a few more moments and walked away to finish cleaning when he realized the bar was giving him no help in answering the questions. He would ask Chauncy the next time the man came in, but Mort had a feeling not even Chauncy would know.