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Shana Meets Bert

Shana sat nervously in the booth, while Larry ordered from the bar. He was getting a couple orange sodas and some food. Her dad was getting a burger. He said they were the best in time. Shana wanted pretzel bites with jalapeno cheese. She wasn’t hungry, but she wanted something to do to pass the time, while they waited for her Bert to show up. Larry wanted to be here ahead of schedule to give Shana time to relax, he said. She wanted this over with. Larry was her dad, not this Bert guy.

She rolled her eyes and sighed. That wasn’t really fair, and she knew it. It was all so weird though and juts getting weirder. If this meeting went well, she would be going to visit for a week. A week away from Larry. Shana looked to her dad, and saw he was coming over with the drinks. He sat down across from her and smiled as she took the glass.

She took a large gulp then looked to Larry as she smacked her lips. “Do they even have orange soda in his time?”

“I don’t know, hon, but you can ask him when he gets here.”

“Dad, what if I don’t like him?”

“Then you don’t like him, but you have to give him a chance. He’s your biological father.”

“If I decide to go with him, what are you going to tell everyone?”

“You don’t have parents listed on your birth certificate. If I say your birth father found you and wants you back, no one can dispute that. Also, he is your biological father. If they run DNA tests, it’ll prove he’s your dad.”

“What am I supposed to say to my friends? Where should I say he lives? With social media and the internet, it’s hard for people to hide.”

“Say he’s not from the U.S. Or say he was a missionary and was lost for a long time because of a head injury. That at least is part of the truth.”

“But…”

He reached out and placed his hands on hers. “Shana. You’re nervous. Understandably so. Take a deep breath. Calm down a bit and wait until you meet him.” He looked away and laughed as something occurred to him. He looked back at Shana. “I almost hate to say this, but you are going to have a ton more questions when you meet him.”

She rolled her eyes, took her hands away and hid her face. “God! This sucks.” She looked up. “I mean, sort of.” She leaned her head back. “I don’t know what I mean.”

“Sweetie, I can’t image what you are going through, but I’m here, no matter what.”

She looked to her dad. “I guess that’s the problem. I’m so used to you being there for me. If I go off to be with Bert, I won’t have you anymore.”

Tears started in his eyes. “You’ll have me. If you decide to stay with your biological father, we can still meet here every week. You can tell me about your week and I can tell you about mine. We may not end up in the same time, but I will be here for you. Always.”

Shana slipped out of the booth and joined her dad on his side. She kissed his cheek. “Thanks, dad.”

He kissed the top of her head and slipped an arm around her waist. “Thank you.”

They stayed that way for a few moments until the door opened. Larry craned his neck around to see Bert walking into the bar. Larry looked to Shana.

“That’s him.”

Shana moved out of the booth and stood. She looked to the door and watched as Bert drew near. There was happy surprise in his eyes. He walked quicker and stopped in front of Shana. He nodded to Larry, then looked back to his daughter.

“Shana. You look so much like your mother.”

She looked at him and stuck her hand out to shake his. “Hi.”

Bert gave an odd smile, but took her hand. “Hello, Shana. I’m Bert.”

They shook hands and Shana pulled away quickly. She sat by Larry and grabbed her orange soda from the other side of the table. “I’m going to sit with Larry. You can sit on that side.”

“All right.” Bert did as asked. When Mort came over, Bert ordered his usual, raspberry wine.

Bert looked to Shana. “I have a lot of questions and I’m sure you have some, too.”

“Do they have orange soda in your time?”

“Yes, but I’m sure it tastes different. May I?” He indicated her glass.

Shana looked at him, then at her glass. She shrugged and slid it over. Bert took a small sip and slid the glass back over.

“That one is much sweeter, but it’s not bad.”

She leaned back in the booth. “I don’t know what to say to you. Dad said you had amnesia. That’s why you didn’t get me sooner, but why didn’t you fight for my mom and you to be able to be together?”

Bert sighed. “Because I wasn’t that strong. I did as told most of my life, Shana. I hope Larry has taught you to stick up for yourself.”

“He taught me a lot of things.” There was defiance in her eyes, and Bert felt it was more toward him than anything else.

Bert sighed again. “Shana, once I remembered who you were, I did everything I could to get better so I could come looking for you. If I could have come sooner, I would have. I know we lost time, but I’m here now. There is no way I can answer all your questions tonight and there is no way you can answer all my questions tonight. That’s why I wanted you to come with me to visit.”

“But I don’t know if I want to go. If I go and hate it within hours, will you bring me back here?”

Bert frowned. “Of course, I would. Shana, you’re not a prisoner. You’re my daughter. I want you to experience my time. You should have been born and raised there.” He leaned forward. “Please Shana. Give me a chance.”

She crossed her arms. “I’ll think about it. Spring Break isn’t for a little bit.” She turned to Larry. “I want to go home now, dad.”

Larry looked to Shana, then to Bert. Larry had a helpless look on his face. Bert nodded minutely. Larry turned back to Shana. “All right. I already paid for the drinks. We can go.”

She nodded, and practically ran to the door. Larry turned to Bert.

“One week. I’ll bring her back in one week. We should keep having the two of you meet.”

Bert looked at Larry gratefully. “Thank you.”

Larry nodded then left to take his daughter home.

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Shana

“Dad, where are we going?” Her voice was slightly annoyed, and a bit put off. They hadn’t walked very far, but now they were in a dead-end ally. Her dad didn’t seem like he was going to stop.

Larry squeezed her hand. “A special place. You’ll see.”

He didn’t like that she couldn’t see the door, but wasn’t able to do anything about that.

“Dad…” She pulled at his hand when he reached out to the empty wall. “What’s going on?”

As soon as he took the doorknob, Larry knew everything would be all right. He looked to Shana. “Trust me, Shana. Please. I’ll explain everything in a moment.”

“You’re being weird. You’re not usually weird.”

He smiled and relaxed when she did, too. “I’ve done plenty of weird things, Shana.”

“Yeah, but most of it is our level of weird. This is new weird.”

He opened the door further, large enough for Shana to see inside. Surprise blossomed on her face as she finally saw the door and the bar.

“That was…”

“Something I wanted to talk to you about. Come on.”

Shana walked in first and Larry followed her in. He closed the door behind them and looked around. He smiled when he saw Selna, then felt his heart flutter when his eyes met Jersey’s. He blushed and looked toward Mort.

“Mort! Orange soda. Two of them, please.”

Mort nodded. “Coming right up! Take a booth. I’ve got some dessert you might be interested in.”

“Dad, what are we doing in a bar?”

Larry put a hand on her shoulder and waited for Shana to meet his eyes. “Sweetie, you’re going to hear a long story today, but it starts with: this is where you were born.”

As the news sunk in, Larry led Shana to the booth. By the time they were at the booth, Shana was already full of questions. Larry held his hands up.

“Honey, let me tell you the story. Once I’m done, you can ask questions, OK?”

She slouched in her seat but was silent for a while. Finally, she nodded. “OK.”

Larry nodded and started the story of her birth.

*****

“So, when I was born, you weren’t doing too well?”

It was her first question. Larry looked taken aback, but nodded. “I had lost my wife and unborn child about a year before all this happened. It was still hitting me pretty hard.”

“I helped you get over her?”

“No…” He signed. “There’s no getting over someone you love. You just get used to a new normal.”

“I guess I don’t really understand that.”

“It’s ok. You shouldn’t understand it. You’re too young for that kind of pain.” His voice sounded strained.

Shana heard the tone of voice and decided to change the subject. “You told me a while ago that I was adopted, but I guess I didn’t think my parents were alive.”

“Your dad is.” He sounded relieved that the line of questions had changed.

“And my biological mom died in this bar?”

“Yes.”

“Ok.” She looked toward Mort and Selna, who were at the bar, doing a good job of minding their own business. The two had shared their stories, to help Shana understand Larry was not lying. She hadn’t needed their stories. She knew her dad wasn’t lying. He never lied. Shana looked back to Larry, to the man she had called ‘dad’ for her entire life. “Dad, what happens if I don’t like him? Or the time he lives in?”

Larry held his hands out to Shana. She took them. “You always have a life with me, Shana. Just because Bert wants to see you, doesn’t mean you have to live with him. He’s the one who said you have a choice. But you do need to give him a chance.”

“When?”

“We need to tell him that you know. Then he’ll meet you here. This is neutral ground. Once he’s met you, I think it would be best if you visited him. Spring break is a month away. I think you should stay with him for the week, finish school here, then live with him for the summer. It’s less disruptive of your school life that way. If you agree, of course.”

“Do I have to decide now?”

“No, honey. You don’t.”

“Ok. Can we go home now?”

“Yes. Let me pay the bill.”

She nodded, slipped out of the booth and went to the door. Shana crossed her arms and waited for Larry. Larry went to Mort and paid his tab.

“Do you know when Bert is coming back?”

“He’s in here once a week, usually on Saturday.”

It was Friday night. “I didn’t know he came in here that often.”

“He’s anxious. When do you want to bring Shana back?”

“I want to give her some time to think. I’ll be here next Saturday. A week from tomorrow. If Shana wants to come, she’ll come. If she doesn’t, I’ll talk to Bert and we’ll try to figure something out.”

“I’ll let him know.”

“Thanks, Mort.”

A soft voice spoke in Larry’s ear.

“Hey. Mind if I’m here when she meets her dad? You might need a friend.”

Larry looked to Jersey. He swallowed hard. “I…yes. But I don’t know when that’s happening.”

“Well, can I be here next Saturday?”

“I’d like that, but I might not be able to stay long.”

“I like your company. If you don’t mind the confession, I think about you when I’ not here.”

He blushed a little and she saw it, but didn’t ask. “I like your company, too. I’ll see you Saturday.”

Larry finished paying his tab, smiled to Jersey and left with Shana.

Mort looked after Larry, then looked back to Jersey once he was gone. “Be kind with that one.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I’m never anything but. I may have a rough exterior, but I know pain, Mort. I don’t mess with hearts.”

Mort nodded, then went to other customers to help them out. When he had a free moment, he wrote a note to Bert about the meet up. He sighed. The death of the Caveman had left a bitter taste in his mouth and put him on edge. He wasn’t sure anything was wrong, but something felt off. He hoped that getting Shana to her dad and her right time would set things right.

 

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Sometimes…

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.

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Mort Again

Mort stood behind the bar, hands on the top, thinking. The last patron had left for the night. Sometimes new people came through after midnight, but for the most part, no one came through between midnight and 8am. Most of the time, Mort was in bed by one and did not get up until nine. If a usual came in before he got up, they would serve themselves, and either leave a note with money, or stay until he was awake. Not everyone in the real world worked the day shift.

Terrance visited about a week ago, and the name Chauncy was still rattling around Mort’s head. He wanted to know who the man was. He talked to some of the regulars, this past week, and asked if anyone had heard of Chauncy. No one had. He also asked if anyone else came across someone English. They had not. Mort tried to put it out of his mind, but somehow, he couldn’t. The name whispered in his ear at night and came to him at odd moments, when no one else was around.

After a week of this, he knew he had to find out who the man was. He wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. Mort turned around to look at the liquor bottles, mostly for something new to look at. As he looked at all the bottles, he wondered if there was in fact a way to find out who Chuancy was, at the very least, when he came in. Oddly, almost every one that came in drank something different. Theo asked for whiskey, Selna asked for Screwdrivers, Terrance always drank coffee, black. Larry drank a dark beer, bottled.

Mort looked at each of the bottles and rattled off the regulars in his head. There were a few bottles he couldn’t identify, but it might be due to the regulars not coming in for a while. Mort stopped for a moment, cleared his mind and shook his head. He needed more time to think. He would sleep on it and try and get Chauncy out of his mind.

*****

It took three months for Mort to match up the regular with the alcohol they drank. As he did so, he had to wonder how all the alcohol came here. Before Lucy went away to have her baby, Mort tried to ask her questions about the bar: how was it powered, who dropped off the supplies, who wrote up the menu? The food menu was different every week. She said she didn’t know and told him he would probably never know as well. He left the questions alone and tried to forget about them.

The other thing that surprised him was the payment. Most of the customers were not from the same time. Some people shared the same decade, but not most. Everyone paid what was usual for their time. Each week, money disappeared, and supplies arrived. How was the supplier paying for the supplies if the money was not from the same era?

The questions continued, but Mort had no answers. He thought he was a little closer now, though. It turned out, the supplies were delivered every Saturday night, after he went to bed. He knew that because that was when the menu changed. That was the first question he answered, and he wondered why he didn’t notice it sooner.

He also had most of the drinks crossed off. There were three bottles he could not connect with anyone. One was an old bottle of wine; Mort didn’t remember opening it, but it was half full and had been for the past three months. The second was a bottle of some liquor he had never heard; it smelled like some sort of brandy. It has an old label, but the date on it was 4335. Old but very much in the future for Mort. The third was a bottle of clear liquid that had never been open. The label was in a language he couldn’t understand.

In the past three months, Mort wrote down what each customer asked for and drank. In the past three months, no one had asked for those three. He had the three bottles in front of him now, staring at them, as if their drinkers would appear in the bar.

Mort picked up each on and gave them each a long look. Once he looked at each one, he nodded, went to the storage room and came back with a pencil. He wrote down in a notebook that the clear liquid was full, and that the wine and amber liquors were both open. He then marked on the bottles with a very small line, how full the bottle was. Done, he admired his handy work, then placed the bottles back where they came from.

If Chauncy, or the supplier drank while here, he would be able to see the difference. As he went to bed that night, he wondered if Chauncy was the supplier. Mort wanted nothing more than to find out.

*****

The bottle of amber liquor was on the bar in front of Mort. He had thought about pouring himself and the customer that drank this beverage a glass before the person arrived, but Mort didn’t know how he drank it. It was late Saturday, or early Sunday, depending on your point of view. It took another month for Mort to confirm the supplier drank the amber liquor from the 4000s.

The marks showed that it was the only liquor being consumed, but it was not drank on a regular basis. The person seemed to only drink every couple of weeks. If Mort calculated correctly, this was the week the man would take a drink. As he pondered the drink, the door finally opened. A man in a lab coat walked through, but wasn’t looking Mort’s way. He was struggling with a box of supplies. The man set the wooden box on the floor, closed the door and turned.

The man saw Mort, blinked a couple times and laughed. “I thought someone would do this far sooner.”

“Chauncy?”

“Yes.” He moved forward and held his hand out. “And you’re Morton, the current bartender.”

Mort shook Chauncy’s hand and shook it. He smiled. “Pour you a drink?”

“Not until after I’m done. Since you’re up, will you help me?”

“Yes.”

Mort rounded the bar and went to the box Chauncy had carried in. Chauncy waited for him by the box. “I have one more outside the door. One moment.”

Mort nodded, and moved the box out of the way. He placed it on the bar close to the door. Once Chauncy was back with the other box, Mort held the door, then closed it when he could. In silence, they walked to the kitchen and started unloading the food. In one of the crates, there were copies of the new menu. Mort set those aside and collected the old ones.

With the food put away, Mort and Chauncy went out to the bar. Mort took his spot behind the bar and Chauncy sat near the bottle of liquor. They faced each other for a moment before Mort spoke.

“How do you like it?”

“Neat, in a snifter.”

“To warm the liquid.”

“Yes.”

Mort nodded, grabbed two glasses and set them down in front of Chauncy. “Mind if I join you?”

“By all means.”

“What are we drinking?” He started to pour.

“A very old, or very new for you, calvados. French apple brandy.”

Mort gave Chauncy a look. “I have so many questions.”

“I can’t answer all of them.”

A light came to Mort’s eyes. “But you can answer some, maybe?”

“The only way to know that is if you ask. If I can answer, I will. If it would harm the time stream, I will not.”

Mort nodded. “What year are you from?”

“Let’s start with you: what year are you from? That will help me understand how to answer your question.”

Mort frowned, but answered. “1500s. England.”

“I too, am from England, or what was known as England. I’m not able to tell you more, as that might harm the time line. Time is calculated different in my ‘when’ but in your time, it would be known as the 61st century.”

Mort gave Chauncy a strange look, as he tried not to laugh. “How in the world would telling me anything about your time change anything? Even if I went back to my time, no one would believe the things I say.”

“I understand that but there are people that come here from times close enough to mine to change things. I cannot allow that. I work for the Time Stream Constables. We know how fragile everything really is.”

“Why are there Time Stream Constables?”

“Because when time travel was invented, people weren’t as careful as they should have been.” He held up his hands. “I can’t say any more on that.”

Mort narrowed his eyes as a thought came to him. “You shouldn’t actually be here, should you?”

“No. This bar is against everything I work to uphold in my time.”

“Then why…?”

“Because some things are worth the risk.”

“What happens if your colleagues catch you?”

“If I’m walking through the door when then see me, I’ll come through and never return. If they somehow find out when I’m not going through, I will do what I can to come here.”

Mort nodded. “How do you pay for all this?”

He gave a sheepish look. “I know when the money changed from one time to other. I trade some of it or I sell it to historians.”

“And you’re not afraid to get caught?”

“I…” He took a deep breath. “I would rather not answer that question. I don’t exactly do things that are wise in order to not be caught.”

Mort nodded. “Don’t worry, Chauncy. You don’t have to answer.”

Chauncy took a sip of his calvados and sighed as the heat of the liquor warmed his esophagus.

“France is still around?”

A look of admiration reached Chauncy’s eyes. “Yes. A stubborn people, the French.”

“But England’s different?”

“Well, everything is different, but yes.”

Mort took a sip of the calvados. It was very good. He could almost taste the apples. He set his drink down and looked around the bar. “How did you know what we needed?”

“Almost every century in civilized time has bars and/or restaurants. It seemed like a good idea. Also, this place told me it what it wanted to be. I listened.”

“You found it?”

“I did. It was nothing like this when I found it. It was a work of love to transform it.”

“How long did it take?”

“Months, but only because I had to work my day job, too.”

Mort nodded. “How do you power this place?”

“There is a generator from my time in the room you can’t go into. And no, I won’t show you.”

“That’s fair. How about the alcohol? How do you know what we need?”

“I pay attention to the bottles, see what is low.”

“That’s not what I meant.” He frowned and looked away for a moment to think. “How do you know, for instance, that coffee would be a good idea. I’ve been told that is not a staple in most bars. Or how to you know someone would want raspberry vodka? That seems rather random.”

“The bar tells me.”

Mort nodded. “Of course. It is a bit odd to have knowledge appear where it was not before.”

“I rather enjoy it.” Chauncy played with his glass, rolling it in between the palms of his hands, warming the liquid.

“I thought it odd when it first happened to me. I know a few people who tolerate it, but almost hated it when they first came here.”

Chauncy looked surprised. “That is unfortunate. I’m not able to stop it, at any rate. That is a mechanic of the bar, and not something I did.”

“I understand.”

Chauncy gave a terse smile and took a sip of calvados. As he drank, Mort grabbed two other bottles and placed them in front of Chauncy.

“Do you know who drinks these?”

“You should know the wine. That was Lucy’s favorite.”

“She didn’t drink while I was here. Did you know she was pregnant?”

“Really? Is that why she left? I wondered.”

“She was pregnant for three years, until she went back to her own time. Then the pregnancy progressed normally.”

“Ah. Wonderful. Has she been back?”

“Once. She introduced her baby and then left. She hasn’t been back.”

“I supposed that happens sometimes. We don’t always need this place.”

“True.” They both fell silent as they contemplated his statement, then Mort tapped the top of the other bottle. “And this?”

“I bought that one about ten years ago. If no one is drinking it, I either bought the wrong thing, or the person it belongs to hasn’t stopped by yet.”

“Ten years is a long time on the outside.”

“Yes, well, this is a labor of love.”

“Chauncy, what happens when you die?” The man didn’t look old, but he didn’t look young either.

A whisper of an answer came to their minds and they knew that someone else would take Chauncy’s place when he did pass on. The two men drank in silence for a while, contemplating things. Mort understood that though the bar new he didn’t like odd bits of information coming to his mind, it would happen anyway. Chauncy was wondering about his death, then pushed that aside and asked Mort about the regulars. Mort gladly told Chauncy about the customers, passing on his favorite story of each. When they were almost done with the drinks, Chauncy looked to Mort.

“Anything else you want to ask?”

“I thought I would have more, but I only have one: May I visit with you again?”

“Of course, but please don’t tell anyone else about me. I would rather be anonymous.”

Mort raised his glass, which had one sip of alcohol left. Chauncy raised his glass as well. They both had the same amount left.

Mort touched his glass to Chauncy’s. “To the secrets of A Bar Called Always. May they stay secret as long as they need to, in order to keep us safe.”

Chauncy nodded and drank when Mort did. They finished their drinks, Chauncy took the money from the cash register, took his boxes and left for the week. Mort cleaned up the two glasses, straightened up for the night and closed the bar. It had been a good night, but he needed his rest. Though Sunday was a quiet day, there was always the possibility someone new would come in.

 

 

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Chauncy

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.

“Hello?”

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?”

“Jersey.”

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.”

She did.

“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.

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Larry again

Larry pushed open the door of A Bar Called Always and stepped through. It had been a year since his last visit. Each year since adopting Shana, he had come to the bar once a year. He tried for more often at first, but Shana took up so much of his time. He wanted to take care of her. She was eleven now, and bright. She asked so many questions, but oddly, not about her family. He told her once the was adopted, when she asked why she didn’t look like him. She said ok and let it be.

Now that she was old enough, he might have to tell her the truth, but he wasn’t sure how. The bar helped him to remember that her parents were from the future. It seemed so unreal. Sometimes, especially in the early morning hours before getting Shana ready for school and getting ready for work, he was able to tell himself that Shana was his own and wasn’t born in a bar with time travelers. On those mornings, he had to remind himself of the truth. On those mornings, he knew his trips to the bar were necessary.

Today was a month and eleven years from the day Shana came into his life. He would have a drink, talk to Mort, then go home and make dinner for Shana.

“Larry. Good to see you.”

He nodded to Mort. “Good to see you, too.” He frowned. “What’s that look on your face?”

“I have a message for you. Bert was in here a couple months ago. He’d like to meet his daughter.”

Larry hung his head, but nodded. He knew this day was coming. “When?”

“He wants to talk to you about that first. He’ll be here the third of next month. I told him you would be here today, but he wanted you to know he would be here.”

“Does he want me to bring Shana?”

Mort looked to Larry with a gentle look on his face. He had already answered the question, but he answered anyway. “Not yet. Wants to talk to you first.”

Larry shook his head. “Sorry. You said. My mind went away when you said he was here.”

“He was just as nervous as you look.”

“Did he say why he’s been away this long?”

Mort shook his head. “No. He’ll tell us when he sees us. He said it was a long story. Might want to find a babysitter for Shana, Larry. I don’t know how long you’ll be here that night.”

“I’ll figure something out.” He stood. “The third. What day of the week is that?”

“Friday night. He suggested the first, but when I saw what day it was, I suggested that Friday instead. Seemed like a better idea than the middle of the week.”

Larry nodded, then frowned. “Are times the same for me and him?”

“When he suggested setting a date, I wondered the same thing. There were a few people here that night. I asked them for the date and it was all the same, just not the same year.”

“Convenient.”

Mort laughed. “That it is.” He fell silent for a moment. Larry did not move, though he had stood from the stool. “Do you want a drink, Larry?”

“Well, that’s the problem: I want a drink. Rather badly, in fact. I’m just gathering my strength to push that thought aside and go home.”

“Have you told her yet of her birth parents?”

“No, but I’ll probably have to now.”

“Why don’t you wait until after you meet with Bert? Give her and you a couple more weeks of normalcy.”

“I think that’s a really good idea.” He stood tall. “Thanks, Mort. I’ll see you soon.”

Mort nodded and watched as Larry left the bar.

*****

It was the night of the third and Larry didn’t want to go. Shana was at a friend’s house, a sleepover birthday party. Larry didn’t like the girl holding it too much, but the parents were kind. He thought everything would be all right. He hoped anyway. He was pretty sure his cell phone didn’t work in the bar. Larry pushed his thoughts to the side and grabbed the door handle on his apartment. He needed to go. Shana deserved to know her birth father. With that thought in his head, he left the apartment and walked a few blocks. He turned into an out of the way alley and opened the door at the end that wasn’t really there.

The smell of food filled his nostrils. As that wasn’t the usual smell for A Bar Called Always, Larry frowned. He went in, closed the door and looked around. Mort was at the bar, eating a large burger. Sitting in a stool near him was a woman eating an equally large burger. Larry gave Mort a quizzical look.

“Larry! Good to see you. My friend Jersey dared me to make a burger bigger than her head. Now we’re eating the results. Or part of it anyway. Care for some?”

Larry gave Mort an odd look and shook his head. He walked closer. “Is he here?”

“Not yet. Do you want a drink?”

“Orange soda?”

“I have that. One moment.” He cleaned off his hands with a stray rag he grabbed from under the bar. Once his hands were clean, he grabbed a bottle of orange soda. “Glass?”

“No.” He sat near Jersey and smiled. She was about his age and was dressed in a similar way. “I’m Larry. 2028.”

“Bethany, but I here, I’m Jersey. 1996.”

He held out his hand. She took it.

“I was born in 1992.”

“Ha! So, you missed the punk era.”

“Yes, but it seems to be coming around again.”

“Good to know.” She gave him a smile, turned to her burger, then looked at him from the corner of her eye with a smile on her face. Larry sat up taller, then paid attention to his drink when Mort placed it in front of him.

The three talked for a bit, but Larry had a hard time concentrating. Jersey could tell he was distracted and nudged him when he didn’t answer her question.

“What’s wrong?”

“Hm? Sorry. Waiting on someone.”

“A girl?”

“No. It’s a long story.” He looked into her eyes. “Maybe I’ll tell you another time. I don’t think I can tonight.”

“All right. I get you.” She turned to Mort. “Well, I’m full. Mind if I take this with me to feed to the local homeless?”

“Go right ahead, but let me cut it up better and wrap it up.”

“Sure!”

He walked away and the door opened. Larry turned his head quickly and his breath caught as Bert walked in. Bert immediately saw him and came right over.

“I wasn’t sure I would see you.”

“I’d be lying if I told you I thought about staying away.” Larry fidgeted with the napkin to give his hands something to do.

Jersey looked over Larry’s shoulder to the strangely dressed man. “My name’s Jersey. 1996.”

“Bert. 2352.”

Her eyes went wide. “Woah. That’s crazy.”

“Not as crazy as the rest of my story.”

She looked to Larry and Bert. “I can leave if you want.”

“You’re headed out anyway, and we need our privacy. We’re going to take a booth.” Larry got off the stool, almost walked away then turned back to Jersey. “It was nice to meet you. I hope we run into each other again.”

She smiled. “I’d like that too. You have a great one.”

He nodded his thanks and went to a booth with Bert right behind him. Once they were settled, with drinks in front of them, Bert took a deep breath.

“I’m sure you’re wondering what took me so long.”

“Well, yeah, but I’m also curious as to whether or not you want Shana.”

“I do, but unless time is really different for us, she’s eleven, isn’t she?”

“Yeah.”

He nodded. “Well, then she may have to decide for herself what she wants, but that’s for the end of the story, not the start.”

“All right. So what the hell took you so long to come back?”

He looked taken aback by Larry’s anger, but he let it go and started his tale. “The war lasted five years after Shana gave birth and died. I was able to hide her body and buried her as she wanted, where she wanted. I was only in the war for two more years. An artillery shell exploded near me, threw me a few feet, into a wall. I hit my head hard and ended up with amnesia. I was taking out of the way, and sent home.

“My mother and father took care of me. They had enough money that we were safe. My mother’s father saw the war coming and helped the family to hide money well enough that no matter who won, we would still be on top.” He stopped and held up his hands. Larry looked pissed off. “Look, I know this might not seem relevant to the story, but it is. Please bear with me.”

Larry closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. “I’m sorry. I guess in some way, I want a quick answer.”

“There isn’t one.”

“I know. Life is rarely that easy.”

“True.” They gave each other understanding looks and Bert continued.

“So, we were comfortable, rich even, and my family hired the best doctors to try and get my memory to come back. There were machines and medications that could have helped me regain my memory quickly, but my mother refused. I only found out recently why.

“The years passed, with my parents trying to help me, and I just couldn’t remember my adult life. I remembered my parents and most of my childhood, but couldn’t remember anything for a few years before the war to when I was hit. My mother kept insisting that I would be fine eventually. Mother ran the household, not father.”

Larry nodded and took a drink of coffee, mostly to do something.

“Two years ago, my mother passed away. Things changed drastically after that. Father found doctors who would be willing to take another look at my brain to see if the drugs and machines could still work. The doctors told him that he had to tell me everything my mother may have missed, if there was anything. That’s when reminded me of Shana. Mother hated Shana from the very beginning. She was the one keeping us apart. My father tried to change her mind, but she stuck to her guns.

“When they found out I had amnesia, mother demanded father’s silence on it. As time passed, he understood it would probably help my memory to be told about her, but mother refused. Once she passed, father sat me down and told me about Shana. Then they gave me the drugs. I remembered her after that. All of it, almost sequentially. When I remembered her death and the birth of my daughter, I cried. I told my dad and he asked where his granddaughter was. I told her she was safe.

“It took a while for all that to come back. It wasn’t instantaneous.”

“Took about two years?”

“Yes. And now that I’m better and the war has been done a long time, I want to meet Shana. I want her to come for a visit.”

Larry frowned. “Visit?”

Bert gave Larry a very steady look. “She’s almost twelve. Do you think she wants to be forced into a new home?”

Larry opened his mouth, then closed it with a snap. He shook his head. “You’re her father.”

“No. You are. I may have supplied the genes, but you’ve been taking care of her all these years. She needs to make the decision.”

“Geez.” He leaned back in the bench. “This is crazy. Never in all my life did I think I would have to explain to an eleven-year-old that time travel is real and her father wants her to come home. I don’t even know how to do that. I’ve been trying to think of a away, but I have no idea how.”

A voice came from the end of the booth. “Why don’t you bring her here and tell her? I’ll back up the story.”

Larry looked to the side to see Mort. He was refilling Larry’s coffee. “I didn’t think I could. She’s not 21.”

“Pretty sure you’re not expecting me to serve her a drink, Larry. It’s fine. Bring her here to talk. Just let me know when and I can make sure Selna is also here, just in case. She comes in every Sunday night. Also, I would love to meet Shana again.”

“All right.” He wrung his hands and looked to Bert. “When do you want to meet her?”

“I’ll keep coming back, and I’ll ask Bert if you’ve talked to her. Once you have, we can set a meeting date.”

Larry sighed. Bert sounded so eager. “You would prefer sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course. Look, I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but you can’t imagine what I’m going through either. I want to see her, Larry. I want my daughter. Please.”

The ‘please’ did it. That word cut him to the core. Of course he would talk to Shana. Of course he would let Bert meet her. He just didn’t want to lose her. He sighed. “Of course. She’s your blood, Bert. I haven’t forgotten that.” Weary beyond words, Larry got up and left the booth. He stood at the end. “I’ll take care of this as soon as I can, Bert. I’ll come here and tell her. For now, I got go. Shana’s at a sleepover. I’m going for a long walk and a good cry. You have a good one. I’ll see you soon.”

He turned and left, walking quickly. Mort came to the booth and looked to Bert. Bert gave him a look.

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“He will. He came back every year to see if you visited, Bert. He knows what’s right. Even if it kills him, he’ll do what’s right.” There was a sadness in his voice.

Bert nodded, paid for the drinks and left. Mort stood there for a moment, wondering at his statement. He knew Larry would do the right thing, but he really didn’t know if Larry would survive another loss like that.

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Morton

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.”

“You hungry?”

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.

“Good food?”

“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.”

“I’m Lucy.”

“Mort.”

“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.”

“Thank you.”

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.

“Why me?”

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.”

“Why?”

“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.

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