Any hope that the tired and worn out exterior of the pub would not be replicated inside faded as Connie entered.
Although spacious there was a perpetual gloominess about the place. A few lights hung casually from the ceiling, the cracked glass coverings revealed dull yellowing bulbs. Black specks marked the final resting place of curious insects.
The murkiness of the bulb betrayed its main purpose and all that it could muster was to illuminate a constant stream of dust that seemed on an infinite loop round the mouldy yellow light.
To the right were a row of cubicles, three wooden benches adorned in tatty red leather enveloped tired looking tables. The gloom would not allow Connie to see as far as the furthest benches.
Further down the room a number of tables were haphazardly laid out and the chairs that surrounded them were not arranged in any particular order.
Towards the back were two doors side by side, Connie presumed these led to the toilets but there were no signs indicating which one was intended for Gentleman and which for Ladies. Connie doubted, given the decor, that this particular Pub was trailblazing with Gender Neutral facilities.
In the furthest corner was a pool table. The green velvet covering was scratched and it was unlikely a competitive game could be had with just three balls and one cue.
Connie followed the dark green carpet which in places was so worn away she could see the floorboards beneath. Stains sporadically embellished the carpet, some appeared of dubious nature but no doubt the origin of each stain was, in itself, an interesting tale.
There was a musky smell that immediately had filled Connie’s nostrils as she entered. It was as if she could smell every pint of beer ever supped in this establishment. The aroma was so heavy she had to swallow it down to allow herself to breathe normally.
To her left was the bar and there framed by the optics and beer taps stood the woman. She was illuminated by a neon branded sign advertising a beer that Connie was sure did not exist anymore.
The woman smiled and Connie made her way over to the bar and sat down on one of only two tall bar stools at the front of the expansive wooden bar.
The oak panel was deeply scored and down the entire length were dark rings from the many drinks that would have been placed upon the bar by careless customers and staff alike. They occurred all the way down the bar leading to what appeared to be a wooden box.
Connie squinted in the gloominess to see what that box was because it looked out of place. She was shaken by her surveillance of her surroundings by the woman slamming a glass onto the bar.
“So you’ve had a bad day?” asked the woman, pouring some amber liquid into the glass.
“Terrible” replied Connie
“Well this will make you feel better” said the woman sliding the half filled glass over to Connie.
Connie picked up the drink and took a tentative swig. There was a surprising potency to the liquid and she coughed a frisky ‘Wow!’
“It’s good stuff!” laughed the woman “I’m Heze by the way” (she pronounced it Haze).
“Connie” replied Connie still choking slightly on her drink.
Heze leaned on the bar and rested her chin on her hand “Well Connie tell me about this bad day you are having”
As Connie begun to tell Heze of all the annoyances she had to endure something peculiar happened.
A low hissing sound began to fill the room, then,faintly at first, the soft hum of music. This melodic interruption caused Connie to stop talking and seek out the source of the tune. She presumed that it was from a jukebox but a quick scan of the gloomy interior did not reveal one.
Listening intently she followed the tinny notes to the box at the end of the bar, the box that appeared so out of place when Connie had first seen it.
The music became louder and it was a familiar song to Connie, one that her parents used to listen to. She believed it was by The Beatles although she couldn’t remember the precise name of the song, John Lennon was singing about a Guru called Dave or something.
Heze who had been resting against the bar stood up straight and glanced towards the box then out at the cubicles opposite the bar.
From the gloomy shadows a man emerged and he walked slowly towards the musical cube as if he were in a trance. The presence of someone else being here had initially surprised Connie.
Both her and Heze watched as he took the box between his hands and started to examine it, lifting it up to study all four sides. He glanced up from the box and looked at Heze before his head snapped round to intently stare at Connie.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Connie” she replied nervously, the intensity to which he studied her made her feel uncomfortable.
“Connie? Do I know you?” he returned his attention to the box, looking it over once more before returning to Connie “Who are you?”
This man seemed confused and Connie presumed he was a regular in the pub that had just woken up after sleeping off a particular heavy night.
Connie was unsure how to respond to this individual. Indeed her only thought was how best to leave the pub. Her day was bad enough as it was and she could do without an altercation with some random drunk guy.
She watched nervously as his attention returned to the box. With the song still playing he wandered back to the cubicle, his apparent interest in Connie over. She followed him until he was consumed by the gloom, the only indication of his presence was the tinny tune that still played.
Connie spun back round to look at Heze who gave a forced smile “That’s the boss” she said with an embarrassed shrug.
Connie thought it was best she left and took one final swig of her drink and coughed her goodbyes.
“How much do I owe you?” she enquired.
Heze threw up her hands “On the house” she replied.
Connie expressed her gratitude once more and then walked towards the large wooden door.
“You can’t leave”
Connie spun round to witness the man emerge once more from the darkness, still cradling the musical box.
“I’m sorry?” replied Connie, trying to hide the anxiety that was building up inside her.
“You can’t leave. It’s not safe ” said the man.
Connie’s heart begun to pound as the realisation that her exit from this pub may not be an easy one. She shot a look over at Heze who was trying to get her bosses attention “Ryan. Ryan” she kept repeating.
“What do you mean it’s not safe?” asked Connie taking a step backwards further near the door.
“It’s not safe. You leave here. Bad things will happen.” continued Ryan.
Connie reached behind her, blindly grabbing at the handle. She stepped further back as Ryan approached.
“What bad things?” she asked , hoping that engaging him in conversation may distract him enough so she can make her exit.
“Terrible things. Horrid things. You are only safe here. You cannot leave” he said, there was a confused mania in the pattern of his voice which did little to calm the rising panic that Connie was feeling.
Her heart was racing and she inwardly gave a small sigh of relief when her she finally found the handle to the door. Although the music was still playing the sweetest sound Connie heard was of the door unlocking as she twisted the handle.
With her back still to the door she tugged at the handle and a comforting ray of light from the low afternoon sun shone through.
Her eyes were fixed on Ryan as she stepped back. She could feel the warmth of the sun on her leg. The unexpected breeze challenged the musky smell for dominance in the air. The dust that had dutifully followed its same infinite path now swirled around on a new chaotic route.
Ryan walked towards her still clutching the box muttering all manner of warnings about impending danger as Heze continued to try and attract his attention. All the while the song continued to provide the soundtrack to this weird encounter that left Connie feeling confused, frightened and clear she had to leave.
She spun round and completed her escape from the building, slamming the door behind her. The street was rather busy but rather seek comfort in a crowd her instincts told her to run. She turned and sprinted up the alleyway that ran alongside the pub.
She could hear the blood pumping in her ears as she sprinted along the alley. She looked back to see if either Ryan or Heze were pursuing her.
Such was her concentration of what might be behind her that she neglected to pay much attention to what was in front of her.
Had she done so she would have noticed two figures standing there. Although it would have been difficult to make out their features in the dullness of the alley she would at the very least had seen the glint of the knife that one held in their hand.
Different path. Same Conclusion.