Stranger Company

Without looking up he raised his index finger, motioning to no one in particular that his drink was empty. Within moments his glass was replaced with a full one. He was never kept waiting.

‘Thanks’

‘No problem Jack, you keep drinking ‘em, I keep pouring ‘em’

‘Thanks’

‘Anything else, while I’m here?’

‘Thanks’

The barman shrugged and retreated back to the other end of bar, shaking his head and feigning a need to clean something.

Jack drank deeply.

He liked it here, not much changed, and no one bothered him. The stool he sat on had started to wear a groove from his repeated use. It was as close to comfort as he was able to find. The lighting was kept low down in this end of the bar. Long ago he had noticed that each week it was slightly lower, almost imperceptibly, like they were trying to hide him from the other patrons. But this was his pub, so what could they do.

Each night had the same rhythm. Jack was first in and last out. Conversation flowed over him, he remained silent. He sat like forgotten sentinel, his only movement was to slowly raise and lower his right hand, touching his tankard to his lips. The only break to this routine was to order another drink. Sometimes people tried to sit in the seats adjacent to him, but they never stayed long. His ominous silence made them shift uncomfortably on their stools. He wasn’t rude, he wasn’t aggressive, Jack wasn’t anything. If they tried to engage him in conversation his considered, one word answers soon shut that down. They always finished their drink quickly and returned to the light at the other end of the bar.

It had become somewhat of a challenge between some of the regulars to try to coax more than a word of him. One night a man by the name of Terry, a self-proclaimed Big Deal Round These Parts, decided he’d be the one to sort the Jack problem. A jovial fat man by all appearances, Terry set his considerable weight on the stool next to Jack, clapped one hefty arm around him and bellowed loudly in his ear.

“Awight Jack, you old bastard’

Jack didn’t move, his face betraying no sign of comprehension. Terry bellowed again.

“I said, awight Jack, you stubborn ol’ bastard!’

Nothing. Terry looked towards the other end of the bar, the whole pub crowded round to witness his failure. Terry tried one last time, holding his hand over Jack’s arm in an attempt to stop the unrelenting ascent of his pint.

‘Stop it, Terry’

‘Leave the old bugger alone’

The crowd had started to turn. Jack remained unmoving. Terry’s brow furrowed, his face starting to show strain. The effort was too much for Terry and in his frustration he tried to knock the pint from Jack’s iron grip.  Terry gave up, his inflated barrel chest heaving, he began panting with the effort. As he turned back to the group, he slapped Jack on the back.

‘You’re a strong old bastard, ‘ey Jack?’

Terry’s slap achieved what Terry could not. Jack had released his vice grip as he began raising his drink once more. The force of the slap caused Jack to jerk and his beer went all over him. The crowd gasped, Terry was frozen with fear.

Jack turned his head towards Terry so slowly it was as if a mountain itself was changing position. Each juddering movement of his neck felt as if it were sending ripples around the pub. Each jerky movement was accompanied by the sound of cracking bones, as if the hull of an ancient ship was settling beneath the sea. His eyes glowed bright with a divine fury, his inescapable gaze capturing the attention of everyone it fell upon. As his gaze came to settle on Terry it was as if he was seeing him for the first time. Terry tried to speak but choked as the words tried to leave his throat, uttering only a low croak. Jack’s searing stare bored deep within him, transfixing him. The hunched, broken man of moments before was gone, in his place an incorporeal figure of pure hatred. Blazing eyes fixed on Terry’s piggy eyes.  Terry could do nothing but whimper held in place by that burning gaze.

‘Thanks’

As Jack turned back, the pub breathed again as the light from his eyes faded. The conversation rose as the tension abated. Jack seemed once again a harmless drunkard. As he returned to his statuesque position, another pint was waiting for him. He slowly raised his arm and drank deep.

A smile flicked across his face for the first time in centuries. Things were about to get interesting.

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