The Bloody Pub
Part 1 of 2
By Alanna Smith
My parents own The Bloody Pub. I know you’ve seen it—it’s in that crummy strip mall on the road between the police station and the old furniture warehouse, about two miles from the beach. The Pub takes up a double lot all the way at the end, next to the pizza place that Dad thinks is a front for the Mafia. The Pub looks pretty normal from the outside, with band flyers plastered to the window and the sign done up in fancy Celtic lettering.
That night, I was running late for my 8 o’clock shift. The sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon, but the early risers were already starting to arrive. They had clogged all the spaces in front of the Pub, so I had to swing my car into a space by the defunct laundromat. I jumped out, ran past the travel agency with its faded advertisements for the Bahamas, the locksmith, and Antony’s Deliteful Pizza before halting in front of the Pub’s dark wooden door. The silver knob shocked my hand gently as I slipped inside.
The interior vibe of the Pub doesn’t quite match its generic American exterior. A triple set of red velvet drapes smothers the big storefront window. The only lighting comes from neon beer signs, candles, and a dusty chandelier that my parents had shipped from Paris and retrofitted for electricity. Drops of candle wax cover the old maroon tablecloths, and tacky black-and-red striped wallpaper decorates the walls.
A few people waved as I strode to the back of the room. We mostly get regulars, so no one seemed annoyed that I was late. Fred Jaeger sat with his head plastered to the bar and Mike Doyle perched on a stool next to him, blinking sleep-bleared eyes. I hopped the counter, tossed my purse underneath, and donned my apron in a series of three swift, practiced movements. I turned to the guys as I tied the strings in a bow behind my back.
“What’ll it be tonight, gentlemen?”
Fred just snorted in his sleep, and Mike grinned. I flinched at the sight of his teeth. I always did, now.
Mike noticed, of course, and his sharp grin grew wider. “I’ll just have a glass of the regular,” he said. “And get us a cup of coffee for poor Freddy here. Long day in the shop today, and a full moon last night.”
I could feel Mike staring into my back as I opened the fridge and rooted through the messy collection of plastic bags and vials that Aaron was supposed to have organized the night before. Mike’s harmless, really, and Fred even more so—it wasn’t their fault that they gave me the creeps. I ran through the rules my parents drilled into my head three months ago when they gave me a job for my birthday: Keep smiling. The customer is always right—unless they try to bite. If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. And the big one, the hardest for me: don’t call anyone the f-word.
I located the right bag, uncapped it, and squeezed it into a glass, which I deposited in front of Mike.
“One pint universal, cold.”
Mike nodded in gratitude. I set an empty pot under the coffee machine, checked the grounds and filter, and then flipped the power switch. It would take a few minutes to brew, so I decided to pop into the kitchen.
“Charlie?” I called. “We’re running really low on O negative.”
His voice answered from inside the walk-in freezer. “Wish I could help, but I’m AB positive.”
“Very funny.” I hadn’t heard that one a million times before. “We are also out of AB positive, though. We’ll have to get some more before tomorrow.”
Charlie walked out of the freezer, wiping his hands on his apron. He left pale red smears on the white fabric as he frowned, wrinkling his big, bald forehead. “That’s odd,” he said. “I just donated two days ago. And there was almost no one here with the full moon last night.”
I shrugged. “Maybe someone accidentally tossed it with the expired stuff?”
Charlie shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like your parents, and you know Aaron always keeps away from your bar.”
“Where is he today?” I asked. “He should be taking orders already.”
The wrinkles in Charlie’s head deepened. “He called in sick an hour ago. Sounded awful, poor kid.”
I sighed. “Guess I’m on double duty tonight?”
“Guess so.” Charlie clapped his hands together. “I gotta get chopping. Big party coming in tonight. Pre-ordered eighteen ribeyes.”
He went back into the freezer as I departed the fluorescent white kitchen for the dimly lit dining room. I poured a cup of coffee and placed it in front of Fred as I surveyed the room. Hungry patrons occupied half a dozen tables already, and a glance at the calendar promised two more big parties in addition to “18 for Norbert.” I shoved a notepad and a much-gnawed pen into my apron.
Freaking Aaron…first time in two years that my parents took a weekend off, and we were understaffed. It was different when Clarissa was still around. She could bus tables, bartend, and babysit blindfolded—though that was only once, when we had a party of gorgon sisters come in. Thank God for Charlie. After the incident, I would’ve probably been doomed to spend the rest of my life under my parents’ protective gaze if it weren’t for him and his intimidating bulk. Not only was he a good bodyguard—he made the best damn onion rings on the Jersey shore, too.
For the most part, that night passed without any trouble. Only a minimal amount of steak juice sloshed onto my khakis. “18 for Norbert” was a boisterous W.A. group, celebrating someone’s hundredth full moon without incident—they emptied our Guinness reserves, but they left me a great tip. There was a lull in the flow of customers, as there normally is, around two in the morning. Mike and Fred had departed for the double feature at the drive-in and a bunch of the other regulars had moved to the back of the Pub for the pool tournament we hold every other Friday.
I had grabbed a broom from the back closet and was about to start sweeping when someone came in and sat at the bar. It was a dark-haired man around my dad’s age, handsome, but with a distant expression on his face and a scar on his chin. He wore black leather gloves—an odd fashion accessory for June on the shore, but I’ve seen stranger. The neon signs behind me glinted fire red and ice blue off the tinted glasses that hid his eyes, but I could tell that he was staring at me.
“Good evening, sir. Anything I can get you?”
“AB positive.” His voice was a cracked whisper.
I reached for the handle of the fridge, but stopped when I remembered my conversation with Charlie earlier. “We’re actually all out. I can get you some universal, if you’d like.”
He frowned, but nodded. “Yes. Warm.”
I grabbed an appropriate bag from the fridge, hooked it into the blood warmer, and set it for 98.6. After a minute and twenty seconds of awkward fidgeting, the blood finished dribbling into an extra large coffee mug.
He didn’t thank me; instead he grabbed the mug and drained it. One pint gone in a matter of six seconds. He passed the mug back to me. “More.”
I repeated the process. I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. My parents were always wary when patrons were so…thirsty. I was so distracted that I knocked a pewter beer stein onto the floor. It just barely missed my sandaled foot and dented the floor. Served me right for not wearing closed-toe shoes. I bent down to pick it up, and when I stood, the man was gone. The only trace of him was a dirty mug and a crumpled handful of dollar bills beside it.
As I reached for the money, something tugged me forward, as if the man had literally vanished into thin air and had left a vacuum in the space where he had sat. The sensation was disorienting and nauseating. It sent me running to the back of the restaurant, past the pool players, and into the bathroom. I splashed some water onto my forehead and then caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. All of the blood had drained from my face, leaving me looking like the ghost of Mr. Phillips, our old janitor who still drifts in most Sunday nights. My hands shook as I gathered my wavy hair off my sweaty face into a bun. I didn’t leave until the room had stopped spinning and my breathing had returned to normal.
The pool game was just wrapping up. It looked like Robbie McMillan was the winner of the tournament yet again. He’s a big guy with a sweet smile, but I could tell from the shadows under his eyes and his unkempt beard that the previous night’s moon had been rough for him.
“That’s six tourneys in a row,” he said as I chalked his name onto the board on the wall. “One more until I get my card, right?”
“Yep! Good job, man. You sure they’re not letting you win?”
He smiled, and his friends laughed and clapped him on the back. I really wanted Robbie to win his free-beer-for-a-year card. He has a tough life—most of our patrons do. I really feel for them. Well, most of them. The sucky ones could suck it, so to speak, and if they weren’t my family’s biggest source of income, I would be happy if I never had to breathe their polluted air again. The air they couldn’t even be bothered to breathe. Freaks.
I noticed that the party of Irish Selkie tourists had finally left. They had just swum up from Atlantic City that evening, and they left me a big mess along with the tip. I was just starting to mop the floor when the front door flew open and he strolled in. We get a handful of guys like him every month, sweeping in with black capes, or black leather jackets, or black eyeliner, or sometimes, all of them at once. This guy started coming in a few weeks ago; he always avoided the bar and chose to sit at table D6 in the corner. I called him Captain Guyliner in my head.
This night was different. The guy sat down at the centermost seat of the bar, draped his arm over the back of the chair, and watched me over his shoulder. Since all he was doing was staring, I took my time cleaning up the puddles of saltwater and plucking seaweed off the chairs.
I was trying so hard to not pay attention to him that I barely noticed when I put my foot down in the bucket of murky water. It was unpleasantly warm, but I still shivered when I saw him grin at me out of the corner of my eye. I stood crane-legged and used the bottom of my apron to wipe my foot dry. Then, red-faced with embarrassment, I pushed the mop and bucket back to the supply closet. My sandal squelched with every step.
When I got back behind the bar, Captain Guyliner was still staring, elbows propped up on the custom-made mahogany surface. I risked a glance at him while wiping my hands on a fresh dishrag. This one was cute—not all of them are—but his eye makeup was applied a little too thickly and I wanted to take a pair of garden shears to his bangs. With that sense of style, he had to be around my age. Eighteen or nineteen tops. That red stare caught me and held me: there was something strange about his scarlet eyes. And trust me. I’ve seen some pretty weird peepers.
I swallowed, throat suddenly dry. “…thirsty?”
He didn’t do anything except grin, so I tried again. “See anything you like?” I asked, gesturing to the rows of bottles behind me, but regretted my choice of words as his grin grew wider. “We’ve got plenty of stuff in the fridge, too.”
He moved his chin off his hand as he answered. “I don’t drink…blood.”
Oh great—a vegetarian with a line so old I could almost hear the cobwebs on it.
But he wasn’t done: “And even if I did, you’re not my type.”
That stung a bit—and made my stomach turn—but all I said was, “If you’re interested, we have comedy nights every Tuesday.”
He flipped his hair out of his eyes with a flick of his chin. “Just grab me a V-13.”
I opened the fridge and grabbed a can of V-13—thirteen essential vitamins, plus electrolytes too!—off the top shelf. It might be the world’s answer to the blood supply problem, but most customers said it was like substituting Natty Light for Dogfish Head. Not that I would know, of course. I slid it down the bar top to him and he caught it.
“So, Allie,” he said, opening his drink, “where are your parents off to this weekend?”
That startled me. Not the fact that he knew my name, which is embroidered in silver on my apron. No, the fact that he knew that my parents were gone.
“How—I mean, why do you ask?”
“I didn’t see their car outside,” he said, with a chin flick towards the door. “Old-school red punch buggy is pretty hard to miss.”
I nodded. “I’m glad you’ve been keeping tabs on what car my parents drive. That’s not creepy.”
He shrugged and continued. “Are they off antique-shopping again?”
“What would make you think that?” If this were one of the regulars, I wouldn’t mind the nosiness. But this guy was too familiar, too fast.
“I was talking to your dad about it last week. He said they were maybe going to head to upstate New York?”
Okay, slightly less creepy then. “Yeah, they went just for the weekend. To check out some estate sales and stuff. But me and the guys have a good handle on the place.”
“Why do your parents like antiques so much?”
“Well, they use them to decorate the Pub, obviously.” He looked interested, and since his cute outweighed his creepy, I went on. “And I think they want to start up a store. To help pay for my sister to go…to go to school.”
“Where does she go?”
“A little place in Pennsylvania.”
“Ahh, Pennsylvania.” He said it with an exaggerated fake accent. “Vat a vonderful place.”
I tried not to gag.
“Is that your sister?” He pointed at one of the photos hanging on the wall behind the bar.
It sat under several framed generations of my family, from my parents to great-great grandpa Albert, fresh off the boat. It had been taken almost eight years ago, when I was ten and Clarissa was halfway through high school. We sat between our parents on our front porch: Clarissa’s hair was the same color as our mom’s, orange as the jack-o-lantern at our feet. Mine was blond, like our dad’s. When I visited Clarissa for Easter, her face had been entirely hidden behind a wild mane of those red tangles. The nurses said that she wouldn’t let anyone close enough to her to brush it.
“Yeah, that’s her. That was a couple of Halloweens ago.”
“I see. You both made tasty-looking M&Ms. Especially your sister.”
My fists clenched at my side. “Don’t talk about Clarissa like that.” I tried to control my anger, I really did, but it slipped out anyway. “Freak.”
If he was surprised at me dropping the f-bomb, he did a good job at hiding it. “It’s funny,” he said. “Looking at where you work, it’s pretty easy to get under your skin.” He stood up and put a five-dollar bill on the bar. “I’ll be seeing you, Allie.”
The Pub closes at 4 o’clock on weekend mornings. By the time I shooed the last singing patrons out the door, I was dead on my feet. Figuratively.
After cleaning up, I knocked on the kitchen door to say goodbye to Charlie. There was no answer, so I pushed the door open and walked into deafening silence. It was odd, since Charlie always listens to Beethoven’s 5th while working. He insists that it keeps him awake.
“Charlie?” I peeked into the freezer. No one in there but four cows, in pieces. I continued down the short passage into the kitchen proper.
Charlie lay by the open dishwasher, white as the tiles beneath him. I thought that he was sleeping or meditating on the cool floor. It wouldn’t be the first time. The machine was filled with dirty dishes, so I stepped over his prostrate form to close it. That was when I felt something drip onto the back of my neck. I looked up to see a thin splattered line of red on the ceiling.
I looked at my chef again as an awful, cold numbness started to creep into my throat. He certainly wasn’t breathing, and his eyes stared up past the lighting fixture. There were raw gashes on his neck, but otherwise, Charlie’s big body was unmarked. He clenched a bloody steak knife in one fist. I knelt down and put two fingers on his still warm wrist. Nothing.
It was then that I noticed that the back door was open. Charlie never unlocked that door anymore. A delivery guy accidentally broke its protective ward, and my parents had never gotten around to replacing it. If it was open, anyone or anything could get in. I felt as if somebody had force-fed me battery acid. My stomach turned, and the burning paralysis of fear replaced the numbness that had begun to spread through my limbs. I inched toward the door, intending to slam it closed. A trail of red droplets led up to doorway, and in the darkness outside, something moved.
The room lurched as I spun away from Charlie’s body. The hallway seemed impossibly long as I ran, sandals slapping on the tile, and my mind made grotesque shapes out of the shadows when I reached the dining room. I halted in front of the office door, but my shaking fingers were unable to unclasp the chain from around my neck. Someone—something?—was moving in the kitchen. The steady stomp of deliberate, heavy footfalls leaked through the door. I bent down to the doorknob, forcing shaking hands to turn the heavy silver key that I always wore under my apron to unlock the door.
I stumbled into the office and slammed the iron door behind me; I threw all seven deadbolts and stood there, waiting. The footsteps got louder. The intruder was in the dining room now. My parents had a crossbow locked in their desk, but they didn’t trust me with that key. My phone was still tucked in my bag beneath the bar. The door was my only line of defense. My bladder threatened to fail me. I didn’t want to end up like Charlie. Or worse: like Clarissa.
The footsteps stopped right outside the door. The silver knob rattled, and then something screamed, long and high. It was followed by the breaking of glass, the crashing of furniture, and finally, after many long minutes, the muffled slamming of the back door.
I spent the rest of the night curled up in a ball under the desk.
In the morning, I had to move the body. I’d barely slept, so as soon as the sun peeked into the stained glass window of the office, I crawled out from under the desk. I undid the deadbolts and peered through the crack between the door and the iron door frame—the coast was clear. I slipped out and dashed to the kitchen.
I had a basic grasp of the protocol for this sort of situation—it was like the second lesson we had studied in health class—but I couldn’t remember the details of Charlie’s will, so I decided to err on the side of caution. I had a feeling that my parents would be pretty unhappy if they came back home to find that I had decapitated our chef, especially if he preferred a second chance.
Dragging Charlie into the freezer was much tougher than I’d anticipated. Standing, he was a mountain of a man; prone in rigor mortis on the floor, he was more like a glacier; icy to the touch, and slow to move. I tried to use a wooden spoon to pry the knife out of his fist. It was my only real clue as to who did this. The makeshift lever splintered and broke. I was much more successful with a pair of grill tongs and a can of olive oil. I wrapped the knife, which was now simultaneously sticky with blood and unpleasantly slick, in some wax paper, and went back to trying to pull Charlie across the floor. After ten minutes, I’d only managed to scoot Charlie across four rows of tiles, so I expedited the process by pouring a generous trail of extra virgin from his feet to the door of the freezer. Once he was inside, I threw the rusty bolt on the door and shoved a barstool under the handle.
I washed my hands in the industrial-sized sink and tried to form a coherent plan in my head. It was almost nine, which meant I had roughly twelve hours until sunset, when Charlie would start to reanimate as the Pub’s first undead chef.
END OF PART 1
About the Author:
Alanna Smith is a copywriter by day and an M.F.A. candidate at Emerson College by night. After receiving her B.A. in creative writing from Providence College, she moved to Nepal, where she spent nine months teaching English on a Fulbright grant. She’s been hooked on travel ever since, and uses her sometimes crazy adventures to inspire her writing. She currently lives in Boston with two harps, seven sets of D&D dice, and an entire display case of Han Solo memorabilia. Follow her on Instagram at alanna.travels.