This story came from another awesome Chuck Wendig challenge. I fear I might have a slight obsession with this bearded author's blog posts. I love them! The challenge was to make up a drink and make it the source of our story. One day, I plan on trying to make this.... minus the part where I die of course!
The bartender is a beautiful, elegant creature. It’s hard to tell if it’s a woman or man, but its moves are flawless and graceful, as if they are gliding across the floor. Its face is cherub-like and calms my nerves.
The creature looks at me and smiles, mixing a drink I didn’t order. I watch it, curiously, as it pours the drink into a highball glass. It sets it in front of me, holds up a small, round, gold orb to show me and drops it into my drink.
“What is this?”
“Fate, my friend.”
The voice beside me startles me. As far as I knew, I was alone at the bar. The voice came from a figure in a dark hood. His boney hands are stretched and so white they’re transparent. He’s holding a drink, something pale orange in color that I can only assume is bourbon.
“Fate, huh? What’s in it?”
The hooded figure turns toward me. “Isn’t it obvious, Stewart? Take a drink.”
I slowly lift the glass to my lips and taste the concoction. It’s sweet at first, a taste of honey and creaminess. Slowly, cinnamon hits the back of my throat and its hot and spicy. The combination reminds me of a cold winter’s night in front of a fire. It’s delicious and I take another sip, bigger this time.
“Stewart, do you notice the golden orb sitting at the bottom of the glass?”
I stop drinking and hold the glass up. I nod and go to take another drink. Right now, I just want more; I could care less about that orb. It must add to the flavor.
“That orb holds the answer to where you’ll spend eternity. The moment the drink is finished, you’ll find out if you’re going to Heaven or Hell.”
I stop drinking and spit what I have in my mouth back into the glass. “What? You can’t be serious!” I look around the bar. “What is this place and who the Hell are you? How do you know my name?”
The hooded figure sighs, “Geez Stewart, it seems I have to spell out everything for you. I’m Death. You died and you’re now in Purgatory.”
My eyes go wide, “I died? How? What about my wife and children? Are they ok?”
“You were in a car accident. A drunk driver hit you. You’re wife and children are fine. Considering they never saw you, they weren’t in the car with you.”
“Never saw me? Are you kidding me? I lived with them and saw them every night!” I reach for my drink to take another sip and stop. There’s no way I want this drink to be finished.
“Don’t try fighting it, Stewart. You can’t baby this one. You will finish it.”
As he says this, the sweet elixir calls to me and I willingly take a sip. The cinnamon is dancing on my lips and I want more.
The hooded figure takes a sip of his drink. “Be honest with yourself, Stewart. Did you really see them?”
I think about it for a second, my hand reaching for my drink. “I mean, sure. I made sure to be home every night for dinner.”
“Where did you go when you got home?”
I feel my face scrunch, “The living room. To my chair to watch some T.V. Why?”
“Where was your wife?”
“I don’t know, the kitchen, I guess. Cooking dinner.”
“Did you kiss her hello when you came home?”
My mouth drops open. “Er… I mean, not every time.”
“Where were your children?”
“In their rooms, playing video games or something. Look, they knew that when I came home, it was my quiet time.” Annoyed, I take another sip.
“Stewart, why wouldn’t you kiss your wife hello? Didn’t you love her?”
“Of course I do! She knows…uh, knew that!”
“Why didn’t you want to know about your children?” Death takes another sip of his drink.
“How fucking dare you assume that. You don’t even know me.” My hand is grasping the glass now, calling me. My throat is starting to burn for it. I take another hesitant sip. It’s already reaching the halfway point.
“I don’t assume this, Stewart. I know everything about you but do you know yourself? Did you know how your wife felt every time you came home? Did you know that your children didn’t even care that you were home? No, you didn’t because you were too busy sitting in your chair, watching T.V. They weren’t allowed to talk to you when you came home.”
“That’s not true!” I protest, “It’s just, I didn’t want to hear about all the stuff I had to do after working all day. I just wanted to relax. My wife, she can be a nag sometimes. I know what I have to do; I just have…had no time to do it.”
“A nag? How?”
I take another sip, the creaminess coating my tongue. “She just never seemed happy. There was always something wrong with the kids or the house. I didn’t put my dishes in the washer or my clothes in the hamper. I left a towel on the floor, always something stupid. She didn’t need to work with the money I made, so, her job is to take care of the house and kids. Simple. Why should I have to do all that?”
Death shakes his head. “That is a very selfish thing to say, Stewart. Listen to yourself.”
He sighs, “Why did you marry your wife? Because she was someone you saw as a partner for the rest of your life, your better half and soul mate, correct?”
I nod, not looking at him.
“Then why would you treat the other half of your soul as a servant? You knew what was bothering her, yet you ignored it because you felt it wasn’t your ‘job’. She wasn’t given to you as a replacement mother. She asked you to do little things to help her, just as she did little things to help you, and you spit in her face when you refused.”
Tears threaten as his words sank in. I never thought of it that way. As I take another sip, the whiskey tastes strong, burning my throat. I deserve that pain.
“Now, about your kids…”
I shake my head, begging. “Please…”
Death continues, “Your kids, they didn’t even know you. Did you know that Tommy wants to learn how to throw a ball? He is being bullied at school for not being able to throw in P.E. class. And Lilly? She’s talking to a boy who is a few grades above her, who wants to get physical with her. With her dad being so distant, she’s looking for male attention in the wrong places.”
“Enough!” I slam my fists onto the bar, “Stop! Please! I didn’t know!” The tears spill over and I whimper, “I didn’t know…” I take a gulp this time, begging for the burn again. The drink grants me my wish and I choke on the cinnamon. I cough and wipe my mouth. I don’t want to think about what I’m leaving behind. What is my wife going to do for money? What’s going to happen to my kids, now?
“I failed, didn’t I, Death? I didn’t deserve my family and they deserve better. Do you know what’s going to happen with them now that I’m gone?”
“Yes. You’re wife has been having an affair with a father at the PTA meetings she begged you to go to. She will marry him. Tommy and Lilly will be fine, now that they have a father figure.”
I glare at Death, “Way to twist the knife in my chest.” I look down at the glass, bitterly. I only have a few sips left until my Fate is determined. I’m ready for it to be over with. “I knew she was seeing someone and I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t want to believe it.”
I feel my body start to relax, the alcohol is setting in. My head is swimming and my eyes are starting to drop. The cherub bartender pours another glass for Death.
“What would you do if you had another chance, Stewart?”
“Are you fucking with me right now? Is there a possibility to get a second chance?”
Death shrugs, “I’ve never seen one. I’m just curious, I suppose. So,” he takes a drink, “what would you do?”
“I don’t know. Would I know what I do now?”
“Let’s say, no. Let’s say you were to go back with just the knowledge that your wife and children are unhappy with you.”
“Well,” I take a drink… only two to go. “If the only thing I knew is that my wife is upset with me, I’d ask her why. Truthfully, I know she’d say ‘nothing’ and I’d just go about my business. If my kids are upset with me, then I’d shrug that off.” Death turns to me and I shrug, “I’m just being honest. I know how I am and if I wouldn’t get into it with them. If I know what I know now, well, then I’d try my best to be a better father, a more loving husband. I just hope I wouldn’t fall back into that mindset again, which I probably would. It’s not something that would change overnight.”
Death is quiet for the moment and takes another drink. “That’s a very honest answer, Stewart. Most people would’ve said how they would bring flowers home every day and live that picture perfect life. But you? You realize that you’re human and that you are bound to screw things up. That’s good. Everyone screws things up.”
I roll my eyes, “I never claimed to be perfect. Those people are full of shit. Movies and storybooks make people think it happens like that. But I know life’s no fairy tale.” I take another drink, just one more left. These last few drinks have been sweeter and tastier. I lick my lips; at least Purgatory serves a good drink for reliving your life’s mistakes.
Death chuckles, “It sure isn’t.” He finishes his drink and stands up. “Are you ready Stewart? It’s time.”
I look at the last bit of my drink. The golden orb is shaking in anticipation. I look closer and realize it’s not the orb but my hand that’s shaking. I take a deep breath, and drink the last bit. The orb starts to glow, and cracks along the outer shell. I close my eyes and say a prayer.
“Please, I pray, protect my wife and children. Let them know how much I loved them, even if I didn’t show them enough. Let them find happiness and remember only the good I tried to do.” Tears stream down my face and I can’t seem to open my eyes.
Death’s voice sounds surprised and I can no longer bear to not look. The orb is green.
“What? What does that mean?” My stomach flips.
“It seems, it is not your time after all.” He turns to me, “It seems as though you’re lucky enough to get that second chance. God thinks you deserve it. Take what you’ve learned from here and stop being selfish. Cherish the time you have with your wife and children. They are the extension of your soul, after all. Not everyone is blessed with the gifts you’ve been given.” Death takes the green orb from my cup and presses it into my palm. He nods to me before turning from the bar, leaving me with my world resting in the palm of my hand.