Long centuries ago, when “The Wizard’s Saloon” had first been established, the population of its visitors, many but not all from Britain and the European nations on Earth, were illiterate, or read and spoke languages not native to the proprietor. The sign, a conical wizard’s hat mounted in a frame atop the roof, communicated very well across cultures and species just what sort of proprietorship was within its gray stone walls, and behind the large, oaken door, and stained glass windows.
Kyle Logan, a refugee from the realm of Nightmare, and a minor vassal of Dormammu before that, cautiously gripped the tarnished brass handle and pushed in. He looked human enough, just shy of six-foot tall, tangled brown hair draped over his forehead and ears, sharp green eyes scanning left and right looking for any hint of trouble, dressed in mismatched jacket and trousers (gray and brown didn’t go well together) over a wrinkled black t-shirt. His Air Jordan 13 Retro shoes were the only thing that was new, but only because he had stolen those last, having gotten lucky enough to materialize momentarily in a 1984 Los Angeles shoe store.
“Greetings, stranger.” The figure behind the bar at the other end of the room was almost a head taller than Kyle, but also three times as wide as the skinny youth. Amazingly, the body-length apron over the long-sleeved gingham shirt (because of the bar, Logan couldn’t see below his waist) managed to obscure the man’s abundant girth. “Welcome to the Wizard’s Saloon. Come for lodging or just a drink?”
The dark-haired man softly closed the door behind him and slowly absorbed his surroundings. He and what he assumed was the wizard were the only two people here. In its emptiness, the chamber with its multitude of round, pine tables and chairs within the saloon, walls lined with the same dark wood as the floor and the door he had just come through, was cavernous. There were padded chairs and sofas to the left near the stairs providing a more “homey” feel, with said-stairs presumably leading to the lodging of which the magician spoke. Kyle also saw that to the right of the bar was a doorway, perhaps to the kitchen or storage, and certainly to the back door.
He walked across the room toward the bar, avoiding the empty tables. Behind the long counter and behind the wizard, were bottles of every liquor he knew to exist, every potion, every beverage, and quite a few labels he didn’t recognize and couldn’t read.
Then he was up against the bar, still standing rather than taking one of the stools, eye to eye with the barkeep, seeing that behind the pale blue of his irises was a tinge of crimson.
“Beer, whatever you have on tap.” Kyle slipped slender fingers into the pocket of his threadbare gray polyester jacket and produced some coins, what he had managed to lift from a careless police inspector he had bumped into as the latter was rushing toward a conspicuous doorway on Baker Street in Victorian London.
“Coming right up.” The portly sorcerer turned, but not before eyeing the payment his customer had laid down, deftly retrieved a clean flagon, and filled it with a dark amber liquid, allowing a proper amount of foam to top off the drink. “Here you go.” He placed the mug in front of Kyle and slipped the coins into his pocket. “Now while you’re enjoying your beer, tell me why you’ve really come in this morning.”
Kyle took a sip and grimaced. Not beer, but a bitter ale, a bit too much lime for his taste. Wiping the remains from his lips with the back of his hand, he looked around again. “Business is terrible here. With your reputation, I’d have expected otherwise.”
“At seven on a Tuesday morning? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You don’t serve breakfast?”
“Breakfast crowd comes in after eight. Are you going to tell me what you really want? I know it’s not beer.”
“This isn’t even beer.”
“You said what I had on tap. If you wanted something else, you should have been more specific.”
Brushing unruly hair out of his eyes, he took a longer drink of the ale. It was slowly starting to grow on him, but it also made his stomach burn, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten for several days. Maybe breakfast wasn’t such a bad idea. Then again, he’d spent the last of his cash on his drink. “I don’t suppose you have a back door out of this place.”
“What’s wrong with the front one?”
“Don’t be obtuse, old man. You know what I mean.”
“Yes, indeed I do. Who’s looking for you?”
“The less you know, the better.”
“I don’t fear the likes of Nightmare, and Dormammu couldn’t care less about my wee pub on the edge of eternity.”
“He would if he knew I was here.”
“What makes you think he doesn’t?”
Kyle slammed his flagon down on the bar at the thought. Could the demonic lord of the Dark Dimension know his whereabouts? If so, why hadn’t he sent his horde of Mindless Ones to retrieve him? True, he was a minor slave, barely worth the notice, but Dormammu allowed no one to escape him. Bad for his reputation.
“Oh, don’t worry. He doesn’t. I just wanted to see how you’d react.” The wizard chuckled good-naturedly, like an old Grandpa with a taste for the macabre.
“I assume by the way you asked, you know about the back door.”
“The name ‘Wizard’s Saloon’ is spoken in hushed whispers across twelve realms, but I had to threaten to slit a few throats before the secret of the back door was revealed.”
“A neat trick for a man who doesn’t own a knife.”
“Who said anything about a knife?” Kyle lifted his left hand and claws like a cat’s abruptly extended, sharp as razor wire, and each two inches in length. He frowned in disappointment when the fat magician didn’t react.
“Using the back door comes at a price, and you, my friend, have just spent your last farthing. However, as I read you, you visited various destinations in time and space before arriving here. You could have hidden in any one of them.”
“My escape from Nightmare’s realm was through the dreams of several of his victims. I had no control over where or when I ended up, and I could stay just long enough to pick up the bare necessities, which are the clothes on my back and the coins you now have in your lint lined trouser pocket. I need some place more stable and secure.”
“Which is why you sought me out.”
“You aren’t waiting for the breakfast crowd. We are alone for a reason. You knew I was coming.”
“You’d have been disappointed in me if I didn’t.”
“Touché.” Kyle lifted the mug and finished the bitter ale, which by now was providing a warm and altogether false sense of safety and satisfaction.
“I do have a suggestion.”
“Servant? I was born into servitude in the Dark Dimension, and only after eons did I manage to slip out through Umar’s dreams, only to be captured by Nightmare. He had me dangling on his strings for a time, but really, if I can escape Dormammu, the minor master of slumber wasn’t expected to present much of a challenge.”
“It will only be for a little while. I promise that the hours will be long, the work will be excruciating, but the company will be fabulous. Anyone who is anyone ends up in the ‘Wizard’s Saloon’ sooner or later. Why you might even gain a reputation to be envied if you stay long enough.”
Kyle laced his fingers around his now empty flagon, looking at the derelict foam at the bottom. “I’ll think about it.”
# # #
Friday night was always jumping at “The Wizard’s Saloon,” the best cross-dimensional pub and inn at the edge of timespace. The old man tended bar himself, but he needed help when it was busy, and so pressed Asmodeus, Azazel, and Baal into service. Kzinti from the outer rim of known space, Eddorians, always on the lookout for agents of the Galactic Patrol, and Bugs taking a break from the military elite of the Terran Federation all favored this transtime demilitarized zone.
Sam played piano as always (Sam and his eighty-eights only showed up when needed), Signor Ferrari and Signor Ugarte sang, though horribly off key (the Wizard employed them more for their novelty value), and Sascha headed up the wait staff. This evening, his crew included a new member who had a tendency to scratch when annoyed, that is until the Russian Jew clipped his claws (don’t worry, they’ll grow back).
Dr. Stephen Strange looked up from his conversation with Mandrake as the waiter approached with their drinks. He nudged Harry Dresden to his left and gave a nod to Gandalf, Glinda, Morgan le Fay, and Tony Blake across the table.
Kyle perched the large, round tray on his forearm as he looked around at his customers. “Okay, who gets the Ambrosia?” He sighed as he laid down glasses of Butterbeer, Miruvor, Fizzy Lifting Drink, and Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. “Oh well,” he thought to himself, unsure if anyone he was currently serving was telepathic. “The tips are good.”
I wrote this for Thursday photo prompt: Sign #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. The idea is to use an image provided by Sue (not sure this one is one of her original photos) as the inspiration for crafting a poem, short story, or other creative work.
I don’t participate in these challenges as much as I used to, mainly because I’m busy writing, editing, submitting, and marketing (if you want to call it marketing) short stories for publication. However, I was reminded about how many of the tales I’ve written for such challenges have been turned into publishable material, so I thought I’d better keep in practice.
Oh, I stuffed this story with tons and tons of references, from the 1942 movie Casablanca to E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. The sharp-eyed reader will be able to pick out more of them, but because it’s obscure, you’ll probably miss Anthony “Tony” Blake from the 1973-74 TV show The Magician starring the late Bill Bixby.
And in case you recognized a few of the names, all of the beverages mentioned at the end of my story can be found here.