I found myself down at The Sub-Pope’s Flock the next day, amongst my group as we sat in silence, waiting for someone to volunteer to go next. It appeared that the Muse had decided to go on vacation. Outside, rain pelted people, the wind blew, and the bells of the cathedral rang, echoing across the city. There were a few people aside from us inside the pub. Most of them were older and looked like they had literally nothing to do with their lives but sit around and drink in their waking hours. Ah, the glories of retirement.
“I could tell another story,” said The Writer. He was wearing a blue-and-white checkered shirt and some light jeans. It looked like he was trying to appear down-to-earth.
“No,” we said in chorus.
Another few minutes passed. We sat in silence. I looked at the ceiling, trying to see if maybe I could come up with a prompt for a story by the way the wood rafters bulged out in some places and sunk in others. The Tale of the Wooden Rafter, or, Four Centuries of Propping up a wall. Jesus, I was falling asleep just thinking of the title.
The Writer watched us. I presumed that, since a) he’d already told his story, b) he’d had a pot and a half of coffee that morning, and c) he wasn’t staring at a computer screen, he had plenty of ideas to pass around. New Yorker kind of stuff. The sort of stuff that distinctly lacked exploding spaceships flown by pilots blind to what was in front of them. He sipped from a pint of bitter and grinned as the silence continued.
The Student stared, slightly cockeyed, at the top of the table. His wristwatch ticked away the seconds. He absently checked his cell phone, pressed a few buttons, sighed, and put it back down. He drummed his fingers. “Ah!” he said, raising a finger in the air. Everyone turned and looked at him as his face fell and he said, “Wait, no. That’s incredibly stupid.” He grew conscious that we were staring at him and he said, “Brief idea of a story about talking furniture. Sorry, guys.” He took a sip from his coffee.
The Drunkard grinned. The grin of an office worker that says, “Why yes, I’ve already done my work. Perhaps you should have as well instead of sitting around talking about TV shows at the beginning of the day.” He had a whiskey. The ice had melted and the whiskey turned slightly more translucent.
The Stalker, who hadn’t spoken since we arrived, didn’t even make the usual effort to unnerve us. I guess that The Drunkard’s words at Hanukkah had more of an effect than we thought.
“Hey,” I said, “Stalker, how about you?”
“What,” said The Drunkard.
“No,” said The Stalker. “I think I’ll pass for now. Not, ah, feeling it at the moment.”
The Drunkard shrugged.
As I said, I wasn’t about to tell a story. I had no idea what I could do, what it would be about, what sorts of characters I’d use other than people sitting in a bar. (Unless I had some odd experience recently, my imagination tended to short out.)
“Well,” said The Traveler, “I think I might have one.”
We straightened up in our chairs. “Oh?” I asked.
“It’s not genre fiction, is it?” asked The Writer. “I mean, really, guys. It’s not hard to translate real life into fiction, and you might just learn something about yourself instead of wasting time.”
The Drunkard dipped a couple fingers into his whiskey and flicked them at The Writer. “Jack Daniel’s purifies you.” He did it again. “You are saved, brother. Go. Enjoy a good Star Wars novel.”
The Writer grunted.
“Please,” said The Student, “go on. I have to be out of here by five to call Rebecca, and it’s already two.”
The Drunkard snorted. “Whipped.”
“Look, just because I have the common sense to go after women who value a relationship and not... whatever it is your flatmates do.”
The Drunkard shot out of his chair and grabbed The Student by his collar. “What are you tr—”
“Hey!” I said, pounding the table. “Story time!”
The two sat down. The Drunkard glared at The Student some more.
“Okay,” I said. I gestured to The Traveler. “Sir.”
The Traveler cleared his throat. He cracked his knuckles and his neck. Apparently, storytelling was a physical thing. “All right. I call this, ‘The Piranha Plant.’”
“What,” said The Drunkard.
“Just hear me out,” said The Traveler.