The Student was quiet and morose because, well, he’d been dumped for a paratrooper.
The Drunkard was silent and sad because—well, I don’t honestly know; perhaps he was just going through one of his funks.
The Traveler was quiet and morose presumably because he’d stayed in one spot for too long.
The Writer was quiet and morose because—and he’d made a point of telling all of this when he sat down—his instructor had written “not your best effort,” on one of his hiccups of prose.
The Stalker was quiet and remorse be—well, he might not have been; the man’s face just didn’t change all that often.
I was quiet and morose because I had no idea why I kept being drugged and kidnapped by a shaddowy organization operating out of the Registry’s basement (or even if that was actually happening, and if not, then why was I going insane?); was going through one of my bouts of depression sparked by seeing too many happy couples; and was facing the sincere realization that I would have to start paying back my loans much sooner than I wished to.
The Flock was quiet that day. It was Saturday early afternoon, and being pleasant outside, most of the tourists had elected to roam around the streets rather than spend their time in low-lit pubs under the glow of rugby. That is, if there had been rugby on. There wasn’t. As such, the TVs were off and the music was on. Not the best atmosphere for the Flock’s usual clientele, and, thus, we were the only people in the pub aside from the landlord, who longingly stared out the window. I think he was trying to attract people inside by sending good vibes.
“Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. came on the speakers and a groan came from each and every person in the pub. The landlord clicked a remote a couple times, and the song switched to something more upbeat with a piano in the background.
“Son of a bitch,” said The Drunkard.
“Tell me about it,” said The Student, rubbing his eyes for the twelfth time before taking a drink of his bitter.
“Okay,” said The Traveler, “it seems we’re all a bit depressed for one reason or another.”
“Women,” said The Drunkard and The Student in chorus.
“Okay, women,” resumed The Traveler. “Fair enough. However, it’s Saturday, and none of us had anything better to do, so we’re meeting here to tell a story. Damn it. And someone will tell a story. Who’s up?”
We all looked at each other. A good amount of time felt like it had passed since the last one. “The Student went last,” I said.
The Student gave a slow, sad nod. “And it was possibly the worst thing we’ve had to deal with in our contest. I can’t do anything right, can I? Just one fucking failure after another. Know what my last paper got marked? A merit. It was called ‘good, but not as good as it could have been.’ How miserable is that?”
“Would you like me to put an end to your misery?” asked The Stalker.
The table, customarily, fell silent.
“I know ways,” The Stalker continued. “Many of them are quite painless. And quick. In fact, the only thing you might feel is the slightest prick, as if a mosquito were having its way with your arm.”
“What?” asked The Drunkard. “Did you just say ‘having its way with your arm?’ What is wrong with you?”
The Stalker slurped at his cider and The Traveler cleared his throat—while The Writer jotted all of this down in his notebook—no doubt to use in another hiccup addressed to his instructor. “Okay,” said The Traveler, “who wants to go?”
“Well,” said The Stalker, “by my accounts,” and here he pulled out a smart phone I hadn’t noticed before, tapped the screen a few times, and said, “it appears that The Drunkard has taken a second turn, as has The Writer, The Traveler, and The Student. Thus, the only two who have yet to go are The Narrator and myself. Narrator, have you any desire to tell your story?”
I did, if only to keep The Stalker from letting loose another depraved list consisting only of women’s addresses and phone numbers, but I had no idea of what sort of story to tell. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought of anything. I could—nope, nothing. “Eh,” I said, shrugging in what I thought was a nonchalant manner, “it’s fermenting like a fine, fine whiskey.”
The Drunkard snorted. “Sure.”
“Well,” said The Stalker, “then it seems as though it would fall unto me to regale the lot of you.”
“Scuse me, mates,” said the landlord.
We turned to look at him. He was leaning over the bar with a handtowel over his shoulder.
“It don’t seem as if there are going to be a whole lot of people coming in to the pub today, yeah?” he asked. “Mind if I come over there and join you? Proper dull back here.”
We looked at each other. Then a collective shrug. “Sure,” said The Traveller. “Come on over.”
The landlord grinned, walked around the bar, pulled up a chair, and sat down at the table. “Cheers mates. So, what’s the story about, then?”
“The story,” said The Stalker, “is one that has been brewing in my head for a while now. It is a story of a mismatched pair, of sorts. Adventure. A lost homeland. All of that good stuff. I am planning on turning this into something quite grand, you see.”
“What,” said The Drunkard, “is this when you’re not slobbering over nudie pictures on the internet?”
“I have all of the erotica I need, Drunkard, and most of it is provided by your mother.”
“Oh snap!” I yelled, jumping up and snapping my fingers on my right hand.
The table stared at me in silence. Judging. Condemning my outburst.
I cleared my throat. “Sorry.”
“Very well,” said The Stalker. “I call it: The Norseman and The Jew.”
The Writer snickered and laughed. “No,” he said, veritably chortling, “please, go on.”
“I know where you sleep,” said The Stalker.