Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — anyone who’s accessible — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a noun. There’s your post title! Now write.
A work of fiction submitted for the prompt: Mad Libs
As my fellow students and I wrote down the last sentence of our sit-in examination, the winter break finally commences. Before I know it, I have boarded my train home, looking only white, freshly fallen snow outside the window. I can’t believe there will come a time for me when going home doesn’t seem to be a bad idea at all, considering all my persistence to study somewhere far away from it.
I was right; I should not have been deluded with the saying “There is no place like home” too soon. Luckily I have prepared myself in case my parents woke up on the wrong side of the bed again, having a go at each other as if it was inevitable since my childhood. “Old habits die hard” seem to be the one I should have kept in mind more before deciding to have a relaxing holiday at home. But this time, instead of only being able to try to block the sound by pushing my pillows to my ears, I grabbed my coat and sneaked out of the house for a walk.
Yet it was only relaxing for the first fifteen minutes of it as it started to snow heavily once I made it to the ye olde part of the town near the outskirts, closer to the hills with pine trees surrounding it. I rushed in to the nearest pub for warmth and shelter, waiting for the snowstorm to die down.
The place seemed old-fashioned–the walls and floors, even the tables and chairs are made of wood, some cracks found here and there–but the very piece that welcomes you will be a bronze statue of a sharp-looking bird with a long crest on its head, attached to the wall opposite to the main door. In its talon was written what I assume was the pub’s name: Bird of Prey.
As I was about to take my seat at the bar stool, the bartender put her hand up and said, “Show me your ID first, lad, I’m not getting into trouble making liquors for minors.”
“Oh, right,” I opened my wallet and let her see my ID, “just turned 18 last month. And I’m going to have just a cup of hot tea for starters, if you please.”
“Goodness, I just realized you’re covered in snow,” she immediately prepared the drink, “milk and sugar?”
“Yes, please. Two teaspoons of sugar, thank you.”
She handed me the warm cup of tea, and I took it gratefully. I encircled the cup with my hands, and brought it near to my face as I inhaled the warm, wakening smell. After three sips, I no longer shiver in cold, and I was able to have a clearer view of the pub’s interior. There were only a few people inside, talking in quiet murmurs, or playing darts at the other side of the room. One person, a man around his mid-50s, took the stool in the far corner of my left, sipping a pint of ale. It struck me how odd they dress, almost like they live almost a century ago. Nobody seem to mind people wearing hats indoors here, but it seemed that every man wears their tall hat very casually, accompanied with their long suits or striped jacket. Some of the ladies wore their hair like what I saw in my grandmother’s photo of her own grandmother. Even worse, I just noticed the lady bartender, currently getting more pints of beer for a table near the frosty window, sports what it seemed like a wound in her left chest, with stains of blood all over her apron. Hang on, all of them somehow had scars in different part of their bodies; strangulation marks, ripped sleeves with gashes, burnt marks.
Just as I was still trying to process everything in my head, the bartender went back behind the bar. She must have noticed how I turn slightly pale when she asked, “You alright, lad? Want me to get you something stronger?”
My silence provides her an answer as she said, “Ah, never been to our special themed nights around here, have you?”
Oh, I thought, “Oh, yes… Yes, that explains everything now. I should say, everyone went all out on theirs as much as yours. Looks almost as real, the gunshot wound you have there.”
“Thank you, it was a last-minute attempt when I found an old burnt apron and some red paint in the attic last night,” she smiled proudly, “never have guessed I would dress as Irene Portsmouth. Now she is the legend of the town.”
“I’m sorry, I have lived here since I was younger, but I have never heard of her,” I replied.
Her eyes widened, “are you sure you’re from around here, lad? Everyone in this town should know her story!”
“Oh, spare the boy, Jenny,” the man on the far corner of the stool interrupted, “not everyone in this town enjoys their history class like you do.”
“Well, everyone should at least learn something!” the bartender, Jenny, furiously raised her voice, “What do they teach in schools these days? Those power hungry bastards must have messed with the curriculum to make us all more compliant than we already are, simply because they firstly conditioned to make us so.”
“Now, now, we shouldn’t be surprised,” the man slowly made his way to sit next to me, “mind if I join you? I reckon Jenny would be more than willing to share you the story, and I would like to hear it again. Right, Jenny?”
Jenny sighed and nodded quickly before she fill up some more dark bitter for the man, and more tea for me. He smiled a very familiar smile, and I gestured with my hand for him to take his seat. Soon, Jenny returned, and she began the story.
“Irene Portsmouth was very vocal in promoting the ‘check-and-balances’ system even when the term wasn’t coined yet. She came from humble beginnings–her father was a teacher, her mother was a governess before marriage and obviously, they taught her well that she was accepted to university when it was hard for any to get one. I reckon it still is now in many places, but well, at that time, it was the government’s first attempt to recognize women’s rights for education. She was an impressive law student and was a part-time barmaid, as she needs to support herself for her study once her parents passed away. Her friends, John and Peter, started to meet up with her in the pub where she worked with for small drinks after classes, and there they would have a friendly conversation about things they learn. There, they also got the attention of the regulars. One of the issues the town had back then was the minimum involvement of townsfolk when it comes to local legislation, and even then, most people are not aware that they posses the rights to be involved in the process of law-making by the public hearings in the town hall every Wednesdays. That’s when Irene and her pals spotted an opportunity. They first brought it up in the pub. Naturally, it became the most discussed topic the day after.
“More and more people became aware of the public hearing hosted by the mayor, and more people are increasingly involved in the meetings. At first, it was only attended by landlords or barons, who of course opted only for conditions beneficial for them, and they damn right made sure the mayor maintain such circumstance. ‘After all, two heads is better than three, four, or twenty, would you say?’; you know, something that will keep the mayor off from migraines because of ‘too much work’. Now that students and commoners are attending the meetings, they are put to somehow a less favorable condition.
“Once, a corruption case against the mayor and a baron was revealed to the public and the authorities. The case was brought to court, and the local prosecutor, also a professor who has been aware of the case ever since Irene wrote a paper on it for his class, agreed to pursue the case and the final verdict deemed both the baron and mayor guilty. As you may have guessed, some of those people high up in this town aren’t too happy with this, and they came up with a distasteful scheme against Irene and her pals as well as the prosecutor. They trapped the prosecutor in an unlikely situation that made him lost his credibility. And as for Irene, John and Peter, they were found lifeless down in the well of the local pub they used to go to. The owner was fetching some water when he found blood in the pail instead. The three of them seemed to have been shot with a revolver, with Irene still wearing her apron. Her friends usually escort her back home after her shift ends.
“You see that bird statue attached to the wall? It was a tribute the pub owner and his wife made for Irene and her friends. Irene remarked once that there was a mythical bird called the Garuda, which resembles an eagle, an archenemy of a serpent-like creature called Naga, and that people should not let ‘snakes’ take over too much power, just like the bird fights the serpent. So he went to the wood carver–also a regular–and ordered him to make this work of art.
“Wow,” I took a sip of my tea again, “do they change the name of the pub for her too? To be the Bird of Prey?”
Jenny and the old man looked at each other and laughed. After calming herself, Jenny said, “Are you sure you’ve been living here for a while, laddie? N’ah, they changed it to ‘The Bloody Bartender’. Darker, but sounds more like a pub name and it attracts more people. The Bird of Prey thing was the idea of the carver.”
“But the name does carry a message,” the old man said, “some people cower out and never talk about the incident anymore. But some were angered, so they kept the tradition. More students and locals hang in the pub to discuss stuff that matters. Well, at least, when I was a young man, exhausted after a day’s work at the farm. Boy, I miss those days when there’s a better way to understand the news.”
“Yeah, I reckon it’ll help me loads with my studies,” I told them, “I’m a politics students, and I learn nothing but the covertly shared perception that power-sharing is still a myth.”
“You study politics?” the man said, “why, Jenny here is studying the same thing.”
Jenny didn’t seem to like the fact that the man shared the information, “Yeah, well, that’s a long time ago. I’m just gonna be that lass–always the bartender, never the graduate. Well, at least, I’m not found dead in the well like Irene Portsmouth… oh, look, the storm died down, and it’s about time to close. Last orders, ladies and gentlemen!”
On that note, I bid farewell to the old man and Jenny for their story and hospitality. At least now I am not too distressed about my decision of going back home. I got an interesting story, albeit depressing, and now I know a place to go whenever my parents are having a row with each other.
Sadly, that thought was short-lived. I found no such pub called “The Bloody Bartender” (I even tried “Bird of Prey) the next day I went to the old town. When I asked Dad about it, he said the pub was closed years ago after a blizzard buries down the the west part of the outskirts exactly where it is located. He said my grandparents used to visit the pub quite often as students, and the pub also had theme nights every Wednesday. The locals decided to build a new tavern closer to the center of the town instead of reconstructing the pub in the same place since it is too close to the hills.
He never heard of Irene Portsmouth.