Music Is The Brandy Of The Damned

Music Is The Brandy Of The Damned

A Story by J.P. Paradise
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Shopping is hell...

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I loathe shopping. I especially loathe shopping on a cold, wet Saturday morning when the world and his wife have the same idea. My wife thought it was a great time to go. 

“No-one will be out in this,” she had said.

Clearly, this statement had been made in every household for miles around; the entire populations of local villages and the suburbs seemed to have poured into the town centre. It should have been evident it was a bad idea on the way in; you never normally have to queue from the edge of town. There had been a tense thirty-five minutes trying to find somewhere to park, thirty-four of which we spent bickering. We eventually parked in a street half a mile from the centre and the walk through the rain just made arguing louder as we struggled to talk over the wind and each other. Another half an hour fighting against the tide of humanity as we attempted to navigate from shop to shop had pushed us to the brink of divorce. The better half, seeing the way things were going, dismissed me from duty and told me to be back at the car by two. To be honest, this shopping malarky had been my idea of hell on earth, so I was glad to turn my back on it and head somewhere quiet for a pint and a read of the paper. I was tired, chilled to the marrow, suffering from post-shopping stress disorder and badly needed a drink.

As I headed away from the centre it became less and less crowded the further I went. I didn’t really have a destination in mind, just one of the quiet little pubs you find down the backstreets. And then I came to an abrupt halt. You know those moments, when you’re so familiar with a place that you could navigate it blindfolded, but then notice something you’ve never seen before and can’t understand how you missed it? Well, I was having one of those moments.

It was called The Faustian Pact; a tiny public house squeezed between the pet shop and the funeral director. I must have walked this street a hundred times or more yet this was the first time I had ever noticed it. It nestled almost invisibly between the other properties, yet had the appearance of always having been there. It looked old and tired, but not neglected. The sign swung violently yet silently in the wind, its paint faded but not peeling. It was an image of an old man, grinning slyly as he proffered a scribbled parchment and a quill. The windows were of leaded glass, marbled and distorted but I could make out a warm glow within. I shivered; I needed that warmth. I pushed the heavy, black door open and stepped inside.

It was darker than I expected; one of those olde worlde pubs: all wood, nooks and snugs. A fire blazed in the hearth, weak lamps glowed from behind stained shades. I was the only customer, that I could see, which surprised me. It appeared a local’s pub, as if it should be half full of old men bent over their pints and papers, the kind of place that falls silent when a stranger walks in. I made my way to the bar. There were a couple of draught beer tap handles, the brass and wood tarnished with use, pump clips proudly declaring their wares. There were none of the usual keg taps or widget devices for ultra-cold Guinness, or any of the other gadgets that adorn the bars of modern pubs. Behind the bar, groaning under the weight of old bottles, were a couple of shelves that looked as though expenses did not stretch to a cleaner. A thick layer of dust coated shelves and bottles alike. Dark glass and faded labels on the bottles made it impossible to identify the contents. There were no optics, no chiller cabinets full of alco-pops or overpriced water. There were not even any crisps or nuts. I wasn’t sure if I’d stepped back in time or strayed onto a film set. And then, in the words of Mr Benn, as if by magic the shopkeeper appeared. Or rather the barman. One moment he hadn’t been there, the next he was.

“What can I do for you, sir?” he enquired in a mellow voice. He was of an indeterminate age, probably younger than he looked but older than one imagined. He had noticeably receding grey hair, a white beard without moustache, a nose large and pinched, and eyes that seemed more alive than they had any right to be. He smiled politely and awaited my response. The room temperature was perfect but I was still chilled from outside. 

“To be honest, I could do with something hot and alcoholic,” I replied. “A hot whisky perhaps? I guess I’m pushing my luck with mulled wine?”

“I believe I have something that will do the trick very nicely, sir.” He turned, took a bottle from the lower shelf, eased out the stopper with an audible pop, and poured a small measure into a shot glass. He placed the glass on the counter and pushed it towards me, but did not take his hand away. “A word to the wise, sir. This will be like no other drink you’ve had before. Savour it; it is something not to be rushed.”

Now, I like to think I’m a man of the world. I’ve tried drinks with worms in, drinks with scorpions in, drinks with reptiles in, drinks that have been served on fire, drinks that have your stomach screaming for mercy. I seriously doubted the barman’s claim but held my tongue and placed a tenner on the counter. He released the glass and I picked it up, inspecting the contents. It was colourless, yet seemed to shimmer and shift in what light there was. I sniffed it; odourless. I put it to my lips - 

“Careful now, sir,” the barman warned.

I snorted, knocked it back in one and braced myself for the shock. There was none. It tasted of…nothing. I would have said I had just downed a shot of water but the texture was all wrong. It was thick, syrupy, flowed like liquid velvet and seemed as non-alcoholic a drink as one could get. I was about to have a go at the barman and ask him what he was playing at when it started. The warmth began in the pit of my stomach and spread rapidly outwards. I could feel it rising up through my chest and down into my legs. It spread out along my outstretched arms as I held my hands up in front of me, staring at my fingers as though I could see the heat physically travelling through each of them in turn. My feet, which normally go cold in November and don’t warm up again until April, now felt positively toasty. I began to say to the barman how amazing it was but he just raised a finger to his lips and bade me be silent. And then the music started.

At first I could not work out where it was coming from. I had not noticed a jukebox and no music had been playing when I came in. There was no radio, or CD player behind the bar, at least not one that I could see. The barman smiled benignly and I realised that the music was coming from within me. I do not know how, but it seemed to course through me. It was not so much that I could hear the music as that I could feel it; I was the music - it was my blood, my breath. And such music! It was like nothing that I had ever heard before. It was as though the entire output of all the great composers had been woven together, sung by the angelic host, and distilled into a liquor. I had no idea how much a measure of this stuff cost but I immediately wanted more. I pulled out another tenner and slapped it down on the bar, despite the first one still lying there. The barman shook his head. “Patience, sir. Enjoy the moment.” I was enjoying the moment and I did not want it to stop. I could already feel the music starting to fade and the warmth retreating back towards my core.

“Again,” I said, waggling the glass at him. His apparent good humour slipped momentarily and a worried look crossed his face, before the smile reappeared.

“Very well, sir, but I must warn you that this will be it. This drink is more powerful than absinthe and more addictive than  opium.”

In reply I merely thumped the shot glass on the counter. The barman, with a great deal of reluctance, poured another measure and this time I could hear it sing as it flowed. I tipped it straight back; the effect was instant this time. I felt like one of those Ready-Brek kids, but one that was standing in the middle of all the world’s most renowned orchestras and choirs all playing and singing in unison and perfect harmony.

“More,” I demanded, throwing a twenty on the counter.

The barman shook his head. “I’m afraid to say that you’ve had enough, sir. I did say it is very addictive.”

“More!” I yelled, suddenly enraged.

“Sir, this is a very special drink. I cannot permit you to abuse it like this. There is a very heavy price to pay.”

“How much do you want?” I snarled, emptying my wallet, including credit cards, into a small pile. I threw in my car keys for good measure. The wife would kill me but we could always get another car. I was not sure how we would get home but, to be honest, I was not thinking straight. “Is this enough?”

“That is not what I meant, sir.”

“Just give me the bottle,” I snapped, leaning over the bar and snatching it from him. “I reckon this lot covers it.” I gestured to the pile of cash, cards and keys. The barman reached for the bottle but I turned away from him, dispensed with the niceties of a glass and drank directly from the bottle. I felt euphoric. I swigged again. I was alive, delirious with pleasure. I raised the bottle once more; a drop or two fell onto my tongue but no more. “Another!” I clutched the bottle by the neck and waved it aggressively at the barman.

“There is no more, sir.” He came round from behind the bar, gently took me by the arm and tried to guide me towards the door. I resisted. He looked, by turns, frightened, sad, and disappointed, as though I had let him down somehow.

“Another!” I smashed the the bottle on the edge of the bar and waved it him menacingly.

“I tell you, sir, there is no more. You have drunk the last. I gave you a measure because you appeared to be in need, but now no man will have the pleasure again.”

“Bollocks!” I grabbed him by the neck, the jagged bottle stump held under his chin. “Which?” I nodded towards the other bottles on the shelves.

“Sir, you don’t understand; You have drunk the last bottle in existence. There is no more.”

My hand squeezed tightly against his throat, making him gasp and choke. “Liar!” I bellowed, and pushed him savagely away. He tumbled backwards. There was a sickening thud as he hit the floor but I ignored it, hurried behind the bar and turned my attention to the shelves. I pulled a bottle down, yanked out the stopper and took a gulp. I coughed and spat; goddamnit - whisky. I tried another, and another. They were just spirits, each fouler than the last. “The recipe,” I growled, pulling another bottle down, “What’s the recipe?” 

There was no reply. I glanced down. The barman lay immobile, a dark stain spreading out across the polished floorboards from the back of his head. He was very dead. There were no warmth seeping through my body now, no music. I felt cold, colder than I had ever known. I panicked and rushed for the door, pulling it open and diving outside. Except I was not in the street as I had expected; I was back in the bar. I heard the door slam behind me. I turned, yanked the door open and went through - into the bar again. I could feel the horror creeping through me; the sweating, the fear, the cold. I ran across the room, vaulted the counter and plunged through a back door. I was back where I had started. I rushed around, trying any door I came across. Each deposited me back into the middle of the bar, the body at my feet. And then the music started.

It was as though every child who tried to learn an instrument: the recorder, the violin, the piano, the trumpet; every teenager who rebelled by picking up a guitar or hitting the skins; every adult who responded to a mid-life crisis by telling themselves they were the very essence of jazz; yes - all those devoid of any talent or ability, all playing a chaotic symphony; each of them out of time, out of key, without any emotion or feeling. It was just the music, me and the body, and I realised where I was. And I knew, this time, the music would never stop.

© 2021 J.P. Paradise


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Featured Review

Woah, this was written brilliantly. That anger and frustration were palpable and I loved the whole metaphor with the music. The details were there and written just right without being too much, and that rainy, slumpy day feeling was strong, especially when you have to do something you loathe! Thanks for sharing this piece!

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

J.P. Paradise

1 Week Ago

You are most welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read and review.



Reviews

Woah, this was written brilliantly. That anger and frustration were palpable and I loved the whole metaphor with the music. The details were there and written just right without being too much, and that rainy, slumpy day feeling was strong, especially when you have to do something you loathe! Thanks for sharing this piece!

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

J.P. Paradise

1 Week Ago

You are most welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read and review.
Great story, I really like the ending--what a hell to be damned to.

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

J.P. Paradise

1 Week Ago

Thanks for reading. Glad you liked it. I recall recorder classes as a small boy and imagine that for.. read more
I enjoyed your story thanks for sharing your work.

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

J.P. Paradise

1 Week Ago

Many thanks for taking the time to read it.
I appreciate you writing this. I don't know exactly where you got the information, or if it was even intentional, but you've rather hit the nail on the head here. Really good work. Much love from America.

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

J.P. Paradise

1 Week Ago

Cheers Doot, much appreciated.

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Added on July 21, 2021
Last Updated on July 22, 2021
Tags: short story, fiction, horror

Author

J.P. Paradise
J.P. Paradise

Wiltshire, United Kingdom



About
Occasional writer, serial procrastinator.I write tales that are sometimes comedic, often tragic, and nearly always very dark. Bad things happen to good people, even worse things happen to bad people.. more..

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