My brother and Sarah had stayed until just after 8 o’clock. At which point Erica finished her shift, and Luke took up residence behind the bar. The traffic picked up around 9. Every booth was full. Others were chatting at smaller tables. I had to pinch myself to remind myself that I was actually here. Doing this. That this place was actually a successful bar. How had I never noticed it? I guessed I usually went home from work. Straight from the agency to my front door. I rarely went out anymore. Too tired. Now I knew why. I hadn’t ever been past this place at night. Never realised it had a decent crowd. I looked around at the people. Something started to dawn on me. They were all slightly amiss. Just small things. One woman’s eyes were all white, with just a black pupil showing. Another guy had purple hands. Well they looked purple. I saw a couple who were almost see-through. Like ghosts. Another man was crooked from head to toe. I smiled into my wine. There was always a catch. I figured all these people had been through the Café at one time or another … or Luke had something to do with them in some way. Before I could dwell on this burgeoning conspiracy theory any further, Erica appeared on the opposite side of my booth. I realised I hadn’t really moved all afternoon.
‘So you noticed I guess? They’re all… strange?’
‘Yes,’ I said simply.
‘They’re not all Luke’s former …. Clients... some of them are just genuinely lost people. They feel welcome here.’
‘Well, anyway, I’m off to study, plus your’e parents will be here in the morning so don’t stay up too late. You’ll need to be on tomorrow in case they have any curly questions. Night!’ she smiled, getting to her feet and skipping off through the Staff Only door that led to the upstairs part of the house.
It was at this point I realised I didn’t know where my room was, or anything else about the rest of the building. I finished my wine in a gulp. Then instantly grimaced at what a mistake that was. I grabbed the bag of clothes my brother had bought me and took off after Erica.
‘Night Damian!’ Called Luke from the bar as I scotted past, ‘I’ll lock up OK?’
‘Thanks Luke!’ I called, as I continued on my way, catching Erica at the bottom of some stairs.
‘Hey!’ I called, a little out of breath, ‘I just realised I have no idea what’s back here and where I sleep, can you show me?’
‘Sure, of course,’ she laughed.
We started with downstairs. First up the lounge room. It was not at all what I was expecting. The was an open fireplace to the left, surrounded by three large chesterfield sofas. In between the sofas was a long oak coffee table. To the right of the fireplace was what I recognized as a globe bar. I’d always wanted one. I was currently open revealing a half dozen bottles of fine looking liquor, and (what I assumed) were crystal glasses. To the left of the fireplace was a further small sitting area centred around a TV. On the far wall was a floor to ceiling library, and to the right of that was a door lading to what I would seen see was a chef-spec kitchen. On the wall opposite the fireplace hung several paintings, all different styles. I figured they were pieces Luke had picked up over the years.
Walking through to the kitchen, Erica explained Luke would make sure the fridge was stocked with whatever I needed. I simply had to give him a list of what I wanted. Convenient, but it meant again I was reliant on Luke for something else. Heading back to the stairs, we walked up the steep flight of steps. The upstairs comprised the whole space of the Café downstairs, and the back area we had just come from. There was a bathroom to the far right, above the kitchen. The bathroom was a grotesque example of luxuriousness. Claw foot bath tub, with a cabinet full of powders, soaks and bubbles to match. Frosted glass shower and shelves full of fluffly towels piled up to the ceiling. I guessed that either Erica or Luke had a penchant for primping.
Finally we got to the most important part of the house. Our own space. Two bedrooms led off from above the loungeroom, meaning they shared the fireplace chimney and had fireplaces themselves. There was a further room to the left, which was larger but had no fire. Erica explained that her room was the one on the left with the fireplace, and so I could take the one on the right if I wanted. Both rooms locked with a key. Erica disappeared into her room leaving me feeling like a fool for a moment standing in the hallway. Sighing I moved into action, opening the door to my room and taking at all in. The room was amazing! I could not have hoped for a better place to make my home for the duration. The room appeared huge inside, and I had to do a double take. To my right was a huge 4 poster bed with velvet curtains. Who doesn’t love velvet. Then to the left was a small lounge area of my very own complete with small open fireplace, and mantle. In front of that were two black leather chesterfield chairs and a small mahogany coffee table. To the left again was another floor to ceiling book shelf, which I would discover was filled with works by my favourite Authors. To the right of the fireplace was a dark wood buffet, filled with whisky, and inside a cupboard was a small fridge filled with fruit, mixers, soft cheese. It was as though the room had been set up just for me. It was perfect.
Dumping my bag on the bed I wandered over to the fireplace and got it crackling. The room was chilly. I shivered into my jacket. Perhaps I should have a shower and get changed. It had been such a long day and my parents would be arriving in the morning. Best to get an early night.
I showered and put on some tracksuit pants and a loose t-shirt. Wrapped myself in a terry robe. I loved that robe. It was ridiculously warm and comfortable. Then took myself back to the roaring fire that was now heating my room. Grabbing a book from the shelf, I sat in a chair and peeled back the first page. I had no idea what time I fell asleep, but I was awoken by an awful scratching sound at my door some time before the dawn. My neck felt like someone had gaffer taped it into the most awkward position possible. Never sleep in a chair. Sitting up I rubbed my neck back into shape, and looked sceptically at the door. Was there some kind of animal out there? Was La Morte seeing if it could fuck with me. At that point in time I didn’t care.
‘Thanks for waking me! I would have slept in the chair all night!’ I said to the room, getting up and stalking over to my bed. Then I saw it coming through the door. A river of rats. But not real rats. Ghost rats I guess you would call them. They were all kind of transparent and writhing. Sniffing and clawing. I thought they were cute. Rats wouldn’t scare me. Let alone ghost rats. I didn’t believe in ghosts. For all I knew I was sleeping. Having a bad dream.
‘Nice try,’ I added sarcastically, to no one in particular, before getting into bed and rolling over onto my side. I fell asleep almost immediately. One of the benefits of my condition it seemed. Ignoring ghost rats and falling instantly into a deep sleep.