Puck’s

by Kellen C. Parr

 

There is something unusual about Puck’s. Its façade is wholly unremarkable, not unlike those of half a dozen other bars and clubs on Ionia Street, or a thousand other establishments in a thousand other cities across America. The selection of spirits is respectable, while twenty varieties of beer flow from its taps. Puck’s clientele is ordinary, the expected mix of the young and the faded, beauty new-minted and tarnished, the pompously naïve and the casualties of a thousand concessions. It is neither the latest thing nor the proverbial dive.

Nonetheless, there is something unusual about Puck’s.

Since it lies not on the surface, nobody talks about it, few even acknowledge it. It is on the tips of tongues, the edge of awareness. If you step through its doors, you can sense the difference, but only as an indefinable thing best left ignored. Even the most obvious is often overlooked when it makes people uncomfortable, and the secret of Puck’s is nothing so glaring.

Thus, the patrons go about the timeless business of drowning sorrow and concern without reservation, ignorant and unafraid. Pints vanish over the course of the night, taking inhibitions with them. The people are happy, if only for the dark hours, and usually nothing happens that does not happen every night countless times the world over.

But, now and again, something occurs.

Somewhere in the fugue, people are lost. Never many, not terribly often, but it does happen. Patrons simply… vanish. It is nothing dramatic, nothing you can watch with your eyes of flesh and blood. Still, it happens all the same, as surely as the sun rises. Sometimes, people who go into Puck’s never come back out.

When it happens, it goes like this…

*****

Greta was twenty, though her driver’s license declared her almost twenty-two. Unlike most photographic IDs, it did not lie about her appearance—she really did look like the girl in the picture, who was lightly freckled, strawberry blonde, and wholesomely pretty, if not beautiful. More than once, she had worried that it was too good a photo for a license, a giveaway that it was counterfeit.

But she was cute, and disarmingly coy besides, so few doormen ever questioned the ID.

The burly guard at Puck’s scarcely glanced at it before admitting her, along with three friends (two of them legal) to the bar. They wound their way through the dark, warm press of strangers to the counter and ordered drinks. Greta got an appletini, and a wink from the thirtyish bartender.

The girls—for girls they were still, only pretending to be young women—drank and chattered, laughing and growing steadily drunker as the night deepened. They accepted the tithes of the men and boys who approached, full of hope and swagger and clichés. One of them was nice enough, and handsome enough, that Greta agreed to dance with him, although she knew it would go no further. Her friends took to the floor as well, a few paces off, close enough to keep an eye on her. They didn’t do so, because they were drunk, but they could have.

Soon enough, Greta lost the boy in the confusion, the tangle of limbs and swirling hair. She thought about sitting down for a bit, having a breather and maybe another cocktail, something vivid, tropical. But still she felt the lure of the dance floor, the energy generated by all those people, so she stayed. Through the flash and haze, she made her way over to her trio of friends. After a few seconds of shouting and futile gesticulating they abandoned communication, surrendering to the music. It pulsed and throbbed, in ears, chests, veins, compelling movement, urging all who heard it to let go, be free, live.

So, Greta let go.

She swayed and spun, stomped and thrust to the beat. Some time later, she noticed she was no longer amongst her friends, but it did not occur to her to worry. She danced. Before that night, prior to that moment, she had not believed people could be so moved by music. It resonated within her, intoxicating and wonderful. Reveling in the sound and color, Greta barely noticed that most of the faces around her were unfamiliar. She was not dancing with those who had walked into Puck’s that evening. There were faces from a myriad of ages, souls who had danced since first the music played. They moved with her, every dancer knowing the next footfall, the next twirl, the next gyration as intimately as she knew the curves of her own body.

And so Greta was lost.

Her friends left Puck’s with vague memories of her stepping out with that boy, or saying she didn’t feel well and would find her own way home, not to worry. It was all confusing, muddled in their minds. Then, gradually, they forgot. Even though they were truly her friends, one of them for near a decade, they forgot Greta. So did the world. She had slipped through the cracks, evanesced from a real person, to a memory, to nothing at all.

In the old days, the times when belief was as strong as anything, people spoke of fairy rings. Children were warned against such snares, told how they could become caught up in a reel not of the waking world. Back then, folk knew the danger of the music, the peril of such delight.

Today, they simply forget.

 

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