Thursday, February 2, 2023

Straight Up

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This is a story based on the image prompt from Miranda Kate's Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. You can see the prompt by clicking on the link. This is her intro from the challenge page:

This week's picture comes from Andy Poplar, who makes these incredible bottles, at Vinegar & Brown Paper - do have a look, there are loads of others, also household bottles. Brilliant idea. I can't find this pic on his site, but I suspect it used to be there as it dates back to 2017 (when it was first shared), and the page people link to is not found on his company site. I wonder if he sold this as a print as he does some of them. I love the colour contrast and the reflection in this one. 

I know Miranda states a limit of 750 words in her rules, but I've blown past that like a locomotive going downhill in an ice storm. Well, you get the idea. Somehow, I went up to 1,019 words, not including the title. So much for self control...
So, on to the story. I'm not sure how to describe it. Horror? Noir? Morality play? Anyway, it's called Straight Up.


Straight Up

The photo used in this post is by Vianney CAHEN on Unsplash. It is a photo of a drinking glass like you would find in a bar.

It wasn't a part of town I knew, but it's where I ended up after walking around in a daze half the night. All the thoughts swirling around inside my brain had me in a funk I couldn't shake. The streets were wet and I was cold. I figured a stiff drink wouldn't hurt at this point.

Maybe that's why I noticed the dim neon sign inside a grimy window on a one-way street. It flickered "Jude's Place" in a sickly orange glow. It didn't say it was a bar. I guess I assumed it was because that's what I wanted it to be. For whatever the reason, I went inside.

The decor wasn't much. The floor, the tables, even the walls were a dark, dirty brown. There was a man behind the bar and a woman at the far end chewing gum and wiping glasses. I didn't notice anyone else in the joint. I pulled up a stool and put my hat on the empty seat next to me. I was rubbing my face with my hands when I heard a voice.

"You're new here. What can I do for you?"

"Well, it's gotta be stronger than beer," I said, looking at the man in the apron. "I think I need the hard stuff straight up."

"It's good you don't want beer. We don't sell that here."

I was a bit puzzled by his answer. "You're running a bar and you don't have beer? How do stay in business."

"Sadly, business has never been better."

I didn’t say anything for a minute, unsure how to respond. "Then, what do you have?"

"Only the finest of liqueurs to wash away one's troubles and help clear the mind—and soul."

"I could use some of that—even if I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Allow me to show you," he said waving his hand towards the bottles on shelf behind. "So, what's your poison?"

I have to admit that his description put me ill at ease. But not as much as the labels on the bottles. My eyes scanned the names: Envy, Jealousy, Pettiness, Guilt, Ignorance, and Hate. Even in the dimly lit bar, I could see they were different. Envy and Jealousy were green, Pettiness was blue, Guilt black, Ignorance clear, and Hate red.

"Interesting hues," I remarked.

"I'll have to take your word for it," the bartender replied. "I'm colorblind."


"No need," he said smiling. "My business works best that way." The man shrugged. "Anything strike your fancy? From the way you look, I think we should skip the mild stuff. How about a little Guilt? I imagine everyone would like to get rid of that."

I looked the barkeep in the eye. I don't know what possessed me to say, "Why not?"

He took the bottle from the shelf and filled a shot glass. It looked like he'd poured two fingers of the night sky into that thing. He pushed it towards me.

"You sure this stuff is safe?"

He took another glass and filled it. He downed it in a single gulp.

I raised the glass to my lips and took a sip. The flavor was odd; the liquid burned my mouth a little.

"All or nothing," he said.

It took me a couple of tries to get it down. I couldn't place the taste. It had a bitterness to it, but that quickly disappeared. I even have to say I felt a bit better. But the fog still lingered over me like a grey veil.

"How'd that do ya?"

"Not bad," I said. "Do you have anything stronger?"

He looked at me for a moment before speaking. "You don't seem like the hating kind." He turned towards the woman cleaning glasses. "Rita? Bring me that special bottle."

"Are you sure?" she replied, somehow never missing a beat with her gum.

"I think so." 

She took a deep breath, then said, "Comin' right up."

The bottle she handed him was filled with a cloudy, hazy liquid not unlike the fog in my brain. There was no real color to it.

"This is Regret. It's the hardest thing I stock. I have to warn you—it'll burn deeper and longer than anything you've ever experienced. You really wanna go for this?"

By now, it was almost a challenge. I pushed my glass towards him.

I took the glass and threw it back. I swear it, felt like it went out the other side of my head. I slammed the glass down and grabbed the bar with both hands trying not to scream. I thought I was burning up from the inside. I wasn't sure what to do.

After what seemed an eternity, it was over. I took one of the bar napkins and wiped the sweat from my face. All I could muster was, "Jesus Christ!"

"A lot of folks react that way. But you did okay. How do you feel now?"

"I'm not going to wake up dead tomorrow, am I?" 

The man smiled. "That's above my pay grade."

I sat for a few minutes, just breathing. I remember feeling better. The fog was gone and my thoughts focused. 

"Whatever that was, it's what I needed. But I don't even want to know what's in there."

"No," he said shaking his head. "No, you don't"

"Anyway, what do I owe you?"



"You can leave a tip if it makes you feel better. That's what we're all about here."

I took out a twenty and dropped it in the jar. 

"Maybe I'll stop in again sometime."

"It's best if you don't have to," the man replied.

I had the feeling he was offering advice. So, I put on my hat and stepped outside. I had a clearer view of the world—and my life. Clear enough that I noticed the street wasn't a one-way and the sidewalks were dry. I wanted to turn around and see if that neon sign was still flickering in the window, but a voice somewhere inside told me it might be wise to just keep moving forward.

The photo used in this post is by Vianney CAHEN on Unsplash.

© 2023 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

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