Tuesday, July 16, 2019
By Randy Romero
The neon “Open” sign blinked in the window of Nickel’s Tavern, but Ted would come around the bar in a few minutes to turn it off and lock the door.
He wiped down the counter as the last remaining barfly guzzled down his beer and walked out without saying a word. He left a few bucks. Just enough to pay for his last beer, with a dollar leftover for a tip.
“Cheapskate,” Ted muttered as he finished wiping down the bar. He scooped up the dollar and dropped it in the glass tip jar.
Ted was pushing forty. His brown hair was thinning and his skin had taken on a pinkish hue from years of alcohol abuse. He was a man of average height and average weight, but his gut extended a bit farther than he preferred. The price of being an alcoholic who works in a bar.
Once a teacher at a prominent ivy league school, tending bar was the best job Ted could get. No school would hire him after the scandal. Too much of a liability. He couldn’t even get a job as a substitute.
As Ted was sweeping the floor behind the bar, the door swung open. Crap, Ted thought, checking his watch. Forget to unplug the sign and lock the door.
“Last call,” Ted said without even looking up. “If you want something to drink, order it now.”
He raised his head and his eyes met with a beautiful young woman in a black hoodie. She had pale skin, scarlet red hair, and looked to be in her mid-twenties.
“Sorry, I’ll go,” she said.
“No, it’s fine. Stay. What can I get you?”
“Scotch on the rocks,” she said and pulled up a stool. “Make it a double. I’ll be quick.”
“No rush,” he assured her. His attitude changed. He never could refuse a pretty young thing like herself. He filled a glass and grabbed her a coaster.
“I’m Ted, by the way. Most of the regulars call me Teddy.”
“Well hello, Teddy. I’m Jade.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’ve never seen you around before.”
“I’m new in town,” she said with a polite tone. She was careful not to be flirtatious. She saw that glimmer in Ted’s eyes and wanted to make it clear she wasn’t interested.
“And what do you do for a living, Jade?”
“I handle business acquisitions. It’s boring stuff.”
“I bet it pays well, though.”
“Well enough, I guess,” she shrugged.
Ted checked his watch again. Almost 3:30 and she hadn’t even touched her drink. Her eyes wandered as she surveyed the bar to see if anyone else was around. The coast was clear. But Ted already knew that, and he was grateful for it. He could tell that Jade clearly wasn’t interested, but that had never stopped a man like Ted before.
Ted came around the bar, unplugged the neon “Open” sign, drew the shades, and quietly locked the door.
“Why’d you lock the door?” she asked.
He turned, recoiled at the sight, and bit down on his tongue, hard enough to draw blood. Her black hoodie was now a dark cloak. Her skin had been stripped away. She was nothing more than a skeleton with burning embers for eyes. One bony, skinless hand clutched at a razor-sharp scythe.
“Hello, Teddy,” it croaked. “You know, when I told you I was in acquisitions, I wasn’t joking. But it’s not businesses I procure. I acquire souls.”
“Dear God,” Ted whispered.
“God has nothing to do with this. Thought you were going to have your way with young Jade, did you? Tell me Ted, how many women have you hurt over the years? How many have you drugged and abused and taken advantage of? How many flowering young girls have you robbed of their youth and innocence? There’s always a price to pay for your sins. And now you’ll have to answer to the man downstairs. Hell was tailor made for the dregs of society such as yourself. I promise, you’ll feel right at home.”
The reaper touched one ragged, bony finger to his chest and Ted’s heart burst like an over-inflated balloon. The owner found him the next morning, crumpled up on the floor, a look of sheer terror etched on his frozen face.
Cause of death was determined as a fatal heart attack, attributed to Ted’s poor diet and health, and his excessive alcohol consumption. If only they knew the truth. If only they knew what was lying in wait for them when their internal clocks ran out.