Intro: The Tales of Balder the Bartending Bard

Charlii plopped onto the stool farthest from the door, dropping her oversized bag onto the floor as she pulled out her tablet and wallet. “Shit,” she said as she continued to tap the power button. “You were charged when I left the house.” She shook her head, then gazed at the bar. She walked down this street every day, but until today didn’t notice the massive carved doors with shining brass gas lights on either side. The deep mahogany curve of the bar wound its way from the bottom step of the entrance to the opposite wall. Bras, sparkling in the dim overhead lights and flickering candles from the tables, edged the upper curve of the bar and at the perfect height for a footrest. 

She bent over to look at the footrest. Most places spaced the footrests too low for her legs, but her small feet rested on the footrest, easing the ache growing in her lower back. 

Charlii stiffened when the bartender appeared in front of her. She hadn’t seen him when she came in.

“Lights low enough in here?” she asked, raising the right side of her mouth.

While she couldn’t see his face in the shadow, she thought the man grinned at her. “Never have trouble seeing what’s in front of me,” he replied. “What can I get you?”

Charlii shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said and turned to gaze at the expanse of candles flickering from the tops of table merging into nothing. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she realized the wall behind her was all mirror and dark wood, leaving reflection and reality to intermingle. There was no sound in the bar. She hadn’t even heard her footsteps as she walked in. Carpeted? Must be a posh place. “How the hell did I end up here?” She hadn’t meant to say that outlaid.

Straightening in her bar stool, she said, “Uh” and opened her wallet, hoping the bartender hadn’t heard her. She flushed when she saw her credit card, the one she’d just received a final pay notice on, and no cash.

“Interesting question,” the bartender said. “Few find this place, and fewer still come back. Let me buy you the first drink. Let’s see if it tells you a good story.”

Charlii nodded but narrowed her eyes. “Story?” she said.

The bartender had already turned and walked away from Charlii running his hand along the wall filled with shelves of bottles glistening and gleaming in hidden lights, but his voice was clear as though he were sitting next to her. “You’re a writer, aren’t you?” 

“How,” she began, then laughed. “Tablet? How do you know I’m not a business type?’

The bartender returned with a bottle held just out of Charlii’s sight. “Sensible shoes, jeans, t-shirt. I suppose you could be lots of things, but I see writer in your face. No power for your machine in the bar. You must write the old-fashioned way.”

The bartender placed a small, stemmed glass on the bar in front of a shining glass reservoir of water halfway down the bar.  He tilted a bottle of clear emerald liquid, spilling its contents into the bulb of the glass. Charlii leaned toward her right to see what he was doing. Tiny lights danced in the emerald liquid. Next, the bartender placed an elaborately cut spoon on top of the glass and placed a sugar cube on it.

“What’s that?” asked Charlii, curling her nose at the faintest whiff of licorice.  “There’s no need to go to any trouble…”

“It’s my pleasure, Charlii.” The bartender didn’t look at Charlii as he turned the spigot on the reservoir, letting one drip of water after another fall onto the sugar.

From the bottom of the spoon, sugar water dripped into the emerald liquid. Clouds and lights danced in the glass, swirling and drifting into pattern after pattern.

“Thus begins the dance of the green fairy,” said the bartender. “What story will she tell?”

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