New Flash Fic Challenge – Creme De Nepenthe

New flash fic challenge, this one concerning the invention of a drink. So here’s my drink, and the story to go with it.


Crème de Nepenthe

1 jigger of water from the river Lethe
2 Niobe’s tears
One shot of milk from a golden cow
One hair of the Minotaur
2 drops of Proteus’s blood
Splash of absinthe
Pinch of regret

It had taken Martin what felt like seven years to find the place. And the terrible thing was it could have actually taken seven years. It wouldn’t be Purgatory if the time wasn’t all kinds of fucked up.

How he’d ended up here was a mystery to him. He was from a good Christian family! Okay, so maybe he could be kind of a jackass, that didn’t mean he should end up here, a place that was neither heaven nor hell. But clearly very much closer to hell.

It was always a gray, foggy, rainy day here, gloomy enough that it was impossible to tell if it was day or night. Probably it was stuck somewhere in between, as much of purgatory seemed to be a state in between. The ground was rocky, except when it was muddy (or it was both), and buildings seemed to lurch haphazardly around the realm, never in the same place twice. There were no fixed reference points in a land where the terrain seemed to change every hour.

Except one.

It was just called “The Bar”, even though it could be many different things. What he had been told was you walked in one single direction for as long as possible, until the fog became so thick he’d be in danger of walking into something or someone. Eventually, the fog would thin, and he would see a dark rectangle of a building looming ahead of him, with the type of solid, severe angles that seemed to be missing in this place. Also, it wouldn’t be semi-translucent at the edges, as all the buildings seemed to be.

People were no more solid here. They were like ghosts, only ghosts who could feel their feet hurt, ghosts who could feel chilling cold and damp, ghosts who could miss the sun. In other words, the shittiest ghosts imaginable. He would have liked to have moved on, but no one was sure how you did that. At least you could stay in one place for a little while at the bar.

The interior was dark, which was no surprise, but instead of neon beer signs illuminating the joint, there were these weird globes of bluish green lights that bobbed in the air like half filled balloons. It was possible they were balloons, as the membranes holding the light seemed thin, but despite their bobbing, they stayed where they were. They never floated up to the ceiling or down to the floor, or farther left or right. They were hovering, but had a sticky altimeter.

There were small, square tables and wooden benches scattered about haphazardly, in a semblance of order, and the place looked a bit more like a rustic themed restaurant than a bar. The people here seemed to drift, with more purpose than the balloon lights, although they were in fact walking. It’s just that their legs turned semi-translucent from the knees down. Martin never knew the reason for this, but figured it didn’t matter much. What did?

There was a main counter, tucked away on the far left side, a half circle of some thick, mottled wood. Behind it was the bartender, a woman who appeared to be made of onyx, but with two liquid red eyes. When you got closer, you realized she was made of lava, her skin a hard, rocky crust, and when she moved, seams of red lava would appear, churning beneath her skin but somehow not pouring out. When she got close, you could feel almost intolerant heat coming off of her, and it seemed amazing that the glasses didn’t melt in her hands, or the bar burst into flame. A few places looked charred, but that was about it.

“Martin, you’re back,” she said.

That puzzled him. “I’ve never been here before,” he said, although now it occurred to him … how was he not surprised by the lava woman? How did he know what she was? None of this place was a surprise. It nagged at the back of his mind, half-formed déjà vu. Had he been here before? Had he had the drink?

She sighed, exhaling steam. “I swear, ninety percent of my conversations start this way. I suppose you want the drink.”

“Yes.” Although now he was troubled by the thought he’d been here before. “Although, if I was here before …. Do you know why I came?”

“You came for the same reason everyone comes,” she said, turning her back on him to make the drink. “To forget where you are, and what you did.”

“What I did? I didn’t do anything.” But even as he said it, he suspected it was a lie. Martin honestly felt he didn’t belong here, that a great wrong was done to him … but was he just lying to himself? There was something eating away at the edges of his consciousness, a ghost of a memory …

At first, all he could recall was the noise. A thud, with a sort of hollow metal echo, but his mind started filling in blanks. He was driving at night, maybe he was a little buzzed, and then he heard that noise. He’d hit someone, someone he hadn’t even seen. He’d looked in his mirror to see an untidy heap on the road, like a pile of laundry, except clothing didn’t bleed.

He kept on driving. He didn’t even go to see if the person was still alive. Martin liked to think he was mistaken, and if something really bad happened, the police would be on his doorstep. But the police never came, and he got the front end of his car fixed (it was just a minor dent, no more), and he forgot about it quite quickly. Since he didn’t read the papers or watch the news, Martin had no idea if it was reported or if anyone died, and he made no effort to find out.

Was that it? Was he here because he killed someone, even though it was an accident? Or was he here because he was such a coward he never found out if he had killed someone or not? Because you’d think killing someone would send him to hell, if it existed. But cowardice? That was its own special kind of hell, one that purgatory could only enhance.

The bartender put a glass in front of him. It was a martini glass full of a creamy gold concoction that smelled of salt and licorice. “How long does the effect last?” Martin wondered. Because he may have known once, but he no longer remembered it.

Lava woman shrugged, and it looked like a mild tremor. “It varies. Also, there’s no way to keep track of time. A while’s the best I can tell you.”

“I can live with that,” Martin said, picking up the glass and slugging down the nepenthe.

In fact, it was probably the only way he could live with any of this.

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