Hey! I’m Oscar, I’m 20 and for the last two years, I’ve been running a pub for monsters.
The morning was worrisome. Red didn’t want to come out of the Basement’s basement and I needed to talk to the Monster Hunter because there’s no one who knows more about monsters than him.
I left Lockey in the basement, extinguished the torch and made my way back up the stairs. Time had escaped me. The pub was already open. I met Duncan’s angry stare as I entered the bar.
“You’re late,” he huffed. “And you don’t even have the decency to apologise.” He took the money from an old hag he was serving, dashed it in the till and grabbed a handful of change, which he practically threw at her. She scowled with hurt dignity and sidled over to the window with her sherry.
“I was in the Basement’s basement getting out a monster, ask Lockey,” I said as a way of explanation. Duncan narrowed his eyes, his monobrow furrowing in disapproval.
“And where is this monster then? Uh?” He said, looking around mockingly.
“He didn’t want to come out,” I mumbled, reaching for a cloth to polish the glassware.
Duncan huffed again, “likely story. I will check you know? And if you’re lying I’ll be one step closer to getting you out of the Harrow for good. Do you hear?”
I watched him waddle through the door before turning to the stunned patrons and Alexa. The old hag gave me a sympathetic smile and I grimaced back.
The Harrow Inn was busy for the morning shift. Beside the old hag, Freddy the fish, was at his usual stool, Angus, the ogre of Blackfriars, sat in a booth taking up one long bench while drinking his usual tar smoked whiskey and sewer water. Boggle the boogeyman’s long shadow stretched out behind the hat stand, a half drunk glass of Coca-cola glistening on the bottom rim. And a shudder of clowns I hadn’t met before lingered off in a group by the Jukebox.
I nodded to Alexa. “Sorry for being late.”
I told her about Red and what had happened with Cook and Duncan. She rolled her eyes when I told her he had been crying.
“He does it most days,” she said, chopping the durian fruit for garnish. “I caught him last week crying behind the bins. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
I nodded and started piercing the eyeballs on cocktails sticks. “Yeah, you’re probably right. But my gran? That’s weird right?”
Alexa agreed as the door creaked open and a green head peered around the door.
“Good morning,” the man called cheerily.
I sighed and nudged Alexa. She looked up and laughed.
“You can’t fool us with face paint, Julius.”
“Julius? Never heard of him,” Julius coughed. “I’m - uh - Igor the - the… terrible. Yeah, that’s right, Igor the terrible.”
I chuckled, “Well, Igor, you’re not allowed in the Harrow. I’ve told you this before. So you have the same options as last time. Leave or the golems will make you.”
“But - but I’m a monster!” He said, pushing through the door. Alexa and I burst out laughing at his dark green costume. A low grinding sound filled the pub as the golems activated.
Julius was the one I was telling you about, the other “human.” He had somehow stumbled into the bar one day back when my granddad was here and had been trying ever since to get in and have a drink.
Gran had explained it one day, but it really didn’t make sense. She had said that if Julius frequented the Harrow it would affect the temporal balance between our two worlds. The monsters and the humans.
“If I were you, Julius, I’d leave why you still have the chance.” The grinding noise was getting louder, the doors behind Julius were slowly rotating. The walls collapsed to allow the solid form of a golem to enter.
It wasn’t really a threat. The golems can’t hurt humans, so Julius would be ok, but he didn’t know that.
“But I am a monster! I’m an ogre!” He roared, and started hopping from one foot to the other.
Angus’s thick eyebrows rose.
“No,” I said, pointing to the steadily rising figure wearing a dirty trench coat. “That’s an ogre.”
Julius swallowed. Angus’s eyes fell on Julius and his grubby sack and then rose over his shoulders at the shifting wall and the golem within. He slowly, menacingly sat back down.
“Ok, I’m not a ogre, but I am a psychopath.”
“Psychopaths aren’t monsters,” Alexa said bored, closing the lid on the durian and returning them to the fridge. “You’re just an evil little man.” The golem moved toward Julius, its torso rippling like jelly.
For the first time, Julius's demeanour changed. His nose curled up in disgust and he spat at Alexa. “You can talk blood sucker. You’re disgusting, you and all of your kind, and you’re not even one of them. Half-breed. Even the vampires don’t want you. You should do us all a favour and stake yourself.”
“Hey,” I warned. “That’s enough… “
“And you can talk! You’re not even a monster. You're a fake!” The golem pulled Julius into his body, Julius struggled, a foot flopping through the clay of the golem’s leg. “Mark my words!” He screamed as more and more of his body disappeared into the golem. “I will be standing where you are one day Oscar Clarke. It will be my name above the Harrow Inn’s doors and you will be history!”
We watched Julius’s head sink into the golem with a slop. Alexa clutched her stomach, a tear rolled down her cheek. I turned to her but she pushed me away and ran to the bar door. I turned back quickly to the disappearing golem.
“Thanks Granite,” I said, before darting after Alexa.
“No problem, Boss man,” Granite rumbled.
I knew Julius would be spat out outside, unharmed, but I really wished he was hurt for what he did to Alexa. It made my blood boil.
I found Alexa behind the post mix machine weeping. She looked up as I came through and quickly dabbed at her eyes and tried to act normal, but her lips curled up and she started to cry again.
“Hey, hey,” I said, rubbing her shoulder. “Don’t let Julius get to you. He’s an idiot,”
“But he’s right,” Alexa sobbed. “I don't belong here. I don’t belong anywhere,’ she sniffed.
“I shook my head. “Not true. You belong here, with me.” I hugged her shoulder and gave her my warmest smile. She chuckled around the sobs and gave a weak smile back.
“Thanks Oscar. But he was right. The vampires have never accepted me. I’m not a “real” vampire. Not in their eyes.”
Alexa hung her head. I wondered briefly about that statement. She had the thirst, yes, but she chose to consume blood from the butchers and a contact down at Guy’s hospital every once in a while. She’s never killed anyone. If anything, she was the perfect vampire. Well… she was to me.
“You may not have all their abilities, but you’re still pretty special, Alexa. Like for example, you don’t burn in the sun.”
“Sunscreen,” She said, wiping her eyes.
“Ok, well, garlic can’t kill you,” I said, raising an eyebrow. She responded with a second raised finger.
“Well,” I searched for other positives. “You have a reflection, and you can glamour.” I punched the air in triumph.
Alexa laughed and nudged me in the ribs. “You’re probably right. Now get back out to that bar before I glamour you to work the double for me,” she laughed and I jumped up with my hands mockingly in the air.
“Ok. Ok. I’m going.”
I stopped at the end of the corridor and looked back. “Are you going to be alright?”
She nodded, hands between her knees. “Yeah, I think I am.” She moved a lock of blonde hair from her face and looked up. “Thanks Oscar. You’re a good friend.”
I smiled and turned back toward the bar. My smile fell. I reasoned that being in a pub full of monsters wasn't the worst place in the world. That was the place I was in… the friendzone. At around eight o’clock, when the twilight hits, the pub starts to fill up. Many come in for Cook’s famous Humburgers. 100% East-Sussex Human, light terrorised and char grilled. Served with rat tails chips and a choice of sauce. I swear, we have had monsters from all over the world come to try them. Cook says it’s all about the terrorising and a secret sauce he uses when he does this. He’s never told anyone and I doubt he ever will.
Some also say it’s because of all the arcane and antique curiosities we have hanging on our walls. Like the headless huntsman axe used to do the beheading. Or an ancient Roman medal said to have belonged to the god of war himself. We have pots used for leprechaun gold, twigs of elder tree, a necklace of ears, a Karkens tooth, and many other such wonders. I glanced down from them to our patrons.
Freddy the fish, so called because he lives in the labyrinth of sewer pipes under London, and because he was amphibious, sat on a barstool farthest away from the doors nursing a pint of Infection ale. I won’t go into it, but the yeast used and the title should give you a hint to how it’s brewed.
“It’s my sac-mates birthday today,” he mumbled. I placed a cauldron of kid’s urine in front of two witches and gave them their change. They each took a glass and ladled a portion into their cups.
“Hold on?” I said, slightly confused. “Sac-mate?”
Freddy’s glassy eyes rolled over to me, the left one sailed past and focused on the jar of pickled eggs. “Yep, sac-mate,” he said, smacking his lips.
I had never known any alcoholics like Freddy. Everything about him was a mess. Love life, social life, habitat, attire. You name it, a mess. But never his ability to get a drink. He always had money on him for that purpose, but I never heard of him doing a day's work.
“So that would mean it’s your birthday too?” I reasoned, looking at his smooth green head and yellowish translucent skin. He was practically a frog, but humanised.
Freddy seemed to contemplate this for a second. His eyes slowly closed and then refocused on the jar of pickled eggs. I fetched them and unscrewed the lid. My eyes started to water from the pong.
“I guess you’re right,” he said finally, reaching in and plucking out a green veined egg.
“Happy birthday,” I said, pushing the jar toward Freddy.
“Bullseye!” Someone shouted.
We both turned to the rambunctious celebratory noise of the sisters and Chad - an American werewolf. Chad pulled a dart from the dartboard and strutted back to the sisters. They were far more than the cute Chad cheer squad in the Harrow. Outside, they terrorised unlucky villages as a seven headed Hydra, but inside, they took the form of identical septuplets linked together by a foot, like a concertina. You would be surprised at how well coordinated they were when walking.
Chad caught my gaze and flicked me a salute.
“Another beer my good buddy,” he said with an air of self importance and arrogance. He turned, clapped a hand over his eyes and threw another dart at the board. The sisters yipped in anticipation.
As the dart hit the board, the door swung open with a bang. A cold breeze swept into the pub and silenced the bar. In reality, the man striding through the door was the reason for the chilly reception. Magnus Ullr was tall even for a human, and built like a brick shit house. Long white hair flowed over powerfully built shoulders, arms thick as tyres, with throbbing veins, bunched as he walked. He wore a heavy fur cape, a leather vest and pants.
The other monsters didn’t want Magnus in the Harrow Inn, but no one was brave enough to tell him, and besides, no one could deny the old monster hunter, everyone knew he was turning into one. But no one knew which monster it was.
I opened a small bar fridge under the counter full of normal English beers and pulled out two bottles. Magnus strode passed Chad, who had stopped and held the old monster hunter's gaze. As he passed, Chad snorted and tossed a dart at the dartboard. Like lightning, Magnus pulled a double handed axe from under his long fur cape and swung it at the board. The axe split the board in two, along with the dart. The other half fell pitifully to the floor.
The sisters hissed. Chad’s furs bristled.
Magnus strode forward, ripped the axe out of the wall and went to his usual seat in the far right corner of the room and placed the axe by the side of the booth.
No one said a word until Magnus was safely in his seat. When the normal crescendo returned, I walked over, placed a bottle in Chad's unresisting hand, and then a bottle in front of Magnus. He didn’t look up as he pulled his long cape around him.
“Umm,” I started, awkwardly.
Magnus raised a steel blue gaze at me, grunted and slapped a silver coin on the table. I stood for a moment contemplating. Duncan would be mad if he found out what I was about to do, but he didn’t need to know and besides, it was for a good cause.
I moved the coin back toward Magnus and started again. “Umm, I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions?”
Magnus followed the coin's track back to him and then looked up at me. At the top of his eyes a gaseous yellow billowed down obscuring his normal steel blue.
“No,” he grunted.
“Please, I really need your help?”
Magnus took a long pull of the beer and leaned back into his seat. The wood creaked with the pressure of his large bulk.
“Just a few questions and you can drink for free tonight. On me,” I added, as an afterthought.
Magnus’s white brow furrowed in anger. Then an arm snatched me up. My feet dangled above the floor.
“You think I need your charity, Boy?” He growled. The yellow of his eyes were spreading. The low grinding of the golems vibrated around the pub
“N-no! Not charity, payment, for a few questions?” I squeaked.
Magnus dropped me and took another long gulp of beer, which he coughed up. He clutched his throat, wheezing and coughing.
Chad burst out laughing. “Some monster hunter you are, can't even handle your drink.” The sisters roared with laughter. The golems materialised out of the wall.
Magnus reached under his cape to his vest and pulled out a glass vial of white liquid. I saw rows of coloured vials lining his vest as he lifted it to his eyes. Some had different coloured liquid swirling in them, others seemed empty, while more had haze-like mist, but they spoke danger.
He took the top off the one he had selected and tilted his head back. A few drips dropped into his eyes and he blinked them away. The yellow crawled back across his eyes and disappeared.
Granite reached for Magnus. Chad pointed, “Ah ha, the old fool has done it now. Monster hunter my ass.”
In another blinding display of speed, Magnus pulled a few vials from his pocket and threw them. One hit Chad square on the face, wetting his greyish fur with a smouldering purple goo. It hissed and popped. Chad screamed with pain as his fur slowly retracted, and his bones cracked and reformed until a naked boy stood before the pub.
The second vial hit Granite in the chest spewing ash like powder over him. The third hit Tommo, our other golem in the face, covering him with the same shabby dusting. Magnus retrieved his axe and swung it down and up at the steadily hardening golems.
Whatever was in the vials had done its job. It’s said that the golems my grandad made were impervious to any monster’s attack. That’s why the Harrow Inn is one of the safest places for monster kind. Magnus had undone that reputation in a matter of seconds. The golem’s arms fell to the floor sending vibrations through my feet. I swallowed… hard. It was only a matter of time until the same axe found its way to my neck.
I closed my eyes and waited. But it never came. When I cracked an eye, Magnus had resumed his seat and his beer. Chad was weeping on the floor, the sisters snickered to themselves and Freddy the fish chewed on his eggs. The golems were immobile and armless, literally, harmless. And I, scared out of Witsend, stood in the same position, dumbstruck.
“I come here to be left alone,” he flickered a sidelong glance at me. “If you’ve been through a tenth of what I’ve been through in the thousand years I’ve walked this earth you would understand. But no, peace cannot be had.” He sat back and closed his eyes.
I was acutely aware of the silence. Alexa nudged my arm and handed me a short glass and a bottle of 6th century Viking honey mead that belonged to the famous Gertal. I uncorked the lid and placed it on the table.
Magnus sniffed and then opened his eyes. He reached out and ran a finger over the runes of the glass bottle.
He poured some into the glass and raised it in the air. “Skol.”
He gulped at the mead and leaned back against the booth. His beard came away wet from the dribbles out the corner of the glass.
After a few seconds he seemed to notice me again. Magnus looked me up and down contemplatively.
“Ok, ask me, but if I don’t like it, I don’t tell you.”
I stuttered, not sure of what question to ask first. “Can you help me get a monster out of the Basement’s basement?”
Magnus didn’t even open his eyes. He took another pull of the mead. “Nope.”
“Ok. Well can you help me identify what monster he is?”
Magnus’s white moustache twiched in mirth. “Yes, I can.”
My heart rose with excitement. Magnus lifted the bottle and gulped several more times. I realised that he was mocking me. Saying he could help, didn’t mean he would. I need to be more specific.
Thinking back to Red and our first encounter I formed another question.
“Well. It’s a little fellow with red skin, about today old, has been consuming darkness from the Basement’s basement?”
The bottle stopped mid swig and Magnus cracked an eye on me.
“Newborn? Red? Feeding on void matter?”
“I haven’t heard of one of these creatures for a long time. It being here is bad omen. Death and destruction follow them like a plague. If it’s in the Basement’s basement, I would say leave it there, but if it keeps feeding on the void matter there will be no place for it to be left.”
I swallowed as Magnus righted himself, the bottle of mead forgotten.
“What is it?” I said, my knee started to shake.
Magnus’s blue eye stole through his thick brow. “It’s a Cambion.”