Written by Bryana Lorenzo
Art by Tim Durgan
Whiskey and cigar smoke wafted through ectoplasm; pints of virgin blood and witch’s brew mixed merrily with tequila shots. They served brain globs at the front counter alongside dried peanuts. Their finest drink was champagne—save for New Years when they broke out a cask of Amontillado. That was Gone Away Gertrude’s.
It was a bar for old ghosts, among others, and had been Murphy’s existence for sixty years.
“Any requests?” asked the pianist in the back. The patrons raised their glasses and cried for Billy Joel. The pianist rolled his eyes, but his fingers waltzed to “Piano Man”, as they had every day, for the last sixty years. Every. Single. Day. For the last sixty years. Murphy’s head buzzed. “Y’know Gertrude,” Murphy said, harshly scrubbing the counter, “I’m dying tomorrow.” Gertrude wafted past, taking orders and serving beer. “That’s nice Murph.” After serving another pint, she dropped her jaw, which landed in a jug of ale. She blushed and washed it under the sink. “But, you’re barely eighty-eight!”
“And you died at forty-two.”
“That was the Wild West!”
“Bartender!” called the pianist. “I’m on break. Give me the good stuff.”
Murphy shook his head and served him spirits; misty wraiths swarmed the pianist’s bones and pecked his essence. He giggled like a maenad and fell from his bar stool. Murph helped him right himself.
“God I’m a mess,” the pianist said. “It’s like I’m back in my cult days.”
Murph handed him a ginger ale. “C’mon bud, you ain’t that bad.”
He took a sip. “You’re just saying that.”
“No I mean it,” Murphy said. “I mean, look at you. You went to rehab, got a stable job, made your dad proud. Your life’s set.”
The pianist smiled lazily. “Thanks, bartender… you’re a real pal.”
He’d been his “pal” for sixty years.
“Is this really how you’re spending your last day?” Gertrude asked. “Shouldn’t you be with friends and family?”
Murphy raised an eyebrow. “What friends and family?”
Well, that wasn’t really true. He did have family—close family—or at least he did once upon a time. Heck, he was gonna be the best man for his kid brother Derrick.
But that was sixty years ago.
“Don’t lie,” Gertrude said. “Everybody has someone.”
A Russian reaper barged into the bar and ordered vodka. Everyone scuttled out of her way at the sight of her scythe. She sipped her vodka and eyed Murph in surprise. “Bartender! You retire from life tomorrow, yet you come work today?”
“Wait? How did you know?” Gertrude asked.
She grinned. “I the one who tell him.”
“Murphy,” Gertrude crossed her arms. “How long have you known you were dying?” He bit his lip. “Uh… few years now.”
The reaper laughed. “Few years? I tell you fate decade ago!”
Gertrude’s eye twitched. “Murph, why didn’t you tell me this—”
“Snake oil! Get your snake oil! Now with a two-for-one on Rolexes!” said a conman in the back, fangs glinting in the lowlight, though he tried to hide them. “Bartender, how about another Bacardi?”
Gertrude scowled, while Murph mixed the drink.
“Just a min—”
“Bartender!” cried the head of a union of ghouls. “We request a celebratory Pommery for the table, for our recent strike has been a success!”
The bartender sighed. “Yeah, yeah, of—”
“¡Ay mis hijos!” wept a poor banshee from Oaxaca. “Bartender! Another Don Julio!” “Lord have mercy! Let a man think for a second!”
He rushed to each table with each drink, answering each new summons like the Bloody Mary, who herself complimented him on his promptness.
“Murph,” Gertrude warned. “Don’t overwork yourself.”
“Overwork myself? I’m dying! Who cares if I overwork myself?”
He’d been overworked since day one regardless. When Derrick had called with the news he had lung cancer, Murphy was busy collapsing from breaking up a goblin fight. “Bartender!”
He tugged at the bridge of his nose. “Coming!”
When Ricky was in the hospital with his fiancee sobbing at his side, the bartender was at the bar playing therapist for Lucifer without any care for—
When his brother died, he never showed at the funeral because—
He slammed his fist on the counter. “Can I please have a damn minute to think?”
He never showed at the funeral because Hans Christian Anderson’s insecurities about writing were more pressing. His sister-in-law hated him for it. His mother stopped speaking to him, then she died too. The bartender never stopped working.
“Bartender! We need you!”
The bartender heard clinks of glasses. He saw fresh hemoglobin and sinew drip from fangs. Banshee wails rattled his brain. He slinked from patron to patron, like a spider slinging from wall to wall. Each cried “Bartender! Bartender! Bartender!”
He dropped his jug of booze, which seeped into Gertrude’s leather boots. Her eyes were fixed on his. The bartender… Murphy… took a seat.
“Tell me… what’s going on?”
He shrugged. ”I’m the bartender. I have a job to do.”
“But you’re killing yourself!”
The bartender laughed. “I’m already dead, Gertrude. I run a bar for old ghosts, but I was the first ghost.”