Back inside The Slumberer, everyone had moved away from the bar and were occupying tables tucked away in corners of the cavernous bar room. As Scott approached the bar itself, he once again noticed the door marked “Staf olny” and a bell rang in his head.
“You’re Gemma, aren’t you?” He asked the young woman who had first startled, then puzzled him so much a moment before. She turned to him, her eyes wide in amazement.
“I am. How did you know that?” He almost told her he was psychic, but was worried she might actually believe him.
“Billy mentioned you. He described you perfectly.” Gemma smiled brightly, apparently pleased at being recognised. Scott thought it best not to repeat Billy’s description of her.
When they reached the bar, Gemma took off her jacket and stepped to the staff side of the wooden barrier. She beamed even wider at Scott, and asked him what he was drinking. He ordered a pint of bitter and looked around the large room, trying to see if anyone would be willing to catch his eye for a conversation. He wanted to talk to someone who didn’t make him feel like he was skating over uncharted depths of bafflement with every sentence uttered. Unfortunately, everyone seemed to be absorbed in their own private chats. Even Billy was over talking to Alice, rather than manning his station behind the bar. He gave thought to trying to resume his talk with Gemma, but even as she placed his pint on the bar beside him and took his money Billy waved at her and called her over to the table which he, Alice and Nez were clustered around. Scott resigned himself to having a pint in solitude and sipped at the dark beer, finding himself shocked at the quality of the drink, considering he didn’t recognise the name on the pump. “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar” was the written on the tap and the picture was of a strange, amoeba-like creature; he raised his eyebrows at yet another display of Cumbrian oddness and took a huge gulp of the drink, enjoying the rich, earthy, faintly wood-smokey flavour that lingered behind the kick of the alcohol. The pump didn’t list the volume, but he would put it at perhaps 6 or even 8%; obviously people in the country liked their booze to kick like a mule. He thought about everything he’d seen of the village and the people in it, before deciding that he didn’t blame them. If he lived there, he’d also want to spend as much time out of his head as he could.
Gemma disappeared and reappeared over to the table many times, but she kept very much to herself after the first visit, speaking to him only to take his orders and give him his change. A couple of hours passed in lonely contemplation of his plight. Scott could still feel the dull ache of his father’s death, but it was distant from his current mood. The confusion of the day, combined with the beer, was keeping that wound staunched for now so his mind sifted through everything that had gone on since he had arrived in Ingleton earlier that day.
Everything about the place sat badly with him. Its smallness and isolation, the strangeness of the buildings and the people who lived in them, but most of all, far more than he’d realised until now, the place gave him the creeps. He knew his state of mind was fragile, but even taking that into account he couldn’t shake off a sense of permanent, low grade apprehension, as if he was waiting for something to happen. He turned the feeling over in his head, trying to examine where it was coming from, but nothing presented itself to him. The hallucinations weren’t the main cause of his worry, they were simply brought on by a combination of grief, tiredness, hunger and dehydration; they had to be, because that kind of thing happened in trashy novels or cheap Italian horror films, but just didn’t happen in the real world. Not to real people, and even if they did, certainly not in Cumbria.
As he slowly sipped his pint, he tried to make sense of the creeping nervousness that was still gnawing at him, but could make no headway in figuring it out. Admitting defeat to himself, he decided his current pint would be his last and he would head up to his room and get some sleep. Maybe a new day would give him a fresh perspective. If nothing else, the sleep would properly prepare him for the inevitable arguments and recriminations that would accompany the return of his dad’s car, assuming he could find his way back to the A-roads, of course.
While he was draining his pint, he noticed Billy coming behind the bar for the first time in hours. He raised his eyebrows in greeting to the landlord, before placing his glass on the bar and stifling a belch. Billy’s mouth twitched at the corners, the same hint of amusement that Scott had seen earlier, then spoke to him.
“Look, mate. I kind of owe you an apology. I know we haven’t been very friendly in here tonight. It’s nothing against you, it’s just that there’s a village festival coming soon, so we’re all busy planning that. I hope you don’t mind. How about if I stand you a drink, by way of making up for it. You seemed to be supping up, so a quick nightcap on the house before you go?” Scott was taken aback by the offer. He couldn’t remember the last time a landlord had offered him a drink on the house.
“Um, yeah. Thanks. That’s very kind of you.” Billy flashed his almost-smile again, then reached down behind the bar.
“You’ll appreciate this. Local stuff. You can’t buy it, it’s only brewed in the village and it doesn’t get sold anywhere except in here.” He lifted out a medium sized, unlabelled brown bottle, removed a cork from the neck and placed a shot glass on bar.
Scott watched in fascination as the landlord poured a viscous, yet crystal clear liquid into the glass, the smell of which was enough to almost cause him to recoil. A powerful odour of cloves, cinnamon and something else vaguely familiar, which he couldn’t quite place, washed over him, causing his nostrils to flare involuntarily and his face to twist into a reflexive expression of distaste. He looked questioningly at Billy, but got nothing in response beyond the usual almost-smile. He considered refusing the drink, but some inbuilt macho instinct kicked in, and he picked up the glass, took a second to steel himself, then downed the shot of clear liquid in one gulp.
At first, he couldn’t make out any taste, beyond the raw burn of the strong alcohol on his throat as his eyes began to fill up and his nasal passages started to sting, but soon the flavours hit him, cloves and cinnamon he’d rightly guessed, but the third flavour finally clicked into place for him, the overwhelming flavour of camphor. He tried to keep his breathing smooth, so as not to cough or splutter, something he felt sure would elicit a roar of laughter from the other locals, but the tickling in his lungs was too much and he barked out a cough of surprising volume. The sickly sweet taste of cough medicine flooded his mouth and he found himself stifling the urge to vomit.
“Unusual, isn’t it?” Scott merely nodded his agreement, looking over his shoulder expecting to see the others clustered in the bar smirking and sniggering at him. Instead, everyone was intent on their own business, looking at everything it seemed, except Scott.
“Look mate, I don’t want to seem unfriendly,” Scott told Billy “but it’s been a really long day for me, I’m just going to go to bed. Is breakfast included in the price of the room?” Billy just looked at Scott with a raised eyebrow. “Yeah, well it was worth asking. I’m going to head up. G’night, mate.” Scott climbed from his stool at the bar, surprised at how shaky his legs felt. Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar was obviously strong stuff, paying careful attention to not staggering or falling over, he made his way to the door upstairs. He saw Gemma trying to catch his eye as he went.
“Cold sleep, dream deep.” Scott was surprised by the strange turn of phrase, but his mind was too clouded to make much sense of anything, so he simply nodded his thanks and made his way carefully up the stairs, not even bothering to use the bathroom – the creature! – before he made his way into his bedroom, stripped off his clothes and folded himself under the thin duvet, falling asleep almost immediately.