Strange Times at the Green Cobalt. (Short Story)

Gregory Grimes was excited to leave work that Friday afternoon. He was alot of things on that particular sunny day. He was tired from a long week of hard work. Gregory was an employee at a small printing press. The bulk of the business stemmed from producing advertisements for products that most people did not need. Come to think of it, most of the flyers were usually not wanted either, and often thrown away at the first opportunity. However, these facts did not thankfully jeopardize his specific role as a machinist overseeing some of the giant, complex structures of whirring cacophonic steel. It was certainly, no easy task.

This type of skilled, precision work was rather hard on the body, particularly for someone going through the identical physical motions for over a decade. Gregory, now in his mid 40s, was beginning to feel the effects of the repetitive tasks. His shoulders and feet hurt. At first, it was on a rare occasion, but those occasions were becoming common place. Was this the end? Gregory would pontificate, as he hobbled back to his bachelor apartment situated in Parkdale, or only the beginning of a long life filled with physical pain for meagre wages?

He thought of how quiet his apartment would be when he would eventually get there. This made him sad. But he was also elated to be leaving work for that coveted two day respite. He was really starting to hate his job. He had started hating it about seven years ago. But now, he was getting quite comfortable at his hatred. He felt pretty good about some of the imaginary arguments he had been having with his boss, lately. So far, he hadn’t lost any. That was something to celebrate.

Gregory went on like this for several blocks. Living inside his head, lost in swirling waves of thought and emotion, almost as loud as some of the machines he tended to earlier that day. Just then – something caught his eye. It was a flickering green neon sign, almost imperceptible to the passerby. He would have missed it, had he not looked down momentarily to tie his shoelace. An orange tinged stray cat had nestled its head against his leg as he tied it, purring a brief greeting before scurrying down the alleyway wedged squarely between Sally’s Laundromat and Wong’s Chinese Restaurant.

The sign read:

The Green Cobalt.

Intriguing, thought Gregory. He had never heard of it. Never seen this sign before. Never knew there was anything down this alleyway before. Curious, he decided to walk toward it, without giving any thought as to what he was doing. As though the glowing green sign was a tractor beam, pulling him in, whether he wanted to proceed or not.

It was a small number of paces, maybe half of dozen or so, before he arrived at the midpoint of the concrete cul-de-sac, lined on either side with metallic fire staircases, garbage and graffiti. The exhaust vents of Wong’s kitchen and Sally’s laundromat mixed into an odd aroma, comprised of sweet egg rolls and perfumed laundry detergent – producing an effect that was both pungent and intoxicating. He soon found himself enveloped in a cloud of smoke, illuminated only by the crackling neon sign which gave out a barely audible hum. He turned back towards the street, as if unsure as to whether to proceed. The smoke in the alley now obstructing his view significantly. He could barely make out the sidewalk from whence he came.

Feeling as though it was too late to turn back, he made for the sign. Where did that cat go? He wondered. Maybe it found a spot behind the army green dumpster at the back of the alley, Gregory surmised. He shrugged. Below the sign, a number of greasy steps caked in with dirt led to the dark basement of the rear of the restaurant and a door covered in strange, indecipherable graffiti tags. There was only one way to discover what lay beyond. He turned the old brass door knob and pushed his way inside.

It was dark. And quiet.

His eyes slowly adjusted to the faint light, provided by a solitary string of fairy lights overtop a bar at the end of the room. A few tables with empty chairs lined either side of the small room, leading to the bartender, situated in front of the dark, musty batch of bottles and glasses. It was as though he was expecting Gregory’s arrival for some time.

What’ll it be?

A beer would be good, please. Anything blond on tap?

Sure thing, pal.

The bartender was dressed as though he was straight out of a spaghetti western. He was wearing a formal, crisply laundered white shirt with a black bow tie. Mutton chops lining a blank face that had probably seen too much. He fished out a fresh pint glass from the shelf behind him and poured out a serving of the gold foamy liquid. Placed it in front of Gregory.

Thanks.

He drank in silence. It was the kind of awkward silence often shared between two strangers. He thought of attempting to break it a few times, but he found himself struggling to come up with anything of interest to relay. He focused instead on his drink. The stress of the day recalled inside his troubled mind. He soon finished the cold brew, eager to escape his own thoughts.

Noticing a dusty bottle with a label written in some other language he was not familiar with, he pointed it out to the bartender.

What is that? I’ve never seen it before.

Oh that? That’s absinthe. It’s our house special.

You should try it! A voice called from the far side of the room.

This startled him. A moment ago, Gregory had been certain he was alone with this near mute bartender. How could he have missed this person? He turned around and squinted through the dim light to see who it was. All he could make out was a dark outline of a shadow.

Barkeep! One special for my new friend, the stranger commanded.

Perhaps searching for an ally to reassure him, Gregory turned away to look back at the bartender to see how he would react to the request. Shrugging wordlessly, the bartender reached for the dusty bottle and poured out a dark green liquid that seemed to sparkle in the light. A puff of smoke emanated from the glass, as though a mouth on the other end of it had blown out a small pocket of mysterious mist.

Come and join me, the unknown voice called out from behind.

There was no other option. With no one else around and a free drink in his hand, still covered in dirt and grease from the day’s work, Gregory was lacking an alternative move. He made his way to the other end of the bar and sat across from this strange man. And what a strange man he was.

He was dressed in a neatly tailored suit. The material looked dark at first, but the more Gregory took it in, the more it seemed to shimmer and sparkle. His face was near featureless. It had no facial hair nor discernible marks nor distinguishing features of any kind. He could not tell what race this person was. Nor how old. The only articles of note was his green bowtie and a smile that revealed a near perfect set of teeth, that seemed to dazzle in the light, almost as much as his metallic suit.

He raised his glass, wordlessly while dropping his grin, momentarily. It was a serious look. Meant to convey that Gregory should mirror his movement. And so that is what he did. He raised his own glass and they both took a drink, taking each other in at the same moment.

Gregory was about to say something when the man interrupted.

You have questions.

Yes.

You want to know who I am and where I come from.

Yes.

I am a stranger from somewhere else.

That tells me nothing. This guy is super weird, thought Gregory.

I am from what you might call, a different time, a different place. I am a traveler, like yourself.

But I am not a traveler. I live here.

At that, the man laughed.

You are a traveler, even though you may think you are not.

Very well, Gregory responded. He was in no mood to get into arguments with bizarre men in dark bars.

You have questions.

Very well, Okay then. Let’s play this game. Where are you from?

Have you heard of John Titor?

Yes. The time traveler from the internet. Is that what you are, some kind of time traveler?

I am somewhat like John.

What is your world like?

I need more specific questions than that one.

Very well.…Gregory noticed a television set behind the bar. How did he miss that before? It was tuned to a 24 news station. The report seemed to cover a military conflict of some kind.

Is there war where you come from?

No. There is no more war.

How did this come to be?

We have eliminated the need for commerce. Wealth is shared on a population wide scale. We have replaced the military with institutions that nurture, educate and provide, instead of destroy.

How so?

Our so-called army is now made up of competitive dancers. We resolve conflict through partying, dancing, and general amusement. Our navy’s fleets have been converted as boat cruises for summer festivals.

That sounds kind of awesome. What about religion?

Religion has been replaced by mindfulness centres and yoga. We have determined that religion divides people and convinces them that they are special. When in fact, no one is special and everyone is special.

What about a monarchy?

Everyone is king or queen for a day. It’s kind of like having one of your “birthday” celebrations.

What types of technology do you have?

The Kazinsky School of technology caters to bicycle maintenance and repairs and boat construction.

You have no other methods of transportation? No cars? No planes?

Planes cause too much pollution. We have determined that cars are as dangerous as phones.

How are phones dangerous?

For the same reason that social media is.

What the hell are you saying?

Have you ever found yourself driving a car, when someone waves you down that needs your assistance?

Yes.

Would you stop?

That depends.

Depends on what? There is someone in front of you that needs your help.

Well, I mean, if I’m in a hurry, I might keep going. Someone else can surely step in.

And what about if you were on foot?

Well, I would more likely stop.

That is why cars are dangerous. Not because they are made of steel, and weigh two thousand of your earth pounds. Nor because they spew carcinogens.  The true nature of the threat that they pose is that they insulate you from one another. Just like your “money”. They give you the illusion of power and control. All of this is cancerous to society.

And phones?

They do the same thing. But they are even more dangerous. They are designed to convince you that they connect you with others. Nothing can be further from the truth. They disconnect you from the real world around you. This is why we have none of your television or “personal computers”. We communicate face to face. We tell stories and role play. You call it theatre. 

You said social media was dangerous, how so?

All such things do is provide for echo chambers of empty material desires, loneliness, unresolved anger and hatred. All of this is a masquerade to make meaning out of a senseless world. To occupy the masses with inane tasks simply to keep them under the spell of the handful of powerful people in your control.  As I stated before, the accumulation of wealth is no longer the end goal of human experience, as it is in your world. We exist to create and relate to one another in marvel and mutually enjoyed experiences. Education is centred on developing artistic pursuits. If one is so inclined, one can learn mechanics in order to preserve our boats and our bicycles. We have learned to fold space and time, but this is by using a clean energy. We have learned to harness the sun and the wind and the waves. Not for profit, but for the betterment of our longterm, collective existence.

This was making Gregory mad. He did not know why. Maybe because it all seemed to make so much sense. And why the world he lived in felt so wrong. That everything was poisoned but because we were spoon fed the same formula from day one we all felt so powerless to stop it. He wanted to cry. But instead he laughed.

Let’s have another.

Barkeep! Two more specials please. Toute suite!

The bartender brought over another two glasses of the green liquid. They raised their glasses and drank. Just then, a song came on the bar’s unseen – and, until that very moment; unheard, sound system. It was Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.

I fricking love this song! Screamed the strange man.

He jumped up, and without any warning, started dancing. He motioned for Gregory to follow suit. Maybe it was the absinthe. He didn’t think too much about it, except that it was kind of weird that this guy from another dimension liked this song so much. He would have expected something a little more futuristic would get him going. Like Kraftwerk, or even Bowie.

They danced together, in that dark room. The room began to slowly fill with smoke. More and more of it. Was there a dry ice machine somewhere? It got so thick as he was spinning, that Gregory started coughing, and coughing. He was having trouble breathing. The room seemed to spin more and more until everything turned black.

He awoke in his apartment the following day. What the hell had happened? He had a blistering headache and no knowledge of how he had gotten home.

Gregory tried many times after that weekend to locate The Green Cobalt. The alley where he had been certain it was located contained no such bar. The sign was gone. There was indeed a set of stairs at the back of Wong’s, but it only led to a storage area filled with boxes and old kitchen machinery from the restaurant. He had discovered this after breaking in a few nights later, in a desperate attempt to reassure himself that he had not gone mad.

When he left the room after closing the door and making his way back up the stairs into the alley, he noticed the identical orange stray cat he had encountered on his first adventure at the Cobalt. It seemed to grin at him before scurrying away into the night, for the last time.

Featured Photo courtesy Foundry, on Pixabay.

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