GINA SLID INTO THE WOODEN BOOTH of the dimly lit pub, clutching her cold glass of Smithwick’s and watching to be sure the golden liquid didn’t spill over the brim. She grabbed a cardboard beer mat from across the table and put her glass down, conscious of the already sticky surface. After glancing around at the décor for a few minutes, mostly Guinness signs and rugby memorabilia, she pulled off her wet coat and placed it on the seat beside her, trying to concentrate on the warmth of the pub rather than her damp jeans.
A tall, thin man entered and glanced around the nearly empty pub until his eyes rested on the lone girl. His red hair was plastered to his forehead and water dripped from his nose.
“God, I’m sorry I’m late, Gina.” He slid into the wooden booth opposite her, not yet shedding his threadbare woolen coat.
She smiled, close-lipped. “It’s okay, I’ve only just sat down myself.”
“Oh good. What will you have? Oh you’ve already got yourself a beer. Jesus, I’m a lousy friend. Hold there, I’ll get myself a Stella and be right back.”
Gina slowly sipped from her glass and absently tore at the edge of a spare beer mat, watching as Alan gave his order and money to the young, pretty bartender. It was only three o’clock in the afternoon, but the outside was as dark as night and the rain was falling sideways to spite the numerous umbrellas hurrying by on the sidewalk.
He slid back into the booth and wiped the water from his face with one hand, clutching the beer tightly in the other. There were dark circles under his eyes. They sat in silence for several seconds, taking small sips and not looking at each other. Gina broke the silence.
“For feck’s sake, Alan, what is it? You texted me for the first time in months yesterday, now out with it.”
He looked surprised by her outburst. “God, Gina, well, you see… I’ve got this problem, and I can’t talk to anyone else. I thought I’d buy you a beer and the words would come, but I can’t even get that first part right.”
Gina glared at him, and then looked away. She took another long sip before replying. “Listen, I don’t want to talk about what happened in the summer, and I don’t want to hear about any problems with one of your new girlfriends. So if you want my opinion or advice, you can forget it.”
Alan looked hurt. “Of course not, Gina. I can’t take back what happened, look, I’m sorry. I’ve apologized over and over again about that. But you were my best friend for so long, I don’t know of anyone else that I can trust. Please.”
Gina flinched at the words “best friend,” but she swallowed another sip of beer and recovered her composure. “Okay, out with it then.”
“You’re going to think that I’m crazy.”
“I already do.”
“This is way out there crazy. I want you to tell me if I’m going clinically insane.”
“Yes, you are.”
Alan sighed. “I’m seeing tentacles. Everywhere.”
“What do you mean by tentacles?”
“Slimy, suction-cup tentacles. Squid, octopus, even cuttlefish. Everywhere.”
“I’m not following you.”
Alan rubbed his hand over his hair, causing the back to stick up straight. “A few weeks after we, you know… wherever I look, everyone seems to have tentacles. See that man over there?”
Gina followed his finger to a man with white hair sitting alone, staring into his glass of Guinness. “Yeah.”
“Every so often, out of the corner of my eye, I’ll see purple fecking tentacles creeping out from under his jacket. When I look at him straight, no tentacles. And that bartender? White waving appendages, like some albino squid. I could hardly stand to be around her.”
Gina ripped another corner off the beer mat in front of her. “I never thought you would meet a bartender you didn’t like. What about me? Do I have tentacles?”
“Not yet. But no doubt they’ll appear, given time.”
“Jesus, Alan. Have you been to see a doctor?”
“I can’t, I’m broke. Can hardly pay rent.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
Tears formed in the corners of Alan’s eyes. “God, I don’t know. Tell me I’m not crazy? That this will all go away?”
With a sigh, Gina patted Alan’s hand resting on the table. “I’m no psychiatrist, but it is winter. Maybe you need some sunlight; Dublin is darker than hell this time of year. How long has it been since you visited your parents in Vermont? Maybe you could get them to buy you a ticket home. Get some fresh air.”
“And have them pump me through with anti-depressants like everyone else in the Northeast? No thank you, ma’am.”
“Then learn to like tentacles?”
Alan shuddered. “I was on a date, about a month ago…”
Gina threw a bit of the fluff from the destroyed beer mat at him. “I said, no dating stories, or I leave. It’s bad enough that I can’t get the image out of my head of you in bed with that bartender.”
“Just hear me out, okay? I was on a date with this girl I met at a bar. We went to this horrible sushi restaurant, but she said that she loved Japanese food. Then she ordered a baby octopus salad. When they came out, God, it was all that I could do to stop from shitting my pants when I saw all of the tentacles twisted up with each other. When she put them in her mouth and bit down, I screamed. I literally screamed on a date. How fecking crazy am I?”
A smile played at the corners of Gina’s mouth. “Maybe you should avoid sushi and dates with randomers from the bar from now on.”
“This is serious, Gina. At first, when I saw flickers of tentacles on the girls, I thought that it was kind of sexy. You know, slippery can be hot. But now it’s all I can do to not run away, and it’s getting worse.”
“You thought that tentacles were sexy?”
Alan drained the rest of his glass. “I’m sorry, this was a bad idea. I thought that you’d be able to get past what happened and talk to me like a real friend. I was drunk, okay? I hardly even remember that night.”
The old man in the corner started singing to himself, one of the classic Irish ballads that involved someone dying or going away forever. The bartender looked at Gina, who shrugged and smiled, and they let him sing on undisturbed.
“I’m sorry, Alan, what you’re going through sounds horrible. I shouldn’t rag on you for past indiscretions. Water under the bridge.”
“Yes, this could just be the beer talking, but I forgive you. The American-born Irish have got to stick together.”
Alan smiled and raised his empty glass to her. “Cheers, Gina. I really appreciate it. Can I buy you another round?”
“How about dinner? Are you hungry?”
“Famished, I’ve barely been able to get groceries lately, what with the tentacles. Do you want to eat here?”
“Oh God no, remember how bad their fish and chips were the last time?”
Alan made a face. “Good point. Let’s go to O’Neills then, just like old times?”
Gina smiled, her green eyes lighting up for the first time. Alan squeezed her shoulder and excused himself to use the toilet before they departed.
When he was out of sight, she glanced around to make sure that the bartender and other patrons weren’t paying attention. Before she put her jacket on, she reached up behind her back and pulled her tentacles out of the aether, letting the waving ends spill out the back of her shirt. She had had her fun toying with Alan, but now she was hungry, and there were many dark alleyways on the way to O’Neills. Whoever said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned had not met her father.
Holliann R. Kim completed her M.Phil in Popular Literature at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), where she first came into contact with both Lovecraft and Irish pubs. She now lives in sunny Atlanta, where she works as a SF/Fantasy writer and copy editor, and is in the process of writing her first novel. You can learn more at www.holliannkim.com.
Story illustration by Robert Elrod.
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