She had been in that corner for hours. It was my job to notice who was in my bar, but even if it wasn’t she would have demanded my attention. She was an ordinary kind of pretty, I guess. The sort of pretty that everybody noticed but wasn’t too intimidated by. Enough to stand out in this shithole town. She was definitely not from here. I could always tell.
A massive bear of a man in a leather jacket straight out of the ’50s came to the bar, ordered a Coke with grenadine and a neat bourbon and sat beside her on the worn sofa. They both sank into the soft brown cushions, ignoring the cigarette smoke and dust that billowed from inside the ancient leather. In a twist I didn’t see coming he handed her the bourbon and she slammed it back confidently as he settled beside her. He lit her cigarette, and she took a long drag, twirling it between her fingers as she exhaled slowly. Neither of them wanted to be there, but there was nothing alarming about her reaction. I always have to watch for that, you know. I ignored my instincts once and that poor girl never made it home.
I wouldn’t have thought the girl in the corner small until she was seated beside her oversized visitor, but she suddenly seemed delicate. The rocks glass rolled between her palms as she stared vacantly at the entrance. He sipped at his Coke quietly, looking at exactly nothing.
Neither of them moved for an incredibly long time. Had somebody died? What were they mourning? Their lips moved occasionally, indicating a hushed, emotionless conversation. The synthesized drone of 80s pop music drowned out the sound of their voices, even though I was straining to hear what they were saying.
I’d about given up on the odd pair, pouring whiskey and beer. The clink of glasses and gruff Irish accents surrounded me, and I tried to put the two out of my head. Then I heard a scream that made my blood cold, bumps on my arm and everything. Before I knew what was happening, she began can only be described as howling, jumping to her feet in pain. My skin crawled at the sound, and I immediately lunged forward to help. Bear Man shot me a look and I quickly realized that was a mistake, so I stepped back behind the safety of the bar, eyes fixed on scene unfolding in front of me. She began to twist and claw at her back ferociously, the denim jacket she’d tossed to the floor streaked with blood. Bear Man was on his feet half a second later, lunging toward the door. I turned to see what he was after, but I didn’t need to. I smelled it before I saw it.
The heavy wooden pub door blew off the hinges, smashing into the floor. A figure dressed as a human with decaying, pale flesh stood in the doorway, towering over the room. It should have been chaos, but the silence wrapped itself around the entire building. “IMOGEN!” The name came out as a screech from the pallid creature, but I never saw a mouth move. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I saw a mouth.
My pretty patron looked anguished, pulling what looked like a bloody feather from her shoulder blade. She leapt up onto the bar and held out her hand to catch the bow that Bear Man launched in her direction. The wounded girl became a warrior, producing arrows from… somewhere? I couldn’t tell. I realized I’d hidden myself behind the bar, too entranced to do anything but watch arrows fly while my handful of horrified regulars sat silently. Why weren’t we moving?
Her back was to me. Imogen. Blood and feathers bloomed from her bare shoulders, pushing their way out of her skin, stretching and piercing her skin from the inside. Sleek white plumage strained against her tank top, spilling out the sides. She flinched uncomfortably, yanking angrily at the white sprouts between each shot. They blossomed faster than she could pluck, though, and baby wings were developing rapidly. The stench became overpowering as the imposter human moved toward the bar, barely reacting to arrow after arrow. Bear Man hurtled through the room, crashing into the rotten creature and sending them both through a window. Shattered glass sprayed everywhere, creating more noise than I knew how to process. With a single move, Imogen sailed off the bar and discarded her bow, bounding gracefully across the tabletops. Fully formed pinions adorned her shoulders, flexing powerfully behind her as she dashed after Bear Man and the Imposter Human. She exited quietly through the broken window, a remarkably dignified exit on the heels of a brawl. White wings carried her into the cold, black night, visible until she swerved upward. It was suddenly more silent than it had ever been.
Imogen’s bloody feathers littered the bar. Her bow had landed on the taps, hanging precariously off a Guinness spout. A bloody denim jacket hung from the back of a wooden barstool. My patrons were still frozen, staring at each other and at the window.
Then, in unison, they picked up their beer and began their conversations where they left off. The chill had left the room, and I realized that the window was whole again. Pat Benatar blared from the jukebox music. A stench lingered, but nobody seemed to notice.
The coast was clear, and I poured two fingers of whiskey for Killian. Now, what the hell does one do with bloody feathers and a bow?