On some days, it would have been better to stay in bed instead of trying to confront the world. Days, where the world itself seems to be out to get you. Days like these never seem to end. When I woke up this morning, I knew instinctively, that it was going to be one of those days.
I am a detective. Of that, at least, I am sure. Anything else about me feels like it is hidden inside a brilliant white haze. I know it is ‘there’, but I cannot see or grasp it. I turn around to look back through the door I am standing in and see nothing but darkness. No, that’s wrong. This sensation I am feeling is different from peering into the darkness. It is...a void, for the lack of a better term. A ‘nothing’. A quote from a book I must have read when I was a child popped into my mind. ‘It is, as if you were blind when you look at the spot’. A weird feeling, to be sure.
“Don’t just stand there, come in!” someone suddenly addresses me and I turn my head to look forward. I am standing in the doorway of what appears to be a bar of some sort. How did I get here? What am I doing here? And what is this place anyway?
A middle-aged man waves from behind the bar. Seems to be the jolly sort who has seen all kinds of things already. But if this isn’t the strangest of places I’ve ever been to, I don’t know. If not for the entrance which seems to lead ‘nowhere’, then for the guests who are laughing, drinking and chatting away their time. I wonder if I somehow stumbled into some sort of convention, where people like to dress up as their favorite mythical or futuristic creature.
On one table, there’s an elderly fox lady berating a younger one about something. A human mother is scolding a scaled child for her misbehavior, whilst what I assume to be the husband busies himself with the cleanup. A man carrying himself like a soldier stands a little to the side, speaking to a purple skinned...girl, I guess, who wears something that seems to have escaped from a horror story as if it was everyday clothing. There are people carrying medieval weapons like swords and bows and...did that guy just make the glass float with a localized tornado?
What kind of place is this?!
Now the barkeeper comes to the front and asks, “You look confused.
Don’t worry, it happens to every newcomer. Welcome to the nexus
bar. What can I get you?”
“Something to wake me from this nightmare would be good…”
“Oh? A nightmare?” the man chuckles and proceeds to put together a drink with skilled hands. As the places the drink on the counter he leans forward and asks, “So? What’s your story?”
I pick up the drink and let it circle in the glass for a little before responding, “My ‘story’? What makes you think I have a ‘story’?”
The man smiles knowingly and explains, “Because everyone here has a story to tell. You don’t get to walk through that door unless you do. See those twins over there? The one looking depressed like he’s gone through hell and back and the other one trying to tell him that it’s going to be okay? They’re actually the same person from two different timelines. The down guy sacrificed himself to save the world from a Zombie apocalypse like 50 times before the guy where it never happened showed up. Or that guy arm-wrestling with the guy with bull horns? Crash landed on an alien planet and survived with nothing but a single companion at his side. Good example for ‘knowledge is power’, those two. Kinda tragic story though. Or…”
The good man likely would have continued a good while longer, but apparently he noticed the lost expression on my face. I didn’t have a story. And if I did, I didn’t know it. I was like a blank sheet, freshly put into a typewriter, waiting to be written upon.
“...you don’t look so good Mr...Detective?” the man said,
suddenly raising an eyebrow.
“...how do you know I’m a detective?” I ask, genuinely surprised. I am sure I didn’t mention it. Why, I had barely said anything at all since he called out to me. Can he read my thoughts? Considering the tall tales he just threw my way, that wouldn’t seem like a very far stretch.
“Oh, I know that look...I’ve done it again, didn’t I? Sorry
about that. Just for the record, I can not read your thoughts, it’s
just that I know everything I need to know about the people who come
“Then...you know who I am?”
“In all honesty...no, I don’t. Usually, I let people tell me their stories although I already know them when they enter because I found that it unsettles them quite a bit if they learn that I already know them even though they don’t know me. You, on the other hand...you are a very strange case. Like a blank sheet, waiting to be written upon.”
And there he goes claiming he can’t read my thoughts!
“You have me at a disadvantage I’m afraid,” I politely remind him that he seems to know more about me than I know about him...or myself, for that matter. It would be unwise to anger a creature like him without reason. Whilst I am somewhat certain that this is a dream of some sort, I cannot risk making this experience worse than it already is.
“Oh, my apologies. Everyone here just calls me ‘the barkeep’ or
‘the keeper’, cause it’s what I do. I man the bar, listen to
the people, break up fights, the likes.”
“...the keeper? Nothing else? No name?”
The man chuckles and responds, “Some have also come to call me ‘Nemo’.”
“…so you’re ‘nobody’, huh?” I murmur.
“Damn straight I am, because you know, nobody’s perfect!”
I half expected a drum snare to sound from the off at the ludicrous joke this strange man had just cracked, but there was no such thing. Only the laughter of merry people. I take a sip from the glass. If it is poisoned, I will know soon enough, but I really need the drink. Much to my surprise, the drink feels familiar. I cannot say why or how, but I know that this drink is my favorite.
The man nodded and said, “Nailed it, from the look on your
“...what is this drink called?” I ask, hoping to get a glimpse into my past from the name.
The man shakes his head and explains, “It’s your drink, detective. I don’t bother with names as much as others do. Every drink I make is made specifically to the tastes of the customer. If I were to give every drink a name, I’d run out of names sooner rather than later.”
“But...but how is this even possible?!” I ask, far louder than I intended.
The man smiles benign and explains, “You are in the Nexus Bar, my friend. The lowest level of the sole building within the axis mundi, the place where all worlds come together. Here, the laws and rules of whatever place you came from have little meaning. Welcome to the house of dreams.”
The ‘house of dreams’, he says. A lofty name, to be sure. Whoever came up with it sure didn’t query any marketing guys about it. Still, this strange place...how in the world did I end up here?
“On that note,” the man suddenly says, redirecting my attention
back to him. His smile has vanished and a worrisome expression rests
on his face that has seen much laughter and joy in his time.
“...hm?” I ask, notifying him that I am listening.
“I...think I know the reason why you are here. Or why I can’t ‘read’ you like the others. I think...your story has yet to be written. And I also think that it’s going to take place here. Here within the house of dreams. Oh, how exciting, I’ve never been in more than the aftermath of a story or two!”
“You are talking in riddles,” I tell the man nonchalantly.
“Of course, of course you wouldn’t know...after all, you have only just been born and here I come and drown you with all those things you cannot understand.”
“What nonsense are you spouting?! Can’t you see that I am a grown man?! How can you claim that I have ‘only just been born’?!”
Nemo gives me an appraising look and then asks, “Then tell me,
Detective, what’s your story? Where do you come from? What have you
experienced? Tell me about your life prior to coming here.”
“I—” I want to start, but there it is again. The big wall of white blocking me off from my past.
“You don’t know, do you? When you try to recall anything, there’s nothing. You know you’re a detective and you know the skills of your trade, but other than that, you’re a blank.”
“How in the world do you know all that?!” I shout, this time turning quite a few heads. I pull the hat on my head deeper in my face, feeling exposed. I really shouldn’t lose my cool like this, but this guy knows how to push all the right buttons.
Nemo nods and responds, “I know this must be confusing for you. And
you have my sympathies. But if I am right — and I am right most of
the time when it comes to my customers — you have a very important
job to do. Your coming has to be related to that incident. Why, I
would even say that you were created by the axis mundi itself. Much
like an antibody who is born to ward off an infection.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. My instincts had long since told me what this man is now hinting at. Something is very wrong with this place. And it is not the fox girls.
With a lowered voice, Nemo explains, “You see, the rules of this
place are nothing like the rules of the worlds this place connects
to. In here, there is no death. No pain. No hurt. No strive. A
peaceful place. In a sense, you could call this place the afterlife
for all those who come here. However, unlike the afterlife as most
understand it, the people can return to their worlds at will.”
“Won’t it be a problem if they tell people of their world about this place?” I ask.
“Never happened yet. I don’t know how it works exactly, but apparently they forget this place once they return to their own world. Or, if anything, they only recall it as if it were a pleasant dream. I mean, whatever else could a place this crazy ever be, if not a dream. Right, Sirus?”
He calls out to the guy who had just finished his arm-wrestling
session with the bull guy and moved to the bar to celebrate the
contest with his apparently best friend.
“Damn straight this place is like a dream.”
“How are your girlfriends doing?”
“As if you didn’t know already, keeper,” this ‘Sirus’ fella replies with a grin.
“Humor me and our latest guest. I believe you’ll be seeing a lot of him in the near future.”
Sirus sighs and starts counting, “Let’s see...Julia’s living it up with Geoffrey in their room, Eva’s still trying to find Gaia and Nym...well, Nym’s gone back already. You know, her mission.”
“Hardworking as always, that girl,” Nemo nods and then proceeds to introduce us, “Detective, this young man here is Sirus, the guy who crashed on an alien world. And the handsome bull next to him is called ‘Minos’.”
“I did never agree to be called by that name,” the tall and muscular man responds without much zeal. He clearly told the same thing to many people in the past. With little effect.
“Anyway, what will you be having?” Nemo asks, already starting the process before his guests can even answer. He really does a poor job at his act of ‘not knowing everything’. And the two now at the counter know it too, seeing how they don’t even bother to answer at all.
After they’re back at their table, exchanging stories and laughing over their drinks, Nemo’s face changes from cheerful to sorrowful as he motions me to follow him to the back room.
Once we’re inside, he closes the door and says, “Listen,
Detective...it’s only a matter of time before everyone knows anyway
and for now I’ve tried to keep everyone here without worrying them,
but...something happened. Something I did not even think
“Who’s dead?” I surmise.
“...sharp as expected, detective. Thing is: I don’t know. A body was found in one of the rooms above. As dead as can be...but he is not on any of my records. An outsider that should not exist. An initial investigation has turned up a violent and painful death. In a world, where death should not exist, where those who are long since dead in their world can meet up with their loved ones, there is now a body. Not only did they appear without me knowing, but someone killed them in cold blood. And then, the next day, you walk in through my door. A man without past, a white page, ready to be written on. You are the response of the axis mundi of someone...or something...trying to change its rules. And I, as the keeper of this place, beseech you to find out who the victim is...and who committed the unthinkable. The impossible. Who committed a murder in the house of dreams?”
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