I know what you’ll say. That I was drunk. I was hallucinating the whole thing. But I swear I wasn’t.
My bar isn’t the usual happy-go-lucky, celebratory kind of place where you’ll find Christmas trees, jack-o-lanterns, or candy hearts on those wretched holidays. But some of the guys got together and insisted this year they go all out for St. Paddy’s. I was indifferent, to be honest, with a wife at home putting our daughter to bed and then getting it on with Top Model and a fishbowl of Rocky Road. Home was the last place I wanted to be. I just needed a few drinks.
I stumbled in to my local dive and said my hellos while a slightly incompetent jazz band attempted to belt out old Irish folk tunes. It was the owner’s brother’s band. They played every Tuesday and they were actually starting to sound halfway decent. Unfortunately, their rendition of “Donald, Where’s Your Trousers” sounded like a horse that had been fed a bucket of tequila and then dropped down a deep well. I almost turned around when Miranda tossed a green felt top hat on me, but the acrid scent of stale alcohol—the odor that seems to swim in the atmosphere of all bars—lured me in further.
Miranda usually tended the bar on weekends, but she was pulled in this Tuesday evening for the speculated large crowd that was sure to be here. There were already a few more strangers than usually filling up the stools.
“What are you havin’?” Miranda flashed a smile at me, though her eyes were tired and droopy. Maybe she was pulling a double.
“Jim Beam and Coke.”
“Top o’ the evenin’ to ya!” A hand slapped my shoulder. It was Burt, my drinking buddy and one of the happy hour gang who orchestrated this madness. He was dressed head to toe in ridiculous shades of green, his pants rolled up to reveal knee length socks with stripes of green, white, and orange.
“What, no shamrock coasters? Pots of gold? Little Irish flags?” I asked incredulously.
Miranda came back a plopped my drink on a coaster in front of me with a frown. “Party supply company got our orders mixed up. We should have had some metallic green beads for the customers. Instead they sent us a gross of plastic dinosaurs.”
“Some poor kid’s going to have a leprechaun birthday party,” I mumbled, taking a sip of the sweet nectar and savoring the bite as it poured down my throat.
When I lifted my head, Miranda was gone, and on the other side of the bar a woman caught my gaze. Her hair was scarlet, ringed with curls and her eyes as bright and green as Burt’s pantaloons. What looked like an antique oval locket dipped over her porcelain décolletage. I had to admit, I was getting hard just looking at her. And when she winked and smiled at me, I knew I had to talk to her. But first, I had to buy her a drink.
“Miranda,” I called out. I returned the wink to the striking lady just before Miranda blocked her from my view. “I’d like to buy a round for the redhead over there. Whatever she’s drinking. Put it on my tab.”
Miranda’s eyebrows scrunched together like a Shar Pei and she turned briefly to look back at the lady.
“Jon, I think it’s time you went home.”
“What? Jesus, I’m just buying her a drink, not asking for a lap dance.”
“Get out of here, Jon. Go home to your wife.”
“Is that what this is about? It’s just a drink, Miranda. I’m not going home with her.”
With a frustrated grunt, Miranda stepped to the side. The woman was gone.
“She was just there, I swear!” I turned to Burt to back me up, because he always spots the pretty ladies when they come in. But to my amazement, he was not there either. “Where’s Burt?”
“Burt left two hours ago.”
“That’s crazy, I just got he—” I looked down at my watch. Miranda was right. I’d just lost three hours.
“Go home, Jon. You can pick up the tab tomorrow.” Miranda took what remained of my drink and glared at me until I stood and turned to the door.
Outside, I could hear the revelers drunkenly singing “Whiskey in the Jar” as I trudged to my truck. I didn’t feel drunk. Not at all. What the hell just happened? I unlocked the door and climbed into the seat.
Driving home, I went through the events of the evening in my head, trying to make sense of how I could lose so much time. It was like a rock poking my ass. No, wait. There really was something poking my ass. I reached under me and found a bulging metal object with a chain attached. It was the woman’s locket. My truck screeched to a halt on the shoulder of the road. What the hell?
I checked the bed of the pickup and all over the cab. Nobody was in my truck. But I did find my cell phone in the backseat, which was very odd to say the least. Shoving it into my back pocket I turned the engine and went home.
The next morning, I stumbled downstairs, still wearing my clothes from last night, and I found my wife sitting at the kitchen table, her hands folded neatly in her lap. She gazed out the window, oblivious to the tears that had stained her cheeks. Her eyes and nose were red as if she’d be punched in the face. In front of her, on the table, was my phone. As I closed in on her, the screen came into view, showing a photo of the beautiful scarlet-haired lady. And me. Together. Smiling and disconcertingly close. How is that possible? At this point I started to doubt my own sanity.
Before I could say anything, or refute any knowledge of the photo, my daughter came skipping out of her room and upon seeing my phone, snatched it off the table. My wife lurched for it, but the girl was too quick. This was hard enough to explain to my wife. How on earth was I going to explain it to my daughter?
“Daddy? Who is this lady?”
I drooped my head in shame. “I don’t know, darling. I don’t know.” My wife glared at me with daggers.
“I do,” my daughter said gleefully.
My wife and I both stared at her in awed silence. “You do?”
“Yes. She’s my fairy mom. I know because that’s her locket.”
I remembered the old tales my grandmother used to tell me about fairies who pulled mischievous pranks on humans and how they would swap out fairy children for human children. Changelings, they called them. I don’t know why that particular thought popped into my mind at this particular time. I never gave those stories much thought at all. They were just fairy tales. And I still thought my daughter simply had a wild imagination. But something urged me to pluck the locket out from my pocket.
“That’s it!” she cried. “Open it, Daddy! Open it!”
Inside the locket was a tiny photo of the redheaded lady. And a photo of my daughter.
The next day, my daughter disappeared.
This week’s short story was brought to you courtesy of writing prompts at awesomewritingprompts.tumblr.com.