It wasn’t Grace’s usual kind of place. Her eyes cut judgmental swaths through the smoky interior of the bar, narrowing on the various ‘lowlifes’ scattered about like dry, dead leaves. Like the woman in the corner with scraggly grey hair, whose eyes were as dead as the fish in Grace’s local market. Or one of the men at the end of the bar, hunched over his beer as though a demon was coaxing his soul from him, one sip at a time.
She pursed her lips and gave a disdainful sniff, though regretted it immediately as an amalgamation of sour odors invaded her delicate nose. Her sea green eyes watered, and she coughed to try and remove the pungent flavor at the back of her throat.
“In or out, lady,” a rough voice grumbled not far from the door, the leather-clad biker squinting against the late afternoon sun streaming in behind the newcomer.
She jumped, but moved to comply, her steps small and faltering. As she made her way to the bar, her navy blue sailor pants, and blue and white striped, long-sleeve shirt were as out of place as her expertly styled, cream soda brown hair. Her white scarpin shoes hit the wooden floor with tentative thunks, and when she finally made it to the surprisingly clean bar top, a soft voice greeted her.
“What’ll ya have, doll?” a man asked, emerging from the murky shadows at the far end of the bar.
His hair was a soft black, with piercing, summer sky blue eyes. A perpetual smile quirked the corner of his mouth, and when he finally flashed a friendly smile, it was worthy of an orthodontia commercial.
Clutching her handmade bag in front of her, she slid onto a bar stool, flinching inwardly at what might be on the seat, but thankful she wore dark pants. While the bartender was a sight, her breath caught at what was mounted on the wall behind him: a gold vein antique mirror. It was large, and set in an ornate, gilded frame. Like her, it didn’t belong in such a seedy bar, but it was also like her in that it was broken. A spiderweb of cracks radiated from the center, throwing back a broken image; just like her heart.
“I heard…” she started, not wanting to sound foolish, and unsure of what exactly she was asking.
“Yes?” he prompted her.
“I heard you could help me with a broken heart,” she said, quick and under her breath. It was one of those things you hear about through the grapevine: a friend of a friend knew a second cousin twice removed whose best friend had come here for help. Or something like that. It was a rumor, not taken seriously except by those who believed in superstitions, or were dull of mind. It was probably just a place where druggies discovered trendy new narcotics. She wasn’t the drug-using type, but anything to dull the pain was welcome at this point; alcohol did nothing for her anymore.
His smile sharpened and turned hungry, like a predator spotting prey. “Is that so?”
“Y-yes,” she stuttered, her usual self-assured demeanor splintering.
“There is a price, of course.”
“I have money,” she said, moving to open her handmade purse.
“We don’t deal in money here, doll,” he said. “We exchange something a little more…eternal.”
She swallowed. All her instincts screamed at her to leave–to turn, run, and never look back. But her heart, shattered to more pieces than there were grains of sand, bade her stay. She couldn’t live with the pain any longer.
The man nodded, still grinning, and put a hand under the bar. In the distance, a faint buzzing sounded for a moment. Not long after, a girl clattered down a narrow staircase, coming from the upstairs above the bar. She was disheveled, and her movements sluggish, as though she were about to melt languidly to the floor. When she lifted her head, her eyes were nothing but pupil peeking between strands of greasy, ginger spice hair.
“Come here, love,” the man crooned, crooking a finger at the girl.
A slow, dreamy smile spread across her face, and she fell into the man’s arms, snuggling against his chest. He let her stay there for a moment, then pulled her away, to arm’s length. His smile never changed as he moved one hand, faster than Grace could see. The next moment, the girl’s eyes had widened, and there was a gaping hole in her chest. Blood poured from the wound, unrestrained, like a dam letting loose. With her heart in his hand, he let the girl drop unceremoniously to the floor, like garbage.
Grace let out a strangled noise, and toppled the stool when she backed away from the bar. She glanced around wildly, but nobody else had moved, or acted like they even noticed what just happened. She’d dropped her purse to hold her hands out in front of her, to ward off the bartender.
“I–I–” she stuttered, not able to form a coherent thought, let alone sentence.
“Don’t worry, doll. This won’t hurt a bit,” he whispered near her ear, appearing there out of nowhere.
She jerked forward, but his arm caught her around the waist. At his touch, her body grew heavy, and she couldn’t move. Her head fell backward to rest on his shoulder, unable to support itself.
“What did you think was used to mend a broken heart, but another heart. Like patching jeans,” he said, matter-of-fact, as though they weren’t speaking of organs.
In her peripheral, the hand with the heart rose toward her chest. She tried to struggle free, scream–anything. It was to no avail, however, and he pressed the girl’s heart into Grace’s chest. Heat, like from a bonfire, flared through her, and scorching places she didn’t even know could feel such pain. Then it was gone, and her lungs filled as she gasped for air, and life returned to her limbs. She stumbled away from the man, and her shaky hand ran over her sternum, where not even a single drop of blood had fallen. Had that really happened?
“What the hell?” she screeched, and rounded on the man.
“Precisely,” he said from behind her, magically back behind the bar.
She jumped in surprise and turned back again.
“How do you feel?” he asked, interrupting her.
“What?! What a ridiculous question! I–”
“Not about that,” he said, waving a dismissive hand toward the dead girl. “How does your no longer broken heart feel?”
She stopped, her mouth hanging open, and realized she felt fine. In fact, better than fine. Her depression was gone, replaced by the old fire in her soul, before she’d given it over to that cheating scum. Purpose, drive, and a liveliness filled her to bursting. Despite the gruesome scene, she laughed, full of joy and pride; more like her usual self.
Grace picked up her fallen handbag, and placed her hands on her hips. She looked the bartender straight in the eye, and smiled. “I feel fantastic.”
“Excellent. I always love a satisfied customer.”
“About the price,” she started.
The bartender leaned against the bar. “Yes, the price.” He looked her over, and tapped his long, spider-like finger against his chin. “We’ll say twenty years.”
“Yes, in twenty years I’ll collect my price. Until then, enjoy,” he said, and gave a small bow.
“What’s the price?” she asked, not sure she wanted to know, given the dead girl on the floor.
“Oh, nothing as gruesome as that. In fact,” he said, and held up a finger, “I’m sure it’s something you won’t miss. Have a nice life, doll.”
Grace wasn’t going to get a straight answer out of him, but whatever the price, she was sure her vast wealth would cover it. He’d said something more eternal, so maybe he meant her investments. Either way, money talks to everyone–eventually.
“You, too,” she said, and spun on her heel.
She walked out the door, and glanced back only once to the dingy sign above the door: The Crossroads. It was barely visible under the dirt and grime of never being washed, and no one on the sidewalk paid any attention to seedy, hole-in-the-wall bar. Grace straightened her shoulders, and with a spring in her step went about her day.
Inside the bar, the bartender shook his head. “Not even a thank you. Typical human.” Then his eyes ranged over the patrons, and each one shuddered under his scrutiny. “Someone clean this up,” he barked, kicking the girl out of his way.
The burly biker scrambled to obey, while the bartender turned to face the mirror Grace had admired. He stroked a finger over the surface, and it rippled, as though he’d run his finger across a still pond. An eerie blue glow emanated from the reflecting glass, and between the cracks faces appeared. Young and old, men and women; the captured souls spanned the ages. They screamed, though no sound could be heard, and the demon gazed longingly into their tortured faces.
“Yes, another satisfied customer, indeed.”