Well, I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m having another itchin’ for fiction. The title, “A Beer Story,” is partially inspired by some subway advertising that has actually worked on me. It’s the ads that I’ve seen in various stations for Mill St.’s 2013 Spring Mix, which features two amazingly-named beers: Spring Imp and Spring Thaw Maple Pale Ale. I was going to pick up a case on my way home from school today, but sadly the LCBO closest to me was all out.
Anyways, in this story I’m probably going to be borrowing from if not directly stealing the writing style of an author I quite like. If you think you know who I’m imitating please do comment, or just comment on how awful it’ll probably turn out.
I don’t know why I went so far to look for this beer. It’s not like I was particularly passionate about it. If someone were to ask me what my motivation was for finding this type of beer, I wouldn’t be able to answer them.
I’m not an avid drinker, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m a social drinker more than anything, so I always have a case of beer in my fridge in case a friend comes over for a visit. I wouldn’t say I’m the most popular person in the world, but I get by, and the few good friends I do have visit fairly often.
I was lying on my couch one night, the TV on only to erase the otherwise crushing silence of my apartment. I think the program on might have been one of those Neil deGrasse Tyson specials on PBS. Something about black holes. All I was doing, though, was draping myself along the couch as though I were a blanket.
At some point I realized I had fallen asleep, and i awoke with a bit of a grunt. At that moment I saw probably the worst commercial I’d ever seen in my life. It was meant to parody some of the recent blockbuster films, but it turned out to be not very funny at all. I didn’t even know what was being advertised until the end, when the brand name flashed on the screen for a moment. I didn’t know what it was.
I was curious, though, because the commercial was so bad that it made me actually focus on what the company was trying to sell. I did a quick Google search on my laptop and discovered that it was a type of beer. It was called Nerona. Apparently it was a dark ale.
I did a search as to where Nerona could be sold, and there was only one store in the entire city that was carrying it. I’d never heard of the store, nor did I know where it was. I don’t have a car, so I had to take a bus I’d never taken before.
I decided to wait until the next morning, to see if maybe my irrational need to try this beer might subside. No such luck. When I woke up all I could picture was the strange name and myself sipping the dark liquid from one of my unused beer steins.
I set out from my apartment after taking a quick shower and making myself look presentable, as though I were preparing for a date. I had to take a total of three buses to get to this liquor store, so I kept myself alert as the first bus neared its transfer point. I knew the first bus pretty well, it’s a pretty heavily-traveled route, so there were lots of people on when I got on.
The transfer to the second bus went on without a hitch. I had been on that bus a few times before, and there were slightly less people there than on the first one I took. Finally I transferred onto the third bus. It was empty except for two people, each sitting on opposite ends of the bus. I sat down in the middle and listened with amusement as the bus driver called the names of streets I’d never heard of before. Poppyseed Street? Nutmeg Avenue? I felt like I was a character in a fairytale.
Finally, the bus driver called my stop, a street called Paprika Boulevard. I got off, and I looked at my surroundings. This area of the city was really quiet, more quiet than even my apartment. It felt wrong to be standing there. I felt as though I were trespassing even though no one was around. When I took my first few steps along the gravel road (there was no sidewalk) the crunching sound felt deafening.
I followed the gravel road in the direction that my GPS told me to go. Eventually I actually started to see some shops, mostly mom-and-pop type places. There was an antique store, from what I could tell, one of those old-timey general stores and then a barbershop. Finally I saw the name of the place. Gauthier Fine Brews, read the sign.
I felt like I had stepped 200 years into the past. I couldn’t prove that I had or had not done so. I still had data on my phone, so I had to assume that I wasn’t suddenly in the 1800s. But then again, what did I know about time travel? Maybe it was possible that land could travel through time, and that’s why this area of the city looked so different to me.
I opened the store’s door, and a bell chimed as it opened. There was a man, I assumed the owner or at least an employee, standing behind a counter at the other end of the store. I’m making it sound like he was far away, but the store was not that large. The man looked to be middle-aged, with a shaved head and a slightly rotund appearance. He was wearing a t-shirt that looked too big even for him. He looked up at me for a second, and then put his head down back into a book he seemed to be quite into.
His lack of acknowledgement didn’t really annoy me much. I just decided I would get what I came for and leave. There were no coolers in the immediate area, at least from what I could see, but to the left of the door there was a chart titled “IN STOCK.” Oh great, I thought, I’m going to have to talk with this guy.
I looked through the list of beers, which was actually much larger than I expected. Moreover, I didn’t recognize a single name. The list had dozens and dozens of names, but I couldn’t even bring myself to picture one of them. I’m not saying I’m a connoisseur or anything, but I had had enough beer in my life to know the common names.
Finally I came upon “NERONA,” hastily scribbled on the list as were all the other names. I was starting to wonder if this place even had a cash register. The floorboards squeaked as I walked on them.
“Excuse me, I’d like to order—”
“Hold on,” the man said, casually dismissing my statement with a sweep of his hand. I was confused. “I want to ask you something first.”
“Um, alright,” I said. I was confused, but I figured I wouldn’t get anywhere by being pushy in a place like this.
“Have you ever seen a sea monster?”
“How do you mean?” I asked. “Like the Loch Ness Monster?”
“No,” the man said, sounding disappointed that that was the first thing that came to my mind. “I mean a real sea monster. Like an oversized goldfish, or an ancient squid.”
“Can’t say that I have,” I said.
“Neither have I,” the man said. “It’s funny, everybody who comes into this store always tells me about their sea monster sightings. A guy yesterday claimed he saw a lobster as big as a tricycle.”
I supposed this store seemed to attract crazy people, but I didn’t want to be so rude as to insult his clientele. For all I know this store could be the only liquor store for some time. “But wouldn’t somebody else notice something like that?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it get reported in the papers?”
“That’s what I thought,” the man said. “But after a while, I began to doubt less and less. I seem to be a magnet for these sea monster stories, and I don’t know why. I’m not particularly interested in the sea at all, really, but I get at least one tale a day around these parts.”
“Maybe these people don’t have anybody to talk to,” I suggested. “Maybe you look really inviting to them.”
The man laughed so loudly that it hurt my ears, which had just recently adjusted to the lack of noise. “That’s very kind of you, sir,” he finally said, having recovered from his laughing fit.
I thought I sensed a natural break in the conversation, so I tried again, “I’ll have—”
He cut me off again. “So here you are. The first person to visit my shop in a long time who isn’t telling me something out of the ordinary. Huh.”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I shrugged.
“What about ghosts? Anything?”
“Afraid not,” I said. “I don’t really go looking for that kind of stuff.”
“Well gosh,” the man said, as though I had offended him. “I really hope that you have something interesting to tell me the next time you swing by.” He paused. “Well, I suppose you came here to order something?”
“Yes,” I said, waiting a moment for him to cut me off again. He didn’t cut me off. “I’d like a case of Nerona.”
The man nodded. “I think you’re in luck. It’s the last case I have. Let me go down to the cellar to grab it for you.” He walked to the back of the store and unlocked a latch that seemed to be a door. It revealed a set of stairs, which the man began to walk down. I wanted to follow, but I knew from the seriousness of the way he walked down those stairs that I wasn’t invited to follow along.
While waiting, I glanced around the store, seeing if there was anything to catch my interest. No one had come in or out of the store since I walked in, and I noticed that the shelves which lined the walls, which were filled with what I assumed were awards, were covered with a thin layer of dust. I decided to rethink my time-traveling theory, but I once again ruled out that that had happened.
I kept looking around to kill time. Eventually, I looked at my watch and saw that ten minutes had gone by. How large was the cellar? Another five minutes passed, and still no sign of the man. I was starting to get a little concerned. I walked back over to the staircase. “Hello?” I yelled down the steps.
“Just a moment,” I heard the man’s voice get closer as he spoke the words, and then I heard him lumber up the stairs, holding the six-pack of Nerona in his arms. He wordlessly walked over to the counter and I followed him. “That’ll be fifteen dollars, please,” he said.
I handed him a twenty-dollar bill, and he put the money into a till, producing a five-dollar bill in change. I was right—no cash register.
“Sorry that took so long, I knew I had the case around there somewhere, but it turned out to be pretty well hidden. Almost like something didn’t want you to have that case, but I persisted.” He laughed again, but not nearly with that same booming quality it had before.
“Well I’m just glad I haven’t time traveled,” I said, before I even knew what had come out of my mouth.
The man laughed yet again. “Aha!” It was all he said, but I immediately understood why he said it.
“Say, would you like one?” I asked. I opened up the box and took one out for me, and one for him.
“You sure?” the man asked back.
“Definitely,” I said, extending my arm. He took a bottle, then produced a bottle opener which he used to open both of our bottles.
I took a sip, and the beer just wasn’t very good. It was way too bitter, and it was so strong I felt like I was ingesting carbonated fire every time I took a sip. The man saw me struggle to get it down, and then he took a sip as if he were taking a swig from a water bottle. “Delicious,” he said.
I nodded. We stood in silence, the both of us drinking down the concoction (I with much more difficulty) and once I was done I shook the man’s hand. “It was nice talking with you,” I said. “Maybe I’ll have to come back for some other type of beer sometime.”
“You’re welcome to,” the man said. “And if you run into Thomas Jefferson on the way out, tell him I said hello.” I knew he was teasing, and so I waved and walked out of the store. I was back on the gravel road and the strange, empty, almost picturesque community. Well, formerly empty. I actually saw people walking around, and it made me feel like I was in a different world. What a difference sound makes.
I elected to not hop back on the bus right away. Instead, I took out my phone and checked my map of the area. It pointed to water nearby, so I followed its directions. It took me to a little river. I sat near the edge of it and cracked open another Nerona. I was a masochist, clearly. On the new bottle, I was pleased to find out that I had adjusted to the taste. I drank the other three remaining bottles one after the other. By the time I was finished, I could barely stand up.
“Hello, Mr. Jefferson,” I said to the afternoon air.