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A Timewarp Tale

I pass it every week on my way to the shop. It never seems to change. Sometimes the signs outside will alter, or there’ll be a different banner up. Sometimes the curtains are all closed; sometimes some of them will be open. But the paint is flaking from the doors and windows, and I’ve never seen them open, and even with the curtains open it’s too dark to see inside. Nobody ever seems to go in, or park outside it. It’s just… there, a fixture that makes no sense but never seems to change.

It doesn’t even belong in this town. A mining town, old now. Aged rows of brick houses for the Aged Miners’ Association. The mines are closed, but the town’s still here, quietly functional, added to over the years with a new development here and a new development there. And right in the middle of it sits the Oak Tree, the strangest pub I’ve never quite known.

It’s an odd shape, curved rather than angular, not quite like anything else around. The brick’s the wrong colour, sandy yellow instead of red. It’s not a low building – it’s about the same height as anything else around – but it seems to sprawl across its grounds like a shabby but contented cat curling up in the sun. Which is odd, given that there’s nobody there.

The sign’s odd, too. For the longest time I remembered it as green and gold, like you might expect for a pub named after a tree. It’s not. It’s purple, like a strange-tinted wintry morning, or like something has washed all the yellow out of it and all that was left were the blue-reds, save that it’s too dark for that. It’s oddly otherworldly. Not exactly haunting, just ever so slightly alien, as if it’s from somewhere at just a little bit of an angle to here.

I’ve often wanted to see inside, but the only way to is to go up to the windows and peer in. That would mean walking on its land, and I have no good reason to be there, no explanation. Just curiosity. The closest I’ve ever come was on one sunny day when the curtains were open and I could dimly see the outlines of some comfortable-looking chairs. Even that, I only saw once.

I never see anyone open the curtains. I never see anyone close them. I never see anyone change the signs, or so much as go indoors. And yet, there it is.

As I walk past it, empty shopping bags in hand, I wonder yet again what’s inside. If it’s open, but never busy, or if it’s closed, but still has someone come in every day to maintain it. I want to go in, but there are no visible lights and the weatherbeaten doors look very firmly closed.

It’s a dusky evening. The moon is bright, almost full, and the last traces of colour are fading from the sky. Thin, high clouds reflect pearly white and seem to increase the moon’s radiance. The sign looks almost natural in this light, as if it belongs here.

I’m the only one around, and it puts a spring in my step the way all the secret times of day do. When there’s nobody else but me, and maybe the birds, the secret times that can happen anywhere and make a bright new mystery of a grey and boring day. It seems as if the air around me is alive with possibility, with mystery.

The curtains are open. I mean to walk to the shop, ordinary yellow light spilling from its ordinary glass door. I mean to for all of ten seconds. And then I keep walking, towards the window, like a homing pigeon seeking north. For the first time, I dare to step on the trimmed grass.

The interior is all blackness as I get up close. I hold my breath so as not to fog up the window, and lean in until my nose is almost touching it. And it’s then, just then, that I see movement, shapes lit in a light that doesn’t quite reach reality, raising glasses, talking, dancing. They’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I’m frozen for a moment as the first drops of rain start to fall from the sky above.

And I thought I saw them dancing
As I gazed into their world
And, just for a moment,
I convinced myself I heard
The distant strains of music
Like nothing that I knew –
I looked in and out of time
And knew that it was true.

I might have seen the future
I might have seen the past
I might have seen forever,
But forever didn’t last.
I blinked just once, I closed my eyes
And when I looked again
They were gone, and I was left
Just standing in the rain