I wouldn’t really know how to begin this story, my dear ladies and gentlemen.
When do you start to get into the rabbit hole? When you see it or when you put a foot in it? Maybe you began to get into it the moment you made a decision or changed your way of thinking.
Lydia was that kind of young woman who doesn’t talk too much, has few or none friends, lots of imagination and, as much as she would like to deny it, she felt alone most of the time. Although, on the other hand, she felt a bit comfortable in those moments of slightly addictive solitude. That kind of comfort that allows you to be the one that you really are when no one can see you.
But the truth was that sometimes she wanted some company, someone with whom to share confidences, talk or go out for a beer. Unfortunately, she couldn’t connect with anyone around her.
The night this story began, continued or found its conclusion, according to how you want to interpret it, it was raining slightly. The cobblestones gleamed as they reflected the lights of the cars, and the people moved from one side to the other, shielding themselves under their umbrellas. Lydia felt overwhelmed in her house, having spent so long locked inside the walls, and she wanted to feel the freshness of the rain, the clean air. While people fled the rain, she was looking for it. Secretly, she liked to feel strange, different … divergent.
She wandered aimlessly through dark alleys, the sort where there is nothing but containers, some cat hunting for food, little light and a lot of calm. She was taking random directions, absorbed in the sound of the rain, feeling how the surrounding darkness relieved her eyes of so much artificial light.
In one turn, her eyes were filled with a faint red light. She realised that she had come to a dead-end, with the entrance at the bottom of it.
It looked like an old wooden bar, and on top of the door, a sign of flickering letters glowed in red and yellow proudly.
She turned to retrace her steps, but music came from within. Music that seemed strange to her, because it had all the style of being swing or 1920s music. Something totally out of place in the modern atmosphere of the city.
The point about people with imagination is that it is usually accompanied by curiosity. A strange place somewhere lost in the alleyways, and with old music, no doorman or anything that would ask for her identity card or stop her. The temptation was too provocative not to fall into it.
She opened the door and peered through.
It was just what it seemed. A bar, pub, nightclub or something like that, she wasn’t sure, because it didn’t look like anything she had seen before. Actually, that was not entirely true. It did look like something she knew; a cabaret of the early twentieth century.
She didn’t know that it was anything like that in the city (actually she did not really know it much either). From what she had seen on the Internet, many people enjoyed vintage fashion, steampunk or other styles that recreate old styles, and perhaps this place was one of them. Maybe they would sneak out together so the “normal” people wouldn’t molest them.
The cabaret was full of people, voices, laughter and the smell of alcohol. In the centre, a dancefloor was filled with a crowd of people dancing to the rhythm of the music played by the musicians on stage, with a trio of women singing in unison, dressed according to the place. The music, however, was strange to her. It sounded unbalanced as if the rhythm lacked something. Each musician was following their own melody, but altogether, there was something inexplicably pleasant in that disorder. As if her mind were capable of finding the order in that chaos.
She pushed her way through the crowd, fearing that at any moment someone would stop her. She did not fit into that place at all. Not because of her, but because of the custom. These people were dressed according to a particular era. Lydia’s clothes were black, with jeans and out of place. But, she realised, no one was looking at her.
Even if she was about to bump into someone, that person would smile kindly, give way and continue with his business. A girl wearing her companion’s top hat winked at her. A waiter let her pass courteously. No one seemed to care how she was dressed, her look or her presence. And little by little, she was feeling more at ease among these people.
When she arrived at the bar, it was completely saturated with people all around it. A gentleman dressed in a suit and bow tie let her in by gently moving away from his friend.
It was not long before the bartender served her, and when she ordered a beer, the waiter laughed out loud.
“Would you not prefer an Irish tea?”, he asked winking with complicity.
“No, thank you, just a beer,” she replied, counting the money she had, not sure if it would be enough to pay.
“Do not worry. Here, money does not matter.”
This was surprising.
With the beer in her hand, now the hard part was finding a place to sit. All the tables, lined up around the dancefloor, along the walls, were crowded with people. People laughing, talking loudly, eating, cheering at the musicians… In fact, the cabaret was full of people everywhere. Who would have thought that there were so many people who enjoyed representing this era?
She wandered around looking for some corner where she could stay and watch the musicians’ show. Eventually, she decided just to stay against a pillar.
“Young lady! There is a free place here if you want to sit.”
Beside her, sitting alone at a table, there was an elderly gentleman with a friendly appearance. It seemed strange to her that, while people were in groups, filling all the chairs, and even standing, he was alone.
However, she decided to accept the invitation and sat in one of the chairs, but looking at the scenario.
“Do you like this place?” asked the man.
“Yes,” answered Lydia plainly.
“I’ve never seen you around.”
“It’s the first time that I come here, sir. I didn’t know there was a place like this.”
“No one knows, actually. We don’t tell anybody. Only those who find it can come.”
“Well. it seems that many people find it.”
“In fact, they are the same crowd as always, and some take friends. We are like a big family,” he explained. “They come from all over because they feel at ease. It’s one of the few places where they can be themselves and find people similar to them. That’s why they found it. It is necessary to be a little unusual to see this cabaret; the “normal” people usually don’t pay attention to these kinds of places.”
“Well, I found it.”
“That’s what pleases me. It’s good that someone like you found it. It’s good to have new faces around here.”
“Is this a period of recreation or something? Everyone here has a similar appearance.” Then, she realised that the old man dressed more simply. Definitely from the same period as the others, but more modest.
“Something like that,” he smiled. “But not all are dressed the same, the forest covers the trees. Look there,” he said, pointing to a trio of gentlemen who seemed to have emerged from the Napoleonic age. “And there is a more modern couple.” Lydia’s eyes met a more current, perhaps 1980s group of guys.
“It’s true. There is more variety than I thought at first. And the music, is it also different styles?”
“That’s what stays the same. I love swing music, jazz, blues … and that’s how I want to keep my place,” said the old man, wrapping his fingers on the table to make his decision clear.
“Do you own this … bar?” Lidia ventured.
“That’s right,” he said with complacency. “And well proud to keep this place all this time, and its wonderful clientele. All good people who just want to have fun. Until the end of time.”
Lydia continued enjoying the show, with some glances watching people. There was something about them that struck her, but she did not quite know what. The old man, as if he had read the girl’s thoughts, asked in a low voice, “Have you not noticed yet?”
“Noticed what?” she asked, confused.
“Us. There’s nothing that catches your attention?”
Lydia looked at them, trying to discover what he meant. Something inside her told her there was something special in all of them. Something that, despite the different styles, unified them and all of them had in common. Her instinct told her, but her mind couldn’t hear it.
“Well, you see,” the man began quietly, as if sharing a secret, “We’re all dead here. I am dead, they are dead…”
Lidia was shocked. Now she realised what her inner voice had been saying to her. She had known all along, just she had not wanted to acknowledge it. Now that this man had told her, it all came together. And that scared her, probably because then, the next question was quite evident.
“Am I dead, too?”, she asked with some fear about the answer.
The old man smiled even more as if he had heard that question many times.
“No. You are not. You’re alive,” the old man replied, reassuring her. “It’s not common for alive people to come here. Normally they don’t catch the strange and unusual.”
“Well … I’m kind of strange and unusual,” she replied as an explanation, almost mostly to herself.
“Do not worry, young lady, nothing is going to happen to you. We are not dangerous. But if you would allow me to give you some advice, do not tell them your name. You will not be able to get rid of them.”
Lydia was about to ask him why, but just then she was interrupted.
“Who’s this lovely child?” said a girl dressed in a suit of sequins and a diadem with a large white feather on her head. The girl settled in one of the free chairs without waiting for permission and lit the cigar that she had at the other end of a long mouthpiece. “What’s your name, little one?”
Lydia and the man exchanged a knowing look.
“I really like your dress,” Lydia said, avoiding answering.
“Oh, thank you. Very kind of you,” said the girl. “Do you like this place?”
“I find it very interesting.”
“Interesting. I never would have thought of that word to define it. It’s been a while since someone like her has come here, isn’t it?” She said to the old man. “It’s cute.”
“She already knows who we are,” he explained.
“And you’re not afraid?”
“The truth is that I like it a little,” she replied with a shrug, and the young woman answered with a laugh.
It was all so strange… But on the other hand, it was true that she felt at ease. Little by little, Lydia felt happier to be in a cabaret full of ghosts, who danced and had fun as if they were alive.
“Let’s dance,” said the girl taking Lydia’s hand.
Lydia let her do so.
And she was dancing, laughing and enjoying among the ghosts of other times, always avoiding saying her name. When she thought it was too late, she returned home humming the melodies she had heard over and over again.
The next day, she could not get the memories out of her head. She had never heard of such a story like this. She remembered clearly all of that, it couldn’t imagine it; she had no doubt about it. It was not the kind of thing that the next day you’re not sure if it was real or not. Absolutely. Lydia was perfectly clear about the truth of it all. So much so that she did not say a word to anyone.
When she left class in the afternoon, headed straight for the cabaret to make sure she could find it again. She walked the same way back, hesitating sometimes, but she knew where to go until she reached the alley where she was sure the cabaret was.
But it wasn’t.
There were no lights, no doors, no windows.
In its place was a store, with a guy at the door smoking an idle cigar.
“Are you looking for something?” he said when Lydia stood in front of the store.
She was sure that this was the place; the cobblestones on the floor, the houses nearby. But the cabaret was not there, just a warehouse.
“Are you looking for something?” the guy said again.
“No, nothing,” she answered, disappointed.
Now she could not be sure of anything. Maybe she had made it all up, gone to another bar, and drank more than she remembered. Now it made no difference.
“I was looking for a cabaret. Very old, 1920s style,” Lydia said.
“A cabaret? It’s is no longer here. Where did you get that from? People keep asking about it every now and then.”
“I saw it on the Internet, about old places in the city, and I wanted to find it,” she lied.
“Well, it’s gone. That page should be updated; that cabaret got burned down many years ago, and the ground floor was empty for a long time.”
“And the owner of the cabaret? What happened to him?”
“The cabaret owner died in the fire. It is said that he did not want to leave it, that he would go with it to the other world.”
Now she knew that the cabaret still existing. The owner really went with it to the other world, and there he stayed. In another world or plane of existence, which could only be visited by ‘different’ people, people with a different perception of the world. The cabaret would be there again, and when she was in tune with it, she could go back in, and she would be welcome.
And if other people had come looking for it, now she knew that she was not the only one; there were more people like her. More divergent people.