Bronte's Inferno VI (The Oldest Pub Still Open)
People say The Fleece is the oldest pub still open in the Calder Valley. People say it’s haunted too. I’m not sure which I believe less. It does look old – outside and in. Outside it looks as though it was built in stone quarried from the Long Wall cliffs at Hullen Edge. Inside, it is a collection of small dark rooms, where the wood has the dark shine of the polish of years’ worth of backsides. There are beams and low ceilings; walls are as straight as an arthritic finger; some of the seating would not look out of place in a mediæval church, whilst the rest is made up of mismatched and mostly wheel-backed chairs. The floors are stone, save in the function room, which is barely larger than any of the other rooms, but does have floorboards. The most modern thing is the computerised juke on the wall next to the room that barely fits round the pool table. You can’t play darts and pool at the same time.
At 12.15 on that Tuesday I hadn’t expected the Fleece to be busy, but it was empty, save for the manager behind the bar and the now familiar silhouette of The Editor in the shadowy far corner of the snug. I gave the manager a nod and he placed a pint of Guinness on the bar.
‘Tha’ maits paid.’ He glanced over at the figure in the corner.
I picked up my pint. There was no shamrock in the head, just a crudely drawn eye. I looked back at the counter, but the manager had gone through to the main bar.
‘Forgive me for not sstanding.’ The Editor said, as I approached the table in the corner. He had a half-finished wine-spritzer in front of him. I almost wished I’d arrived earlier to hear him order it. He indicated the wheelback chair on the opposite side of the table to his church pew.
‘Sso, have you decided to accept my offer?’
‘What offer? You haven’t made one.’
‘Are you sure about that? Have you checked your new e-mail?’
‘Not since this morning.’
‘Mickey Bulgakov! I remember him. He knew a thing or two about publishing. Isn’t it funny?’
‘What?’ I wasn’t laughing.
‘Funny how the sshop is clossed in publishing whether it’s capitalists or communists in charge.’
He took a sip of his spritzer. He had one long fingernail, just like Kobold’s.
‘Self-publishing. Have you thought of that? Samizdat, old Mickey called it.’ The Editor barked his laugh again. A dog from the flats behind answered. The man went on.
‘Imagine! If he’d lived to see the day, I mean. All that self-publishing we have now. Instead of dissidents overturning the status quo, we have millions of disenchanted would-be writers clogging up the internet. He would have laughed ‘til he cried.’
‘So what? I’m not going to self-publish. I can’t afford it.’
‘Charnel House can. We are a real publisher. Even the wizard woman is – ha ha – “on our books”. A slightly different case, I grant you. All you have to do is give up the right to be acknowledged as the writer, of anything. You will get ALL of the money. ALL of it. Think of it, overseas rights, merchandising tie-ins… MOVIE RIGHTS. ’
This last was so loud, some of his spittle landed on the bottle-scarred table, next to our drinks.
‘No-one will know it’s my work?’ I asked.
‘Has anyone heard of you now, Mr Published Author?’