John let Athan open the door to the bar. He put his hand on his guns, ready for whatever may happen.
The door opened and the bar had three people at it. Two men and a woman. There was no gun fire, no fighting, and more importantly, there was food and water.
“Let’s sit and talk,” Athan said.
“And eat, and drink,” John added.
One of the men, the older one, stood up and walked behind the bar. He returned a few seconds later carrying a burger, fries, and a tall glass of water. He put it down in front of John.
“Time can only hold us for long, my friend,” the old man said. He winked at Athan and walked away.
John stared at the food and drink and felt his throat clench. It was so dry, he felt as if he had swallowed a cactus.
“Is this real?” he asked Athan.
Athan let out a laugh. “It’s real.”
John touched the soft, warm bun and some of the juice from the burger dribbled onto the plate. John lost all control of himself and grabbed the burger and ate. He didn’t stop until the burger, fries, and all the tiny scrapings were gone.
Then he set his attention on the glass of water. A few seconds later, it was gone. And for the first time in what felt like years, John was full. And somewhat happy.
“One question, John,” Asya said, “did you even taste that?”
“I don’t know,” John replied with a smile.
“This time, slower,” the old man said. John didn’t notice him return to the table. He was holding another plate with another burger.
“Thank you,” John said.
The old man turned.
“Hey wait,” John said.
“Yes, my good friend,” the old man replied.
“What about Mystery? My horse. He needs something to eat and drink too.”
“It’s already taken care of,” the old man said.
John looked down to his burger and felt his stomach turn. The haunting memories of what had happened with the other bars were still fresh in his mind.
“Did you kill him? Did I eat him?”
The old man laughed. Athan laughed. The other man and woman also let out a quiet chuckle. John grabbed for his gun but Athan read his thoughts. Athan’s hand was already there, blocking John’s grab.
“John,” Athan said, “it’s okay. Mystery’s fine. He’s out back. He’s eating and drinking.”
John sat back and relaxed.
“I’m sorry,” John said, “it’s just that this… whatever this is…”
“The end of everything,” the woman called out from the bar.
“Excuse me?” John asked.
The woman stood up and turned. She wore a black coat that went well past her hands and her feet. If it wasn’t for her kind face and bright blue eyes, John would have thought it was the grim reaper.
She slowly walked to the table and stood for a few seconds before Athan spoke.
“John, this is the Keeper of Souls. She guides and protects those who are traveling between worlds.”
“Worlds?” John asked.
“Don’t be shy Athan,” the woman said. She looked at John and smiled. “I guide people from life to death.”
Sign lowered his head. “So I am dead…”
“No, quite the opposite,” the woman said. “You are alive. Which is a miracle to all.”
John looked at Athan confused.
“He doesn’t know what’s happening,” Athan said looking at the Keeper of Souls.
“Ah, well, shall we enlighten him?”
“We shall,” the other man said at the bar. When he stood up, he rose high in the air. John hadn’t realized how tall the man was. He was sleek, built, and young. His face resembled that of a cliché superhero. He had wavy dark hair but his eyes were black. All black.
“This, John,” said Athan, “is the Keeper of Minds.”
“What does he do?” John asked.
Ensure you forget nothing, a voice echoed in John’s head.
John turned and saw the Keeper of Minds smiling. He nodded.
“I see,” John said. “So what’s happening here?”
“Well,” Athan said, “there are the four Keepers. The Keeper of Minds, the Keeper of Souls, the Keeper of Life, and the Keeper of Death.”
John nodded. His mind was telling him not to believe a word that was being said. His mind told him that it was all a mirage and that if he blinked hard enough, he’d wake up in the desert again.
Such is a lie you feel, a voice said in his mind.
John glanced at the Keeper of Minds.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
The Keeper of Minds nodded and then pointed to Athan.
“The four Keepers, well, keep everything in check. Life. Death. All the worlds around us.”
“What worlds?” John asked.
“Oh dear, you don’t think that your world – that Earth – is the only world, now do you?” the Keeper of Souls asked.
John didn’t reply. He felt his cheeks turning red.
The Keeper of Souls laughed and touched John’s shoulder. He felt a tingling sensation run from his shoulder to his toes and back to his shoulder.
“Without the Keepers,” Athan continued, “bad things happen. Really bad things John.”
“Like me waking up here?”
“Yes, things like that. But some are much worse.”
“How worse can they be?” John asked smiling. He noticed nobody else was smiling.
“John,” Athan said, “the Keeper of Death has murdered the Keeper of Life… Death now controls Life and Death. That means the living and the dead are mixed together. And all worlds are about to become extinct.”