They call him The Creature and he has been there since the beginning of Time.
They arrive with their backpacks, Lonely Planets and bravado; two years of sixth form drinking in their pockets, believing they can take on the world. Believing they can take on The Creature.
He begins as a rumour, whispered in dorms, a cautionary tale passed down year on year, a travel guide page hastily marked in blue sharpie. All the stories are the same: no-one has ever confronted him and won.
But still they come.
He waits in the darkest corner of Time, in the cranny nearest the bar, where the striplight flickers and hisses like a wounded animal, maddened with rage, pitiless from neglect.
Our hero enters. Blinking his blue eyes at the cavernous darkness, smiling his white, cereal box smile at Time’s quaint, rustic charm. He slings his backpack onto a table.
He looks around at the dusty bottles of home-brewed schnapps, the wooden kegs of beer, the rows and rows of tiny shot glasses.
How provincial. How authentic.
Then, in the corner, the striplight flares and a liver-spotted hand reaches out; a yellowing, ragged, hooked nail beckons him wordlessly over.
It is him. It is The Creature.
He squats in his corner, a horrifying goblin in the half-light. They do not speak, but he lines up rows of the tiny shot glasses and begins, one by one, to fill them to the brim.
His face is ageless, lined and pitted and faded, laced with minute threads of red vein and black rot; his eye sockets are sunken pits, glistening orbs surrounded by bruised, drooping flesh; his teeth are blackened, few and far between, displayed in his mocking, silent, retching laughter.
These are his trophies, his signs of survival.
Our hero squares his jaw. He raises one glass to his lips and shoots it back defiantly with a grimace. The Creature follows suit.
And so it goes on. Others come, slipping silently in to watch the slaughter of this newest contender, whom they eye with pity and contempt.
But he drinks on, his hands trembling, his face pale, thin beads of perspiration glistening on his brow. Is that a hint of fear in The Creature’s eyes?
The crowd is beginning to turn, half hoping that this boy can do what no other has managed. One wipes his brow, another raises a cup of water to his lips. The air is thick with sweat and sour with rancid breath and bitter spirits.
The Creature raises his glass, then falters for the tiniest fraction of a second before drinking. But the crowd has seen and, what’s more, so has the hero.
He redoubles his speed. Down they go, shot after shot, one, two, three, four, the crowd is cheering, the room is crackling with excitement, The Creature is drooping, pallid and weakened on his stool.
And then it happens.
Our hero’s eyes glaze, his body stiffens, his lips slacken. The glass slips from his fingers and smashes to a thousand glittering fragments on the stone floor and he slides sideways to join it.
No-one catches him. Another hero is left to slink away, vomit splashed defeated after all.
They call him The Creature and he has been here since the beginning of Time