Red Maple: The Uncanny Guests, Part One

Tad went to the cellar to replenish the stock behind the bar.  He could barely keep up with the demand. Brewing takes time, but the sudden increase of business is forcing him to stay up long hours just to keep the drink aging sufficiently.  He always thought that his craft was sufficient, but the quality had grown so much that customers came in droves. Manhandling another keg up the ramp produced so much noise that he didn’t hear the whispering.

Sara served the last of the beer and spirits when Tad returned.  After helping him get the barrel settled, she went down herself to bring up more bottles.  They were both worried about how much the crowd was consuming, but it didn’t seem they got any drunker.  The sound of pattering as she entered the cellar alarmed her. Please, not rats, she thought. It would be disastrous if the vermin got into the food stores.  When she checked, though, there was no sign of damage, but she was certain that there was food missing.

Filling a basket with bottles of whiskey and wine, Sara returned to the taproom.  The whispering resumed after she was gone.

“The dear woman is more suspicious than the husband,” a voice said.

Another voice spoke.  “Yes, but they deserve the success.”

A third offered their thoughts.  “Should we tell them?” It was nervous.

The first speaker was shaking their head.

“Not yet, at least.  But they do need more help to keep up before they work themselves sick.”

All agreed with this fact.  They set about their own efforts to support their unaware landlords.  The couple were good and generous, deserving of the efforts of the unknown helpers.

Tad and Sara were unhappy with the consumption and rowdy behavior, but the crowd was convivial at least.  There weren’t arguments or fights, but laughter and singing. That was a blessing to them. It meant that Tad didn’t need to weigh in and deal with the violence.  He wasn’t a young man, but leather-skinned with hands as strong as steel. He has proven again and again that he could handle violent drunks half his age.  

Both breathed a sigh of relief when the guards showed up to announce the end of the festivities.  The town had established a curfew to help deal with the surge in drinking and ensured that people did not imbibe through the night.  There were no grumbles or arguments. Everyone left cheerfully, touching knuckles to their foreheads in salute to the proprietors.

The couple took a few minutes to rest, each drinking a mug of beer before cleaning up.  They sat in silence, overwhelmed by the recent rise in popularity of their tavern. Although Sara was Tad’s junior by many years, even she was showing the strain of keeping pace with their clientele.  Raising their mugs in salute to one another, they drained them off and rose to begin the cleaning. As they passed, Tad gave his wife a quick kiss and squeezed her hand. He wasn’t the most emotive person, much less very talkative, but she had grown to understand his signs of affection.  In turn, she swatted his rump and they both chuckled.

Once the bar was restocked and the chores were finished, they shuffled off to bed.

“Tad,” Sara said quietly, “what is going on.  You have always made fine drink, but the consistency was not perfect.  Now it’s the best thing to have.” Her thoughts echoed Tad’s and he nodded agreement.

“Brewin isn’t always a precise endeavor, and I always prided myself that most was good quality, but I can’t account for this.  It’s not only better than ever, but there’s never a bad barrell. I didn’t want to bring it up to you, but this is unnatural. Mind you, we’re doing remarkably well in coin, but it still worries me.”

“What do we do about it?”

“I don’t know, love.  But I’ll be more at peace if we can figure this out.”

They climbed under the covers and reached for each other in the darkness, falling asleep in one another’s arms.

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