Maple Bar

by Tym Greene

Three friends go to a new bar in town, but as they drink they change, and as they change they drink, and soon they exchange Old Glory for l’Unifolié as their humanity becomes a little more…animalistic. Not that any of them notice anything…

Added: Dec 2021 3,792 words 2,011 views 4.5 stars (2 votes)

C

“Come on, guys,” Dudley urged, “it’s just down that alley. Most of the reviews I read said the only way to get a good table was to show up right at opening.”

“So that’s why you’re planning on getting drunk at five on a Friday?” groused Hamilton, his short stature making it hard to keep up with his friends.

“And you are buying the first round?” asked the skinniest of the three.

“Yes, Phil,” Hamilton said, adding in a friendly elbow jab for good measure. “It’s my turn this week, unless you’re saying I’m the sort who doesn’t pay his debts—”

“Or maybe he just wants to cover for us for the next few weeks,” Hamilton butted in as he caught up.

“Now fellows,” Phill stopped and assumed a rhetorical pose with one hand on his slender chest and the other held aloft, “let us not forget the wise words of Mr. Oscar Wilde: ‘Duty is what one expects from others,’ or something like that.” The three men chuckled and continued down the alley.

Noticing, few months ago, their friendship becoming strained due to the demands of careers and city living, they’d hit upon a solution: every Friday, one of them would select a new bar to congregate at, set aside their workday woes, and rekindle their collegiate camaraderie. And, as a sort of insurance policy—not to mention a guarantee that their wheels would be greased right off the bat, so to speak—the picker that week also bought the first round.

So far it had worked better than they’d hoped, and they were all surprised by how many gay bars were to be found in the city.

“The Maple Bar,” Hamilton read on the sign above the entrance. “Are you sure this isn’t a donut shop?”

“Oh, come on, give it a chance. After all, no one complained about the ‘Dive’ you picked last week.”

“It wasn’t all that bad; besides, I thought you had a thing for guys in wetsuits.”

“Yeah, well,” Dudley blushed, then—desperate to change the subject—gestured at the queue of prospective bar patrons ahead of them in the August afternoon warmth: “Look, it says ‘border crossing’ on the door. The whole place is supposed to be Canada-themed.”

Sure enough, as they drew near, they could see a line painted down one side of the entrance, across the threshold, and up the other, topped with little American flags on the outside of the line and Canadian flags on the inside. While the building’s exterior had been the grey industrial concrete standard to this part of the city, once the trio flashed their IDs at the “border guard” in his skin-tight Mountie uniform, they could see that the interior had been made to look like an authentic log cabin. There were even “windows” built into the walls, looking out onto a snowy pine forest—in actuality just LCD screens in wood frames showing an hour-long recording, the same as the crackling “fireplace” in the corner.

“Wow,” Phil marveled as they sat down in a comfortable corner booth. “It’s like being at Disneyworld—”

“Yeah, they really cranked the decor up to eleven, didn’t they?”

“I wish you’d told us; I feel kinda out of place dressed like this,” Phil countered, tugging at the knot of his tie. “Though I don’t think I have anything as… appropriate as that,” he gestured at Dudley’s red and black checked flannel shirt.

“Hey, my office just started doing ‘casual Fridays,’ so I thought why not?”

“Look, while you two are discussing the finer points of Canuck fashion, I’m sitting here dying of thirst. Don’t make me buy my own first round, man,” Hamilton said.

Obligingly, Dudley slid back out of the booth and bellied up to the bar. One of the three mixologists turned and smiled at him, grey hipster beard and elegantly-curled mustache set off by his own flannel shirt. “Been here before?” The barkeep asked with a knowing glance at Dudley’s casualwear. His eyes registered a bit of surprise at the head-shake he got in response, but then he grinned wolfishly. “Okay, so the way it works is you tell us what you’re in the mood for—salty or sweet, smoky or fruity or creamy, alcohol-forward or -back—and we’ll set you up.”

He took Dudley’s credit card and then his order. “There’s three of us, and since we’re first timers here, we want something really authentic, something that’ll get us in a Canadian mood,” he added with a playful chuckle. “I guess that’s a bit silly, maybe just a few—”

“No, no,” the mixologist said, already readying three frost-covered whiskey glasses, “I have the perfect thing. As harsh as a Canadian apology, as warm as a Manitoban winter, as golden as the Yukon, and as strong as any Québécois, we call this the ‘Flag of Canada.’” While he spoke he was tossing and pouring, flipping and shaking, expertly making three identical drinks as though his hands had their own brain and his head could prattle on as long as it wanted.

Three squares of linen were placed on a small round tray, with the three glasses set precisely in the middle of each as he continued: “It’s the house specialty, basically our own version of a ‘Ward Eight.’ So,” he gestured at the invisible layers within the drink with a well-manicured finger, “lemon juice, orange juice, grenadine, maple syrup, whiskey—Canadian of course—and for garnish…”

With a flourish he dropped three toothpicks in the three glasses, each one speared through a maraschino cherry, each one topped with a tiny red-and-white paper flag.

Dudley realized he’d been staring at the display open-mouthed. “You guys don’t do things by halves, do you?”

“Nope! We take pride in our work, eh? So, all three on your tab?”

Dudley nodded and carefully lifted the tray, not noticing the yellow tinge to the barkeep’s eyes, nor the sharper edge to his smile. He managed to make his way back to the table without spilling a drop, and slid the tray across the varnished wood with a sigh of relief. Handing the drinks around, he explained what they were as well as how this particular bar operated.

“I used to go to a bar in San Jose that did that,” Hamilton remarked with unusual enthusiasm. “It was a lot of fun. Maybe this place won’t be so bad after all.”

“Hear, hear,” Phil agreed, lifting his glass. With a clink they wordlessly toasted their friendship and each took the first sip of the concoction. As a man they gasped at the surprising mix of zesty, tangy, smoky, sweetness that seemed to ooze down their throats. Recovering quickly, they each took a long pull from the glasses, three Adam’s apples bobbing in unison.

“That… tasted a whole heckuvalot better than I’d’ve thought,” Hamilton slurred. “I guess they’re not using Aunt Jemima, eh?”

“Ah-yup,” Dudley replied with a sloppy grin. “One hundred percent pure Canadian maple syrup. That’s why it’s so thick.”

“Thick like me,” Phil joked, flexing a chickenbone arm. They continued joking as around them other patrons seemed to have had the same first drink, and the same reaction to it. Sentences ending in up-speak shifted to a gently-querying “Eh?” and the popular vocal fry softened into a general gruff huskiness as though a dozen valley girls had suddenly become Brawny paper towel men; in short, the air of California-ness about the bar’s guests had. lightened into something a bit more northerly.

Not that anyone noticed, apart from the staff with their increasingly golden eyes and the decidedly fangy smiles they flashed at each new customer.

“You know what,” Dudley said as he licked the inside of his empty glass for the third time, “it’s been a good month for me, why don’t I buy you two boyos a drink, eh? I mean another one.” Naturally his friends couldn’t deny so generous an offer, but they did give him their suggestions for the bartender.

“I could use something to pick me up. I haven’t been sleeping well lately and don’t wanna fall asleep right here on the table, eh?” Hamilton laughed, massaging his neck as though he’d slept on it wrong.

“And I’m just really hungry. We had a big meeting with a client so I had to miss lunch,” Phil grunted, clearly a little sloshed already from having such a strong drink on an empty stomach. “See what kinda snacks they’ve got, wouldja?”

“Sure thing guys, back in a jiff,” Dudley said with a smile as he turned back to the bar. I t faded slightly as he wondered why he felt so… loose. No, that’s not it… lubricated? No, it was only one drink… easygoing. He hadn’t felt this mellow in ages, at least, not with a little chemical-based assistance. He chuckled deeply, because booze totally isn’t a chemical, then shrugged it all off. He was next up at the bar.

The same mixologist grinned at him, though he seemed to be a bit scruffier around the edges, with pointed ears and a forward-thrust face, but he was just as eager to make just the right drink for every customer.

“I’m ordering three, for me and my friends,” Dudley jerked a thumb back at the booth.

The barkeep nodded and asked, “I trust you gentlemen all enjoyed your first round?” At Dudley’s slow-headed nod, he smiled wider and continued, “So, what can I get for your shorter friend there?”

“Something with coffee in it, I guess. Can you do that?”

“Of course! We have a house version of a coffee flip, with Tim Hortons espresso and a big goose egg.”

“An actual egg? Wow, he’ll sure be surprised. Sounds like breakfast in a cup.”

“Ha, I wouldn’t recommend it for every day, but it’ll certainly get him a bit more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And what sort of drink for the skinnier one?”

“He said he was hungry, so have you got something a bit more substantial than deer nuts…” Dudley blinked, shook his head, chuckling dorkily. “Heh, I mean beer nuts.”

The barkeep grinned that big toothy grin (had it gotten bigger?), his golden eyes glancing sideways at another of the mixologists who seemed to be

wearing a pair of fake antlers, and smiled back skittishly. “Nothing’s more substantial than deer nuts,” or had he said beer nuts, Dudley couldn’t tell in the soft din of the dark and smokey bar, “but I’ve got just the thing: poutine,” the mixologist continued despite his customer’s obvious and growing confusion. “It’s thick, and very filling, but he’ll need something to drink too. I know just the beer to pair with it.

“Now, what about for yourself? You’ve been so nice, getting all these drinks for your friends, I bet you’d like something special.” He jerked a sharp-pointed thumb at a drink being served down the bar, some crazy concoction with sparklers and candied maple leaves and way too much whipped cream for Dudley’s taste (though it might have been something he’d have considered earlier that day, before entering the bar and having that first drink).

He shook his head. “Naw, I’m a simple guy. I really liked the taste of that ‘Flag of Canada,’” he felt a sense of pride for no reason he could put his finger on. “But I want to try something different too. Maybe you’ve got a different drink that’s like it?”

The barkeep had already put in the order for the poutine and started making the drinks. “I know exactly what you want: our ‘Canadian Old Fashioned’ seems to be just the thing for you, my friend,” again there was that wolfish smile. He rattled off the ingredients as he poured and mixed. “Maple-infused 12-year old whiskey, two dashes of bitters (like a cold morning in Nunavut), a few millimeters of maple syrup—” he glanced up at his patron, “okay, maybe a few more, since you liked that so much. And a garnish of rosemary.” The glass he slid across the bar held a giant marble of ice within, slightly smaller than the inside, and sloshing around like an iceberg through the viscous fluids.

Dudley could feel himself drooling.

Just then the poutine arrived, and the mixologist could see the look of confusion on his customer’s face: even one drink in he was too unsteady to balance all four items, and no one wanted to make multiple trips. He signaled at the other barkeep, the one with the antlers and a rather pointed face, and asked him to help Dudley carry the order back to his table.

As Dudley followed the other man—apparently named Bucky, if the glance he’d gotten at the name tag was at all accurate—he watched with awe how he nimbly threaded through the other patrons, dodging chair legs and gesturing arms, his little white tail lifted high. Dudley frowned, confused: should the barkeeper have a white-tufted tail, like something you’d see on an eight-point buck? Then again, those antlers he was wearing did have eight points, so it made sense.

He shrugged and slid into the booth, thanking the deerlike Bucky, who quickly high-tailed it back to the bar and his more canine coworker. Getting comfortable on the apparently-well-worn leather of the booth’s seat—hadn’t it been more pristine when they’d arrived?—Dudley enumerated the order to his friends: “Hamilton, that’s a coffee flip for you, and Phil, the barkeep said this poutine would really fill you up… and I guess that’s the beer he thought would pair well with it.”

Phil took a quick swig from the opened bottle, a pink flush spreading across his features. He grinned at his friend—had his nose always looked so up-turned?—and said with a snort, “Oh this is good beer, it’s thick and there’s a bit of raspberry sweetness to it, too. I’d give you a taste, but I want it all myself.”

“Haha, you greedy pig,” Hamilton elbowed his ribs jokingly, momentarily surprised to find more padding there than he’d remembered, but the flavor of his own drink was too much to ignore. He leaned forward, his neck appearing to lengthen as he sipped at the oddly-familiar coffee drink, as though he’d had Tim Hortons every day with his breakfast, and not Starb… he found it hard to remember the name, as though it were something someone made up. He squawked a bit, then picked up his glass and continued to drink, feeling warm despite the cold liquid as his new feathers grew in and ruffled across his body, leaving his arms and legs bare apart from their glossy black scales. While the collar and tie were visibly loose around his neck, the suit and sport coat he wore seemed to be getting tight around his plumpening body.

Phil—or Philippe as he now thought of himself—had all but buried his face in the paper tray of fries and gravy and curds, gulping down the poutine and only breaking to take long draughts from the beer bottle. His nose was definitely up-turned, but the pink flush had faded… or rather, been subsumed by bristles, dark and thick as a lumberjack’s beard. His face was pushed forward too, making room for the tusks that jutted up from his lower jaw, as though quotation marks for his grey-skinned and flexible snout. He was

certainly the thinnest of the trio no longer, and his own suit burst its stitches beneath the onslaught of solid porkbelly. “Très gros,” he might have said with a grunting laugh, but he was too busy licking up the last drops of gravy to notice that he was now sitting in a pile of shredded fabric with only his Canadian-flag boxers covering and containing his hefty boarballs.

Dudley was taking his time with his drink, but the changes went just as quickly on him as they had with his friends. The denim of his expensively pre-distressed jeans groaned as his thighs swelled and his hips widened.

Below the cuffs, several inches of bare skin were exposed, gleaming palely in the dimness of the bar until they were obscured by the the thickening growth of his dark brown leg hair. The same dense thatch seemed to be sprouting all over his body, if his forearms and neck were anything to go by. When the buttons of his bulging shirt finally gave up their struggle to keep his burly- izing chest covered, vast expanses of brown-furred belly were revealed, framed as they were by the twin limp banners of red check flannel.

The booth beneath him squeaked as his rump expanded and he piled on pounds of muscle and flab, his bones longer and thicker too, re-aligning themselves to better suit his new form-to-be. So powerful was the strain of his growth that his jeans simply disintegrated, even as his socks and sneakers continued to fight their losing battle against feet that were no longer human. With a low bellow, Dudley shook his head as though clearing away cobwebs, and his face finished its own transition, leaving him with a pair of heavy velvet-covered antlers and a long floppy muzzle that continued the shake a few moments after his head had finished.

Taking his cue from the other two, Hamilton unbuttoned his ill-fitting shirt, slipping it off but leaving the tie still loosely hanging around his long neck.

“Well, what do you fellas say,” he asked, twisting his flexible neck until he was looking at his friends with his head upside down, “should we settle up and head home, or have you got room for a few drinks more?”

They agreed that yes, more booze was a great idea, and one by one made their way up to the counter, not realizing their state of deshabille—nor, indeed, their lost humanity—as they did. The lupine barkeep and his cervine coworker were more than happy to keep the specially-mixed alcohol flowing, and eyed the changes on their patrons with knowing grins.

Settled once again, bare rumps on the cool vinyl of the booth, the three

friends again toasted their friendship. Hamilton had a fizzy lemon drop made with a healthy dollop of champagne, and Philippe was already halfway through his extra-large coconut margarita. Dudley had been given a lavender-colored drink called an Aviation, and as his agile nose dropped closer to the rim of his conical glass he could smell the essence of violet flowers in the liqueur floating above the pine scent of the gin; it was a bit like drinking a forest floor.

Around them, the other patrons had gone through similar changes. The booth next to them now held a passel of fox-men fawning over a swole muscle-head of a squirrel; at one of the tables nearby a pair of polar bears—wearing nothing but black leather caps—were currently perched on two of the bar’s dainty-looking bentwood chairs, a salmon-man leaning in to kiss

first one than the other before he stood to refill their drinks. Across the room was another bull moose, apparently playing strip poker with a beaver, a lynx, and a walrus…it seemed they were all losing. A raven and whooping crane were strutting on the bar’s little dancefloor, the colored boards of which unsurprisingly formed a giant maple leaf.

Philippe shivered as a draft rustled his bristles: “Il fait froid,” he mumbled, then repeated in English for his non-Québécois friends, “It’s getting cold out.”

Dudley chuckled and threw a heavy arm around his friend’s shoulders, drawing him along the booth’s cushion until they were hip-to-hip. “Perhaps we should move over to the fireplace?” He jerked the thumb of his other hand towards the other side of the big log cabin bar where an actual roaring fire had replaced the fake LCD screen, just as—unnoticed by any of the patrons—the windows now frosty and frosted glass looking out at snow- covered forest.

Hamilton downed the rest of his drink in one beakful and leered at his friends. “Oh, I don’t think we need to do that…I can think of other ways to warm up.”

The other patrons of the gay bar seemed to have hit on the same idea at roughly the same time. The dance floor was now the scene of a little orgy: the salmon was being spit-roasted by his polar bear boyfriends; the beaver (apparently the ultimate loser… or perhaps winner?… of the strip poker game) was in the center of attention among his friends, with the lynx sucking him off as the moose and walrus had their way with his holes; and through it all the wolf and deer strutted, their high-end flannel shirts and bow ties setting off the nakedness of the rest of their bodies, their pink shafts and eager mouths occasionally roped into one or another group’s fun, their perfect hipster mustaches maintaining their shape all the while.

Dudley—indeed, all three of the men—was overcome with a warmth of emotion for his friends: this was why they came here, after all, so they could keep their friendship alive and strong no matter what. His deep brown eyes twinkled as he met their gaze, only for Philippe to break the stare as he dove for Dudley’s lap, his boar snout snuffling as though he were searching for truffles between the moose’s thighs. As the pig found his treasure and began to suck on the engorging shaft, Hamilton arched his neck up, beak meeting mooselips in a long passionate kiss.

Outside, the January blizzard stormed, raging against the warmth encapsulated in those four walls of strong and interlocked logs, setting the forest to creaking chorus around the bar, piling snow up high against the sides of the building. Gone was the August warmth, the industrial city, the concrete and business suits and cars. Gone too was the humanity of the men inside the building, in form at least, as they made use of their new animalistic nature to keep one another warm through the long cold northern night.

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