Every place has them, the weird guy with the tales so tall nobody can take them seriously. They are often viewed with fondness, a kind of oddball fixture of their usual hangouts.
Everyone needs to be believed sometime though, no matter how hard they make it for others.
Old Joe was a character, I can tell you. He'd been a regular fixture at McCreary's since as long as I can recall, sitting at the stool at the end of the bar nursing tall glass of something or other and telling his tales to whoever would listen or sometimes to no-one at all. He was like the jukebox is other places, always making some kind of noise and not one always appropriate. McCreary's didn't have a jukebox, we had Old Joe and we liked it like that.
I remember the time I had first come into McCreary's. It'd been a rainy day in November, I'd just finished moving into my new flat about two blocks away. It was after the divorce and I was in a foul mood, looking to drown my sorrows. She'd gotten the kids, Sarah and Louise and so I was all alone here in this strange city, having run away from it all. Right about then, a long hard drink was something I really needed and McCreary's was the closest place to anywhere. I'd walked in and stood in the doorway, letting the rain drop off my coat onto the once thick, now worn welcome mat and surveyed the place. The lights were dim, the place decked out in old mahogany. I'd have felt like I'd stepped into the past if wasn't for the small television in the corner, silently displaying the latest news and only serving to remind me of the terrible weather as the weather report came on.
I'd walked up to the bar, grabbed a seat and ordered a scotch, sat there breathing in it's smell and wondering how long it would take for the drips from my forehead to water it down too much to drink. If I hadn't been in such a sorry mood I might have noticed the silent laughter in the barman's eye.
"I'm mighty sorry about the rain out there."
I looked up towards the voice and into the face of Old Joe, though I didn't know his name back then. He was an older man, face like a white raisin someone dropped on a barbers floor. His hair was patchy and spread all over his face, as if it didn't know whether it wanted to be beard or hair or eyebrows. I instantly took him for a drunk and in my experience, drunks tend to get funny if you just ignore them. I could have left, but I'd already bought my drink so I did the next best thing and tried to brush him off.
"Yeah, well it ain't your fault."
Old Joe sidled up to me and carried on talking.
"Well you'd think that, but you'd be wrong. Turns out it is, well kinda. You see I'm the victim of an ancient Indian curse."
I didn't even hear the laugh disguised as a cough from the barman.
"Is that right?" I said, trying to quickly finish my drink but it was good stuff, too good to just throw back without savouring.
"Yep, see way back when I had a daughter, well, she weren't really mine, I'd adopted her from some snow leopards that she'd been raised by, but nonetheless I had me a daughter and she fell in love with this Native American Indian fellow from Massachusetts. Now I don't know what it was, but I didn't take a liking to him one bit so when I caught him with my daughter, I told him he better high tail it outta here or I'd get him, if you get my meaning. Well, I can tell ya he didn't take kindly to that."
"And so he cursed you?" I'd asked incredulously.
"What? No boy, you some damn fool? You think an Indian who worked at a bank knew nothing about cursing people? He didn't, but his grandpappy did. Turns out they had a little talk and his grandpappy was a master rain dancer. And so here it is, rain, rain, rain."
I didn't even know how to respond, but I wasn't going to anger a drunk and get myself into a fight. My mood and the drink would make me good for it and hell knows a drunk and disorderly wouldn't get me my kids back.
"It wasn't raining when I was driving up here, maybe started only in the last hour or so."
Old Joe seemed to ponder that for a moment. "Well, that's no surprise. After the aliens took me up to their goddamn ship, I guess it made the curse a little screwy. Curses don't work in space you know, something to do with all that Indian Earth magic crap, least that's my guess."
Crap's right. I thought and gave a non-committal nod. Luckily I'd finished my drink.
"Well, I got to be going." I said, standing up and doing up my coat. "Try not to make it rain much more, all right?"
Old Joe smiled a toothy grin. "Your wish is my command."
I turned to leave and saw the sun shining through the doorway. I grunted a laugh and shook my head and headed home.
That was a year ago. I don't know what made me go back there, but somehow in that brief afternoon McCreary's had cemented itself as my local waterhole. Over the next few visits I learned from the regulars that Old Joe had always been there, telling his tales. He told me of the time he'd fought ice weasels up in the mountains whilst looking for the tomb of an ancient mummy, how he'd gotten kidnapped by the mole people while digging a well in his back yard and had to marry a mole princess or get sacrificed to the molten core of the Earth itself. He told tales of how once, when on holiday, he'd visited Easter Island and the giant stone heads had spoken to him, told him he would lead armies of a thousand fold against the lizard people and then he went on to explain that it had turned out the heads where the ancient equivalent of Nigerian scam emails and that the mighty Thor had rounded them all up and dumped them on that island thousand of years before.
The man was insane and everyone thought he was probably schizophrenic or just nuts in some other way but nobody felt guilty about taking amusement from the man's ailment. He wasn't ill, wasn't violent. He was friendly and full of tall tales and everyone loved him as part of the family, the way only the regulars of a place like McCreary's can. We'd all gotten used to him but one day, something changed.
After all this time I felt different. Maybe it was the court hearing. I'd gotten custody of the kids back, Janice had made some mistakes picking her new men and gotten herself in a bit of trouble. The kids wanted out, I wanted them out and so they were coming to stay with me. I felt good, like a huge weight had been lifted and for some reason I was ready to believe anything, I was full of faith that day.
I went to McCreary's to celebrate and brought everyone a round of drinks to much cheering. Old Joe sidled up and we all laughed as he told us his tales.
"That's some great news." Old Joe congratulated me. "I never had any kids, well, 'cept them I adopted, but in a way, I'm a kid myself. I ain't even been born yet."
This was met with a knowing smile and nods of the head by the gathered group of regulars I was proud to call myself a part of.
"You see, I was born in 2053 and got sent back here after an accident. You know they tell you not to put metal in the microwave, well that's why. You do it at just the same time as someone in the future, in the same place and blammo! It sucks you back, knocks you loose, like a leaf on the wind, 'cept this wind is time. I found myself fighting giants in Carthage in the year 1000."
"And how'd you get back here?" One of the others asked. "A 1000 years is a long time to wait for a bar."
Old Joe didn't even miss a beat. "As I said, I was knocked loose and as soon as I knew it I got knocked around again, and again, till I finally ended up here, well, here 1947 that is. Back when the first microwave ovens were being used. Guess being around them stuck me back in time again as I ain't jumped since."
"I believe you." I said.
There was a chorus of snorts and laughter. Old Joe looked a little confused. "Say what?"
"I believe you Joe, really." And for some reason, I did, I really did.
Old Joe brought a hand to his mouth but it didn't hide the trembling lips, the wetness in his eyes.
"You know, no-ones ever believed me afore."
The regulars noticed the tears brimming and were quick to deny him, backing me up but Old Joe was having none of it.
"Oh quit it you lot, I know what you think o' me and it ain't mattered, never did, you gave me a home, you gave me friends but I knew you ain't never had faith, ain't never believed a word I said."
Old Joe sniffed and wiped tears away with the back of his hand.
"But you, you really mean it don't you, you ain't just pullin' my chain. I knew you would just as soon as a saw you. You tell her she's mighty special, you hear? You see, your..." Old Joe sobbed and then suddenly he clutched his chest.
We all burst away, trying to give him room and those of us quick on the mark began phoning for an ambulance. Old Joe was turning blue, struggling to breathe.
When the paramedics got there, they shifted him into the ambulance as quickly as they could as he gasped and croaked at them. When they'd got him loaded, one of them beckoned me over.
"Your grand dad wants you to come with him."
I looked mildly confused and the paramedic sensed it but neither of us said a word, we both knew Old Joe needed someone by his side. I nodded and climbed in.
In the back of the ambulance, Old Joe tried to speak.
"Thanks for believing in me, I knew you would."
I smiled, though concern still hung on my face, I was worried that he'd finally lost it, that the stress of the heart attack had pushed him over the edge. "Joe, you know you're not my grand dad, right? Do you have grand kids? You want me to call 'em?"
"Not your grand dad," he croaked, "you're mi.."
He died right there.
I know it's not the done thing, but I wasn't letting them out of my sight. My kids had moved in, gotten settled and I was just so glad to have them back I didn't want to be without them so when the call came, I took them with me. The hospital phoned me up, said I was the only person anyone could say had a connection to Old Joe. They wanted me to pick up his belongings.
Just his clothes and an old, worn photo of a woman and her kid. I guessed it was his mother and him, though it must have been restored or remastered, whatever they call it. I didn't think they had colour photos back then. I let Sarah carry them. She was of the age where she liked to help with everything.
"Hey Dad," She said as we walked to the car, "she kinda looks like me."
I looked at the photo again.
You know, she kinda did.