So, a duck, a fish, and a snail walk into a bar…
They had had a particularly long and difficult week. The duck’s feathers were drab and disorganized. The snail’s slime trail was more phlegm-like than usual thanks to a recent cold. That’s what happens when you get passed around so much between mouths and ears. The fish was extraordinarily thirsty, and the fare at the bar was destined to be unsatisfactory.
Still, they all took their to their stools with the help of a friendly rabbi, who was kind enough to lift the snail up without acting disgusted by the slime. He simply wiped it on his clothes, bowed to them, and wished them a good evening. He returned to his table with the priest and the imam. They nodded approvingly at the trio of animals as they knew their struggles all too well.
Theay each placed their order, all fancy mixed drinks, and moments later got what they had expected: simple flat beers. The drinks had never been good at the bar, but that wasn’t the purpose of the bar. The alcohol was simply window dressing. Its mere existence was its purpose. It was a place to walk into. Good things rarely happened after that.
The bleary-eyed duck look at its companions. The snail had already retracted its eye stalks in fatigue and was simply crawling across the rim of its beer glass, enjoying the coolness of it. The fish looked even worse, but the poor fish always had it the worst. After all, their joke was so very vague. They, the tellers, the people who fancied themselves comedians, never specified how the fish was supposed to walk into the bar. So it was up to the fish to figure it out. That meant flopping. Flapping. Waddling on fin tips like a tightrope walker having an anxiety attack. All with no water anywhere to be found.
Worse still, their joke did not specify what type of fish, so the fish never knew how difficult it would be with each telling. Sometimes it was a swordfish, with a nose that would get stuck in the wood of the bar. Sometimes it was a minnow that could barely make it over the cracks in the floor. Even now as the fish tried to sip at its beer, a poor replacement for the water it craved, its body shifted back and forth between various features and colors: lion fish, clown fish, bluegill, trout, perch, an itty bitty salmon fry…
“Maybe this is the last time we have to walk in here,” the snail said, not bothering to extend its eyes and look around. It already knew what everything looked like. It was a bar, a painfully average bar with a painfully average bartender. Sure, the thing slinging drinks changed whenever the joke called for it, sometimes it was man, sometimes an aimal, this time a giant hovering skull, but the bartender only ever said one thing.
“What can I get you?” the skull asked as an elephant in a tutu strolled in and dropped its massive bulk onto the stool next to them.
“We’re not done yet,” the fish said, mouth gasping for water between words. “They think it’s too funny. I think we’ll be told for at least another month before we’re rotated out. Then… Then I can go back to whatever river, pond, or sea I’m actually from. Maybe I’m from something that’s all three.”
“That’s a nice thought,” the duck said, dipping its bill into the beer and blowing to froth up more bubbles. It looked tastier with a bit of foam.
“We could use some more nice thoughts,” the skulltender chattered. The animals looked at it in shock.
“Am I drunk?” the fish asked. “Or did it just say something other than ‘what can I get you’?” The skull didn’t respond, it just looked over to the left of the bar and gritted its teeth. Then it hovered into the back, its role in the joke over. The skull seemed prescient, because it suddenly got much noisier in the bar.
“Then he says, then he says, shut up I’m talking, he says ‘that’s women for you when they’re on the rag!’” a boisterous voice shouted. Laughter erupted afterward, accompanied by hands banging on tables and wolf-like howling. Whoever they were, they clinked their glasses so loud that one broke and spilled bad pointless beer all over the floor, where it joined the the debris they’d already created: peanut shells, spent lime wedges, and cigarette butts.
The duck, fish, and snail had to lean very far to see around the elephant next to them. Eventually they gave up all pretense and simply crawled, flopped, and waddled across the top of the bar so they could get a good look. They were disgusted by the trash surrounding the howlers. It looked like they’d been living in the bar, like they’d been told so many times that they were now just stains on the bathroom wall.
It was Adolf Hitler at the back of the booth. He had a big stein in front of him, the only custom glass the animals had ever seen at the bar. There was an iron eagle atop it. As their laughter died down the dictator picked up a napkin, blew on the eagle’s beak, and shined it up. In it could be seen the reflections of his friends: to the left an infant’s corpse that laughed most raucously of all and to the right a hideous amalgamation of most racial stereotypes.
The animals stared at the right one’s horrific cartoon face: slanted eyes, buck teeth, swollen nose and lips, all topped with a turban. They laughed and laughed and laughed, nearly destroying the table with their banging.
“Who are they?” the snail asked, eyestalks forced to bulge out because of their bad behavior.
“Those are the old jokes,” the elephant said, sucking down its beer through its trunk while it spoke. “They’ve been here so long that they’re offending everybody. They never leave. Nobody even laughs at them anymore, so they just laugh at everybody else.”
“Hey! Look at that duck!” the dead baby exclaimed, pointing a chubby greenish finger at the beleaguered waterfowl. “Look at its stupid gay beak!” The stereotype guffawed violently, nearly swallowing its cigarette.
“So what if my beak is gay?” the duck asked the snail and the fish.
“Your beak is great,” they assured it.
“If we wanted to get rid of them, how would we?” the fish asked. “This place is bad enough without them around. Everything in here is stale, they’re just super-stale and… offensive .” The fish looked around. There were all sorts of other things in the bar: men, women, varying professions, animals, plants, and vague concepts sipping their drinks through appendages that couldn’t be comprehended. They all had one thing in common. They had walked into a bar. “What if they… walked out…”
“Hitler, a stereotype, and a dead baby walked out of a bar,” the duck declared loudly. The laughter of the offensives halted. Their mouths hung open stupidly. It had been told. It was the beginning of a joke, so they had to obey. Pure rage turned their faces red, except for the bloodless baby’s, but first and foremost they had to obey. They stood and slammed their hands on the table one last time. Then Hitler, a stereotype, and a dead baby walked out of a bar.
The bar erupted in cheering like never before. The fish, snail, and duck still had to suffer before they were stale, but at least they’d ousted the most toxic pieces of wordplay in the bar’s history. Three fresh beers arrived, topped with shining foam. The priest, rabbi, and imam had ordered the next round for the animals. The religious leaders held up their glasses and nodded their heads.
Everyone and everything drank deeply of the humor.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by duck12121212 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop bytwitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!