Encounters. Photo by Samson Katt on Pexels.com

Rugby Cafe Writers were challenged to write a short story or poem on the theme of Encounters.

Encounter – a traditional Persian(?) tale by Steve Redshaw

Yes, he had been under a lot of stress recently. Several deals not coming to fruition. Realising good investment returns was tough these days. Or was he just losing his edge? Sleep had become fitful and erratic, disturbed by foreboding dreams. That certainly wasn’t helping his judgement or his stamina through each long, frenetic day. So – a quick, stiff drink before catching the Waterloo train. No work colleagues, as usual nowadays. Was he becoming more solitary or were people shunning him? Was he just becoming paranoid?

As he turned the corner of Greet Street towards the Young Vic a passer-by carelessly slammed into him. He swung round and gestured angrily as the responsible party, a tall, thin figure in a black, baggy hoodie also turned. They both stopped, momentarily, and gazed intently at each other. It was just enough time to register that the face beneath the hood was nothing more than a blank-eyed skull and the finger pointing directly at him extended from a skeletal hand.

He bolted for the station where fortunately a train was waiting. He stumbled through the ticket barrier, scrambled into the nearest carriage and landed heavily on a seat. It wasn’t his time. Not yet. It couldn’t be. Panic rose from the pit of his stomach, causing such nausea that he had to lean forward with hands clamped on either side of his head. And that, as he recalled later, was how he remained for the entire journey.

By the time he was back in his flat, he was calmer, purposeful even. He knew what he was going to do. He packed a small suitcase, then retrieved a map of Yorkshire from the bookcase. Spreading this out on the floor, he unclipped his tie pin, closed his eyes and jabbed. Bird’s Edge, a tiny, remote village, not far north of the Peak District. Within half an hour he had booked a room at a small B&B and was speeding towards the M25. The M1 was almost deserted, he made good time. Moonlight depicted the quieter, unlit roads across country. After a  desperate drive of nearly three hours he was stretched out on a comfy bed in a delightfully cosy room nestled beneath thatched cottage eaves. There were no street lights. There was no hint of rumbling traffic. Only the lonely hoot of an owl pierced the black silence. He was actually the only soul in the house, as his landlady was visiting friends and he had let himself in, as arranged, with the key hanging on the inside of the shed door. He could be the only human for miles around. He lay, quite still, his breathing deep and measured. For the first time in many months he began to feel relaxed and quite at peace.

A loud knock roused him. He had dozed off, still fully clothed, it was now midnight. The knock again, must be at the front door. Perhaps the landlady had forgotten her key. He stumbled down the stairs and fumbled open the door. In the silver moonlight, stood a tall, thin figure, who reached up and slowly pushed back the hood of a black, baggy sweatshirt.

“You! You came for me before, you pointed me out. You tried to claim me, but I eluded you. I came here. Nobody – nobody knows I am here!”

“No, not then. I did point at you – in complete surprise. I am very rarely taken by surprise, but I must admit, I did wonder how you would arrange to attend the appointment I have with you – here, tonight.”

In the Blood by Lindsay Woodward (extract)

With a smile on my face, I head down Upper Street to the small café where Suzanne has asked me to meet her. In my book I imagined David’s research facility to be in the opposite direction. A huge building about ten minutes’ walk the other way. It’s fun to have my fiction brought to life like this.

I soon find the café. I take a deep breath, flick my mind back to the picture I saw of Suzanne Royall on her website, and I make my way inside.

I immediately see her sitting towards the back on a rather large table. She’s a glamorous lady wearing a stunning black suit. She has long, thick cherry hair and a beautiful face, and I can’t help but find her instantly intimidating.

I take another deep breath. She’s here to help me. I give myself a moment to feel proud, telling myself what an amazing moment this is. Then I head on over.

‘Suzanne?’ I ask.

‘Penelope Fox?’ I normally love it when people say my actual name, it’s so much nicer than stupid Loppy. But on this occasion there is a bitterness in her tone. That’s something I wasn’t expecting.

‘Nice to meet you,’ I say extending my hand out, but all I get in return is an icy glare.

I take my coat and scarf off and place them neatly on the back of the chair.

A waiter appears at our side. ‘Are you ready to order?’ the young man asks.

‘Not yet,’ Suzanne remarks. ‘We’re waiting for one other person to join us.’

‘Who’s joining us?’ I nervously ask, guessing that it must be her business partner or assistant.

‘Like you don’t know,’ she responds, quite to the point.

My pride has now totally been replaced with a deeply uncomfortable sensation. I get the feeling this woman hates me. What have I done? My book wasn’t that bad. I really don’t know what to say.

‘What is it you want?’ a male voice suddenly says from behind me and it makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. I shiver as the voice is unnervingly familiar.

The man sits down next to Suzanne. I look across at him and instantly my jaw drops open.

In every single possible way it’s the man that I imagined. He’s like a real life David Royall. The way he styles his dark brown hair without any particular effort, his crystal blue eyes that are so light yet also have so much depth, his firm mannerisms and serious face that hide how soft he really is inside: it’s the man I know so well. It’s the man I’ve been dreaming about and it’s the man that I’ve just written twenty-eight chapters about.

I suddenly realise that he’s staring at me with equal levels of surprise.

‘I think I have a right to know what’s going on here,’ Suzanne demands.

I want to reply but I just don’t have any words.

‘Why have you written a story about my husband?’ she spits at me. She now has venom in her eyes.

Royall! It suddenly clicks with me that she’s Suzanne Royall. ‘Is your name David Royall?’ I utter. I find myself glaring in awe at the totally real man opposite me. He doesn’t reply, though. He just glares at me in return. There are no words to sum up what the hell is going on.

Suzanne turns her fierce eyes away from me and her next question is aimed very much at David. ‘Are you having an affair?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he snaps. ‘I work fifteen hour days and then I come home to you. When do you suppose I have time for an affair?’

‘Then why has this pathetic girl written about you? She knows everything about you. Every little detail. Where you work, how you like your coffee, which side of the bed you have to sleep on. How could she know that if you hadn’t slept with her?’

This is too much for me. I can feel my heart starting to patter. I have to get out of here. I really don’t feel well at all.

‘I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s clearly been some sort of mistake,’ I say with a shaky voice. ‘I’m sorry for any trouble I’ve caused you. It’s just a coincidence. I’ve never seen this man before in my life and I promise neither of you will ever see me again.’

With that I scramble to get my coat and scarf and I rush out of the café as quickly as I can. I pace back to the tube.

I step in the station and immediately flop against the wall to catch my breath. That was probably the most awkward, embarrassing and awful experience of my entire life. What was it all about?

I suddenly feel a hand on my shoulder. ‘Are you okay?’ a warm voice asks.

I look up and see the glistening eyes of David. I step away from him, worried what he’s going to do next.

‘I’m sorry about that,’ he says. ‘My wife can be a little over-dramatic at times.’

We spend a few moments just staring at each other, breathing each other in. How could he be real?

‘How do you know me?’ he finally says. Before I get chance to reply though, he adds, ‘And how do I know you?’

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