Twenty minute fiction.
Ian Thompson passed the plate of sausage rolls to a suited man standing next to him and began to walk towards the dark haired woman in the mauve dress. “Excuse me,” he said and passed through the crowd of suited men and briefcases all talking business at the annual general meeting of insurance workers. They seemed to close in on him as he walked. “Excuse me.” The woman on the far side of the huge hall stood alone, looking right at Ian. He bumped shoulders with the suits and carried on straight ahead, trying to get past, but they seemed to multiply, and the more he passed by, the more he still needed to pass to get to her. “Excuse me.” The ever growing crowd, all nursing large mugs of steaming coffee squeezed him, and he felt claustrophobic, struggling to breathe in the mass of insurance salesmen, all loudly discussing life insurance policies and mortgage repayment systems. “Excuse me.” He could see the woman, still far away and still looking directly at him. He fought through the throng, passing more than a hundred financially enthusiastic men before looking again, and yet she was as far away as ever. “Excuse me.” He needed to get to her and so he fought onwards, pushing through and excusing himself as he went. The men in suits discussed pay-back mechanisms and workplace pensions in an oppressive cloud of spicy aftershave. “Excuse me,” he repeated over and over again, but the shiver of savings-and-investments sharks grew denser by the moment, and Ian could not see the woman in the mauve dress anymore. He was drowning in the nauseating smell of hot sausage rolls, chocolate biscuits and piquant cologne…
Then the piercing noise of his phone alarm sounded, and he was awake, overcome, out of breath and panicked in his damp and tousled bed.
Ian turned off the alarm and sat up, thankful to be free from the dream. The woman was always there. He dreamed of her at least five times a week. Every dream was different, but she remained a constant, always there standing far from him, staring intently at him, and he could never get to her. Try as he might. He did not know her in life but he knew her name. She had the most unusual name he had heard of, he did not know anyone who was called that name. He had not even heard of anyone called that name, not even in books or television. Her name was Abelia.
Ian breakfasted, showered and shaved and put on his clean but well-worn suit. Then it was time to go to work. He was the assistant manager at the garden centre just out of town. He had worked his way up from general dogsbody since his work-experience week eighteen years ago while he was at school. Ian was a quiet and shy man with almost no social life, but there were few people who were as conscientious as he. Ian was never late to work, mostly missed almost all of his lunch hour and always stayed late into the evening. He worked above and beyond at work because he had little else to think about. His job at P & G was his life.
Ian’s dull and monotonous existence was just like his old clapped-out suit – threadbare and grey but too comfy to bother changing.
Much later, Ian retired to bed and again he dreamed. This night, he was at the cinema. He did not know for which film he was queuing but knew how very much he wanted to see it. The queue was moving very slowly up the street and then onto the steps outside the cinema’s main entrance. The people were let into the cinema two or three at a time. Ian constantly checked his watch as he was anxious about missing the start of the film. When he next looked up from examining his watch, he saw Abelia. He could only see her from the back and her long brunette hair but he knew it was her. She was just going through the glass doors and into the cinema, but, as soon as Ian’s gaze fell on her, she turned around and stared right back at him. Her gaze pinpointed him exactly, as if she already knew he was right there looking at her and was about to step onto the bottom stair. Steadfastly she stared until Ian felt a warm blush on his cheeks then, tucking the curtain of hair behind her ear, she turned back around, headed through the doors and into the foyer.
Ian wanted to catch up with her but was stuck in the woefully slow queue. He hopped from foot to foot to foot to foot until eventually he could go through the doors at the top of the steps. Once inside he searched the crowd and, just as he caught sight of her on the far side of the foyer, about to go through a door that led to one of the many screens, Ian’s alarm sounded and he awoke in the oft-felt state of post-dream frustration.
Another long day at work and Ian was driving home in the dark at nine thirty, as it was late night Friday at P & G. He arrived at the junction to turn his car right to get on the road towards home when his phone burst into life and rang. In normal circumstances Ian would have ignored it but, firstly, he was curious as he hardly ever got a phone call except from work and, secondly, there was no traffic about so… Even before he could finish reaching for his phone, a car sped along the road in front of him and roared into the distance. It made Ian jump, his heart hammered and he knocked his hand on the gear stick. He immediately withdrew his trembling hand and ignored his still ringing phone to take a couple of minutes to breathe slowly and calm himself. If he had pulled out, that speeding car would have driven straight into him, right into him there in the safe cocoon of his driver’s seat. The phone carried on ringing while Ian recovered himself and then it stopped. The road behind Ian was still empty and, after a couple more minutes, Ian checked his indicator and very cautiously turned right to go home.
Ian spent the evening like every other evening; he made himself cheesy beans on toast with a cup of tea and sat in the lounge with a tray on his lap to eat whilst watching the television. But tonight he could not concentrate. Unusually he found no joy in the programme about the life and times of the fishermen during the Alaskan king crab season. His favourite series could not distract him from his horrible experience. He sat and stared blindly at the screen, still shaking. He had had a near-death experience! The speed at which that car had travelled would have meant a fatal crash. He was right to be shaken up. It was only natural. The fact that his phone had rung had saved him. Some mysterious caller had saved his life.
Ian reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve the phone but it was not there. Of course! He had forgotten to pick it up and it was still in the car. He would finish watching his programme, eat his dinner and then go to fetch it. Ian wanted to know who had called him at that most opportune moment. The captain of one of the boats on the television swore loudly at the approaching storm and lit a cigarette. Ian forked another forkful of beans into his mouth and tried to concentrate on the programme. The captain turned his head and looked at Ian. Ian chewed and looked back at the captain. “Go get your phone, Ian,” he said. Ian froze. His mouth fell open, and several beans fell back onto the plate. “Go on, lad!” said the captain, “Get the phone! You want to know who it was calling, don’t you?” The captain took a long, thoughtful drag on his cigarette and leaned closer to the camera. “Well? You still here? Go on! Get the bloody phone!” Ian, stunned and unable to understand what was happening, put his dinner tray on the coffee table and obediently went to recover his phone. “Good lad!” said the now beaming captain and then went right back to navigating his boat through the incoming storm.
Ian went outside to his car, parked on the side of the road outside the house and got his phone from the passenger seat. Back inside he sat down on the sofa and looked at his call log. There, at the top of a very short list of callers, was the number that had phoned him earlier. It said “unknown number” underneath it so it was not one of the few numbers in his contact list. It was undoubtedly a ‘wrong number’ so, if he were to call back, the person who answered would not know who he was. There was little point in ringing back. What would he say anyway? Ian still felt shaky and tried to eat some more of his now cold beans on toast. The cheese had coagulated, and the toast was like shoe leather so he scraped his plate clean into the food-waste bin, returned to the lounge and tried to watch more of his programme. Several minutes later the captain of the boat turned around and again spoke directly to him. “’Phone that number, lad!” he commanded. Ian stared at him and shook his head. “You’ll feel better if you do!” Then the titles started coming up, and the programme had finished.
Ian downed the last of his cold tea and looked at his phone. The time was nearly eleven o’clock so it was too late to call this mystery number. Not only had he had a nasty scare this evening, he was also very tired after a long, hard day at work changing the end of spring sale stock for the summer barbecue season. He had moved a lot of heavy items with little assistance because they had been down on staff for the last few weeks. No, there would be no phoning anyone tonight; he was going to bed and tomorrow was Saturday, the busiest day of the week.
The freezing cold wind slapped Ian’s face as he stood in his pyjamas and dressing gown on the wooden deck of the fishing boat. Empty crab pots were neatly stacked down either side of the boat and deckhands were unloading crabs, checking their size and sex and tipping the king males into the holding tank. Others were loading fresh pots with bait and tipping them into the water on their lines. Ian looked behind him and saw the wheelhouse high above him. The captain waved at him then announced over the loudspeaker that the greenhorn better get to work right now unless he wanted to be used as bait on the next trip. The captain smiled as he said it, but Ian immediately jumped into action and began to help the men bait the pots. Windblown and freezing cold, Ian baited pot after pot until he caught sight of a familiar face. Far away at the stern was Abelia.
She was dressed in jeans and a woolly jumper and her long hair was braided into a plait. She was looking at Ian, as always. Their gaze met, and Ian downed the smelly pieces of cod bait to go and talk to her. He unclipped himself from the safety line and began to make his way along the deck towards her. The wind was getting stronger and jostled the carefully stacked crab pots. Two steps and the wind fought him to a slow pace. Three more steps and the wind forced him to a standstill. Ian squinted against the cold and craned his neck to see her. With a supreme effort he managed one more step until the relentless, freezing wind blew the crab pots loose so they tumbled wildly across the deck towards him. He fought to shield his face from the enormous pots that were coming his way, and then his alarm shrieked, and he was awake in his bed once more.
He lay there, stunned, the alarm screeching at him to get up. It took him a few minutes to recover his senses and get out of bed, then he remembered that it was Saturday and headed to the shower. His head ached, and oddly he was very cold, but the warmth of the shower soothed him, and he soon felt much better. There was just time for breakfast, and then Ian left for work.
Later that evening at seven thirty, Ian left P & G to go home for the rest of the weekend. He had not stayed as late as usual for a Saturday, as he still felt a little uneven after the stressful events of the last night. He sat in his car in the car park and recalled the event. That was the closest Ian had ever come to a serious car accident. The mere memory of it made him tighten his grip on the steering wheel. He felt for his phone to make sure he had not left it in his office. Yes, there it was in the inside pocket of this suit jacket. He pulled it out and looked at the screen. There was a notification! He had a missed call. It was the same number that had called him the previous night. They had phoned him again! Despite being tired and overwrought, his curiosity was again piqued. It was still early; he would phone right now and find out who this person was. Tentatively, Ian called the strange number.
The phone trilled a few times, and then a voice answered it. “Hello?” said the female voice.
“Er, hello,” said Ian. “You called me last night and earlier this evening. Erm, did you call the right number?”
“Oh, I was trying to call Ann-Marie!” said the woman. “You’re not her, are you!” then laughed.
“Not the last time I looked,” said Ian. “I’m Ian.”
“Oops, very sorry Ian,” said the woman, “I must’ve put her number in wrong in my contacts. Sorry.”
“No problem at all,” said Ian. “Actually, it was very lucky that you phoned when you did last night.”
“Oh?” said the woman, “How so?”
And so Ian found himself explaining to this unknown woman about the very near miss with the speeding car and how it could have been a horrendous accident, if it had not been for the distraction of her calling at exactly the right moment.
“Oh my goodness!” said the woman on the ‘phone. “Well, I’m so glad that you’re all right. That could indeed have been a very nasty accident. It was fate, wasn’t it!”
“Erm yes, I suppose so,” agreed Ian.
“In fact it’s just the sort of thing I’m interested in!” said the woman brightly. “I’m a writer of the strange and mysterious! Ian, I realise this is a bit unusual, but would it be possible to talk to you some more about this? If you wouldn’t mind, of course.”
“Er… I don’t see why not,” said Ian. “Online? I don’t suppose you’re local to Hamington, are you?”
“Oh my goodness!” said the woman, surprised, “I live on the outskirts of Hamington, another coincidence! This is definitely fate at work! My name’s Kate Adams by the way.”
Ian and the woman on the phone arranged to meet on WhosApp that night at nine o’clock.
Ian got home, had something to eat, washed up, made a cup of tea and waited for nine o’clock to arrive. He was looking forward to chatting to Kate. It would make a nice change to have a bit of company on a Saturday night, it would do him good to be able to talk about the near miss that had happened, and she sounded nice and friendly. It had been her idea to meet up online so there didn’t feel like there was any pressure to be anything other than himself. Ian did not get many invitations and he was well aware he lacked confidence and social skills outside of being polite and helpful to customers at work.
At five to nine, Ian sat down at the computer with his cup of tea. He logged in to WhosApp and saw the little light come on the camera. He checked his watch again. Almost time.
He stared at the screen. It was blank. He turned his head and looked at the television screen. Also blank. He looked towards the window and saw the street light shining on the hedge of the house opposite. He drew the curtains and sat back down. The monitor screen was still blank. He looked up at the ceiling and then at his watch. It was three minutes past nine. He picked up his pen and looked at it; almost out of ink. He put it back down. He took a slurp of tea. He picked up the pen again, clicked it on and began to draw a doodle of a car on his note pad. When the car was finished, he drew another car speeding across the path of the first one. Then he checked his watch again. It was five past n….
“Ting!” said the computer and a smiling face appeared on Ian’s monitor. “Hello!” said the face. “It’s lovely to meet you, Ian!”
Ian’s eyes widened, his mouth fell open and he felt the slap of realisation. He immediately recognised her. The face looking back at him was the face of the woman who had been in his dreams. This was Abelia!
“Abelia,” said Ian, then remembering his manners and what was going on, said, “I’m so sorry. Kate…”
The woman on the screen, Kate (or was it Abelia?) appeared taken aback, and her hand rose to her mouth. “Did you just call me Abelia?” she asked with astonishment.
“I er… Yes,” said Ian. “But… sorry, it’s just that you look so familiar,” Ian stumbled on, unsure of himself and how to handle the situation. “You look like someone I have known for erm… quite a while. You must be her doppelganger…”
Kate (or was she Abelia?) took a sharp intake of breath and leaned closer to her screen. “Abelia Adams is my real name,” she said, “but I write under the pseudonym of Kate Adams!” Her face was glowing with excitement. “However did you know that? All these co-incidences are utterly astonishing!”
Ian stared at her. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you!” he said.
“Go on,” said Abelia (or was she Kate?) “That’s precisely why I wanted to talk to you! Tell me it all, Ian. This sounds like it’s going to be a really great interview and a brilliant story for my book!”
Ian spent the next hour talking and laughing and, before he knew it, Kate/Abelia had asked Ian if they could meet up at a pub in town next weekend for another talk and dinner too.
“Call me Abi,” she told him. “My friends do.”
That night Ian did not dream of Abelia.
The following weekend, Ian and Abi met in person.
The following year, Abi moved in with Ian and he was promoted.
The year after that, a book went on sale in bookshops across the country called “Fantastic Flukes” by Kate Adams.
And, coincidently, they lived happily ever after.