Short Fiction – Not from around here

4

15 May 2017 by victoriaknowe

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 23.57.15Another contest story – this time inspired by this picture (the image should be easy to spot in one of the scenes towards the beginning of the story). Max word count was 2000 words. How many did I write? A lot more than 2000, that’s for sure. Ahh the joy of editing.

 

Not from around here

 

Ahead on the street, Kirsty could see an unpleasantly familiar green raincoat heading in her direction. The sickly colour brought up memories of afternoons wasted, endless, repetitive stories and dire halitosis.

There was a miniscule chance that the raincoat’s owner hadn’t spotted her. Ducking into a small side street, she hastened down the uneven, cobbled street, hunching her shoulders against the expected call from behind.

Down the street was a tourist stand with guidebooks and maps. She hurried to the far side of it, picked up the first map her hand found and opened it up to cover her face. She backed up so that her body was partially hidden by the stand and pretended to be avidly studying the map.

“Avoiding someone?”

The tone sounded amused, but it hardly registered with Kirsty. Her danger wasn’t over yet. Peering around the edge of the map, Kirsty could see a blob of green pausing at the mouth of the alley. But then her view was blocked by someone stepping between her and the alley mouth. She was still hunched over, so her eyes were directly in line with a black, loosely knitted sweater. Raising her gaze, she met a pair of warm brown eyes, set in a face that was crinkled in a smile. The man who was blocking her view was a bit too tall so she couldn’t peep over his shoulder to see whether the green raincoat had given up and moved on.

“He’s probably still there, so I would stay hidden for a couple of minutes.” said her rescuer. “Pretend you’re showing me something on the map.”

Kirsty blinked at him, but then cottoned on quickly and angled herself a little so it could look like she was standing with the man and not simply hiding behind him. Clearing her throat, she started pointing out random spots on the map. “Right, so here’s the shoe museum and you can get to it by following the high street and turning left by the cinema. Um… there’s a war memorial that I’ve heard is worth a look and… and this church is supposed to have a decent stained glass window…” She leaned over to steal another look past the man and he chuckled.

“You’d make a terrible spy.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Looks like he’s gone. Someone to stay clear of I assume.”

“Er, yes.” She stuttered. “He er… He asked me to show him around, but I don’t know the city very well myself.” It was a total lie. She had grown up in the city and knew the streets extremely well, but for some reason she found herself saying the opposite.

“You did a pretty good job with the guided tour,” he gestured towards the map “or perhaps you’re just a quick reader.” His grin was infectious.

In danger of standing and smiling like a moron, she grasped desperately for an answer. “Erm, well the shoe museum is world-renowned don’t you know?”

He looked interested. “No I didn’t know. Have you already visited that one? I only got here last night and I could do with a few tips on what to see”

She blushed. “No I… It’s not really my thing. I prefer the view from the castle,” she paused. The man was attractive and she was technically free for the rest of the day. After a moment’s hesitation, she continued. “I could show you if you don’t have any plans?”

He looked eager, but then protested “Oh but I wouldn’t want to drag you there if you’ve already seen it. How many days are you here for?”

Her face grew hotter. “Oh, a few. I don’t mind, honestly. It’s magical up there.”

He smiled again. “In that case, I can hardly say no.” He held out his hand. “I’m Peter by the way.”

Kirsty put her hand in his warm one and they shook. “I’m Kirsty.”

She was still holding the map and the stall’s owner was starting to look impatient. Kirsty took out her purse to pay, but Peter stopped her. “Oh don’t bother, I have a map we can use. Don’t you already have one anyway?”

She hesitated. “Yes, but I left it in my room this morning.” It wasn’t even a real lie. She probably had an old map of the city stashed somewhere in her studio apartment.

Leaving the map and the alley behind, they started making their way along the main street in the direction of the castle. Peter was easy to talk to and seemed interested in getting to know her.

“Where are you from originally?” he asked.

“It’s just a small village on the border with Wales.” Kirsty had an aunt living there so it seemed a safe region to choose for her fictional home. “What about you?”

“I live in London. Work for a publisher. This is a business trip really, but luckily I have time to mix in a little pleasure.” He smiled at her as they weaved their way through the crowded pavements.

“Oh. You don’t sound like a Londoner.”

“And isn’t that a blessing. I can’t stand the accent. I don’t like the city really. I’m hoping to move away soon.”

“Where would you move to?” she wondered.

“Haven’t decided yet. Maybe somewhere on the continent. Maybe here.” He grinned at her again. “What about you? Are you going to stay in your village forever?”

“No, actually I’m hoping to get in at the art school here. I’ve got an interview there tomorrow.” It was getting easier to weave truth and lies together.

“You’re an artist?” he seemed impressed.

She felt shy again. “Not really. But I’d like to be.”

“Can I see something you’ve drawn?”

“Actually I make sculptures. I work with copper mainly. Bronze sculptures, you know?”

“So you’re a metal-worker? You don’t seem tall enough.” His tone was teasing.

She was indignant “It’s hardly a question of height. Actually my metalwork teacher at school was much shorter than I am; Mrs Howell.”

“Sounds like a very Welsh name,” he mused.

“Er, yes.” She blushed again. It was too easy to get carried away.

They had started up the steep path towards the castle. It stood proudly on a hill overlooking the historic city, but was less of a tourist magnet than it might have been because of the exhausting climb required to reach it. Most tourists preferred to admire it from the comfort of a ground level café.

The conversation faltered on the way up as a result of their increased effort, but the silence didn’t feel awkward. They even shared a smile when they passed a group of sweating Chinese tourists who were making their way down the hill, chattering loudly while simultaneously trying to take pictures of each other and the scenery.

When they finally reached the top, the view was, as always magnificent. Peter gazed eagerly and pointed to some of the sights. She agreed with him when he proposed that the tallest spire must be the cathedral, even though she knew it was the town hall.

He leaned against the parapet and regarded her gravely. “You were right, it certainly is magical up here. I bet it’s even better at night with the city all lit up”

He was correct, but she simply nodded and smiled, not wanting to admit her knowledge. When she didn’t respond further, he changed the topic to suggest some lunch, to which she readily agreed. Although the pretence was making her uncomfortable, she yet wasn’t ready to lose her charming escort.

On the way back into the town, he quizzed her more closely about her sculptures, and since this was a topic where she felt comfortable answering honestly, she found herself chattering easily. It was a surprise when they arrived in front of her favourite café at the foot of the castle hill.

“Oh this looks nice.” said Peter. “Shall we go in here?” He was already pushing the door open so it was too late to stop him. She would have to hope that it would be a staff member who wouldn’t recognise her. But her hopes died when she saw Terry’s familiar face behind the counter. He waved to her and called “Welcome back Kirsty!”

Peter heard the greeting and glanced sharply at her. “He knows you?”

She gaped. “Erm, oh I was here yesterday. He must remember me.” Luckily Peter seemed to accept this, but her palms were sweating. Why oh why had she decided to lie? It had been a spur of the moment thing, but she certainly regretted the impulse now.

There was nothing for it but to continue. They sat down and browsed the menu, and then Peter went to the counter to order their food. Kirsty tried to time her bathroom visit so that she would be away at the moment when Terry brought the food, but she was too early and had to sit back down to wait with Peter. He was telling her more about his job in London and she tried to nod and smile and concentrated on not fidgeting too much.

In the end, she needn’t have worried. Terry must have realised that she was on a date and aside from a discrete wink when he brought the food, he didn’t stay and chat with her as he normally would have.

After that awkward moment was safely over, Kirsty felt a lot better and started to really enjoy herself with Peter. He was entertaining and funny, and when he took her hand at one point during the meal, she felt a flicker of butterflies in her stomach.

Peter insisted on paying and Terry grinned broadly at Kirsty but didn’t comment. She would have to remember to thank him for his consideration later on. She and Peter left the café and started to stroll through the streets. By this point it felt completely natural to hold hands as they walked and it was extraordinary to see the city through Peter’s eyes. He was appreciative of each detail and pointed out several details of architecture or decoration she had never noticed before.

When evening came, it was clear that they would have to part. Kirsty hadn’t lied about her interview the next day and she didn’t want to stay out late. There was an awkward moment when Peter insisted on walking her to her accommodation She had to come up with a plausible reason for leading him to an ordinary residential street instead of a hotel, but in the end it was surprisingly easy to tell him she was staying with a friend of a friend.

Peter told her it had been a fantastic day and asked her to meet him at his hotel the next day after her interview. He kissed her for good luck, but mischievously said that the good luck wouldn’t hold unless she agreed to meet him. She whole-heartedly agreed, as the day had been equally wonderful from her perspective. Perhaps she would even have the guts to admit her deception by tomorrow.

They reluctantly parted with much waving and smiling, and Kirsty went inside to her apartment with a smile on her lips.

*******

The next morning, her interview went well and she made her way with a glad heart to the street where Peter had told her his hotel was located. However, when she arrived on the street, there was no hotel. Peter was standing outside a completely normal apartment building, looking sheepish.

“I have something to confess,” he said. “I honestly thought there was a hotel on this street.”

Kirsty stared at him and he shuffled his feet, looking embarrassed.

“You see the thing is,” he said, “I’m not really a newcomer in the city. You seemed so uncomfortable about that other man following you so I pretended to be a tourist. But the truth is that I’ve lived here my whole life.”

Kirsty grinned.

“Well, it’s funny you should say that…

 

– The end –

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4 thoughts on “Short Fiction – Not from around here

  1. lynnpayne55 says:

    I really enjoyed this story and the twist at the end was totally unexpected. I had wanted to know why Kirsty thought it necessary to act like a stranger but then when the bloke confessed that’s what he’d done I realised that actually the reason didn’t matter. I suppose we were (I was) identifying with Kirsty and wanted to know more about her. In fact, I still want to know more about her! 🙂
    Great story

  2. Margot Gardner says:

    I think you have inherited your Great Aunt Audrey’s talent for story telling. I’m off to the Village Shop to order the next instalment. Lotsaluv Margot Here.

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