Stranger at the Bar
Verity rolled her eyes as Oasis’ “Wonderwall” started playing over the Overflowing Tankard’s sound system. She had liked Liam Gallagher’s voice well enough back in the nineties, but twenty years had passed. The song was practically cutting edge by the standards of Milton-under-Wychwood though. Verity hated coming back home from her teaching job in Manchester to visit her parents because it felt like going back in time.
The song wasn’t even the most old-fashioned thing about the Tankard. Old Tom Naish still tended the bar, his spiked hair now more grey than blonde but even he looked positively contemporary next to the gangly stranger leaning on the bar counter. This latter gentleman stared blearily at the beer taps, trying to decide between Hobgoblin and Old Speckled Hen. He wore the type of black trousers that Verity’s grandmother would have called “britches,” and an honest-to-God frock coat. Apparently the stranger had chosen his beverage as Tom drew him an amber pint. The stranger grabbed the glass and looked around the Tankard. Verity turned away too late, as the man made eye contact and headed toward her, a brass fob watch clanking against his breast pocket.
“Young lady,” he said with an accent that sounded off to Verity’s ears, “When are we?”
The question struck Verity as peculiar, but anyone who referred to her-forty self as “young lady” definitely deserved an answer. The guy’s watch couldn’t have kept very good time, she figured. She checked the time on her smartphone.
“It’s nine thirty-three,” she said.
“Oh, I know that,” he said, “but which nine thirty-three?”
Verity guessed he meant the date, despite the awkward phrasing, “September 10th,” she said, quickly adding “two thousand fourteen,” when she saw the expression on his face.
“Thank you, milady. I’m late by thirteen years then. I’m William, by the way.” He proffered his hand to Verity. She stuck her own hand out and was taken aback when William gripped it, bowed and kissed the back of her hand.
“This part might bother you a little,” William said, adjusting the hands of his pocket watch.
“What part?” Verity asked shortly before her stomach twisted and then the world around her did the same. When it restored itself, Verity was no longer in the Overflowing Tankard, but in New York City. Specifically in front of the World Trade Center buildings. The intact World Trade Center buildings.
“Well don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open,” William said, “make yourself useful and give me a hand here.” He threaded a seriously heavy duty chain, one of several that had manifested themselves, through one of the building doors, barricading it.
Verity grabbed the other end of William’s chain and tried to assist.
As followers of this blog are no doubt aware, back in March of this year, I participated in a Flash Fiction writing challenge known as “Four by Flash,” which had the goal of producing sixteen flash fiction pieces (four a week for four weeks) in a single calendar month. However, the full extent of that challenge was to repeat that schedule four times in a calendar year for a total of sixty-four pieces. I had earmarked June as my second month to attempt this feat, vowing to do better than I did in March, where a late start meant that pieces were still dribbling out in April.
I clearly failed miserably on the actual deadline thing, but I’m still determined to get all the sixteen pieces out. This piece is my fifth of the set and I still have ideas for the rest.
The inspiration for this piece came from browsing the Wikipedia entry for the village of Milton-Under-Wychwood where I grew up. The article is pretty standard stuff about a tiny English village except for one of the only sentences with an actual citation, referring to an 18th century clockmaker: “There was a legend that William Green could control the time-space continuum.” The fact that sentence can exist so matter-of-factly in a nominally encyclopedic entry amused me and I couldn’t quite shake it off until I had gotten a story out of it.
Stock photo courtesy of Piotr Kozlowski