It was evening and Annie’s arm had just about stopped bleeding from the pointy end of the corkscrew. All in all, she was hoping for a quiet and event-free evening; her head was ghost-free and she was hoping not to encounter either of the Jones’s after vehemently requesting for them both to fuck off while continuing to bleed all over their cream carpet.
The imaginary-hat tipper was back at his corner table and without even meaning to, his being there was another event to ruin her day.
“Can I have a word?” he said out the corner of his mouth.
“I’ll get one to you right away,” she replied, absentmindedly jotting it down on her notepad.
The hat-tipper – whose name was Argan – looked confusedly at the space where she had stood the moment before. He then glanced around, waiting for her to realise that there wasn’t ‘a word’ available on the menu.
“You our Annie’s boyfriend?” Big Dom rolled up to him, rubbing his belly as he glared down at Argan.
Big Dom was in a mood. He was still sore about the few hundred quid down the drain from when he’d thought Argan looked a whole lot like a health inspector, since he was always in the corner, always making notes. He’d got a whole team in overnight to get the place up to code. Then it had turned out the guy wasn’t a health inspector at all, he’d just been stalking little Annie, Big Dom had seen the sketches of her in his little notebook.
And just today he’d flushed another couple hundred quid of gear as soon as he’d spotted the two suited gents who looked like they belonged to some regulatory board – that was two hundred quid of Russian sweetener he wasn’t going to see again. But again, it turned out the two fellas weren’t even after him. They were just after little Annie’s address and had disappeared sharpish once he gave it to them.
“Her boyfriend?” Argan wasn’t, he’d never spoken to her apart from to order his dinner, but he liked the sound of it. He sat up, straightening his imaginary tie. “That’s me.”
When Annie returned for Argan’s order, she found Big Dom standing with his arms folded and the seated man looking sheepish.
“Too many visitors, men traipsing in and out asking for you all day long.”
“But, who – ”
“You told me you didn’t have a boyfriend when you got this job. That much changed in the last six months, Princess?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“I like you Annie, maybe I’ll give you a couple days to sort yourself out, eh?” Big Dom stared down at her, he really didn’t want to let her go. But what would the customers think, all these fellas traipsing in and out, not even buying a drink, granted they came in before opening but it was the principle of the thing.
There was an audience waiting for her when she returned home. Right outside her front door three unfamiliar men were loitering.
“Alan Jones. – You seen him recently?”
“Why do you want to know?” Annie tried and failed to subtly side step around them.
The main man advanced forward with a wide smile. “You saw his sister the other day, what did the two of you talk about? – school reunion?”
“How do you know that?”
“What about the money?” another of the men said.
“Did the sister mention the money?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, so why don’t you just ask him?” she said.
Both men laughed. “Might be a challenge, know any good mediums Jack?”
“But.” Annie hesitated. “I saw him yesterday, at Nutmeg… at his sister’s house.”
“Are you messing with us?” The main man stepped even closer so Annie’s face was centimetres from his chest and the smell of his cologne filled her nose.
“Maybe she did see him. Says here she’s got a history of hallucinations. Proper nut-job.”
“They say she talks to herself,” the third man said. Annie just caught his eye as the middle man stepped back.
“Why are we bothering here then? She ain’t got anything useful to tell us.”
The three of them were now acting like she wasn’t there. Annie took the chance to disappear inside, letting out a slow, steady breath.
When Annie switched the light on and spotted Alan Jones waiting for her in the kitchen, she didn’t even scream, instead she just took a fresh breath.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry to appear like this. There are some people after me –”
“Yeah, I know. I just met them.”
“– I owe the wrong people too much money and I need to disappear for a bit. I didn’t mean to get you involved, it was all Nutmeg’s idea, just –”
“I get it. No one would believe I’d seen you anyway.” Annie paused and thought for a moment. “Was the guy with the corkscrew someone she knew?”
“– she’s taken it a bit far. You ran out so quick earlier, I didn’t get chance to apologise.”
“I don’t understand why she involved me at all.”
“It’s hard to explain. The whole thing’s spooked her and she wanted to muddy the track so they’d waste time looking for you and I could get away. Nutmeg doesn’t know that many people, so –”
“Then why are you here if you’re meant to be getting away?”
“I just –” Alan hesitated and met her eye for the first time, “– I wanted to say sorry face to face – for getting you involved. Since I’ll be gone for a while, this is my last chance to say it.”
“Ok,” said Annie. ‘Yeah right.’ She thought.
“I probably shouldn’t have come, but I wanted to say it face-to-face. And after I’m gone Nutmeg won’t have anybody.”
‘Bingo,’ Annie thought. ‘That’s why he’s here.’
“Ok. I’ll check on her, make sure she’s ok.” Annie said. She wasn’t sure when she’d become such a doormat.
She stood up and gestured an arm toward the back door, Alan apparently mistook this signal as her initiating a hug and he wrapped both arms tight around her. Annie found she didn’t dislike it and was a little breathless when he let go. But that might have been from him pressing all the air out of her lungs.
“See you Annie,” he said.
“See you Alan.”
Once he’d left, Annie sat in the dark kitchen in the seat he’d vacated and put her head on the kitchen table. She must have fallen asleep.
A tapping at the back door woke her, but she ignored it. No more stabbings for her this week. Instead, she trudged upstairs and changed into her pyjamas, peeling off the bandage covering the hole in her arm. A new scar had formed on the swollen skin surrounding it.
The knocking downstairs intensified.
The scar spelled the words. ‘Come outside.’
Annie stared at her arm. Another word formed. ‘Now’.
Then just underneath. ‘Please’.
Even in the half-dark, out in her concrete strip of garden, Annie recognised the hat-tipper from the pub.
“You’re carrying the remnants of a lost civilisation, trapped somewhere out in space-time, inside your head. Can I come in?”
“Wh – what?”
“Can I come in? It’s a little chilly out here.”
Still not had enough of Annie and Argan’s adventures? You can catch the final part of the story, here.
More flash or short fiction
If you’re interested in reading more flash or short fiction:
5 minutes short stories
The Virtual Body knows everything that’s on the internet: it’s a science exhibit that can’t feel. That is until a visit from a mysterious stranger changes all that.
“Once, we walked on the land with them, treated almost as equals. That ‘almost’ gave a fierce sting. When the time came, we chose the Dolphins… ” The Mermaid’s Tale.
Immortal You: A grieving mother’s struggle between the past and the future.
10 minute stories
Clarice is trapped inside a garden party, when all she wants to do is escape from this life and become a bloodthirsty pirate. That’s until a murder gets in the way of her plans.
A little longer
A three part urban fantasy romance about a werewolf and water-nymph in “The Woman By The Lake”:
Geraint is miserable, until one day when the mysterious Lila comes into his life, with her beautiful brown eyes and the faint aroma of wet dog. But is she all that she seems? And will embroiling himself in her life introduce him to a whole new, dangerous world.