The Homecoming

By Adam McGechan

‘Y'know,’ began the man as he gently eased himself into a seat in the corner of the crowded pub, ‘I can't even begin to tell you how much I've been looking forward to having one of these again.’ He rose his pint glass to the light and carefully studied the bubbles as they fizzled their way to the head.

The woman seated beside him took a sip of her dry white and began to open a packet of crisps. ‘Well,’ she said as she offered him the plastic bag, ‘It's been two years since our last visit to this place,’ she paused in thought for a moment, and added between a crunch, ‘At a rough estimate, of course.’

The man chuckled quietly into his beer, then reached into his jacket pocket. Extracting a large leather wallet he emptied its contents onto the table. A few tarnished coins and a button rolled across the polished surface.

‘I'm afraid we'll have to walk,’ he said solemnly, stacking the coins into separate piles. ‘I haven't got enough for the bus.’

The woman smiled and took another sip of wine. ‘Never mind,’ she said, ‘Just think, tomorrow morning you can go along to the bank. There should be at least two years worth of compound interest to collect!’

The man's expression set into one of pleasant amusement. ‘Yes, you're right. Maybe I'll have my chance to get some of the ‘latest gear’,’ he grinned, gesturing towards a group of parka-clad Mods as they rose from a nearby table.

The woman smiled in agreement. ‘I think my wardrobe's well out of fashion!’ she whispered, nudging the man and discretely pointing at a young girl leaning against the bar. The man's eyebrows raised themselves quite involuntarily at the sight of her miniskirt and knee-high leather boots. ‘I see what you mean...’ he murmured, half to himself.

The man glanced around the bustling lunchtime crowd, and caught eyes with a solitary figure seated at a table on the opposite side of the pub. The man smiled at the stranger, who, after a moment's pause, returned the expression and raised his glass of red wine. He took a sip, then returned his glass to the table and continued to expressionlessly stare in the man's direction.

The man frowned and glanced over at his friend, who seemed enthralled by the ingredient's list on the back of the crisp packet. He took another sip of his bitter and risked another look at his observer. He sighed with relief as he saw him consulting a brilliant chrome pocket-watch, before slipping it back into his pocket of his silver brocaded waistcoat. The observer stood, drained the last of his claret, and went to leave, adjusting his waistcoat as he left. The light seemed to catch the silver embroidery in an odd way, throwing a rainbow ray across the man's table.

The man frowned again. His friend looked up and offered him the crisp packet, but he seemed not to notice and took another sip of his pint. His eyes followed the observer's back as he disappeared through the door.

‘Last orders please!’ The man glanced up from his drink at the barman, who was proceeding to wipe the bar down with a towel.

‘Time we were off, I think,’ the man stood and drained the last of his pint.

The woman nodded, taking her jacket off the corner of her chair as she stood.

An early evening breeze had picked up as the man and woman turned into the alleyway, arm in arm. The man kicked at a sheet of newspaper as it blew past his legs.

‘It's rather cold tonight, isn't it?’ The woman clutched her jacket even tighter to her body.

The man nodded. ‘Very. I hope the seasons haven't undergone a quick shuffle while we've been away!’ he smiled.

The two lone figures picked up speed as the breeze gently increased. The temperature dropped slightly.

The woman stopped, bringing the man to an abrupt halt.

‘What's the matter?’

The woman glanced through a broken window of a disused building.

‘In there. I thought I heard something.’

The man shrugged. ‘It's just this awful wind,’ he said.

‘No, someone's in there...’ the woman released her grip on the man's arm, and walked towards the shattered window. The man sighed and followed.

‘There's no one in there,’ he said. ‘These last two years have made you over cautious. What were you expecting, a Dalek?’

‘Ian William Chesterton?’

The couple spun around. The woman stifled a yelp of surprise and clutched the man's arm.

The man in the steel grey suit took a step forward.

‘Barbara Eileen Wright?’

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

The man in the steel grey suit moved to one side. A woman in a brilliant sapphire-blue dress silently walked out from the shadows behind him.

‘On November 23rd, 1963, your time traces disappeared from this continuum. Now, two years later, they suddenly reappear.’

Ian felt a pang of fear shoot through him. He looked at Barbara.

The man in the steel grey suit smiled coldly.

‘Where have you been?’

[Homecoming]
Rochelle Thickpenny

This item appeared in Timestreams 5 (August 1995).

Index nodes: Fiction