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Fantasy Historical Fiction Suspense

I have decided to write my story down before I can no longer remember the past, because in truth, I have become quite forgetful in my golden years. Allow me to take you back to the year after my father died and I took over management of his London Docklands pub.

A few minutes before the damnable air raid sirens once again cried out in the night over London a young man in his mid to late twenties walked into my pub with a package. He wore a gray mac with a navy blue fedora and his parcel was gift-wrapped with twine in a brown paper sack. He set down his present and hat on the bar top and ordered a pint. Just as I’d served him, the klaxons bellowed their dire warnings and several of my customers immediately fled while those that remained huddled beneath a couple of the larger oaken tables. However, the young man at the bar rail remained unmoved as he calmly sipped his ale.

I could hear a handful of anti-aircraft rounds being fired, but no bombs had yet dropped. I poured myself a couple of shots of good Irish whiskey and struck up a conversation, “Sir, how is it that you are so composed? Are you a visitor to London? If not, then surely you know we should take all necessary precautions during these Jerry bombing runs?”

The young man looked muddled. “Jerry?” he asked.

“Ah, yes,” I said, “that’s old Great War slang for German soldiers my old guvnor used to use. You are probably too young to remember, but since this war began the term has had a resurgence here in Merrie Olde Englande.” It was clear my last few words were sarcastic as the anti-aircraft fire had noticeably increased. I coughed on my whiskey and restated my original questions, “So are you new to London…and how can you remain so relaxed in the face of such danger?”

He took a swig and smiled, “I am relaxed because I know that nothing ill will happen to us…” A Nazi shell exploded very nearby and the whole building shuddered. Some of the plaster on the walls cracked and I flinched, but the young man only paused at the interruption before continuing, “…at least nothing ill will happen to us today.”

“Nothing ill?” I exclaimed. “My God, we could all be maimed or killed!” Another blast shook the pub.

The young man shook his head, “Well, fear not my good man, although it may cost you a pretty penny to rebuild after this war, your daughter will take over management while you continue to work here until a very ripe old age.” He took another drink, and so did I, as the bombs continued to drop.

My glass was empty and so was his, so I refilled them both. “Sir, your confidence is fantastic, are you some kind of psychic? Do you seriously claim to know the future?”

The man thought about my query and knocked on the bar top, “I think yes…in a way. I can clearly remember the future; it’s the past that I cannot foretell.”

“Cannot foretell the past?! That’s odd talk!” I scoffed. “Alright then, tell me about the future, and what makes you so sure that I’ll be running this rundown pub my entire life? Last week I was quite tired of it.”

The man in the mac proceeded to describe in great detail how this Second World War would end in a brilliant victory for the Allies. He told the story of a terrifying weapon unleashed by the United States on the Empire of Japan and the dawn of the atomic age. He told me of my beautiful Japanese wife, and my children, and he revealed that I would indeed be the proprietor of the pub until my death…which would be years after the second millennium had been grandly celebrated. He talked of a long “cold war” with the Soviet Union and expounded on several more wars in the Orient and the Middle East. He made outrageous claims about orbiting satellites and mankind’s first steps on the moon. That’s when his tales about the future became even more unbelievable. He spun stories of space colonies and the conquest of the solar system with the establishment of a moon base and a full-fledged civilization on the red planet of Mars!

German missiles were still raining down around us, but that’s not why I was vexed, “How, Sir?! How can you make such claims when the very foundations of London are toppling around us? This could truly be the end of all things!”

He polished off his second pint and pointed to the empty glass. So I reluctantly filled it while awaiting a response.

“My good man,” he said, “I assure you everything I have told you is the unvarnished truth. There are many ages before the beginning of the end, but regrettably, mankind will never escape his solar system before his many lies catch up with him and Sol is reduced to a shriveled white dwarf star. When men lie, they butcher part of God’s creation.”

He let his last statement sink in and then added, “You’ve surely heard it said that if you tell the truth you don’t need a good memory? Well, I have a good memory, but I am not a liar.”

“Stop!” I hollered. “Enough with your memories of the future!” That’s when a thought occurred to me to try and put this stranger in a corner. “Sir, if you can only remember the future and not the past...what’s in the package?”

He picked up his hat and placed it on his head. “This package here? Well, I’m not really sure but judging by the printing on the brown wrapper it’s a book from the bookshop down the street.”

I smirked, “Surely you jest! You brought it in here! You must know what book it holds! If you really cannot lie, tell me you didn’t buy it.”

“I can lie, but I choose not to, because truth is the greatest of all character qualities. In fact, I did buy this book, and I know its title not because I just purchased it, but because I remember receiving it as a gift many decades from now.” He finished his third pint and set the empty glass on the bar top with a whole British pound sterling. He tipped his hat and began crossing the room to the front door. That’s when I realized the sirens and explosions had all but stopped, and my customers were emerging from their hiding places.

“Sir, but you forgot your package…and pray tell what treasure does it hold?” I asked.

He seemed as disoriented as when he’d first sat down and I’d used the term Jerry. He adjusted his blue fedora and simply said, “It’s yours my good man. You can give it back to me when we meet again after the war.”

Well, I would be remiss at this point to not reveal exactly what the package contained, but bear with me for a bit longer and suffice it to say that much of what the young stranger revealed to me about the future has come to pass. Decades have passed and my life has progressed. I married a wonderful immigrant from Japan, bought a flat, had three healthy children and nine grandchildren, and all the while the pub remained my passion. I watched the atomic age unfold and to my glad surprise I saw men walk on the moon! The book he had gifted to me in 1941 during the London Blitz was a brand new leather-bound and gilded collectable printing of a work written in 1485 by Sir Thomas Malory titled Le Morte d'Arthur. This thick volume of eight books was a compilation of French and English sources that the author used as references to tell a more complete story of the many legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

I have always wondered…why this particular book…and was there some deeper reason he gave it to me? My whole life I never saw him again, and even if I had, I figured that I probably wouldn’t have recognized him. I said “my whole life,” but I should have said my whole life until recently…or more precisely I never met him again until yesterday afternoon.

The regular winter drizzle had subsided on the first day of the twenty-first century. My pub had stayed open many hours after the year 2000 party crowd had thinned out. I hadn’t stayed on the clock until closing, but I did manage to make it past midnight. As I collapsed and shook the water off my umbrella on the pub’s stoop, I remembered a conversation I’d had the evening before with an older patron.

“Why are these kids so bloody happy? We could wake up and the markets could have all collapsed from the Y2K bug!” he complained.

A group of drunken football fans sang the traditional Scots-language song, Auld Lang Syne…even though the Queen had not yet rung in the New Year at Saint Paul’s Cathedral. I laughed, “Don’t worry my friend, it’ll be fine. The earth has many ages to go before it all comes to an end.”

The inebriated middle-aged bloke got even more annoyed. “What are you talking about?! How do you know?! Are you some kind of psychic?”

I didn’t answer him, because I thought back to that time when I had asked that young stranger the exact same thing. My long pause must have infuriated the man further, and he slammed down his half-finished drink and stormed out. He’d had enough drink anyway.

My thoughts returned to the present as I entered my nearly empty pub. My daughter had opened it promptly at noon for the regular lunch crowd, but it appeared to me that everyone had taken today off. It was Saturday after all…and not just any Saturday…the Saturday after the biggest party since Victory in Europe Day in the spring of 1945.

I crossed the room and hung up my coat on the rack behind the bar. My daughter got my attention and she pointed out a corner booth with a solitary customer staring out the window. “He came in as soon as we opened, and he hasn’t ordered anything to eat or drink. He’s either depressed or extremely hungover from last night.”

“Okay, I’ll talk to him,” I said, and I slipped on my favorite culinary apron as I walked over.

“Sir, do you need anything?” I asked. From the side, the man looked barely old enough to drink so I cautioned myself to check his age before serving him any alcohol.

The young man just stared out the window and said quite directly, “It think I do. I seem to be lost. I need some directions.”

I chuckled, “Well, where are you going? I might be able to help.”

When the man turned his head and looked me in the eye I couldn’t help but instantly recognize a slightly younger version of the stranger I had met so long ago. I clutched the chair back on the opposite side of the booth and gasped, “Sir, do you mind if I sit down? I feel faint.”

He nodded and asked, “Was it something I said?”

I pulled out a hand towel from my apron and wiped the sweat from my forehead. “No it’s just that you are the spitting image of a young man I met when I was still but a lad. You must be this man’s son…nay his grandson, but gads, the similarities are striking.”

The stranger looked bewildered, “You met me in the past?”

“Well, no, I couldn’t have. It had to be your father, or grandfather…but yes I met someone very much like you…aye, nearly identical,” I confessed.

He shook his head, “If so, then it had to have been me. What did I say? Did I tell you your future?”

I nodded, “Yes, but you…I mean he…also gave me a gift.”

“A gift? What gift?!” he implored.

I waved at my daughter, “Riko, can you bring my old book?” She knew the one; I had kept it on a shelf behind the bar ever since we reopened after the war.

The young not-so-stranger smiled, “You named your daughter the Japanese word meaning Child of Truth? I’ve always emphasized the importance of truth…without a doubt, I must have met you.”

My daughter handed me the book and retreated to the bar since two other customers had arrived and taken seats. I cleared my throat and handed him the book, “Well Sir, the man who gave me this said that I could give it back to him someday, and if you’re not a relative, then I’m a few sandwiches short of a picnic.”

He dove into its pages and began reading. I sat there for a few minutes but he tuned me out as if I wasn’t even there. I left him to the book and returned to the bar to help with the food orders. Two fish and chips later I looked over to the booth to check on the young stranger. He wasn’t there! My eyes jumped around the room to locate him, and I saw him with the old book tucked under the arm of his gray mac. He put on a familiar navy blue fedora and waved goodbye.

“Thank you my good man, you have given me the direction I needed. Alas, I could only see into my future, but now with this good book I can have a glimpse into my past. England thanks you!”

I walked as briskly as an old man could to the door and shouted down the street, “But Sir, I never got your name!”

He was nowhere to be found, and so, those were his last words…England thanks you.

As I put this account down on paper I have purchased my own copy of the book I’d given back to him. Yes I say “given back,” because somehow I think that the two young men were indeed one in the same. In my life I have read that book many times, but this last time I paid careful attention to detail and took copious notes like my old school days. One character in Arthurian legend is said to “remember the future” and have “no knowledge of the past.” It also mentions that he doesn’t age like normal men; it’s as if he was born at the end of time destined to live his life backwards.

I never got that stranger’s name, but now by all that I am, I believe his name was Merlin, and that he had gifted me that tome for safekeeping. The enigmatic leather-bound book was meant to put his life back on track when he knew it would be needed, and more importantly it was not a fiction book of legends at all, but it was an instruction manual for England’s future past.

October 06, 2020 20:21

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