Close Encounters of the Blurred Kind

Submitted into Contest #253 in response to: Set your story over the course of a few minutes; no flashbacks, no flashforwards.... view prompt


Fiction Science Fiction Adventure

Ivan was parked up in his Mercedes E-Class on Ropemaker’s Fields. Just opposite The Grapes public house, owned by Sir Ian McKellen.

From his seat he admired the pub’s classic, frosted glass front door and windows. Ivan wished he were inside as he often was. Enjoying a pint of Guinness in front of the roaring fire.

At one o’clock in the morning, it was actually far too late for any customers to be drinking in the pub. And he was pretty sure it wasn’t the sort of pub that did lock-ins.

He took a greedy bite of his large chicken shawarma sandwich and chased it down with a hefty gulp from his can of Sprite.

Ivan stepped out of the car and pulled his camel hair knee-length coat around him tight. He leaned back against the rear passenger door. With his old army Zippo lighter he sparked up a Marlboro. He lamented how expensive smoking was becoming these days. A packet of cigarettes cost the best part of fifteen quid now. He really ought to quit.

The autumn wind bit into his face and in the half moonlight he could see a couple of cat-sized rats. They were chasing each other around the wheelie bins beside the pub. He gagged inwardly at the smell of overdue refuse.

The phone on his dashboard chirped into life. Ivan reached into the car and pressed the answer button.

‘Hiya Naz.’

‘How you doing, Ivan?’. It was Nazneen, the dispatcher at Mithras Cars, Ivan’s employers.

‘I’m doing alright sweetheart, how about you? Bit taters tonight.’, replied Ivan.

‘Yeah. Glad I’m here in the warm. Listen, could you pick up a fare from St Anne’s Church in Limehouse for me? A Mr McDermott?’

‘Sure. I’m just round the corner anyway. Outside the Grapes on Narrow Street’.

‘Fantastic. He’s going to Fournier Street, Spitalfields way’.

‘No probs Naz’.

‘Cheers Ivan. You’re a diamond’.

‘No problem. Ta-ta’.

Ivan ground the cigarette butt out under his desert boot and eased his six-foot one-inch frame back into the driver’s seat.

He put his seat belt on and started the Mercedes. Ivan liked the low rumble of its diesel engine. He found it reassuring and reliable.  Moving into gear, he set off slowly along Narrow Street.

He headed past a small leafy park on his left-hand side and a row of antiquated Georgian dockers’ cottages on his right. This time of night, Ivan wasn’t too fussy about observing the twenty miles per hour speed limit.

There were usually few people out this time of night and those that were, were probably up to no good. Drug dealing and various other nefarious activities probably.

He crawled past Molines Wharf on the right. Then past the striking art-deco Duke Shore Wharf.

There was a stark contrast in this stretch of Narrow Street. The left-hand side seemed to be all Lego-like housing association blocks. The properties on the right were altogether more salubrious. Mostly developed townhouses. Probably out of his price range though, Ivan thought.

He continued along Narrow Street, noting Sailmaker’s House on his right. Ivan loved these old, converted wharf buildings with all their maritime charisma. He also took a while to appreciate the picturesque Limehouse Wharf.

At the bright blue converted pub on the corner, Ivan took a left up Three Colt Street.

Tree branches encroached from the parks either side of the road. They hung over the entire width of the pavements, lending an air of eerieness. As he passed the red brick 1960s four story apartment block on his right, Ivan experienced an unnerving feeling. A slight sense of foreboding but he didn’t know why. A larger eight story residential block some way up the road on his right appeared to glower down at him.

As he steered the Mercedes past another low-rise council block on his left, he glimpsed the extravagant skyscrapers of Canary Wharf looming high above the city. Ivan caught a quick peek of St Anne’s Church steeple some way in the distance.

He passed under the futuristic cobalt blue bridge that carried the Docklands Light Railway overhead.

Once you got past the bridge, Three Colt Street became noticeably more genteel, the council blocks replaced by affluent-looking converted wharf buildings again.

Ivan thought to himself that it was strange the way rich and poor lived cheek by jowl all over the place in this city. He loved this area though. He’d been brought up in Stepney and this, to him, was the real London. The mix of old and new. Grit and glamour.

He parked the Mercedes across the expansive gateway of St Anne’s and appreciated the magnificence of the ancient church for a while.

Built in 1727 by Nicholas Hawksmoor, its distinctive white steeple and curved windows, criss-crossed with lead, gleamed in the half-moonlight. A family of bats flitted around the church’s ancient gatehouse.

The door of a nearby pub, The Brass Monkey, swung open. A shadowy figure lurched out of the orange light in the doorway. The figure turned towards Ivan’s car. Seeming to recognise it as a taxi he shuffled over, moving awkwardly.

As the figure got closer, Ivan noticed that he was an elderly gentleman. He wore no glasses and had a slightly hangdog expression. A large aquiline nose dominated his face.

He wore an Edwardian dandy style coat with a purple sheen that caught the low light. It made him look a bit like a genteel Teddy Boy. A paisley cravat topped off a white shirt. Expensive looking tan brogues adorned his feet. Ivan thought they looked hand made.

‘Taxi for Mr McDermott?’ inquired Ivan.

‘Yes, that’s right. Thank you.’ replied the man

As Ivan held the rear door of the Mercedes open for him, he noticed that Mr McDermott seemed to be carrying some kind of injury. He was moving extremely gingerly.

‘You seem to be injured. Are you OK?’ said Ivan.

‘Yes. I’m OK thanks. I’ll tell you about it when we’re on our way’ he replied.

When Mr McDermott was settled on the back seat of the Mercedes, Ivan closed the door gently. He got back into the driving seat and started the engine.

‘You’re going to Fournier Street, right?’

‘Yes please. That’s right.’

As they rumbled sedately along the narrower reaches of Three Colt Street, Ivan asked, ‘So, do you want to tell me what happened?’

The older man thought for a while, cleared his throat and said, ‘You probably think this is preposterous, but I was abducted by aliens. Again. They’re always quite rough when they deposit me back afterwards.’

Ivan looked in the rear-view mirror and frowned sceptically. The man’s probably three sheets to the wind, he thought. Maybe he sustained a head injury. Perhaps he’d been assaulted. Ivan was convinced he could smell brandy.

‘I’m not being funny, but I think it might be a good idea for you to go to casualty,’ said Ivan. ‘The nearest one is the Royal London, Whitechapel Road. Not too far’.

‘No, No. I can’t go to a hospital.’

‘Why not?’

‘The injuries I have. The doctors there simply wouldn’t understand them. It would just confuse them too much. It could lead to significant complications.’

‘OK. If you’re sure’. Maybe he’s more in need of a psychiatric hospital, thought Ivan.

Ivan thought he could recognise a hint of a Liverpool accent, like a more refined Ringo Starr. Slightly incongruous with his appearance.

He decided to humour the old man. He had nothing to lose, Ivan thought, and the guy seemed harmless enough. Ivan also had his tactical pen in the glove box. A most underrated tool for insurance and protection.

‘Please can we stop on the way. I need to get some first aid supplies?’ asked Mr McDermott.

‘I don’t think you’ll find any pharmacies open this time of the night’ replied Ivan.

The old man thought for a while and said, ‘I know a place. It’s on the way’.

Ivan had second thoughts about picking him up as he suspected the man could be delirious. Plus he was starting to make Ivan uncomfortable. And it was nearly the end of his shift.

He turned on to the usually busy Commercial Road. Which was almost deserted this time of night.

‘I’m not sure.’ said Ivan

‘I’ve got plenty of cash. I can make it worth your while. There’s an extra five hundred pounds in it for you.’

‘OK then, you’re the boss’, sighed Ivan.

‘Thank you so much. This means a lot’

They continued along Commercial Road in uneasy silence for a while. Ivan felt like the windows of St Anne’s were watching them. Limehouse Town Hall sailed by them on the left.

Ivan then did a U-turn and headed left up Salmon Lane. As they cruised past yet more low-rise council blocks on their right, the old man said,

‘They always seem to be a bit rough when they deposit me back here. I thought about asking them to drop me back at home but I’m not sure I want them knowing where I live.’

‘So they dropped you off in St Anne’s churchyard this time, did they?’ inquired Ivan.

‘Yes.’, confirmed Mr McDermott.

He continued, ‘St Anne’s church crypt is where the aliens have one of their bases. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I fear my tongue has been loosened from a bit too much brandy. I needed it after that last encounter’.

‘I’m helping the aliens as part of a medical trial. It’s almost worth it for the money they pay. It went a long way towards paying for my house.’

Ivan nodded sceptically, slightly nonplussed. It occurred to him that many of these council blocks looked quite extra-terrestrial.

As they passed the Museum of the Book, the older man said, ‘Funnily enough, that’s where the aliens have their library’.

As they passed the small shopping precinct on Salmon Lane, Ivan found the smell of tandoori chicken and baked naan bread almost overpowering. Salmon Lane curved round to the left as they carried on.

After they passed the Prince Regent pub, Salmon Lane became much more genteel. The dwellings had reverted back to pleasant old-fashioned Victorian cottages.

Ivan swung right onto Belgrave Street then left into Stepney Way. He then took another left down Jubilee Street and then a last right which took them on to the Commercial Road again.

‘Please take a right into Adler Street’, asked the old man, ‘that’s where I need to get my supplies’.

‘Okay. If you’re sure’, said Ivan.

So Ivan took a right, crawling past the graffiti-strewn walls and the modern flat blocks.

‘Would you mind stopping here a moment, please’, said Mr McDermott.

Ivan parked on the right, opposite what appeared to be a small Asian convenience store called Malhotra. Signs on the windows advertised various phone cards for customers to call overseas relatives. They also featured various whiskies and rums.

The lights were off, and the store didn’t appear to be open. Regardless, the older man climbed out of the car. With some difficulty he made his way over to the shop doorway. He knocked on the reinforced glass door, which was covered in advertising stickers.

About two minutes later, a low light appeared in the back of the shop and the door opened. An Indian gentleman wearing an emerald-coloured turban, and sporting a long black beard greeted Mr McDermott warmly and ushered him inside. Even from this distance Ivan noticed something very unsettling about the man’s eyes. A kind of green iridescence.

Ivan settled back into his driver’s seat and took his phone out of his pocket. He scrolled through the local news websites. He guessed that Mr McDermott would take about ten minutes at most.

Half an hour went by and Mr Dermott still hadn’t returned. Ivan started to feel dozy and closed his eyes. He slipped in and out of consciousness. He didn’t know how long for. Suddenly, he saw the light go on in the back of the shop again.

 A moment later, the old man walked out of the shop doorway and moved in the direction of the Mercedes. He seemed to be moving much more freely and easily, almost like he was uninjured.

He was now carrying what looked like a freezer style cool box over his shoulder. In his left hand he carried a bottle of Courvoisier.

As the old man slid into the back seat, Ivan asked:

‘What did the guy in there do? You’re moving a lot better’.

‘It’s complicated. Difficult to explain, I’m afraid’

‘What’s in the cool box?’

‘Again. Difficult to explain. But essentially, first aid supplies’

‘I’m not being funny, but is brandy a good idea?’

‘Thanks for the concern but I’ll be fine.’

Silence fell again and Ivan coaxed the Mercedes back into life. They carried on up Adler Street, past the grimy industrial units and graffitied steel shutters until they pulled up next to Altab Ali park on the left.

Here, Ivan took a left onto Whitechapel High Street. They sailed past various shops, businesses, pubs and a cheekily named chip shop called ‘Jack the Chipper’. Ivan then swung right into Commercial Street.

They rolled up Commercial Street, through the assortment of high-rise office blocks, upmarket watering holes and ethnic family businesses. They passed a fascinating pub called the Culpepper.

At the Ten Bells pub, which reputedly used to be a favourite haunt of Jack the Ripper, Ivan turned right into Fournier Street.

A little way past Christ Church Spitalfields on the right, the slender cobbled street narrowed considerably, until the old man said, ‘Just here, please’.

Ivan stopped the Mercedes. They were opposite a small, but affluent looking weaver’s type cottage. Midnight blue wooden shutters covered the outside of the ground floor windows.

Mr McDermott got out of the back seat with surprisingly agility. He went to the driver’s window and handed Ivan the twenty pound fare plus the extra five hundred pounds that he had promised.

‘Thank you very much. You’ve been most kind’.

‘Thank you. That’s all right. I hope you’re OK.’

The old man crossed the cobbles and disappeared inside the heavy-looking front door. Ivan smiled quizzically to himself as he slowly edged the Mercedes away from the kerb.

 As he straightened up, Ivan glimpsed something in the blackness of one of the upstairs windows.

He could swear it was pair of eyes. Large, glowing green and almond-shaped with a peculiar iridescence.

June 07, 2024 15:28

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Kristi Gott
07:28 Jun 13, 2024

The descriptions of the settings, characters and action have close attention to details. The unique setting and mysterious character with his story of alien abduction builds the suspense slowly, increasing it step by step. I was reading through the story with anticipation and curiosity. Very entertaining and I enjoyed the story. Well done!


Matt Austin
14:03 Jun 14, 2024

Thanks for the nice feedback, Kristi.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Tricia Shulist
18:25 Jun 11, 2024

Interesting story. I liked your descriptions of the area that the taxi travelled. I could almost imagine it. Thanks for sharing.


Matt Austin
19:08 Jun 12, 2024

Thanks for the nice feedback, Tricia.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.