Adventure Urban Fantasy Mystery

There is still magic in the world. I thought it had died a death whilst everyone was busy thinking they were clever. In an age where people have access to more information than they could possibly take in, there is more ignorance than there has ever been. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me when I stumbled upon my own piece of magic. But a surprise it was. And a shock to boot. I suppose that I was never going to be immune to the ignorance. After all, there’s a lot of it going around these days and we have this knack of surviving. When it came to sink or swim, I chose to swim through the vast oceans of ignorance.

Which makes my magical moment all the more remarkable. I don’t think I’d ever have experienced the magic if I had not been receptive. That makes it sound like hypnosis, and in a way it was. We choose how we see things and so we choose the state in which we engage with the world around us.

Funny old world, isn’t it? We make this world of ours, individually and collectively. It could do with a little more warmth and compassion, but it’s beautiful all the same. The simple pleasures convey so much joy at times. We just have to be open to receive what is right there in front of us.

It was a rainy Saturday morning. Sometimes, I’m fine with the rain, just as long as the rain in question is behaving itself and doesn’t get too carried away. This rain though had gone rogue and was intent on harming me. The wind aided and abetted it, such that by the time I had found my way to the market I was wet through on my front, but by back was bone dry. Somehow this dichotomy made me feel all the more miserable and it was in this state that I would encounter magic.

Thankfully, the market is undercover, but on this day that barely mattered, for as I entered its protection the rain ceased its onslaught. I turned to balefully watch the last few drops and imagined shaking a fist at it, narrowly restraining myself from raising my actual fist and causing a scene as I cried out at the childish antics of the weather.

Gritting my teeth I barely noticed the stalls as I stalked deeper into the market. My trip to find good and interesting food had stalled and I had no notion of what it was I was here for. All that mattered was my undue discomfort. I was so overwrought in the injustice of my soaking that everything else fell away and I could not see beyond that. I even felt like crying. I’d so looked forward to this trip. Many of my forays out for food were perfunctory and limited. Popping to the same couple of supermarkets, walking familiar aisles to select well known foods from the same old shelves. Today was supposed to be different. This trip was a treat. Something above and beyond the drudgery of my humdrum existence, and here was a soggy version of that boring and grey man, made grumpy by the rain on his parade.

I was at the other end of the market before I knew what I was doing. I was as deep into the building as it was possible to get and I had to stop as there was nowhere else to go, tempted as I was to follow the concrete path around and head back up the other side and out of this building. Somehow I’d brought my humiliation along with me for the ride, but as I had I’d managed to convince myself that my shotgun partner was here courtesy of the market itself. That I’d jettison that black dog of a feeling if I were to run away and get home as quickly as I could. These thoughts and feelings shamed me. How had I so quickly regressed to a toddler state? Surely I was better than that. Truth was that I wasn’t.

Focusing on what was before me instead of staring inside of myself and not liking what I saw, I realised that I was in front of a store I’d never seen before. At this end of the market, there were a few stores and shops that were entirely enclosed. This one had called itself Ye Olde Café. I wanted to rebuke it for such a twee name, but two things stopped me. The signwriter’s artifice and the aroma that was somehow arousing my interest even with the café’s door closed. 

What harm could there be in venturing inside? I thought this to myself and followed through with this action before I could overthink it. The door hit a small bell that tinkled delightedly to announce my visitation. Despite myself and my dire mood, I smiled. There was something about the timbre of that bell that worked and it was in good company as my bare wooden surrounds managed to convey something that warmed me despite the cold and damp that clung to the front of my jeans in particular.

No one was at the counter, so I drew a noisy, protesting chair backwards and took a seat. Then I took a menu. This was like no menu I had seen before and as I did a double take I glanced down and noticed that I was creating a puddle. I sighed yet again at the state the rain had made of me and I sighed for good measure in acknowledgement of my embarrassment. Looking around to see whether my shame was being witnessed, I frowned at the emptiness of the place. There were no other customers and yet I had not noted this when first I entered. The feel of the place spoke of gentle occupancy and so seeing it empty rendered me a little bereft.

“Hello!” said a cheery voice.

By rights, I should have jumped. Not quite out of my soaked skin, my sodden coat was too heavy for that, but it was a mildly shocking surprise all the same. I turned to the source of the voice and smiled politely and then my smile brightened in genuine appreciation of my host. It would be easy to misconstrue that smile, were it to occur in many other situations there would be no doubting it’s prompting. I was eyeing a thing of beauty, but my reaction was not inappropriate or lustful, it was about as genuine as it got. There was something about the woman I had laid eyes upon that I could not help but like. She put me at my ease and yet built expectations within me. She brought me out of myself and my rain injured state was all but forgotten. This woman was a reminder to be in the moment and live life accordingly. There was nothing else to be done and I could not thank her enough for what she had achieved with merely a simple greeting and being herself. Sadly, I could not thank her at all because I did not have the words to adequately explain how she had come to my rescue, so I resorted to an echo of her own word.

“Hello,” I said.

She smiled, “let me get you a  nice, warming cup of tea and then we can talk about your requirements.”

I nodded, “thanks,” I said.

I was crestfallen when she disappeared from sight. It turned out that my toddler state had not been completely erased after all, I felt the abandonment of a small child by its mother and inexplicably, that feeling of loss hit hard.

To move myself on from such unfounded nonsense, I returned to the menu, and as I did, I fully attended to her words. A cup of tea was welcome. It was just the ticket. But she’d then said that we would talk about my requirements. Never had I heard words such as these. They were slightly out of kilter when it came to a café meal, but somehow I liked the thought of them. They were softer and kinder than someone taking my order. There less of a hard transaction about it.

The menu was unlike any menu I had ever seen before. The menu was further away from being typical than her words were. There were no food or drink items and there was no pricing. I wondered whether the concept was akin to small, family run establishments on the continent. A basic kitchen producing one or two dishes done to a good standard. Right now, that would work very well for me, certainly it would if the aromas tickling my nasal passages were anything to go by.

Having established the unique menu format I decided I’d read the paragraph of writing. I felt my face crease in gentle consternation as I went from sentence to sentence. Then I nodded. Just because I’d never done anything like this before didn’t mean that it was not going to hit the spot. I’d wanted something different and here it was.

The lady of the establishment returned with a tray. She placed the tray down and sat at right angles to me. Very unusual, but I had decided that I was going to go with this now and so I did. I smiled as she poured us both a mug of tea and I nodded when she offered me milk and told her no thanks then she asked about the sugar.

“Right then,” she said after she’d taken a sip of tea. Placing the mug down she retrieved a pen and pad, “a few questions about yourself and we’ll get you sorted!” She smiled a smile that was familiar and warm and I could have sat in its radiance for an age.

Nodding I returned the smile as best I could.

“Name?” she asked.

“Jim,” I told her.

“Lovely,” she said, “and mine’s Abigail.”

“Nice to meet you Abigail,” I said.

“Likewise,” she replied.

“Year of birth?” she asked.

“1968…” I told her but I was a bit flustered by her question.

She read me well, “we get an idea of who you are, or more precisely, who you were and the food you will eat today will take you back to a time you thought you had forgotten.”

“Really?” I asked. It wasn’t that I was sceptical, more that I did not dare hope that she, or they, could do such a thing.

“We try,” she smiled her smile and asked me a few more questions. Only a few mind, and they didn’t seem relevant or adequate. In fact, as she walked back out of sight, those questions of hers seemed to be the security questions my bank asked me when I set my online account up. Surely knowing the name of my first pet, and what type of animal it was, wasn’t going to help the chef bespoke food for me?

As I sat waiting, I began wondering whether I actually wanted food from my past life. In many respects, I count myself lucky for the time I was born to and the times I have encountered on my journey to this very here and now. The music and the fashion, even with the hiccups of the eighties, the TV, the comedy, the films. A time before the advent of electronic devices, but seeing the changes all that tech brought. I was reminiscing, but there was a stain on all of that past and it was seventies cuisine. The Brits nickname of rosbif was very apt during this time. A roast dinner was as good as it got. Most foods were cooked to within an inch of their lives and then cooked some more. Vegetables were squishy and some of them rendered down to a grey mush that bore no resemblance to how that veg had entered the kitchen. Returning to those times could well be blandly horrific. 

I was sat pondering the experience that awaited me when the lady returned. But she did not return with my meal. Instead she held two objects and bade me put them on. 

“Well,” I said, “I wasn’t expecting this.”

She grinned at me, “we like to be different.”

I took the eye set first and placed it on my face.

“Is that comfortable?” she asked me.

“Yes, thanks,” I replied.

“Good” she said, “I’ll just place these on and then I’ll return with your meal.”

I felt the earphones slip onto my head and then I sat there in darkness and silence, a small degree of trepidation growing within me. I tried not to think about Guantanamo Bay, which was to say that I thought of exactly that. The deprivation of senses was unnerving. But then I sensed her return and I could smell my meal and everything began to change.

“I’ll just switch these on and then leave you to enjoy your trip,” she was behind me and as my vision returned, courtesy of the goggles over my eyes, she slipped away and left me to it. At least I think she did. I never saw her again.

Naturally, my head had been downturned, my blind attention focused upon the dish I could smell as it had been brought out to me. My heart fluttered in my chest as I recognised, not just the fish fingers, peas and mash on my plate, but the plate itself. The plate was as much a part of my childhood as my purple Budgie bicycle and my greed Lotus pedal car with a seven on the bonnet. The design of that plate was Japanese. I remember asking my Granddad about it once as I cleared it of food. It was a blue ink drawing of a Japanese garden, a distinctive arch taking the centre and cherry blossom trees standing guard on either side of it. 

Before I took up the knife and fork I marvelled at my recollection of them. These were the exact type of cutlery my grandparents had. Off-white handled and my knife always seemed to have a slightly loose handle. 

My hands were shaking as I cut a piece of fish finger up. I pushed it firmly into the creamy mash, using my knife to help laden the fork, and then I pushed the mash into the pile of peas. Slowly I brought that forkful of food to my mouth, not daring to hope that it could possibly taste the way it had when I was a wee lad. Before the grub had been dislodged into my mouth I knew though. The presence of the food that near my tastebuds was everything. I closed my eyes and then I closed my mouth over that fork and savoured that food in a way that I had never experienced before.

And yet I had experienced this before. That was the whole point. My heart grew fit to burst as the flavours of food I’d eaten decades previously gambolled across my tongue. Reluctantly, I chewed my food, taking care to do so slowly in order to prolong the moment. After the food was gone I basked in its afterglow.

“Cat got your tongue, Jimmy?”

My eyelids crashed open at the sound of that voice, “Nan?”

She cackled her trademark laugh, “who else would it be, you daft apeth!?” 

I don’t know why, but of all the things I could have done, including losing my mind, I scooped more of the food up and put it in my mouth.

“He likes that!” 

“It’s his favourite!” answered Nan.

I turned to see my Granddad, “Granddad,” I said stupidly and redundantly.

“Yes?” he replied.

I drew air into my lungs, it snagged several times on the way in and my body shuddered in response to that stuttering breath. Then I told him something I’d wanted to tell him for many a year, “you make the best mash!”

He smiled, “I’ll show you how to make it one day.”

“I know you will,” I told him, because he already had.

“You’re a funny boy,” he said ruffling my hair, “now finish up and we can put the transfers on that model Spitfire of yours.”

I smiled and nodded as I shovelled the rest of the meal into my mouth, I knew he’d put the transfers on. My attempts would either bunch up or tear. I never did get the knack of slipping them on exactly where they needed to go.

“What’s for afters, Nan?” I asked.

“A cup of tea and a look out the window,” she told me firmly.

“We might have a packet of wafers,” Granddad whispered conspiratorially.

I grinned.

I was still grinning as I finished my meal and the vision of my past faded.

In the silent aftermath, I sat for a while. I’d taken off my headset and ear set and was greeted with a clean, white plate. I could almost imagine the younger version of me licking the blue pattern off it. I’d been accused of doing so often enough.

Eventually, I sighed and looking around me one last time, resigned myself to not seeing the lady and having to depart. The menu hadn’t asked a specific price, instead it suggested patrons pay what they felt they should. I emptied my wallet onto the table, wishing I had more cash upon my person.

I would ensure I had more money on me next time, I thought to myself as I reluctantly left Ye Olde Café, but when I got around to a return visit three months later, it was gone. All sign of the quirky café had been removed. It were as though it had never existed. In its stead was a shop selling vintage clothing. Sadly, I began to walk away. Then I stopped and looked up at the sign over the window. There was something quite familiar about the lettering of that sign…

December 13, 2023 20:04

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Belladona Vulpa
09:21 Dec 22, 2023

Nice and mysterious setting, also nicely written flow of thoughts, pleasant to read. It has a bit of everything, descriptions, dialogue, emotions, scattered around, made it build a nice connection to the reader. I also enjoyed how you presented the magic in a sort of discreet way, and mysterious as well.


Jed Cope
16:15 Dec 22, 2023

Thank you - I'm glad it worked for you and you connected with it.


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Mary Bendickson
22:30 Dec 13, 2023

Pleasures of the past.


Jed Cope
08:46 Dec 14, 2023

I was hoping you'd read that one...


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