In my part of the world, summer is drifting into autumn so this story seemed particularly appropriate. Escaping from the usual routine with a holiday in the sun can have beneficial results – sometimes!
It was a typical gloomy, depressing day in London; hard to believe that only 24 hours previously I had been basking in the warmth of the Mediterranean with the temperature over 30 degrees. As I headed through town it started to drizzle, so naturally every cab driver decided to go into hiding, the buses were full to bursting with tourists, and there were the usual delays on the tube.
By the time I reached my office I was soaked to the skin and in a foul mood, which didn’t improve when I found my assistant had phoned in sick that morning, and my partner had been called away urgently to sort out a major problem.
Internet connection had been poor whilst I was abroad, but I hadn’t expected to face over nine hundred e-mails as soon as I switched on my computer. Add to the mix a temp who was worse than useless, and my being the only one with any authority to give instructions and handle complaints, and the day went from bad to worse. By three o’clock my stomach was protesting and my brain felt ready to explode.
‘I’m going out. I’ll be back later,’ I shouted as I headed for the local sandwich bar to escape. To get some peace, I had deliberately left my mobile on the desk, but after eating a calorie laden lunch and starting to feel more human, I took out my iPad to browse through some photos of happier times.
One in particular brought a smile to my face. I had been on a tour visiting ancient monuments, and had wandered off by myself to discover more of the surrounding area when I stumbled across a stone-clad cottage. The door opened to my touch, and feeling rather guilty I stepped inside to shelter from the burning sun. It was difficult to tell if it was inhabited as although beds, chairs, tables and cabinets were all still in place, everything was covered by thick layers of spiders’ webs.
I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures, until hearing a noise behind me I turned suddenly to catch a glimpse of a beautiful woman in her late twenties, dressed in what I could only describe as 60s hippy style. Unusually for the locals she was blonde with very pale skin, and not the olive colouring of the local villagers.
‘I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to startle you. Is this your home? It was very rude of me to intrude without permission, please forgive me.’
‘I’m lonely, stay for a while,’ came the whispered response.
‘Oh, you speak English. What’s your name?’
‘I was named Ambrosine, although my friends called me Zena. By what name are you known?’
‘Anthony, but my friends call me Tony. Do you live here alone?’
‘The others have moved on, but I am trapped until I can find someone to rescue me.’
‘Rescue you from what, or who? Why don’t you just leave if you want to?’
‘You don’t understand. Until someone agrees to accompany me, I am doomed to stay forever in this place. Where do you live?’
‘In a city in England. It’s cold, rainy, overcrowded and miserable; not like this beautiful area with the sunshine and trees.’
‘Take me with you.’
‘Where? Back to London? Do you have a passport?’
‘You will be my passport, as I will be yours,’ she answered.
It was a weird sort of conversation, and it crossed my mind the sun might have addled my brain, or perhaps she was simple and this was where she came to hide.
‘Tony. Tony. Are you there?’
The voice from outside calling my name made me jump, and when I turned, she was gone. It was only Paul, one of my friends from the trip, but I was annoyed at his interruption.
‘I’m in here,’ I called.
‘Where? I can’t see you. The coach is leaving soon. It’s a long walk back if you miss it.’
‘OK. I’m coming,’ I said, although I would have preferred to examine the other rooms and say goodbye to Zena first, but I didn’t want to keep my companions waiting.
‘Where did you spring from?’ Paul asked as I closed the door behind me and moved towards him.
‘I was in the cottage. It was odd….’
‘What cottage? Come on, we’d better hurry up.’
The rest of the week was the usual drinking, eating and doing what young men on holiday always do. After a particular heavy session the previous evening, most of the gang were content to hang around in the hotel but I wanted some space, so decided to make one last visit to see if I could find the cottage again. The area looked familiar, but at first all I could see was hilly mounds and undergrowth. Just as I thought it must be the wrong place, I caught a glimpse of the sun reflecting on the honey coloured stones and there it was. The undergrowth seemed thicker but again the door opened to my touch, and Zena greeted me with a beaming smile.
‘Tony, you came back for me.’
‘I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye before. We go home tomorrow, so I can’t stay long.’
‘You have your passport? Show me, please.’
I didn’t usually carry it around, but had put it in my pocket so I wouldn’t forget it when we flew home the following day. Even as I took it out to show her, I wondered if it was a wise decision. It could be part of an identity theft trap, involving police reports and delays catching my flight. I needn’t have worried. All she did was stroke the photo and hand it straight back to me. As I put it away, I thought I caught a glimpse of two photos on the page, but that was ridiculous.
‘I must go, now. It was lovely to meet you. Take care of yourself, Zena.’
‘Thank you, Tony for rescuing me,’ she said. ‘We will be happy,’ then she kissed my cheek and I was alone.
The only other peculiar event was when I was going through passport control.
‘Collective passports are no longer valid, Sir. Your spouse must have her own.’
‘Sorry? What are you talking about?’
‘My apologies. It must have been the light. I thought I saw two photos.’
Realising how time had slipped away while I had been indulging in holiday memories, I went back to work to try and catch up. By eight that evening I decided enough was enough, packed up and went home. As I opened my front door, I was aware of an enticing smell coming from the kitchen. I lived on my own and my evening meal was usually a take-away, but this reminded me of fresh food and continental cooking.
‘Hello, Tony. Thank you again for helping me escape. You must be tired. I’ll make you a drink then serve up your dinner. You relax. I’m here now to help you as you helped me. We will be so happy together.’
I thought I had been dreaming, until I woke the following morning to find a soft body cuddled up next to me.
The psychiatric doctor had been making copious notes as I told my story, and I saw the words ‘stress, work pressures, holiday?’ written on his notepad.
Why could no one else see her? She’s real. I know she’s real.
© Voinks May 2019