First Encounter [First Draft]

My Gran gave me her old typewriter a while ago and I finally got round to writing a whole story on it. It’s actually a really good way to write because you can’t go back and edit mistakes or things you’d like to change. Instead you just have to keep on writing. I think the sound might help me focus, too, though it’s possibly a bit irritating for my housemates…

This is the first draft, straight from the typewriter (needing to write everything up again on a computer is a definite disadvantage of typewriters) except for a few corrected typos. It needs a fair bit of work still, as you will see, but I think you might enjoy it anyway.

In other news, one of my 50-word stories has been published on EveryWritersResource.com. You can have a look here.

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First Encounter

‘My first encounter with the inscrutable power of the divine happened one Sunday afternoon as I was making a grilled cheese sandwich. Before that day I had never been a particularly pious person, though I did go to church every week, and was not long back from the morning service that fateful afternoon.’ Mrs Claire Timpson pauses for a moment and looks around the room. Half a dozen tables are laid out in the community hall with tea and biscuits. ‘Yes, so… I removed the sandwich from the grill and sprinkled it with Lea and Perrins’ Sauce, just as I usually do. On second consideration it looked like the sandwich could do with a bit longer under the grill so I put it back in.’

Claire pauses again, running through her prepared words. She stares out of one a window above where Father Conroy is helping himself to a chocolate digestive, then she looks at the crucifix mounted on the wall behind his head.

‘It’s strange to think about how easily things could have been different, if I hadn’t done exactly what I did… In any case, it happened this way, and no doubt it was for a very good reason.

‘I waited for a minute, then took the sandwich from the grill, put it on my plate and stopped in amazement.

‘In that moment I doubted what I saw. Please, don’t make the same mistake and disbelieve me now. Don’t be as weak of faith as I was in that moment.

‘On the surface of the sandwich, depicted in burned cheese and Lea and Perrins’, was the face of our Lord Jesus Christ. He looked at me with eyes that were filled with love and compassion. I don’t know how long I stood there looking at that sandwich, but the next thing I knew the sandwich had cooled and the cheese congealed. The face was still visible and held the same majesty that it had before, the same sense of purpose and importance.’

Claire finally brings herself to look at the faces of the assembled Parish Volunteer Committee. They show a mixture of amusement and annoyance.

‘Um, well, I’d like to, er, thank Father Conroy for allowing me to speak to you all. Maybe… maybe he can explain why it is… important…’ Claire sinks back into her chair, eyes fixed on the cup of tea on the table in front of her.

There’s a spattering of applause and an exchange of glances. Father Conroy stands up in his position at the head table, a few biscuit crumbs stuck to his robes. ‘Thank you Mrs Timpson for that, it was a very fortifying tale. One to reaffirm anyone’s faith, I’m sure. We would all love to hear about your other revelatory experiences some time. Now, let’s get this meeting underway. The first item on our agenda today is…’

*

‘How did the meeting go, dear? Did Father Conroy let you to speak this time?’ Robert helps himself to some mashed potatoes, skimping on the green veg as usual.

‘He did. I think it went well but oh I don’t know Robert I can’t help but feel that I made a fool of myself in front of all those people.’ Claire sighs at her pork chop.

‘Come now, I’m sure you’ve made a good impression. How many of them can say they’ve had that kind of experience? They’re sure to be impressed.’

‘You know the parish community has looked down on me ever since that bake sale last year.’ Claire shudders at the memory.

‘That wasn’t your fault. If anything it was Mrs Feldon’s fault for allowing her boy to ride around on that damn foolish skateboard of his.’

‘I know but we’ve been over this, Robert. Mrs Feldon is highly regarded. She does so much for the community and she’s been here her whole life. Here we are, a couple of newcomers from the city…’

‘They’ll warm to us in time, Claire, you know they will. This pork chop is lovely, by the way.’

Claire ignores Robert’s compliment and look around at their dining room. The expensive furnishings and sophisticated décor give her no pleasure.

‘But it’s been two years, you’d think by now…’

‘Be patient, dear, you’re doing everything right.’

‘And it was such a lovely trifle…’

‘Let’s not talk of such things. I have no doubt that people are just jealous. Either that or they’re not quite so holy as they like to think.’

‘Robert!’

‘I mean it, dear. Still, it was very nice of Father Conroy to allow you to speak to everyone.’

‘Yes, it was.’ Claire finishes the last of her chop and Robert begins to clear away the dishes.

‘Mother was asking for you,’ he calls from the kitchen.

‘Oh? How is she? Settling in well?’

‘She’s loving it, completely in her element. The staff are friendly and she’s getting along very well with a gentleman called Thomas a few rooms down.’

‘Oh! She is a one, your mother. I gave your apologies to Father Conroy and he was quite understanding.’

‘Have you been out in the garden at all, dear?’ Robert says, coming in from the kitchen.

‘Not today. Did you get to the butchers on your way back?’

‘I tried the new Sainsbury’s that’s opened up near mother’s old place. I could only get a haunch of lamb, though. It seems they don’t sell tripe.’

‘Do you think that will be enough?’

‘I’m sure it will be. It’s a nice piece of meat, still with some blood in it.’

‘It’s getting dark very early.’

‘No matter, we have a good hour yet.’ They put on their wellies, then Robert stops Claire at the back door. ‘I’ll have a word with Father Conroy, dear. He owes me a favour. I’ll make sure he lets you talk to everyone again.’ Claire smiles at him and they step outside.

*

‘Well this is a bit of a sequel I suppose.’ Claire looks around the room at the impatient faces. Robert gives her a smile, though. ‘I feel that maybe, and forgive me if this is presumptuous of me, I mean, presumptuous of me to, er,  presume what you think, but I honestly feel that my last little, er, speech to you wasn’t as effective or, I don’t know, resonant, perhaps, as I would have hoped.’

Someone coughs.

‘Well I’d like to tell you all about my second encounter with the divine, you know, the forces that hold the universe together. I’m no expert on these matters like Father Conroy but I think that certain experiences we all have are important to show us that there is more to life than just what we can see. Maybe I’m wrong and, erm, where was I? Oh dear, I was never very good at this, what was I…’

‘If I may, Mrs Timpson?’ Mrs Feldon says, standing up.

‘Oh, of course, please…’

‘I think,’ Mrs Feldon says, turning from Mrs Timpson to the rest of the gathering. ‘I think someone may have had a little too much of the communion wine. Father, might it be best if Mrs Timpson were to gather her thoughts and address us after the meeting? There is the important issue of next month’s fundraiser and I know we are all eager to hear Mr Wright’s plans for the day.’

There is a murmur of agreement from the meeting. Mrs Timpson looks at her shoes and sits down beside Robert. Father Conroy stands up. ‘If you would be so kind as to discuss your thoughts with us later, Mrs Timpson, we would be very grateful. Everyone’s opinions and, erm, stories are welcome in our parish. Now, as Mrs Feldon said, we have an agenda put together by Mr Wright for our next fundraiser…’

*

‘Now now dear, don’t be upset. Mrs Feldon meant it in the best possible way. She saw that you were flustered and…’

‘I was only flustered after she interrupted, Robert. Before that I was completely fine.’ The two of them sit at the kitchen table. Two cheese sandwiches are in the grill.

‘She is a little stuck-up, that Mrs Feldon, it’s true,’ Robert says after a moment of thought. ‘Feels she is above the rules of the meeting. It was your turn to speak, not hers.’

‘I really don’t think she likes us. Oh Robert.’ Claire looks up at him over the table. ‘I really don’t think we fit in here at all. Everyone here has put together a lovely little community and here we come, pushing ourselves in where there’s no room, invading their meetings…’

‘Our meetings, dear. We have as much right as anyone else to be at those meetings, this is our village too. And it doesn’t matter if Mrs Feldon doesn’t like us,’ he says, placing his hand on Claire’s. ‘We can win everyone else over and she’ll follow the herd.’

‘Perhaps… But I don’t think anyone else likes us either, Robert. I had to ask Mrs Potter three times before she would bring some fresh milk over to our table. And–’

‘You’re working yourself up, Claire. Now, remember what they said in the meeting about organising a little get-together for all the committee volunteers? Well how about if we hosted it? People could get to know us better, they’d be able to try your cooking and they’ll start to think of us as members of the community. What do you say?’

Claire is silent. ‘Well,’ she says after a minute, ‘I’ll have to think about it.’

Robert smiles, confident she’s been persuaded. She doesn’t like to show too much enthusiasm for his ideas.

‘Did you defrost the meat from Hodgson’s?’ she asks.

‘Yes. It’s in the fridge.’

‘Good. Your mother loves tripe, doesn’t she?’

‘She thinks she does. She remembers it from her childhood, but I suspect she may be wearing rose-tinted glasses. I can’t stand the thought of it myself.’

‘I don’t suppose they serve it at the home?’

‘No. We could save her some.’

‘Let’s. Oh, I forgot to tell you about the dream I had last night, Robert. It was–’

‘Tell me about it on the patio. I’ll go get a bottle of wine.’ They head outside and talk all about it.

*

‘It was very nice of you to volunteer to host this little soiree, Mrs Timpson.’ Father Conroy smiles at her over his glass of lemonade.

‘Oh it was Robert’s idea. Just so we could get to know everyone, you know. We’ve been here nearly two years now but we still feel a bit like strangers. I thought it would be a good chance to get to know everyone, er, like I said, though it was Robert’s idea…’

Yes, and a very good idea, I think.’

Mrs Feldon approaches through the group of guests chatting about the Olympics. ‘Mrs Timpson!’

‘Oh call me Claire, please.’

‘Claire, of course, and please call me Janice. I was just saying to your husband that I came here expecting to taste some of your cooking that he’s been so boastful of and there’s barely a bite to eat! You’re not trying to get us drunk are you?’ her comment is punctuated by Mr Simpson’s raucous laugh as Mrs Hodgson nearly topples over in her high heels, glass of wine in hand.

‘Ah well, as it is such a lovely day I thought we could eat outside and I think Robert must be getting that ready right now.’

‘Well don’t keep us waiting forever!’ she says with a laugh and walks off.

‘Yes I must say that I am a bit peckish,’ Father Conroy says as Janice walks away.

‘I’ll just go and see how Robert is doing. Excuse me Father…’

*

‘Robert? What’s taking so long?’

‘Nothing, nothing, I’m just about done. You can let everyone through now.’

*

‘Everyone? Everyone, could I have your attention please?’ Claire stands between the sitting room and the dining room and turning in the doorway to try to talk to both groups of people. ‘The food is now ready outside, but before you all go out I’d like to take this moment to thank you for being so nice to Robert and I. When we first came to this village we felt like it was so perfect that we couldn’t possibly fit in. You’ve all been so nice to us, though, that we quite feel like proper members of this little community, this very special community.’ People smile and a few clap. Claire talks over them. ‘Now, I never got round to telling you all something very important, about my second encounter with the divine, my second religious experience, as Father Conroy would say.’

‘Oh Claire?’ Mrs Feldon says from the living room. ‘I don’t suppose this story can wait with a little longer? I am quite famished and can’t wait to get to grips with your oft-famed cooking.’

‘My cooking? It’s, well, really Robert is very generous with his praise and–’ Mrs Feldon smiles at her. ‘Where was I? Um, yes, well I suppose it can wait, I’ll tell you all about it in the garden, I mean, if that’s what you would prefer, though… And the food is all out there…’

People begin to head for the back door as Claire’s voice dies away. She sighs and follows her guests outside.

*

Mr Wright is on his knees on the porch, his expression indicating not so much surprise as an inability to comprehend the enormity of what he is seeing. He doesn’t even blink as Mrs Price runs past him screaming.

‘Oh don’t leave, Mrs Price,’ Claire says. ‘I still haven’t told you…’ She trails off as she realises that Mrs Price isn’t listening. She bends down and picks up Mr Wright’s wine glass which he has dropped to the ground. Fortunately it isn’t broken.

‘Robert?’ she calls over the heads of the people collapsed on her lawn and patio, some unconscious and some on their knees whimpering or trembling. Father Conroy appears to be having some kind of fit.

‘Here, dear.’ He stands over by the buffet table, helping himself to some potato salad. ‘I don’t suppose we have any smelling salts, do we?

‘No, I was going to ask if you would fetch some brandy and wake people up, I still need to give my little speech, I spent far too much time on it to let it go to waste and–’

‘I know, I know. There’s not much use in giving a speech when there’s no audience. I suppose I can be persuaded to donate some brandy to a good cause.’ He walks back into the house while Claire surveys the people in her garden. Mr Thurston wakes up and opens his mouth in noiseless scream while the actual screams of someone else echo down the street outside. Judging by the number of people in the garden, about half of the committee have left.

Claire stands at the end of the garden and faces everyone. ‘Now, I think I can finally tell you about–’

‘I AM COMING,’ a voice says. ‘I HAVE STRUGGLED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS AND MY TIME IS NIGH.’

Claire turns to the thing on her right and waits for it to finish speaking.

The air at the end of the garden seems to be shattered somehow. It is formed into shards like glass and seems to distort the garden around it. From some angles the rhododendron bush is visible while from others perspective is split, interrupted by almost invisible planes that refract light to unexpected degrees.

Emerging from this tangle of comprehension is a figure no more understandable. Its horned head and snarling features make sense but there is no way to tell how many clawed limbs it has or what kind of twisted torso is lurking in this hole in the universe.

‘RH’GOTH ORGHUL NO FAR’WEHMANK OKI MANOTH,’ it says, its voice like the screams of the dying.

Again, Claire waits for it to finish while her husband attempts to revive the guests with the brandy his mother got him last Christmas (or, rather, the brandy Claire bought on behalf of his house-bound mother).

‘Now as I was saying…’ Three people seem to be looking at her, though their eyes are blank. The rest stare at the thing. Below it is an area of dug-up earth filled with burned offerings. ‘My second encounter with the inscrutable power of the divine was rather more impressive than the first…’

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About lemonmachine

I am Kieren McCallum, a third-year English Literature student at UEA, Norwich. View all posts by lemonmachine

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