The lovely Ellie Garratt is a prolific writer, and a fine inspiration in how to knuckle down and get on with it. Her blog - with its stunning header - is evidence of Ellie's dedication to the craft.
We first crossed paths at Talkback, already mentioned several times here on the February Femmes Fatales showcase, since then we've shared printed space in Pill Hill Press' Daily Bites of Flesh 2011 (Ellie's the February 7th story, my two are June 19 and June 28). We also dallied on The Mysterious Dr. Ramsey from the Six Sentences network.
Ellie's story Passing Time is reminiscent of a different age. It's what I'd consider a classic supernatural tale and I'm particularly grateful to Ellie for allowing me to present it on February Femmes Fatales.
Passing Time by Ellie Garratt
We took death for granted, you and I. We spent our lives in quiet desperation, hoping the call of time would come later rather than sooner. But we know it was coming and until we met the man with the raincoat, we believed there was nothing we or anyone else could do to stop it. We were wrong.
The first time I saw the man who would change everything he was by the entrance to my office block, one week before my retirement. He wore a dirty raincoat and was carrying the same briefcase as I, though his was worn around the edges, perhaps by a lifetime of use, and his face bore a myriad of lines gained through hard living. His clothes were dirty and holes caressed every edge. I guessed by his silver-patched hair and gait he was in 80s or 90s. I did not know it at the time but he’d been waiting for me; I’d passed him twice a day for 30 years and never even noticed.
“Mr. Ashby?” he asked, as he placed his sinewy body in front of mine, blocking my path. He was the same height as I and we stared at each other, eye to eye, like two men preparing to fight.
“Yes,” I said, after a few seconds of hesitation.
He reached out a skeletal-looking hand and I took it, though I did not know why.
“Thank you,” he said, the timbre of his voice sounding more jubilant, and then began walking down the steps I’d just assailed with tremendous ease for a man of his age.
“For what?” I called after him.
He stopped for a moment and looked back. “For passing time, Mr. Ashby. Passing time.”
I stood watching as he disappeared along the pavement that stretched several blocks in either direction and tried to fathom what had just taken place. When I realised I could make no sense of it, I carried on with my day as I’d originally planned – work and then home to my one-bedroom flat.
My housekeeper was waiting for me with dinner when I returned home at just after 7pm. I thanked her as always and she left me to my self-imposed solitude.
It was whilst eating dinner that I was first alerted to the gradual change creeping through me. As I had gotten older my appetite had waned, but that night I was ravenous. When I’d eaten every morsel of dinner, I turned to the contents of the fridge to satisfy my sudden hunger. A piece of raw meat stood out amongst the healthier options. I picked it up and smelt its sweet aroma, and then seared it for a few seconds in a pan; I’d decided eating it almost raw would be more pleasurable and I was right – the steak was the finest I’d ever tasted. It was as if my senses had been re-born.
That night I slept longer than I had in years and found myself late for work the following day. My colleagues teased me ferociously; old dependable Mr. Ashby was never late.
There was no sign of the strange man.
Friday night and Saturday morning passed as a blur, as I played the best tennis of my life and decided to accept an invitation to a work party I’d previously declined. I danced all evening and drank liberally; something my tired body had not allowed in years.
It was on the way home from the party I finally began to re-consider the strange man’s last line, ‘Passing time, Mr. Ashby. Passing time.’ Had I been passing time? In waiting for death had I been guilty of wishing my life away?
It was on my last day of employment that I saw him for the second and last time. He was standing on the same steps, wearing the same rancid-looking raincoat. In his right hand he clutched the handle of his tattered briefcase.
I decided to stop and talk. I was sure it was he who had brought about the changes in me and I was eager to know if it would last – to find out if this sudden feeling of being truly alive would continue.
He smiled as I approached, revealing several rotten and missing teeth, and I grimaced.
“Good evening, Mr. Ashby,” he said, reaching out his arm again for us to shake hands.
This time I declined.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I’m you, Mr. Ashby.”
I thought he was quite mad. “Right . . .Who are you really?”
“Do you have your briefcase with you, Mr. Ashby?”
“Yes,” I said, raising it up towards him.
He looked down at it with a look that seemed to convey both avarice and fond remembrance; I could not decide which.
My gut instinct was to walk away but I was mesmerised.
“May I look at it?” he asked.
“And then you’ll tell me who you really are?”
I’d not intended to take his briefcase when he reached out for mine, nor had I expected him to touch my hand for a second time, but it happened nevertheless and I’ve lived with that mistake for 29 years, 364 days, and 23 hours. I’ve relived that last glorious week of my life enough times to regret taking my death for granted. You see I’ve been stood next to the same office entrance for 30 years now; an aging briefcase in my hands and invisible for all to see. I’ve been passing time. I’ve been waiting for you.
It’s one week until you retire and I have a gift for you – a few heady days of youthful exuberance – before you take my place and allow me to pass on to the next level of life; death.
Ellie Garratt lives in the UK and writes speculative fiction. She’s appeared in several anthologies, including Pill Hill Press’s Fem-Fangs, Haunted, Daily Bites of Flesh, and Dark Things V, and Static Movement’s Creepy Things. When she’s not bossing characters around to make fiction, you can find her at www.elliegarratt.blogspot.com.