A Young Acquaintance

Publish Date
Word Count
1047 words

Narration by the wonderful Veo Corva

It as a gloomy and rainy late Friday afternoon when Jeremy was walking home. He was not amused. It had been a long week of getting yelled at by his boss and customers alike. The old ones were always the worst. They came in with 3x2 px pictures taken from a crappy iPad camera that they wanted to have blown up to a 1 sqm canvas and then got angry and pesky when Jeremy told them that probably wouldn't work.

Jeremy rounded a corner on his regular route home into a small alley. He was surprised to be greeted by the front of an old and dusty looking pub, instead of the alley. Jeremy rubbed in his eyes and blinked a couple of times. The pub was still there. Just above the door swung a small sign in the shape of a gondola, bearing the inscription, "The Styx". The rain and wind were really starting to pick up so rather than deliberate where he'd taken a wrong turn, Jeremy just walked inside. He needed a fucking drink after such a long day.

The pub was small, empty and dusty. There was a bald barkeep standing behind the taps, leaning against the counter behind him. The bar looked like it was the only thing that had seen a cleaning cloth in the last decade or so. Jeremy hesitated for a moment but took a seat at the bar when the wind behind him started howling again.

"Pint a Guinness," he said to the barkeep. "Aye, cumin' up," the barkeep said in a thick Scottish accent. He grabbed a glass from below the bar and started cleaning it, before pouring the drink. "Ye don't keep clean glasses ready?" Jeremy asked with as much surprise as he could muster in his exhaustion. "Easier that way. Not many people come here as ye can see." "Fair enough. What do I owe ya?" "Argh, never mind. First one's on the house" "Ye sure?" "Aye, don't plan on staying here for long, so I don't feel like lugging around your kind of cash." "Cheers," Jeremy said while lifting his glass. He was slightly perplexed by the barkeep's reason, but also just too exhausted to give a damn. He took a swig. It was just what he had needed.

Jeremy started to let his gaze wander around the room. The inside looked mostly like the outside. Neglected, old and dusty. A few tables and chairs dotted the room but in a very disordered way. The dust on the floor suggested none of them had been used recently. He eventually saw a small shape bundled up in a corner, and a faint humming coming from it. After staring it for a second or two he discovered it was a small child!

"Hey, what's that kid doing 'ere?" he asked the barkeep. "Kicked out by 'er host. Can't take care of 'er meself, but I pitty 'er so I let 'er stay here. She don't bother noone so I give 'er some scraps erey nouw 'n again. Know 't ain't much, but I do what I can."

Jeremy took another swig of his drink. Children had always made him uncomfortable, and this one even more so than usual. Maybe because the melody she was humming sounded weirdly familiar to him. He looked at the barkeep with a suspicious look. The humming stopped, leaving a very dense silence in the room. Jeremy wasn't sure what was worse, the uncomfortable, almost eerie silence, or the weirdly familiar humming.

Suddenly he felt a tug at his trousers. When he looked down, he stared directly in the face of the girl. Part of him wanted to flinch when he looked at her, but he was somehow unable to. Her face was covered in old and poorly healed cuts and bruises, but her eyes we clear and bright. Her gaze was intense and firmly fixed on Jeremy's face.

The barkeep chuckled. "ha! She likes ya." Jeremy looked up at the barkeep, his face frozen in disbelief.

"What happened to her?" The barkeep shrugged. "Dunno. She's looked like that since the day I met 'er. Time with 'er 'ost must a been pretty rough. But I guess you know that as well as she does, doent'cha?" "What do you mean?" "Don't give me that bollocks! She's been waiting here fore ya fer years. You're the one that kicked 'er out." Jeremy stared down again at the little girl now fiercely hugging his leg. "But, but... the hell am I supposed to do with her? I don't know how to take care of a child!" "Ye'll 'ave to figure it out friend." "But I never asked for this!" "Tha's too bad! She's yers to take care of nouw, yea? Look at that child. Ain't none else to take care o' 'er. Ye push 'er away again, she's gonna die. I'll tell ye tha'. Trust me friend, ya don't want that on yer conscious. Ye might not wanna admit it, but ye need 'er as much as she needs you.'" Jeremy exhaled nervously, "what's her name?" "Sophia. I call 'er Sof."

As in a trance Jeremy reached down, offering their hand to the little girl. Without speaking the girl took their hand and squeezed it gently as if to calm them. When Jeremy looked up again the barkeep was gone. Even though they could still feel the hand of the girl, gently squeezing theirs, when they looked down, the girl too, had vanished. Totally overwhelmed they buried their face in their hands and began to sob. They sobbed for the years of abuse both they and the girl had endured at the hands of others and themselves. When they eventually regained their composure, they left the bar, their drink still only half finished. When they exited the bar, another gust of wind blew past them, slamming the door shut. When they looked behind them, it was nowhere to be seen. The weather was still as horrible as it had been, but back at them stared only the alley they had seen hundreds of times before. Silently, they popped their collar and started to walk home, feeling both more at home and more apprehensive of the future than they had in a long, long time.