Encounter : Part One
By hilary west
ENCOUNTER : Part One
Adam Kesteven was thirty-five and looking for a home. He’d been in the estate agents all day looking for a house to share with his girlfriend Amy Brown, their first home together. November was an unfriendly month; it was dark by four o’ clock and now at three forty-five he was on his way to a viewing. 6, Partridge Close looked very promising in the brochure, but was out of town, off the old main road to Ashdown Quarry. His car was second-hand, or third-hand or whatever, but he’d had it six months now and found it serviceable if unreliable on cold winter mornings like today. It sputtered and it spat, but once going was fine. He had no idea it would let him down badly, and that was just what he was to find out tonight.
The engine started to give out smoke on a cold, lonely road; there was an almighty bang and the car stuttered to a stop. It was four o’ clock and already pitch black. He was miles from anywhere. He reached for his mobile but damn it all he didn’t have it with him. He would have to abandon the car and start walking; see if he could find anyone in the vicinity. The road was deserted but in the distance he could see an old house, a very big house, a mansion once. It was his only hope.
A glimmer of optimism came when he saw a lighted window. He shouldn’t be inconvenienced for long. His heart lifted and he stopped feeling so all alone, but he knew he wouldn’t be seeing 6, Partridge Close tonight. Would nothing go right for Adam? He often felt unlucky. In Norse mythology they termed such men ‘ogoefumadrs’ or ‘luckless men’. Adam Kesteven was cursed, he knew he was, and now in the cold and dark on a deserted highway he was finding consolation in a lighted window.
As he approached the forbidding mansion he could see there was a sign. It said in faded letters Shaston House, Home of the Eagle Ensigns. What on earth were they? Adam thought to himself. A wooden eagle perched precariously above the sign. Whoever they were he must face them. When he got to the main door he looked for some kind of bell. It was one of those very old-fashioned bell pulls made out of iron. He pulled on it and he could hear a ringing throughout the house inside. Soon the door opened on a creaking hinge.
“Hello, I’m Duncan. What can I do for you?”
The stranger was a very good-looking, older teenager, probably about eighteen.
“Oh, I’m sorry to bother you, it’s just my car has broken down on the road about a mile back, and I’m wanting to use the phone, see if I can get the AA out. Sorry, my name is Adam, Adam Kesteven, nice to meet you, Duncan.”
“Come on in out of the cold, but I’m afraid our phone is out of use at the moment. We are waiting to have it repaired.”
“Oh, that is bad news, is there anywhere else I can go to to ask for help?”
“Not round these parts. Look we are just going in to dinner, come and join us, you are welcome to.”
“Why thanks, I am rather cold.”
Duncan Barrett led Adam through musty corridors to the dining room. When they arrived most people were already seated. There must have been around fifty people there altogether, the numbers swelling as more people drifted in from various entrances. It was then it occurred to Adam to ask if anyone had a mobile he could dial out from. He uttered this question to Duncan but was quickly told they weren’t allowed by the group, so no one would have one.
“Oh, that is disappointing” said Adam, for once thinking technology does have a place in modern life, but obviously not in the lives of these modern people.
“Our leader doesn’t believe in using things that weren’t invented before 1945.” This alarmed Adam; the words ‘our leader’ had distinct pejorative connotations. What was this - some kind of cult? And why on earth were they throwing themselves back before 1945? What was the significance of 1945 and who was this leader?
Adam was about to find out, once the first course of dinner had been served. It was a watery soup with onion in it but it tasted okay. Suddenly a rather pasty-looking woman of about fifty years of age was stood before him on the other side of the dining table.
“And who is the newcomer?” she said to Duncan.
“Oh, this is Adam. Adam, this is Mrs. Miller”
Adam thought she isn’t a terribly attractive woman, rather big-featured and pallid, with dark black eyebrows almost meeting in the middle of her brow, wearing no make-up at all. Was she an ascetic?
“You’ll have to stay the night now,” said Mrs. Miller.
“Oh, are you sure?”
“Yes, we can put you up. We have plenty of room. I think there’s an empty room next to you, Duncan, isn’t there?”
“Yes, there is.”
“Good, that’s settled then.”
“What are the Eagle Ensigns?” Adam said to Mrs. Miller. “Oh, everything will be explained. Just tag onto Duncan and meet the others. See how you find us.”
Suddenly two middle-aged men approached the table.
“Do you mind if we sit here?”
“By all means,” said Duncan, and of course Adam concurred.
“We are from eastern europe. We’ve just arrived here.”
That’s strange thought Adam, why come all the way here. He knew of course that some of those countries were at war and had been for the last two or three years. The two men then launched into a diatribe about how badly they were treated by warring factions, and Adam thought ‘poor things’ they are certainly welcome here.
Then some much younger men arrived and sat at the end of Adam’s table.
“They are my friends, Adam”, Duncan said. “You’ll have to get to know them, Aiden and Aaron, Eliot and Stuart.”
They nodded to them from a slight distance. The eastern europeans kept talking and drew Adam into the conversation. The dinner was long lasting and after coffee it was quite late.
“I think I best get to bed,” said Adam.
“Yes,” said Duncan, “it is getting late.”
The two of them left the dinner table, and as they did so bumped into a rather charming blonde.
“This is Nurse Harrington,” said Duncan.
I could do her serious damage, thought Adam, but Duncan steered away from her and they both left the dining room.
“ Why do you have a nurse onboard?” asked Adam.
“ Oh, she gives out the tablets for our eco experiments; to see if it’s possible to get enough nutrients just from tablets. With desertification happening all around the world we have to look to alternatives to traditional farming. Tomorrow for instance is one of those days when we take the tablets. You can join us, Adam; it’s great fun being at the cutting edge of the greener world.”
“ Oh I see, I guess I can join in, if you think it’s alright.”
“Yes, it’s fine, they are only vitamin tablets.”
Duncan’s room was next door to Adam’s in the long corridor upstairs.
“ Do you mind if I come in for a minute, Adam?” said Duncan.
“No, of course not,” said Adam, though he wondered why Duncan would want to come in when it was so late. Duncan came out with it straight away.
“ I’m gay, Adam, are you?”
“Oh no,” said Adam, quite taken aback.
“Surely you are willing to try something different, Adam.”
“Not really, why should I?”
“It’s the modern way, Adam, you must know that.”
“Well, I’m happy the way I am.”
“Okay then, I just thought I’d ask.”
With that Duncan left Adam’s room and Adam slipped into a comfortable bed for a night’s sleep, thinking these are weird people, where on earth have I ended up? And those vitamin tablets from Nurse Harrington, I think I better avoid them, who knows what is in them.
Meanwhile Duncan did not go back to his own room, but slipped down the stairs and knocked on Nurse Harrington’s door.
“ He’s going to be difficult, Nurse Harrington. I don’t think you’ll get away with giving him the tablets easily; best pop them into his tea at breakfast, it’ll be so much easier.”
“What does he need?” asked Nurse Harrington.
“The heterosexuality termination pill certainly and plenty of complicity tablets from the Complicity Cabinet.”
“Of course, Duncan, leave it to me, all will be well.”
Duncan left Nurse Harrington and met Stuart on the stairs. The two of them retired to Duncan’s room for a good night’s rest, after fun and games.