Flighty Barry had not been spooked by the spectral beardy-weirdy in the stairwell that night. Neither was he perturbed by the tweed jacket, the elbow patches or the sudden whiff of chalk dust and disinfectant.
“You could smell that? From the bottom of the stairs?” Linda asked.
“Oh, yes. First thing I noticed.”
“Hmmmm,” Linda said, contemplating her cocktail.
“He was at the top of the stairs, then?” Melanie asked.
“Large as life,” said Barry.
“Green wool kipper tie?” asked Yvonne.
“Green and yellow, I reckon.”
The moment stretched its legs under the table and, head back, meditated on the ceiling stains. Linda pretended to have seen something of interest over at the bar when Barry knew full well there would be nothing of interest over there.
He also knew that Melanie’s arm was right now worming its way across the back of the banquette towards him.
It was, of course, ridiculous. The thought of Flighty Barry, always so very jumpy, on his own late at night in the Victorian monstrosity of New Block. Just as ridiculous as the thought of him not screaming the place down and running like hell when beardy-weirdy had appeared. After Barry had locked the door that, once locked from the outside, could not be opened from the inside.
Melanie tapped Barry on his furthest shoulder. He yelled and his head whipped round, away from her, towards the table that, every time they came in, and no matter how busy the pub was, was always unoccupied.
“Proved your point, I think,” Linda said.
“There’ll be a rational answer,” Yvonne said.
“I mean, a University our size, there must be hundreds of people with beards and tweed jackets, eh?” Melanie’s smirk had developed its own smirk.
Barry closed his eyes, swallowed, straightened, turned round to face them. “Okay, you’ve had your fun. Again.” He dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to need a comfort break.”
They laughed, the three of them. “Watch him go,” Linda called. They were still sniggering as Barry made his way over to the gents.
The loos were empty. As he always did, Barry went into the furthest of the cubicles. He made sure to lock the door. And then leaned against it.
Because he knew he was not alone.
He knew he had been followed. Not just into the gents but into the pub.
That was what his colleagues didn’t understand. He’d not shrieked or shouted that night on the stairwell because he had known there was no-one else there.
Just as – and he was sure even Melanie would understand this, if only he could ever explain it – he wouldn’t shriek or shout right now when he was absolutely certain that there was.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018’s “Not So Funny Now” about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Safe and Sound Press. His co-written, completed six-part BBC radio sit com remains unproduced but available to interested producers!