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  • Writer's pictureEric Knowlson

Strange Encounters

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

This short story was originally published by Querencia Press in their 2022 Autumn Anthology.

Click here and here (e-book version) to buy a copy and support under-represented artists and indie publishers. Check out all their other awesome titles here.

Strange Encounters


On the street, a woman carries a box of groceries from a nearby health-food store. A man hustles towards her going the opposite direction. The woman gently strolls, admiring the spring-time flowers. A plum blossom catches her eye. She stops to look. The man has been staring at his phone. He’s just sent a text to explain why he’s late. He glances at the time, and shaking his head, picks up his pace. When he looks up, there isn’t enough time to stop. She notices him careening towards her, but only after it’s too late.
Like a speeding asteroid hitting a slumbering planet, they collide. Debris from the collision explodes around them; papers from the man’s briefcase, sweet potato chips from a torn bag, oranges, gluten-free noodles, a thousand grains of rice, and the box that contained them.
She shakes her head in frustration. He brushes rice from his suit and is about to yell. Yet, when their eyes meet, they freeze. His mouth falls agape, and her frown washes away. They are shocked, mesmerized by the familiarity of each other’s faces, yet perplexed by their inability to recall how they’re acquainted. It’s a rare moment when the diligent hand falls from the face of the clock and leaves these two strangers in a space ungoverned by time. The fruit, papers and food are suspended in orbit around them.
The woman’s eyes shine brilliantly—like recently unearthed rubies, once lost to desert sands, but now reflecting sunlight again. Their opulence sears into the man. He feels exposed, naked, as if all he is, was, and ever will be is on full display. However, this vulnerability is not unpleasant, on the contrary it fills him with an oddly familiar warmth and a notion that he has returned home.
The woman feels it too: she finds her lips curling into a smile, a smile reserved for only the most intimate of lovers. Her heart flutters with an excitement that’s both familiar and untamed. That obscure sense of longing that’s been present for all her life is finally satiated. She’s never believed in past lives, soul mates, or anything beyond the physical world, yet she can’t shake the feeling that their lives are bound together by some unseen force.
Their hearts pump. Their veins cough and sputter, dispelling the dust of dull years and making way for forgotten and perhaps forbidden feelings to flood through them. This moment stretches onward while a deep intimacy encompasses them. The swell of pupils growing, smiles, and the subtle twitch of eyelids composes a drama in a language only they can comprehend. Together they live, laugh, love, and grow. A lifetime passes between them and then—
Time suddenly restarts. Their items clatter to the ground and the world begins turning again. Cars honk. Dogs bark. People step around the detritus of their collision.
The man scratches his head and attempts to form words, but only odd syllabic noises fall from his lips.
The woman rapidly shakes her head back, forth. She exclaims, “What the hell was that?” It’s less of a question and more of a statement expressing her bewilderment.
“I’ve missed you, I—” the man starts to say, but then realizes something. “I don’t—I don’t know you, do I?”
She shakes her head, but her eyes betray disbelief. They may not have met before, but how can they say they don’t know each other? That simple eye gaze, lasting only a second, contained as much beauty and depth as an entire relationship. “No, but we know each other, now,” she pleads.
This is something he simply can’t accept; it’s not rational. He tears through his mind searching for any memory of her, searching for the relationship they shared, but all he finds is a half recollection that fades like the visage of a dream. “No. No, I knew you, I—” his words collapse and he buries his face in his hands.
Watching him she feels a stab of pain. Their moment was barely born before it was whisked away. She wants to embrace him. Instead, she reaches out and touches his arm. He looks at her ring and then up at her, his eyes display a heavy disappointment.
“Maybe in another life?” she says questioningly.
“Yeah, maybe,” he says, straightening himself up. “Or maybe there was a mistake. Maybe destiny ran late...”
Her eyes widen. She can’t consider this. Instead, she tries to take comfort in the moment they shared, the moment that will always be theirs. Their moment ringing out into eternity. Their moment that’s already gone.
She decides she has to go, but to leave now feels like a betrayal. She knows she shouldn’t, but she feels guilty. Not for her husband’s sake, but for this man—she feels as if she somehow cheated on him by getting married. She shakes her head and begins to rapidly gather her belongings, flinging them into a pile.
“Here, at least let me help you pick up your things,” he hands her the box and fills it with her groceries. He picks up his briefcase and shoves his papers inside; the job he was rushing to, his work, it all seems so inconsequential now.
She thanks him, nods, and turns before she loses her nerve. As she walks away, she fights the urge to spin on her heels and go back to him.
He wants to chase after her, but knows it’s better to let her go. He’s dismayed until he realizes his phone case is missing. He’d somehow only grabbed his phone, not realizing it had fallen out of its case. The phone-case is his wallet containing his ID and all his cards. It wasn’t on the ground, so it must be in her box.
“Hey wait,” he turns, but she is already gone.
He smiles. Maybe destiny was right on time, he thinks. Surely, she’ll return his wallet, right?

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