One Chance

One Chance

In Short Story Issue Nine by Maria Savva

One Chance

As Hilda stepped off the train, it caught her eye, gleaming like a star misplaced on land. She felt drawn to the gold pendant, as if an extrinsic force were compelling her to pick it up. It was shaped like an insect—not quite a beetle, more of a scorpion without the tail. Commuters hurried past, no one appeared to be searching for anything. The pendant seemed strange but familiar, as though she’d owned it before in a thousand former lifetimes: Hilda marvelled at the fantastical thought and how this little piece of jewellery had somehow awakened her imagination.
She picked up the curiosity and placed it in her coat pocket. As she observed the steady stream of busy commuters fighting their way along the platform, her mind boggled as to how she’d spotted the tiny treasure amidst the throng. Perhaps it found me. Again she was surprised by her peculiar thoughts; they sounded like words fed into her brain by some other entity. She recalled how the station platform practically faded into the background when she’d first seen the pendant, her attention fixed on the tiny gold object, oblivious to everything else. The pendant appeared to possess a mystical quality.
‘Excuse me,’ huffed a flustered middle-aged woman.
Hilda muttered ‘Sorry,’ up until then unaware that she had been blocking an exit, caught up in obsessing over the trinket she’d found. She felt disorientated, as though she had, for a moment, been lost in a place out of time.
As unlikely as it may seem, when Hilda arrived home all thoughts of the mystery pendant were superseded by other more mundane musings, such as what she would cook for dinner, her mind wiped of all memory of the find.
As she walked towards her front door she heard the neighbour’s gate creak open.
‘Hello, dear. Could you help me to carry my shopping into the house? This trolley is quite heavy and I always struggle to lift it over the threshold.’
‘No problem, of course,’ replied Hilda.
Hilda often helped Florrie, a woman in her seventies, who lived alone since her husband died the year before. Florrie was in good health but did suffer from arthritis, especially at this time of year.
‘How are you today, Florrie?’
‘Fine, thanks dear. Mustn’t grumble. My daughter came to visit with my grandson, Charlie. I love that boy, but he has so much energy and always makes such a mess of the house, throwing toys here and there.’ The older woman giggled and rolled her eyes.
Hilda helped Florrie with her shopping, and tidying up. As she leaned over to put a toy car into a basket, the scorpion pendant fell from her pocket and clattered onto the wooden floor. Hilda picked it up.
‘Oh, what’s that, dear?’
She turned to Florrie, red-faced. ‘It’s just something I found on the Tube platform on my way home from work. It was too pretty to leave it there. Do you think maybe I should have left it, in case the owner was looking for it?’
‘Let me see,’ said Florrie.
Hilda held out her hand to reveal the pendant.
Florrie took two steps backwards and put a hand over her mouth.
‘W-what’s wrong?’ asked Hilda.
‘It can’t be,’ said Florrie, almost inaudibly.
‘Is it yours?’ asked Hilda, with a confused frown.
‘No. No, it’s Edna’s.’
‘Who’s Edna?’
‘She… Oh, no, never mind. It can’t be hers.’ Florrie turned around and headed for the front door. ‘I expect you’ve got things to do, Hilda. Thank you for helping with the shopping and the cleaning.’
Hilda tried to ask another question but Florrie opened the door and said, ‘Sorry, dear, I feel a migraine coming on. You’ll have to leave.’
After her unceremonious expulsion, Hilda stood outside and stared at her neighbour’s closed front door for a while, bemused. Florrie obviously recognised the pendant. Or perhaps the pendant brought back memories of something from the past; something unpleasant, as far as Hilda could gather. And who was Edna? Hilda wanted to knock on the door, desperate for some kind of answer, some way to make sense of Florrie’s bizarre behaviour.
Instead, she went back to her own house. A few moments later, she found herself seated on the sofa unable to recall walking to it or sitting down, her mind abuzz with questions.
Slowly, she unclenched her fist and looked at the curious scorpion-shaped pendant. I should’ve left it on the platform. The longer she stared at it, however, the more she warmed to it. It was beautiful; shining, seemingly reflecting invisible lights, lights that couldn’t be seen by the human eye. I wonder if it’s magical. The thought fluttered through Hilda’s mind.
She smiled, as she had done on first discovering the pendant; it had quite an uplifting affect. Then, unexpectedly, the trinket fell to the floor. Hilda gasped.
Leaning over to pick it up, heart beating faster than normal, she wondered aloud: ‘What are you?’
It might be possessed. A shiver followed along with an image in her head of a commuter jumping from the Tube platform to certain death, the scorpion pendant falling to the ground.
The doorbell rang, providing a welcome distraction.
Hilda caught her breath and placed the pendant on the coffee table before rising from the sofa to answer the door.
Florrie stood outside, wearing a frown. ‘Hello, dear. Can I come in?’
‘Of course.’ Hilda stood to one side to allow the woman to enter. Only then did she see that Florrie was holding a photo album.
Florrie went into the living room and sat on the sofa.
Hilda followed her eyes; they were fixed upon the gold pendant on the table. The woman’s hand clutched at the arm of the sofa, as if for reassurance.
Hilda sat next to her. ‘Are you all right?’
Florrie stared at the pendant for a few more seconds before appearing to awaken from a trance. ‘I’m so sorry about earlier,’ she explained, ‘I was just surprised to see… I never expected to ever see the scorpionite pendant again.’
‘Scorpionite?’
‘It’s almost genetically identical to a scorpion. It has a magnet. Not the kind of magnet you have here. It doesn’t exist on planet Earth. It’s a magnet that attracts hearts.’
Hilda giggled. ‘Doesn’t exist on planet Earth? An alien scorpion then?’
Florrie let out a breath, and then said, ‘What I’m going to tell you is a secret. I’ve never told anyone. I believe I can trust you because Edna has chosen you.’
‘Chosen me… for what? Who’s Edna?’ Hilda stared blankly at Florrie.
‘Before Edna left Earth she told me she would choose our successor. I don’t have long in this world. I’ll be returning home to Meitera soon. I need a successor. I just never thought it would happen so soon. You see, the pendant is a sign, it’s the calling.’
Hilda began to wonder whether Florrie might be delusional or slightly loopy. Her grandson’s visit must have scrambled her brain. ‘Are you feeling all right, Florrie? Shall I call your daughter?’
‘I know it sounds ridiculous, fantastical, unbelievable, and well, I suppose it is all of those things, but it’s true. I’m from a different planet. My home planet is called Meitera. It hasn’t been discovered by earthlings yet, but we’ve known about your planet for millions of years. Our technology is far more advanced. There are hundreds of us on planet Earth and we live here in human bodies and report back to our planet. Every five years we recruit earthlings to take over our role and become one with us. The idea is to take as many earthlings with us to Meitera as we can because Earth is becoming unstable, life is uncertain, and humans are imperfect and mortal. We only take the best earthlings, so you should feel flattered to have been chosen. We wouldn’t take anyone with the propensity for crime or who is the type to judge others. On Meitera we respect all citizens and we live forever. Death only occurs if a Meiterian commits a crime against a fellow citizen, then death is instant. It’s rare.’
‘You’re an alien?’
‘I prefer the term visitor. On Earth you depict aliens as ugly and most often green. I am none of those things. Meiterians are made of light. My natural form is more like what you’d imagine an angel to look like, but without wings.’
Hilda began to laugh. Just a giggle at first but then it became uncontrollable, involuntary. Quivering with nervous energy, she tried to stop herself laughing. ‘I’m sorry,’ she spluttered between giggles.
‘The funny thing is,’ said Florrie, oblivious to Hilda’s fit of laughter, ‘I was rather enjoying my time here. I’d almost fooled myself that I could stay for as long as I wished, but it doesn’t work that way. I’m being called back now. I must leave you in charge.’
‘Right,’ said Hilda, knitting her brow. ‘Thank you, Florrie. I’m honoured to have been chosen, really, but I’m a bit busy now, so let’s talk about this another time.’ She stood up and walked towards the living room door.
‘There is no time, Hilda. If I don’t pass on the knowledge to you now, it will be too late. Edna will not hesitate to choose another successor. You only get one chance.’
Hilda approached the front door and opened it. Florrie still cradled the photo album, which sparked Hilda’s curiosity, but it wasn’t enough to chase away the urgent desire to get her neighbour out of the house.
‘I’m sorry, Florrie. I don’t want to go to Meitera.’ A wrinkle of concern formed on her brow.
‘Very well. I’m sorry to have bothered you. We will leave you in peace.’
Hilda watched her leave, once again bemused by the woman’s behaviour.
Aliens? Or visitors… Ha! Oh, my God, what is going on? I hope she’s okay. Hilda shook her head, as if in an attempt to rid it of the memory of Florrie’s visit. She headed straight to the kitchen and prepared her supper.
Later, as she placed a cup of tea on the coffee table, she noticed the scorpion pendant wasn’t there. She checked underneath the table and even under the sofa. It had gone. I bet Florrie took it.
Had Florrie recognised the pendant as an antique and concocted her story as a means of getting access to it and stealing it? She’d never thought of Florrie as a dishonest woman, but her odd behaviour this evening left questions in Hilda’s mind.

Hilda avoided Florrie for the next couple of weeks, leaving extra early for work and coming home later than usual.
One evening, she saw a “For Sale” sign in her neighbour’s front garden. As she approached the gate, Florrie’s daughter, Amy, exited the house.
‘Hello,’ said Hilda.
‘Hi.’ Amy smiled but appeared weary.
‘I didn’t know Florrie was selling.’
‘Um… my mum…’ Amy fiddled with her gloves as she tried to put them on with shaky hands.
Hilda saw the woman’s eyes were full of tears.
‘Mum died last week.’ Amy wiped away a stray tear with her leather glove.
‘I’m so sorry. I had no idea.’
Amy smiled sadly before walking away.
Hilda recalled Florrie’s words: ‘I don’t have long in this world.’; ‘I’m being called back…’
Don’t be silly; she was an old woman. Old women die. She wasn’t an alien…
Hilda went into her house, pondering the unusual events and whether she’d imagined them all.

A few days later, Amy visited Hilda.
Hilda made her a cup of tea and they sat together in the living room. It made her sad to think of Florrie sitting in the same place her daughter now sat, a couple of weeks before.
‘I can’t stay long,’ said Amy after taking a sip of tea. ‘I only came because I know you were a friend of my mum’s and I wanted to invite you to the funeral. It’s going to be at St Mark’s church, across the road, on Sunday. Amy reached into her handbag. ‘Mum made a will; she said she wanted you to have this photo. It was taken in her schooldays. That’s her, and that’s her best friend, Edna. They remained good friends up until Edna died a few years ago. They were more like sisters. It’s just an old photo, but I’m sure she must have had her reasons for wanting you to have it. It’s nice; very antique-looking. You could frame it. Mum was beautiful when she was young. So was Edna.’
Hilda smiled as she took the photo from Amy. Taking a cursory glance, she remembered her conversation with Florrie. ‘Amy, I’m curious, did your mother ever mention anything about Meitera to you?’
‘Ha, ha! Planet Meitera? Yes, she always said she came from Meitera; said she was “visiting”.’ Amy laughed. ‘I’ve heard the story a hundred times. So she told you too, hey?’
‘Yes.’
‘She had a wonderful imagination. As much as it used to drive me mad, I’ll miss those old stories now. I truly will.’ Amy had a faraway look in her eye. ‘Oh well, we have the memories.’
The two women chatted for a while longer and then Amy left to collect her son from a friend’s house.

Hilda sat alone when Amy had gone, wondering about Florrie. She picked up the photograph and couldn’t help the smile that came to her lips. Although she’d not known Florrie as a young woman, there could be no doubt that the girl in the photo was her. Her eyes were unmistakable—striking and dark, they’d always shone full of hope and light. Even in this frayed black and white photograph, her eyes stood out, full of life, vibrant.
Florrie and Edna must have been about thirteen years old when the photo was taken. They wore joyful expressions; two young girls without a care in the world. Then Hilda noticed something resting on Edna’s blouse. A pendant. The scorpion… or scorpionite pendant. ‘It can’t be,’ said Hilda, echoing Florrie’s reaction at being shown the pendant.
It’s a coincidence, thought Hilda. There must be hundreds of those pendants. Someone lost it on the Tube, that’s all.

Hilda attended Florrie’s funeral and laughed and cried at the family’s speeches. The stories about Meitera were related by a couple of the family members during their speeches. It turned out that Edna also used to tell the tales. The girls had concocted the story of the undiscovered planet when they were schoolgirls, driving their families crazy with their storytelling over the years. It put a whole new perspective on everything for Hilda. She found it endearing, and came away from the funeral realising that Florrie was a fun person, the sort of woman to make up fanciful tales to entertain her family and friends. She felt much better after the funeral and ended up becoming good friends with Amy and her family for years to come.

***

Ten years later, Hilda sat watching the news when she heard her daughter crying over the baby monitor. She went upstairs to check on her daughter and missed the story at the end of the regional news:
“Scientists have discovered a distant planet similar to Earth. It is thought that the air quality could potentially sustain life. There are unconfirmed reports of intelligent life on the planet—although this is, as yet, unsubstantiated. It is thought the planet is millions of years old. Scientists have given it the name Meitera, with the nickname Sister Earth.”

About the Author

Maria Savva

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Maria Savva lives in London. She works as a lawyer, and writes novels and short stories in various genres, including drama, psychological thriller, and family saga. Her short stories have appeared in the BestsellerBound Anthologies and she is a regular contributor to the The Mind's Eye series of books. Maria is also a music blogger. You can find out more about her work at her official website: mariasavva.com.