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  • Writer's pictureNijay K. Gupta

STRANGE ENCOUNTER | Episode 8: The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time


This short-form fiction series is set in Rome in the late first century AD. You can read the previous episodes by clicking the link below.


 

One week later


“Lupercalia festival feast! Right here! Come on in, travelers welcome!” Felix was just outside of the tavern yelling at passersby, thousands of visitors traveling all around Rome during one of the busiest festival seasons. People dressed up in wolfskin coats to celebrate Romulus and Remus. Goats and chickens for sale at make-shift stands for cheap sacrifices. Hucksters stood on almost every street corner selling “love potions.” Felix was tasked with wooing customers amidst the bustle and din. “We got wine! We got fresh bread! We got…” Before Felix could get the words out, he was knocked over by a naked man running around hitting people with a goatskin. (Apparently this was “good luck” and meant the gods would bless you with a large family.) 


Felix got up and brushed himself off. “I need a break.” He stepped into the tavern and took a seat. Anna was also inside putting together a display of new cult figurines she had made, this time of god Pan, one of the favorites of the Lupercalia holiday. 


“Felix, business will pick up, it’s not dinner time yet.” Anna walked over to where Felix was sitting and put her hand on his shoulder and kissed him on the head. She bent over and whispered in his ear, “Decimius is in a good mood today, but don’t let him catch you moping around, or he’ll make you run to the market to buy more dogs to sell for the sacrifices this week. I don’t want you coming home smelling like dirty fur.” She patted his head playfully and then went back to work on her display. 


 
“We are looking for someone, and rumor has it he has been in this neighborhood recently."
 

The room happened to become quiet enough that he could hear Decimius in the backroom talking very excitedly to someone, but he couldn’t quite make out who the other person was. He tried to strain to hear, but—suddenly, the door swung open and a group of Roman soldiers barged in in full gear. “You, bring us wine,” one of them barked, not even looking over at Felix. 


“Yes, sir, right away!” Felix responded, hopping up in compliance. He poured the wine and set the cups carefully in front of each one. The soldier who had addressed him earlier now looked Felix up and down. “We are looking for someone, and rumor has it he has been in this neighborhood recently. How long have you worked here?”


“Sir, I have been here for a few years, but lots of customers come through here, I’m sure I wouldn’t be of much help.” Felix replied politely and meekly, slowly walking away hoping that would be the end of it. 


“Where is the owner?” The soldier said, in a demanding tone. 


“The…owner?” At that moment, Felix’s eyes darted over to Anna, and she looked at him with the same knowing glance. Felix was now almost certain that Decimius was in fact talking to Hermes in the backroom. And Felix was pretty sure that Hermes was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 


Decimius peeked his head out of the backroom to check out the commotion. As soon as he spotted the soldiers, he jumped back into the backroom to collect himself, and then quickly shuffled towards the soldiers. “Gentlemen, what an honor to have you visit our humble establishment!” He was already sweating and was laughing nervously as he refilled their cups. “Felix,” Decimius added, “why haven’t you offered them food!?”


“Decimius, you said there’s no such thing as free bre—” Felix felt Decimius’s sharp elbow in his side, before he could get out the words.


 
Felix knew he had to do something but the only thing he could think to do was the worst possible thing he could do. 
 

At that moment, while Felix was bent over wincing from the pain, he saw someone begin to emerge from the backroom (that second person that Felix hoped wouldn’t show his face). A soldier started turning his head to glance at the bookroom—Felix felt a chilling sensation shoot through his body at the thought of what might happen if Hermes stepped into view. Felix knew he had to do something but the only thing he could think to do was the worst possible thing he could do. 


Felix impulsively cocked his arm and threw a hard punch at one of the soldier’s faces, knocking him right out of his chair onto the ground. Everyone looked at Felix—the soldiers, Decimius, and Anna—with blank, stunned expressions. Time seemed to go into slow motion as Felix looked at Anna with the countenance of deep regret. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the other soldiers jump up from their chairs and lunge at him (again, all in slow motion). Two soldiers threw him to the ground and held him down while another tried to tie his hands. In a state of panic, Felix started to squirm and kick his legs wildly; Anna was crying and Decimius was pleading with them and apologizing. The last thing Felix remembered from that moment was looking up to see a soldier aiming the blunt part of his gladius (sword) at Felix’s head, ready to knock him out. Then: a quick fade to black.



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