The Pastoral Visit

It was a reasonably pleasant late September afternoon; and the Reverend Simon Abernathy was bored.

He’d written his next sermon, he’d planned the whole service even. He’d done everything he needed to do and then some. So now he had nothing to do.

He was driving through the wooded lane leading out of Lower Strangling thinking of something to do when he came across the hard-to-miss black neon signs pointing down a side lane leading to the Bates B&B, a B&B set up by popular actress and RSC staple Trisha Bates when she moved to the area in the mid sixties as a cheaper option for people visiting Lower Strangling who didn’t want to fork out for a holiday cottage. Now it was run by her somewhat mentally disturbed 29-year-old son Samuel.

Simon observed the signs. They were in oddly good condition considering the B&B effectively closed six years ago when a Premier Inn was built nearby.

He felt sad looking at them, clearly Samuel was still optimistic that he’d get some more guests one day, but unfortunately he probably never will. Well, unless they had missed the Premier Inn or were mental or both.

He knew he needed to check in on Samuel for several years now, but he’d put it off. Just how do you approach someone who’s potentially a psychopath?

Since he had nothing better to do, he decided to face his fears. He drew a breath, hit the right hand side indicator and drove down the lane towards the B&B.

When Simon drove into the car park, he noticed how nicely paved out and painted it was. Clearly Samuel had renovated the car park in the last five years.

Simon looked at the B&B itself. Again, it was a perfectly preserved 16th Century honey coloured cottage that Samuel had kept in good condition.

He then looked at the tall house high on the hill behind the B&B, the house itself seemed fine, but the path leading up to it was battered and weed ridden, clearly not Samuel’s top priority.

Just then, Simon noticed what he thought was Trisha Bates sitting in the top floor of the house. Except of course it wasn’t, as she’d died 19 years previously and Simon officiated her funeral. He saw her grave everyday he went into St Gerald the Damned.

Assuming he’d imagined it, Simon got out of the car and walked over to the B&B.

He knocked on the oak panelled door; no response. He waiting a few minutes and knocked again; still no response.

He tried to open the door; it was locked. Realising that he’d have go up to the creepy house high on the hill he walked up the battered weed ridden pathway.

Clearly Samuel still lived here, everything was in top condition. He must just be busy in a particular room; alone as he had been for the past six years.

Simon took a deep breath, the knocked on the oak panelled door of the house. There was no response.

Believing that Samuel must not be at home today and congratulating himself for at least trying, Simon prepared to walk back to his car.

But then the front door slowly creaked open.

“Are you here for a room, sir?” The young thin man with short brown hair in the front doorway said to Simon.

Simon turned round. This was the first time he’d seen Samuel face to face. Samuel had not wandered beyond the car park since he was born; Trisha made sure of that. Samuel did not attend his mother’s funeral as he had been whisked away to the office of leading psychiatrist Dr Scamander Trout in Oxford by DCI David Mason, where he stayed until Scamander Trout was arrested for murder and abuse a decade later.

Samuel just looked like a normal 29-year-old man. Simon didn’t know why he’d thought otherwise, probably because all he’d heard were hyperbole and wild rumours since the day Samuel was born.

“No, no. I’m the local vicar in the village nearby. I buried your mother.” Simon said. “I’m just doing my pastoral duties and seeing how you were.”

Samuel took a few moments to respond. His faced seemed to fall slightly, possibly disappointed that he didn’t have a new guest booking into his B&B.

“You can’t have buried my mother. I’ve just tendered to her.” Samuel said.

Simon startled, so that was Trisha Bates in the window. But he was sure he officiated her funeral, and he glanced at her gravestone this morning.

“No. I did bury your mother in 2002. Yes, all the RSC stalwarts were there. We sung show tunes at the wake. You weren’t there of course because you had been referred to Dr Trout which as we know now was a mistake on Mason’s part but oh well, no harm done.” Simon said, knowing full well the the events between Dr Trout being arrested and the Premier Inn being built nearby proved that only harm was done.

“I think you’re mistaken.” Samuel said. “My mother is perfectly well and in her room. Well, not well per say, but alive. You can meet her if you’d like. She doesn’t talk much anymore but she’d like to meet someone else besides me.”

“No, no. I’ll leave her be.” Simon said, deciding to go along with Samuel’s delusions. “But I suppose I could have a quick chat with you before I head off into town.”

“Very well.” Samuel said, leading Simon into the house.

“I would have made a Lemon Drizzle cake and brought it with me had I planned ahead.” Simon said. “I only came in here by chance.” He decided not to mention that he was only here because he had nothing better to do, as he felt that might be quite hurtful.

“That’s fine. I don’t really like cake.” Samuel said as he poured Simon some Earl Grey.

“Hmm.” Simon responded as he drank the Earl Grey.

“There’s a word, or rather words, for what you experienced earlier.” Samuel said.

“What do you mean?” Simon said.

“You thought my mother had died and that you buried her, when in reality she’s been alive this whole time.” Samuel said. “It’s known as the Mandela Effect, when a group of people remember something differently to how it happened. Most people believe my mother died when I was ten, when actually she’s very much alive.”

“Yes, perhaps my memory is a bit foggy.” Simon said, quickly thinking of an excuse to leave the situation. “I must have buried someone else.”

“Hmm.” Samuel said.

Simon sipped his tea. Perhaps he could just bolt out the door and drive off without Samuel noticing?

“Were you a fan of my mother in her heyday?” Samuel said.

“Yes. Who could forget her stint in Follies were she surprised us by doing the can-can with the rest of the cast when she sung Listen to the Rain on the Roof?” Simon said.

“That’s a personal favourite performance of mine.” Samuel said. “I’ve memorised the routine. I could perform it to you now, if you’d like.”

“No, no. I’m fine thank you.” Simon said, not really in the mood for jovial show tunes.

Simon then stood up. “Actually, I better be off. I have things to do in town.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to meet my mother first?” Samuel said. “She may be fit enough to give you her autograph?”

“No. I really must be off.” Simon said. In reality the only reason he must be off is so he can get the heck out of there as soon as possible.

“That’s fine.” Samuel said. “I need to change the bed linen in the rooms of the B&B. I probably don’t need to do them anymore as no one really comes here anymore, but I guess old habits die hard.”

“Well, it’s a good habit to have.” Simon said, making his way towards the front door and relative safety.

“Are you sure you don’t want a room?” Samuel said.

“I am, yes. I only live a few yards down in the village.” Simon said, feeling very grateful that that was not a lie.

“Ok, then. In which case, goodbye and thank you for coming.” Samuel said.

“It was my pleasure.” Simon said.

“Don’t forget to recommend the B&B to anyone you come across.” Samuel said.

“I’ll make a note of it.” Simon said, reminding himself instead to persuade people that £200 a night in a holiday cottage in Lower Strangling really wasn’t as much as it sounded.

“Goodbye. God bless.” Simon said before finally getting back into his car, sighing with relief before he drove out of the car park.

Once back in the relative safety of the St Gerald the Damned churchyard, Simon observed the grave stone of Trisha Bates 1937- 2002.

So, it wasn’t the Mandela Effect. Clearly Samuel was simply deluded and in serious need of psychiatric help.

Knowing for certain that he had not lost his marbles, Simon went back into the vicarage and made himself a cup of tea.

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