Stranger on the Pier

Jess Woods

I feel exposed. My bright yellow coat is too harsh a colour to be wearing against the gunmetal grey backdrop of an English sky. Standing here alone on the deserted promenade, I must be visible from miles away. Like a candle flame in a dark room. I can’t see anyone else around, yet I can’t shake the feeling of being seen. Of someone or something watching me. An involuntary shiver runs up my spine.

I gaze up towards the imposing White Cliffs of Dover ahead of me. This is what I came to see. Took the bus all the way down from London, only to arrive in this sleepy, rain-sodden town that was decidedly unprepared to wow tourists during the off-season. This is not the Dover I’d fantasised about visiting. Instead, this is a dramatic disappointment. It’s starting to rain and I’m done looking at the cliffs. I’m ready to head back to town, back to my bed in the B’n’B, back to that lovely cocoon of warmth and safety.

I look out to sea, but can no longer make out the horizon through the approaching wall of rain. The wind picks up, hurling fistfuls of water at me, making me screw up my eyes against the sudden squall. I can’t stand here any longer, but I’ll be soaked through before I make it back to town. I’ll have to find somewhere to shelter nearby until it eases. I start walking, then notice the picnic shack ahead. I quicken my step as drops of rain trickle down the back of my neck.

The shack, about a hundred yards away, is walled off on the two sides facing me so I can’t see inside, but I imagine the walls are creating a windbreak, a welcome relief. I’ll feel safer there too, thank god, able to shelter away from that feeling of being watched. I reach the shack and rush around the edge of the wall, eager now to get out of the rain, only to find that the shack is not empty. Instead, a dishevelled man in a grungy leather jacket sits on the far bench, smoking a cigarette, his long straggly hair plastered to his wet face. He looks up at me, smirks and winks.

I’m torn between an instinctive desire to turn around and walk away from this man, and my need to take shelter from the downpour. I hesitate, glancing around the shack. There’s a crisp packet on the bench and a few sweet wrappers on the ground, but apart from that it looks clean and dry enough.

“Can I sit here for a minute?” I ask.

“Guess you can,” he replies, scanning me from head to toe.

“It’s only til the rain eases a bit. Then I can head back into town,” I explain, as I take a seat on the bench furthest away from him. “I’ll be soaked through if I set off now,” I try to make a joke of it. To make myself feel more at ease.

“I’d say you’re soaked through anyway,” he sneers, looking pointedly at my white t-shirt made transparent by the rain.

I hastily pull my coat tight around me. I want to give him a piece of my mind, but I don’t want to make it obvious that I’m intimidated by him. Instead I stay silent, thinking I could probably outrun him if it came to it.

The man shrugs and turns his gaze out to sea. I watch him warily. Finally, he stamps out his cigarette, stares at me and smirks again.

“Make sure you get back to town safe and sound, then.” He says with a final wink, walking away. 

I’m glad to be alone and sit there until the rain eases. I notice that the pier has an eerie quality in the watery afternoon light. Peering around the wall of the shack, I see that the man is standing further along the promenade. He’s staring right at me, must’ve been waiting all this time. I’ll have to go past him to get back to town. My heart beats faster, but I set off at a casual pace, giving nothing away.

Finally I approach the man, nod politely and walk on. He doesn’t say a word, just stands there. We continue to watch each other over our shoulders, never breaking gaze.

Until suddenly, I turn and run.

Jess Woods is a first year Creative Writing student at QUT. She enjoys exploring personal experiences through fiction, poetry and nonfiction.