The Random Person Generator is a short story inspired by running a micropub, I hope you like it
‘What is it?’ Georgie asked.
‘It’s a Random Person Generator.’ Toby replied.
‘Cool, how does it work.’
‘I’ll show you; it’s really simple now it’s finished.’ He turned a small sign hanging on the glass-fronted door. It said ‘Open’. He stepped back and smiled; ‘now we wait.’
They waited and a person appeared. The person wanted a drink so they provided one. Then, as it drank they questioned it. They were amazed at how much they learned in such a short space of time.
His name was Marcus. He had battered brogues that his too-short trousers seemed rather proud of. They were displayed at the end of thin ankles covered by odd socks. They weren’t glaringly odd, not one blue one red, rather one black sock was older than the other. His shirt was old too. There was a button missing where the swell of his paunch stretched the fabric. It revealed grey skin with a scrub of wispy hair. His tweed jacket had aged as tweed does. It wasn’t worn or holey or threadbare; it was simply not new anymore. He carried an aroma that hinted of a home that let in the weather, of warped sash windows and peeling wallpaper.
He was a retired archaeologist. He was divorced, no children, and a dog – regrettably recently deceased. His face had aged comfortably; the years had softened his features rather than sharpened them, his skull lay hidden beneath a rumpled duvet of pink flesh.
His voice was educated neutral, no accent. He seemed happy, though his reddened nose and rheumy eyes spoke of loneliness kept at bay by the bottle. From him they learned about Roman forts and Stone Age settlements and the best places to find flint arrowheads.
They were pleased with the random person generator.
‘How do you get it to make another one?’ Georgie asked after the first person had left.
‘It’s random,’ Toby replied, ‘that’s what makes it so much fun.’
Then it happened again. An old lady appeared, smiling carefully through ill-fitting dentures. Her name was Pauline and she was 86 years old. They didn’t ask her age but she told them anyway. She liked a glass of white wine but only a small one, she can’t drink like she used to, and she smiled again, but this time a younger woman peeked out from behind the wrinkles. She was a widow but happy enough she said. Her daughter lived nearby and visited often, she was expecting her second grandchild.
Then they all went on a journey through time. Pauline showed them the war-ravaged town of her birth. They heard the siren’s wail and the firework whistles of the falling bombs. They ran past burning homes, their skin pulled taught by the heat, to shelters full of frightened pale faces. They were sad when she had gone but she left behind her careful smile and the knowledge that the worst of times become old and frail too.
The next time it happened they got two at once. Or was it really one? It was hard to tell as the young man and woman sat so close they seemed to merge. Their names were Tony and Trish and they had just got engaged. Unlike the old lady they could see into the future. They would be married in the same ancient church that her mother was wed in. The sun would shine and the confetti would rest on her lashes as she swept past her friends and family to the waiting car. A boy and a girl would follow; two became four and then five when the puppy arrived. When they left Georgie and Toby smiled and held hands.
It was getting late when the next one arrived. He avoided eye contact and didn’t seem to want to talk. He sat in the corner and hid behind his silence.
They were disappointed by the new person; he wasn’t as good as the others and they wondered what to do. Eventually, they decided to examine him.
‘You’re new here,’ Georgie said, her tone was modulated to encourage friendship.
‘I’m not, you are.’ His tone was flat, not aggressive but not friendly. They blinked and wondered what had gone wrong. They watched him carefully, unsure as to whether he was dangerous or not.
He drank beer; he liked it strong and dark. His presence seemed to make the tick of the clock louder and the darkness beyond the window darker still. He finished his drink and asked for another one. They gave it to him but this time he stood at the bar.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked.
‘Not really,’ he replied, ‘but that’s none of your business.’ He stared at his beer and then stared at her. ‘I’m sorry. I’m going through a bad patch but that’s not your fault, I was rude.’ He drained his glass and walked towards the door. When he opened it the noise of the traffic rushed about him and dragged him away.
‘It’s time to go.’ Toby said and turned the sign around that switched off the random person generator.
‘He was sad,’ she said, ‘do you think he will come back?’
‘I don’t know, maybe.’
As they walked home it started raining. They held each other close and giggled as the rain flattened their hair and turned the pavements to silver. In the distance, they saw a light. When they got close they saw a sign on the door, it said ‘Open’.