New Stories

Phil Ryan – The Visitors

October 14, 2014
candle

This story is taken from Phil Ryan’s autobiography ‘Random Moments’

The visitors

One of my favourite plays is The Woman in Black, a very old-fashioned ghost story. Ever since I was young I liked ghost stories, delighting in the creepy tales of haunted ancient ruins and phantom horsemen who rode the midnight trails. As I grew older I began to subscribe to the simple theory that humans are basically energy which by the law of physics is impossible to destroy. If you can’t destroy it you can only convert it. But convert it into what. When we die what is left? Hm the what is the nub of the argument. Some believe it to be a kind of fading electrical residue that is absorbed into buildings and ground. A kind of constant low level radiation that fades over time. Others believe this to be the stuff of spirits and ghosts.

At one point I even visited a few places listed in a book detailing the most haunted places in Britain, but I’m sad to say I didn’t see anything. I suppose that if you turn up with a tour party covered in cameras and videos that clatter about shushing each other it’s not surprising that any self respecting spirit stays put. And like my friends on the tour we thought that the ancient castles and monasteries we’d read so much about were the only place you’d meet the ghosts of those long passed.

But I was wrong.

I was feeling very good. I had written a children’s book in my late twenties and now a small production company were thinking of making it into a television series. And I was incredibly excited about the prospect. Jo the lady who ran the company was an amazing woman. She’d been in television years, although primarily a set designer, and now she was going to achieve her life’s ambition to create her own television show. Months passed and I wrote and re-wrote scripts and stories and she set up finance meetings and in general the project seemed to be going along nicely.

One day Jo asked me if I’d like to come to dinner at her house with my girlfriend Fiona. I said I’d be delighted and realised that throughout the entire six months we’d worked together I didn’t even know where she lived. Luckily it turned out that it wasn’t that far from where we lived it being just a forty five-minute drive. We duly arrived and as we parked outside we were a bit disappointed. It wasn’t the house we’d been expecting. It looked like a very drab old fashioned bungalow and walking up the path we knocked on the door. Jo delightedly greeted us and invited us in and that was when we got the surprise. It was fantastic. The interior was outrageous. Her years as a set designer were highly evident.

The walls were a soft brushed gold, with painted ceilings and frescoes everywhere. Marble columns lined the corridors to the rooms and not a detail had been missed. It was like walking into a sultan’s palace. She gave us a guided tour and we oohed and aaahed our way around much to her delight until finally we walked into the lounge and sat down. The place might have been boring from the outside but inside the whole place was like a rich treasure chest. The best description I can think of is fantasy opulent.

We ate our dinner and she talked candidly about the TV project and then even more candidly about her private life and we learned that she lived with a partner but things were not going well. Slightly to our discomfort at one point she volunteered the information that he was sometimes violent towards her but she had learned to cope with it. But somehow the conversation moved along and we chattered on and the evening passed pleasantly. The lounge was beautiful. It was like sitting in a roman temple. The walls were painted with murals depicting a garden spreading out in all directions, and through the use of clever lighting and huge wooden and marble columns it gave you the impression of being in a much larger space. Huge swathes of purple velvet trimmed with gold hung from the ceiling like drapes and to complete the cosy picture a stone fireplace stood at the centre of the back wall.

It had one of those gas fires with real flames in it and it finished the room perfectly, sending flickering shadows dancing off the low-lit walls. We both sat on the sofa while she lay propped up on one elbow on a huge snowy white sheepskin rug that lay before the fireplace. After a while she got up and went to make some tea and I commented that I wish I wasn’t wearing a polo necked jumper and Fiona commiserated and said her jumper was too warm as well. I was absolutely boiling, so much so that I could feel sweat begin to prickle under my arms. But the room looked so lovely with the fire licking through the wood so I said at least we’d maybe get her to turn it down a bit, but not completely off. It looked so cosy.

Her cat had taken up residence in my lap (animals just love me I have no idea why – maybe it’s because I love them) and we both tickled its tummy as it stretched and luxuriated in our attention. This was a very happy cat. Jo re-appeared with the tea and as we handed the cups around I noticed the temperature begin to drop. The cat slowly dug its claws into my leg and suddenly it stiffened and froze and in a blur of fur it leapt from my lap and skittered away out the door in a clatter of claws on wood. It seemed odd to me. He’d been so happy. But we carried on talking and I realised that the temperature was suddenly now turning very cold and Fiona hunched her shoulders as she tried to stay warm. The fire was still burning brightly but now I could clearly feel a chill and my skin was covered in goose bumps. Fiona moved closer to me and pressed her legs against me in attempt to gain some heat and I said to Jo “Has the heating gone off” and she simply looked at me and then around the room and smiled faintly. “No it’s all right they’re here” and I felt Fiona’s fingers tighten around my arm. “They’re here” sounded creepy beyond belief, as specially as she said it so matter of factly. Who were they?

A few minutes passed and it was now absolutely freezing cold but it was impossible. We looked at each other and I couldn’t think of what to say. My face was icy and I felt Fiona’s hand like ice in mine. This wasn’t right. Not three feet away a fire blazed but I couldn’t feel any heat and suddenly Jo smiled again and said “Ah they’re gone” and as she spoke the temperature flicked back to what it had been before and I felt hot again. It was as if a switch had been flicked but no heating system could have achieved such a rapid rise and fall in temperature, it was physically impossible. Jo looked at us. “Sorry about that I didn’t know whether they’d come, sometimes they don’t when I’ve got visitors”. We were amazed. Who the hell were they? She seemed to act as if this were a perfectly normal occurrence and we both huddled a little closer as she spoke.

She told us that shortly after she’d moved in she’d been in her bedroom when she’d caught a sense of someone else being in the room. But it didn’t frighten her. She felt very calm instead. A nice feeling. Then she’d seen them. Just a shadowy outline, but clearly a young couple dressed in an old fashioned set of clothes too shapeless to fix a date to. We listened open mouthed. This was crazy. But she calmly continued and said the house was built on top of another house that had burned down many years before. She couldn’t be sure of the date, maybe a hundred years or something, but she felt they might have perished in the blaze, it wasn’t clear. According to her research in the parish records, a young newly married couple had lived in a house there that had burned down shortly after they had moved in. All she knew for certain was that the temperature fell away whenever they entered a room, she didn’t always see them but she could feel them.

The one thing she was clear about is that she strongly felt that they didn’t harbour any ill intentions towards her but they did towards her partner. In fact once when he’d tried to physically restrain her in their bedroom he’d been flung to the other side of the room by some invisible force. And as a result of that one incident he now spent very little time there which suited her down to the ground.

What do you say to somebody who tells you something like that? It was unbelievable but we had clearly both felt something strange. But Jo talked about it as if were a perfectly normal thing to talk about. It was quite unsettling. We had some more tea and the conversation eventually returned to our TV project. But I felt like I was still slightly in shock from what we had both experienced. We talked a bit more and then noting that the time was late we got our coats, said our goodnights and drove home.

Of course there was only one topic of conversation. The ghosts! Fiona and I had both felt the chilling cold, the slow drop in temperature, seen the behaviour of the cat, the sudden return of the heat and of course Jo’s very calm and rational explanation. We were terrified, bemused and amazed all at the same time. Sadly the project came to an end as all too often happens in the entertainment business, and the TV show never got made and shortly after that I lost contact with Jo.

So I never got to return to her house, although to be honest I’m not sure that I would have wanted to. And no matter how I try to rationalise what happened, something strange had occurred and whatever you believe I know that I had felt an extraordinary physical sensation I couldn’t explain. Faulty heating, I don’t think so. Maybe Jo’s story was to comfort herself that some benign supernatural force was protecting her, but she really seemed just too down to earth for that. I’d seen her do business and she was very smart and shrewd. Which still leaves me with the impossible thought of two long passed people. Bound to where they had died. Newly married. Looking forward to a future together. A future that never happened. But are there such things as ghosts? Can someone leave behind some kind of undissipated energy? A presence. And that evening something happened. And I simply can’t explain it.

I know what I believe.

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Ajit Patel – Out of this World

September 9, 2014
Loop of time

NO MORE
Out of this world. The African dawn creeps in from under the curtain of darkness. Within a few minutes’ bold strokes of crimson, orange and yellow paint the vast canvas of the horizon. Even Vincent Van Gogh would be proud of nature’s handiwork.
Morning glory has unveiled over Mathare Valley a sprawling, poverty stricken and ramshackle shanty town on the outskirts of Nairobi, the former British colonial and present day capital of Kenya. A country cartographed using a straight rule and pencil to appease the monarchs of Saxe-Coburg and Hanover.

The year is 1964, the 29th day of St Valentine’s month.The newly independent Kenya has been free of the British’s clutches for about 70 days, JFK has departed this mortal existence 100 days pre and for the war ‘effort’ Tokyo has been rewarded with the Olympics.

Looking down into Mathare Valley the dew on the twisted, rusting roofs catching the morning light glints like millions of rhinestones, this is the nearest facsimile of affluence in these desperate and disparate habitats. The shanties are built out of anything garnered by their builders, old tin, cardboard, wood and mud. Thousands live in the 6ft by 8ft dwellings with no amenities, no electricity, no bedding nor any running water. Sanitation but a dream.

Christian Karanja Omondi is already awake in one of the shacks. His daily station in life to maintain his two life anchors, the urban as well as his rural households, the latter by shores of Lake Victoria. He juggles two of everything two wives, two shacks and two very different lives. He is a proud member of the minority Luo tribe. He hails from Kisumu, a small town sitting at the edge of Empress Vicky’s lake. The Omondi surname informs he was born at dawn. One day who knows it could be possible that a future US President’s paternal family may reside in the vicinity. Although such a notion seems far fetched.

Christian is tall and skinny, dark eyed, slightly greying and has no idea of his age. Probably born when the rains did not fall and the maize harvest failed and the ‘brave’ Italians still ruled Abyssinia. Christian being skinny indicates no extravagance of diet, poverty always makes one lean.

His Mathare des res has no windows, the door is made out of plywood, held together with rusty reused nails and old rope. A light kick would break it. But there is little risk of robbery because there is some honour among the poor. A red transistor radio sits on a make shift shelf just in front of a wind-up clock probably a stolen gift. Next to them proudly rest two pictures stuck on cardboard, frayed and yellowing, one of Lord Krishna and the other of Jesus Christ on the cross. Bathing and drinking water is pulled from the Mathare River which meanders through the valley. God help the dwellers in the rainy season as the river bed rises markedly.

Daily fare is prepared on kerosene Primus stove. Ugali a maize meal stodge is a daily breakfast the equivalent of going to work on an egg. A very small egg.
Lucky Christian has a job at the Hindu temple in the down-town Asian ghetto on Ngara Rd.  A rickety black Mamba bicycle, a welcome present from a worshipper is his ticket to ride the five kilometres to work.
‘Clocking’ in would be circa 7.30 am. This morning as every other he arrives at temple, removes his shoes made of old car tyre rubber and his leather belt. No cowhide would be permitted in the inner sanctum. The belt would act as tie to secure his bicycle to a lamp post. The ceremonial bell is rung once. He prostrates before Krishna’s glorious marble colourfully dressed idol. The head priest adorns him with the tilak, the red dot on his forehead.
Lovingly he is nicknamed Krishna by the devotees, for some from the Indian subcontinent Christian was difficult to pronounce, ‘you know’. Better than being called a ‘Boy’or ‘Boyto’.
As a Christian of all trades his duties would involve cleaning, repairing, ushering and help prepare prasadam, a gracious gift of food which is a religious offering for the worshippers to consume.

Cinderella time is 4.00 pm, Christian’s daily family temple Tiffin his supper perk, is tied to the Mamba using strips of rubber made from bicycle air tubes. He embarks on his return to his ‘bijou residence’, a journey always fraught with danger. Driving licences are mandatory but nobody cares, police can be always be slipped a folded note if stopped. At zebra crossings nobody ever stops and traffic signs are regularly ignored. Local drivers invariably inebriated on the Tuskers’ beer and other illicit brews.

He cycles furiously past the City Primary School and then the Duke of Gloucester Secondary School and on towards the shopping area. At the next crossing a mud splattered truck veers sharply and scythes down Christian and another poor soul. Hurling them into the concrete billboard of the Shan Cinema and onto the stone pavement. Life is over for Christian, his skull crushed, brain matter spattered all over the place. His lifeless body covered hastily by the neighbouring Gujarati businessmen using sisal sacks. Krishna-Christian with two religions to look after him still has to be ‘out of this world’. The truck was delivering the milk of cow kindness. Milk urns rolling along the road, black tarmac dyed milk white. The mangled Mamba and Christian’s Tiffin spilling its contents of prasadam. The two blood stained bodies a horrific sight. The crowd gathered akin to those who gathered at the Roman Colosseum baying for the truck drivers ‘blood’ but they unlike true Olympian hero’s speed off on foot, the yellow cowards.

Standing by the roadside is a seven year old lanky Gujarati Indian boy, dressed in crisply ironed khaki shorts, white short sleeved cotton shirt and socks and holding in his left hand a fawn satchel securing his school essentials. His tan Italian shoes are slightly scuffed and he sports an upturned bowl haircut, The Fab Four casting their influence even then.
Strangely witnessing this carnage he was not traumatised. But every time he eats sweet chestnuts and walnuts he remembers that afternoon for their texture reminds him of the anatomy of the scattered brain matter, when the truck, the pavement and the billboard cannibalised the two men.

Christian’s body ends up at the Nairobi morgue to be examined by the coroner the following day. The coroner is an erudite Gujarati man, slightly portly, tall and fast greying Dr Jagdish Patel. A god fearing man even with a medical education still sports a red tilak on his forehead. He is a daily temple visitor. A true believer of all tenets of the Hindu faith.

The porter pulls the trolley carrying the body out of the cold room. Dr Jagdish walking towards it he feels a warm glow overcome him.  The white shroud covering the body is removed. He views the aubergine shiny face, the red tilak on the forehead, the eyes showing peace and content, the lips in a slight curve of a cheeky smile, and he drops to his knees exclaiming loudly, ‘Oh My Sweet Lord Krishna’.

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Tom Hollingsworth – The Shouter

August 13, 2014
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The Shouter
By Tom Hollingsworth

He kept shouting. A bus driver shook his head and tutted. The bus windows open in the heat. His passengers looked into the shop windows, uncomfortably avoiding looking at the twitching figure of the man noisily striding up and down the nearby pavement shouting at the top of his voice. His arms flailed. I heard him as I turned the corner. The sunshine made me squint. And I crossed the road a good fifty yards in front of him. A small police car drifted to a stop, and a burly young PC got out. Comically he drew himself up to his full height. The car toy like against his size. Silence fell. I stopped and glancing back I surreptitiously watched. The noisy man hung his head. He listened intently to the young policeman who leaned in and whispered into his ear. Suddenly the man strode off as if he had received urgent news. A galvanised ragged figure proclaiming his otherness, lost in the neat surroundings. A few distant spectators lounged back in their chairs outside the coffee shop. “Nothing to see” one mouthed through the window to a ghost shadow in the dark interior. And I walked into the tube station. My working day begun.

The weather had been on the turn and it had been getting warmer. I had taken to reading my evening paper sitting in the sunny bay window of my flat. From my third floor eyrie I could lean out and clearly see the top of my street as it joined the busier high road that ran along its narrow mouth. Often I would hear the sounds of thumping car stereos below in the street. Cars and taxis dropping off, and picking up my neighbours and their neighbours too. City life. I sipped my tea and murmured appreciatively. Just like my first cup of tea in the morning or crossing out important dates on the calendar pinned to the kitchen notice board, my evening tea and paper ritual never changed. My little habit.

Five thirty, tea and the Evening Standard. These simple regular habits were like the tent poles of my life. Habits, rituals govern our every waking moment. Everyone has them. A comforting regularity in this sea of a troubled world. Without mine I always felt vaguely incomplete, cheated of my basic comforts. And to put it plainly, thrown off kilter. I must admit that thinking about it now some of my habits are pretty rigid. A form of OCD. Out the station at five, get the Evening Standard and pick up spare provisions if needed. Keys out and home. Jacket off, case down, shoes off, kettle on, TV on, check answer machine, make tea, sit down, read paper. But that’s me. A creature of habit or as I said ritual if you will. A regular orderly person. Rigid in my own way. A place for everything, and everything in its place and time. Equilibrium.

This particular Monday was no different. The sun had begun to lose its heat, but the breeze was still pleasant. I internally noted with pleasure that I had made a really good cup of tea. Then the shouting began. It was constant and loud echoing between the houses. Craning my head round the gently moving curtain I saw him, head thrown back, arms beginning their frenzied flailing. The shouter. In full shout mode.
I don’t remember quite when it was that I started to refer to him as such. I think it was to my newsagent once, when I was buying my film magazine. I didn’t mean it badly or negatively. It was just my way of naming things. But he’d become regular event in my life schedule in a way. The poor man turned up regular as clockwork and ranted his way down our high street every day for it seemed like the past six months. From then on my nickname for him passed into my common parlance. The shouter.

I would find myself mentioning him in conversation. Friends would ask if I had heard him lately. Often at work I would compare errant colleagues to him and once as a joke I told a story about him. I`d gone to Oxford Street, shoes I think, and there he was, the shouter, stiffly frozen outside a fast food restaurant. Angry voice raised and his straining neck muscles reflected in the plate glass. When I got back to my office I told my colleagues of my surprise at seeing him away from his usual spot outside my local bank.

I went on to venture what I thought was an amusing theory that perhaps the man who normally went mad there was off sick, and that loony central control had got in the shouter as a temporary replacement. We all laughed together and as I went back into my own office I felt a sudden sense of guilt. O.K. Make a joke, fine, but to get a laugh at the expense of the shouters tortured mind. Shame ran through me and suitably chastened at my crass remarks I picked up my ringing phone and guiltily pushed him from my thoughts.
That evening I sipped my tea. His voice ringing through the cooling evening air. He kept on. I put my paper down and listened. It wasn’t as if you could clearly make out distinguishable phrases or sentences. It was a rising and falling crescendo of syllables. Short and fierce. Barked almost.  The odd swear word puncturing the flow. You couldn’t see him from where I sat. He was obviously just out of sight round the corner. Probably pacing back and forth along his usual regular tiny route outside the bank. He would pace up and down the length of about five shops agitatedly walking between the bank and the newsagents. His voice rose in pitch and then in volume and then abruptly snapped off as if a switch had been flicked. I looked out and he shuffled back into view. His other walk, a strange cat like movement that silently took him beyond my line of sight. The peace a blessed relief. Back to the film reviews and then dinner I thought. Order returned. Things back in place.

About a week later I`d taken a break from work and visited a friend in Watford. In a fit of indulgence I`d spent far too much on a leather jacket. It just seemed the thing to do. I`m semi self-employed. A sort of consultant. Music and Media mainly. It gives me the flexibility to work my own hours. But sometimes like all one-man band businesses I overstretch myself. In fact a few years back I basically worked myself into collapsing from exhaustion. So now sensibly I am all too aware of the danger signs. Stress can creep up on you all too easily. My indulgent day out of lunch and shopping was a signal to myself to take it easy. I never wanted to feel the way I had that last time. In a hospital bed wired to countless monitors. So now I took things a lot easier.
I’d got back home later that afternoon and annoyingly the phone didn`t stop. But my short break had done me the power of good. I felt fine. Lots of energy, plus I had plans for a very unusual new project which really appealed to me. I was about to pour myself another cup of tea when to my annoyance I realised I had run out of milk. Damn. And further the dribble in the bottom of the carton was never going to be enough for that evenings guests and myself. So groaning I was forced to nip out on a quick shopping expedition. Tugging on my shirt I suddenly felt energetic and leaping down the stairs two at a time, I fell into the street, barely pausing to adjust my sunglasses and catch my breath. The fresh air and exercise would probably do me good I thought.

The little shop I use is at the top of the road. About a hundred yards past the local pub. There is a nearer shop but for no discernible reason they seem to add about twenty pence to every item you buy. Apparently it`s the price you have to pay for them being open so late. For the saving I walk. It`s only twenty pence I know but it`s probably that feeling of being ripped off, more than the saving if I`m honest.

As I reached the top of the road the shouter started and I automatically crossed over, avoiding his regular little patch up from the bank. A thing I always did. He made me feel uncomfortable. He wasn`t like the little bundles of sleeping bags and dogs on the Embankment. Passive and pitiable. Easily assuaged with a handful of change. He almost demanded attention. Often I would glance toward him as I crossed further down the street. But he always seemed to look toward me so I would feign interest in a shop window and hurry by. I don`t know what it was. The venom in his shouting. His lunging hands as he fought with imaginary foes. The terror on his face. But he’d never harmed anyone. He seemed so lost in his own world. And his invective seemed directed at the sky. But for whatever reason I avoided him. It seemed politic. He lived in his world of shadows and I in mine of light. There was no link, no common ground, no connection.

But there he was that day. In full voice. The sun was still bright and I felt comfortably anonymous behind my dark glasses. Furtively I watched him as almost in parallel we both made our way along the different sides of the road. Strangely he always wore a grubby white two piece suit. A formal looking thing.  But only just grubby though. And I had often wondered where he came from each day. It seemed logical that it was a home or day-care centre because from time to time he would appear with a haircut and a trimmed beard. His sun darkened skin scrubbed, his suit semi pressed and clean. The rest of the time he appeared unwashed, a greasy mat of tousled hair, his beard unkempt and wild.

His exact age was a mystery, he could have been thirty or a thousand, he seemed almost ageless but the main thing about him that always struck me was his eyes. I’d once seen them briefly as he’d brushed past me. Just for a second out of my left field of vision. They were a piercing brown colour. And even through my dark glasses they caught the light as he mirrored my journey down the street. Thrown into sharp relief by his tanned dirt smeared skin and dark beard, they almost shone as if lit from within as he wildly stared in confusion at things invisible to me.

Almost on cue a police car pulled up and shaking his head a burly sergeant trotted after him catching up as the shouter wheeled gracefully round on his set path. Quiet words were exchanged and the shouter snapped into his usual sudden urgent cat like stride. Disappearing down the road in silence, leaving the sergeant to grin at the dry cleaner who leaned in his shop doorway. My mind switched to my mission and I bought my milk as well as a packet of marshmallow teacakes. The sweet smell of which reminds me of my late mother for some strange reason.

Pausing only to skirt a Range Rover as it precariously tried to squeeze into a very small parking space I carefully twisted my carrier bag shut and crossed the road.
I hadn’t gone more than ten yards or so when a sudden shriek made me turn round. There by the library stood the shouter, head bowed, his way barred by a large woman. She stood in front of him calling out to the street in general, making some point about him being no better than an animal. Her companion, another large woman stood beside her nodding vigorous approval as an untidy knot of small children clung onto her skirt.

One of the women lunged at him and I clearly heard her hand connect with his face. A muted sort of slap. Sending his head rocking back. Her face a flushed red circle bobbing near his grime smeared white chest. The other woman prodded him with her finger. He stood immobile while they tugged and poked at him and I walked toward them aware as I did so of others moving alongside me.

Someone brushed past me quickly.  “What`d he do “ventured a fat young man in a tight leather jacket “Didn`t touch the kids did he“. He stood theatrically, a fist outstretched, looking around him for approval. “I`ll have you son“ he spat at the shouter who looked to all the world as if he was pinned to a post. His body slumped, his skinny frame seeming to sway scarecrow like on an invisible breeze.

The red faced woman folded her large arms contemptuously “He looked at me“ she breathed in sharply. “We was walking by him and he looked right down my dress“. She moved her head catching eyes but her sense of outrage was lost on us. The fat young man looked disappointed and shrugged. She looked at me imploringly. “Well how would you feel“? I removed my dark glasses and I heard myself trying to sound reasonable. Saying calming things but as I finished the shouter slowly lifted his head and our eyes suddenly locked.

My breath caught in my chest and I remembered the only other time I had ever looked into eyes like that before. I clutched my milk and fell back forty years.

My early childhood. Scouts. Ten years old. Endless summer camping trips, sunny, foggy, raining. Sundays always meant a visit to the nearest church to fight the good fight. We were Christian we were told, but I didn’t feel any different for it. My parents never went to church. But they thought it was good for me. Our scout leader made us say grace before every meal. He believed. In some greater power. I simply didn’t get it. My parents were the power in my life. Then the school teachers. Then the Scouts. Then my brother.
The church we visited always smelt of old clothes and damp to me. A musty woody and empty lifeless smell. And there was a large brass eagle lectern that the vicar read his great bible from.  I liked to imagine it launching into flight. But it never did. The vicar would rub it with his hand. Almost stroking it. And as he droned on I would try to feign concentration while staring up at the long stained glass windows. Distractedly trying to catch a glimpse of the daylight outside through the only splash of colour inside those dead and dry empty walls. Great weals and slashes of bright colour. Sending splashes of colour across the cold flag stoned floor. Bearing images of drama and dread. Knights and angels. Crying women. Clouds and storms.

But it was the pale man on the cross that always fascinated me. Shimmering crimson red drops hung from his hands and feet. Blood from his gaping wounds. Like sparkling rubies on a white silk sheet and his eyes raised to the sky. Great pools of brown, aching, desperate, alone. Bright eyes that knew the pain of the world. Eyes that seemed so lost. Eyes so full of despair. So troubled. So alone. The eyes of the shouter.
The fat woman slapped him again and his gaze wrenched from mine as his head jerked back. Swiftly pushing past the fat boy, the police sergeant stepped between them his voice angry now. “Okay that’s quite enough of that. Nothing to see here, everyone just move along now. Off you go the lot of you“. Tutting loudly he put a meaty hand on the shouters shoulder and tugged him closer. Almost conspiratorially. “Now what did I just tell you“? His voice dropped to a gentle whisper and carefully he led the shouter over to a nearby bench. I watched him for a second and then crossed over to avoid him.

I left him there. He was being taken care of. What could I do? So I went home. And in no time at all I was sat with my paper. Equilibrium restored. Everything back in its place.

Days passed but the thought was now set in my mind. The picture from my childhood fixed in my head. Imagine. To be trapped on that cold window. Eternally locked into that single dreadful moment. Deserted, in agony and waiting for a merciful release. Helpless and calling into the silence. Unsure of the final destination. Trapped in a world between worlds. Lips wracked with pain trying to form the words help me. Voice raised to heaven. Forgive them. Imagine to be so lost and so alone. With no-one to see your pain. With no-one to help you. People simply walking by. When all that was needed was a kind word. A human touch. Love.

I’m sitting in my window. There’s a noise from the street. And I can hear him calling out now but to my eternal shame I know I will always cross over.

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Phil Ryan – Near death in sunshine

August 6, 2014
Falling green leaves

Near death in sunshine

by Phil Ryan

This is true.

I was driving back from Cambridge at around 10.30 on a bright sunny morning this week. I’d been out visiting a friend and had stayed overnight. And being busy sadly I had to get back to London. I was travelling along the A505 to Royston heading to connect to the A1 and then I could zoom down the motorway towards home. I wasn’t tired. I was relaxed. All around me fields stretched away. Green and golden. Full of wheat and scarlet poppies ringed with bright green hedgerows and trees. It was a lovely view.

I was driving at 50 miles an hour. The road was empty. Just me.

Then the road narrowed a little and became a typical two lane country road. Lined with hedges at about car roof height. Above me the sky seemed vast, blue and half full of fluffy white clouds. The sun bright and hot. A perfect summers day.

Up ahead of me as I headed along the very long and straight road in the distance a car appeared around the bend. It must have been a few thousand yards away. Then I realised it was in the same lane as me. It was moving very fast. I flicked my eyes into my rear view mirror. Nothing. No-one behind me. So now flashing my headlights to attract the car’s driver who was on the wrong side of the road I slowed down.

But he kept coming.

He must have been doing around 90.

I flashed my lights and pushed on the horn. He didn’t move. Maybe he couldn’t see me. The sun was blindingly bright after all. So I carefully drifted onto the wrong side of the road which apart from him on my side I could see was thankfully empty.

He quickly moved over. So I quickly went back into the right lane.

He followed me again. I drifted out again onto the wrong side of the road.

He followed me. We were on a collision course I couldn’t avoid. He was speeding up.

I looked in my rear view mirror. No-one behind me still. But he was getting really close so I slowed right down. I know the equation. If you hit an object at speed you add your speed and their speed together to calculate the impact. My car is quite big and solid but even I figured my airbags wouldn’t do me much good if he ploughed into me head on. So I slowed down and stopped completely and started to try and scramble out the passenger side. The other car was barely thirty feet away.

The road was narrow so I couldn’t open the door. Getting out the driver’s door wasn’t an option. But I’d figured that already and as the windows were open I started to scramble out. The hedge was in the way. It was thick and dense. But I’d thought that if I could brace my feet against the side of the driver’s seat I could physically push my way through it. It was a plan.

I could clearly see the other car now. It was dark green with a tinted windscreen. It was barely fifteen feet away. It must have been doing at least 100 by this point. I just had time to brace myself and then as my muscles tensed to let me jump, barely ten feet away it sharply jinked to the left and roared past me. I could just make out the faces of two laughing young guys through the tinted windows. But they looked possessed. Their faces were frozen in an open mouthed rictus grin. Almost as if they were on drugs or something. They looked more like demons than humans. They missed the front of my car by barely two feet. As they passed my whole car shook wildly, just like when a high lorry passes you on a motorway. But this really shook the car due to the confined space.

Their car shot past me. It was a beaten up looking black Peugeot with tinted windows and huge rusted silver exhausts that made its engine rumble loudly. Incredibly loud music pounded from it. The bass frequency thudding and insistent. And it swept by me trailing a plume of whirling dust and leaves that whirled and filled the air.

There were no others cars to be seen. And suddenly it was silent again. Just bird song. I was freezing cold. I was still poised in my ridiculous escape position.

A few minutes passed. Oddly though the entire incident the one ridiculous thought kept running uppermost in my head was “I hope they don’t smash off my driver’s door mirror”. Weird huh? My car door mirror. Not my life in flashback. Not the pain of being killed. Not the sorrow of those I’d miss. My mind was simply filled with the potential loss of a chrome door mirror. Admittedly they’re not cheap. But what was that about? Shock I suppose.

Then I jumped back into my seat and flooring the accelerator I sped off.

My shirt and shorts were now soaked with perspiration.

The road in front of me and behind me was still empty. I drove for about another ten minutes when I saw a layby. I pulled in. And now safe I got out my legs trembling. The blue sky above me seemed massive. It filled my entire vision. The fields rolled away in all directions and I could see the wheat stalks. My heart was racing. In the boot I had a couple of bottles of water and my emergency overnight bag. So I peeled off my soaked shirt and washed myself. It was sunny bright and hot. The air was thick and still with the rising heat. Luckily I had a spare shirt I’d put in the back seat (on really hot days I often do this) And happily I tugged it on.

So after another minute or two I got back in the car and drove home. Hm.

ADDENDUM:

Somehow the very next day I had to drive to Southwold in Suffolk to do a live radio session. And I travelled exactly the same way as I’d done to Cambridge the previous day but a lot later in the afternoon. And of course in the opposite direction. But as I passed the spot I’d stopped in I immediately decided to return a different way. It would add an extra hour onto my journey I knew but I didn’t care. I didn’t feel comfortable. But then on my return from Southwold I was kindly invited to again stay at my friends in Cambridge. We all had a great evening meal. It was really nice.

I hadn’t been out of bed the next day for ten minutes when I got a call asking me to get back to London for an important meeting. I was short of time now. And yes you’ve guessed it I went home down the ‘collision’ road at virtually the same time where I’d encountered the mysterious crazy green car the day before. But it was busy with traffic as I passed the spot where I’d stopped and I just drove on briefly thinking of what might have happened. I guess I was just lucky.

Life huh?

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Marva Longmore – The Unlucky Thief

July 9, 2014
creditcardsmall

The Unlucky Thief

A Short Story By

Marva Longmore

 

Samuel chanced upon me when he saw me paying my quarterly telephone bill at the busy Post Office in Star Parade. I glanced over my shoulder to see him standing in front of an old man and a woman, waiting to collect their pension. The queue stretched far back to the entrance. I said a vacant “hello,” asked how his Mother was, and dusted him off like a dirty blob of stray lint with the final words, “Take care Samuel.” I tried not to make eye contact. I was at the entrance; I was nearly there. Samuel blocked my escape.
    “Wait there a minute,” Samuel said like we were meaningful. I should’ve put my earplugs in: drowned out his noise. But I didn’t. Like an idiot I waited for him. “Alma? Isn’t it?” He said unsure of my name. My body bristled impatiently. I gave him my best false smile. The smile stuck on my mouth like a lead weight. I thought: what do you want? This had better be good. Talking over the head of the old man Samuel told me his story.
    “I went to the Post Office in North Park and I asked the man if he could do this for me. He told me to go to the other Post Office in Park Avenue. They couldn’t do it either, and if this man can’t do it, I don’t know what I’ll do.” “What is it?” I asked looking towards the open door with the wet pavement glistening with overnight rain. “You see it’s my daughter. She’s due to go into hospital today in Birmingham for an operation on her kidneys. She’s been on kidney dialysis and I need to get up there,” Samuel said.
    “How old is your daughter?” I asked. “Nine. And I,…..” Samuel replied. “Next please,” The Postmaster interrupted. Back in the day the Post Office dealt with books, before they introduced the card account system. Samuel walked up to the security screen made of toughened glass with a slit at the bottom big enough for the customer and The Postmaster to put their hands under to carry out transactions. He pushed a benefit book under the glass.
    “Can you do this for me today I’ll even let you hold my book until next week Monday. PLEASE! I just need to ahh umm,” Samuel finished lamely. The Postmaster shook his head. “No sorry, I can’t do this for you, have you tried North Park?” “Yes, but they won’t do it,” Samuel whined. “What about the one in Park Avenue?” “I tried that one, too but they wouldn’t do it,” Samuel shrugged. The Postmaster mirrored Samuel’s shrug. “The date on this benefit book says next Monday you’ll have to wait until Monday.”
    We walked out of the Post Office together. I didn’t want to be here with Samuel’s mess. Samuel was a thief. Who was my neighbour! At that moment I wished I had the power of invisibility. The damp morning air smelt of car exhaust fumes, faeces, mould, and take away.
    Samuel held his head in his hands. “What am I going to do? I’ve got to see my daughter. I haven’t seen her in a while,” Samuel said. “Have you tried getting an emergency payment from the Social? I’m sure if you explained, they’d give you one,” I said. “No I’ve asked Social already. They told me I was over my limit. I tried two Post Offices already. I cursed the manager in Petersfield, he said unless I apologise, he’s not letting me come back again,” Samuel said. You obviously didn’t apologise hard enough. I thought.
    “The other Postmaster in North Park banned me and The Postmaster in Park Avenue said no,” Samuel said. Why didn’t that surprise me! We walked towards Petersfield High Street. Petersfield was still drowsy from the night before; it was nursing a huge hangover. Most of the shops were closed albeit a few grocery stores, the pharmacy, Shoe Shop and Freezerland. I could do without this. He’s getting on my last nerve.
    We both stood there: waiting. Samuel scanned the shops like an infra-red beam thinking. I felt like a slug: impaled on a stick, belching, drooling, squirming and twisting to get away. I’d blended with Samuel. His shit was now mine. We both stank of the street. “How much does it cost to get to Birmingham?” I asked. “Twenty four pounds return,” Samuel replied. My lips moved. “If I had any money on me I’d give it to you even if I never saw you again. But my credit card is at home,” I said.
    “I beg you please. I really need the money. Can you go home and get it?” Samuel put his hands together and prayed. Last time I checked he wasn’t a churchgoer. What? Are you serious? You’ve got to be kidding me. God help me. What am I doing here? I ask myself. I can’t believe I’m discussing money with a thief.
    Alma, you’re an idiot!
    The twenty pounds inside my pocket yelled:
    Fucking liar!
    Samuel and David Watson lived next door to us with their mother Shirlene. I’d never seen their father. Shirlene was a single mother. She was a nice kind lady, from Trinidad, Port of Spain. Shirlene had an infectious laugh that made you smile with her, and a tiny waist that flared out into generous hips. She always had a cigarette dangling at the right side of her mouth. That’s where all cigarettes lived: her mouth was a talking cigarette.
    Aged five and seven my sister Rosetta and me played with Samuel and David in the dirt filled garden of our home making mud pies, writing our names in the mud. We all fell in love. We double dated. Samuel was my boyfriend, and David was Rosetta’s. We kissed each other secretly in the garden away from the prying eyes of our parents. We didn’t care if we got caught out. So what! We were in love. At age five; I was a loved up little monster. Nobody was going to spoil our fun.
    We pledged undying love to each other in the mud. Drawing a big heart with our initials inside! And fantasised about the names of our children when, we grew up and got married! Years passed by. Having two young males living under the same roof; nightmare! They were competitive, fighting like mangy dogs. The walls juddered with the force of the fighting. Rosetta and me pressed our ears against the wall when we heard the fighting.
    Shirlene was the mediator. Somebody complained to The Council about the noise. The Health and Safety officer came around to record the noise levels. The Council monitored the family for a period of two months, the fighting grew. The Council evicted them and they were all re-housed.
    When I’d first seen Samuel approaching, I screamed silently. He didn’t look good. And to think that he’d come to me in his hour of need: as if that was an honour. I don’t know why I didn’t tell him to scram. I’d seen Samuel intermittently in my teens, not to speak to, but in the distance. He always seemed to be in a hurry. His skin had lost its shine over the years, becoming dull and grey. It was as though a vacuum cleaner had come by and sucked the juice out of his face. His face was badly pockmarked. He looked half dead.
    Samuel’s face had the hardened look of a hawk. His eyes were dull, unblinking and uncaring. The streets had claimed him as one of theirs, and he ran into its arms willingly. I remembered running my fingers through his hair as a five year old. It was now twisted up into funky dreads. A few strands escaped from the navy blue Nike peaked cap that he wore. Samuel’s clothes were black and blue. Hanging loose, he wriggled uncomfortably, as though trying to escape an imaginary itch. His clothes were shabby and his pockets had holes in them. He looked raggedy.
    “I can’t do that Samuel,” I said firmly. We came to a standstill outside Freezerland. I heard the tills whirring. I looked on the shelf that housed the cinnamon and raisin bagels; my breakfast. Five packs left.
    The twenty pound note screamed again:
    Spend me, spend me.
    I couldn’t move. I was snookered. “Isn’t there anybody who can give you some money, what about, your Mum?” I asked. He looked me straight in the eye. “No. Her sister died. She bought a ticket to go to America for the funeral. She packed her suitcase already. She hasn’t got any money, she’s broke. I was up at 6:30am this morning knocking on people’s door to see if they could help me. The Police even stopped me. To ask what I was doing up this time of the morning,” Samuel said.
    “What about David?” “David? I haven’t seen him. Might be in a jailhouse for all I know,” Samuel said. He raised his eyes to the sky. “I thought you kept in touch?” I asked. “We don’t chat. True say through him I got into trouble with some people. I had to pay off some of his debts,” Samuel said bitterly.
    David and Samuel! They’d been so close even when they were fighting. I wondered, what had happened there? But I didn’t care anymore. He was trouble and I knew it. “There must be somebody you know that can give you some money to get up there,” I said. “I haven’t been down these sides for years,” Samuel said. Liar I thought, so what are you doing down here now? I ask him silently. “Everybody I know has moved,” Samuel looked me straight in the eye. “Don’t you know anybody who can give you a lift up there?” I asked. “No,” Samuel replied. He was all alone.
    His eyes suddenly lit up. He took a credit card from his pocket and waved it in front of me. “It’s from a company I sometimes work for. “That’s why the name is different, you can, hold it,” he said brazenly. “No thanks,” I replied.
    We stood silently, taking in the traffic. Cars drove by sporadically and stopped at the traffic lights a few yards down the road. The exhaust fumes created a smoky haze. I’d hitched a ride in Petersfield with Samuel. I didn’t know what to believe. How could he have come back to nothing? Surely a thief has assets. I was drunk on all the information Samuel had given me. He had a plaster for every sore; an answer for everything.
    When you have friends that are thieves the general idea is that: things go missing. What’s the point asking another thief about a stolen item? In those rancid years that I hadn’t seen Samuel, he’d become a professional beggar. “Boy. I don’t know what else to do then,” Samuel said. “I don’t know either Samuel,” I said. “I’m desperate,” Samuel said. “What are you going to do now?” I asked. “I don’t know,” Samuel shook his head. This action dislodged the cobwebs that had been hampering him all morning.
    His eyes sparkled back to a brilliant white. He had a plan. “I’m going to have to do a robbery,” Samuel said as nonchalantly as if he was asking somebody for a spare cigarette.
     Huh!
    I looked really hard at this man. He must be high on drugs. Drugs wouldn’t have given him this clarity. Would they? He was stone cold sober. His threat laced my body like frostbite. Help me God. I whimpered like a neutered dog. My veins started crimping. They ran up and down my spine like nervous tics on speed. “No don’t do that. It’s not worth it!” My voice rose. It sounded as though I was five again; high and screechy. “I don’t know what else to do if you can’t help me,” Samuel said wheedingly. “There must be another way,” I said.
    The cars zooming by were only going one way. Samuel only knew what he knew. I noticed that this was his way too. I remembered dimmed arguments heard through walls years ago over money taken from Shirlene. Promises of paybacks never fulfilled. It slowly dawned on me why family and friends had cut him off. His ambition to be a lifelong thief had been achieved. He’s a loser. I began to wonder if this jackass had a daughter at all. My brain started bubbling.
    I started to ease myself away from him. I look down the road, Mum was walking towards me. “There’s my Mum. See you. Mum there’s Samuel, remember him?” I said. Mum eyed Samuel warily. “Hello,” she said.  “Hi Mum,” he replied. Samuel raised his hand. “Excuse me Mum, could do me a favour? I just need…..” I cut him off. “Don’t lend him any money,” I hissed out of earshot. “No. No. I haven’t got any money. I’m a pensioner I don’t have much,” Mum said. Pensioners are exactly what Samuel likes. Easy prey!
    “Okay,” Samuel said. Samuel had accepted his fate. “See you Samuel, take care,” I left him still standing there. “What was all that about?” Mum asked. “His daughter is in hospital in Birmingham and he wanted some money to get up there,” I said. “Why doesn’t he get a job?” Mum asked. “Hmmm. Where are you going Mum?” I asked. “To the bank,” Mum replied. “I might as well come with you. Samuel might rob you,” I replied.
    Whilst Mum was being served, I kept looking out for Samuel fearing he’d return and I hid behind a leafy rubber plant. I broke out in a sweat. I turned around to see where Mum was in the queue. I turned back to face the street. My heart fell to the ground like a stone as I watched Samuel. He drifted around the corner like a dark shadow in dark clothes. Even a thief has to get dressed for work. And Samuel was as good as his word striding towards Park Road where the busy bus stops were situated and people were on their way to work.
    But Samuel had already decided on a job, one that paid well, with hours that suited him. He was going to be the best criminal he could be. He was his own boss; self employed. He was going to make money today one way or another. And with his burning ambition of self-employment, he was hell bent on making someone’s day, a nightmare. Samuel was careful, very careful. He only stole from the older, vulnerable, young and weak; life’s wildebeest. If you look at wildebeests in the jungle! They’ll run straight into the jaws of a lion without the lion having to break a stride. And Samuel was that predator.
    I went back to my house; Mum went back to her house. Later that evening, my Sister rang me. I told her what happened. You know what she told me, “I saw Samuel an hour ago. He asked me for a £1.00. He’s always begging.” We laughed at Samuel’s bag of tricks. Was he for real? Samuel and David were lifelong thieves. We reminisced about the arguments that went on next door years ago sometimes lasting a week! Seems like this happened only yesterday.
    Samuel and David were as bad as each other. They actually stole money from their Mum’s purse. One thing about the pair of them, they were consistent: they never smiled. Their faces both looked as if they were carved from granite. They were opportunists. But one day they were both sent to prison for three years for mugging a pensioner. Whilst in prison they talked and walked amongst other hardened criminals. They were released from prison, not rehabilitated. They were worse when they came out. To be unleashed on an unsuspecting public!
    But in his haste to getaway Samuel forgot one thing: his credit card. He’d left it on the ground. A passerby picked it up and handed it in at Park Road Police Station. It obviously wasn’t his. What credit card company would give a thief a credit card? The police lifted Samuel’s fingerprints from his DNA. He was on their list of well known muggers. It was only a matter of time before they caught up with him. And five days later the knock on the door told Samuel his time of freedom was up.
    Samuel used the old familiarity we had as children to lie and cheat to get money out of me. I was brought up in a rough neighbourhood. But I was always taught to be polite to people whatever their circumstances. That’s what I was doing; being polite. I was doing what people should do in these situations: keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. I haven’t seen Samuel since. And if I do; the same rules will apply.

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Tom Hollingsworth – The Ticket

June 11, 2014
Vector Admission Ticket

The Ticket

By Tom Hollingsworth

I saw an angel in Sainsbury`s. It was early Tuesday evening. She was by the pasta section looking at green linguini. Nobody appeared to pay her any attention. I suppose that was because she didn’t have an unearthly light or wings. In fact she wore jeans, a Nike tee shirt, and trainers. And she was very pretty.
I think I first noticed her not just because of her looks. It was because as she passed along the aisle, all the people who were in her radius seemed to walk straighter, to lift their heads. And they all smiled.
A red faced young mother suddenly stopped tugging at her small sons arm. He stopped wriggling and crying. It was odd. Mother and child smiled at each other. Then they calmly carried on their way in a peaceful silence. A harassed looking young man talking vociferously into his phone just shut it off. His tone was angry and short. He was clearly mid conversation. He appeared to not even notice his action. He just shrugged to himself looking blissfully happy.  He gazed around him briefly and carried on walking up the aisle. But he now seemed to sway to some invisible music. An old woman by the sauce fridge looked at her arthritic hands as they opened like petals on a flower. I saw all of this. I couldn’t miss it. Whatever was going on I just knew she was an angel. I don’t know why I felt so certain. But I was. Despite her Nike tee shirt.
She was deliberating over some red currant jelly. So I made up my mind and quickly walked past the sauce section until I was directly behind her. Before I could formulate what I was going to say she turned around. “You know then“? and I just nodded. Weird didn’t even come close.
Her voice had a hint of being backed by a huge choir. “What gave me away?“ and I felt my face flush. Her eyes were just so blue. So open. So bright. I shrugged and trying to keep my voice even I said “Oh nothing I just have a knack for this sort of thing“. She frowned faintly though her smile remained. She glanced into my basket and sighed. “Look at all that meat, where’s the roughage”?

Without hesitation I picked up the red cabbage. She laughed “Oh you, come on let’s grab a coffee“. Pausing only to pop a small jar of marmalade into her basket she headed for the checkout. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the two suddenly conveniently free tills.  The happy and cheery checkout girl. The security guard who laughed as he smilingly packed her bags. In under three minutes we were passing out through the glass doors.
She laughed as they automatically opened in front of her “I always love this bit it’s just like magic isn’t it look woooooo“. We stepped outside and she paused to pat an old small wiry terrier tethered to a rail. I watched as the white cataracts on his eyes faded. He licked her hand and flipped onto his back. His once stiff legs now supple. He wriggled in pleasure. The angel nodded “I do love dogs don’t you? Ah cappuccino“! And pointing with her chin she motioned me towards a nearby cafe`.

The smell of fresh ground coffee hit us as soon as we went in. The old man behind the counter threw up his hands in delight. He grinned. “Que bella“ he whispered his lined face softened and he kissed her theatrically on both cheeks. He wildly gestured to the few people close by to marvel at the moment. He winked at me and in a thick accent he loudly whispered “You a lucky boy “. He bowed and now kissing her hand he shouted. “Douae cappuccinos per bella signorina Tony please” and left us at a small alcove table. It was a relief to put my heavy bag down I nodded toward the old man. “You come here a lot then“? She shook her head. “No not really“. I felt myself smile “Well I suppose you must be pretty busy you know being a… “ I couldn’t finish the sentence but luckily the coffee arrived with some more kissing and greetings and of course another wink for me. She fell upon the cappuccino.  Her face looked blissfully happy. And as she put the cup back down a fine white milky moustache hung on her upper lip.
“Oh just heaven “ And I sat back the enormity of it all finally hitting me for the first time. I felt my breath catch in my throat. This was beyond amazing.

My heart pounded. I was sitting having coffee with a living breathing angel. Her face suddenly clouded and she reached over and patted my hand. “Oh now you react, I thought you were very cool. Oh well it’s to be expected I suppose. It’s in your nature really“. She narrowed her eyes. “You don’t think you’re doing too well with your writing right now. That last broken relationship still hurts. Oh yeah and you’re concerned about that almost imperceptible spare tyre that nobody else can see. There’s a lot going on in that head of yours. So why should I be any big deal?”
My heart was now thumping strongly enough that I could feel it in my throat and I tried to speak but nothing came out. She grinned and sipped her coffee “Okay so I’m a you know what, big deal“ Her voice lowered conspiratorially. She touched my arm. It was like a wave of calmness suddenly washed over me. I sat up straight “But you’re here in a….a coffee bar! It’s not what you expect“ She just rolled her eyes “What’s wrong with a coffee bar they do great cappuccino and besides all that stuff in your head, it’s just stuff, this is 2014 for goodness sake“
She leaned back and regarded me with those blue eyes. I slowly breathed out and thought for a second. The old man whisked by and I could see an extra spring in his elderly step. She caught my eye and shrugged and smiled. “Can’t hurt can it“?
We talked. It seemed as if hours went by. And I felt my heart grow lighter with each passing minute. Things were okay in my life. Nothing wild to report. Just regular work and stuff. Things were the usual, friends and family, a couple of bills that made me wince. But on the whole I was I guess, normal. I wasn’t broke. No major problems just everyday living.  But I was struggling inside. It was my stupid brain. Although I wished I could meet someone special. I felt a little lonely most days if I’m being honest. So who did I meet? An angel. Great. But she was so beautiful. I mean drop dead gorgeous. Her figure was amazing. I tried to push the last thought from my head before she could see it but I caught a slight flush bloom across her cheek.
Look, I was only human and besides I was getting fed up living on my own. My last girlfriend had been oh nine months ago but it just hadn’t worked out.
Carrie had been great but I just couldn’t be who she wanted. I’d tried but you can’t be something other than who you are. She said she loved me and she did but not enough. She’d talked about being friends. We’d been together for years. But we’d grown apart. It was no-ones fault it was just what it was.
But it hurt so much it was unbearable. It knocked me flat some days. I tried to not show it to my friends. But they knew. They knew. And I knew love. And I missed being loved. It just seemed to be avoiding me and to be honest sometimes I doubted if it would ever bother to find me again. Life huh? Just a bit off a crappy roller coaster ride sometimes. My head ached briefly. I was having a day off. And I was having coffee with an angel. Figures eh!
“I’m not very religious“ I ventured. She snorted. “So, neither am I“ I sat back completely confused. She playfully waved her spoon at me “Penny for them“. I must have looked bemused because she added “Thoughts, penny for them“ I began to apologise but she shook her head and grinned. I hung my head and sighed when without warning she reached her hand out and stroked my face. Right then I wanted to kiss her just reach across the table and pull her into my arms and I felt my legs tremble. I saw her face flush and I knew she felt my thoughts and nervously she laughed “Now now. Be a good boy. Why don’t you finish writing that book of yours then“ I stared at her and smiled shaking my head ruefully.

“How did you know“? She raised an eyebrow.  I gave a low chuckle. “Oh yeah right. Ah I don’t know. I mean I sent my damn stories to every magazine I could think of and not a bite. My book, well that was really just a dream. I just don’t think I’m supposed to be a writer“. I sighed again and in my head the old desire to write flared briefly. She looked at me piercingly “Well I’ve read it“ I held my hands up “But it’s not even finished, I need to finish that last chapter…”. She cut me off and shook her head with a mischievous twinkle in her eye “I’ve read it, last chapter and all, it deserves to be written. It’s a wonderful story“.
Before I could reply she grimaced suddenly and I saw her turn momentarily pale. Her face lined with a passing pain and she reached out and squeezed my hand. I held her soft fingers, and she shook her head as my face filled with concern.
“It’s okay, don’t worry, someone else just stopped believing “ She breathed in heavily “It’s a bugger when it happens though, it gets me right here“ She gestured to her heart. Her skin was silky soft and she squeezed my hand again. I was in awe. She lowered her eyes.  “It’s a tough old world and sometimes people just can’t keep believing in angels anymore“ And I saw a wetness about her eyes. “But you have to believe in yourself”.
Visions of my rejection letter file swam before my eyes. I nodded “Well I guess people just wear down. They can’t be strong. Sometimes giving up is all we can do“. As the words came out I felt terrible as she looked at me mutely. What a thing to say. I needed to say something that would make everything better. She smiled wanly and I saw she was holding a large sheaf of paper. It was my book. I could see the title page. I had poured my heart out onto those white surfaces.

Every fibre of my being was twisted into each word. Not a sentence existed without all that I had ever felt flooding from me. The story had occurred to me one night on the bus home from town. I had imagined a man who one day awoke to realise his present life was not his true life. His wife, his children, his job had been his constant for over twenty years. But at some point he had been a totally different person. He had left another home one morning and the life behind him had faded. A muddle of drink and shabby rooms had followed. Then, a chance meeting with another lost soul had pointed him to a new direction and twenty years on he was suddenly remembering everything that had gone on before. A whole other life. A wonderful engaging and intriguing tale. I loved writing it. I’d felt so happy when I sat before my computer each day. And I’d started sending out the first chapters to agents and publishers. But something had happened with the last rejection letter. I just couldn’t face those last four thousand words. And I was so close I knew it. The angel giggled again. “I can see it too”.
The pages were gone. Her eyes were calm. “So still not a believer? “ I felt the old desire to finish my story. I coughed to clear my dry throat “But no one wants it. I sent it to everybody I could think of. What did I get? Zip all that’s what“. The cafe seemed suddenly stuffy and I saw she looked angry.
Her face reddened “Who said the world owed you a living? Life’s unfair that’s it. Bottom line, you’ve got a gift so use it. So what if some people don’t want it. They’re idiots right? That’s just an opinion and you know it’s the wrong opinion. I can feel it within you“. Angrily she slurped at her cappuccino which I realised had suddenly filled itself up again. The little outburst had caught me completely by surprise and I waved my hands about “But it just gets you down“ I shook my head as she levelly regarded me.
“You think you’re the only person to not be recognised“? I shrugged and she slowly shook her head. “Some of the greatest artists ever died unrecognised, their work never seen. Biacetti, Van der Huerk. Stories to make you believe in the most fantastic theories of life and space and time. Bob Jennings, Karl Voltschein, J Khan. Never heard of them right“? I nodded and she looked smugly satisfied “That’s because they just gave up. Rolled over and didn’t want to play anymore. Left their wonderful work in a drawer. Just gave up“. Those eyes pierced my heart.  Her face became calm. “Finish it“.
Her words ran right through me. What was it my father used to say? If you don’t buy a ticket then you don’t get to go on the ride. His face filled my mind. I smiled. The damn book had to be finished. She was right. I had to keep sending it out no matter what.
The room felt charged and inside of me something had changed. She knew. Her answering smile lit up her face. And the café. And the street. I heard a choir from somewhere. I closed my eyes briefly and when I opened them, she was gone. Somewhere in my head I felt her say goodbye. And it felt so riven with happiness I nearly cried. Most goodbyes normally seem so final. But unsurprisingly not this one. The odd thing was that I just didn’t feel any sense of loss. I knew without really thinking about it that it was fine. A sudden thought popped into my head. Was all this just so I would keep on writing? A chance meeting? Divine intervention even? I felt numb. What strange elemental and universal force had brought me to that supermarket? What had driven me there?

Then from behind me I heard her voice giggle “Don’t be so dramatic, you were low on tea. You caught the bus remember“? I spun round but the booth behind me was empty. The old waiter whisked my cup away with a gliding grace attained over countless years. He still seemed younger. Impulsively I grasped his arm. “Do you believe in angels“? Realising as I spoke how mad I must have seemed. But he didn’t register any surprise. “You crazy boy, of course. There’s one for everyone“ And he walked away laughing and shouting something to Tony behind the coffee machine whose great round face cracked into a huge grin.

I went home. I had things to do. Like my father used to say time to buy a ticket. A week passed. And I worked like a man in a dream. It all came to me. The perfect ending. I just knew it would. The following Monday the girl behind the post office counter smiled as I pushed my parcels through to her. I had finished my book and it was the very best I could do. Chances were that it would be hailed as a masterpiece. Or conversely even left on various publishers reject piles. Who would know unless I had set the story down? Unless I sent it out into the world and never gave up. You don’t buy a ticket you don’t get to go on the ride. Besides it didn’t matter. Like the angel said you just had to believe. I believed. It wouldn’t change the world but what mattered now was I truly believed.
Maybe sometimes that’s all we need.
Maybe sometimes it’s all we can do.
Maybe sometimes that’s all we have left.

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Phil Ryan – The Wall

May 15, 2014
heart

The Wall

A real life short story

by Phil Ryan

It started in March. It was the day to put the rubbish bags out for the refuse collectors. I’d been about to throw out some old boots and I suddenly thought they seemed too good to just throw away. I’m very particular about the way I look and to me they just didn’t look as good as they once had. But they were fine in every other way. Good soles. No holes or cracks. Although to me they’d lost their looks. So for no particular reason I didn’t just shove them in the bin bags. Instead when I took everything downstairs I left them on top of the low wall that’s a few feet from my front door. I thought maybe someone might go past and see them. They might need some boots. And as I said they were perfectly useable. So I dropped the bin bags out in front of the wall ready for collection and headed into town for a meeting.

When I came back later in the afternoon, I noticed that the bin bags remained but the boots had gone. The realisation suddenly dawned that I’d got the day wrong. The dustcart was actually due the next day, which explained the bags still being there. But for a passing moment I briefly wondered who had taken the boots. It couldn’t have been the refuse collectors. I was glad though they hadn’t gone to waste. Before that thought continued I heard the start of the house phone ringing and in a mad dash I leapt up the stairs and into my normal working day. The boots, and their new owner quickly slipping from my mind.

The next week passed slowly without much happening of real interest. And then one evening a friend who worked for a large department store arrived and unexpectedly presented me with a brand new kettle. She’d often commented about my kettle being a bit old-fashioned looking. Which strictly speaking was exactly why I’d bought it in the first place. It had a sort of fifties retro look that reminded me of my Mothers kettle at home. In an odd way gave the kitchen a comforting feel to it. However, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I made the appropriate thank you noises and theatrically tugged the chrome and glass creation from its box. To celebrate my new hi-tech acquisition I insisted I christen it immediately. So oozing almost pantomime satisfaction with her gift I made a pot of tea.

As I stirred the tea bags round I briefly wondered what was I was going to do with my old kettle. Sadly my kitchen isn’t that big and I studied it for a place to store it. After a brief look I immediately discounted the cupboards, which already groaned with accumulated hidden clutter. Sheila called to me complaining that she was dying of thirst and gathering up the cups and milk I headed back into the lounge.

That next morning I yawned as I went down to collect my mail, and remembered the disappearing boots. I made a sudden decision not to store my old kettle but take it down with me and put it out on the wall. As I set it gently down I attached a post it note to it explaining that I had received the gift of my new kettle and the fact that this one worked perfectly well. Carefully I coiled the plug lead round the handle and checking the sky to make sure it didn’t look like rain, I picked up my letters and went back upstairs.

It took around an hour. Pausing from my work in the studio, I opened the blinds and peered down from the front window in the lounge. The kettle was gone. I felt a small glow of satisfaction. Perhaps the person who had taken the boots had seen it and seeing the note had taken it away happy at their good fortune to now have replacement footwear and now a kettle. The thought grew and I smiled as I ate my lunch. Here I was directly helping people. My own little charitable foundation in fact. I began to reason it out. The things I’d left out would probably only appeal to people who really needed them and in my own small way I could make a tiny difference in someone’s life. I’ve always been of the opinion and my friends will confirm this that a lot of the so-called mainstream charities seem to really be in the business of giving themselves cushy high paid jobs.

I remember once reading that the R.S.P.C.A only actually use ten pence in every pound they collect to actually help animals. The rest being spent on administration and directors large salaries. The article went on to point out the fact that the chairman of a well-known housing charity had been given free permanent use of a ten bedroomed Hampstead mansion as a perk of his job. As a result of this I became particularly discerning about the charities I chose to donate to. I am always extra careful to establish that my donation will go as directly as possible to the intended recipient of the aid. Add to this the fact that my local high street had become an almost never ending row of very plush looking charity shops with countless paid staff and my worst suspicions were regularly being confirmed. But let’s be clear. It isn’t that I resent charities. In this day and age of austerity and the growing gap between rich and poor widening they seem more needed than ever. It was just the glaring fact that any money they received seemed to be stretched a long way before it actually reached the people who really needed it. It made it difficult to know who to give money to. But now I had my wall. I should explain.  Many years ago I was told something that had a profound effect on me. I had been sitting at a bus stop to avoid a sudden downpour when I saw an old man begin moving a bicycle under the far end of the bus shelter. It was a large bike and for a moment he struggled with it. So I jumped up and helped him manhandle it into the shelter it had been leaning against the outside of. He thanked me for my help. Before I could wave his thanks away he pointed out to me that it wasn’t actually his bike. He just thought whosoever it was wouldn’t have to get onto a soaking wet saddle when they returned from wherever they had been.

He told me that if more people carried out simple acts of random kindness the world would be a much better place. Acts of random kindness it seemed such a simple concept. Now I had the very vehicle to carry them out. The wall.
If people saw something there that they needed they could simply take it. It would be my act of random kindness. Now I’d found a simple and effective way to do them, they quickly took a hold on me.

Over the next month, I distributed four jumpers (unwanted Christmas gifts) one slightly torn denim jacket, a twin tape deck with one side that didn’t work, a toasted sandwich maker hardly used (I’d bought a better one) various miscellaneous tee shirts and a slightly burnt wok. I particularly enjoyed putting out the sandwich maker. This particular day I’d nipped up the shops for a paper and as I turned back into my street I saw an old man pausing by my wall. He picked up the sandwich maker and I clearly saw him reading my post it note explaining the fact I’d bought a new one. I always added post it notes giving a small history of the item and why I was getting rid of it. The post it notes were important I felt. They told whoever viewed the item a little about each thing and clearly showed that it was clean or hardly used and in good working order depending on the item. I wouldn’t want anyone to think they were being given some broken or tattered old piece of rubbish.

A long buried memory of being a small boy surfaced. My junior schools Harvest Festival. A very British affair.  Always held in the Church next door. We sang hymns praising God for the harvest and the food we were lucky enough to have. Every year all the children were asked to bring some food for the poor. Really. It was a throwback to the Victorian charitable ideal. That year the food was going to be donated to the local old people’s home. This particular day I recalled being sent to the school Harvest festival service with two tins of some obscure vegetable concoction my Mother had picked up at the local supermarket. I’m sure it must have been on sale. The label had funny foreign writing on.

Evidently everyone else’s Mother had been to the same supermarket. So in a very surreal scene the display in front of the church altar looked as if it had simply been plucked from the supermarket and placed next to the harvest based art display from 3C. Mr Hodges the Headmaster bravely tried to ignore the small pyramid of tins with their identical labels and make light of the coincidence. But we all saw the sour look on the face of the man representing the local old people’s home. Never before had the addition to the Amen of ‘pity the poor’ ever been so accurate.

However enough of that. I stood at the top of the road. The old man read the sandwich maker’s history. He learnt of its replacement with a newer model that did waffles as well. He carefully examined it. He opened and closed it several times and he flicked through the little cooking booklet that had come with it (which I’d sello-taped to the side) I saw him nod appreciatively at some of the serving suggestions listed and gently re-stick it down. He looked thoughtful and I got the impression he was weighing up the use he could make of such an item.

I stood almost holding my breath now. After a minute or two and another brief look round the old man smiled and tucked the machine under his arm, He then slowly walked off down the street. It may just have been me but I thought I detected a hint of a more confident air as he shuffled away. And it seemed as if the acquisition of a free sandwich maker was an unexpected but very welcome addition to his day. As I watched him, a stray thought crossed my mind that he probably wouldn’t have been interested in the tee shirts or the wok. But that wasn’t important for now he had a sandwich maker and the wall had done its job.
That night as I ate, I thought of him using it and then I thought of all the homes and people my old things were bringing their benefits to. I marvelled at such a practical solution to helping others. I’d seen it work. That afternoon a man without a sandwich maker had acquired one, possibly enriching his life just a little bit. Who knows, maybe he’d been fed up with his ordinary sandwiches. He looked pretty old, possibly a pensioner but now at least he could have some hot food at the flick of a switch. One thing was evident. This new addition to his possessions had been achieved simply and without embarrassment and cost. At last I had found a real practical way to help those less fortunate than myself.

My unwanted clothes and all manner of useful things could all be re-distributed. More importantly without that terrible humbling moment where those in society with, can officially patronise and make feel small those unfortunate enough to be without. It always seems an accidental condition that unintentionally, those kind enough to try and help the less well-off almost certainly take a little dignity in return for whatever is on offer. But the wall offered no stigma. It didn’t judge. It stood, a silent witness, a gift bearing pile of bricks with one single agenda. The constant act of random kindness. Nothing would ever be on offer that was not of use and in good condition. And importantly everything was free.

Another vision of various people all pulling on jumpers, jackets and shirts and viewing themselves with delight in mirrors across the local area filled my mind. Small once sparse kitchens filled with appliances all because of a wall. Cold days being kept at bay by one of my woollen jumpers. The next afternoon as I wandered down the local high street I counted three people rattling boxes and I thought of the torturous journey that each penny had to make before it reached the figures pictured on the collector’s badge. Ducking behind a slow moving old lady I successfully blocked the view of a happy looking young girl who was chanting ‘Sick children, sick children’ like some bizarre mantra.

That night it suddenly struck me that once people got used to seeing things on the wall they might even make regular trips to see what was available. I have no idea why but it bothered me. This would remove the chance that the items would reach a wide range of recipients. It wouldn’t be so random. So I began to let days, even week’s pass between putting things out on the wall. It made sense to me. To be honest I had lost count of the things I’d given away. But that night I made a mental note about a small side lamp in the dining room that had seen better days. And the next morning with its attendant post it note I put it out for distribution. I had a busy schedule and the wall didn’t enter my head until I returned home much later that evening. And as I turned the corner I looked to see if the lamp had gone.
It had.
And so had the wall.
Someone had taken it.

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John Gardner – Foreclosure

April 7, 2014
Restaurant tables

Foreclosure

A short story by

John Gardner

 

I couldn’t help but groan as I turned over. My cocoon was warm and cosy because I had put extra covers on the bed. I don’t just like to feel warm, I like to feel the weight of warmth. I like my bed. It’s my friend. I share my dreams, thoughts, fantasies and lusts with it. I can discuss ideas with myself without fear of contradiction or ridicule. Why leave it?

I picked up the phone – that’s what I use as an alarm clock, my mobile phone. I got it at a car boot sale for five euros. Works alright.

I knew I had to get up, a thought that made me sigh. I was doing more of that these days. Eleven fifty-two. Jesus, it was late. Where had the time gone? I put the phone down and rolled over. A fart escaped. ‘Bugger!’ I hate the fact that when I am horizontal I fart. Plays havoc with my love life. What love life? A single guy in his sixties is about as welcome as a turd in a pool. A lone wolf: a threat to all those retired old farts I meet when camping. The sixties hippies in their camper vans. They are all well over retirement age and had never been hippies in the nineteen-sixties. No free love, wacky backy or groovy chicks. Probably civil servants and that kind of thing. Now they have prejudice and opinion: old farts’ defense against common sense.

I could lie a few more minutes, soak up the pleasure, so I did. I rolled over and fell asleep. Funny how I remember it all so clearly now. But it was a raggedy sleep. Damned conscience nagged at me so I got up at twelve thirty-four. I remember I groaned as if facing an enormous trial. Don’t know why.

The sun was streaming in through the slats of the blinds and I knew I should get up. I was reluctant but there were things to do so I swung my legs over the bed, took a deep breath and stood up. The icy cold tiled floor was a bit of a shock and the desire to pee was instantaneous. I scuttled off to the bathroom, which, quite ludicrously, is situated on the terrace, outside in the cold. What a bloody silly place to put a bathroom.

Friends had loaned me their house in Spain, an Andalucian village house. A great nest in which to recover from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Things might have been outrageous but there was no fortune attached. Yes they had been outrageous alright! Suddenly found myself in the divorce courts, broke and alone. Not what you expect aged sixty-five but then, what do you expect? She wanted out, she said. Out of what? I asked. You! She had screamed.

My life has been spinning in cartwheels for a year now. No focus, no plan, no idea where I am going or why. Getting older is no picnic. I am not even sure I want to continue. I have achieved nothing, am worth nothing and have nothing. A baby boomer gone bust. Bankrupt in every department. I knew things had gotten fucked-up but I couldn’t work out exactly why. At times I think my next meal will be a bowl of rat poison. Funny the thoughts you have when life treats you like a doormat.

I boiled a kettle and poured the water into the teapot, a strange, ornate affair. I think they bought it at a flea market. Should have left it where they found it.

Someone on the radio was bleating on about how bad the situation was, how Africa was still starving, oil prices were continuing to rise and yet another Arab country was going up in flames. Same old same old. It is utterly impossible there is no good news in the world. There must be so why do they only report the bad? Is it because people are actually born pessimistic? Do they need bad news as some sort of salve for their happy thoughts?

I cracked two eggs into the frying pan and the phone rang. ‘Yeah?’ I half yelled into it. We do that don’t we when people catch us on the hop; you know when we’re busy.

‘Is that Robert Bruno?’

‘Who wants to know?’ I said stirring the tea.

‘Meet me at the bar Rincon at one thirty.’ The phone went dead.

‘Cheeky bugger!’ I flipped my eggs in the pan. ‘Who does he think he is ordering me around? Cheeky sod!’

One thirty came and went. I was re-reading a Tom Sharpe book in an effort to cheer myself up. It was only partially successful so I poured myself a glass of wine; it’s on special at the supermarket, and settled back to it. At one thirty-seven the phone rang. ‘Robert Bruno?’ Oh-oh, it was the nutter again.

‘Yeah.’

‘Listen chum, I don’t need insurance, double-glazing or a new garage door,’ I said. ‘Thanks all the same,’ and hung up. The phone rang back immediately.

‘Mr. Bruno you misunderstand me. Please be at the bar at two o’clock.’ He hung up.

I had been ordered to appear by an unknown mystery man. Jesus! I would be there alright! But first I had to poop. Advancing years leave no room for doubt. If you get a twinge you go or the very next thing to appear in your shorts is …well, you know what I mean.

I got to the bar on time; my curiosity had gotten the better of me. I ordered a beer and sat by the window watching the door. A small man of very strange appearance approached. ‘Mr. Bruno?’

‘Yeah.’

He was wearing a smart suit, a crisp white shirt and a red tie. His shoes were polished to a mirror finish and he wore, what looked like, an orange wig. It must have been eighty degrees but he wasn’t sweating. ‘Glad you could come,’ he said and sat. He smelled, a bit like mothballs but not quite as nice. I noticed his orange wig was slightly crooked as if he had taken off a hat in a hurry.

‘So here we are.’ I said nothing. ‘You are no doubt wondering why you are here.’ I still said nothing. ‘Mrs. Shirley Thompson. Ring any bells?’

‘Shirley. Yeah…so?’

‘We were rather…well upset by what you did.’

‘Which was what?’

‘Oh come, come now Bob. May I call you Bob?’ I sat quiet as the grave. ‘You talked her into it.’

‘Into what?’

‘Dying. She took your advice and gave up.’

You could have bowled me over with a feather. How did he know that? Shirley, a lovely woman but not wanted at home. Badly disabled by her fall and destined for a care facility. Cut down in her prime and her husband was a swine, wanted rid of her. I suggested that if she really was that unhappy maybe now was the time to step off the merry-go-round.

‘My life,’ she had said, ‘is…’ She had paused. ‘Know what I feel like?’ I remember I shook my head. ‘My life is like a dying swan looking out over a sun-kissed river for the last time. Seeing all the other birds with their chicks, all happy and content. And me…’ She had started to cry. I tried to comfort her.

‘Listen,’ I said holding her tight. ‘This life is not all we have. If it gives you too much pain, move on.’ She stroked my face and smiled. She knew what I meant. We sat like that for quite a while.

When the news came two weeks later I wasn’t surprised. Sad, but not surprised. That’s when I came out here.

 

I turned to face the man sitting beside me. ‘Listen chum, she did what she did. Her life was not something she wanted anymore. It was hers to give up.’

‘Ah but that’s not quite how it works I’m afraid. You see she made a contract.’ Stupid little man. He was a bit like a Partick Thistle supporter, you know, someone you couldn’t really take seriously.

‘A what?’

‘She made a contract. She was a dancer, an average dancer but she wanted to be better! To do that she needed help.’ The little man sat smiling. It was a pleasant enough smile yet there was something not nice about him.

‘So she got help. What’s the big deal? Did she owe you money?’

‘No. She owed us her life.’

‘Sorry?’ I said quite taken aback.

‘We gave her more talent and she profited by having it. She had a good career until her fall. The deal was we got her soul. You see, you,’ he said tapping my arm, ‘messed things up when you convinced her to give up. She owed us ten more years. So here I am.’

I stared at the little man not sure whether to laugh, throw my beer over him or just tell him to piss off. ‘Look chum, whatever she did, she did and she had her reasons. I don’t get all this, she owed us claptrap. So now we’ve met how about we part.’ I said it as a statement. He smiled even wider and patted my arm again, a gesture that was beginning to annoy me.

‘If only it were that simple!’ He almost laughed. ‘Since you are the party who officially took over her debt, it falls to you to repay it.’ I started to laugh. ‘Oh I assure you this is no laughing matter. The debt remains and I am here to collect.’

‘Really? And how exactly do you propose to do that?’ I laughed at him again. This foul little man was beginning to get up my nose.

‘We take the ten years from you. You are now sixty-six years of age and genetically programmed to die,’ he pulled out a small notebook and leafed through it, ‘when you reach seventy-six years, three months, five days and ten hours. We deduct the ten years, three months, four days and three hours that Mrs. Thompson owed us, which leaves you one day
and seven hours to live, give or take a few minutes.’

I stared at him in disbelief. ‘Are you entirely off your noodle?’

‘Not at all. I suggest you enjoy the beer then get your affairs in order.’ With that he plonked a folded paper on the table. ‘The notice of foreclosure,’ he explained.

I watched him leave as I took a swig of my beer. Foreclosure on my life? Utter bloody nutter! But it had been an uneasy meeting all the same. Foreclosure on my life! I started to laugh.

As it transpired the following day I felt perfectly well. I’m not denying I didn’t have an uneasy night. Let’s face it you don’t come face to face with a complete fruit loop every day, despite Mrs. Thatcher’s Care in the Community programme.

My day passed well and I spent a bit more time than I had intended in the library looking up how to make the perfect paella. Turns out there’s lots of different varieties so I was a bit late in getting home but I had bought fish the day before and really it needed cooking so I had it with some rice.

I sat down to eat out on the terrace at about half past nine; well the Spanish eat that bit later don’t they. And it was a lovely meal until the fish bone got stuck. But that’s not what did it. What did it was the fact that in my panic, when I stood up coughing and spluttering, I caught the leg of the table with my foot and that sent me arse over tit which brought about a meeting of my head with the wall. That’s what did it. Polished me off.

So here I am, in a sort of transit area I guess you would call it, waiting for my name to be called. I’m not sad. Glad it’s over really but talk about surprise! What happens now I have no idea it’s all a bit…well confusing.

Still, I hope I meet up with Shirley.

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Tom Hollingsworth – The Empty Sky

April 7, 2014
gal_pic22red

The Empty Sky

by Tom Hollingsworth

The song of the wind from the ancient stones hung on the night breeze as Richardson scanned the darkening sky for the distant glimmer of light that was Earth. A tiny point of dim light in the vast galaxy of the black sky. Across the waving fields of grain the farmhouse glowed golden, casting a welcoming path for any passing traveler. Mot that just any traveller would be passing by millions of light years from anywhere. Join the future, join the settlers, every home vidscreen had hectored, be part of a new discovery of dreams and adventures. A brand new life off Earth. In incandescent streams of fire the rocket ships had blasted off from nearly every country. Man’s boldest experiment the colonization of the galaxies, and for Earth a chance to spread its teeming masses across the very stars themselves. The land wars and pollution had taken their toll and vast areas would never feel the imprint of man again. But against all hope, peace had come and the madness had been banished forever. The brotherhood of man achieved as a race teetered at the brink. Years of sending remote planet monitoring probes drifting like seeds through the cosmos had finally paid off. Man reached for the very stars themselves and hurled himself across the boundless new frontier.

Mara’s voice rose on the wind and Richardson jerked his head round an excuse framing itself on his lips. “Come back to bed, you’ll need to be up before too long ” she smiled in the twilight and waved her hand urgently. Their farm stretched out before her, field upon field of whispering corn, thriving in the rich alien soil, bread and flour in the making, waiting for the harvest. The air was sweet and fresh, the atmosphere a reminder of home, but a reminder of how it had once been. He closed his eyes as the gentle hum of the stones that stood on the distant hills vibrated in the stillness. The stones look old as the earth they stood on. Since arriving the colonists had found many other artifacts to show that they were not the first peoples to inhabit the planet. And as far as they could tell they were of such antiquity as to be almost unrecordable. Apart from the stones no other kind of structure or town sites appeared to exist, making the kind of basic civilisation if it was such, to be lost in time. Year by year, new discoveries had been made, either buried in the dark brown earth or found in the hills and rivers that covered this part of the planet.

Richardson quietly walked past his front gate, the song of the stones fading on the wind. He was often drawn to them in some curious way. His small functional home bulged with bits and pieces he had collected over the last five years. In town they had opened a museum, but no one went there much, except to bring in more stuff they’d find turned up by a plough or an inquisitive child. These were farmers, men of the soil scraping and tearing out a new future for themselves and their families, looking to each day as a part of a permanent foundation. They had no time to stop and wonder. Crops had to be nurtured and children raised. On Earth the skies were streaked with smog and haze, the air was gritty and bitter, but out here it was paradise, blue skies and sun filled days where a person could grow and be strong.

They had named their new home Arbour, and as far as they were concerned it was theirs and no one else’s. A couple of scientists from the ship had run a number of tests on some of the artifacts but nothing really came of it apart from the small museum and so the settlers forgot about the original inhabitants. All of them except Richardson. It bugged him. Why had they simply faded to dust? Had they left too like the people of Earth. Had the planet recovered from some terrible thing? The sunrise burst over the fields in a great swathe of rushing light and Mara watched from the kitchen window as her husband bent his back in a distant field. The baby inside her kicked in anticipation. She smiled and rested her hand on her swollen stomach. A strong son she hoped, a son to help and grow with the farm and the town. Her mind went back to the training talks for potential mothers held on the shuttle craft as nervously the pioneers rocketed to their special designated settlement areas. All the eco systems of the planet checked out normal, including historical core sample data, which importantly meant that children could be conceived and born without the harrowing stories of birth defects that had been reported from other settler planets light years distant.

The Bio-med in town had assured her that she was fine, in fact he’d shown her the tests from the children born on Arbour and her fears had begun to recede. “This place is a great new start for your kid, why he’s gonna love it ” he’d said. Laughingly he told that he should know being father to two growing children himself. The hall was full for the regular monthly settler meeting, and small children scurried and shrieked between the rows of chairs. People entered and quickly found seats as onto the slight platform limped Donaldson the group coordinator. Hands were raised and points were made amid laughter and good humour. Like every meeting somebody became the butt of the jokes. Last month Stevens had been ribbed unmercifully about his plan to create a swimming hole without first putting it near a good water supply but tonight it was Richardson’s turn to provoke mirth. “Found me some old scrap iron or such and I was gonna compatrash it when I suddenly remembered that maybe our top alien hunter could sniff em out, you know like a hound dog” one grizzled farmer offered. Mara smiled and felt her face flush, while Richardson took it all in good humour and shrugged a grin at those around him. Someone started singing and in an instant the hall was filled with strong voices raised in fellowship as they blessed their good fortune and future. Richardson had been a bio-engineer and a navy pilot when he had first met Mara, but the lure of a new start had proved too strong for them both. They had married on the base and signed the emigration papers the same day. Their top medical marks had earned them a choice selection of potential settler areas. And almost two years to the day that they had started the farm they had felt ready to start a family and she carried the proof.

The kitchen lit up as brilliant sunlight winked off the units. Glancing up at the clock she busied herself in breakfast in the certain knowledge that a hungry man would soon appear. He ate his pan fried bread with a slow methodical chew that was typical of the man he was. Thoughtful and kind was the general opinion around the settlement. Which allowed everyone to politely ignore his constant talk of the old inhabitants. Busy folk they were, too busy to be bothering with alien memories and signs. Crops were growing and needed tending after that came family and kin. Mara smiled and shook her head as unsuccessfully he tried to interest the hired hands in yet another theory as to what had happened to their alien predecessors. A bell clanged in the bright morning and Richardson wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve, rising as he did so, a signal to all that it was time to enter the fields and meadows. To help guide nature on her fruitful course. Back at the landing centre the future was busily calculated in the silent mission computers, while technicians quietly watched over their long deliberations.

Every settlement had its science group and it was they who carefully maximised every potential that all the seed planets as they called them possessed. All patterns seemed to tie the regular planetary cycle of Arbour to a close approximation of that of Earth. Data was constantly being gathered by small infogather drones who flashed in the distant hills like techno hummingbirds. Drinking in information as they spiraled through the whispering breezes. To them the sunlight was so much energy and radiation. But to the settlers it was a warmth on the face and elixir to the crops and the feeling of home. There so far away in a remote starway  of the galaxy. The air was heavy with the promise of rain, and Richardson’s hired hand Soames sighed as he directed his earth cultivator along the edge of the new pasture, glancing occasionally into the darkening sky. Spots of warm rain began to tumble from the sky turning into a steady sheet. He sat down under a thick green hedge tugging the hovering machine with him. He idly scraped at the mud clinging to his boot when a small glimmer of gold at the base of the hedgerow caught his attention. The rain spattered his face as he rooted away flinging great lumps of rich brown clay over his shoulder and with seemingly little effort he soon cleared a shallow hole at the hedges base revealing a twisted metallic object. The boss had to see this he thought. And Richardson’s face almost split in two, his grin lighting up the room with its pleasure.

Almost reverently he brushed away at the clods of earth still clinging to the long golden tube that lay across the kitchen table. “You really found something here Soames and no damn mistaking that” he breathed “I can only give you a few dollars mind, Mara would kill me if she found out “.  Soames sourly grinned and grunted assent and clutching his reward he shambled back out into the sheeting rain, his head bowed. Work forgotten Richardson minutely began to examine the find, the strange song of the stones briefly ringing in his mind. It was a tube about four feet long intricately engraved with the same strange script Richardson had seen on the singing stones. Slashes and whorls deeply chipped into their granite like flanks. As he wiped away the last of the mud he sucked in his breath as his cloth revealed a picture unmistakable in its location. It was unbelievable. It showed vague figures standing on the great hill that overlooked the farm and as far as he could tell they were hovering above the stones. His throat was dry and he felt a tremor of excitement run through his body. The hill and the stones had long intrigued him and here was proof of their significance to the previous inhabitants.

Carefully he covered the tube with a piece of sacking and looking about him he slid it under onion baskets at the side of the kitchen racks. Mara entered and he guiltily jerked upright his face flushed. “Hello what are you doing in here before teatime, go on off with you or there’ll be no dinner”. She reached playfully for him and he buried his face in her long sweet smelling hair. After a lingering kiss he tenderly held her at arm’s length and gazed into her eyes “You are wonderful” he murmured. Hugging her to him he whispered to her and stroked her lips with his own. And she giggled and shooed him back out the door.

His breath was ragged the swift walk up the hill causing him to bend over double. The rain had passed over and the air smelt damp and heavy as he stood by the stones on the hilltop. Below him he could see his farm and the fields that stretched away into the distance and he felt his heart pound as all around him the song of the stones reminded him that this was now home. A shadow from an info drone flickered across the broad back of a stone, and he thought about the figures on the golden tube hidden under the onion crop in the back store. They were all standing raising what he took to be arms upwards to the sky. Judging by the swirling lines all around them the wind was up and a storm was near. After Mara had gone into town he had spent an hour examining the golden find. But as to what its purpose was he was still at a complete loss. Since touchdown day, not one real solid piece of evidence had been found that truly explained the type of race or people that had presumably lived and died on Arbour. Did they simply die out or was it a plague or a war? No clear answer existed and to Richardson’s tidy way of thinking it meant unfinished business. He thought of his unborn child and Mara’s beautiful swelling body and a shiver ran down his spine. Had a husband and a father like himself stood here high amongst the stones and wondered at the future for himself and his family? The farm was home and love and everything that made living worthwhile, perhaps long ago on Arbour it had been the same until whatever had happened, happened.

The stones hummed softly as a breeze flicked at his hair while above the last swollen grey clouds disappeared in the shafting sunlight. Below he saw an air buggy draw up by his gate, and with thoughts of Mara and her caress he broke into a trot and bounded down the great hill the wind cool against his face. The smell of freshly baked pie filled the kitchen as Mara heaped high another helping onto Thorsen’s plate. “Now tell me if the food at the museum can touch that” she smiled and Richardson watched as his friend closed his eyes in pleasure at the taste. Zeke Thorsen was the senior archeologist and planet archivist based at the alien artifact museum in town. This fact coupled with his love of outdoors had helped cement a strong friendship between the two men. Richardson waited until Mara finally announced her intention of hitting the hay early as she put it, before dusting off a bottle of home brew he had saved for a special occasion.

Zekes eyes widened as Richardson carefully laid the sack wrapped object on the table and with a theatrical flourish whipped the covering cloth away. His friends face flushed and his eyes narrowed as with an odd reverence he ran his fingers along its length working his mouth noiselessly. Richardson grinned  ” Found it up at sector 10 north plot, well old Soames did but” he grinned and added quickly “He got his credits so he won’t remember a damn thing” but Zeke didn’t hear him his attention completely taken by the gleaming tube on the table. Nervously Richardson coughed as after what seemed an age Zeke remained transfixed by his find, he touched his friends arm and smiled uncertainly and shrugged. “Well is it worth anything or not, does it tell you anything ” he frowned ” I mean you haven’t said a thing since you first laid eyes on it”. A long sigh of breath left Zeke’s lips and he stood upright his eyes moist and looked levelly into Richardson’s face. “Back in my lab I have what I believe to be the base part to this” he shook his head “No one but me knows I have it and if you wonder why I kept it secret it’s because as far as my tests show my” he struggled for a word ” ah base unit registers a power reading of over twenty  million mega rams or if you like, the equivalent of a star drive on a ship which if I am correct is a tick over reading for it, add your piece and god alone knows how much power it could put out or what the hell we got on our hands for that matter “.

He fell silent and reaching into his battered file case he scrabbled about before tugging out a bundle of Perspex sheet with a diagram neatly etched onto its front page. Richardson nodded and sipping his drink read slowly. Turning the first page he could clearly see the sharp outlines of a large drum like object with what appeared to be a long tube protruding from its centre. Along the edge of the sheets were enlarged detail slides taken from a whole variety of angles. Reference arrows pointing towards the drum clearly showing the stones and the hill with outlines of figures apparently flying above the stone circle. He glanced at the tube and it was obvious that the design was a continuation of the workings on the drum. Hours passed as they mused and explored every section of the tube until finally a soft tone hummed from the clock on the wall and Zeke jerked from his reverie gnawing at his lower lip in thought. “Look at the time I’d better head on out” he furrowed his brow for a moment “Ah right this is too crazy an idea but I’ll keep that beauty safe for both of us”

His eyes gleamed “With both pieces intact and my findings so far just maybe I think we may be close to finding out a lot more about our old neighbours. I’ll see how they fit together in the morning. Won’t that be something”. The alcohol pleasantly warming them both they carefully negotiated the garden path and squinting up into the clear night sky Zeke climbed unsteadily into his air buggy. His fumbling grip tight on  Richardson’s arm as he carefully laid the tube on the back seat. “Til tomorrow then my friend” he slurred and vaguely touching a panel his buggy silently drifted away the clear distant stars winking off of its plexi hood. Richardson stood for a while in the sharp early morning air until a chill wind raised the skin on his arm in goose bumps. Shivering he hurried back indoors the thoughts of tomorrow tugging at his mind. He washed quickly and padded into the bedroom. Mara didn’t stir as he carefully slid under the covers and he lay still his heartbeat ringing in his ears. Until exhaustion overtook him and he slept. Deeply.

The alien reached out for his arm and Richardson felt sweat break out on his back as he looked into its curious face. With a start he felt himself falling and just before he hit the ground he shuddered awake. A dream he knew it, typical with him having a day and a half of work come sun up. Mara stirred faintly beside him and he felt her roll over and pull him into her sweet and warm embrace. The strange dream quickly forgotten he lost himself in the familiar tenderness that was for him the foundation for his life.

The next morning smell of fresh coffee lingered in the kitchen as he pulled off his work jacket. He’d been up since six finishing the new irrigation line in sector five with Soames and Mcarthy. As long as the rain held up for the next couple of days he figured that his holding tank would be full enough to carry the watering for about a good few months.

A huge yawn overcame him and just as he reached the end of his stretch the communicator on the wall buzzed. The screen flickered on and he saw Zeke’s puffy face broken by a broad grin. “It fits by god and the power reading doesn’t fit on the scale it’s so damn enormous” he chattered on not making much sense until Richardson caught his attention by clapping his hands over his ears ” Stop stop for pete’s sake Zeke, talk slower and in plain English, I haven’t understood a word so far you crazy coot”. Zeke composed himself and still agitated he told Richardson that the tube and his own find were definitely a part of each other and by all accounts were obviously some kind of battery or power supply unit.

“I’ve cross referenced every find we have but this one is unique it doesn’t seem to link to anything we have on records” Richardson felt a tingle of excitement run down his back as a thought came to him. “What about the drawings on the tube and the base why don’t we see if there’s anything like them on the carvings on the stones, after all whatever those people they’ve drawn are doing they seem to be involved with the stones” He pursed his lips ” It’s got to be worth a try”. Zeke thought for a while and then nodded his smile fading “I’m on my way over” the screen blanking abruptly. Richardson felt his stomach knot with excitement. At last they’d make some progress. They could answer part of that question that nagged at him constantly. He sipped his coffee. It tasted better suddenly.

The sun burned down high in the mid-morning sky, and the view from the hill was clear and sharp. Richardson poured some clear water into his glass and drank deeply. Relishing the cool of it in his throat. Shading his eyes he gazed back down the hill at Mara hanging the sheets in the side meadow, a puppy chasing a butterfly by the side of the kitchen verandah. The fields of waving corn sweeping endlessly to the horizon dotted with men working their backs bent in labour.

Zeke smiled at him and wiped a trickle of sweat from the side of his face. “D’you know about ten years ago I sat in a restraint cradle on the first landing ship and cried like a baby at the thought of never seeing Earth again” His eyes softened momentarily. “Just look at this place will you, it’s like a dream painting in one of those old settler manuals”. A snatch of music floated on the breeze and Richardson pointed to a group of children in the new orchard and nodded. “Yeah I read those manuals Zeke but as beautiful as it is, we still don’t know what became of the folks who built that” he pointed to the golden tube and base now reunited as one single device. “Doesn’t that bug the hell out of you huh. Not a single real trace, just some broken bits and pieces and these” he patted the huge stone beside him on its broad flank.

“I mean who would just leave this place”. Zeke fumbled in his case for some papers, finally pulling one out and handing it to Richardson. A mass of mathematical equations covered its surface, broken only by very bad representations of the designs on the device. “Yeah I know. But if I could figure the purpose of this thing then at least we’d have part of the story wouldn’t we?” His voice dropped “I just can’t imagine anyone wanting to leave this place voluntarily”. They chattered on. The warm afternoon stretching out slow and languorous as they examined the great stones, carefully comparing the figures and markings on the device.

A bird spiraled gracefully above them as the sun begin to sink behind the distant mountains its cry echoing across the sky. They had tried everything but the device refused to respond, a puzzle with no seeming explanation. The stones stood resolutely symbolizing a forgotten race who had left all but these primitive and silent sentinels to remind those that followed that the fields and meadows had once belonged to someone else. Wearily Richardson rose and stretched out his hand to Zeke. “Come on let’s go get some dinner” he grinned as his stomach grumbled noisily and grunting he hoisted Zeke to his feet. And groaning they made their way back to the house.

Dinner that evening was a muted affair. Mara frowned as she slowly collected Richardson’s plate up. “Well for someone who was so hungry you sure picked at my pie” She rubbed at his shoulder and looked at Zeke. He half smiled and shrugged and tilted his plate to show it was completely bare. “Mara your husband doesn’t know what he’s missing, but we” he stopped abruptly catching Richardson’s eye. Mara regarded them both quizzically and scooping up the last of the dishes she clattered off the verandah back into the house leaving them both to the silence. The moon hung in the clear night sky like a bright silver coin and Zeke glanced at his watch. A shooting star flickered across the heavens, the night air warm a smell of rain and Richardson fidgeted and put his fingers to his lips. Finally he could sit no longer and he rose to his feet “Come on let’s go get our toys” he shrugged “We can’t get any further round here, maybe one of your whiz gadgets at the lab can figure it all out “. Mara came in carrying some coffee and Richardson went visibly red and shuffled his feet like an errant schoolboy.

She smiled and stroked his face “It’s alright I know you’ve been up to more of your foolishness” she shook her head and snorted. “Soames told me about his find and I didn’t think it would take long for you two to start scurrying about up there” She nodded in the direction of the stones. Richardson’s shoulders sagged and he held out his arms to his wife as she nestled against him. Zeke busied himself with clearing cutlery and disappeared into the back room. Richardson rested his cheek against his wife’s and a sudden thought occurring to him he stepped down from the verandah and held out his hand to her. “Come on lets go up there honey. Like when we first came remember?” And smiling she stood and held out her hand.

A slight wind tugged at his collar as carefully they picked their way up the long hillside. Soon they stood gazing up into the vast sky. The stars they looked at an unfamiliar swirl of lights. Twinkling on high in an alien sky. Around them the darkened stones rose, casting long faint shadows along the moon drenched hill top. Richardson stopped and held a hand to his ear and Mara copied him her eyes tightly closed in concentration. It was the song, a low barely audible hum, the wind tugging it from the angled stones as it whistled between their columns and crevices.  He opened the bag he’d carried and tugged out the tube and its base piece. Zeke had tested it and it was safe. It had nothing that could move or do anything. It was just two solid pieces of metal. Probably just a battery device he’d surmised. Albeit an incredibly powerful battery device. And Richardson fitted the tube in its base with an almost inaudible click. Mara smiled as she reached out to touch its smooth surface. The faint light from the stars winking along its burnished golden length. All around them stretched the sweeping carpet of fields, tiny spots of light marking out distant homesteads in the velvet darkness.

Mara stepped back and looked at her husband “It’s beautiful isn’t it and so…” she reached out and placed her hand on its stem like top. Light flooded around them suddenly. Images shimmering as they were projected onto the flanks of the great stones. Richardson gasped as he could see figures moving like a movie of some kind. No not projected. They were holograms. The figures appeared to become sharper almost immediately their edges faintly blurred as if viewed through water. Mara clung to him all colour draining from her face in fear. The song of the stones momentarily swelled and a wind appeared as if from nowhere sending Mara’s hair whipping about her face. And in an instant they found themselves in the centre of a room of some kind. Mara’s lifted her finger. A group of figures were circling them.

The larger of the figures gently moved towards them and they both recoiled in alarm and it immediately resumed its original position. One of the smaller figures raised a hand like extension in a kind of greeting. Mara gripped at Richardson’s waist and he saw her smile, a bright and eager smile. He was bewildered at her reaction but she whispered in his ear and he understood at once.

There was no danger for standing before them was almost a mirror image of themselves, a family, a father, a mother. And umistakably a child. Mara spoke first and he realised that no sound came from her mouth but he could hear her somewhere distant but clear, deep inside his mind. He spoke hesitantly at first but the nearness of his wife and the obvious bond between them all gave him confidence. Above them the open sky flashed with summer lightning as they talked, two families, one home and the other, who knew where. The smaller of the aliens that they took to be a child, moved forward and leaned to look round them. Mara glanced over her shoulder and saw Zeke standing behind them mouth open, transfixed by the unearthly vision. She smiled and waved to him to approach them and she nudged Richardson as he moved slowly forward. The alien family began to fade from sight like a poor quality film projection the device fading with them and Zeke reached out to briefly touch the glimmering edge of their passing.

The wind begin to rise and tug at Mara’s long hair and Zeke had to shout to make himself heard above its roar ” Are you two okay, what..” he shook his head as the enormity of what he had seen left him lost for words.  Around them great whispering swathes swept across the tall grain and they left the hilltop, the sound of a sea filling their ears, and like lost sailors they gazed to the stars and headed for home. The kitchen smelt of baking as they silently sat around the cluttered table and Mara busied herself putting a fresh pot of coffee on the electra stove top. Zeke could contain himself no longer and taking a deep breath he waved his hands about him struggling for a question.

Richardson smiled and rubbed at his forehead, his eyes wet and Mara leant over him smoothing the hair from his face. “They wanted to welcome us, to forgive us for taking their home”. Zeke looked puzzled and Richardson coughed his words catching as he spoke “We came and wondered where they had gone, but we didn’t know that they were still here, we just couldn’t see them. Something about moving through differing light spectrums. I think they went from solid to pure light. But we changed the spectrums somehow. Just our very presence. But they saw we were peaceful, even if our history told a different story. The stones were gathering places for them, and they sang their songs of welcome and we heard the songs but didn’t understand. We thought it was just the wind. But we couldn’t see them. Or hear them. And to be honest we weren’t listening.

Then it started, the falling they call it, the gift we brought with us, we brought death. Could be anything, a cold, measles, god knows but whatever it was it was too strong for them and they began to die. The children first” He gasped for breath “They had to move to a different spectrum but it meant they faded from this place. Like shadows in dying sunlight. And as they left they sang, singing a welcome to the new families. The machine we found it was some kind of recorder. From a time when they were solid. Before we arrived and brought our spectrum. It managed to store the thoughts and dreams of the last family before they” he rubbed his forehead distractedly “before they left, they had to leave you see, leave their precious home to us, but they were happy because they saw a family just like themselves, just happy to be home and safe. That was the welcome you saw. Somehow it interacted for a brief moment from wherever they are now”.

Along the shelves the morning sun winked off things Richardson had found in the fields. Discarded possessions of a people who were willing to share what they had, but couldn’t anymore. Their home contaminated. Zeke nodded his head “Well I’ll be, they existed in a different light frame to us, we couldn’t see them but they could see us, and what did they see but a bunch of people pretty much like themselves” he breathed in noisily ” And we took what they had without even knowing it, and they didn’t mind, but we….” He hung his head as the full impact of what their arrival and the settlement meant to the alien people gripped at his heart “We kept on wondering what happened to them, carefully deciphering and testing, it was us, we happened to them and they forgave us” He stopped his eyes full and together they sat lost in it all, friends and family mourning and rejoicing in one single fragile moment. Life and death temporarily entwined.

The morning air was clean and fresh, the cloudless sky blue and bright as Richardson’s plough turned the rich earth in the pasture at the foot of the hill. Around him the land stretched out, green and pleasant, and from the stones, the faint hum of the song floated on the wind.  High above him and beyond it sailed, drifting through the kitchen as Mara felt her baby kick, hanging over the growing meadows and fields, whispering along the neat town streets, fading into the new day like a past memory, a song remembered, never to be forgotten, the sweet memory of home.

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