Gloves

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decline-and-fall-of-the-rroman-empire

I recollect her gloves because they first drew my attention to her.  Placed side by side on her library desk, she arranged them with such neat precision they might have been elements of a ritual, fingers pointing towards me across the centre divide between our respective spaces, in perfect orientation with the upper left-hand corner of her book.  They were black gloves, of course.   She could have countenanced no other colour.

Easily distracted, my eyes wandered further from the dry meat of Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ to her hands – and I saw how long they were, how sensitive – how the veins within them were no more than a grey trace and how they were suited so, to her porcelain flesh, to the white, neat blouse with its delicate lace trim, to the gentle curve of her shoulders, to her neck’s ennobled grace, to the close- wound curls of her auburn hair.

And then I remember her face: those eyes of startling blue ice, her slightly upturned nose and the prim set of her tiny mouth, so determined yet so ready to drift into a wisp of a smile when she caught my look of wonder – and how I curled with embarrassment as I buried my nose back into my book, only to feel I must make some gesture to excuse my gaucheness.  I raised Gibbons’ weighty tome to the vertical so she could see its title, giving one of those eyes-to-the-ceiling expressions which conveyed (or so I hoped) my boredom with its cumbersome prose.

In return, she exhibited the object of her own studies, Dostoyevsky, with a little twist of her lips that meant the same.   We shared a smile.  I fell in love.

It was so brief, that moment.  Yet in the obligation of study and the hushed discipline of a library it was all we had and enough, for my young mind, to fill my thoughts.  She did not remain long at the mercy of ‘Crime and Punishment’.   Embarrassed that I might be caught staring I heard, rather than saw her rise, slip her chair back almost noiselessly, find perfect balance on precise feet and move away.  Only then did I dare to look up, allowing myself to follow her departure – short clipped steps and liquid glide:  I indulged my fantasies in her retreating figure, and I wished.

At last distance consumed her.  I heard the brief rush of the street as she slipped out through the library doors.  Then I looked down, and saw the glove!  It was twisted, not as neatly posed as when she laid it upon her desk, leading me to imagine she made to pick up both gloves as she departed, but retained just one of the pair.   Racing between panic and hope, I snatched it up and ran for the door in pursuit; past desk and alarmed librarian, down echoing stone steps and back into a world of people of which she could be no more than a tiny part.  A part I would not see, could not find.

I looked.  Oh, yes, I looked.  I searched the street that day, I searched the streets every day.   I returned to the library at the same time every day for a month, every week for a year.  And every day I brought that glove, and every day was the same.  She never returned.

Once I saw her – or so I thought.  Upon my route to lectures in the North Town I had to take the riverside walk, and a little above the weir where the water is at its widest and deepest, there is a single span bridge of iron, a doughty testament to Victorian enterprise.   Was she standing there, by the rail at the centre of the span – and was she looking towards me?  But though I ran, by the time I reached the place there was no sign of her, and I knew I was mistaken, betrayed by my wishful heart.

Years would pass.  I would at last consign that little glove to an upper drawer and every once in a while expose it, and remember.    But after all, I was just nineteen that day in the library.  She of my memory was probably older than I, had a life somewhere:  perhaps a husband and children.  Every now and then I could persuade myself the fleeting engagement of our eyes had meant as much to her as to me, that she was out there somewhere, dreaming as I dreamed.  Of course, it could not be so, yet it was the matter of many a sleepless night.

Here I must explain a little about myself.  I am shy by nature, a savagely introverted soul with a disinclination to trust;  a deficit of character I put down to the knowledge I am an adopted child, with all the internalised uncertainties that brings.  My adoptive family kept this from me until my fifteenth birthday, and it scarcely rocked my world until I mistakenly shared  the information with my then girlfriend, who promptly revised her opinion of me on the basis that she ‘no longer knew who she was going out with’.  Thereafter I was wary of forming relationships.   I am, still.

I think I was twenty-five or twenty-six when I at last decided I must try to trace my original mother and father.  Who had rejected me before I had voice for my defence?  Of course, it would be difficult.  Agencies are careful to protect the details of those who, by choice or circumstance, offer their children for adoption, and it was quickly made plain to me that my success would depend upon the wishes of my natural parents.  Did they wish to meet me?  I signed several forms, made a number of pledges, and waited.

This was in the late summer of my twenty-sixth year.  I had work in another city at the time.  I suppose I was surprised that my request was resolved so quickly, because I had aimed to be back in my home town before word came.  After only three weeks I received a call from the Agency:  could I make an appointment as soon as possible?   I did so, and I will not forget my nervousness as I made the long drive to keep it.

The woman who faced me across her desk was kind, I think.  Her work must have made her so, must it not?    Yet to me she seemed harshly spoken; her words were snapped off at the final consonant and sharp, incisive to my eager ears.

“You cannot always expect a request such as yours to be successful.  I’m afraid in this case…”

“They don’t want to meet me?”

“There is only one traceable parent, your mother.   You cannot make contact with her because she died many years ago.  However we were able to trace her sister, and she has no wish to communicate directly with you.  She wants to make that very clear.”  The woman reached into a drawer by her right knee, producing a large manila envelope, with the words ‘For Kevin’ scrawled upon it in faded biro.   “Kevin was the name your mother gave to you.  Her sister has retained this in her possession ever since your mother’s death, in case you ever wished to make contact.  I advise you to take it home and examine it at your leisure.  We can be of no further help.”

The act of cutting away the seal of my aunt’s envelope took courage.  It contained a letter I shall not share with you, a confession of such sadness and loss it must remain hidden with me forever.   I will tell you, though, of the newspaper clipping, of the article with the photograph at its side, about a bereft young woman who ended her life by leaping from the iron bridge above the weir, and I will tell you that the picture was familiar to me.  It showed the face of the girl who sat facing my desk  in the library all those years before.

The envelope also contained, neatly wrapped, one black glove.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

In Consideration of Time

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“Existing outside the circle of time.”  Bartolemy said, placing drinks he had bought on the table next to his friend.  “Imagine what that would be like!”

“Complicated.”  Hoenig thought.  “Didn’t I ask for lager?”

“Mrs. Brandleby-Hogg says that’s what spirits do.  Her spirits, anyway.”

“I should think evidence for the effect of spirits on Mrs. Brandleby-Hogg is clear.”  Said Hoenig.   “I’d say at least a half-bottle of gin administered daily, if last night was anything to go by.”

“I think you’re very hard on the woman.  She’s a professional medium.”  Bartololemy rebuked.  “She has many distinguished clients.  I enjoyed last night’s little soiree, personally.”

“Then the long black dress and the dolman sleeves deceived you.”

“She truly is a substantial woman.”  Bartolemy admitted.  “She has great presence.”

“Do you know, I’ve never heard them called that?  Contents-wise, it was a disaster.  Summoning Moira Jenner’s partner back from the dead, for instance…”

“I thought that was remarkable.  He came through loud and clear…”

“Miraculous!”  Hoenig agreed.  “Especially when Mrs. B called her partner ‘Tom’.   Moira’s partner’s name was Claudia – she’s gay, for heaven’s sake.  Then there was poor Mrs. Bevis…”

“Oh, that was far too practical!”

Hoenig permitted himself a chuckle.“Practical?   All the woman wanted to know was where her departed husband put the key for their shed.   She’s been locked out of it for six months!”

“Better than being locked in it, one might say…”  Bartolemy mused.   “When by engaging a locksmith…anyway, back to existing outside the circle of time.  You’re not a believer, I take it?”

“I’ve always thought of time as being a rather linear affair.  Begin at the beginning, stop at the end, sort of thing.   Hard to see how a circle could work.”

“You weren’t listening to Mrs. B., then!   It’s ludicrously simple, really it is.   The circle is like a wheel, spinning in the space-time continuum…”

Hoenig stared:  “The what?”

“Space – time – continuum.   The  junction between time and space:  they’re linked, you see?  The circle of time is at the centre of it; sort of whizzing round.”

“How does she know?”

“She’s a very clever woman, Mrs. Brandleby-Hogg.  She’s an ‘Honorable’.”  Bartolemy was not to be deterred.  “Time and size are directly correlated, so in our perception time seems to pass very quickly for small forms of life like the mouse, or the fruit fly…
“Are they correlated?”

“Shut up and listen!”  Bartolemy rebuked.   “And it passes much more slowly for large life forms, like elephants, or the blue whale.  Think of the little creatures as rushing by on the wheel’s rim, while the elephant watches from much nearer to the hub – turning more slowly.  Can you see how the elephant would perceive time?”

“It would be too giddy to perceive anything, I should think.”  Hoenig said.  “ And she believes that her spirits are standing outside the wheel, or circle, or whatever – without moving?”

“Exactly!  You’ve got it!   So you might have Henry VIII standing next to Einstein, or Attila arm in arm with Florence Nightingale.  It wouldn’t matter because time is meaningless once you die and leave your physical form behind.  We rush by, while they remain there forever.”

“Round and round.”  Hoenig frowned.  “ Do you think he would have fancied her?”

“Who?”

“Attila – fancied Florence Nightingale.  A perfect couple, I’d have thought.  Supply and demand.  So when they die, they fall off the wheel?”

“That’s it.  Sort of.”   Bartolemy conceded.

“And then they’re outside the circle?”

“Right again!”

“Must be crowded out there.  How come she can speak to them, Henry VIII, and those – if she’s on the wheel, and they aren’t?”

“I don’t follow?”

“Well;”  Hoenig was becoming quite animated.  “If you’ve no sense of time – none at all – you can’t speak to someone who has.  See, even the simplest sentence requires time to be spoken; take for example ‘How are you today?’  It took a second or so to say that – that’s a moment of time.  Even if you shorten it to ‘Ho-ay” it still employs an element of time.”

“I suppose…”  Bartolemy hesitated, then shrugged helplessly.  “I don’t know, do I?  That’s her skill, I suppose.”

“That’s the gin.”

“Yes – no.  No!”  Bartolemy was crestfallen.  “How am I supposed to know?”

“You knew about the circle…”

“I did.”

“…and standing outside it.”

“That too.  You do realise you’ve spoiled it for me now?”  Bartolemy lamented, thrusting despairing hands into his jacket pockets.  “I’ll never go to a séance again!”

“I’ve done you a service, then.”  Hoenig considered.   “What’s the matter?”

“I’ve found this in my pocket.  Did you put it there?”

“No.  I don’t go round putting things in people’s pockets.   What is it?”

“It’s a key.   A small key.”

Hoenig inspected the object.  “Looks about the right size for a shed.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

The Making

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Some time ago, in a book called Hasuga’s Garden I wrote a chapter or two about the Miroveti, a species modelled somewhat (though not entirely) upon the Orang-utan of East Asia.  They appeared again in the Hasuga sequel ‘The World-maker’s Child’.  In Hasuga’s story  the Miroveti were not apes – they were an experiment.  I can say no more than that without ‘spoiling’, so I’ll let them introduce themselves to you, if I may.    I always had the feeling I sold them short – so maybe this is a beginning and there will be more, I don’t know.

It was somewhere along this trail, he remembers.  Somewhere near.    The creature is old, his sand-blond hair near turned to white, yet his memory still serves him:  it was here; just here.

He casts about him with myopic eyes for any sign that might betray the place, but that which he seeks is small; the mosses conceal it as they do all things: the grey, grey mosses that clad the land, stretching away to either side unceasing, and there is no undulation or interruption.  Nothing.

Yet it must be here – it must!

Of the Miroveti, the haired ones, he is the eldest.   When his friend Essata passes he will be alone of his generation upon this wild earth, among these tangled ruins of the Last Experiment.  A glorious vision of the Forefathers reduced to impenetrable overgrowth, a final hope of a future, when this land might become a home for his fellow creatures, dashed.   Even the trails the Forefathers seared with their staves of fire are cold and soon the few survivors of his species will be too burdened with years to clear them.  The moss will take them back.  In the end, the moss takes everything back.

Above him, the sun has lost its fierce edge.  The time of Making is near – this thought spurs him to search with renewed urgency.  He combs the dense growth beside the trail with his long fingers, oblivious to those poisonous spores that float into the air when his touch disturbs them.  It was here – he has probed for hours now, undeterred because he knows for certain it was here!  He hurries, old bones aching, breath short.  Time is short.

So small it is, that even with his finger right above it he almost misses the speck of nature he seeks. Spying it there, almost buried, at last, a tiny spark of joy warms his failing heart, and he gathers up a little grain of life, clutching it to his breast.

A glittering thing it was when he dropped it so carelessly on his way to his first Making, all those years ago.  Then he could not take time to recover it because the moment of Making was upon him.   After, as his colony mourned another failure, it was forgotten.  Then, it shone; but then there were so many, many bright life-germs to collect, to nurture.  And so he left it, neglected to recover it.  Through four Makings since that day, this minute speck has waited for his poor inadequate brain to remember until now it is dulled and black with neglect.   But today is his last Making and it is all he has to offer to the bowl. Today is the time of the black sun and the hour.  This is his last chance to keep the appointment it has missed.

He forces his stiff old legs to run, skipping over the root fibres that have begun their destructive work on the trail that leads back to his settlement.  He must reach the Great Bowl of oak cork that stands in his village compound in time to make this final, small offering. The signs in the sky are converging, the light in the North is dimmed.   At an appointed time Sun and Moon will be joined and the auspices set.   Then all the elements will combine to raise a Creation Mist in the GreatBowl and those who have offerings must cast them into its swirling depths.

As he hastens, a voice is speaking to him, urging him on.  Thoughts inside his head are finding shapes, pictures he can understand; almost as though the weak and sickly thing he carries is alive still, and insisting.    Here, where the water passes, are twenty or moss-thatched hovels where his colony – the very last of the colonies – resides.  Once this place would have been alive with his golden haired brethren; females fashioning food from moss root, children playing and squeaking their delight in the dying sun.  All are deserted now – all but a precious few huts at the village centre, poor shelters gathered around the compound where the scaffold of the Great Bowl sits, and no children;  no children anywhere.

It is a pitifully small group that is gathered about the Bowl.  They climb the scaffolding to its edge, casting their offerings into its depths where once, the Forefathers had promised, their prayers would transform anything that still held the germ of creation into brave new life.  Once, they had eagerly explored the rocks and crannies of the upper land for jewelled stones that might bear the germ, but of all their bright prizes nothing was ever found that would fulfil the Forefathers’ prophecy.

Now, all faith is lost, all hope gone.  Offerings are of small, random things, mostly household or grooming items like moss-stem combs or clay effigies; entreaties to a compassionate god for a miracle, but nothing that lives, or could inspire life.  Only the moss lives..  Motis is there, with a wall art she has saved, Hada offers a prayer to aid his handcomb on its journey, as poor, mad Ethela comes forward in that wild flailing dance of hers, bearing some trifle for Making.

Essata sees the old one come, and even from a distance he can discern the sadness in his eyes.   They greet each others’ thoughts, and the mind-picture Essata composes is of failure and old age.

‘We are both old, and this is the last Making we shall know’.  Their pictures agree.  As they share the minds of the others who stand by they can see no chance of success.  Although some, Ethela for one, will live to another Making yet, no-one has anything to give.  There is nothing here that will begin the great regeneration the forefathers envisaged.   Perhaps there never was.

The old one lifts his foundling seed to the sun and makes his prayer.  In his turn he will cast it into that strange and unexplained soup that stirs like glutinous fog within the bowl, and he stands in line – so short, so short a line.  There is a ladder to ascend, six steps, no more.  A platform to traverse, a place where the elbows of his long arms may lean above the green mist.  There, in the tradition, he raises it, that frail, failing seed, towards the sun one final time, one final prayer.  As he does….

In the heavens, the moon has drawn across the sun in full eclipse.  In his grip, the little spur of life leaps – yes, leaps in his hand!  He has no time to cast it in, for it has gone.  It is already within the bowl amid a maelstrom, turning and sinking.  But no matter that it spins and is drawn from view, it speaks to him; it speaks of the water that runs, of the dark matter that gathers at the water’s shore.

It cries out.

In wonder, he steps back, forgetting where he is and nearly falling from the platform to the hard clay of the compound below.   And behind him the Miroveti have paused to wonder too, for the behaviour of the old one is strange.  They cannot see his gift from so far away, they do not know why he starts and stumbles in such fashion, but his mind pictures tell them something extraordinary has happened.   A moment now gone.  The mists settle once more and three Miroveti who remain clamber sadly up to make their gifts.  Mad Ethela is the last.  She makes no prayer, but casts her morsel with a thrusting motion that almost takes her with it into the mist.  The others watching gasp their disapproval for her blunt hand touches, is even lost for a second, within the swirl.  To touch the mist is a sacrilege, but she is only mad Ethela after all – she is forgiven.

That night the old one sleeps uneasily.  He dreams of the running water that passes the colony, and the dark deposits it leaves.   An oddness in his mind has told him many times that he must learn about the water – from whence it comes, where it goes.  And he knows that dark matter well, for it gathers where the watercourse is wide and lazy, where a spur of rock deflects it from its journey.  When morning comes he rises early, eager to see the rising sun and glad that it is normal.  The eclipse that heralds the time of The Making has passed.

He walks a while about the village, seeking remnants in empty huts that he can brew into food.  As he forages and explores, Essata joins him, for they are firm friends.  So it is together they wander at last into the compound and together they see…

Many suns pass before the tiny green shoot is more than a sapling, and fit to stand tall above the tangle of the moss.  There are wild moons, and days when greyness gathers in the sky, but still the new  thing thrusts its roots into the dark matter from the river’s edge, and drinks the water from the river, and grows.   It grows strong and tall, unrecognizable from that first green frond that greeted the old Miroveti on that first morning after The Making, standing proud above the rim of the Great Bowl.  Before the old ones go to meet their own maker they will see its first children, hanging rosy red from strong, youthful boughs.  Eyes shining with hope will watch the clippings that they take grow healthy in their turn, and willing hands clear the moss to make a place rich with dark silt from the running water, fit for an orchard to grow.

Only mad Ethela does not join them, but sits instead within her moss-roofed home preparing, year after year, the little dark ovals of eggs she found asleep in the silt of the upper waters, and those tiny swimming seeds that clung to her fur when she touched the swirling mists within the Great Bowl.  Her poor twisted mind insists these will have meaning, and she will cast them into the Bowl, when the next Making comes.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

No Rules for the Law

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Research for my current book  (working title ‘Boulter’s Green’) has led me down a particular lane – one which, as these things always do, opens up other areas of interest.   Why am I inflicting it on you?   I’m sort of interested in U.S. Police policy, and I want to learn more.

This is not – oh, please not – a history of UK policing.   That would take pages I don’t have, and become instant yawn material; rather like trying to watch a boxed set of ‘Falcon Crest’ on Sunday night.  But these less chewy bits might intrigue, if only because the lessons of history are so simple when we can just persuade ourselves to look.

In the 1950s good old ‘democratic’ Britain hatched out more police corruption scandals than a flock of Rhode Island Reds on a Norfolk poultry farm.  Chief  Constables of local forces had as much chance of avoiding arrest as 1970s paedophiliac TV personalities, while their ‘supervisory’ Watch Committees danced politically towards either left or right (mostly right) and gratefully accepted the proceeds of their position from (if contemporary accounts are to be believed) every size and shape of crime syndicate.

Of course, contemporary accounts should never be entirely believed; especially in Britain where organised ‘lobbies’ and the media jointly wait for anything remotely resembling naughtiness to pop its head up, then massage it into public outrage and hysteria.    The system of policing in UK had survived on more or less a local model for better than a hundred years, and it was more probably the frenetic emergence of the political pressure group that created crises.  Nevertheless, Government decided policing should be ‘centralised’ – the powers of local Watch Committees reduced, Chief Constables introduced at County level to oversee local forces, and a ‘modern’ approach to policing introduced.

Getting dry already, aren’t we?

You see, I had to rabbit through all that.  Not just because of the result of, but to define the motive for those changes, which were really more to do with locally elected police coming under the control of the activist Left, than efficiency.   You can’t control a legal strike picket if the orders have to come from a rampantly socialist Watch Committee.  An hysterical press is always ready to tell simply everyone if you try.  You can’t suppress the public will through hundreds of local and semi-independent forces:  you have to do it from Whitehall.

So here’s the nub – let’s have a bit of nub.

Policing in UK up until those middle sixties years may not have been perfect, but it was concensus policing.  If you didn’t vote for it, it was your fault.  In the ‘fifties and ‘sixties the average ‘beat’ constable was usually an ex-serviceman in retirement; by definition middle-aged.  The avuncular image was well appreciated: it sided with parental control.  That constable’s business was to get acquainted with everyone on his patch, and every back alley or corner where a criminally-inclined infant sought room to develop.  If he felt someone was getting a little too adventurous he would know:  he would ‘have a word’ in the right ears.  Sometimes, incidentally, it was not unknown for him to give a clip to those right ears, but that is another issue.  It was proactive policing, and many a life of crime was nipped in the bud by this means.

Then the Home Office assumed control, and  a fast-moving ‘modern’ image for policing replaced the stout, formidably blunt image of the local constable.  His maturity of judgement and wisdom that was so valuable to the community was lost.  He was too slow – he belonged to another age.

Younger, less mature individuals took his place.  A rookie in a uniform scarcely inspired confidence, and may well have had a disproportionate sense of his own importance; worse still, to allow him to cover an increased area of ‘patrol’ he was put in a car.   The Panda Car, low-powered in itself but painted all over with symbols of power removed that immediacy of communication between law and citizen. A man in a car is no more than a face; he is no longer a friend.  He is no longer a part of the furniture of the street, and although he may do his best, he is less effective in detecting the small details, the covert plots and plans of back alley life.  Being ‘known to the police’ now begins with a chase, an arrest, a charge and a sentence.   In that crucial change in the ‘sixties the rule of law became enforcement, a reactive process which, in places, became and becomes very close to open conflict.

This relationship between police at street level and the public is the essence of good maintenance of law.  Alas, though, policing has become a ‘career’.  Not every profession lends itself to a university background, especially if those it tends to recruit are socially apart from those it needs to police, and intelligence is often interpreted as arrogance.

Not everything about the pre-‘sixties system was perfect.   As society became more media-sensitive and litigious, the chances of a small local issue being promoted to a national cause increased, and those City Watch Committees were vulnerable.  On the other hand, police and public were a homogeneous whole, and generally speaking the local constable was not an enemy to anyone with honest intent.  Crime figures were much lower, and the lines of morality very clearly drawn.

Post-sixties, though, police and public are divided.  All too frequently battle lines are drawn.  ‘Containment’ is the order of the day and, quite often, all that can be achieved.   There are so many detrimental outcomes that stem from this ‘us and them’ mentality:  the Police are seen as defenders only of the Middle Class, and not even trusted by them.  The force in general has become introspective to a point where arguably they re-invent the law at times, and certainly exhibit defensive hostility whenever they are challenged.  The reactive enforcement process is also prohibitively expensive, because having allowed someone to develop their criminality you have also allowed them to employ expensive technology for their crime which you, as the enforcer, have to match.   Hence cars that cost £65K and more, and very high salaries for very clever people to try and keep up.

All of which could be defended if crime figures had not risen more than tenfold  in the last five decades, and if there was any sign of an end.  Or if, in ‘modernizing’, the corruption issues cited as its original excuse had been resolved.   They have not.  The only perceptible shift has been from minor to major:  the heists get bigger, unarmed people get murdered.   Alienation intensifies.

And there is no way back.

 

 

 

Sleep now in the fire

I’ve read this three times so far, and in the end I just had to reblog it! Walt Walker-profound writer. Please make your way to his page if you can.

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Don’t worry, my dearies. Don’t fret. Sleep well.

Sleep with good thoughts of good things to come.

You will be well, live well, make money, have a nice home, a nice car, an open kitchen with countertops you enjoy feeling beneath your hands. These things are yours.

You will wear yoga pants and athletic tops, sunglasses, a dri-fit cap. You will ride bicycles and others will see your gear and be reminded of the professional sport of cycling.

You will insert your chip card into the reader and two officers who’ve seen their fellows killed by gunfire will appreciate their coffee credited to your account. You may experience tears, but the week will fade and feel like it never happened. You will walk in the park with a friend again before you have to be home for the kids who miss something but couldn’t tell you what.

Nothing has changed. Don’t worry…

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It’s the Devil in me…

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castle_cachtice_by_eugen77-d5de9y0If occasionally history throws up a real eccentric from the primordial gloop it would probably justify itself with the excuse that every now and again it needs to become interesting.   The young student has to be provided with a resource of amiable nutters or genocidal megalomaniacs to amuse, to keep him reading further; otherwise his verdict of ‘boring’ would be reached too soon and he would remain forever ignorant of historical facts essential to his future well-being.  He would not know, for example, that he is of a certain national heritage; if he is of French extraction, or German, or Roman.

And that’s important, isn’t it?

Well, I think it is.

We owe them much, those power-hungry, often delusional characters from history who not only hastened the migration of peoples, but left their mark to intrigue a student and to keep his attention.  In UK we can barely turn around without encountering one of William the Conqueror’s castles, for example.   I have to ask – what would our landscape be like without Ludwig II of Bavaria’s magnificent clifftop Schloss Neuschwanstein, or Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s army of Terra Cotta soldiers?

Or Trump Tower?

Or the Great Wall of Mexico   (you’ll be able to see it from space).

The Scaffold

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I’m having Windows 10 problems with image uploads at the moment, so forgive repetition?

“Are you not going to talk to me, then?”

“Yeah, of course – if you want, like.”  Martin had the uncomfortable feeling he was blushing.   The girl with the long sun-kissed legs confronted him as he was stepping out of the elevator cage.  Jack, his mate, followed him, making a sound of appreciation in his ear which, had he been a horned toad and not a bricklayer, might have sounded like a mating call.

“Only you wolf-whistled me yesterday, didn’t you?”

“Did Ah?”  That was different.   Yesterday Martin was two storeys up, looking down from the scaffolding.  This was face to face.   A paragon of all that was beautiful,  standing a couple of feet away.

“So I thought you fancied me.  Was I wrong?”

Her eyes were a dark challenging blue, lips full and wide.  Her hair was black, her teeth even and very, very white.  She was wearing the same red top as yesterday.  The same blue denim shorts.

“No.”  He muttered.  “No, you’re – you’re not wrong.”  He had only dared to whistle because Jack had done it first.

“Well, what we going to do about it then?  It’s all right, you can talk to me you know.  I won’t break.”

#

“So what ‘appened?”  Jack had returned with their fish and chip lunch.  “Hey, I bet you embarrassed yerself, you!”

“No – no I didn’t!”  Martin defended.  “Of course I didn’t!”

“Spent five minutes thinkin’ o’ dead cats, then!   She were tasty, her.”

“Aye.”   His mate was right about the cats.  “She’s real nice, like.  We’re goin’ out Thursday.”

“You lucky bustard!    Why Thursday?”

“As good a day as any, i’n’t it?”

“What’s her name?”

Martin thought for a moment.  “Don’t know.  Never as’t her.”

#

Her name was Cherie.  Introductions had to wait until Thursday, because Cherie did not appear again on the town square below the building site in the following few days, though Martin hoped for a sight of her.  By the morning of the appointed day he was already wondering if he had done the right thing.  Martin was always uneasy in the presence of eligible girls – their disguised interest, the giggling, the sotto voce comments whenever he was near, made him nervous and on edge.   Jack, who could not understand his reticence, teased him.

“I don’t know what you’ve got, lad, but I wish I had it.  You’d not catch me blushin’ and hidin’ in corners, I can tell thee.”

#

Martin wore the shirt his favourite on-line store said would look good on him, the three-quarter trousers that they said would match the shirt.  He drenched himself in the men’s cologne someone gave him for Christmas two years before; and in all fairness he felt quite self-confident when he hit the street.  As he approached the meeting place he had agreed with Cherie, however, his eyes settled upon her shortest dress of darkest red, and that confidence began to evaporate.

For her part, Cherie had to weigh her recollection of the half-naked, dusty male god from the scaffolding against the shop window figure who wafted to greet her on Mathesons’ corner.   As he approached, her practised smile twitched a little and almost faded – her full red lips closed over those white, white teeth.   But still, she persuaded herself, at least he had made an effort, and really, once she had changed sides to stay up wind, he was quite a creditable companion on the street.  Eyes were drawn.  She liked that.  She hugged his arm.

“Go clubbin’ yeah?”

Martin’s confidence graph took a further plunge.  “Ah’m not mooch of a dancer, like!”

“Why man, you’d be fine.”  Cherie produced a small polythene bag from her purse.  “You tried some of these?”

Martin eyed the little white pills within the bag with suspicion.  “What are they, like?”

“They make you dance!”

And dance Martin did.  Wildly.  And if a few toes got trodden and if a face or two got elbowed no-one seemed disposed to make a point of it.  And Cherie?  She was delighted.

It was half-past-two before the pair left the Hot Licks Club.  Martin had somehow endured seven hours of closeness to Cherie’s graceful, swaying body without doing anything that would make his mate Jack ashamed of him.   Around the back door behind the dustbins, his supply of dead cats ran out.

#

“Chuffin’ ‘ell!   You look like the eight-forty-nine from Newcastle ran over yer!”   Jack commented the next morning.  “Good night, was it?”

“It were all right, like.”  Martin blinked at his watch.   “Eight-forty-nine’s not due yet, like.”

“I know, lad.  I know.”  Jack soothed.  “It’s joost an expression, see?”

“Ah.”

“Well, go on then, what were she like?”

“She were all right, like.”  Martin wasn’t at all sure he remembered what Cherie was actually like.  He had a vision in his head of an undulating goddess, but it was fogged.  Those little white pills were responsible.  He had never taken anything of their like before, so he had never been ‘up’.  And never having been ‘up’, he was unprepared for coming ‘down’ – which he was heavily in the process of experiencing.   That morning, after he nearly fell from the scaffolding twice, his foreman put him in charge of stores.

Jack caught up with him at the rear of the site at lunchtime.   “I’m off to get t’ fish and chips, you havin’ the usual?”

“Ah.  Awreet.”  Martin assented unenthusiastically.

“That right you got another date with yon Cherie lass?”

“Aye.  Ah think so.”  This was another of the things he was unable to recall clearly.  “Saturday, I think, like.”

“Well, there’s someone out the front to see yer.”  Jack told him.  “Have fun, lad!”

#

Cherie stood waiting by a forklift with the sun behind her so Martin could not immediately read her expression, though he might have been disappointed by the modesty of her floral summer dress.

“Ah.”  Martin said.

“Hello Martin.”  She said.  She sounded upset.

A tall figure hidden from sight behind the machine stepped into view.  “This is your Martin?”  His accent was thick and heavy with Eastern European inflections.  “You are lucky boy, Martin.  Yes?”

“Ah.”  Martin said.  “Who’re you, like?”

#

Jack and Martin sat eating their fish and chips together.

Jack was chuckling unsympathetically. “Yer’ve put yer foot in it this time!”

“Ah didn’t know she were only sixteen!”  Martin moaned.  “She never said, like, did she?”

“Oh aye!  Like she would!   And he was her brother, this big bloke?”

“Ah.  One of eight.  Eight brothers!”

“Chuffin’ ell!  What sort of people have that many kids?”

“Ah’m aboot to find out.  Her mother and father want to see me tonight!  About my ‘plans’.”

“Plans?  Chuffin’ell.  You never planned owt in yer life, lad!”

“Anyway, this brother of ‘ers, this Dimitri, he says it’s alright for ‘er to see me, like, because sixteen’s quite old to still be single, where they cooms from.   I think they want me to marry ‘er, like!”

Jack’s hell chuffed once more.   “It’s ridiculous, that.  I mean, you didn’t do nothin’ to her, did yer?  I mean, first date and all?”

Martin probed the fog mournfully.  “Ah don’t rightly remember.  Ah think ah might ha’ done.”

#

Over the weeks that followed Jack’s lunches became solitary affairs.   Cherie brought sandwiches and other more exotic treats and sat with Martin in the park while she regaled him with details of the wedding dress she wanted, the celebrations that people of her country enjoyed on such occasions, and his duties as a bridegroom.  Cherie’s brothers acted as chaperones:  their small, packed household reverberated to the beat of raucous folk music ,  while he sat in silence for hours as his hosts prattled happily in their own language.  Only Cherie  spoke to him in English.

#

“Where is she now?”  Jack asked.  It was the first time he and Martin had shared their lunch in quite a while.

“She’s off gettin’ fitted for the dress.”  Martin explained.  “It’s not that I don’t like, ‘er, like…it i’n’t her so much – it’s her fam’ly.  Wor can’t get away from ‘em, like!”

And Jack said:  “Still, lad, it’ll be awreet once tha’s married, won’t it?”

“Ah, well that’s the thing.    ‘Er father wants us to work for ‘im.  Ah’m fam’ly now, ‘e says.  Ah says, ah’m norra plumber.  ‘E says, that’s awreet, ‘e’ll teach us, like.  Boot ah don’t want to be be a bluddy plumber, do ah?   Ah’m ‘appy wi’ the bricks, like!”

“Well, tell ‘im that.”

“Oh ah, you try!  An’ Cherie’s brothers, see?  They works for ‘im awready, an’ he don’t pay them ‘ardly nowt.  Ah’m spendin’ more time wi’ them than ah am wi’ Cherie.   It’s all the heavy hand on the shoulder an’ ‘you be a good lad an’ do what Papa wants’.   And ah’m buyin’ all the drinks, like!”

“Let me think.”  Said Jack.

#

Jack, at forty-one, could have looked upon his young friend’s plight from a mature perspective and concluded that Martin’s fears would resolve themselves, given a little time.  But he was concerned.  Martin’s brow was furrowed, his complexion pale.  He seemed to be sagging beneath the burden of his relationship with a pretty girl who, despite her tender years, Jack rather liked.  A girl who, as he believed, might be good for Martin.

Which was why, on one warm weekday evening, he was to be found stuffed into his best suit, standing a little hesitantly outside a church hall beside a board that announced a meeting of the ‘Jesuit Society’.

“Hello, love!  Are you a newbie?”   She was smartly dressed in blue, with her hair coiffed neatly beneath a dark navy hat.  “I’m Ethel.  Come on in and let me introduce you.”

In the ensuing two hours Jack experienced more religion than had passed his way in a lifetime of resolute agnosticism.  It was, he justified to himself, suffered in a good cause, especially as it offered every opportunity to socialise with Ethel, who was a member of a mysterious ‘Committee’, and a perfect receptor for his plan.  Oh yes, Jack had a plan.

“That’s why I’m ‘ere!”  Jack proclaimed.   “I think it’s terrible, the way these bloody fanatics is pollutin’ our religion (pardon my language, Ethel).   They’re weedlin’ their way in, makin’ all these heretical changes!  They’re ruinin’ our Church!”

“Oh, I agree!”  Ethel said.  “Er…who, exactly, love?”

Who?  I’ll do better than ‘who’. I’ll give thee an example!   There’s someone actually pretendin’ to take instructions in the faith who’ll be getting’ married at the Sacred Heart in six weeks.  He’s a known Scientologist, is ‘im, but he’s marryin’ there before the altar, bold as yer please;  and into a good Catholic family, an’ all!”

“Oh, my good Lord!”  Ethel said.

#

“Ah don’t understand it!”  Martin exclaimed, as he buttered his thirtieth frog of the morning.   “One minute ‘er fam’ly’s all over me, like; next minute they won’t speak to me!  T’wedding’s off!  Father sommat-or-other from the church comes ter see Cherie’s Da’ and tells ‘im ‘e won’t marry us, an’ him and ‘er brothers are at me fer bein’ a Judas, like!  What have ah done?”

Jack grinned.  “Seems like tha’s got theself a bit o’ space, lad.  What does Cherie think about it?”

“She says I should ha’ told ‘er I was a Scy-tologist or sommat, an’ I says I weren’t.  Ah’m Church of England, man!”

“Strange ‘ow things works out.”   Jack nodded, sagely.  He knew that however robustly his friend defended himself there was no possibility Father Kelly would change his mind and consent to conduct the marriage.  Once the Jesuit Society had their teeth in the hem of his cassock it was more than his life was worth.   “Does she still want to marry yer, lad?”

“Oh ah.   She’s dead unhappy.”  Martin flushed and muttered into his chest:   “She says she loves me, like.”

“Yer can still get married then, can’t yer?”

“Ah don’t see how.  ‘Er parents won’t consent any more an’ she’s under age.  Us’d have to wait two year, an’ ‘er brothers are talkin’ about takin’ ‘er back to ‘er home country.  No, it’s all off, far as ah can see.”

#

“Gretna Green?”   Cherie’s face lit up.  “We can really get married there?”

“Ah.”  Martin nodded.  “Jack says sixteen’s awreet up there, ‘cause it’s in Scotland, like.  We can nip off there, on the quiet, like.”

“Oh, Marty, that’s brilliant!”

“We’ll have to be careful, mind.”   Martin looked deeply into his girlfriend’s shining eyes and through them saw, for a moment, another kind of reflection – that of a doorway hanging open.  It offered a path to freedom, and though he was unsure he wanted it, a way of escape.

“Of course, if you didn’t want to do it, like…”   She was giving up her family, her brothers, her home.  She only had to show doubt, and he would sympathise:  he would understand.  After all….

Cherie stopped his train of thought in its tracks.  “Not want to?  Don’t be daft, Martin man, of course I want to!”

“Anyway;”   She patted her stomach.  “There is another little problem.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Word in Tune

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owl 2Alright, I know I haven’t posted!  It’s been far too long.

I could make all sorts of summer excuses, like; ‘it’s too hot, man’, or; ‘there are too many other things I need to do’.   But that wouldn’t be honest.  I live in Durham.  It’s never hot.   It is wet, but I’m a writer – I like to think of it as ‘moist’.

Maybe I am experiencing ‘writers’ block’ for the first time ever.  I wouldn’t know.  What are the symptoms?  In my case it’s a severe dose of  Piecus Incompletus., which is in danger of metastasising into terminal Self-Doubt.   There are slivers of word files spread all over my desktop, un-homed particles of articles I only just starticled.  My current output, like world peace, is unresolved.

Three stories unfinished; comments on Islamic thuggery, Republican bombast and NRA fatalism, all made more than adequately by others and not needing my ‘help’.   Bits and pieces, pieces and bits.  ‘Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’?

So, I thought, let’s do a writing ‘bit’.    After all, I haven’t done one of those for a while.   The last was concerning description and oenamata – onomata – Ernamotor… word pictures.   It was called Eyes Half Closed and if you missed it you were probably fortunate.

So today it’s the popular song – the way we work with words.   We are writers, the blank page is our instrument, how we fill it testifies to our ability to play.  Just as any reasonably astute child can bash out notes on a piano in recognisable fashion, most people can make a cogent sentence (other than myself, it seems) that will be readable.   But something extra is needed to make the listener want to come closer, the reader to turn the page.   Something raises Paganini above the crowd, something makes a Wordsworth stanza unforgettable.

Words are like notes.  Creating those memorable, pleasurable reading moments begins with stringing them together, knowing the function of each dot and comma, having a reasonable vocabulary, understanding parsing and clauses and allegory and metaphor.  There are bales of tutorials all over the internet that impart these essential rules, as there is plentiful resource instructing you ‘how to write’.

I’m not going to presume to tell anyone else how to write.  I can only pass on models I follow that one day will hopefully make me a better writer, and may, perhaps be useful to you.  Like musical notes, words have a value.   There are demisemiquavers, semi-quavers, quavers,  crochets, semibreves and so on.  It isn’t hard to string them together, although it is a little more effort to make them a tune, while to create a song that will be on everyone’s lips demands familiarity and love of the instrument.   It takes just one misplaced note to destroy a whole melody, and the English language is full of misplaced notes.

There are words I consider criminals in themselves.  Some are born and pass with fashion, like ‘snog’ or ‘basically’; others were always there and you wish they weren’t:  ‘interject’ and ‘nice’ for example.  Use at your peril, or only in dialogue where they fit a character.   Then again there are others, I think, that enhance the language with a poetry of their own:  I personally like ‘schadenfreude’ and ‘blood’ (as a term for a close relative).  The most shameful pirate of all, the robber of the deeper meaning in your work and the destroyer of the natural rhythm and the flow of the message is that b****y word ‘the’.  Arguably each of the ‘the’s in that sentence could be redundant.  Rhythm and flow are vital:  they take the reader to the next sentence, and to the next page.  Yes, we have to use them sparingly (I just did) but they lionise our rhythm and interrupt flow.

I admit it puzzles me why so many would-be writers advocate reading the works of others as a means to improvement.   I rarely read.  Why?   Not because I don’t enjoy reading, I do when I have time, but because to me, all I am likely to learn is how to write like Thackeray, or O’Brien, or Pullman, and I want to write like Anderson!   News for you, blood – the word dies as it leaves the page.   It is reincarnated inside you, the reader, as a piece of a jigsaw you find easy to assemble.  It isn’t a word anymore, it’s part of a song playing inside your mind.

Besides, what was successful for others won’t work for you.   I am a great fan of Honore De’Balzac – his descriptive writing can drive me to a deplorable state of ecstasy, but the way he drives off for his conclusion in his last chapters is badly sliced, at best.   He would not get published, or even un-slushed, today.  I could name other victims of many a double bogey, others still who were defeated prematurely by the rough.  Me, I’m in a pot bunker somewhere, hacking away and getting my eyes filled with sand.

So how do I like to write, and why do I do it?  Too big a target.  But, when I arrive at my keyboard, the character who entered my head maybe an hour, or a day, or a year ago will be there waiting for me, and he (or she) and I will have a conversation. And between us we will talk to the page that is our instrument, and we will hope we reach our audience.  We hope they will believe.  We don’t slavishly adhere to rules (you’ve probably noticed) but we hope we will have created a song they will love to sing, with surprises or revelations about themselves along the way.

That is what writing represents for me.  That is why I turn up here every day.  I do it for myself, and a few others who might wish to read.  Hitherto I have been unconcerned with media and sales, although with the compulsion of age that may change.    It would be nice (ugh!) to think someday someone somewhere will hear my tune, and pause to sing along.

 

 

 

 

Philip

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His name is Philip.   So, what do we know about him? 

I know that as of today he’s husband to a Prime Minister.  Theresa May is only the second female Premier that the United Kingdom has thrown up, so his is almost an inaugural role.

I know he’s a couple of years younger than his 59 year old wife, that Benazir Bhutto  introduced the couple to each other at a Conservative Party Disco (I wonder what the dress code could have been for that?) and that he has a banking background, as does his wife.  Surprise?  Well, possibly not.   A friend claims they bonded over a shared love of cricket, which may be true, of course.   After all my own wife and I bonded over our mutual enjoyment of ironing (private joke).

A friend insists they are still very much in love.   As she puts it, ‘When they are together they seem younger’, which begs the question:  how old do they seem when they’re apart?

Mr. and Mrs. May have a home in Sonning- on-Thames; that is, when they are not at 10 Downing Street.  Sonning-on-Thames is an authentic country village in rural Berkshire filled with authentic rustic millionaires, like George and Amal Clooney, Uri Geller and Led Zeppelin veteran Jimmy Page.   It’s almost obligatory to wear a smock, preferably sporting a Gucci label, on the quaint village street, but chewing a straw is considered vulgar.

So what is the life of a ‘First Man’ likely to demand?  Fortunately, just up the road from No. 10 he can get advice from the best possible authority on the subject.   His regal namesake has held down the role for many years, and should be able to give him a tip or two.  There may be advantages in following five paces behind as wife Theresa toadies up to Monsieur Hollande – a chance to share the odd bawdy joke with Jean Claude Juncker as they watch her mud wrestling with Angela Murkel, or the opportunity for a touch of insider trading during eighteen holes with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.   Maybe he can adopt Prince Philip’s uniquely Greek sense of humour, which has embellished so many encounters with the world’s wide diversity of people and characters.  Perhaps he may be able to offer informed advice upon entertaining at the State level:

“Whatever you do, don’t put Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko next to each other.  Watch the Chinese president.  He brings his own cook but his table manners are terrible.  Keep a close eye on your dog.”

Ah, but realistically the next four years or so of Philip May’s life are likely to be far more mundane.  He has his own banker’s priorities, and will probably not follow Theresa around on her State travels.  Instead he will likely be found most evenings gazing forlornly into his beer and playing gold-tipped darts with the regulars at ‘The Bull’ in Sonning-on-thames,.

“Where’s your Missis tonight, Phil?”

“Oh, she’s Prime Ministering again.   Got some bloke over from Australia to talk about sheep.”

“Interesting chappies, sheep.”

“Very.”

 

 

Shadows Dark, Shadows Deep

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Morguefile Forest 1

 

He was driving home.

He was tired.

Weariness, for the man in the silver car, was like a creeping disease.  It had begun with him not weeks but months since, an insistent fatigue beyond sleep’s cure with roots that grew a little deeper each day; so now it invaded his very bones.  He felt older, much older than his thirty-six years.  Today he had worked late, swaddling that tiredness in a further layer of exhaustion, weighing upon his eyelids and blurring his reason.

This summer had been busy, and Paul Lamborne’s business, after many years of struggle, was on the threshold of success: the catering equipment it supplied was in demand, becoming a brand in its own right; but the helm had grown heavy in his hands.   The business was growing, chasing finance for new premises, faster machinery, more raw materials; yet he had lost his love of the chase, his taste for small victories.

Corynna, his manager, had voiced her concern:   “You’re trying to do too much.  You don’t need to stay, Paul, I have it covered.  Go home.  Rest.  Recharge.”

But he had stayed – he had persisted; held on grimly, joylessly.  They were his orders, his promotional literature, and the completion dates were ones he had set.  He knew Corynna felt stifled, knew she was good enough to take over, yet he could not yield his grip, any more than he could admit every night’s recurring truth.   He dreaded going home.

Home?   Hilltops was never that, not really.  Never more than a very expensive roof that protected a string of complex and irresolvable debt; remortgaged to finance his business, Hilltops was never more than a field of battle upon which the lines were tightly drawn.  Adrienne, his wife, entrenched in her contempt; he the aggressor, never able to press his advantage.

There had been a time when Adrienne had pleased him enough.  There had been love between them, or at least something they could excuse as love, back in heady post-university days; the times when Paul was the beautiful young man and she the sophisticate who was courted by an eager succession of suitors.  Perhaps Paul was the man she had been looking for, then.  Perhaps his gentle energy, his quiet, distant manner satisfied her, for she was never a passionate woman and she had few sexual needs.  Salivating young grads with nervous, uncertain eyes who danced on her strings amused her, but never tempted.  Paul saw her as she was, focussed; and she was drawn to his perspicacity.

Maybe it was a flawed foundation for a marriage, a mutual admiration rather than a friendship, a partnership rather than a love: or maybe, very probably, it was the absence of children after fifteen torrid years of effort, that made their big house seem so empty; that turned infatuation to indifference, and, in these last few months, indifference into hatred.

A shared roof was all Paul had saved from the annals of his relationship; a house with bedrooms that stood silent and an ocean of bills that remained unpaid.   Adrienne who rebuffed the creditors scarcely hid her scorn: because (as he thought) he had failed her, although she would not denounce his failure in any specific way.

If Paul was convinced she was seeking love elsewhere he was wrong.  Yes, there were liaisons, but it was not love she sought – rather, a refuge from the crumbling tower of her own ambitions.  If Paul judged himself to have failed Adrienne, she attributed her failure to herself.  A bad marriage she relived every day; her mistake.

He had parked.  He did not remember parking, stopping the car, at all, still less the careful manoeuvring that had positioned it so neatly in a recess of the hedge next to a five-barred  wooden gate.  Puzzled, he glanced at his watch:  had he slept?  No, the time was as he would expect.

How had he come to be here?

Momentarily confused, he back-tracked his mind over the things he did remember:  locking the factory doors, driving away from the little town as it wrapped itself in the peace of evening.    Ten minutes to the Great Kurton road, then the left turn, the steep hill to Jakey’s Folly and the winding lane beyond.  He was on a route he knew, his house no more than five minutes away.  He should be familiar with every detail, every pothole, every branch of every tree and yet – yet he did not recall this gateway.

Paul climbed from his car. The gate was old, quite weathered; beyond it, where he might have expected to see an open field there was no field at all, but a small wood.  And the wood was so positioned it should be visible from his home, should it not?  The view from Hilltop’s windows was stamped upon his memory, yet this was a feature he had never seen before.

The wood of the gate felt cold and damp to his touch.  The rust reddened latch disengaged with difficulty.  Its hinges creaked.   A narrow track scored in the meadow grass led his feet into the midst of the trees.  Broom, golden bright in the full flush of summer mingled with whitethorn blossom to drench the birch and ash that were the first denizens of the wood.  A few paces further and taller trees, solemn and stately, reached above his head in a filigree of evening shade.  Might he have considered it odd that he had no wish to turn and go back?  Did he glance over his shoulder to see whether the gate still gaped wide behind him?    Had he done so he might have seen.  Although not by his hand, the gate had closed.

Paul walked on – deeper into the woodland hush, and light became more difficult to find.  The trees were closer now, their cover the more dense and stifling.    Through pools of olive darkness the path made greater demands upon his senses; more than once he missed his footing and stumbled upon some unseen grassy tuft or protruding root.  Somewhere in the canopy branches rattled.  Startled, he looked up, half-expecting to see some broken branch or predatory bird descending upon him, but he could see nothing to justify the noise.  As he passed through a pool of dappled sun those branches repeated their ominous message – and this time a shadow flitted.

Then a different noise; that of scrabbling claws on bark.   Just ahead of him, a great and stalwart oak, and thence the sound.  Hidden from him, something – something quite large and heavy – was descending the far side of its trunk.

A javelin of cold fear shot through Paul’s body, pinning him to the spot.  Silence.  The breeze had stopped; the world and all time within it ceased.    He heard his own querulous voice stammer out:    “Who…who’s there?  What do you want?”  And faint though it was, his terror echoed among the trees.

“I am here to lead you.”  So quiet were the words he wondered if he had heard them at all.

A figure – veiled by deep shade – slid around the great tree, gripping the bark so it hung, suspended, some three feet above ground.  Instinctively, Paul feared it.  He could see so very little, merely the outline of a compact, ape-like form that exuded muscular strength, although it was no more than four feet in height.  With practised agility it sprang from the tree and walked, almost glided upon two legs scarcely longer than Paul’s own thighs, into better light; revealing a body covered in fine, chestnut-coloured hair, only the face of which was hairless – snub-nosed, eyes black and gleaming, but human, or nearly so.  Its thin lips pursed themselves as the creature studied Paul openly.   What was it?  Some sort of ape?

The ape – if ape it was – spoke. “Come, you will need me to guide you.”

A hand very like a human hand reached out to Paul, who stared at strong, claw-like nails that tipped near-human fingers.  Man?  He still needed to be convinced.  “You live here?”  He asked.

“Yes.  In the trees.”

The figure had drawn closer now, too close for doubt.  Its words, so softly spoken, confirmed it.  Odd though its appearance was, this creature must be human.

“Annar waits.”  It said.  “Come!”

Rough, stubby fingers closed around Paul’s hand, tugging gently.

“I don’t understand.”  Paul protested.  Who, or what was Annar?  Come to that:  “Who – what – are you?  Where is this place?”

The creature’s black eyes creased in what might have been a smile.  “You will find out if you come with me.”

“If I don’t?”

In answer, those eyes glanced past Paul, as if inviting him to look back.  And so he did, and he saw how the living forest had closed behind him.  The track that would lead him to his car had gone.  Instead, there was undergrowth intertwined; bramble and thorn in an impenetrable wall: a wall of darkness.

“You must follow.  Come.”

What induced him to comply so meekly?  Why didn’t he protest further?  Did the hand that had taken his also take command of his mind?  Though small in stature the creature’s grip was strong, its short stride purposeful and quick.  As it moved the hiss of its breath kept time, a shallow, high sound that found a resonance with the trees.  It knew its way through the woods, too; endless, endless woods.   By this track and that, by gully and stream, Paul was led, and with every stride his confusion grew the more.  The hours were passing.  It would be night soon.

“Where are you taking me?”   He demanded breathlessly, striving to keep up.

As if his words were a signal, the creature stopped.   “Here is the place.  Now we must wait.”   It settled itself upon a tree-root, drawing its big, blunt knees up to its chin, so Paul saw how the longer hairs beneath that chin draped, and how very like a beard they seemed.  Thankful for the rest, he seated himself on a fallen tree-trunk, casting about warily for any sign of danger.  Had it been he who somehow, by some code the creature recognised, selected the place?  There was nothing distinctive about it.  He could see only a continuation of the trail they had been pursuing, as he calculated, for more than two miles.  It would be dark before he could eventually discover the way out.  How, in all the years he had lived at Hilltops, had he failed to discover this woodland, never noticed the gateway that led into it?  And it must be a substantial forest, unless his guide had been leading him in circles.

“Welcome.”  The sudden appearance of the little old man surprised him.  Paul had neither seen nor heard his approach.   Where had he come from?  Had he been sleeping?  Was he, perhaps, dreaming this?

Garbed in skins the nut-brown hue of the woods, this old one’s form was so shrivelled and spare it might have been easy, with Paul’s tired, slightly misted eyes, to avoid seeing him at all.  Human, though, he certainly was.  His shoulders were hunched, stooping his protuberant nose towards the bed of leaves upon which he walked.  The nose had a drip poised at its end.   A yellowed beard waited to collect it.

Released from the mesmerising grip of the creature, Paul felt his anger rising.  This had gone on long enough.  “Oh, what now?  Another woodland tour?  What’s your role – let me see – the philosophical sage?   Am I going to get words of wisdom next?   Or do you just want a handout?  Don’t ask me; I left my money in the car, and  I can’t tell you where that is.  Ask the hairy guy, yeah?  He knows, I don’t.  I’m lost, you see?”

Two grey eyes – disturbingly large, penetrating eyes – met Paul’s critical stare.  “Or rather you are found?”  The old man said in a crackling dry twig of a voice.  “I did not choose this meeting.  Did you?”

A snappy retort formed on Paul’s lips, then seemed to evaporate.  He felt his annoyance ebbing away, as if the creature’s hand had once more taken his.  “Explain?”  He said at last:  “Who are you?  What is all this?”

“I?  I am Annar.   That is to say, the Old One.”  Annar motioned to the creature, still hunched on its tree-root.  “He is Bul, which means tree-sleeper.  It also means ‘many’.  Names are not important here.”  The old man gave an elaborate, if somewhat creaky, bow.  “You are welcome among us.”

Paul shook his head.  “Look, Annar; whatever you’re trying to make me believe, I’m not sold, okay?  I need to get out of here – this wood – now.  Yes?  Can you show me the way?  Is it far?”

“Far?”  The old man looked puzzled.  He looked at Bul, but Bul merely grunted.  “I cannot answer you because I have never sought a way.   There is the green land, of course, and a Great Water where the world stops, but our people rarely go there now.   “Is that what you seek?”

“What I seek is my way out of here.  This ‘green land’ of yours would be a start.”   Paul snapped, dredging up renewed ire from somewhere.  Yet his resolve was wavering.  He wanted to diagnose this pair as being mentally ill, but somehow that wasn’t working.  Their reduced stature, their physical appearance argued against such simple answers.  Could they really be woodland dwellers who had adopted this forest as their home?  That was ridiculous! Tramps, maybe?  “Look, just tell me the way back to the road, okay?   What’s-his-name, Bul, here, doesn’t need to take me. Just point.”

“Road?”  Annar frowned.  “No, no, there is no road.”  He lapsed into silence, so once again Paul experienced one of those timeless moments when the birds ceased their treetop songs, and not even a breeze stirred.  In that space Annar and Bul seemed immovable – lifeless and aged as statues hewn from stone.  Maybe there really was no road.

“Alright,”  Paul spoke slowly, choosing his words with great care.  “Where exactly am I?”

“Where?”  Annar considered the question.  “You are here.  Here is the forest, and the forest is as old as time.  As for roads, there are only the paths you make, when the trees have earned your respect.  I?  I am of the Old People, and for summers beyond memory the forest has been our home, though once, before the wild ones came in boats to drive us away, it is said we tilled the green land.  Those are skills long forgotten.  I would not know them.”

“Look, indulge me, because I don’t understand this.”  Paul coaxed, as gently as he could.  “See, Annar, I have to leave here – I have to get home.  Time is…”  He glanced down at his wrist.  In disbelief he saw that his watch was missing; so, too, the band of reddened flesh where a watch might have been.  It was as if he had never worn one.

“Time?”  The old one smiled at the brown loam before his sandaled feet.  “Time is nothing to you now.  “The green land is far – far beyond your reach.  Here, in the forest, is your home.”

The shock, finally the lightning bolt of the truth. “I’m never going to leave, am I?”

“You cannot.  You have come to us from another place, but you are in need of peace, and now your home is among us you will find what you seek. Do not fear – it is a good place.  You will learn to be happy here.”  The old man said.  Then he turned away, directing his voice into the darkness of the trees.    “Come forward, child.”

At his beckoning a green curtain of undergrowth parted, revealing a tall, graceful figure, disguised by the deep shade.

“This is one who has loved you for many summers.  She also comes to us, and her place is with you.”

Shyly, the figure stepped into the open, allowing a shaft of sunlight to play upon golden hair as her face was exposed.  Paul could not restrain his surprise.  “Corynna?”

And the old man smiled.  “Be as one.”  He said.

 

“His missus is a piece, in no mistake!”   Commented the police sergeant.  “She seemed more annoyed than anything else.”   He shook his head.  “Grief takes some strange forms, don’t it?  Anyway, what brings you back here this morning, Mister Berrisford?  You don’t normally want a second look at these.”

The Claims Assessor cast a critical eye over the wreckage.  A course of events that was obvious enough – too fast into the bend, a slight clip of the bank, a rapid, airborne barrel roll and impact:  bounce once, airborne once more, bounce again.  By the time it plummeted into the hedge the silver car was already beyond recognition, a tangled mess of scrap metal.  No, he had no need to doubt his findings.

“Paul Lamborne, eh?  The Gov’nor, no less.  He’ll have been well covered, I expect?”   The sergeant prompted.  “A bit of a drain on your company’s coffers, eh?  Might you just possibly be seeking a loophole, Chas?”

“We’ve got one.”  Berrisford replied.  “At least from the life insurance aspect.  There’s no body.”   He watched with a fascination he always experienced as a recovery truck raised the wreck, disposing of a last, very slim chance that Paul’s remains were somehow concealed beneath it.  Shards of hedgerow snapped and crackled as the wreck’s departure revealed a perfectly cut gap, allowing him to stare into the empty fields beyond.  “I’d imagine that’d be a neat fit for a gateway, wouldn’t you?  We can’t have a claim if we don’t have a body.  Not after an incident like this.”

“No-one could have survived that.”  The sergeant said, almost reverently.  “He can’t have been thrown clear, neither.  The seat belt’s intact and fastened.”

“Then where is he?  I’d expect some signs of serious trauma; blood, body parts.  There’s none.  Even if he’d managed to ride out the impact, with the state he’d have been in he’d not have gone far.”

“No sign of him.”  The sergeant replied.  “We checked the fields and hedges for near on a mile, and there’s no other cover.  It’s a strange one.”

“Very.”  Berrisford acknowledged.  “As a matter of interest, has everyone been informed?  He was well known locally, wasn’t he?”

“Yes.  Well, his immediate family anyway.  As for his business, though, there’s something else that’s odd.”

“Odd?  How do you mean?”

“Well, I expect there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but his manager (nice girl, always liked her) can’t be found anywhere.  She was due to go to work this morning and didn’t.  What’s more, she doesn’t answer her ‘phones.  Mind, it’s too early to make judgements.  I’m sure she’ll turn up.”

“Yes.”  A shivering breeze found the new space in the hedge and prickled Charles Berrisford’s flesh, as if to remind him of the bare landscape beyond.  How he hated the desolation that generations of farming had wrought upon this land!  This would have been forest once, before the works of man laid it low.  If he half-closed his eyes he could still imagine them.

“A cold summer this has been.”  He said.  “You’re right, of course.  I’m sure she will.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.