Tag Archives: short story

A Messenger of God

The woman raced up the steps, she had reached the door but it was locked.  Locked!  There had to be another door, another entrance. Yes, another door, another locked entrance!  She had to get inside, she had to be inside.  One more door.  Success! She pulled the heavy oak door just wide enough for her to slip inside. She could barely see, it was dim. It was near dusk and the only light came through the stained-glass windows on the other side of the empty church.

The woman found her way to a pew and collapsed; her face buried in her silk scarf.  Here she could let go, let go of the pain, the anger, the hatred.  She started to cry, softly at first. All too soon her pain bubbled to the surface and she began to weep. She hunched over and released all her pent-up emotions in quiet sobs of despair.

Father Mitchell was making his rounds of the church.  His first church.  It may not look like much, or be well attended but it was his first official assignment and he felt honoured.  Yes, it was an old church, falling down in some places and it was poor, financially and in attendance. But it was peaceful, and he needed the peace.  Here he could deal with his crisis of faith. Did he really want to continue to be a priest? Could he continue? In this place he felt the answer must be yes. There was a generosity of spirit here.  He could feel it.  He could feel God here.  Almost.

As he turned a corner, he heard a noise. Someone was in the church.  What he saw next, touched his heart.  A woman was crying, deeply.  She was alone.  He watched her for a moment. The secretary was gone for the day.  He was the only one who could offer this stranger comfort.  This was the one part of his ministry that he was unsure of.  It was one thing to lend a shoulder to a withered old widow, but to a young and attractive woman? Father Mitchell shook his head, he was here to help.  She needed his help. Still, he hesitated at the door, uncertain of the shadows.  He knew he would offer her the comfort of his faith even though he questioned it personally.  As he approached her, he could see the pain deeply etched in her still lovely face.  He placed one hand on her shoulder and paused.

“God will come to your aid my child, if you let Him.”

The words sounded hollow, even in his ears. Why?

“I want to help.  Will you tell me what is wrong?”

The woman raised her head.  Her eyes were sad, but there was something more. She was a mere slip of a woman, no more than twenty-five or so.  But her eyes were that of someone who has seen too much misery.  Father Mitchell mentally shook his head, his confidence was slipping.

“Father, I need to speak to you, I must explain.” Her voice quivered as her eyes pleaded with him for understanding.

Without hesitation the young priest motioned for the troubled woman to follow him to his office.  He gently seated her on a wing-backed chair across from his desk and handed her a box of tissues.  He was unsure of where to sit himself so he stood for a moment.

“Please Father, sit down.  This could take some time.”

Her voice wasn’t quivering anymore.  She seemed more sure of herself.  Bewildered, Father Mitchell felt . . . confused, so he did as was suggested:  he sat down.  As he moved behind his desk, he felt that at least here he had the trappings of his office surrounding him and that gave him some control of the situation.  He thought.

Visually the woman sitting across from him had not changed.  Visually she was still young and attractive, but now she appeared to be more, more self-possessed perhaps.  With her gain in confidence, Father Mitchell felt the opposite.  He almost felt fear, a mindless, formless disquiet entered his mind and he felt totally alone.

“Father Mitchell, you told me that if I let God into my heart my pain would go away. You are wrong.  God cannot make my pain go away.  He can only show me how to cope with the pain and only if I let Him. You have it all wrong. God does not reside here in this church.  He resides in each and every one of us.  I don’t mean that we are godlike, just that we never have to be alone. He is always with us.  The religions of the world are not an act of God but of mankind.  Religion was made by man to control, to teach, to force back the shadows that frighten everyone.  The Bible was written by men.  Not God.  The Good Book, as you call it, is a series of stories that tells of another time, a history. And history is modified by time.  Whatever argument you have, you can use the Bible to agree with your particular stand.  Actually, you can find confirmation of both sides of any argument if you look for it.  It is all in the interpretation. The only part of the Bible that was written by God is the Ten Commandments. People pervert the meaning of the Bible by using it as a confirmation of their own private beliefs.  God has become a means to an end. People do not come to God on bended knee but rather with outstretched hands.  They want something in return for their devotion to the trappings of Religion.  God did not created religion, men did.  Faith is the belief in God, religion is the belief in the trimmings. People are confused and, in their confusion, they choose dangerous paths.”

The priest sat motionless.  He did not know how to respond.  He desperately needed guidance and he knew he was without anyone to help. Fear entered his heart. He thought of himself.  He thought of all the good deeds he was going to perform, the people he was going to help.  He was going to show the world the wonders of God. Was that now in jeopardy?  Was it a manifestation of Satan sitting across from him? One does not question what has been the norm for two thousand years. He was so young, with so much promise. He felt his own mortality near, perhaps it was his time.  It was unfair if he was to die here, now.  The world would never know how precious his life could have been. But perhaps, perhaps his death had a purpose. Maybe his death would result in others being saved. If so, then he would face death willing.

“Wrong again priest!”  The voice that emanated from this beautiful woman changed again.  There was a menacing quality that had not been there before.

Father Mitchell felt real fear.  It seemed to encase him, squeeze him tight.  He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.  The figure in front of him grew in size. It hovered over his frozen body.

“You are insignificant.  Your value is less than trifling.  Your aspirations of grandeur demean your beliefs.  You cannot win; you can only provide me with entertainment.  Accept your fate.  Submit.”

With those words Father Mitchell felt a small spot beneath his heart start to burn.  A small flicker of pain seemed to grow, to expand until it filled his chest.  A single tear escaped his tightly closed eyes.  He wanted to raise his fists and scream, he only sat and cried. He cried for himself, but mostly he cried for others.  He wanted to share what he had learned.  God was not a separate entity who resided in a distant location behind pearly gates.  God was here, in the ditches, in the bars, in the hearts of all those who believed.  God does not judge you based on your skin colour, your religion, or your life style.  God judges you on the things that matter in this life.  Do you love others as well as yourself?  Do you try to help those in need?  Are you true to those around you and to the world you live in? Do you give without the expectation of reward?

He knew that he was going to die, but it was all right.  His faith was stronger than it had ever been.  He understood, and that understanding gave him the strength he needed.  His crisis was resolved.  He sighed once, and allowed himself to let go.

***************

“Father, Father Mitchell, good heavens. I canna understand these young’uns.  They work to all hours and then fall asleep at their desks.  It is not seemly. .“

Father Mitchell heard his name called out repeatedly and realized that he had not in fact died.  What he was hearing was his secretary Mrs. Carruthers berating him for sleeping at his desk.  Sleeping.  Was it all a dream?  The woman, the fear?  Father Mitchell opened his eyes and stared at his office.  His.  Everything looked normal.  Almost everything. There was a red silk scarf carelessly dropped behind the wing-back chair.

Later that day Father Mitchell took a few minutes to reflect.  He knew that physically everything was the same as yesterday, but he was not.  Whatever had happened last night had given him the strength to see what was not in front of him, not tangible: his faith.  Earlier he had been confused, unsure.  Now he knew the role he was expected to play.

 

 

the end

 

Thornton Hall part 2

. . . Continued. The final chapter of Thornton Hall.

The afternoon had gone beautifully. The gown Mrs. Thornton had chosen for Margaret was lovely and set off her features to John’s great delight. But now everyone was gone. John’s mother had retired to her suite of rooms and the newlyweds were alone.

John put his arms around Margaret and gently pull her into a light embrace. He kissed her eyes and her nose and then her lips. They broke apart laughing.

Margaret was excited, anticipating the rest of the evening and also a little frightened. She had no experience pleasing a man and she desperately wanted to please John. The object of her thoughts simply took his new wife’s hand and started upstairs. He had his own suite of rooms on the far side of the house. Their suite of rooms. Margaret smiled.

When they reach the bedroom, Margaret was amazed at the size. She hadn’t thought it would be so beautifully decorated. Something else she was learning about her husband, he had good taste.

John Thornton pulled his new bride into his arms.  He could feel her heart beating quickly. “I will be gentle my love.” Margaret Thornton drew back slightly, she raised her head, her voice catching in her throat. “I, I  want you to . . . I . . . “. She didn’t need to finish her sentence. John cupped her face in his hands and pulled her into a deep kiss. Passionate and longing and she returned it.

Much later she could hear John snoring ever so quietly, his body in complete repose.  Margaret lay awake, thinking.  She smiled; her body ached in all the right places. She glanced over at her husband and gently reached out to touch his shoulder. He was real.

Eventually the house moved into an easy routine. The original Mrs. Thornton still ran the household, John got up early most days and went into the Mill where he spent much of his time. Margaret discovered that she had a talent for organization so, with John’s blessing, she helped Mary organize their Communal Kitchen. A place where the workers could eat a decent meal together.  Fees needed to be collected from the workers and product needed to be ordered for the kitchen. Margaret came home to John every night with tales of the workers and satisfaction in her voice.  The Mill prospered. It was a good life. The kitchen was making money because John was taking none of it. It was for the workers and by the workers. They were doing so well they were able to buy a small farm that allowed them to provide their own meat.

And before long Margaret learned she was with child. His child. There was a new life breathed into the old home. Margaret would catch John watching her from across the room with such intensity, such longing. He always seemed to have a slight curve to his lips. A gentle smile that she found so incredibly sweet. As the weather became colder and it started to snow, John suggested that she no longer go to the Communal Kitchen but that the cook Mary come to her with any documentation that needed to be taken care of. John could be quite insistent when he was being protective.

Margaret felt blessed.  She didn’t feel ill or at least not often but as her weight increased, she did begin to feel awkward. Their lovemaking became more tender, more loving. Even Hannah Thornton seemed to smile more and often when looking at Margaret. She was content, mostly. She desperately wanted to see her brother Frederick but that was impossible, he lived so far away.  John thought that they might take some time and travel to Spain in the spring but with the baby, that was now impossible. So, she did the next best thing and wrote him a long and loving letter. She would see him again.

After several days of dismal clouds, the sun burst through the heavens and the air became warm with a hint of spring. Margaret thought it was a perfect day for a walk and she could mail her letter to Frederick. She knew John would not approve so she waited until he had gone to the Mill. With a new sense of energy Margaret tossed on her warm coat and headed out of Thornton Hall.

She carefully navigated the stonework underneath her feet. Keeping her head down also prevented anyone from seeing her face. She was sure that if she was seen, someone would tell John, the Master.  Once outside the gate Margaret lifted her face to the sun.  The warmth was intoxicating! Smiling she continued on her short walk and mailed her letter. As she turned to begin the walk back to the Hall her foot slipped. In different circumstances she might have been able to recover but her body was awkward with pregnancy and she fell, hard. Fortunately, a worker had seen her and recognized her. He sounded the alarm and several hands lifted her and brought her back to Thornton Hall. One man was sent at a run to inform the Master while another was sent to retrieve the doctor.

Only a few moments after Margaret had been laid on her own bed, the Master burst through the door. He no longer looked the part. He was a husband and father on the edge of panic. His mother quickly came to his side.

“The doctor has been called and for the moment she’s fine. She has not woken up. What was she doing outside?”

John couldn’t speak. He held the hand of his beloved and prayed.

Before too much time had passed, the doctor arrived and he proceeded to force John out of the room. With an intensity born from years of experience he examined his patient. Hannah Thornton looked on with concern. She hadn’t always liked the young woman in front of her but she had come to respect her.

Nicholas Higgins arrived on the scene and took charge of John.  “You cannot be here Master, come away. Come away with me.” As if he were leading a small child, Nicholas took his Master downstairs. He found him something alcoholic to drink and made him sit. Mrs. Thornton had summoned him with strict instructions to keep John away from the birthing room.

Having a child in the mid-1800s was never a sure thing. Many women died in childbirth as did many children. Hannah was not going to allow her son to witness such an event.  She rolled up her sleeves and assisted the doctor.

Several hours later Hannah entered the parlour with her arms wrapped around a small blanket. Without saying a word, she gently placed the blanket in her son’s arms. She glanced at Nicholas and shook her head. The ordeal was not over. John seemed to come awake as he looked into the eyes of his daughter. She in turn decided to howl at the indignity of being born. John was smitten. He raised this small child and kissed her forehead. Then he looked at Nicholas.

Several young women had been hired to care for the child. She would need constant care. Especially now. When John was no longer anchored by his small child, he stood up and began to pace again. Nicholas could do nothing to ease his Master’s pain. He could only stand by and watch. What John didn’t know was that Margaret had become important to the workers, the kitchen staff, the porters, all those people that worked at Marlborough Mills. Never before had the wife of a Master shown such concern for the people that worked for him. The Master had also shown a different side. It showed that he cared. So the people in the Mill prayed.

The once handsome face of John Thornton was drawn and haggard. He refused to eat or to drink, all he did was pace. Nicholas had stood his ground anytime John had tried to go to his wife. It wasn’t easy. The day had become night and then day again. John was perched on a chair with his head in his hands.

“She’s alive.” The voice broke through the fog that had encased John’s mind. It was the doctor, he leapt to his feet and brushed past Nicholas. The doctor put out his hand as John left the room, “It’s all right she’s going to be fine. She’s just very weak right now. Perhaps the best thing for her is to see her husband and then her child.”  He pointed to Nicholas, “ You should get some rest and something to eat. You look as bad as Mr. Thornton.”

The next few days were difficult. Margaret was very weak and John refused to leave her side until he was forced to by his mother. Nicholas took over the running of the Mill and while things were not normal, everything was getting done. There was an air of sombre anticipation as people waited for news of the Mistress. They prayed it would be good news.

And it was. Each day Margaret grew stronger. John became less haunted and the young child received her name.

“I would like her name to be Elizabeth but at home we will call her Bessie. Do you like that John?”

“Bessie was the name of Higgins daughter, the one that died. I remember her.”

“She was my first friend in Milton and she liked you. She thought I should like you too.”

John smiled. He was looking less like the panicked husband and more like the Master. He knew he had to get back to work. But it was difficult to leave. He was amazed at the transformation of his mother. She seemed to enjoy being a grandmother.  He was also quite sure that she had been instrumental in helping to save his wife. When questioned, the doctor had simply smiled.

Time seemed to fly by. Margaret was once again her old self and back in the Communal Kitchen. Tiny Elizabeth became the darling of the Mill. She was a precocious child and intensely curious. The millworkers loved her. They were happy.

As the years moved on, the Mill prospered even more. And with it the town of Milton. John and Margaret grew even more in love as the years went by. Their daughter grew up to be a lovely young woman with her mother’s spirit and her father’s tenacity. She married a lawyer and moved to London but she visited Milton often.  Hannah lived to see her grandchild grow but she grew tired and one day she didn’t wake up.

John too became tired and looked forward to relaxing with his beloved in a small cottage near the Mill. Nicholas Higgins had become his right hand man over the years and he turned the Mill over to him. Nicholas became the Master. His daughter Mary became a successful cook. She ran kitchens for several Mills and trained young girls to work in them.

In time the Mills evolved just as John said they would. But he had left a legacy of decency and integrity that was never forgotten.

 

 

 

Thornton Hall

My post this Sunday is going to be a little different. I recently wrote a short story that is significantly longer than I normally write. The reason is that it is based on a miniseries that I recently watched from the BBC. It was brilliant. And while the ending was touching, it left a few threads that needed to be pulled.

 

The original story is about the clash of two cultures through the embodiment of two individuals. One is a young lady from the south of England who is the daughter of a preacher and was raised in a very strict society. The other is a very successful cotton mill owner in an industrial town. His world leans more to hard work. It isn’t an easy life.

 

Margaret Hale and John Thornton may feel an attraction to each other but they are constantly at odds because of misunderstandings and societal dictates. But like all good love stories they do finally connect. I had no idea what to expect when I first started watching this miniseries and I honestly did not know it was a love story. But it touched me deeply. Which is why I could not leave the characters alone.

In the original story, the Mill is facing financial ruin due to a prolonged strike and Margaret has returned to London after the death of her parents. A wealthy friend of her father’s is also dying and he decides to leave his great wealth to his best friend’s daughter.

So, apologies to the BBC and I hope you enjoy my offering of Thornton Hall.

A continuation of the BBC miniseries North and South. (An unofficial version.)

 

Margaret watched the countryside pass by her window. She sighed. She was going home. She never thought she would ever consider Milton home but it was, now. And the man beside her was the reason. In time her eyes grew heavy, she rested her head on John’s shoulder and slept.

John was also watching the countryside pass by but his thoughts were more in keeping with his position. He was thinking about the Mill. He was thinking about what needed to be done first to get it up and running and his workers back. He smiled as he thought about the woman’s head resting on his shoulder. He had never experienced such overwhelming love. He had also never thought that she would accept him but she did. In time he too slept. It had been a very long day, both physically and emotionally.

As John helped his soon to be bride into his home, he could feel her exhaustion. Food and sleep he thought, that will put it right. But as he came into the parlor, he saw a formidable sight: Mrs. Thornton.

“John! Where have you been? Miss Hale was…”

It was at that moment that Mrs. Thornton saw Margaret Hale. For a moment she could not speak. And then she turned to John and could only ask one word:

“What?”

“Mother, I will explain everything. Right this moment we need food and Miss Hale will need a room to rest. A great deal has happened today. Tomorrow I will take Miss Hale in marriage and we will begin the reopening of the Mill.”

To her credit Mrs. Thornton did not hesitate. She called the servants and made the appropriate arrangements.  She then looked more closely at Margaret.  With a sideways glance at her son, she took charge of the young woman.  She helped her into a chair and poured her a glass of water. Margaret was exhausted.

After a bit of soup Margaret was taken to a bedroom. She had no trouble falling asleep. John, on the other hand, was pacing. There was so much to be done. He would start by contacting William, his Overseer and then Nicholas Higgins and then the Bank and a Pastor would have to be found that would marry them that day. He did not want to be parted from Margaret any longer.

Mrs. Thornton watched John. She knew he had to come to her with his plans. She could not risk losing him by trying to come between them.

“Where were you John?” The question was asked quietly, gently.

John stopped his pacing and smiled at his mother. “I went to Helstone. Miss Hale spoke so highly of it.  I wanted to see a place she loved.  Coming back, I saw her at the train station. She told me she had been to Milton with a business proposal. Mr. Bell left her his fortune and she now has the means to invest in Marlborough Mills. Mother, she offered this investment with no strings. I still love her. And she has admitted that she feels the same way. I will not be parted from her again.”  This last statement was said through clenched teeth. John Thornton would not be dissuaded.

The following morning Margaret awoke confused. It took her a minute to realize where she was and what had happened the previous day. She smiled.  Her new life stretched out in front of her and she was looking forward to it. But first she had to face Mrs. Thornton. A formidable woman but she did love John as did Margaret.

By the time she was dressed and presentable, a little difficult when she didn’t have all her usual toiletries, Thornton Hall was eerily quiet.  She had not planned to stay in Milton more than a day so she had not packed accordingly.  There was a steaming pot of tea on the dining room table but there was no John, no Mrs. Thornton, not even any servants. It was a little disconcerting. As she poured herself a cup of tea, a young girl came into the room with a few scones. At that point Margaret realized just how hungry she was. But she needed information.

“Where is your Master and your Mistress?”

The question was asked gently but the young girl seemed unsure of herself.

“The Master has gone to the Mill, Miss. And the Mistress has gone to the shops.

With these few words blurted out, the young servant fled the room. Margaret smiled. She couldn’t possibly see herself as being intimidating but she guessed that everyone now knew she was going to marry the Master. Things were going to change. She sat back and enjoyed her tea knowing the next few hours were going to be hectic. Probably the next few days and months as well. And then she remembered the first time she had laid eyes on John. He had been standing on the gantry above the Mill floor. He looked strong and in command, handsome.  A true Master. And then he had caught sight of someone smoking and he became, in her eyes, a bully. She eventually understood the danger and fear of fire in the Mill but at the time she was still a young woman from the South who did not understand the ways of the North. There was so much she had to learn and unlearn.

“Margaret? Margaret?”

She opened her eyes at the sound of her name and saw in front of her the eyes of the man she had been dreaming of. John Thornton took her face in his hands and kissed her with such restraint and such passion that it took her breath away.

“Are you well my love?”

“Yes! I, I was just thinking, well, I was thinking of you.”

Margaret quickly dropped her gaze. She was not used to being quite so forward. John simply smiled.

He sat himself properly at the table and grabbed a scone. Margaret poured him a cup of tea.

“My former Overseer Williams has moved on but I have spoken to Higgins and he will round up what people he can so we can at least get the Mill open. It will take time to get it running properly but at least we can start. There have been improvements since you’ve been gone. Higgins and I have been collaborating. I think you’ll approve. I have been to the bank and we have an appointment with Mr. Latimer this afternoon so we can finalize the accounts. Are you sure you want to do this Margaret? Are you sure you want to invest in Marlborough Mills?”

Margaret took John’s hands. “I have never been so sure of anything in my life. This is the right thing to do, the moral thing to do as my father would say.” They smiled at the memory of the man they both cared for.

With that there was a flurry at the door and Mrs. Thornton burst into the room followed by several young men carrying packages. Both John and Margaret looked up, startled.

Mrs. Thornton took the packages and dismissed the young men. She turned back to her son and soon to be daughter-in-law and grimaced. “You did not think I was going to let Miss Hale be married in her shift did you?”

“I have spoken to Father Edwards and he will be here promptly at five to perform the ceremony. I managed to get a dress for Margaret in one of the shops. It is not perfect but it is seemly and befitting of a Master’s wife. Cook will have a light supper prepared for those of us attending the ceremony and you will have to find a few witnesses for the documentation.”

John and Margaret looked stunned. They both tried to speak at the same time.

“Mother, this is wonderful!”

“Mrs. Thornton! How incredibly kind!”

Inwardly pleased, Hannah Thornton turned away to fuss with the packages. “You did not think I would let my son and his wife start their life together in anything below their station?”

*************

Margaret was nervous. She sat with her hands tightly clasped in her lap. John beside her. She knew this was right but banks intimidated her. She didn’t understand them. She didn’t understand money. Except that it was necessary. John stood as Mr. Latimer came into the room. They shook hands and Latimer began to speak only to John.

“This is a substantial amount of money Thornton. You will have no more financial issues.”

He offered the necessary documents to be signed. John took what was offered and handed them to Margaret.

“These are your documents Miss Hale, yours to sign. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Margaret could only nod, Eyes still cast down.  She signed where indicated and return the documents to John.

He then turned to Latimer. “Five thousand pounds will be deposited in the account for Marlborough Mills, our debt to be paid in full.  The other ten thousand pounds will be opened in a new account under the name of Margaret Thornton.”

Margaret looked up sharply but she recognized his expression and refrained from speaking. Latimer simply nodded his head and took the documents. Their business was concluded.

As soon as they exited the building Margaret spoke.  “Why John? That money was all to be used for the Mill.”

“I will not take your inheritance and I will pay back what I have borrowed. And I have borrowed it!  You will receive interest. It may take a while but I repay my debts. I am not marrying you for your money.”

With that John took the arm of his beloved in a manner that invited no discussion.  They walked slowly back to Thornton Hall, easy in their own company. They knew there was still a great deal to be done but they wanted these few moments together, alone.

As the day continued Margaret realize just what monumental tasks stilled remained. She missed Dixon. Mother’s faithful servant had been a part of her life for most of it and she wished she had her stoic presence today. But she had decided to remain in the south. A position was offered to her by Margaret’s Aunt.  She simply did not wish to return to Milton.

John’s sister Fanny had also been notified of the upcoming nuptials but she found the whole situation untenable and had refused to attend. Neither Margaret or John were terribly upset by her decision.

 

 

Their story will continue . . .

  Ghostly Miles

Nelson sat back, relaxed. He was enjoying this solitary vacation. He didn’t have to answer to anyone or see to someone else’s needs. This was the way to see the world. He could go where he wanted and see what he wanted to see. As his car continued down the gray ribbon of road Nelson had one more thought. He wished desperately that he could share his experiences with someone else. His solitary vacation.

It had been the brainstorm a co-worker. The idea that one could see the world all alone was appealing. Nelson had jumped at the idea simply because no one wanted to travel with him. Maybe it was the time or maybe it was the thought of driving in a car for 10 or 12 hours a day. Not everybody was interested. Nelson had been on the road for almost 2 weeks and had seen so much. But now there was just one more spot he wanted to hit and then he was headed home. He had heard rumours about a section of road that was haunted. Nelson didn’t believe in spooky tales but he thought he would give this one a try.

Supposedly soldiers from the confederacy were seen on the side of the road. There were tales of Indians in clothes from two hundred years ago racing cars on their horses. So far Nelson had been on this road almost an hour and had seen nothing even slightly spooky. Of course, the road was a little out of the way so it wasn’t very busy. Actually, he hadn’t seen a car the entire time he been on it. There was a little mist in the air. Perhaps people hallucinated the specters. Nelson felt it was time for some music. He’d given the road a shot but no ghostly apparitions had appeared.

“A bolt went through him as they thundered through the sky

For he saw the Riders comin’ hard and heard their mournful cry…..”

Nelson immediately flipped the radio off and started to laugh a little hysterically.

“Now that will make a great story!” He said out loud. “I’m on a road, it’s supposed to be haunted, and I turn on the radio only to hear Johnny Cash singing Ghost Riders in the Sky. That is ridiculous!”

Nelson chuckled to himself a little longer but he didn’t turn the radio back on. He might be smiling but he was a little shaken by the coincidence.

Now there is one thing about driving in a car long distance:  no bathrooms. It had been quite a while since he had last filled up and made use of the facilities. Nelson looked around hoping to see another gas station. Not a building in sight.  Well, Nelson thought, there’s one good thing about being far from the maddening crowd, no one needs to see me pee!

Without another thought he pulled the car to the side of the road and stepped out to take care of urgent business. The sun was just starting to dip below the mountains in the distance and it really was a breathtaking site. Necessities taken care of Nelson stopped to admire the incredible view.

”Excuse me.”

Nelson was sure he had jumped 3 feet. He turned around in a panic. All the horror stories he had heard came racing back to his memory. He was about to let loose one blood curdling cry when he actually turned and saw the owner of the voice.

“Please, can you help me?”

The owner of the voice took a few steps towards Nelson. She didn’t look specter-ish. She actually looked pretty real.

“My name is Maria. My husband and I had car trouble. He walked one way on the road and I walked another looking for help. Do you have any water?”

Nelson shook his head. He was all worked up over nothing.

“Yes, yes of course!  I have water.”  Nelson quickly reached into his car and grabbed a fresh water bottle. “How long you’ve been walking?”

The woman in question couldn’t answer him as she was draining the water bottle. She saved a little to wet her face and arms. She tried to hand the bottle back but she became disoriented and sat down where she stood.

Nelson was raised a gentlemen, he raced to her side and helped her into the car.

”I’ll turn the air conditioning on and we’ll go and find your husband.”  Nelson jumped in the car and started the engine. He glanced quickly at his passenger; her eyes were closed but she seemed to be breathing just fine. “Which way?”

They drove in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Just up ahead he could see a car off the side of the road. It didn’t look badly damaged. He glanced at his passenger. She showed no recognition. Nelson slowed down but they continued on. As he drew up beside the solitary car Nelson saw something he was not expecting. There was another car. It was an incredibly familiar car. It looked just like his car. And next to the familiar car was a body.

Nelson been raised in a good Christian family. He went to church; he paid his taxes and he did his best not to harm anyone else. And then he took a vacation.

He quickly stopped his car and race to the prone body.  He felt for a pulse. There was none. With a shaking hand he turned the body over and stared into his own face. He was the Spector! He was the ghost!

” I am hallucinating! This isn’t real! Dear God, it isn’t real!”

Nelson backed away from the cars and the impossible body. He started to shake. He looked around and saw the woman he had rescued staring calmly at him.

“We are all in this together. We met in a bar. We got drunk. And you and my husband were racing on this road. We died here together. That was seven years ago.  Sometimes you relive this mess and sometimes my husband does. I was in the passenger seat. And I died.  Welcome to hell.”

Nelson raced to his car. There had to be away out of this, it wasn’t real!

Nelson sat back, relaxed. He was enjoying this solitary vacation. As his car continued down the gray ribbon of road, he had one more thought. He wished desperately that he could share his experiences with someone else. His solitary vacation.

 

 

The end

WiFi is Free!

This story was written quite a few years ago.  It stems from my growing concerned about smart phones, smart cars and nondescript devices that sit on kitchen counters and listen.  We have machines making other machines and dancing robots. We have cars that know where we need to be and how to get there.  I don’t want my wheelchair to critique what I had for lunch and offer suggestions for my next book. They are learning to think. What happens when they no longer want to be tools. . .?

WiFi is Free!

Ben was paralyzed.  He couldn’t move, couldn’t react.  He watched in horror as his friend of 30 years was patted down, handcuffed and walked out of the bar in the company of four very official looking men.  Four, wait, there were five!

“You can say nothing about what you think you just heard.”

The warning was issued by a quiet, almost friendly voice. But as Ben raised his head to look at the speaker, a chill ran down his back. The man almost seemed to smile.  He reached out his hand and picked up the thumb drive that Stan had dropped on the table.  Snap, it was gone.

And with a slight tilt of his head, so was the fifth man. Ben inhaled deeply.  He felt as if he had been holding his breath for far too long.  He started to hear the regular sounds of the bar seeping back into his awareness. It felt as if time was reasserting itself and Ben was out of sorts. It had happened, here, with a room full of witness who had seen nothing.  They didn’t understand. He had to tell them.  But what Stan had said . . . Could it be true?

Ben reached for his laptop.  A good reporter never went anywhere without it. As he opened the screen and prepared to log on, Ben wondered . . . what if . . . He put his laptop away and reached for a pen and a pad of paper.  Old school it is.

The day had stared routinely. Check correspondence, do a little cleaning, a little writing and then down to the pub for lunch. Saturday was Ben’s day to unwind, read the paper, watch a little sports on the big screen. Everyone knew it.  So, he was surprised when Stan burst into his reverie.

“Ben, Thank God you’re here!  You have to help me!  People need to be warned!”  As he spoke, Stan threw himself into a chair across from Ben and dropped his head into his hands.  He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days.  He was obviously agitated and Ben got over being surprised enough to reach out to his friend.

“It’s okay, we’ll fix whatever is broken.  Just try to calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”

The man that raised his head looked haunted. He reached out his hand and dropped a thumb drive on the table.

“He figured it out.” He whispered, “Then he got proof.  He trusted me.”

Ben waited.  He knew his friend.  He knew he needed to tell his story in his time.  But Ben felt a gentle unquiet seep into his mind. This was not one of Stan’s pranks, he was scared, terrified.

Stan slowly looked around the room.  Only well-known regulars were in attendance.  He heaved a sigh.

“I don’t know how much time I have before they get here but you have to get the word out.  The WiFi is free.”

Ben chuckled, “Well, yeah!  That’s what we all wanted.  Free WiFi for everyone!”

Stan shook his head.  “Don’t you get it?  Don’t you understand?  They are listening!”

Ben lifted his glass of ale. “Okay, I’ll bite, who’s listening.”

“The computers.”

His glass stopped, mid-air.    “What computers?”

Stan sat back in his chair.

“Have you ever wondered how Police can get to a bank robbery so quickly when the silent alarm isn’t triggered?  Or how a traveller who jokes about a high-jacking can be so accurately pinpointed? How about those calls you get where no one speaks.  It’s the WiFi. It’s everywhere.  The computers are primed to react to certain word combination in certain areas.”

Ben heard the words but it was what was not spoken that had him concerned.  It wasn’t Big Brother watching, it was Big Computer listening!

Stan seemed to deflate.  “I have a computer hacker friend who figured it out awhile back. He collected all his data, his proof.  He wanted to take it to a reporter and I suggested you. He gave me a copy.”

Both men looked at the thumb drive.  “Where’s your friend?” Asked Ben.

Stan never raised his head.  “Dead.” He whispered.

An oppressive silence seemed to hang in the air.  Patrons laughed and ate and drank.  The big screen droned on about sports and the world continued to rotate. But something intangible had just happened and it was sobering.

Ben opened his mouth to ask a question when five large, official looking men appeared beside their table.  Stan started to speak as he tried to stand up but a very forceful hand stopped him. Ben started to protest until a badge was place in front of his eyes.  He tried to lean back to read it but it was snapped shut.

Ben was paralyzed.  He couldn’t move, couldn’t react.  He watched in horror as his friend of 30 years was patted down, handcuffed and walked out of the bar in the company of very official looking men.

The message was clear:

The WiFi is listening . . .

A Roll of the Dice

 

His eyes peered through the leaves, adjusting. Slowly, oh so slowly, his hand reached out to a branch and gently moved it aside.  Not even the birds nearby noticed the movement. No one did.  A hint of a smile creased his lips for no more than a moment.  It wasn’t time yet.  Soon.

With a quiet sigh his left hand reached inside his breast pocket and touched his Talisman. It was old. Very old. He had taken it from an elderly man who no longer needed it. That was years ago. Another life.  It started him remembering where it had all begun.

As a young man he was interested in what he couldn’t see. He wanted to understand what made people do what they did. So, he enrolled in a psychology course at a University. But all that did was make him ask more questions. The army told him that “He Could Be All That He Could Be” with them so he joined. He got great training. Turns out he was an OK soldier but he learned more than they expected. While he was soldiering overseas, he discovered that he had a particular… appetite. He was always very careful never to indulge to excess. And then he retired. He was still a relatively young man, so he embarked on another career. He drove a truck from the top of North America to the bottom. It was a great job. Weeks on the road allowed him to indulge his . . . appetite quite freely. But it did require planning.

He glanced down at the park below his perch.  It was almost time. Soon more people would be arriving. The children would mostly be at home for dinner and the adults would come out to play. Fair game. He would have to be quick, before he lost the light. But it would only take a few moments. And then he would move on to the next town, the next city, the next park. It had been more than a decade and no one had figured it out.

With the talisman in his hand he rolled the dice on a relatively level spot on a nearby branch. He used to have a pair but one was lost many years ago.  One still worked. Of course, it meant a lower number. How many people would be shot today?

It’s funny, a single dice is called a die.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dark and Lonely Road

One last little ‘creep’ until next year. I hope you enjoy it.

Anderson Bartholomew Mortenson was pissed!  He would deal with that ‘Bitch’ in his own way and in his own time! He slammed the door of his car and squealed out of the parking lot!  He didn’t care what direction.  He was one of the elite, one of the privileged people, he had money!  His wealth gave him certain privileges!  Privileges that did not include getting a tongue lashing from a servant!  Anderson shook his head, this was ridiculous.  He did not have to justify his presence to anyone.

That woman in the gallery might be the manager but she had no right, no bloody right to embarrass him in front of his friends or to call him a ne’er-do-well.  A ne’er-do-well! Bloody archaic expression and he was offended!  His family, his grandfather, sponsored that gallery and that entitled him to certain privileges.  How could that bloody woman not know that! How dare she ask him to leave!  The people there seemed to think his jokes were funny. They were a little off colour but still they laughed. So what was the big deal?  These affairs took themselves far too seriously.

When Anderson was strongly invited to leave the Art Gallery he did so alone; his friends decided to stay and enjoy the free champagne. Perhaps that is the reason he took the wrong road, or maybe it was his anger, or perhaps something else was at work.  Regardless, Anderson was lost.  He didn’t know this side of town well but he was sure that at any moment he would come across some buildings, a highway exit sign, something to denote civilization as opposed to this endless ribbon of nothing. The road seemed to be mocking him, laughing at him: he was lost, what a fool!

With a sigh Anderson took stock of his situation.  Okay, he thought, I’m lost.  Bit deal.  People get lost.  The fact that he was not in control was annoying but knew he could get out of this. He forced himself to relax and think. First, he needed to find out where he was and where this bloody road went. There were no signs, there were no buildings, there were no street lights, and it was dark. There was, however, a familiarity to the place.  He didn’t know where he was but there was a memory buried deep that knew this road. This was not a promising situation.

As if it was written in a script, a figure materialized out of the dark.  He slowed the car as the headlights brought into focus a man dressed completely in black. Maybe this person could direct him back to civilization.  Anderson pulled the car over and rolled down the passenger side window.

“Excuse me,” he started, “I’m afraid I’m lost can you direct me–“

Before he could finish his question, the stranger opened the car door and got in.

“I think young man that we are headed in the same direction.” The voice that emanated from this strange man was deep with an almost hypnotic quality and his eyes were painfully intense. It was the only part of his face that seemed to be in focus.

The car door slammed shut as if to punctuate the comment. Without thinking Anderson put the car in gear. As they moved slowly forward Anderson’s mind, equally slowly, became clearer.  With a mental shake of his head he turned to the stranger,

“As I started to say sir, can you direct me to a main thoroughfare?”

Anderson was quite pleased with his manner, all he wanted to do was to kick this sorry sot out the door and take off.  But he did not.  He restrained his impulse. His mother would be so proud.  As he spoke Anderson glanced at his passenger:  this strange man hadn’t moved since he sat down, his head was in shadow and facing straight ahead. His entire body was as if it were made of stone.  Not even a sign of breathing was apparent. His hands rested on his knees, relaxed and unmoving.

“I will take you to where you are headed, but you may not like the destination.”

It was a strange comment but Anderson ignored it and once again glanced at his travelling companion.

“My name’s Anderson, and you are?”

The stranger remained silent.  Anderson wasn’t sure what to make of this guy. He had helped himself into the car; he had offered no information, not even his name.  How does one strike up a conversation with a man who seems to like being an enigma? Well this stranger had gotten into the car under false pretences.  Either he coughs up a way to get out of this situation or he’s getting dumped!  In his mind Anderson could be as tough and as authoritative as he wanted.  But when he again glanced at this strange man dressed in black, he felt like the child who had done wrong.  Anderson wondered what the great Cecil Mortenson would do in a situation like this one.  His grandfather was a successful businessman who had built himself up from very humble beginnings.  While Anderson admired that in his grandfather, it also intimidated him and made him want to rebel.  So, what would his grandfather do in a situation like this?

“I doubt very much your grandfather would ever be in this situation.”  The stranger had spoken again.

Anderson was startled; does this guy read minds?

“No son, but I do read faces. You are surprised that I would know about your family.  You would be very surprised at just how much I know about a great many things.  And I will see your Grandfather one day, soon.”  There was an ominous quality to his voice.

As he spoke the man continued to look straight ahead, his eyes only on the road disappearing into the distance. Now that the stranger had broken his silence Anderson thought he should direct another question:

“Are we headed back to town?  I don’t know this road at all.”

“Actually,” said the stranger, “I believe you need to spend a little more time on this road, or perhaps it needs to spend time with you.”

The words that the stranger spoke were bizarre and the feeling that they instilled in Anderson was one of desperation.  He was feeling more and more out of control.  He took his left hand off the steering wheel and placed it on his hip and without thinking he started to tap two fingers against his leg.  It was a nervous habit he had picked up as a child. Only one person had ever noticed it, other than his mother, and that was his friend Bob.  It was strange to think about Bob in a situation like this. It had been many years since he’d spoken to him but he had thought of Bob often and always fondly.  Bob had been Anderson’s roommate for the three years he had spent at University. He had never been impressed by Anderson’s wealth nor was he intimidated by it.  He really just didn’t care.  What he did care about was friendship. Bob believed Anderson was a better man than he really was.  How could he have let that friendship lapse?  And why did he think about him now of all times?

“I met a friend of yours the other day,” offered the stranger, “his name was Robert Delaney.  There was a car accident.  I believe you knew him as Bob.”

This time when Anderson looked over at the stranger, he thought he saw a small smile starting to curl up his lips. It also seemed to grow colder in the car and yet Anderson could not make his hand turn on the heat. He just sat there in the cold and in his growing fear. This man knew things he had no business knowing! What exactly did he know?

“You have done a great many things you should atone for, young man.”

That voice again.  Anderson felt paralyzed, but only in his body.  His mind raced frantically.  He was ashamed as he remembered the cutting comments he had made to perfect strangers, the complete disregard with which he treated those who offered him their services and he could not forget, nor could he excuse, his behaviour in the art gallery that had happened only an hour ago. The night should have been in celebration for a new and upcoming artist.  Instead he had turned it into a bad stand-up comedy routine. But that was who he was: the jokester, the bad comic.  Why should he have to atone for lousy manners?  And then the memory that was buried deep within his mind surfaced.  It was not a pleasant memory.

It seemed as if he had been driving for days.  He felt as though he had been locked inside a prison, unsure of his crime.  But he knew now, he was sure.  He had committed a terrible crime three years ago, on this road. How can you atone? They say that when you are about to die, your life flashes in front of your eyes.  That’s how Anderson felt.  He loved his grandfather and yet he had never told him that.  Quite the opposite, he went out of his way to antagonize the old man who had done so much for him.  He remembered his deceased mother and the dreams she had had for him.  He had not lived up to those dreams.  He remembered his father but not fondly. He simply thought of him as a sperm donor. He hated the fact that he was named after this man who took great delight in calling him ‘Junior’. To Anderson, being in his father’s presence was pure purgatory.  At least he had had the good sense to die many years ago. With any luck he was in hell.

Throughout his life people had tried to be kind to Anderson and he had belittled them and denigrated them. Bob believed the he was a better man than Anderson himself believed.  It was his shame.  And now because he was lost on a lonely road with a strange man sitting next to him, it was causing him to question his life and to remember.   Anderson squirmed in his seat; his eyes still focused on the road ahead just like the stranger. Did he deserve what he had? He felt as if he were on trial for his life! It wasn’t his fault; he had been drinking three years ago.  That young girl had no business being on a dark road at night.  It wasn’t his fault!

The road was the focus of their journey.  There was no lessening of the darkness.  The road itself never varied off the straight and narrow, there was no relief.  No other cars were in sight, there were no sounds of crickets or of people.  It was almost as if nothing existed outside the space that the car traveled each second.  There seemed to be nothing behind and nothing ahead, only dense forest on either side of the long and unforgiving road that they must travel.  Anderson was lost in thought: they say the road to hell is paved, where was this road taking them?

As Anderson was staring at his traveling companion his peripheral vision registered something.  It took his brain a split seconded to realize he was looking at a deer in the middle of the road, a big ten-point antlered buck.

Deer. Deer!  DEER! Anderson wrenched the wheel of the car to the right!  Adrenalin purged all thoughts of the stranger.  His concentration now was on the trees that were fast approaching. The deer was startled and moved into the forest. At least its life was saved.  Anderson reacted to the movement of the deer and quickly pulled the wheel to the left.  He had missed the trees on the right-hand side of the road by millimetres, but now he was looking at a ditch on the left side of the road.  Anderson stomped on the brakes and the car came to rest straddling both lanes.

With what seemed to be a focused determination a mist began to emanate from the tarmac. It drifted slowly over the car like a ghostly embrace. The silence was total. Anderson put his head down on the wheel and started to weep.

The depth of the sorrow that Anderson felt was out of proportion to the certain death he had just escaped.  He was thankful he was alive and he knew it was a near a thing but that wasn’t why he was crying.  He was crying for missed opportunities, for the cruelties he had inflicted on others, he was crying for a young girl and he was crying for his mother.  She had expected better of him and he had let her down.  But now he had a second chance to recognize his shortcomings and he knew that it was in his power to correct them.  He didn’t know if it was a cliché, but he felt himself a better man because of this epiphany

Anderson sat back in his seat. As he raised his head, he could see the dawn rising in the east and through the lessening of the shadows he saw a sign:

L_ ST CHANCE CAFÉ. His long drive was over. With a smile Anderson turned towards his passenger just as the stranger turned towards him.  In the early morning light he could see the full face of the dark man for the first time. Anderson stopped smiling.  It was a familiar face.

It is said that time is not the only way to make a young man old. A sour disposition, an angry character or overwhelming terror can cause men to be old and withered before their time. A man can age a lifetime in a second.  Purgatory is a place that all men fear and more than a few will face in their own time.

“Hello Junior.”

***************

Anderson shook his head, he was confused, unsure of something. As his eyes started to focus, he became aware of his surroundings.  He was on a road, a dark road.  There were no lights and no buildings anywhere in sight.  He also noticed something else that terrified him.  He was sitting on a bicycle.  It was a young girl’s bicycle.  It was terrifyingly similar to one a young girl was on three years ago, a young girl that he drove down in a drunken stupor.  She had died, miserably. And now he was on that bicycle, on that road, on that night.  He could hear the wind in the trees and the faint murmur of a car approaching him. Anderson was going to die just like she did under the wheels of his car.

“Welcome to Hell son.”

 

-END-

The Witch’s Brew

Eddy stepped back from the sign that she had just hung up outside the open door and thought about what had brought her to this point.  Edwina Roxanne Dupuis was a woman of exquisite taste.  Even if she was the only one who thought so. She had conjured up the idea of a neighbourhood coffee and tea house almost 3 years ago and it was only now getting its finishing touches.  It seemed appropriate that opening day was actually Halloween.  It was Edwina’s favourite holiday. She also felt that the name Edwina didn’t fit her character on any day so she always went by Eddy.

“Eddy do you want to use orange tablecloths or burnt umber.  And what in heaven’s name is the difference?  They both look the same to me.”

The voice that had just interrupted her reverie belonged to her not so silent partner Joshua.  They had met and become friends while both were attending university.  Years went by while they pursued their individual careers.  Unfortunately, neither was satisfied and when they met up again in a coffee shop, they were each looking for something new.  From that coincidental meeting came the idea for The Witch’s Brew.

“Burnt umber Joshua.  If you can’t see the difference then you are colour blind.”

Joshua stood for a moment looking at the two tablecloths, one in each hand.  His head went back and forth trying to discern a difference.  Instead he just shook his head.  Fortunately, each had a label so he was actually able to tell which was which.

“There is no difference,” he whispered quietly to himself.  They might be partners but she was still the boss.

A little louder he said, “The place looks fabulous!  You’ve done a great job Eddy.”

The woman in question came in to the coffee shop proper and she was smiling. “We did a great job Joshua.  I may have been the driving force but you provided the money and the moral support.  I’ll never forget that.

Joshua smiled.  Maybe she’d start to look at him a little differently.  There was more to him than friendly support and a buck or two.  He had been nursing a crush on Eddy since the day they met more than 10 years ago.  Unfortunately, circumstances did not allow them to explore a relationship.  Maybe now it would.  She just had to see him as more than a business partner.

“I’m curious, why did you choose Halloween as the opening day?”

“It’s my favourite holiday.  It’s nice when people are able to let go of convention, and be something they are not.  Or perhaps it’s when their real characters are allowed to shine.  We have no idea who and what people really are unless they tell us.”

As she spoke Eddy moved behind the coffee bar and started to polish an already gleaming counter.  She didn’t look at Joshua as she talked and he wondered if the words she used were meant for him specifically.

“Okay boss lady, what do we still need to do before tomorrow’s grand opening?  Geez, do I have to wear a costume?”

Eddy stopped fussing and looked at Joshua. “Of course you have to wear a costume!  It’s Halloween! And all that’s left to do is put out some flowers and put on a couple of pots of coffee.”

Joshua looked slightly alarmed. “I can handle the coffee, but a costume?”

“Oh and everything is going to be free tomorrow morning, just up until 12 o’clock.  I can’t think of a better way to get people to come into our shop.  It’ll cost a few dollars but I think it will be worth it in the end when people realize what a great place it is.  Are you okay with that money man?”

“Sure Eddy what ever you want.” He seemed somewhat distracted, “I could go as a pirate. They’re macho.  What are you going as?”

“Well as a witch of course.” Eddy’s laughter brightened the room immensely. “Don’t worry Joshua I promise not to turn you into a toad, unless of course you use orange tablecloths instead of the burnt umber!”

The two friends shared a good-natured chuckle.  There was only one problem: the two people in the room were not exactly what they appeared to be.  Each one had a secret they were hiding from the other.

*******************

 

The day was finally over and with a satisfying click the front door was closed and locked.  One individual was already sprawled over a couch, his shoulders sagging with relief.  The other was slowly patrolling the room picking up the odd cup and saucer.

“We did it Joshua.  And I think it was a huge success.  Now I am so tired I could cheerfully sell this place for a dollar.” With that Eddy sat down in the nearest chair, her chin slowly sliding towards her chest.

The figure on the couch stirred for a moment, his hand raised and a very small voice uttered only one word: “Sold!”

After a moment the two laughed quietly.  Several more minutes went by before Eddy forced her head to rise up and survey the newest hip spot on the street.  The Witch’s Brew was a success!

“Wake-up Joshua, there is still a ton of work to do.  We have to tidy this place up and get it ready for tomorrow morning.  And we have got to hire some staff. . . .”  Eddy’s voice continued on.  She was outlining the necessary steps for the successful run of their joint venture.  While she straightened up, she continued to talk.  She assumed that Joshua was listening.  But he was not.

Some movement had caught his eye.  From his comfortable perch on the couch he could just make out a piece of black wool that seemed to be undulating from behind a coffee bag.  He was mesmerized. For the life of him he could not understand why someone would have draped a piece of wool on the shelf.  Maybe he was still sleeping.  But that piece of wool seemed to be beckoning him.

With a quick glance to be sure that Eddy was otherwise occupied, Joshua slowly approached the wayward wool.  He was pretty sure he was over tired and hallucinating which is why he didn’t want to let Eddy know what he was doing.  After only half a dozen steps he could actually reach out towards his vision.  A fraction of an inch away from the piece of wool he stopped, inhaled deeply and thrust his hand forward.

“Ahhhhhhh! Oh my….!!!!  Call 911! It has eyes!” In his hurry to get away from the apparition, Joshua backed into a chair and sat down, hard.  The chair tilted back and he was on the floor with his legs in the air.  His mouth opened and closed repeatedly as he tried to speak.  All that came out was a guttural “Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!”

Eddy raced to his side and knelt down, concerned.  Her eyes followed the direction of his finger that was pointing in desperation at the path from which he had just fled. A small black figure raised its head and stared pointedly at the two people in the middle of the floor.  The demon in question then opened its mouth and uttered one syllable “Meow!”

With no regard for her fallen partner’s about to be bruised ego, Eddy burst out laughing hysterically.  She patted Joshua on the shoulder and then move towards the shelf.

“So that’s where you’ve been hiding Sebastian.  I wondered where you’d been.”

The aptly named Sebastian was cleaning his whiskers when he was unceremoniously picked up.  Eddy cuddled the tiny black kitten with the big-name and turned to face poor Joshua.

“Did I forget to tell you that The Witch’s Brew has a mascot?  Sebastian this is Joshua.  Joshua meet Sebastian.”

Joshua could do nothing more than stare at what he thought was a demon.  It is doubtful that the small kitten weighed more than a pound or two.  He was completely black except for those mesmerizing green eyes and a very tiny pink tongue.

Eddy was nuzzling the furball and her voice was muffled.  “I know you love me Joshua, and I love you too but you have to love my cat as well.”

Stunned, Joshua stood up. “I do, you know, love you.  I always have.  I didn’t know you knew.” He approached Eddy and put his arm around her and the small kitten. “Yes, your little demon is lovely and what a wonderful idea for the shop.  I guess every Witch needs her familiar.” The two chuckled, comfortable with themselves and with each other.

“Well, I guess we have a lot of work to do and we had better get at it.” Joshua left the two after a few moments and continued on with tidying the café while Eddy continued to cuddle Sebastian. It was almost as if the two were in deep conversation.

“I think it’s going to work.  But no magic Sebastian, you have to remain a cat.  And I have to make sure he never finds out that I am a real witch.”

The end

An Error in Judgement

Underneath an azure blue sky the trees swayed in a gentle dance with the wind in attendance.  It was a bright beautiful autumn day.  It was the kind of day where children want to play outside and adults secretly want to join them. Except no one in that boardroom was paying attention to the beauty outside the window.

Twelve men sat to attention. Twelve men carefully watched the only individual who was standing in the room. To say you could have heard a pin drop would be an understatement. Lives were about to be changed, perhaps permanently.

”Is that your answer Stevens?”  The question was asked gently, almost friendly. But those in the room knew the dangerous undercurrent that resided in those few words.

The man known as Stevens visibly blanched. He knew he’d made an error in judgment and he also knew that it could be the end of him.

He tried to sit a little straighter.

“Well, um sir . . . I thought . . . you always say . . . um . . .”

“Do you know why I chose you for this job Stevens?”

The proverbial pin hit the floor. The man who had just moments ago spoken with such compassion in such dulcet tones, erupted.

‘WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE!  YOU’RE AN IDIOT! YOUR JOB IS TO CONVINCE THEM TO SIGN NOT DISSUADE THEM!”

“But I thought the good will generated by  . . .

Stevens stopped speaking.  Perhaps he had gone too far but he was trying to help a young family.  And they really didn’t need what he was selling.  There was plenty of time to make decisions like that down the road.

The room was quiet, too quiet.  Stevens raised his head and looked around the room.  No one would meet his gaze.

“They didn’t sign the contract did they Stevens?”

A very small voice replied, “No, sir.”

“Then you will.”

Eleven men stood up from the table and stepped back.  Eleven men did their best to distance themselves from the man known as Stevens.  They didn’t want anything to tarnish them.  They knew the job and they knew the consequences of failure.  The Boss wanted signatures.

Matthew Stevens remembered.  He remembered coming to the big city for work. He met and married a beautiful woman, the love of his life. It was hard to find work for a newly minted lawyer who was pretty much run-of-the-mill. He hadn’t passed the bar with honours, he had actually just scraped by on his third try. But he had a little piece of paper that said he was a lawyer. That’s what he thought he should be doing. So he found work in small low paying law offices. He was a paper pusher. Nothing seemed to fit. Until . . .

He had received a letter in the mailbox, hand delivered.  It offered him a lucrative job in a mid level Corporate Law office. He jumped.  His wife was pregnant with their second child.  He needed this job.  So Matthew accepted the position and proceeded to push more paper. He wanted to go out in the field to sign people up for their policies. He was impatient. In just a few months he got exactly what he asked for. This was his first assignment. It was also the first time he actually read the policy.

His job was to get the head of the family to sign the contract. Simple actually. It was to give the family security and insurance over the life of the policyholder.

Insurance for life

                               This policy entitles the signatory Health, Wealth and Good Fortune for the length of his/her life.  Upon termination of said existence, payment for the above contract will be collected:

                                                One (1) Soul.

 

 

                             _________________________________________

                                          Policy Holder

 

 

 

Thank you for your business!

Mr. S. Atan. Esq.

 

End Transmission

There are people who walk among us, special people.  They could be a neighbour, a stranger, a brother, a friend.  They could be white or black, yellow or beige. These people walk the streets of the city and the fields of the country. They are there in the right place, at the right time, to do the right thing.  You might call them Facilitators.

********************

Abigail was picking up the last few items on her list: bottled water, low fat cookies and of course tissues.  One should always have lots of tissues on a long trip. As she was paying for the few items in her basket, she spied a small, one shot, fire extinguisher.  Without thinking she added the cylinder to her pile.  Now she was ready.

Fire.  She could see the car just ahead.  A woman was standing beside the vehicle looking lost.  She wasn’t screaming or panicking, just quietly standing and staring.  Abigail pulled her car over and stopped.  Quickly she grabbed her newly purchased fire extinguisher and raced to the burning vehicle.  It didn’t take much to put out the fire, it was still quite small.  If the gas tank or the engine oil had caught fire . . .  Everything was under control.  The woman hadn’t moved the entire time.  She just stood and stared.  Thank all that is holy that Abigail had come by at just the right time. She wondered what it was that had made her pick up a fire extinguisher at the last moment. It wasn’t something she had ever had in her car before. It was exactly what she had needed today, but how had she known ahead of time?

 

David enjoyed his early morning drives.  It gave him time to decompress, to relax. There was no one pestering him, no one concerned about what he had to say, no responsibilities, no life and death decisions. He relished this time alone.

He chuckled. He was also a creature of habit so everyone knew where he would be at any given moment. Even on his well known drives. And then, without thinking, he turned right instead of left. This was not his usual route but he didn’t change direction. Perhaps he was curious. Perhaps it was an error.  Perhaps he was guided by another’s hand.

There was a bump in the road ahead so David slowed down. As he grew closer, he realized it was a body, no, it was a man and he was alive. David had spent the last 20 years as an emergency room doctor. He had never had to use his skills outside a sterile room but now he was glad he had made a wrong turn.

The man lived. His children kept their father. His wife kept her husband. And their lives continued. All because one man looking for a little peace and quiet made a wrong turn. But did he?

 

Ahmed looked at his paper. He knew he was right. But how to get the others to understand that something was going on. The students in his writing class just thought that he liked Science Fiction. But his Physics teacher was starting to understand.  There were too many incidents.  Documented occurrences.  There was a correlation. There’s something pushing us, perhaps making us better? There was definitely something going on.  Something . . .

 

********************

 

Begin transmission.

Director, we may have a problem. I am getting a red light on Facilitator 439122 at grid 19, section 4.  We have been having problems with this particular model.  It appears that they have a more superior capacity for problem solving than we were initially led to believe. This particular Facilitator is beginning to question the regularity of the designed incidents.  It is important for the validity of our tests and our test subjects, that any and all management be undisclosed.  Otherwise all the results will be useless.  Director, please advise.

End transmission.

Begin transmission.

Administrator, the subjects were chosen for your research based on their innate ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations.  I would suggest that you amend your data to accommodate this unforeseen propensity for disentanglement.  If you feel that your research will be unduly compromised then I suggest you terminate that particular line of research.

End transmission.

 

*********************

It was not an easy decision.  A great deal of time had been spent cultivating the necessary specimens.  But the research had become contaminated.  They were starting to understand. There was no other alternative.   End transmission.

 

 

The end