Tag Archives: short story

OLi’s Tale

Some stories begin at the beginning. That is the natural way of things. But some stories begin before the beginning. And that can be the most interesting of tales.

 

Lizzy had just moved to New York City; she had needed a change and she thought she could find anonymity here. She wanted to wander silently through the crowds and soak up the beauty that was New York but she didn’t want anyone to rely on her or for her to rely on anyone else. Maybe just for a little while. And that is how Lizzy found herself in a small art shop buying a few supplies. She like to sketch what she saw but she didn’t have what she needed.  And of course, she needed something to carry all the supplies she would use. The shop offered perfectly sized canvas bags. It was great and it was, well, boring. But the shopkeeper had a plan. She supplied the paints so anyone could paint what they wanted onto the bag. Lizzy loved the thought but had no idea what to paint. So, she looked around the room and saw a book with a fierce picture of a dragon on the front and the words “MYSTICAL CREATURES”. She thought the idea of a dragon was great but he had to be a little less menacing so she put her head down and started to paint. Eventually she was happy with what she had done and she was just finishing off the tail when a small child approached her cautiously.

“I think he would like to have a purple ribbon around his tail.”

Startled, Lizzy looked up and then immediately looked down. After all, the voice had come from almost below the table from a beautiful little girl dressed in purple.

“I like your dragon but I think he needs a purple ribbon.”

The voice spoke with the confidence of innocence. Lizzy smiled and answered her.

“I agree.  And what is your name?”

“Olivia,” she said. And then with a sudden burst of shyness, she turned and ran from the store, her father in tow. He smiled a tired smile at Lizzy and followed his daughter.

Lizzy grinned. She wanted to credit the little girl with giving her the idea so she started to print her name on the ribbon. O L and then she thought maybe she shouldn’t because she didn’t have permission. She wondered what to do. And then a thought came to her. She already painted an O and an L and she would add an I but in lowercase to acknowledge the small child. And OLi was born.

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

In a time very long ago and in a place very far away, lived a tribe of dragons and a tribe of people.  The dragons lived on top of a mountain while the people lived in the valley far below. It was an uneasy truce but it had lasted for hundreds of years. And it was expected to last for hundreds more.

But what is expected and what actually happens is very often the exact opposite. In a nest on the edge of the cliff were several eggs. They were quite large. One of them was restless. It seemed to shake and roll about the nest. It really was disturbing the other eggs. Eventually the egg rolled to the edge of the nest and over it. At that point gravity took over and the egg began to roll down the mountain. Now dragons’ eggs are quite strong, they are tough creatures. But it was a very long way down the mountain. There were fields and forests and streams that had to be navigated and it all seemed to happened as if by magic. No harm came to the egg. In time it reached the valley and it started to slow down. Eventually it came to rest at the edge of a red barn at the outer edge of a farm. It wasn’t there very long before a young boy named Christian found it.

Now, Christian had never seen a dragon before but he knew exactly what the egg was. He had grown up learning about the mystical beasts.  They had been taught that they were fierce warriors and would eat little children if they misbehaved. Christian believed they were really just tall tales to keep the children from being naughty. The dragons had never ventured into the valley as long as he had been alive. But there were stories . . . .

Christian looked at the very large egg at his feet. He wondered what to do about it. He knew he couldn’t tell his Father because of course he would just destroy it. As he was looking intently at his latest dilemma, he noticed it start to shiver. It was cold. Without thinking Christian picked it up and took it into the barn.  At the very least he would keep it warm until he decided what to do. It was an old barn that was rarely used but it still had remnants of hay and it was protection from the wind. The egg would be safe here. Christian made a little hollow in a bale of hay and placed the egg in it.  He then wrapped an old blanket around it. He also wanted to make sure no one else could find it. Goodness only knows what would happen if he was found harbouring a dragon! It didn’t bear thinking about.

As he was eating dinner that night Christian was distracted. What did baby dragons eat? The tales never told you that. But he was enjoying his mashed potatoes and peas and he wondered if maybe he would just try to feed it whatever he was having for dinner. He figured he could sneak something into the barn. But of course, it all depended on when the egg hatched. That was something he was looking forward to.

Several days went by and Christian was very diligent about making sure he was in the barn as many times as possible. He found it gave him great pleasure to hold the egg and feel the life inside. It seemed to move, gently at first and then more vigorously. It was also warm, calm under his hand. And then one day it happened. It cracked. Christian wasn’t in the barn but he noticed it as soon as he did come in and he sat down on his hands and knees, face inches from the shell and watched.

Slowly, oh so slowly, the crack started to get bigger. Eventually a piece fell off and Christian looked in wonder and saw an eye. It blinked. He almost couldn’t contain his joy. But he knew that too much excitement might scare the new life so he clapped one hand over his mouth and hugged himself with the other. For a while nothing seemed to happen and then everything happened. A little face poked its way through the shell and shook furiously. A shoulder showed and then two small hands. Ah! Quietly whispered Christian… and then, Wings! Before too long the shell was gone. Or rather bits of it were strewn around a very small, miniature dragon.

Barely daring to breathe Christian put his hands out to the small creature in a gesture of friendship. The tiny dragon burped. Christian smiled. And then it made a noise that sounded a little like “Olly”! It really wasn’t much more than a squeak but now Christian knew his name. He put his hand on the forehead of the small creature and smiled. In return he seemed to purr and when he put his head in Christian’s hands, a friendship was born.

Christian knew he had to keep his young charge out of sight of the others. He was after all a dragon, albeit a very small one. They developed a routine that seemed to work for both of them. First thing in the morning Christian would arrive with fruit and nuts which the young dragon seemed to love. They would play for a while and Christian did bear a few scars from OLi’s teeth but he didn’t mind. The dragon was fed again after Christian’s dinner. Basically, whatever Christian ate, so did OLi. It was interesting to discover that the young dragon’s favourite food, was mashed potatoes.

One day Christian noticed that his little sister had put ribbons on her dolls. They looked pretty and helped her identify which one was which. So, without thinking he pinched one. It was a beautiful purple and he thought it might look good on OLi’s tail.  OLi didn’t agree. If you weren’t a young dragon snapping at a ribbon that is now dangling from your tail, you might find the whole situation quite funny. Christian did. OLi performed some quite amazing aerobatics trying to get away from this purple thing and from another’s perspective it was quite spectacular. Maybe he was learning something. When he finally came down to the ground, he sniffed at this purple thing hanging from his tail and he seemed to have a change of heart. This was his.

Unfortunately, time does not stand still. Even for young boys and their young friends. OLi was growing. He had learned to fly all by himself and while his takeoff wasn’t the best, he was pretty good in the air. He also hasn’t figured out the fine art of fire breathing, which, given that there was a lot of hay around, that was a good thing.  He rarely left the barn but it was pretty big so that was OK. Something else Christian noticed: there were no barn mice or rats. He thought he probably shouldn’t think too hard about it. OLi was in this barn all by himself a lot and he never seemed to be hungry.

The days and nights blurred for Christian. He loved his new friend desperately but he also knew that the valley was no place for a dragon. OLi was becoming quite big, although nowhere near as big as a full-grown dragon he was still becoming more than Christian shoulders could handle. It was time. The young boy had a plan. He would tell his family he was going to stay with a friend for a few days and he and his dragon would climb the mountain. OLi would go home.

It took it several days but Christian and OLi made it to the summit of the mountain. Christian dared not go over the top but he encouraged his young friend to seek his own kind. It’s almost as if the dragon didn’t want to leave. He butted his head into Christian’s arm and wrapped his wings around his hands, his version of an embrace. But he was intrigued by the sounds coming from the top of the mountain and the glimpses he could see of the full-grown dragons. Eventually he did go. And Christian stumbled down the mountain barely able to see with the tears in his eyes. He knew he had done the right thing and he also knew that he would never forget his friend.

As the years went by, Christian often thought of OLi. He wondered if he had been accepted by his tribe and how big he had grown. He would look up towards the mountain top and think of his friend looking back. He never forgot.

Over time memories change. Truths become myths and myths often distort the truth.  People remembered that once upon a time there were dragons. But the general belief was that they had died or left. No one had seen one in so very long. Except of course for Christian but had he kept his secret carefully hidden. The valley grew prosperous. People had time to indulge. And with that indulgence came complacency. Never a good combination. Young men started to wonder about the dragons that no longer existed. Eventually they wondered too much and decided that they would find out for themselves. They decided to climb the mountain. They didn’t make any preparations because they didn’t think there was anything dangerous at the top. They were wrong.

Seven young men in their prime left the valley that morning. No one knows for sure what happened because the four that made it back three days later were so filled with terror that they would not speak of it. But there was a growing concern that the myths were true. A gloom entered the valley. People looked to the skies more often and with trepidation. The air seemed to quiver with anticipation and it wasn’t a good kind.

Christian looked at the pitchfork in his hand. What was he thinking? How could you fight off angry, fire breathing dragons with a pitchfork? The minutes ticked by. He ran a hand over his eyes, shaking his head. He didn’t understand why it hadn’t happened. They had heard the dragons coming. The sky was black with them and red.  Fire. The children ran to the wells to get buckets of water. The adults ran for tools, weapons, anything to protect themselves. But at the last minute one dragon had broken free. He came straight at Christian’s farm. When the others turned to follow him, he took a stand. He breathed fire on his own kind! He protected Christian’s farm, his family!  Why?

The other dragons took flight. Perhaps they had grown tired of their sport and returned to the mountain. All except one. The one that had protected Christian landed in his field and stood there. He wasn’t menacing. He looked almost sad. Could it be? Is it at all possible? Christian put down his pitchfork and moved slowly towards the dragon. He heard the gasps behind him but he ignored them.

“OLi?”  He whispered, “Is it you?”

The dragon put his big head down just the way he had when he was small.  He used to invite Christian to rub his forehead. And now he did it again.

“OLi!”  Christian cried and he ran to his dear friend. It had been so long but he had never forgotten. And apparently neither had OLi. The dragon wrapped his huge wings around his friend in such a tender embrace that people wept. For a few moments they held each other. Christian felt something warm touch his hand and he instinctively grasped it.  Then OLi backed slowly away and with one more nod he took to the sky.  He glanced back just once and then was gone.

Tears streamed down Christian’s face.  “Goodbye my friend,” he whispered to the wind. He glanced down at his clenched fist and slowly opened it. There nestled gently in the palm of his hand was a faded and slightly scorched purple ribbon.

Fool’s Gold

 

“Mama, mama, it’s okay!  I gots summtin  mama! It’s okay!  You don’t got to cry no more!  I’s found  gold Mama!” Ell heard the screen door slam behind him and knew that he would probably be in trouble for it.  His mother hated it when the screen door slammed. But he also knew that he had found the answer to all their troubles.

“Mama, Mama I found gold! We is rich!  We can move Mama! Mama!”

The little boy was in such a hurry to find his mother that he rushed into their trailer without looking where he was stepping.  Within a few feet he became aware of the broken glass. He noticed the blood on his unshod feet before he felt the pain. All he could do was stand and stare. He stared at the overturned table, the broken glass, and his mama flat on her back, snoring.

Repeating something he had done many, many times in the past the little boy set about straightening the room and cleaning up the broken glass.  He cleaned up the blood and he cleaned up his mama.  Eventually she would awake and not remember anything.  Sometime she didn’t even remember him.

The next morning the young boy stood excitedly in front of his mother. In a very soft voice he said, “It’s gold Mama, it’s gonna be alright.” He stretched his little arms as far as he could and opened his fingers to present his mother with this precious find.

The woman in question slouched over their very tiny kitchen table.  She squinted through the smoke from the cigarette she clenched in her teeth at the newspaper front of her.  She had a pen in one hand and a chipped glass of a questionable liquid in the other.  When young boy spoke, she closed one eye and looked up.

For a long moment the woman stared at the item her son held out for her perusal.  When she finally spoke the fatigue in her voice told her story of hardship and sacrifice.

“Elliott that’s fool’s gold, it has no value, it ain’t real.  It’s just a pretty stone.  Why don’t you go outside and play, I need to find a new job.”

The little boy everyone called Ell put his prized possession in his pocket and backed out of the trailer he shared with his mother.  But’s gold mama, it’s gold.  He thought to himself. Everything is going to be all right now, you’ll see.

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

“Mr. Bellamy sir it is a great pleasure to see you, will you be dining at your usual table?”

“Yes Andrews I will thank you.”

Very posh restaurants understand the hierarchy involved in their clientele. There are those patrons who come in once or perhaps twice and are seated according to availability.  There are those patrons who while regulars, only dine there occasionally.  And then there are those clients who are favoured. They frequent the establishment and have developed a rapport with the staff.  As these patrons are usually wealthy, the wait staff is attentive and accommodating. After all favoured patrons are worth their weight in gold.  They may spend money but they also advertise a place that they like.

When Mr. Bellamy had been seated in his usual table and had been given his usual pre-dinner glass of wine it seemed as if the evening was going to progress in its usual manner.  He would dine alone as was his habit on Thursday nights.  He would have one glass before dinner of Cabernet Sauvignon and one with his meal.  Dinner would consist of steak medium rare, golden brown fried mushrooms, asparagus lightly sautéed, baked potato with all the trimmings and a small dish of vanilla ice cream for dessert.  It wasn’t a terribly high-class meal but Mr. Bellamy tipped well.

When he had finished his repast, Mr. Bellamy carefully blotted his lips with his napkin. He signed for the meal, complemented the chef and the waiters and prepared to take his leave.

“Excuse me sir, Mr. Bellamy.”

A young man had materialized out of the restaurant and had his hand on the chair opposite Mr. Bellamy.

“I am just leaving young man; you are welcome to the table.”

“Actually sir, I need to take a few moments of your time.  It is rather important.”

The gentleman in question motion for the young man to take the seat opposite him and signalled to the waiter for another glass of wine.

“Would you join me young man?  It is a delightful wine.”

As the stranger seated himself at the table, he nodded his assent.

Once the wine had been poured and both gentlemen had savoured the flavour Mr. Bellamy spoke.

“I am assuming that you are here to tell me you have discovered my sordid past.”

The young man sat with a stunned look on his face, his glass of wine frozen between the table and his mouth.

“Sir I, I just thought…”

“You thought that you were the first to discover my background and that it would make juicy reading for a public that relishes bad news.  You thought that I would be ashamed of my past.  I’m guessing for a modest sum you would be willing to withhold that information.  Am I right young man?”

“Sir, information like this can be quite damaging…”

“Really?  To whom?”

“Well sir you have a reputation, a position.  I hardly think this information…”

Mr. Bellamy smiled; he even chuckled a little at the perplexed young man sitting across from him.

“My poor disillusioned young man.  You judge everything based on a standard that does not exist.  I was not born into wealth, I did not win any money, I earned my wealth based on an ideal.  Unlike you who is looking for a ‘get rich quick’ scheme and thought I was fair game.”

Now the young man was starting to squirm in his seat.  This was not going according to plan at all.  He realized that his ploy to extort money from this wealthy man had failed miserably.  He wanted desperately to leave the table and hide but was afraid to even attempt it.

“Yes I had humble beginnings: I lived in a trailer park with my mother.  We were poor but we had but one thing that money cannot buy: we had love.  I know it sounds trite but we supported each other even during the bad times.”

At this point Mr. Bellamy’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he took a little jaunt down memory lane.  He remembered his mother and her drinking.  He remembered how she always tried to stay positive around him.  He also remembered the very first time he saw fool’s gold.  It was that shiny substance that was beginning of his journey.  And this poor young man thought he was ashamed of his past.  His mother had overcome her demons and was now a successful designer. He had built a large corporation that was varied and worth millions.  It just goes to show you what someone can do with a little hard work and sacrifice.

“By the way young man, did you catch the name of this restaurant? It’s called FOOL’S GOLD.  Now do you understand?”

 

The end

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Shots for The Broken Anchor

Andrew heaved a sigh of relief.  It had been a busy night but now the bar was empty and he was looking forward to cashing out and going home. Not bad for a summer gig but it was exhausting work.  As he turned around to polish down the bar one more time, he noticed a man sitting at the end.

“Hey man I didn’t see you sitting there, sorry about that.  What can I get you?”  Andrew looked expectantly at the man and wondered if he’d seen him somewhere before.  He looked familiar.

The party in question raised his head slightly and quietly said “beer, whatever you got on tap”.

Andrew hurried to comply.  The sooner this guy drank up his beer the sooner Andrew could get out of here.  As the bartender turned back to his patron, he noticed the man looking at the five shots of rum that were always kept at the end of the bar.

Ever a friendly sort Andrew proceeded to explain.  “There’s a cool story about those shots of rum.  The original owner of the bar and his four shipmates went down at sea in a storm.  These are to honour them.  Cool story don’t you think?”  Andrew expected this patron to react the way everyone else did: to smile and then to go on to talk about something else.  No one likes to talk about death too often it’s, well, depressing.

“It was’na cool, it was cold.  Bitterly cold.  You have’na got the story right.”  The person speaking barely raised his head and he spoke so quietly that Andrew had to stop what he was doing and pay attention.

“Only four died that night.  Tonight.  100 years ago tonight there was a storm.  They thought they were safe.  They anchored in a small bay and left one on watch to make sure everything was okay.  Everything wasn’t okay.  It was cold.  Just one quick little sip of gin would warm you up.  Problem is one little sip ended up becoming a whole bottle.  It was a bugger of storm.  But sailors are used to sleeping when the boat rolls.  They count on their shipmate on watch to let them know if there’s any danger.  But he fell asleep.  Too much grog.  When the big wave hit, he got tossed into the drink.  Saved his life.  Shipmates were asleep below deck.  The sea took ‘em.  The sea doesn’t give back what she takes.  She’s a jealous mistress.”

Andrew was stunned.  “How do you know this?  How do you know what happened?  And what happened to the fifth guy that went overboard?”

The man looked up and Andrew could see his face and realized that he was an old man.  He looked broken and sad.  Andrew looked a little more closely and realized where he’d seen his face before.  He took a step back and watched.

“Insurance money paid for this bar and its name tells the story of what happened that night: The Broken Anchor.  One man survived and lived with the guilt of what he had done.  He lived and for the next 40 years made a toast to his four shipmates every night with four tots of rum.  Their ghosts can’t drink them but everybody should know how they died.”

“Cecil.  His name was Cecil.  I remember now. He was buried at sea. When he died, he asked that the name of the bar never be changed and a measure of rum be added to the others so that there are now five.  I love the history of the area and that one is definitely one for the books. Man, that is so cool!  You must be a relative, you look just like the picture in the office. ”   Andrew was excited and turned away to grab a pen and a piece paper to write down this newfound knowledge.  When he turned back the party he had been speaking to was gone.  There was water pooling on the stool and the floor.  There was another damp spot on the bar along with a piece of seaweed and an empty shot glass.

At first he was confused thinking he’d imagined all of this but when he looked to the end of the bar the remaining four shots of rum were also gone, emptied.  A chill went up Andrew’s back and for the first time in a very long time he grew afraid of the dark.

At that precise moment he heard the local church bell ring 2 o’clock in the morning.  Gusts of wind rattled the panes of glass in the front window and Andrew for just a moment was sure he heard several men singing.  He couldn’t quite make out the words but was pretty sure he heard the name Cecil B.  The name of the boat . . .

 

 

The end

 

 

 

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-