Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Can't Stop This Gun From Crying by Bobby Stevenson



It had been welcomed by the scientific community as a life saver, as the next step in metal technology and a new generation of those shining babies was about to be unleashed on the world.

The team that had developed the idea at Los Alma had received the Nobel Prize that year and were ready to be courted by every large manufacturing company.

They had no need to worry where their next research dollar was coming from, indeed none of the team had any need to work for the rest of their lives. 

The principal was simple although the actual practical solution had taken decades of research: 
A material that repaired itself

You see it wasn’t so terrible when you put it down on a piece of paper like that. It seemed so innocent, beneficial almost.

The plan was that one day, aircraft while in flight could self-medicate, a nut or a bolt here would be re-grown and replaced. However that was still some way off and the actual exposure of the general public to SeRep (Self Repair), as it was christened, was minimal.

It was planned that cars too would have the ability to repair themselves - although there had been several showdowns at government level between the makers of the materials and the car manufacturers. The way things were looking, it meant that after you purchased a new car, and with a good headwind, it could last you a lifetime (and the rest). 

As you can imagine, the automobile industry was readying for a fight - big time. 

The first public structure to be made of SeRep was a bridge in Illinois, chosen by some wise guy at Los Alma who had stuck a pin in a map of the Ohio river. 

A Bridge had been selected as a structure that could suffer wear and tear, be exposed to public use and certainly be enhanced safety-wise by the use of the new material. 

The Tamaroa bridge was the one chosen and it crossed the Ohio at the southernmost tip of Illinois. 

As with all great ideas there were teething problems. The material, for instance, had to be guarded because of theft. The ‘bridgits’ as they became known would hack off a piece of SeRep meaning the bridge would have to repair and replace and then they'd sell it (or at least try to) on the 'Net.

Sometimes the material that had been stolen was so large that the bridge displayed a permanent scar. Just like human skin. 

At night when there was less traffic going over the bridge (that’s not to say it was totally quiet as people came from all over to see the wonder – day and night), but at night when the bridge was repairing itself it sounded like a muffled cry and this caused the bridge to be nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs. It almost sounded like a child in pain.

There had been the odd accident, the biggest of which was the General Custer, a tourist boat hired by some big corporation, packed with sweaty, drunk salespersons on a free trip to see the Bridge.

At the inquiry it had been shown that the Captain had been more than a little drunk and had almost destroyed the bridge supports on the Illinois bank. The damage was so severe that the SeRep guys decided to give the bridge a helping hand and assisted in the repairs. 

Yet anytime the bridge was left alone it would still continue to do the work it had been created for and it could always be heard to sigh. 

Janus Jones was a mid western boy straight out of college and about to set off for the Florida panhandle in a car his Pappy had bought him. The present was not for finishing school but for staying out of jail unlike Kevin, his older brother. Janus could have flown pretty cheaply but he wanted to follow the Mississippi all the way south and then cut across to Tallahassee. 

So it was a surprise when he found Kevin loading a bag into his new car on the morning of his trip.
“Coming with you Bro’. No arguments, I got nothing from Paw but aggravation and you get this brand spanking new car – so the least you can do is take me as far a New Orleans.”
Then Kevin jumped in the car.

And so the two Jones brothers (you’d have sworn they’d had different fathers) set off on a trip that would shake their worlds forever. 

At the trial Kevin, although missing most of his left arm, was still able to act as a credible witness. The way he told things it was as if the brothers had been the innocent victims. That wasn't totally true.

Just before the incident Kevin had driven for several hours south which had let Janus sleep, although with Kevin at the wheel Janus tended not to sleep too soundly. They’d stopped at the very last bar in Illinois going south to allow Kevin a few beers, Janus drank cola and several of the witnesses had told the court that Kevin had forced Janus to stay, and that Kevin had drank too many beers. That was just Kevin. 

As they left the car lot, instead of Janus driving, Kevin jumped into the driver’s seat and was beginning to move off. Janus had no choice but to jump in over the rear of the car. Chances are Kevin would have left him for cold, just standing there and let him make his own way home – Kevin had done it before.
“Where you at?”
Kevin ignored Janus and continued down the narrow road.
“This ain’t the way.”
“Tis, if you’re going to the Tamaroa. I wanna see the magic bridge.” 

The traffic started slowing about a mile from the bridge as there was a queue of cars taking their time crossing. At one point, due to the weight of cars on the bridge and regardless of its properties, the cops had stopped the cars coming north, to allow the south bound queue to clear. 

As Kevin approached the bridge he swerved over to the left hand lane and drove down the wrong side. Some of the cops started giving chase on foot but Kevin put his foot on the accelerator and then started hollering and whooping. 
“Yee-haa, little bro’, yee-haa. Let’s just see how good this thing is at rebuilding.”

Kevin drove the car so close to the edge that sparks flew from the girders. Janus’ new car was badly damaged down that side. Not satisfied with this, Kevin started to run the car into the supports causing them to buckle and bend. 

It was just as Kevin was ready to inflict a fatal blow on the bridge that the road beneath them opened up and Janus, Kevin and the car plummeted to the river below.

The cars behind, seeing what had just happened, had managed to swerve around the hole. Kevin swam to shore leaving Janus to sink with his new car. The older boy was way too drunk to try any heroics and was probably lucky just to save himself. 

Janus’ father grieved for his good son and wasn’t going to let something like the Bridge of Sighs or its owners or the Los Alma scientists get away with their responsibilities and so he took them all to court.
I guess it would be more accurate to say he put the bridge on trial. Janus’ father claimed that the bridge had opened up the road to dump the car in the river in order to protect itself.

The newspapers had a field day – ‘The Bridge that kills’ 

What the father attempted to prove in court was that the bridge, or at least the material, was self-aware and that it had made a positive decision to break a hole in the road in order to rid itself of an irritant. 

Of course the court over-ruled the claim and declared the accident as death by misadventure. Whatever was fully known was never put in the public domain, the bridge manufacturers were ordered to dismantle the structure and the material SeRep was banned from use in any public construction. 

It wasn’t the end of SeRep however, the armies of NATO built tanks and weapons from the material. They’re using them at this very moment in the wars out east. 

I hear tell that the soldiers talk of the weapons that cry in the night.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

To Fill a Human Heart by Bobby Stevenson



To fill a human soul,
Takes strength and smiles,
To fill a human head,
Takes wisdom and time,
To fill a human life,
Takes courage and hope,
But to fill a human heart,
Takes love,
Takes love.

To fill a lifetime lived,
Takes all that we have,
To fill a child with hope,
Take kindness and patience,
To fill a lover’s dreams,
Take selfless devotion,
But to fill a human heart,
Takes everything.

LAHTI by Bobby Stevenson

Written for a competition - 900 words exactly and the title of a European City.

 

The Midnight sun seared the ice-cracked streets.

He sat drinking a Finnish beer and watching the old vintage cars making their umpteenth circuit of the same block. That’s what people did up here, work all winter on old American cars, making them look fine and dandy and then come the summer, drive them proudly through Lahti’s city centre.

To live at the edge of the world made you a different creature from the rest, it made you harder, more observant, more ready to indulge, more patient, more sorrowful.

There is a sliver of sorrow that punctures all of life up here and leaves the heart wide open. The difficult language sets the Finns apart from the others. They are proud of its complexity and its differences.

He was lonely but then who wouldn’t be up here? Scandinavia was the mother-lode of loneliness; they mined the stuff in the hills and shipped it to the world. 

He checked his pockets and found he’d spent the money he’d taken from the room, so he managed to steal a lonely beer from the table opposite. 

It was three twenty-five am and he’d almost forgotten the time such was the light blue sky. Like a summer’s day in London. He’d almost forgotten a lot of things but they always bubbled their way back to the surface of his thoughts. 

He’d been living at the Hotelii Helsinki for nearly five months now and was starting to call it home. In that lay a danger, Finland was not home but then neither was anywhere else. 

He just wished, right at that precise moment, that the world would just stop, maybe for an hour or two so that he could think of what to do next. But it never did, it just kept going, it kept catching up with him and he was afraid. 

When had he first met her? In the street? No. At the dance? Probably the dance, it was the most obvious place. You couldn’t say she wasn’t attractive with her fine blonde hair and those cheekbones; God, those cheek bones that were borrowed from an angel. 

In any other society she would have been fighting them off but not here. Here, she had to travel over forty kilometres to attend the dance. Was ‘a dance’ the right words? It really didn’t do it justice. This was a gathering, a social event, a news swapping forum and a pickup joint. 

They were mostly farmers, foresters and their families and each Saturday, every Saturday they travelled vast distances to meet at the Traffic Light Saturday Dance. 

Every weekend he’d sit in the Reception Hall of the hotel watching them arrive. Faces that had been ground down by the wind over the years, faces that sat on top of bodies all decked out in fancy sports clothing. Not the real designer gear of course but cheap copies probably bought from a travelling Russian.

All of them happy and drunk, the same way a Titanic passenger would have been happy and drunk. There was a forced camaraderie about them all, perhaps due to the fact these were the first humans they had felt heat from all week.

There were never any pretty ones - was that because they had left the backwoods to trade in on their looks? Or because the midnight sun eventually stole the pretty faces? 

Sometimes he would ride up in the elevator with them, not that he understood their language but just so that he could feel the heat of another. 

They would all fall out at the same floor and he would be left with only the smell of booze, cheap scent and himself; and the coldness. 

There were only two modes to living in the north: Dark and Light. Several months of twenty four hour darkness brought a resignation to nature, then it brought the ghosts – the dark thoughts that usually inhabited the night and were gone in the morning - were not washed away up here by the light of day. The dark thoughts persisted. 

Then came the bleaching of the constant daylight, there were no contrasts, no shaded area to take shelter, and the ghosts persisted in the sunshine. He thought that funny, that once the ghosts came they came to stay.

The Traffic light stood in the middle of the dance floor, when it was green the man could ask the woman to dance. When it was at red, the woman could either sit a dance out or ask the man. 

There was no doubting it, she was very pretty.

She had asked him to dance and then he had asked her. Her English was as bad as his Finnish, so they signed to each other then they kissed. The universal kiss, there was no doubting that. 

What he hadn’t expected was to find her gone when he awoke. The pillow was still smelling of her scent and still warm from her heat. 

The bed was growing cold again and sunlight burned through the curtains. 

It would be another week, another seven days of living until he felt her body next to him again, to feel that heat again. 

He understood them now and he understood their dances. There was a need in all of us to feel the warmth of others. 

So he turned away from the light and wept.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Bow Wave by Bobby Stevenson



There was a time, maybe it was ‘once upon’, I’m not too sure but I know it was when I was young and the world was new.

I dreamed of building a sailing vessel that would take me to some unknown land where I could tell my stories and be happy.

Throughout the years I built the vessel on dreams, on hopes, on tears, on lost time, and on the way the world should have been,and could have been, but mostly on hope.

Then the day came when the vessel was ready to sail.

There were many at the quayside that day. There were those who wished me well and many more who told me to stay where I was and there were those who didn’t care.

As I left the quay I knew it would be a long time before I spied land again.

It didn’t take me long to realise the mistakes I had made. I had been given maps by others who had noted the areas of ‘troubled waters’ and ‘here be monsters’ but it was their troubles and it was their monsters. So I threw the maps overboard.

By the third day the ship had barely made any headway and then I realised that the bow wave was slowing me down and washing aside everything in its wake.

I had to lighten the load and so I looked to the cargo. One trunk was marked ‘fears’, so I threw that over, as I did with the boxes marked ‘jealousy’ and ‘anger’.

The ship rose in the water slowly and the bow wave became smaller. I was sailing faster.

The final box, the heaviest, was Pandora’s and full of everything I thought of in the night, all my woes.
Over it went and the bow wave vanished.

As I looked back, I could see those on the shore still shouting that I was heading for the edge of the world, that no one could sail on a boat made of hope.

Do you know what I did?

I just gave a Bow and a Wave and
sailed on.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Broken by Bobby Stevenson




Every morning Andy would count to ten before he got out of his warm forgiving bed and while he was waiting, he’d usually count his luck as well. 

He’d always been the type of soul who walked the line on the lucky side but he had to accept that things happened to you when you were forty seven years old. The way the radio sounded quieter in one ear than it did in the other. He was going deaf as well as losing his ability to see words clearly.

The news programme annoyed him to the same degree as it ever did. Why he listened to it was anyone’s guess. All they did was try their best to wipe the smile from his face: sick economy, rising unemployment, new terrorism – why did they never try looking at the positive for a change? Tell a good story about families who were working hard to save their kids. He knew why - because it didn’t make good news.  

He was becoming sick of it all - fighting every single day for each and every step. Yet like millions of others across the land, he would get up and start his day with the best will in the world that he could muster. He’d grit his teeth like all the other parents and just get on with it.  

Most of his life was a habit, but it was a habit that he wrapped around himself like a warm blanket. God help him if it ever disappeared - his wife Sara and the kids were the only reason he’d got up. 

He loved his wife the way that you do after twenty five years of marriage, more than ever and less than before. She was his sun, his moon, his stars and his major pain in the butt from time to time. And the kids? Well the kids were part of him, sure they had their moments but jeez they had made this world bearable and they were his breath of life. 

So he got out of bed on the count of ten like he did every day and he slid his feet across the floor like he did every day, and he shaved and showered like he did every day. He had a cup of coffee like he did every day – except for one thing, this wasn’t every day. 

                             ______


Sara very rarely stirred from her bed until he had got up. Every day it was the same, she could almost hear his brain counting to ten. But up he’d get without fail. He’d never had a day’s illness except maybe that time when they had just moved to this house, to this area and that must have been nearly twenty years or so. 

He was a good man and she loved him, truly loved him – she’d never looked at anyone else in all that time. She knew how he was feeling and what he was thinking even if he was clear over the other side of the county. It was that close, it was that much love.  

He was a decent father to their kids, never a harsh word to say to any of them and yet they were kept in check. They were good kids and they would make good parents themselves, everyone said so. 

So why did she feel so lost? Like she was drowning, when all this was everything she dreamed of. It wasn’t the menopause, that had been and gone and she’d coped with it all. There was an empty ache at the core and it wouldn’t go away – no matter how hard she tried.  

                             _______


What can you say about a child who’s been murdered? 

The year it happened was the year that Tommy joined the Police force, it would be more correct to say that because it happened is why he joined. Twenty years later and no one had been caught not even a hint. Sure there had been talk and names mentioned, some having to leave to avoid the whispers, but there had never been good solid evidence to point the finger at anyone. 

The police had interviewed almost every male in the town at the time but either the Police were incompetent or the killer was very clever. 

Tommy had watched the victim’s family disintegrate, that was the only word to describe it: disintegration.
The girl’s mother and father no longer lived together and even the same town wasn’t big enough, perhaps seeing each other brought back the horror of that night.

The night she went missing was the night that the girl’s mother knew she was dead. Before the Police had informed the family, before the body was found, before even her husband had grown worried about Tracey being late. A mother knows and she felt her daughter saying goodbye inside. That was what she told the Police the next day. The mother had even been a suspect at one point. 

Back then Tommy was just a guy, plain and simple, and the night that Tracey went missing he helped along with all the others. He searched the undergrowth, the garages, down by the old canal and at the side of the once used rail track. 

Poor Tracey’s little battered body had been found a couple of miles from where Tommy first started looking. That night he hadn't been sure if he’d wanted to be the one to find her or not.

Every night he washes away the images of what he did find with the best of vodka.

                             ______


We separated about two years after the death. For better or worse we’d promised each other at the Church of Everlasting Love but they hadn’t mentioned anything about your own beautiful little girl being taken. That was the worst of the worst  - no one could ever get you through that.

My darling daughter, my little one who I had read to, cried with, laughed with, run with, wiped her nose and her behind had gone. 

I and her mother supported each other for as long as anyone humanly could - but the heart scars don’t show up, not at first anyway. They seep through the skin and poison everything around them, they seep into laughter and birthdays. They taint the very kindness of people. Until you grudge everyone their happiness. The fact that the world continues to turn makes your head literally spin. 

I think the hatred started with the people on TV. They still made jokes, they still acted in plays, still read the news, still sung their songs. All I wanted was one of them to stop and speak through the screen:
“I am so sorry Mister and Mrs Andrews, on your loss” 

But they didn’t, they just kept on singing. 
Then one night I looked over at my wife and thought - why didn’t they take you and leave her and I knew I was finished. 

                             ______


Tracey was my friend and now I don’t sleep so good. My mother says not to worry as it’s only bed sheets. You can always wash bed sheets she says, but I feel embarrassed. 

Tracey was my pal and now I don’t go out. Not because I’m scared, just because I don’t want to. 

Tracey was my best buddy and I cry most nights. 

Sometimes I see Tracey in a street or in a car or on a bus and then I remember.

                             ______


My name is Andy and every morning I count to ten before I get up and then I count my luck.

They haven’t caught me yet.

Weep Not by Bobby Stevenson



Weep not for me, my old friend,

Nor with my death our friendship end,

And never say I should not go,

I died a long, long time ago.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Ape Who Sang by Bobby Stevenson


By the time that Christopher had reached the grand old age of twenty seven, he had already completed sixty eight of the things he wanted to do with his life before he was thirty.

Sky-diving and swimming with sharks had all been ticked off from the list, but the one he’d shied away from , the one that would take everything that he had - was to cycle across Asia on a push-bike; if he was to complete it by his thirtieth birthday then he was going to have to get a move on. 

Christopher had compiled the list on his twenty-first birthday and that evening when he’d finished writing the last thing to do, he’d assumed that there would be all the time in the world to complete them but as we mere mortals already know, life always seems to get in the way. 

So with over thirty of the more difficult activities to arrange and still accomplish, and with less than three years to do it in, Christopher was starting to get anxious. Apart from his trip into Space, the Asia journey was the next biggest activity which he could take part in.

He managed to get himself a summer job in a hotel in the Scottish Highlands and he spent the warm days working very hard from early mornings to late afternoons, the rest of the time he spent cycling up and down the glens. They were tough climbs but after several weeks he began to eat up the roads and miles as if none of them mattered.

His plan for the trip was to start in South East Asia after the September monsoons had drifted. He had considered all the safety aspects - although he was going to cycle several thousand miles alone so maybe safety was not a word to bandy about. 

His bought a ticket on one of the cheaper airlines and to him that was all part of the experience, and by the start of October he would be in Thailand. 

It was too expensive to take a bike over there but he’d found an old ex-pat on the ‘Net who was willing to trade his bicycle for some British cigarettes and a few quid.The bicycle was older and more damaged than the photograph had shown.

Christopher spent a couple of days in a very plain but clean hostel to get his energy back and to sleep off the jet lag, it also allowed him time to get the bike into a decent shape. By the Friday he was ready for the off and by the time he had arrived at the outskirts of the city, his adrenaline was pumping at the speed of light. 

The smells, the heat, the trees and the people all gave the trip a feeling that he was moving in another world. He was in love with a country and she was going to be difficult to shake off. 

His plan was to travel to the north and then take a train into China. He hadn't planned to cycle the whole of Asia as that would take several lifetimes and besides, he still had thirty one activities to finish in the next three years. 

On the fourth day, he stayed in a small hut which he shared with a young couple from Glasgow. They told him about the Ape Trail, a path about ten miles to the east that they had said had been their most magical part of the holiday so far. 

“There’s monkeys..”

“Apes” her boyfriend corrected her.

“Apes everywhere.”

“Really tame as well, they’ll eat out of your hand.”

So that night Christopher went to sleep, deciding that he was going to make the detour and go and see the apes the next morning. After all, this is what the trip (and life) was all about.

He’d cycled longer than he’d wanted to down the path realising the couple had forgotten to tell him just how muddy the whole place was. Eventually he’d got off the bicycle and walked several more miles without setting eyes on any apes. 

The road, if that is what it could be called, narrowed at points until it was only wide enough to let one set of feet walk at a time. Christopher was struggling to keep his balance and once or twice grabbed out for a muddy wall to keep upright. It was on third time of doing so that he grabbed a lump of mud which caused a large hole to form in the embankment and send tons of mud above to slide down on top of him and his bike.

Both he and the bike tumbled down into the darkness.He sometimes lost consciousness with the lack of oxygen and then the next minute he would shoot into the air, it was at these moments he would inhale with everything he had. The bicycle hit him several times, once almost breaking his back. 

When Christopher came to rest, he was on the floor of a forgotten valley. Luckily for him, the mud had allowed one of his nostrils to peak through and although he was unconscious, he was still able to breathe. He had survived. 

There was no telling how many times the sun had come and gone before he came to . The mud had begun to dry and had caused a crust to form around his body  but it had also soaked up the blood from a large wound on his head.
It was the thumping of the ape on the mud that brought him into the sunlight and into a new life.
He had no idea who or where he was.

His friend, the hairy one with the long arms, and another pulled him clear of the mountain of mud and as he lay looking at the sky and wondering why it was that colour, he saw a large shiny thing shoot past his face ridden by another of the hairy men. 

The apes had found Christopher’s bike and were fighting each other for the chance to push it forward and then attempt to sit on the cross bar. The apes had seen the men from the mountains ride them before but never had a man made his way into their midst with one of them.

High Hands, the chief of the valley apes, had intervened between two of the lower cast apes who had wanted to smash the human to death. They had seen many of their family die at the hands of men.

But High Hands had seen that the man was injured and the family law did not allow injured beasts to be beaten to death within the camp. He was to be cleaned of the mud and helped to a better health. That was the law as written by the elders since the time before time. 

High Hands had expected that more of the men would come looking for their own but it had not been so. Two cycles of the sun earlier, a large shiny eagle had passed which made the noise of the gods and had scared the younger apes. High Hands had seen it all before and stood firm. 

Perhaps the man was an outcast, he had seen such men in his younger days but whatever his story he was to be cared for as if he was one of High Hands own family. 

One morning the man felt some warmth and strength in his arms. His arms were not as hairy or as strong as the rest of the family - perhaps was a weakling of the tribe? He could not remember. One of the elders had given him two small rocks and when they were referring to him they would place the two rocks in the sand and point. The man guessed that his name must be Two Rocks and so he called himself such.

As he was recovering, the family had washed him and given him water to slake his thirst and each time he had  awoken from his fever, he could recall terrible pictures in his head. Yet there was always one of the elders sitting by him to watch over and protect him. 

The dreams were strange. Thoughts of large structures that reached into the sky, shiny boxes that went faster than High Hands could run, metal birds that flew and contained others like himself, (those with less hair than his family). 

After one moon had passed, the man was able to use signs to talk to his family. Two Rocks could ask for food and drink, he could understand that the borders by the large trees were not for the likes of him - for that was where death lay waiting. 

Then one night a strange thing happened. It was a night when the moon, the god of the sky, was shinning brighter than usual that the man went to the highest of the hills located within their territory and he opened his mouth and made a noise. 

“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday ....” 

He had no idea what the sounds meant but they were pleasing and they made him feel calm. Down below some of the family were concerned and said as much to High Hands, but High Hands knew that men had to make such noises. It was the way they were made by the Sky God. 

Each night as the sun cycle came to a close, the man would climb the hill and make the same noise. High Hands had told Two Rocks that the Sky Gods were happy with the noises.

As Christopher sang to the moon some tourists had heard the song and on their return from the mountains had told the local police. They said it was the apes, they made noises at night that sounded like a human singing. So no one came looking.

But when the second moon had come and gone, something peculiar  happened to the man. He felt something in his heart, he felt an ache and he felt the loneliness. He knew that his family, for all he wanted to be with them, was not enough. 

It was something to do with his dreams and the singing. None of the other family members sang and when he would come down off the mountain, they would all keep their distance and try to avoid him. 

So one night, after the third moon had come, he went up the mountain and sang his song.
“Happy Birthday to you....”

When he had finished, he wept and wept and wept. 

He looked back at the family but instead of returning down the mountain he walked away to the trees where death waited. He wasn’t afraid, he was more afraid of staying with the family and feeling the loneliness again.

So he walked down the other side of the mountain and decided to take his chance with the forest. 







(still being edited)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

For 11:11:11 - One Rainy Day, Somme, 1916 by Bobby Stevenson



And I have laid thee down my love,
In a bed of silk and lace,
And a garland for your hair my love,
And a warm wind for your face,
And I would give you ships my love,
And stars to guide you by,
But will not watch you growing old,
And you will not watch me die.