Saturday, 26 January 2013

Stories From The Shelter




1.EASTMAN
 
It’s one of those games we still played even after all this time; where did we think Eastman was born?

There was a day when every city west of Berlin claimed him as their own but in the end it was probably London or across the water in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

You wouldn’t have picked him out at the start as being the type of creature he became. The story is often told of him being referred to as The Quiet Man, the gentle man.

He wasn’t a devout anything, never really went to church and rarely spoke of religion. To be honest, he wasn’t extreme about anything. Not at first.

He was born with that indefinable gift of people liking him. He magnetized them, flattered them, became their friend and then used them.

He spoke on television, on the web, wrote best selling ebooks and even composed several successful music downloads. He was the champion; he was the peoples’ champion, he was their champion.

His ‘Deacons’, as he called his close followers, financed his rise. He was astute and he waited until the time was right. After the crash of the Eurozone and the 60% unemployment, he offered cheap food in Eastman Stores, all making a loss and all promoting his ideals. Cheap camps were setup in Spain and England and these were known as Eastman Vacs, where families could vacation for almost next to nothing.

This was when he was loved and this was when he made his move.
It was as quick as it was well thought out.

He didn’t attack the churches at first, not at first. On his daily web broadcast he maybe hinted at his objection to the church, its power and its money. Only later did he talk of the actual buildings being insane asylums – only later did he suggest that holding a faith was a mental illness.

Then the first one went, a Baptist Church in South London was razed to the ground. The Eastmen (as the disciples now insisted that you call them) blamed it on a race issue – wasn’t the church full of outsiders? But it didn’t stop there. Within two years, any form of worship in England was outlawed. This didn’t apply to the former UK countries of Ireland North and Scotland, they had gone their own way.

When Eastman finally claimed power, it was amongst the poor that lived in tented cities in the parks of England. They ate Eastman Food, watched Eastman Broadcasts, Eastman Movies and drank Eastman Gin (Orwell would have smirked at that last one).
Every June the 1st was Eastman Day and the Eastmen would hold parades in every corner of the country. It wasn’t an option to attend.

But what you might ask, became of the opposition? Or the devout Catholics/Muslims/Protestants/Jews and others? Those that insisted on worshiping were slung into the other type of Eastman camp and worked to death.

Those who spread any form of socialism or brotherly love were beheaded in the Eastman Squares at the centre of every city.

Eastman Money was offered to anyone who snitched on their friends and family who worshiped in secret. Normally their homes were set on fire with the occupants inside.

Somewhere in all the cynicism of the 21st century we stopped caring and as we stopped caring we fed the beast.

As I sit here, I think back to the greed that started all of this; the bankers, the debt, the crash of the Eurozone, the unemployment, the riots and the rise and rise of Eastman.

You may mention Hitler in the same breath and you’d be right.
And all of this?

Well these are my final thoughts as I know they’ll be coming for me soon.

You may ask what my crime was?

I was a writer.

I’ll be taken to the re-education showers shortly.

No one ever returns. 


2.The Stones

Willie wiped his brow and looked out at the desert. There had been stories as far back as the dawn of time about the desert, the Moonboy Hills and those stones.

It had been said that when the stones started to move the end was coming. Willie always wondered what end these folks were talking about. He had been too long in the saddle to really care about such things now. There were names and places that he had started to forget and well, his end was probably coming sooner rather than later.

Willie guessed there must be a right time for everything.

He remembered when he was a boy and that first evening he’d ridden up into the Moonboys. He’d been arguing with his paw about some nonsense or other. Taking off with his old horse General had seemed the easiest way to resolve things. The first two nights had been lonely and cold, boy could it get cold up there.
On the third night he’d taken shelter in a cave and managed to light a fire. That was when he saw them - the weird carvings on the far wall. 

When he’d asked around town about them, one of those clever college guys had talked about the pre-Clovis people being responsible but Will had no idea what he was going on about. The Professor had asked if Will could take him to the exact place where he’d seen the carvings but Will wasn’t too keen. He just said he’d forgotten. Anyhow Willie felt it went a lot deeper and darker than those Clovis folks, there was something strange about those signs and that was the truth.

Funny thing to tell, he’d never actually shown anyone other than his own family the location of the carvings. In his teenage years Willie had spent a lot of time up in the hills worrying and thinking about one thing or another.
Girls, money, work, you name it he always took his problems ‘to the cave’.

When he met Sarah he’d stopped going up there. Then, when the kids had come along, he’d take them up one by one on his horse to show them the pictures. But they had all grown up and moved away and no one apart from his youngest Brad had kept up any interest in the place.

Recently after Sarah’s death he’d found himself coming back to the place more and more, to think over his life. Things didn’t feel so lonely up there. The kids and their children very rarely came visiting anymore and he’d usually see the clan at some Christmas get-together, then nothing until the following year.

Willie didn’t mind saying it, he was as lonely as hell and wondering if it was time he should be moving on. Life was for the young and he would tell you, he hated getting old. It hurt in every sense of the word. He was tired and it was as plain and simple as that.

Then a couple of weeks ago the stories had started circulating around the place. Over at Jacob’s Rock and in Wall Fire Alley there had been folks talking about the stones, they were moving, sometimes as much as several feet in a night.

Over in Kent County a minister had called it the end of days. He’d seen the stones moving with his own eyes, may God strike him down if he was lying.

Some folks from the big city came and took photos of the stones and they were kind of thinking that the locals were up to no good, perhaps moving them in the middle of the night. But as the good folks of the Moonboys had seen, there were no footprints near the stones. No rope marks. No way, anyone or, anything could have been involved.

Sixty years before the stones started moving when Willie was still a teenager, he had taken a rubbing of the cave carvings. He was sure he still had them somewhere.

After a barrel load of searching one stormy afternoon, he’d found them in the attic, three clear images of the carvings.

The first image was of little rocks sitting on a plain. In the second, the rocks had changed position and they all seemed to have moved or been moved in the same direction. On the third there was a figure that someone in antiquity had attempted to erase from the carving by rubbing over the image with something rough.

It had never made any sense to Willie except there was something peaceful about the carvings and the cave. There was no doubt about it there was a connection between the story that these carvings were telling and the rocks moving.

Willie decided he’d go out to Lazy Boy Canyon and have a look for himself. He’d go at night when the desert was a lot cooler then he’d catch the stones as the sun came up.

He pitched his old tent by an overhang that helped him get some shelter from the frost. He tried as best he could to get some sleep but this wasn’t a night for it.

Just after two in the morning he could hear a scraping not too far from the tent, he guessed it was just another lonely animal out looking for company or food.

He rested a while but around four in the morning the sun rose over the top of the Moonboys and caused the tent to heat up real bad. Willie felt the only place to go was outside and anyway he was eager to see the stones.

Sure enough, there they were, streaks of sand behind them like they had been moving on their own.

Surely that couldn’t have been what he’d heard in the dark of night?
Willie walked over to the rock and all of a sudden he felt a peace come down on him like he’d never felt before.

He bent down and touched the rock and smiled.

A few days later they found the tent but nothing was ever found of Willie.

There was one strange thing that only the wild animals would have seen, the rock that Willie had touched had moved forwards a few feet.


3. Can't Stop This Gun Crying

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.

4. The Haunting At Mrs Trelawney's


Going home was all that he had left. The family and friends had long since gone from the little town on the West coast of Scotland but it had been home once and would be again. 

The snow fell as he stepped from the railway station. It had been a long, long journey from London and all of it spent travelling in third class. Like his family the money had disappeared, some through his own carelessness and some through the dishonesty of others. Now all he had was a few pounds to rent a small room in his old town. 

Mrs Trelawney was expecting him and she seemed cheery and homely.
“Your room is all prepared Mister Lawson and I’ve had my daughter light a fire to take the dampness out of your bed. If you would like to go straight up and get settled in, I’ll show you the way.” Mrs Trelawney climbed the three floors but hesitated at the final floor. Sam Lawson assumed it was because she was out of breath and so he went to help her.

She pulled away, adding “I am fine, Mr Lawson.....really, I am fine.”
Sam thought that the woman spent as little time as possible in his room.
“If you need anything Mrs Lawson my daughter will bring it to you. These stairs are a killer for me,” said Mrs Trelawney. The thing that struck Sam as strange was that she was younger than he was.

Once he had unpacked he sat down to write a letter, the main one being to the Carters in London who had so graciously helped him in his time of need with a bed.

He placed his paper and pen on the old wooden table that sat in the corner. It would have to be used for all things considering it was the only table in the room. He had just laid his pen on it when there was a knock at the door.
“Coming, Mrs Trelawney,” he called but when he opened the door the hall was empty and his, was the only bedroom on that floor. He noticed an old store room across the way and he wondered if the person had disappeared in there. He knocked on it quietly and when there was no response, he tried to open it. It looked and felt as if it hadn’t been opened in years. Sam returned to his room.

He closed his door and sat down to write the letter but suddenly a cold chill ran up his neck for on the paper that he had left blank were scrawled the words ‘help me’. He crushed the paper wondering if there was a child in the house who perhaps had thought it all a joke. It was something he asked about the next morning as he ate breakfast.

There was a crash as Mrs Trelawney dropped her knife on the kitchen floor.
“A child you say? There’s been no child in this abode for many a year. Isn’t that right, Isabelle?”
Isabelle, Mrs Trelawney’s daughter, nodded her head but neither seemed that convincing. Sam decided he must be imagining it all and apologised.

Sam took a stroll and bought the local paper in order to look for a job. The local paper was always the best place to find something. He took it back up to his room but just as he reached the top floor he could distinctly hear a man’s footsteps run across the hall. It ran into his room and then the door slammed. His heart skipped a beat. 
“Hello? Is there anyone there? Hello?”

He knocked his own door gently then decided to open it. It was so small a room there was nowhere for anyone to hide. He carefully bent down and looked under the bed; satisfied there was no one there he opened the door of the small cupboard – nothing. The window was locked from the inside so he could not have escaped that way. Sam wondered if he was having a break down, it probably was deserved given the troubles he had found himself in.

He sat down to read the paper then noticed that scratched on the table, by a fingernail by the looks of it, were those words again: ‘help me’.

He must get a job as soon as possible and get out of Mrs Trelawney’s rooms. She had been unexpectedly cheap and Sam was beginning to understand why.
He circled a few jobs in the newspaper. The first one he was going to try was the ice cream shop at the corner of the street. He had turned his hand to working in restaurants in London and in Paris and felt he could hold his own in an out of season Scottish town.

It was snowing harder as he pushed open the shop door. Mister Bertolli, the proprietor was cleaning out the ice cream making machine.
“Hold-a on, I be-a with-a you in-a minoote,” he said in a half Scottish, half Italian accent. He wiped his hands, took off his gloves and then shook Sam’s hand warmly.

Mister Bertolli offered Sam a job in helping with the ice cream making. It was hard work and long hours but he surprised himself with how much he enjoyed it. When the shop was busy, he was even allowed to serve the customers.

One day, when things were quiet, Sam and Mister Bertolli were having a coffee and Sam brought up in conversation his problem at Mrs Trelawney.
“So what-a you think it is, Sammy?”
Sam told Mister Bertolli that he thought it might be a ghost.
“I don’t-a know much about ghosts, but maybe it’s-a trying to warn-a you,” said a very serious Mister Bertolli.
“About what?” Sam asked.
“Search-a me.”

Every night when he got back to the top of the stairs at Mrs Trelawney’s, the scuttling and running of the unseen man would welcome him.
“Are you trying to tell me something?” Whispered Sam but every time he spoke to the room nothing was forthcoming.

At 2.27am every night there were cries from the fireplace of ‘help me’. Some nights Sam lay there waiting on it and other nights, especially if he had had a busy day at the ice cream shop, he would just turn over and go back to sleep.
“Help you what?” shouted a frustrated, Sam.

It got so common and frequent that Sam was starting to get used to it all and on the nights that there wasn’t the scuttling or the noises, he would feel that there was something missing.

Finding his room unwelcoming, Sam  spent more and more time in the Trelawney’s company. It was not unusual for Sam to spend the whole evening with Mrs Trelawney and her daughter, eating, reading and talking about the troubles of the day.

He even felt comfortable enough to mention the noises in the top room but neither of the women had heard any disturbances or even heard it mentioned by previous tenants.

Sam was happier than he had been in a long time, now that he finally had a family of sorts and a place to call home.

One morning a telegram was delivered to the house to inform Sam that his old boss in London had died and left him some money. Not a fortune but enough to keep him in comfort for a few years. His first action, as a thank you for their friendship and company, was to take Mrs Trelawney and her daughter on a holiday to the Isle of Man. They all stayed at the best hotel in Douglas and fine dined every evening.

Over the next few weeks Sam spent time and consideration buying his new family presents for Christmas and hiding them in his room. It was going to be a great celebration this year.

One Saturday evening Sam tried a new soup that Mrs Trelawney’s daughter had made that day. Sam thought the soup delicious and said so, but felt he should retire early as it had been a tiring day and he went up to his room.

When Mrs Trelawney and her daughter came to check on him at 1am he was already in a coma. They realised that this would make things a lot easier. They tied him up and dragged him from the bed; they had both already worked out what they would do with the corpse.

Mrs Trelawney’s daughter tied the body into the crevice and then they both started to place bricks over the fireplace, he would be dead soon enough.
At 2.27am they had finally bricked up Sam and as mother and daughter went back downstairs, they were already discussing how they would spend his money.

Mrs Trelawney would inform Mr Bertolli that Mr Lawson had been called unexpectedly back to London.

Just before he died, while he was entombed in the fireplace, Sam Lawson managed to whisper his last words: ‘help me’.


5.The Flight Of The Geese

She stood staring at the sky and with one deep breath the arctic air slashed the back of her windpipe.

She had almost to close her eyes to see their forms in the upper field as the sun seared the earth.

The wild geese had been there for days, nestled in the higher ground, feeding from the tilled soil and waiting – just waiting.

Every year they came and every year their presence caused a stirring in her heart. She felt right again. She felt needed.

She painted pictures of them as they fed in the field, she sketched their flight and sometimes she just smiled. She listened to their cries and more than once she was sure they called her name.

The geese swept in formation over her house and bestowed upon her a victory wave as she lay in bed, grasping her bed cover whilst looking from her window.

On the morning that she never woke again, the geese prepared themselves to take to the skies; to head home and to carry another soul to that resting place in the far, far north.

They had got what they had come for.


6. The Rain Country

 "You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass" . The Power-House ,John Buchan , 1913

He dreamt of letting his hand dance under the cool water which flowed freely from a tap and then watch as the unwanted liquid disappeared into the hole. 


He awoke with a start and yet there were not the usual battle noises that kept him awake at night. This was a darkness that brought with it nostalgia, an aching for the past that was guaranteed to suffocate any of his happiness that clung for survival.


He walked the top officers’ corridor, the one which was plastered with the war propaganda:

Remember our enemy – they squander

This was supported by photos of water being abused at the hands of the barbarians to the north.

Placed at the far end of the corridor was the most famous poster of all:


“Remember why we fight” the photo of a tap and a drip of water. 


Every home had one on the wall – put there by order. 


He had been a night-walker ever since he was a child, long before the Drought, long before the War, long before the dreams of the past.

The drought and the war were things he could fight against but the nostalgia was the worst, it lured him into a warm land. In his dreams he was bathing in hot water while his family prepared the evening meal in the rooms below. 


Those days had gone and most of his family were dead or taken as slaves and shipped to the north. 


Once people crossed the rebuilt Hadrian’s Wall they were very rarely seen again. Satellite photos showed camps for re-education on the outskirts of Edinburgh and Aberdeen. For re-education read extermination camps. 

Those unfortunate enough to be captured were usually worked to death building underground storage areas for the water or the new gold as it was better known. 


His own parents had gone ‘over the wall’ ten years ago. They had moved for safety to the hills in the Lake District but had been captured on a raid by The Reivers. Those to the north had the water but not the manpower - so that need had brought them raiding as far south as Old Manchester.   


If the war continued it would be thirty years old next February. The war was older than most of the people left in the United English States, he guessed that was why they had made him a General - he was forty three years of age and one of the few people that old. One could still make out ‘General Robert Star: UES Army’ on his fading breast badge.


He had sent his wife and child to a holding camp near Liverpool as it still had some water and was considered safe, at least for now.


It was estimated that the population of the United English States was just under a million, many had perished in the first drought but disease had been the main cause for most. 


The Barbarians on the dark side of the wall had an estimated 200,000 and probably another 100,000 made up of those captured or those who had defected. 


The defectors were known as ‘Thirst Runners’ and if they were re-captured by their own people, they were normally flayed alive and laid out on the grass as a warning to others. 


Robert, or Bobby as he liked to be called by his men, had been a soldier for most of his adult life. As the drought moved up what was once known as Britain, so Robert’s garrison followed. He had spent thirteen years in Old Manchester before moving to this new camp called New Manchester built on what had been once a town called Preston. 


Preston had been razed to the ground at around the same time as his parents had disappeared. 


He was issued with a small bottle of water each Sunday and this was to do him for the week. There was still some water reaching them from Wales but most of what was left of those supplies had been stolen, the pipes having blown apart. Those who lived in the border areas of Wales were systematically erased, it was considered better to rid the area of Drinkers (that was how the UES referred to non-combatants) than wait for them to become potential terrorists. Except the extermination gave birth to more terrorism than if the place had been left alone. 


The scorch and burn policy was now dropped in favour of bribery. Give the Drinkers water and they had no need to hit back at the troops.


Everyone knew on both sides of the wall what was coming next - it was inevitable. It had been discussed, planned and resourced from the Garrison in Old Manchester. In two days time the entire UES Army was going to attack the wall from both the Carlisle side and also using those battalions based at the River Tyne; there had been a proud city there once.


Robert always finished his nocturnal walk as the dawn was breaking through - this shortened the dream-time.

The next few days would change the war one way or another for everyone.

What they couldn’t do was stay where they were. 


7. The 'Tweens





In all the time that planet Earth had been circling our Sun, it was a miracle that they hadn’t been seen or at least caught on camera before now. 



They had lived here far longer than us and had kept themselves apart from us. Perhaps that was the reason they survived. Homo Sapien’s impatience with those different from themselves had long been demonstrated. 



They were probably mistaken for Yeti, or Ghosts, or Monsters – Man had called many things monsters except perhaps, himself. 



The Universe was theirs – they lived amongst the dark matter, they lived in the time between seconds, they lived in the rooms that were left empty until we entered them, they lived in the spaces that we had not owned or destroyed. They lived in the inbetween.



There’s one now in the next room from you, living the life of a ‘Tween  - until you turn the door handle that is. 

8. Meet You At The Circus




When Sebastian was seven, a traumatic thing happened to him. He had seen the monkeys in a cage from the corner of his eye and had wandered over to feed them. He remembered one of them bit his little finger.

Blood oozed from the wound causing Sebastian to turn to show his parents. They were not there as they had gone on without him.
Sebastian screamed and wept until a woman came to help.
She asked Sebastian who he had come to the Zoo with, and he replied his two brothers and his parents. She then asked what was the last thing they had said to him?

“If anyone gets lost we’ll meet up at the circus, “he told the woman.

So that is what she did, she took Sebastian to the circus and there they found a very worried looking mother and father.  

Sebastian never wandered off again.

When Sebastian was nine, a traumatic thing happened to him.

When the siren wailed, the whole family, as they had practiced, went to the fallout shelter at the end of Frankenholme Street.

Sebastian remembers the darkness, then the sudden brightness and then the oozing of blood. When the sun came up again, Sebastian was the only one left.

Only dust and shadows filled what was left of the shelter.

Then he remembered what his mother had told him that day - so long ago - and went off to find the nearest circus.


9. The Ape Who Sang


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. 


10. Strange Diary

November 22.

The strangest goddamn thing ever, and I mean ever, happened to me this morning. Jeez, my hand is still shaking as I write this even although the boss told me ‘no notes, no traces, no records’ but hey, it’s only one little bitty diary.

I had got up this morning, had breakfast and kissed my wife and prepared myself for what I was going to do, today. ‘Change the world for the better’ is what the boss said to me. So last night I double checked everything and the equipment was all ready. I’d taken it out to the Plains last weekend to make sure everything was A, okay. It was.

So I took all I needed up to the top floor and waited. I kind of guessed it would be a long wait but I was ready. ‘You’re the man’ as my boss told me last week.

Jeez, I nearly died when those folks turned up right behind me. I kid you not. One minute I was alone, the next they were standing right beside me. I didn’t even get a chance to reach for the rifle.

“Did you do this on your own?” Asked the man with the grey suit.
I asked him what he meant. I mean were they Feds or what?

Some guy shouts in a strange voice that they weren’t meant to get involved, that they would have to abort the trip and everyone was to return. Sounds crazy? That’s what I thought. When I got myself together I started to chase after them as the disappeared around the corner. Then I felt real weird and blacked out.

When I came to, I heard one of them say that I would have to be dropped off later. A kind blonde haired girl, a bit like Marilyn offered me a drink, smelled like coffee but I turned it down.

She asked me how I was doing and I said fine, she said that we’d need to wait till the bomb had gone off before we would return to get me home.

I know this is going to sound crazy, if anyone reads this – but she said they were time travellers, that they were on a tour of the big ones: The Crucifixion, First Man on The Moon (I’m tellin’ you that’s what she said), The start of World War 3 in 2012 – apparently a dirty bomb went off in….no, I’m going to stop there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you and the Assassination of the President – J.F.K. and that was why they were visiting me. I asked her how she knew and she said she was from the future and that she knew everything about me including Jack Ruby. Wow, my blood ran cold when she said that name – how did she know the Boss?

She said that I would be given a drug or something to make me forget so she could ask me anything. ‘Did I work alone?’ – I asked her what she meant. Did I shoot JFK on my own? I haven’t done it yet, I told her. Well are you working alone? I told her of course I’m not, I am only up in the Depository to make sure there are no loose ends. There are two guys down on that grassy knoll that will do the shooting.

She seemed real puzzled at that. She left me for a while but  she returned after she’d seen the city blown sky high. She told me that the world would be at war within hours. She had been crying. She’d been on this type of tour before but never to Dallas or to the bombing.

I’ve no idea what went wrong but if they did give me a drug to make me forget it didn’t work ‘cause next thing I know I’m waking up in the Depository again and I’m wondering if I had taken a stroke or something. Anyway, things are back to normal, as I write this the time is 11.40am and the President is late.



11. The Look Of Strangers



There are those amongst us who slip into to this life like a well worn glove, who very rarely question its strangeness and in most circumstances prefer to take everything that it offers.

Then there are people like me, Michael Andrews, sometime author, sometimes happy but mostly otherwise confused. There are days when I intentionally tell myself I’m stupid so as not to think too much, so as not to over analyse too much. But on other days...well on those other days I look around and scare myself with what I see. All of us sharing a little rock in space without rhyme nor reason, perhaps that is part of what makes me an author or maybe I’m just going plain mad.

There can only be two answers to this universe; either there is a God in control of everything or there is no one in control and now that I’ve had that thought I don’t want to get out of bed - ever.

Perhaps I’ll just hang on to my mattress and hope that Gravity does its job and keeps me in place.

So on the days I have to go into the city to see some colleague or other, I look at the faces on the subway or on the buses or on the trains or in all those faces of people walking. I look for some recognition that I am not alone in this belief, the belief that this existence really is only for the stupid and that the rest of us are terrified out of our minds the whole time.

And then there is always that nagging feeling which has been around since I was a kid – a feeling that I might have forgotten something important, something that when I remember it will make sense of all of this.

Then I see those faces in the city, those faces looking back at me and I rub my own face looking for marks, or bleeding from my nose or words written on my forehead that say ‘stare at this man’ – but there’s nothing on my face, it’s just the look of strangers.

Maybe they are also looking at me for some recognition that I am going through the same hell as them, but I have that well disguised expression of the stupid and they find no comfort in my face.

But I now know what it is and the truth is even more terrifying than my fevered imagination could have ever created.

I am going to tell you all this as a warning, to tell you to take care. I will tell you what I know and then let you decide.

Last Saturday morning the sun was bleaching the streets of the city and so I decided to take a walk from the central station up to the bohemian part of town.

I passed by the government buildings, the Royal palaces, the squares and avenues that were full of tourists. I walked under trees and arches and I walked around bistros, street cafes, theatres, cinemas and all of them full of strangers, some of whom caught my eye and other who walked on.

Then as I passed a glass shelter at a bus terminal a strange thing happened, I could see in the reflection that many of those who were behind me or had walked passed me were now looking in my direction.   
But when I turned around no one was looking. No one was staring and everyone was going about their business. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying it’s the start of the decline, the start of the long journey into the dark. Soon names will be a thing of the past and I will be left in a corner with vacant eyes. 

Perhaps I was thinking something similar myself until it happened again.

I had a pair of sunglass, the type that allows you to see behind oneself, maybe made for this very exercise and there they were again, people looking at me behind my back and when I turned once again - nothing.

Paranoid? - Perhaps.

I took my phone, the one with the video recorder, and began to keep it in the palm of my hand, always filming behind me. At the Gin Joint Cafe I had a coffee and excitedly started to watch the film.

There they were - people who showed no interest in me apart from a look while passing – who, when they were behind me, would stop, look at me and apparently discuss amongst themselves some detail or another. People who were apparently strangers were talking about me.

Insane? - You would think.

I did what any insane person would do, I turned quickly and started to follow them through the streets and the arches and the squares until several of them disappeared into a doorway, one that slammed shut in my face. I waited on them but no one came out.

I waited and waited and still nothing.  

I walked with my head down back to the railway station until in a shop window I saw more of them, a new crowd watching me.

I am ill, I must be.

I let it be. I went about my life ignoring the look of strangers. Some still walked by me and watched my face as if they were drinking in every last detail.

I just assumed I was wrong.
Then one night in the Gin Joint Cafe I drank more than I should have. I sat at the bar like the old soak of a writer I was. It had just gone eleven o’clock when the girl sat next to me.

“You’re Michael Andrews, the writer?”

“What do you want? An autograph or maybe you want to buy me a drink?”

“I just wanted to shake your hand” she said “we are not supposed to do this. It’s against everything.”

“What is?” I asked, slipping back another short.

“Well talking to you, the greatest writer since Shakespeare.”

“I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”

“No I haven’t, Michael Steven Andrews, born 1963, died 20... wait I’m not supposed to let you know that.”

“You know when I am going to die?” I asked.

“You died years before I was born” she said.

“We come back to visit all the great ones, you and Shakespeare are the most popular.”

“Come back from where?”

“The future, your future, I mean you have already found out that Einstein was wrong and things can travel faster than light. It won’t be long until you start sending objects back in time.”

I was about to ask what asylum she had escaped from when she disappeared.

So now you know what I know. When you get that look from a stranger then perhaps they are more than just inquisitive. Perhaps they are one of your own descendants or a student or a time tourist.

Who or whatever they are, just do what I do and keep on walking.  

 It's safer that way.

12. Shadow

for Halloween
                            
It had been ninety years since they had disappeared. 

Ninety years of theories, of conjectures, of those who said that maybe they had, and those who said that maybe they hadn’t.

To commemorate their climb and to search for the final body, Jack was going to lead an expedition which would reach the top of Everest on June 8th. Perhaps this would be the final proof to show that the men had indeed been the first on the summit of the highest mountain in the world.

What happened on that June day in 1924? Had George Leigh-Mallory and Andrew Irvine died on the way up or had they perished on the way down from the summit?

When the news came in that they’d found Mallory’s body, a couple of thousand feet below the summit, Jack had been excited and disappointed at the same time. It had always been his dream, ever since he was a kid, to bring home the bodies of Mallory and Irvine and to prove once and for all that they had indeed been the first. He was excited that the truth would soon be known but disappointed it hadn’t been him.

“It wasn’t on him?” said Jack, who had to put a finger in one ear to try and hear the climber on the other end of the phone line.
“No sir. There was no camera on the body of Mallory.”

It was known that Mallory and Irvine had taken a Vestpock Kodak with them and if they had made it to the top then there would be photographs (assuming the film was still able to be developed) to show this fact.
The only other option was that Irvine, when they found the body would have the camera with him. There were a lot of bodies out there lost on Everest, at least 120 – a needle in a haystack came to Jack’s mind.

Jack’s expedition was got underway in May that year. It was on June 7th that Jack directed the expedition to another area near the summit, one – and this is the weird bit – that was given to him by a crazy woman. She was a friend of the family and some of the things she’d said had rung true with Jack. Not that he would have told anyone that.

One night not long after his mother had died, Jack had been given a message by the strange woman. “Your mother says ‘Tickety Boo’,” she told him. Right there and then Jack felt as if he had been hit by an ice cold bolt; one that ran from the top of his head to the extremities of his toes. ’Tickety Boo’ had been the saying that only him and his mother had said to each other, no one else knew.

The woman even told him what results he was going to get in his university exams. He’d worked as hard as he could to disprove her prediction. But in the end she had been spot on.

So when she told him it was important to search on the north east quadrant of the mountain, he felt he should listen to her. Jack could see the doubt in the eyes of his team – why there, they were screaming but he insisted on it and they followed.

On June 8th, the body of Andrew Irvine was found and yes, the camera was with him. Jack thanked whatever god had led him to that location. He was happy that he had accomplished what he’d dreamed of when he was only 10 years of age. He had brought the last body home. 

A few weeks later when he was back in New York, he got a call from the company that was developing the photos.
“It was like we feared, Jack some of the photos have been exposed by the cosmic rays. Some have decayed but we still managed to save three photos. I think you should get over here, as soon as you can.”
Jack didn’t need to be asked twice and within the hour he was driving north to Poughkeepsie to the film company. 

Dr Carter shook Jack’s hand and led him into the boardroom. 

“Can I get you some coffee?” asked Dr Carter. Jack said he was impatient to get on.

Carter made sure the door was closed and then displayed the photo on a big screen.

The first one was taken at the previous camp by one of the base team. The second photo was one of a smiling Mallory and the third, well the third was Mallory and Irvine standing smiling at the camera on the summit of Everest.
“They had made it. They had made it.” Jack started whooping and dancing around the room. “Wait until the world sees this.”

Then Jack looked at Dr Carter and wondered why he wasn’t as excited as him.

“You knew this and yet you don’t seem that moved about it all,” said Jack.

“Oh, I’m excited all right but not for the reason you think. Have you looked at the photo, I mean really looked at the photo?”

“I just see what you see,” said Jack “Mallory and Irvine smiling at the camera after they’ve made it to the top of Everest, and more importantly, thirty years before Hillary and Tenzing.”

“And what else do you see?”

“What else is there to see?” asked Jack.

“Who is taking the photo?”

“Perhaps they placed the camera on something, a piece of ice? or a small tripod?” said Jack.

“Look at the shadow at the bottom of the photo.”

Jack went up to the screen and looked closer. His blood ran cold. He saw what 
Dr Carter was getting at, but he let himself take a few seconds before he reacted.

“It looks like there is someone else there. The shadow looks like someone else is taking the photo other than Mallory and Irvine.”

“Now you see my concern,” said Dr Carter.

“Perhaps it is one of the team who went up with them,” said Jack grasping at straws.

“That was my first thought but all the rest of the team were accounted for,” said Carter. “There is something else, something in the second photo that I think you should see.”

Jack couldn’t see what he was supposed to.

“Look at the reflection in Mallory’s glasses.”

Dr Carter magnified the image and it was then Jack saw it. The person who took the photograph of Mallory standing on his own wasn’t Irvine.

“Who is it?” asked Jack.

“What is it, is probably more accurate,” said Carter.

“It’s a man...I think...and it looks like he’s got........but that’s impossible," said Jack.

Dr Carter stood up, “It looks like he has a pair of wings.... like an angel...is that what you were going to say?”





bobby stevenson 2013 
thoughtcontrol ltd  
 
 



 












 


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