Thursday, 1 May 2014

A Notebook In A Church

Friday 10th July, 201* , S*******

Maybe I should start at the very beginning then perhaps if someone finds this, it will all make more sense. That is, if what has just happened can make sense - to anyone.

I live (lived) in a beautiful village in the south-east of England. I don’t want to be any more exact than that, just in case they find this.

A week ago, we had the village fete, with all its usual sunshine, and games and I remember thinking to myself what a perfect place to live. Old misery-guts ran the whole show, moaning, as he usually did, about everything. Yet the fete always seemed to take place and, in the end, would always manage to be better than the year before.

The village has one great pub, called The Winston Churchill, which supplies the drinks on the day of the fete. There’s a stall for strawberries, one selling flowers, another for support of the local drama society and one where Mrs Laud tells peoples’ fortunes for a small donation to the church. Oh, yes and there’s a church which you’ll see is very important – but I’ll get to that.

It’s a friendly little place where everyone knows everyone else, and where everyone knows secrets (or say they do) about the rest of the village. I think the village works on the premise that everyone has at least one secret they would rather keep to themselves. If people don’t know what it is, the kind folks of the village will make one up. Not much different, I would imagine, from anywhere else in this glorious land.

I think I am going to use this notebook to record two things. The first is to record what is happening right now to the place where I live and the second is to recall stories about the great, the good and the downright stupid who have lived in the place since I came to stay here – which must be about 20 years ago; time flies.

I discovered it by accident. I just happened to be driving along the high road when I saw a sign for the village and fell in love with the place immediately. It’s that type of place – the kind of village you only find once in a lifetime.

The first sign of anything unusual was the ‘phones going dead – any and every ‘phone, it seemed. Sometimes this happened in a small village. Sometimes it snowed and we’d be cut off for a day or two. I mean, it’s only 20 miles from London but you can still be isolated down here.

I had gone down to the Winston to see if anyone else had the same problem. The owner, Annie, told one of her staff to turn on the television to see if there was any news. And guess what? That was only showing a blank screen with the odd spark every so often.

“Maybe some transmitter’s down,” said Annie in her usual re-assuring way.
“What transmitter?” Asked old Jake, who questioned everyone and everything.
“How should I know, Jake, just sit there and sup your beer,” she scolded which was quickly followed by a smile.
“It’s them Russians,” scowled Jake. “Probably marched through Ukraine all the way to London, like as not.”

The rest of us gave Jake a smile, the way we always gave Jake a smile.

It was just before seven that someone mentioned they hadn’t heard any trains that afternoon and I quickly realised they were correct, I couldn’t recall hearing the London train pass either.

“Maybe someone should ring the church bells, let the village folks know that it’s seven o’clock,” said Annie.

I mentioned that people could just look at their watches or clocks but as Jake pointed out, they had all stopped, too.
So when the rest of them in the Winston looked at me, I knew I had been volunteered to go and ring the bells. I had messed about with bell-ringing once upon a time.

I walked into a beautiful summer’s evening. The village has no street lighting (although that’s common around these parts and won’t give a clue as to where we are) – and as I walked up the street I could see through windows families sitting down together, maybe for the first time without the television invading their evening meals.

As I crossed the street to go through the church gate, I noticed the last house suddenly go dark inside. At the time I didn’t think much about it, until I tried the switches in the church hall and all of them failed to work.

I had climbed up to the church tower many a time to look at the bells (eight in all) – so accomplishing this in the dark wasn’t a hardship.

I pulled my way carefully up the iron-rung ladders and balanced my way across the narrow beam which took me to a small platform on the other side of the tower. There was only enough room for one man or woman up there. The bells were looking okay and standing up, so I thought I’d go down a start ringing down one of them.

That was when I heard the noise. I wasn’t sure who or what it was, but it sounded like a train on the rails was in trouble. Then I heard men shouting. Perhaps a train had crashed into a transmitter or something and knocked everything out.

I climbed the last ladder (which took a person up to the very top of the church tower) to have a better look. I don’t know what made me hesitate - most probably my fear of heights - but I decided not to stand but look through one of the holes in the brick which let rain water out.

I remember once, when I was making a parachute jump up in Scotland, my brain had decided to take a back seat – it’s the only way I can describe it – and it felt as I plummeted to the ground, that I was watching a movie and all this wasn’t happening to me.  

This was the same feeling, as I looked through the hole in the church tower, I could see tanks – the military sort – followed by soldiers with guns. I could just make out their shouting and it wasn’t any language I had heard before.

The village was being invaded. I could see from the tower, the same uniformed men coming in from both sides of the High Street.
As the tanks turned the corner into the street below the church, several of the soldiers broke off and ran to the doors of the houses, kicking them in.

I saw the Smith family, who lived in the first cottage, being dragged out and made to kneel in the middle of the road.
That was when I felt my world changed on its axis. The Smith’s eldest son got up to challenge one of the soldiers and another of them shot the boy dead.

I fell back on to the floor of the tower and started to shake. Maybe they were making a television programme? Something I hadn’t heard about. When I had pulled myself together a little I had another look. The rest of the Smiths were being marched at gun point down the street, Mrs Smith was being forcibly removed from the body of her dead son.

My next thought was that maybe the Smiths were terrorists but that too was cut short when I saw more families being forced onto their knees in the street.

What the hell was happening to my world? This group of people, whoever they were, were rounding up the whole village. I heard some of them kick in the church door below me. There was more shouting in this strange language as they knocked over furniture in the church.

I could hear someone try to climb the iron ladders – they were coming up for me. I made myself as small as possible and pushed my body into the corner of the tower.

It sounded as if one of the soldiers was helping the other up the ladder. I waited on them finding me.

Suddenly the soldier fell from the ladder and must have landed on the other because I could hear them argue – whatever the language was.

This must have deterred them because I saw them run out of the church and back on to the street. I stayed hidden until the sky was pitch black and only the stars above me.

I was desperate for some water and decided as I hadn’t heard anything for a long time that I might try to find something to drink.

I held my breath and lowered myself down to the middle platform – I put my ear to the floor but I could hear nothing. I descended into the church and it was totally black, although I could feel chairs and tables lying upside down.

I knew the bell ringers kept some bottled water at the back of the church and guessing where I was, I crawled towards the rear wall.

I located the cabinet and found three bottles of the stuff. I drank that first bottle in one go and it was just as I wiped the corner of my mouth that I heard the church door open. 

bobby stevenson 2014

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