Indie Author Ring

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Eventide: Christmas in New Wood

   Christmas had approached with a certain degree of stealth.  Its arrival had almost gone by unnoticed and its lodgings had been confined to the elements rather than the inner warmth of a family hearth and home.  It had been left to fend for itself in the snow and the sporadic winter winds that raged before resting briefly.  Christmas, it seemed, had been absent too long.  Upon returning it found that its once close and loving family had become strangers to the world and to each other until, in an unexpected and united gesture, New Wood's residents began rapidly rediscovering themselves and their voices in the sepulchral silence.
   It began first with just one meticulously wrapped present placed beneath the tree in Market Square, a single gift from an unknown person who had placed it there perhaps as a reminder to themselves that not everything was completely unsalvageable.  That one simple gesture begot another.  Under an hour later several more presents had appeared, and several hours later than that the amount had surpassed three hundred, a record number for New Wood.  The residents hadn't spoken to each other and neither had they hinted in any way that this time-honoured and hitherto forgotten tradition was to be honoured at all.  It had happened seemingly without forethought, without any prior discussion and without the pessimism that had plagued much of the townsfolk since news of Eventide's probable collision course with the Earth.  One resident followed the other, and sometimes two appeared simultaneously each with that same accompanying smile that had once been so painless to express.  One by one they placed their presents carefully beneath the tree and waited; they waited because they knew each other as well as they knew themselves.  They no longer looked up to the sky with the dread that had governed the majority of them these past few weeks.  Now they looked forward towards the tree, past the tree, into the heart of the town and into the hearts of their friends who they knew would soon arrive as they themselves had arrived with animated grins, presents and placid eyes that no longer housed fear.  New Wood's closed doors had opened again and from within had poured forth that temporarily misplaced sense of community. 
   Over the course of the next six hours several hundred people flocked to Market Square.  Longchester House had emptied and its aged residents had joined the younger, the youthful and the youngest each carrying presents, candles, decorations for the tree and, in George's case, a head full of Christmas carols ready to be voiced into the night.  It was a clear defiance of what lingered above.  Barbara was there also, clutching a candle and watching the flicker of flame leaving luminescent trails in the winter air as she moved it gently from left to right while searching for her son's face in the crowd.
   Upon hearing the growing congregation of voices close by, Mina had appeared at her shop door and had observed in stupefied silence as the crowd continued to grow.  She disappeared momentarily and returned seconds later with her own ornate candlestick sporting a rim of small and scrupulously carved fairies circling the base.  It was one of the first things she'd ever created.  She soon found her place in a crowd of people she'd known all her life as Hal handed her a candle from amidst the maturing throng of bodies.  He gently nudged his way through with a grin and hugged her tightly as candlelight continued to gleam into existence all around them.  Edna watched from a small distance away and couldn't detain her smile a moment longer.  She'd been one of the first to arrive and one of the first to place a present beneath the tree.  Now she stood holding a candle whilst looking around and trying to convince herself that this wasn't some fabricated dream.
   Faces continued to appear, some more unexpected than others.  Officer Benson had remained at the rear of the crowd before Daniel clipped him jokingly around the back of the head and pushed him forward.  Benson span around with a pre-planned look of contempt before releasing a chuckle that surprised both of them.  They moved inward amongst the other residents before each accepting a candle.  Although Daniel knew very few people there, it was enough to know that they all knew him.
   When Phil arrived several minutes later he appeared visually to condemn the proceedings.  He cast his disapproving eyes from one smiling face to the next before those same disapproving eyes found his mother standing amongst them clutching a lit candle.  He remained still for a time and seemed to withdraw from the moment, casually removing himself from everything and everyone around him as he watched Barbara socialising in her own inimitable way.  She half-smiled and leaned her head forward whenever anyone glanced her way.  It was an almost regal gesture.  When she turned her head and looked straight toward Phil he felt that same twinge tapping his spine, that same inexplicable sense  of unease that had governed most of his adult life whenever he saw her.  Even now he didn't know what to do or say, how to react or how to approach, but approach he did.  He hadn't expected to see her twice in one day.  He moved forward and readied his words.  He'd mention something about Christmas and the candles or he'd talk about how cold it was.  He'd speak about anything and everything if only to avoid those self-made silences he'd become so efficient at creating whenever his thoughts outweighed his words. 
   Within seconds of standing next to her Phil felt his mother's arm curl around his as another of Longchester House's residents handed him a candle and proffered a smile.  There'd been no need for words.  In fact very few people were speaking at all.  Aside from occasional whispers, handshakes and hugs, it seemed that the residents of New Wood were happy just to be there, to be outside amongst friends and family and without the burden of despair that had been circling their souls for too long.  It was enough... it was just enough.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Eventide: George

   "Snap out of it, lad," George said.  "If they see you looking like that in here then you'll never leave.  Where's your Christmas spirit?"
   "I drank it and pissed it away," Phil said as he shook George lightly by the hand.  "How have you been, you mischievous old bastard?  Still alive, then?" 
   "As far as I can tell," George replied.  "Won't be long now, though.  I have my eye on a plot of land over there by the water fountain."
   "You plan to be buried at Longchester House?"
   "Well of course I do.  Do you expect me to lie in some cold dark cemetery with the rest of the stinkpots? I'll be right here haunting the place."
   "As a zombie?"
   "As a ghost.  Zombies don't haunt people," George corrected him.  "You know, you youngsters are not quite the ticket."
   "Ok, well there's no graveyard in the grounds anyway.  But even if you were buried in the cemetery you could still return and haunt the place as a ghost."
   "Too far to walk," George returned.
   "You can float... and I'm forty years old.  I'm hardly a youngster," Phil added.
   "You're always young to someone."
   "Well who the hell calls you a youngster?"
   "Trees and tortoises," George nodded.  "I had a particularly informed conversation with an Oak Tree only last Tuesday.  Did you know...?"
   "I know enough to know that you've pulled my leg too many times for your own good," Phil stopped him.  "You have more wits about you than a fox.  You've gone beyond the boy who cried wolf too many times.  You're the old codger who lost his voice."
   "Heresy," George said.  "The day I lose this wonderful voice is the day these wits of mine lose their home.  How are you, Phil?" he chuckled.  "You wait until Christmas time to visit us? Just special occasions now, is it?"
   "Calling Christmas a special occasion is questionable at best."
   "Now that's going to have to stop, young sir?" George began.  "When one loses his mirth then one begins to wilt.  You should be out there meeting women, making merry and having children."
   "And look where it's got you."
   "It's not about where it gets you, it's about the journey you undertake to get there.  Very few people out there understand what life is really all about and even less know how to live it.  We all make mistakes.  We all have regrets and leave our woes dangling from our breast pockets like snotty handkerchiefs for all to see, but by God one has to look back, study the path he's chosen and be happy about it."
   "And are you happy about yours?"
   "Unfortunately my path forked. It's littered with mistakes, tears, sons that hated me and wives and daughters that continue to do so.  I suppose I should be looking back at that path and wishing that Nature would take its course and cover the damn thing in dead branches and fallen leaves, but for every fallen leaf there's always just one tiny flower amidst all the debris.  It's that one tiny flower that makes it all worthwhile.  However if you can't find that flower, well, just drink lots of brandy and to hell with it... in a hundred years no one will care anyway," he smiled. "She asked after you yesterday."
   "My mother?" Phil replied as he looked over George's thin shoulders.
   "Your mother," he confirmed.  "Strange that she should ask me.  Mind you there's a lot of strange goings on at the moment.  The planet has gone mad."
   "It doesn't seem as though anyone is particularly bothered by it in here," Phil observed as he cast his eyes over tables cluttered with playing cards and board games.
   "That's because they took away the television," George whispered as he gestured towards the empty bracket on the wall.  "A 50" plasma television constantly referring to the end of days was apparently upsetting some of the residents."
   "They can't take away the television."
   "Well they bloody well did," George raised his voice a little.  "There's no line drawn in here between being old and being dim-witted.  The aged are the ones to be protected now from all the nasty things in the world; these, of course, being the very same aged and apparently fragile people who fought in a world war and paved the way for future generations.  Everyone here knows about Eventide and most of us couldn't give a hoot about it.  We get on with our lives, play games, talk about old times and old memories while all the youngsters are out there murdering each other.  When we killed we were merely carrying out orders.  They do it because they feel as though there's bugger all left to do.  Hopelessness is a lazy, worthless and unproductive hobby, Phil.  I do hope people don't become too good at it."
   "For some it's a habit rather than a hobby," Phil replied, "although this Augustus Saccardi business seems to be keeping hope alive for quite a few people out there."
   "Piss and onions!" George declared brazenly.  "What do you think about this Augustus Saccardi business?"
   "Piss and onions, George, whatever the hell that means," Phil agreed.  "I can't see how trawling through this Mortuus place is going to help anyone feel any better about dying."
   "Now I never said anything about dying, young fellow," George said.  "We'll be fine.  The young can be so grim.  Look around you; it's Christmas.  We don't talk about dying at Christmas.  Actually this is a celebration of birth.  Of course some of us do die at Christmas.  Henry doesn't have long," he said with a nod towards a frail looking emaciated man in need of amusement and something more engaging to study other than his hands.  "Always tired he is.  Too much good living is my guess.  He was a gigolo, you know?"
   "Was he now?" Phil grinned.
   "Dirty fellow if you ask me.  Spent most of his life slapping his manhood around.  Still it takes all types, doesn't it? Have you ever thought about becoming a gigolo?  There's good money in it and it gets you out of the house."
   "I live on a boat... or in it... one of the two. Anyway it's not my style," Phil replied.  "You have to pretend to be somebody you're not."
   "You have to be charming at the very least."
   "Charm is something you have to work at.  I don't see the profit in it."
   "Profit? Oh to be young again," George started with a finger raised and wagging.  "Profit will always let you down.  It entices you and goads you into doing things you never thought you'd do.  It's a harlot, Phil, and you should keep away from it.  Profit and purity are like chalk and cheese.  Mind you there's some cheese that looks like chalk.  Have you ever tasted it? Vile stuff!  Give me mature cheddar any day of the week."
   "It makes my nose ache," Phil said.  "It's too strong."
   "I find it very appealing," George said, "much like Edna over there," he added as he nodded towards the doorway where Edna was standing and observing.  "Do you think she likes me?" he asked.
   "Edna likes everyone."
   "I don't mean like that," George returned.  "I mean do you think she likes me?"
   "In what way?"
   "In that way."
   "I think this conversation is drawing to a close."
   "Could you find out if she likes me in that way?" George continued nonetheless.
   "What are you, twelve years old? You'll have me passing love letters around the room next."
   "I could write her a poem," George said as he sunk into reverie.  "Nature, love, attraction... it's all connected."
   "I'm sure it is," Phil replied nonchalantly as his attention went once more to his mother, who had since turned to face him with a wide and incredulous gaze.  She was so happy to see him.
   "And it's all still working downstairs," George added.
   "In the basement?" Phil enquired after showing his mother a brief smile.
   "Behind the cloth," George whispered as his eyes rolled downwards.  "It never ages, you know?"
   "What the hell are you talking about you silly old bastard?" Phil enquired.
   "The penis, dear boy, the male penis," George answered candidly.
   "Is there any other kind?" Phil returned.  "Anyway, how is it we've gone from poetry and Nature to the subject of your dick? George, you never change.  More power to you," he added as he brushed past him and patted him on the shoulder.
   "Elephant's knees," George mumbled to himself as Phil stopped and turned back.
   "What's that?"
   "The foreskin is like an elephant's knees at birth and remains so until death finally whisks the genitals away.  It still looks pretty much the same as it did," he said as once more he gestured downwards, "but it just takes a little longer to speak its mind."
   "Well I'm more than certain Edna would be happy enough with your penis, George, and whatever said penis has on its mind."
   "I've never had any complaints I've taken notice of," George returned, "unless we count my second wife.  I couldn't help but take notice of her.  Incredibly loud vocal chords," he said tapping his throat.  "Always an echo," he added with a quizzical look.  "It didn't matter where she was standing, outside or inside... there was always an echo."
   "Well," Phil began awkwardly after a few seconds passed, "I'm sure Edna wouldn't be like that."
   "Yes," he agreed, "she'd be happy with my penis, as you say."
   "She'd be the envy of all women.  Perhaps you could wrap it up for her and give it to her for Christmas."
   "I could slip it into a sock, throw a blanket over myself, kneel down and push it through the gap in the dirty linen basket.  She'd think it was..."
   "Merry Christmas, George," Phil grinned and nodded.
   "And to you, young Philip," George replied with an accompanying schoolboy chuckle before casting his eye towards Edna, who continued watching him suspiciously from the doorway.  "And now to business," he added as he walked away with an air of confidence accompanying a leisurely gait...

Friday, 17 July 2015

Eventide: Madeline Decker

   Her father seldom heard her; her father seldom saw her.  When she was standing in front of him he rarely looked at her and when she spoke he rarely listened.  To him Madeline was someone who existed between blinks.  She was an occasional creak on the floorboards.  She was a fleeting breath in the breeze.  The only time he would begin to consider her was when he felt angry, and the only time he spoke to her was when he searched for someone to blame over something he had already forgotten about.  Nevertheless she was culpable.  Goaded by the scorn of her crippled and bitter mother, Madeline's father would frequently threaten his daughter first with eyes that narrowed and then with words that seemed to sharpen his knuckles, which would then continue to pummel her already purpled teenage torso.  He always made certain to avoid striking her face; it was his gift to her.
   Her father seldom heard her; her father seldom saw her, and yet at thirteen Madeline acquired two broken ribs resulting from 'a bad fall'.  At fourteen she suffered the pain of three broken fingers resulting from a 'silly accident', and at fifteen she discovered a festering dark unforgiving bliss that had long been maturing in the core of her developing and resentful soul.
   Her father seldom heard her; her father seldom saw her... and so her father never expected it. 
   Even the sun seemed sluggish that day. It lingered lethargically on the horizon and allowed the shadows to breed into those provisional pockets of black in which ill thoughts and vengeance hatch, and in which Madeline herself had been hiding for most of the night waiting and trembling.  She had concealed herself in the recess at the top of the stairs, an alcove just large enough for a young girl and just small enough to contain delicate wits close to tearing. 
   At 8am her mother called her from the downstairs bedroom; she demanded breakfast. 
   At 8:01am her mother's voice raised to a shrill.
  At 8:03am her father shouted at Madeline from the upstairs bedroom for being disobedient.
   At 8:03am her mother began swearing and threatening her.
   At 8:03am her father began swearing and threatening her.
   At 8:05am Madeline heard her father storm out of his room and across the landing before kicking her bedroom door open.  She wasn't there.
   At 8:06am he was standing at the top of the stairs wearing nothing but his underpants and screaming violently at his wife.
   At 8:06am his wife screamed violently in return.
   At 8:06am Madeline sprang screaming from the confines of the recess and hurtled towards her father.
   Her father seldom heard her: her father seldom saw her... her father never stood a chance...

Monday, 2 March 2015

   "Round two," Hal whispered with a hint of amusement. 
   Sean was already standing before them holding a notepad and waiting patiently for Phil to order.
   "I had a notepad like that when I was a boy," Phil observed.  "I used to log my wet dreams in it.  Are you a logger, Sean?"
   "A logger?"
   "Someone who logs things.  Come to think of it are you a wet dreamer?"
   "What do you want to order?" Sean replied with indifference.
   "A log.  A Yuletide Log.  I'm feeling festive."
   "Actually we can do that for you," Sean smiled sardonically.  "One Yuletide Log," he added as he pressed the pen nib deep into the pad.
   "Excellent!" Phil exclaimed.  "One Yuletide Log and chips," he said as Hal buried his face in his hands and took a carefully controlled breath.
   "Right, one Yuletide Log and chips it is," Sean answered irritably as he scribbled it down.  The pen nib pierced the paper.  "Anything else?"
   "Tomato sauce on the Yuletide Log," Hal whispered unexpectedly through his fingers as he exhaled a restrained chuckle into his palms.
   Both Phil and Sean looked over at Hal with surprise.  Sean was disgusted; Phil was ecstatic.
   "And a side order of chips to make up for the fact that your portions are too small," Phil added, this time whilst looking at Hal with anticipation.
   "Of course," Sean replied as his breathing quickened through gritted teeth and partially pursed lips.
   "Not French fries," Phil continued.  "I want chips that look as though they've just eaten a plate of chips.  I don't want those skinny scrawny things that resemble toasted toothpaste."
   "Oh I assure you our chips are cut from the finest potatoes..." Sean began.
   "Then show me."
   "Excuse me?"
   "My friend and I wish to test the validity of your claim. Go and fetch one of the potatoes and bring it here."
   "And bring a portion of chips with you," Hal added.  His eyes were now streaming with tears.
   "And a side order of chips because your portions are too small," Phil demanded.  "And don't forget the tomato sauce on that Yuletide Log.  Be quick about it and don't spare the cook!" Phil concluded with a wave of his hand.
   "Of course, sir," Sean replied as he slipped his notepad into his pocket.  "Perhaps sir would also like a portion of bruises about the face with that?"
   "That's tempting," Phil mused.  "How are you for bruises about the face, Hal?"
   Hal was unable to answer.
   "I'll tell you what, I'll take two kicks up the arse, a bloody nose and a bombardment of expletives."
   "And one portion of chips," Hal ordered.
   "And a side order of chips because your portions are too small," Phil added.
   "Of course, sir, I'll see to your order immediately.  Now go and fuck yourself!" Sean growled before storming away from the table...