By the time he got back down to the town centre it was just gone seven o’clock. The hours had passed by quickly in his attempt to document evidence about his journey. The smell of a fish and chip shop on one street corner punctuated the air around the churchyard, this combined with an aromatic scent from a curry house and cheese and oregano from a pizza takeaway. These cruelly taunted his sense of smell and brought on hunger once again, but it was a long walk back to the refuge on the hill and what remained of the pheasant. Better to try and find something to eat in town if possible, but where and how was a massive problem to overcome. There was no water fountain and on exhaustive investigation certainly no drop in cafe.

“These people seem overrun with prepared meals! don’t they do any cooking themselves!” was his report whilst sat in a quiet corner of the church yard, the only piece of ground now catching the last few warming rays of the evening sunshine.

He had hoped to venture inside the church itself and take refuge for a while, perhaps make use of any refreshment there, but the doors were locked firmly shut and bolted as well. It was as if the clergy were under siege, for to add to the denial of entry at the front, the beautiful stained-glass windows were also covered with a wire mesh framework as if to defend from some form of abuse or attack.

The wooden bench offering him support did more than just that. It offered hope as well, for on it an inscription referred to some deceased church member. This benefactor had bequeathed the seat at his parting. “So although this world must be in turmoil of some sort” he whispered quietly into his mobile, “there must be some good people somewhere.” After the entry he took a few snaps of the religious stone building being careful not to appear too conspicuous in the task.

All hope truly depended on eleven o’clock tomorrow. Mac silently lipped a prayer and asked for a safe return back home. But what to do in the meantime? The streets were beginning to busy up, and the noise from the pubs was increasing. He felt out of sorts, awkward, ill at ease with himself, annoyed even. He had naively imagined walking into a public house, sitting in a quiet corner and reading the newspaper which was still tucked in his back trouser pocket, but looking at the groups of people gathering and drinking outside the pubs told him for some reason he would not be able to do that. Besides the noise coming from within the buildings negated any chance of a quiet corner to reflect and read.

On his return from the hills he had made a decision not to offer any greeting to people on the streets and see if they acknowledged him instead. The experiments findings chilled him. No one had given him a second glance, good for this predicament, but it still saddened his soul. He might as well be invisible. The thought sent a quizzical expression across his face. Then he remembered the old man with the dog and the lady at the house. They had seen him, spoken to him.

Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the place which threatened, but no, he had never felt the same in any new visit back home. No, it was definitely not the town, more the people. Granted he was alone, friendless and adrift, but the townsfolk seemed so partisan, uncaring of any charity but what they could reap for themselves.

Selfish! the word finally entered his mind. A word he had hardly dwelt on in his own life. A word mentioned in histories by the elders when some spoke in evening meets around the board at feastings. Selfish, that was it.
A word meaning far more than he cared to imagine, for by this time tomorrow he may never have to ponder on it again.

The newspaper confirmed once again, for he felt a need to check it, that the date was the same as expected. Yes, day, month and year identical. Only the headlines differed, and what headlines. Some vocabulary was even new to him but the articles soon established the meanings.

War, murders, infidelity, greed. The world he had entered seemed driven by nonsense and insanity. The sooner he left the better. He pondered for a while upon the science of returning. “Will I be able to get back with this paper? That’ll be proof. Can I only take back what I came with? But surely that’s too late to be sensible now because the air I breathe is inside me, the water and pheasant are part of me. How’s this thing going to work?” A cold shiver went down his back and finished on his arms, the blonde hairs there standing on edge. Mac rolled his pullover sleeves down to their full length.

As if to cheer, a family of blackbirds hopped into view. Two light brown chicks, both fluffed up with down, like little balls of cotton wool shadowed two proud parents around on a forage for supper. Their father with his shiny black feathers and yellow beak was hopping about on the soil to encourage them to follow suit and attract some food to the surface. They were having none of it. Instead the two of them chirped incessantly at him, and with beaks opened wide played out the ritual of millennia giving him the signal to care for them. This he did with grub after grub.

Mum on the other hand had found a worm. She was busy on the pathway carving it up into small chick size pieces. Using her beak she cut one way, then the other to reduce the meal in size, and after half a minute of effort took pieces to each of her children in turn. The chicks then fluttered up onto a rickety old bench seat in the far corner of the churchyard and fluffed their feathers to warm themselves in the sun.

For a moment or two Mac forgot. For all the world he could be back at home, sat by the waterwheel waiting for the venison to cook on the barbecue, watching the fledglings in his own garden.

It was not the hunger that sent his stomach racing to the floor. The image of the roasting deer and what that scene meant had done so. Being worried about his own emotions and well being was obvious, but what of Sal and his family, what would they be going through now?

The cascade fell sharply again, like dominoes in a row, a game he used to play with his Gran. A dizziness, almost vertigo like aura overtook him and forced a stall on his wellbeing. The noise from the passing cars echoed louder than ever. Mac lowered his head a little and tried to calm the pounding in his chest by deep breathing.

Then thoughts reclaimed attention. He was six hours late back home. Dad would have ventured out on the trail looking to see if there had been a mishap. All would have endeavoured to raise him on the airwaves and Sal had probably tracked his mobile. It would show a last position under the bridge. What would they think of that, battery failure perhaps, even so, where was he? Sal would be frantic.

What of the baby as well, the stress of the situation might bring on the birth. His head reeled and reeled and followed his stomach down to the ground, racing to be first there. He had to grab hold of the arm of the seat to steady a collapsing body, and having done so took several more deep breaths.

Slowly colour seeped back into each cheek. He could feel it, a warming glow moving wave like up from his neckline to each temple. A whistling in both ears subsided to a dull hum, then a throbbing pulse and finally it dispersed to silence.

The obvious stoop on the bench had attracted no comment, although in the turmoil he remembered observing several passers by on the pavement the other side of a wall which defined the church grounds. Perhaps they had not noticed the bent over figure, so was benefit of doubt still the order of the day? He wondered, but sadly everything pointed to that not being the case. Pheasant beckoned, and with the conclusion that no offer of sanctuary in the town was going to be forthcoming he headed off back for the hills.

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