A dawn chorus was in full voice outside, lapwings circled about whistling a shrill call whilst crows and the like did their best from trees by the crag. The dark open doorway at his feet when sleep came now showed promise of light and warmth, no rain looked likely by the story the sky told so that was a welcome sign. Could he hope the rest of the day would follow the same.

A pheasant sounded off like a horn to tell of its territory. Mac wondered if he had eaten its mate the night before. Unfortunate if he had, that was nature though, only take what you need and let mother Earth do the sums. Everything had its place in the great scheme of things, and as long as equilibrium was maintained the future was secure.

For all intents and purposes this could be a camping trip somewhere back home, except for the inside of the hovel he occupied. The grey walls of concrete blocks did nothing to cheer, but he was thankful for the hospitality the den had offered. What had seemed like a thorough clean out in the dark however was quite obviously nothing of the sort. The tree branch used as a broom had been useless in clearing the edges of the floor of debris. The pungent smell about the place, worse now that the hut was warming up, was because of this collection of damp magazines, discarded clothing, used food containers and general debris he had rapidly become accustomed to seeing. He had only been a visitor for less than a day but desensitisation had set in. After checking his only three personal possessions were with him, the newspaper, flint and handheld, he vacated the hideaway and made for the crag.

4

The town’s small library offered some time to come up with a cover story for the predicament. It was nothing of a building to look at, just a square, pre fabricated structure with a massive front window, and in fact the day before he had not noticed it at all because of a broad blue metal shutter closed down to the ground as if hiding the secret of the narrow gable ends identity.

Several failed attempts to return home had sloughened him but that emotion must be brought to heel. For a minute or so afterwards he had walked with head down and shoulders dropped, but he soon realised that would not do. In this world unknown he needed to survive, and now for longer than hoped, so what to do was the priority. How not to look out of place, out of time. He laughed to himself at that thought. If only they knew. No one did so far, and that was the way it was going to stay.

Earlier in the day, at eleven o’clock, and every ten minute period after that, in fact up to eleven forty he had tried to achieve a return home by way of the railway bridge. The first attempt, just before a train came along the line, which should have been the same timetabled as the one yesterday, the one which almost killed him, did not work. So next he tried walking backwards under the stonework, then running, crawling, but nothing had the desired effect. Concerned in case anyone might see what was unexplainable, that being a man on a railway track behaving very strangely, he had finally given up and made town by mid day.

A number of things were in his favour he realised. In mannerisms, speech and attire he fitted in quite well, and if the truth be known the towns people had not given him a second glance. Actually they treated him the same as most locals treated the other, with benign indifference. Only the elders seemed to pass greetings with each other and it had been nice when a few had nodded him a courtesy.

Clearly the first thing on the agenda was to read up more on the world he now inhabited. Granted there would be opportunity to repeat the attempt. Perhaps tomorrow, or in a week or months, on some anniversary in the future he might be successful, but that was pure speculation. There may also be some mathematical formula to predict a return, but there was no time to dwell on one at the moment, answers to more immediate questions were paramount.

The newspaper found yesterday had given a frightening insight, but he wanted clarification on certain matters. Also it would help to know the layout of the area, the general geography of neighbouring towns and cities. An understanding of the society itself would not go a miss either, it may give an explanation of why it differed so much from his own. If he was to fit in and survive scrutiny a rapid learning programme was essential. So gathering a few newspapers and magazines to look at in a quiet corner of the brightly lit, poorly furnished excuse for a place of study he looked about for the privacy required.

There were computer terminals, so the society was not at all backwards in technology he concluded, but the hardware was a little crude compared with the ones back home. They could not be accessed anyway as they appeared to be over subscribed with many people waiting in line to use them and oddly at a price.

That was another problem, no money, so that would also need addressing. The sight of the computers though did excite him, for once he had access they would provide more and more help to him, of that he was sure.

There was a coffee machine in one corner of the square single room, by the reception desk. It apparently had to be fed with coins too to allow liquid to flow, this a strange concept, but that was the fact of the matter and he could not do anything about it except remain thirsty.

On awakening he had gone to the stream by the crag to wash, get fresh water and check the snare. He had not had a drink since then, and had hidden the water bottle in a wall, being a bit too large for carrying about town.

Fortune was also still with him for thankfully the snare had caught a medium sized rabbit which served as breakfast. After preparing natures gift using the flint knife to cut off the feet and head, peel away the skin and cut the soft belly to remove the insides, he spit roast it over a small fire early doors so as not to be caught out. The meat had been most welcome though he realised it was not enough of a meal to sustain him. Hunger was competing with thirst now to see which could grab most attention.

There was no obvious sign so he asked a tall figure of a kind faced librarian. “Excuse me, do you have a toilet I could use?” She was busy putting worn books back on shelves that had stood the test of time, shelves which spoke nothing of the knowledge they presumably held.

The prim lady in beige, tweed, two piece pointed to the door. “Sorry, no we don’t. The nearest one is in the doctors two streets up.” She smiled and returned to her duties, placing one title after the other in alphabetical order. He had got used to it by now, but realised there was no further interaction.

“No drink of water there then,” he whispered. On reaching a vacant table by a window overlooking the busy high street Mac took a seat. Sorting the various titles he spread them over the scratched table top, one newspaper, two magazines and a local spreadsheet.

On a well worn, red fabric couch two elderly gents in plain cardigans and neck ties sat talking. Mac could not help but listen in, they were hardly quiet when they spoke. “She’s still waiting to go in for the op.”The eldest of the two shook his head as he explained.

“When you think how much we paid in when working?” the other, more balding and larger gent replied, “all to have to wait to get treated.”

“Pauline’s sister died waiting for a kidney.”

Mac took note but buried his head in the morning paper and began to digest the stories. He so much wanted to talk to them but did not wish to be found wanting.

One title after another captivated him. The same themes as yesterday’s ran the headlines. Turbulence, inequality, greed, and then hunger, despair, disease all rallied for attention. Oddly though these stories seemed commonplace and irrelevant, placed next to other articles concerning fame and fortune, glamour almost. In fact whether the story was good or bad it seemed to be reported and written in such a way as to compete for top news, be it a topic of degradation or promotion, both seemed to receive the same interest.

He was facing the window away from the room so no one so the tears roll from his eyes. The dream had been so real. When Sal had woke him up he had been so relieved, so happy to see her. What fate had torn them apart, why was this happening.

He knew fate, trusted in it, so obviously there was a reason for him being wherever he was, but Sal knew nothing of what had happened. The whole family would be distraught with worry, not able to find any news on him. Could there be any means of connecting with them? The handheld now fully charged still had no signal, and obviously never would. He had tried a signal search this morning but picked up nothing. The frequencies were obviously so different that it would be impossible to connect at all, and even if it did it would not give a line back to Sal. The only conciliation was the support and love she would have from everyone around her so that thought cheered him and he returned to the job at hand and opened the local news sheet.

“There’s going to be trouble soon, you mark my words, when people realise how much the cut backs affect them.” The eldest gent had raised his voice again. Mac had just read about this, cut backs, so he listened in. “They’re not going to stand for paying over and over for pensions, and working longer for less a standard of living.”

“There’s so many out of work though Frank, if an employer knows that they can soon replace so easily.” He had read that too, unemployment, what a waste. Why had this world taken the path it had, how had they become so entrenched in badly managed economics? Who was in charge, how did it work, or not, obviously by the state they were in?

“Greed fella, that’s what’s done it. Sheer greed.” Mac had come to that conclusion too, and he had only be there a day. So if he knew it, the old gent knew it, how had it developed in the first place, and why was no one doing anything about it? Why had this world turned out so different to the one he knew.

In his time poverty, greed, anger were banished to the pages of history texts read in school. The concept of altruism, not that it was mentioned, was the norm, but now he realised exactly what it meant, having spent twenty four hours in a world without. How lucky he was, once he could forge a way back of course.

It was obvious, inevitable, or probable at the least that he was going to have to adapt to certain ways of this new found existence. He had thought of lying, if there was no connection no one would know, but having never known any need or reason to deceive or pretend, these ideas were not in his nature, or of anyone in his world. There was no place for it in his life anyway, and besides what was the point of it when everyone knew, but not here.

A phrase come across in one of the magazines built up an unwelcome confidence in him though, giving a permission to change his outlook, to alter his character to suit the situation. He had read it in regard to an article on the state of the countries economy, the title stated something quite blunt, selfish, and an idea very alien to him, but he made his mind up to adopt the principle if necessary. The headline had read, ‘desperate times, desperate measures’, so as far as he was concerned it fitted this scenario most definitely. So that was the way forward, and it was going to begin immediately, he had enough information for the time being so he left the library in search of the toilet the lady had mentioned an hour previous.

Advertisements