A rustling of some kind invaded his thoughts, a noise from behind his pillow. Some small creature scratching at the wallpaper, a sound that reminded him of bees gathering resin from off of varnished, wooden garden surfaces in summer in order to construct their hives. Then came a sniff sniff in his left ear. Not Bonnie, his mothers golden Labrador. It was too weak a sniff for her, also his ear was not getting a soaking from her wet nose. Next came a tousle of his hair. He stirred and opened his eyes. A hedgehog by his head took one look at his shocked expression and took off on a course down the length of the hut. Daylight, and the hard floor greeted him again for a second dawn in a row.

Disappointment fought with relief for the upper hand. He was back in this estranged world for sure, and that thankfully offered an explanation as to why his mind had not been clear back home. That was the dream, surely? The time felt real now, right here at the present. Not the least because a stiffness had invaded every joint and muscle, so in turning to rise his body reacted and enforced a slow motion on even the slightest movement, be it limb or digit. It took him a minute to kneel, crouch and then after stretching all extremities, exit the hideaway and stand up straight to assess the morning on offer.

Still warm, no clouds, hunger, no rain, isolation, sadness, relief. All these perceptions came to the fore at one fell swoop and resulted in a resolution. He was going to get back home somehow today. He blurted out, “but how Mac?” The answer to that question was the key to his very future, and not only his, Sal and the family too. Obviously the bridge was the solution, but it offered no reprise yesterday. Would today be any different? “If not then a job to get some money Mac.” Those words broke his dream of the pub incident. A cold shiver traversed his spine whilst his skin wetted with perspiration. “Perhaps that was a warning, a prep for the days to come, who knows? anyway, forewarned is forearmed. Just watch yourself that’s all.” That was another priority, someone to talk to, a conversation of any sorts. Although he had always had self dialogue another face to talk to was always the nicer option.

Shoes on feet and pullover wrapped around his shoulders he set off to repeat the itinerary of the day before. The only difference to this dawn walk being a total resolve to not be back up what was already a well known pathway when daylight faded. His handheld showed the time, six thirty two, another long day ahead. The plus side to that was more time to sort out his future. Off he trod towards the crag, breakfast, fresh water and hopefully freedom.

The morning passed as expected, unfortunately. After breaking his fast came another fruitless attempt at a return under the bridge. It was all he could do to walk about aimlessly, paying no attention to sight or sound, imprisoned by his thoughts and fears of the future. Not even the bleating of lambs or sun reflecting off the babbling brook inspired him to take back the day. Total melancholy. He ought to know better, he was a fighter not a loser. But the mood was hard to kick off, it grappled with every positive twist he tried to put to his situation. The adventure, the privilege, the story once he did find home, because find it he would of that he was sure. Stuck in the moment one field merged with the next, the blue horizon holding no comfort or joy, and that is how mid day passed him by and how he found himself on a grassy lane not encountered before.

A couple of hundred yards along this lane he came across a chance meeting with an elderly gent at his farm gate. Behind this tired soul his muddy, sloppy, hoof marked yard running between a stone farmhouse and derelict outbuildings betrayed the fact that cattle had passed through earlier for milking, and if any other confirmation of the event was needed, the evidence of the herd in the adjoining field and one of them nosing up to the old timer was enough. The farmer was leaning on a metal post with a steaming mug of coffee in hand. Surprisingly it was him who started up the conversation with a gruff “afternoon fella!”

Mac jumped at the chance.”Good afternoon to you too. Taking the mid day air?”

“Before I fricken get back to it, got a very long day in prospect.” You and me both Mac thought. The old mans weak frame and sunken face, partly disguised by a flat cap and threadbare brown corduroy coat did not give the impression that he was the farms workforce, far from it in fact. “Top fricken field to plough tday, wont do itself.” His voice carried a melancholy melody of rasping delivery.

“Big farm you have then?”

“Too fricken big these days. An yung uns don’t wanna know. Fricken let me down again the good for lazy fricker.” As he spoke his tired eyes searched the lane in a forlorn hope of the chastised youngster appearing. “Bin at it since six as it is.”

Mac saw an opportunity. “Good job we met then!” he dared to say. “If you would like I could help.”

The dry, almost transparent skin around the old mans eyes and mouth shifted a little. “Can ya plough lad? Yon fricken field?” A bony finger pointed to an obvious tractor two stone walls away.

The work was only a quarter done, but the terrain looked straightforward enough. Mac thought a moment, such a lovely day to be in touch with nature and on top of that hopefully make a friendship. He worried though on the mechanics of the vehicle. Surely it could not be much different to what he knew. Granted they were a lot noisier engines and ran on fossil fuels, but the principle of stop and go must be similar. He jumped at the chance. “I’ll have that done by evening, easy.”

“Don’t want it mucking up mind.” This instruction came with a tap of his hand on the gate. The cow turned and bolted. “Can’t pay ya much either, so say now if yud rather not.” The words again seemed to be spoken with song in his voice.

“Be my pleasure.”

“From round ere are ya?”

“No not really. Whitby actually. Just passing some time walking the countywide a little.” Be careful Mac, he did not want another interrogation. “Can’t decide on a career so clearing my head by walking, just finished university.”

“And ya say ya can plough do ya.” He did not sound convinced.

“My dads a farmer.” Stop at that Mac.

It did. The elder handed over the keys of the tractor. “We’ll see how ya does then. Off ya fricken go.” With that he turned to make for the farmhouse ten yards away as if his life depended on reaching its grey door immediately. Mac was obviously in charge of the tractor, plough and field.

“Nice to be trusted.” He shouted excitedly across the pungent yard.

“Mind how ya go.” That was probably an attempt at praise and thanks all rolled into one Mac realised, but by now his benefactor was around the corner of the barn.

“How difficult can it be?” was all that kept coming to him as he walked, almost ran with a skip and jump in his step, to the old red tractor. The foxgloves and nettles lining his way cheered him on, he now had a purpose to his day, and no doubt a challenge.

Once inside the cab all became apparent. Ignition for the key, three pedals where he was only used to two, go and stop, a stick device with numbers on it presumably for motion, and several levers to the rear of the cab for controlling the plough. He turned the key.

The vehicle lunged forward two yards and stalled. Not a good start. “Hope I’m not being watched from the farmhouse,” he joked, “but probably am!” The wheels were obviously engaged.

By trial and error over the next ten minutes or so he sorted the gears and clutch mechanism, firstly by pressing the wrong pedals, then by pressing the correct ones, and finally by pressing them in the correct sequence. “Nothing to it!” he congratulated his reflection in the side window once on the move. The principle was identical, it was just the engagement of the drives that took some mastering, but by the third furrow he was ploughing as he did back home. In fact, and all things being equal he realised that this field he was working was just about in the same vicinity as Gramps’ land. How could that be?

He stopped the engine. The idea of Gramps’ plot had caught him off guard. A longing for his heart of oak squeezed a salty tear from the inner corner of his left eye. It trickled down to the corner of his mouth.

He went over it all again, the shiver on his back had returned. What other possible scenario was there for the events happening to him? It was not sensible or correct to imagine and accept this new world. Why was his mind succumbing and not arguing for another explanation? Here he was, sat in a tractor, ploughing at a field that occupied land belonging to, but not in the hands of his own family. In a time where he no more belonged than the old farmer did in his. But still, this obviously was reality, this world was his now. No gaps in time evaded his memory, no odd changes in direction of the day or events. Just oddities themselves, like the tractor, the old man, the rabbits, the hut, life itself. Was he the luckiest person alive, privileged in encountering such a time slip, or was it a curse of unimaginable proportions, and further more was he still being aided in some way? A blanket of mist invaded his minds eye in an attempt to empty all his fears and thoughts, it shrouded his soul, but only for a second or two. The farmer would be watching. Common sense prevailed. He turned the key again and the engine roared into life, it made him jump with fright. “Going to have to get used to the noise here Mac!” Above the engine sound he hardly heard himself speak.

The afternoon passed by quickly and sure enough by six o’clock the field was ploughed just as predicted. In the effort he had completely overlooked any lunch so as he took the tractor back along the narrow potholed lane to the farmyard his belly was grumbling. The remains of the rabbit and fruit would be a welcome meal once he had delivered his charge.

Turning slowly into the yard of slurry he brought the vehicle and tow to a careful halt. The old man was there at an open door waving a gesture to come inside the farmhouse. Mac trod carefully across to the property and entered a whitewashed hallway. At the far end of a drab tarpaulin covered floor was a brick bunker of coal and logs next to a black cast iron stove. The farmer sat next to both in darned woollen socks and dirty green overalls. He still wore the flat cap, but at an odd angle. His rickety wooden chair matched the decor for age and use. The temperature of the hallway told of the stove being in full bloom all the day. “Ya nearly frickin ran the tractor through the barn there lad. Did ya not see I’d left the frickin field gate open for ya?”

Mac knew he had done nothing of the sort, but did not go on the offensive. He needed some more work tomorrow if possible, and by the look of the farmer and his house he was not in any fit state to be running a garden never mind a farm. “Sorry for that.” Change the topic he thought. “Nice soil you have in these fields. Took no ploughing at all. I’m Mac by the way.” he added as an after thought.

“Looked like ya had a bit of fricken trouble to begin with fella. Was watching ya from the bedroom window.” No offer of a name came up.

Think quickly. “Yes, the plough bit a little too deep.”

“Frickin plough, years old that is.” On the stove was a large pan. The old man pointed it out. “Get ya sen some of this frickin ash. It’s bin made yesterday by my daughter. It’s not frickin up to much but it’ll fill ya up.”

Over by a cobwebbed window looking out over the field of cattle was a plastic grey patio table and chair. On the table a place set for one. Whitish bowl with spoon and fork. As surprised as he was after the torrent of abuse at everything and everyone Mac did not need to be asked twice. He filled the bowl with the thick, souplike offering and returned to the table.

It was magnificent. Piping hot, full of meat and vegetables, and the taste was out of this world. He laughed under a long exhale of breath at that thought. While he ate, outside the Friesian cattle chewed and went about their task of converting starlight into muscle and milk.

The stew was delicious, it was so good he looked longingly to the pot when his bowl was empty. “Go on then, get some frickin more if ya wants.” The farmer was in his lounge by now through a doorway with no door to it. “Mags’ll be bringing somat else tomorrow.”

Mac caught a glimpse of the living room as he filled his bowl for a second time. Red leather upholstered sofa and chairs of luxurious quality stood on a dark blue and mustard patterned carpet. There was a huge widescreen television hung on one wall and an open fireplace opposite. This hearth was where the farmer knelt, attempting to draw sparks into life using a newspaper over the opening. “Got any place t’ stay?” He shouted over the noise of the raging flames. “Ya welcome t’ barn cross yonder. It’s kitted out wi a bed an all.”

That knocked Mac for six. He was certainly not expecting that offer, but after the hard floor of the hut even a straw bed would have been an improvement. He burst out a reply. “Yes please, that would be great.”

“There’s sum bedding in yon cupboard behind ya. If ya want some work tomorrow there’s frickin plenty for ya. I’ll give ya twenty for t’days ploughing if ya want to call it a day.”

“No, I’ll be up with the dawn.”

“Yes ya will. I’ll have some bacon on if yon frickin shopkeeper ever gets ere wi’it.”

It was obvious the elder had no kind words for any person or object. It was his way of the world, his term of endearment almost. As if to justify the life thrust upon him he had to strike back with a vengeance. Mac felt sorry for him, but wondered if angered his curses could turn to actions. Not that he would be a match for anyone save some weakling of poorer experience. So as not to test him further he finished his bowl, gathered some blankets and bid good night to his host now recumbent on the sofa watching football on the widescreen. A short reply was all that was returned.

Once back across the muddy divide and up a flight of external stone steps to a first floor doorway Mac gave a sigh of relief. As much as he appreciated the hospitality of the old farmer he was glad to have a little distance between the two of them. On pushing, the bleached greyish blue door creaked open on two heavy creosoted hinges.

There was an obvious theme to the decor. A white walled room which held no surprises, just a metal bedstead with mattress and a small, old pine dresser. The interior felt cool but certainly not damp and by the fragrant odour in the air would seem to be have been inhabited recently. Mac could not believe his good fortune. A single four pane sash window looked out on the milking parlour and beyond to the crag. There was no carpet on the oak floor but it felt warm to his stockinged feet. At last he was at rest.

“Probably hay in a barn below,” he reported on the handheld as part of an evening diary entry. Having had no time to record in the day, he thought carefully on the afternoon encounter and took a few photos of his new abode. “Compared with the hut this is magnificent, though it doesn’t in any way replace home, or you Sal, I miss you so much. I had a dream last night about you and when I awoke I felt so down knowing I can’t be with you.”

A shrill whistle, as if instructing a dog interrupted him. It was just that. The farm’s herd slowly marched through the yard en route for milking. Bringing up the rear guard a classic black and white collie and its raven haired female companion. A woman of tall stature, quite thin, though a long, brown wax coat and green wellingtons did not give too much away. “That could be Mags,” he continued, dictating to the handheld, “best keep out the way for the time being, let her father tell her about me first.” Once she had entered the building he made up the bed and laid on top of it out of sight.

The next hour or so he spent putting down the facts and his emotions, playing a few games of solitaire and backgammon in and amongst and by the time the humming of the parlour ceased and all the beast were returned to the field the fragrant blue flannelette bed covers had wrapped him in a cocoon of safety and oblivion.

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