Next morning Mac’s task found him in the stone outbuilding of the cowshed, forking apart some fragrant straw bales, fresh bedding for the pens in readiness to take the pregnant cows. He mused over the impact todays news article would bring. The sweet aroma released from the golden grass reminded him of his own stables and thoughts of the horses and courtyard took him away to the safety and security of home for a little while. The trust and faith people had for each other there brought a welcome comfort, where doors could be left unlocked and no one wished anyone harm. Here he had to have his own door key because when Walt was not on duty at the stove the farmhouse was always kept secure, a truly sad state of affairs really, having to lock up your possessions for fear of others stealing them.

That was it! A realisation, inspiration. It flashed across the right hemisphere of his brain and deposited itself within consciousness. A reason for something which had been a puzzlement for weeks. It was the mistrust inherent in this world, caused by people bent on wreaking havoc that was the reason for those plastic seals on the red and brown sauce bottles, underneath the screw tops. It was to prevent the contents being tampered with. To prevent some crackpot or another introducing something harmful into the bottles of condiment.

“How sad,” were the only two words he could muster up, and these he barely spared breath on.

Taking another bale apart with the fork he spread it over to the far corner of pen three and breathed in the scent. Home, Sal and security, the empirical formula of the blissful smell again released from within. A small grey field mouse scurried away from its undone nest and took to the edge of the interior wall to search out a means of escape. Mac recognised the omen immediately. It was not a good one. He jumped the pen wall and took back the bedding to deposit it outside the building. Although it was not the exact true meaning of the portent, that a mouse nesting in a mattress was a sure sign of the death of the person using it, he wanted no harm to come to the animal or unborn which would soon find itself in that pen.

The previous evening returned into focus and jolted him back to the article. Having put right the bad omen Nigel’s story gained the upper hand once again. Would it enhance his profile as he had suggested or would it have a detrimental effect? If he had learned one an only one thing about this new world it was this, anyone out of the ordinary seemed to be singled out and not always for the better. These people revelled in ridicule and controversy, much to the expense of what was actually the truth in the first place. There was no love lost or quarter given if any inconsistency or irregularity, non conformist or out of the ordinary suspicion surfaced about someone or another. The media stirred it up and the people bayed for more and more, a feeding frenzy of visual, audio and written bytes, non joined up and often rudimentary in both delivery and understanding.

The last of the bales undid with ease prompted to do so by the careful action of the metal prongs. Wisps of fine dry pieces danced in the air caught by the brighter light coming in through the open barn door. They produced a hazy mist of the sun’s energy incarnate as organic material. It floated up to the eaves to where a pair of house martins were busy tending their nest, answering the calls of a number of offspring with frantic flight to an fro through a hole in the blue slate roof.

The time was almost ten twenty. The article would have hit the streets by now. Should they have gone with the title Nigel Tyas had suggested? Would a more watered down, less ambiguous headline have been more favourable. Did ‘The Man whose fell on Earth’, a play on two aspects of the sentence, one, the word ‘earth’ and its connotation to farming, and two Mac’s apparent unexplained history being similar to a character in a film by a celebrity named David Bow or some similar name, together produce the impact desired. Would that headline give the impression they wanted?

The pitch fork ripped at the twine holding together the new bedding and released the bound up mattress. Mac hauled it over the dividing wall and tossed it into the final compartment. More fragments of dried stalks took to the air. The taste on his tongue was one reminiscent of a herbal remedy his mother gave for relaxation during pregnancy.

The press release was worrying. He wished he had some of Mum’s amber liquid with him now to allay the stress of the wait. What was more worrying though was a figure in the lane. He had walked up the hill some minutes ago. Nothing strange in that, but now had walked down again, doing so in a somewhat forced attempt at an inconspicuous manner, a not in any way out of the ordinary kind of a look. He had not being successful in its execution. A tall figure of a man, not recognised the first time half an hour ago, but now, even though dressed differently today, in green wax overcoat and rubber boots to match, in brown checked wool trousers and hat to match, a man who even at the twenty or so yards that separated him from the cowshed at the nearest point on the lane was recognisable. The man who had travelled into town with Mac on the train, had travelled back again for that matter. The man he also thought, but was not sure, had even been there in the vicinity of the radio station. Yes, that man, ginger bearded man, tall, straight backed, ginger bearded man.

So why was he here now, in this green leafy lane belonging the farm, this idyllic rut marked lane with the clear brook running alongside it, sometimes even running across it. Why was he here at all now behaving in this strange fashion, walking in one direction away from the farmhouse then returning, up the muddy track then back down it. What was he about?

The man stood still for a moment and leant against the dry stone wall offering a view towards the herd grazing in the field beyond. It was definitely him. Even though his actions had turned his back to the cattle shed a wisp of that gingerish beard was still discernible. What was he doing, here in this lane? Had it not been for his attendance before today then his exploits this morning could be ignored as eccentricity but there was something about him now and it did not sit comfortable.

People did look and stare over this wall, and many times in one week, the vista was a panorama of geology and landscape, the signature wedge shaped inclines of many a hillside and sharp falling escarpment characteristic of the local Pennine chain of hills. Back home they were known as Mother Earth’s Backbone, running as they do, both here and there along the middle third of the landmass known to Margaret and Walt as England. Back home his own country went by the title of Albion, white land, pure as the driven snows of winter, strong as the white cliffs which make up part of her southern most aspect, chalk cliffs liable to erosion and fracture bit by piece but always renewed, standing as a natural monument to times gone by and those to come.

The man in the lane turned away from the wall but still kept his face hidden from the farm by positioning himself behind the huge oak. He shuffled off back up the way, his hands in his coat pockets and head slightly drooped. He knew he had been spotted, that much was obvious by his progress, mundane in execution. He knew, oh yes he knew he had already given himself up to recognition, and that was the reason for his swaying gait, uncomfortable, awkward, plodding footsteps, one carefully placed after the other, every now and then a loss of grip on the slippery surface underfoot forcing a balancing act of flailing arms to bring him back to the vertical. This man was definitely not used to rubber boots and muddy pathways that was for sure. So what was he about?

As if this one stranger in the lane was not enough, there then appeared a host of them, from nowhere, as if suddenly sprouted from the land itself. Men, women, almost a dozen or so although they were hard to count for all of their jostling and pushing. Had ginger beard man led them here? Whether he had or not was of no matter, for here they were, cameras in hand, long lenses and all, snapping whatever opportunities they could of their quarry, who unfortunately was Mac. The article must be in circulation. These sudden newcomers behaving like a pack of hounds, shouting instructions and questions at him from across the yard had obvious knowledge of it.

“Hey! Mr Hammerton. Turn this way please.”

“Have you any comment as to why your genetic make up is different?”

“Are you any nearer finding your true identity Mr Hamilton?” That question made him laugh inwardly. The portly, balding inquisitor had not even bothered to learn of his correct name.

“Can we have a photograph of you stood by the barn door please,” another one pleaded, shouting to be heard over the din.

“Hey! Mac look over here please, look this way,” yet another.

It all made for a very upsetting spectacle. Sadness and embarrassment overwhelmed him. To think that he was part of such goings-on was his embarrassment, caught within this shawl of Fleshfish his sadness, all of them wanting a bite of him, a piece for their own benefit and satisfaction. It turned his stomach over and nausea scented out from both nostrils. He was going to be ill, an influx of saliva in his mouth told of the same prospect.

“Please Mr Hammerton let us have one photo opportunity please!” The rabble were nothing if not persistent.

Why they asked anyway evaded him for the cameras were flickering and twitching constantly in an attempt to capture his every movement, pose. They were taking liberties and it annoyed him. Taking the large barn door in his free hand he slammed it closed. The sound echoed around the cowshed. A decade of dust and debris fell from off the rafters and the door frame itself. Even this act courted a flash of camera action.

The nausea increased its hold. Sickness, a sweat, light headedness. There was a crescendo rising somewhere inside his head, his brain wanted more time to cope, to escape, be at rest. Nervous electricity was building and building, up and up, on and on without the capacity within to be accommodated. It rendered him unable to move, function, exist. Here it was again. That feeling. The only sensation he could appreciate was a fact that a hand, his own hand was still held tightly to the inside of the huge stable door. Such an awful debilitating aura percolated throughout him, one not allowing passage or movement of any sort. Not any normal anxiousness, no something far far worse, something heralding tragedy was the fear that came to the forefront of a massive dearth of any other else. He had however been here before.

Screwing both eyes as tightly together as would ever seem possible, an attempt to try and alleviate the ever growing storm, he let go of the door and holding tightly to each side of his head, at the temples, with his two shaking hands fell to his knees on the cold concrete floor.

“Please Mother, let me live!”

His words escaped under a breath feared may be a last as he rolled over to take advantage of the new bedding and await the horrible sickness welling up inside. The outcome would be here soon. There he lay, curled up, both knees held to belly level by two encircled arms. Deep, deep breaths, in then out cooled him a little, both in body and mind, and moving thoughts about to configure what he was aware of at the present brought an incantation from out his mouth, an offering to Mother in return for some sort of normality, some view and realisation that there would be a reconciliation with that needy place faraway from all of this extraordinary behaviour. Closing both eyes home came back into view, but a strange concept of it.

He was sat on an auto bus, a coach, of a type from Margaret’s world though, here in his. A shabbily off brown upholstered affair of torn, smelly seats and dirty windows. Not so dirty though that he could not see out at the familiar shrine dedicated to Mab which stood at the well across the street. Margaret was with him, and that was odd too. She was not sat down though but sprawled across the seat in front of him, a seat which had its backrest lowered to the horizontal. There she lay smiling sweetly as, facing him her legs bent at the knees, allowed her feet to tap out an excited rhythm by means of the heels of her black patent leather shoes.

The coach was not full of its passengers yet and the engine was silent. Some people had taken to their seats but there was still a lot of space left. Where were they going? Margaret certainly looked excited, and her conversation said as much. She jabbered away confirming their picnic was packed and coffee was in the flask. Had he remembered the rug she asked. Mac nodded in the positive but was more concerned with an oddly attired girl just clambering up the aisle. Her body lurched from seat to seat though why that would be was not altogether clear. Not one person seated cared to obstruct or question her but to a woman and man they all turned to look the other way and involve themselves in any other activity but the one which needed addressing.

Her offensively red dyed hair, unkempt and tied in a pony tail, though it was askew in its position, crowned a head adorned with even brighter makeup, whilst dangling from each earlobe and two or three from out of the hair itself fell plumes of feathers and the like mixed with beads and charms. She fell about several times more and on reaching Margaret laid herself down ever so gently beside her on the collapsed seat, her tie dyed kaftan of purples and blues roaming about the two women’s bodies like the shifting sands of the Desert Centrale. A smell of alcohol now pervaded the back of the coach.

Margaret looked shocked, and was about to push the teenager away when the girl began to whisper in her ear. Mac leaned forward and continued what Margaret should have finished. He was having none of it, especially seeing the concern and fright on Margaret’s face. It was obvious she did not know this girl and what is more did not want to.

“Go away,” he said, bringing his face within inches of hers. He spit it out with such an air of authority that he surprised himself with its delivery.

A helping push from both of them tipped her ever so gently from off the seat, landing her on the floor of the coach crouching on her knees. She looked offended, but at the same time completely oblivious to the actions she was undertaking. Without much more ado she upped herself onto both feet and meandered slowly back down the aisle.

Another less savoury character, if that were at all possible, appeared at the front of the coach. This one was male, dressed in unwashed denims and a creased, off white t shirt that looked as if it had not seen a laundry since the day it was put on. His fair hair was a mass of plaits that fell every way but which would describe a style. At the end of a couple of these plaits he sported the same garb of beads and objects as his girlfriend, for girlfriend she was.

She fell up against him and whispered something in his ear. This prompted a look from him over her shoulder towards the rear of the coach, their own direction. By now Margaret had sat up and accidentally catching the eye of the youth quickly turned her stare away and out the window.

Mac realised her worry. “What’s the matter?”

“Don’t like the look of em that’s all,” she replied timidly. She looked concerned.

The male of the two preened at his hair a little and pushed out his tongue in a rolled up manner from between his lips to demonstrate a piercing. Then without no more interaction he retired down the steps of the vehicle and out of sight. His associate followed suit.

Mac held a sigh of relief deep inside, not wanting to let on how much the incident had also upset him. Staring out the coach window it did not look as if it was over. Three or four more teenagers had now joined the other two outside on the coach park. These newcomers were busy riding around on bicycles, dodging here and there about the broken queue of patrons waiting to board the various vehicles, making a nuisance of themselves by riding one way and then the other, performing stunts with their bicycles and generally behaving outlandish and irresponsible to say there were elderly and young about the square.

The bicycles also made for oddities. One had no saddle at all and two of the other three were of a size that was far too small for the rider, making for some welcome amusement on Mac’s part, though no one else seemed to see the irony. These louts given such a long leash by their tormented looked so ridiculous and stupid that if anyone from out of the crowd should take a moment to reflect on the actual banality and precarious nature the balancing acts portrayed any slight push ought to dislodge and interrupt the manic flow of behaviour.

The lad from the coach appeared to be the one the rest looked to for direction. Leaning up against the square’s black railings, the rest of them kept gathering around both him and his girlfriend every minute or so, riding around in circles and then returning for further instruction. After a few circuits one of them broke away from the manoeuvres and rode the length of the coach kicking at some instrument panel at the front wheel arch as he passed it. A metallic ring sounded out down the front of the vehicle, like a bell sounding for dinner time.

“The bastards!” The driver finally broke silence, but still he made no move.

Mac was gathering anger now. “What did she say to you?” he asked. Margaret had said nothing on that subject.

“I have no idea,” she replied. “She was slurring her words and it made no sense anyway.”

“None?”

“None at all love, she’s out of it ain’t she?”

“Well the drop to the floor brought her round.”

“Yeh! Lets hope we don’t pay for it though.”

Mac was baffled, it showed in his expression. Why were those commuters out on the pavement not sticking up for themselves? Why was Margaret so scared of catching the eye of that teenage boy, and as for that why were any of them on the coach so scared, for scared they were. Worse still why was he scared? He was. Scared! He suddenly realised it. Scared, and in his own world too. He could never ever remember experiencing the emotion in his own world. But why? It made no sense, especially here back home. The act of removing the girl had certainly caused some sudden intakes of breath by the few people who had dared to observe it five minutes ago though no comment had been passed either then or since.

Mac had had enough. Of the antics outside, the aggravation of the queue and now the wanton damage to the vehicle. He stood to move.

Margaret pulled him back by the belt of his jeans. “Don’t be silly Mac, they’ll be off in a minute or two, when they’re bored of it all.” She pleaded with him to stay in his seat.

He was having none of it and taking her hand in his to allay her concern took to his feet again, smiled and after giving her a kiss on the lips headed off down the coach.

“There waiting for a photo to come through on their phones,” one silver haired lady explained as he passed by her. “Don’t do anything yet.”

Mac looked perplexed. “A photo?”

“To see who to target,” she went on.

Mac ignored her and continued about his mission. The unruly youths were now huddled in a scrum at the far end of the coach stop. Gathered around their leader they were looking at something or other. As Mac approached it became obvious what it was. The first lad’s handheld. They were all looking at his handheld. They could also see him approaching and this made them even more frantic to grab a view of the handset. One by one they looked at it and then cast their gaze at him. Within twenty seconds he was upon them and about to start his reprimand when the hair plaited youth took to the front of the tribe and looked Mac straight in the eyes. A cold look, an almost hateful stare. No, in fact it was, hate, there looking back at him from within this unruly teenager’s soul. Hate, and loathing. How could any youngster, not yet fully grown be privy to such an emotion. What had happened to him to warrant such a reaction. Not the pushing of his girlfriend surely.

“You shouldn’t’ve dun that,” he grumbled, “pushed our Ellie like that.”

He turned his handheld around to show it to Mac. On it was a profile photograph of Mac. On the lad’s face now was a satisfied smile. The gang began to circle around, like a hunting pack of primates they jostled to enclose their leader and Mac, to fence them both in within their ranks. Every one of them had the same sinister look about them.

Someone somewhere must be mowing their lawn was the only thought that came to mind. There was a smell of cut grass in the air. A strange thing to be thinking but a defence in itself presumably.

“It’s you!” the lad insisted hissing out the scathing words of venom.

One of the group grabbed Mac from behind fixing him to the spot. The action made him jump with fright. What were they going to do with him? He had no means of escaping their clutches. The leader brought his face really close to Mac’s, so close that his stale and putrid breath aired around Mac’s nostrils. What an utter foul individual this lad was. Now Mac was truly scared. With no means of escape it seemed as if there was no alternative but to succumb to whatever was going to happen. The youth reached to his rear jeans pocket for something. Was it going to be a weapon. Mac reeled with fright. With a shocked catch up of his breathing he awoke.

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