The wall monitor screen was active, showing the town’s string ensemble playing one of his favourite pieces, perhaps his most favourite. It was a tune that had been dedicated to Sal and himself by a small orchestra at a seaside spa some years back when the two of them had been sat listening to an open air concert on the promenade. An elder sat next to Sal had found out from talking to her that the two youngsters had just been betrothed the day before, and during the intermission this lady requested a dedication to the newly joined, any one of the second half pieces. The conductor had chosen carefully and the tune played for them after there embarrassed bow to the packed auditorium was a delight.

The memories flooded in. The celebration in Mother’s temple, on Sal’s family name day. The vestibules and alters within the temple all decorated, from end to end, North to South, East to West with trees and vines, flowers and fruit, their own family banners and crests in and amongst. It had been just like joining themselves in the forest itself. The stone of the pillars were always dressed with ivy and other climbers. ‘Her in green taking back the bone,’ the parish description of the haphazard and relentless sprouting of stems and suckers, but the addition of the foliage brought in from the wood and the height of those trees had truly made for an magnificent spectacle. To this day the townsfolk still marvelled on the occasion.

After the ceremony the promenade through the streets while still dressed in their finery had captured smiles too, and greetings were exchanged from everyone in the thoroughfare, each and all wanting to be a part of their joy. By the time the two of them made the far end of the town their arms were full of blooms and their heads were adorned with garlands and posies of many a scent and flower. Those fragrances and colours drifted passed his senses and soothed an otherwise troubled mind.

The days which followed their joining were just as special too, spent at the coast for a holiday and more celebrations. Warm, sun filled days with lazy water rippling over sand had seen them begin their life together in touch with nature herself. It was at the coast where he had first heard the music now playing through the surround.

He was laid in his own bed, under their black and white checked duvet, in his own room, back home. The cream spring curtains of folded lace were drawn off and outside the window a crow looked upon him from its perch in the cherry tree. For a moment it opened its beak as if to speak, but thought differently on the delivery.

No Sal though! Where was she? Why was his wife not here by his side? Why was he expecting her to be there for that matter? Two fifteen! The time on the screen was inexplicable, especially for a Monday. Why was he in bed at this time in the afternoon?

He ached all over. An ache like no other. A tired ache offering no energy for any muscle to move. All of his torso, every limb and also his head all competed to hurt the most. His head was winning at the moment.

From his left nostril there was a tube coming out. A plastic tube which was secured by the means of sticking spetch plastered to the side of his nose. The tape’s free end waving about in the air obstructed part of his vision somewhat when he looked to the bottom of the bed. The tube ran around his shoulder and disappeared from view. Within its length there seemed to be some creamy liquid. Was this solution going in or being taken out of his body?

In his left upper arm were more plastic tubes, these were very thin ones though, and for the moment they looked empty of any content. Mac counted them. One, two, three. Two had some sort of a valve or tap attached, green in colour and again made of plastic. The origin of these three tubes was again behind him and completely out of site as was there terminus somewhere in the skin of his upper arm. This area was once again dressed with surgical tape.

Behind him a feint beeping of a noise kept interrupting any attempt at a long term thought process. What was it? Just once again he tried to move, to see where the sound was coming from. It was hopeless, he could not muster up the strength. Beep, beep it continued, quite rhythmic, the sound, metronomic in fact, melodic of sorts but annoying at the same time. Very annoying. No matter though because to explore its origin was completely out of the question at the moment. Why did he feel so weak and tired?

The hour suddenly jumped to late afternoon. In the blink of an eye time had passed. This fact now bothered him, and far more than the noise, and being as it took no effort to look upon the monitor screen compared to searching out the sound he decided that the fast passage of these hours was the problem to solve first. The noise would have to wait. One minute ago it had been a quarter past two, now it was ten to five. How could that be?

A cool stream of air blew around his neck but yet the bedroom window was not open. The feel of it was refreshing though no matter where its origin. What had happened to the time? Where were his family. He called for Sal. No sound came up from his throat. He could not speak. How strange! To attempt to talk and hear no word come out. How weird was that? He tried again. Still nothing.

Trying to lick his lips was futile, there was no moisture whatsoever on the inside of his mouth for that purpose or to break the dry seal which encrusted a tasteless tongue to hard and soft palate alike. The noise of the beeps continued to drone behind him. What in Mother’s name was going on?

There was also now a hurting about his belly he had not noticed so far. He tried but he had no strength to raise a hand for comfort. It was not an ache but a pain, muscular perhaps, in his abdominals. Had he been punched, or fallen awkwardly. Not that. It was more of a clinical pain from a certain origin, a definite outline to it, kept to one or two specific areas and not spread about at all. As if the skin had been nipped a couple of times, pinched by someone’s fingers. Drowsy, why was he so out of sorts, so not bothered in the slightest?

The time display on the monitor now read ten fifteen. The same music was still playing. It must be on repeat. Ten fifteen, yet outside was not dark. It was not night but morning. Which morning though? How many nights had passed? It ought to worry him, but no he could not bother over it.

His belly did though, worry him. There was more discomfort there now than before. And still no saliva in his mouth, only a medicated taste, not toothpaste but a taste he associated with the dentist. The breeze still wafted around his collar bones. Where was it coming from?

He had been injured, that must be it, by that teenager perhaps? The lad’s face was the last he could remember before waking up in this bed. Had he injured him?

Why was there this strange sensation of movement about his bed, like sea sickness almost, vertigo even but a horizontal version, or was it just in his head. A feeling of a sideways kind of motion as if the bed was on a conveyer belt of some sort. A travelling from left to right almost, yet when he stared to the ceiling everything was still. Very still. The entire room was still for that matter whichever place he looked to but there was an inexplicable feeling of movement. Even the monitor wall was still. He could see the time quite clearly. Three twenty two. What! What had the morning done with the time?

“Mac, Mac, you all right?” The voice was a concerned one and it belonged Margaret and not Sal. It was coming from behind him, out of sight again, from where the beeping had been. Had been! It was no longer there. A caress of his shoulder quickly followed. Margaret spoke again. “Mac! What you doin luv, are you ok?”

For a moment he did not know whether he was or not, ok, in fact he really did not know where he was for a second or two. Then the cowshed floor, hard but strangely comforting came back into his life. The cowshed, of course. This welcome vision together with smells and sounds jump started the day back into being.

Was that a dream, the bedroom he wondered. The one of his own bed, laid in it and unable to move. Or was this, here and now the dream. What felt real? This did to be honest. But still feeling unwell he was not all that convinced. Surely this was the reality though. Margaret, knelt there before him stroking his head was real, the bird song from outside the shed, that was real. It was all too much to comprehend, and with the sickness in his belly still, well that put paid to any endeavour of a resolution.

Margaret had her red skinny rib wooly on. It hugged her body perfectly. Yes this surely was real. She looked so beautiful. The pullover’s poppy colour complimented her washed out denims, jeans as she called them. How any one could look so stunning wearing the simplest of things bewildered him. She did not even have to try. Yes this surely was the reality. Even with his stomach upset he could tell, feel it, a yearning. Yes this was reality for sure.

“I felt sick, then I must’ve passed out,” he explained, looking up to her. His speech was slurred, but at least he could speak, not like in bed moments ago.

“How long ya bin ere?”

“What’s the time?”

“Lunchtime. I thought ya were in the fields.”

“Wish I was. I feel awful.”

“Me too, I felt ill early on. I’ve nearly been sick this morning. Must be something going round.”

“Can’t say I’ve been near anyone.”

She stood to her feet and held out both hands. “C’mon there’s cheese ‘n toast for lunch so after that we’ll both feel better. Can ya stand?”

Mac took a firm hold of the floor and pushed himself up to his feet. It was not an easy job. He held on to Margaret to steady himself.

Margaret beckoned to outside open barn door. “I threatened that lot with the police if they didn’t move on. They’ve been camped there all morning.”

“It might’ve been them that made me feel poorly in the first place,” Mac admitted. “I don’t like being pestered.”

“Well their all off down the lane now.”

“Aye, probably for lunch. I bet they’ll be back.”

“If they do I’ll call the police. I don’t care. It’s harassment that is.” As they crossed the yard a couple of journalistic stragglers could just be made out making the bottom of the vale. “I hope they slip in the stream.” Margaret was not one for being vindictive but these words she meant.

The savoury snack did more than just satisfy the pit in both their stomachs. After a fourth slice each and a huge mug of sweet tea all talk of bellyache was replaced by worry over the article and its consequences. During the meal Margaret had turned up the television to listen to the local news. The programme had a wind of the latest report from Nigel Tyas, and even the national broadcast mentioned Mac in passing though no emphasis was put to his genetic makeup, just lip service to a previously run article. As yet everything seemed to be being played down. The further tests were mentioned but nothing else.

Finishing off his drink Mac hid a sigh of relief. Margaret turned on the radio. Why she did so was anyone’s guess but she did.

The broadcast immediately made all three of their ears prick up. Walt was just siding the pots. He stood still in his tracks when the newscaster announced a follow up article to the main headline. The programme had a guest interviewee in a radio car ready to speak on the subject of genetics. It was Professor Smith.

“And how do you explain this anomaly then Professor Smith?” The presenter’s manner was one of incredulity. “There is clearly more to this than meets the eye.”

“Bastard.” The single word hissed on Margaret breath. She looked to Mac and took hold of his hand.

“They’ll be nun good comes a this,” Walt added.

The connection to the outside source was not a good one but the professors voice was clear enough, and ironically on the words that mattered.

“I can only comment on the results we have run,” he began, “other tests perhaps need to be undertaken…..”

“But your results indicate what exactly?”

“Well our batch of data suggests that if, and I emphasise if the results were to be correct then the DNA sequence uncovered is not one we would expect …………. I would……”

“In what way Professor?”

The professor paused a moment.

The presenter pushed for an explanation. “Is it as your laboratory is stating, that this sequence could be interpreted as alien, and I use that word in the broadest sense.”

“Alien is not the correct description of the sequence…..and I regret that interpretation leaked out from our lab, I am still looking into who let the information out.”

“So what is the correct description professor?”

“Well I would say unusual.”

“Unusual?”

“Yes. Unusual. The sequence is not the norm.”

“So in that respect then it is alien is it not?”

“The sequence we have come up with twice is…………..of a sequence incorporating more ancient human DNA ……….the norm.” The words heard the clearest were being chosen very carefully.

The presenter jumped in. “Neanderthal you yourself have suggested.”

Margaret squeezed Mac’s hand in hers.

After another pause the professor replied. “Well that’s the only obvious comparison. I am not……………….Neanderthal origin just that the sequence is comparable, identical in places, with the Neanderthal sequence.”

“More than anyone else?”

“Much more.”

“And how do you reconcile that?”

“I can’t. That’s the problem. If I was to speculate on the reason for such …………….without absolute proof it would not be ethical or………….formulate such a conclusion,”

“But clearly you do have an opinion, hypothetically let’s say. What would that conclusion be?”

“The obvious one.”

“Which is?”

“That this sequence is an admixture of ……….” The connection finally gave up.

The studio was silent for a few seconds. Would the call be renewed.

“It seems we have lost Professor Smith,” the presenter finally said, “but we will try to get him back shortly.”

“Moving on then,” Another voice came over the airwaves.

Margaret turned the radio off. “Absolute bollocks,” she cursed at the device as if it was the purveyor of the suggestion.

“Tha needs t’get em other tests dun lad,” Walt added. “That’ll put paid t’all this shite.”

Mac nodded in agreement. “I’ll call the hospital. See what they suggest.”

Walt shouted from the kitchen. “Tha’ll get no sense outa them!”

Mac and Margaret were stood at the hall window. The reporters looked to be regrouping at the lane end.

“Right!” Margaret hissed, “you go out the front an I’ll tackle this lot. You can slip passed em and get on with the parlour if ya like Mac. Out a sight out a mind then eh!”

Mac returned her sympathetic smile and the two lovers set their weather eye on the afternoons tasks and parted with a long lingering kiss.

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