Category: wait and see


Heretic

Heretical is the adjective form of the noun heretic, which comes from the Greek word hairetikos, meaning ABLE to CHOOSE.

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Second read through

Well that’s the second read through done. A few alteration and additions. One more time should do it now and it will be ready to publish for Yule.

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Here is a 1000 word piece I have just entered into Devin’s altered history comp.

Black Hand green feathers.

Everything within the city was in place for what had the makings of a bright and sunny day of celebration. Crowds of people dressed in their finest clothes lined the streets waiting patiently for the cavalcade.
The visit had been a long time coming. Delayed by at least a month due to ill health of the Emperor, many had remodelled their plans to ensure this day would proceed without any hindrance and deliver exactly what was expected.
Flowing parallel to Appel Quay, part of the route to be taken, the River Miljacca had not looked ever as lovely this year as it did today. Reflecting back the dappled light and mirroring the arches of Lateiner and Cumurja Bridges in ever so slightly distorted images the serenity of the water seemed to be at one with the city itself.
Governor Oskar Potiorek met the Royal party at Sarajevo rail station with six automobiles. By mistake, three local police officers took to the first car with the security chief, leaving the special security officers who ought to be passengers behind on the forecourt. Try as they might these three failed to attract enough attention to remedy the situation. The second car held the Mayor and the Chief of Police. The third car in the motorcade was a grand affair, a Gräf & Stift PS open sports car with its top folded down. Franz Ferdinand, his wife Sophie, Governor Potiorek, and Lieutenant Colonel Count Franz von Harrach rode in this.
The motorcade’s first stop was a brief inspection of the military barracks. As it approached the five deep crowd shouted and waved with joy on seeing the Archduke, resplendent in his beige uniform and ceremonial hat of feathers blowing too and fro. At ten o’clock they shouted some more as the procession left and made for the Town Hall by way of Appel Quay.
Security arrangements were limited. The local military commander, General Michael von Appel had proposed that troops line the intended route but had been overruled for fear of offending the loyal citizenry. The Sarajevo police had sixty officers on duty to cover the event.
Within the crowd the Black Hand, six assassins bent on making the day their own, waited for an opportunity to make history. Mehmedbašić, placed by Danilo Ilić, the Serbian leader in front of the Mostar Cafe was armed with a bomb. He was the first to see his target. In the few seconds of opportunity he failed to act. Čubrilović stood next to his accomplice, armed with a pistol and a bomb himself could not take to the deed either. The procession continued on none the wiser, the crowd still cheering with delight. Further along the Quay, Ilić had placed Čabrinović, this time on the opposite side of the street near the river. He was also armed with a bomb. Behind him the sun still shone on Cumurja Bridge.
At ten past ten the entourage reached Čabrinović. Quickly he threw his bomb. It bounced off the folded back convertible cover and onto the street to explode under the fourth car. Screams of horror echoed about the stone built facades while flocks of birds took to the air in fear and flight. A one foot-diameter crater, twenty wounded people and one useless vehicle was the result.
Čabrinović swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the river. The cyanide only induced vomiting, and the Miljacka was only a few inches deep where he fell over the high walled bank. Through the turmoil the remainder of the procession sped away towards the Town Hall leaving the disabled car behind. Three more assassins, Cvjetko Popović, Gavrilo Princip, and Trifun Grabež could do nothing but watch.
A number of officers dragged Čabrinović out of the river while the crowd baying for his blood set about giving the culprit a severe beating. The police turned a blind eye and then took him away.
Arriving at the Town Hall the Archduke, thankful for his life, was in no mood for Mayor Curčić’s welcome speech and interrupted him complaining.
“Mr. Mayor, I came here on a visit and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous.”
A silence fell upon the gathering, wondering what was to come next. Who should speak. Sophie whispered in her husband’s ear and he appeared to mellow somewhat.
“Now you may speak,” the archduke continued.
After the mayor’s address, Franz Ferdinand had to delay his own speech until the papers, still wet with blood from the damaged car’s occupants were brought to him. Once delivered he concluded in his own words with praise to the people of Sarajevo.
“I see in them an expression of their joy at the failure of the attempt at assassination,” he added.
After a half hour of discussion the Archduke and his wife decided to give up their planned program in favour of visiting the wounded from the bombing, now at the hospital. Count Harrach took up a protective position on the left-hand running board of the open top vehicle. In order to avoid the city center, General Potiorek decided they should take to the Appel Quay. Their driver Leopold Lojka, took a right turn into Franz Josef Street though. He had not been told.
Princip had moved to Schiller’s Delicatessen, opposite Latiener Bridge and at the very junction the Royal couple’s car had now mistakenly taken.
Governor Potiorek called out to Lojka to reverse and take the Quay road. Lojka stopped the car close to where Princip was standing, then began reversing the convertible.
Gavrilo Princip saw his chance. Reaching in his pocket to take out a Browning automatic pistol he turned quickly towards the vehicle. In his haste he tripped and having his hand still within his pocket fell to the pavement with a crunch of his shoulder bones, skittling a few bystanders as he did so. His shoulder was broken. Lojka in the meantime took to the correct route and moved off to deliver his passengers to the hospital safe and sound.

Test

Just testing this link to see if it appears on google plus..

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Bridge part two

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Almost finished the final edit of part two. Changed quite a bit. Well I had to after the additions to part one.

Published

Well that’s done it now. I’ve published the first part of Bridge. It’s available on the kindle store.

Gramp’s old Knucklebones

“Mac love, you ok?” There was Sal, laid in bed beside him, as pregnant as ever and tapping him gently but firmly on the shoulder as he came to his senses. With a massage from his fingers he cleared the sleep from both eyes, rubbing at them a little longer than need be to buy some time. Sal asked again. “You bin dreamin Mac?”
“Yeh! A walk down to the park to feed the ducks. One was wanting my last piece of bread.”
Sal laughed uproariously. “It’s that duck again Mac, it’s haunting you. Remember the one at Burdett Hall?” He joined in with the laughter in recalling the antics.
“Mac, Mac!” His mother now, shouting up the stairs. “Mac, you awake love? Want a cuppa you two? Bessie’s here to see ya if you’re up to it?”
“Five minutes,” he shouted back. Though he wanted it to be sooner he dare not appear eager in the eyes of the rest of the family. “Be down in five minutes.”
And he was. Sat outside the kitchen door, the closed kitchen door, sat at the outside table on the the patio decking, the scent of cherry blossom in his nostrils and a mug of chamomile tea in his hand he was in the sole company of Aunt Bessie, the only person who had any idea of what had happened to him. In a shimmering, ankle length dress of silver grey she sat, cuffs and neck of garnet red velvet to match a tied material belt at her waist she looked for all the world the part Mac now recognised in her. It was obvious, why had he not seen it before? Her hair, a different shade, call it molten silver, was down and cascading to either side of her fair complexion framing a face of concern but compassion.
“But no one need know dear boy, don’t ya see,” she was explaining. “With your bracelet activated you will be able to travel at your own convenience, decide on the destination and actual time of arrival there. Find the portal where the membranes touch that matches where ya want to be. No one need ever know you’re away for more than half a day at the most when you choose the time of travel.”
Now he was interested. “How can that be Aunt?” Up to then he had honestly thought to decline this gift laid at his feet, but with this latest revelation, well the opportunity was there to experiment a little, maybe even do some good. Mac listened to what Aunt Bessie had to say and quite extraordinarily he had an inclin on her thoughts as well, the first time ever he had been able. It could possibly be the first time that anyone had for that matter. There was an understanding within the family, community, that a certain number of the cunning folk could not be read, and Bessie had always been one of these. His Gramps too come to think of it. Questions were never asked or comments ever passed but Bessie had up to press, and as far as Mac was aware definitely been one of these people. Up to now that is. For now all manner of her thoughts were on the wing. So many in fact that he could not determine whether it was her spoken words that were explaining to him the concepts on the table or her own imaginings. He tried desperately to keep up with everything as visions kept pace with her speech. Dreamlike scenes of worlds far away, huge planets set by barren landscapes, misty lakes and broken down ruins all competed for attention while the undercurrent of her verbal explanation went on at some pace.
“The membranes are…….corrugated for want of a better description, corrugated, yes, and they move towards each other and apart again, together then apart. Do ya see. Sometimes they touch, often if the truth be known, and in that touch worlds collide. Now, the membranes in touching may have years separating the worlds, decades, centuries, millennia, or just days or hours even, so it is possible to wait the opportunity and pick your time of travel. I have never needed to satisfy anyone’s questioning of where I am so I do not bother that much, though I don’t miss out a millennia, well sometimes I do, but I can always get back here, understand, you can always get home at some point and at a time to suit you.”
“We just assume you’re about your business Aunt.”
“Exactly, although I try never to have more than a month or two difference back here between going and coming home.”
“So how do we return back to the same world, the one we’ve left and not some other?”
“Each portal will always join the same two worlds only, and never any others, the bridge is the doorway to Margaret’s world if that’s the one you seek, you just have to watch the forecast and pick the time to use it in order not to be missed either side.”
“The forecast?”
“The bracelet, remember I told you about its function once chosen, once activated.”
The charm, about her ankle, that uniquely fashioned bangle which shimmered and shone so perfectly, unlike his own which never had and although he had worn it for so many a year since she had gifted it to him as a child it had never had the allure of her own. If anything his had always remained a dull affair, lacking any lustre at all, and if it had not been for the fact that his aunt had given it him in the first place he may never have worn it at all, but being the sentimental type he had taken to it with some pride of it being from her, his own Aunt Bessie, a woman so well respected and thought after within their small community that answering any who enquired on seeing it always filled him with love and belonging.
“So how do I know the forecast, what is it?”
“By the reaction of the bracelet at each portal at the time of travel.” Now he was totally confused. It showed on his face. “Ssh Mac. Sal’s here,” Bessie insisted.
“You look elegant today Aunt Bessie,” Sal began, taking a seat next to her.
“Thank you my dear, I have a meeting with my publishers in a half hour, a video call so I like to look the part of the mysterious don’t ya know.” She winked at them both, making more than one wrinkle appear at the outside corner of her eye.
Sal just smiled back unaware. “What we gonna do with this one?”
I believe he’s fine and healthy, just being Mac that’s all,” Bessie answered. “We all have our little idiosyncrasies don’t we children, it’s what makes us unique don’t you agree?”
With his free hand he felt for the bracelet around his left ankle. “It was only a feint I suppose, I’d probably only been there a few minutes when Aunt Bessie came upon me,” he explained. Was this attempt putting his wife’s mind to rest.
“Quite possibly,” Bessie said in agreement. “Had ya been crouching or bending to look at something Mac, I know I get dizzy if I stand quickly on occasions.”
“Yes but you’re…….” Sal stopped short of stating the obvious and upsetting Bessie who they all knew did not recognise her own age or expect any comment upon it from others at any time. As far as she was concerned she was going to go on for ever and a day and if any person had an opinion on that suggestion they should keep it to themselves. “You’re bound to feel dizzy sometimes Aunt Bessie,” she quickly corrected herself, “we woman do at certain times don’t we?”
Bessie smiled at the two of them. “Well recovered my dear,” she said with an affectionate pout of her lips.
“I thought so,” Mac added, laughing slightly at Sal’s embarrassing predicament.
“We woman do indeed feel a little off colour on occasions I must say,” Bessie went on, “and as you note Sal, especially at my years.” The last words were said in a whisper that hardly left her mouth. If it were not for the words being spelled out so clearly by her red painted lips then the comment might have gone totally unnoticed.
“Aunt, that’s not at all like you.” Mac insisted.
“There is a time in everyone’s life when we must accept our destiny dear boy. Though you are both sworn to secrecy,” she said, again in a more rapid a whisper. Sal, relieved she was off the hook, gathered up the empty cups and set off to return them to the kitchen.
“The forecast?” Mac asked eagerly.
Aunt Bessie hurried a reply to him. “The brighter the glow the nearer the membranes are Mac, and the yellower the tint then the nearer the time to the previous visit exit. Gold and vibration and the time slip between the worlds is perfect to enable a continuation of the previous, you’ll get used to it if ya take it on.”
“So to get back and forth to Margaret’s time and here what should I look for?”
“Your bracelet will soon be activated.”
“Yeh it just felt warm.”
“Take it to the bridge in a few days. The bracelet will glow and resonate when worlds are near, then shine magnificent at the touching, blue through green and red give centuries to years apart but yellow and especially golden yellow is the time to make your passage through and preserve the timescale.”
“Is it possible to go backwards in time?”
“Oh yes, that too my boy.” Bessie had a huge grin across her face now. “By employing an event horizon and bending the cone of our own particular future, manipulating it, the power of a black hole will bend our future around to our past, any past.” Mac looked on in awe, he had read of such theories but had no idea it was a possibility. “Oh Mac, the things I have seen, truly magnificent things, I tell you it’s a privalage not to be ignored. If you’ll take my advice you’ll take up the mantle, you will never ever regret doing so. There are also these.” Bessie threw a few knucklebone pieces, the six pronged metal objects about the size of a grape that he and Megan had played with so often on this very table, a childhood game that had given them such joy and laughter. “If ya wish to return to an exact location within the world that the portal leads to,” she went on, “then if you leave one of these beacons at that certain spot before shifting worlds the bracelet will take you to join that beacon on your return by means of the portal and not just deposit you at the other side of the join. Good eh!” Now Gramps came out the kitchen door to join them. Bessie scooped up the knucklebones just like in the game. “There’s some of these in your bedroom drawer Mac.”
“Well met Sister Elizabeth. What you about this fine day in Ostara?” the family elder began as the siblings met, “when Crow Luna is nearing her time to give way to Grass Luna, what items occupy you?” Sitting down at her side he rested both arms on the table and took hold of her hand quite affectionately within his own.
Bessie picked a piece of fluff from off his olive green suit of wool. It was a piece of chicken down caught up in the weave of the material which made up the shoulder. “Well met Brother Joshua James,” she replied. “The usual occupations you know.”
“Only the usual Sister?”
“Yes, just those today.”
“Very glad to hear it Bess. So you’ll be staying a while then?”
“Yes indeed I will Joshua.”
“You always have the knack of being in the right place at the right time don’t ya now and finding Mac was no exception. Thank you.” Gramps gave his sister a kiss on her rouged red cheek.
“Just good fortune that’s all.”
“More than that I’m sure,” he insisted. He had a knowing look of appreciation and delight about his spring fresh face, and he pushed up his dimpled exuse for a chin as if to say he did have an idea but was not about to disclose anything. “Ok. Time to feed those hens.” With that he stood and headed over to the run.
Bessie continued her talk about the bracelet, still whispering across the table. Mac was not owning any of her words though, instead revelling in the industry of her imagination. Mistletoe found wrapped about oak, and then on the sixth day after the next new Luna phase of Mater the plant being cut down by the golden sycle held in the hands of a priest dressed in white robes. The gathering of it ready to be made into medicines. Energetic ring dances, the circle transmitting energy by the power of stone, water, in dedication to The Morrigon, Great Queen, She the source of life giving, death and transformation, regeneration and renewing. She, maiden, mother and crone, represented in Mater, new, waxing and old. The Morrigan Herself. Gray haired Morrigu. Now spirals came to his minds eye, crows and ravens, lunar circles and snakes. The triskele, three conjoined spirals, soil, air and water, carved into stone since time immemorial, on great standing stones of the past, on smaller petroglyphs, incorporated into ancient burial chambers, on tombs of his own family present in this era as all that have gone before. Triluna now.The first crescent the waxing phase of Mater, new beginnings, new life, and rejuvenation. The center circle symbolic of Her full aspect, the time when magic is at its most potent and powerful. Finally, the last crescent, the waning, a time to do banishing magic, and to send things away.
“So what say you?” He had not acknowledged a word spoken but knew everything that had been said. “Do you wish to take on the travel?” Gramps was making his way back to them as she posed the question. “You said that you wanted to meet the hierarchy Mac?” she asked sweeping her free hand over her shoulder and leaning back to take hold of her brother’s arm. “Well here is one of them. Grandad Joshua, your grandson would like to know of the heirachy.”
Gramps looked a little concerned. “The heirachy indeed,” he replied. “Which heirachy would that be then sister?”
“Oh come on Joshua, Mac nearly has the bracelet activated…….”
Gramps stopped his sister in her endeavours. “Let’s allow our Mac a little of his own time eh Bessie, he’s had a bit of a fright this mornin after all.”
“Yes, of course you’re right Joshua. Mac needs time to himself.” The two elders looked to their loved one, both giving a smile of support, though one offered what looked like an expression of wait and see, only this time it was his Gramps.
“Do ya mean to tell me that you……….” Mac asked him as both of them stood slowly to leave him. Gramps said nothing, maybe he had not heard. He was slightly deaf in his left ear. Mac repeated his question this time a little louder. Again no verbal reply just the raising of his Aunts dress to reveal that bracelet again about her ankle. Gramps noticed her action and put his arm around his sister’s shoulders. It looked like an act of approval on his part.
Bessie smiled back at him and took her own leave. “Well my call is due so I’m going to pop over to the barn if that’s ok?”
“There’s a couple of ewes in there to keep ya company,” Gramps said giving her one more peck of a kiss.
“Just look at these silver locks JJ.” She was stroking a finger affectionately through his lengthy hair as she passed him by. “Silver in our hair dear brother…….”
“And gold in our hearts dear sister,” he added.
“That too Joshua, that too.” Bessie paused for a moments reflection, staring at the cherry tree for a second or two, then she burst into a tuneful description of intent. “Right, my critics await my most recent findings so I’ll bid you all farewell for the moment my dears.” With that she was off at some pace, almost skipping across the courtyard to the haybarn and a little privacy, a place to gather her thoughts.
“Didn’t you have a videocall to do this aft Mac?” Sal asked as he turned from one side to the other. He sat up with a start, somewhat taken aback at seeing the inside of their bedroom. Sal was dressed and sat to the mirror doing her hair.
“Oh yeh!” He had no chance of finishing the brief now and he knew it, but he must not forget that apparently he had only been away a few hours. It was taking some adjusting to that revelation. “Yes I did.” He repeated pretending to recall with some difficulty. “But it’s not finished now with what’s happened.” Again he could not believe his good fortune, to be returned here to his wife and family with only a few hours separating them for the months spent in Margaret’s time. “Good job ya reminded me Sal,” he added, “I’ll email ’em, tell ’em I’ll finish it off tomorrow.”
“Ok! You rest up here a bit, I’m meeting up with the girls in an hour, baby talk ya know.”
“I’m off to fetch some spuds.” Gramps could be heard shouting to his daughter on the patio. Mac caught sight of him on the monitor as he set off up the garden path to the black iron gate at the rear of the property. Fetching potatoes was the last instruction he had been given he remembered, on setting out for his walk walk those weeks ago, no hours actually. Mac shook his head. He must come to terms with all of this and soon.
The black gate clattered to, that black gate Mac had longed for, yearned to see on that first day back in that other world now so many miles away. Miles away! More than that. Worlds away in fact. What kind of a man was he going to become by taking on this invitation to visit these worlds. He reached for the top drawer of his bedside cabinet and opened it. There they were, in the very back of the drawer, the knucklbones Megan and he used to play with, there they were. So the truth still remained in place. The unbelievable truth of what had happened to him, what was still happening to him actually, for it was becoming more acceptable that his bracelet, this very bracelet about his left ankle was going to play such a part in his life in the future, futures. He had more than one now, future, perhaps even more than the two he already knew, countless futures to explore, involve himself in. Futures, yes and pasts too, for according to Bessie it was possible to go back in time as well. Bending of space and time! How fortunate was he to be able to enjoy that particular fantasy and see it become a reality.
Why was it him who had been chosen? The thought bothered him. Why him and not his sister Megan, or Beth his mother, why should it be him? And why was he contemplating all of this at this moment anyway? He had a recovery to make, a body to heal, satisfy the families interpretation of events, and in spite of that he was still weary. The return had taken its toll. He was still so very weary. Before he succumbed though he needed to secure his apparent ongoing normality.
“Quantum, email the office,” he instructed.
The house computer replied. “What would you like to say?”
“Sorry. I shall not be able to attend the conference this afternoon, I’ve had a fall while out walking. Will have it done for tomorrow. Sorry again Dan.” Dan was his coordinator, a nice man and very relaxed and laid back. The delay would not worry him in the slightest. Mac knew he would deliver on his promise for the next day, and Dan would know that too.
“Ready to send,” Quantum replied.
“Send please,” He instructed, walking down the stairs to go outside for some fresh air.
So, here he was, back in the safety of his own home, garden, world! No one suspected any of what had happened to him. How much time did he have to decide, presumably this hierarchy would not wait forever, and what if they bestowed the gift on someone else instead. His Gramps! Suddenly he remembered. Was he truly part of all this? And if he was what about Sal and the family? He wanted them all to know about it, although coming home now without any major incident to speak of he wondered if that might be too much to ask.
The garden was more beautiful than ever. The lawns a magnificent shade of green. The flowering cherry displayed all the mists of pink that could be imagined. Yellow daffodils, red tulips, bells of blue, white water crowfoot around the waterwheel turret all competed for attention. Mac walked the shale path around the boundary of his beloved sanctuary basking in its care and security. Pink purslane and sorrel reflected each other’s beauty from across either side of the stream. He was back in his element, sovereignty, even the dandelions and buttercups seemed to be more of a cheerful yellow than he had ever seen before. To say a thank you for his deliverance he wandered up past the off white hawthorne and purple fairy foxgloves to the garden shrine. Here he stood for a moment finally able to clear his mind of troubles. He asked Arianrhod to continue her sponsorship of his recovery and he basked in Her protection.
A range of other mysteries, concepts also came to him. Could he actually be older in himself than when he disappeared? He must be, after all for him time had passed by normally, and by more than a couple of hours. But on the other hand when his Aunt went away and came back to them with time missing she did not look any older? He corrected himself. No! That was not the correct way to imagine it for when Bessie went away she chose the amount of time she was away to match the amount of time she spent in her other worlds, did she not? It was all very confusing, diffucult to come to terms with but the bottom line must be that for the traveller a normal timescale and therefore age must pass and have to be accounted for. Another worry was the more recognised, one running through all science fiction, the one of what if he met himself while on his travels. Would he cancel himself out, could he alter his own destiny. So many answers he needed from this hierarchy, his own Aunt and Gramps included.
Concerns such as these aside he felt so refreshed. For the first time in a long while he was at one with himself, a clarity within his mind seemingly washed through by his ocean of dreams. No headache, no aura, no nausea and certainly no muscle strain. He felt on top of the world. All sense of doubt had left him, there was no melancholic apprehension rattling around his mind demanding attention, reminding him of what he had been through, no nagging worry or fear for the future pervading his soul. No, he was back up to full strength both in body and mind, chomping at the bit and raring to go, a feeling of being able to move mountains once again, happy with his lot.
Making his way back down the garden the water from the stream turning the wheel about its axle babbled her song of nature, of liquid state coming to terms with what was expected of it, to provide movement from the energy held within its silky surface, to rotate the wheel, pass on its gift to be harnessed and stored to power the farmhouse. And apart from that pleasing distraction, the twitter of a robin and the clucking from the hens over in the run there was no other interruption. No other sound whatsoever. That infernal humming had gone, he was home afterall.
The pink canopy of blooms about the cherry tree played host to another welcome sight too, a crow, her black feathers unmistakably obvious within the vivid colour which surrounded her. His request had been answered and he now knew the path he would take.

Oh well. Well

I’m doing it again, rehashing the story. Sorry. But I’ve come upon a new concept to write in, another twist which needs establishing from the outset so sorry again.

Golem and tea bag

All of a sudden his handheld, laid on the bedside table where Sal must have put it, vibrated causing a purring noise to sound out. Sal was fast asleep. He could see her bonny face showing no care in the world. She had her man beside her in their bed and an infant nurturing inside her womb and not one thing more did she crave. A warmth inside him furnished his own face with a satisfying smile. The handheld purred again. Mac picked it up so it would not disturb his wife.

It was a mail from his Aunt. ‘Hope you are feeling better Mac. Mail back.’

Slowly and carefully he removed his other arm from under Sal’s pillow and quietly tapped out a reply. ‘When can we meet I need to talk to you.’

‘I’m down in the park now feeding the ducks if you can come out!’

‘I’ll try. Stay there a while.’ While he replied he felt like a naughty schoolboy would, secretly planning a rendezvous with his friends, removing himself carefully whilst out of sight and mind of concerned parents or siblings alike.

Inch by inch he slithered out from under the covers and poured himself over the edge of the bed and onto the carpet. Sal made no move whatsoever. A month or so ago he would not ever have thought of such a thing, let alone done it, go behind his wife’s back, not tell her what he was up to but now it all seemed so easy, uncompromising and of no significance. Whether that was a good state of mind to be in still remained to be seen.

He had been put to bed in his clothes, the ones he had returned in, fortunately the ones he had left in months ago, no this morning he reminded himself with a gentle shake of his head, only to stop doing so when the pain about his brain reminded him it was still there. Choosing them back in Margaret’s world had been more than good luck. His boots would more than likely be under the radiator in the kitchen, in a row of several pairs belonging the rest of his family. He began tiptoeing downstairs to retrieve them. As he passed the white painted balustrade a thought crossed his mind to tap at it three times. Sensibly he declined the memory.

Mum and Gramps were talking in the lounge, he could here their welcome voices. He would have to be especially quiet, but if one of them had full view of the back door out the kitchen and the radiator itself he would be stumped. He made no sound, making each footstep count for nothing as he placed one after the other on successive steps. There were thirteen in all. He had counted them long ago, long, long ago as an infant, and also as a child and many times later as a teenager and adult. Thirteen steps up and the same number down. When Dad had been out all night tending the flock or some other nocturnal necessity when The twins were younger it had been the practise of the pair to move about these steps, and the rest of the house for that matter, very quietly so has not to disturb the father they loved and idolised. It would have been so unfair to have awoken a man dedicated to his family and their way of life. On the many occasion when silence had been the order of the day he had learned to move stealthily and without noise, an accomplishment unfortunately never realised by his sister so she had usually remained confined to certain rooms of the home on such days as was called for. That well remembered practise now stood him in good stead as without making any sound at all he found the bottom of the floral papered staircase and the lower landing. Holding the brass handle in a firm grip he moved it very slowly downwards to open the door. If anyone would see him emerge they would also now notice this door open. He waited with baited breath. The conversation between Mum and Gramps continued without interruption.

“Mac will be fine love, you know he will.” Gramps’ soothing tone was reassuring to both his mother and Mac too. He listened a moment more while picking up his footwear and tiptoeing to the outer door.

“I know Dad but to pass out like that. Imagine if he’d fallen in a ditch somewhere. I never even felt anything!”

“Well he didn’t love did he, and once bitten eh!”

Mac gripped the kitchen door handle now, even tighter this time, this sneck sometimes made a clatter if it was not opened in just the right manner.

“I do hope he’s not going down again.”

He moved the handle slightly down then back up just a little in the sequence he knew would not betray him. The mechanism engaged quietly. He then pressed down again, slowly ever so slowly.

“Well if he is we’re all here for him aren’t we.”

The door opened, his escape was complete. Sun beams met and greeted him, cascading in a rapture of illumination through the trees and fence alike, throwing shadows here and there from the intervening wood both living and cut. Once outside Mac slipped on his boots and made for the river. He took the high path though so as not to be seen from the living room bay widows. Picking out the handheld from his trouser pocket he messaged Aunt Bessie. ‘On my way.’ A hundred steps later there was no reply.

No reply on the route down the dale either and even walking through the park, his own beautiful and much longed for park there was no reply from her. No connection either. Where was she? Rounding the second meander of the river, one which boasted the tallest tree for a mile around, a huge oak, his adopted heartwood of youth, he expected her to be sat by the waters edge, bread in hand, a badelynge of ducks in attendance. But no. No Aunt Bessie anywhere to be seen.

Mac sat under the canopy of his own heart of oak, taking up position in a well worn recess between two of her roots. Although he called her his own he knew many more people also sat in this same spot, more than likely enjoying the same comfort she offered him, that and the feeling of belonging brought from out of this ancient; unconditional security, a feeling of protection and support, conjoined flesh to nature.

Although Bessie absence was obvious this did nothing to bother him. How could it. He had all he wanted and could still not believe his good fortune. To be returned home, back to the bosom of his family, safe and sound. He was as happy as the larks, apart from the nagging of that headache which would not lift from the back of his neck and crowned his skull with a pain that tightened every so often like a band of steel, but that aside he did not appear to be any the worse for wear. Better still he had not been away for more than half a day either, a fact which continued to please him immensely and brought another wry smile across his full lips. It was a smile short lived though, as it quickly became tainted with a nagging, that sense of doubt which, as before always seemed to come a calling at the most unsuspecting time to catch him off guard. What had he done? The worry tried to climb upon his back, weigh him down, penetrate under his skin and scratch at his spine from the inside.

Staring through the clear river water, and listening to its song, Margaret’s world came into his mind. Now he had another dilemma to worry over. Margaret, and their unborn baby. How could he have been so stupid? Why had he not believed Aunt Bessie and simply waited for this day to arrive, kept Margaret at arms length. But no, he had acted before thinking and now must face the consequences. Like it or not the fact was he had another life now, or did he? Should he just forget all that now. Margaret’s world was not his own, and certainly did not share the values of his home time, so him disappearing and not returning would not be out of the ordinary. Margaret would be able to continue with her life, perhaps she would be better off without him anyway. Besides she always knew the possible consequences of their relationship, and knowing that still pursued her endeavour to the conclusion that had occurred, if anything she was more to blame for the outcome than him. The aura tried now to sit about his shoulders but could not find comfort, instead it dispersed, a little to begin with, but then thankfully not able to keep a hold, establish a grip on him it slipped off. Maybe his Mother’s words were true after all. Maybe last time was just that. He shook his head ever so gently, the last remnant of despair, that cold and creepy shoulders feeling vanished entirely. His headache though was still another matter altogether.

“Where are you Aunt Bessie?”

Why was she not here feeding these ducks now his own river side companions.

“Sorry but I’ve no bread today,” he explained, holding out two empty hands.

The sentence brought forward some cheer within him, memories of childhood, coming down to the river for the first time on his own, being allowed that privilege when old enough to look after himself. That first time, bread in his little wicker basket to feed the ducks, he felt so grown up, so trusted and loved. These ducks were having none of his excuses. They returned to the river and paddled upstream.

“I’ll fetch some later,” he shouted after them apologetically but they carried on regardless.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, peering around the side of a tree across on the other bank was something that caught Mac’s sight. A figure, not adult, not even child, but a figure all the same. He looked again. Nothing. It must have been his imagination playing tricks. No! There it was again. Animate but strangely not. Mac knew its identity, and had thought he saw it by the deer shelter in his dream of the flood a month or so ago, but was not absolutely sure then. Here however he was sure, for here it was, a Golem, this figure fashioned from earth and debris, standing only three feet tall, featureless but roughly human in outline, the colour of soil and soil alone.

Within its excuse for a mouth was no piece of paper, neither was anything obvious written upon its forehead of mud, rendering it with an annoying inability to communicate verbally, Mac knew the poor thing needed either of these to be able to speak. Newly formed it could not yet raise an arm either, for the two were still one with its body. Who was in command of this entity? Whatever power was abroad in this endeavour to attract his attention was surely not his Aunt. She had much better means at her disposal than the employment of a Golem if what he thought he knew about her was the truth. So why was this husk of a being in his company?

In fact, and for all the world, it appeared that the Golem was actually evolving before his very eyes, growing larger by the inch with every second that passed. Taller, more defined now, with limbs straightening out and a kind of face now, dark misshapen pits for eyes and a rudimentary nose and chin. There must be someone close at hand who was in charge of its development, some priest or other charged with its contract, some magician of clay who it would obey, every command answered to the letter without question, not privy to any intelligence of its own, its only purpose a servile one.

A curious red breast hopped from tree branch to stump of wood then back again all the time facing towards this ever growing creature of the earth itself, who, gaining some sight now by the nature of its response, tilted its head in amazement and stared back in awe at the impressive beauty it beheld, a gaping slit for a mouth expressing wonder and delight. There was no malice about this Golem whatsoever, as would be expected, the norm, and that was plain to see from its manner, compassion was written all over its excuse for a face. Even now it continued to grow, taller and taller. Where was Bessie?

The farmhouse kitchen, and Walt came to remind him again of that other time, and tea bags for some reason. Those strange bags of tea leaves the two of them used to make a hot drink. It was always too strong because they made the drink in a mug and not a tea pot, and there could be no measure of strength because the bags were sealed when bought. Did he miss those little idiosyncrasies of Margaret’s world or was he glad to be shut of them? He could not decide.

The Golem had moved, but where to? He had taken his eye off it only for a moment and in had gone. Mac looked frantically to the left then right, behind him then back across the river again. No Golem. The river continued to play her soothing lullaby and the redbreast was now singing to him from a branch of his oak. He sat back down to wait on Bessie or the Golem, whoever came to him the first and listened to what nature had to tell him, the oak wrapping him in her arms providing him comfort and rest.

“Mac Hun, you ok?” There was Sal, laid in bed beside him. “You been dreaming love? You’ve been twitching like I don’t know what.”

So here he was, the appointed time, well eleven o’clock seemed to be as good a one as any on this fateful Monday. Aunt Bessie had not specified a time so again the hour of his arrival seemed appropriate, the next ten minutes would tell. Monday, the second day of what ought to be any other week, but it was far from that.

It was not raining but neither was it a bright morning, just nondescript really in weather outlook, drab some would call it but Mac preferred a label of overcast. Drab seemed too awful a word to describe anything really let alone a morning in which nature was about her business and life was present upon the planet.

Full of fear and trepidation he stood atop the bridge once again. This stone bridge, not special in any way, shape or form to anyone else hardly, but a lifeline to him. This bridge of stone, stood here above this leafy cutting since formed centuries ago, in this place it spanned a pair of railway tracks, in his own a walkway and bridle path. This time he had everything in hand and was ready to leave. Every stone belonging the bridge looked cold, uncomfortable in its position, as if each knew failure itself. Their shades of dark and pale grey reflected the attitude of the sky under which the next few minutes of madness were to be played out. A fitting backdrop really Mac thought to the melancholy activity resting about both his shoulders.

To tell the truth he had not visited here for some time now, obsessively wanting to believe that Aunt Bessie’s instructions were going to prove to be correct, not daring to tempt any negativity by attending too early, in some way influence the spell she had cast by appearing there at any other inopportune moment. What if he put some kind of a reversal on the prophecy by coming on the wrong day. He had even made a point lately of not walking this one country lane he had come to know and cherish, the one that led by the bridge, giving the entire vicinity a wide birth until this his hour of reckoning.

There would have been a time when other compulsions might have come into play too, these a means of making sure of his own preservation and well being; when he was younger he felt a need not to tread on any cracks between the pavement slabs for fear of upsetting his own equilibrium. Along the causeway he would skip, seripticously planting every tread within a whole stone, not crossing his sole on any edge for fear of the consequences. So good was he at this that no one ever knew there was any enforced pattern to his behaviour at all. He would also only go down a single step using his right foot and always rise one on his left keeping the heart side of his body on the positive gauge of an imagined change in energy level. These compulsions he had thought at one time would keep him stable and not bring any harm into his life. If it were not for his fight with them and many other obsessions too he could gladly have employed any, no all of them today on his walk to this fateful place, but no, now much older and wiser and to be truthful more sensible he would let the Morrigan take the part of arbiter and set his future to her safe keeping and plan.

She the weaver of fate, the Morrigan, this Phantom Queen, associated with the Fairie Queens themselves who Mab herself belonged amongst, was a powerful member of the Tuatha De Danann, the children of the goddess Danann, Herself the consort of the thunder god Dagda. Let the Morrigan be his guide and only what was rightfully his would befall him. Her manifestation called to him now from a nest far up in the tallest green leafed trees of the cemetery. A cawing of such lament that the story told seemed just nearly of his own tongue if only he could make out the words a little more clearly.

“Come on home, come on home,” the crowing seemed to say.

Why he should think so when he awoke, after a fitful night of sleep it should be said, was still bothering him. Why he should think on whether to go home or not that is. The answer was obvious. He had to go back but still that thought on not doing had occurred to him. There had been no dream of Aunt Bessie, during his supposed last sleep in this world, and that worried him too, no confirmation to accompany him through the long, long night, one in which he had turned this way then that, trying desperately not to disturb Margaret slumbering peacefully beside him. In actual fact, if it had not been a call from Professor Smith after breakfast he might not be here at all he reminded himself. This earlier indecision truly worried with him and toyed with his sense of worth.

“Of course you would,” he argued with his conscience, shaking his head from side to side. His hair, now a little longer than he liked swayed this way then that about his forehead. “You’d’ve been here and be raring to go.”

The profs call had brought the obvious and expected news. It could be nothing else. “The results are just the same,” he had reported.

That is what had finally made him his mind up, to leave, divorce himself from this landscape for a while. But why was that, the conversation with the prof aside he should be yearning for home anyway. What was it about Margaret’s world that held some attraction for him? Anyway the proverbial muck was truly going to hit the wall now with the news from the lab and with no hiding place to speak of and soon a baying crowd of media hungry reporters tracking his every move it was best he escape, the results were bound to be up for auction by someone on the team supposedly caring for him.

“Ya off then?” came a voice in parallel with the bird’s speech. These words made him start. For a moment no one was obvious. Then a brown and cream spaniel came into view from around the edge of the bridge wall. “Come t’ see ya off we ‘ave ain’t we Toby?” It was the old man and his dog met on his first hour here.

Mac looked bewildered. “But…. how do……. what do you mean?”

“Don’t fear me young Mac Arthur, and don’t think any more on it. Now be off wi ya down there and take tha rightful path. T’hour’s almost due so don’t dally any longer.”

“But!……… you’ve known all along? …… how could you…….”

The elder was having none of this questioning. He lifted his walking stick and gestured for silence. “All’ll become clear lad. Now, be off.” The stick now motioned in the direction of the railway track at the bottom of the cutting. Mac checked his watch. “Yeh! Five minutes only,” the elder added, anticipation in his voice. “Ask no questions but accept ya fate lad.”

Mac looked him up and down in disbelief, this elder of some years, a man not out of the ordinary in any respect, flat cap on his head and dark grey wooly pullover he would not stand out in any crowd. Not out of the ordinary in any way, shape of form, apart from one thing that was. Mac suddenly caught site of the top end of his stick as it was being waved about. It had a metal hilt which pulsed with that same odd luminescence of Aunt Bessie’s ankle bracelet.

The elder Mac’s wide eyed stare. “Don’t think on any concern lad, c’mon now jump that wall.”

Mac did as he was told and set off to scale down the banking side. He lost his footing once or twice as stones escaped their position under the turf. From the train station back in town a whistle blew, the whistle of the three minutes to eleven about to depart. It was on the way.

The arch looked no different to all the other times he had seen it. All those past failed attempts came suddenly to haunt him, remind him of the idiocy he was about to involve himself in. Would this attempt turn out to be the same. The rails began to vibrate under his feet, only slightly at first, but within ten seconds there was more disturbance.

“Don’t let the train frighten ya lad,” the old man shouted down to him from the perch above, “just keep walking.”

So that is just what he did. Kept walking. Keeping a steady course, and nerve, he slowly placed one foot in front of the other and found the middle of the bridge as the train whistle blew again. This time there was an urgency in the call, shrill and at some length it gave out a warning. The driver had seen him.

Undeterred Mac took another step, a very slow but defined step this time, his mind willing the travel to work, start up, initiate. The whistle blew a third time.The ground under him shook some more. Then a squeal of metal on metal cut through the air. The driver had applied the brakes. The sound ripped through both the air and bridge itself taring it apart, actually ripping the bridge apart. It had begun!

Stonework, the fabric of the bridge flew away in all directions, skimming over the top of his head, their velocity catapulting them into the distance, but what distance. Suddenly that was gone! So had the sound of the train brakes, the shrill of that whistle. Any sound, of everything had gone. Everywhere was quiet, silent. Everywhere? Nowhere actually! That was where he was again, nowhere. He ought to have expected it. Perhaps he had. Held up on whatever was under him, he could no sooner see what that was either, nor imagine what was happening, his head and body felt at such disease.

Ahead, to each side and, if he stretched to look behind him, there was nothing, nothing at all. It was grey that was for certain, this nothing, whatever it was, but it was neither obvious or suggestive of anything. It did not swirl about like a cloud would, in fact it did not appear to flow or eddy or actually perform any movement at all. It was not comprised of any substantial material. It was just grey, and there, and all about him, a part of him yet apart of him.

His stomach did a cartwheel while his mouth wet itself in readiness. Here it came. Sickness and retching. He hated this more than anything in his life, lives! Here it came alright, there could be no stopping it, a swallow of spittle had no effect, a deep breath inwards did not calm, no here it came. He spewed a stream of green bilious vomit into the nowhere. To accompany that distraction, as if that was not enough, his body began to ache, a violated kind of an ache, like he had been injured or harmed. Both his temples throbbed, pulsing out a beat in time to his heart working to come to terms with the avalanche of adrenaline coursing through his bloodstream and the melancholic memories attempting to entrench themselves deep within his psyche.

Then without warning movement. Not nice movement either, a falling. He began to drop through the grey, slowly at first as if it offered him a resistance somehow, but then faster, picking up a little speed until beneath it, the cloud, for it was a cloud of some making, and he had fallen through it now, he began to really drop, falling, falling into nowhere again, but this time the nowhere was clear and went on for miles and miles, forever in fact. It went on forever, to the left of him forever, to the right forever and worse still forever down below him, down there, the direction he was falling went on forever. Only above was there evidence of any material substance of some description, this the fog, mist, cloud or whatever it was.

Still he fell, faster, faster until suddenly, thankfully, of maybe not, there was water, an ocean of it below him. No sooner had he seen it than he plunged straight in, its cold but not freezing, cold and salty depths caressed him with a bitter sweet greeting. It was instinctive that he had taken a sharp intake of breath as his body broke the surface, for now below it and by some distance there was none to be had.

The boundary between water and atmosphere shimmered as Mac frantically wriggled every limb to produce some upward movement back toward whatever light source danced about in the motion of the waves on the surface. Slowly but surely his depth lessened. Was he was going to make the surface before he drowned. It seemed an eternity, waiting, wanting, hoping for life giving atmosphere to be his once more. Finally oxygen, the reward for all his effort. He took a huge gulp of it. For a moment or two physics had the casting vote allowing him to float and catch his breath.

It was only a moment though, a second or two of comparative normality, because without warning the massive sea began to eddy and flow, a funnel of water rising vertically in the distance. Like a snake being charmed by its master it danced this way then that deciding which direction to take. The plume like the ocean twisted in a clockwise direction and opted to venture towards him at some speed. Any attempt to out-swim it would be a futile gesture and even though he did try within ten stokes it had him in its grasp taking him mistward once again.

Around and around he was carried, his head out the side of this alien body of water, allowing an unenviable but panoramic view of the nothingness again. Around and around and around the column of water transported him around and ever upwards. As if some benefactor’s gentle and helping hand though the tentacles of water did have control of his care and after several more rotations he was laid back down within the cloud of grey. Then all liquid withdrew from his presence, melting away through the mist which supported him once again.

Now melancholy returned rearing its ugly ugly head. It came back up from the deepest blackness of his mind. It had probably never diminished to tell the truth but the last few minutes of flight and fancy had rendered any depressive overtures null and numb. But despair found its target, as it always does, throwing his mind down a vast bottomless pit and with it all hope and joy. He felt terrible, wretched, distraught. Why had he chosen to take this invitation again. For what he could remember of the last time it was not as bad an emotional rollercoaster as this one upon him now, why had he not stayed put. When was this travel going to end. Would it, end!

The mist cleared, as if it had never been there at all. It disappeared without any trace. He was now sat amongst a field of wild flowers, poppies, daisies, buttercups and the like with a natural scenery of wooded hillsides and meandering vale offering some respite to his troubles, a helping hand to counteract his black bile. It was not home but better than had previously been on offer.

A calmness installed itself within him, momentarily before he was off again. Firstly the bridge reappeared, though one massively overgrown under its arch with tree and shrub alike. He somehow stood amongst these, under this bridge, still not of his own time. Correct archway yes, but not his place. No matter though, because it did not last that long either, being cruelly replaced in two blinks of an eye by a shimmering shifting sea of sand moving snake like across the hot surface. In the distance an oasis of palm almost appeared, went away then reappeared again as the warming breeze changed direction whipping up the particles of mineral and blasting them on one side of his face then the other, stinging each cheek in turn with their heat and velocity.

The mirage wavered about its roots one more time then vanished. As was the desert. Vanishing! Before his very eyes it was vanishing. Why was he surprised? It was being replaced by a mile high sheet of sheer ice advancing towards him faster than anyone would be able to run away from it. The white and glistening wall that stretched either side as far as he could see creaked and moaned as it approached, like cracking timbers or torn apart joints the eerie sound grew louder and louder.

“It’ll stop short,” he reassured himself.

But it did not. Louder and louder the noise built, second upon second till doom was met. The frozen mass enveloped him in its path. He was helpless to resist, or comprehend. An entire weight of such awful magnitude laid heavy on his upright yet immovable body. All he could do was observe the advancing edge now retreating ahead of him, for he had turned away from it in defence if his life as it struck. It moved with still the same speed, and as it did Mac’s world became duller and duller and duller. He held his breath. Frankly he had no other choice. Would this be it. His demise? All he could bring to mind was Sal and Margaret and what a mess would be left behind.

He held his breath still longer, he was beginning to feel feint. This was to be the last few seconds of him, he knew it, in his own world, Margaret’s, any world in fact. Oddly enough he found some acceptance of the fact, a surreal calm of whatever had to be washed in on him. Trying to mouth a lament to all he loved, the solid ice made it impossible really but still he tried, no words came out but instead vibrated around his teeth and palate.

“Please, please Lady help me stay alive for the sake of Sal and Margaret. Mum and Dad still need me too……”

All of a sudden the ice around him began to crack, a ripping so loud the noise hurt his ears. Then it shattered into more than a thousand pieces which in turn all began to melt away. These then formed into a torrent of foaming water so angry that it was some wonder he was not carried with it. Oddly he was firmly rooted on a small island in the middle of two of the many gushing rivers, one flowing south the other south west though how he knew that fact was a mystery also. The whole experience was a mystery actually, obviously, that was without question, but why he had an idea of where the compass pointed seemed beyond imagining, reason and sense.

For his own involvement, that seemed to be calming down somewhat. Gone was the nausea and desperation and a headache which had threatened to erupt when he was held within the frozen tomb had separated its clutch from within his skull. Even his heart beat was steady, beating in time to an even more important pacemaker, that of Mater Herself. The rush of the rivers either side of him seemed to echo a pulse of time immemorial, nature’s life blood itself carrying memory and future together as one as it wended its way irreversibly onwards, omnidirectional linking gone with that to come, what has been with what will, ever present, forever needed for without Her life would not be even begun never mind sustained.

“Give my regards to Bessie will ya Mac Arthur.” The voice came out of the sky, no from above the bridge. He was once again beneath it. Mac looked behind him. No one was to be seen, it was the voice of the elder though, the one with the dog he knew that much even though he was not present. No one was. Neither were the rails of the track. No they were gone as well.

“Come on home!” Another voice! Mac turned about one more time. “Come on home.” It was Aunt Bessie, as large as life itself, stood there in the gaping aperture that was more than an archway of a bridge. It was all too much for him. He fainted on the spot falling to the ground in a heap of crumpled adult limbs and torso.

Aunt Bessie was also the first person he caught the eye of when he awoke. She was standing behind the other members of the family in attendance at his bedside. Mum, Dad, Gramps and Sal were all looking at him with concern and sympathy on their faces. This particular elder though held his attention momentarily, this kenning woman, this drawer down of the moon, worker of the five elements was motioning him not to say anything by putting her left index finger up to her lips. She was pretending to scratch below her nose but he knew what she was about. In her other hand she toyed with her silver pendant, a pentagram of some inch across its diameter. Mac had never thought on it before but Bessie had always had this talisman, the moon metal strung about her neck on a beautiful thin chain of the same, yes it had always hung there for as long as he could remember.

“Mac, Mac, what happened?” Sal blurted out. It was obvious she had been crying.

“I don’t know,” His answer was somewhat wary.

Bessie butted into the conversation. “One hour your talking to me on the handheld Mac and the next I come across ya unconscious on the trail.”

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Three thirty three,” mum answered.

Again Bessie added her slant to the question. “You’ve been out cold for a couple of hours Mac. What time did he leave this morning Sal?” He was beginning to understand the drift of her conversation.

“About eleven.” It was Mum who answered again.

“You looked a bit pale early doors Mac,” Sal added.

“I felt ok, nothing to put me in bed anyway.”

“There’s nothing showing up in your medreadings,” Sal told him. She had already dropped a nanobot into his mouth with a pipette of water while he was out of it. “The readout is good Mac.”

“Don’t know then,” he said, the unanswered question written across his face, “but I ought to be up. How did I get home?”

“Aunt Bessie called us and we fetched you on the buggy, now you rest a bit longer,” Mum insisted gently pushing him back down onto the bed.

He did not argue, could not actually, so edged close up to Sal and cuddled both her and their unborn, closed his eyes and nudged a recess in his pillow with the side of his head. He could not help thinking about Margaret and when there would be a chance to talk to Aunt Bessie but for now everything had to appear a version of normal, whatever that was.

“You go to sleep hun,” his wife insisted and taking his arm around hers laid down beside him. The rest of the family filed out of the bedroom. With one open eye Mac spied Bessie leaving the last of all. As she made the doorway she pulled at her garnet red dress to reveal her ankle and the object of his desire, the bracelet. She said nothing and made no attempt to turn around to him.

For the next twenty minutes or so Mac pretended to sleep while he frantically worked through all of the ramifications of what was happening to him, all of the evidence as he knew it, and turning his body slightly every so often, snorting a breath and mumbling some gibberish to make Sal think he was fast on he tried to make sense of it all. She made no effort to disturb him. Slowly and surely he went over the last month or two, what in actual fact was apparently a half day back here. As much as he sifted and sorted though he came to no final conclusion. He was home, that fact was certain, back in his own bed with his wife by his side, goodness knows how but he was and that was the truth. The here and now was no dream like before, as far as he could make out at any rate. It felt real, he felt real, like he did back at Margaret’s.

Margaret! The thought of her provoked a response of awkwardness in both his mind and body and he was forced to turn over to stretch out and dispel the adrenalin released by the haunting. What was he going to do about Margaret? He needed to talk to Aunt Bessie. As far as was apparent he had only been out of the house since this morning. Nothing made any sense whatsoever. This very morning! How could that be? However that fact was true was a complete and utter mystery and hopefully Bessie had the answer. An ache inside his head started up, a sickly hangover sort of ache, though he knew it was caused by the thinking he was being unavoidably forced into performing, the rational he was wrestling with, his attempts to try and apply some logic of some sort. His thoughts went one direction then the other and even though there was a kind of symmetry with what he was about, a true duality he could come to terms with, his mind ventured all over the place. Fatigue thankfully set in, and as much as he tried to fight it he was desperately tired, tired out, the travel had taken everything out of him, all of his strength both physical and mental. He fell back to sleep.

Sorrowful One

The remainder of the afternoon saw Mac playing mouse to the clowder of cats in the lane. Sneaking from outbuilding to barn, from old and rusty machinery to stonework was in the beginning a lot of fun, but by six o’clock he had tired of it all. What the attendees hoped to gain by besieging the small farmhouse on the hill was obvious from their persistence but when rain began to fall from clouds that had threatened all day, driven in on a wind blowing across from the steep valleys to the northeast they all decided, and without exception, to retreat back down the hill and into town. The rain at their backs hastened the rout.

Mac watched the soggy sight of them from his bedroom window, his nose resting on the sill so as not to give himself away. On the outside of the glass a spider’s web spun tightly across the corner of the window frame held a fly captive within its grasp. Mac had to move position slightly when it obscured his sight of the procession. He did not want to miss one second of it. Across his mouth was a wry smile of satisfaction at the journalists plight. This surprised him. He had never harboured such feelings and to be aware of it bothered him.

His folks had a saying, that eventually a dog owner begins to take on the appearance of the animal they keep. Perhaps here he was not doing that but something much stranger, taking on the sentiments of the people he now kept the company of. Neither fact nor thought sat comfortable with him but he was still glad that his tormentors had all suffered a drenching. Perhaps they would think twice tomorrow.

They did not. A good nights sleep saw dawn break. It was before six o’clock this week, which was a delight. Early mornings kept to himself, spending a relaxed half hour or so looking far across the quiet awakening vale reminded him of his youth. And that is what he had done this morn, relaxed and returned to his youth, until the journalists had meandered back up the hillside that is, their unwelcome appearance putting paid to any enjoyment in a flash.

So just to be safe and out of the way he had worked about the yard this morning, repainting the farmhouse door a lively colour of red. He had found the can of paint in one corner of the parlour the day before, where Walt admitted putting it some years back. Why he had moved away the half dozen roofing ridge tiles and odd piece of corrugated iron sheeting was anyones guess, perhaps his tidy nature, but behind them under a layer of dust and debris was the unopened can, laying on its side on the parlour floor.

The heavy door to the hallway offered no chance of him being seen by his inquisitors and although it did not really need another coat putting to it the two farmers had insisted it be done just to keep him out of sight.

Margaret and her father had some business with their solicitor in town and so had left him with paint tin in one hand and brush in the other straight after breakfast. He was under strict instruction to stay put and not venture outside the farmyard at any cost. Walt was really taking a paternal interest in him of late, especially since Nigel Tyas had come onto the scene.

Yet again Margaret had not been very well earlier on, so after insisting on finishing with the milking on her own she had decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and accompany Walt rather than do anything more strenuous, a more than unusual stance for her so Mac knew she was off colour.

Professor Smith had made a call around ten as well, much to Mac’s bewilderment, asking his patient to make himself known to another laboratory across town who were expecting him after the clinicians referral. Whenever the pink handset rang it always made Mac laugh to see himself with such an item, not the colour as much as the antiquated technology. The professor had also enquired, and somewhat sheepishly it has to be said, about the radio interview the previous day and whether Mac had heard it. He was even more apologetic and embarrassed when Mac admitted that all three of them had been tuned in.

“It was not my idea at all Mac.” He sounded sincere but was he? Mac replayed the conversation as one brush stroke followed another. “In fact I would rather not have given it, but felt I owed it to you to put all the facts properly.”

Mac thanked him, adding, “and that was good of you Professor.” But was the clinician telling the truth. Mac’s mind wandered back to the day when the two doctors had been revelling over their findings in the consultant’s office. “To tell you the truth it was not such a good connection and your words were sometimes unclear,” he added.

“Well make your way over to this lab and …….” Mac felt a breeze in his face. A warming breeze coming off the land, quite the opposite direction and temperature to the rain wind of yesterday. It took his mind away from the present and into the past, and not only the past but the far away as well, so far away that thinking on it was painful and upsetting. With just over one week to go until the membranes touched it may as well be an eternity away.

He stifled a laugh. Who was he trying to fool with that notion? It was an eternity away. Why did he not just admit it, that way of life he longed for was so far out of reach that no amount of wishful thinking could realise it. Whatever circumstances had brought him to this present post, and the honest truth was he still had no absolute proof of what nature had been employed, this state of mind and matter was his now and the horrible realisation uppermost was that it was his lot. This melancholy world of fractured society and misplaced ideology was perhaps his for the rest of his born days. His stomach raced down to his pelvis and tried to drag all comfort there with it. It almost succeeded. The saving grace was a shout from Margaret.

“They’ve gone Mac. You can come out to play now.” There was a humour in her voice which infected him and replaced his worry with an offer of future happiness, unconditional happiness, unusual in this life he realised, but unconditional just the same. In this place he had found his soulmate. She was the only beacon of shining light in this otherwise dark existence. He jumped up with joy at his restored freedom.

“Where’s Walt?” he asked.

“He wanted some time alone with the solicitor,” Margaret replied with a frown. “I don’t know why but he’s troubled over summat or other.”

“Perhaps he’s arranging for his future….” Mac stopped short. Elders always made sure their funerary wishes were decided long before the time came to implement them. Mac knew that. Whether it be cremation or river fire, sky burial or ground grave the plans were usually in place for many a decade before they would ever be needed. Mac’s own family had a tradition of sky burial, returning their bodies to Mother Nature courtesy of the carrion and carnivores high on the White Peak to the south of their home town. This was the designated site for those in the Mid Lands wishing their earthly remains to be taken back by life itself, leaving only clean picked and bleached bones to be interred within the family vault in the towns cemetery. It went without saying that this would be his choice of demise but there would come a time when he would have to put it to record.

Margaret showed of a deeper thought across her face and repeated her concern. “I don’t know what he’s about but he’s definitely up to summat.”

For a change it was his turn to give reassurance. It felt good. “He’ll let ya know when the times right.” Mac gave her a hug. “Now did ya say the rabble’d gone?”

“No sign of em. Let’s get the last few fields sprayed while we can shall we.” The Margaret he knew was back. “I’ll make some lunch first though.” Definitely his Margaret.

A final ten minutes of offering the brush to the door and all was done. Margaret was back with a plateful of beef sandwiches, two mugs of tea and some fruit loaf she had baked last night. Mac ate the cake first, one of his own idiosyncrasies. To eat sweet before sandwich. He said that it kept the sugar away from his teeth because by chewing the sandwich last it acted as a cleaning agent after the sticky first helping. Margaret simply smiled and looked on him affectionately. No matter what her lover did it always pleased her immensely. She was totally besotted with him and he knew it.

“Prof Smith has arranged an appointment for this Thursday at another lab, he called earlier.”

Margaret looked astonished. “The two faced bastard!”

“Well he seemed apologetic ………. about the interview.”

“I bet he was. Don’t trust em Mac. You need to be going along though eh! We need an end to this stupidity don’t we.” Her turn to give a hug now.

“Sooner the better.” And with just over a week to whatever might happen it could not be soon enough. Sudden awkward thoughts assailed him. Those thoughts again, of betrayal.

His voice fell silent, for a moment, an awkward silence, broken only by a Chatter Pied flapping its black and white wings as it crossed the farmyard to come to rest on top of the old plough by the outside steps. What was this cunning prophet about, arriving on the scene at this moment in time? Had he brought divination, prophecy, did he represent a symbolism of bridges by arriving just now. Risk taking for prestige was not something Mac was schooled in, and this fable of the birds ability in representing this was just that, for it was definitely not needed now in Mac’s world. Here and now though the thought seemed appropriate. To come into his life just now seemed to offer him ancient help of prophecy and instinct to use to his advantage in ways which are clever or even stealthy. Chatter Pied offered all this, countered by the ability of balance, not only of the physical, black with white, but also the balancing of strong opposites. Opposites! Margaret and Sal perhaps? Chatter Pied also represented the taking of joy in personal change, to let go the old and find the new with confidence and clarity. Yes Mac knew that too, intelligence, adaptability and success were all his traits, so is that why he was here, head on one side eying Mac up from across the yard.

Betrayal came back to mind. Yes betrayal. But to who? Now he had a true dichotomy to deal with. Margaret and Sal? Two different worries, very different but much the same and certainly not opposites, except for being on opposite sides of the bridge that is. One his wife, the second his lover, to be his wife no doubt if this land was to be his only. Who should he show allegiance to above the other, why should he have to choose? Who could possibly council him?

Bessie! She could. His Aunt had been so conspicuous in her absence of late that he wondered whether he would ever cross paths with her again. A meeting of membranes indeed! How far fetched was that? How could he tell of it to anyone else and be thought of as sane? Only he knew the truth and that was how it must stay no matter what the outcome.

“Penny for em?” Margaret recognised the far away look.

Mac shook himself back to the moment and thought quickly. “Just wondering what’s to come of me.” An abashed look followed. It always did the trick. Margaret took him in a tight embrace and planted a kiss firmly on his lips. “C’mon lets get on while the goings good.”

That evening Walt was very quiet throughout their meal of Yorkshire pudding and beef stew. So much so that barely a dozen words left his lips, and that was not like him of late. He was not poorly, he was not tired, or angry with either of them. Neither of them had done anything wrong. The farm he was happy with, and all the animals were in good health. This much they managed to slowly and painfully prize out of him. But nothing else. And there clearly was something else. Whatever it was though the elder was not up for telling at the moment. After the meal he was no different either, for he just sat in his armchair, a remote control in each hand fixing a gaze at the evening entertainment on the television. For long enough he barely looked in any other direction.

Mac and Margaret sat on the couch, holding hands, carefully sipping at their mugs of tea in silence. Like courting couple they kept quiet and dared not speak in case her father might say something and foil the moment. After an excruciating ten more minutes Margaret decided enough was enough and thought to chance her arm, leave her parent to this mood. This was his first in quite a few weeks and she wanted no part in its continuation. Perhaps them being there was fuelling his mood.

She pulled at Mac’s hand for moral support. “We’re off for a walk Dad.” She said it quietly, almost in a whisper, apologetically, afraid he might be back to his old self and give some rebuff she did not want.

Walt did nothing of the sort but simply offered a weak nod of his head, as if it would fall from off his thin neck of pale thin skin and obvious blood vessels if more effort was put in.

“I’ll be alreet in a bit kids. I’ve just got an eadache cumin on.” His voice was feeble, apologetic, pathetic even.

Margaret smiled back at him, a sour smile of wish I could help but know it would be futile kind of a smile. Mac kept quiet. Perhaps if the elder had been putting down his final wishes at the registrars then that would explain this melancholia. People did seem to die earlier here so perhaps that was the explanation. Or did Walt have some disease he had found out about? Could that be the reason. Only time would tell. Walt would divulge his concerns whenever he was ready and not before, that much was certain.

They walked hand in hand into town and made a b-line for their pub. There they took sympathy for Mac’s predicament and the mounting speculation of the press and media from one friend after the other. Ben was the first to voice his concern, then along came Richard to give his verdict on the fracas.

“It’s all bollocks Mac, why the hell don’t ya sue em?”

“I have so much to be grateful for Rich,” he replied, “let’s see what happens after these next tests tomorrow eh!”

The friends looked puzzled to a one.

“Mac’s got an appointment for another lot of tests tomorrow,” Margaret explained.

“A rerun,” Mac added.

“Then what?” Ben asked beckoning for them all to drink up so he could buy the next round in.

Sue and Jane were much of the same opinion as their partners and took the time to gather a feminine perspective of the debacle. Altogether it was a welcome relief for Mac until that was the group began to be slavered over by two inevitable hungry reporters. Suddenly the evening looked like turning nasty. Mac found it easy to keep his temper but Margaret did not.

Neither did Richard. “Why don’t you just piss off and leave my friends in peace.” he hissed. With pursed lips and straight square shoulders he banged a fist down on the bar top. His words although strong ones, were delivered awkwardly but forceful nevertheless from someone obviously not so used to verbal argument.

The reporters acted as though nothing had been said and pushed passed into the middle of their party.”

One of them piped up a request. “We just need a quote or two if that’s ok Mr Hamilton?”

Ben looked as though he was about to take a swing of his arm at this intruder until Mac raised a hand in the favour of a peaceful compromises instead.

“Don’t worry Ben,” he added, “Just leave em to it. I don’t think they have any feelings, even good or bad.” He laughed as he spoke.

The rudeness continued a few more minutes so not to add more fuel to the fire the pair of them left the premises to their friends and the journalists now in some argument over privacy of the individual and press standards and headed off.

“At least it got em off our backs Margaret joked on the path across the fields to the crag, the crag where Mac had first made home in ‘this neck of the woods’ as Margaret put it. She was rubbing his fingers through hers as they walked. He knew what it meant and what she was about. But not long after enjoying the seclusion and before any event began they were interrupted by a very tenacious reporter who must have stalked them along the trail certain he was the one to break them down if he kept up. Unfortunately he did not know the terrain like Margaret so he ended up with his ankles in water, falling over sideways into a wet and unforgiving bog. His prey were forced to laugh before leaving him to it and skipping off back up the hillside like a pair of lovesick teenagers out on a first date.

Once home though the magic spell was broken. Walt was sat at the kitchen table, head in hands. Dried tracks of tears outlined his protruding cheek bones, a salty reminder running from two sunken eye sockets to his thin and pale upper lip.

Margaret was devastated at the sorrowful sight. “What’s the matter Dad?” Her voice was a whimper.

Walt said nothing.

Mac squeezed Margaret’s hand and beckoned to leave her alone with her father for a while.

Walt caught sight of his concern and care. “No, don’t go Mac. There’s nowt to hide from thee lad. Fact is ya ought be here perhaps.”

“If I can help Walt, in any way.”

“There’s nowt anyone can do.” Illness went through Mac’s thoughts once again. “Truth is I’ve bin more than a bit daft, stupid in fact.” Had he been poorly for a while, not told anyone, not even his phycision. “Truth is I’ve bin duped, cums a bin greedy, thinking I could make a mint o’ money for thee lass.”

Margaret looked less concerned now. If it was only about money then that seemed to have eased her mind somewhat. She had not spoken to Mac about her worry but he knew she must have been thinking the same as him. “What can be so bad to put you in this state Dad?” she asked.

Again Walt kept quiet, twisting his bony fingers about one another whilst pondering on an answer. It gradually came out on a breath that could have been his last gasp at life. “I’ve bin conned, out of a lot a money.”

Margaret sat down beside him. “That’s not like you Dad, your always so careful. Are ya sure.”

“I’m sure lass. Bastards have took it all.”

“Took what tho, how much ya talking about?”

“Enuf!”

“And you sure it can’t be got back.”

“Yep. An yon solicitor reckons on same an’ all.”

Mac’s eyes lit up. His expression caught Margaret’s attention. She returned the understanding silently. “So go on then, it can’t be all that bad. How much you talking about? Not that it bothers me Dad. It’s your money after all.”

“It were t’be your’n tho.”

“Well what I never had…..”

“Fifty thousand!” Walt’s head returned back to the support of his hands.

Now Margaret’s eyes lit up. “Fifty thousand, but how?” Mac did a quick calculation. Fifty thousand was a large sum of wealth to lose if that is what Walt had done.

“I were called bout a year ago be a firm offering investment in shares of Chinese companies. All t’papers said China were on t’up.”

“And ya looked into it?”

“Yes. Ya know I’m not so stupid lass, I’ve always bin careful afore.”

“And made a bit too Dad, so maybe ya wrong. If you’ve bin careful then maybe it’ll be ok.”

“No. For certain it’s a scam I tell ya. I’ve bin duped. Bastards kept me dangling and I kept given.”

Mac tried to offer some comfort even though he did not completely understand what had gone on. He attempted an offer of a solution. “If it is what you say Walt then surely the police will recover the money.”

“They’ll a t’find em first tho. They’ve gone to ground that’s f’sure, I canna find hide na hair of em a t’moment.”

“Let me see the papers Dad, I’ll take a look. They’ll be something to do I’m sure.”

It was all a mystery to Mac, though he pretended to agree with every one of Margaret’s suggestions as she poured over one document after the other. Share prices and investments, capital and profit made no sense to him whatsoever but the outcome did. Walt had given money after money in an attempt to receive more back in return, a common practice by all accounts except this attempt had been a non starter from the word go. It was all worthless. In fact from what he could gather there was no company to invest in at all, Walt’s money had been syphoned off and taken by the unscrupulous individuals who had somehow made contact with him many months ago.

The two farmers were helpless to act, and it showed in their faces. Pale and forlorn the gravity of the situation had now spread from father to daughter. There was no avenue open to them yet to retrieve the stolen wealth by all accounts. Until the authorities had investigated the ‘con’, as Margaret described it, fully, there could be no comeback and perhaps even none after the investigations were concluded.

If they looked helpless, Mac felt it ten fold. To be privy to such a catastrophe both upset and angered him. He resolved to try and do something about it. What that would be was without his knowledge at the present but if it were at all in his power resolve it he would. No one was going to upset the people he cared for, loved and get away with it, especially when they had been so kind to him.

Pause, for concern

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.

Rep

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 started to grumble, “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.

Life’s a hoot.

Saturday evening came around very quickly, and brought with it Nigel Tyas. As he took to the open door and ventured inside the extraordinarily warm hallway an owl told of its perch high up in the old oak down the lane. Mac wondered what this journalist thought of the shabby vestibule in leu of the fact that just through the next doorway was the splendid lounge to where he was now walking, treading cautiously so has not to kick up the ragged linoleum.

The owl called again as Mac closed out the cold night. He knew of this owl, and of their kind in general. Cailleach, the veiled one, the wise old woman, last embodiment of the trilogy, crone; coileach-oidhche, night-cockerel, a guide to the Underworld, a creature of keen sight in darkness, and a silent and swift hunter. He knew her endeavour too. She came to him as a helping, in unmasking those who would deceive or take advantage of him. Was that why she was here tonight, as a warning. Was she a bringer of some dreamt message? This creature of mystical wisdom, knowing ancient knowledge belonging the powers of the moon, her wide-open, all-seeing eyes look upon reality without distortion and acknowledge it. She is aware, and with her magic can make changes. All this he knew.

Another hoot from outside, a little louder this time as the journalist took hold of a welcome mug of tea and began. He was different in his approach to the time before. More questioning, more serious. Why did Mac not know where he came from, was he hiding something? What possible explanation could there be for the lab results? An altogether more different an approach than the one just seeking a story. Mac could only reaffirm his bewilderment and proffered no reason why the tests should come back as reported other than mistaken or mishandled data.

Hoot hoot again. Was she telling of something. Mac thought for a moment. She can see that which others cannot, he knew that, the essence of true wisdom belonged her. Where others are deceived, Owl sees and knows what is there.

Nigel Tyas took a sip of the warming drink as he thought for a moment. He looked pensive, ill at ease with the company he kept, or was it that the cold night air had taken away the usual ruddy complexion out of his face making his aquiline features appear almost ghost like against his curly dark mop of hair.

He had a theory to tell he began, and one he tried to explain, but struggled in blurting it out with some difficulty of an uneasy delivery, one not becoming the reporter. He held an idea, he told them, one given by the hospital source, not his own he took pains to emphasise, an outlandish suggestion that Mac had been manipulated somehow, that he was an experiment gone awry, a scientific experiment, having his genes altered for some purpose or another.

Mac interrupted the journalists now more easy flowing words with a belly laugh that echoed around the plain whitewashed walls of the little farmhouse on the hill, an abode insignificant in its position within the great scheme of things, but more relevant at this moment than could ever be imagined. That was the thought that came to Mac’s mind’s eye at any rate. Nigel Tyas however remained quite still with a look of deadly seriousness on his face. Out of the fire an ember spit from a log and made the edge of the hearth. Walt leaned forward and slowly picked up the spark with the brass tongues from out the wood scuttle.

An exchange of disbelief and unwarranted argument followed for a minute or two, both men trying to gain an upper hand on the way to take the story forward, neither knowing what direction would be the best or how quickly to run. Nigel thought the news could make the story fly away and bring in more celebrity, Mac felt the idea needed playing down, but what did he care anyway he reminded himself.

Finally, and after sitting silently for quite some time, staring into the back of the roaring fire, listening but not speaking a word, Walt went back on his promise.

“Av ne’er heard as much frickin bullshit in all me born days fella. Tha wants the head looking at coming ere wi that dribble. Call yasen a journalist. Ya nowt but a snake crawled out yon gutter in t’lane!”

Nigel Tyas had not taken to a seat yet, even after the ten minutes he had been there. Perhaps he thought it beneficial to be in a standing position, at the ready for a hasty departure. Anyway, in preparation or not there he stood, arms folded and bolt upright in an attempt to look taller than his five foot stature though the vitriol just dispensed had put paid to all that effort. Taking a slow inhale of breath he tried to reaffirm his position within the group.

“You have to realise Mac, if this story breaks elsewhere we have lost the momentum. If some other publication get the wind of it then we’re screwed, I can’t control what’ll be put out if we don’t write it ourselves.”

Mac complained. “I’m not sure anymore, I feel betrayed somehow, I don’t know who by though.”

“Look Mac, you have to agree that this weeks been a success, the money’s rolling in isn’t it?”

Mac needed a defence. “It’s not about the….”

“But it helps, c’mon. You might never get all your memory back who knows…”

Margaret interrupted. “Don’t say that Nigel, that’s not going to help,”

“And there’s no one coming out the woodwork to claim you so far. You have to admit that’s a little strange!”

“What are you trying to say?” Mac stood to his feet now.

Nigel Tyas unfolded his arms and lolled slightly to one side. “I’m not trying to say anything Mac.” Was he on the retreat. “That’s your decision. What is said, reported, is totally your decision.” Why did he always sound so convincing, sympathetic. Had Mac misjudged him. What did it matter anyway in the end. “Why don’t we run with the leak, it’ll give you more exposure, more money as well, and why don’t you ask for a new dna analysis at another facility on the grounds that these present results are obviously flawed.”

That would buy him the time he needed. “Can I do that?”

Margaret smiled, the first time she had done so since Nigel Tyas had arrived. “Well this hospital doesn’t seem to know what it’s doin,” she added, coming to his aid. “Why shouldn’t you?”

Nigel Tyas finally took to an end portion of the settee and began typing on his own tablet device. “So we’ll go with the angle that this lab believe you to have an unusual genetic makeup but you want a fresh result sequence from another source. How’s that?”

“And what slant will you put on it?” Margaret asked.

“Well if Mac agrees I’d like to go with an injustice kind of angle. A why does this poor man who has gone through so much have to put up with the idiotic notion that he is not of this world when he is clearly adrift and in need of compassion and not ridicule. Sound good?” He was beaming a smile from ear to ear.

“N that’s what them’s saying?” Walt jumped into the conversation again. “Mac’s not from this world. Av they got nowt frickin better to do than strike a man when he’s down. The bastards.”

“We’ll prove em to be failing in their work,” the journalist went on.

“An sue em,” Walt added, spitting the words from out his mouth. “Sue the frickin bastards.” As he spoke he brought his bony arm and hand down with a thump on the chair arm.

Nigel looked to Mac, then to Margaret then back to Mac. The two of them glanced at each other and without saying a word nodded an agreement of the story to be written, and with that Nigel Tyas took the opportunity to begin quickly fashioning his latest article explaining the finish if it was urgently needed before he left them so it could go to press.

Mac caught a fleeting glimpse out of the lounge window, the owl, off on the hunt, silent and deadly in her execution of flight. Her work with him was done and she had seen her prey.

Rice pudding and lamb.

Dinner talk that evening was centred around the news article Nigel Tyas was to write, though the lamb hotpot held more attention for Mac than the subject matter to begin with. Also with just over a week to go until the membranes touched the agony of preparing Margaret for his imminent disappearance still weighed heavy around his shoulders, a millstone about his neck, and the nearer the date came the heavier it was becoming. What could he do or say to make her understand? Or should he just go and never return? The dilemma, returned again, raising its ugly presence, bothering him beyond belief, beyond relief. It had been at the back of his mind the last few days with all the excitement of the chase, the news coverage and all. But here it was again. What was he to do? So much needed his attention it was becoming more and more of a strain to keep up all the plates.

“He’s definitely after the love angle,” Margaret went on, reiterating her point made earlier.

“Don’t ya let on at all, d’yer hear me the pair n ya?”

The stew was slipping down a treat, and the conversation too, though Mac kept wandering out of the moment and into another.

The bracelet Aunt Bessie spoke about, was that an actual fact or just part of his dream? If it was a certainty then he would be back, of that there was no question, or at least that was the way his mind was heading for the present.

Margaret, sat just across the table from him, her back to the range, sat looking over at him with those come to bed eyes, a mouth which always seemed to be pouting, open slightly, her two full lips quivering with the invitation they held. She was so beautiful a woman, his own wife in differing form, and needed to be treated as such. She deserved more than being left high and dry.

Suddenly Walt choked on a piece of gristle, coughed it up and removed it carefully with his fork. His pale complexion coloured up under the effort.

“That were a bit polite for you pops,” Margaret said jokingly. “Times gone by you’d’ve spit that on ya plate.”

Walt’s face of thin skin wrinkled up as he raised both corners of his mouth in a smile. “Times gone by I would lass, yeh.”

Margaret extended her smile to Mac. He knew its meaning.

The brown earthenware pot taking pride of place at the centre of the table rattled an empty tone. Walt was after the final remnants he thought it held. Mac had beaten him to it at the last ladleful removed a minute ago.

“So when ya gonna ask yon reporter back then?” The elder went on. He had shifted his attention on to the larger bowl of rice pudding, determined to be the first into the steaming desert. His spoon cut through the brown milk skin with a crack as he took a large portion into his same bowl, the one used for his main course. A wry expression of ‘could not care less’ visited his face. Actually, neither of the youngsters did, care anything about his antics. Even Mac was used to the elders idiosyncrasies by now. “I’ll even keep me mouth shut this time,” he went on. “Not complicate matters like t’last time he came.” Whether there was any truth in that sentence would remain to be seen.

“We’ll have him over tomorrow sometime if you like, I’ll finish the potatoes off then meet him back here if that’s ok.”

Margaret swallowed a spoonful of hot pudding quickly and interrupted before Walt could pass judgement on the lack of a full days farming. “Of course it is.” She looked to her father for his approval.

She need not have worried. He passed a hand across the kitchen table, tapped the back of Mac’s hand a couple of times and nodded in agreement. “Ya do what ya thinks best lad, tha does a fine job and deserves all t’gud fortune tha can get.”

The pink handset, in Mac’s shirt pocket, it was vibrating. It stopped him in mid spoonful. Margaret and Walt was here with him. The only other person with his number was Nigel Tyas. Fumbling around to take the handheld out it dropped into his own bowl of milk pudding, much to the amusement of the two Helliwell’s. Margaret lost a little of her desert in laughing, leaving a tell tale trace running down to her chin which she wiped off unceremoniously.

The contents of the crockery burnt his fingers a little as he rescued the phone, but the handset had stopped vibrating in the meantime. Wiping it clean Mac looked to the identity of the caller. Sure enough it was who he had thought. The phone started up once again.

“It’s Nigel Tyas.”

“Go on then Mac, take it,” Margaret exclaimed excitedly, “it’ll not answer itself.”

“Hello! Nigel?” Mac listened for the reply then more than that, much more than that. Listening intently to what Nigel Tyas had to say he stayed quiet for quite a while, nodding and murmuring every now and then, a ‘yeh’ here and an ‘ok’ there, all the time the wrinkles on his brow deepening with concern. “Right, well I can’t explain it either,” he finally said, interrupting the journalists flow, “I don’t have an explanation.”

More seconds passed, all the time him listening some more, nodding his head as he did so, and pursing his lips now, then biting at the lower one slightly, all the time a fixed stare off into the corner of the kitchen towards the zinc bucket of a coal scuttle, a stare of disbelief into nowhere as whatever the journalist had to say was being understood.

Margaret held onto his free hand. His face had lost some colour, quite a feat in the warming heat of the farmhouse kitchen. Something was upsetting him. Finally he agreed on tomorrow’s meeting, bid an exasperated farewell and closed the lid of the phone firmly shut with a snap of its hinge.

Margaret asked the obvious. “What’s up love?” He thought quietly for a moment and made no attempt at an answer. “No one come forward?” she continued.

“No, it’s not that.” He paused a moment. “Nigel says he’s had a contact with the lab doing my tests.” Silence again.

“And, what can be done?”

“Nothing, it’s not that. Somebody’s been in touch with him. Telling him what a strange dna makeup I have.”

“We knew that already, so did the journalists, so what does he mean exactly?” Margaret squeezed his hand.

“They keep saying that my dna is unusual, in fact it’s quite alien, out of this world. Those are Nigel Tyas’ words not mine.”

“But the lab can’t release that sort of information.” Margaret looked perplexed now and tapped her spoon on the table in annoyance.

“I know that but it looks like they have. Someone from inside the lab, not the doctors, but someone from inside the lab has.” Mac went quiet again, took a deep intake of breath then put his case forward. “It could be that Nigel Tyas has had wind of this for some time and as been leading me on. He’s found out before he even approached me and all his dealings towards us have been a ruse.”

Walt interrupted. “What does tha mean by that lad?”

Mac retraced his thoughts quickly. “I don’t know what I mean really Walt. Maybe he’s after a bigger story. With my apparent genetic makeup I should be the easiest person on the planet to track down, but yet there’s no record of me anywhere. Even I think that’s strange don’t you?”

“So what’s Nigel Tyas suggesting?” Margaret asked.

“He’s suggesting that according to this leak from inside the lab…….the source explained to him….that I am a very, very strange individual.”

“And what’s he going to do with that information?”

“He wants my slant on it first he says. He’s coming over tomorrow.”

The two farmers looked sympathetically at him, each showing the care they felt for his predicament. True care, friendly support in time of need. Would this be the time? To come clean. Tell them what he was, who he was. Was it time? He was just about to take the plunge when Margaret came to his rescue and made the decision for him.

“They’ll be a perfectly good explanation for it,” she said, finishing off her bowl of rice with a scrape of her spoon around what was already an empty bowl. “You wait n see, it’ll all come out in the wash, you’ll see.”

Walt nodded in agreement. “Let em think what they want lad. Sod the lot of em that’s what I say.”

With that Walt stood up. As far as he was concerned there was no need for any further worry on the matter. He left the kitchen to take up his place in the lounge for his evening entertainment, television.

Margaret said she needed to finish up in the milking parlour. So with a promising kiss on her lovers lips she left him to ponder, reassuring him again that everything was bound to turn out alright in the end. If only she knew. He watched her make for the hallway door. When there she turned around and blew him another kiss.

After tidying the pots Mac found himself back across in the annexe, with a chance to update his diary. It was the first one for some days. Margaret was in attendance somewhere most of the time, and not wanting her to see the handheld of his own it was always hidden safe in its secret place. Lying on the bed with a weather eye on the gap at the bottom of the outside door he began, slowly at first. He knew he was safe to record for the moment. When Margaret came up the outside stairs the spot light would come on.

“I think they’re onto me Sal.”

For a few minutes he reported on the dinner time revelation of Nigel Tyas being careful to keep his voice down to a whisper, not that anyone would here but still he did so.

“I can’t wait to get back Sal, and it may be just in the nick of time. There’s some other things to say too that’ve got to be added, stories about this place. Where to begin there’s so much.” He stared at the bottom of the door again, no one was outside.

“There are schools here Sal…….which are classed as in special measures……” He had to think for a moment. “This means that the level of teaching and education students get is not satisfactory within that school. How sad is that Sal? …….. And hospitals that are said to be failing in the level of care they give…….Level of care Sal, level! How can hospital care be measured by a level?……… Certain hospitals have a lot of patients die under treatment when in there…… and some now even disguise this figure by claiming the deaths to be caused by septicaemia……… which needs no reporting as a cause for these criteria…… How can a world function like this Sal? It’s ridiculous.”

He paused to take a well earned breath then continued. “Something else, less serious but still shameful…. Ben, a friends of mine here.” Better not mention Margaret being his friend. “Well he travelled into town the other day, and his car went over a huge pot hole in the road……because the road has not been maintained properly by the council. The impact bursts both his tyres on the passenger side of his car and broke some of the suspension and driving mechanism too. He had to change one tyre then drive a mile on the other flat one to the nearest garage to get two new ones put on……..Ben’s now claiming against the local council for £500! How stupid is that Sal. Why not just keep the roads in good condition.”

Another breath. He was on a roll now. “There is corruption and sleaze throughout this country let me tell ya Sal……with politicians accused of sexual harassment towards woman…… well known entertainers who have been molesting children for decades and decades, yes molesting children sexually. It was a shock to me when I read about it. I have access to the source of a kind now here Sal, so can keep up with news items. Not that it makes good reading let me tell ya. And get this Sal, clergy have been doing the same, molesting children, the clergy. Priests, bishops, cardinals as they’re called. It’s not our deity Sal I told you before, but there’s no excuse for what’s been happening …….and no one seems to have been bothered. It’s been going on for years.”

Footsteps outside in the yard, slow ones though. Mac took a look out the window and waved to Walt making his way across the lamplit yard to the woodpile. He jumped back onto the bed.

“Energy prices,” he went on, “wow! that’s something else Sal……… The electricity and gas companies make huge profits. And get this, they then charge the consumers more on their payments for the infrastructure the companies need to upgrade. It does not come out of their own profits, they charge the consumers more to allow the company to renew the infrastructure and services. With every aspect of life Sal everyone blames someone else for everything let me tell ya…….nobody, but nobody will stand up and be counted…..no one will say enough is enough, it’s ridiculous…..Rant over.”

Just in time too. Margaret was talking to her dad as she passed him on her way to their bedroom. Quickly Mac returned the handheld and pretended to be asleep on the bed.

Cel be rit y

Margaret was sat on the edge of the bed, as large as life and twice as effervescent. Her lithe body was outlined within the white shift she wore, the material rendered almost transparent courtesy of the new day coming through the open curtains. Mac moved across the bed and wrapped his arms around her. On her lap was a new handheld, a tablet device she called it. She had only took delivery a day or so ago but already the pair of them had run its battery down several times. Margaret wriggled with the attention given her and turned her head to start their day off with a kiss. “He’s sent us the article to look at,” she explained.

Turning to sit cross legged on top of the black duvet she reminded him of one of those monochrome photographs Walt had shown him that Sunday afternoon. Her long dark hair falling about both shoulders set off not only her pale face but the white garment she wore as well. To add emphasis the black duvet set her apart as the focus of attention within the bare room of plain walls and wooden floor. Mac smiled at her. It was a smile for just being there for him, there when he awoke every dawn of late, always happy and loving, just there for him and that meant everything at the moment, his Sal in this world she was all that kept him from falling over the edge.

She began to read the piece out aloud. At first it was all Nigel Tyas had promised, and more importantly what they had hoped for, Mac in particularly. A story of concern, Mac’s concern, for a life lost somewhere, nobody knew where, a story of loved ones left wondering where their family member had gone to. Fuelled by an anticipation that searchers and searched would soon be reunited once this report hit home it ran very well but ever so slightly alongside the main core of it, as Margaret read on, Mac listening intently, seemed to be a hint of concern around why no one had actually come forward already. Why had he not yet been claimed. It was hinted at several times, not in as many words but the inference was there all the same and Mac picked up on it. Margaret seemed not to. An ever so slight suggestion of him being a loner, in his life before and still now, and the use of two words especially bothered him, ‘unique individual’, making him wonder if he was not the only party Mr Tyas had been in touch with prior to writing his piece, and if indeed the journalist could possibly have a slightly differing agenda to the one he purported.

“The photo’s a gud un,” Margaret quipped on finishing the read and handing him over the tablet. It was the one taken of them both stood at the farmhouse door, framed by the entrance to his sanctuary and rescue. There was an inset to one side of this main picture, a blown up portrait of the man himself, this unique individual, and one in more ways than this world could ever understand.

A quick reread on his part and they both agreed that the journalist had done his job so handing back the tablet Margaret replied positively to the invitation to print. She hit the send button just as Walt’s voice shouted across to them with his invite to breakfast.

And that was how it had all finally started, kicked off. The frenzy. Difficult to say thinking back, so much had already gone off, even though it was only a week or so ago, whether or not the article was the catalyst, there had been that slight attention beforehand of course, but coincidence or not that cooked breakfast marked a divide.

Sat on a more than blue, fake leather couch, awaiting further airtime while something called a commercial break was taking precedence over his own interview, and watching the square screen of an auto cue, now still, showing the paragraphs from the presenters last question it was hard to imagine that just over one week had passed since that first national broadcast, but here he was a celebrity of sorts. The initial local radio station interview seemed an eternity away now too, poles apart from this intrusive brightness and the makeup, off all things the make up, put on his face, the heat from the intense lighting and the hustle and bustle of the studio floor irritated him the most.

Huge cameras, three of them, cumbersome articles on wheels but almost rooted to the shiny grey floor with their weight, poked lenses his way, all seeing eyes desperate to capture the very essence of his soul. Laughingly, the makeup department had been to work on his hair too, brushing it in a cascade that now framed his face. Powder puff over his healthy complexion ensured no reflections on camera. He never took much notice of his appearance if the truth be told but here in this artificial world of half truths and false friendships beauty was everything.

Nigel Tyas’ national newspaper campaign had quickly taken on a life all of its own after the article hit the streets and grown out of all proportion, all proportion whatsoever. Infant, junior, teenager and adult all in the space of ten days. Ten days. Two hundred and forty hours or so, give or take a few, not that he was counting. Well actually he was, though not for any reason the wavy haired presenter with bushy blonde eyebrows that met above his nose was aware of. A man trying not to act his age, and seriously not succeeding, the well fed anchorman sat two cushions apart from Mac and dithered with his tweed jacket buttons, first fastening them then undoing them, straightening his pale pink stripe shirt then tucking it firmly into a pair of pale blue jeans. No belt? That seemed odd for a start off. Why would a man not wear a belt to hold up his trousers, and why was he so much on edge when not on air and quite the opposite when the camera was rolling.

Mac forced a smile at him, it was what his agent had told him to do. Yes, he even had an agent to manage his affairs now, courtesy again of Nigel Tyas, a ‘readily available at the drop of a hat kind of a guy’, his agents own words, ‘ready to make cash from crumbs’, his words again. Mac did not need to force any smile, they were very easily forthcoming, and all of their own fruition.

Not two weeks. Not long at all. But so much had happened, except the obvious. No one had come forward, and after all the media exposure as well. Mid day news programmes, afternoon magazine hours, both television and radio, every one wanted a piece of him, to be in on the act, his act, though none of them knew the truth behind the charade. Not yet. The professors had kept themselves quiet too. No contact or any invitation back to see them. What were they about? He truly was the ‘man with a mystery’, this the title given him on his introduction to the breakfast show now again going out live to the nation. A woman’s hand suddenly appeared from over his shoulder making him jump slightly. She struggled to pin the small microphone back to his coffee coloured corduroy shirt, it had fallen off in the break and Mac had not noticed. The perfume she was wearing overpowered him for a moment but by the time he realised what was happening she was gone again.

“So why has there been no one coming forward?” The programme was back up and running, the presenter asking that question once again.

Mac stole himself away from his meandering thoughts and rejoined the discussion. “If I knew that there’d be no need of me sat here Frank.”

Frank smiled sympathetically back at his guest. “We touched on your life since losing your memory Mac, can you add anything to what you’ve already told us?”

“This sort of stuff does not feel like me to be honest Frank, that much I believe to be true…”

“All the attention?”

“Yeh! But don’t get me wrong, I’m truly grateful for all the help offered me but what goes with it……. well if it helps me find my home then it’ll be all worth it.”

“It makes you feel uncomfortable?”

“Doesn’t sit right with me at all, I feel like I’m going to wake up any moment and it all be a dream.” Mac smiled again.

Frank shuffled a little from one cheek to the next while taking direction. “A lot of people, and I mean a lot of people are interested in your story Mac I can tell you. They all want to help I’m sure but I suppose all you want is your actual family members to come forward. Have you no recollection at all….”

Mac interrupted. He knew the rest of the question. Camera two came on line and looked towards him. “Not really, I can’t add any more than I’ve told everyone so far. A farm, Mum and Dad I suppose, I don’t know if I’ve even a brother or sister.”

“Now, it has been suggested Mac, that they may be out of the country. Maybe their away on holiday or something?”

“I couldn’t tell you Frank, I just haven’t got a clue.”

The words rolled over on the auto cue under camera one. “You’re scheduled to meet up with some important people today I understand?”

“Well I was.” Mac paused momentarily. “I was supposed to be seeing the Prime Minister, and just before I got out the taxi this morning, on my way up here, I received a call that the meeting had been dropped.” The way the conversation had gone still bothered him but he tried not to show it and just shrugged his shoulders.

“Any explanation for why?”

“No, just a sorry and they’ll be in touch.” The conversation had gone quite the opposite actually with no intimation of any future date.

“So what’s this week been like for you, since your story broke?”

Mac thought for a moment, put the phone call out of mind and tried to put other things into perspective. “Crazy I would say.” The money was helping though. “I was even recognised by the taxi driver bringing me here from the station this morning. On the train I was asked for my autograph many times, to write it on peoples magazines which had my photo in them, others had diaries, notepads, anything they had on them and some even used napkins from the buffet car. It’s all a bit crazy.” Margaret and Walt though, they were the ones he was doing all this for. A local bank manager had rushed through his application for an account asking his permission to advertise the fact, though that had not hit the media yet.
“It’s all a bit overwhelming, I mean photographers keep popping up in the most unlikely of places, just to snap me eating a bacon sandwich in a cafe or visit a charity shop in town with Margaret. Why would that be of any interest to anyone?”

Frank ignored the obvious answer. “And, you mentioned Margaret, she must have been a great help for you since you two met?”

“Margaret’s been a pillar of strength I can tell you. I don’t know where I’d be without her, and Walt her father also. If it wasn’t for them………”

“It has been said, and I’m sure you are aware…..” Frank finally went on the offensive, “that you are ‘a catch’ to quote one woman’s magazine. That bashful charm and juvenile, some describe as little boy lost face, if you don’t mind me quoting, has caught the eye of many of the ladies.”

Mac laughed. “Little boy lost, yes, one title in the week did describe me as that, both in appearance and life……”

“So it goes without saying really you will have someone back in your former life.” Was Frank trying to be helpful, not suggestive, offering some hope of sorts. “I’m sure that person will come forward.” He shuffled again crossing one leg over the other as he turned to face Mac more directly, his arm disappearing over the back of the couch. Now the twist to his approach was delivered. “So I am sure happiness and love will find you.” The intonation in the last few words was on a rise in pitch.

Mac knew what was being suggested but pretended he did not, and rolling his eyes down a little answered. “Well who knows what the future will bring Frank.” Always leave them wanting more had been the final instruction from his agent, never give up everything and always keep them guessing.

The interview was about to finish, the presenter was being asked to wind up courtesy of a hand gesture from a man on the studio floor the far side of the cameras.

“Well that’s where we’ll have to leave it I’m afraid Mac” Frank said almost apologetically. “We’ll all keep wishing you a speedy recovery and I hope it’s not too long before everything works out.”

“Thanks for the opportunity.” Mac was about to say a thank you for all the hospitality as well but Frank was already onto the next topic of the running order while out of camera shot he was being ushered off the couch by the same lady who had adjusted his microphone earlier. The perfume gave her away, the playful scent catching the back of his throat again was a perfect match for her bubbly personality and efficient manner, though the high heels she wore threw her tall slim frame bejewelled in shimmering silk off centre slightly as she tried to walk upright and business like.

She escorted him to the studio door and wished him a very good day and quick resolve to his problems and with that he was on his own, the heavy studio door shut in front of him, his only option now to make a way out the building and find the best route home to peace and quiet. The city was too noisy a place for him anyway, he hated the hustle and bustle of it all completely.

Eight interviews in nearly as many days, most of them only a cockstride away from town so not interfering with the farm work and for the most part thankfully his tasks had not suffered. The last thing he wanted was to let Walt down, after all if it had not been for him goodness knows what would have been his future. This one today had been a lot further to travel though, to the city, and with Margaret occupied around the parlour he had taken the local public transport.

The train carriage home held no other passenger for the moment. He was on his own, blissfully alone and at peace with himself. He had not been offered that luxury for many a day. Taking out his own handheld he moved seats and secreted himself in one corner of the carriage, took a few photographs and started a diary entry.

“Sal, if you could only see this train, and hopefully in another ten days you will I hope love, it’s so past it, shabby, torn cushions and stained furniture. It ambles along at about fifty miles an hour, on a track that rocks the whole carriage from side to side, a thumping noise from underneath, clickety clicking as the wheels roll along. It’s like, do you remember those archive films we were laughing at, those videos taken long before the last push, the steam trains an all, well this train is just one step up from……”

He had to stop talking. The dividing door of the carriage was being slid apart. The device went out of sight.

“Tickets please!” A uniformed guard eyed him straight away. “Can I see your ticket please?”

Mac obliged and produced his day return, paid for by the television station, as had been his taxi fares for that matter. He had not had to pay a penny towards any of his travel arrangements of late, ‘all part of the perks of celebrity’ his agent had disclosed on their second or third telephone conversation. The guard punched the ticket, returned it and went on his way.

“You have to produce a paper ticket Sal, to travel. It’s so surreal,” he continued with the diary. “And the carriage, it’s empty. Now I know we don’t travel much back home, try to keep journeys to a minimum but I can see from the windows lots of cars in traffic jams, that’s what they call em here, traffic jams, just lined up nose to tail in queues on the roads. Makes no sense at all.”

The corrugated dividing door slid open again. This time another passenger. One who had travelled in on the same train as him earlier that morning. A smartly turned out individual of thinning ginger hair combed over from left to right and a gingerish beard to match. It had been the long grey coat he wore, single breasted with small lapels that had caught Macs attention, a smart cut tailored overcoat a little too warm for the weather he remembered thinking, but everyone to their own and anyway who was he to criticise with his fashion sense. His own grey checked coat and tan trousers would not be everyones choice of attire he was sure. If he was not also mistaken, this same individual had been outside the cafe he had visited in the city wanting to buy a bacon sandwich just before the interview having missed Walt’s breakfast. He had had to set off so early this morning. Mac smiled inwardly. Perhaps this man had been to the same television centre to give an interview of his own. How much of a coincidence would that be. He thought of making conversation but the man never caught his eye and the long strides he took told of a more pressing business. Within ten or fifteen paces he was out through the other divide and away.

Mac sneaked the handheld back out and continued. “The experience through the portal still keeps bothering me as well Sal. There was a fiery sun the size of fifty of ours at one point. It covered the whole of the horizon and was blisteringly hot. Was it a warning or something? It’s kinda been on my mind since I saw it.” When he paused the handheld stopped recording. For a while he was back at the bridge staring at that huge ball of a sun, a giant of a star ready to burst and engulf the planet it had so long nurtured. Under the bridge he stayed, for a while at any rate, the lullaby of the railway track and heat in the carriage bringing on a slumber that threatened to betray his task in hand if anyone else came by, but his arms were so heavy with delight that he could not even be bothered to raise them from off his lap and put the device away. A yawn sent him to stare more on the bridge and its contents, clickety click, clickety click, the beating heart of the train carrying its cargo ranged back towards the countryside leaving behind in its wake the urban sprawl of concrete and metal. Clickety click, clickety click, Mac meanwhile was adrift.

A vibrating in his trouser pocket announced an incoming call on the other pink handset awakening him with a start. It was Nigel Tyas. Just in time too. The station before his stop was just passing as he took the call.

Quickly he composed his thoughts. “Nigel. How are you?”

“Just calling to say the interview looked good.”

“You watched it?”

“Yeh! Listen, I’d like to do a follow up, a special in the Sunday edition this weekend. What d’ya think?”

“Ok by me Nigel, d’ya want another interview?”

“Yeh! ……..some more pics too please……….”

The signal jumped in and out making any more conversation difficult. Mac shouted a final exchange. “I can’t hear you, Ok! I’ll call ya later when I get home, I’ll call Tim too.” Tim was the name of his agent. If the money was to keep rolling in he needed to keep him informed.

The train pulled up at Mac’s stop, the doors opened and he alighted just as the rain began to fall. Not that it bothered him. It was quite refreshing actually, made more so by the much better scenery all around him compared with when he took to the journey. He skipped his way out the station, a satisfied expression all over his face. It was all turning out fine, as did the weather, and when Margaret met him at the lane, she was off to see a neighbour, the sky had brightened once more and what remained of the afternoon looked promising. He would be able to finish irrigating the potato field.

Did Not Attend.

Margaret felt so soft, so smooth, so lovely. Laid with him in their bed, under the new black silky duvet she had bought for them, asleep in his arms she was all he wanted, needed, cared for and loved. She was perfect. In this world that was. It had made him angry again, the failure of the bridge today, but counting every blessing and now ready for sleep with a woman he loved found his eyelids heavy and his breathing regular, hypnotic.

Ever so slightly Margaret shuffled a little bringing his hand in touch with her bare breast. He cupped her flesh, feeling a beat or two from her heart before relaxing his grip. In her sleep she reached behind to hold him in her free hand. His excitement did not register to rouse her sufficiently from slumber. She was a very peaceful, deep sleeper, hardly ever moving position through any night. Except for the odd twitch or two, or a slow gradual turn from one side to the other the bed covers could remain unruffled from dark to light.

Mac however was the exact opposite. Often writhing on this side then that, legs bent then straight, an arm under the pillow then not. How Sal or Margaret never woke was a mystery. Not to say it bothered him either, these nocturnal antics, very seldom would a darkened bedroom present itself unless it was time to rise.

Should the secret be told, the twin in that other life, what good would it do if it was? The two could never meet whether or not, but doing so would ease his conscience a little. Having never encountered this emotion, this keeping of a secret, the idea being quite an alien one to him he had no experience to draw upon. Alien! That label brought on an inward facing smile in itself. He was an alien, in the true sense of the description, belonging another country, nation, unfamiliar, but also in Margaret’s case, of another world. His main dilemma at the moment however was being an alien with a secret.

All the evidence needed was on record and he was determined more than ever to make a stand, bring the family in on this and future travel. It had been easy for Aunt Bessie, she was not married in her own time, though he remembered the girls saying in that dream that she had a husband somewhere else. But certainly she had no one to let down by her absence as far as his own clan were concerned, a free spirit able to wander time under the guise of her historical research. Was that revelation of a spouse a true one he wondered.

With him it was different, totally different. People depended on him being around, Sal especially with their little one on the way. It was not anything of a monetary value, his contribution to family life, it was simply being there on hand to support and care, love and be loved in return, for being the recipient of affection was not to be overlooked either, giving love was important to every soul. Knowing love is received, and appreciated is as important to someone sharing it as to the one basking within its warm and safe waters.

Coming back had been something of an anticlimax, a none event in fact. No furore as he walked through the gaping archway, just an odd but fantastically marvellous realisation, revelation, that the railway tracks were there one moment and the next gone. No symphony of sound or visual kalaedescope, just a walk, slowly and safely back into a world lost for so many days, as if it was the most natural a pastime to be doing. Fetching bread from the supermarket had offered another attempt at the bridge, and thankfully working on the diary when Margaret came to their room after morning parlour to ask if he would be the one to go meant his handheld was in his pocket.

Walking back along the familiar pathway, new hoody but foreign flag now, who would be first met. What would be their greeting? He walked for a few minutes capturing the essence of his good fortune, pausing every so often unable to believe his luck. He was home. No one came into view. Typical. He had so much to say and not one person was at hand to listen. Still after these first few hundred yards or so of home territory it felt as if it had never ever been lost. This path, so familiar, like an artery running through his life had seen a boy and man walk its distance. Now, home at last, everything was going to be alright. Within the familiar oak tree tops the crows sang of his return, each murder calling forward to the next group of nests as the church came into view. The church, thank goodness, his own church there at last. What about the family though? He raced across to the black iron gate, his own black iron gate. It was there, as large as life and as solid as ever. The gate which in opening summoned up his return to normality.

At the top of the garden steps was a surprise. Pinned to one of the Spruce was a small laminated sign. It read ‘Welcome Home Mac’. Written with a different colour for each letter it was his first indication that Aunt Bessie had been weaving her web of intrigue. She knew, somehow she knew that today would be the day of her nephews reappearance, and as he gingerly, tip toeing almost, made the lower aspect of the garden there they all were, visible through the rhododendron bushes, sat, stood, all about the patio, patiently waiting.

Sal spotted him the first. Her eyes had been fixed to the garden path, and even with her larger figure draped in a pretty sky blue smock, was quickly up and off the bench seat as the waterwheel turned in its merry dance.

“Mac!” she squealed. All the others jumped with surprise.

“Sal!”

Now quickening his pace they met at the pink hydrangea, almost bumping into each other at the corner turn of the path. Sal threw her arms around his neck and gave him a massive hug. That together with a prolonged kiss of missed lips melted his heart and rooted him to the spot. Oh how he had longed for this moment.

What to say, that was the question? “Look at you, you’ve grown so much.” The words were so inadequate.

“Don’t worry love, it’s going to be ok.” Sal could see the torment in her husbands eyes, such a troubled expression of grief and sorrow. She quickly put his mind at rest. “C’mon we’re all waiting.”

What a homecoming, the family almost in its entirety. Mum, Dad and Sal, his sister, their grandparents from both sides, their parents too, all dressed in their meeting clothes. Best shirts and dresses, no work trousers or utilities, Mac felt underdressed for the occasion. He had missed them all so much, had not realised just how much until now. This very second it all became obvious, seeing them again brought on a degree of remorse for the time spent elsewhere. What more could have been done though, to bring this day sooner?

The dilemma rattled about a bewildered mind for a moment and teased at his conscience. What could he have done? Nothing as far as could be remembered would have made any difference. Perhaps if not taking to the farm job and trying more on the bridge? How would he have survived though, no money or suitable shelter? The guilt would not disperse no matter what spin he put on it bringing a sinking feeling to his stomach. Nevertheless the paramount fact remained, he was back now and belonging once again. This bad feeling needed ignoring. It would have to take the route it chose and wend a way into oblivion, for he was having none if it.

Belonging! That was a strange concept to handle now too. Belonging, where? He had the wherewithal at his disposal to belong absolutely anywhere he chose to. A strange concept, one worthy of more thought at a later time, because as strange as it was there was something much more so in the offing. A much stranger concept, The fact that around this welcome home feast, prepared and cooked to a perfect schedule, one in time with the moment a son, husband and father to be walked back into their lives all his family was gathered knowing his reappearance would be at this very moment.

Every one of them applauded the couples final few steps taken along the cobble stone pathway which led onto the woodworked raft of decking. Sal made way for one cuddle after another, a kiss on the cheek, one or two on the forehead, some delivered with tearful eyes, most with gaping smiles. What a homecoming indeed. All of that worry and contemplation need never have been endured. Mac could not believe his good fortune, the opposite of what he had fretted over for so long. No difficult moments, no anxious disbelieving frowns, just congratulations and celebration. Why? Because apparently, and thankfully, they all knew his secret! All of them, even his more beautiful than ever, pregnant wife, Sal, with her constant and affectionate smile worn across her freckled face. Those freckles, that smile, it spoke more than any sentence ever possibly could. A proud smile, of satisfaction and hope, love and appreciation for the man in her life returned safely into her arms.

“I imagined this would be so difficult,” he explained, picking at a piece of bacon as if he had never been anywhere.

“We still want to hear all about it,” Sal insisted. “Aunt Bessie did not have all the facts.”

‘Oh yes, Aunt Bessie! I bet she didn’t.’ The thought immediately introduced disappointment to his churning belly. What was it, this feeling? This time a suspicion towards his own Aunt, an emotion not called upon before, not needed, learned or employed in this his own world. Yet here it was, inside him, available to use. Aunt Bessie did not deserve this suspicion, surely she had been responsible for all the families peace of mind in his absence, of course she had. But she did know something else, something about that other side, something that for the time being should lay hidden, perhaps ought never come out. Maybe that was the reason for this attitude towards her. Anyhow, where was she?

Gramps continued the explanation. “It’s a new era Mac, Aunt Bessie said. This council want your acceptance so much that for the first time ever they’ve agreed to our family knowing. They say that they owe it you with the mistaken crossing an’ all.”

His mum was stood behind him. “They still don’t know how it came about Mac.” She rubbed her sons shoulders as she spoke, a massage of sorts, tender love really, a mothers love, delivered only as it could from one who had borne him.

“It was so strange, let me tell ya, not knowing what was happening. I kept a diary. Took lots of photos. You’ll never believe some of the sights, and the society, well I could only feel sorry for them most of the time.” He was excited at finally offloading the burden, the unbelievable truth of where he had been.

“Let’s see Mac,” Sal was even more so, excited. “Aunt Bessie told us a bit, but I can’t imagine it, another world, show us.”

“Your voice has a different twang to it,” dad said. “It’s a bit broader than it was.”

Mac thought of Walt. “That’s no surprise.”

He began to describe his new world, his job there and kindly boss and all the escapades that had befallen him. All except one, which he kept hold of and did not mention one hint, not one suggestion. Where was Aunt Bessie? She needed to do the same. Sal had not questioned him over her otherwordly twin and so he concluded that the dream had some days ago about the girls was just that, a dream. Aunt Bessie must keep her own council in this matter too. It looked like she already had. No one had mentioned Margaret, but he needed to meet up with Bessie very soon so as to find out just what had been disclosed. Her absence was uncomfortable, alarming.

“Where is she?” He finally plucked up the courage to ask, “our Bessie?”

“Oh you know Aunt Bessie.” Her brother spoke with humour.

“A law unto herself,” Beth added, and she should know having seen her grow up, but only of late appreciating the truth behind those lengthy absences all these past years.

Dad answered his sons question with a more direct approach. “She’s been here, there and everywhere while you’ve been off Mac I can tell you, organising this and sorting out that all in an effort to get you back home. I think it shocked em all when you disappeared so abruptly.”

“Not nearly as much as me.” Mac’s humour set a laugh to the diners, some seeing the funny side of the joke, mum and grandma taking on a more serious understanding of the emotion behind the sentence, and attaching a supportive element to his words mum stood up and gave him another hug, cradling him in her arms as if he was a teenager again.

Sal was sweeping slowly through the photos in between mouthfuls of baked beans. “It almost could be here couldn’t it, then you see something strange, what are these Mac?”

“Pylons, they carry the wires for…”

“Electricity,” Gramps interrupted. “My grandma used to tell me of em, all across the fields and vales, there was one in the lower field up to a century ago, didn’t carry any wires. She used to play on it when she was a kid, make rope swings an the like.”

“They’re all over the place, believe me, so ugly.”

“And look at the vehicles.” Sal had pushed to another few shots. “Where are they all off to?”

“It’s a traffic jam, don’t know where the jam comes into it but that’s what they call it.” Mac took another sausage and a few more mushrooms from the carrousel in the centre of the table and refilled his plate.

“Were you actually trying to cross that road then Mac, do they stop and give way?”

Mac laughed out loud, almost spitting out a piece of fry bread. “You’ve got to be joking,” he laughed, “they’re in too much of a rush to let pedestrians across.”

Sal passed the handheld to Beth. She was just as keen to see the photos and was itching to get her hands on the device. “Will you just look at that.” She was talking about the traffic still. “Fancy wasting time stuck in that.”

Sal took another scoop of beans to her plate and caught Mac’s enquiring expression. “It’s my latest fad,” she explained. “Can’t get enough of em.”

The gate at the top of the garden made its sound. The familiar clang it produced when left to close itself. Everyone looked at everyone else. Aunt Bessie must be here, there was no other expected. Mac jumped up to go and meet her before she made the lower terrace. He needed to establish what had been told to the family. Was she going to keep Margaret a secret, did she know of her any way? Up to now the two of them had only met in his dreams so maybe she knew nothing at all. As he took to the lawn another emotion took hold too. The reason for this subterfuge. Margaret. She was now in the self same position Sal had been in these past weeks. Without the man she loved and alone once again in her world. Should he feel guilty, was it his fault, his doing, ought he feel this responsible. No time to worry over it for the present for Bessie was waving both arms in his direction.

“Mac! Dear boy,” she shouted with so much love and enthusiasm that she almost lost her footing on the steps. It was Aunt Bessie’s way, to shower love on Mac and his sister, she always had done and today he needed it more than ever. Along with her excitement, dressed as she was in her finery, long, pale purple dress and hair to match, she certainly knew how to make an entrance.

Mac rushed up the garden to embrace her. “Am I glad to see you,” he whispered, “what do they all know?”

“Mac, Mac, don’t get in a tizzy! I’m so sorry I couldn’t come through to you. The membranes suffered some able energy expansion. I’ve been trying to contact you, this is the first dream I’ve been able to link with.”

Mac’s jawline dropped, his mouth gaping open. “No no no no no Bessie no. This can’t be….”

“It is dear boy. Why don’t you ever know, I can’t work that one out yet either.”

“No!” This time the word left his lips louder than ever, a much more forlorn tone to the cry too.

“Sorry Mac, the proximity dates have all been mucked about. They’ll be a touching next in three more weeks.”

“This can’t be happening Bessie, I don’t know how much more disappointment I can stomach.”

“Courage dear boy. It will pass quickly. Three weeks is no time at all in the great scheme of things, hardly a wisp.” Bessie almost mused as she spoke.

“Not when your wife is expecting your first baby,” he complained.

“I know Mac, but they are all in the picture now.”

“Are they though? Is this dream truthful Aunt?”

“Of course it is Mac, anything which transpires between you and me in any dream state is always the truth. Other interactions are imaginary but ours is truth.”

“So give me another timescale then, please,” he pleaded.

“The coming Monday, three weeks hence from that day, that is a certainty for a return, the membranes touch for you, and remain so a fortnight, this I know for sure.”

Bessie’s purple rinse began to change colour, as did her dress. Pink first, then orange, finally green. Green! What an odd shade to have your hair was all he could bring to mind as slumber left him wanting.

Margaret was tugging at his arm. “I’m off to the parlour Mac.” It was her turn this morning. “It’s six thirty love.”

Mac held tight to her hand for a moment and let out a sigh, then turned over and stretched himself all the way across their bed. Margaret smiled, though he did not see her, his face buried between the two black pillowcases as it was. He went back to grab some more sleep, thankfully able to enjoy an extra thirty odd minutes this dawning before breakfast was up. By now this agony after ecstasy was a well known device and not to give it too much authority had proven the best antidote. Another dream! He ought to have realised. Still there was now an explanation for all those failed attempts and another date for his destiny. Margaret lifted the latch and stole away quietly to tend the herd.

By the time the breakfast pots were being washed Mac was on his way. Such a beautiful early morning deserved a walk across the dew laden fields to the broken down wall that was his task today. He waved back at Walt, whose hands were delving around in the kitchen sink as he watched his workforce out the window. All across the valley a wisp of a mist identified the course of the river, covering the houses and trees alike, but not so much that they were totally obscured from sight. Here and there one or two chimneys belched into this grey adding volume to its thickness, the plumes also managing to escape its clutches and rise high above into a pale blue sky.

There was more than three weeks to go before the membranes touched, for the second time of asking if Aunt Bessie was to be believed. This ever so slowly reducing passage of days had kept him company before, and that time to no avail. Counting down though, then as now, starting all over again reminded him of Calan Mai and the excitement of waiting for that celebration to arrive in the years of his childhood, and even of late if the truth be known. This cross-quarter day, midpoint in the Sun’s progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice, its astronomical date usually around Mai the fifth to seventh was the beginning of summer proper with all the promise that brought. Longer days, shorter nights and best of all the warmest of weather. Mac took a great delight in the feasting and festival, as did the whole family, enjoying the community holiday and local fete with everyone from the town. He had thought about the date many times since his imprisonment and now knew he would not make the fertility ritual this year to be able to connect once more with the waxing power of the sun, light the fires to drive their livestock through or join the family in their sunwise dance around the embers while Mum’s oatmeal cakes toasted in the heat. Here there had been no mention of any such day, no hint of any anniversary, and the day was almost reached, he would have to embrace it the best way he could.

Joyous times of those many a year gone by joined him as he put his skills to work on the collapsed stones strewn all about. Further up the hill were a few people coming down the track. The hour was still rather too early for most but these obviously liked this peaceful time of day as much as he did. In a minute or so they would pass by the collapsed wall.

Two stones fell into place straight away, this a good omen. The rub was with him. But not with those approaching by all accounts. They seemed ill at ease with their ramble, each placing one rushed step after the other, all three of them jockeying for position to be first down the hill. They made for quite an amusing spectacle. Mac found the next few stones their correct place on the repair but could not help but keep looking back to the trio coming ever nearer. They appeared to be so out of place, not at all in tune with what the morning had to offer. Between them was no conversation, hardly a surprise, but not one of them turned to any other, almost desperate not to correspond at all by the looks of it. A long lens camera was slung around one of them, a strap around his neck supporting the device, while the other two carried smaller hardware in their hands. To complete the idiocy of the scene, the attire they wore, now made more obvious as they approached the last fifty yards or so left much to be desired for a countryside walk. Inadequate footwear was not even the half of their problem as one after the other slipped this way then that on the mud and slime rendered pathway which led across the final field. Not one of them sported a heavy coat either, truly a must for the temperature of this morning, in fact only one had any sensible clothes on at all. The other two were dressed in business suites, one dark blue, the other a plain black. What were these unusual looking gentlemen doing crossing the valley so early in the day and why in so much of a hurry.

“Mac Hammerton?” one of them finally called out, the man with the camera still strapped around his neck but now also held in both hands. The lens was pointing in Mac’s direction.

“Mr Hammerton,” another cried, “could you please say a few words for our local newspaper.”

They were now with him, and how. Like baying wolves the trio competed to attract his attention, first one, then the other.

“Are you Mac Hammerton?”

“The man who’se lost his memory?”

“Can you tell our readers what you remember?”

“Have you had any memories come back?”

“What’s it like not to know your past?”

The more questions they asked the less polite they became, especially when he did not answer. He could do nothing about the photographs being taken but declining any comment whatsoever seemed to be the sensible avenue to take at present. No answer was far better than one capable of being misquoted, manipulated, articulated for the news publications these individuals represented.

“My paper will pay you well for exclusive coverage,” the grey suited, middle aged journalist suggested, reaching an arm across the broken down wall to offer a handshake. “Bill Withers, Evening Chronicle,” he added.

Mac was having none of it and withdrew several paces on his own, comparatively safer side of the divide. The trio came no further than the boundary stones but still stood up to it shouting questions towards their prey.

“Is it true you can’t remember your family life?” This question came from the youngest of the three, a rather sickly looking twenty something, perhaps not even that age if his acne was anything to go by. His pale skin and feeble figure were accentuated even more by that cheep dark suite he wore. “If you like I could get your story published as you want it,” he went on, “they’d be plenty of money in it.”

Money kept being mentioned. They would pay for his story! Should he go along with their suggestion. Any money would certainly help Margaret and Walt to cope when or if he went.

“Do you have anything we could tell our readers Mr Hammerton?” For whatever reason this one of them, the one more sensibly dressed in adequate shoes and dark green quilted raincoat had a little better personable approach now to the proceedings. He had not been shouting quite as loud and although taking as many photographs did not appear to be as adamant to obtain the correct shot of him. “I will leave you my card,” he continued, throwing an invitation over the pennine wall of dark grey stones to land a few feet away from where Mac stood.

“I was the one who ran the story on the local radio station to try and help you,” the spotty faced youngster jumped in interrupting his senior associates flow of speech, “the police contacted our office and I brought it to air.”

Mac finally made his mind up, to put them all straight, let them know where his story was going as far as they were concerned. “At the moment I have nothing to add to what you already know, so if you don’t mind……”

The furore started up again.

“But what have the doctors told you?” This the radio correspondent.

“When will there be any improvement?” Bill Withers asked.

Mac picked up the business card and read it. ‘Nigel Tyas, freelance journalist.’ This intruder was not shouting anything like now, perhaps reading into the exchange what his quarry was thinking, that decorum was going to win the day. Tapping the card a couple of times to his palm reminded him of the injury some weeks back, now healed and forgotten for the most part.

“I have no more to say gentleman now if you all don’t mind.” He stole a glance and caught the gaze of Nigel Tyas. The other two were out of the ruining but neither of them had the wit to realise it yet. Putting the card in his jeans pocket for safe keeping he turned his back on them and strode away up the steepest of inclines back to the farmstead, too slippery a route for the less well attired to attempt. In any case one of their kind hoped he knew where his own fortune was heading.

The three of them fell silent and when a minute later Mac finally turned to look at what they were about he was surprised to see they had continued on down the dale of green fields and dry stone boundaries to what back home was named Henbrook but here was just denoted as ‘drain’ in the local map. Even further they had crossed this small stream and were on the rise up the other side of the vale on route for the town centre and presumably their vehicles. He could not help but smile as he stood, arms folded, master now of all he surveyed, or so he felt, watching them negotiate the boggy ground and unforgiving pathway as they went about their duty. They all had a greed for his story, a greed he found incomprehensible, a greed he could manipulate! Why not? Play the game like anybody else, play them at their own game. When in Rome? What a useful saying, where had he come across it? He could not remember. Some article or another, but it certainly fit the bill for what he was considering. What interest did the local or indeed general population of Margaret’s world have in his situation? Why would a news agency put up payment to have the sole rights to his story. If he played this game properly, cleverly, then the stupidity of their publications could produce a little money for Margaret and Walt, turning their own lives around. He needed a plan, one which would deliver them what they needed.

Oh well

Yes I did it again. Another read through. It is much better though now.

Queues and connect.

Margaret went much better than a sandwich. She had put the men’s favourite meal, beef stew, to a slow cook a lot earlier, when she first awoke, and the evening meal was met with much delight, surprise and approval when the three of them came together not half an hour after the day trippers return.

The last ewes to lamb had done just that, and without any problem Walt reported at the oak kitchen table, now taken over for dining purposes. Being next to the range it offered a more welcoming and far warmer place to sit and eat, the heat from the huge black appliance radiating pleasure to flesh and constitution. Over the steaming hot dinner, Walt also instructing the two youngsters to follow his example of turning in early for a change. They all had done so well over the past few weeks and it was time to rest on their laurels for a while, get back to a more normal routine, whatever that was in farming he laughed.

Praise and laughter, from her father, laughter! “That was a long time coming.” Margaret gladly admitted, reaching over the old oak table and taking his bony hand in her own.

Walt looked at her with those inset eyes, ones with, what for the first time in a long while, appeared to have a slight glint about them. Even the wrinkled corners of his thin, off pink lips and crows feet at the edge of his temples seemed less severe tonight, less defined than of late.

“What ?” Walt replied, the smiling expression just on the wain as he took a last spoonful of meat and potatoes.

“That lively laugh and smile, it brings back memories of when we were all together, you were happy and mum was here,” his daughter explained.

“Mum’s still here love, don’t you worry about that. She’s always looking out for us.” No swearing, in fact it had been that way for almost a week now.

Mac realising the two of them needed a piece of family time faked a huge yawn. “I’m off to get an early night you two, I’m shattered,” he said, blowing a kiss at Margaret while putting his plate in the washing up bowl to soak. She looked surprised, it was the first time he had done so, but she pursed a kiss of her lips secretly back at him, Walt was staring at their own two hands still clasped together on the wooden table top and saw nothing of the exchange.

Walking to the door, the family of two still holding hands and looking like a heart to heart might be imminent Mac bid a goodnight and left them to it. The room fell silent for a moment, only the battering of the rain on the farmhouse windows disturbing the peace, but strangely the sound comforted the space within the building, as if feeding the individuals listening, supplying as much relief as if it had been drank greedily after a thirst. Walking passed a fresh piece of peeling paint he made his mind up to ask tomorrow if they should decorate and wondered on what the upstairs was like. What kind of condition was the upper landing in. Was it pristine like the lounge, surely it was, or was it ramshackle like the parlour.

Once across the divide Mac settled, an evening of catching up with the diary, while at the same time, and most importantly of all, becoming acquainted once again with what he had missed most the past few weeks, namely his bed at night. Laying on top of the covers, the soft duvet wrapped around so comfortably, he was like a pig in clover. Stretching limbs this way and that to drive out the tiredness from an overworked and under cared for body of late, a pampering of which, within a hot bath of fragrant lavender bubbles had already taken first place after finding the solace of what was becoming his own room. He turned on one side then the other revelling in the prospect of a decent night of sleep. Natures tune, on his own window now, played like a lullaby, eased his troubled mind. Relaxed and warm Mac set about his diary.

Reporting on the fountain was a difficult task, because of what it meant, the significance of the fact being true brought so much to bare on his plight that he hardly dare think on it. Still, being the truth did furnish some hope as well, Aunt Bessie would be working tirelessly to facilitate a return on his behalf.

Suddenly the handheld bleeped a tone he recognised. A welcome tone, one of untold availability and enterprise. A flashing icon on the top left of the screen confirmed the fact, there was a connection to some source or other which back home would allow access to the ether. Was there a possibility of some sort, an opportunity at last to plug into the information needed? Mac quickly touched the ether icon on the screen as if his life depended on it. Unfortunately it did.

A couple of seconds passed, it seemed an age, nothing happened, nothing at all. Why would it tease him so. Surely the handheld sound was not a betrayal, a ruse, giving hope in one breath and taking it away with the next. Then, thankfully a page unfolded before his searching, longing eyes, a piercing stare that was willing the handheld to perform and spark into life, bringing forward fortunes beyond compare, information of such importance, information that would make this new life so much easier to comprehend.

The page had a banner in the top portion of it, running horizontal. It read ‘GOOGLE’. Across the very top of the page, several categories, web, images, places, news and more, and across the middle of the page another blank banner obviously for the insertion of text. The page belonged a search engine, a familiar concept. Would it be compatible with the device? For half a minute he stared at the empty oblong box and the flashing cursor, afraid to put anything to it in case an enquiry was not answered, returned, provided no result whatsoever. That would destroy him, any answer at all was simply something he required, desired, more than anything. What to type, what could he type, would typing fetch any data at all to this alien handheld? Only one option would answer that dilemma. He typed, N e w s, very slowly, methodically, checking each and every letter as it appeared in the blank banner.

The screen turned over to grey, did nothing then froze. Grasping at straws and muttering for help, none came forward, for an age. “C’mon!” he gasped. “C’mon, light up and give me a break, c’mon Lady Mama give me a breakthrough.” Slowly the small display rolled over once again, returning a page full of results. It was working. The handheld was connecting. Joy of joys.

Mac, elated at the text on show whispered under his breath as if betraying the great reveal.

“It must be using Walt’s equipment in the lounge. Margaret must’ve turned it on.”

Why had he not thought to look before? The little, primitive box of electronics that connected this worlds computers to the ether actually paired with his handheld.

Heading the results page was a line offering a link for BBC News, described it as trusted world and UK news. The UK part of the sentence was familiar as the name of the country he was now a part of, as was the BBC, it was one of the television channels. Mac tapped on the line belonging the item.

Again seconds dripped slowly by, one drip after another, the rain now pelted the glass, it was turning up a notch and the sky was looking much heavier. Finally another page returned a result, this time for a BBC homepage of news. Enthralled with the lucky find he quickly sat up, cross legged on the bed and began to read and digest. At long last here there was an untapped fountain for knowledge.

One article caught his immediate attention forcing the headline out of his mouth, spoke aloud with incredulity.

“Council prayer’s ruled unlawful!”

The explanation which followed the broad text intro he lipped in silence, slowly, not once, but twice, not being able to make any sense of the topic.

“Prayers are no longer being allowed to be said by order of the elected chamber, prayers that have always been said within that same elected chamber, now outlawed has counter productive and marginalising those with no faith at all.”

How could such a ruling, or more seriously, even before the ruling, how could the scenario be dreamt up in the first place worried him. What in all that was good had happened to fetch him up on such a desolate shore. Over by the window the rainwater was gathering on the inside ledge and a drip was starting up onto the floorboards.

For the good part if an hour he read and navigating many articles relating to wars, commerce and celebrity, each in turn compounding facts gleamed from the newspapers in the library days before and snippets since then. The words continually jumped off the pages and upset and worried him once again, now as before, fetching the horrid realisation to the fore that he truly was in trouble. If the truth be known, whilst not being reminded of the tragedy he could spend most days unbothered, unfettered by any concern, but reading on it again the stress built up inside, and exponentially with each story found. Economic woes, starvation, civil unrest, what was he going to do?

Sleep seemed to be one option, the sensible option, so turning off the handheld he laid down to try and escape the reality, now he knew there could be contact with the ether, tiredness was winning over enquiry and was asking for rest as the prize.

Five minutes of turning about the bed, first one side then the other found no solace. Why the bridge was not offering a way home was bothering him. He needed Aunt Bessie to come to him and explain, even better, if she could do what she claimed, why not come and fetch him back. Perhaps the dreaming was only just that and the facts portrayed there sub consciously learned since he arrived but not acknowledged. Still he turned, onto his front this time, both legs twitching out the apprehension of a troubled mind. A thought came to him. Reaching to the bedside table, and retrieving the handheld he turned it on once again.

“See if the satnav works?” The question was an excited one, and one which after a second or two was answered, the device rewarding again, this time with a map of his estranged position.

The screen settled to the farms locale, which on enlarging the ariel view showed the very buildings perched on the hillside, a hillside which on zooming out became part of a long elevated chain of geography identified as the Pennines. These ran in a North South direction like a backbone to this new country of captivity, England.

A birds eye view of the area confirmed an opinion fashioned since arriving and advanced today on the trip to the city. There was no familiar patchwork of field systems in operation anywhere about the vicinity, borough or indeed further removed. No regular, chequered pattern of one crop then the other, pasture then orchard, fallow then grazing. There was evidence of agriculture, but on a much grander scale, enlarged boundaries given over to one crop only, arable usage on a massive scale, unhindered by wall or hedge. Family patronage of the land appeared to be few and far between instances, and domestic growth unaccounted. As well as this, if that was not enough of a blow, the evidence on the screen also confirmed the urbanisation of the population into massive metropolises, the one visited today on show to the east, and these with huge satellites surrounding them. Nowhere could he see the ordered township borough system of land supporting populace, the norm for his own world. The self sufficient economy that each and every country employed to manage the land and commerce in an efficient but ecological model, land feeding mouth and muscle feeding land, industry on a managed level serviced by a local population in production of commodities needed for that region, manafactured and purchased by an immediate catchfall to eliminate movement down to a minimum, movement of both goods and workforce. No starvation, no over production and no profit for anyone but the belly and earth. Granted there were the larger manufacturing hubs, but these were located near the hydro stations, did not impinge on inhabited zones and were a lot more aesthetic than the ones on show on this initial examination of the facts.

He had seen enough, but before shutting off the source again took some screen shots and saved them to the diary. That done, the handheld hidden once again, Mac took to the comfy mattress to find peace and tranquility, a harbour from the ever present storm he begged shelter from.

“Please come forward Aunt Bessie.” The words were mouthed silently a few times, almost as prayer, an incantation to summon up an answer to his plight.

Outside the weather would keep him company, and a towel placed to catch the dropping water would stop that torment. He brokered for sleep.

Sal’s fiery red hair came to mind, her smiling face and tender embrace. What in the world would she be going through, the result of this incarceration of her husband and father to her child. Aunt Bessie said no one else could ever know, how unfair was that, how cruel, surely she must have put her own families minds at rest and not left them in limbo. There he was again, he scolded himself at assuming there was a truth to the dreaming. Most probably it was all fantasy, his own mind playing tricks, taking advantage of a susceptibility not before encountered.

Outside the window, curtains drawn off, the stars began their reply, their comforting, age long story, of consistency and support, ever present, ever shining light from time now gone, connecting him to the very soul of life itself, the exact source of life, nurtured from the beginning of time, awaiting its awakening so patiently for all those millennia, now born and still so fragile in its infancy. What had happened to him was part of that human evolution, the continuum ever marching, mutating and shifting balance to favour survival. On those imaginings he fell off the edge.

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