Tag Archive: #WPLongform


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.”

Not so standing stones

Day passed day for the remainder of the week, hopscotching towards Sunday and a welcome rest from duties of labour. What with the new tests he attended midweek, Walt’s preoccupation with recovering his losses and Margaret’s upset stomach he had been kept very busy indeed and had no time to worry over Monday, though it had always been at the back of his mind.

Laid in the field adjoining the farmhouse early Sunday morning, Margaret was in the parlour milking the herd, he realised that today might be the last in her company, at least for a while. Mulling over the options and trying to formulate a future there were a few thoughts to put to the diary. He laid belly down and faced a direction in which he could see anyone approaching and whispering into his hands began.

“Tomorrow I could be home Sal, goodness knows I long for ya but who knows what Aunt Bessie’s words might mean. Have I just been dreaming of her, has she really visited me in those dreams? I hope so. I hope it’s all true. I’ve made a lot of friends here, and caused a lot of interest I can tell ya. I guess I’m just putting these words down in case I don’t make it through alive and this handheld does. Tomorrow if I do get back we’ll go to the river and have a picnic…..” Now he was really clutching at straws.

A tear formed in the corner of his eyes; his thoughts had wandered to the river down in the park, the slow cascade of the water as it tumbled ever so gently over the fall rippling through every part of him. By now all the fields to the west would be carpeted with red poppies. Maybe tomorrow they would be able to walk through them, these blazon red fields, his wife and he, their hands caressed by a multitude of soft flower petals, walk hand in hand, husband and wife once again.

This time of the year would often find him sat on that river’s bank for an hour or so, watching the water’s current eddying back and forth, it even ventured back upstream in places returning from where it came. Leaves removed from the trees by the nesting birds in the canopy as they went about their daily routine would float here and there held upon the boundary between water and air.

Now these same bird’s came into mind, their twittering to each other across the watery divide. There would always be one group of them more vocal than the rest, perhaps defining some territory or calling out for partners. The long grasses on the banking side swaying ever so gently, caught by a welcome breeze making its way along the length of the river would reflect from the mirror like surface and whisper a note to accompany the birdsong, brushing his face and arms if he sat close enough.

Once in a while a trout would come up to the surface to feed. With a gulp of air it would take the unsuspecting meal into its mouth and cause ripples of excitement to its surface of confinement. Every so often too, some bird or other, asking the river’s bounty to offer something up for a meal, would fly down unaccompanied and skim the river, its wings almost dipping into the wet as it did so.

What would he give right now not to here that awful sound, a motorised bicycle engine somewhere in the distance. The guttural resonance echoed an annoyance to everyone between where it began and himself he was sure. There was no peace in this land as far as he could find, no sanctuary where only natures voice commanded. Almost everyone seemed to be competing for attention all the time. From music blaring out from open vehicle windows to machinery telling everyone of an occupation now in progress even the slightest tasks here seemed to be accompanied by some sort of noise.

The dance of the rivers water came back to mind. Those leaves blown like sails with any slight breeze across the water, moving them any way it liked, even in the direction opposing the current, tacking this way then that only to be returned back downstream when the energy used in their offset manoeuvre subsided. And from a tree a heavy flap of a wing, some larger bird taking flight, a wood pigeon perhaps, a reflection of both sound and vision evident as it set off upstream.

“There’s a lot I need to explain and a lot I am afraid to tell you to be honest,” he went on still in a whisper. “You won’t believe half the stuff that’s happened to me.” Best leave it at that for the moment he thought. If he did not make it through then there was no point in upsetting her. “The tests haven’t come in yet either, and to be honest I’m not waiting here to find out. But I do need to come back I to this world sometime I think if I do get home. There’s some unfinished business I need to try an sort out though how I’m not sure yet.” He told Sal of Walt’s money worries and tried to explain how it had come about. “If I can take advantage of this gift, if that’s what it proves to be, and help Walt then all this will not have been in vain. Perhaps that’s even the reason I’m here in the first place.”

The field gate clinked to. It was Margaret.

“Hi Mac. All finished at last.” She had the broadest of smiles on her face. “A day to ourselves eh! We deserve it luv don’t we.” She ran the last two yards to join him. He hid the handheld under the picnic blanket.

“You look better for getting up, you’re colour’s back.” She had looked somewhat pale on rising, that was for sure, not her usual self. If she had been, her usual self, then the morning would have began the way most other Sundays had, with an early morning romp around the bedroom. This morning that certainly had not happened.

“I feel a hundred times better luv.” Her grin was from cheek to cheek now. “We’re gonna have a nice day let me tell ya.”

“Let’s hope so, and let’s keep out the way o’ them pesky reporters.”

“I’ve not seen any yet.”

“Good Let’s hope it stays that way.”

“There’s still no sign of anybody telling of who you are either,” she went on.

Mac thought for a moment. That was a strange sentence to come from Margaret. “I know,” he replied unsure, “I don’t know what’ll happen, do you?”

“No. I thought we’d get them tests back first n’then I’m sure we can put everything behind us, think about making a fresh start without all them press eh! What d’ya think?”

“Sounds good to me.” It did actually, and if he had to stay here that is what he would want.

Laying down beside him prompted a thought of what he had missed out on this morning. Margaret was always so sexy in the way she behaved, not that she meant to, but she did have that quality about her no matter what she was doing.

“What if nobody ever did come forward. What are we going to do?” she went on, again pressing forward with concern not really broached before.

“There’s nothing can be done love really is there.”

She was pushing for something, and even though he knew that what she was seeking could never be the case, or at least thought it would never be, he just needed to keep his wits about him until tomorrow and play the game out however it came to pass.

“I know I’m probably speaking out of turn Mac,” she continued, “but I wouldn’t care if nobody came to find you. I want you to myself.” She sealed the truth of what she said with a kiss to his lips, one of those kisses that shrouded the day from any other thoughts than what was meant by it. It lasted half a minute.

“I can’t imagine that anybody who loves me in this world would not have found me by now,” he said in between her petting, trying to pacify her a little with talk rather than actions, they were out in the open field after all. “So what my past is here I cannot even imagine. All I know is I’m a good person and that what’s happened to me shouldn’t’ve happened to anyone.”

“Perhaps it was fate to bring us together Mac.” Another kiss, and a fumble about his jean’s pocket as if searching for some coin or other, though that was not her intention.

Mac gasped at an intake of air and tried to bring a modicum of civility back to the impromptu sunbathing fiasco. “You could be right there Margaret, yes it could have been fate, stranger things’ve happened.”

“So I hope you’re not angry when I have something to tell ya that you ought to know.”

Before she spoke any more he finally realised what she was about. The strikingly obvious hit home. The knowing not being there had for the most part been put to the back of his mind, forgotten about, out of sight out of mind as the saying went he had not thought for one instance about it either. But it would certainly have been useful with Margaret of late. If only he would have thought, remembered its absence then perhaps he would have guessed. Now all those mornings of sickness and upset stomach, her tiredness but yet the way she looked so well, it could be nothing else. Before he could even whisper the words to her she blurted them out.

“I’m pregnant!”

Mac’s face was all a delight. Taking her by the arm he pulled her even closer. “So that’s why you’ve been off it in the morning,” he began,”We’re having a baby, that’s wonderful Margaret.”

“A new start.”

What to say. He tried a particular route. “Who knows? All that’s happened’s probably been leading to this, yeh I see it now.”

She let out a sigh. “I’m so relieved Mac. I thought it might not be what ya wanted at this time.”

“It’s absolutely everything I want, I couldn’t be more happy,” he insisted.

“I wasn’t quite sure until the last hour, I bought several tests and it’s confirmed. We’re having a baby Mac!”

By now he was returned to laying on the picnic rug staring up at the blue sky, amazement plastered all over his face. He pulled Margaret down on the rug beside him and she adopted a similar horizontal pose. For a few minutes they both lay there, hand holding, no squeezing hand, staring at the blue wonder of the day. One of them was relieved, the other bewildered.

Why had he not realised he chastised himself. It was not as if he did not know all the signs. Why had he relied on his implant for their contraception. He should have also realised that would not be pulse stimulated in this new world either. Under his breath and disguised by a huge grin he cursed himself inwardly at his naivety. And why was Margaret not taking precautions anyway? Too late for that discussion now he told himself. All the time he was thinking his adopted carefree and happy expression never slipped. Squeezing at Margaret’s hand more tightly he turned and gave her a kiss.

“A baby,” he repeated, “well that’s great news love,”

“I know. I didn’t think coming off the pill would mean catchin on so fast.”

Mac held his breath, and refrained from making any comment. For a half minute no words passed between them.

Eostre came a visiting in the guise of a creamy white messenger. Mac saw Her, Margaret did not for the time being. She jumped into view through Her hole in the bottom third of the drystone wall and ceremoniously hopped here and there about the field boundary a couple of yards away from the recently appointed parents.

Margaret finally broke the silence. “Mac. You ok? Have I done something wrong?”

The time had allowed him to reach a conclusion. “Of course not love, as we said, a new begining.”

“I was going to tell you…. to see what ya thought…… coming off the pill an all that.”

What was done was done. No use crying over spilt milk. He smiled at his analogy and put her mind at rest. “It’s wonderful, believe me I’m really so glad. I just worry bout my other life ya know, if I have one. What might turn up.”

Margaret nodded in agreement and rubbed her belly gently. “I know Mac. Let’s cross that bridge if we have to though eh?”

Mac thought a moment. “Yeh, live for the present eh!”

“I do love you Mac I hope you know that.” She said it as if she thought he was unaware if her feelings.

“I do love,” he insisted. “And I love you too, very very much.”

Margaret finally caught sight of the ‘bunny rabbit’ as she named her and squealed quietly with delight at her antics. All through her dance around the grass tufts Eostre kept one wary eye or the other pointed in their direction. Mac knew her significance, Margaret was simply happy to be a part of it all. They watched her for long enough, a leap one way then a scurry the other nibbling at the grass every so often in between.

“I’ll remember you for the rest of my life,” Margaret finally told the rabbit. She turned to Mac to explain. “The day we sealed our future Mac.”

“We’re just as much a part of the schemes of Mother Nature as She,” he replied. “Just go with the flow Margaret there’s nothing to it then.”

Wow! What a surprise he told himself over and over again. What was he going to do now though was the uppermost thought which cried out for entertainment at the moment, what was he going to do, about tomorrow?

A crow’s call from the tall oak tree behind them sent Eostre in search of Her exit from all their company and She disappeared in two hops and a jump. The crow flew down and landed on top of the wall then walked the distance of the toppings as if in search of Her. From the roof of the farmhouse a dove cooed a blissful lament while a small flock of blackbirds argued with each other as they played with some scraps Walt had put out early doors. What was he going to do!

They talked a little more and decided not to tell Walt until a month or so just in case anything went wrong with the pregnancy. Mac was unaware that anything could go wrong, but pretending that pregnancy was not his best subject he agreed with all Margaret had to say on the matter and promised to remain silent until she said the time was right.

So that is how their Sunday passed by, lazing about the fields and out of sight of the reporters. Margaret did see them coming along the lane after a lunchtime picnic she fetched from the kitchen but they had no idea as to the whereabouts of the couple. Hiding away made them both immensely satisfied. To know they were only just the other side of two walls, some distance apart mind but yet the clan knew nothing, pleased them for many a hour.

Towards late afternoon the two of them sneaked away from the farm and had a walk over the higher ground, almost the same route Mac had taken on that fateful day months ago. It reminded him of his destiny. Tomorrow he would find out! What was in store for him? They passed another hour maybe, hand in hand, just walking and talking, happy with each other company, and the day. Mac did have other items to think about however, and when he would finally be able to concentrate and form a plan did irritate him a little. It was of paramount importance now and becoming more so with every hour that was left. He simply had to tell Margaret something about why he may not be around. Or should he leave it just in case there was no magic under the arch at eleven tomorrow morning. He needed the handheld too. Remembering back to the dream of him not having it with him he felt about his back trouser pocket to make sure it was not lost.

Maybe a letter! Would that be in order? Then if he did disappear Margaret could read it and know he would be back, one day anyway. These thoughts and many others competed with Margaret’s conversation on baby care and friends she had who were already mothers. Same topics the world over Mac thought smiling at her enthusiasm. Worlds over actually he corrected himself, worlds over not world. He was after all a part of two now.

“My mum would be so happy” Margaret confessed late afternoon “She loved children.” They were now on the lane back to the farmhouse.

“It’s such a pity she can’t be here to join in,” Mac replied. “But who knows how many grandparents our baby will have in the end. At the moment there’s only one. You’re Dad.”

By four o’clock they were safely returned to the property, forced into a game of sneak around the outhouses to gain access, a fun game of hide from the reporters. Like a couple of children out at play they hid and ran and hid some more in order to find safety without being seen. Making it through the open door they fell about the hallway laughing uproariously knowing they had been successful.

Walt ought to have been caught up in the joviality but he kept a sullen expression. Sat at the black pot stove he reminded Mac of the first time they had met.

Margaret was the first to ask. “What’s up Dad?”

“I’ve found out where them bastards are ‘n when I get to em I’m gonna let em frickin ‘ave it.”

Margaret looked at him sternly, worried with his resolve. “Just let the police sort it Dad,” she insisted.

“Police!” Walt spat venom as he spoke. “Police! They can’t do a frickin thing. Say that it’s ongoing investigation. I’ll be lucky to get even a tenth back. If I were a younger man……”

Mac wondered if that comment was addressed to him but what could he do? Nothing for the time being that was for certain. Maybe if, when, he came back, if he managed to leave in the first place that was, then perhaps he could chase these people down and confront them but for now he was helpless to move. His head was spinning with the uncertainty, the not knowing was really bothering him now and he could not wait until eleven o’clock tomorrow.

“Where are they anyway?” Margaret asked.

“Salisbury.”

“Where’s that then? Mac asked.

“Down south, Wiltshire I think,” Margaret answered. She turned back to her father. “How did ya find that out then?”

“Police called this aft.”

“Well then they’re getting somewhere aren’t they?”

“Not really it’s only a paper trail so far. Address they fon as no one at apparently.”

Mac kept quiet not wanting to become drawn in. There was a danger Walt was going to ask him to help and he knew that was impossible at the moment.

Margaret continued her positive feedback. “Well at least they got an address, now lets eat eh!”

All through dinner, beef curry, Walt kept up with his complaining. Sentence after sentence he grumbled and grumbled, cursing one topic then another. Sadly the swearing was back, but perhaps this time Walt could be excused it. He had cause, that much was true, but Mac really wished the subject could be changed, and with an agreement between the three of them here and there and a resolve every so often it calmed down a little on the understanding that the issue would eventually be sorted out one way or the other. The taste of the meal never had a chance to establish and by the time dinner was finished and the three of them were settled, if that was the correct word, settled, for in truth settlement was a mile away from any description Mac would label the evening, they were sat in the lounge watching the evening news. Walt was gradually reigning in his temper and settling into his well fitting chair.

Suddenly Mac’s eyes became transfixed to the television, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an approaching vehicle he looked upon the screen, his jaw drooping and mouth open.

Finally he managed to speak. “Central Stones!”

“Stonehenge?” Margaret replied somewhat quizzically.

“Wiltshire,” Walt added very quickly rewinding the programme to bring up the monument again.

Mac regained composure and stuttered a little as he spoke. “Stone henge, yes it’s beautiful there.” The sad truth was though this one was far from it, beautiful. In a state of dilapidation the circle was incomplete with stones missing in places and fallen in others.

“It is aint it,” Margaret agreed. Then she realised, and do did he. “Mac! You recognise it!”

“I do, yes!”

“That’s great, anything else?” she asked.

Mac thought a moment. “I just know I recognise it… and I have been there, it feels like lots of times too. So perhaps that’s where I come from eh?” He had an excuse hatching for his absence of tomorrow.

Walt was not that far behind him. “Ya think tha might hail from there then lad?”

“Perhaps, yeh. I might.”

Walt jumped up from the chair, more animated than of late and made for a drawer in the sideboard. Taking out his wallet he withdrew quite a few pound notes. “That’s settled then,” he said turning to the pair of them. “Mac ought go down and find out for himsen.”

Margaret looked to her father, then her partner to be. Her face wanted to show concern but knowing that was impossible held onto her emotions and gave the strangest of expressions in the process. Her attitude though had to portray one of support so she agreed with her father. “Yeh! I can manage the farm a few days till ya get back.”

Walt was very enthusiastic by now. “As long as it takes lad, as long as it takes,” he went on. Margaret nodded an agreement, she had to really. Walt handed over a wad of notes. “You’ll need this lad.”

Mac withdrew his hand. “I can’t possibly Walt.”

“Yes ya can.” Walt pushed his hand further forward reaching out to make sure Mac took hold this time or drop the notes. Mac, backed up against the occasional table could retreat no further so reluctantly took the money. Now came the hidden agenda. Mac had been expecting it. “You could do a bit of legwork on yon lot too while ya down there Mac. In Salisbury. What d’ya think?” A long lost smile cracked across Walt’s thin bluish pink lips.

It was perfect timing. Mac could not have engineered it better himself. The perfect opportunity and proper excuse to allow time away from them and give a hopeful return without them being any the wiser.

He jumped at the suggestion. “Kill two birds with one stone eh Walt?”

“Perhaps get us both a solution lad.”

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.

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