This is a selection taken from the stories I wrote between 2003 and 2011. Nearly all of them have been previously published, many in publications no longer extant. Where they are still available in existing books or magazines, sufficient time has elapsed to permit their re-publication without fear of ethical impropriety or breach of contractual terms. Check the Blog Archive at the bottom of the page for individual titles.

Please be aware that each story was written by the person I was at the time. In a sense, therefore, each one was written by somebody different. None of them was written by the person I am now.

Anybody wanting to view my novel Odyssey can do so here. I’ve set the price very low because I’m more interested in the story being read than in making money out of it. It’s about a goddess and her rabbit companion taking a mortal man on a journey to teach him a few lessons about the nature of reality and higher consciousness, and it's probably more entertaining than I make it sound. I never was any good at selling myself. The Gift Horse, a story of reincarnation and karmic balancing, is also now available at the same place.

September 01, 2010

The Visitor.

This is another of the later ones, written after I moved to this house which it describes precisely.

It was first published in Emerald Tales Magazine in 2009.

Reading time: 20-25 minutes.

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Those to whom I have told this story have insisted that it was all a matter of coincidence, wish-fulfilling dreams, and my overactive imagination. Well, it wasn’t - not all of it.

I’m well aware that most dreams are merely constructs of the mind, and I’m quite prepared to admit that all the waking incidents were vague and inconclusive. All, that is, except one. The footprints were definitely real.

There is no doubting the date, either. It’s an easy one to remember. It was January 15th, my ex-wife’s birthday. The time was shortly before 8 pm.

It had been one of those dolorous days when the air has a spiteful and incisive coldness about it, the sort that creeps mercilessly through any amount of protective clothing and chills you to the core. I had spent some time in the garden earlier, and even the manual labour had failed to prevent the onset of uncontrollable shivering with only half the job done. The forecast had said that a band of heavy snow would be moving down from the north east. It had begun to fall, along with the daylight, midway through the afternoon.

I’d watched it intermittently from the comfort of my living room until it was too dark to see much beyond the window. By then the snow was settled to a depth of two or three inches, leaving the whole of the front garden carpeted in a veil of unsullied whiteness. I turned on the lights, closed the curtains and banked up the fire.

My house is a modest, semi-detached Edwardian cottage, located a quarter of a mile from a small village nestled in the Derbyshire Dales. It stands with its neighbour on the side of a shallow hill that rises from a quiet, single-track country lane. We are surrounded by fields, hedgerows and trees on all sides, with a picturesque view of the Pennine foothills to the west. The original two-up, two-down arrangement has been augmented by a single storey kitchen extension to the rear of the ground floor.

The front garden is unusually big for such a modest dwelling, and slopes gently down to the lane. It comprises a large, curvaceous lawn surrounded by herbaceous borders, with a vegetable patch below that and a bank of shrubs at the bottom end. A path runs around the side of the house and, on the other side of the path, there is a paved area bounded by a garden shed and a greenhouse.

My living room is at the front of the house, and it was in there that I was happily settled at around 8 pm on the night of 15th January. I was waiting for a favourite TV programme to start, sitting close to the glowing coal fire that burned quietly in the grate. It was Saturday and so there was no work to go to the next day. I felt relaxed.

And then I heard the footfalls, the muffled crump,crump of feet compressing soft snow. There were only a few of them, maybe six or seven. They started quietly and gained in volume until they stopped outside my front door which is situated in one corner of the room. There was a light knock. It sounded apologetic, I thought. Three gentle taps if I remember correctly.

My curiosity was aroused for two reasons. Firstly, I was unaccustomed to having visitors, and certainly not at that hour on a snowy winter’s night. The few people who had reason to call on me usually did so during the day, and always announced their intention in advance.

Secondly, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard the footsteps walking in front of the living room window. The path that runs up from the lane bisects the two front gardens, separating my neighbour’s land from mine. Anyone walking up it has to pass the living room window on their way to the front door.

I never use that door. It is double bolted and has a heavy piece of furniture standing in front of it. I got up, walked across the room and called out loudly, asking the visitor to go around to the kitchen door at the side of the house. I switched on the exterior light to ease their way. There was no reply; but then I heard the footfalls again, clearly moving in the direction indicated. I walked through into the middle room which I use as an office, glancing at both windows as I strolled towards the kitchen.

I hadn’t drawn the curtains in there and I had a clear view of the well-lit side of my house. One window looks out across the paved section, and the smaller one on the back wall gives a good view of the area outside the recessed kitchen wall and door.

I clearly heard the footsteps pass the larger window, and I clearly heard them round the corner and stop in front of the kitchen door. But I saw nothing. There was no further noise for a few seconds either. I moved closer to both windows in turn, scrutinizing as much of the outside world as I could see.

And then I heard the knock again, three gentle taps as before. I felt unnerved, but predictably curious. My cautious side wanted to put the whole thing down to some odd physical phenomenon or mental aberration. My curious side wanted to open the door in the hope that it might explain everything. Nervous as I was, I decided to open the door.

I did so slowly at first, peering around it as though there was some danger of invasion. There was nothing but the cold air and sublime stillness of a frosty night. And then the mystery began in earnest.

I looked down at the path. There, clearly defined, was a single set of footprints in the snow. They were human in shape, and small – maybe made by a child or a small woman - and they proceeded in one direction only. They came around the wall and up to the door, where the two feet stood side by side. There was no set of prints going away again.

I struggled to explain it. All I could come up with was the notion that someone had approached the door and then walked backwards, stepping in their own prints. I imagined a child playing a trick on me – a young boy from the village, no doubt. I strode out of the door and walked around the side of the house, expecting to see the culprit making his escape. There was nothing except the procession of clear prints leading towards me from the direction of the front door.

I felt cold, but I needed to confront the conundrum there and then. I walked alongside the footprints until I reached the corner of the house where the front door is situated; and one mystery, at least, was solved. The prints did not approach the door from the direction of the main path, but from the lawn. That was why I’d heard nothing pass the living room window.

I followed them further, down the sloping land in the direction of the lane. Having solved one mystery, I was unprepared for a greater one to take its place. The footprints started in the middle of the lawn, at least ten feet from the nearest edge. I looked around incredulously. The illumination from the exterior light was more than sufficient to see that there was no other mark of any kind in the snow.

This was clearly impossible and I checked again – and again. The only assault on the purity of the freshly fallen snow came from two sets of footprints, one small set leading from the middle of the lawn to the house, and another made by my size eight shoes pointing in the opposite direction alongside it.

By then I was shivering, mostly from the cold no doubt, but also from the creeping sense that something very odd was going on. I walked back to the house and found the back door still standing open. I cursed myself for letting precious heat escape from a building that was far from adequately heated.

But that was a minor consideration. The uncomfortable feeling produced by the strange procession of tracks held my attention, and an obvious cause for concern suddenly gripped me. Whoever had caused these seemingly human footprints had, apparently, not walked away again. I had opened the door and left it open for several minutes. I knew I would have to search the house, and I didn’t relish the prospect.

I closed the door and locked it, mindful of an alternative possibility: that whoever had made the prints might be hiding somewhere outside. I didn’t want them following me in once I was safely upstairs.

I took a large knife out of the kitchen drawer, just in case someone had already entered. It seemed a silly thing to do even at the time, but the fact that I had something with which to threaten an intruder bolstered my confidence.

The three downstairs rooms were quickly checked. They were exactly as I had left them. I went upstairs to check both bedrooms and the bathroom. I looked in every possible place where someone small could have been hiding. It didn’t surprise me that I found nothing. I had come to realise that the sequence of events argued against the likelihood of an intruder.

I sat on my bed and reconsidered the facts. I could make no sense of them. The sounds of footfalls and knocking might have had a rational explanation in some arcane knowledge that is the preserve of scientists or engineers, but there was no escaping the singular nature of the prints. I felt cold. The upper storey of my old cottage was unheated and I went back downstairs.

There is no hallway in my house; the bottom of the staircase leads directly into the living room. Even before I got there my curiosity was aroused again by a strange, sweet scent that seemed to be rising up the stairs. When I stepped off the bottom step the smell became almost overpowering. Jasmine; there could be no doubt of it. The heady, exotic aroma of flowering jasmine is quite unmistakeable.

I told myself that it must have been coming from the fire. Open fires can sometimes give off incongruous scents, and I noticed that the glowing coals were fringed with a bright green and lilac edging. I made a mental note to ask the coalman about it the next time he called. I told myself that’s all it was. I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Nevertheless, I resumed my seat by the fire. I switched on the TV to discover that the programme I had meant to watch was almost finished. I checked the listings to see whether anything worthwhile followed it. I slipped on my reading glasses and perused the lower end of the printed columns.

The page moved slightly, seemingly lifted by a gust of air. I felt the draught touch my left cheek. Just my left cheek, you understand, nowhere else. I shook my head and wondered what was coming next.

What did come next was as inexplicable as everything else. I heard what I can only describe as a fluttering sound. I reached for the remote control and turned off the TV. The sound was low, but quite distinct.

I attempted another rational explanation. Could a bird have become trapped in the chimney? That seemed unlikely since the fire had been burning for several hours and, in any case, the fluttering seemed to be coming from the middle of the room. I decided that acoustics can sometimes plays tricks of that sort. I wasn’t believing it, and my doubts were underlined when the source of the sound moved towards the stairs and rose up them. It decreased in volume as it went, and soon there was silence again.

What was I to make of all this? I looked around the room hopelessly. I shook my head several times. I went and made a cup of coffee. I pondered some more while I drank it, and then I washed the dishes. I opened the back door and looked at the footprints again.

The evening wore on with no further happenings until I decided it was time for bed. I placed the guard in front of the fire, turned off all the lights and began to climb the stairs. The procession of mysteries wasn’t over yet.

As I placed my foot on the first step, I thought I heard a woman’s voice humming a tune. It was quiet and indistinct, and I strained my ears in an attempt to clarify it. The melody was a strange one. It could have been Chinese, Indian, Gaelic – I couldn’t tell, it wasn’t clear enough; but I sensed something profoundly beautiful about it.

I turned in all directions, trying to identify the source. I reasoned that it could have been coming from somebody’s car stereo, from the house next door, or from the village hall that stood a little way up the lane.

But it was one o’clock in the morning. My neighbour was the sort who retired early, the village hall never had functions going on that late, and there was no sound of traffic. Besides, the music didn’t seem to be coming from any of those sources. It seemed to be coming from upstairs. I climbed them nervously. When I reached the top step the singing ceased.

And then I became aware of something else. It felt warm. Why would the upstairs of my house feel warm? There was, as I said, no heating up there - and it was a cold night in the middle of January. I decided it must be due to my increased heart rate. No doubt the air was properly cold; it must be my body that felt warm. I breathed out. No vapour. I shook my head again and proceeded to go about my nightly ablutions before climbing into bed.

I was horrified to realise that I had forgotten to switch on the electric blanket. The evening had been a most curious one and it had completely slipped my mind. But at least I was heartened to find the bed linen as icily cold as it should have been in the circumstances.

I pulled the covers close up to my chin, huddled myself into a tight ball and considered whether or not to turn off the bedside lamp. Not surprisingly, the evening’s events were still uppermost in my mind and I felt uneasy. I took my courage in both hands – or rather, in one to be precise. I stretched it out and flicked off the light switch.

I placed my hands under my armpits, pulled my legs even tighter towards my chest and closed my eyes. And then the last of the night’s strange happenings began to assault my senses.

The back of my neck felt suddenly warm. It felt as though someone was blowing warm breath onto it. Within seconds, the sensation spread down the length of my back and onwards to my feet. And then it began to wrap itself around my whole body until I felt that I was completely encased in a cocoon of warm air.

How, I have since asked myself, did I manage to fall asleep under those circumstances? But fall asleep I did, immediately. And I began to dream, the onset of which seemed immediate too. I hesitate to describe it, since I feel quite incapable of doing it full justice, but attempt a description I must if this tale is to be complete.

I woke up in my own bedroom. It was light and I assumed it was morning. I sat up and felt no semblance of surprise as I gazed at the – what should I call her – the “being” that stood at the end of my bed.

The figure was that of a mature young woman, small in stature and pencil-slim. Her skin was jet black, but it was not smooth like human skin. It had a texture and lustre about it that reminded me of velvet. The long, straight hair that hung behind her shoulders could have been spun from the deepest black silk. The only colour to be seen was in her eyes. They glowed golden yellow, and they were smiling at me.

She reached out her hand and I reciprocated. As I took hold of her smooth, warm fingers, two wings spread out from behind her back. I recognised immediately the hot orange and black markings of a Red Admiral butterfly. They began to move back and forth.

I felt myself rising rapidly, so rapidly that I felt a thrill in my solar plexus and closed my eyes instinctively. The sensation was mercifully brief and I opened my eyes again. I was high up in the air and gazing out over a summer landscape to the west of my house.

I turned to look at my companion whose wings were beating rapidly. She was looking back at me and smiling the same radiant smile that I had seen in my bedroom. I felt no sense of threat from her, nor any danger from my elevated position. I sensed only the warmth of giving and receiving. I looked ahead again.

A saffron sun was set high against a backdrop of vivid lilac-blue. I remember feeling a sense of wonder, asking myself how the sun could be so richly coloured whilst shining out of a clear sky. I looked down at the landscape and realised that it was not quite the same as the one I was accustomed to seeing from my front bedroom window. All the elements were there: the hedgerow close to the lane, the fields stretching across the fore and middle grounds, the hills in the distance, and the two sycamore trees that grew close to the lane and framed the view on either side. But there were obvious differences.

For a start, the hills were higher and more pronounced in shape. They, and the fields leading to them, were a richer, more vibrant green. The hedges and trees sparkled with flashing pinpricks of ever-changing colours. Everything seemed to glow very slightly, as though it were generating a light of its own. And then a movement caught my eye.

Gambolling into this magical picture from the left hand side was a dog, a black and white dog that looked exactly like the one I had lost to old age and illness a couple of years earlier. I called her by name and she stopped. She turned to look up at me, pressing her ears close against her head in greeting and wagging her tail furiously. She barked once and then ran on, obviously happy to be about her own business.

For a second I felt sad at her exit, but then I realised how glad it made me to see her bright and active again. I looked back at the landscape. I marvelled at the unreal beauty of it all as I floated on the balmy air that was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle.

A pair of swallows swooped down from the upper part of my view. They turned and turned again, banking and wheeling with the agility and grace that only they possess in such abundance. I felt that I was holding my breath, so entranced was I with their display of aerial mastery.

They flew towards me and stopped only inches from my enraptured eyes. They hovered, precariously it seemed, their wings providing the lift while their long tail fronds pointed downwards to provide balance. One had a much longer tail than the other, and I knew they were male and female acting in unison. Their bright red faces regarded me inquisitively for several seconds while I spoke copious greetings to them. And then they turned in opposite directions and performed another swift semi-circle, each mirroring the other in effortless perfection. They met almost head-on and turned to sweep under my body.

I looked down again and realised that something was happening to the sycamore trees. They appeared to be slowly breaking into myriad small pieces that began moving into the centre of my view, forming a dancing, multi-coloured cloud. I looked back at the trees. They were still there, seemingly as solid as ever.

The cloud began to swell and move towards me, breaking up again as it got closer. The tiny fragments flew around me and grew in size until I was completely surrounded by untold millions of butterflies, flitting dazzlingly in all directions. Every size, shape and colour was contained within their endless mass, and I laughed out loud. I had become a child again. I looked at the being who was gripping my hand firmly and holding me aloft. She was still smiling.

The butterflies gathered together and coalesced into a single, vibrating mass. Then they split into two smaller, spinning balls and headed swiftly back to the trees. I noticed that the light had fallen, and looked again at the western sky. The sun was gone, and its blue backdrop had turned a magenta shade of dark grey.

Thunder began to roll around the strangely coloured sky. Lightning flashed several times as the rumbling grew louder and more incessant. The first spots of rain quickly turned into a deluge of biblical proportions, but it was unlike normal rain in two very striking ways. It was coloured the most vivid, luminescent silver - like liquid mother of pearl - and the sheets of water bounced back into the air where they broke into tiny, flashing pink particles. No maker of the most advanced pyrotechnic devices could have produced a more breathtaking spectacle.

And there was more. As I watched this glorious display, countless small shapes appeared suddenly from no apparent source. Tiny humans, it seemed, no bigger than the swallows I had seen earlier. They frolicked and laughed, calling to each other and dancing in the downpour. I laughed with them, sharing their joy and feeling that sense of innocent wonder that is the preserve of happy children.

I felt again the inner thrill of giving and receiving. I glanced at my aerial companion. She was laughing too, and her golden eyes radiated the warmth and delight of the true gift-giver.

How long the spectacle went on would defy any attempt to quantify. It seemed to be a very long time, and I felt giddy with euphoria. And then I felt myself drop rapidly. I landed with a jolt and woke up in my own bed.

It was, indeed, light; but there ended any similarity with the dream. The winter sun was making a low angle through the uncurtained window, and it was coming, as it should have been, from the south east. My nose felt cold and my breath steamed copiously when I put it to the test.

I rose and hurriedly donned my dressing gown. I had an irresistible to urge to go into the front bedroom and look at the western view towards the hills. It looked as I expected it to look: the very model of a pastoral, winter landscape in West Derbyshire - beautiful enough, but a far cry from the almost mystical vista I had seen in the dream.

And then I looked down at the lawn, still snow-covered and now glinting seductively from the night frost. For a brief moment I imagined that the whole panoply of the previous night’s incidents had been simply part of the dream. I was both pleased and surprised to see that the two sets of footprints were clearly encased in the petrified snow. As the day wore on it became cloudy and the temperature rose. By nightfall, the evidence had melted into memory.

* * *

Today is May 15th. The winter is wholly over and I can report that it ran its course with no further addition to the strange happenings in January. What happened today, however, may or may not form an interesting little addition to them. Coincidence or not, it’s the reason why I chose to write all this down. Those who told me that my imagination was too active will probably now tell me that I am being fanciful as well.

I have developed the habit of perusing the view from my front bedroom window every morning when I get up. The various nuances of changing light and natural development show me a different picture every day. Today’s delight was the sudden bursting forth of the May blossom.

The hedgerows and many of the trees in this part of the world are hawthorn, and their full grown blossom is one of nature’s most prolific visual delights. There is something almost surreal about the sight of trees laden so heavily with dense white flowers that it appears a heavy fall of snow has landed on them. Set against the bright green of the late spring growth, and placed within a context of high summer temperatures, the effect is almost hypnotic. I have always thought so; but today it reminded me of the January snow and the dream of butterflies.

I got dressed and went downstairs. As I walked through my office towards the kitchen, something caught my eye as it crossed my left shoulder. Flying ahead of me was a Red Admiral butterfly. How it came to be in my house, I have no idea. Maybe it had hibernated somewhere during the cold winter months.

It flew into the kitchen and fluttered frantically around the back door. I was only too pleased to let it out and follow it as it flew towards the lawn. It was a source of great delight to see it dancing joyously from one early flower to another, and I stood entranced by the spectacle for several minutes. Suddenly, it came towards me, heading for my face. I blinked involuntarily as it briefly touched my left cheek before flying away again. I had never known a butterfly do that before.

It flew across the lawn and settled on the grass, roughly in the same spot where the footprints had started. Or maybe it was in precisely the same spot, I really couldn’t say. I walked towards it, a mild fascination raising the hairs on my neck. When I was within a couple of feet it lifted and rose into the air. I watched as it climbed and climbed, becoming smaller and smaller. Eventually it disappeared altogether. I have never seen a butterfly do that before either.

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About Me

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I've never had money because I've never been driven by money. I received little formal education beyond the age of sixteen, which isn't such a bad thing since you get a different angle on life that way. Learning what you want and need to learn often reveals things that the system's road keeps hidden.
JJ Beazley asserts his ownership of copyright in all works of fiction and non-fiction contained herein unless otherwise stated. Feel free to quote anything if you want to, but please don't nick a story and claim it for your own. That would compromise my chances of getting an anthology published and I'd be a bit miffed.



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