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.

August 24, 2013

Coming Closer.

I wrote this shortly after moving to my current address in 2006, and is set here. The names, apart from Norham village, are accurate (although I didn’t know at the time that ‘the bottom road’ was called Mill Lane) and the features mentioned exist as described.

It hasn’t been previously published. It was accepted once, but the publication ceased before this story made it into print.

Approximate reading time: 10-15 minutes.

---------------------------------------------------

“My name is Abigail. Treat me with respect.”

It was 7 o’clock in the morning. Jonah had just silenced the alarm and was lying with his eyes shut, easing his torpid mind into a fit state to face the day. Hearing the voice startled him and he was alert in an instant.

The words had been clear enough, but he was alone in the house. He glanced incredulously around his bedroom, hoping against reason to identify the source. It was a small room and most parts of it could be seen easily from where he lay. Only the space beyond the foot of his bed required any degree of effort, and that was soon examined and found predictably empty.

What he was expecting to see would be difficult to say. He wasn’t really expecting to see anything. He felt confused and a little shaken. He got back into bed, but sat upright. He stared blankly at the duvet, trying to recall the voice as accurately as possible.

It had certainly been that of a woman, slightly dark in tone, but rich, strong and feminine - like the sort he associated with East European women. The accent didn’t match the Slavic picture though, and he struggled to identify it. East Anglian, maybe. West Country? Neither seemed quite right. He thought he detected a hint of American in there. Maybe Colonial American. How could he know? He could only guess at what Colonial American might have sounded like.

As his eyes grew used to the bright light of day, the growing light of reason persuaded him to settle on the obvious conclusion. The voice had been merely a remnant of some unremembered dream, or the mysterious workings of his half-slumbering imagination. He might have stayed settled on it too, had it not been for the fact that it connected too neatly with the woman who had been making her presence felt – latterly to an uncomfortable degree - for the past couple of weeks.

He roused himself and got dressed. It was Monday and he had arranged to meet a client at 8.30. He poured some cereal into a bowl, lashed it with milk and a little sugar, and took it into his living room where he kept his diary. Taking an uncomfortably large spoonful into his mouth, he opened the book and thumbed through it to Sunday 10th October. The entry read:

Had a great walk today. Calm and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky. Went around by Green Lane and stood for a while by the gate half way down. The view over the valley from there is magnificent, and the trees were in full autumn livery. Brilliant colours. Nothing moved. It was like walking into a landscape painting. There was a woman standing near the old folly by the river. Even she didn’t move. She seemed to be watching me.

He remembered that the figure had been too far away to make out any detail. He was sure it had been a woman though, if only because it had seemed to be clothed in a single grey garment that reached the ground – obviously a long dress, he’d assumed.

He turned over a couple of pages to Wednesday. No, it had rained that day. Thursday was the one – 14th October.

Had time for a quick walk along Church Lane when I got home – wanted to watch the sun set over the hills. Made it as far as the gate just beyond Badger’s Wood before it dipped into a bank of low cloud sitting above the horizon. Pity. Looked across to the cricket pavilion on the far side of the field. That woman was there again, wearing the same grey dress. Odd. Got a better look at her this time. Still seemed to be watching me. Then she waved. At me? No, must have been waving to somebody I couldn’t see. Wonder who she is. Maybe she’s escaped from somewhere.

Jonah had added the playful epilogue as an afterthought. At the time he’d felt a mild sense of intrigue. The two locations in which he’d seen the woman were about a mile from each other, and the land belonged to different owners. He’d seen her more clearly the second time, since the cricket pavilion was closer than the folly by the river. The impression of a long grey dress had been confirmed, and her hair had looked dark – very short, or maybe swept back behind her head. He was sure he’d never seen her before, even though he’d lived in the area for several years and felt certain he’d encountered everybody in the scattered, rural community. He’d assumed she must have been a visitor staying with friends nearby.

Two pages further brought him to Saturday, October 16th.

I swear the woman in grey is not flesh and blood. She’s haunting me. Took the long route via the bottom road today. When I got to the place where the cricket pavilion backs onto the hedge, I stopped and looked across the field towards Church Lane. And there she was – standing behind the gate from which I saw her on Thursday. It felt weird. She was looking straight at me as usual and – can you believe this – she waved again! But, if that wasn’t enough to raise the hairs on my neck, it got better. Carried on to Norham village, walked up the main road and turned right along Church Lane. I fancied I might meet her walking the other way. I didn’t. I looked across to the cricket pavilion when I reached the gate by Badger’s Wood. No sign of her. That was a relief. But then, when I got to about a hundred yards from the junction with Lid Lane, she appeared - strolling up it in the direction of my house. She stopped and watched me walking towards her. I stopped too. Not sure why – it was like she was some sort of vision and I felt a bit spooked. At that distance I got a good look at her. She was very beautiful – early thirties I would say. And her hair wasn’t short; it was pulled back and folded into a sort of appendage that fell onto her neck. Couldn’t see how long it was, but it was a fetching shade of auburn brown. It was the long, grey dress that put the wind up me, though. It certainly didn’t come from Debenhams! It was like something my granny might have had in the attic. She smiled and raised one hand, then walked on. When I got to the spot where she’d been standing, she’d disappeared. This is getting uncomfortably close. That’s only about two hundred yards from my house.

Jonah took another mouthful of cereal and remembered the feeling of disquiet he’d felt after that latest encounter. He’d called in to see Mike, the local motor mechanic, who lived in a house around the corner from his. He described the woman in detail and asked whether the description fitted anyone he knew.

“No, nobody like that ’round ’ere. Apart from the farmers, they’re all incomers these days - green wellies, 4x4s and designer clothes. Are you on something?”

“Of course not.” Jonah had hesitated over the next question. “Don’t suppose there are any local ghost stories you know of, are there?”

Mike had laughed heartily.

“Don’t be daft. Ee lad, you’re a queer one right enough.”

Queer one indeed! There was something queer going on. The woman was either a ghost, a figment of his imagination, or a stranger with an anachronistic taste in clothes. But then a fourth possibility had presented itself. Maybe she was real enough and playing a practical joke on him. What would that achieve, he’d wondered. Well, practical jokes don’t actually have to achieve anything, do they? They’re played solely for the amusement of the prankster. So where was it leading? Nowhere, probably; it would simply stop when the joke had run its course. He’d decided to consider the fourth possibility the most likely and, there having been no further sightings in the interim, the matter had faded from his mind over the course of the following week.

He turned the pages until he came to Saturday, October 23rd.

I think the Grey Lady might not be a practical joker after all. Was late getting up this morning. Slept on till 9.30. Something compelled me to go into the front bedroom and look out of the window. Who do you think was standing at the bottom of the path, looking up at me and smiling? At least she didn’t wave this time. She had her hands folded in front of her skirt. She looked very relaxed, as though being there was the most natural thing in the world. I just knew there’d be no point in going out to confront her. She’d have done her vanishing act by the time I got there. At first I thought she was just cranking up the joke – coming as close as she dared without giving me the chance to make contact with her. But then I realised: how would she know what time I was going to get up? And how could she know that I would look out of the front bedroom window?

Jonah thought back to the events of that Saturday, just two days earlier. At lunchtime he’d driven to the station in the nearby town, to pick up a friend who was coming to spend the weekend with him.

Lydia was a young woman doing the final part of her general medical training at a London hospital. She was ready for a break from the unrelenting grind of a junior doctor’s life, and had asked whether she could come and spend a couple of days in the country. Jonah was something of a solitary soul who protected his personal space with the stern determination of a grizzly bear, but Lydia was one of the few people whose company he enjoyed and he had agreed enthusiastically.

After lunch, his guest had suggested they go for a walk. She’d wanted to take in as much of the countryside as possible on such a fine autumn day before returning to the suffocating metropolis. They’d set off down Lid Lane to do the long walk via the bottom road, just as Jonah had done a week earlier. He’d told her of his encounters with The Grey Lady, as he was now wont to call the apparition, and had been a little put out by Lydia’s reaction. She’d found the story very interesting but, as was her way, she had settled on the pragmatic explanation.

“Definitely a practical joke, I would say.”

“What about her appearing at the bottom of the path, just at the right time?”

“Coincidence. Or maybe she’d been there for a couple of hours and knew you’d have to look out of one of the front windows some time, if only when you drew the curtains back.”

Lydia had a strong and stubborn mind. Being unable to construct a convincing argument to the contrary, Jonah had felt compelled to accept her rational view of the matter. The subject had been dropped until they were some way beyond the edge of Badger’s Wood in Church Lane. Jonah had pointed out that his house could be seen across the two large fields that lay to their left.

“Oh yes. Doesn’t it look pretty, nestled on the hillside like that that? Is that top window my bedroom?”

“Sure is. Different view from a tower block in East London, eh?”

At that point Lydia had stopped and squinted in the direction of Jonah’s house.

“What’s that in the window? Good heavens! It looks like a face.”

Jonah was in the habit of taking his binoculars along on country walks. He’d brought them up to his eyes and taken an involuntary breath.

“It’s her. I swear it is.”

“Who?”

Jonah had taken the binoculars from his neck and handed them to Lydia. She’d looked through them and said

“Can’t see anything now. Must have been a trick of the light. I suppose you’re going to tell me it was The Grey Lady, aren’t you? I think you’re seeing what you want to see.”

“You think I want to see The Grey Lady – in my house?”

“Why not? She’s fun, exciting, mysterious. I reckon you’re getting a kick out of her appearances.”

“But not in my house, for God’s sake.”

“Oh, come on; deep down you know she isn’t in your house. She can’t be, can she? You did lock the door?”

Jonah had felt for the key in his pocket.

“Yes.”

“Well, there you are then.”

“Suppose she’s a ghost?”

Lydia had lifted one eyebrow.

“I don’t believe in ghosts. Take it from me: what we saw was just a trick of the light.”

Jonah hadn’t been entirely convinced. He had, after all, been afforded a better view of this “trick of the light” than Lydia had. Reason prevailed, however, and he’d soon accepted that the mind sometimes puts false constructions on innocuous images. He’d still felt nervous as he placed the big old key into the back door to unlock it. Lydia had chided him with a gentle smile.

“Suppose you’d better search the house, eh?”

“I intend to.”

“Do you want a cup of tea?”

“Yes please.”

Jonah had searched the upstairs of the house with more care than he felt he was entitled to. His eyes had searched every inch of the beds, the tops of dressing tables, the chairs and the carpets. He was looking for the merest hint that something was out of place. Everything had been exactly as he remembered it. He’d thought there might be an unusual chill in the front bedroom. There wasn’t. He’d sniffed the air for the scent of an unfamiliar perfume. Nothing. He’d gone downstairs to where Lydia was filling two mugs, the slightly embarrassed look on his face conveying the necessary message.

“Happy now?” she’d asked.

“Suppose so. How about you?”

“Me? Why me?”

“Well, you’ve got to sleep in that room.”

“Jonah, it was a trick of the light. There’s no ghost of a grey lady. She’s either a figment of your imagination, which I doubt, or she’s a real, solid person. She’s not in the house and there’s no way she can get in if the doors are locked.”

The subject had been duly dropped and a pleasant evening spent in conversation on a wide variety of alternative topics. At ten thirty Lydia had declared herself very tired and had gone to bed. Jonah had needed to be quiet over his own retirement a couple of hours later for fear of waking her.

It hadn’t surprise him when he’d got up the next morning to find Lydia’s bedroom door open. He’d already heard the sound of somebody moving about downstairs. What had surprised him, and put a glimmer of suspicion into his mind, had been the sight of a duvet and pillow on the sofa in the living room. Lydia was buttering a slice of toast in the kitchen.

“Why’s the bedding on the sofa?”

“I had a bad night. Woke up at three o’clock feeling chilled to the core, and I couldn’t breathe properly. Felt as though there was something heavy sitting on my chest. So I got up – struggled more like – and came down to get a hot drink. It felt warmer in the living room, so I brought the duvet down here and finished the night off on the sofa.”

Something of Jonah’s suspicion must have shown on his face, for Lydia continued

“Forget it. It was nothing to do with grey ladies. It was just a stress reaction, that’s all. I’ve been working in A&E for the last month. Stress affects me like that.”

“Fair enough. You OK now?”

“Yes, thanks.”

Sunday had been spent with some languid conversation, a lunch of home made soup and a walk to Norham village to view the 14th century church. Then Jonah had driven his guest back to the station in time to catch the 4.51 train.

He’d felt unsettled throughout Sunday evening. He’d got used to having somebody else in the house surprisingly quickly, and now he was alone again. He’d realised that, although he was generally well suited to living singly, sometimes the need of a companion called quietly from some hidden part of his mind.

He’d shrugged the feeling off and become more engrossed with the question of when the practical joker was going to make her next appearance. He’d gone to bed at around midnight without the slightest hint of consternation. Lydia had convinced him. He’d even had an untroubled night’s rest – until about half a minute after the alarm had gone off that morning.

He finished his breakfast and looked at the clock. Time to get a move on. But the memory of the voice suddenly caught his attention again. It had sounded so clear. Could it really have been just his imagination? He remembered Lydia’s words:

“I think you’re seeing what you want to see.”

Maybe he was hearing what he wanted to hear too. He still found it hard to believe; and the phrase “treat me with respect” troubled him. Why would he imagine that? And what could it mean?

He got himself ready and went out by the back door as usual. He made doubly sure that it was locked, and even managed a wry smile to himself. As he walked down the path he turned and looked up at the front bedroom window. Nothing there, of course. He climbed into his car, parked in the old wooden garage at the bottom of the garden, and started the engine. He fastened the seat belt and drove down the short incline that led onto the lane. He pulled out slowly, carefully checking the view of the road that was partially restricted by the high privet hedge. Once he was sure the way was clear, he drove onto the lane and instinctively checked his rear view mirror to be sure that nothing was coming around the bend about fifty yards away.

And then his right foot hit the brake pedal hard. The first thing he saw in the mirror was a woman in a long grey dress, standing at the bottom of the path and waving to him, just as a wife might wave goodbye to her husband. But this vision was different to the others. Her hair was unrestrained, cascading freely over her shoulders to a point just above her waist.

He swung around to get a direct view through the rear window. The spot was empty. He knew, as before, that there would be no point in getting out of the car. He sat there for several minutes, every inch of his skin tingling slightly. His brain was a disoriented mass of imaginings and disjointed thoughts. One thing that came clearly to his mind, however, was that phrase again: “Treat me with respect.” Something crept into his conscious mind and told him what it meant. “Don’t insult me by believing I’m not real.”

The loud hoot of a horn jerked him back into the world of mundane materiality. Another vehicle was behind his on the single track road and the driver wanted him to move. So move he did, driving away from the house without another glance in the mirror. He wondered whether his mind was in a fit state to cope with the rigours of modern traffic. The confusion cleared quickly, however, as his consciousness focused on one abiding consideration that he knew would gnaw at him until it was settled.

Abigail was coming closer. Whoever or whatever she was, that fact could no longer be doubted. How close was she capable of coming? How close did he want her to come? He sighed in resignation and said quietly to himself

“This is going to take some getting used to.”

August 04, 2013

An Episode in Three Lives.

This is the only story I ever wrote that was consciously written as an allegory. I know exactly what it alludes to, but it would be wrong to explain it; it is surely in the nature of allegories to permit infinite, subjective interpretation. I might just say, however, that the three queens are real people.

It has never been offered for publication, and I doubt it ever will be.

Approximate reading time: 10-15 minutes.

---------------------------------------------------

Little Billy Jones was five and a half years old. He knew as much because he vaguely remembered having had a birthday not long ago, on which occasion there had been birthday cards with big number 5s on them. It must have been autumn at the time because it was dark outside when he went to bed at 7.30, and he remembered liking the sound of the wind blowing dry leaves around, somewhere out there beyond his lighted bedroom. The flowers he could now see growing in the garden outside his window told him that autumn and winter must have passed, and that spring must have come along to replace them.

So he knew he was five and a half years old. What he didn’t know was why he spent every day alone in a room with no friends and no toys to play with. All, that is, except a rubber ball which he bounced against a wall and caught over and over again.

He had other vague memories, too. He vaguely remembered playing in the street and the woods and his house with other children. He vaguely remembered there having been a cupboard with toys of many kinds, toys that had once been surprises wrapped in coloured paper and handed to him at Christmas and on other birthdays. Or so he assumed; the other birthdays were the vaguest memory of all. And he vaguely remembered taking meals with people of various ages, whom he further assumed must have been his family.

Where had they all gone? He didn’t remember them leaving, and he didn’t remember being shut up in this room with a door that was always locked. He picked up the ball and began bouncing and catching, bouncing and catching, bouncing and catching.

The door opened and his one occasional visitor walked in – an elderly crone with a leathery face and tight, implacable mouth. She walked in frequently, without ever knocking, and always did the same thing: she caught the ball and threw it to the far side of the room where it trickled lamely to a stop by the skirting board, and then she stooped and stared at Billy with an ugly, leering face.

‘What do you want?’ asked Billy.

‘Nothing.’

‘Why are you here, then?’

‘Why shouldn’t I be here?’

‘Because it’s my room, not yours.’

‘Who says it’s your room? And so what, anyway? I don’t beat you, do I? Or scald you with boiling water, or pull your hair out by the roots, or pinch your stupid little face. Do I?’

‘No, but I don’t like you. I don’t like you being here.’

‘I don’t like you either, and I don’t much like coming here.’

‘So why do you come here?’

‘Because it suits my purpose, and I can go wherever I want to go and do whatever I want to do. Get used to it.’

And then the crone walked out, as she always did. This malicious little scenario, pregnant with an air of unexplained nastiness, was becoming a tediously repetitive event. Billy felt confused and desperate, which was how he always felt. When he tried the door, it was locked. It was always locked.

He didn’t walk to the far side of the room to pick up the ball. Bouncing and catching a ball held little appeal at that moment, and so he went and sat in a chair instead. He felt achingly tired, and fell asleep.

*  *  *

When he woke up, the room had changed. The windows were black, which meant it must be dark outside. And that meant it must be late, although he didn’t know how late because there was no clock in the room.

He looked around at the walls, sparsely lit by a single dim bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling. Every inch of wall was covered with red satin drapes, and when he searched for the windows again to be sure that he’d been right about the lateness of the hour, even they had disappeared. There was only an eternity of red, shining folds; some dull, and some duller. He looked at the floor, and that was red, too. This sudden projection into a world of subdued redness sent his mind lurching to a further level of enervating confusion. He asked himself the question: ‘Is all this real?’ Even the enquiry confused him, because the very concept of whether reality was open to question was something he had never considered before. He was, after all, only five and a half years old. And then he heard a knock at the door.

It startled him. Nobody ever knocked at the door, and how was he to open it since it was always locked? He stared at it for a second, and then rose slowly to his feet. The rising took longer than he expected, and when he looked down he felt unbalanced, both physically and mentally. The floor was much further away than he was used to. To his amazement, he saw that his legs and body were too big to be a child’s legs and body. He looked at his hands and arms, and saw that they were the hands and arms of a man in his prime: firm and strongly muscled. He walked over to the small mirror which stood on a chest of drawers and looked in it. He recognised his own face, but it was twenty or thirty years older. Another knock at the door re-focussed his addled mind. He walked to it feeling a thrill of nervous anticipation, and slowly turned the knob. The door opened.

He looked out on nothing but darkness and a heavy mist. There was no sky and no ground. And then he saw a pinpoint of light appear, high up where he assumed the sky must be. It looked like a star, but it was a lone star.

‘Hello,’ he called. ‘Who’s there?’ His own voice sounded strong and strangely deep, but the woman’s voice which answered came in a whisper. It sounded young.

‘May I come in, Billy?’

‘Who are you?’

‘Life.’

‘Life?’

‘Yes, life.’ The whisper was emphatic. ‘May I come in?’

Billy’s skin prickled, his nerve ends tingled, and his head swam. Only one woman ever came in here, and she was old and never asked permission. But then, the walls had never been red before. A hint of fear coursed through him, but it was tinged with excitement.

‘Yes, you may,’ he replied.

He stood away from the door and waited, but nothing appeared. He walked back to the entrance and looked for the star. It wasn’t there. And then he heard the whisper again, from behind his back this time.

‘Billy.’

He turned to see a young woman, maybe twenty or so, wearing a long black dress with an open back. She was standing sideways to him with her head turned in his direction. She was tall, slim and elegant, and her long, auburn hair hung in ordered waves a little way below her shoulder. Her eyes fixed his in a determined stare that was not unfriendly. They were large, luminous, Jewish eyes, full of warmth and promise. They matched the passion of her mouth, and they betrayed a level of experience beyond her apparent age.

‘Sit down Billy,’ she whispered again. Billy sat down.

The whispering girl took up a position facing him, legs together, eyes closed, and her hands cupped gently in front of her stomach. She appeared to be composing herself for some endeavour, while Billy sat transfixed and waited. She took a long, deep breath, then raised her right arm and clicked her fingers.

The music that filled the room came from no visible source, and yet the sudden transition from silence to the sound of a deep, incessant rhythm and hypnotic, compelling melody did not surprise him. He had gone beyond being surprised. He watched with a sense of awe that seemed merely inevitable as the girl began to dance.

The long black dress did nothing to hide the poetry that moved within it. Every inch of her, from the bare feet that lifted her ethereal form, to the legs that carried her effortlessly through sweeps and circles, to the arms that traced misty echoes of themselves through the air, to the shoulders that dipped and the hair that swung and the eyes that switched from fire to ice to water and back again. It was a seamless, sublime and scintillating performance. Billy watched spellbound, and the only thing that surprised him was the indisputable fact that the child of five and a half was now a grown man who understood and reciprocated this very embodiment of pure passion.

The girl moved towards him and took both his hands, lifting him to a standing position. Their eyes met on a level, and she whispered again:

‘Follow me.’

Billy followed her movements as the music continued to play. He lacked the grace of the girl, but that didn’t matter. He took the meaning and matched the style, at least. And so it went on, and on, and Billy’s mind fell into a state of euphoria that allowed no concept of reality or meaning to pollute the moment of connection.

And then the music stopped. The girl reached for his hands, leant forward to kiss him briefly on the lips, and then stepped back. Her nose wrinkled and her shoulders lifted in a giggle of girlish delight.

‘I’m going now, Billy, but you’ll see me again. My sisters will be with me and there will be no goodbyes next time. Close your eyes.’

Billy declined to obey, but his eyes closed of their own volition; and when he opened them again, she was gone. He sank to his knees and looked at the floor. What else was worth looking at in this cell without a gaoler? He lay down on it, turned onto his back, and felt a cold spray sting his face.

*  *  *

The view above was no longer the ceiling of a room, but a sky of scudding grey clouds with pink fringes on their trailing edge. They told him that the wind was in the west, and that it was sunset. Another cold splash of spray stung his eyes, and he lifted his hands to wipe them. His hands felt unusually heavy, and when he flexed the fingers to push the water away, they felt stiff and a little painful. He looked at them when the job was done, and saw that they were old now, with pale leather skin stretched tightly over swollen joints, and broken veins making splashes of faded purple among the creamy whiteness. His arms had faded, too: no longer tight and strong, but withered and soft.

He felt the ground beneath him moving rhythmically up and down, lifting first his head, and then his feet, and then his head again. He looked to one side and saw the weather-worn gunwale of a wooden boat. The word ‘barge’ entered his mind, although he had no idea where it came from.

And then he heard the first sounds: the splashing of water against wood, and the repetitive clatter of iron things moving in wooden holes. That strange sense of something vaguely familiar but long forgotten drifted into his mind again. This was the sound of oars moving back and forth in iron rowlocks.

His supine position seemed suddenly helpless and inadequate to further enquiry, and so he lifted himself to rest on his elbows. The effort it took was more than he expected, and he winced as his eyes closed against the ache in his midriff. He made the effort a second time, and brought himself to a sitting position. A tired sigh escaped his lips as he opened his eyes to view his situation.

A quick glance around showed that he was in a boat moving on a body of choppy grey water. The sound of rowing was behind him, but what arrested his gaze was the vision in the stern which he now faced. Three women in all-encompassing gowns stood erect and side by side, apparently at ease with the pitching of the vessel. They were all tall, slim and elegant, and each one had her hands pressed palm to palm in front of her stomach, with the fingers pointing downwards. Another vague memory presented itself. He was sure he’d seen this image before somewhere, and he was also sure that the women’s fingers had been pointing upwards, as though in prayer or supplication. He guessed that these three were not supplicants, and neither were they praying. The one on the left lifted her hands to point the fingers at Billy, and then spoke to him.

‘Greetings, Billy,’ she began. ‘Look at me and know me.’

Billy looked. Her gown was pale blue, the colour of a summer morning’s sky. Her hair was straight and shoulder length, dark but not quite black, and her eyes were clear, sharp and kind. Her smile radiated openness and warmth as she continued:

‘I am Princess. My will is that I receive your pain and bring you comfort. It is a devoted sister’s will, and has its place.’

She lowered her hands, but her eyes remained fixed on Billy’s, projecting a wave of peace and kindness that was almost palpable and did not go unheeded. And then he saw another movement.

He looked to the woman on the right of the group who was now raising her hands in the same way. There was a haze about her, but only briefly. It cleared quickly to reveal the dancer he had met in the red room.

‘Greetings again, Billy,’ she said. ‘Look at me and know me.’

It seemed fitting that her gown should be of the richest crimson. Her hair was still auburn, and arranged as before in ordered waves which fell a little way down her back. Her eyes were hot, languid and playful.

‘I am Life. My will is that I awaken and nurture your masculine spirit. It is a lover’s will, and has its place.’

Her smile was mischievous, but not wanton. The sensation that flowed from her eyes to his was one of volatile emotion, and he felt a stab of allegiance come with it. He remembered the dance and smiled back.

And then it was the turn of the woman in the centre.

‘Greetings, Billy. Look at me and know me again.’

Her gown was purple. Her hair was jet black and short, curving close around her face to sweep up under the sides of her chin. Billy felt a ripple of recognition when he looked into her eyes, which were of the Orient: studiously still and implacably inscrutable.

‘I am Priestess,’ she said. ‘It is my will that I remind you of illusion. It is the will of your twin soul, and has its place.’

From her eyes flowed the strength of timelessness and ancient knowledge. Here was wisdom and an absence of any need to judge. Billy felt briefly inclined to bow, but knew it was unnecessary.

The women fell silent, but continued to stand shoulder to shoulder while their eyes never deviated from Billy’s. It was time to ask a question.

‘Where are you taking me?’

The women spoke together, but it was the voice of Priestess he heard.

‘To the island, a little way ahead.’

‘To die?’

‘To end an illusion and start a new one.’

‘And what of you? Will you leave me then?’

‘Have we ever? Time and the universe have not the means to separate us, Billy. You and I are one.’

Billy’s strength faltered, and he lay back on the deck to watch the clouds give way to stars. All was silent save the slapping of water on boards, and the incessant knocking of oars in rowlocks. He awoke to a fresh morning sky and felt a jolt as the vessel ran up onto the shore. He was still tired and only half awake, but felt himself being lifted and carried until his consciousness gave out altogether.

When it returned and he opened his eyes, he saw a canopy of tree branches above him, replete with leaf buds about to burst into fresh new growth. A warm breeze blew across his body, bringing with it the scent of fresh water. He looked up into the smiling eyes of Princess, and realised that his head was resting on her lap. He lowered them to see Life massaging his feet, and with each press of her fingers, he felt his very essence throb and flow through the length and breadth of his body. He looked to his left where Priestess was kneeling close to his chest and holding an open book.

‘Time and the tide will not be restrained, Billy,’ she said. ‘Are you ready?’

‘Yes.’

Priestess closed the book.

*  *  *

It was a morning early in October, and Billy Jones was preparing for another stint of clearance work in his garden. He decided that today he would trim one of his long boundary hedges. It was tough work with a domestic hedge trimmer, and Billy remarked to himself that he wasn’t as young he used to be. He smirked at the pointlessness of the tired old platitude, and then went out to collect the necessary tools from the shed.

There had been a dense fog the previous night, and the residual mist was still heavy. A patch of brightness told him where the sun was, and he hoped it would soon burn off the mist and the day might develop into one of those golden ones typical of the season. As he walked along his path, he thought he heard a voice whisper somewhere above him. He thought it said ‘I’m still here,’ but the acoustics were deceptive where he lived, and such odd imaginings were not uncommon.

When he reached the end of the path, he saw a group of people walking towards him along the road. There was a little boy wearing a frown, a man, probably in his early thirties, who looked so like the boy that he must have been his father, and an old man who was walking with the aid of a stick. They looked familiar, although the recollection was as hazy as the mist out of which they had appeared. He greeted them anyway with a crisp ‘good morning.’

The little boy and the young man glanced briefly in his direction, but said nothing. The old man looked back at Billy a little longer, his tired eyes gleaming with dampness that seemed to match the day. His lips turned upward briefly in a wry smile, and he nodded. Billy watched them walk on as they became ever more indistinct, until they disappeared altogether into the obscurity of an autumn morning.

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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