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.

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“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.”

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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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