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.

October 30, 2013

Changing Places.

This little tale grew out of a dream and the experience which followed upon waking. Sandy is a real person, and the theatre is still hosting crowded first nights. The editor who accepted it for publication said that it was ‘full of symbolism.’ If it is, it wasn’t intentional, but maybe the writing of symbolism sometimes isn’t.

Unfortunately, it never saw the light of day in print. The publication in which it was scheduled to appear came from another small publishing house that fell victim to difficult circumstances and folded.

Approximate reading time: 15 mins.

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Gareth Jacobson mingled with the crowd as he descended the staircase of his local theatre. He had no sense of history, nor even any memory of the play he’d just watched. He had no thought for anything but the present moment. This was the beginning. It didn’t occur to him that there was any other way of seeing it.

He was thrilled to spot a woman a little way ahead of him. It was Sandy, the woman he had nearly had an affair with once. He remembered that much history. She was talking to a man, and he was saying something she evidently disliked for she looked distressed. The man walked away and Sandy began to cry. Gareth hurried forward and took her hand.

“It’s OK,” he said. “I’m back now.”

Sandy seemed reassured and smiled. They walked out of the theatre hand in hand. The short trip along the road was negotiated quickly and they entered the hallway of a ground floor flat.

“Remember when I used to live here?” said Gareth. “I live upstairs now.”

Soon they were relaxing in Gareth’s living room and he felt ecstatic. Sandy, the woman he had fallen in love with all those years ago, and who had spurned him horribly, was now looking at him with accepting and expectant eyes.

“I have to go home and get some things,” she said.

Gareth looked fondly at her long blonde hair, her slight frame, her pale blue eyes and her small, childlike mouth. He was smitten all over again. It had taken a long time to get her back into his life.

“Where are you staying?” he asked her.

She didn’t reply. Instead, she took him there. They held hands again as they walked down the main road until they came to a Victorian building that had obviously undergone some conversion. There were people milling about, several men whom Gareth didn’t recognise. He assumed them to be itinerant workers at the theatre, backstage staff who worked there for one show and then moved on. They looked at him suspiciously before disappearing into one room or another that formed a warren of temporary lets. They didn’t look at Sandy that way. It seemed that she belonged there, but Gareth was an interloper. He felt intimidated.

The itinerants stepped in and out of their rooms at intervals, seemingly with no purpose other than to regard him with curiosity. Most of them frowned at him. One or two made a pretence at conversation, but any peace between them was an uneasy one. Gareth felt increasingly discomfited. These weren’t his people; a sense of restrained hostility hung about them.

Sandy reappeared. She came up close, looked into his eyes and smiled.

“Let’s go to the theatre,” she said.

Gareth was happy with that. He’d worked at the theatre for a long time and felt comfortable there. It felt like home, and the regular staff were friends. Even the actors were friends. But not these itinerants. He didn’t know why, nor did he question the fact. He and Sandy set off, back up the main road. They didn’t go to the theatre, though, they went to his flat. He lay on the bed as Sandy busied herself emptying a bag. She was talking trivia, and he loved her for it. And then he fell asleep.

The first glimmers of dawn were showing through the window when he woke up. He wondered where Sandy was, but then a note of confusion seeped into his mind. This wasn’t a flat on the outskirts of a northern town. This was his two-bedroom, semi-detached Edwardian house, twenty five miles from the theatre and buried deep in the rural heartland of a neighbouring county. Sandy wasn’t there. Why would she be? She was married and living in Gloucestershire with her husband and two children. He hadn’t seen her for ten years.

He felt a knot of apprehension seize his stomach. He closed his eyes immediately for fear of seeing something he didn’t want to see. The dream of Sandy and the theatre hadn’t gone. Some part of it was overlapping his present reality, and so were the occupants. The itinerants, or at least the energy of which they were composed, were in his bedroom. He could feel their ill will, and knew that he would see some misty aspect of their forms if he opened his eyes. The near-darkness would reveal them. Only the daylight would send them away.

He turned onto his right side, away from where he sensed the itinerants to be, and tried to go back to sleep. The anxiety that had settled firmly in his midriff was gripping him tightly, and it was painful. Sleep failed to come. He listened for a noise, but there was none. He expected that. The itinerants would be silent for now; that was their way.

He turned onto his left side and eased his eyes open just enough to get a brief view of the window. It was getting lighter. He turned and lay on his back for a while, but kept his eyes firmly shut. The silence of the early hours was soporific, but not enough to send him to sleep. The wait seemed to go on for ever. And then a bird began to sing, a robin if he wasn’t mistaken. He took the risk and opened his eyes. His bedroom was empty and washed in the gentle light of early morning.

He went downstairs to fetch a cigarette. He climbed back into bed, smoked the cigarette and then fell immediately into an easy sleep. He woke up at ten o’clock.

Sunlight was breaking through the window at a sharp angle and lighting up the very spot where he had sensed the itinerants to be lurking. They had gone now, his fear of them had gone, and yet his recollection of that fear was still strong. So was his conviction that they really had been there, easing their menacing forms into the periphery of his world. His feelings were mixed. Sandy had seemed real too, and seeing her again had been an almighty thrill. As his brain acclimatised itself to the prosaic reality of a November morning, the dream faded into the mist of its own creation. Sense and sensibility melded into a comfortable union and he got up.

The day was uneventful. Memories of the dream kept pressing themselves into his mind, however, as he went about the mundane tasks that mundane reality placed before him. His feelings were ambivalent, rocking back and forth between the thrill of being with Sandy and his sense of disquiet over the itinerants. More than that, his fully conscious, rational mind was refusing to let go of the belief that his earlier, half slumbering one hadn’t been wrong. He couldn’t shake off the conviction that the dream had crossed over somehow, and that his bedroom really had played host to some unwelcome visitors.

He felt tense when he went to bed that night, but he had no dreams, at least none that he remembered. And so it continued for a week. The memory of Sandy, the itinerants and the sense of malice left him. Life returned to normal.

He found himself walking down the staircase of his local theatre. He had no memory of anything, no sense of history, only the perception of the present moment. He saw a woman a little way ahead of him and realised that it was Sandy, a woman he had nearly had an affair with once. It was the one piece of history he remembered. The pain of her earlier rejection stung him, but he had never lost his feelings for her. He wasn’t surprised to see her there. It seemed inevitable, somehow. He hurried to her, just as the man she had been talking to was walking away. Sandy was crying. He took her hand in his.

“It’s OK, I’m back now,” he said.

She seemed pleased and relieved. She squeezed his hand and they walked out of the theatre together. In an instant they were relaxing in his living room.

“What did that man say to you?” asked Gareth.

“I don’t remember. I think it was something to do with being trapped if I didn’t do what he wanted.”

“And what did he want?”

“Don’t know. I just remember there was something dark and threatening about him.”

She looked confused for a second, and then said brightly

“I have to go home and get some things.”

They were in the building where Sandy was renting a room. She disappeared through a door and Gareth was left alone. Several strangers came out of their own rooms and took an unfriendly interest in him. Three or four of them walked around him, looking him up and down. One reached out and prodded his arm, and then Sandy reappeared.

“Let’s go to the theatre,” she said.

Gareth felt an acute sense of déjà vu.

“But we don’t go to the theatre.”

“No, that’s right,” she replied.

They were in Gareth’s living room. Sandy was unpacking a bag. She stopped suddenly and frowned quizzically at him.

“How did you know we wouldn’t go to the theatre?” she asked.

“No idea; just knew it.”

“Me too. I’m glad we’re back together, though.”

“So am I,” he said as he lay on the bed and stifled a yawn.

He dozed briefly and then opened his eyes. The ceiling light was off, but some small amount of illumination was coming through a window to his left. He was confused. The window was in the wrong place. Where was he, and where was Sandy? He was in a different room. He saw a movement beyond the foot of his bed, a fleeting glimpse of a shadowy figure. Terror gripped him as his waking memory flooded back. He reached out instinctively and switched on the bedside lamp, then turned to look sharply at the space beyond the foot of his bed. The room was empty. A ripple of nervous energy ran down his back as a massive sense of relief mingled with a sickening sense of invasion.

He didn’t even consider trying to go back to sleep. He lay wide awake under the covers, taking some small comfort from the warmth. He thought incessantly about the dreams, and about the uncomfortable experience of waking from them. He remembered having discussed the question “what is reality?” on several occasions with a Buddhist friend. She had said to him once:

“How do you know that this thing we call ‘reality’ is the only sort? The only yardstick you have is your self awareness and the evidence of your five senses. But you’re aware of yourself in dreams, too; you can feel pleasure and sorrow; you can even experience physical pain; you can see and smell and touch things. So how do you know it’s any less real? How can you be sure that the reality of daily existence isn’t an illusion - that it’s just another sort of dream that you’ll wake from one day?”

It had made sense to him then, and it made even more sense now as he watched a fly-laden spider’s web shiver in the cold breeze outside his window. It was slowly getting lighter, and the brightening sky lent encouragement to his rational mind.

He decided that the present spell of clement weather would provide a good opportunity to trim one of his tough boundary hedges. The hard work would provide a good way of engaging with reality in its simplest form. He got up and had an early breakfast.

He was right about the hard work. By four in the afternoon he was feeling properly weary, the healthy sort of fatigue that comes from earnest outdoor labour. He took his time clearing up his tools and going through a few regular evening routines. He made his dinner, ate it and then washed the dishes. He felt relaxed and decided to watch a film he’d recorded. He dozed briefly several times during the course of it, and each time he woke up he felt content that normal service had been resumed. He went to bed slightly earlier than usual and fell quickly into a deep sleep.

He found himself walking down the staircase of a theatre. He knew the place well and felt comfortable there. He spotted a woman with long blonde hair and recognised her at once as Sandy, the woman he had come close to having an affair with once. She was with a man who seemed to be talking aggressively to her. Gareth started to hurry forward, but felt a sudden surge of reluctance engulf him.

He slowed his pace as he tried to make sense of his hesitation. Why did he feel so apprehensive? He had fallen hopelessly in love with Sandy, and seeing her again after all these years was thrilling. Was it the fact that he remembered the pain of rejection? No, he knew he’d got over that a long time ago.

His head began to swim. It felt as though his mind was splitting into two. The dominant part was telling him to press on, to do what he was supposed to do. But something else was gaining strength, something that was calling from another part of his consciousness. It was demanding caution; it was telling him to remember something important, something to do with another level of existence. But press on he did. He felt compelled to take Sandy’s hand as he came up alongside her. The man she had been talking to was walking away.

Sandy looked into his eyes. Her own were tear stained, but she smiled at the sight of him.

“It’s OK, I’m back now,” he said. “Why are you crying? What was that man saying to you?”

“That if I didn’t find him a victim I’d be trapped here forever. I don’t like it here. It’s always dark. I’ve been here lots of times.”

“Don’t you live here, then?”

Sandy looked confused for a moment.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know. I just know I keep coming here.”

“I think I do too, but I can’t make sense of anything. On the stairs back then, I knew I didn’t want to be here.”

Sandy brightened up.

“Let’s go to your place,” she said.

Gareth felt the same sense of reluctance, but he didn’t know what else to do; it seemed the only option available. They walked out of the theatre hand in hand and found themselves in his living room. He felt a pressing sense of déjà vu again, and stirrings of some unexplained fear came with it. He didn’t want to be in this room, of that he was certain.

“Let’s go to my place and get my things,” said Sandy.

Gareth stared at her. Whatever it was, it was happening again. What was? He couldn’t remember.

“I don’t think we should. Something bad will happen.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. You want us to be together, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, there you are then. That’s what we’re doing. That’s why I have to get my things.”

They walked hand in hand down the main road until they arrived at Sandy’s lodging.

“Won’t take long,” she said as she opened the door to her apartment. “Wait for me here.”

Gareth looked around nervously. This scene was familiar too, and it felt threatening. He wasn’t surprised when several ill-countenanced characters appeared from a number of the doors that lined the corridor. He was expecting it. A sense of dread settled as a twisted knot in his stomach, and that was when he remembered the dream he had been having lately, a dream of waking up in a half lighted room with shadowy figures, like ghosts, menacing him. These were the ghosts; he knew it. But how could he know it? They gathered into a group and stood watching him. Sandy reappeared.

“Let’s go to the theatre,” she said.

Her words brought the picture of the dream clearer, and a growing suspicion pressed itself into his mind.

“Yes, yes,” he said enthusiastically. “We must go to the theatre.”

“Oh, but I’ve just remembered. We don’t go to the theatre. We go back to your place,” she continued, a hint of uncertainty appearing in her eyes.

“Let’s walk,” he said, taking her by the arm. “While we’re walking, though, watch the pavement and the street lamps. Listen to what I’m saying but keep watching them. They have to stay real.”

“Gareth, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”

“Not yet you haven’t, but do as I say and I’ll explain while we’re walking. And remember that the theatre is only a little way up the road. We must reach it before we get sidetracked to my place.”

It was clear from the look in Sandy’s eyes that she understood there was something odd happening, and that Gareth apparently knew something she didn’t. She reached out to take his hand as they began walking.

“No, we mustn’t hold hands,” he said. “It’s part of what’s connecting us. You never held my hand in the old days, did you?”

“I don’t remember.”

“I can assure you, you didn’t.”

“OK, but what’s this all about?”

Gareth turned around to see what he was expecting. A group of men were following them. He turned back and concentrated on the hardness of the pavement beneath their feet.

“Sandy, have you been having a repetitive dream lately?”

She thought for a moment.

“Yes.”

“What was it about?”

“I was living in a lovely house with a husband and two daughters. I was sorry to wake up. Everything was so vivid. I really felt maternal. They were beautiful children. I didn’t want to come back here.”

“Me too. My dream was of living in a house in the country. It was early morning and there were ghosts in my bedroom. They’re the ghosts,” he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “This is going to sound pretty incredible, but something deep inside is telling me that this is the dream. Your family and my house in the country are real. Those creatures behind us are trying to get into the real world, and they’re doing it through me. They’re trying to change places. Keep watching the pavement.”

“But how can that be? When you’re dreaming you don’t know it’s a dream.”

“I know. That’s how it works, I’m sure of it. What did that man say to you exactly? Try to remember every word.”

“Well, I was just starting to walk down the staircase. He came alongside me and took my arm roughly. He had a horrible, aggressive manner about him. He said ‘You have to bring somebody here. It can be anybody as long as it’s a man. It has to be a man. Do it now.’ I said I didn’t know how to do that. He said ‘All you have to do is think of somebody; somebody connected with this place would be best.’ I asked him why he wanted me to do it. ‘Because I need somebody for an exchange I have to conduct,’ he said. ‘It’s none of your business. Just do it.’ I told him I didn’t want any part of his horrible plan and that I wasn’t going to do it. That was when he told me that if I didn’t, I would be trapped here forever instead of the victim, and that I would never see my husband or children again. I believed him. That was when I started to cry. We were just approaching the bottom of the stairs. I looked at the forecourt beyond the doors and remembered that time when I wanted to talk to you about our relationship. You yelled at me and I turned round and went home. Do you remember?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Anyway, a second or two later and there you were, taking my hand. I was so glad to see you. I forgot all about the man and what he’d said to me. I just felt comfortable with you and wanted us to be together. Oh God, Gareth, that’s horrible. I summoned you here. You’re the victim. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Gareth reassuringly. “It wasn’t your fault. Everything’s coming back to me now. Our relationship never had proper closure, at least not to me it didn’t. I never let you go. I dreamed about you frequently, and I’m sure that’s part of the reason why I was the natural one to summon into this dream. I was maintaining the link between us. It wasn’t your fault.”

“So this is definitely a dream, then?”

“Who the hell knows what this is? It certainly isn’t waking reality. I remember that too well now. I remember the previous dreams and what happened when I woke up. I don’t think I will wake up if it happens again, at least not in the real world. I’ll be stuck here in the dark. Maybe I’ll become one of those creatures who have to change places with a victim. That’s why we have to break the cycle, take control of our own dreams. This place has to have some basis in dream consciousness. If that is the case, we should be able to manipulate it with our own will. That’s why we’re going to the theatre. I’m sure the flat we kept going back to was something of his creation. I never lived in a flat, did I?”

“So how do we get to the theatre?”

“It’s there, look.”

“I can’t see it.”

“Yes you can. Imagine it. We’re outside the main gate. The whole place is lit up. It’s first night. There are people walking from the car park and going in by the main doors. Imagine it, as hard as you can.”

“God, yes. It’s coming clearer. It’s just like the old days.”

“Good. Come on then.”

They walked towards the building and pushed open the first of two sets of double doors. A man dressed in a security guard’s uniform was standing in the space between them.

“Oh God, no. It’s him,” whispered Sandy fearfully. “That’s the man.”

“Do you have tickets?” the man asked, barring their way.

“We don’t need tickets,” said Gareth, a wave of consternation running down his spine as he faced the architect of his intended imprisonment. The man was tall, heavily built and had a strong and menacing presence.

“Oh yes you do. If you don’t have tickets, you don’t come in. Go home.”

Gareth felt himself begin to tremble, but he thought quickly.

“Sandy, think of somebody you knew here, somebody strong who doesn’t take ‘no’ easily.”

Sandy looked at him.

“Laura,” she said decisively.

“Good choice.”

In an instant, Laura the design manager swept through the inner set of double doors.

“Sandy, how lovely to see you,” she said, grinning broadly. “Come on in. Let’s have a drink before the show starts.”

“They can’t come in here,” bellowed the security guard. “They don’t have tickets.”

“They don’t need tickets,” answered Laura firmly. “They’re my guests.”

She took Sandy’s arm and began to guide her through the doors.

“Sandy,” called Gareth.

She turned around and he held out his hand. Sandy took it and pulled him through. Gareth looked around briefly. The security guard’s face was a mask of pure malice. Outside the doors, a group of men were wailing and beating on the glass.

“Not this time,” he said with a hint of pity in his voice.

“What now?” asked Sandy.

Laura had disappeared.

“Up the stairs.”

They pushed their way through the crowd of people and made their way up to the bar area. That was crowded too. The image of a first night scenario was holding well. Gareth pulled Sandy through the melee to the other end, as far as they could get from the stairs. The babble of the first night crowd stopped abruptly. The bar was empty.

“We made it,” said Gareth triumphantly. “We can escape now.”

“You can, you mean. What about me? That man said I’d be trapped here if I didn’t provide a victim.”

“He was lying. The only way you could be trapped here is if you were used in an exchange. Obviously, he couldn’t do that. Those creatures were all men; that was why he needed me. Must be something to do with masculine energies, I suppose. If he could have made the exchange with you, he would have done so already.”

“Sounds logical, I suppose; but can you be sure?”

“Of course. All you have to do is go to sleep and you’ll wake up in the real world, just as you’ve always done.”

Gareth didn’t feel quite as confident as he sounded, but he knew that this was no time for allowing doubt to remain in Sandy’s mind. He knew she needed to have the confidence to control her own destiny. He had to help her gain it.

“OK, so what do we do then?” she asked.

“Go to sleep.”

“Oh, right, that simple?”

“Yup, that simple.”

“But I’m not tired. I’m full of nerves. This whole thing is cracking me up.”

“OK, imagine this. It’s two o’clock in the morning. You’ve been on since 10am yesterday. Hold that in your mind. You’ve been doing some work for the next show and have just finished clearing up in the workshop. You always were a workaholic. You’re weary; you can relax now.”

Sandy yawned.

“Hey, this is good. All you have to do is imagine something and you get it. I think I’ll come here more often. On second thoughts... Oh no! Gareth, look!”

She pointed in the direction of the staircase. Gareth followed her finger and saw the man who had tried to bar their way walking slowly up the stairs. His eyes looked angry; his bearing conveyed a steely determination and evil intent. Gareth felt a shock of apprehension, but quickly came to terms with the needs of the moment. He looked at Sandy.

“Who was the most imposing security man you ever remember in this place?” he asked.

Sandy’s eyes widened. She obviously understood.

“Big Jake,” she said. “He was an ex marine - wasn’t afraid of anything.”

“I agree. He’s at the top of the stairs.”

The burly, six foot six inch frame of Jake O’Malley stood at the top of the staircase like a colossus.

“The theatre’s closed, sir. You’ll have to leave,” he said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I can go wherever I want to,” replied the man.

“Not here you can’t. This is private property and it’s closed.”

“Get out of my way,” said the man, trying to walk around him.

Jake moved too, blocking the top step.

“Leave now, please. You’re trespassing.”

The man tried a side-step on the other side, but Jake kept pace with him easily. The man looked furious. It was obvious that he was unable to challenge the dream image physically; and it seemed the reality was also sufficiently strong that he couldn’t counter the lawful authority either. He stole a final, fearsome look at Sandy before walking back down the stairs. Jake remained on guard, his arms folded resolutely.

“Still sleepy?” asked Gareth.

“More than ever,” she said. “God, that was a relief.”

They were sitting on separate sofas at the end of the bar area. Sandy looked drained; her eyelids began to droop. She lay down and turned onto her side, and Gareth watched dutifully until her form faded to nothing. He stole a final glance at the redoubtable Jake and closed his own eyes.

The gentle light of early morning was easing through his window when he woke up. The only sound was the wind whistling through the near-naked tree branches. He opened his eyes. Everything was as it should be; the air felt pure and wholesome. He got up, threw his dressing gown on and went downstairs to make a welcome cup of hot tea. He smoked two cigarettes in quick succession, and wondered where he should go from here.

He considered trying to contact Sandy, although he had no idea where she lived. He didn’t have her phone number or her e-mail address, but knew that he could probably find out with a little effort. He decided against it. She might not even remember the dreams and would treat such an outlandish story with contempt. Besides, he thought, maybe it was time to let her go.

He realised she might contact him, but he doubted it. He would deal with that if it happened. For the time being he was content to remember her peaceful, sleeping form gradually disappearing on the theatre sofa. That was closure enough.

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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