THE PITYING HEART

THE PITYING HEART 

David Calvert

church 3

Jenny Bowcombe stared at the oaken figure of Edmund D’Lyle in the chancel of Saint Olave’s church, the site from where her beloved Lucy had disappeared. There was no longer any doubt in her mind that it was the remarkable resemblance between Edmund’s effigy and Lucy’s late father that had attracted her daughter to the chancel. As she looked on she, too, felt a strange affinity towards the centuries old memorial. How often she had wished it could speak, that it might resolve the endless uncertainty of Lucy’s whereabouts.

           It had taken the better part of two years for Jenny to come to terms with the death of her husband, Richard, and in her darkest moments had taken comfort in the love of their daughter. Now she too was  gone and Jenny would have ended the unremitting loneliness and heartbreak were it not for her uncompromising belief that she still lived and would someday be reunited with her.

          Richard’s sudden passing had brought an unwelcoming change in the eight-year-old’s demeanour. Withdrawn and ill-tempered, she had begun to weave a web of secrecy about herself. What worried Jenny most of all, however, were her increasingly prolonged absences from home. She had shown great leniency towards her daughter until the day she strolled into the house, two hours late from school. This time she was not going to be fobbed off with any lame excuses. She had spent the latter hour in a state of near panic. Now she demanded to know the truth.

         “I’ve been going to the chapel.” Lucy wept. “I go there when I want to talk to daddy.”

          Jenny was lost for words. Ever the pragmatist, she believed in the here and now rather than the hereafter. Finding comfort and solace in outmoded beliefs was not her style, but if it was Lucy’s way of coming to terms with the loss of her father then she would not stand in her way.

           Life continued apace in the tiny hamlet of Arken. The now fifteen-year-old Lucy was a regular worshipper at St. Olave’s and was often seen by rector Phillips staring into the ageless face of Edmund D’Lyle. Her intense fascination with the relic mystified him, though he never once broached her on the subject.

            It was on the eve of her sixteenth birthday when the storm hit the island. With merciless ferocity it raged across it, uprooting trees and flooding vast tracts of farmland in its wake. Even in the naturally formed inlet, which had provided a safe haven for countless generations of seafarers, the destruction was total as the roiling turbulence crashed in on the moored vessels, rendering them into useless flotsam. Not even hallowed ground was safe on such a night.

stormy

             From the rectory window the ageing rector Phillips witnessed the single lightning bolt strike the chapel, iridescent lights lighting up the stained glass windows from within. Braving the elements, he set out to scrutinize the damage.

             On first inspection it seemed that nothing untoward had happened, but as he approached Edmund’s effigy he noticed the fragmented shards of the knight’s steel misericord lying on the floor. They were hot to the touch. Though there was no evidence suggesting a possible entry point, the lightning bolt had apparently struck the weapon and shattered it. What he found even more perplexing was that the fine chrysoberyl jewel that had adorned its hilt was missing. It was only in the aftermath of the storm that he discovered the tangled wreckage of Lucy’s bicycle lying beneath a wind felled oak in the churchyard. Reassuring himself that she was not among the twisted foliage and broken boughs he dashed back into the chapel, fully expecting to find her poor inert body lying somewhere among the pews, but she was nowhere to be seen. Lucy had vanished without trace.

           Jenny’s memories were bittersweet. Richard’s securement as Arken’s only GP had been particularly memorable, because it was the very same day she broke the news to him of her pregnancy. Lucy became the source of his pride and joy; they were inseparable. That he harboured an ambition that she might one day follow in his footsteps were readily apparent in his choice of gifts for her. Prized among them was a gold charm bracelet from which hung a single lamp, a lasting reminder that she was his ‘lady of the lamp’.

          “Can I help you?”

          Jenny flinched and turned to see the darkly dressed figure of a clergyman standing in the aisle.

           “Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you.” he said.

            In her eyes he saw the hauntingly familiar look of unresolved grief. He sat next to her and proffered a friendly hand, greeting her with a pleasant, almost boyish, smile. “The name’s Tremayne. The Reverend Anthony Lucas Tremayne, to be exact. I’m rector Phillips’ replacement,” he said, his face broadening into a cheerful grin.

            She took hold of his outstretched hand. “Mine’s Jenny.” 

             “I couldn’t help noticing your fascination with Arken’s local hero” he said. “He’s quite an interesting character, don’t you think?”

              “Is he? I’m afraid I’ll have to take your word for that. History isn’t exactly my strong point.”

               “Oh, indeed he was. Did you know that for centuries he was said to be the founder of this church?”

                “No, no, I didn’t.  But as I said before…”

                “Of course: ‘history isn’t your strong point’” he recalled.

                “The truth is that he was actually a crusader who fought in Alexandria and Syria. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious head wound in the latter campaign and was shipped back to England, and then on to Arken. The poor chap became quite deranged at the end and died.”

                  Jenny’s thoughts wandered from Edmund to a more recent and intimately tragic history.

                  Mistaking her abstraction as a sign of disinterest the young cleric apologised for having disturbed her and made to leave, but was forestalled by her insistence that he carry on.

                  “I’d love to.” he replied, glancing at his wristwatch. “Unfortunately, I have to keep a prior appointment. Perhaps we could meet at the rectory tomorrow to continue our chat.” he suggested. “Lord knows, I’ve had little chance to get acquainted with my flock.”

                  The airy interior of the rectory came as a welcoming respite from the excesses of the midday sun and Jenny could not help but feel a little envious of the Reverend at having such a shaded sanctuary. Unlike his predecessor, the young cleric insisted that the formalities of his office be set aside, preferring simply to be known as Lucas. Jenny was happy to oblige him; she found the use of such titles pretentious at best. That he was also more enlightened than his predecessor was evidenced by the numerous scientific journals, which adorned the bookshelves.

                  “I got the impression from you yesterday” she began, “that there was more to the story of Edmund D’Lyle.”

                   “Yes there is.” He relaxed into his armchair and took a sip from his iced tea. “During my researches into the last crusades I came across a document bearing his name. It was written by Philip De Mezieres, Chancellor to Peter the First of Cyprus. He and the King were responsible for the organisation of the 1365 crusade. They came to London to secure the help of several English knights, one of them being Edmund. As you know, he eventually returned to England and died. That he lived as long as he did was entirely due to his companion. She apparently travelled everywhere with him.”

                   The painful memories of her past began to reassert themselves again. Jenny knew only too well the wretchedness of losing loved ones. In the midst of her thoughts a single word – ‘misericord’ – brought her back to the present.

           “I was just saying as how it is something of a mystery to me.” Lucas said, in response to her question.

             “Oh! Why is that?”

             “Well, according to my records the effigy is supposed to be holding a misericord in its hand. True misericords were used to put an end to the suffering of battlefield victims. Their name is derived from the Latin for ‘pitying heart’. However, these were a special honour bestowed upon the knights by the King for their efforts in the crusades. Edmund’s is missing – jewel and all.”

         “Didn’t Rector Philips fill you in on what happened before you took over his duties?”

          “No. His departure to the mainland was rather sudden.”

          “Then you know absolutely nothing of what happened here?”

           “I’m afraid not.”

           Jenny had, wherever and whenever possible, avoided protracted conversations concerning Lucy, but to tell the story of the missing misericord without once mentioning her involvement was akin to omitting the ‘great fish’ from the biblical story of Jonah. She took a calming breath before giving her account.

            A look of surprise crossed the cleric’s face at the mention of her daughter’s name, occasioning Jenny to enquire if something was wrong.

            He looked at her with uncertainty. Smiling nervously, he replied, “There isn’t, unless your surname happens to be Bowcombe.”

            Her confirmation had a curious effect on him. He seemed reluctant to pursue the matter any further, inciting Jenny to ask again if anything was wrong.

            The mention of Lucy’s name had set off a disturbing train of thought. “It’s nothing.” he said, ultimately. “Mere coincidence.”

             “Coincidence?”

             “Yes. You see Edmund’s companion’s name was Lucy Bowcombe, too.” he said.

              Jenny sensed there was more to it than that. Something other than sheer coincidence had generated his nervous response, and she intended to get to the bottom of it.

            Failing to allay her suspicions, Lucas finally gave way.

           “You’re right;” he said, “I haven’t told you everything about the historical Lucy, and with good reason. I’m not sure I believe it myself. Perhaps if we apply the principle of Occam’s razor things will become clearer.”

           “Occam‘s razor? Never heard of it” Jenny admitted.

           “Briefly stated it’s this: if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, the chances are it is a duck. In other words, there’s no requirement to form a more complex assumption or theory.”

            Jenny was becoming agitated. “And the point is?”

            “I’m coming to that. But first I need to check everything you’ve told me about your daughter is correct. You said she disappeared when she was fifteen, and that the jewel vanished at the same time – yes?”

            “Yes.” she sighed.

            “And you’re quite sure that all this took place on August the 10th ?”

            “Of course I am! I’m hardly likely to be mistaken about it, now am I?” she snapped. “If there is a point to this, Lucas, I wish you’d make it.”

            He braced himself. “As a consequence of my investigations into Edmund”, he began, “I came across the story of Lucy Bowcombe. Apparently, after a terrible storm, she was discovered in the chancel by a local farmer. She was in a highly agitated state, and could remember nothing of her past, other than her name. Contemporary reports said that she was between fourteen to sixteen-years-old, and spoke in a curious tongue. The date was August 10 , 1362.”

            It was abundantly clear now what Lucas was leading up to, and Jenny balked at the absurdity of it.

            “But you said this girl spoke in a foreign language.” she argued.

             “No, I didn’t. I said that she was reported to have spoken in a ‘curious tongue’, which doesn’t necessarily mean she was foreign. Modern idioms and syntax are wholly different to what they were centuries ago. Back then they spoke Middle English, a substantial part of their vocabulary being French and stemming from the Norman Conquests. Edmund himself was of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy, so Lucy’s speech would seem like a foreign language to him.”

             Jenny fell silent. Circumstantial though the evidence was, she found it strangely compelling.

              “And there’s one other thing:” Lucas resumed, “clasped in her hand was a chrysoberyl gemstone.”

              “Have you any idea how absurd that sounds? You’re telling me my daughter was whisked back some seven centuries in time Why? How?”

              “The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it I can only guess at. You said yourself that Lucy had never really gotten over the death of her father, and was often seen talking to the effigy as though it were he. She probably wished passionately for it to be true. Suppose that as she was in this frame of mind the lightning struck, triggering a quantum rift in time.”

              “You may be accustomed to believing in miracles,” Jenny asserted, “but I’m certainly not. It’s absolutely ridiculous!”

             “Is it?” countered Lucas. “There are some quantum physicists who would disagree. If their hypotheses of the existence of elementary particles that can travel faster than the speed of light are true, then time travel is possible.”

            “You’re concluding a hell of a lot from a mere premise. We’re not talking about sub-atomic particles here, but a living, breathing, human being.”

            “But isn’t that part of what we are; nothing more than a package of atoms strung together?” Lucas responded.

            Later that evening Jenny pondered on Lucas’ words and the documented cases he had cited in support of his argument of people claiming to have undergone temporal sojourns. Like theirs, her life had changed dramatically. Everything she had cherished was gone. Perhaps there was now a need to believe in the fantastic; to seek hope in the embryonic science of quantum physics, just as Lucy had sought hope in religion.

             The following morning she awoke from a troubled sleep. Her disquieting dream imagery had evaporated with the onset of wakefulness and was no longer retrievable. One thought persisted, however: ‘Lightning never strikes the same place twice.’ She knew this was a common fallacy, and later cursed herself for not having immediately understood her post-dream message. Unpredictably, she found herself entertaining a quite improbable notion.

            For five years Lucas bore witness to the comings and goings of his friend, Jenny Bowcombe. Of all the islanders he alone knew of the obsession that drew her to the chapel on storm filled days and nights. Then, on one particular August night, all hell broke loose.

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            A ferocious storm front struck the island, growing in intensity as it tore across the landscape. Only one person would venture out on such a night, and Lucas had taken up his station behind the large bay window that overlooked the chapel to watch the lonely, bedraggled, figure trudge its way through the storm and into the chancel. Past experience had taught him that it would be some time before Jenny would leave and would probably ride out the worst of the storm there. Closing the drapes, he settled down to work on the rest of his forthcoming sermon.

            Time passed and the storm grew worse. Rattling window panes and flickering house lights began to disrupt Lucas’ train of thought. He looked up from his study as an ominous peal of thunder rumbled across the night sky. The chancel was no place to be on such a night he told himself.

           As his predecessor had done before, he stepped out into the tempest and was instantly taken aback by its sheer ferocity. A cyclonic wind buffeted him mercilessly, propelling him into the rivers of mud being washed from the neighbouring hills. He pushed on through the blinding rain, his face puffed and swollen, driven by an unbending sense of guilt, which hung like a millstone about his neck. How he wished now he had kept silent all those years ago.

stormy-night-at-the-graveyard-j-d-owen

            On entering the churchyard he suddenly pitched forward, his lungs burning with sheer exhaustion. The air rasped sharply from his chest. He drew in his next breath as if it were his last. Coughing and spluttering uncontrollably, he rolled onto his back and opened his eyes.

             The transformation was stunning. As a former merchant seaman Lucas had seen St. Elmo’s fire only once in his life. It had been a brief encounter, its scattering of energy streamers confining themselves solely to the masthead. But that had occurred in a temperate climate, and one more favourable to the phenomenon. What he was witnessing now was impossible. He watched in awe the profuse streamers as they radiated out from the chancel in a state of constant flux, arcing from one structure to another. Most alarming of all was the luminescent energy field that had encompassed the churchyard. Beyond this miraculous dome the storm raged, unabated. Within it, all was eerily calm.

          Jenny Bowcombe stood before the temporal vortex, which had opened at a point just above the effigy. Its dimensions were expanding and would soon be large enough to enter. Despite the irrefutable evidence gleaned from her most recent research, doubts began to weaken her resolve. What if she were catapulted to a time centuries before the history of Edmund D’Lyle or a future world that was totally alien to anything she had ever known? The possibilities were as infinite as time itself. She pulled Lucy’s photo from her rucksack. Filling her mind with her daughter’s image, she told herself that it was now or never and edged nearer to the portal.

           “No, Jenny!” Lucas barreled down the aisle toward her, the opening shimmering briefly, as if disturbed by his unheeded appeal.

          She stepped forward and was swallowed up in the blinking of an eye.

          In that instant a powerful shock wave burst from the portal, hurling him pell-mell into the pews and rupturing the luminescent energy barrier. Darkness engulfed him.

           On coming-to, he saw Arken’s Fire Chief, Pete Layton, standing over him.

           “You’re one hell of a lucky guy.” he said. “If you hadn’t been lying between the pews when the main roof supports collapsed you’d be a gonner for sure. As it is you‘ve suffered only a few minor burns and abrasions.”

            Lucas made a feeble effort to rise from the sofa. “Where am I? How did I . . .?” He slumped back, weak and nauseous from the effects of smoke inhalation.

            “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, the Chief continued, “but the chapel didn’t fair as well. It’s sustained quite a bit of damage. Its walls are still structurally sound, though the roofs almost gone. A bit of elbow grease and a lick of varnish should soon remedy the scorched pews. Which reminds me! Is this yours?”

            Lucas stared at the seared rucksack Chief Layton was holding. “Er, yes, it is.”

           “You don’t seem too sure about that.”

           “Yes, it’s mine.”

           With the departure of the paramedics and fire crew, Lucas delved into the rucksack. Amid the many reams of hand-written documents, and a treatise on fourteenth century England, he came across what looked like a copied portion of text. It was badly scorched and nigh impossible to read. Fortunately, he was able to read the catalogue number, which showed it came from the research facility at Fendlesham Library, on the mainland. Its coding further revealed that Lucy’s search into Edmund D’Lyle was way in advance of his own. He recognised, too, the words of an ancient poet she had paraphrased in the final entry of her diary: ‘Time may bring to light whatever is hidden and it will conceal and cover up what once shone with the greatest splendour’.

           Within a short space of time, Lucas would come to comprehend the true meaning behind those words.

           “Sorry to bother you, Reverend,” said Chief Layton the next day, his face suitably grimy from his ongoing investigation at the fire scene. “but one of my men has discovered something at the chapel that I think you should see.”

            A look of mild suspicion behind his bespectacled eyes made Lucas more than a little apprehensive.

            “Take a look inside.” The Chief pointed to the chapel’s memorial plinth from which a sizeable portion had been broken. “Personally, I haven’t the faintest idea about ancient burial rites,” he said, “but I thought you might.”

            Lucas scanned the murky interior. The most salient feature that struck him, as it must have Chief Layton, was that three distinctly separate bodies had been interred there. Then he caught sight of something in the mouldering winding sheets that caused his heart to skip a beat. It was a gold bracelet. Although he could not make out a hallmark he knew that the single charm that hung from it would date it conclusively to modern times.

           “What do you make of it, Reverend? A little unusual to have three bodies in the same grave don’t you think?”

           “It’s certainly unusual, but not unheard of.” Lucas declared. “I believe that what we’re looking at is the fourteenth century equivalent of a family plot.”

           “Mystery solved then.”

           “Mystery solved.” Lucas said, somewhat shocked by the ease with which his story was accepted; an outcome which would have been far different had Pete Layton paid greater attention to his local history lessons at school regarding the D’Lyle genealogy. Edmund had been the last of his line and could, therefore, not have shared his plot with any descendant.

             Lucas’ major concern now was the bracelet. It was a modern artefact and if it should be uncovered and examined during restoration work on the tomb questions would be asked, questions for which there were no plausible answers. It’s removal, therefore, was vitally important.

             Fortune smiled again on the young cleric, and when the Chief was called away by one of his men Lucas saw his opportunity and took it.

             “Well that’s about it. I’m finished here.” said Pete Layton on his return, adding, “If you’ll take my advice, you need to have that plinth sealed up right away. I’m sure I noticed something of value in there. The last thing you need is to have some would-be grave robber come along and take it.”

             Lucas flushed. “ No, that wouldn’t do at all. I’ll see to it right away.”

             In the privacy of the rectory he examined more closely the bracelet he had hastily stuffed into his pocket. It was just as Jenny had described. Unquestionably, one of the tomb’s occupants was her daughter. Could the third body, he wondered, be Jenny‘s?

             He later recalled the scorched document and speculated on what it may have contained. The fact that Jenny had copied it showed that it held some significance for her. He resolved to find out what it could possibly be and made arrangements to visit the mainland’s library the very next day.

            Among the dusty tomes of Fendlesham Library he studied the antique parchments spread out before him. All but the latter had been penned by Edmund D’Lyle and bore the unmistakable ramblings of an unsound mind. Even so, there were rare moments of lucidity in which he wrote of his filial devotion to Lucy, the girl he had liberated from the cruel servitude of the farmer who had found her in the chancel. Because he had no rightful successor, Edmund knew that on his death his fortune would fall to the Crown. He therefore made adequate provisions for his youthful ward. She would at least be spared the harsh deprivations of impoverishment.

             The last parchment, from which Jenny had made her copy, was written predominantly by Edmund. The latter portion of text, however, was not. Lucas thought at first that the Latin text, with its glaring grammatical errors and structure, had been written by an ill-educated scribe. He was soon to discover how wrong he had been. In them he saw the unmistakable hand of Jenny Bowcombe reach out to him across the centuries, as she must have hoped they would: ‘Time will bring to light. . .’ they began.

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            The ferry’s claxon pierced the noon air, heralding its imminent departure for Arken. Lucas gazed out across the horizon, secure in his conviction that the incredible events he had borne witness to were no mere arbitrary acts of nature. From the outset they had exhibited a purposeful intelligence, and a design borne of a compassionate heart. 

© David Calvert 2011

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BIRDS OF PASSAGE

BIRDS OF PASSAGE 

David Calvert

reincarnation-awakening

The Cormorant was an enduring mystery to the folk of Stanelaw, in northeast England. For more than twenty years the derelict fishing trawler had sat on common ground, miles from the nearest port or harbour or, for that matter, the sea. Time and neglect had taken their toll on the ageing craft, its sun bleached timbers and buttressed hull starkly contrasting the lushness of its surroundings.

Its keeper, ‘Mad Pedi’, was also something of a mystery to the village children and the subject of much speculation as to whether it was she who was seen roaming its deck in the dead of night or some frightening phantom laying in wait for those foolhardy enough to enter its domain. Whatever the truth, none dared visit the site after sunset.

But Tommy Brice, unlike his young peers, was not so intimidated by the old woman. His most recent run-in with her had resulted in a serious loss of face for the fourteen-year-old, making him more determined to circumvent her ongoing vigil. To that end, he had come up with a ‘cunning plan’.

An impenetrable fog had rendered his torchlight almost ineffectual as he stumbled through the early morning brume with his classmate Sarah Elliot and his new-found friend, Jamie Lewis, in tow. Sarah, who had been happy enough to go along with his scheme, was now entertaining serious misgivings. That she had snuck from her bed at such an ungodly hour and had risked the wrath of her parents was bad enough, but now it appeared they had bypassed the boat altogether and were hopelessly lost in a peasouper.

Jamie pulled up short; his cry echoing through the early morning stillness, as out of the grey shroud the forbidding sight of the boat’s mouldering hull loomed suddenly into view. Perched against it was the self-same ladder ‘Mad Pedi’ had confiscated from Tommy and Sarah the previous day. It seemed that the crude grappling iron Tommy had so painstakingly fashioned was no longer required.

Sarah was nonplussed. “How’d that get there?”

“Who cares?” Tommy replied, tossing aside the iron and beginning his eager ascent.

Jamie hesitated. The ladder’s appearance had unsettled him almost as much as when he had first clapped eyes on the wreck, moments earlier. An unreasonable fear gripped him. He wanted to turn and run. But what horrors, if any, could possibly await him here that he had not already seen elsewhere.

The hurricane lamp Sarah had stolen from her father’s shed sputtered into life illuminating the musty interior of the wheelhouse. Even by torchlight its denudation had already been made apparent. Only the wooden helm remained, overlaid by the same thick matting of dust and cobwebs that were prevalent throughout. Long since disconnected from the rudder, it spun freely beneath Tommy’s eager hands and whatever thoughts of exploration they had entertained were quickly overtaken by the free range of their imaginations.

Their self-appointed leader took to his role as the infamous pirate, Blackbeard, with gusto and he was snarling orders to his motley crew of cutthroats when a distant, mournful drone brought their seafaring adventure to an untimely end. They listened, pricking up their ears at the slightest sound.

“What was that, Tommy?” whispered Sarah.

“A foghorn!” Jamie replied.

Tommy laughed. “Don’t be daft. There aren’t any around here.”

“Well it does smell like the seaside in here!” the youngster then announced, picking up on the growing scent of ozone-enriched air.

Sarah sniffed the dank atmosphere. “He’s right, Tommy!” Spooked and clinging to him as though her very life depended on it she whimpered “I wanna go home. Let’s go home.”

“It’s too late for that.” warned Jamie.

Both followed his wide-eyed gaze and, horror-stricken, they watched as the sudden appearance of a spectral-like image of the wheelhouse began phasing in and out with its physical surroundings. Time-worn timbers, seemingly transformed to new, groaned in sympathy as it began to pitch back and forth, the forceful illusion of movement compelling them to brace themselves against the cabin walls. The encounter was short-lived, however, seconds at most.

Though he had never actually seen one, Tommy held an unquestioning belief in ghosts. People had ghosts, and probably animals, too, but a boat? That was stretching things too far.

Something else also bothered him. What they had seen was not a true representation of the boat as it was now, but had appeared fully equipped and well maintained, as it might have been long ago. “Let’s get out’v here!” he ordered, the hairs on the back of his neck bristling sharply.

His companions were way ahead of him. They were already scrambling out onto the deck, where yet another startling discovery awaited them: the ladder had vanished and just when they thought things couldn’t get much worse they heard the sound of lapping water against the unseaworthy hull. They were trapped, seemingly becalmed in an unearthly fogbank, on a sea that had literally materialized out of nowhere.

Back in the claustrophobic confines of the wheelhouse tensions began to surface, the creeks and groans of the boat’s less than seaworthy keel serving to magnify their desperate plight.

“Shut up, man!” Tommy barked in response to the girl’s none stop questioning about what the hell was happening to them.

She fell silent, affording him time to collect his thoughts.

“Well it looks like we’re stuck here… wherever ‘here’ is, so I guess we’ve just got to make the best of it.” he said, at length.

“But we could all starve to death.” mewled Sarah.

“This is a fishin’ boat, isn’t it?” Tommy reminded her.

She nodded, nervously twining a lock of her hair round her finger.

“Then all we have to do is find a fishin’ net!”

Heartened by the gangly youth’s reasoning, and finally calming down, she added, optimistically, “Uh-huh, and maybe a ship will come along and we could signal it.”

Tommy just stared at Sarah and rolled his eyes.

Jamie remained silent throughout. He, alone, knew they were powerless to influence the unfolding course of events. Whatever was going to happen would happen – had already happened – and nothing on Earth could prevent it.

Wraith-like eddies of fog flowed and shifted as the boys half-heartedly combed the deck for remnants of netting, partly to appease Sarah’s starvation fears but mainly to help keep their minds off just what was happening to them. The discovery of a hatchway beneath a heavy tarpaulin had offered a glimmer of hope, though all too fleetingly. It had been securely battened down with a heavy-duty padlock that was so filth encrusted that even with a key it would have been impossible to open.

“Hell’s bells!” scowled Tommy, “Now what are we go’nta do?”

Realising there was little that could be done the boys kept watch at the bow, hardly a word passing between them, as Sarah sat in the wheelhouse once again wondering how they would survive.

Tommy spent most of his time studying his freckle-faced companion; the youngest and latest recruit to his gang. He had taken it upon himself to educate the former ‘townie’ in their provincial ways and had made some headway in that regard. But Jamie had come across as a troubled kid even then, overly preoccupied with his thoughts and with little or nothing at all to say for himself.

Endeavouring to make light of their situation, Tommy quipped, “Is this straight out’v the X-Files or what?”

“It’s worser th’n that.” Jamie gravely replied, “It’s for real, and it’s all my fault. I shouldn’t ‘ve come here.”

Tommy looked askance at him. “What are ya talkin’ about? It was me that brought ya here. If it’s anybody’s fault it’s mine.” he said.

The youngster knew his friend could never understand the dark and personal history he kept from him. How could Tommy, though older than himself, yet still a mere kid, fully comprehend what a team of scientists had failed so miserably to do? Even they were at a loss to fully explain or prevent the strange goings-on at his former home, and now it was happening all over again.

The cold and inexplicable cold spots around the house were just the beginning. Loud raps, footfalls, the sound of slamming doors and breaking crockery became commonplace, despite there being no physical cause for them. Then, on one particular night, he was awoken by the sound of agonising groans coming from outside his bedroom door. Fearful for his recently widowed mother’s well being, he stepped out onto the landing and was met by a sight so appallingly grotesque that at first he thought he was dreaming.

Sprawled between the bathroom and his room lay the dishevelled figure of a white-haired man, his wildly glaring eyes ballooning out of their sockets from a face so savagely deformed with pain that he looked almost inhuman. Gobs of spittle spumed from his mouth in long, glistening threads onto the carpet. One mind numbing seizure after another racked his body as it arched impossibly from the floor, before slumping back and issuing a low, deep-throated gurgle. But for his timely scream, Jamie’s mother might have missed the sickening spectacle of the wretched phantom evanescing into thin air. That night she broke a lifelong vow and allowed her son into her bed.

Throughout the following days things steadily worsened. Angry, disembodied shrieks turned the air blue with their foul outpourings, occasioned by disturbing visions of a shadowy form stealing through the house. Jamie’s mother knew that this thing – whatever it was – wasn’t about to leave them in peace. It was then she determined to seek the aid of professionals.

During their initial investigations, the assigned team of parapsychologists uncovered a disturbing secret concerning the house and one of its former tenants, Jacob Dewberry. His history of mental illness was well known to his beleaguered neighbours, as were his violent outbursts. It came as no surprise, therefore, to learn that following a particularly frenzied flare-up their neighbour had taken to his bathroom and had drunk the poison that ended his unhappy existence. The property had changed hands several times since; yet nothing untoward had ever been reported by any of its tenants. So why, after such a lengthy period, had the apparent earthbound spirit of Jacob Dewberry suddenly chosen to manifest itself?

The abrupt thud of wood on wood shook the youngster from his recollections.

Tommy was looking in the direction of the wheelhouse, fully expecting to see Sarah join them on deck. She didn’t appear. Convinced that she had been the source of the noise he settled back to resume his watch. Seconds later the wheelhouse door burst open.

“What are you two playing at?” Sarah demanded to know. “It isn’t funny tryin’ to scare me like that.”

Jamie’s face blanched. “It wasn’t us!” he gasped, directing their gaze to the face peering at them from behind the porthole of the open cabin door.

Sarah screeched and leapt back in terror, loosing her footing on the wet, cambered decking as the door swung back to reveal the duffel clad presence of the boat’s custodian.

Until then ‘Mad Pedi’ had been nothing more than a name to Jamie. It therefore came as quite a shock to discover he knew her and, more importantly, that she knew him.

Her friendly greeting to him was met with a curt response. Jamie never did quite know how to react to Dr. Martha Pedigrew. Past experience had taught him that though she was kind there was a cold and impersonal side to her nature that frequently surfaced when it came to the dogged pursuit of truth.

“My, my, what an enterprising bunch you are.” she said, helping Sarah to her feet. “It was very clever of you to steal on board during the night. Very clever indeed.”

Tommy’s proud boast, that it had all been his idea fell on deaf ears. She seemed far too interested in their timid friend to give it further consideration.

She studied Jamie intently. “What’s wrong?” she said, “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

He said nothing. “Well, Jamie, have you seen something?”

He shook his head.

Tommy couldn’t believe his eyes. “Ya kiddin’!” he cut in, embarking upon a long-drawn-out and histrionic explanation of what had taken place since their arrival on board.

Her uncovering of the truth filled Jamie with dread. Having to endure her intrusive and exhaustive tests all over again was the last thing he wanted.

That they both knew one another and shared a common secret was as plain as the nose on Sarah Elliot’s face. What intrigued her more, however, was how Martha had gotten on board the boat in the first place.

“Up the ladder of course.” she responded to Sarah’s query. “How else?”

“But there isn’t any ladder. We’re in the middle of the sea!”

“No you’re not.”

A look of relief spread across all three faces.

“And there is a ladder now.” she assured them. “You see, it was I who removed it earlier to prevent you from leaving.”

When asked why she had done such a thing she replied, “All in good time, children. All in good time.”

Tommy looked over the bow rail to confirm what she had said, and his face dropped. “Well it ain’t here now… and by the sound of it, we’re still surrounded by water.” he declared.

An unbelieving Martha investigated and was shocked to discover the boy told the truth. It was impossible to see the water through the thick fog, but she certainly could hear it.

As the principal scientist to head the investigation into the Dewberry haunting, Martha was fully aware of Jamie’s extraordinary abilities. Had they, she now wondered, evolved to include a psychokinetic faculty: a conscious or unconscious ability to impart physical motion to an object and change his surroundings through the power of the mind. Certainly, the ladder could not have just slipped away as she had tied it down to prevent such an occurrence, and she most definitely hadn’t walked on water to do so. Furthermore, her in-depth study of the case had led her to believe that the manifestations were not that of some earth-bound spirit, since all attempts to communicate with it had failed and no interaction between it and them had taken place.

A new and exciting possibility had begun to present itself to her: the ancient and widely held belief system of reincarnation. The transmigration of the soul was an ideology she had become irresistibly drawn to. Had Jamie somehow tapped into a part of Jacob Dewberry’s Akashic Record: a testimony of his earthly life that had become imprinted on the location to be replayed and assessed by him after his death to see how he had advanced or retarded the progress of his soul and others? The fact the phenomena had occurred only when Jamie was present led her to theorise that he was the mechanism through which the ‘replay’ was made possible. He had, in a sense, become a kind of biological projector.

From then on she had worked towards a new and hidden agenda, orchestrating events and using her advantaged position to pursue her own obsessive need. She had succeeded in relocating the family onto her own home ground, arguing that so long as the boy remained where he was the phenomena would continue and his mental state would deteriorate even further.

It had taken a certain amount of clout to achieve her aim – local governmental authorities weren’t exactly sympathetic towards her work – but it had been worth the effort. As she had anticipated, Jamie had branched out to explore his new surroundings. Inevitably his new-found friends and innate curiosity had drawn him to the boat.

“Is the boat haunted?” Sarah asked.

“No it isn’t.”  replied Martha. “At least, not in the way you might think.”

Sarah gave a sigh of relief.

In her long and illustrious career the only bogeymen Martha had ever encountered were ignorance and superstition, and nowhere were they more deeply entrenched than in the fertile mind of a child. Disabusing them of their supernatural beliefs, therefore, wasn’t going to be easy, particularly as it would involve revealing Jamie’s secret.

But the youngster had already resigned himself to its revelation, and things had gone too far to turn back now. Reluctantly, he gave Martha permission to tell his story.

Couching it in terms they could best comprehend, Martha recounted the history of Jamie’s extraordinary episodes then sat back, awaiting the flood of questions that would inevitably follow. She wasn’t to be disappointed. All but Jamie chirped in. He had heard it all before and it hadn’t made his life any easier. Knowing there were no such things as honest-to-goodness ghosts hadn’t made his experiences anyway less frightening.

“So you see,” Martha concluded, “ghosts can’t really harm you. They’re no more real than the images on a cinema screen.”

“Yeah, and Jamie can make them happen.” Tommy said, all agog. “Go on, kid,” he urged, “make somethin’ else happen!”

“I can’t make things happen!” he shouted, rising to his feet. “They just happen, whether I want them to or not.” With that he ran from the cabin.

Sarah rose to follow him and offer her comfort, but Martha interceded. “Leave him be for now.” she said, “He needs time to think things through.”

A painful constriction suddenly gripped her chest. She gasped for breath. Her face grew pallid and she was sweating profusely, signs that her diseased heart was undergoing yet another frightening incident. Fumbling in her pockets for her medication, she popped a tiny pill beneath her tongue.

“What’s wrong?” asked Sarah, alarmed by the sudden transformation.

“It’s nothing to fret yourself over.” she reassured her, “I’ll be fine in a minute or two.”

Seeing the old woman in such a condition brought about a sudden change of heart in Sarah. She suddenly felt ashamed of their former treatment of her. The badgering and abusive name calling no longer seemed so funny. She wanted to tell her how sorry she was and would have done so had not Jamie’s ‘screen projector’ fired up again!

Amid the abrupt clamour of a buffeting wind and now labouring marine engines, Martha called out to the children not to be afraid.

Despite her reassurance that they were safe, Sarah threw her arms about the old lady and clung on.

Tommy, on the other hand, was grinning inanely, completely exhilarated by the whole affair, knowing now it wasn’t real.

Martha was immediately struck by the boy’s earlier description of the boat. The constantly shifting imagery was indeed that of the Cormorant as it had been some twenty or more years ago. But one thing remained markedly absent, its continued non-appearance fuelling her need to seek it out. She clambered to her feet, but was instantly thrown to the floor as the boat rocked violently to starboard. It was then she realised that the two images had coalesced. Things had unexpectedly become very real.

Sarah was beside herself with terror. She pleaded for Martha to stay where she was.

Ignoring the teen’s entreaties, and the sickening pain in her chest, Martha rose uncompromisingly to her feet. Nothing was going to prevent her from accomplishing her goal. She was almost within reach of the cabin door when a startling crash from the stern reverberated through the bulkhead. Only then did she remember the frightened and angry child who had run out on them.

Seeing Jamie, soaked to the skin and ashen faced, should have brought home to her the alarming consequences of her actions, but she was far too close to the truth to let compassion stand in her way. The boy had seen something they hadn’t and it had taken him to the brink of nervous collapse. On a still heaving deck, and with cold, clinical detachment, she set about interrogating him.

Tommy had never liked Martha Pedigrew and the old crone’s relentless badgering of his friend was doing little to remedy his scorn. Finally he snapped, his outrage erupting into open hostility. Hauling Jamie to his side, he warned her to leave them be, if she knew what was good for her.

She threw him a withering glance and made a grab for Jamie, but his companions closed ranks; an uneasy standoff that Jamie himself broke.

“I saw a man, Tommy!” he cried, vying to be heard above the raging tempest. “He was dressed in oilskins and one of them floppy sailors’ hats.”

“Where? Where did you see him?” Martha barked, “Tell me!”

“There!” he said, pointing to the hatch. “He was climbing down into the hold when the boat rocked. The lid fell down onto his head and I never seen him after that.”

“His face. Did you see it? This is important, Jamie. Try and remember.”

“No, Doctor Pedigrew, I didn’t.”

She took hold of his arm and shook him. “You must have. He was only feet from you. You’re lying!”

“You’re hurtin’ me. Let go!”

“Not until you tell me the truth.”

“I have!” he insisted. “His hat was coverin’ his face. That‘s why I couldn‘t see it.”

Martha released her grip, mortified by her ill-treatment of a child who had already suffered enough traumas in his short life. She knew that the death of his father had acted as a catalyst for his abilities, as it had for others who had experienced sudden traumatic events. She suspected, too, that powerful, negative emotions played their part in setting free the boy’s latent ability to unlock the past. In fact, she might never have witnessed the latest and most impressive manifestation had it not been for his thoughtless friend angering him earlier.

The wheelhouse now stood between them and the hatchway, obscuring from view the spectral figure emerging from its inky blackness. Only the dull thud of the hatch cover dropping carelessly against the deck alerted them to its presence.

With bated breath they watched and waited, clinging desperately to the bow rail least they be washed overboard.

From behind the bulkhead crawled a bedraggled figure. An unruly shock of bloodied hair spilled out from beneath his sou’ester. He struggled gallantly against the elements, trying to regain his footing on the pitching deck. The side rail was within reach and he grasped it in both hands. Hauling himself erect, he staggered forward, pain etched across his weather-beaten face.

Sarah turned away from the distressing spectacle. But Jamie’s attention was now on Martha who, on seeing the apparition, had clapped her hands over her mouth, her eyes filled with horror and recognition.

‘Matthew!’ That was the name Jamie had heard escape Martha’s lips; the name he unintentionally now spoke aloud.

Martha’s head snapped round at the mention of it. “Please, Jamie,” she begged, “Stop this now.” But in her heart of hearts Martha knew there was nothing the boy could do as they watched the luckless soul struggle against his fate.

Matthew drew nearer; one pace, then another before finally coming to a halt. Dragging his sou’ester painfully from his head, he looked heavenwards. “I’m done for, Martha. Forgive me.” he wept, as he sank to his knees.

Despite her awareness that he was little more than an ephemeral echo of a time long passed and could never return to her as she had known him, Martha reached out to him, willing him on. He was less than eight feet from her when a towering wall of water crashed over the deck.

Martha and the children raised their arms defensively, fully expecting to be washed overboard. Then, all fell eerily calm.

Sarah peeked warily out from behind her arms. “It’s over!” she cried.

Martha looked up. Matthew was gone. She ran to the rail and called out to him, but to no avail.

A sympathetic arm wrapped around her waist and she looked down to see a tearful Sarah looking up at her. “He’s gone, Mrs Pedigrew.”

She pulled her close to her side. “I never got to say goodbye to him. Every time he put out to sea I would tell him how much I loved him, but on that last day we’d argued. I had a feeling something was going to happen, but he wouldn’t listen.”

“Mam calls dad ‘bull-headed’ when he gets like that.”

She smiled down at her. “ Fishing was his livelihood. ‘I trust in God, my crew, and the shipping forecast.’ he used to say.”

“What happened to the others?”

“They died, too. The sea eventually gave them up, but Matthew was never found. The Cormorant is the closest link I have to him. I couldn’t part with it. When I met Jamie everything seemed to fall into place. Maybe there was a way to see him one last time.”

Tommy was leaning over the side rail, peering down into the attenuating mist. His exultant cry brought Jamie to his side. Nestled in the sodden grass at the foot of the keel lay the ladder. Before anyone could do anything to stop him he had clambered over the rail and dropped from sight.

As they hurriedly disembarked and made their way across the field, distancing themselves from the boat and its lone occupant, Jamie gave a backwards glance. Through the clearing fog appeared a pinpoint of light. Flickering tongues of flame sprouted up hungrily consuming the age-old timbers. Beside the flaming hull and caught in its glow was Martha Pedigrew, her careworn figure slowly turning and vanishing into the darkness.

Jamie called out, “Look, Tommy! She’s set fire to it! Why would she do that?”

“Cos she’s barmy, that’s why.”

Sarah turned to Tommy. “She isn’t ‘barmy’! It’s like one of them Viking funerals they told us about at school. She’s sendin’ his soul off to Valhalla.”

“Whatever!” he replied, “But I still think she’s barmy.”

“Men!” Sarah bemoaned.

Death came to Martha in the twilight of her bedroom and in those last moments of mortality the hidden memories of immeasurable lifetimes began to surface. The familiar souls she had encountered in this life she now realised she had always known, in one guise or another. Like birds of passage they had journeyed with her from the beginning of time, each an integral link in the chain of causality that bound them together. They were souls forged by earthly deeds, their acts, good or bad, determining the circumstances of their collective incarnations.

Death and rebirth, she now understood, were not so predetermined as to entirely exclude the influence of the human will upon them. Matthew’s stubbornness had not only brought about his own demise, but had also altered the chronology of her’s. She had become a troubled soul, unable to rest.

But where was Matthew now? What new persona had he adopted in order to expunge the guilt of his former life?

For the first time since his troubles began, Jamie awoke from the deepest slumber he had ever known to an uncommon feeling of contentment. Though he could not for the life of him understand why, he felt as though a heavy burden had been lifted from his troubled shoulders.

© David Calvert 2011

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MIND’S EYE.

MIND’S EYE 

David Calvert

The coroner’s ‘accidental death’ verdict had done nothing to assuage Sam Phelps’ conviction that his mother’s untimely demise was as a direct result of suicide, and that the brutal, mental indignities she had endured at the hands of his sadistic father were the cause of it. Nor was the teenager under any illusion as to who would be the target of his father’s perverse attentions now she was out of the way.

With cold dispassion he peered into the open grave, his gaunt expression betraying little of the contempt he harboured for its occupant; a weak and foolish woman, a congenital victim, woefully incapable of withstanding the harsh realities life had apportioned her.

coffin 2

He mocked inwardly at the pathetic soul now being laid to rest. ‘God, how dumb could you be? Didn’t it ever once enter that addled brain that the sick son-of-a-bitch is incapable of even the slightest degree of affection?’

He looked out across a sea of faces assembled at the graveside and was met by the cold and steady gaze of his mother’s tormentor. Unlike her, Sam was under no illusion that some shred of decency still inhabited the man. It was a belief that had served him well, and which had protected him from the mental cruelties Victor had visited upon him in the past. Love and affection, he had learned, were weaknesses to be exploited. Any emotions that threatened to expose this weakness, therefore, were swiftly subjugated. They were, after all, Victor’s very life blood; the perversity from which he took his pleasure.

Mercifully, the time-worn platitudes of the ageing priest came to an end. Sam picked up a handful of earth and threw it casually into the open grave and turned to leave.

A brawny hand clamped onto his shoulder. “And where do you think you’re off to, boy?” Victor asked.

His pretext that he promised his aunt he would visit after the service, because she had been unable to attend owing to illness, was met with suspicion. Victor had no recollection whatsoever of the boy having mentioned it to him, though what with the funeral arrangements and all it was possible it had slipped his mind. Reluctantly, he gave his consent and cautioned his son to return home at a reasonable hour – a warning Sam knew was not to be taken lightly.

An overriding sense of purpose urged Sam on past his aunt’s cottage and beyond the environs of the village. Ill though she was, he saw little use in calling in on the retired psychologist, since her usefulness had long outlived its purpose. The doting, old bird had never once suspected the true reason for his visit earlier that month, hadn’t even noticed the missing book he had taken from her study. Within its pages lay the means of assuaging his all-consuming hatred for his father and the terrible nightmares that had plagued him from infancy.

Although he knew what violence he would like to do to his father, Sam was under no illusions that he was capable of such an act. However, Through hypnotic access to his mind’s most frenetic imaginings he would learn to commit with impunity in his dreams what he feared he was incapable of doing  in reality.

tor 2

On the bleak and inhospitable outcrop of Maelon Tor an age-old shepherd’s lean-to played host to the enterprising young thief. A warming fire burned beneath its single-pitched roof, illuminating the pages of his ill-gotten book. He paused momentarily to rekindle the dying flames, only to realise that dusk had settled in around him. The hour was late and he knew full well that his absence from home carried a heavy price – though what form it would take was open to question, given the Machiavellian nature of Victor’s mind.

Fearing his father would be scouring the streets for him, Sam skirted the village via the old drover’s lane, his pace slackening appreciably as he neared the rear of the house. Unlike the ground floor view, which lay hidden behind a high stone wall, the upper storey was clearly visible. Gratified that no discernible light could be seen from its windows he opened the ponderous oak gate and peered through into the garden. The entire place was in darkness.

Inching his way up the gravel path towards the back door, he caught sight of something glinting in the moonlight. There, snaking its way across the lawn and round the gable, where it was ultimately lost from view, was a streamer of magnetic tape. Puzzled as to how it had gotten there, he followed its path and came upon the glowing embers of a dying fire. Scattered around its edges lay the charred remains of his most cherished possessions.

His father’s latest act of attrition stripped him bare of the complacency that had lulled him into the false sense of security that had cost him so dearly. It was a wake up call. The few things he held dear in his life, his music, his books, and assorted role- playing games, had been consigned to the flame.

Victor peered down from behind a second storey window, watching, patiently waiting, and gloating in the night shadows.

Experience had taught Sam that physical confrontation with his black- hearted father was ill-advised. He still bore the scars from a previous encounter when, at the age of eight, Victor had forced him to drown his beloved pet kitten for having soiled the drawing-room carpet. The hapless creature had struggled frantically to escape the icy waters of the rain barrel, tearing the flesh from Sam’s arms and wrists. In the end it was Victor himself who finished the job. Hauling the tiny, sodden, creature up by its hind legs, he smashed its skull against the barrel.

The livid scars served as a permanent reminder to Sam just how inhuman his father could be. But some wounds ran deeper, were less obvious. Left unattended they had become a cankerous growth that time alone could no longer dispel. His ardent hatred of Victor raged within him. Soon it would find release in the deepest recesses of his mind.

dice1An inveterate gambler, Victor would often drive into the city at weekends to indulge his passion. This involved a considerable journey of some hours, affording Sam ample opportunity to put into practice all he had learned. At the eleventh hour, however, the elements themselves seemed ready to conspire against him. A menacing storm front was creeping in from the north and, for a while, it looked as though Victor might cancel his customary visit into the city. Awaiting the old man’s final decision, therefore, was more than Sam felt he could endure, his frayed nerves having reached maximum breaking point long ago. But habituation and addiction were potent forces to be reckoned with, and Victor’s defiant announcement that neither God nor the elements were going to prevent him from making his usual rendezvous came as a welcoming relief to the teenager.

Less than fifteen minutes had elapsed since his father’s departure and Sam was already feeling the effects of his auto-hypnotic induction, the incessant tick-tocking of the metronome sounding the passage of time as he gradually drifted deeper into an altered state of consciousness. Step-by-step he gave himself up to the soporific beat, his consciousness sinking inward to the synchronous pulse of his heart until, at length, even this last, tenuous link between reality and dream-state was relinquished and the gentle stirrings beneath his eyelids heralded the onset of his fantasy.

He looked about as the shadowy perceptions of his dreamscape gradually fused and blended into a cohesively familiar scene. He scanned the room for the tell-tale signs of surrealism that frequently inhabited his naturally occurring dreams. Nothing was amiss. All was as it had been prior to sleep. Elated by his god-like capacity, he felt that there was nothing to which he could not now aspire.

The sound was indistinct at first, an out-of-place grating that encroached upon the dreamscape. It grew louder and more defined with each passing second until there was no mistaking its source – a latch key! Someone in the real world was entering the house.

He awoke with a start. Dazed and confused, and in a blind panic, he leapt from the chair and made a beeline for the dining room to replace the disengaged telephone receiver. The last thing he had wanted was to be disturbed at some crucial point in his experiment. His caution, it now seemed, was going to be his undoing.

Catching him in mid-flight, Victor bellowed, “What the hell’s going on? And what’s the bloody phone doing off the hook?”

Sam’s only reply was an ineffectual stammer, which Victor was in no mood to hear. A stinging backhand sent Sam reeling against the wall, a second blow glancing off his temple before he could regain his senses. Vivid flashing lights burst before his eyes as a searing hot pain ripped through his skull. He sank to his knees and cowered like a whipped pup, certain that a further barrage of blows would follow.

“Get the fuck up!” Victor snarled, crimson faced and hauling him to his feet. “Now,” he demanded, “either you tell me what the hell you’re up to or I beat the shit out of you. Which is it going to be?”

No matter what he said or did Sam knew a good beating was on the cards and braced himself for what was to come.

Outside, a car horn blared and a voice called out impatiently, “C ‘mon Vic! At this rate the casino’ll be closed before we get there!”

His strangle hold on the teenager eased. Pushing him against the wall and stabbing him painfully in the chest with his finger he threatened, “I don’t have time for this now, but you can be damned sure it isn’t over yet. Now get the hell out of my sight before I change my mind.”

Picking up the wallet he had absent-mindedly left behind, he took his leave.

That night Sam brooded in the darkness of his room, forlorn images of his childhood firing across the synapses of his fevered brain, his mind caught up on a maelstrom of internecine rage and murderous desire. The pain in his temple was beginning to recede. He felt groggy and his eyes were leaden. The time had arrived to enter into his dreamscape before his father’s return.

He was not alarmed, sometime later, to find himself standing at the foot of the stairs with a large kitchen knife in hand; this much he had planned. The distant rumbling that rolled across the night sky and the intermittent flashes of brilliance radiating from the turbulent thundercloud overhead were, however, not of his making. They had come unbidden into his dream, as if by some unconscious directorship. The uncertainty of it thrilled him in a way he had never know and he threw caution to the wind, allowing himself to be carried along on a current of hypnotic indeterminacy.

A bolt of scintillating light crackled earthward, chasing the shadows from Victor’s lightningroom. In that briefest of moments Sam caught sight of his prey. The ridiculous sight of his pot-bellied father slumped naked across the bed, his flaccid prick poking out from between his thighs, brought Sam to a halt. Divest of his fatherly trappings, Victor presented an altogether sad and comical figure, an absurd antithesis of the fear inspiring monster he knew and loathed.

He inched closer to the bedside, the breath he had held in check suddenly bursting from his tired lungs.

Victor stirred and Sam’s heart almost erupted from his chest.

What was he afraid of? There was no way his father could hear him, unless he himself willed otherwise. He drew nearer, the lethal blade poised to strike. Then the moment was upon him, the blade driving deep into unresisting throat tissue. In a single stroke he  severed the windpipe and carotid artery.

Victor’s eyes sprang wide in bemused horror. Like a fish out of water his mouth opened and shut mutely. He grasped futilely at the obscenely gaping wound to stem the crimson fountain that hastened his end as Sam looked on, his face a mask of psychotic amusement.

Sam had never seen so much blood, but he knew this was how he had imagined it and so it was. Rivulets of the stuff coursed down the walls and dripped from the ceiling onto the bedspread where Victor writhed in the final paroxysms of agony. It was all Sam had wished it to be.

Though all too brief, the encounter had proven extremely gratifying and Sam felt somewhat reluctant to return to the banal existence that awaited him in the real world. Nevertheless, he found consolation in the knowledge that there would be other nights and other scenarios to explore. Nothing was beyond him now.

Initially, he was not overly alarmed at his seeming inability to end the auto-hypnotic dream state. Under certain circumstances – such as his own, in which he had achieved a euphoric state – a time- lapse between command and response could occur.

Outside, the storm continued to rage, despite his efforts to quell it. Then it dawned on him with horrifying clarity that this was the selfsame storm that only hours earlier had almost kept Victor indoors.

He raised a tentative hand to his temple and winced. The pain was all too real and confirmed the bitter irony and horror of his situation. A tidal wave of stark reality crashed in on him, sweeping before it any hope of salvation. Even the darkest labyrinths of his mind could not conceal what he had done. There was no awaking from a living nightmare, nor escape from the perpetual abyss of insanity that had fragmented his mind.

David Calvert © 2010

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DISSOLUTION

DISSOLUTION 

David Calvert

astral projection

My name is David Velocek. I mention that now, not by way of introduction, but to reaffirm in my own mind just who the hell I am. There’s a lot in life that can screw you up good and proper if you’re not prepared for it, and to my way of thinking you either shrug them off philosophically or try to make the most of them. Personally, I prefer the latter approach, since the former smacks too much of meek resignation and if there’s one thing I can’t abide – it’s the fucking ‘sheep’ of this world.

          You might be thinking, ‘Oh yeah! I bet you’ve had a real hard life, buddy, but not nearly as hard as mine.’

            Well, be that as it may, I still feel bound to say that there’s sod all in most men’s lives that can come anywhere near the bizarre changes that have taken place in mine.

             I’d heard of out-of-body experiences before – who hasn’t at one time or another. Like most folk I considered it to be, at best, the hallucinations of a dying brain and but for my accident, which left me paralysed from the waist down, I would have gone on thinking that way.

           The injuries to my heart and back in that near-fatal car crash were so appalling that no one expected me to survive the night. But I did, much to the relief of those who struggled to revive me. I said nothing of my experience during my recovery period; nothing of my ethereal bilocation in which I vacated  my shattered body and looked on at it with calm detachment as the fire crew hauled it from the mangled wreckage,  nor of my sudden return to it only to feel the full agony of my injuries.

             I don’t suppose you have any idea how it feels to be utterly dependent on someone. Well let me tell you, its bloody degrading! Nothing can prepare you for it. There were days when, in the dark of my thoughts, I contemplated suicide. But how was I going to achieve it when they kept a constant vigil over me. Short of spontaneously combusting, there was no way in hell I was going to shuffle off this mortal coil anytime soon.

         As I drifted through the mind numbing banality of what remained of my life a germ of an idea took root in my mind: What if, by an act of consciousness, I could control further out-of-body-experiences? What had I to lose by trying? Anything was better than the half-life to which I was condemned.

           Monique, who could be pragmatic when it suited her, suggested I’d be better off coming to terms with my situation instead of entertaining idiotic and irrational notions. We’d had more than our fair share of arguments over the years, chiefly concerning her growing need for children, but this was the mother of ’em all. The fact that we couldn’t afford to raise a family did nothing to dampen her persistence. And she was telling me to be realistic!

           “Hell will freeze over before I’ll help you.” she assured me.

            ‘Old Nick’ must certainly have been taken aback when two days later a heavy frost descended over his domain.

            Thanks to Monique’s sudden and baffling change of heart and her frequent visits to the local library my knowledge of ecsomatic experience grew. Like my own, the majority of such cases were trauma induced and were of little use to me. Others claimed an innate ability to exteriorise their astral forms. Again, there was nothing previous to my accident that even hinted at such an ability. I was getting nowhere fast until I began concentrating the bulk of my studies on the teachings of certain mystics who claimed that in order to externalise the astral spirit one needed only the will and desire to achieve it. To say I was possessed of such qualities would have been an understatement. I was absorbed by the idea of freeing myself from my intolerable situation. To feel whole again was my entire purpose and it overrode all other considerations.

          By now relations with Monique had reached breaking point – the shortage of crockery and ornamentation baring witness to it. Yet we’d always found a way of making up our differences and it was invariably between the cool sheets of a bed. Denied even this simple pleasure in life things began to sour further between us and our relationship degenerated into a constant stream of mental abuse. It was during this period I decided to put my theories to the test.

           I could hear beneath me the sounds of my disaffected lover as she busied herself with her everyday chores. I waited impatiently for the monotonous drone of the vacuum cleaner to cease. Monique was a creature of habit and I knew from experience that this would be her final task before settling down with a cup of coffee and a magazine. The house soon fell silent and with every ounce of my imagination I reached out across the room to the portable TV, focusing my mind on its every nuance until at length I was mentally experiencing every subtle difference of its design. My concentration was such that had a bomb gone off I wouldn’t have heard it. Then came the indefinable moment when imagination and actuality merged and I found myself standing at the foot of the bed, looking down at my other self. Believe me, there aren’t any words to express how I felt at that moment. ‘Totally freaked’ is about the best I can come up with. It took several minutes just to calm my shaking nerves.

          Having gained some control I realised my first task was to analyse my situation. The question was how? How could I be certain that it was truly happening and not some kind of self-delusion? Hard, irrefutable evidence was needed if I was to overcome not only my own doubts but those of Monique, too.  As I reflected on this I noticed with some amusement that I wasn’t standing on the floor so much as in it! I recalled my training and by the simplest act of will corrected the misalignment. There were a lot of disciplines I had yet to master and spatial awareness was one of them.

           Suddenly the phone rang downstairs and I heard Monique lift the receiver in answer. Now, I guessed, was as good a time as any to test out my condition and at the same time hopefully acquire some hard evidence to boot. The move was easy; I simply thought about it and was there, hovering impossibly at a point just below the ceiling. As I drifted down to ground level I eavesdropped on Monique’s conversation. She was completely unaware of my presence and so spoke openly (albeit in hushed tones).

           A growing sense of unease filled my mind with disturbing images of treachery as I listened in. Monique was becoming increasingly agitated and there was a familiar edge to her voice.

           “Damn it, Roger!” She was almost hissing the words down the phone. “Do you think it’s any easier for me? I need time. It won’t be easy telling him about us, especially now.”

           There was a brief silence then, “Okay, eight o’clock. I’ll think of some excuse to get out the house.” With that, she hung up the receiver.

           What I wouldn’t have given right then and there to lay my hands on her scrawny throat and squeeze the life out of the treacherous bitch and this Roger, whoever he was. One way or another, she was going to pay for her infidelity.

          Shortly after returning to my physical form, I took stock of our relationship. How dumb could I have been? A blind man on a horse galloping through the dead of midnight would have been hard put not to see that it had scant chance of surviving. From the very outset it had been volatile and unpredictable. Now that sex and children were out of the picture the idea of spending a lifetime with a hopeless cripple must have been unbearable for Monique. Incredibly, I found my attitude softening towards her. Then came the lie, the fictional bullshit that hardened my resolve for revenge. A ‘sick friend’ was the excuse she used to get out of the house. Jesus! She couldn’t even bother her arse to come up with something original. I would have my revenge soon enough, but first I had to see for myself just who this Roger was.

         The car’s digital clock showed 20.00 hrs. It had taken only fifteen minutes to fix Monique’s image in my mind and leave my body and arrive, unseen, at her side. She had already pulled into a deserted side road and as a second car drew up behind, her welcoming smile left me in little doubt that the stranger stepping from it was her lover, Roger.

           She embraced him with a passion that I had not seen in many a year. You could scarcely have slipped a sheet of paper between them. He was the type of guy you’d expect to see on the cover of some glossy fashion mag. No doubt he had seduced Monique with his fashionable motor and sartorial elegance. To me, however, he was little more than a pretentious prick with too much money. She couldn’t have picked a more dissimilar partner if she’d tried.

           I turned from the gut-wrenching spectacle, more determined than ever to exact my revenge on them. The question was how? How could I, crippled from the waist down in one form and incapable of physical contact in another, find the means of avenging myself? The answer, when it came, was incredibly simple. Having seen more than enough, I returned home. As things turned out it would have been far better if I’d stayed, because I would have learned something more about Monique other than her infidelity. Foolishly, however, I allowed a moment of self-pity to determine my hasty action, and it was a costly mistake.

             In the days that followed the tension grew worse and I could see in Monique’s eyes a new determination to put an end to the rancour that gnawed at her like a cancer. I also longed to be rid of it or, more accurately, to be rid of her! Then one night I discovered something strange, something I hadn’t been previously aware of.

          I had just vacated my sleeping body and was drifting aimlessly through the night sky when I chanced to look back toward the house. To my amazement a spectral figure rose up through the roof and moved off in a westerly direction. It was Monique. I watched as in her nakedness she drifted upwards, her silken hair cascading down the length of her spine. She was like an angel of light, so beautiful and innocent of aspect that it was hard to imagine her as anything else. But this was no angel I was dealing with and I forcefully reminded myself of that fact. In her wake a streamer of silvery mist extended down connecting her bodies, one to the other. I had learned that this silver cord was capable of infinite extension and would remain with her so long as she lived. It was a lifeline, an umbilical, that would warn of any danger to her material self and instantly return her astral spirit to it should the need arise.

          I knew that whilst in astral form Monique could see me so I discreetly followed her on her outward journey, eventually managing to expunge the niggling doubt that she had perhaps always been capable of voluntary projection. Reassuringly, the fact that the cord was visible was evidence to the contrary. Had she been an adept, or at least comfortably familiar with her condition, she would not require a visual connection to her other self. Like a child with its comforter she felt safe in its presence. Her ability lay at an unconscious level and no doubt she would wake in the morning to recount her night’s wanderings as nothing more than a dream.

         Although I had already exercised my skill to pass through solid objects, I’d never once ventured beyond the physical environment. I was aware from my studies that several other planes of existence were said to exist; subtle counterparts, each interpenetrating the other, each invisible and equally intangible to all except certain ‘sensitives’ and those travelling in astral form. I personally had yet to visit them. That night my education was to reach new dimensions, in more ways than one.

alien world

           Without knowing exactly how, I suddenly found myself standing on the edge of a yawning abyss, in an alien world of freakish proportions. To the west the rays of a dying sun struck the landscape at an oblique angle, casting elongated shadows across a lifeless terrain. It was a place that any sane person would actively seek to avoid. Had I not been so distracted by it all I might not have been caught out so easily by Monique.

          “Appropriate, isn’t it.” she said.

           I turned to see her gracefully descend to my level and immediately went on the defensive. “’Appropriate?’ I fail to see what’s so damned appropriate about it.”

          “Look at it. This place is a living hell. Isn’t that what we’ve made of our lives? It only seems right our dreams should reflect the same.”

“Why have you come here, of all places?” I asked.

        She moved closer to me. “Because it’s only here in my dreams that I can tell you the things that need to be said.”

          “Such as?” I asked, knowing full well what her answer would be.

          “I’ve met someone else, and I love him very much.” She looked away, unable to return my gaze.

           With utter contempt I spat the word back at her. “Love! Jesus, stop deluding yourself and see it for what it really is. It’s the one thing I can’t give you anymore so you go out and seek it elsewhere, like the bitch in heat you are!”

           She turned on me like a wildcat. “You pathetic shit!” She stretched out her words for emphasis. “You think I went out looking for sex elsewhere because of your accident? Christ, you really are dumb. The affair began long before then!”

            There was no stopping Monique when she was in full flow. She let me have it with both barrels. I was ‘immature’, ‘inconsiderate’, ‘stubborn’, and generally an ‘all round bastard’.

           Okay! I’ll admit it. There were times when I was inconsiderate. Who hasn’t been at one time or another? It was hardly grounds for getting  laid by the first guy who happened to come along, and I told her as much.

           “Think what you like.” Her words were barbed and full of venom. “One thing’s for sure though; you’ll never screw me again.”

            “And neither will Roger.” I assured her. “I’ll see you fucking dead first!”

           I couldn’t believe it! The bitch just stood there smirking. Then she smugly told me that because this was her dream there was sod all I could do about it.

           I grinned wryly, asking, “And what makes you so damned sure you’re dreaming?”

          Once again that same maddening haughtiness crept into her voice. “What else could it be?

           Suddenly realising what I was alluding to, she laughed. “What – you’re trying to tell me that there’s some truth to those dumb experiments of yours?”

           I assured her there was and went on to describe in detail everything that had transpired since her phone call. “How else”, I quizzed, “could I possibly know the name of your lover?”

           There were a few brief seconds there when I thought I had the bitch stymied. Then she explained as to how it was possible for me to know everything.

           “Because this is my dream. You’re just a product of it. You’re only reflecting what I know.”

           Her logic, albeit inaccurate, had me beaten. It would have given me immense pleasure to wipe the self-satisfied grin from off her face. The problem was, any threatening gesture I made towards her would result in her immediate withdrawal into her earthbound body. It appeared we had reached an impasse. Then something she said next furnished me with the answer to my dilemma.

             “So you see, short of possessing my body, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to prevent my leaving you. Oh! There’s one other thing.” she began to add, “It might interest you to know that …”

           She never did finish her sentence. I couldn’t believe how easy it had been to take possession of her soul. But why not? Hadn’t the slut been easy meat on the Earth plane? The trick now was to prevent her astral form  returning to its host. This was crucial to my hastily thought out plan, because lengthy periods of separation from her body meant the very real danger of irreversible dissolution. To put it quite simply, the bitch would die! The plan, of course, was not without its own personal dangers. Preventing her return meant that I too was forced to undergo the same period of separation.

          Monique died before the immense strain on my damaged heart took me out, too. I was never quite the same man after that. In fact, if you could see me now you’d know just how bloody ironic that statement is.

            I’ve managed to rid myself of Monique. Everything that made her unique, her thoughts, dreams and hopes; almost everything that she was has gone.

              I have another form now – one that’s served me well. Through it I’ve managed to destroy and make pitiful the life of Monique’s former lover. It still gives me a thrill to recall how he begged and pleaded with me not to leave him. The stupid sap couldn’t understand how I had come to loathe him and the touch of his hands on my new body.

              It hasn’t been easy adapting to Monique’s form over these last few months, but its had its moments. If I need reminding of just how beautiful she was I merely look in the mirror, and gratifying my desires is equally as simple.

             If only I had listened longer to Monique before dispossessing her of her lifeforce. Even now her lover’s child makes itself felt within my womb, and I dream such strange dreams. In them I am giving birth to a child: a female, normal in most respects, but for her long silken hair and the silvery umbilical that binds her to me.

© David Calvert 2011

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CIONLIGHCT

 

CIONLIGHCT

David Calvert

 

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Rannith eyed Áine with mild suspicion. For untold millennia she had watched over the M’Lauchlin’s fortunes, her unearthly shrieks foretelling the passing of many of the ancient clan. But as they watched the unsuspecting mortal youth something in her demeanour unsettled the warrior Fianna Sidhe.
The moon had crested and columns of silvery light pierced the woodland canopy,magically transforming its interior. It was a scene that fifteen-year-old Conner M’Lauchlin had witnessed many times and had never tired of.
A suffusion of wild garlic and lavender scented the evening air as he lay beneath the majestic oak. it was the same scent he had smelt the night his grandfather had died; the same pervasive odour that had caused a gaggle of his ageing aunts, who had traveled from Ireland to return his ashes to his beloved homeland, to sough of the ‘white lady of sorrow’ at his funeral. 
As to what they had alluded, he was never told. Nevertheless, as had happened on each those occasions, he had the familiar sense of being watched by unseen eyes. From his vantage point on the hill he looked about him, but all was calm and serene. Only the gentle murmur of the leaves high in the canopy disturbed the night.
Once again he felt the troubling presence close by. Unnerved, he decided it was time to leave. Taking hold of the rope swing hanging from an overhead branch, he leapt into space. Down he sped, the wind whistling passed his ears in his gathering momentum as the steep embankment dropped abruptly away beneath him. Outward and upward he soared, intersecting the dirt track far below in an exhilarating arc that took his breath away. At the apex of his climb a resounding crack rang out. The once tense rope coiled back on itself and he plummeted earthward into the unyielding  woodland floor. 

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Seconds passed. Áine remained mute, unmoving and unchanging.
Rannith turned in bewilderment, wondering why she had not transformed into the wailing hag. Only now did he see the inner turmoil reflected in her eyes. She was struggling against her very nature; fighting desperately against the need to perform the caoineadh.
Conner awoke from his brief period of unconsciousness to the frightening realisation that he was completely paralysed. It would be hours before his drunken father would even notice his absence. By then it might be far too late; his fertile imaginings having already conjured up frightening scenarios of how death might overcome him. He thought too of his grandfather, the one comforting and stabilising influence in his chaotic life, and of how he would soon be joining him. In the midst of his anguish he heard a soft voice say, “Look, Rannith, he still lives!”
“Aye, but for how long, Áine?” he heard another say, “He is beyond saving. Do what you must and have done with it.”
Conner blinked away clouds of tears and gasped in awe at the sight before him. Only in faerie tale picture books had he seen her like before. From beneath a cowled, mist-like, cloak intensely green eyes held him spellbound. Her scarlet mantle flowed fluidly on the night breeze as if possessed of a life of its own. Shrouded though she was, he could see her delicate form and her pale face framed by an abundance of red-golden hair. He was instantly struck by her height. She was far taller than the images he’d seen depicted in the picture books of his childhood. By his reckoning she was at least two inches taller than himself.
She approached the stricken teenager then turned to her companion, gasping, “He sees me!”
“Aye, and the moon is made of cheese.” he heard the gruff voice quip, his cold eyes narrowing as he came into view. Though somewhat smaller than his companion, he was powerfully built and wore a draggletailed calfskin skirt and tunic. A large broadsword was slung casually over his shoulder, lending a sense of menace to his medieval attire.
Conner’s face betrayed his fear at the warrior Sidhe’s approach.
“Finvarra’s beard! He does see us!”  Rannith declared.
“Please don’t leave me here, Áine!”
Ignoring Conner’s plea, the masterful Sidhe again counselled abandonment. 
Áine‘s response was swift and vociferous. “Would that your wit was as quick as your tongue, quarrelsome troll!
The insult of being addressed as a ‘troll’ had the desired affect and he fell into a stunned silence.
“Speak no more and heed my warning, for if the Great Council ever get wind of what takes place this night I will know how and will denounce you as a quisling.”
Fianna defiance was legendary, but  no match when pitted against the wiles of a bean-sidhe. She would indeed carry out her threat, to the destruction of them both, should he inform the Council of her actions. Nevertheless, this latest humiliation could not go unchallenged and as he stomped off to a nearby hillock he, too, made a vow. 
Áine’s touch was as cool and as inviting as her lavender scent and a strange sensation began coursing through his broken body. His limbs twitched and tingled as life gradually retuned to them. After a few hesitant movements he felt strong enough to haul himself up against a nearby sycamore.
So engrossed had Rannith been in the licking of his own wounds, he did not see what was taking place until it was too late. He leapt forward with an unbridled look of disbelief on his face. “Are you completely moonstruck? The Great Council will have our heads for this!” he cried, “It is forbidden to interfere in the life of a ‘leveller'” 
Though wary of the enraged fay Conner spoke out, “I won’t say nothin’ to nobody, so I won’t!”
“How easily such oaths slip from the tongues of humans when it suits them.” Rannith told Áine, pulling his broadsword from his shoulder and pointing it menacingly in Conner’s direction. “Now I too will swear an oath, ‘leveller’,” he said, “Though I am foresworn never to bring harm upon your kind, I pledge that if you should ever violate your promise it will be the worse for you.” With that, he strode of into the undergrowth, ruminating further on his great misfortune.
Bewildered and afraid, Conner asked, “How come he hates me so much?
“To know that you must first know this: your stories tell how we were once the human tribe of the Tuatha De Danaan, of how we were defeated by the Milesians and retreated to the hill raths, the Sidhes, to become what we are now. But your stories are false. Between the dawning of the very first day and the first waning of the moon we fay of the Otherworld came into existence. For aeons we have been the guardians of this world, living by nature’s laws. With the dawning of man came change. At first they, like us, lived in harmony and revered nature’s order, but with the passing of time their hunger for power and wealth grew and they began plundering the earth. The great forests that were once our playing grounds and home to the sacred groves where we worshiped are now all but gone; levelled by your kind.”

Sacred_Grove_3

Conner understood now why the fearsome fay referred to him as ‘leveller’, but argued that as mankind was unaware of their existence they could hardly be held responsible for their actions.
Áine smiled at his naivety as she slowly circled him. “It has not always been so.” she said, adding, “Once we were revered by your ancestors, but as time passed they spread out across the world like a plague. Their conquests took them far from their homeland. Soon they turned their backs on the ‘Old Ones’. They embraced new gods who had no place for such as us. New religions came into the world and for countless generations we have lived in dark and uncertain times. We have become the stuff of myth and legend; a frightening travesty of what we truly are.”
“Are you the ‘White Lady of Sorrow‘?” he asked.
The question had come innocently enough to his lips. The full import of his query, however, was not lost on Áine who replied cautiously, “I am known by many names.”
Rannith, whose sense of hearing was every bit as acute as his sense of betrayal, had picked up on their conversation. He cast aside the bulb of wild garlic he had been gnawing on and strode up to them with mischief in mind. “Aye, leveller, she is known by many names, some more accursed than others. Mark my words;” he warned, “you may have escaped the sound of her lament this night, but it will not always be so.”
Áine scolded him. “Were your black heart not filled with hatred and mistrust, foul imp, you would see the boy for what he truly is!”
The warrior-Sidhe knew in his heart of hearts that there was something special about the teenager. That he could see and converse with them and had done so without their bidding was beyond doubt and unheard of. From what he had gleaned of his father, he was undoubtedly human. But what of his mother?
“Her name was Aislinn. That’s all I know about here,” he said in response to Rannith’s query, She left home after I was born.”
“I am Rannith of the Fianna Sidhe. For centuries I have wandered the earth and I know a liar when I hear one, ‘leveller'”.
Enraged by his high and mighty attitude, Áine found herself revealing more than she had intended. “He is of the bloodline Cionlighct, like me!” 
Though taken aback by her revelation, Rannith studied the pair keenly. Each had the same conspicuous green eyes, the same pale complexion and finely sculpted features. Be that as it may, it was going to take more than mere similitude of features to convince him of the boy’s bean-sidhe/human hybridity.
“Are you my ma?” asked a somewhat confused Conner.
“No leveller, she is not.” Rannith cut in, “When a Sidhe – what you call faerie give itself to a human it is no longer Sidhe but becomes an immortal of your race, and can no longer return to our realm. Their immortality  now becomes a curse. It’s ageless nature betrays it, so it cannot stay in one place too long. It is cursed never to see its offspring grow into adulthood, and that is why Áine cannot be your ma.”
He tells the truth, Conner. Though I am not your mother, I knew her as well as any sister could,” she said  
“You have no siblings! Sidhe are not born like humans,” affirmed Rannith, “We are created by the will of our parents and the primal universal source and the essence of magical things.”
“It is as you say: I have no blood sister.” confirmed Áine, “The one of whom I speak was my sister in common purpose; the one whose love you sought, but could never attain and for whom you have searched these many years.”
Rannith erupted into a sudden rage. “You lie, foul ell-maid! Merle would never consort with a human.
Áine did not shrink from his outburst, but laid her hand gently on his shoulder. “Though she was my friend I was not blind to her conceit and vainglorious ambition. She despised her duality. The transfiguration of the keening that turned her into a hag was abhorrent to her. She sought perpetual beauty in the only way she could. Your search is at an end. The truth of what I say sits before you.”
He looked at Conner for what seemed an eternity before speaking. “Because you are the son of Merle – for that is her true name – and innocent in this matter I will bring no harm upon you.”
Áine watched the crestfallen warrior walk deep into the interior, unaware of the dark thoughts he entertained against those who had wronged him. She turned to Conner. “Return home now and tell no one of what you have heard or seen.”
“Will I see you again?”
“You will, but I fear the circumstances of our next encounter will come sooner than we think”, she counselled, “Tonight the course of our lives has been irrevocably altered.”
Conner got home shortly after midnight in a high state of excitement. As usual he was met by the sight of his father lying in a drunken stupor on the sofa. Beside him lay an empty whiskey bottle. Should he wake him and tell him of his incredible night and risk the wrath of the warrior-Sidhe? Would knowing the secret of his wife’s duality and the secret of why she had deserted him make things any better? In the time it took to secure the house for the evening and throw a blanket over his father he had decided not to speak of what he knew.
In the ensuing weeks Conner became aware of the changes that had begun to assert themselves. His olfactory and auditory senses had become so acute that he could distinguish between the subtlest of odours, and could hear a whispered conversation from several yards away. His vision, too, had become remarkably enhanced. In the darkest of rooms he could make his way around without upsetting a single stick of furniture. His strength and athleticism had also improved. The schoolyard bullies now gave him a wide berth and thought twice about messing with him. Had the beautiful Áine done more than just heal him, he wondered.
Áine had seen nothing of Rannith since their confrontation in the forest and it troubled her. She knew the proud warrior well enough to know that he would exact some form of revenge, but didn’t dwell on the situation. Given time, she intended to introduce Conner into Sidhe society and had busied herself accordingly. It was a strategy that was fraught with danger, because the practice of abducting human children and replacing them with faerie changelings had long since been outlawed. On the other hand, there was a distinction in Conner’s case: he was not fully human nor a completely hapless child. However, events were about to unfold that would expedite her plans. 
Dawn was some five hours away and Conner was growing increasingly worried by his father’s lateness. His newly acquired and superior intuitive sense was telling him something was very wrong and so he set out in search of him, little knowing what he would find. 
The Gancanagh Inn, or ‘Ballybogs’ as it was more affectionately known, had derived its epithet from the ballybog faeries of Irish folklore that were said to slobber instead of speaking intelligibly; a fitting soubriquet given that its patrons were often struck by the same malady after a night of revelling there. The Inn lay two miles east of the M’Lauchlin home and was Sean’s favourite watering hole. To cut several minutes from his journey he would invariably take the shortcut through Rowshield Wood. It was along this lonely trail that Conner expected to find him.
Moonlit, windblown leaves swirled down the embankment as he neared the spot where he had first encountered the strange duo. He stopped by the oak from which he had fallen and called out to Áine. There was no reply. He walked a little further and began to pick up on the faintest whiff of whiskey on the night breeze. Far ahead he heard an unearthly wail rise up and fall like crashing waves on a seashore; a mournful cry that sent icy chills up and down his spine. Despite his growing fear he picked up his pace and headed deeper into the wood.
On reaching the junction where the track forked he turned right, passing the old airshaft that had once serviced the now derelict coal mine some half mile down the opposite track. It didn’t take him long to realise that he was heading in the wrong direction. Though common sense told him that this was the path his father would have taken, his sense of smell was telling him otherwise. He was being drawn now toward the coal mine. But what could possibly have induced his father to take the wrong turning, he wondered. Even in his drunkest of states he had the unerring ability to find his way home. Bizarrely, too, the smell of wild garlic appeared more prevalent as he neared the site. Why this was so was a mystery, given that the vegetation was becoming increasingly sparse the closer he came to the pithead.
In the expansive clearing stood two ramshackled outbuildings; a single storey shower facility and an imposing three-storied administrative building. Now little more than shells, they were all that remained of the once industrious colliery. He followed his nose past the shower house and into the large office block, where the smell of dank decay and crumbling plaster greeted him as he picked his way through the ground floor. Above him he could hear the sounds of roosting pigeons and the occasional rat as it scurried in search of an easy meal. His father’s scent clung to the weathered walls, intermingling with the stench of garlic. He had been here quite recently. Conner called out to him, and was immediately met by a flurry of beating wings echoing throughout the cavernous building. Gradually, the frantic commotion ceased and he pushed on.

decaying building

On entering a broad reception area he noticed an iron stairway leading up to the second floor and was about to ascend when something caught his eye. At the foot of a half opened door lay his father’s hip flask, a treasured heirloom that had been passed down through the generations from father to son. Nothing could have induced his father to part with it. He picked it up and shook the dirt from it.
A sudden and terrifying image crashed in on his consciousness, in which he saw his father running, desperately trying to evade some unknown terror pursuing him. He stumbled, gasping in great volumes of air that burnt his lungs. Behind him he could hear his pursuer’s footfalls drawing nearer. Staggering towards the office block, he turned for the briefest of moments to see an indefinable silhouette crash through the undergrowth.
Conner’s legs buckled and he slumped against the stairway. No matter how hard he tried to rationalise it he knew he had witnessed the last moments of his father’s life and cursed his benefactress for it. Picking up the discarded hip flask, he staggered out into the night.
The sharp, unearthly cry rose and fell as before. It was emanating from the beck that cut through the wood to the southeast. Conner was off and running as fast as his legs could carry him, crashing headlong through the brushwood. Swift and gazelle-like he negotiated the treacherous terrain until finally coming upon the swollen stream.
On the opposite bank, several hundred feet further up stream, lay an immense granite boulder that partially obscured the dark figure moving around at its base. He crept forward, but was soon forced to enter the fast flowing waters so as to remain unseen. He made his way forward, keeping the rock between himself and the foul smelling creature that lay beyond.

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Slap! Slap! Slap!
The sound of something wet being beaten against a rock and the alarming cries that accompanied it brought Conner to a sudden halt. He was now within feet of his quarry. Emboldened at having gotten so close he leaned forward to take a peek at the nightmare that lay beyond, but his footing on the moss covered stones had been precarious at best and with a yelp of surprise he plunged headlong into the icy waters.
The fearsome crone let out an ear splitting shriek. She rose up from her squatting position as Conner emerged from the water. Eyes, fiery red from centuries of weeping, looked angrily down at him from a cadaverous face, her lank and dishevelled hair clinging to the pallid visage and the sodden grey garb she wore. Conner recoiled in horror at the gaping maw and the hellish sounds that erupted from it. She held out a wizened hand to him. From it fell his father’s shirt. Piled upon a flat rock at her feet lay the rest of his clothes. Next to them lay his broken corpse.
A startling crash came from further up stream and Conner turned to see Rannith leap from his perch in the trees into the beck. He strode forward through the surging water, broadsword in hand.
“Take it, leveller, and avenge your da!” he commanded, tossing the weapon to him. “Strike off its head while you still can!”
Conner looked deep into the fiery coals of the old hag’s eyes. He sniffed the atmosphere and in that instant knew what he had to do. The blade whistled cleanly through the air, neatly severing  head from body. Rannith  teetered for a moment before his decapitated body collapsed with a splash into the stream. 
Conner’s action had been swift and decisive. At the very last moment he had seen something in the hags eyes, a reflection of his own duality. Were it not for the gifts she had bestowed upon him, of which the scheming warrior had been unaware, Áine’s fate would have been sealed. His father’s true killer now lay dead at his feet, the waters washing away the scent of whiskey and wild garlic from his saturated tunic.
Áine keened beneath the pale moon, calling upon the Prince of Death to carry away the soul of Sean M’Lauchlin to the realm of the dead.
For Conner another realm awaited.

© David Calvert 2011

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