I replayed that disastrous meeting in my head all the way home. Kim was perfectly made up, her lipstick red enough to command attention, but not so red that it was an outright invitation. When she started to explain the concept that we’d developed together, the shock of betrayal jolted through me.
I gaped, probably looking foolish, then clamped my mouth shut and fixed my gaze on the treacherous mouth taking credit for my idea. She was all surface gloss with a concealed weapon. No-one else saw through it. Continue reading “In the eye of the beholder”→
By knowing the large you know the small; and from the shallow you reach the deep.
Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
You think me crazy, driven mad by long solitude, but you are wrong. I have braved storms, rain, and blistering sun. Birds call and wheel in the desolate grey skies of winter, and soar serenely in the blue of summer. Lately, the ring whispers to me, day and night.
Few would live the life of a lighthouse keeper, but I have been more than content to polish the lens, oil the gears, and light the lamp. When storms batter the headland I am unafraid, for this is when I serve my purpose. There could be none nobler than saving lives.
Now, my time is done and you are here to take my place as keeper of the light. I watch the ocean swell and fall back as it has done for ever. The sun moves across the sky and the stars light the night, and on the cycle goes. What is one life, measured against the sweep and grandeur of nature? Everything and nothing.
Once, a long time ago, I took off my shoes and ventured to the shoreline. Light breeze, warm sun, a perfect day. I thought to paddle in the calm waters. One step, another, and the water gripped my ankles, far colder than expected, far stronger than I could bear.
I screamed and ran. That night a silver fish admonished me in dreams. Open your heart. Close your eyes. Release knowledge and grasp truth. I woke and did not know where I was.
Near the beach, a patch of calm water grows in the sea. This is not usual, and you should stay away. The ring itches on my finger but remains bright, even after all this time. I think it washed up on the shore, but I’m not certain any more.
I cannot remove it.
Each night, silvery creatures drift in and out of my dreams. You know, the dolphin says. The endless sea, the tiniest rock pool, the tear in your eye are all the same. You know, the hermit crab says. This house of refuge is only lent, not given. A mermaid flutters cold slender fingers against my cheek, showing me four rings, then a swish of the tail and she is gone, leaving only her voice. Let go.
Humour me. It has been so long since I spoke with another soul.
I have seen great weather systems march across this wide horizon, and plucked shivering half-drowned men from angry seas. I always saw it coming, but I have run from my own storm. So many lives saved, so many more given. Who decides what is a fair exchange between land and sea?
Dreaming and waking are one to me now, full of whispered memories. The sea picked me, and gifted me this ring and a life that should not have been mine. I stand and let the sea caress my skin. When the sun pauses in the solstice sky, when time hangs in the balance, that will be my moment.
I see my slow walk into the calm shallows, the riptide that will pull me under, deeper, back to the start and the end of life, where a silver ring was given and now is forfeit.
The ocean and the raindrop are the same, and shallow waters will lead me to the deep questions. Keep my secret, but do not mourn. My life is a price worth paying to know the answer.
I don’t remember when I first saw him, although my life divides into before and after. It’s a simple fact that he wasn’t there, and then he was. I have a lot of time to think these days, so I might as well write those thoughts down. Maybe it will make sense one day, if not to me then someone else. Nobody believed me then, but it’s still true. I’m so very sorry.
He was around four years old, or so I thought. I found out later he was nearly five, about to go to school that September. I can see him now. He had a mop of curly brown hair, the kind that aunties would love to ruffle while exclaiming how big he’d grown. At first he smiled, showing little white teeth and a mischievous glint in his hazel eyes. He always wore the same green jacket, jeans and black trainers, clutching something in his left hand. I never liked children really, I preferred dogs. Continue reading “15.07”→
“Bedtime stories are the best kind. Some of them are even true. What would you say if I told you that my life is a kind of story, a search for something most do not believe in and have never seen?”
I sat up. “I would say, tell me more.”
“I found the end of the rainbow.” He glanced at me and went on.
“It happened many years ago. I was a poor farmer’s son then. I thought I saw it touch down in the next field, brilliant and about a yard wide. I dropped my tools and ran, but to my horror there was another man running for the same thing. He was weighed down by saddlebags, but he got there first.’ Gavin’s tale had my complete attention and I nodded at him, fascinated.
“Oh. And what happened next?”
“I was prepared to fight him for the gold, but to my surprise he dumped the saddlebags as soon as he reached the rainbow. Gold spilled all over the grass. I thought he was crazy, and I ran faster than I ever had in my life. As I drew closer, I saw his hair turn white. He aged in front of me, becoming bent and wrinkled, but he continued to smile. The yellow band of the rainbow widened and grew bright like sunlight, and he stepped into it and vanished.
The stranger looked the type who didn’t stay in one place too long. While I served the other customers, I watched him drink his pint of dark ale and brood silently. He wasn’t local and we don’t get much passing trade.
Dark hair escaped from his dark green knitted hat and curled over the collar of a very shabby leather jacket. The rest of his clothes were an odd assortment; ripped jeans, well-worn cowboy boots that he must have got from a charity shop somewhere, and a spotless open-necked cream shirt. He brought a couple of messenger bags with him and kept them at his feet.
I found him fascinating, and the symbols tattooed on his hands only added to the mystery. Obviously my inspection wasn’t as subtle as I hoped because Sam, the other barmaid, started to tease me about him.
“Watching the customers again. Or maybe just Mr Mysterious over there, eh?” She nudged me while handing change over the counter.
Xander watched the bacon bits sizzling in the pan and sighed. He had to cut off the mouldy parts, since there was little else in the fridge. If he didn’t sell a painting soon, he’d be on the street. It had all been so different years ago, when he was the toast of the art world. He specialised in disturbing dreamscapes that recalled Dali but were even more fantastical. Monstrous creatures roamed his canvases, and critics loved his ‘glimpse into the eerie world of the grotesque’ as The Times put it.
Lately he sold hardly anything. The world had moved on, and it was harder to surprise the modern generation.
The ketchup bottle was almost empty too. He squeezed the last few drops onto stale bread. He spread it out in a pleasing pattern with his finger, thinking it looked like an ancient sign of some kind.
“Hmm, what was it he said on Demon Hunter? Something like congregandum eos coram me? Not that you can believe a TV programme.”
He turned to get the bacon and almost screamed at the apparition in the corner.
“No, you’re not going mad, yes, I am real, yes, you did summon me. By accident, apparently.” The creature spoke with a weary inflection to its deep, rumbling voice. It folded its huge, leathery wings with a dry, crackling sound.