blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Made of stars

 

night sky milky way with a figure
Photo by Stefan Stefancik on Pexels.com

God, I hate revision. Going over and over the same stuff is so boring, like spinning your wheels. I need to pass this exam though, if I’m going to get out of here. I don’t want to mess up now, when I’m so close. If I can get through this advanced astrophysics I’ll be set.

Wonder how my parents will adjust when I’m gone? I can’t afford to let that derail me though. They’ll probably be glad to have some time together without me bugging them for yet another college course, and another. I think Dad is quietly proud though he never says so. Overheard him praising me to his friend on the visilink. That just increases the pressure, but I can do this. There’s much worse to come if I’m admitted to Academy.

Diamonds are formed under pressure, Mum says. That’s all very well, but what about the carbon lumps that crumbled, the ones that didn’t make it? They ended up as dust, and nobody cares about dust. It’s unremarkable, unless it gets through the envirofilters. Then it’s important all right, something that gets in the way and spoils the balance of the atmosphere. It’s something to be disposed of.

I want to be a diamond. I want to shine bright. But first I have to ace this test, and I can’t ask Ansel for help again. He thinks he’s so great at cosmology, and he is. That’s my weakness, but space physics and high-energy astrophysics are my playgrounds, plus dad’s tutored me in some biotech. Ansel doesn’t know that. Nobody really knows what’s out there, or what skills we’ll need. It’s best to diversify. Ansel never asks for my help. He underestimates me.

If I get in to Space Academy I’ll have to leave my home. If I graduate I’ll have to leave the planet that’s my home. I don’t know how to feel about that, but staying here, relying on envirofilters and a dying planet, is not an option. When they ask I’ll tell them yes. I’m ready to move beyond the red clouds.

Must be time to give up, the lights are on which means it’s dark outside. Mum said that before the Dustbowl era, residences had windows you could look through and open. What madness. How could you possibly maintain atmospheric homeostasis and structural integrity? What was there to see?

It should be okay to log in to the feed from Voyager 27 now. One day I might be orbiting one of the planets it has passed so far. One day, humans might have a new home.

They say we’re made of stars, that many of the compounds needed for life arrived here on meteors. Stars seem so distant and brilliant, and our lives here on this little blue planet are miniscule and messy by comparison.

Maybe we got the bits that space didn’t want, and like a good homemaker Earth made the best of a thin selection of ingredients. And now we’re going shopping for more. Who knows what we’ll find out there.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

In the eye of the beholder

mask-woman-wall_kellepics
kellepic via pixabay

 

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”

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

15.07

child holding toy car
venturaartist via pixabay

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”

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

The Last Piece – pt 2

rainbow landscape edit
k_r_craft (edited) via pixabay

part one here

“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.

Continue reading “The Last Piece – pt 2”

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

The Last Piece -pt 1

rainbow landscape edit
k_r_craft (edited) via pixabay

part one

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.

Continue reading “The Last Piece -pt 1”

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Chasing the horizon pt 2

part 2

oil paints_PublicDomainPictures
PublicDomainPictures via pixabay

part one here

“It is done.” The demon vanished, leaving a faint acrid smell of smoke and scorch marks on the ceiling.

Xander rubbed his eyes. Did that really happen? Maybe it was a dream. But the sandwich was gone. He made some toast, and wondered.

In the middle of the night he sat bolt upright. He knew what to paint. He ran downstairs, set up a new canvas, and set to work.

A few days later there was a knock at the door. Xander was loath to stop, he was on a roll, but the knocking continued. He snatched the door open.

“I’m working, Fabian,” he yelled and went back inside.

Fabian strolled in. “That’s good, because otherwise I’d have to ask for the advance back. My little gallery can’t afford – what’s that?”

Xander continued to paint. “Just something from my imagination.”

“It’s very striking. How long till it’s finished?”

“I don’t know, but longer if you don’t leave me alone.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll pop back next week.”

Continue reading “Chasing the horizon pt 2”

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Chasing the horizon

part 1

oil paints_PublicDomainPictures
PublicDomainPictures via pixabay

 

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.

Continue reading “Chasing the horizon”

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Holding on for a hero

who will answer the call?

man_cocoparisienne
cocoparisienne via pixabay

listen: 

Mankind is facing annihilation – again.

People are calling my name – but for all the wrong reasons. I can’t believe you’d expect me to lay myself on the line for them. I am not the man I was. I am not as strong, as fast or as foolish as I was thirty years ago and the world has no right to ask any more of me. For God’s sake. I gave it all before, gave up my one and only love, my peace of mind. I risked everything.

Yes, people chanted my name, put my picture on magazines, even made movies about me. But you didn’t want the rest of the story, did you? Didn’t want to know how my spirit was broken. Didn’t want to hear about the nightmares that haunted me day and night. I see all those faces still. They told me it was a price worth paying.

Tell that to the ones I couldn’t save.

Yes, I got a medal from the president and a pension, but I was alone. I am alone.

So why should I come back now? I’ve had thirty years to figure out that people want you when they need you. And when they don’t need you any more, you’re dead to them. The fate of the planet lies in my hands, and my hands alone? Don’t be absurd. It’s never that simple.

Find another young idealist to sacrifice themselves. Not one of you would trade places with me, and that’s how we see the real truth. If I take on this fight now, and win, what is there in it for me? I already know what the world’s gratitude consists of. And if I try and fail, what is there in it for me? I already know the bitter taste of rejection. There are many less painful ways to die.

How dare you come here to weep and beg for my help. How dare you pretend to care about anything other than yourselves. Guilt and fear is written all over you. Save us, you cry. We are all human, all in it together. Well then.

If that is true, let us all burn together.

I deserve better than this. I have paid the price already.

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

On Goodbye

Skitterphoto_cropped
Skitterphoto via pixabay

 

Listen to this story: 

I never said goodbye to my mother. By the time we realised she was leaving, we found that her body remained but her soul was already on the train. Her eyes were fixed on an unknowable, distant destination. We waved when the whistle blew, but she never looked back. Worrying away at that loose thread, I believed that goodbyes are important. So when I heard that he was going into the hospice that day, I went.

It was one of many such days. Endless activity, calls to action, demands to be met. But this call was my own, and not to be deferred. He smiled when I told him that I had to come before he left. In between pauses to catch his breath, he told me how much he valued our friendship.

In turn, I thanked him for his advice, freely given and always useful. We reminisced about past times, while afternoon sun bathed the room in a warm glow and a ticking clock provided a constant rhythm in the background.

He said he didn’t want to burden his wife any more, and shushed her murmured protests. This was the right thing for both of them, he said.

She was a strong woman, and she did not cry. She watched him with love and she smiled, because he needed to see it and she had to give him whatever he needed, now that all prayers were useless. Pain would be borne later, in private. She offered tea, but I could not delay my commitments further.

He coughed and wheezed. Joked that he sounded as if he had been on twenty a day, and I responded that life just wasn’t fair sometimes. It’s never been fair, and we shook hands.

We had spoken the truth, but we ended with a lie.

“See you again,” I said.

And he replied with a smile, “I hope so.”

We parted with a final, double-handed handshake, after which I held back my sudden impulse to hug him. It would have felt like surrendering to the inevitable. When all seems lost, the tiniest shred of hope is the only thing left to us, and we cling to it lest we drown.

He was tired of fighting, and he faced his future calmly. Intangible and yet absolutely present, the word we would not say hung in the air like smoke.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

An ending

rose petal red_malubeng
malubeng via pixabay

 

I sat at a window table in the coffee shop waiting for my perennially tardy friend Clare. I’d come to expect the text saying she was running late two minutes before we were due to meet. I didn’t mind though. I got the first round in; a large latte for her, apple and elderflower tea for me, and millionaire’s shortbread to share. She’d be along, and I could people watch while I waited. Usually it was a chance to daydream with the hum of early Saturday morning as a soundtrack.

The slam of a car door outside rang through the entrance as a patron came in. The dark haired woman stormed off, pulling her shoulder strap over her head. Her blue bag bounced on her hip and she dodged other shoppers with grace and speed. As she approached the coffee shop her frown was obvious, dark brows lowered and jaw set.

Her companion caught up in a few long strides, grabbed her wrist. She spun round, shook her hand free. I sipped my tea and watched the back and forth. She waved her hands, stabbed a finger at his chest in accusation. He shook his head, clenched his fists at his sides. One or two passers-by glanced at them but they paid no attention, fully absorbed in their moment of drama.

My phone buzzed again. Clare was running really late, so I finished the shortbread. We could always get another. Meantime this silent altercation had drawn me in.

He opened his palms, placatory. Her shoulders slumped, eyes downcast. There was a brief pause. In movies, that would be the pivotal moment. He’d beg forgiveness, she’d realise what she’s losing, and they would fall into each other’s arms. Roll credits.

She walked away. He watched her go, then called out. She hesitated and stopped. I held my breath. She turned back and I saw her face clearly. She bit her bottom lip, nodded fractionally and walked up to him. The wind tugged at his light hair as she cupped his face between her hands and brought him down for a soft kiss. The tension in his shoulders relaxed and he reached for her at the exact moment she stepped away. She gave him a small, sad smile before leaving without looking back.

The man still stood rooted to the spot, touching his lips as if to hold on to her. He returned to his car and sat for a while before driving off.

I was still wondering about them even after Clare rushed in, describing her own little drama of lost keys and a broken heel. At least that could easily be fixed.

Maybe truth is stranger than fiction but life is not a fairytale. Sometimes it ends with a kiss.