One last short story

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This final short story is losely based on what happened to me soon after I moved into my neighbourhood ten years ago. While I have used some poetic licence, be in no doubt Oswald is my alter ego; and no that is not me pictured above…

~~~

Oswald’s Revenge

Without a word she plunged her hand into Oswald’s jacket pocket. The next moment she was frantically rubbing her hand on her dress. She ran screaming into the night.

Oswald rose groggily to his feet. Grabbing his walking stick, he readied himself to strike out at the teenage girl’s two male companions should they try to do him any harm. Any further action on his part ended a few moments later when a police car stopped beside them, taking both of the youths by surprise. After seizing and handcuffing one youth, a police officer helped Oswald to a seat at the bus stop. The other policeman gave chase on foot, rugby tackling the remaining youth, and quickly handcuffed him.

“My name is Michael Oswald Jerome. I’m sixty three. What else do you want to know? You already know where I live,” he replied to the police officer’s routine questions while a medic from the ambulance the policeman had called gave him a thorough check over. Except for a few cuts and bruises, he had come through his latest unnerving experience relatively unscathed.

After the third painful assault by the young scumbags in the neighbourhood where he lived, Oswald decided that enough was enough. Being a creature of habit he always kept his wallet in his coat pocket. Twice now he had been knocked to the ground by the two teenage boys, egged on by their female companion who then rifled through his pockets, stealing what she found. Each time as a parting gesture, the youths viciously kicked him. On one occasion he had to be hospitalized for a couple of days with broken ribs.

Oswald swore to himself that the next time it happened, even if he died, he would get his revenge on the female ringleader.

~~~

The part of town he lived in is populated mostly by the unemployed and the unemployable like himself. Simply taking a walk down the street and around the corner to the local supermarket, even in broad daylight, is like entering a warzone.

Since he had been moved here five years previously after being found living rough on the streets of a nearby coastal town, down on his luck, it hadn’t taken the local yobs very long to suss him out as an easy target to mug, or someone to viciously kick or beat up just for the hell of it.

If you saw Oswald on the street you would have simply written him off as just another unwashed vagrant. But if you had bothered to get to know him, you would soon realise that you were in the company of a highly intelligent man.

Oswald shut himself off from the world at large behind securely locked and bolted doors and windows, never venturing out unless it was absolutely essential. Instead of opening his front door and going out into the world, he relied heavily on buying everything he needed online, and communicating with his few friends across the world via email.

Fourty years earlier in a warzone in another country, he had married a local girl in a simple Buddhist ceremony for three reasons. Number one, he had fallen head over heels in love. Secondly at nineteen he was as horny as hell. Thirdly, being married to a local girl meant he could live off base. She had died, six months into his second tour of duty; a casualty of allied bombing. Their plans of her and their new-born son, who also perished in the bombing raid, following him home tragically ended thanks to friendly fire. Mix this with the things he saw and did under fire and is it any wonder he became a member of that band of warriors who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, mentally scarred forever more?

Sadly, such are the fortunes of war. Oswald didn’t get over his wartime experiences, nor did he ever feel he could allow himself to get too close to another human being ever again. Somewhere deep within his still traumatised mind, he feared that tragedy would take away whoever he gave his heart to.

~~~

The next morning, a loud knock on his door made him jump. He peered out of his kitchen window and saw a police car. Finding his keys, Oswald went to his front door and unlocked it. A different policeman stood there with a stern look on his face.

“Michael Oswald Jerome?”

“Yes.”

“I have here a warrant for your arrest,” the policeman said matter-of-factly. “You are to be charged with causing grievous bodily harm.” He indicated to Oswald that he should hold out his hands to be handcuffed. After getting his coat, walking stick and hat before locking his door for him, the policeman took him to the station, where he spent the night in the cells.

The following morning Oswald was taken by prison van to the county courthouse to stand trial. As far as the lawyer for the young female gang leader was concerned, whether it was an open and shut case was extremely debatable. She sat beside him, smirking and determined to make Oswald’s life hell yet again.

Before he had been transported to court, Oswald had smartened himself up by washing himself and combing his hair, before putting on his coat and hat.

The justice of the peace entered the courtroom and took his seat as everyone stood. Oswald shifted his weight on the uncomfortable wooden chair in the dock. He reached inside his pocket unseen by the majority and pinned something on his chest.

“The accused will rise,” the court clerk ordered before he prepared to read out the charge.

The sound of people gasping filled the courtroom as Oswald stood to attention. The female gang leader’s lawyer shook his head. As far as Oswald was concerned he was on parade again in front of his commanding officer. He stood there, back straight, thumbs lined up with the stitching on his trousers, eyes front.

“Your honour, given the accused’s obvious excellent record, I am urging my young client to drop her case and if the court will agree, I shall advise her to hand herself over to the police.”

“But he hurt my hand look!” the girl yelled indignantly, waiving her heavily bandaged hand. “Dirty old farts like him deserve what they get – smelly old git!”

The justice of the peace banged his fist on his bench.

“Silence, silence in court. Young woman, you will show respect for a very brave man. Take a good look at the medals on his chest. In particular look closely at the first one. Bailiff, take her over to the dock please.”

The burly bailiff did as he was bid and forcibly escorted the teenage girl over to where Oswald still stood proudly to attention. She looked at Oswald’s row of medals. They meant absolutely nothing to her.

“Yeh, so what?” she said almost spitting out the words.

The justice indicated that she should be returned to her seat.

“Young lady; and I use the word ‘lady’ advisedly in your case, the first medal on this gentleman’s chest is the highest military medal for gallantry this country has.

I have read the reports of the police officers who went to Mr Jerome’s aid when you and your two associates set upon him. The sergeant in charge tells me that this is the fourth time this gentleman has suffered being assaulted by your gang of mindless thugs. Mr Jerome, you are free to go sir – case dismissed.”

That night as Oswald lay in bed he smiled to himself. It had been a brilliant plan on his part to put that toad in his pocket the other night where he normally kept his wallet.

~~~

PS – unlike Oswald, in reality the louts who beat me up in broad daylight were never caught. But what really sickens me to this day is that no one stepped in to help me – no one. So, like Oswald, I stay inside the house behind closed and locked doors.

😦

An example of how a story idea can often lead nowhere…

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 Nature’s Exception

To all intent and purpose the Earth is dead, uninhabitable. Every living thing across the world perished when the planet was hit by a massive solar storm, rupturing the atmosphere and boiling the planet’s surface. With the exception of a handful of individuals, who saw the catastrophe coming, humanity died out.

Those few unknowingly irradiated escapees, who descended below ground in Earth’s last hours, became troglodyte-like cave dwellers. Within a few short weeks after the solar bombardment, they began to change beyond all recognition as the last remnants of the oxygen rich atmosphere disappeared. A new subterranean species soon replaced humanity.

In general they live out their lives knowing nothing of what went before. However, in nature there is always at least one exception to the rule. I still retain a conscious mind while the rest merely exist. While we no longer communicate in the way our ancestors once did, I somehow sense that we evolved because of the solar storm into the species we have become within ten short generations.

Today we are reliant on absorbing all gases, moisture and nutrients necessary to life through our skin from the underground environment we live in. Above us, the surface of our planet is continuously subjected to violent cosmological bombardment. We have become blind, deaf, limbless slug-like creatures burrowing our way through our underground environment with only one aim, the constant search for nourishment.

Despite our monotonous subterranean way of life I sense that unlike me, most are content in their ignorance of our previous existence. Via the fragile link I still possess to our human ancestors through fleeting memories, I believe our life span has increased beyond theirs, although I have no real way of proving my theory.

There are times when I wish that I was like my brethren, merely existing, not knowing anything of the way our ancestors once lived and loved. Why have I retained these memories? I can’t communicate my knowledge to my brethren. Why am I cursed with consciousness and emotions? Knowing something of the way we used to live in our former existence is excruciating mental torture to me.

I wonder were I human, what it would have felt like to walk on grass, or sand or even to dip my foot into a stream? In my troubled mind I often imagine what it would have been like to experience the simple pleasure in seeing a flower, touching it, smelling it, marvelling at it. What must it have been like to actually speak? What was it like to love another individual?  I am a freak, an outsider.

~~~

As night falls across the dead planet, it transforms into a shadowy vision of hell. Its satellite moon casts its ghostly light, and for a brief moment, illuminates a new feature in the stark landscape below it. The desiccated remains of the last conscious link to mankind now lies half in, half out of the parched surface. All that humanity was, aspired to be, is now truly dead – lost forever…

 

 

Another fantasy short story

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Gorin’s Last Summer

Since Gemlik the last of the mountain ogres had sacrificed his single eye to save the ancient world from the disease of humanity, peace and harmony among all living things had returned once more.

Gorin, the much loved and respected elder and arbitrator of the dwarf clan, had journeyed north with Tallow the giant eagle and the crystal tool fashioned by Troth, to return it to Gemlik to create the replacement for Troth’s Eye.

Now he felt his remaining time and that of his life giving ancestor oak was fast growing short. Like all living things, the link between the pair meant they were born together, lived and died together as is the natural way of things in the world.

~~~

Gorin stirred from his long winter slumber beneath the warm down-filled covers of his bed, and lifted his weary head from his soft cobweb pillow. He pulled the curtains back and opened his bedroom window above his bed to gaze at the world outside.

Through still sleepy eyes, he marvelled at the sight of fresh spring grasses, flowers, and the already fattening buds of wild fruits. His old face once more felt the delicate touch of clean fresh spring air wafting through the window of his home in the exposed roots of his life giving oak tree. The time for sleep was over for another year.

Gorin dearly loved his snug little home. Until both tree and dwarf reached two hundred summers, nature demanded that the young tree’s dwarf shelter in the leaf litter and grass beneath its branches during the summer, while in winter, it had to seek refuge in whatever hole beneath the ground that it could find.

In those early years Gorin was forced to keep one eye open in the darkness of the holes he sought shelter in with his trusty knife grasped firmly in his hand ready to defend himself if need be. Often, he would find himself sharing the tight, pitch-dark confines with moles, rats, mice, voles, rabbits, weasels, stoats, worms, snails, slugs or snakes.

This was the time in a young dwarf’s life when he either learnt the craft of diplomacy and negotiation that all dwarfs were renowned for, or perish at the claws and teeth of whoever the occupant may be.

On numerous occasions he had to escape from the creatures he shared with in those early years, before the notion of eating a tasty young dwarf to stave off their own hunger brought on by the chronic shortage of food in the frozen wintery underworld, even entered their minds.

Gorin had survived those early winters by adding guile to his armoury, often saving himself from a cruel death by striking them hard on the nose with his tiny fist in the case of snakes, or by painfully plucking whiskers and stabbing his attackers faces with the sharp point of his knife, in the case of the weasels, mice, rats and stoats, distracting them long enough for him to escape.

In those times the one animal Gorin preferred sharing with above all others was a member of the mole clan. He would often spend the hours of the long winter nights deep in conversation with his friendly host, sharing food supplies. Often the pair hunted together for food during the brief hours of daylight, always providing that the snow was not too deep outside.

Unlike you and I who continue our kind by being born out of the union between a male and a female of our species, all ancients were born a day or two after the new seedling of their clan tree species first poked its head above ground, living as long as their tree does. The ancients have no concept of family as you and I know it. Instead they owe allegiance to their birth tree first, their clan second and finally to nature and the world itself.

~~~

A thousand summers ago, when his life giving oak and he had witnessed two hundred summers, he had sought its permission to hollow out his home in its largest exposed root.

In that wonderful summer, he first fashioned from a knot-hole in the great root a tiny circular door, before opening up a short passageway with two doors leading off it to the left and right, with a third at the end.

The door on the left led into his larder where he kept his supply of edible acorns and the occasional piece of honeycomb, which the bees kindly left at his door from time to time. All were stored on expertly fashioned shelves, made from twigs which he had gathered and carefully split with his knife.

His supply of acorn ale was stored in dwarf sized barrels, constructed from tiny staves split from his supply of twigs, and bound with green vines, which as they dried out, tightened their grip on the staves. He brewed a fresh supply of ale each spring, making sure to prepare the ingredients in his chestnut shell bath before he went to sleep at the beginning of each winter.

The door on the right opened into his windowless warm living room, softly lit by glow-worms, where his armchair, fashioned from acorn cups, furnished with cobweb cushions, took up most of the tiny room.

Beside it sat a small table, constructed from a dried toadstool, where he kept his bark paged life journal, in which he recorded everything of great interest to a well schooled dwarf. Beside it sat his Wren-feathered quill pen and his tiny bottle of blackberry juice ink. At the foot of his chair was a small stool made from an upturned acorn cup for his feet to rest upon in front of his fireplace.

The door at the end of the passage opened into his tiny bedroom with an equally tiny round window, expertly glazed with a semi-transparent moth wing which let soft light through, decorated with curtains made from multicoloured butterfly wings. During the warmer seasons, always providing of course that he remembered to open it to see out and to allow fresh air to enter, he could look out from the comfort of his warm bed at the world outside if his bones ached too much, or if he had a summer cold.

~~~

For the last three hundred summers, Gorin found himself increasingly confined to his bed much more than he would like by the many ailments that now plagued him due to his great age.

“I feel the time for birth planting is fast approaching us friend oak,” he sighed. His life giving oak flexed its equally ancient branches in agreement. When the last leaf finally fell from the great oak’s branches as winter finally gripped the land, both oak and dwarf would die.

Between them they had seen twelve hundred summers and witnessed many new birth plantings by all of the ancient clans.

Both knew they still had one last summer left to enjoy together. Gorin realized that very soon he would have to carefully search out a special site for the new planting, and he also knew he would have to climb his oak’s great trunk to select the very best seed acorn. This was a hazardous task for one so small should he have to climb its rough outer bark. If a hungry bird or beast spied him as he climbed aloft, he knew that he would surely die.

But Gorin knew of a secret space inside his oak. He had found it when he was excavating fresh storage space six hundred summers earlier, which led upward to the first branches emerging at the back of a hole in the trunk where a pair of squirrels had made their home.

He realised that when he made the long final climb in search of a seed acorn, it must be of the finest quality. To plant a diseased acorn, or one partially nibbled by the creatures living in the oak’s branches, would only result in a deformed oak sapling, and the dwarf it would produce would surely prove malevolent.

~~~

He swung his feet out of bed and stood on the warm dry moss mat beside his bed, searching for his boots, trousers, jerkin, jacket and hat. Over the long winter months he had constantly tossed and turned, spilling his clothes onto the floor.

A loud knock on his door startled him. Quickly donning his clothes he walked down the passage to his front door. “Who is it?” Gorin enquired nervously as his forehead furrowed deeply with worry while he brandished a cudgel in his tiny fist. The very loud knocking had clearly unsettled him.

“It’s me,” replied a loud voice.

Gorin, still not yet fully awake asked once more, “Who?”

“It’s me Tellik uncle Gorin,” the voice announced.

Gorin carefully opened his door and peered outside. A young and healthy plains ogre towered above him. “Ah my boy it is so good to see you, how are you?”

Tellik was the product of the birth-planting Gorin had performed when Gemlik gave him the precious seed from his own witch-hazel tree two hundred summers earlier. Gorin had tended the young seedling daily and when Tellik emerged into the world, took it upon himself to school the ogre youngling in the ways of nature and the world.

For the remaining summer months, Tellik carried Gorin wherever he wished to go as the ancient dwarf said farewell to all of his friends among the countless clans. All the while Gorin was looking for that special place where the planting would take place.

One morning in late summer Gorin asked Tellik to lift him high into the oak’s branches, not needing to use his hidden stairway inside the oak’s trunk. As the last leaves turned brown, Gorin finally found the acorn he was looking for.

“It’s time young Tellik. We leave tomorrow morn.” Tellik, despite his fearsome reputation and great size, shed a tear. While he knew it was his duty to carry the one being in the world he loved beyond all others on his final journey, he dearly wished that he didn’t have to.

The following morning saw Tellik standing on the highest side of Gorin’s valley, tenderly holding the old dwarf, barely alive, in one of his gigantic hands. Gorin opened his eyes one last time to see his ancestor oak finally shed its last leaf.

Tellik obeyed Gorin’s dying wish with tears flowing uncontrollably down his fearsome face. He gently laid the ancient dwarf’s lifeless body on the ground and carefully planted the precious seed acorn before lovingly burying his dearest friend close by in a tiny grave.

The following spring Tellik returned to tend the new sapling. When its dwarf was born, he began to school it, ensuring the continued friendship both ogre and dwarves have for one another and their shared respect for the ancient world in which they live.

As the dwarf youngling grew, his giant ogre friend and teacher continued his schooling until the end of his own days. When Tellik eventually died, it was his dwarf pupil who carried out the ritual birth planting for the next plains ogre as is the way of things.

Carefully clutching Gorin’s bark paged life journal, Wren-feathered quill pen and bottle of blackberry juice ink, gifted to him by his beloved friend Tellik, he set off on his own life adventure. His first task was to find his own name…

🙂

 

A Fantasy Short Story

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Roggan’s Tower

Everything that he had ever been told about the crumbling old tower high on the hills above the dead plains of Azurewrath was true after all.

Shivers ran up Gareth’s strong back as his vivid grey eyes took in every evil detail. The legend often told by storytellers, said it was once the abode of the last of the noble dragon warriors of old – Lord Roggan, sword master and champion of Azurewrath’s great king, Borr the bald.

Now the time had finally arrived when peace and stability across the land had been driven beyond recent memory by the tower’s current occupant the wizard Theophas. He was by far the cruellest of all the Black Order of Deighny ever to venture into the western plains. Thanks to his evil purposes, the ancient tower now became the centre of his conjured malevolence as it spread its tentacles far and wide across the land, killing every living thing in its path.

The charm that hung from its simple hide cord around Gareth’s strong neck held the life sapping evil at bay at least for now. But should Theophas or one of his minion’s spy him from afar, who knew how long the charm’s magic would hold out against the wizard’s steadily growing power.

The skies over ancient Azurewrath grew darker as Theophas increased the intensity of his evil magic, blotting out the warmth of the life giving sun above and covering the slowly dying land with thick swirling black clouds. Soon all of Azurewrath would be consumed by deep gloom and death.

Gareth hid in a small depression behind hardy thorn bushes that still barely clung to life, looking for any sign of movement from the tower less than a thousand paces hence. As he watched, his right hand gently caressed a horned tip of the bow Niom last owned by Borr the bald, slung across his powerfully muscled back, while the fingers of his left hand stroked the feathered flight of Meorth, the one true arrow.

~~~

Neither Niom nor Meorth was by any means considered ordinary in their construction. Both were born out of deep and powerful magic. Meorth was designed for one purpose and one only – to kill Theophas. Its shaft was carved from a carefully selected single sliver of the mighty tree Bragaroth, the first scion of the yew nation and god of Gareth’s tribe.

The sliver had been extracted from beneath a thin piece of bark that still grew on the ancient magical yew’s northern side where it stored most of its poison. The arrow’s feathered flights were meticulously prepared from the last tail feather of the great eagle Crag after he had succumbed to Theophas’ evil. Its razor sharp, magically beaten and viciously barbed iron head was carefully fashioned within the last forge of the mountain dwarves, two hundred leagues to the south. The dwarves had summoned the breath of Lord Draco the last dragon, for the fiery magical task.

Borr’s great bow Niom was already over a thousand summers old when it was passed to him on the death of his father for the kingship initiation right, when he was just a youth of sixteen summers. Had he failed to string the great bow, young prince Borr would not have succeeded in taking his place upon the throne as king of Azurewrath. No one alive at the time, or even now, knew what great magic had made the wondrous weapon in the dim past. After Borr died without issue some two hundred summers ago, according to custom, Niom’s bowstring was duly severed until a new king was pronounced.

During a time of great and violent turmoil, deep unrest and bloody war between Azurewrath’s many tribes since Borr’s death, his great bow lay unstrung. Many of his own tribe, the dragon warriors, tried over the years to claim the kingship by attempting to string it, but none succeeded despite their great strength. In the end Niom lay forgotten and soon passed into memory along with its illustrious previous owner.

Then one day purely by chance, or by design, while on a hunting trip, Gareth found its hiding place in the ruins of Borr’s old castle. The young warrior immediately took it to Magleb, the dragon tribe’s venerable shaman. The old man’s excitement grew as he cleaned it up, fully realising what it was the young warrior had found.

At about the same time as Gareth’s discovery, Theophas arrived in the land of Azurewrath and took up residence in Roggan’s old tower, making it his own. By the second summer of Theophas’ evil occupancy, hundreds had already died or simply run as far away as they could in fear of the wizard’s creeping life sucking evil.

Magleb called a meeting of the remaining warriors of the dragon tribe, worshipers of mighty Bragaroth, determined to end Theophas’ hold over Azurewrath forever. Holding Borr’s magnificent bow Niom aloft in one hand, restored to the world once more, with a new bow string made from the steel-like sinew of a buffalo’s hind leg in his other, he challenged anyone assembled there to try to string the bow.

Of all there that day only Gareth managed the task. Magleb took it as an omen of great portent. It was as if magical Niom had somehow sought the young warrior out.

At the end of the moon cycle Magleb emerged from his workshop victorious, holding the one true arrow. Now Theophas’ nemesis was ready to end his evil occupation of Azurewrath. Uttering a magical incantation, Magleb named the one true arrow Meorth, bringer of death.

~~~

Gareth watched nervously as Theophas sent out a great cloud of his flying minions to spy on the land. His heart gladdened as they flew away towards the setting sun. Soon it would be time for him to get within striking distance.

The thick unnatural gloom of the day slowly turned to moonless night beneath the evil black swirling clouds created by Theophas. Gareth knew that he would be doubly vigilant now that night was falling, while he was alone in his tower without the immediate protection of his ever vigilant minions. The wizard would be watching the surrounding countryside intently, aided by the reflective mirror surface of the mercury filled golden bowl in his workshop for any sign of life or movement.

The time for concealment had now arrived. Covering his entire body in a mixture of wet clay, dead grass, dust and twigs, Gareth began crawling slowly towards a knoll on the eastern side of Roggan’s tower, less than sixty paces away from the crumbling edifice. As he progressed towards his objective, he realised just how exposed he was while he crossed the open grassland, especially now that the grass beneath him was dead and fast crumbling to dust. With every deliberately slow forward movement Gareth drew closer, until eventually he was within bowshot.

Carefully raising his head, he scanned the area between the two spires of Roggan’s tower where the window of Theophas’ workshop looked out onto the world. Laying both Niom and Meorth on the dusty ground in front of him, he temporarily covered them with dry grass while he lay in wait.

From inside his workshop Theophas watched the world beyond his window appear on the surface of the mercury filled bowl. Uttering an incantation, his cruel eyes watched as the reflected image increased in magnification. Something had caught his attention.

Gareth lay face down as still as a corpse, hardly daring to draw breath. The charm around his neck glowed deep red while vibrating its warning against both the ground he lay on and the muscles of his chest as the bowl magically surveyed the open ground where he lay.

Theophas carefully inspected the reflected view and then relaxed. It showed nothing more than dead grass, clay, dust and twigs. He walked across his workshop to the great east window and looked out over his slowly dying domain.

With one fluid movement, Gareth purposefully rose to one knee while at the same time fitting Meorth’s notch to Niom’s already taught bow string. The muscles of his strong right arm quivered under the immense physical effort needed as he pulled the string back, until both of Niom’s horned tips almost touched. He closed one eye. With the other, he carefully aimed Meorth’s viciously barbed tip, a hands breadth above Theophas’ head.

Quietly uttering the incantation designed by Magleb to make Meorth’s path true, which the old shaman had made him repeat endlessly until it was firmly fixed in his mind, he relaxed the fingers of his right hand, releasing their grip of the bowstring.

For a few brief moments he watched as Meorth flew in a high arc through the night until he could see it no more. Too late Theophas saw his nemesis. In less than the time it takes to draw a single breath it pierced his left eye. Meorth cleaved Theophas’ malevolent brain in two while lodging itself firmly in the back of his skull fixed by its barbs. The wizard’s cruel face twisted into a deathly frightening grimace in that final brief moment of life. No sound escaped his cruel thin lips as Meorth’s great magic took hold.

Instantly Theophas’ brain became nothing but crumbling dust as the deadly poison leached rapidly through his body from Meorth’s yew shaft, ending his life and his evil hold over the land forever. In so doing, the one true arrow also destroyed the wizard’s conjured minions at the same time.

~~~

The first light of a new dawn appeared over ancient Azurewrath. Gareth re-entered the glade where mighty Bragaroth stood. Magleb sat with his eyes closed while a broad smile lit up his face as he rested against the yew’s aged trunk. All members of Gareth’s tribe enjoyed the simple pleasure of the sun’s warmth once again as it steadily rose above the eastern horizon.

Slowly over the next few months the land came back to life. The skies above cleared. The sun shone, and plants grew aplenty. A new age arrived as the ancient land settled back into peace and prosperity once more under the leadership of its new young king Gareth, holder of the bow Niom, and slayer of Theophas. He ruled benevolently for the rest of his days from his home high above the now fertile plains of Azurewrath in the rebuilt magnificence of Roggan’s Tower.

Mounted on the wall above Gareth’s throne, the great bow Niom and the one true arrow Meorth stood as a powerful symbol for good. Their likeness became the basis of king Gareth’s coat of arms in the new age of enlightenment which spread far and wide beyond Azurewrath’s farthest boundaries.

😉

A World War One Short Story

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I wrote this a few years ago to pay tribute to the seven hundred thousand Tommys’ who didn’t come home…

~~~

Runner’s Gauntlet

Albert Johnstone and his pal Dick Madison had both enlisted at the same time, barely twelve weeks after war had been declared in 1914. At the time, Dick was nineteen and Albert was barely eighteen. Since then three long and bitterly hard fought years had passed in the ‘war to end all wars’. It was now 1917 and by sheer good fortune more than anything else in the corner of hell they called home, Albert and Dick were now the only two left alive from the newly formed ‘pals regiment’ that had marched to war in that first year.

To any newcomer to their section, both men seemed much older than they actually were. The last five weeks of constant barrage by the Hun artillery plus the filth, trench foot, body lice and chronic diarrhoea which everyone was subjected to in this small section of the trench, which they called home, had prematurely aged both men.

~~~

“Give us a fag mate?”

“Ain’t got any left Dickie,” Albert replied.

Dick lifted his Lee Enfield’s muzzle to his eye to check the cleanliness of its barrel. The section Corporal, Charlie Hobbs, had just threatened to put him on a fizzer if he didn’t do something about the state of his filthy weapon. “Bleedin stripes on his arm have gone to his bleedin head,” Dick mumbled to himself. “Go on Bert mate, give us a fag,” he pleaded once more, as he yanked on the string of his rifle pull-through once more, “You can have my extra tin of Bully for a fag, go on give us one.” Dick knew that his best mate Albert always had some spare cigarettes stashed away somewhere, deep inside the filthy confines of his clothing, competing for space against his skin with the thousands of body lice that constantly plagued him, which he reserved for those quiet moments during ‘stand to’ at night when they took turns on watch from the trenches’ firing step.

~~~

“Johnstone and Madison, over here. Quickly now – jump to it my lucky lads!” Albert and Dick waded through the fetid water that sat in the bottom of the trench, hiding the wooden duckboards along its length, dodging the huge rats that were swimming along looking for scraps of food, or to feed on the unburied human remains that still lay where they had died.

“Bleedin furry cannibals,” Albert muttered as he smashed the butt of his rifle into one of the rats. Eventually both men stopped in front of Sergeant ‘Bull’ Thomas.

“Got a job for you me lucky lads,” Bull grinned coldly.

“Bleedin hell Sarge – not again, why us, why not someone else?” Dick muttered out loud.

“Now then Madison, watch yer lip! Corporal Hobbs tells me you’re a filthy little bleeder my son. So pin your bleedin lugholes back and shut yer trap unless you want that bleedin fizzer he’s already threatened you with to bleedin multiply!”

Despite all of his bluster, Sergeant Thomas had a soft spot for his two most experienced soldiers. Like Albert and Dick, he had been here in the hell of the Western Front since it first began. Like them, somehow he survived when so many thousands of their fellow Tommies had not. “Now then me lads; as I was saying, I’ve got a job for you. The major needs a couple of runners to take a very important message back to HQ, because the bleedin telephone lines is broke again after the last bleedin barrage. I knows just the very lads for the job, sir, I says to him; Privates’ Johnstone and Madison I says. So my lucky lads, there it is.”

Albert and Dick’s faces, despite the thick layer of ingrained grime and dirt that plastered their skin, giving them the appearance of two men in late middle age, betrayed their natural lack of enthusiasm for being volunteered for something that in all likely-hood would prove to be far more dangerous than remaining here in the trench. “Like I said Sarge, why us when there’s plenty of new replacements to detail off as bleedin runners?” Dick replied.

“The major says that this particular message is far too important to be trusted to a newcomer, lad. Besides, none of them have your survival instincts. The route you will have to take is perishin close to the Hun’s front line as you know.” Bull sighed, realizing exactly what he was asking of them. Everyone knew that anyone who tried to get through that particular piece of the frontline trench system had less than a ten percent chance of making it to the other end alive.

~~~

‘Runner’s gauntlet’, as the way back to the HQ dugout was equally known by both sides of the stagnant frontline, was looked upon as the real life version of the popular fair-ground shooting galleries before the war.

When the frontline trenches had first been dug into the muddy soil two years earlier, the zigzag nature of the British frontline trench combined with the depth it had been dug made it relatively safe. But since then, constant barrages by both sides had reshaped it into a series of short intact trench sections and gaps consisting of hundreds of shell craters. Twenty yards beyond where the three men now stood was the end of the trench proper, and the beginning of the heavily damaged sector. The German snipers loved it. Whenever a Tommy runner tried to cross it, the snipers took bets among themselves over which one of them would send him to oblivion…

~~~

Bull thrust the message into Dick’s tunic top pocket and buttoned it up before shaking both their hands; there was no sense in wishing them good luck – it might bring them the exact opposite.

The pair moved off silently to the end of the trench. Albert carefully lifted the trench periscope just above the remains of the sand bags on top of the trench. Dick released his Lee Enfield’s safety catch in readiness.

“Two bleedin snipers mate, one behind the wall of the church and one behind the old iron gate,” Albert reported in a hushed voice.

“Wall first mate,” Dick replied quietly as the muzzle of his rifle slowly poked through the gap between two sandbags.

Meanwhile, Albert brought his sniper rifle up in readiness. “Ok Dickie, get the bleeder’s attention,” he said, as he shifted his telescopic sight in readiness.

Dick placed his tin hat over the back sight of his rifle and ducked down, seconds before a round from the German sniper’s rifle drove a neat hole slap bang in the centre of it, sending it flying behind him. At the same moment Albert squeezed his trigger and stayed only long enough to see the German sniper’s head explode before ducking down alongside Dick. “Gotcha you bleeder,” he muttered grinning with satisfaction.

Now there was only one more sniper to contend with. “Ready?” Dick asked.

“After you mate,” Albert winked as he stood up with his trusty rifle ready for action. “Go!”

Dick jumped and rolled over the edge of the first shell hole, flattening himself at its soggy base. Albert corrected his telescopic sight’s aim as he briefly saw movement behind the church’s old iron gate. “Go!” he shouted. Dick sprang to his feet once more and jumped and rolled into the next shell hole a split second before a bullet from the German sniper’s rifle kicked up mud behind the sole of his rapidly disappearing boot, when he dived for cover again.

“Gotcha,” Albert said once again with satisfaction as he watched the second sniper crumple lifelessly to the ground behind the iron gate.

~~~

With no more snipers to contend with for the moment, they crossed the rest of the pock-marked muddy landscape, shell hole by shell hole, until they were back in the relative safety of the next section of trench. The two friends sat for a few minutes savouring the exquisite delight of one of Albert’s precious stock of cigarettes, both laughing when the body of one of Alfred’s body lice, which had hidden itself in the tobacco, exploded as the cigarette burned down, before they navigated the trench system to the HQ.

The colonel in charge studied the major’s message before dismissing Albert and Dick, telling them to go to the cook house for a meal before reporting back to him in an hour’s time.

~~~

On their return the colonel handed them his reply to take back with them along with a new roll of field telephone wire to pay out as they went.

“Bleedin’ hell mate,” Dick grumbled, “now all we have to do is get back home with this lot.”

“Like they say Dickie – be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,” Albert joked.

“Ready?”

“Ready mate? Let’s go,” Albert replied as he patted his sniper rifle, prepared for what lay ahead of them on their return journey through ‘runners gauntlet’.

🙂

Another Scifi Short Story

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A ticket to…

“Is the Einstein Rosen Bridge prepared?” Dalton asked as he perused the myriad of dials and computer screens within the control room aboard the ISS.

“Affirmative,” Sollenson replied almost absentmindedly while making minute adjustments from his pilot’s position on board the shuttle, which was dwarfed by the sheer size of the massively large wormhole entrance it faced, in preparation for the very first jump through time by humanity.

If the whole magnificent structure could have been physically weighed, in effect it would be the equivalent of 100 million solar masses.

“Casimir energy levels appear nominal. The wormhole is about as stable as its ever going to be,” Becky Rawlins, the tiny ship’s other crewmember and chief scientific technician reported in her matter of fact way, from where she sat behind Sollenson’s piloting position.

The sound of Dalton’s voice echoed within the cramped confines of the tiny ship’s cabin courtesy of the loudspeaker above their heads.

“Countdown to jump in 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – execute!”

Sollenson fired the shuttle’s engines for the three second burst needed to achieve forward momentum. The theoretical scientists back at JPL had calculated, or rather surmised, that the wormhole itself would take care of the rest as it propelled them along its entire length like an animal ridding its intestines of a troublesome blockage.

As he attempted to keep the ship in the centre of the hole, buffeted by unseen forces, his eyes took in the strange images reflected back to him by the wormhole’s inner surfaces, none of which he recognised. It was as if he was being given a glimpse of another world, either lost in time or light years away from the relative normality of the ISS and Earth.

What no one knew was exactly where the other end of the wormhole was likely situated, or indeed how far away. Maybe it would bring them back to the Earth in a former time, or in our future? Maybe it would spit them out somewhere else entirely, far across the galaxy. No one really knew for certain. Come to that, no one knew why it had suddenly appeared six months ago either.

The only thing that anyone was agreed upon was that it had appeared either by accident or design. Either way the wormhole offered theoretical physicists a golden opportunity to put their ideas about the highly controversial Einstein Rosen Bridge debate into practice.

The whole hazardous exercise was seen as the answer to the stalled talks over the current problem of deep space propulsion. It was to be a calculated leap of faith into the unknown, fuelled by mankind’s inability to produce some form of workable deep space mode of transport. In terms of propulsion up until the wormhole had appeared a few months ago, the best that scientists across the planet could come up with was either the continued use of rocket propulsion or some form of theoretical nuclear or even solar wind power.

Sollenson’s mind continued to dream and wonder as the shuttle continued on its journey into the unknown. All normally accepted concepts of time and movement seem to disappear here inside the wormhole. It was almost as if they were not moving at all. There were none of the usual indicators with which to judge your motion and speed except for the constant new kaleidoscopic views on the inner walls of the wormhole from wherever their ultimate destination may be.

Both Sollenson and Becky had volunteered for this extremely hazardous and yet exciting exploration into the vast unknown realms of space and time, realising that they may in all likelihood never survive, or be able to return. For the meantime at least they were able to still communicate thanks to the perculiar properties of the wormhole’s construction. But how long that would last was anyone’s guess. No one knew…

Becky continued firing neutrino transmissions of data back the way they came; hoping upon hope that Dalton and the rest of their colleagues back aboard the ISS received them. With the recent discovery of neutrino burst technology, hailed as the communication system of the future, the old two way voice system with its inherent time delay was deemed unusable considering the unknown communicational properties of a wormhole. Utilizing the new technology was at best a calculated gamble. After all, no human had ever entered a wormhole until now. Everything they did and experienced from now on was a first for mankind.

After what seemed like barely a few minutes, the shuttle reappeared somewhere in space once again. In these specific circumstances reliance on any kind of manmade timepiece was useless given the time altering properties of the wormhole. Both Sollenson and Becky watched the rear monitor as the ship drifted slowly away from where they had just exited the other end of the wormhole.

Becky suddenly gripped Sollenson’s head, jerking his gaze away from the rearward view and back to the screen showing the ship’s forward camera view.

“What the fuck?”

“God almighty look, just look!” Becky almost screamed in terror as she temporarily lost her legendary self control.

Ahead of the tiny shuttle with its two person crew lay a wall of wormholes stretching away on all sides as far as the eye could see.

“Christ Becky, take a look behind us!” Sollenson shouted, almost deafening her, forgetting for the moment the close physical distance between them.

Becky turned her attention to the rearward facing camera just in time to see the wormhole behind them evaporate into nothingness. Where to now?

😉

Yet another short story

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The age old question, who’s in charge of the remote?

It was Friday night and time for the television war yet again. The never ending argument was about to begin in the Montague household once again over the ownership of the television remote control. Debbie wanted to watch her favourite soap opera – Lover’s Tryst, while Chuck insisted they watch the football game.

His argument was that it was the penultimate game before the grand final, and besides, as the head of the household and sole breadwinner it was his right to choose the programmes they watched.

Debbie argued that tonight’s episode of the soap opera was the cliff hanger ending to the current series, and anyway he could always watch the game equally well on the other television in the bedroom.

Chuck was not about to give in. He changed to the sports channel. Debbie nagged, pleaded, sighed loudly, stroked his hair, kissed the lobes of his ears, and talked incessantly in a loud voice about nothing and everything, using anything she could think of to make Chuck’s enjoyment of the game evaporate to get her own way.

When that didn’t work she briefly left the room before returning wearing next to nothing, armed with the vacuum cleaner, and began meticulously cleaning the carpet directly between the couch where Chuck sat with the remote control firmly fixed in his grip, and the television. She constantly bent over in front of him while rearranging the position of the coffee table and the magazines on it, repeatedly making him lift his legs as she poked the business end of the vacuum cleaner under the couch, doing anything and everything to obstruct his view of the game while regaling in her most annoying tone, every trivial detail of the day’s events.

Despite his best efforts to shut out her continuous annoyingly loud monologue and the noise of the vacuum cleaner, gradually Debbie’s relentless audio bombardment destroyed his concentration. In sheer frustration and anger he pointed the remote at her like a weapon and hit the red button, telling her to “just shut up for Christ sake!”

What happened next stunned both of them as Debbie was instantly struck dumb! Chuck’s attention quickly returned to the game. He showed not the least bit concern for his wife’s current predicament. all he cared about was watching the game without her constant noise making.

Debbie stood rooted to the spot crying silently with her hands stroking her neck, for the moment totally preoccupied with having mysteriously lost her voice. Chuck was by now concentrating on the game. As he at last relaxed he put the remote down to watch the play. Debbie soon recovered from being struck dumb, and in her anger she sat down heavily on the couch beside him before picking up the remote to change the channel back to her soap opera. Chuck reacted equally angrily, reaching across her in an attempt to snatch the remote back.

In the vigorous struggle for physical control over the remote Debbie’s finger inadvertently pressed the blue button. She watched with a mixture of horror, revenge and delicious satisfaction as Chuck evaporated in front of her eyes. Still angry and not the least bit concerned that her husband had vanished she settled down to watch her soap. For the next hour she was totally engrossed in the final scenes of the programme. Just before the soap ended and the credits began to roll down the screen, she too disappeared.

Starlight congratulated herself. She wore her enigmatic Persian expression while purring with contentment after retracting her claws. She began meticulously grooming herself. Pressing the green button had finally brought her the peace and quiet a Friday night at her house demanded…

😉

 

Did he or didn’t he?

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Fort St Angelo on the island of Malta

I wrote this a couple of years after I climbed down into the rock dungeon below the fort pictured above, where Caravaggio was purportedly imprisoned by the Knights of St John for murder. As I stood in the claustrophobic space where he was allegedly held, and touched the cold rock walls, it gave me all of the incentive I needed to make it my mission to research this deeply troubled artistic genius. To this day no one is one hundred percent sure how he managed to escape. Most historians certainly aren’t. Uncertainty among academics always intrigues me…

 ~~~

I was put here by my brother Knights of St John. I curse them for their inept minds. I am the master when it comes to painting fine religious works, and yet I was censured for my forward thinking in my approach to painting by no less a personage than the Pope. I curse him to for his short-sightedness, his blinkered vision of what makes a great work of art. I am Caravaggio, the finest painter who has ever lived. The others who believe they are my peers are fools and charlatans. I curse them all. I have killed men for less…

My enemies await my return to Italy; all of them are liars who scheme and plot my demise. I spit on them, nay I piss on them. None are worthy to be in my presence. I painted my finest work here in Valetta for all to see and wonder at, and yet I am treated like a common criminal. I Caravaggio, who has created paintings so fine that not even those who presume to be my contemporaries can begin to compare their paltry daubs with one of my works.

This stinking cell beneath the fort is my living tomb. They think to break my spirit. Hah – never! My anger gives me strength where weaker men would wilt and die. I shall contrive to escape this lowly rock, this Malta. My gaoler brings me food – slops not fit for a pig, once a day at the change of the guard. Tonight I shall feign sickness. I shall call for the physic, or the apothecary. Better that it is the physic. He is a lay brother, a simple fellow of low intelligence, but I will admit he does relieve the vapours in my system when he bleeds me. One blow to his head, or my hands around his throat, choking him into unconsciousness and I shall exchange clothes with him and escape.

I need a boat. Tomelini the gate-keeper owes me his life. He shall smuggle me through the streets down to the docks in Grand Harbour. I always knew that when I plunged my blade into his attacker, Tomelini was mine to do with as I wish. What hour is it, four, five? My gaoler will soon come. I must prepare. When he opens the grating and lowers the ladder to descend, I shall lay feigning agony. The guard will stay above as he always does.

Hark; I hear the sound of footsteps above. Now is the time for my finest hour to begin. The guard never stands close because of the stench of my tomb. His back will be turned making him an easy target.

I can hear the key turning in the padlock. Steady now. The grating is opening. The ladder is lowered. I count the ladder’s rungs as he descends. The eighth from the top and the third from the bottom creak when stood upon. “Here’s your food your worship, eat it all up.”

Come a little closer fool. Closer… “Pray send for the physic good gaoler. I have need of him I implore you.”

“What of it your worship; I care not if you are ailing. I just deliver you a fine dish of food.”

“I implore you good gaoler, your masters above would not look kindly on you should I die in your charge – please good sir, please?”

“Guard fetch the physic. His worship is ailing.”

“Thank you kind sir; when I am released I shall praise your generosity of spirit – thank you.” Now just turn your back you loathsome slug. Hah – got you. Die you stinking toad spawn – die! Remember – avoid the third rung from the bottom – good, next the eighth from the top – good. Now slowly and calmly walk towards the kitchen. The guard will be back soon. Stop! Two figures approach. Let them pass. It is the guard and the physic. A quick blow to head of the guard; and now for the physic – die you leech, die!

His clothes are an ill fit, but no matter. The gate is unguarded, a welcome happenstance; now for Tomelini and freedom…

~~~

  The painter Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was imprisoned on the island of Malta for killing a man in a brawl in 1608. He succeeded in escaping and returned to Italy. But his many enemies finally caught up with him, killing him. To my mind Caravaggio is possibly the finest painter of religious art.

PS – As some of you may know, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novel loosely based on him, or someone like him, and the violent times he lived in.

I’m still undecided…

😉

A scifi short story

asteroid-impact-nasa

Now You See It…

On the nightly news, the population were kept up to date with the latest efforts to try to divert the massive fifteen kilometre wide revolving rock as it continued on its collision path with Earth. For the first time in the history of the troubled planet, all the governments around the world put aside their political, military, and religious differences. They all agreed on one thing, all life on the planet was about to end! The Earth’s nemesis was a planet killer and it would be here in less than eight weeks. The scientists constantly monitored its speed and trajectory as it drew near.

The armed forces of the world did what they could to try to calm the Earth’s population. But in many countries, the people were simply too scared and had a deep mistrust of the military after enduring years of brutality at the hands of the very men who were now trying to help them. The nuclear powers still thought they might be able to nudge the giant rock away by setting off a volley of nuclear blasts close to it. When the scientists pointed out that to achieve the goal, the entire nuclear arsenal of the world would be needed, the world’s senior military vetoed the idea. The idiots firmly believed they still needed their nuclear arms to maintain military authority!

Then one night on a live television broadcast, three young children who had won an essay competition were given the chance to ask questions about living in space to the men and women operating the large international space station orbiting the earth. One young primary school child in her innocence solved the world’s problem. If it couldn’t be blown up, why couldn’t rockets be sent to it, stick them onto the side of it, and simply push it away!

With less than six weeks left before the life extinction event occurred, large satellite launch rockets, sat at three American, Russian, and French launch sites in readiness. Inside their payload bays, hurriedly redesigned ICBM rockets with specially adapted nose sections, replacing their nuclear warheads, were put through their final checks. The combined operation would be handled by the European Space Agency, once the rockets were simultaneously launched by their three launch controls.

The Earth’s nemesis was steadily closing. Time was of the essence. The three giant rockets successfully lifted off and climbed to a predetermined rendezvous point and control was handed over to the ESA. Each of the rockets would release their payload at prearranged points close to the large spinning asteroid.

The ICBM’s would then continue the short twenty-eight kilometre journey to the asteroid’s surface under thruster power where their redesigned nose sections would drill their way into the surface of the asteroid using powerful lasers. After the anchor holes were drilled, bolts would be fired into the holes to secure the ICBM’s into place. Once this was done, all three rockets would be fired simultaneously and hopefully nudge the giant asteroid a few metres away from its present path.

Everything went like clockwork. The world’s population watched the entire event live on television beamed around the world by satellite. No one bothered to go to work. In effect the world stopped. The only thing that mattered now was those three rockets. The world waited anxiously as the signal to fire the three rockets was given. For a few precious seconds nothing happened. Then via the cameras aboard the delivery rockets, the world watched anxiously as they ignited and rapidly built up to full power. The combined thrust of the three rockets continued for nearly an hour. Then like their smaller cousins in a firework display, they fizzled and died. The world held its breath until the trajectory of the giant asteroid had been recalculated.

Approximately five hours after the rockets ceased, the physicists  delivered the results. The operation had been successful the world was safe! The giant spinning solid rock asteroid would graze the outer atmosphere causing minimal damage as it passed by. The primary school child was hailed as a hero and honoured by the world’s leaders. Now that the danger was over, the world once again resumed its normal daily life. Then the unthinkable happened.

Instead of grazing the Earth’s outer atmosphere, the asteroid hit the back surface of the moon in a perfect billiard’s cannon shot slightly shifting the moon’s orbit. Tides suddenly changed, winds whipped up into a ferocity never before witnessed as the Earth’s satellite drew nearer. The equilibrium between the Earth and the moon was now in total chaos. The moon’s new orbital path was calculated and it was determined that it would encounter the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific ocean in twenty-seven days, fifteen hours and thirty-seven minutes.

Among the billions of floating pieces of debris, spreading out from the catastrophic event lay the battered remains one of the delivery rockets. Its solar powered camera still functioned. It automatically focused on a small object a few metres in front of its lens. It was a wristwatch. As the sun’s rays illuminated it before destroying it, the hands of the dial were frozen at the date and time of impact. The world had ended at eleven minutes past nine on all fools day.

Rather appropriate really…

 

 

 

 

 

A scary story

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Ninety Degrees

Albert stared in utter disbelief, he was sure he had seen a door out of the corner of his eye, and yet when he focused on the wall ahead of him there was nothing. For a brief moment a feeling of déjà vu entered his mind then was gone as quickly as it had arrived. Turning his gaze deliberately away once more until the wall was once again in his peripheral vision, the door reappeared! “It must be a trick of the light,” he thought; “and yet maybe not?”

He walked over to the wall, and reaching out his hands he carefully felt the entire surface of the wall with his eyes closed, allowing his fingers to do the seeing for him. “Touch cannot be fooled, unlike my eyes,” he reasoned to himself.

Beginning his search at the base of the wall, the soft pads on Albert’s fingertips brushed lightly across the surface. The signals sent to his brain told him that they were touching nothing more than cold, hard, moss covered damp stone. As his hands continued their search above his head, he rose up on his toes in an effort to reach as high as he could.

At the same time, his ears tuned themselves in for any audible sign that his fingers may have found a catch of some sort, which he hoped would release the elusive door’s locking mechanism, but no sound emanated from the seemingly solid stone wall; in fact it didn’t dawn on him that he heard no sound of any kind, or even where the space that he occupied at that particular moment in time actually was.

Abandoning his fingertip search and retreating back across the space, to where a stone bench stood against the opposite wall, he deliberately positioned himself on the end of the bench at ninety degrees to the wall, staring straight ahead. Sure enough within a nanosecond he once more saw the door out of the corner of his eye.

This time, instead of leaping to his feet, or immediately turning his head, Albert remained motionless allowing his peripheral vision to take over. He studied as much detail of the elusive door as he could before his overly inquisitive eyes naturally turned towards it once more.

The door appeared to be approximately four feet wide by six foot high. It had three panels inset into it, one large arched panel at the top with two small plain rectangular ones below it sitting side by side. There appeared to be neither a keyhole nor a door handle. Nor was there any visible sign of any kind of hinges, and yet the outer edge of the door was also clearly defined within a doorframe.

The area where the upper panel was located on the supposedly solid rock wall was the one area of the wall with the most moss covering it. Albert decided to explore this area first. So once again he stood up and walked back to where he had stood moments earlier. He stared at the moss for a long time before deciding to try and scrape it away.

Slowly he began removing as much of the moss as he could, halting briefly from time to time to breathe on his fingertips to warm them as the icy cold of the space and the stone numbed them. He worked for what seemed like several hours, until he felt sure he had exposed the entire top panel. Only another brief spell on the bench opposite would reveal if he had been successful.

Sitting once again at ninety degrees to the door, Albert allowed his peripheral vision to take over once more. Sure enough, he had cleared away the moss which had formerly covered the upper panel in its entirety. A feeling of elation came over him as he now began studying it closely.

Removing the moss had revealed a curious pattern of runes surrounding a grotesque mask with what looked like gemstones for eyes, set into the rock. Albert got up once more and went back to the rock.

Instead of facing the rock, once more he turned ninety degrees to it. His peripheral vision soon focused on the gemstone eyes. Carefully he reached out with his left hand, allowing the fingertips of his hand to brush against the first of the gems. He felt a pleasant warmth being transmitted through his body by the touch of his fingers on the gemstone eye nearest to him.

Careful not to shift his position, he tried to touch the other gemstone eye with the fingers of his right hand. But it was hopeless, no matter how hard he tried; it somehow shifted away from his reach, never allowing him to touch it.

The feeling of déjà vu returned yet again. Panic immediately set in as Albert realized to his horror that he was being subjected to his lifelong recurring nightmare of the elusive door yet again, only this time he was wide awake, realising too late that the nightmare which he had suffered since childhood ever since he had got himself in trouble with his parents when he had locked himself in the priest-hole at the top of the stairs in the old Flemish farmhouse he lived in as a child, had now become a terrifying reality.

His heart began racing, his body was now bathed in a cold sweat as he once again shouted for help, but this time no sound came from his mouth. This time no one would come to wake and comfort him. This time, his relentlessly cruel nightmare had had enough of his always escaping back to his human reality, denying it the cruel pleasure of his company for eternity and had decided to wall him up forever in the seventh dimension where the worlds of nightmares like his are their own reality.

Albert screamed as the door in the solid rock within the space opened briefly revealing a shadowy wooded world beyond, which pulled him in before the door closed behind him forever, sealing him off from his three dimensional world, never again allowing him to appear to any other mortal, nor to open for him to retreat back to his reality.

Albert’s screams went unheard. His sweat soaked bed in the real world was now empty. When his bedroom door was next opened, thanks to his nightmare, no one would be expecting to see him. No one would miss him. To the world at large Albert had simply never existed.

The mask smiled to itself as it now awaited its next mortal target…