A Change of Pace

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a story.  For me it’s an opportunity to be creative and have a change of pace from my usual activities.

In this vein, I’ve also re-engaged with my love of music.  A few years ago I joined the Kelvin Grove Community choir and then, two years ago, I pulled out my trombone again after having left it in the cupboard for 20 years.

At the time, I had no idea whether I’d remember how to play but I joined the local Brisbane Symphonic Band and have not regretted it.  It’s been fantastic to be playing and singing again.

These experiences are part of a resolution I’ve made to take myself less seriously, be prepared to try things even if I could fail, and to find enjoyment in the pursuit of activities that I’m almost guaranteed not to be perfect at.  I’m never going to be a professional musician but that shouldn’t detract from the enjoyment I can still get out of it.

It’s also been really liberating to be part of two groups that approach their music with a balance between quality and having fun.  While the overall standard of the music in each group is quite different, both create a space where we can collectively enjoy playing together and accepting each other’s abilities and mistakes.

The choir in particular is unique in my (limited) experience.  It was started by Phil, a guy who was in a musical comedy act for a few years before becoming a school teacher.  He decided one day that he’d like to run a choir despite never having done that before.  After many months of two people patiently meeting fortnightly, the choir started to grow slowly.

Phil never purchased sheet music for the choir but instead did his own arrangement of songs he liked.  It worked.  It was fun and it provided an opportunity for amateurs to get together and sing.  He never turns anyone away – that’s not what it’s about.

So I think it was this spirit of generous musical fellowship that spurred me to take my first ever shot at arranging.  Inspired by a fantastic Finnish acappella group called Rajaton, I arranged “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen.

I remember apologizing a few times that year for how difficult it was for us to sing, but the group stuck with it and I think enjoyed the experience.  I certainly loved to sing it with them.  🙂

The musical bug has struck me.  I’ve arranged and even composed a few more songs since then and, not wanting to deluge those around me with requests to try them out, started recording them myself at home.

So instead of a story, tonight I’m sharing some of my arrangements and compositions.  Feel free to have a listen.

Advertisements

True Justice (Albert Feinman)

Albert opened his eyes.  Blinking rapidly in the harsh light, he found that he couldn’t focus.  He felt dizzy and the world spun around him.  Literally.  Tiny little blue worlds, flapping their wings as they tweeted shrilly were circling his head distracting him from concentrating on reality.  It was wrong.

This had never happened before.  It never should, not when you were a metaphysical manifestation of physical reality.  For the first time in his existence a small sliver of genuine confusion penetrated his mind.  What on earth was going on?

He sat for a few seconds, eyeballs rotating in their sockets trying to follow the trajectory of the objects orbiting his head and waiting for his mind to come to grips with the reality of his situation.  As his mind grappled, something about the situation slowly dawned on him as being more than just wrong.  Those weren’t the world that flapped around his head, it was a small flock of birds.

Inside Albert anger blossomed.  This wasn’t just seriously wrong, it was physically impossible.  No bird should be able to fly a tight spiral like that, and if there was one thing Albert Feinman Physics Cop hated, it was an occurrence of the impossible.  Anger erupted into a rage that shook him from his stupor.  He stood, now fully conscious and surveyed the scene around him.  It was a scene unlike any he’d known before.

Before him stretched a monochrome orange desert beneath a uni-colour blue sky.  Cartoon cliffs and ridges dotted the horizon and through the middle of it all snaked a ribbon of grey.  Solid black lines fractured the vertical cliff faces giving the appearance of detail and the sun hung low as simply a circular yellow disk in the sky.  There was no temperature to speak of, but despite himself, Albert couldn’t help but feel hot, dry and parched.

A slight breeze stirred to his left and Albert turned to appreciate its freshness just in time to see a blur rocket past him.  Moments later he was struck by the shockwave.

Meep meep“, the blur said as it passed.

Before he could help it, Albert found himself launched skyward in fright.  Below him the cartoon desert shrank crazily as his ascent defied the laws of physics.  In panicked response, Albert instinctively engaged his gravity correction traits, cranking them up to full capacity.  It had no effect – his ascent continued.

Panic setting in, his mind free-wheeling like his arms and legs as together they fought the sensation of weightlessness, he lost connection with the world around him and so it took a few seconds for him to realise he could hear laughter near him.  Pulling himself together, he noticed that beside him, a figure of a man hung in thin air.

The man reclined lazily, as if lounging on a roman couch but there was nothing beneath him to hold his weight.  One hand held his head up, and with the other he gestured vaguely in the direction of the ground.  “I see you’ve met my road-runner,” smirked the man.

Albert didn’t know what to say and simply started blankly back.

“You know he’s quite the hit with the kids,” said the man.  “Let me introduce myself, I’m Warner Br’Others.  I’m the creator of this place.  But you can simply call be Warner.”

This meant nothing to Albert, so he continue to stare.

“I can see I’ve caught you off guard,” Warner said, “so let me just explain, I know who you are Albert Feinman Physics Cop. I’ve bought you here to have a little fun.  In the real world, dominion is yours.  You know the rules and ensure they are kept”, said the man.

“But in this world that is mine, I set the rules and …”, the man trailed off into a silent thoughtfulness and then continued, “… here let me show you.”

“You’ve been rising for quite a few seconds now.  That’s probably enough.  The narrative tension has been built and so … stop,” the man commanded.

Albert drifted gently to a stop and hung in mid-air.  He could tell this wasn’t a good thing.

The man continued, “And now it’s time for you to drop”.  He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, gave a cheeky smirk and waved goodbye.

With that Albert plummeted ground-wards, a small silhouette cloud left behind to symbolise where he had just hung.  His fall was far faster than his ascent and, in a short time, a small puff of distant dust showed where he ploughed into the orange ground.


Once again Albert struggled to regain consciousness and once again those blasted birds circled his head until he shrugged off the daze.  He rose to his feet and surveyed his surroundings.  With a small groan he realised it was the same cartoonish desert he’d been in before.

“I was hoping it had been a dream,” muttered Albert to himself.  He’d never dreamed before, but he had heard that humans did it regularly and figured there could always be a first time.  Besides, it was infinitely preferable to whatever this place was.

Looking more closely, he noticed he was now near a cliff face.  A furry fox-like creature was carrying a can of something towards the bottom of the cliff.  His mind cycled through options of what the creature could be. Fox, dog, dingo?  No none of those were quite right, but when he got to Coyote, somehow he just knew that it was correct.

It was a childish looking creature with a sinister leer, devoid of subtlety and constructed from strictly caricatured features.  It was also carrying a paint tin.  And despite that, he knew with absolute certainty that was what it was.  The fact that the scene paused briefly to have the word Coyote appear beside it with a large arrow pointing in its direction probably helped.

As he watched, the Coyote reached the cliff face and proceeded to paint a tunnel entrance on the brown surface.  Being a physics cop, Albert typically steered clear of biological concerns, so he was willing to give the Coyote’s painting abilities the benefit of the doubt.  Who knew what sort of weird genetic engineering people were getting up to these days.  What concerned Albert more was the paint tin.

Somehow out of the one tin, the Coyote managed to produce a complete multi-colour mural of a tunnel entrance.  Black shadows for the background, a blue brick multi-hued ‘faux 3D’ archway and an extension to the grey roadway that seemed to continue into the tunnel.  Strictly speaking, paint fell into the chemistry department, but chemistry was the next closest science to physics so he felt justified in being outraged.

The hairs rose on Albert’s neck and he was just about to intercede to stop this violation when a semi-familiar noise caused both him and the coyote to jump.

Meep, meep“.

For some reason, neither of them rose dramatically off the ground this time.

The coyote looked around wildly.  He spied a nearby rock and crouched down behind it to hide and wait.  Albert felt compelled to do the same and so he snuggled in behind the coyote who looked quizzically at him for a moment before turning intently back to the roadway.

Within a few seconds, a gentle breeze heralded the arrival of the road-runner.  Rocketing down the road, it ran faster than the eye could see and slammed straight into the tunnel entrance painted onto the rock-face … and passed straight through?

Albert rose in astonishment.  His jaw dropped as did the coyote’s, which literally hit the floor.  In his shocked state, Albert only tangentially  noticed this weird jaw arrangement and filed away a small note in his mind to have a chat with the biologists sometime to ensure that their experiments were still confined within the bounds of physics.  As a pair, he and the coyote staggered to the painted cliff face to stare.

They touched the painted surface, it was solid.  They scanned the roadway, it was clean.  Not a shred of tenderised road-runner jerky was to be seen anywhere.

Suddenly a horn blared, lights shone from the tunnel entrance and a 12 tonne semi-trailer raced out of the tunnel, flattened the pair and proceeded down the road on its way.

As he lost consciousness, Albert swore that he heard distant laughter.


Albert woke to find he was strapped to a rocket.  Beside him, also strapped to the rocket, was the coyote wearing a pair of roller skates and carrying a knife and fork.

Warner stood on his other side, smiling jovially as he asked, “Are we having fun yet?”

“Why are you doing this you monster?”, Albert responded.

“For fun of course,” answered Warner.  “Thousands of kids find this amazingly hilarious.  And just between you and me,” he added, “quite a few adults too.”

Just then the road-runner shot past and the coyote light a match, touching it to the wick of the rocket.

“Ta ta, I’ll see you later,” waved Warner with a grin and the rocket exploded.


The scenes flashed past for Albert.  Scenes filled with springs and ropes, with falling rocks and overhead cliff hangs, with pain, frustration and overwhelming hunger on the part of the coyote.

The journey for Albert’s part was no easier on him.  He was metaphysical and didn’t feel physical pain, but for every ludicrous attempt and failure, the broken laws of physical they constituted enacted an equivalent metaphysical pain.  It was agonising, and through it all, Warner was ever-present, slowly and persistently outlining his personal genius.

“It makes money you see,” the smug, self-congratulatory bastard gloated.

“If we did reality, the show would be boring,” he explained.  “It’s the suspension of reality that makes it so funny.  There’s only so much pain that can be inflicted without killing the coyote under normal rules.  But this way, we can be perennially cruel.  Hurt him over and over.  Even heighten it by allowing time for foreknowledge.”

As he said that, the coyote stood with a small sign titled “HELp mE!” while a rock fell from the sky onto his head.

“Nobody feels sorry for the coyote,” Warner continued, but Albert wasn’t so sure.  “Everybody knows he’s evil and cruel from his look.  The road-runner can’t be eaten, he’s too cute.  In here, that’s the overriding law.  That and the law that the coyote needs to be fed.”

Albert didn’t say anything.  He simply stared at Warner with a loathing expression that communicated his feelings better than words.  Uncharacteristically, Warner noticed.

 

“Come now, don’t feel sorry for yourself,” he chided.  “I’ve got nothing against you personally.  It’s just that to make it work, your laws need to be violated.  As I said before, we can’t kill the coyote, that would end things too soon.”

Behind them, the coyote turned around a cannon that had failed to fire at the road-runner and peered down the barrel.  Predictably, it went off in his face.

“Nothing personal,” said Warner, “it’s just good business.”


Albert waited through many more scenes.  He bided his time.  The years passed, he thought and observed the narrative, and slowly within him a suspicion grew.

One day he turned to Warner and asked, “How long can this continue?”

Warner spread his hands expansively and said, “Forever.  People can’t get enough.  Besides, we all know that the road-runner can’t be eaten.  No-one would stand for it.”

With that, Albert knew the answer.  Turning to the coyote, he gestured him over to form a huddle and started whispering in his ear.  The coyote’s face went through a series of expressions.  At first he was wary, then puzzled, thoughtful and finally a slow, sneaky, cunning smile spread across his face.  He and Albert shook hands and went to hide behind a nearby rock.

In the background, Warner looked concerned.  “What are you two doing over there?” he asked.

Sidling over to the rock, Warner tried to peer at their secret preparations.  But hunched over, Albert and the coyote deliberately obscured their hands from view and, with sneaky grins, continued to wait.

A gentle breeze heralded the imminent arrival of the road-runner as it had so many time before.  Just as the characteristic “Meep meep” rang out, Albert sprang.

He launched himself at Warner, striking him with an upper cut to the chin.  Wincing with the metaphysical pain, Albert allowed the punch to adhere to cartoon convention, flipping Warner head over heels in a tight spin and dumping him in a heap where he once stood.  And all the while, the coyote had been preparing.

The coyote leapt on the fallen cartoonist, knife and fork raised in anticipation, slavering to finally sate his ravenous hunger.  As he overpowered his life-long tormentor, the camera slowly panned away from the pair.  The view hovered just to the edge of the action while shreds of clothing and hair spun into view, expelled from the furious melee.

Just off camera, Albert smiled to himself while in his minds eye he heard the chorus of cheers that radiated from the real world.  Cheers for an idea who’s time had come.  Cheers from an audience of children who had now grown to adulthood.  Who had learnt empathy and finally felt sorry for the sadistic treatment of the coyote over the years.

Inexorably the narrative had changed and, as the coyote slunk off into the wilderness, replete for the first time in his existence, Albert slipped back into the real world.  His job here was done.

He felt satisfied, but it was a strange feeling.  He hadn’t actually enforced any physical laws.  Instead he’d worked with something less tangible.  Was it a moral law?  Or just mob mentality that happened to be on his side?  It was difficult to say and in this he was definitely out of his depth.

He shrugged his shoulders.  Stick to physical laws he told himself, with them you know where you stand.  Besides it was time to head back to the office and find out what else was going on.  He’d been gone for years.

Sometimes There Are No Words

Sometimes,
When the mind is fuzzy;
Sometimes,
When thoughts congeal and stick,
And the body works on autopilot;
Sometimes,
When the walk is aimless,
And directed to investigating new paths,
New locales and stimulus for a mind that is trapped,
Refusing to acknowledge it’s blessings, and
Bringing terrors in the night.

There are no words.

And yet there are!
Here on the page they exist,
And pour forth in unexpected verse;
Trying to convey the feelings that come,
Like a vampiric friend,
A leech,
A parasite that will bring about its own demise,
with that of its host.

There are no words.

There are images,
Sensations, instinctive impulses,
And an exhausted numbness that must be respected.

Expressed in words, perhaps;
But not align to Western linear logic,
Not crafted to instruct step-by-step,
Placing one thought block on another,
Creating a path to follow to a conclusion.
Instead it just impresses,
a sense of being, and vagueness
that does not respect a planned
assault.

We must plan!
We must curate the garden that is our mind.
To avoid the weeds and tares that we plant,
Unwittingly sown, how I don’t know, into our thoughts.
But, like a garden,
Our labours can take time to bear fruit.
Like an ascent on Everest,
Planning is essential but not all.
The weather is capricious and must be respected,
And as with the mind, will alone
does not
always carry the day,
and we must
wait, impatient
or patient, while the weather
runs its
course, unpredictable but finite.

And then returns the calm.

Sometimes it seems there are no words.
But we plant and trust,
And wait,
That in time there will be a harvest.
And while we wait,
for me, there is music.

Wordless.
Accompanied by words.
Whatever.
It soothes and permeates the miasma,
Integrating with emotion at a different level.
Sympathising, uplifting, challenging;
The immense beauty that can be encoded in sound.
It is both intensely personal and communal.

A gift for which I am immensely grateful;
That soothes my tension,
And reminds me of all the other blessings I actually have,
And the feelings they will rightfully invoke in me,
Once the weather has calmed.

Sometimes there are no words.

Sometimes there doesn’t have to be.

Under Pressure

James could feel the pressure building. The stage was set, the pieces in their place and the moment of decision was at hand. Would he have the courage to follow through and be the hero he was meant to be?

The flight had started so pleasantly. For the first time in his life he’d been upgraded to Business class. His wife and he had been almost skipping through the security line in anticipation, joking about the luxury in store for them.

“I’ll be asking for scented bubbles in my spa”, James said with a knowing wink to his wife.

“Don’t be silly”, she responded. “You can’t have a scented bubble bath on a plane, the champagne they fill the tub with is already carbonated”.

With that they dissolved into sniggers of laughter at the stupidity of the idea, but in the back of their minds, images of luxury continued to ferment.

The wait in the terminal lounge seemed an eternity for them as they imagined their up-coming flight. When they finally arrived in the cabin, the beckoning leather sofas that counted for seats welcomed them gloriously into their soft supportive embrace like the arms of a lover. James melted into the luxury and finally relaxed.

He didn’t feel so relaxed now though. It was a little difficult with a maniacal hijacker waving a gun around demanding the flight be re-routed to Fiji. The guy was deranged, the manic glint in his eyes betraying a grip on reality that was about as firm as jelly. The universe his mind inhabited only tangentially related to the physical one around him, and in James opinion, probably only touching in some fairly unhelpful places. For one thing, the guy kept raving about Red Dwarf and preventing the apostasy of Ourobouros.

James was trying to relax, but the pressure kept building. Internally and externally things were building to a critical juncture. He could see the Air Marshal a couple of rows ahead of him steeling himself to take action. There would soon be a breaking point and, one way or another, something significant was about to happen.

It was now or never. The scene was set, the fuse primed, the pressure building to a peak level and, almost in slow motion, the action started. It began as a low rumble. From there it quickly built to a level that caused the seats to start vibrating. That got the maniac’s attention. His head swivelled towards James in astonishment as his bowel released a good hour’s worth of pent-up anxiety. And still the emission grew.

Afterwards, James would swear that he even saw the plane’s wing tips quiver from the force of the gale he was expelling as it reached the climax. A fart so powerful it would register on the Richter scale had it been performed at ground level. A fart that could not be denied. A fart that gave provided the moment of opportunity to save the flight because it was at that point the Air Marshall saw his window to act.

With the hijacker distracted, almost incapacitated by shock, the Marshall tackled him, wresting the gun from his unresponsive fingers and immobilising the offender in one swift and practised move. Never had an opponent been so unprepared for an assault. It was graceful. It was flawless. It was team-work in action.

As the shock subsided, the passengers and crew began a round of applause. Sporadic at first, but building to a dull roar of approval as each person regained their senses. They were saved.

A stewardess approached James coyly, and with admiration in her eyes. “Well done sir”, she said, “is there anything I can get for you”.

“I believe I would like a Martini”, James replied as he gave her a charming smile.

“It would be my pleasure sir”, the attendant nodded, and as she turned to walk away James called out. “And I believe you won’t need to stir it, things should have already been well and truely shaken by now”.

With that, he sank back into his chair, turned to his wife and said, “So Mrs Bond, where shall we ski first when we arrive?”. The smile she gave him back was indescribable.

Generations (Part 4)

The next installment of Generations.  (Part 1Part 2, Part 3).


 

Inch by agonising inch the door swung open as the orderly moved into the room.

Panic caused Jessica’s vision to swim, a blackness encroaching from the edge of her sight. Just as the moment came for her to be revealed, time stopped. Pin pricks of light blossomed to punctuate the rolling fog that engulfed her. She froze. Everything froze. Then suddenly, the pin pricks erupted in a rush of light, eclipsing the sterile surrounds of the pharmacy store and dumping her into a different scene entirely. She collapsed onto a bed of mouldering leaf litter.

 

 

A bird’s call woke Jessica. Fatigued and spent from her ordeal, she struggled to bring her mind back from her dreams. Slowly rolling onto her back, she heard a twig snap under her. “What had she been up to last night?”, she wondered distantly. That twig was doing nothing to enhance the comfort of her mattress, and judging from other protesting body parts, it wasn’t the only one she’d brought home with her too.

Well she’d get to that in her own sweet time, right now she was knackered she decided. In her professional opinion, another couple of hours of sleep was just what she needed to face whatever mess confronted her this morning. As she wriggled trying to get comfortable, the bird called again … which was weird right?

This far into the city, the only real bird life was pigeons. She’d never heard one of those airborne rats sing like this before. And for that matter, she’d brought a hell of a lot of other stuff home with her apart from just sticks by the feel of it.

She opened her eyes and then sat up with a start. She was lying on a bed of mouldering leaf litter. Above her, trees sheltered her from the open sky. She lay in a wood, all she could see in all directions were trees and undergrowth. It disconcerted her. She was used to the sharp lines and defined boundaries of her urban environment, but the unplanned growth of the wood felt confusing and alien.

Where was she? The panicked thought made her jump to her feet. Had the gang found out about her? Had they found out she was preparing to run? Why would they bring her here and just leave her? She turned around quickly, searching for a sign of her abductors. Scanning the area she saw nothing. Surely she couldn’t be alone.

“OK guys, where are you?”, she called. In her confusion she wasn’t sure what she feared most – them being there or not? Picking a random direction, she stumbled forward. It was hard going through the undergrowth. Thick brush clawed at her clothes, scratching her arms, her face, any exposed skin. Deciding she’d rather trust her street cred than her survival skills, she hoped that the gang was behind this.

“Look guys, I can explain”, she called. There was no response. Were they going to toy with her before… The thought trailed off. No, they had a good supply line going with her, this was just to teach her a lesson. “I’ve got leverage on another of the pharmacy staff”, she lied. “Luckily for us he’s got a dirty little side habit that he’d much rather his family didn’t know about.”

She stopped trying to listen for a response, but her heart hammered in her ears. Damn, how was she supposed to hear anything like this. They could be anywhere. Altering her direction slightly she pushed on, the effort doing nothing to reduce her heart rate. The bird called again, funny how she could hear that.

“Just remember that you’re onto a good thing with me”, she tried for the final time. Now she’d shut up. The ball was in their court and sounding like a panicked school girl wasn’t going to help, no matter that it was the truth. She noticed an urgency in the bird’s voice that she hadn’t before. Was that new, or was she more perceptive now? No she decided, something definitely had it spooked. Someone hopefully.

Finally she heard a new noise, a scuffling coming from the bush ahead. A sound of someone moving through the undergrowth, reasonably close. Nothing about it suggested that they were trying to hide their progress and she wondered if she might have heard it sooner if she’d been a little calmer. No matter, she had a direction now.

Moving purposefully towards the sound, she noticed the bird’s song intensify. It matched the cadence of her heart, their rhythms increasing as she wondered who they had sent for her. Most of the gang would be OK. She could handle herself against them – all except Tony. He was definitely a thug like the rest of them, but he also seemed to be able to do a little thinking for himself. Added to that, his instinctive ability to smell a lie was uncanny and was why he was the gang’s top enforcer. It worried her, like training a pack of dogs and finding out that one of them was actually training you in return. She was obviously above them, but then there was Tony. Damn, it would definitely be him.

Suddenly the bird’s song stopped. She wondered for a second if that meant her heart had too, but the pounding in her ears put that thought to bed. The scuffling ahead stopped too. Silence blossomed for a few seconds until a loud roar brought Jessica up short. She stood rooted to the spot as she heard a loud snorting intake of breath that preceded a second louder roar. Then it charged. A black bear barrelled into view through the undergrowth taking a big swing at Jessica, catching her on her arm and opening a deep gash near her shoulder.

The shock hit her quickly, darkness enveloping her vision as she vaguely noticed an almost familiar pattern of pin prick lights form. It consumed her, first the foggy blackness which was then eclipsed by the expanding rush of light.

She appeared on the lawn outside the hospital, collapsing onto the manicured grass. The first bystander to notice her shouted his surprise, and soon she was surrounded by medical professionals who shuttled her rapidly into the Emergency Department.

By the time she regained consciousness, she found herself in a ward, stitches in her shoulder and assorted cuts cleaned with antiseptic. Only this time around nothing intruded on her thoughts as she dropped back into sleep.

(To be continued…)

Generations (Part 3)

The next installment of Generations.  (Part 1, Part 2).


 

John swung his axe again, a neat chip of wood cleaving from the block. He worked easily, with a practiced rhythm gained from many winters of work. The kindling he produced now would be useful come morning for stoking the glowing embers of their fire back into life for the day ahead.

Finishing the current log he moved onto some bigger pieces, embedding the axe first into top of the block and then flipping the whole piece over, using the weight of the wood to split itself in half on the blade as he brought it down on the base block. From the doorway to their hut, Jessica watched her husband labour away. Despite the coming winter, he worked without his shirt and she enjoyed seeing the muscles in his back flex and move. He’d been at it for almost an hour now and the sweat was thick on his skin.

Not that he was anything exceptional. The gym junkies she knew from a past life had more definition built from the luxury of spare time spent in endless reps. But he was strong, all the more so from the effort she put into maintaining their health. In a world of poverty, she had the means and knowledge to ensure their diet and health needs were provided for. The whole village benefited from her expertise. She was now the unofficial village healer but it had been a close thing. In the early days, the miraculous cures that she was able to work in the villagers brought accusations of her being a witch.

She had fallen into the role quite naturally, her training as a nurse far surpassing anything available in the village. And so, when she had found out about the minor ailments that became so destructive to her new neighbours, she’d simply applied what she knew. Of course she couldn’t cure everything, but what she could do was nothing short of a miracle to them. Despite the fledgling status of their relationship at the time, John had been her main protector during the months that controversy had raged over skills. It was he who had come up with the idea that stilled the tongues that were calling for her to be tried for witchcraft.

It was so simple really, turn the accusers into witnesses. She had refused to provide any treatment unless one of her detractors was present to observe. At first none would take part and, as villagers started to once again succumb to illnesses that she’d previously treated, desperate family had petitioned the leaders of the opposition to take part. With the building pressure it had only been a matter of time until one cracked and she took full advantage of the reprieve.

Instead of treating the patient herself, she had informed her inquisitor that he would be doing the healing. His impeccable judgement would surely prevent him from doing anything that was in the least occult, unless he was unsure of himself? Unable to defend himself against the argument, he had tentatively followed her instructions, the extended pauses as he scrutinised each step quickly turning from comical to tedious as the treatment dragged on. But finally it was finished and they had left the patient with a much greater chance of survival.

The memory brought a smile to her face. John’s protection during those days had been critical to her acceptance within the community.

The baby kicked within her womb and she rubbed her hand over her swollen belly as if it would quieten her unborn child. On her petite frame, the change in her figure was more pronounced than any of the other women she’d grown to know in the village. Coming from a world that idolised skinny, she was now distinctly different from the ladies around her. Most of the men would look straight past her, preferring instead a much broader build. “Good birthing hips, that’s what you want”, but not her John. He loved her for other qualities, and it made it so much easier to love him in return.

A frown creased her forehead. She did love him she reflected. Truly she did. Despite the meagre life they lived. Despite the adjustments she’d had to make. Despite the vast gulf in their backgrounds, she loved him. And it only made it so much harder to deliver the news that she knew she had to.

A gust of wind brought a chill breeze down from the mountains where already a fall of snow had occurred. She turned and went back inside letting the flap of leather fall back across the doorway. He would be finished soon.

John split his final log and tidied up the pile. He gathered an armful of wood for the evening and pushed his way in through the doorway. Noticing Jessica brooding in the corner he asked, “What’s wrong?”.

She remained silent and he began to stoke the fire. “It’s going to be cool night with that wind”, he said. “I’m going to get more wood to keep us going”.

As he entered the hut a second time he said, “Come on, what is it?”

“I have to leave”, she replied.

John paused briefly and then resumed stacking the new load of wood into the pile beside the fireplace. “Don’t be daft”, he said, “you’ll be having the baby soon”. He continued stacking until finished and having received no response, looked over to where his wife sat.

She started directly at him, the fear obvious in her face. “I know”, she said, “that’s why I have to leave”.

(To be continued…)

Generations (Part 2)

The next instalment of Generations.


 

Jessica searched frantically in the semi-darkness.  This late at night the muted sounds of the nearby ward only occasionally intruded on her isolation but each one caused her to freeze in alarm.  She’d gotten away with it every time so far, still it was only a matter of time until she was caught.  Pushing the thought from her mind she opened another cabinet, keying in the stolen pass-number on the lock and selecting a number of medication packets which she quickly transferred to her backpack.  A draft from the air-conditioner passed over her and she shivered involuntarily.  The beads of sweat lacing her brow showed the stress she was under and made the otherwise comfortable temperature seem chilly.  She made a mental note to clean herself up before emerging from pharmacy store.  It would be disastrous to appear guilty in front of others.

Management had started to cotton on to the fact that items were going missing.  The pharmacists had at first been reluctant to report the missing drugs; it was their necks on the line after all.  However it had now reached the point where they had no choice, there was no latitude left for fudging the records.  Not even with her mole on the inside.

With the net closing in, Jessica had decided to do one more take before quitting.  The money was good.  She now had enough to start a new life, plus a qualification that would allow her to travel.  Nursing was in demand in so many places around the world.  Not that the gang would be happy to lose their supplier.  The chance that they would simply let her walk away was zero, which was why she’d been saving.  She knew from the start that this was a no-win game if she’d been thinking locally, but she was happy to think bigger.  The gang was small enough to have limited influence outside the city limits and none overseas.  That gave her the chance to get away if she was willing to move far enough.  It was always her plan to disappear once things started to get nasty.  Little did she know just how accurate her plan would be.

A sudden noise, louder this time, caused her to the freeze again.  A jet of fear shot through her petite frame as she realised that it was the outer door to the pharmacy store.  Adrenaline surged through her, flooding her brain.  She felt her tension levels ratchet up as the hormone did what it did best, narrowing her focus on the immediate, seeking to illicit either a flight or fight response.  Caught for a moment in indecision, she tried to weight her options but failed.  That door was the only exit.  Damn, she was so close to getting away scott-free, the regret adding to her fear and shutting down her rational faculties even further.

Seemingly paralysed, she watched as the door opened, as if in slow motion thanks to the heightened stimulus of adrenaline.  Inch by agonising inch it swung as she felt the intensity of her panic build.  She could see the shoulder of the orderly framed against the half open door.

As he entered the room, the orderly thought he felt a rush of air.  He couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t simply the movement caused by the door opening, but the thought that it was unusual did strike him momentarily before he was distracted.  On the other side of the room sat a backpack, half opened in front of an open cabinet.  “Who would be so careless to leave the place like this with all the extra security hoopla going on at the moment?”, he thought to himself.  As he moved across the room to close the cabinet, his opinion changed.  The backpack was half full of medication and it looked like the cabinet had missing packets too.

His sense of self-preservation kicking in, the orderly decided that now was not the time to turn detective.  As he backed towards the door he called over his shoulder, “Hey Pablo, can you come in here for a minute man?”.  From down the corridor came a complaint, but also the sound of footsteps.  The orderly was definitely not getting this pinned on him.

Subsequent investigation determined that the medication contained in the backpack was consistent with the pattern of theft that had been going on recently.  What it did not uncover however was the identity of the thief.  Both the orderly and his friend swore that no-one had left the room before it was fully secured and yet no-one was found inside.  The investigators drew a blank, unable to proceed further.  They did note that one Jessica Donnelly disappeared the same night not to be seen again, but without direct evidence it was hard to pursue that lead.

And even harder because she had disappeared.

(To be continued …)