Month: May 2014

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…)

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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 …)

Generations

Well I’m finally back in a position to do a little writing again, so here goes.  This is the first part of a multi-part story.  I’m not 100% convinced that posting it piecemeal like this as I write it is a good idea because I think it will be complicated.  I’m running the risk that I will need to re-order stuff that’s already be posted, but let’s give it a shot hey …  🙂


John walked along the path to the market square.  Around him the signs of spring were emerging.  A touch of green growth dusting the trees just as the first snows had done so many months ago.  A lone bird, singing its song, eager for a mate and the bounty of seeds that the season would bring, fluttered within a nearby perennial hedge.  The sun was definitely stronger that a week ago.  Peering through the thin cloud, he actually felt warmth from its rays on his skin.

His heart was light this morning.  Jessica was with child; his child, his first.  The thought buoyed his spirit, raising his hopes above the cloying mud that stuck to his boots and in which he seemed to spend so much of his life.  Jessica, who had made such a change to his life was now bringing him another gift.

She was the ray of sunshine that had illuminated his life.  Arriving two summers ago, she had walked into the village square one morning.  A lone woman traveler.  Not completely unheard of, but rare enough to provoke comment.  A ripple of murmurs among the gathered traders, was a foretaste of things to come.

“Who is she?”, they asked.  “A runaway slave?”, proffered one pundit.  “No, look at her complexion, her teeth”, said another, “that’s no slave.”  “OK then, a runaway consort.”  “That makes her even more dangerous”, was the reply.

She’d certainly not acted like a runaway.  A supreme confidence marked her bearing, calm and deliberate in the way she’d mixed with the crowd.  She made no attempt to hide.  And time bore out that truth as day on day, week after week no-one came looking for their property.  With the safety of that truth slowly growing, fear of retribution through association had abated and she’d begun to be accepted locally.  Yet local she definitely was not.

John had never met anyone with such an inquiring spirit before.  Questions tumbled from her mouth constantly.  “What are you doing?”  “Why is that necessary?”  “How long will that last you?”  It was as if she were driven by a pathological need to fit in.  A need to be part of the community and life that he wore with practiced ease.

It was impossible that she had grown up locally, she knew nothing of their way of life.  In fact it surprised him how little she knew in some areas.  It was almost beyond his comprehension how she could have survived so long without knowing how to butcher a carcass.  How to properly roast over a fire.  How to start a fire for that matter.  Even the high ladies of the lord’s court knew of these things, regardless of whether they were much practiced.  Yet she knew none.

Where could she possibly have grown up and survived to such an age without them?  For all her questions of others, on this point she was resolutely silent.  Nothing he tried could tempt her to give him a hint.  It intrigued him, drew him to her and in return he’d become the primary focus of her questioning.

He enjoyed the times they spent together.  Mostly he’d be continuing about his normal business, but she’d make it hers to join him and use the chance to keep learning.  Admittedly some days he thought he might be smothered under the torrent of her questions.  It was like a bubbling brook, at times stronger and at others weaker, always running.  But like a brook, he found it cleansing.

Pausing in his stride, he sighed and looked down at his boots.  A thick layer of mud had built up again; enough to make walking laborious.  As he cleaned the sticky muck, he reflected that this was what life had been like before Jessica’s arrival.  The community, the traditions and life in which he was embedded had been ubiquitous, all that he’d known.  They had sucked at his thoughts like a mud pit, hampering his desire to move or explore.  But like thrusting filthy feet into a stream, her questions and presence had cleaned away the inertia and caused him to reflect on how things might be.  On why things were as they were.

That was the enigma of their relationship.  Jess, incessantly driving inwards to understand what was inside his world.  John relishing the glimpse of what might be outside.  So different, and yet, perhaps the same.  The difference simply being that the inside of his world was the outside of hers.  Regardless, within a year John’s mind had been made up, he had asked Jessica to be his wife.

Rounding the corner, he came within sight of the tavern and his friend Willheim waiting at the gate.

“Ho, John”, he called, raising an arm into the clearing morning air.

“Ho, Willheim”, John responded.  “Today is such a fine day, I think that after the market, you’ll be joining me for a pint at the Tavern.”

Willheim turned his face to the sky and look dubiously at the lightening sky.  “I’d say the day’s definitely better than it’s been, but I wouldn’t have thought it good enough to extract the cost of a pint from you”, he observed, “still, if you’re shouting, I won’t say no.”

John grinned, “No my friend, you’ve got it wrong.  It’s you who will be shouting me.”

Acting out an exaggerated shock, Willheim scoffed, “And what makes you think that?”

“Because of the great news I have today”, John explained, the grin on his face increasing.

Willheim looked unimpressed but tilted his head back slightly inviting an explanation good enough for him to part with his coin.  Between them silence stretched, the grin on John’s face turning mischievous as he milked the moment for all he could get until finally Willheim broke.

“Come on, spit it out.  You’re grinning like a madman.”

“Jessica’s pregnant”, he relented in a flood of excitement.

Willheim’s face broke into a smile as broad as his friend’s, and ran over to congratulate him, slapping his back and lifting him in a bear-hug.  “That might just be good enough”, he said, “but it’s you who can explain to my Sarah where we’ve been come tomorrow morning.”

Arms draped over each other’s shoulders they turned to continue on from the tavern towards the market square.

“And what makes you think I won’t be stopping at one?”, asked John, mock hurt in his voice.

“History”, said Willheim simply and burst out laughing as they disappeared around the corner.

(to be continued …)