Working 9 To 5 (ish)

At 9am precisely, Susan DeWitt pushed open the door to the little office. She had been there now nearly 4 months, and she was slowly beginning to get used to their little peculiarities. The main part of the office was taken up with two desks. The one nearest to the door was heaped with folders, pieces of paper, disposable coffee mugs and the odd pizza box. This desk belonged to the Office Boy, Rupert. Affetionately referred to simply as “the Boy”, his job was making the tea, cleaning the office, and taking important pieces of correspondence to the people that needed them, and bringing back any of the answers. As was often the case in these small offices, the Boy was also the unofficial technical support for the computers, which were still considered “new fangled inventions” in Little Wotton. Susan stood for a moment in silence, and listened. There was a soft snoring coming from under the boy’s desk, so she slowly closed the door, keeping her hand on the bell so as not to wake him. She made her way to the only other desk in the main room, the rest of the walls being taken up by filing cabinets and doors. There was a simple wooden-framed door filled with frosted glass directly opposite the main door, this was the door that led to the boss’ office. On the wall opposite her desk was a simple wooden door that was always locked. It was only the Boss that had a key, and she had never seen him use it. Then again, the Boss seemed to keep his own hours, and she was never quite sure if he was in or out, or indeed, what he did all day.
Continue reading “Working 9 To 5 (ish)”

Ugly Duckling – 18 Only!

So, for those regular reading of the blog, will know that I’ve been writing a Novel. I’ve just written an article that I think is perhaps a little close to the line, and as such I’ve password-protected it.

If you are OVER 18 and want to read the post, the password is Iam18, if your not DO NOT READ IT, as I don’t think it’s suitable for those under 18. Also, if your easily offended, don’t read it. You know, if you think it might offend you, don’t read it.

Thanks,

~BX

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The Cafe Culture

He arrived at the cafe at 11, and made his way to a table. Today it was the turn of the top-right-hand table. It always amused him that people, in general, were creatures of habit, and because of this, it was amazing what you could get away with in plain site. He undid the top of the sugar pourer, and gently wiped it around with a tissue, and banged the top lightly on the table to get free some of the sugar from the tube. The small number of old people and relaxing business men had stopped looking at him by now, and gone back to their self-indulgent little lives. He pulled out a small packet of white powder, and gently added it to the sugar. Continue reading “The Cafe Culture”

Writing and Drawing

Martha let her hands dance over the white piece of paper. She liked blank pieces of paper, they made her happy. It wasn’t long, however, before the pen in her hand began leaving ugly trails all over it. Her hand was trying to capture the images in her head, the noise and the voices. None of them were hers, she knew that. The Doctors, of course, knew differently. They kept giving her different medication to make the voices go away. Martha had quickly discovered that the voices didn’t want to go away.

They weren’t always the same voices, sometimes they were different ones. They were never talking at her, they were far away, in different places, in different countries.

Martha looked down at the once-white page now covered in scrawling handwriting. It seemed to be some sort of prediction about the end of the world. That had been happening a lot recently. It was happening with irritating frequency. She liked it when what she wrote was different, entertaining. Sometimes she would see a story play out in her writings, sometimes she would just images of things. Of terribly, horrible things. Of people calling out in pain, in terror, in anguish, calling out with a note of terrified hope that there was someone coming to help them.

There never was. Well, in the beginning there wasn’t. Now, though, sometimes she would get visions where someone had been there to help them. Never the same person twice in a row, but some of the faces she saw time and time again, in different places. There was on of them she was quite fond of. He drove around in a black van, and he was trying to save the girl in the back of it. It was almost romantic. She hadn’t seen very much about him recently, and she blamed all these end of the world images. They weren’t very nice, and they scared her.

Martha didn’t like being sacred. She let the piece of paper float to the floor to join the other drawings and writings that she had scattered all over the gray-carpeted floor. She stretched her back, and felt the plastic chair beneath her creak a little. She lifted up her pink-slippered feet and waggled them for a bit. Distractedly, her free hand sought out her lunch. Half finished and long cold, she slowly eat a few of the chips, and regarded the new blank sheet of paper before her. There was the jangle of keys, and the door to her room opened. It was time for something. She knew that because the door was opened. She looked up at the large man expectantly. He had a kind face, and she knew that she liked him. She didn’t know his name though.

“Hello Martha” he said, softly.
“Hello” she replied, and swung her feet under her plastic chair. “Do I know you?”.
His smile broadened a little “Yes Martha, my name is Stewart”.
“Oh. I’m not really very good in the present. How can I help you?”
“It’s morning, Martha, you can go into the day room.”
“Morning?”
Martha looked around her. Her bed was unslept in, there were two trays of food on her desk, one of them was covered with paper. She brushed the paper off, and eat the food. When she had finished one plate, she moved onto the other. When she had finished that, she picked up her pen and idly regarded the paper infront of her.
“Marther?”
Martha looked up at the man in her room. He had a kind face, and she knew that she liked him. She didn’t know his name though.

“Hello, Martha”
“Hello” she replied. She let the pen drop from her hand and swung her legs under her plastic chair. “Do I know you?”
His smile was soft, and pleasant. “Yes Martha, my name is Stewart.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not very good in the present. How can I help you?”
“It’s morning Martha, you can go into the day room”
“Morning?”
Martha looked around her. Her bed was unslept in and there was two empty food trays on her desk. She must have forgotten to sleep again. No matter, sleep would come when it was ready. Or it would come in a needle. Either option was acceptable. She picked up some paper, and a pen, and looked at the large man in her doorway. He gently reached out his hand, and she took it, and gently squeezed it. She liked this man, whoever he was. He smiled softly back at her, and led her into the day room. Stewart made shure she was comfortable, and that her paper was laid out just as she liked it. Just as he had done since the first time she had arrived. This was an exclusive facility, and for the money the Office was paying for the people here, every was well-cared for. Once He was sure she was settled, Stewart went back to her room to tidy it. He picked up all her writings and drawings, as well as her washing, and carried them out with him. The washing went into her hamper, and he would do it for her later. The writings were important, and he did as he had been trained to do. He photo-copied them all, and put them into an envelope with the day on them, and put them in the internal post, he then scanned each image into the computer, and saved that onto their central server.

His next task was a simple one. He put Martha’s clothes on to wash. She had many pretty clothes, some of them he had bought for her, and some of them she had arrived with. He then took her writings back to her room and put them into her file, kept on her shelf. That done, he turned his attention to her wardrobe, and picked out an outfit for her, and laid it on her spare chair. When he had first started working here, the attention to detail had disturbed him somewhat. The fact that he had been asked to buy closed for Martha, ones that he thought she would like when her old ones were getting threadbare, the way that he, along with the rest of Martha’s team, had worked out her schedule, always had the same conversations with her, watched, made sure she eat, slept and washed. It felt a bit strange being part of all-male team. Apparently Martha didn’t like women on her team, they scared her, but no one knew why. Martha couldn’t concentrate long enough on the present to tell anyone. It was odd, Stewart reflected. After 4 years with Martha, he was beginning to use the same phrases that she was. Stewart took a final check around the room, and rescued a pen from under her bed. He checked that it worked on a pad that he carried with him for just that purpose, and satisfied, placed it neatly into the pot on her desk. He looked at the plastic chair, and wished, not for the first time, that Martha would let them replace it with a more comfortable chair. He glanced once more around the room, then pulled the door closed behind him.

~BX

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The Search

James crawled his way through the old metal tube, and stopped at the metal grill that looked down into the dark room below him. From the smell that rose up he was sure he was in the right place. The rank smell of rotting flesh and drying blood. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he could make out two shapes moving below him. As he lay there, watching, he ran over his plan again. Drop out of the vent, kill one of them, and fight the other one until he had incapacitated it, and then force the thing to tell him what he wanted to know. It wasn’t a through plan, as plans went, but it was better than the last attempt. That had involved him ripping down the boards on the windows, and then kicking open the door. The kicking open the door had been a bit redundant, because the sunlight streaming in through the windows had turned everything inside to so much ash. This one would work better. He crouched, and timed his moment. Taking a last breath of fresh air, he kicked open the grill, and landed on one of the things. A hiss broke out between it’s teeth, which was quickly mirrored by the hiss of it’s companion. James drived the wood into it’s chest, and watched as it froze. He then jumped forward as the companion made a grab for him. James grabbed at wood over the window, and pulled it back. Light spilled into the room, lighting the corner that James stood in. The thing stalked the darkness around him.
“Time will run out tasty mortal. I eat when darktime comes”
James fished out a mirror from his pocket, and shone a beam of light at the thing. It screached, and backed away.
“Morsal got magic wepon”
James looked at the thing. “Answer my questions, or I will use the … uh.. magic wepon on you”
“I don’t answer to food”
James flashed the mirror onto it, and it screached again. “Tell me how I undo the curse you have”
“Food want to save me?” the thing laughed, a cruel and corse laugh.
“No. ” James flashed the mirror again. “I want to save someone else”.
“A cure would mean that this was disease, bad thing. This is not bad thing. This is great”.
James let the mirror direct light onto the thing for a few seconds.
“When dark come I find you, I get you, I eat you”
“Tell me what I want to know”.
“No.”
The light beam set the flesh on it’s hand alight. “Tell me!”
“I not know! I now know!”
James turned the light off. “Why don’t you know?”
“I only new. I only little. I been in darkday for maybe one moon. I not have the pure blood.”
“Pardon?” James said.
“My blood, it new.” The mirror glinted, and the thing began babbling. “The blood it like magic. New blood mean you not think like those of old-blood. It mean you got to fight the thing, and be all clever and survive. You gotta fight the noise. You gotta fight it, so you don’t slip and become animal. I not so good at fighting it.” The thing looked down, then apparently became aware of the body parts around it’s feet. It slowly sank down to them, and picked up an arm. It held the fingers to it’s face, and ran them along it’s cheek, then hugged the arm. “Sometime the thing inside, it cry so loud. It cry so loud.” The thing looked up at James, with tears in it’s eyes. It proffered the hand to James. “I never meant to. She was the only one who ever think I was worth something.” James watched, taken aback. He had always thought of them purely as animals, here was one showing emotion. It stood up, and looked at James. He stared at the thing, and it looked back. James tried to regain control of the situation.
“Tell me what I want to know”. The thing shook it’s head. James let the mirror glint again. “Tell me!”.
The thing crouched. “To tell would be worse than the cry inside.” It launched itself at James, and caught fire in the light. The burning body hit the surprised James, and he rolled it off him, stripping off his now burning jacket, and frantically patting out the flames. He stood there, looking at the burning body for a long time, then he turned, and flung open the door. James headed back to the van, leaving the other body caught light in the sunlight.

~BX

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A Trip to Section 23

He looked around the dingy train. The seats worn and ripped, the carpet threadbare, the train apparently unable to to travel any great distance without jerking. He let his eyes be drawn out of the window at the grey countryside around him. It was drizzling with rain. Drizzling with rain was what this part of the world was famous for. The only other passenger in the train snored fitfully to herself, unaware that her stockings had fallen down to her ankles and her varicose veins were now available for the world to see.

Johnson curled his lip, and once again cursed his luck. It wasn’t entirely his fault that he was here. It was entirely her fault. If she’s checked her messages, she would have known that the Brigadier was coming home early. You’d have thought she would have know when her own husband was coming home. It was not the best way to be found by your commanding officer, in flagrante delicto with his other half. It was completely against regulation, of course. He wasn’t court-marshalled. That would have been the end to two careers. Instead he was transferred. He was transferred to a unit that was only talked about in jest, and used to threaten over-eager recruits with. He was being sent to Section 23, the place where the lunatics go when the army can’t do anything else with them. It was the place the army shipped all the old equipment they didn’t want, all the recruits they didn’t want. It was where they were sending him.

Their remit was “investigation of unknown threats to home defence”. It was one of those crack-pot sections that had been invented at the turn of last century, and was covered by some Royal decree that was damn-near impossible to have withdrawn. So the section keeps going, being funded with the bare minimum of money and army cast-offs. It was to this base he was being sent. The train juddered to a halt, and Major Johnson grabbed his duffel bag from the over-head compartment, and made his way to the platform. He wasn’t surprised to find that there was no-one there to meet him. He was only a little more unsurprised to find that the station appeared to be closed, and that the train left almost as soon as he had stepped off it. He looked around at the empty, boareded-up station, and shouldered his bag. His transfer papers contained a map to the base, so taking his barings, he headed off.

Nearly 4 hours later, Johnson found himself jogging down a dirt track. The map had been spectacularly vuague about the roads around here, and the sign-posts had all been vandalised, or were plain missing. He had jogged down several of these roads, and the constant drizzle had made him wet through. He was angry, irritated, and annoyed. He began plotting his revenge which he would take out on whatever poor private that crossed his path. The path ended in a fence, behind which a large black and white cow mood hopefully at him. The Major climbed over the style and continued his jog through the field, followed by the meandering cow. He reached the far hedge, and over it, in the valley below, he saw a run-down military base. Surrounding the usual grey buildings, there were a myriad of metal huts, and sheds. The parade ground was full of vehicles in various states of disrepair. The Major stood, stunned. How did any base get itself into that kind of state. He knew they were short of money but that was no excuse for such sloppiness. It didn’t take long for the Major to make it to the base gate, which wasn’t guarded. He reached out to push the gate open, and there was a flash of light, and then darkness.

The Major woke up in a military cot at the end of a barracks. He pushed himself up onto his elbows, and almost immediately regretted it. He lay back down again, and closed his eyes, trying to will the dyzziness to pass.
“Ahh, Major, your awake”.
The Major tentitavely opened one eye. “What.. happened?”
“The defensive fence.” The man standing over him had thick-rimmed glasses, and wore a white coat over his combats.
“Wha…?”
“Don’t worry about it Major. You just rest”
The Major nodded, and passed out.

~Black Xanthus

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The Island of Reason

The first few months had been nothing but rage. Each time, each stake, had been revenge. The number of times he had paid back his father’s death on one of the monsters was incalculable. Just like the times he had avenged his mother by slowly pulling one out into the daylight. They were simply monsters, thins that didn’t deserve to be using the bodies. Evil energy in a body that once loved, sang and danced.

Each night he had sat by her bed, watching her, waiting to see if this was the night that she was going to turn. Night after night, month after month, and still she lived a strange twilight life. Occasionally she would call out in a voice that was not entirely her own, and other times she would sob in her corner, begging to be held, and loved, for the chains that held her to be removed. Sometimes she begged to die.

There were times when James would have happily ran unto her embrace. There were times when he would have taken her life. It was times like that when Marcus would pull him out of the van. They had had many arguments, some of them that had reduced to blows. Mostly James had rained down blows on Marcus who would only raise his arms to cover his face while James vented his rage on him. James didn’t know why Marcus stayed, but there were times when James thought that Marcus understood, like Marcus had lived it.

The months of rage had been a blur of tears and blood. Some of it his. Something was different today. He had woken up feeling… calm. He had discovered that he had slept for three days, and perhaps that had attributed more than anything to his good mood. James rested his right foot on the dashboard and looked out at the cold blue sky.

“What’s different about today?”
“en?”
“I feel.. better today”
“You have finally reached de island of reason”
“The what?”
“De Island of Reason. It is dat feeling dat finally you are back in charge of tings. It means dat somewhere inside you’ve decided to stop bein’ de victim, and start bein’ in controll, to make a difference”
“That’s deep”
Marcus Shrugged. “Just callin’ it how I see it”
“I’m going to make a difference am I?”
Another shrug. “I’m not that special. I’m just… ”
The scentance hung in the air. “This is no longer world I grew up in. There’s all this stuff that comes from fairy-tales, that comes from books written about ledgends, and now I find out that the’re.. not exactly true, but there’s enough there that could keep you alive long enough to find out what you don’t know.”
“You sure bout dat?”
“It’s worked for me so far.”
“dumb luck”
They lapsed into silence. “How long do you think it will last?”
“what?”
“The Island of Reason”
Marcus shrugged. James nodded, and began to smile.

The scrape of chains across the floor from behind him chased the smile from his face.

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Alone

He stumbled over the stones on the mountain, and put his hand out to steady himself. He sighed, and pulled his dirty jacket around him. He looked towards the small grey line that winds through these hills. He liked the silence of the mountains. He liked the soft tinkle of the water. Most of all he liked that there were no people. He always got overwhelmed in towns. He heard a cry, somewhere far off, deeper in the mountains. Someone in pain. He tilted his head to listen to the cry as it echoed around inside his head. He took a glance at the gray road. He knew that the time had come when he had to return. To move back amongst the people. He had forgotten so much, his head was full of a deep gray fog, but the voice cut through it. He turned, reluctantly away from the road, and headed back into the mountains that had become his home.

He trekked along the paths that he had made. The occasional rambler thought they were made by the sheep, or perhaps the goats. They were made by him, as he wandered the hills, trying to remember. As he made a small jump down, the tarnished chain around his neck clinked against his skin. He frowned, and pulled it out from his tunic. How did that get there? He looked at the strange metal circle with a faded purple gem in the center of it. It looked familiar, somehow. The wind blew at his coat, and looked at it like it was the first time he’d seen wind move fabric, he looked at it with innocent curiosity, and the medallion slipped from his fingers, forgotten. The cry in his head got fainter, and he began moving towards it again.

He saw the man lying on the side of the mountain. The man had obviously slipped, and from the way he was lying his leg had been broken, probably in several places. He stood and watched the man desperately holding onto the bush that was stopping him from slipping, and falling to what would be, from that hight, certain death. He could feel panic rising in the man, and it cut him. Slowly he began to climb up the hill towards the man, each step the pain inside him getting stronger. This man was alone in the mountains because he was running away from something. He reached his side and looked down at him, his face full of compassion. The man looked up at him, surprised.
“Please, Help Me…”
“Do you really want me to help you?”
“Yes, please.. I”
“But you came here to get lost. To die amongst creation”.
“I.. what?”
His voice was soft, seeking understanding. “Why did you come here to die?”
“I… I feel so alone.”
“So you want to get away from here?”
“I… I don’t know.. yes.. I suppose”
“Where do you think you go too?”
“I hadn’t given that much thought.”
“I remember a place, it was warm and shining. It was safe. I don’t remember where that is any more. Have you seen it?”
The man shook his head. Fear rising in him. He wasn’t sure if this man was here to help him, or hurt him.
He knelt next to the man. “Your leg.. it’s broken”. He reached down towards it. The man paniced, and tried to move his leg away. “Don’t touch it!”. The quick movement caused the shale to slide, and the man slipped a little down the hill.
“I’m sorry.” He said.
The man looked up at him, his face fill of despair and fear. He looked down at the man, the fear penetrating into his very bones. “I only wanted to see you smile”. He turned to go.
“No, wait, please….”
He turned around and looked at the man. “You don’t really want me to wait. Your afraid of me. You just want to be better. You no longer want to die.”
The man simply stared at him. He turned round, and leaned towards the man. “Take my hand.” The man stared at it, terrified. “Take my hand. ” The man reached up and took ahold of it, and he pulled him up, resting him against the mountain. “Your leg is fine, it may be a bit stiff, but I’m sure that it will hold. ”
The man looked at him, then looked at his leg, bending it experimentally. The man then scrambled to his feet and looked at him with abject fear, that felt like hot pokers running through him. The man whimpered, and then took off down the hill at a scrambling run. He watched the man run away, and his heart broke. If he knew what tears were he would have wept.

“I only wanted to see you smile”

~BX

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Picture Perfect

Michael stamped his feet against the cold, and blew into his cupped hands. Not for the first time that night he contemplated his warm flat. He pulled the collar up on his coat, and went back to contemplating the window. This was becoming a little tedious. All he wanted was to be able to take a picture of the woman in the house with a certain celebrity and he could go home. He’d managed to follow the celebrity here on a number of occasions, but had never managed to get the money shot. Truth be told,he hated this kind of assignment. He felt it demened both him and the newspaper. The thing was, a dead-line was a deadline. He had often thought of going freelance, but freelancers with morrals didn’t get printed, which essential meant that they didn’t eat.

It was a fruitless line of thought. He had run around the tracks so often they were probably burned into his brain. A light turned on in his precious window, and he raised the digital camera to his eye. Many purists insisted that the only way to get the best shots was with old fashioned film. He wasn’t one of those purists. The woman walked passed the window taking off her top, revealing her blue bra. This caused Micheal to raise an eyebrow. No matter how many times he had hid in similar bushes or trees, he always expected the sexy woman to be wearing a black lacy bra, rather than a plain cotton blue one. At least, he mused, if you were in the habbit of taking your top off infront of an open window, you should at least put sensible under ware on. The woman paused with her back to the window, and then slowly turned, and walked towards the window, staring out into the night. Mechanically, her hands raised to the window catch, and she pushed opened the window wide. Micheal frowned. This was not what he was expecting on such a cold night. He lowered the camera, and saw a man climb in through the window. Finally, some action. He raised the camera to his eye, and the man dissopeared. Micheal frowned, the woman was still standing there, staring out into the night. Micheal pulled the camera down, and the man had vanished. Curious, he made his way through the foliage closer to the house. There was a dark shape moving through the house, but the woman still stood there staring out the window. He made it up to the window, and cupped his hands around his eyes so he could see in.

Inside there was a man, moving in a funny shambling gate moving through the room. Picking up various ornaments, bringing them to his face, pausing for a while, and then discarding them without any thought. The man moved along the mantlepiece, and finally found one that he didn’t discard. The man raise it twice to his face, and then nodded to himself, and slowly turned towards the window where Micheal stood. The Micheal stared at the man, who seemed to have a melting, mottled green face, and large, pointed bottom teeth, which it smiled eviliy at him. At the same time a scream from upstairs startled both of them, and Micheal took off into the night.

He didn’t stop running until he had made it to the bright lights of the city center, and even then he didn’t feel safe. He got into the first taxi, and rode to his office, where he knew there would be a night-guard, and others like him working on a deadline. He signed himself in in the brightly-lit lobby, and rested against the walls of the metal elevator as he rode it to his floor. Arriving in his cubicle, he hung his coat up, and flopped into his chair. He sat there for many long minuets, simply trying to gather his breath. He flicked his computer screen on, it’s not like anyone ever shut their computers down here. He opened up an editor, and stared at the large white space. He took a deep breath, and began typing. The words tumbled out in a flood, almost falling over themselfs to make it to the page. In what felt like no time at all, he had a full story. The only problem was that no-one was going to believe him. No photographs, a “thing” that he couldn’t see in his digital camera, and a story which essentially ends with him running away from a place he shouldn’t have been in the first place after being seen by someone there.

He leant back in his seat, and stared at the story. He leant forward and pressed print anyway. He pushed his seat back, listening for the whirr of the printer warming up. A sudden loud ringing made him jump so hard he knocked his chair over. He stared at the phone on his desk like he’d never seen it before. He lifted the receiver like it was going to bite him, and held it to his ear.

“hello?”
“Ahh, Hello Micheal?” said a young voice on the other end of the phone in an almost impeccable British Accent said.
“umm… Yes?”
“We hear you had an encounter this evening” the voice continued. It seemed soft, and reassuring
“Who….. Who is this?”
“That’s not really important right now, we are just here to give you an offer. You have probably just printed a story that you think no-one will believe. That story may be important. ”
“Pardon?”
“I understand, your head will be swimming. It’s a lot to take in. Go home, get a good night’s sleep, take your story with you. If you would like to find out more, meet me in the smal Cafe at the end of your road at 10 o’clock.”
There was a click and the line went dead. Micheal shook his head and put the phone down. Whoever the stranger was, he was right about one thing, Micheal needed to sleep. He picked up his story, and headed home.

Micheal spent the tossing and turning, the memory of the face sneaking into every dream he had, turning it into a nightmare. As the grey light of dawn spilled through his grubby curtains, Micheal gave up on sleep and made his way to the kitchen, and began a fruitless search for a clean cup. He picked up one hopefull cup and tipped the cigarett buts out of it, and looked at the sink overflowing with days old dishes. He added his mug to the the precarious pile and staggered back to his bedroom to get dressed.

The Streets were busier than he would have expected at this time of the morning. In the same way that the Cafe on the corner was busy than he would have expected. He ordered a cup of coffee and sat himself down in a corner, staring off into space. Several hours, and cups of coffee later, Micheal was still sat there, when a man in his mid-twenties with shaggy blond hair, a suit and trainers slid himself into the chair oposite him. Micheal looked at the new-comer. “I’m waiting for someone”
“Yes, you are. He’s here” the young man smiled.
“What is this all about?”
“You wont really believe me if I told you”
“Try me”. The young blond man smiled and reached into his jacket, pulling out a folded manila envelope. Over the following hour, the young man explained how things worked. How people who had seen things very often went on seeing strange things, and how there was a choice, at least, for some of them. The young man explained how different people had different roles to play, and how Micheals was one of reporter. Micheal would submit his stories, in the usual way, using the pen name “Erin Sacks”. The story would then be then be picked up by some local sensationalist news-papers, things that had the names like “Strange and Mysterious Weekly”, and he would get paid for them. Sometimes, he might be asked to go on strange assignments, which would result in a story for Erin Sacks, but above all the young blond cautioned him, he was a reporter, because the world needed to know. Micheal added another cigarette but to the overflowing ash-tray.
“What’s in it for me?” Micheal asked. The deal didn’t really seem to do him any favours.
“Once the story is submitted, no-more nightmares.”
“Of any kind?”
The young man looked at him. “You know what I meant. The personal demons you already have you’ll have to deal with on your own”. Micheal nodded, and pulled out another cigarette.
“Most of what you’ve just told me isn’t true, is it?”
The young man simply looked at him, his eyes impassive. “You’ve just told me what I need to know. Offered me the carrot, with the implication of a stick. Perhaps parts of what you’ve told me make sense, but it’s not the full story, is it?”
The man stood up, and tapped the manila envelope that contained the details that they had gone over. “I don’t know, your the Journalist, you tell me”
Micheal nodded, and lit his cigarette. “You’ve not even told me your name”
Micheal glanced up to where the man had been standing, and noticed that he was already half-way to the door. He nodded to himself and picked up the envelope. Somedays life doesn’t just kick you to the ground, once your there, it jumps all over you.

The thing about being a journalist like Micheal is that no-one batted an eye-lid when he showed up in work in the middle of the afternoon. There was a pile of mail on his desk, most of which were the letters from what he affectionately called the crazies, which he slid into his bottom draw. Amoungst them was a memo from his editor congratulating him on the pictures that he’d taken, and the story that went with it. The memo didn’t really surprise Micheal, as he had that feeling of his life sliding in a way that he didn’t really understand. He also got the feeling that this was the only time he was going to get helped out like that. He flicked his monitor on to find the story that he had written, edited slightly, and pictures, taken from a few meters to the right of where he had been hiding. It showed the woman in the blue bra kissing the celebrity he’d been waiting for. A closer look at the embrace showed it was deep, and tight. The woman was probably terrified when the picture had been taken. He felt a pang of guilt, and once again cursed his conscience. He closed the story, and sat back in his chair, the gnawing sense of guilt growing. He looked at the drawer full of letters from crazies, and after a pause, reached down into it.

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First Time

The black van pulled up to the farm house. James leaned forward to look at it, past Marcus, the driver.
“You know, in all those films, that would be a wooden house, not a think stone walled house, with doors that look so sturdy you need a battering ram to get through them”
“Dem’s de breaks man”
“So, into the breach then”
“Yup”
“How do we know that it’ll still be in there”
“we don’t”
James looked at his companion, who simply shrugged at him. They were following the vaugest of leads, from a guy in the pub that mentioned that he’d not herd anything from the people who lived here in a few days. The signs on the way up the long drive showed neglect. Cows with udders fit to burst, gates broken open as hungry animals went in search of food. They’d been following something for a few days, though always a few steps behind. A trail of empty houses, rumours of missing people. The problem is that buy the time people actually get reported missing it could be days, and in that time it was long gone.

James stepped out of the van, and headed towards the door. He touched it, half expecting it to creek open as it so often does in the horror films. It didn’t. It stayed closed. James pushed it a little harder, just in case. Marcus leaned out of the window and looked at him. James shrugged back. He reached for the door knob and turned it, and this time, the door opened. Marcus leaned back into the van, and reached under the passenger seat, and pulled out Bessie-May, a double-barrelled shot-gun. He reached down into the driver’s door pocket, and pulled out two shells, muttering slowly to himself as he loaded them into the gun.

The first thing James noticed was the smell. It hit him like a wall. The second thing James noticed was the strange parody of a dinner that was set up. Sat at the kitchen table were two very pale corpses, sat as though they were about to eat dinner. A rictus grin on their faces. The third thing that James noticed that was despite the things he’d seen so far, this was a step too far. James threw open the door, and made it two steps outside before his body reacted, and he threw up against the side of the house.

“Dat was quick”
James waved his hand at Marcus, while his body calmed down. He wiped his face, and attempted to straighten himself out. He nodded at Marcus, and headed back into the house. “Dat’s not someting you see in de movies” Marcus mused to himself, and rested the business end of Bessy on the window, and kept an eye on the windows.

This time, James was ready for what faced him, and this time despite his body wanting a repeat perfomance, there was nothing left. He gagged a little, but pushed himself deeper into the house. Door by door, James wandered through the house. There was trails of blood, and evidence of a struggle throughout the house. Someone had had fun here, James thought grimly. He reached the stairs. He could go up, to the bedroom, or down to the cellar. He’d never really had to make this kind of choice. The kind that could literally mean life or death.

He stood there, sock still. By rights there should have been a clock ticking somewhere, or perhaps a creak of a floorboard above him. Instead there was nothing. He looked at the little door that led down to the cellar. It would be dark down there, it seemed appropriate. He opened the door, and looked down the stairs. He reached over and and turned the light on. The cellar was flooded with light. The stone flagstone floor was undisturbed, and James doubted that the workbench that took up most of the floor hid anything. Of course, why would it be in the cellar? If you needed somewhere to sleep, why would you make it somewhere uncomfortable. James headed upstairs.

As he stood on the landing, a tingle started heading up his spine. All the curtains were drawn, and taped together, and along the bottom. This made the landing very, very dark. James shook his head, and pulled the tape off the curtains, throwing them open. In the films, the hero would have walked passed them, leaving the landing in the dark. You can learn a lot from films. Two doors, both of which opened into the rooms, which was handy. He tried the first door, and pushed it open. Another room bathed in darkness, and that smell again. His stomach churned despite himself. There were two shaped lying on the double bed, both still as the grave. Of course, that didn’t really mean anything. The window was on the far side of the room. Three choices, he could head over to the window and throw it open it, or he could stake the two bodies, or try the other door. Tricky. If he went for the curtains, and threw them open, and the thing was in the room, then hopefully the daylight would be enough. Steeling himself, he ran accross the room, and ripped the curtains open, only to be faced with a wooden bored nailed over the door. “Shit”. Rookie mistake, but then, there’s only one way to stop being a rookie. James spun around. Only the one body on the bed. It was the body the furthest away from him, and seemed to be undisturbed. A flicker of movement out of the corner of Jame’s eye was all the warning he got, and it launched at him, pushing James to the ground. It had seemed like a good idea to tuck the stake into the back of his jeans. Probably because he’d seen in on the films. Bloody Films. It was a cold, dead wait on top of him, with a mad laugh. Claws tried to dig into his arms, but his leather coat acted like temporary armour, but it wasn’t going to last long. James kicked against the wall, turning the two of them over. James reached behind him and pulled out the stake, but it was gone. James looked around the dark room. His eyes were slowly getting used to the gloom, and he could see a hunched shape on the far side of the bed. James launched himself over the bed at it, only to be caught in mid air by a vice-like grip from the bed. Panic griped him. He wasn’t expecting that. He found himself being thrown back against the wall, knocking the wind out of him. More laughter from the thing on the bed, as it jumped onto it’s feet.
“now, now, now now little plaything. It’s been a long time since something came looking for me”
In the films, James would have said something pithy, probably with flair. This wasn’t the films. James launched himself at the thing on the bed, much to it’s surprise, and jamed the stake into the thing’s chest. It fell back on the bed, with a cry of surprise. The stake hadn’t gone in deep enough. James punched the stake harder with his hand, as the claws pawed at his face. James punched harder, and harder. Long after the claws had become limp. He looked down at the mess that he’d made of the things chest. It wasn’t dead, not that the thing was really alive. It was simply paralysed. James sat back, and crawled off the bed. He stood up and looked at it. Slowly it sat up. James had missed the heart. The thing laughed, mockingly, and stood on the bed. James stepped back. The thing walked towards him, and stopped at the line where the light was, and it laughed.
“Clever little morsel. But I know your smell. I will hunt you down, and I will find you. When it gets dark, then it’s my turn”
James looked at it. Talking to it awknoledged it, gave it some legitimacy. In the light, he could see that the stake was close. He reached for it as quick as he could, but it was quicker. It grabbed James’ hand and held it in the air.
“I have you now little fish”
James simply charged at the thing, pushing it back into the room. They fell together onto the floor, as it punched at Jame’s face, causing his eye to swell up almost instantly. Using his free hand, James punched the stake hard with his right hand. He felt it move, but not far enough, he hit it again, and the the thing stopped. It froze just as it was. James put more pressure on the stake, keeping it where it was as he caught his breath. Slowly, and uneasily, James got to his feet, and dragged the thing into the hallway. There was the smell of burning flesh, as the sun hit the body. This was a small problem for James as it still had ahold of his left hand. James dragged the body towards the window, and threw the body out as it caught fire. The fall ripped the arm out of it’s socket, leaving James to break the flaming fingers off and letting them fall after the burning body. He leant against the window, looking down with his good eye on the burning body.

James slowly staggered down the stairs, and out into the fading daylight. Markus was standing by the van, resting on it.
“You look like you were in a fight”
James smiled. “You should see the other guy”.
The two of them went around the house, and looked at burning body. The heat from it was causing it to char the grass around it. They watched it for a while, then Markus fetched a spade, and the two of them began beating out the flames, around the body, letting it burn. It took a while. Once the flames were out, the two of them began picking up the ashes, and spreading them around the trees and the bushes. The last thing that they needed to do as the light faded was to check on the corpse upstairs. As far as they knew it was simply waiting to turn. They headed upstairs, and gently carried the corpse downstairs, and placed it in the kitchen, sat at the table with the other two. It didn’t catch fire, so they left it there.

With the light dying, the non-descript black van slowly drove away.

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The Office

Susan Webster sat on her packing boxes, and looked around her now-packed house. She had lived there in a not-so happy marriage with her Husband for the past 20 years. She’s thought they were doing okay. The talking had slowed down, and he had started spending more time at work, but that was normal for a couple that had been together that long. At least, she had thought it had been. She’s resigned from her job to be a housewife. She’d expected that there would be kids, but her husband found there was never really time, or enough money.

It was strange. She didn’t feel anger. She hadn’t really ever felt anger. She’d just felt… a strange feeling of resignation. As usual, or at least, so she gathered from those glossy magazines in the news-agents, she’d found out because he’d been stupid. Knowing that he was away on business for 3 weeks, Susan thought that she’d be the helpful, dutiful wife. She’d opened a letter that had the words “Final Demand” stamped on it. It was an unpaid bill for the “common places” of a flat, addressed to her. At first, she thought it was some sort of mistake, and decided to enquire about it. She wouldn’t normally bother with this sought of thing, because Howard did it all. Balanced the books, paid the bills. Some of them she knew were in her name because it improved their credit rating, or something. She supposed she would now have to learn about that sort of thing. It wasn’t that she wasn’t interested, it was simply that Howard didn’t think she should “worry her head about it”.

As Susan began looking into this bill, she found out, after a phone-call to her lawyer, that she did indeed own a flat. It came as a surprise to her lawyer that she didn’t know, especially as she’d signed the deed for it. It seemed that when Howard had wanted to buy the flat, his credit rating wasn’t as good as hers, so he’d put it in her name. Though, as her lawyer, a kindly man called Oscar said, if the two of them must jet around the world on luxury holidays on the wages Howard earned. She agreed with him, said that she agreed it was a stupid idea, and asked, casually, if he could give her the address.

With this new address, Susan went to visit the flat, armed now with documentation, and ID, she managed to get a very confused Building Manager to let her into the flat. A quick glance around it confirmed what she had thought. Howard was having an afair. The Flat was full of pictures of him, and a blond twig-like woman. An afternoon looking around the flat, she found boxes full of old photographs of Howard with many other, barbie-like women, along with a large amount of unpaid credit-card bills, all in his name. That night, on the way home on the train, something snapped.

The following day, Susan set about selling everything that she owned. It turned out, she owned quite a bit. A house, a flat, two cars, and a beach house in Malawi. She put them all up for a quick sale, and had them all soled by the end of the week, as well as most of the content. She even managed to sell an air-ticket that was in her name, apparently for a trip back from Malawi, which she obviously didn’t need, because she wasn’t in Malawi.

One of the things that had occurred to Susan during the week, was that she would need a Job. Sure, the cash was going to be enough to live on for a few years, but that was going to take a few days, perhaps even weeks, before it became hers, plus she was sure Howard would probably want to contest the fact that he owned some of the money. She’d gone out half-way through the week and bought a news-paper. In it she had found a small advert for an Office Manager. In a fit of madness, she’s made the call, and had the second strangest conversation in her very strange week.

“Yes, hello, is that the.. uh.. Office?”
“Yes, yes it is. It’s good to hear you”
“My name is Susan Web…. er DeWit”
“I’m pleased to meet you Susan, how can I help you?”
“I was wondering about the job as the Office Manager?”
“Oh yes… the position if empty because of retirement. When would you like to start?”
“umm… are you offering me the Job?”
“Am I not meant too? You sound nice.”
“Your meant to ask me a few questions.”
“Oh, am I? well, what would you like me to ask?”
“Well, how about, asking what my qualifications are.”
“Okay, so Miss DeWit, what are your qualifications?”
“Well, I worked as a temp secretary when I was in college”
“There you are then.”
“What?” Susan was begining to feel a little out of her depth. She’d not had many job interviews, but she was sure this was not how it was meant to go. The strange thing about it, was that despite the strangeness of it all, she was inclined to believe the voice at the end, despite a newly-found sceptical streak screaming at her that this was not the way she was meant to live her life.
“You have the necessary experience, and we really are in a bind. Your the only applicant we’ve had, and we’ve run the add for nearly two months.” The kindly voice still sounded upbeat, and with a strange, wistful hopefulness about it.
“Oh, why is that?”
“well, I think it’s because it’s not paid very well, and is a little out of the way. It’s in the village of Little Watton… have you ever heard of it?”
“No, I can’t say I have”
“Neither has anyone else. It’s one of those little English villages in the middle of nowhere. So, when would you like to start? I can book you into the little pub across the road….”
“Are you sure about this?”
“Well, we can put you on a trial basis if you like… how long would you like?”
Susan, who was quickly getting the idea why this business, whatever it was, needed a Business Manager. Perhaps she could get by and learn the job as she went.
“A month is usual”
“is it? well, then, a month. When would you like to start?”
In a rash of madness that seemed to be driving her this week, she said “Monday”
“Then we shall see you on Monday.” the man hung up.
Susan stared at the phone. The man hadn’t given her a time. Being as if she phoned back, he’d only ask her what a good time was, she decided on 9 o’clock.

A horn from outside woke her from her thoughts. That’ll be the taxi. She picked up her brown envelope with her old-fashioned tickets in, her handbag, her over-night bag, and a suitcase full of all the things that were definitely hers in the house. Everything else she’d put into storage, and mailed the key to their lawyer. The rest she didn’t want, or didn’t need. The woman stepping out of the front door was a new woman. A new Susan DeWit.

The taxi driver seemed to know where she was going. She wasn’t really in the mood for conversation, but that didn’t seem to matter. The Jamaican was quite happily telling her a story that she couldn’t really follow through his thick accent, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. The taxi pulled up to a train-station in the middle of nowhere, but the style of the station seemed to match the strange ticket that she had, and the young man at the turnstile seemed very pleasant. She didn’t have long to wait on the station before an old steam-train pulled into the station. Still not being sure this was the right train, she got on it, still high on her new-found spirit of adventure, and settled into the seat.

Susan got off at the station for Little Watton, and made her way to the pub. It wasn’t difficult, Little Watton was only one street, with a little shop, a few twee houses, and nothing much else, apart from the pub. As she stepped through the door, she was greeted with the warmth of a roaring fire, and the sound of laughter, and happy voices. The pub was small, but clean, rather like the room that she was shown too. The bathroom was down the corredore, but there was only one guest room, so the bathroom was effectively hers. She got the feeling that this room was her as a form of village favour, but she was too tired to think anything of it. The woman who run the pub was a short rotund woman, with rosy cheeks and hair pulled back into a bun, apart from a single strand of hair that resisted her repeated attempts to tuck it behind her ear. Her name was, predictably, Rosie. Apparently that wasn’t her real name, but it was one that all her regulars called her, and she didn’t mind. She also didn’t mind making Susan something to eat, or fetching her another blanket, or a drink, or indeed, anything at all. Rosie didn’t mind. Hospitality was obviously in her nature. Susan took the offer of the food, and quietly declined the other offers, stating that she was tired. Indeed, by the time she’d eaten the food, it was all she could do to get undressed and climb into bed. It had been a very long week.

The following morning, Susan dragged herself out of bed, and made herself ready for work. A strange experience. She put on her stockings, sensible shoes, and another one of her two-piece tweed suits, with a sensible, and tasteful white blouse. She partook of the simple breakfast of toast offered by Rosie, along with a few other locals who also seemed to be on their way to work, and headed out to the office. Again, it was not difficult to find. It was the only shop-front of it’s type. Long cream venetian blinds in the windows, and a door set into the corner of the building. The only information on the door was the opening times, 9 till 5, Monday to Friday. A fairly sensible opening times. She checked her watch, 8:59am. She paused, and as the clock ticked over to nine, she pushed open the door.

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The Monk

The Abbot opened the door to the two visitors to the monastry. They were an odd pair, one in black jeans, and black T-shirt, the other with his hair in dread-locks, and black skin. He looked familiar, but the Abbot couldn’t place him.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” The abbot asked.

“He’s ‘ere for de fighting trainin'” said the man with dreadlocks in a thick Jamacian accent.

“I’m sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong place.”

“I doon’t tink so Abbot. Dis here de place where dem what needs get trained to fight de things that go bump in de night.”

The abbot surveyed the man. “The training is long, and intense, it will take years. ”

“You got tree monts”

“I’ll need at least a year”

“Six monts”

“Deal”

The man in black watched the two of them, impassive. His young face warn with lines that showed sights that no one needs to have seen. The Abbot turned to him, “Well, Accolyte, it seems that you have much work ahead of you.” The acolyte reached for a ruck-sack that the black man was carrying. “You’ll have no need of that here. Your needs will be provided for. Follow me”. The accolyte and his friends exchanged shrugs, and the Accolyte fell in behind the Abbot. The accolyte said nothing when he was shown his quaters, and continued to say nothing when the Abbot explained about the monk’s habbit. The silence became deafaning when the Abbot explained about the lack of underware. The abbot then left him alone to get aquainted with the monastry.

The accolytes first duty was to fetch the water. The monastry had had a tank built on the roof during victorian times and had an internal water system put in. It was indeed a luxury, but as the monks here have always been elderly it seemed fitting. The tank was designed to be filled by the rain, or, when the monastry had one, an accolyte. Being old, the tank leaked. A full tank would serve the monastry for a week, but with the leak, it would need to be filled often. The abbot stood at his window and watched the accolyte strugle up the narrow wooden stairs with two buckets. At some point the accolyte will realise that the tank leaked, and then one of two things will happen. Either he will decide to fix the tank, which he will have to do in his spare time, or he will decide that his spare time is his own, and will simply resign himself to filling the tank every day. At the end of about a month, the Accolyte will expect some words of wisdom. The Abbot stirred his tea, and throught about this. There was no right or wrong choice. Ideally of course, the monastry could do with having the tanks fixed, the donations are not what they once were, but that would not in anyway invalidate his training. Should he choose to fix the tank in his own time, the Abbot will say something about giving up one’s time for the good of the world, even if they don’t know what you’ve done. Should he choose to continue to fill the tank every day, the Abbot will say something about accepting the things that one cannot change. Probably wordier, probably with a few verses from an ancient text. Perhaps, the abbot mused draining his cup, with some long story as an example.

At the end of the first month, the Abbot had watched the accolyte learn the easy lessons. It was a few days before the Accolyte was forced to ask for help for the chaffing. Men used to waring trousers are often undaware of the chaffing that the rubbing of legs together cause. Eventually, of course, the skin will toughen, but untill it does it is painful. The accolyte quickly found the monk who was profficient in herbs. Not that it was difficult, he spent most of hit time in the grounds, or in his shed. Unusually, however, this accolyte chose to learn how to make the balm. A good start, normally it takes untill the middle of the second month, and some prodding.  The accolyte had also got to know the monks, in some form or an other and was doing some of their more physically-demanding chores. The Abbot would probably need some words of wisdom about that as well. Of course, the real lesson was that all of this work was improving the Accolytes generall fitness. The Abbot would probably have to start doing some actuall training work with the Accolyte. He seemed to have the right temperment, and from all accounts he seemed to be worth training. It would start soon, just as soon as the accolyte had finished the repairs to the railings.

“This is Bessy” The Abbot said, patting the die of the cow. The accolyte nodded. “She’s not very well, it will be your job to look after her. Day and night. She’s a very precious asset to this monastry. You will have to move into the barn to clean her out on a regular basis. In addition to your other chores.” The accolyte said nothing, but smiled cheerfully. “We are also moving into a holy period, we will be praying the hours”. “Yes, Sir” said the accolyte.

The following month was grueling for the accolyte. His duties continued, but he was woken up every four hours for prayer. He was also begning his training proper. This was mostly being hit with sticks, because there is no point knowing how to throw a punch if you don’t know how to take one. In most fights it is the lucky punch, or the lucky move that wins. It is far more important therefore that your opponents lucky punch not be the one that hands the fight over. The accolyte had something to say about this. Quite a bit, in fact. Using language that the Abbot hadn’t heard since his younger days. As the days progressed, the monks chose to add a few to the young accolytes volcabulary. By the end of the second month, the accolyte was bruised, and very tired. The accolyte was still trying to complete all his chores, at some point he was going to learn that he was going to need to catch sleep whenever he could, as well as using the herbal remedies that he had on offer. Considering the accolytes promising progress so far, the abbot was mildly surprised by the sudden streak of stubborness. The accolyte had also started talking to the cow, and pausing as though the cow was listening. The abbot, long used to this strange routine had taken to sleeping during his free time, and occasionally when he was meant to be doing non-essential paperwork. The Abbot watched the accolyte brush down the cow, talking to the cow, and laughing at the cow’s funny reply.

About half-way through the third month, the Abbot was forced to assign a monk to watch the Accolyte. Stubbornness had meant that the accolyte was still trying to everything, and missing out on his sleep. Twice he had been found leaning on tank, asleep. The abbot was worried that the accolyte may fall asleep in an unfortunate place, and join those that rest forever.  The Abbot would give it until the end of the month, and see how the accolyte was then.  He didn’t have to wait much longer, by the end of the week the accolyte had started doing his chores in his spare time so that he could sleep during the time for chores giving him almost enough time for sleep. At the end of the third month, the Abbot called off the praying, and allowed everyone to sleep in. The accolyte slept for two days, with the other monks sharing out his duties, picking up the slack. The abbot relaxed in his chair. Sometimes it was good when object lessons were learned by everyone.

Month four and five were of course full of fighting. Each monk lending a little something different. Welding of a sword, or axe, or even the use of a chair or tree as an improptue wepon. Bessy was getting worse, which seemed to pray on his mind. Though his trainers would always punish the moments of distraction. By the end of the fourth month the accolyte was improving his concentration. The Accolyte’s focus was also improving elsewhere. Bessy’s illness had led him to find the library, and start hunting for a cure. Somehow, his love for Bessy, and his quiet search had pulled others into helping him.  Long hours were spent in the library hunting for a cure. It appears that the Accolyte was not willing to give up.

The finall month was spent cramming.  There was not enough time to show the accolyte everything, but then, the monastry had been accumalating knowledge on this for over a thousand years. What they were trying to do was to make him aware of what there was, and that even they didn’t have everything.  The weaving, and meshing of everything that the Accolyte had read or seen, the way that a little bit of truth hid in all the smoke and ledgends, how the world that he walked contained all the things that his nightmares warned him about, and very little of what he saw in his dreams, how it was the little things that made the difference. The accolyte nodded at all of it, as though he was making mental notes. Yet after everything, he would return to the library, or to the small shed to brew something else that he had found. The final day, the abbot called the accolyte out into the field, and asked him to bring Bessy with him.

“She’s really not well Abbot”.

“Bring her anyway.”

“Yes, Abbot”

Soon the three of them were standing on the monastries lawn. The cow standing unsteadily on her feet, making soft mooing noises, with the Accolyte stroking her neck. The cow rested it’s head on the Accolyte’s chest, while the Abbot watched.

“You only have six months here. Today is your last day. We have done what we can.”

“I can’t leave, Bessy’s not well…..”

“I made a deal with your friend. Six months. ”

“But Bessy…”

“What are we to do with her? There is no medicine that can make her better.”

“No medicine that I have found.”

“And do you think you can find something that will cure her?”

“I… I have to try”

“Bessy is old, perhaps all you can do is to make her comfortable.”

The accolyte stroked her neck, and looked into her large brown eyes. “She’s dying” he said softly. The Abbot stayed quiet, while the wind blew their habbits around their legs. Moments passed.

“The one thing we’ve not taught you is how to kill. We’ve taught you the methods, but not how. The movements, where to place your hands, but the thing about taking a life is that finall moment, and those that follow it. Each life is precious, no matter how far it has sunk. No matter what path it has taken. When you take a life, you have chosen to end that path. We do not make that decision. We do not do it coldly, but we must know the price. There will be times when there is no choice. When those that have walked a path that we havn’t seen, try to end our path, we have no choice. Yet each time, each time it is a weight that we carry.”

The wind blew colder, and the Accolyte looked down into the cow’s eyes. “Not many people know, but the reason we’re so fond of cows is because of their big eyes. The way they always look sad, and curious.” The accolyte wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, but the Abbot nodded anyway. “Bessy has cancer, which has caused multiple organ failure. She’s not in pain at the moment, but eventually the medicine will have to get stronger, and then the medicince will stop working.” A tear rolled unchecked down the face of the Accolyte. “I read the book, “Of mice and men” when I was at school. The only line I can remember was “I aught not have let no-one else shot my dog”.” Another tear, the wind blew this one over his cheek. He moved his hands around the neck of the cow. “It’s going to be okay Bessy. I’m going to make everything okay.” The practiced hands of the accolyte moved quickly, there was a dull snap, and the body of the cow collapsed. The Abbot knew that the accolyte was expecting something. Expecting the world to notice his deed. For there to be rain, a peel of thunder, or a strike of lightning. Something. The abbot was the realisation cross the face of the accolyte, and then the tears began to roll. It was not just for the cow. People killed cows for food ever day. The tears were for a life that the accolyte was never going to have. A life that had been cut off. All the people that had already been taken from him, and all the people that he would take from this world. All the times when he would need to grieve in the future but would never have the time. This was the pause. This was the time to cry for all of them. The abbot watched as the accolyte sank down next to the cow, sobbing into it’s cooling flank. The Abbot closed his eyes and prayed. After a long time, the sobbing slowed, and the Abbot moved to sit next to the accolyte, gathering him up into his fatherly arms, stroking his hair and whispering softly “I’m here”. The Accolyte clung to him, and the tears flowed more.

They sat together until the sun left only a small amount of light on the field, and the flashes of light and clank of metal against metal roused the accolyte from his mire. The monks had brought shovels and lanterns. Wordlessly, the accolyte took the offered shovel and began to dig. After a while, they all joined in, monks and Abbot.

The following morning, the blank van pulled up the driveway of the monastry, and picked up it’s now black-clad passenger, his right-hand holding a corse hand-made bag. With a glance backwards at the closing door, the accolyte climbed into the van.

~BX

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Sweeper

Edward was angry, working his way up to furious. It was his fathers’ fault. Being 17,  ninty percent of the things that made him angry was his fathers fault. This one, in particular, he felt was his fathers fault. Edward would be turning 18 in a few months, and he was trying to organise a trip to the put on his 18th. He felt it was a right of passage, his first drink, and all he wanted to do was to take his father, and a few friends down to the pub. Well, more precisely, his father. Edward wasn’t very good at making friends. He found that he couldn’t connect with people his age. He found them all a bit… weird. People generally left him alone, and for the most part, this was fine with him. He was much more happy alone with his engineering books. Steam Trains had started it all, the stories that his fater had told him when he was young. A few times his father took to the station where he worked, and had let him watch the train pull in. Though his father hadn’t done that since he was seven. He used to imagine that exotic people rode the train, people with long capes, and top hats with canes, or people with long shaggy beards and hair comming out of their noses, wild-men types. His father had always told him that one day Edward would join him on the platform. At the tender age of seven, it seemed exoctic, and he had agreed to it whole hartedly. Now, at seventeen, it didn’t seem real. However, his father was still adamant that on Edward’s eighteenth, he was to join him there on the platform. Not during the day, but at night. His father shift starts at 8. Given Edwards liking for trains (it had waned from a love as he grew up), he could probably have got himself excited if his father was Station Master, or Conductor, or even, perhaps announcer, but his father was simply a Sweeper. His father’s job was to clean the station. Edward slumped down in the chair at his desk, and tried to work out why his father was so insitant that on the day of his eighteenth birthday Edward was to go with him to his station, and to help him in his work. It made no sense. Perhaps it was his father being all sentimental about the fact that Edward was now all grown up. Edward paused in his fury to contemplate this a little. Though it appeared to make sense, he was 17. Being angry is what he did best.

They had the argument several times in the months up to Edward’s birthday. Though Edward was always angry about his father’s inability to see his point of view, his father was soft, gentle, but firm. Edward got continuiously confused by his fathers attitutde. Edward was never punished for these arguments, and his father would always be the one to appologise. Usually by leaving a bacon sandwich outside his son’s door. A tradition that had started when Edward was about 9, at the time when parents start loosing the point of view of the child, as they slowly begin building their own world-view. It was his father’s way of saying sorry, and it had sort of stuck. When the appology was accepted, Edward would come down stairs and thank him for the bacon sandwich. There was an awkward time when Edward was fourteen, as he, like many teenagers, became irrationally concerned with the plight of pigs and other animals that died so that Edward could eat, and though his father understood the position on general principles, and had adjusted his main meals so that they were vegatarian, still the appology came in the form of a bacon sandwich.

Edward was sat on their sofa, with his books spread all around him. He was meant to be revising, but what he was mostly doing was watching day-time television, and shading in his doodle. He was idly contemplating wether or not there was a point to have the argument one last time with his father. Tonight was his last night being seventeen, and he felt that it was his duty to make his point heard. There was a knock at the door, and Edward unearthed himself from his paper, pencils, empty plates and books. Stood on the doorstep was two policemen, both with their hats tucked under arms. “Edward Bartholemew Stanley?” said the first policeman, holding up a warrant card. Edward glanced at it, not really knowing what one was meant to look like, but noting that it had the badge that he’d seen on television, and a side that had a picture of the man holding it, identifying him as a sargent. “Yes?”.

“Can we come in?”

Edward paused. It was one of those requests that make most people’s hearts sink, and for no reason at all, begin feeling guilty. “Sure, right this way” He showed them through to their small livingroom, and began piling his books up to clear the sofa, and guestured for them to sit on it.

“umm, would you like a cup of tea?”

“No, thank you Mr. Stanley. Perhaps you’d better sit down.” Edward’s legs gave out from under him, and he collapsed into his seat.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your father was involved in a traffic accident….”

“Is he okay?” Edward cut accross the sargent, not really wanting him to finish.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you that your father was pronounced on the scene.”

The words were like a physical blow. Edward’s world stopped. The Sargent talked on, giving spars details about the accident, about how the man in the car had had a heart-attack, and how the car had careered into Edward’s Father.

“Is there anyone you would like us to call?”

“Huh?” said Edward. Still trying to process the information.

“Is there anyone you would like us to call?”

Edward paused. There was no one. He had no aunts or uncles, and his mother had died when he was young. “No, I don’t think there is anyone.”

“Do you have anyone we could call for you? A friend perhaps?”

Edward made a wry smile. “Uh, no. I… uh… It was just me and my Dad.”

The sargent said more things, about certificates, and bodies, but they just all sort of washed over automaton Edward. He showed them to the door, thanked them for their time, and smiled as he closed the door. For a moment, he stood looking at the closed door, and then he sank to the floor, sobbing.

It was dark when Edward finally surfaced from his malaise. He had the feeling that he needed to find the important documents, though he wasn’t really sure what they were. He opened the cupboard under the stairs, where his father kept all the important things like the passports. Everything in little shoe-boxes, the ends of which were labelled. As he read them, he found two that he picked out. One entitled “Funeral”, and the other entitled “Edwards 18th”. He also noted that there three other boxes, labelled “Edwards 19th”, “Edwards 20th”, and “Edwards 21st”. For some reason the boxes made him smile, thinking about how organised his dad was, and how it was going to be difficult to deal with everything without him. Edward carried the boxes back to the coffee table, and while looking at them, cried some more.

The box entitled “Funeral” seemed to have everything in it that he would need. Instructions on which funeral director to call,  an insurance policy that was going to pay for the funeral, a list of telephone numbers that needed to be called. He noticed that two of the numbers were his primary and secondary schools. There was something odd about his Father thinking that far ahead. There was also the name of a Lawer, presumably where his father has left his will. Edward picked up the phone and called the funeral director. They sympathised with his loss, and assured him that they had his Father had left them instructions, and that they would take care of things. They would also make all the phone-calls for him, if he wished. Edward said that that would be helpful, and after hanging up, decided that he would spend the rest of the day in bed.

The funeral fell on Edwards 18th. A car picked him up at 10, and drove slowly through the streets. Old men took their hats off as the cars passed, and some younger ones did as well. Edward didn’t notice. The funeral was a short service at the church, though Edward never remembered his father ever speaking of a faith, though the Vicar, the Rev’d McKenzie seemed to know both Edward and his Father, though he guessed that was his job. There were maybe 12 people there, Edward recognised none of them.  He stood by the side of the grave for a long time after the end of the service. All of the people had told him how sorry they were, and how good a man his father was. He was vaugly aware of two people who stood a long way off from the funeral, but obviously there to watch. One of which seemed to have dreads, the other a long black coat. They stayed much longer than the others, but even they eventually left. He stood their looking at the mound of earth. He wanted to scream, he wanted to yell. He wanted to vent at his father that it wasn’t fair. Above all, he wanted his father to be there. To put his arm on his shoulder, and to tell him that it was going to be okay.

Edward sat at home watching the darkness role in. The house seemed oddly silent. Though he was often here on his own, it was the expectation that his father was going to come in through the door any moment, and call a hello. His old brown work coat still stood by the door. Suddenly there was a knock at the door, causing Edward to jump. “Taxi for Stanley”. Edward frowned. He hadn’t orderd a taxi… but perhaps his father had. Tonight was going to be the night they were going to go to his station. He headed towards the door, ready to tell the taxi that it wasn’t needed, but as he reached the door, he changed his mind. He grabbed his father’s brown coat, and shrugged it on, and headed out to the taxi.

“Eh man, you goin’ to de station?” The dead-locked jamacian smiled broadly at Edward. There was something about him that made him feel at ease. “Yes, Please”.

“Sure ting. It say here it be your biig night”

“pardon?”

“It say here dat you is a man today. You is de man of de house”

Between everything, Edward had quite forgotten that today was his eighteenth. It was probably written on the taxi driver’s call sheet. “Uhh… Yeah”

“Congratulation man”

“Thank you”

The taxi drove through the town, and out into the countryside. It drove along for what seemed like a long time in silence, then turning off down a single-track road, with grass growing in the middle. Edward frowned, this didn’t seem to be the right way. Who would put a station way out here? Of course, his previous memories of the place were from when he was seven years old, so who was he to argue. The taxi driver pulled to a stop, and his the head-lights he could see the outline of a train station. Around it the grass grew wild, brambles intruded onto the path, and the big metal gates seemed rusted. Edward got out, feeling a little unsure of himself, and not really knowing why he was here. Forgetting himself, he wandered upto the gates that had been chained shut, thought the padlock seemed brand new. The entire place seemed shut up tight.

“De keys be in your pocket”

Edward jumped. The taxi-driver smiled at him. “Dat’ll be five pounds please. Dat will also be in your pocket. De breast pocket.”

“How do you….?” Edward asked while finding the note in the breast pocket of his fathers coat.

“Dat’s your fathers coat. He always stop on de way back and get money for de next time, and he put it in dere. ” Edward handed the money to the taxi driver, and nodded. It sounded like his father.  The taxi-driver was also correct about the keys in the pocket. It was a large metal circle, with keys all around it. He eventually found the one that unlocked the padlock, and pulled the chain free, opening the gates. They made a loud scraping, screeching noise, and Edward made a mental note to get some oil for them. He put the keys back in his pocket and headed up the stairs to the platform. In the darkness, the metal pillars seemed to be hideous shapes, and the shadows seemed to move. Edward looked around in the dark. There must be a light switch somewhere. He looked around, and saw a box on the wall. Edward wandered towards it, and found it locked. He pulled out the keys out. He eventually found the one he needed, and made a mental note to labell the keys. The box revealed rows of switches, and one large switch on the left. They were unlabelled, which angered Edward somewhat. If this was his fathers’ job, and he was so organised at home, why on earth was this so complicated? Edward threw the large switch, and there was the buzz of elecricity, and the lights turned on over the platform. It was something directly out of victorian times. Vaulted metal pillars with curly detailing. There was only the one line comming into the station, so the platform stretched out infront of him. To his right was a small coffee shop, with the chairs stacked on the tables, there was a ticket-booth and turn style to the right, and behind him there was a small hut with the word “Janitor” written on it. Edward fumbled with his bunch of keys and opened the door. The keys were begining to become familiar now. Each key was different, and each lock seemed to obviously only fit a single key.  He opened it and felt for a light-switch by the door. The small light fizzed into life above him. Resting on the table, in red birthday paper, was a broom. It was obviously a broom. Edward guessed that there was only so many ways you could wrap a broom, but however you did it, it was still going to be a broom. He reached out for the tag. “To Edward, I hope you like your present, Love Dad”.  Edward frowned, confused. His father had always been strange, but it was unlike him to just get him a broom. There may have been some speach or something that went with the broom. Some form of explenation. He picked it up, and unwrapped it. It was a good broom, well made. There was probably some anectdote about looking after your broom, and about buying a good quality one. He hugged it to himself, and just imagined that his Father had said all those things that made him glow. He closed his eyes, and imagined his father’s simple smile, the one that said that he was proud of him, and that he loved him. “Thank you dad” He said. The words seemed inadequate somehow, but there was very little else he could say. He brushed a tear from his face, and decided to take his brush out for a spin.

In his mind’s eye Edward and his dad sweeped the platform. Laughing and joking, his father giving advice about how to hold the broom, his father continually refusing to tell Edward what it was that was so important about him being here. Edward smiled and laughed with the memory of his father, and before long he had swepped the platform clean, and just for good measure, he swepped the steps too. He didn’t remember a number to tell his Job that his father had passed away, and so there were people who would be expecting the job to be done. In his father’s memory, he wanted to do a good job. He put the broom away, and filled a bucket with some water, and added some soap. He began cleaning the windows of the cafe. There was something odly theraputic about it.

“Good Evning Charlie,” came a voice from outside, and then an embarrassed pause. “Umm… Hello?” the voice called. Edward had forgotten that his Father had a name. Charlie. He’d heard it twice today, but he couldn’t remember having heard it before today.

“Hello?” Edward called back. A woman in her mid-forties rounded the corner. She was waring floral-print dress, and a wide-brimmed hat with pins that kept her hair up. She had a round face, red cheeks, and eyes that sparkled. She seemed to glide, rather than walk, and in a way that Edward couldn’t realy put his finger on, very beautiful.

“Edward?” she said. He nodded. “I’m Molly. I’m so sorry to hear about your father.” Edward nodded. “Thank you. I uh… didn’t have a number… ” he said by way of explaining. Molly nodded, and touched his arm. “It’s okay, pumpkin. Would you like a cup of tea?”

“I just got to finish these windows…”

She smiled. “Like Father like son.”

She unlocked the cafe, and began turning the lights on, and opening up the cafe. Edward guessed that that meant that there must be a train arriving, but it must be getting in late. It was nearly 10 o’clock, and it was going to take at least half an hour for the cafe to be ready. Edward busied himself with preparing the station, and making sure it was clean. His father would have wanted it. The windows done, he put the turn-stile barriers down, and then made his way to the cafe.

Molly was just bringing a cup of tea to a table in the middle of the caffee, and a glass of something orange. She sat down opposite him, and smiled. Edward got the sense that Molly was always smiling. “Just time for a quick cuppa before the punters start to arrive huh?”. Edward shrugged. “I’m sorry… I’m not really sure..”

Molly looked at him. “Did you open the box?”.

“The Box?”.

“Yes love, the one your father made for your birthday.”

“No, Ma’am”

“Oh, please call me Molly. Well, in that case, I suppose I’d better give you a few hints. Your going to need to go to the turn-style to give out the tickets. That was your father’s job too.”

“Oh, thanks”. Edward picked up his cup, and made his way towards the door “Bring the cup back” Molly called. He nodded, and headed towards the little booth. There was a worn seat, and an old brass system for giving out tickets. Each of the tickets were colour-coded, and as Edward looked around the small booth, there was a price list pinned to the wall. “Carpenter and Son’s Rail-Road, Price-List”. Below it was a list of normal faires, Adult, Child, Single, Return, and below this, the price-list got a little weird. Edward wondered how it was that he was going to identify the different types. He didn’t have long to wonder. A man in a long cape and top-hat swining a cane approached the gate. The part of Edward that remembered being seven thought he recognised the man, but hadn’t seemd to have aged at all. The man looked at Edward with a bit of a scowl. “I do not pay”. Edward was a little taken aback by that. “Do you have a card?”. “Don’t you come all cocky with me, do you know who I am?”. Edward confessed that he didn’t, but if the man really did ride for free, then he would have to show Edward some idenfication, or pay the fair. Edward would then gladly refund the money when it was prooven that the man didn’t need to pay. “Do you know who you are dealing with?” the man started. Edward had had enough. It had been a long strange day, and he didn’t need this from some jumped up toff. “Look, Sir, it’s like this. If you want to get into this station, you need a ticked. If I don’t give you a ticket, you can’t get in. If you want to take it up with the manager, well then you can just wait for him to show up, and when he does, I’m sure he will gladly deal with you. However, I don’t think the manager is going to show up before the train does, to it’s up to you. Do you want to get on this train or not? If you do, then pay me for the ticket, if not push off.”  The man in the top-hat looked like he’d been slapped in the face. He reached into his pocket and produced a small wallet, and slid the money over the counter. A glance at the price-list, and Edward gave him a red-coloured ticket, and his change. The man slid through the turn-stile, and onto the platform.  The next man was covered in hair. His beard had grown wild, and he even had thick brown hair on his fingers. “ungh” said the man, holding up one long finger. Edward nodded, and told him the price. The man put a bundle of coins on the desk, and looked hopefully at Edward. Edward smiled and went through them, seperating. As he did so, he tried to explain the different value of the coins, and pointing out that one was a button, and wasn’t really worth anything. The man put that one into a different pocket. Edward handed the man his ticket, and he held it like it was precious. He opened the turn-style, to let him through, but the man seemed scared. Edward left the booth, and went down to unlock the gate, helping the man through. The man looked at him gratefully, and sampered onto the platform. Edward smiled and went back to the booth. The next customer was a woman, in her late forties. She had practical shoes on, and was waring a tweed two-pice suit which made her look much older than her face implied. “Good evening, Sir” she said. She seemed slightly hesitant. “Can I help you miss?”.

“Well, I hope so, I’m here to catch a train.”

“There will be one along in about ten minits”

“Do you know where it’s going?”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I’m afraid I don’t.”

“I have this ticket, it seems… rather odd”. The woman showed him a ticket that matched those he’d been handing out. “It’s one of our’s ma’am. This is definately the place.” He smiled at her, and she smiled back. “Thank you for your help Mr… ”

“Just called me Edward”

“Thank you Edward”

“Any time Miss”

“Mrs…oh, no, I suppose I’m not any more. Miss is fine. Miss DeWit” Edward nodded, and let her through. There was another few customers, each of them strange, but by and large just people trying to catch a train. Some came with luggage, others didn’t.  Some didn’t seem to speak English, but a system of pointing seemed to get most things done. There was a whistle of a steam train, and the sound of air brakes as an old steam train came into the station. Edward waited by the gate for any last-minit customers, and when he heard the guards man’s whistle, he locked up, and went to see the train pull out of the station. It still gave him the thrill it used to when he was seven. He smiled, and leaned on a post. “Thank you, Dad”. he said. “It’s a wonderful sight” said Molly, at his elbow. She was carry a tray full of cups. “Your dad never brought them back either.” Edward smiled. “So what do I do know?” “Well, you lock up, I suppose.” Molly carried the tray into the cafe, and turned the lights off. She must have started closing up the cafe a little before the train arrived, because all the chairs were on the table. She turned off the lights, said good-bye and headed off into the night. Edward took a last walk around the station, checking for any stragglers he supposed, but if he was honest, he was reluctant to go home to the empty house. Eventually, he’d walked all around the station, and had checked and double-checked every door. Finally, he turned off the lights, and walked through the gates, pulling them shut and locking them.  He looked around at the dark night, which some-how didn’t seem so dark any more, and started the walk home.

Epilogue

Edward sat in his room, looking at the box. It was tied with a piece of string with a single bow. He pulled it open, and lifted the lid. Inside was a very old piece of paper, and he unrolled it. It was a tittle deed, for a small plot of land, and the building that was built upon it. Edward smiled, and finally understood his father’s birthday present.

~Black Xanthus

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Interval

The black van sat at the side of the long single-track road. The two men in the front seat were busy staring out the main window. An acqusation-filled silence passed between the two men. The driver, a tall black man, with dread-locks and a once-colourfull hat was resting his feet either side of the steering wheel. His passenger, a man dressed in black as a fasion statement, was turning the road map round and round in his hand.

“It’s simply not there” said the man in black.

“Uh huh”. the driver replied, the tinest hint of an accent hidden in his voice.

“How can we be on a road that isn’t on a map, having come off a road that isn’t on the map, and isn’t there when we go back to find it.”

“You act surprised. Like this was the first time things didn’t make sense.”

The noise of chains being pulled over the floor came from the back of the man, and a soft thud of a fist against a wall. The men glanced at each other, their argument forgotten.The driver took the map, and turned it in his hands. Eyes looking for something that might give them a clue as to what had happened.

“You know, man, perhaps were looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps dis isn’t all about what isn’t dere, but what we tink should be dere. ”

“I’m not following”

“Per’aps what we is not seeing, is the fact that were not where we tink we are.”

“I could have told you that. If we knew where we were we wouldn’t be lost. ”

“Nah, chill man. Per’aps what we’re missin’ is dat dere is no where for us to be. Per’aps for de first time in ages all we got to do is to chill ‘n’ drive. Put on some tunes and enjoy.”

The man in black raised an eyebrow. The soft clanking of a chain punctuating the silence. The man looked over his shoulder, knowing that he couldn’t see anything, just the metal panel that separated the front from the back. “Relax huh?”

The driver watched the shadow pass over his companions face. The man in black, James, hadn’t been off-duty since they met. “You should at least catch some shut-eye. It ain’t like we’re goin’ to get there for another few hours.” James nodded, and opened his door, and stepped out of the black van. He pulled open the side door to reveal a thick black curtain set a little bit back from the door. He stood in the space between the door and the curtain and the door, and slide the door closed behind him. The only light beyond the curtain was provided by a tiny yellow led light. Just enough to illuminate the bundle of blankets in the corner. Around it was a white line, glowing with faint-green illuminessence, and the far side of that line was a bed, placed as close to the white line as possible. James lay down in it and stared at the pile of blankets, his eyes picking out the dull glint of of the chains running from the pile to the re-enforced metal sides. The pile moved agitatedly, and a tear roled down his cheek. “It’s okay baby, it’s going to be okay. I’m going to make it better. Just like I promsied.” The pile murmed softly, and curled up smaller. There was a soft lurch as the van began moving again, and the muffled sounds of reggae comming from the cab.

James wanted so much to reach out his hand, to give some comfort, to try to explain what was going on. Yet what could you say? After all this time searching, they were no closer. They knew more, but no closer. It seemed like they couldn’t catch a break, like the odds were stacked against them. They were just two people in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He thought about Marcus, their strange driver. He had some beef of his own, his own reasons for being on this insane road trip. He hoped that there was some answers somewhere, some light at the end of the tunnel that wasn’t an on-comming train. The bundle murmmered softly. James couldn’t hold the tears back any more. He’d been holding them back for far too long. He sobbed quietly, and then it was like the flood-gates had been opened, and he burried his face into his pillow and cried.

Marcus tilted his head at the quiet sobs comming through the wall. He nodded grimly to himself, and glanced upwards. The dirt round rounded a corner, and joined an empty high-way. Marcus slid the van onto it, and began the long drive south.

~BlackXanthus

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