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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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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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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