Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
This is so I can raise a glass to you and salute you, with a drink you helped me to pay for!
I like the sound of the idea, and hope you do, too!
There wasn't much going for a home-grown church. So, could it be that the decision to found what became the Mormon faith was based on a desire to start a local church which would be aimed towards the American way of life?
Of course, for it to be truly local it would need some authority. So what better than a sacred text found and translated in America by a local boy?
Unfortunately they chose to use Joseph Smith who allowed his imagination to run away with him and the rest is, as they say, history.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
My wife has made a Christmas cake, we have several bottles of Champagne laid in and some bottles of red wine, some white, some beers and lagers, some fruit juices and cordials and plenty of Cola and lemonade. We are expecting guests for our Christmas celebrations.
We also have a Christmas pudding, some Paski Sir Ewe's milk cheese (to die for!) fromCroatia and all the makings of a Christmas feast.
We will be making contributions to charities that look after the homeless in our town. Not everyone is as fortunate as us and we all need to do just a little bit to help alleviate the suffering of others. And in that way we can ensure that there is some Christ in Christmas.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, folks!
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Let's take two example.
Mr Jones decides that he will have a carnal relationship with his girlfriend.
That is the business of Mr Jones and his girlfriend. Nobody else. Nobody else is involved.
However, if Brother Jones decided that he will have a carnal relationship with his girlfriend, oh dear! Who are involved here?
There's Brother Jones and his girlfriend. The Elders Qurom President, the Bishop, plus his two councillors, the two Home Teachers of Brother Jones, and if she is from a different Ward, her Bishop and his two councillors, the girlfriend's Home Teachers, her Visiting Teachers, perhaps, then there is the Stake President and his two councillors. All will, in one way or another, become involved in investigating the fact that two adults decided to become involved in a carnal relationship, with perhaps disfellowship and/or excommunication as the end result. Then there's the PEC and the Ward Council Meeting, with all of the people who attend those meetings.
Crazy way to treat two adults, isn't it?
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The advert in a Sunday tabloid received 500 enquiries, 100 of which resulted in orders which quickly exhausted the limited print run of 100.
Twenty were never read. Two were damaged in the post and never arrived at their destination. The remaining seventy-eight were read with lesser or greater levels of comprehension. But only one copy was read through properly and the implications of the contents fully digested and completely understood by the reader.
Andrew Grey. Even his name mocked him. A. Grey. “Grey by name, grey by nature” might have been said of him. If anyone had ever taken any interest in him.
Because nobody had ever taken any interest in Grey whatsoever. It was almost as if he possessed some kind of preternatural ability to suck the vitality and the interest out of the air that surrounded him. Like a self-harming Harry Potter Dementor, in fact...
There are some people with that ability who do not notice, because they are of limited intelligence and fill their empty, meaningless lives with hobbies that seem ridiculous obsessions to other people, yet are of all-consuming interest to themselves. Such as collecting different types of burnt matches, for example.
Yet, sadly, in the case of Grey, he was of reasonable intelligence. He knew precisely what he was. The antithesis of all things even remotely of interest. He was not a bore. For how could zero bore anyone?
In school he was very rarely bullied. Why would anyone bully a cipher, a nothing? He was not bullied because he was not even worth bullying. Nobody played with him, either. He was never picked for games, rarely asked to answer questions. To nothing, went nothing.
His father died when Grey was ten and when Grey was 16 he was able to walk straight into a job as a clerk in a large insurance company. He was fortunate that it was at a time of full employment and the company was expanding and needed to take on anyone that it could find. So ironically, even nothing could fill a space.
He had his own office and received annual pay rises because a computerised salary system reduces all people to zeros and ones, even a cipher such as Grey.
And because he was not noticeable even during times of major staff reductions his position was safe. He did his job competently, so nobody noticed him.
He had been a bitter disappointment to his mother so when his mother decided to marry an Australian businessman and move with him to Australia, when Grey had just turned 17, she decided not to take him with her.
In order to salve her conscience she made their small terraced house over to him. The fact that, in his mind, his own mother had turned against him, made him hate her. So perhaps not unnaturally, he declined to see her off at the airport.
She wrote one letter to him, but he did not bother to open it. Instead he wrote: “Return to Judas” on the envelope and sent it back. He never heard from her again.
Some 20 years had passed by. Grey had liked to spend his evenings walking through the old part of town, but a group of youths so drunk that even nothing seemed like an attractive target, had beaten him and mugged him.
He had not been out walking since that incident five years previously, He spent his time broodingly watching TV, listening to the radio and reading. He had always loved reading. For a time he was able to lose himself within the book, forgetting that he was nothing.
He saw the advert for the book “Use the Spells of the Ancient Ones” in one of the Sunday newspapers that he had delivered every week.
The advert fascinated him. Usually he ignored such adverts but someone who had mastered the skill of copywriting had written the copy. And had written it well.
“Are YOU Sick to death of being ignored? Bothered by the fact that other people seem to get all the glory, all the praise, or can do what they want, when they want? Whilst you are ignored or even reviled by your peers and family members?”
It hooked him, he found it intriguing. He read on and was immediately struck by the injustice of his situation. His miserable existence. The mother who had abandoned him. The gang of youths who had robbed him of his one pleasure of going on walks through the ancient streets of his home town.
Hot tears born of a misery that had festered within him for all of his life coursed down his cheeks. He must have that book! He sent his order and cheque off in time to catch the one Sunday collection of mail.
Four days later he tore open the padded envelope in a frenzy of anticipation. And he read through the ancient and difficult text several times.
If he had any colleagues to share his lonely workday with, they might have noticed that he was less grey, somewhat less of a cipher.
The one spell that fascinated him above all others was: “A defence against footpads and cutpurses.” From his understanding of the spell, if someone came towards you to mug you, then you intoned the words of the mantra that was contained in the spell and a glowing green Demon appeared above your head to frighten them off.
Madness? Perhaps. Yet Grey KNEW the spell would work. Trembling with excitement he left his house early one evening and walked to the part of town where he had been mugged. He doubted that he would meet the gang that had robbed him five years previously, but he wanted to find someone. Anyone for him to take his revenge on.
He was aware that since he had last been into town in the evenings, things had changed. And not for the better, in his opinion.
He had always liked window shopping. That was no longer possible as virtually every shop had now had to put up steel security shutters to protect the stock from what used to be called “smash and grab” robbers, but which were now called “ram raiders” where criminals used stolen cars to smash through the shop frontages.
After three hours of wandering around he began to feel tired, he was thinking about going home when he heard a commotion from a side street. He increased his pace, yet did not run.
Three young men came out of the narrow street. One looked at him and shouted: “You ain’t seen us, right? If you grass us up, I’ll ****ing kill you, right?
This was it! Grey’s moment to test out his hypothesis! He intoned the words of the mantra. Almost instantly the group of young men and the area around them was transfixed with a bright and sickening green light!
The leader of the group screamed like a terrified child and the sudden foetid stench that emanated from him was testament to the fact that he had fouled himself.
He and his two companions ran off, whimpering and gibbering with fear.
As the green light faded, Grey chuckled to himself. The laughter sounded strange in his ears. Not that he laughed often, to be sure...
There was nothing about the incident in the local paper the next day, but then Grey had not expected there to be. Seeing a glowing green Demon appear over the head of someone that you were trying to mug or frighten would not be anything any self-respecting would-be thief would want to tell anyone about!
Grey could not wait to go out again. He fretted all day at work until it was time to go out and see what he could do that evening. He could not eat due to his excitement and instead decided to make do with a cup of tea.
This time he did not have long to wait. He came across two young men who had been trying to sexually assault a young girl. When Grey arrived on the scene the girl was able to make her escape and ran off, when Grey told her to.
The older and larger of the youths turned his flabby and decidedly unhealthy looking face towards him.
He looked at Grey with utter hatred. “You stopped my fun. I will punish you for that. That’s right, isn’t it?” He looked towards his slightly younger companion.
His companion, who was a slightly-built male, copied, apishly,: “Yeah. That’s right. Punish.”
“You think so, do you?” Said Grey, a hint of mockery in his voice. He intoned the mantra and the bright green glow illuminated the area, once again.
This time the effect on the 'audience' was even more dramatic. Years of having his mother stuff him full of everything that was bad for him had given the larger youth a very badly diseased heart. The report of the pathologist to the coroner said, in part: “I have rarely, if ever, seen a heart in such a poor condition in a person of such a youthful age. Much of the muscle material had already turned to fat.”
He had looked towards Grey, his eyes wide with fear. He screamed and his heart failed in an instant and he fell on his companion who had been rooted trembling to the spot by fear, knocking him out and pinning him to the ground.
Grey laughed as he turned in the street. Almost every business in the street had replaced their shop frontages with steel shutters. Except for one. A bank on the corner of the street. The frontage was made up of mirrored glass.
Grey suddenly realised that he had failed to fully understand the spell. The purpose of the spell was not to manifest a glowing green demon above the head of the person intoning the mantra.
The purpose of the spell was to transform the person intoning the mantra into a glowing green demon.
As soon as Grey saw his ghastly and utterly horrible reflection in the mirrored glass, he collapsed to the pavement, dead before he hit, the green glow fading rapidly as he returned to human form.
This time the story DID make front-page news in the local evening paper. And the nationals picked up on it the next day, too.
A girl had flagged down a police car and told them that a man had stopped two men who had been trying to assault her. The man had told her to run away, and she had done so. Not long afterwards, she had heard a terrible scream. She had looked back and had seen a weird, eerie green light in the area that she had ran from.
Two officers had taken the girl to the police station, whilst two others rushed to the scene. They found two men who were dead and another man who was unconscious, trapped beneath the body of his monstrously obese, dead companion.
When he regained consciousness, the survivor began raving and screaming about a green demon. The police were convinced that he had taken hallucinogenic drugs, a theory that was scuttled by the negative toxicological reports on both him and the two dead men.
Had they undertaken DNA tests on Grey, they might have found some rather remarkable results. But they didn’t and his death was ascribed to Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, brought on by fear.
In a cottage in rural Scotland, many, many miles from the nearest town, the only person who had really understood the book and the implications of its contents put his copy down on an elderly oak table. He spoke to his companion, a large, friendly-looking black cat, as he stroked her back. “Puss, I only hope nobody tries any of those spells. This book would be a very dangerous book if it fell into the wrong hands.”
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
How to describe Haycock County? Imagine the typical small towns in old episodes of The Twilight Zone. Then add something from one of the more bizarre episodes from the X Files and perhaps even something from The Land That Time Forgot. Excepting that the Dinosaurs in Haycock County were the fossilised attitudes of the majority of the inhabitants. And you might have some idea about what kind of a place Haycock County is.
I avoid going into what passes for the town of Haycock, the pretty much futile seat of government for the county for as long as I can. I only visit the town when I need to call at the bank to collect money from my Veteran’s pension –You know it, Vietnam, the war nobody cares to remember but that some of us can’t choose to forget? (damn! That sound like a Country Western song title, doesn’t it?) and to collect my supplies from what masquerades as the Haycock Mart. The bank only had one elderly PC and the Haycock Mart was… well, it just was. There was also a school of sorts, where the children of Haycock County were taught whatever crap the feckless teaching staff could be bothered to teach them.
My route into town passes by the Bligh farm. When I was driving back home, I saw the crows wheeling high over the top meadow, the one close to the farmhouse. I noticed the hulking form of Billy-Boy Bligh, outside the farmhouse. I sighed. Whenever I saw Billy-Boy Bligh I knew there would be trouble.
I was driving along the semi-dirt track that passes for the main road into Haycock Town itself, and I swung my truck off the road onto the farm track up to the Bligh place. Bligh Farm –secretly referred to as Blight Farm by most of the inhabitants of Haycock County, and not without good reason- squatted sullenly on a ridge of land above the town.
It was several years since I had last felt it necessary to visit the Bligh place, I had been able to successfully avoid it, but the crows gave me an uneasy, bad feeling. Crows are good people. I guess that’s why they were warning me about Billy-Boy.
Some background information on the Bligh family. They had been part of Haycock County since the very early days. Originally the Blighs had been part of what had been the intelligentsia of Haycock County. From what I could make out that meant a group of self-selected local worthies who had gotten together in various locations in the town, talked and spat on the floor. The “intelligentsia” part had come because they had managed to hit the spittoons and missed the floor, themselves and each other more often than the average Haycockian. Perhaps I am being harsh. Though I doubt it.
Jackson Bligh had been a newly-qualified lawyer back in the first decade of the 18th Century, when he settled down on farmland just outside the recently established town of Haycock. From what I could make out, nothing noteworthy had happened to the Bligh family until Zebulon Bligh came back from a stint in the US Calvary, having fought the Indians. He had been known as a bright young man, full of high ideals. Nobody had been able to figure out why he had joined the US Cavalry. Except that he liked riding and had a youthful enthusiasm for adventure. He had become ill with a fever that lasted many weeks, after he was wounded fighting a tribe somewhere out in the West. The US Cavalry invalided him out as unfit for duty.
When he came back, the people noticed that although he seemed to be the same Zebulon Bligh they had sent off to join the US Cavalry, an important part of him had been left behind.
He developed the notion that he was much better than everyone else and he began to become more and more isolated from the other inhabitants of Haycock County.
Zebulon decided to create “a unique and important experiment in social living.” In short he decided that he and his family would experiment with intermarriage and polygamy. Rumour has it that Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith had heard about the Bligh experiment and had enthusiastically taken it up for his newly established church.
Several others had copied Zebulon’s group marriage experiment and had introduced it to their own flocks. All with varying degrees of disappointment, heartache and humiliation. Preachers were tarred and feathered. And the leader of the Mormon cult, Joe Smith, had reportedly died in a fire fight for asking the wrong married woman to join his flock of wives, so Zebulon’s experiment even caused trouble for people hundreds of miles away from Haycock County.
The Bligh family experiment had been used for a study by a university back in the sixties. It had been called: “Bligh or Blight? A report into the genetically degenerative effects of the Zebulon Bligh ‘unique and important experiment in social living’ and the effects on subsequent generations of the family.”
Apparently the author of the study came back to Haycock County once too often. The people of the town believed that The Harpies of Haycock County dived down from the sky and had eaten him alive. But I didn’t believe that. Not for one moment. I suspected that if anyone had devoured him, it had been the Bligh family, and that his remains (such as they would have been!) could have been buried somewhere up on the ridge of Bligh Farm. Or even in the private cemetary Old Zebulon Bligh had established in a remote piece of the Bligh farm lands, unregistered, of course...
Oh. You want to know about the Harpies of Haycock County? That's a story that had been used since the early days of the settling of the area. Used to explain all sorts of mysterious events. And to frighten children into being good. And there's something else about the Harpies of Haycock County that I'll tell you about, soon...
When my truck rattled and bumped up the track to the farm, I saw Billy-Boy standing over something on the ground. He was waving a rifle around. He looked like he was drunk. Or maybe it was the inbreeding? Hard to tell.
I felt a twinge of pity for him. He was the product of 200 years of close inbreeding. Fact was it was a miracle that any of the last batches of Bligh kids had survived at all. According to rumour, many of them hadn’t. But -hey? Would you check up on them? I don’t blame Sheriff Harter and his predecessors for steering well clear of the Blighs.
Billy-Boy was a shambling wreck of a man. Every time I thought of his name I felt like laughing. I mean, who in the hell would want to call their child Billy-Boy Bligh? The same idiots who had decided to call his twin sister Billy-Girl Bligh, that’s who… Thank God, the family was dying out. Not as fast as many would have liked, but still, it was something, I suppose. Billy-Boy and Billy-Girl were the last rotten fruits of a poisonous family tree.
“Hey. That you, Dixon?”
I got out of my truck slowly and acknowledged that I was, indeed, myself.
“How are you Billy-Boy?”
“Not too bad. Doing better than sis, mind.”
“Oh, really? What’s wrong with sis?” I hoped I sounded sincere enough. I guess I had done, as he had not shot me with the old rifle he was holding. Billy-Boy was very, very protective when it came to the subject of his sister, Billy-Girl.
“She’s ill. Got the Little Family Problem, you know?”
The Little Family Problem? I thought. That would be the weird genetic disorder that basically shut down all of the body organs of the Bligh women, organ-by-organ, until they died. I merely nodded in response to Billy-Boy.
“But I reckon that I have the problem just about beat.” I did not like the way he said that. This was probably what the crows were telling me about.
“How’s that, Billy-Boy?” Speak softly, don’t antagonise him. I remember hearing about what he had done to Delany LeBouf in the Haycock Pub. They never did find poor Delany’s right hand. And Delany has resided in the Sumner County Mental Hospital these past ten years. Nobody had ever figured out what Delany had said or done to upset Billy-Boy like that. My theory is that Delany had, in a fit of drunken stupidity, told Billy-Boy exactly how ugly and misshapen his sister was.
Usually you can see an ugly person and say something like: “Yes, but they have nice eyes.” Or “they have such a nice personality.” There was nothing nice or even faintly redeeming about Billy-Girl. She not only looked ugly, when you looked at her you knew that her ugliness went way beyond soul deep. People in Haycock County think that Billy-Boy is dangerous. Perhaps he is. But I don’t believe he is nearly half as dangerous as his sister, Billy-Girl.
Billy-Boy licked his lips, eyeing me up and down. “You are a man of honour, aren’t you, Dixon? I mean, you served your country and all, over in Vietnam, right?
That wasn’t strictly true –the part about serving my country, but I let it pass. “Yes Billy, I fought in Vietnam. A lot of us did. Many people still seem unwilling to think about it and what it did to us. But you, you are different, somehow. You seem to understand what we went through. And I am grateful for that.” And strangely enough, I was.
“Oh, that’s ‘cos I read Zebulon Bligh’s diaries about been in the US Cavalry. He was in the US Cavalry, you know?”
“Yeah, I know that Billy-Boy. Fact is, I served with some members of the US Cavalry in Vietnam.”
“They don’t have horses now, though.” That was a statement, rather than a question from Billy. I nodded in reply.
“Billy-Boy, you said that you could beat Billy-Girl’s problem? How is that?”
He licked his thickened lower lip before speaking, dropping his voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “I am going to make a human sacrifice.”
Oh, shit, no. There’d been reports and whispered rumours that the Bligh family had long, long ago left the Baptist church... but -human sacrifice? That surprised even me. A think trickle of sweat ran the length of my back. No wonder the Crows had been anxious for me to stop by. People misjudge Crows. And they’d know that I’d have to try to put a stop to this.
“Who you going to use, Billy-Boy?”
“Come and see. I got the little feller out back.”
I followed Billy-Boy round the side of the large, tumbledown house. In the back yard I saw a small, begrimed figure. It was staked out on a long rope. “Hey. Dixon, meet the boy. He is going to help me save my sister.”
At that moment I heard the mooing, bawling noise that passed for the voice of Billy-Girl emanating from somewhere within the house. Billy-Boy turned to me and said: “Don’t you even think about taking the boy with you, Dixon, if you got ideas of saving him. Because I know where you live. And I could sacrifice you, just as well as the boy.”
He shambled off, quickly, towards the house.
I looked down at the boy. His eyes were dulled with fear. He said in a resigned tone of voice: “You aren’t going to be able to help me, are you?”
I carefully replied: “Don’t be too certain, son. How in the hell did you come to be here?”
“My folks were driving along the State Highway just North of Haycock County when a rotten tree fell on the automobile. Mom, Dad and my little Sister were all killed outright, I escaped with a few bruises. Trouble is I have no other family and the old Judge living in the town signed adoption papers giving me to Billy-Boy and his sister.” He began to cry.
Shit. Now I knew what had happened. Judge Bannerman, that would have been. Some people believe he had been born senile. There was certainly no way that he should have signed those papers. And Billy-Boy had almost certainly known that. Though there was no reason for the boy to have known.
“What’s you name, son?”
“Peter Hewlett. You?”
“David Dixon. I am going to get you out of here, somehow.”
“You’d better hurry! Billy-Boy is the Harpy Master! He told me that! He’s going to stake me out and leave me out for the Harpies of Haycock County to come and kill me!” He was becoming hysterical.
“Stop that! Stop that right this minute! No Harpy is going to come anywhere near you.” I was going to say more, but held back, as Billy-Boy was returning.
“Peter here tells me you are going to leave him out for the Harpies. Sounds like a good plan, to me. How you going to get them to come down, Billy-Boy?”
He glared at Peter before turning his gaze on me. “I am going to keep his staked out and then, I am gonna cut his throat! The smell of blood will attract the Harpies and they’ll come and eat him.”
I sucked my teeth, feigning doubt. “You sure about that, Billy-Boy? I’d heard how the Harpies don’t like carrion. Now Crows, on the other hand, they do like carrion. But Harpies? They are different. They have to have their meat so fresh it, that it's still alive. You never heard that?” I made the last part of that statement puzzled, as if I was shocked that nobody had thought to tell him.
He shook his head. “No. I never hear that. What should I do, then?” Good. He thinks I am conspiring with him. Think, Dixon! You used to be good at that! Think!
“You need to leave him out in the open. The field halfway up your farm track should be OK, I’d guess. Just stake down him with that long piece of rope you got him on, but give him plenty of room to move. The Harpies like a bit of sport from what I have heard. They prefer a living, moving target.”
Billy-Boy was interested in this idea. “Sure. But how do the Harpies know where to go, if they don’t smell blood?”
“Don’t worry, Billy-Boy. The Harpies will know where to go. They always know where to go.” He was clearly howling mad. For some reason I thought about poor Sheriff Harter, probably sat in his office in town or more likely in the coffee shop across the street, blissfully unaware of what was happening.
“Well, Billy-Boy I guess I’d better be going. Got to put the groceries away.”
He nodded, lost in his thoughts, wandering back to the house.
I whispered: “Peter, listen to me. I’ll bring help for you. Just stay as calm as you can. And try not to be frightened, no matter what you hear tonight, OK? And say nothing to Billy-Boy.”
He whispered in reply: “You are coming back for me?” I nodded and returned to my truck.
Later that evening soon after dark I returned to the Bligh place. Thank God! I found Peter, safe, where I had told Bligh to put him. He was trembling like a leaf as I untied him.
“There were screams from the farm. I heard terrible, horrible screams from Billy Boy and that… that thing of a sister of his. It was her idea to sacrifice me! What has happened?!” He was a little out of it. But there was no wonder to that.
I looked at him. How to tell him? The truth. Same way as I had heard it, all those years ago. “Peter I knew the Harpies would not come to kill you. I also knew that Billy-Boy was not the Harpy Master. Not, as you’d think, because Harpies are mythical creatures, that don't exist. Rather, it was because I am the Harpy Master. When I told the Harpies what Billy-Boy had planned for you, they were very, very angry. We knew that Billy-Boy would be a continuing danger to you, so we knew that they, the Harpies, had to kill him and his sister.”
I called one of the Harpies over. She flew to us. It was Leliali. Peter looked at her and gasped: “But... she is so beautiful! Billy-Boy told me they were ugly, but he was lying! They are so beautiful!” I knew from the way she held her head that Leliali was also rather taken with Peter, so that was part of the battle over.
In the truck driving back to my place I told Peter my story. In a way, it was not totally dissimilar to his. “I am not even an American, Peter. I am English, though I have lived most of my life in America. My father was working for a large British firm; he was the director of their US operation, based in LA. I was of the age that, if I stayed any longer, I knew I would be eligible for the draft into the US Army and sent off to fight in Vietnam.
“It wasn’t my country and it certainly wasn’t my war, so I wanted to fly back to England to stay with friends. But my father would not let me. My mother was weak and my father kept prevaricating and delaying, until one day in the morning post, I got my draft papers. I was scared shitless, let me tell you. But I worked out a plan of escape. I managed to get together enough cash to buy a ticket to Canada. But my father found out about my plans and he told the Military Police about it.”
“The MPs were very good to me, when they came. I remember that one of them, especially, was absolutely furious with my father. He said to him: “Why the hell didn’t you let your son go to Canada, you Limey jackass?” My father mumbled something about military service making a man out of me. The MP muttered something under his breath about better to be a boy in Canada, alive, than coming back as a man in an aluminium box, but I am not sure my father heard him. He made no outward sign of it.
“I was taken for my induction and basic training and then, a shockingly short time later, or so it seemed, I found myself in Vietnam. I was there for nine months until I received a wound that sent me back to the US and I recovered in a military hospital. I went to visit my parents but found out that soon after I had been drafted, they’d gone back to England, without leaving a forwarding address. I never saw them again. Never tried to contact them. Didn't care to.
“I signed up for a twenty year stint in the army, that was finished nineteen years in, when I received a medical discharge due to a helicopter crash. I was lucky. Only three of us survived out of 15.”
“How did you end up here?
“I was driving through, just going from place-to-place, drifting along on my military pension, when I found an old man, lying at the side of the road. I stopped my car and I took him to his home, which was a couple of miles outside of town. His name was Brewster Haycock, the last member of the family that had founded the county and the town two hundred years previously. I nursed him back to health. But there was always something that seemed to niggle at him, something that he wasn’t telling me.
“Eventually, he told me that he was the Harpy Master. He introduced me to Leliali, and the rest of the Harpies. He trained me to become the Harpy Master. And that’s what I am going to do for you, Peter. Train you to be the Harpy Master.”
He said nothing, his eyes still fixed on Leliali. I knew he’d do it, accept the training, I mean. Then he’d take over from me and continue the tradition of Harpy Master of Haycock County.
Later that night, while Peter slept soundly in his new bed, I set fire to Bligh Farm. I didn’t want any questions. After all, Harpies do make a hell of a mess when they feed…
Monday, November 22, 2010
I knew Lisa was dead and that I was dreaming about her. It had been a recurring dream for the past several months. Usually when I awoke it was due to the tears that flowed down my face. This time it was the phone ringing.
When I grabbed the phone from the bedside table all I could hear was hysterical shouting. I tried to get their attention, but whoever was on the phone was so far gone I could make no impact on them. All I could disentangle from the shrieking was that something terrible had happened in Laboratory D5 at the Hansen Institute. I heard the word “Dead” screamed several times before I slammed the receiver down.
I was head of security at the Hansen Institute and the safety of the staff, students and patients at the facility and the attached hospital was my ultimate responsibility. The house I had shared with Lisa was on the other side of the campus from the main buildings that nestled against the mountain just outside Harperville.
I quickly dressed and put on my shoulder holster and gun and decided to use my car to travel the short distance across the campus, with lights and sirens. The hysteria of whoever had made the call had scared me, to be frank. Everyone at the Hansen Institute was a professional in whatever they did, so to rattle one of them that much, something bad must have happened. Something very bad, indeed.
I opened the door with my electronic key and used a tramcart to get to D5. When I arrived, Professor Mikki was waiting for me. He was Head of Research at the centre and was also in charge of the pathology department.
He was leaning against the wall by the door. He looked 100 years past his age. He looked at me and said: “Thank God you are here, Steve.”
“What the hell has happened? An accident? How many are dead?”
He shook his head. “No... not an... accident, Steve. The entire team who were working in D5 are all dead, however. They were Murdered. Every single one of them.”
He looked haunted. “They were cut to pieces, Steve.”
“Everyone? A knife attack?” This couldn’t be right. It sounded impossible.
“No, Steve. Without seeing for yourself, you could not believe. They were not knifed. Hell. Maybe they were. It’s not possible to tell. You see, when I say they were cut to pieces, I mean that they were all quite literally cut into tiny pieces, Small. Like little, tiny pieces. In effect, they have been turned into piles of Human Sushi.”
It was not until I walked through the doors of the outer entrance to D5 with Professor Mikki and saw for myself that I realised Professor Mikki had not been exaggerating. There would have been ten to fifteen people working in the laboratory on the might shift at the time of the attack.
Now they had been turned into nothing put neat piles of Human Sushi, as he had said. In handy, bite-sized morsels.
I felt sick. I turned to the sluice sink on the left-hand side of the room. Professor Mikki screamed: “No!” I saw, just in time that there was a head in the sink. My heart lurched when I recognised the face of my sometime lover, Mary Davenport. She had helped me get over the death of my wife, Lisa. Now I had only been seconds away from vomiting over her mortal remains. Or rather, some of them…
I glanced up at Professor Mikki. There were tears in his eyes. “I know, I know,” he said. “Poor Mary. Poor all of them. The other heads are over there, behind the lockers. I am supposed to be a pathologist. How in the hell am I supposed to be able to try to sort this mess out? They are my friends and colleagues. I know Mary meant a lot to you. Trying to separate and identify their remains would be bad enough, but I have never heard of anything like this! What do I do? What can I do?” He was close to breaking down.
“Nothing.” I said, quietly. “This is not a job for a friend of the people who worked here. We need outsiders who can do the job with professional detachment. No offence to you, Professor Mikki, but I think we need outside help.”
He nodded. “No offence taken, Steve. You were thinking of the police?”
“Not the police. As the Hansen Institute is a Site of Federal Interest under the 2020 SFI act, it’s got to be a job for the FBI. I’ll call them now.”
The two duty officers from the Harper FBI office had been in the FBI for years. They had that careworn expression of people who had seen too much, done too much and been in too many places. The Harper FBI office should have been a nice, sleepy sinecure for them. A place to investigate next-to-nothing and make plans for a well-deserved retirement. Now I had got them out in the middle of the night.
The older of the two, who looked like a veteran of more than one branch of government service, whistled when he saw the contents of D5. “Holy shit! How in the hell are the path boys gonna deal with this?”
“Beats the crap outta me,” his younger companion replied. “Guess they’ll need to do some DNA profiling on all the people who were in the room and then use a Gamma Positive DNA resonance scanner on each piece. It’ll take ages, but it’ll be the only way.”
They used their Personal Satellite Communicators to call their regional office and arrange for the work to be done.
In the meantime, I went over the evidence of what had happened with Professor Mikki.
“Steve, how did this happen?”
“Yes, Professor Mikki, I know what you are getting at. No way out other than through Spinal Corridor 4, we are up against the mountain wall here, so no way of getting through that way. The cameras in the SC4 show nothing.”
“You checked the cameras in D5, of course?”
“I looked at the video records, but the security cameras ceased working at midnight.”
“No, I don’t think so. It looks just as if someone had told them to go into “sleep” mode. They just were not recording.”
“So, we have a mysterious killer who can somehow get past 1,000 staff, murder 15 people and not be seen. Knows the codes to control the security cameras and can chop 15 people up into tiny pieces without anyone noticing that there was anything amiss? This is freaky!”
“You are right, Professor Mikki. It is freaky. Who found the bodies?”
“That was Will Kant. He missed his chess buddy Femmi Matiba at their 3 am break time. He called down, got no reply so he and one of the guys from security went down. They are both under very heavy sedation.”
“FBI will want to interview them, eventually, of course.”
“Yes, of course.”
We parted company with a hug and did not meet up until later that morning. I was feeling like a fish out of water. The FBI had got into full swing and were responsible for investigating the murders of 15 people. I was, I realised, totally superfluous. After all, I was head of security and 15 people had died. Some head of security...
I was sat in my office pretending to work when Professor Mikki tracked me down. By that time he was looking a little better. He accepted my offer of a seat by, as usual, ignoring the seat and sitting on my desk.
“Steve, I have been thinking. That attack was not possible for one person. But technically it was impossible for any person. That could only have been the work of a Mobile Robotic Surgeon.”
“But there are no Mobile Robotic Surgeons!” I replied. “I recall Gort built a prototype, it worked fairly well, but it never really worked quite as well as expected. Something to do with not being able to get the right type of Central Processor Unit. Certainly not one with enough “umph” for the job.”
“Well, with Gort taking a two-year sabbatical to visit relatives in Europe, we can’t ask for his expert help, can we?”
“No, that’s true. Funny, I never thought of Gort as having relatives. He ever mentioned any to you?”
Professor Mikki shook his head. “Not to me. Did you know that Gort had some warped idea about using a human brain as the CPU? My Buddhist principles balked at that idea, let me tell you!
"He was on the point of asking for volunteers to donate their brains, but the Standards and Ethics Committee of the Institute knocked it back. Of course, not long afterwards Gort announced his decision to go and visit his relatives on sabatical. The board of governors could not refuse his request as he didn’t appear to have had a holiday, ever.”
I had never liked Gort, but he had been with Inar Hansen for over 30 years, so he was as much a part of the founding team of the Hansen Institute as Inar or Inar’s daughter, my beloved wife, Lisa and Professor Mikki.
I decided to broach the subject of my dreams about Lisa with Professor Mikki. “Would you think it strange if I told you that I had been dreaming about Lisa?”
He looked round at me, sharply. “You too? I have been dreaming about Lisa, also. What are your dreams?”
Before I could answer he said: “No! Don’t tell me, Steve. Write them down. That’ll be a more scientific approach to this.”
I wrote down my recurring dream and handed it to him. He read it aloud: “I am always with Lisa on a beach, somewhere. She is sad, she points to her head, all she does is point to her head. I feel so sad I awake myself by crying.”
He looked worried. It was several seconds before he began to speak. “I, too, have been dreaming about Lisa. I have seen her in a number of locations. Maybe in the park, at a concert or somewhere similar. It’s been happening for about two months. With my dreams, too, she has problems with her head. Always with her head. But I always feel so sad, as there’s nothing I can do.”
I shivered, even though it was not cold. “My dreams are being haunted by her, Professor Mikki. What can I do?”
He said: “I don’t believe in coincidence, Steve. We both start having very similar dreams about Lisa and then 15 people get killed. Some people, some colleagues, would mock me, but I am sure there must be some kind of link.”
“Could it be ESP, from Lisa?”
“I doubt it, Steve. Technically, Lisa has ceased to exist. She is deader than most, Steve. You recall that when it was discovered that she had Rickenbacker Syndrome she was keen to be allowed to be the first to use the experimental Stasis Unit so that time could be stopped for her, until a cure could be found?”
I shuddered at the thought of what had happened only two years previously, when Lisa had so suddenly and catastrophically fallen ill with Rickenbacker Syndrome. It started out with severe tiredness, which then became muscular weakness and eventual degeneration.
Dr Timmins, who was virtually the family physician, had diagnosed the condition –there are less than five cases each year- and revealed that the prognosis was not good. The disease was invariably fatal, taking anything from six months to two years to cause an agonising death.
It had been Gort’s idea that Lisa could use the experimental stasis unit which had been a brainchild of him and Inar. After 20 years they had managed to create just one unit which used 3 Giga watts of power to run.
And that unit had been the home to Lisa for almost two years. Time was not passing for Lisa. Did not pass for Lisa. Time could not pass for Lisa. She was hidden away, safe from the ravages of time.
I was glad, because I had seen some of the photographs of other victims of Rickenbacker Syndrome and they had looked awful. Pitiful, physical wrecks.
But as I knew there would almost certainly be no cure for Rickenbacker Syndrome within the next 50 years, that Lisa was “Dead” to me. I’d had to come to terms with that many months previously.
Mary Davenport with her wicked sense of fun had helped. And I had a sneaking suspicion that Lisa had put her up to it before she had died. Or rather, before she had gone into stasis…
I walked back down to D5. The blood had been cleared up, it had not been decided whether the lab would be used at any time in the future, if at all.
How the hell could the murders have been committed? And who had undertaken them? Why? What did they hope to achieve? Had they achieved it?
The FBI crime scene tapes had been removed and the remains of the victims was undergoing DNA testing at their main facility in New Washington.
I walked into the laboratory. The next thing I remembered was waking up on the floor. My head was confused, dizzy. A voice. A voice I knew. “Welcome, Steve. How nice that you could join us.”
It was a cruel, hollow voice. Gort?! What in the hell was he doing here?
I stood up, a little unsteady. I did not recognise where I was. It was a laboratory. It looked similar to D5, but larger. I had never seen this facility before.
“You seem confused, Steve. Allow me to welcome you to D5, Main.”
D5 Main? How in the hell didn’t I know about D5 Main? Then it hit me. Gort had been with Inar Hansen since the days when the facility had been a military research hospital, with extensive tunnels and underground facilities. This was before they had raised the money to start up the Hansen Institute. The early days had been a little thin, but Gort had stuck with him.
If anyone knew about the part of the facility that had been the former military base, then it would have to be Gort.
“I expect you are wondering why, aren’t you Steve? And also where, too? Where is simple. D5 Main was the main facility, D5 in the hospital was just a relatively small ante-room. It was a simple job for me to change the electronic plans of the hospital. Though I expect you are wondering why, mainly?”
Play for time. Analyse the situation, establish an appropriate course of action.
“Yes, Gort. What made you murder your colleagues?”
“Merely a means to an end, Steve. This is the pinnacle of my hatred for you and Lisa. Did you know I hated you, Steve? I wanted Lisa. For myself. But she chose to marry you, a security guard! I had been plotting this for years. I have some interesting news for you. Lisa never had Rickenbacker Syndrome. I was able to fake the symptoms, with drugs that I had given to her.”
“But Lisa’s Doctor, Doctor Timmins, gave us the diagnosis. He told us…” I then realised that there must have been a conspiracy between Gort and Timmins.
“Why did Timmins help you, Gort?”
“Because Timmins always did what I told him to."
“You are quick to notice that, Steve. Yes. Everyone thought that Timmins retired to his family home in New Mexico. He didn’t, poor soul.”
I looked at him and I noticed that he was wearing a small metallic cap on his head.
“I have been living and working down here for almost two years. The fools on the committee thought that they could stop me from developing my Mobile Robotic Surgery Unit. Idiots! Fools! I needed a human brain for the prototype. You might be interested to know that Timmins’ brain was the first to be employed in such a way. Didn’t last all that long, however. A problem with the support mechanism. Though, of course, Timmins should have felt honoured that I had selected him for such a fine sacrifice! Poor Timmins was not happy when he found himself inside the Mobile Robotic Surgery Unit. Not very happy at all. There was, though, nothing he could do about it. As I was in total power and, after all, I had incinerated his body.
“However, the second unit I constructed has worked well. Remarkably well, as you will have seen for yourself. Did you like the way that I had all those fools cut up into Sushi? Especially for that Japanese scum, Professor Mikki?”
Racism was so old fashioned that whenever I cam across it I found it difficult to comprehend. It was especially pointless, really, as Professor Mikki’s family had not even come from Japan. But I decided to let that pass for the moment.
Gort continued: “I think you might wish to meet the second unit. But I think you have already met, in a way.”
A chill went through me.
Gort said: “Lisa, come here.”
A Mobile Robotic Surgeon, it’s metallic shell splattered with dried blood, came into view, from behind a screen. It seemed as if it was trying to hide from me. My poor, poor Lisa!
“What do you think of your lovely wife, now, Steve?”
I ignored him. “Lisa. I want you to know that I’ll always love you, no matter what physical form you take. We’ll be able to work this out, after I have dealt with Gort.”
Gort looked at me. “You do not understand, do you? Just look at the scalpels, cutting tools and bone saws on that metal and plastic thing. Lisa killed everyone in D5, she then, under my direction, cut them all up. I had her place the head of your lover in the sink. A very appropriate act, don’t you think?”
This could be tricky. How to play this one?
“Gort, you are a damn fool. Lisa set the whole thing up with Mary before she died. She wanted someone to look after me, to help me. You may be a fine surgical engineer, but your lack of understanding of human psychology will be your downfall.”
“Shut up!” Anger from Gort? Good. Now I have a way in. A way to deal with him.
“Lisa, kill Steve. Kill Steve, now!”
I looked round. The only thing I could see that might serve as a weapon was an old-fashioned solid scalpel lying on a worktop. I picked it up.
“That’ll work Steve! Why not lunge at me with the scalpel? Lisa will have you sliced to pieces within seconds.”
“Is that right, Gort? Strange that Lisa is not moving, isn’t it?”
The wheels were trembling, but the unit was shuddering, as if there was a battle for control.
“This is not possible!” He was getting angry again. Good.
“Why is not possible, Gort? After so much practice, it is likely that Lisa is able to resist the influences from your control device. For all your intelligence Gort, you really are a very, very stupid, very little man, aren’t you?”
“I am not stupid! I can make Lisa feel white-hot pain. Pain such as she has never felt before!”
Lisa ran into a wall, momentarily stunned by the pain that he had inflicted on her. I knew I’d have to act fast.
My two-year secondment from the US Navy SEALS To the Royal Marine Special Boat Service in Plympton, Devon, would really pay off. But not, perhaps, in a way that I would have ever considered possible.
At first I thought about throwing the scalpel so that the blade hit Gort in one of his eyes. Then I knew what I’d have to do. I held the scalpel like a dart, and I aimed it so that the solid metal shaft of the scalpel buried itself deep into Gort’s right eye.
He gave an agonised shriek of pain and fell against the wall. “I’ll kill you for that!” He growled, through gritted teeth.
Next, he made the mistake that I had trusted he would make. He grabbed for what was sticking in his eye and by reflex, took a firm hold of it, as blood and ichor ran down his face from his ruined eye.
I had hoped that he would cut himself. But I was not prepared for what happened next. The middle three fingers on his right hand fell to the floor as a fountain of blood spurted from the raw stumps, as he inadvertently sliced off his own fingers.
He squealed and fell to the floor, in shock. I could tell that Lisa was now totally free of his control.
Within a second I was standing over Gort, looking down on him.
“You are a fool, Steve.” He gasped out. “I am always going to best you. You can’t defeat me. Because I am a genius.”
He was still telling me how very clever he was when I broke his neck, without saying another word to him.
Six months on and Lisa is still in a mobile paraunit, although the prognosis for a complete recovery once the toxins that Gort had used to replicate Rickbacker Syndrome were removed from her body, is very good. For some reason, Gort had left her body in the Statis unit. God alone knew what that freak Gort would have done with it. The thought made me sick.
Correcting the nerve damage caused by Gort's operation to remove Lisa's brain from her body was somewhat more problematical, but also well on the way to as near a full recovery as possible. Any lack there would, in time, be compensated for by implants and physiotherapy.
The psychological damage of what Gort had done to her would take longer to repair, but it was already starting to kick in, I knew.
I had offered to resign from my position, but the Foundation wouldn’t hear of it. As Professor Mikki said: “You thought you had all the information that you required for the job as head of security. Quite clearly, you did not. Nobody knew about the existence of D5, Main, or the rest of the complex that Gort had kept secret for God knows what reason. I really do wish I’d seen you kill the bastard, though.” Professor Mikki, man of surprises.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Dave Blake looked like a heartless thug. The kind of shaven-haired creature who would rob old people of their savings and use violence against them if he felt it necessary.
You have, of course, heard that appearances can be deceptive? Not in this case. What you saw was what you got. A cruel, evil, heartless, vicious thug. He did rob old people and he did hurt them if he felt it necessary. Or if he wanted to.
His mother claimed to believe that he never did anything wrong. She did not really believe that. Mrs Blake’s attitude was “as long as he hurts other people and robs them, why should I care?” She was frightened of him, but could not understand that it had been her upbringing of him that had, in the main part, resulted in her son becoming what he was.
In the pub one evening he had heard an interesting tale. The story of an old man who lived by himself in a quiet suburban road. The old man was a mystery to his neighbours as he had always seemed to have been an old man. In the pub they had tried to guess how old he was. 80? 90? 100? 120? More? No! Not possible!
They could not decide. The one thing that they had decided on was that he was a very wealthy old man and that he kept something of great value in a large, locked wooden box in his living room.
Blake decided that he wanted it. And what Blake wanted, he generally got.
He staggered from his bed after his mother had left for work, and he got dressed and left the house. The road where the old man lived required a brisk walk of ten minutes. Suddenly, it seemed, he found himself in front of it, looking at the house.
Some criminals who prey on the elderly use subterfuge, fraud or distraction. Blake didn’t. He relied upon the fact that most old people never bother to chain their doors. They would trustingly open them and Blake would rush the door, using his strength and bulk to knock them backwards.
He would slam the door shut behind him, grab the terrified occupant and force them to hand over their valuables.
Generally the whole sordid operation would take only a couple of minutes. By some evil luck, he had never even been questioned by the police, never mind charged with any offence.
Something in the back of Blake’s mind warned him not to enter the house. There was something foreboding and mysterious about it, even though it looked just like the other houses in the avenue.
But Blake was scared of nothing, so ignored this warning from his own sub-conscious. The last time that Blake had felt frightened was when he had been 12 years old and his mother had woken him in the middle of the night to help her bury the corpse of his drunken lout of a father, after he had given her the last beating he had been able to mete out to anyone.
Blake had helped her dig the hole and by the light of a simple lamp made from a candle in a jam jar, they had readied themselves to push the body into the hole in what had been the flower bed in the middle of the garden..
Then the 'corpse' of Blake senior had gasped and the eyes had opened wide in terror and it had grabbed the ankle of Mrs Blake with an iron grip. Before he had had a chance to think what he was doing, Blake junior had smashed the spade down on his father’s face and skull again and again, until it was a flattened, unrecognisable jumbled blur of bloody mangled flesh, gristle and bone.
They had tumbled the body into to the grave, thrown the soil over it. They then tamped the soil down. Scrubbing and washing off the dirt and the blood and attempting to scrub away the years of mental and physical abuse. But there are some types of dirt that just can’t be washed away, no matter how much soap and water you use.
Even now, 16 years later, Blake always spat on the flower border whenever he went into the back garden. Some hatreds never die.
But now he was outside the house of the rich old man. He steeled himself –strange. He never usually felt nervous- and knocked on the door.
When the old man opened the door, Blake’s experience kicked in. Suddenly he was in the house and bundling the old man into the living room of the house, which was just to the right of the front door.
He grabbed hold of the man in a tight grip, placed a knife at his throat and said: “Where’s your treasure, you stupid old git?”
The old man –HOW old was he?- gasped out: “I have no treasure. Please leave us alone.”
Then Blake saw the box. It was an old wooden box which actually occupied one of the corners in the room. “There’s your treasure, you old liar!” He thrust the old man across the room.
It was then that the old man’s dog came into the room. It was a moth-eaten Alsatian that seemed as ancient as the old man. But the dog saw what had happened. She gave a deep growl and launched herself at Blake. The old man screamed something in a language that Blake could not understand. Before the dog could do any damage, Blake had plunged the knife deep into its chest. The dog fell to the floor with a cough.
The old man was surprisingly fast, but not fast enough for Blake and within seconds he, too, was lying on the floor beside his beloved companion, his life ebbing away.
He looked up at Blake and said: “You want the contents of that box? Very well, then. You may take them. But know this… the consequences will be upon your own head.” He slumped onto his side, dead, lying against his dog's corpse.
Blake walked over to the box. It seemed to hum with a sort of energy. He touched it and it was as if he had received an electric shock. He began to feel a sense of unease, almost as if he was sickening for something, as his mother would have said.
He shrugged the feelings off and tried the box. Pity! It wasn’t even locked! He opened it.
Nothing was in the box.
Nothing came out and wrapped itself around Blake like a blanket.
Nothing had ever frightened Blake so much.
Nothing made him gasp in fear.
Nothing made him fling his knife across the room, be-gripped with a nameless dread.
Nothing made him run out of the house and nothing made him run as fast as he could, away from the house.
Nothing was following him. Flee! Run! Escape from nothing! Escape from nothing or nothing will get you! Run from Nothing!
The shaven hairs on his head stood up, the hairs on his body stood up. Nothing was scaring him like nothing ever had.
Eventually, he stopped running from Nothing. He leant against a wall, gasping as his sweat-soaked body pulled in lungfuls of sweet, fresh air. He could taste blood in his mouth.
It was then that he heard it. The sound. It was like no sound he had ever heard before. It was like thousands of knives been drawn across the flesh of thousands of bodies. He suddenly knew that Nothing had been replaced by something. Fearful, almost against his will, he turned round and saw, walking towards him, but at a distance, the old man and his equally ancient Alsatian dog.
They were coming towards him. Purposefully. With a bleat of fear Blake began to run again. He did not know where he was running. He did not care where he was running. Every so often he would glance back over his shoulder. They were still there. Still following. Even though they were walking slowly, they were still catching up with him, slowly. Implacably. Relentlessly.
Blake fell down numerous times, but he always bounced back up, scrabbling to his feet.
Passers-by saw a wild-eyed young male, bloodied and battered, running as if his life depended upon it.
Eventually he glanced round and saw… that they had gone! He sobbed with joy, and turned round to see if he knew where he was… and he saw them, in front of him. Waiting for him.
He got ready to run again, but his heart literally exploded in his chest and he fell to the pavement at the side of the road, dead before he hit.
“We are getting too old” the old man said to the Alsatian as they sat in the living room of their house. The box that had contained Nothing was no longer there.
“We should not have allowed that creature to get in here. Still, no real harm done. Nothing saw to that. Someone will come and deal with Nothing in a short while.
“I have sent a transmission to home. They’ll be giving us a new assignment, soon. A period of regeneration and then another world to act as overseers, on. Who knows? Maybe on our next assignment we can serve in a true forms as man and wife.”
The Alsatian wagged her tail. She would miss her tail, she decided. After all, she had had it for such a long time.
Meanwhile, as Mrs Blake mourned her son by drinking whisky in her lounge, Nothing was in the back garden of the Blake house. Something began to stir, deep beneath the flower border…
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
But then, they recoil from that knowledge in horror, and run away from it.
Why? Perhaps the fear that it is not true and that they have wasted their lives persuing what is, in essence, the dreams of someone else? The rotten, horrid dreams of a 19th century conman?
Friday, November 12, 2010
It was a bitterly cold December morning in the 1920s in the city of Birmingham, a few days before Christmas. I cursed the fact that I had to break the ice in the deep enamel bowl in the brewhouse in my backyard before I could get to the water beneath to have a quick shave and a wash. -But all the same, I knew I was one of the lucky ones in our street. At least I still had a job to go to.
I don’t know why I always used to put the water into the old enamel bowl, last thing at night ready for my morning wash. But my Father had always done it and his Father before him.
Over the years I have concluded that we Brummies like tradition. It helps us to establish who we are and where we are in relation to the world beyond Smethwick, I suppose!
It was just after five am by the watch on my Albert, as I tucked it back into the watch pocket on my waistcoat. I pulled my overcoat about me and tightened my muffler around my neck. I had to look after my chest. Ever since my three years in the trenches I 'd had a bad chest. I hadn’t been caught up in a gas attack like a lot of the other fellows, but three years up to your knees in mud, filthy water and the blood of your mates does something to a man.
It had snowed in the night. Not much, just a couple of inches or so. Certainly not as much as we used to get in the olden days!
The snow was crisp and it sparkled in the yellow glow of the gas mantles in the street. Not so long ago at this time of day the whole street would already have been criss-crossed with the tramp of many pairs of feet going to and from work. But now mine were the only footprints as I crunched through the fresh snow.
I was only halfway down our street when I almost stumbled over the body. It had obviously lain on the pavement since before the snow had started, as it was completely covered in a white blanket of snow.
I knew it would cost me -perhaps even a day’s pay, or more- but there are some things a man must do.
When I looked down, I noticed the blood had not so much congealed, but frozen to the pavement and the snow that had touched it had been stained a deep crimson.
I crouched down and touched the body. As I thought, dead. He was stiff and it was not rigor mortis, but the cold that had done it. The police very rarely came down our street, so I knew no bobby on his beat would see the body. The nearest the police ever came -unless there was trouble at the Cross and Bishop- was a small square two streets away. I’d have to find a policeman there, if I could.
I set off as fast as I dared, arriving a few minutes later having nearly slipped over a couple of times.
I had supposed rightly. The policeman was stamping his feet trying to keep warm in the heat that was barely seeping from the doorway of Rogers’ bakery.
“Officer, I was just setting off for work and I found a dead body in Collins Street, just round the corner.”
“Who might you be?”
“David Shakeshaft. I live in Collins Street. I was just on my way to work.”
He followed me without a further word.
He looked at the body before he stooped down and brushed some of the snow from the face of the corpse with a gloved hand. It’s straggly moustache was stiffer than it had ever been in life.
“Been here quite a while, with all this snow on him. Do you recognise him?”
I suppose it was a sort of a shock at first, when I saw the face. But I quickly recovered.
“Yes, it’s a neighbour. Not a near neighbour, but a neighbour all the same. His name’s Bill Sampson. Lives four or five doors up from here, almost opposite the opening of Merry Court. He's got a wife and a couple of kiddies. -At least, he did have.”
The officer took my details and asked me questions about Sampson.
I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, not even of people like Sampson, but I had to tell him as much as I could.
“Looks like he’s been beaten” opined the policeman. “Quite badly too.”
I dug my hands deeper into my pockets to keep the cold out.
The policeman took out his whistle and gave two sharp, piercing blasts that must have woken everyone for several streets around. I was asked to go to the police station to make a statement. I left before anyone else turned up in our usually quiet street.
After I made my statement several times over, they let me leave the station and in the early afternoon I got to my place of work.
The works owner, Mr Tweedy, was angry with me, until I told him what had happened. Mr Tweedy was of the old school. Besides which, like me, he had served in the Warwicks in the Great War and he understood things like duty and honour. But he had been an officer and I had been a lowly corporal.
“Well done, Shakeshaft” he had said. “Of course, I could dock you a whole day’s pay, but I’ll only dock you half a day, but get on with some work and finish at the regular time.”
I thanked him and did as he had told me, though my mind was not really on it.
Of course, by the time I got back everyone was talking about the body which had long since been taken to the city morgue. The snow was now almost entirely gone. The women of the street were standing around in little knots, talking, whilst keeping an eye on their children who were playing in the remains of the snow as the gas lamps were lit by the old man who had done the job ever since I could remember.
The men were waiting for the Cross and Bishop to open, muttering about the murder.
We all met in the snug.
“So, he’s dead is he?”
They looked at me. As if they expected me to do something.
I took a sip of my mild before setting the pot back down on the scarred, round table before me.
“What are we going to do?”
That was said by a small sharp-featured man who I only knew as Billy, who worked as a bookies runner.
I shrugged. “What do you suggest?”
He glanced at me. “Will they know who did it?”
Big Bob growled; “Not if we all keep quiet.”
Tommy Moore looked up with his naturally sad face even more morose than usual. Longer and worse than Livery Street on a wet November morning.
“We only meant to give him a bit of a beating. Teach him a lesson, like. We didn’t mean for him to die,” he whined.
“What are his widow and children going to do?” That was Taffy Ellis, a small, practically-minded Welshman who had come to Birmingham some years before, looking for work. Even though he had only been sporadically successful, somehow he had never managed to return home to his beloved Welsh valleys. Apparently times were even harder, there. God help them, was all I could say to that!
“I think we should hold a collection for them. It’s the least we can do,” I replied.
“Yes, the least we can do, seeing as how we murdered her husband,” moaned Tommy.
“Anyone who talks like that is being stupid! We didn’t murder him. For all we know, the cold might have killed him. Or maybe someone happened along and robbed him.”
Although my mind was in a turmoil, I tried to sound as calm as I could. I didn’t want them panicking. I had seen men crack in the trenches. Any one of these lads could crack and they’d see us all dancing at the end of a rope in Winson Green nick. -I’d have to try and steady them down.
“Keep calm, lads. There’s no point in us getting in a state. and keep your voices down. -We don’t want everyone knowing our business.
“We didn’t do anything wrong. Sampson was a piece of shit who kept beating his wife and his kiddies. –I don’t approve of it myself, I’m not saying if it’s right or wrong, but I bet even someone here might have clipped their missus once or twice.
“But Sampson always went too far. He would have killed his wife and perhaps the two little kiddies, too. He never knew when to stop when he’d a few too many inside of him. and that was most of the time. Though God knows where he got the money. -He never worked even when there were jobs!”
Although none of them laughed, most of them smiled at my little joke. -It certainly seemed to take the heat out of the situation.
We agreed to say nothing to anyone else about what had happened and we arranged to hold a collection for his widow and the two little kiddies.
We didn’t collect much because, well, because we didn’t have much in our street. But I like to think it helped her, a little, coming up to Christmas as it was.
I’d always had a soft spot for Jenny Green, or Jenny Sampson as she became, even when we were kiddies, but the war had intervened and when I had returned in 1918, she had already married Sampson and had settled down to eight years of hell.
Eventually after a couple of years of discrete courting -or as discrete as courting ever can be in Brum!- I married Jenny and took on the two kiddies, as well, of course and they moved into my house, from the house that they rented. I was a bit of a rare 'un, you see. We'd owned our house for donkey's years.
I have heard it said that a man and his wife should keep no secrets from each other.
Normally, I would agree.
Normally. But the fact is, you see, I did keep one secret from her. A fairy big secret, really. The secret I am sharing with you, now.
The fact was, that I had murdered her first husband. Me, by myself.
I’ll have to tell you a bit of the background. In the pub that December night, the evening before his body had been found, Sampson had been boasting about how he had realised he could get out of even having to go through the motions of the pretence of thinking about buying presents for his two children.
“I can’t be bothered to buy the little buggers presents, but that damn fool woman of mine will insist on buying them something every bloody Christmas. -Why should I let that bitch waste my good drinking money on buying presents for them?”
Of course, it hadn’t been his drinking money. It had been money that Jenny had scrimped and scraped all year long to buy their two children a couple of cheap presents. Money she’d grafted for with damned hard collar at a variety of jobs from washing clothes to doing outwork.
“How did you do that, then?” Taffy had asked him. Although Sampson was too drunk to notice, the normally easygoing Taffy had a hard edge to his voice that I had never heard before. Taffy's bluey-green eyes seemed to flash.
“Easy! I just told the little buggers that I had found Father Christmas in the back yard and I’d murdered him and buried him under the Miskin!”
The way he said it, he had expected a laugh from his audience. He had misjudged it. The surly, heavy silence unsettled him.
At closing time we followed him from the pub. I can’t remember who threw the first punch, but we all joined in, giving him a good, solid Brummagem beating.
When he staggered off down the street, we didn’t follow, but ran the other way, laughing and whooping like a gang of little schoolboys.
When I reached my door, I cursed myself, realising that I had left my pipe and tobacco at the Cross and Bishop.
I turned and walked back to the pub. Fortunately the Landlord, Jack something-or-other, I can’t recall his other name, had not locked up yet, so he let me in to pick up my pipe and pouch of tobacco.
He gave me an old fashioned look, but said nothing.
As I left the pub which was at the top of our street, I heard Jack sliding the bolts of the outer door into place.
I had barely walked twenty yards when I came across Sampson, leaning against the wall of a small workshop in our street that had closed down many months before.
“You and your mates think you’re so bloody clever, don’t you? Well, let me tell you that I’m going to have the last laugh. When I feel steadier, I am going to go home and I’m going to wake that useless slut of a wife of mine and I’m going to make her watch me beat those damn brats of hers and then I am going to make them watch me as I beat her and do her in, in front of them!”
He sneered; “and you aren’t going to be there to stop me, are you?”
He so was busy telling me what he intended to do that he didn’t see me aim the kick at his crotch. It connected so well that all he did as he collapsed to the pavement, was give a bleat of air. I kicked him -as hard as I could- in the head a few times with my hobnailed boots, as he lay there.
And then -I walked home, leaving him lying very still, on the pavement, bleeding from his head.
I didn’t know if he was alive or dead, but I hoped he was dead. Frankly, I didn’t care much either way. As I say, three years up to your knees in mud, filthy water and the blood of your mates does something to a man.
Of course, the snow had really put me on the spot. I was one of the few men in our street with a job and certainly the first person out of a morning.
How would it have looked to the police if the only footprints in the snow had been mine and I had ignored the body and not reported it to the police? -And I couldn’t risk not going into work by pretending to be off work sick, what with the number of people who were already on the parish or the box as we called it back then.
The police are not stupid. If I hadn’t have reported finding the body, they’d have soon realised that I had something to do with the murder. -and there was only one way for me to walk to work, which took me past where the body was.
And I would have ended up doing a dance at Winson Green nick. -Perhaps along with me muckers who really did have nothing to do with the killing.
So, I had to find a policeman and report finding a body that I had already had a shrewd idea was there, waiting for me to discover it, and no one else. As I said, I was one of the lucky ones with a job. I would be the only person walking down our street at that time of the morning, so I knew what I had to do.
The incident was a seven day wonder in the local papers. Someone even suggested that it was the Peaky Blinders back again, up to their tricks of old.
But I knew who it was.
I always did my level best to ensure those two kiddies had the best Christmas I could afford to give them.
I never really managed to decide if this was me being kind to them and making up for Sampson’s evil -I truly loved them as if they had been my own- or if it was my way of sticking two fingers up at Sampson on every anniversary of his death, every Christmas week.
Glossary of genuine Birmingham terms and words
Brummie: A citizen of Birmingham, England.
Brummagem: Original name of Birmingham
Collar: Work. Hard Collar, hard work
Peaky Blinder: Birmingham street gang. Alleged to wear peaked caps with razor blades in the peak, which they would hit other gangs with, trying to blind them.
Livery Street: A very long street in Birmingham. "A face as long as Livery Street" said of anyone who looked depressed.
Albert: Fob watch on a chain
Nick: Prison (Winson Green Prison is otherwise known as HM Prison, Birmingham, was built in 1849 and is still in full vigour)
Sunday, November 07, 2010
I expect we Matt and Mrs Matt and the couple who are close friends of ours will visit the German Market and eat German foods and drink mulled wine and German beers. And there doubtless also be will be a trip to the nearest Wetherspoon pub for a meal and a pint of real ale for about £7.00 or so!
Then for Christmas we will probably have our traditional multi-faith Christmas dinner (atheist, Christian, pagan, Sikh) with fine wine, champagne, Indian tea (you have NOT drunk tea until you have drunk that, seriously!) lager (Carling, of course!) and Gran Stead's non-alcoholic ginger wine and lemonade and some real ale, too. Oh. And Coca Cola, both lite and full fat, too. There will also Sherry and Port for the mince pies and a good deal of other festive food will be eaten. Including Stilton, oh, YES! Stilton! And carbonated Vodka, from Sweden.
See? Non-Mormons do not have to drink alcohol. But Mormons do have to NOT drink alcohol.
Now, as a Mormon did I have a good Christmas? Now... that's an interesitng question. Sometimes, we did. But sometimes, I don't know, it somehow seemed that the LDS church brought misery and discord into our Christmases when there was no need for it.
I can recall Christmases before my parents became Mormons. My parents would drink Advocaat and some wine (Sherry, mainly, as wine was not that common in Birmingham in the 1950s/1960s!) my father would have a beer or two, but never three, and it was good.
So did I have good Christmases as a Mormon? Yes. But in all honesty, I have had better before and since.
To find out about lots of Christmas goodies you can visit
Sunday, October 31, 2010
My mother then said: "Well that's interesting because the (Mormon) church teaches that Lehi and his family were from Asia, so that confirms what it teaches."
I made no comment.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
They are a right pair of idiots.
Someone on the RFM board suggested reporting them. I considered that suggestion, but then I thought better of it. Because the best thing is to just let them keep on putting people off their ersatz multi-level marketing scam church!
Sunday, October 17, 2010
I decided to take the initiative by greeting them with a cheery "good morning! and, in a very British way, commented on the weather.
They started on their "We would like to share our message..." spiel when I told him I was: "really seriously not interested." I got the: "Don't you believe in God?" line.
At this point I snapped back with: "Oh, God! Don't start THAT nonsense, again!" And ignored their fading wittering as I walked away from them.
Their attitude set me thinking. Is being rude a new Mormon missionary tactic? Do they hope that by shocking someone with such a rude remark that they can force the person concerned to listen to their message, be so 'overcome by the spirit' (tm) that they will immediately seek baptism and become a 'golden convert' (tm)? Is it a general new missionary tool?
If so, that's a stupid idea in Britain. Some stereotypes are valid, to a point. We British people do appear to be aloof and somewhat standoffish. It's just that some things are not done. Challenging people in the street regarding their religion is one of these things.
British people can be patient. But here's the thing. Eventually, we do snap. During the 100 Years War (1337 to 1453) it is said that, due to their propensity to let rip with choice invectives, the French dubbed their English enemies as les Goddamns.
If these Mormon missionaries do not stop abusing people in the streets, I think it likely that they will learn the lesson that the French learnt over 650 years ago.
They are worse than people selling Amway, Kleeneze or Bettaware! At least you can use THEIR products to clean your floor! You can't wipe the floor with a Mormon missionary! Oh... perhaps you can?!