HARRISON BERGERON

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by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.

On the television screen were ballerinas.

A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm. “That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.

“Huh” said George.

“That dance–it was nice,” said Hazel.

“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

“Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,” said George.

“I’d think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds,” said Hazel a little envious.

“All the things they think up.”

“Um,” said George.

“Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?” said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. “If I was Diana Moon Glampers,” said Hazel, “I’d have chimes on Sunday-just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion.”

“I could think, if it was just chimes,” said George.

“Well-maybe make ’em real loud,” said Hazel. “I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”

“Good as anybody else,” said George.

“Who knows better then I do what normal is?” said Hazel.

“Right,” said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that.

“Boy!” said Hazel, “that was a doozy, wasn’t it?”

It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples.

“All of a sudden you look so tired,” said Hazel. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so’s you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch.” She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George’s neck. “Go on and rest the bag for a little while,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re not equal to me for a while.”

George weighed the bag with his hands. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I don’t notice it any more. It’s just a part of me.”

“You been so tired lately–kind of wore out,” said Hazel. “If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.”

“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,” said George. “I don’t call that a bargain.”

“If you could just take a few out when you came home from work,” said Hazel. “I mean-you don’t compete with anybody around here. You just set around.”

“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “then other people’d get away with it-and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”

“I’d hate it,” said Hazel.

“There you are,” said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?”

If Hazel hadn’t been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn’t have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.

“Reckon it’d fall all apart,” said Hazel.

“What would?” said George blankly.

“Society,” said Hazel uncertainly. “Wasn’t that what you just said?

“Who knows?” said George.

The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn’t clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen.”

He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.

“That’s all right-” Hazel said of the announcer, “he tried. That’s the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.

And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. “Excuse me-” she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.

“Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen,” she said in a grackle squawk, “has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.

The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.

Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.

“If you see this boy,” said the ballerina, “do–I repeat, do not–try to reason with him.” There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.

Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.

George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have – for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. “My God-” said George, “that must be Harrison!”

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.

When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.

Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood – in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.

“I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook.

“Even as I stand here” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened – I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!”

Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.

Harrison’s scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.

Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.

He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.

“I shall now select my Empress!” he said, looking down on the cowering people. “Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!”

A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.

Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.

She was blindingly beautiful.

“Now-” said Harrison, taking her hand, “shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!” he commanded.

The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. “Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.”

The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.

The music began again and was much improved.

Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.

They shifted their weights to their toes.

Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.

And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.

They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.

They leaped like deer on the moon.

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it. It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.

And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

It was then that the Bergerons’ television tube burned out.

Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.

George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again. “You been crying” he said to Hazel.

“Yup,” she said.

“What about?” he said.

“I forget,” she said. “Something real sad on television.”

“What was it?” he said.

“It’s all kind of mixed up in my mind,” said Hazel.

“Forget sad things,” said George.

“I always do,” said Hazel.

“That’s my girl,” said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in his head.

“Gee – I could tell that one was a doozy,” said Hazel.

“You can say that again,” said George.

“Gee-” said Hazel, “I could tell that one was a doozy.”

 


 

Harrison Bergeron” is a satirical and dystopian science-fiction short story written by Kurt Vonnegut and first published in October 1961. Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the story was republished in the author’s Welcome to the Monkey House collection in 1968.

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JANUARY 1, 2019

http://futureswewant.net/simon-critchley-future-fiction/
An evening, sometime in the near future…
Banner Image: The International Business Center in Moscow. (Modification of a photo taken by Oscar W. Rasson on 14 March 2015, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

Banner Image: The International Business Center in Moscow. (Modification of a photo taken by Oscar W. Rasson on 14 March 2015, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

by Simon Critchley
KADASHEVSKAYA HOTEL

26 Kadashevskaya nab. 115035 Moscow

January 1st, 2019

I guess we could all have seen it coming a few years back. Things really started to get worse around the end of 2013 and then dragged on into the long, cold winter months. That whole business with that guy, what was his name? Mountain in Wales. Snowden. That’s it. He went underground for a while and then emerged as the CEO of Bozhe Moi! (My God!): the amazing Russian search engine that overtook Google early in 2017. Totally wiped them out. I find it reassuringly old world and Le Carré-like to have the FSB watching all of us rather than the NSA.

Shortly after the President’s death, events moved fast. Well, suspicions were raised when they declared it accidental. Everyone knew it was suicide. He lost face (and faith) after that awful video circulated. You all know the one I mean. That was just after the attempted toppling of 1WTC. Why did they build that thing? It looked like a huge robot schlong. It was lucky that only a couple of hundred people died in the rogue drone strike, but the building’s been empty  – cursed – since then, apart from a shelter for the homeless on the ground floors. The city began to go bankrupt after whatshisname, Di Blasio, was unable to raise taxes to pay for all the damage from the great storm of summer 2016. That was when the BBB movement (“Bring Back Bloomberg”) really got momentum. It turned out that people missed his bad Spanish at those press conferences. He’s been in power for a year now, even bringing back everyone’s pal, Ray Kelly. It’s just like old times.

Biden governed heroically, if ineffectively, until they called an early election due to the state of emergency. But he was never going to beat Chris Christie, particularly after Hilary had to pull out of the primaries because of that scandal with Anthony Weiner’s ex-wife. God that guy really embraced new technology. I think he’s still serving time. Chris Christie was a surprisingly popular president. It was like being governed by Tony Soprano. People love a benevolent despot. But I guess we weren’t surprised when the heart attack happened. He was inspecting the Acela line to Boston after it had been destroyed by floodwaters.

President Rubio has been in power for over a year now. He looks the very picture of health, glowing like the self-satisfied Miami sun when he speaks. Obamacare has been fully repealed, the rather minimal tax increases on the rich have been reversed, the federal budget has been slashed (his “War on Debt” campaign), and Rubio plans to implement the NRA’s proposal to arm all schoolkids. That’s equality. Everyone gets a gun. People seem to feel safer that way. Or they just stopped caring after that horrific school shooting in Greenport: the sixth one last year. I mean, who’s counting, right?

The truth is that national politics no longer seems to matter. Neither does the state. Cosmos is the new 1% international political force, set up by Jamie Dimon and other senior business figures from across the world. Its radical plan is to abandon all states and national borders and establish an independent league of mega-cities (initially New York, Shanghai, London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow, but many others want to join) with its own police force and border agents. They’ve already begun to issue passports. It comes free when you sign up for their premium credit card. I have one here in my wallet. It has their catchy motto engraved on the titanium: “The world is ours. Make it yours”. They were initially called “The League of Rootless Cosmopolitans”. But they shortened their name: like the magazine, like the drink. The only political imperative was how to preserve the patina of liberalism while maintaining existing levels of inequality. Unsurprisingly, this is not that hard. It turns out that this is what we had anyway. A large proportion of the funding base for the Democratic Party has evaporated. Bozhe Moi! is also a big funder of the Cosmos party. Secession from their various states is expected to begin this year.

After the whole Google glasses debacle and the copycat suicides where people filmed their own deaths while wearing them, huge amounts of money were spent on lawsuits and the program was abandoned. Capital was poured into the development of what was called “inner space research.” There were various plans to insert probes under the skin at the wrist in order to internalize search functions with fingertip control. They also tried to develop an ultra-gossamer type mask where computer and skin surface would meet and merge. They called it “2 Skin”. It also failed. As did the plan to insert implants in the retina. The stroke of genius at Bozhe Moi! was realizing that the search engine and the whole apparatus could be run from a customized pair of headphones. People really like headphones. It turns out that there is still a huge difference between what you are prepared to stick in your eyes and your ears. I’m wearing mine right now to talk to you. The translate function means that everyone can speak any language they wish which is what I do here in Moscow. Rosetta Stone is already a distant memory.

Of course, we knew that the rise of Bozhe Moi! was a soft authoritarian takeover. Old-fashioned leftists would proclaim that the promised means of our emancipation (the internet circa 1996. Remember that?) had merely shackled us more tightly in virtual servitude. Boring! I mean we read Foucault too when it still mattered.  But the truth was that people didn’t really care about their privacy. Not really. Not even the Germans.

Wars came and went in the Middle East, huge populations were displaced and innocent civilians were killed. Business as usual. The pieces moved slightly on the global chessboard and then moved again. We stopped caring, particularly after the big broadcast networks began to fold – CNN was first. We knew less and less about world, particularly after all those attacks on BBC journalists. But life was just fine here. There is still no two-state or one-state solution in Israel and settlements are still being built. After the attacks on Iran following their nuclear tests, the Ayatollahs even took out a new fatwa on Salman Rushdie and one on Bono too, after he was involved in that hit musical about the Iranian Revolution. But I think they both still go to parties.

I guess the weirdest changes have been around sex. The omnipresence of the highest quality 3D pornography, combined with “sensorium” patches that went on sale in 2015, effectively killed it off. Together with the first cases of a fatal testicular cancer caused by a variant of the HPV virus that was said to be in 90% of the sexually active young male population. That got their attention.

This led to two trends. A sudden vogue, that summer, for reckless, public sex: in buses, parks, sidewalks, subways, everywhere. It became a kind of display of political indifference or even resistance among the poor, but it was picked up and imitated by a lot of college kids. They call themselves the “League of Lovers” or LOL as way of mocking the Cosmos. There continue to be many arrests and an African-American couple was shot last weekend for refusing to stop making love in Prospect Park. Not so much “Stop and Frisk” as “Stopping Friskiness.”

The other trend – less numerous, but much more influential – was the Cenobite movement, where people would pay significant amounts of money to live together but in such a way that they could remain apart and not constitute any kind of threat to each other. The first one was founded outside Warren, Vermont a few years back. But they have spread all across Vermont, New Hampshire and Upstate New York. After electing to withdraw from the world – what they call anachoreisis – each Cenobite is given an “anchorhold” where they can stay safe and warm with their devices and sleep. Any participation in public events is optional, but with the right use of a wonderful new anxiety medication called Atarax, cenobites are able to be together socially and even main eye contact without looking at their devices for up to two minutes. For fear of contagion, celibacy is the rule in all cenobite groups. This did not extend to masturbation, of course. That would have taken things too far.

People incapable of even this degree of social activity or who could not bear to be disconnected from their devices began to gather outside the Cenobite communities in more extreme group. They began to be called “Hamlet camps” or the “Inkies” after their customized black clothing, that was something between sports clothing and a Beneditcine habit. The sign up fee is prohibitively high in order to pay for the private police force and guarantee exclusivity. But I hear that some of the “Inkies” are beginning to produce some really high-level electronic music.

New York City began to feel too much like Alexandria in the late fourth century and I decided to get out when the right job offer came through. I’ve been living in this hotel in Moscow for the last 6 months working for a contemporary art space funded by one of oligarchs behind the Cosmos. It’s alright. The Russians make a generic version of Atarax and I have a bodyguard and a driver. But I stay in the hotel most of the time as it’s too dangerous to go out.

Critchley_Simon - portrait Simon Critchley teaches philosophy at the New School for Social Research and moderates The Stone, an opinion series in the The New York Times that features the writings of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless issues. Among his many books are: The Ethics of Deconstruction (Edinburgh University Press, 1992, 1999, 2014), On Humour (Routledge, 2002), Infinitely Demanding (Verso, 2007), Impossible Objects(Polity Press), The Problem With Levinas (Oxford University Press, 2015). Author website: http://www.simoncritchley.org/

SHARK

BY ARTEMIS J. JONES ©2014

shark

Each day weather permitting I go to the beach. I clean the sand out of the wheels and pivots of my wheel chair. I lube the hubs on the front wheels. Pack my day bag along with my binoculars and wheel myself down Ocean Drive. My destination: the giant palm tree on the south east corner of the  Hotel Property. It’s the perfect spot. It’s about fifty yards from the water at low tide. The brick pavers aren’t too difficult for a wheel chair, so I manage.  I really love this spot, the sidewalk and common areas are a rustic Mediterranean color and the palm gives me shade for most of the day. My only competition for this tiny piece of real estate is Jimmy the Bum. Jimmy, who is drunk most of the time, occasionally beats me here. He panhandles, sleeps, and picks up old cigarette butts to try and smoke what’s left of them. Today I’m first so Jimmy will have to take the other side of the sidewalk. I got my spot!

From about ten o’clock to two o’clock the walkway is busy, tourists mostly going back and forth from the restaurants and hotels. Families carrying their beach bags, boyfriends, lovers, husbands talking to their wives, girlfriends, lovers- who knows. I enjoy the activity and I eavesdrop a little.

The afternoon is typical Jimmy is sleeping off his early morning drinking and I’m watching all the beach goers. There is a couple that has my attention. A man and women together, she is coated in suntan oil, I can see it glistening off her bronze skin from here. He’s just sitting and watching everything. He seems to be a very observant man. His girlfriend—I don’t think they are married— sometimes checks his glances, she is suspicious, but she remains quiet. I just think he’s observant.

About twenty yards north of their position another couple is enjoying the sun. I’m sure they’re married. They display a lack of interest in each other that many married couples show in public. It’s hard to really know what that means … it could be trust, it could be who cares. They talk and I guess they both decide he would go to the food stand and get some refreshments. He walks by me and heads for the stand. On the way back he says hi to me and asks if I’m a vet. I say “yes” and he commends me for my service. What a nice guy!

I watch both couples, the married couple, and the observant man who is coupled with the jealous women. The married man goes into the water, while the observant man just sits under his umbrella with his shades on. There’s a lot of people in the water today, the tide is low, water temperature is seventy-three degrees. The low tide is great for children to play in, there is no shelf or drop off. So many kids are on boogie boards, floats. Families playing together. It’s a beautiful day.

I look for the married man, but I don’t see him. I glance towards his chair, look at his wife, she is sleeping, but I cannot see the man. So I gaze over the crowd. Maybe he got out of the water and went for a walk on the beach. I look up and down the beach, then I see him pop his head up in the water. He must be quit a swimmer, to stay under water that long. So I look back at the observant man, he is watching something, his head perks up, something has his attention. I look back towards the married man, he has gone under water.

The observant man gets up and starts yelling shark, shark, as he runs towards the beach where all the children are playing. I see the fin, it’s definitely a shark. The life guards come to life leaping from their sedentary posts.  The jealous women watches her boyfriend as he runs towards the water. The married women wakes up and begins looking for her husband.  Everyone else stands up with their cell phones and they all begin recording the excitement. Children are running for their moms and dads. Moms and dads are running for their children, and the wife stands at the edge of the water looking for her husband.  The observant man is still yelling shark, he is in the water. The married man’s head pops up and the shark is right behind him.

There is thrashing and the water turns red. The observant man stops. He stares at the spot where he last saw the married man, and he does not leave the water. I look around many people are still  recording the event with their phones, but some have stopped. The ones that stopped go to their chairs and begin texting or whatever it is that they do. I glance at Jimmy he is sleeping through all the excitement.

A head neck and torso wash up on the beach. The man who had a kind exchange with me, just moments ago, is gone. His wife is holding her hands up towards the water and she looks over at the man who tried to warn everyone. She must be in shock.

Most people stop recording the event with their cell phones. Paramedics come rushing by me with stretchers and they all step on Jimmy’s feet that are sticking out in the walkway. People are coming off the street to see what happened, the walkway is getting crowded.

The jealous women goes to her boyfriend. Suddenly he is a viral man and she is aroused, she shows this by kissing him passionately. They hug for a moment.  He walks out of the water, shaking his head. I can tell he wanted to save the man.  The life guards and paramedics talk to him, a few pat him on the back. His girlfriend enjoys the attention he is getting, he is shy about it.

The medical examiner arrives while other city services clean up and gather information. The tourists who recorded some of the event are gone, others who witnessed and recorded all of it are talking with police, and a few others- to local news crews. I guess it will be all over the local TV news tonight.

The observant man and his girlfriend leave.

I sat and thought about what I had just witnessed. The observant man saved a lot of children, the shark went right through the area where they were playing. I toss an old coconut at Jimmy to wake him up. Startled he hits his head on the brick wall and spills all the change the passers-by tossed into his cap. I guess it’s time to go home.

I’m lucky. My apartment is on the first floor, it’s small, but I like it. I have a computer desk that my chair fits up to nicely. I like to browse the internet sometimes. So I make a sandwich and roll myself into place. When my browser comes up it always shows me the latest news on CNN, FOX, and the local stations. I also watch You-Tube videos. I always watch the most popular videos of the day.

CNN, FOX have more war stuff— ISIS stories. The local channel has the weather, always the weather, the only good news they can report is the weather, because the weather is always good.

You-Tube has taken life though, there is a bunch of videos streaming in- fresh new content- that everyone loves to see. All the top videos today have a similar title. SHARK ATTACK — SHARKS SWARM MAN— SHARK EATS MAN ALIVE— and the most popular of the day MAN WATCHES SHARK EAT ANOTHER MAN.

The views of all the videos are soaring, the most popular was at 200,000 one minute then 2,000,000 the next. And the world that now —sees itself as a witness— to this horrific event, is weighing in with comments.  The streams of opinions never seem to end, but they all say about the same thing.

Cavegirl21:    “It was horrible, he just stood there. What a coward.”

Avenger17:    “If I was close enough I would’ve saved him.”

I’m a slut 18:   “Did you see the look on the woman’s face as she looked at that coward.”

Lonlygirl12:   “I’m horrified. The coward looked like my father who left us.”

Braveheart29: “I will find that coward! I’ll teach him about bravery.”

Enlightenus4: “Our society is failing. We must all seek the truth to understanding.”

Anger69:         “I’ll beat his worthless ass.”

Sugarlipps:      “How can someone just stand there while their best friend gets eaten alive?”

Monstor99:     “My rage shall be felt throughout the land.”

Monstor99: also quoted Edmund Burke, “that evil succeed when good men do nothing.”

The bravado: pouring out of their empty souls, as they espouse their opinions of life and mankind.  How pathetic to sit in solitary self-imposed confinement and criticize the world. Every video I watched was of the shark attack— that I witnessed. All the brave commentators were nowhere near the scene of the attack.  The up-loads showed all the videos were posted by companies called XCITE, CONTENT MEDIA, YOUJUSTSAWIT, and others. They all pay for videos. The people who made the short videos had their story and they got some quick cash.  This all got under my skin, I was angry. So I thought about it and responded.

My online name is GWVET54 and this is what I wrote back.

I saw this shark attack, and the man you all are condemning tried to save the man who got attacked. He did save several children who were in the water. They were not friends, he was brave, and his actions should be commended.

Responses were as follows:

Sugarlipps: Where is your video if you were there. You’re probably the coward. What an asshole.”

Avenger17, Braveheart29, and Anger69 all replied with the same answer: YOU’RE A LIAR! In capital letters of course, they wanted me to feel their anger. I didn’t.

I couldn’t stand it, I turned off the computer and turned on the local evening news. First story— Shark attack— they did not pin point the location for fear of scaring away the tourists. But they did show video that showed the man running into the water and warning everyone- although the news commentator said, “He sure caused a panic … but children were saved, so I guess it was worth it.” They mentioned there was a victim, but did not disclose any more information about him.

About a week later, on You-Tube there was another video of the attack. Someone named Clarity33 posted it on their channel. So I guess Clarity33 was on the beach that day. It had a few hits, and one comment about the man warning the children. But most people had already moved on, satisfied that they knew the real story.


LEARN MORE ABOUT Artemis J Jones  AT HIS WEBSITE:  http://artemisjjones.blogspot.com

FROM WHAT SIDE DO WE ECHO

by Iain Cambridge

[Continuing the celebration of the works of Iain Cambridge]

LADY GODIVa

It was a warm spring day in 1948 that I first made the acquaintance of the young lady known to me only as Miss Harmony Reigns after having moved into the small two-bedroom house in one of the more affluent suburbs of Paris. I had recently acquired the residence at a bargain price due to the misfortune of another poor soul, for it had been part of a bankruptcy sale. On entry to my new home it was plain to see that some major decoration was needed as its previous owner had clearly fallen on hard times long before his home was taken from him. This was of no matter to me as I relished the chance to stamp my own personality on to this new abode, and so took to reshaping the rooms to my own design as soon as possible, and with great gusto.

The work was arduous and took more hours out of my day than I freely had to give. The lack of sleep, due to an enthusiasm to complete my new home, was sometimes reflected in my performance at work. Fortunately my superior was a genial man who understood the urgency of youth and allowed me, at such times, to regain the focus needed for my tasks, and to complete the work at my own pace.

During my renovations I would sometimes break for a light lunch, and would take to the little garden out back in order to enjoy the birdsong and silence that only this side of the noisy metropolis enjoys.

It was on such occasion that I first encountered Harmony Reigns.

As I sat, enveloped in the sounds of spring, there came on the wind the sound of a woman singing. Her voice seemed to mix in with the world around us, as if it had always been a part of the call of nature – heralding in the summer.

There was an old wooden fence at the end of the garden that separated my property from the one opposite, and it was from behind this that the singing originated.

Years of unkempt weeds had grown over the barrier between houses and had set themselves in such a way as to dislodge a part of the fence.

It was from here that I attained my first view of the owner of such a beautiful voice.

Sitting on the ground, below an oak tree that grew mighty and strong was a sight that would stop the beating heart of most young men.

Long red hair fell over a pixie-like face and flowed down her back like liquid fire and served as to frame her features that were pale in their complexion. Her eyes shone green and seemed to light up whenever she smiled. Unfortunately, this was not something she did a lot – for reasons that would become clear later in our relationship.

So as not to seem rude, I called over to her in order to initiate an introduction.

“Bonjour Madam,” I said. On this she looked up and around, seemingly confused as to where my voice was coming from.

“Over here Madam — the other side of the fence.”

Having located the broken panel she got up and walked over towards me and, bending at the knees, she peered though the hole.

“Oh! Hello,” she said. “I wasn’t aware that anyone lived over there any more.

I smiled and replied.

“I have just taken possession not two weeks since – pardon, but is Madam English?”

Her smile remained.

“Oh dear, is my French that bad”

“Not at all, but your accent gives you away.”

She laughed and said, “May I know your name, Monsieur?”

I blushed at my apparent rude behaviour at not introducing myself.

“Excuse me Madam; I am Phillip Rencall – at your service.”

“Harmony Reigns,” came her reply “pleased to meet you.”

“And I you.”

The fashions in Paris of late had dictated that young women should be of a slight build and enjoy a demure personalty that borders of the aloof. But Miss Harmony Reigns was not such a woman that would conform to another’s views and wishes.

She was confident in her manner and solid within her build and was a refreshing stray from the norm. We spent an enjoyable hour or so talking of many things of interest to both her and I. Sometimes we would find something mutual and dwell on the subject for a while. At other times we would spend a short time discussing a subject that was of interest only to one.

For example — Miss Reigns, it appeared, aspired to be an actress and a dancer, and longed to perform in London. I commented that she should also add singing to her repertoire, as I was quite enraptured by her earlier song. I told her of my work in the library, which by comparison to her lofty dreams of fame appeared quite dull. But the way she seemed genuinely interested in my work made me feel a little taller and less unimportant. That afternoon was as special a day as I have experience in a long time – if ever, and I would have happily spent my last day on Earth in this way.

The sound of a man’s voice shattered the air and ripped the placid calm that had encompassed the day. It was a brutish sound, filled with anger and violence. At his call, Harmony’s face drained of the little colour it held. She jumped almost in fear. “I am sorry” she said weakly “I have to go”

With that, she stood and almost ran to answer his call.

I could not feel but cheated of my pleasurable time with this most engaging woman, but I figured that this man had clearly laid claim to her affections long before I arrived and I was therefore in no position to complain.

This rational did not stop the feelings of jealousy though.

The next day, and the three days that followed were filled with images of her face.

Her voice echoed in my thoughts and dreams. I feared that my affection for Miss Reigns had crossed the line of decency and would not be seen as appropriate. I scolded myself for having such a childlike crush on this woman, of whom I had met only once. I washed the thoughts of her from my mind, buried myself in my work and lost the memories of her within my home making.

Until one week later.

On taking a break from my renovations I found myself back by the broken fence once more. I dared to sneak a look in case by some chance I would see her sitting under the oak tree.

To my utter delight – there she sat.

“You have been gone quite a while Monsieur,” she said without looking up.

“It does seem a long time, Madam Reigns, but after your hasty retreat on our first encounter I felt it would be only good manners to leave you to your business”

Her head remained bowed as she spoke once more. “Did you not enjoy our afternoon?”

I knelt down a little further, in order to gain a better view of the woman that had caused so many sleepless nights. A woman that had called into question as to what I would deem “decent behaviour” from a gentleman”

“Indeed I did Madam”

She laughed gently to herself.

“I think we know each other well enough for you to address me as Harmony”

I smiled to her unseen face.

“Then Harmony it is”

At this she turned to me and smiled.

As her hair fell away, the smile that I had reciprocated with left my lips, for, on the left side of her face was such an abrasion that could only have been caused by an aggressor. My exclamation caused her to raise her hand to her wound and turn her face from me once more.

“Miss Reigns – Harmony, what on earth happened?”

She lowered her hand and turned slowly to me again.

“Sometimes I speak too loud, and too candid.”

“And this is his answer?” I exclaimed, more in anger than I meant to. But to be fair of the situation, it did demand a reaction that would show disgust for any man that would raise his hand to a woman. I composed myself a little so that I might continue.

“I am sorry, Harmony, but violence is never the answer.”

She smiled at me and tilted her head a little, as if addressing a child.

“I am of the opinion that it depends on what the question was.”

I was a little shocked at her statement. “You surly do not condone his actions?” I said.

“I do not – but then I do not condone mine either.”

The pause in the conversation was such that it drew compassion from Harmony as to my struggle against what was clearly out of my control.

“Do not worry my friend, I have handled a lot worse and I have grown to live with his moods. He is not always like this, it’s just that sometimes the demon drink takes him over and I am not quick enough to recognise the signs.”

“Signs?” I inquired.

“Signs that I should start to curb my loose tongue.”

It angered me so much. Not only that this kerr of a man had spent his anger on a woman of such devotion, but also that her devotion had now caused her to defend his actions. She had obviously sensed my discomfort and chose that moment to change the subject.

“And what of you Monsieur?”

I looked at her face in question. Even with the swelling and the angry purple bruising, she still held my heart captive with her beauty.

“How have you filled your time during our hiatus?”

I smiled at her joke.

“The making of a new home – work. Nothing that would hold the interest of anyone but myself.”

Harmony looked at me for a few short seconds, a small measure of time that seemed to last a lifetime under her gaze.

“Tell me Phillip – is there someone in your life that you would share your affections with?”

I took my time to answer the question, a pause that evoked a small gasp of exclamation from Harmony’s lips.

“Do I presume too much as to ask such a personal question Monsieur?”

I smiled. “Not at all Madam — there is someone of whom I care deeply for, but alas she is betrothed to another.”

“Is she beautiful?”

“She is the spring and summer dressed as one. She is joy and happiness, sadness and woe. My minds eye sees nothing but her, and my heart beats only within her presence.”

Harmony Reign held my gaze for what seemed an eternity.

“Does she know of these feelings?”

“Alas, she is unaware of the effect she has on my soul.”

We left each other shortly after, as it was getting late. I could see that she was getting increasingly distracted by the oncoming hour that marked “his” return.

But there was many a time after when we would meet by the broken fence and talk of things and of people. She would expand on her dreams of fame. I would sit and listen, totally enraptured by her presence, bathing in her beauty.

On occasion the sleeve of her dress would ride up and I would catch a glimpse of the bruising caused by the grip of a man’s hand. When she adjusted her position, in an attempt at a more comfortable seating, her skirt would fall away from her knees.

I would turn my head away naturally at these times as to save her modesty, but not before catching a glimpse of more bruising to her upper thigh.

I said nothing as this subject seemed to be taboo between us, but it still tore at my heart.

The day came when I had completed the project that had kept me busy between work and my secret liaisons with Miss Harmony Reigns.

My small house had become a home.

The night drew in on that day as I made my way to my bed with the full intention of inviting her to lunch the next day. I would offer her of a tour of my new home. I wanted her to see what I had achieved. I craved her approval and sought deeply her praise.

As I lay awake, making plans for our lunch date, I heard the most terrible scream.

I sat bolt upright and the blood in my veins froze in fear of what I instinctively knew to be.

Another scream caused me to throw back the bed covers.

I ran down the stairs, through the kitchen and out of the backdoor that led to the garden. I could see a light streaming through the broken gap in the fence and so made my way toward it. Through the hole I could see the lights from her house – a light that illuminated both her and the object of my jealousy. As I watched I saw her run from him, calling to him to “stop” and to “calm down.” He, in turn, was yelling at her and calling her names that would have drawn me to defend such vile comments.

Instead I sat and watched the dark play unfold itself in front of me.

When she reached the oak tree she stopped running and turned towards him with her hands outstretched, pleading for him to stop and think. This was to fall silently on deafened ears as he continued his ranting, and his relentless pursuit.

When he reached her he pushed away her hands and clamped his own rough hand around her throat. I nearly called out in anguish, but my cry caught when I heard her strangled cry of, “Papa – please!”

Papa. This man that I thought as her husband — was her father.

This realization caused a feeling of elation within me, for my love was attainable and not locked within a violent marriage. Her loyalty was that of a daughter and not of a wife. With this revelation came the resolve to stop this madness that had come between us, and put an end to this mis-understanding that had stopped me from opening my heart.

At that point my soul found its voice and I called to her, hoping that this would cause a distraction long enough for me to scale the fence and interject myself between my love and her assailant.

On hearing me, both Miss Reigns and her father turned toward me. Harmony looked directly at the hole in the fence, whilst he turned this way and that, trying to locate the owner of the demands for him to stop.

I used this time to find something to stand on as an aid to climb the fence. I looked around frantically until I saw the small stepladder that I had used to reach the higher points whilst hanging the wallpaper. I ran to retrieve it and returned to the broken part of the fence. Having erected the ladder I climbed so that I could see over and into the garden of Miss Harmony Reigns.

What I saw though mystified me – for I saw nothing.

No house, no garden – nothing.

All that was to be seen was miles of open fields with not another house in sight.

Unsure of how to process this I jumped from the ladder and looked back through the hole. There was the scene that I had encountered earlier, only this time it had the pleading face of Harmony looking directly at me. Her hair hung limp and damp with perspiration and her eyes, that once shone so bright with laughter and happiness, now grew dull with fear and pain. I leapt to the ladder once more in the hope that what I had seen before was nothing but my imagination.

The scene was the same and yet the screams of Harmony Reigns still echoed within my skull. I dropped to the other side of the fence and ran aimlessly around in circles, trying to locate what could be so clearly seen from the other side. I spread my arms wide in the vain hope that I would touch what had become invisible, whilst all the time her cries for help became more strangled as they were forced though an abused airway.

Then, abruptly, there was silence.

I jumped at the fence and dropped to into my own garden again.

As I looked back I could see that my love lay still and lifeless beneath the oak tree, in much the same position that I had first encountered her.

This time there was no singing, no laughter.

I turned and sat with my back to the fence, my heart as broken as the fence that allowed this impossible view.

I wept for a loss I would never have – for a woman who had never been.

My reports to the authorities were met with ridicule. My story of a murder – taking place as it did at a location that did not exist, and with the victim being that of a mere phantom – was treated as madness on my part.

A question spun around in my mind. Was I mad? Had I joined the ranks of the insane? For as I am talking to you now, I would have sworn that she was no trick of the light, no mysterious entity.

She was real.

*  *  *

Twenty-three years had past since that strange time in my life, and since then I had faired a little worse because of it. Solace for me was sought at the bottom of a bottle. As a result, I lost my job having tried the patience of a good man too far.

With no income to speak of I fell to the same fate that befell the previous owner of my home and had it sold from beneath me. I began to imagine that this place was cursed and counted myself as just another victim of its evil.

I wandered the streets for many a year, alone and invisible to society, ignoring all, and ignored by all.

Fate is a fickle mistress, however, and salvation came to me in the most unlikely of packages. Whilst sleeping under a railway bridge just three miles from the Gare du Nord I noticed a small child playing on the railway tracks.

She was nothing but a street urchin, a parentless ragamuffin.

Her long blonde hair was matted and greasy from years of neglect, and her face was smeared with the grime of the city. Her clothes did not deserve the title, as they were mere rags, arranged merely to cover her modesty. She seemed healthy enough having grown a trade of begging and theft, as was necessary to stay alive.

I watched her playing for a while as she walked the rail tracks, involving herself in some sort of balancing game. The poise and grace she adopted in order to stay on the rail-line was a small marvel to watch and provided me with both a little afternoon entertainment and a distraction from the half empty bottle that never seemed to leave my lips.

“You seem sad Monsieur,” she said.

I was so involved in her play that I did not register that she was addressing me.

“I am sorry, little miss, were you talking to me?”

Oui, Monsieur,” she replied. “I come here most days to play and I have noticed that you have stayed longer than most. Is it your sadness that keeps you here?”

I smiled at her forthrightness, and at her broken French. It indicated to me that this was not her first language, but a gutter speak derived from a life amongst the human flotsam and jetsam of Europe that had washed up in the streets of Paris.

“You are correct, little miss, but for a brief while you have made me a little happier.”

She stopped her play and hopped off of the rail track.

“I am glad,” she said and proceeded to sit next to me.

I looked down at her for a while and wondered what had invoked her interest in me, until a thought suddenly struck me.

“Are you hungry?” I asked. With that, I fished around in my bag for some bread and cheese. She looked up at me with bright blue eyes. “No thank you.”

She looked down, and at the source of my comfort contained in that half drunk bottle.

“Are you thirsty?” she inquired. I followed her gaze and then looked back at her.

“Sometimes a little too thirsty,” I said, and placed the bottle into my pocket.

“Then maybe it is time to be hungry now?”

Her words were as an ice shard plunged deep into my soul. Had I become so worthless that I could incur pity from a child? The shame of the image I presented to the world was thrust back at me through the eyes of this innocent young girl. Her comments were not meant to be malicious, but their truth spoke to a part of me that I thought long dead, along with the spectre of Miss Destiny Reigns.

I removed the bottle from my coat and examined its contents.

Another derelict shell of a man, such as I had become, shuffled past at that moment and I thought for a while before offering it to him.

“For you, sir.”

He looked at me with suspicion.

“Your need is greater than mine, my brother,” I said to him.

He took the bottle tentatively and with a slight nod of his head carried on his way toward whatever hell was to be put to him on this path.

I, in turn, took the first steps away from mine.

The young lady went by the name of Monique, and from that day seemed never to leave my side. It was as though she had taken pity on this lost soul and had adopted me as one would do with a stray puppy. We would stroll together along the banks of the Seine talking of life and of the events that led to our current situation.

Hers was not as selfish a reason as mine, for unlike myself – who had given up on my sanity and had allowed my weak mind to fold in on itself –  Monique had been given no such choices in her short life. With parents of limited means, and of limited health, Monique soon found herself out on the streets begging for food in order to feed a hungry family, until one day there was a family no more. With both her mother and father taken by illness she left her home and sought out an existence with the underclass and the forgotten.

*   *   *

Years past and so did my responsibility to this ever-growing young lady.

Due to my reputation in Paris, being that of a madman and a drunkard, Monique and I both made our way across the channel to England, in the hope that I would gain employment under a new name. We assumed the guise of father and daughter and whilst I worked my days in the shipyards, she attended school, funded by what money I could earn during nightshifts taken in the local bars around town.

She had become my atonement for a wasted life, and a salvation for my own lost soul.

As she grew into womanhood I began to notice that she had started to gain the attention of several young men. This troubled me greatly, as it would do for any protective father. As a way of steering her away from temptation and from the admiring glances of varying gentlemen, I moved us to a small village close to the sea, just outside the main city. It was a small dwelling and suited us both. Monique loved to tend to the gardens and stroll along the beachfront, and I, once again, had started to involve myself with my books in the hope that further learning would lead to better employment, and a secure future for my adopted daughter.

All was well. We were happy.

*   *   *

“Who is Harmony?”

Her question came out of the blue one morning as we were enjoying breakfast.

Such was my surprise at hearing a name that I had not heard for some thirty odd years that I nearly choked on the piece of toast I had already started to swallow.

Having coughed myself to a halt, I wiped the tears of excursion from my eyes and said, “Where on Earth did you hear that name?”

She smiled as she sipped her tea. Something had defined her as quite the English rose of late.

“When you fall asleep after the nightshift, you tend to talk in your sleep”

“I do?”

“Indeed, and the name “Harmony” comes to your lips on the occasions when you are very tired. Was she very special to you?”

I stood up and started to clear my plate from the table. I looked at her pale face, with those big blue eyes that seemed to look into your soul.

“Not as special as you, Mon Amie.”

She returned my smile and tilted her head in such a way as to suggest that, for her, this was not an answer. I sat down again and refreshed my coffee cup.

“I do not know who she was,” I said sadly, “but what I do know, is that she only lives within my fantasies.”

I proceeded to tell her the whole story.

From my first encounter with Miss Harmony Reigns within the gardens of my new home, to the witnessing of her murder, and onwards to madness and depravity. After I had spent my sorry tale, Monique stood and walked to my side of the table. She knelt down in front of me and put her arms around my neck. She hugged me for such a long time that I felt hot tears of joy run down my cheeks as the weight of all those years fell away. Never in all our time together had she shown such affection, but this simple action secured forever the bond between father and daughter.

*   *   *

Monique came to me a few weeks later with a request to join the school drama club.

As she was now at the age of eighteen I was in no real position to refuse, nor would I have done so. Yet, her request showed me that she valued my opinion and felt the need still to run decisions past me. She had opted to stay on college for further education as she had missed a good six years of schooling, before had decided to start our new lives together. She felt the need to catch up. The drama classes were her way of becoming a little more social and to express herself in a way that would be restricted by living with an old man such as myself. Now, at the age of fifty-eight, I was starting to think more and more of my retirement.

My body was older than my age, as I had abused it terribly over the years. I was starting to feel the complaints it had started to make in protest to my unforgiving lifestyle. As an aid to dull the aches and pains of the day, I had started to take of a little port at the end of the night in order to ensure a good night’s sleep.

But this folly was to ignite old habits. Before too long, I had retreated back to my old ways of drunkenness. On occasion, I had seen fit to defend myself against varying protests from those around me.

Unfortunately, sometimes this defence would be physical in nature.

At this time Monique had been offered a part in the school play, and had even gone as far to as to be given a singing role. She would come home of an afternoon in order to sing to me before I had to go to work.

Her voice was that of an angel. It would bring me to shed tears of joy and of pride.

She explained to me that the part that she had been given was that of a young woman who had been spurned by her lover and the song she was to sing reflected her loss and sorrow at his actions.

“There is not a man foolish enough to let you go and not a woman in the world that could compete against your beauty,” I said one afternoon.

She smiled at me. For the first time, I saw that she was coy at my remarks.

“Oh, Papa,” she said, “you are bias.”

“That does make it untrue.” I said.

She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.

“Go to work foolish old man.”

At that I left for the evening, but not before explaining that I would not be returning until the next afternoon. I would finish late tonight and would start the early shift tomorrow. I would sleep at the dockyard bunkhouse, as it was easier than coming home at that late hour.

“I will have a surprise for you then,” she said.

“Do tell.”

She seemed so excited at holding in the secret that I thought she would burst.

“We will be doing a full dress rehearsal tomorrow, and so I will be in character when you return.”

I kissed her on top of her head and said my goodbyes.

“I will look forward to it,” I said as I left for the night.

Things change – but not always for the better.

My night had been long, with the temptation of the demon drink ever present. With the following day being harder still I felt the need to stop on the way home in order to dull the pain that had worn away at me all through those long hours.

On my return, I was a little the worse for wear. The liquor inside of me bubbled like a witches cauldron with the same promise of a darkness to come.

As I entered the small parlour I looked out into the garden to see if I could locate Monique. The sound of voices wafted in on the warm spring breeze. I assumed that maybe she had asked someone back to the house, to rehearse her lines, and the discovery of the script on the kitchen table seemed to confirm my thoughts.

I picked up the manuscript and flicked idly through it until I came across her character, at which point – my heart froze.

On seeing the name “Harmony Reigns,” the anger inside me rose and I bellowed at her to come into the house.

She ran to me with panic in her eyes at what could have caused such outrage.

“What is this?” I shouted as I waved the script at her, but words caught in my throat as I suddenly saw what she had done to her appearance. In a bid to make herself look more like the woman in the play, Monique had dyed her hair a bright red.

Old memories flooded back like a poison within my veins.

“Why would you do this?” I asked.

She looked at me with questioning in her eyes.

“Why would you betray my memories with this cheap imitation?”

“It was meant to honour your memories,” she said. “When I told my teacher about what had happened to you …”

“You did what?” I interrupted. “Do you know how long I had to wear the stigma of madness because of that time? You of all people know what I had to go through to get us to this place – why would you jeopardise our lives here?”

At this, she riled against me.

“It was our journey and we both had hardships to endure. I have jeopardised nothing. You, on the other hand, seek to drag us back again by revisiting your old ways. You stink of port and rum. This is our betrayal, not my homage to a lost love.”

At this, I am ashamed to say, I lost what little control I had and struck her across the face with the back of my hand. From some inner room in my mind I watched in horror as she spun with the force of the blow and dropped to the ground. I ran from the room and locked myself in my bedroom in an attempt to hide from my shame.

What had I become that I would seek to destroy the one beautiful thing in my world?

What monsters lay within me?

I passed out into a fretful sleep only to wake again in the small hours. I had missed my shift at the tavern, but I did not care. My mind was awash with the image of Monique, and of the act of cowardice that had dealt her such a savage reprimand.

I crept from my room and made my way downstairs in order to find her – to throw myself at her mercy and to beg for her forgiveness.

On the table I found a bottle of Iodine and blooded swabs as evidence of her attempts to repair the damage to her face.

My heart ached, and jumped at the sound of her voice from behind me.

“I will clean that up in the morning”

“Monique- I …”

She held her hand up.

“Please don’t,” she said.

“But I …”

“ No!” she said. With that, she left me alone in the room with only my shame for company. This sickness of mine had poisoned what we had. I feared that it would never recover.

The mood of that day hung in the air like a malignant spirit for more weeks to come, casting a shadow of despair over each day. The more I tried to explain and resolve the situation, the worse it became. With each rebuttal against my attempts to receive forgiveness, the more I drank.

Until that awful day.

On my arrival home from working at the tavern I stumbled into the house and called to her. She opened her bedroom door and stood, silhouetted in the doorway. Her newly-dyed hair shone like fire when illuminated by the light from her room.

But now there was something different, something I had not noticed before.

“Your eyes,” I said.

She looked down at me with the scorn she had adopted since her assault.

“What of them?” she asked.

“They are green.”

She laughed at me – at the drunken clown I had become.

“They have been green for weeks now. I have been wearing contact lenses, but you have been hiding at the bottom of a bottle for so long that you fail to notice what is in front of you.”

She laughed again as if mocking my stupidity – a laugh that seemed to burn my very soul. The rage inside me grew, fueled by the demons that hide behind a drunkards cowardice, until I lashed out once again in a bid to wipe the past from my mind and rid my life of the ghost that had tormented me for so long.

Everything from that moment was a patchwork of fog. So horrible was the result of my anger, that my mind would not put together a solid memory. It was as though I was protecting myself from the madness that had taken me all those years ago by denying my actions as being the truth. As the mists cleared and my temper retreated, I saw the results of my insanity, my obsessiveness and my pride.

For there at my feet lay the ruined body of Monique.

I knelt by her corpse.

I wept at what I had done.

I had everything, and destroyed it all.

A wail of anguish left my lips as I called to the winds in sorrow. For a moment I could have sworn that they called back to me as if to answer my cry.

Through my tears, I became aware that there was another who seemed to be sharing my woe. From the end of the garden, through a break in the fence I could hear the inconsolable weeping of a young man.

Long distant memories began to spark an impossible realization, and so I made my way slowly to the fence and dared to look through the gap.

There, sitting on the floor, with his back to his side of the fence, was a young man who was – but could not be – me.

I sat back and placed my hand over my mouth to save myself alerting this echo of my past to my presence.

How was he here?

How did a simple wooden fence connect our time and distance in such an impossible way?

Fate, as mentioned before, presents us with choices to make, and paths to choose. At that moment, I suddenly saw, with the clarity of a grief filled insanity, a way to end my suffering, the pain of a young man and that of my beloved Monique.

I would make sure that Harmony would indeed Reign again.

I thrust my hand through the hole in the fence and clasped my hand around the young man’s throat. I squeezed with every ounce of strength I had, ignoring the pain of his fingernails racking at the back of my hand. I felt blood spill from the wound, but still I kept my hold on him as he writhed and fought for his life – for my life.

As the last of his air gurgled through his crushed windpipe I spoke softly to him in our native French.

Je suis désolé , mais elle vaut plus que vous et moi.

His struggles became less and less as his fight for life left him. After a time he stopped moving. I kept my hand in place for a while in case of trickery on his part, but he had breathed his last and I had begun the end of our torment.

From where I speak from now, and to where I am going is not known to me.

Since taking the young man’s life – my life, I can feel the threads of my existence becoming undone, and as my tale becomes unwritten I cannot help but wonder what will become of my little Monique in this — her new story.

I fantasize that the little gutter snipe that gave an old man a new hope, became the actress she wanted to be, and I sneer at fate for making her the reason for me needing salvation. I see her now, standing on the rocks by the sea, her red hair blowing in the wind and sea spray wetting her pale skin. The same wind blows on me and starts to take apart what was broken, in order to build what should have been.

I leave now having righted what was wrong, but I have the feeling that the universe has not finished with me yet.

It mocks me still.

THE END

This is the third story published in Helios from Iain Cambridge. If you enjoy them, please leave a comment.

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/04/21/one-size-fits-all/

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/04/12/destiny-sails/

DESTINY SAILS

by Iain Cambridge ©2015

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‘So, explain the science to me again’

This was day one of the interrogation of the woman known to us only as Destiny Sails. I had asked the question, not because I was an idiot in these matters, but because I needed to be able to grasp further what this strange woman was talking about. Bright green eyes that shone almost luminescent looked at me from beneath a veil of curly red hair. It hung wet from perspiration caused by the effort of concentration against the pain inflicted by previous methods of information extraction. This same exertion caused sweat rivulets to trace small rivers across her dirt-smeared breasts — breasts that rose and fell slowly as each breath was considered and controlled.Her dress was blooded and stained with mud, ripped and torn at the hem caused by the long chase that had ended with her incarceration.

‘What part do you want to hear?’ she sighed. I sensed irritability in her voice caused by having to explain a seemingly simple principle to an imbecile.

‘The Telephone bit’ I replied. I knew this was getting to her, but I figured the more she had to repeat herself the more likely it would be that she would make a mistake.

‘If you have a phone by itself it is useless without having another to receive the call’

Her eyes rose in expectation and hope that I had finally got it.

‘Go on’ I said.

‘So even though time travel is freely accessible where I come from’

I interrupted her by checking a part of the many notes I had made.

‘The year 2678’ I said, not as a question but as a reminder of her earlier statement. She raised her eyebrows at me.

‘2499 – nice try’ she added.

I smiled and held out my hand as an invitation.

‘Please continue’ I said.

‘Even though time travel is freely accessible in 2499’ she tilted her head slightly as if to punctuate her annoyance at my interruption ‘we cannot travel to any point in time that has not made the discovery, and most importantly not technologically advanced enough to build a ‘receiver’’.

‘And yet, here you are’ my tone was one of sarcasm as her previous statement was flawed and contradicted her claims.

She answered me with a resolute sigh.

‘And yet, as you say – here I am’

‘Miss..’ another check of my notes, purely as a destabilising tactic.

‘Destiny Sails – quite a name’ I added.

‘I am quite a person’ came the reply.

‘As far as I know, we have not yet invented a means of time travel’

‘As far as you know – yes, you are right’

I leaned forward a little, but not too far as to be anywhere near her head, for the attack she had launched on the two guards on her capture was still visible on their much-abused noses.

‘So how did you get here? – If indeed you did travel from another time.’

‘The Hadron Collider’ she said simply.

This was the part I had difficulty with. She knew this and seemed to take great joy in explaining to me something that I no knowledge of.

‘Which is what exactly?’

She smiled. It was not a smile of joy, but was one of hatred and loathing. She looked at me as if she would quite happily end my life there and then.

‘A means of smashing sub-atomic particles together’

‘Why?’ I asked, as I genuinely did not know the answer.

‘Beats me’ she said ‘ but one of the by-products is that it creates a microscopic black hole and effectively wormholes have opened up in which to travel through time and space. It’s very hit or miss as to where you end up – but I usually end up where I need to be.

‘So you are saying that this is not the first time you have travelled in time’

She smiled her uneasy smile.

‘Nor will it be the last. The wormholes all originate from the Collider, so all we have to do it follow the pathways that lead to it and then use them as an expressway to other times – other planets sometimes’

‘Other planets?’

She leaned back a little and stretched her shoulders, causing her breasts to be pushed forward. The dress she wore housed a small external corset around its mid-section. It creaked and complained against the effort it had to make in order to keep in the very things it had be designed to show off.

I would have reasoned this to be a seduction technique from anyone else, but the sound of her bones cracking with the effort of excursion threw any thoughts of erotica from my mind.

‘You are aware that there are other worlds out there?’ she said.

Her last statement was demeaning, and meant as a poke at my intellectual infancy. It required no answer and was not graced with an attempt at one.

Instead, I ended the interview for the day.

I left the room and made my way to my small office on the second floor of the building that housed the interview rooms. On arrival I helped myself to a large measure of Vodka whilst I arranged my notes and typed them up, in order for them to be sent for processing. Having done that I then set about composing a new set of questions for the next day that would encompass all the information that I had now been provided with.

All be it all utter lunacy.

I went home to my bed a few hours later and slept an uneasy sleep, as my dreams we contaminated with images of a fantasy world that the subject of my studies had created within my minds eye.

A polluted world filled with darkness.

Of a sun that had been filtered by years of smoke and grime — pumped into the atmosphere over generations, giving no heat — delivering only radioactive death.

A barren land.

A dead world.

What salvation could there be then for the people of such a world, other than to retreat backwards into their own time, as their future held only despair. When I woke from this nightmare I vowed then that this would be my last case, as clearly the stories of the insane had started to etch themselves onto my own psyche. Looking back, I can see the irony in the fact that this decision was soon to be made for me.

~

‘Why here?’ I said as I entered the interview room the next morning.

I dismissed the guard on duty and sat myself at the table, placing a cup of coffee and a packet of cigarettes in front of her.

‘To prevent a tragedy’ she said simply, ‘and no thanks, I don’t smoke’

‘What tragedy?’ I took one of the cigarettes for myself.

‘Something that I feel has to be put right. Something that would steer this world, and many more besides, on a new and happier path’

My limited knowledge of physics was enough to be able to ask the next question with confidence.

‘Wouldn’t this create a paradox? Removing the reason you came here would make the trip meaningless – would it not?’

She looked at me with genuine admiration.

‘I see you have done your homework’

‘And you are evading the question’

‘Yes it would, had it been my original plan to come here. But as I said, it’s very hit or miss where you end up if you step outside the mainstream. This, for me was just a happy accident.’

I paused for a while as I considered my next question.

‘What was your ‘original plan’ – if you had not intended to be here? where were you headed?’

She ran her shackled hands though her hair, pushing it away and revealing the many scars that traced thin lines across her face.

Not scars from battle, but from self inflicted wounds – as if tribal in nature. These were highlighted by the colour of her skin.

To say it was black would suggest some sort of ancestral link to African or Afro-Caribbean roots — but no.

It was jet black.

So dark that, had it not been for the thin white lines of her scarring, you would find it hard to differentiate between the varying contours of her features.

She was not unattractive, quite the contrary — in a perverse kind of way she could be considered ‘nightmarishly’ beautiful.

But far from Human.

‘I gather information’ she said.

‘What type of information?’

‘Information of an historical nature. Information that has been lost due to wars carried out by you and your kind’

‘My kind? – Humans you mean’ the latter was meant as a statement rather than a question. She looked at me with apparent amusement in her overly large green eyes.

‘You are far from Human’ she said.

I arched my eyebrow to show intrigue at her last statement.

‘Then what am I? – Or we, what are we?’

‘An abomination – a joke to be shared amongst historians and a gauge of how far we have progressed’

I looked at her for a few seconds, trying to take in what she had just suggested.

‘Are you saying that YOU are Human?’

She smiled again.

‘I must seem so alien to you, as you seem so ape-like to me’

‘Insults?’ I asked.

This was met with silence, which continued from us both for an uncomfortable two minutes. I decided to address a previous thread that she had spoken about instead of this outlandish notion that she was what we were to become.

‘So your main purpose for travelling is the gathering of information?’

‘Yes’

‘This could constitute the actions of a spy’

‘If you like’

I gestured towards the recording apparatus that sat on the table between us.

‘You are aware that this interview is being recorded?’ I asked.

She leaned forward and spoke directly into the microphone.

‘Yes’ she breathed, and with that she lent back into her seat and smiled once more.

‘And that this confession is enough to have you shot as such’

‘You can try’ she said, and laughed at her own private joke.

I raised my eyebrows in surprise at her mirth.

‘You find the prospect of your own death amusing?’

The expression on her face suddenly, and unnervingly turned to that of savage anger.

‘I find the death of you and your kind very amusing’ she spat, and just as suddenly as it came, her expression changed to that of relaxed resolution.

‘You won’t find it as funny of course – but I guess it’s all relative’

~

I ended the interview and went outside the cell in order to confer with my peers, and to clear my head.

‘So I am guessing she is insane then?’ said one of the doctors who had made time to watch the interview.

‘Nutty as a fruitcake’ I replied with a smile.

‘No cure?’ said another.

‘I have spent the past two days questioning her, and even after she had endured a day at the hands of the ‘examiners’ – she still holds on to this notion of being a time travelling historian’

‘But look at her – I mean..’

I looked at the doctor.

‘A freak of nature – no more than that. We have been experimenting with genetics for some time. This is just proof that someone else has been playing around in the same gene pool’

There was silence from all of us, until broken by the doctor.

‘This is what your report will say then?’

‘It will’

‘But..’

I rounded on my audience – angry at their ignorance.

‘What would you have me say? Alien or time traveller – I will let you choose shall I?   Either one will get my position taken from me, along with my life no doubt. She’s a disfigurement, the subject of some experimental in-breeding program, resulting in delusion and insanity for this poor unfortunate soul – nothing more. Tomorrow she will be taken from here and destroyed, along with any foolish fantasy that she has chosen to spin’

It was at this time that the turn of events resulting in the situation that I find myself in now, namely, in front of you – happened.

For at the time of this conversation with my fellow doctors we received a visit from Head Quarters.

If fact we had ‘The Visit’ from Head Quarters.

The sound of several pairs of heavy boots echoing throughout the complex heralded his arrival. And as he walked around the corner, surrounded by his entourage of heavily armed guards, something happened that made the very air around us slow down and grow stale. All motion seemed to be hampered as if the moment had been covered in thick treacle. I turned to look at the prisoner through some inner fear that this was her doing, and to my horror I saw that she was standing, smiling and unbound by the shackles that had held her firmly to her chair only moments before. I called to the guards to protect their charge but the air around me seemed unable to carry my words, and so I ran, in order to warn him. As if waking from a dream, everything chose that moment to speed back up and I heard voices call together in unison.

As heels snapped together in salute, hands were raised to attention and everyone, except me, cried out as one man.

‘Heil Hitler’

And there she was — standing right by his side.

She looked directly at me with those large green eyes.

Mocking me.

Laughing at my inability to protect my leader, and at my impotence in controlling the inevitable. She linked her arm through his as he stared down at her with horror and loathing in his hard, grey eyes.

‘Hi Hitler’ she smiled – and with that she was gone, taking theFührer with her. She had warned me – and I, in my arrogance had passed this off as madness.

His sudden absence from leadership threw the Reich into disarray, leaving the doors open for our enemies to strike us down from a victory that was all but ours. I really don’t know what happened, or where she took him, but I am sure that he ended up in the same situation she had been in, and answering to crimes that only she and her people know about. I am guessing by the looks on your faces that you, as the victors of this war, are not her people, and I can see that you find my explanation of his disappearance as incredulous as her explanation was to me as to whence she came. I cannot be sure that her world is as dark and foreboding as my imagination had painted, or if it is a paradise created by her actions within our time. All I can say is, that her main claim seemed to be that she was more human than I. If this is the case, and we are all to become the aberration that sat before me in the interrogation room on that strange and unsettling spring day in 1945 – then I for one do not fear for our future, for I know that we will all pay for the crimes of our past, as I will pay for mine today.

THE END

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5124Iain Cambridge says: “I started writing back in 2010 as something to do whilst I passed the time during recovery from illness. Although fully recovered I still write as I enjoy loosing myself within a world of my own creation. I love finding someone who enjoys my work and invite all comments be them good, bad of indifferent.

ALMOST FOREVER: a Christmas Story

Kenneth Harper Finton

by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014

Dead-End-Good-Ways-To-Make-Money1

It was Christmas Eve.

Sarah was alone in her apartment.

Fred had left a week ago.

The holiday season had all the ingredients of a miserable experience.

Sarah has just turned forty-five.

She felt that her life has been spent giving a lot and not getting much back.

She wondered if that was her own fault.

“Am I deluding myself?” she asked. “Have I really given enough?”

Fred had told her she was arrogant just before he walked out the door. “You always think that you’re better than me,” he had said.

She had been accused of arrogance before Fred was around. Roger, her lover and dance director had complained of her air of superiority. She recognized there might be some truth to it.

However, the difference between arrogance and truth is often a fine line that depends on the delivery of the message.

Sarah…

View original post 850 more words

SAFE HOUSE

by Amy Skelton

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Editorial Note: The situation described in this story is all too common. Safe houses now exist in many cities and small towns, but clever abusers can all too often escape the justice system and wreck the lives of the innocent. This is but one small tale that occurs daily throughout the world. Whether this story is truth or fiction does not matter. It is a subject that society must address and correct.

 

Deborah stood on the threshold of the house, trembling with fear. She wanted very badly to go further, feel the crisp fall air, smell the fallen leaves and hear them crackle under her feet. It had been a very long time since she’d heard that sound. Eight long years she had been shut in her house, unable to endure the openness of the outdoors. Her doctor had diagnosed her with agoraphobia but she didn’t believe it. She knew it was more than that. Eight years ago something happened to her. Something that changed her in a deep and horrible way. She had many medical books and journals on her shelves. She knew she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She couldn’t explain to her doctor why she believed she was right. She had repressed the horrible memories of that period of her life so thoroughly, that it was more like a fading dream that still haunted her every waking moment.

* * *

Eight years earlier … in the misty dawn of a beautiful autumn morning, Deborah emerged from her house. She sat at her patio table with her steaming cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. She never smoked inside; her husband didn’t like the smell. It was five in the morning and he would be getting up in about an hour. Deborah used the extra hour to relax and be alone. He was relentless from the time he woke until the time he fell into bed at night. She couldn’t stand it anymore. Watching the beautifully coloured leaves fall from the trees, Deborah went over her plan again. She needed to escape. She didn’t know where she would go or what she was going to do about money, but that didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was her daughter.

On September twenty-eighth at two in the afternoon, Deborah’s life took a dramatic detour. She remembered the date clearly, as it was the day after her daughter Jenny’s tenth birthday. Jenny came to her mother and sat her down at the kitchen table. She had tears in her eyes but her chin was firm and her eyes blazed sapphirine fire. Deborah had never seen her daughter look so angry and sad at the same time. She was afraid of what she was going to hear but she sat quietly and waited for her daughter to speak.

“Mom,” she began, “I am going to tell you something. I know you are going to be mad but I can’t keep it in.”

Jenny looked down at her hands and Deborah saw she was twisting them together vigorously.

“I know that Gary is not my father,”

Deborah started up in protest and Jenny raised her hand to silence her.

“He told me that years ago, mom. That is not what I want to talk about. Just listen to me, okay.” Jenny swallowed hard and got the next part out in a rush.

“Gary has been having sex with me. He comes into my room at night, drunk, and puts his penis into me and has sex with me. I know you don’t know because he always hits you until you don’t get up. Then he comes into my room. I’m leaving this house. I asked my friend Katie’s parents if I could stay with them and they said it was okay. I’m sorry, mom. I wish you could come too but I know you won’t. I know that if you were going to leave, you would have by now. Good-bye. I love you.”

Tears were streaming down Jenny’s face as Deborah sat across the table from her, mouth open and paralysed. She shook her head vigorously and when she finally came out of shock, Jenny was half-way out the door.

She ran to her and screamed, “No, Jenny! Don’t leave me!”

Jenny cried harder and ran down the driveway with her little backpack. She didn’t look back.

Deborah didn’t want Gary to find out where Jenny was hiding. When he came home from work that day and found out that Jenny had left, he beat Deborah so badly she ended up in the hospital with a fractured skull.

She spent three weeks recuperating in the hospital. Gary came to see her three times. Once, the day after she was admitted, the second time after she had a stroke due to her injuries and the last time, when she could finally go home. She didn’t miss Gary in the hospital. She was happily entranced in a romance novel series that one of the nurses gave her to pass the time.

The nurses all knew what happened. Deborah never once told them what happened, they just knew. They were experienced and had seen it too many times to miss the signs.

She fell down the stairs.

Sure she did.

The doctor told her that she had options. She didn’t have to live like this, in constant fear. She replied, “Fear of what, doctor? Of falling down the stairs?”

She laughed feebly and the doctor shook his head. It was up to her now.

When Gary took Deborah home he was very gentle with her. He laid her on the couch, on some pillows that he had arranged and got her a nice, hot cup of tea.

She said, “Thank you, Gary. I missed having tea in the hospital.”

He smiled at her and asked, “Do you know where Jenny went?”

Deborah hesitated, only for an instant, before she replied, “No, I don’t know. She wouldn’t say. She just ran out the door and got into a silver car. I meant to call her friends and ask but you came home shortly after and…”

He shook his head and said, “I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me? Why is it never enough with you?”

Gary was yelling by the end of this speech but he took a deep breath and moderated his voice, “I will let you make those calls, since you know who her friends are.”

He left the house to go to work.

In the next few hours there were a lot of plans to be made.

Deborah needed help.

She knew that the only help she could find was at a shelter, but she didn’t know where it was. She looked in the phone book and called the number she found.

Deborah was relieved to hear a woman’s sympathetic voice on the other end of the line. She made arrangements for a room and told them her daughter was staying with friends but was concerned that her husband would be able to find her.

The woman at the shelter told Deborah that she needed to contact the police.

The woman offered to pick her up in her own car and take her down to the shelter where they would call the police and have Gary picked up.

Deborah said, “I don’t have any money. He has it all and I can’t access it.”

“That’s okay, Deborah, we will do what we can. By the way, my name is Wendy Barnes.”

Deborah smiled as she hung up the phone and went to pack her meagre possessions while she waited for Wendy to pick her up.

***

Gary came home from work earlier than expected.

He came up the stairs, saw the suitcase on the bed and immediately flew into a rage.

 

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“What are you doing? Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

He grabbed her arm and Deborah didn’t protest. She knew that she was still too weak to do anything and she knew if Gary hit her again, it would be the end of her.

“Gary, please. Don’t hit me. I’ll die if you hit me again.”

Gary hesitated only for a moment before throwing her down on the bed. He grabbed her leg and twisted hard.

Deborah could feel her hip dislocate and the searing, agonizing pain it caused.

Gary jumped on her and started punching her in the stomach. Her screams were ignored and she could feel pressure building up in her head.

When he finally stopped, he said, “Where is Jenny?”

Deborah laid motionless on the bed. She whispered, “I’m not telling.”

Gary emitted a wordless scream and starting throwing things around the room. Her mother’s china and the precious pictures of the family crashed against the walls.

Deborah was crying but she knew there was help on the way. She let out a gasp when the doorbell rang.

Gary tore downstairs to yell at whoever rang the bell. When he flung open the door, his face was red and sweat was pouring down his cheeks. Wendy took a step back as the door flew open.

She opened her mouth but no sound emerged. She was surprised, and a little scared, to see Gary, but she stuck out her hand and said, “Hello, my name is Wendy Barnes. Elections are coming up and I am going around door-to-door to talk to my constituents.”

Gary was confused and still angry, but beginning to calm himself. He knew that if anyone saw him like this, then saw his wife, he would be in trouble. He already had to go back to the hospital and tell those moron doctors about how clumsy his wife was.

“Hello. I’m sorry but I don’t have time to talk. My wife has just fallen down the stairs again and she needs to go to the hospital.”

Wendy backed away again and replied, “Oh my god, how awful. Can I help? Would you like me to take her?”

Gary eyed her suspiciously. Why would a local politician want to drive Deborah to the hospital? He said, “No, no it’s fine. Thanks anyway.”

When Wendy got back into her car and drove away, Gary carried Deborah down the stairs and out to his pick-up truck. He threw her in the cab, sat her up straight and said, “Do up your own damn seat belt.”

While pulling out of the driveway, he was none too gentle. Slamming the truck into gear, he sped down the street, heading toward the hospital. Little did he know that Wendy was following in her car.

At the hospital, Gary asked for a wheelchair and went out to put Deborah in it. He wheeled her to the desk and then walked right back out of the emergency room.

Wendy ran into the emergency room and saw a woman sitting in a wheelchair, crying. The nurses hurried to help the woman and quickly carried her off to an exam room. Wendy was explaining the situation to the nurse at the desk when one of the others walked up to her.

“Do you know that woman?” The nurse asked.

“Yes, I spoke to her this morning. I’m from the women’s shelter. I don’t know what happened. Her husband must have come home from work unexpectedly. He was red in the face and sweating when he answered the door. Then he said she fell down the stairs and he had to take her to the hospital. I followed them in my car. Will she be alright? Can I speak with her?”

“Her hip was dislocated. She will be fine but we are going to do an MRI to make sure she suffered no further damage since the last time she was here.”

Wendy covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes widening, “When was that?”

The nurse replied, “Actually, she just left here today.”

A tear streamed down Wendy’s cheek. She thanked the nurse and went outside to get some air.

Sitting on a bench outside the door of the hospital, Wendy made a couple of phone calls. One was to the administrator of the women’s shelter, to get approval to act as she knew she must. She knew that if she was not careful, Gary could sue the shelter.

She also called the police and spoke to a detective that she knew personally.

“Hello, Detective Marshall’s office.”

Wendy sighed and said, “Hello, Martha. It’s Wendy. Is Ben there?”

Martha answered in a worried voice, “Yes, Wendy, I will put you through right away.”

Wendy heard a click and Ben answered, “Hi, Wendy. What’s up?”

She gave him the whole story and he listened in silence.

“I think she’s reluctant to talk and that’s why I called you. You have convinced a number of my ladies to press charges. If she doesn’t get out of that house, Gary is going to kill her. I know it, Ben. Please come to the hospital.”

“I’ll do what I can. I know Gary. I’ve picked him up for drunk and disorderly and a few other misdemeanours. I had no idea he was so violent but I trust you. You’ve seen some horrible things, Wendy.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Ben. The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that these women need me and I so badly want to help them.”

“You do great things, lady. Keep it up. I will do my part as well.”

Wendy thanked Detective Marshall and hung up the phone. She lit up a cigarette and tried to relax. As long as Gary wasn’t at the hospital, Deborah would be fine. She was in good hands here and all the nurses watched their patient carefully.

After a few more deep breaths, Wendy went back into the hospital and was allowed to see Deborah. She ran to the woman and hugged her gently, introduced herself and apologized for not getting to her house sooner. Deborah told her the story of how she had come to be in the hospital immediately before the current incident and explained how embarrassed she was to be back the very day she was released. Wendy said, “This is not your fault. Please don’t feel embarrassed. It is for Gary to be punished for his crimes. Please don’t punish yourself.”

Deborah nodded and closed her eyes for a moment. She was relieved that she was in the hospital again. Gary couldn’t touch her there.

She laid back and took a few deep breaths but a sudden flash of her daughters face appeared before her closed lids. She snapped her head up and said, “Jenny! I need Jenny to be here right now. Gary tore out of here real quick and since I’ve been out, all he could say was, ‘Where’s Jenny, where’s Jenny.’ I know he went looking for her. We need to get to her before he does!”

Wendy ran over to the phone in Deborah’s room and called Detective Marshall again. Martha answered again and Wendy gave her the whereabouts of Deborah’s daughter. She told Martha to have Ben go there before the hospital, as it was an emergency and that little Jenny could be in grave danger. Martha hung up and immediately told the detective the news. He lit up his cherries and raced over to the house just in time.

Jenny was playing in the front yard with her friend when Detective Marshall arrived. Just as he was getting out of the car, Gary showed up in his blue Chevy pick-up.

Detective Marshall drew his gun and pointed it at Gary. Gary raised his hands and slowly approached his daughter. Jenny’s eyes were wide and fixed on Gary. She was about to run when Detective Marshall spoke, “Jenny, please don’t run. Come over to me, slowly. I’m going to take you to your mommy.”

Jenny was silent and Gary laughed, “Great, you take her to Deb and when I pick her up, I’ll have both my girls together again.”

Detective Marshall’s eyes never left Gary’s face and he knew that there was something wrong. His eyes were strangely dilated and his hands were shaking. Jenny had walked over to the police car and Detective Marshall had heard her gasp.

He said, “Don’t worry, Jenny. Gary isn’t taking you, or your mom, anywhere. Consider that a guarantee.”

Detective Marshall walked slowly toward Gary, still pointing his gun, and said, “Get on the ground with your hands behind your head.”

Gary rode in the back of the cruiser and Jenny rode up front. Gary had finally lost his temper. He was kicking at the door and the back of the seat, slamming his head against the window and yelling incoherently.

Jenny was leaning forward, crying and covering her face with her hands. Detective Marshall patted her shoulder and tried to reassure her.

“Don’t worry, Jenny. You and your mom will be safe now. I don’t know a judge in the country that wouldn’t throw this scumbag in jail for a long, long time.”

Jenny wiper her cheeks with the back of her hand and asked, “Do you think you can convince my mom to press charges? She’s scared of Gary. I am too. I had to run away but I didn’t want to.”

Detective Marshall answered, “I know I can get her to press charges. If I can’t, would you appear in court to testify against him? His abuse of you is enough to get him a good, long sentence. Are you too scared to do that?”

Jenny looked him square in the eye and said, “No, I’m not too scared. I hate Gary and I hate what he has done to my mom and me. I want him to go away forever.”

Detective Marshall smiled to himself and stopped at the police station. He dragged Gary out of the car, escorted him into the building and came back out right away. Jenny waited in the car and they were soon on their way to the hospital.

The reunion between mother and daughter was frantic and filled with tears. Jenny held her mother’s hand as the detective spoke to them. He told Deborah that he was filling out a statement as she spoke and that he expected her to sign it.

“If you don’t sign this, Gary will go free. After hearing your story, from the doctors, nurses and Wendy, I think I can say without contradiction that if you do not sign this statement and press charges, Gary will kill you. Do you agree?”

Deborah gasped and turned away and Jenny squeezed her hand. “Mom, he’s right you know.” Deborah turned to her daughter, with tears streaming down her face, and said, “I know, dear. It’s over. Give me the papers.”

***

It took a year for the courts to hear the case. Gary was in county jail the entire time and was not given the opportunity for bail. No one would have paid it in any case and Gary was broke. He was charged with assault, aggravated assault, assault causing bodily harm, sexual interference of a minor, sexual assault of a minor.

Gary was sentenced to ten years in prison but an appeal to the court was granted and his sentence was reduced to one year. Deborah and Jenny were devastated and Deborah got a restraining order against him. Gary ignored the order repeatedly and was constantly harassing them until the police agreed to put them into the witness protection program. Deborah and Jenny were moved to a new city, far away from home, where they were able to start a new life.

Deborah was able to start out on disability, making just enough money to live in reasonable comfort with her daughter by her side. Jenny had deep-seated emotional problems and was seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis to help her deal with the horrible conditions of her childhood. Five years later, Jenny took an overdose of her anti-depressant medication and died before her mother had any idea of what was going on.

Now Deborah is still coping with the loss of her daughter and the permanent injuries she sustained at the hands of her ex-husband. She walks with a cane now and her head injuries have never healed properly, causing extremely painful migraines and dizziness. Gary is still free and even though she has not seen him, Deborah knows he is still looking for her. She doesn’t leave the house, not even to go to the end of the driveway to get her mail. The farthest she will venture is her front porch and even then, if a car drives by, she darts back into the house. One of her neighbours, who knows her story, retrieves her mail from the box and brings it to her every day. She also goes grocery shopping for her once a week. She feels an incredible sympathy for Deborah and does all she can to help her. Deborah has never visited her daughter’s grave since the funeral.

 


 

 

Amy Skelton is the author of Night Terror, published in Helios earlier this year. 

Amy lives in Ontario with not far from the St. Clair River and Lake Huron. She is a writer of novels, short stories and poetry, specializing in women’s issues and disturbing images.  She is the owner of the website AmysTalesAndPoetry.Weebly.com and the administrator of the Facebook page Amy’s Tales and Poetry that can be found at www.facebook.com/publishamy. This story was originally published in Scriggler. 

THE MYSTERY OF FOWLER’S HILL

Kenneth Harper Finton

THE MYSTERY OF FOWLER’S HILL

© 2014 Kenneth Harper Finton

HOUSETake a boy of ten, a pleasant, smudge-faced little boy with dangling arms and freckles spotted rampant on his nose. He is wearing a red and white striped polo shirt––cool enough to eat. Then take a lonely old house on a windswept hill that looks down upon the main street of a small Ohio town like a melancholy illustration from a picture book of horrors. Then add to this an old woman existing in her lonely life by threadbare strands of memory. Lump the scene together. Let is simmer with the passing of time, with clocks that run backwards and a love that ebbs away to pity.

Thirty years ago, I was that boy of ten standing in the mist at the foot of Fowler’s Hill. I was about to earn my first dollar delivering papers on Sunday mornings. My…

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WHISPERING DESIRES

by Julia Proud ©2014

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“Come in,” Tamara uttered a bit startled.

The knock had shattered her brief reverie on the passing of time and she found herself grateful for the distraction, even if a little fearful that the company of the one stepping inside her room was not the one she desired.

And her fear became reality as her husband opened the door and entered with his lit ciggy between his thick dry lips and a glint in his eye telling of the few drinks he had probably already had that evening.

He closed the door behind him, smothering the music coming from the gramophone downstairs. It was one of her favorites, Paul Whiteman’s Whispering, a melody she had first heard, in 1920, only two years ago, before she had been married and stuck in Dallas, living with a man she knew nothing about.

Tamara turned around to look at herself in the mirror, trying to hide the disappointed look on her face.

Why couldn’t it have been her maid walking in, asking about dinner, offering little tidbits of gossip from town?

“You look wonderful, dear!” he exclaimed and blew the smoke toward the clear, untainted surface of the mirror, where her reflexion tensed at his approach.

She was seated at a large vanity table, her earrings in hand. She was about to undress and skip dinner that night, as she had been for the past week.

“Why not come downstairs?” he asked and put on a mocking expression of concern as he leaned to brush his cheek against her short golden locks; he then added lowly “Or are you feeling ill again, my dear?”

His gaze was fixed upon Tamara’s reflexion as he pressed his cheek against hers in a tender gesture that made her stomach hurt and her blood rush. So, she avoided his warm brown eyes and kept her head lowered, and her cold blue gaze upon the glittering jewel between her fingers.

“I’m not well. Yes. So, would you mind-”

“Matter of fact I would mind,” he uttered bluntly and took the earrings from her hand, rendering her speechless for the moment.

Couldn’t he just leave her be?

He put her earrings on, slowly and carefully, taking his time, and every touch of his fingertips on her ear lobes made her skin crawl.

Of course, he couldn’t just leave her be – he was her husband and had been so for over two months now. How long could she go on avoiding his company?

The first few weeks had been filled with wonder and a strange feeling of freedom, but only because he had been away on business. Tamara had had the large eight bedroom house to herself and spent most of her days in the large gardens, reading and listening to music – she had the maid bring out the gramophone whenever the weather allowed, and it allowed almost every day.

But once he returned, her reign ended. Even if he spent his days at his Dallas office and came home in the evenings, there was no sense of freedom anymore, not even in listening to her albums, not even in reading her books.

She had refused him her company long enough, it seemed, and Jeremy would have her sit across the table from him and go through all the motions of gentle society conversation, about the weather, about the house, about his work, about whatever he, the man would choose to talk about.

Tamara had been brought up properly, to be a lady, even if she had gone to college, it had been only so she’d be educated enough for her to marry someone with class, of good breeding. Her father clearly had no idea that his little girl hadn’t been so little or a girl for some time.

Her college experience had been very enlightening, in the ways of men and women.

And so her father’s plans to marry her off to a good family, fell flat when she came back from Mount Holyoke College wearing the latest inappropriate fashions and with her hair cut short, like a boy’s.

Tamara had refused every offer for marriage: lawyers, judges a congressman even. But what she never refused was sex. It was all the more exciting if she didn’t know anything about the man.

And so, her reputation started to wither as the years past lowering her chances to marry well, or even marry at all.

But she believed she didn’t care. The man she had loved was lost to her forever and no other would compare to him. So why should she submit and suffer the company of anyone else, someone who she didn’t and wouldn’t ever care for?

Tamara sat at the table and sought to drown her resentment in wine.

She hated wine and she hated being a wife.

The only reason she accepted marrying this man was… Well, it was lost to her – she’d rather not admit to it, not even to a hint of it.

Tamara was just like any other woman, after all. Under the threat of ending up a sad old spinster, she yielded. She was now twenty-five – old enough to know not to trust a man’s words and old enough to understand her own limits. She was not the sort to grow old in the same house as her father, in that small, irrelevant little town. She wasn’t going to waste her youth trapped there, but she was too afraid to take flight, so, she decided she might as well spend the rest of her days in a cage fit for a canary like her, with a wealthy, snazzy man.

They ate and drank, and, as she had expected, the conversation floated from proper subject to proper subject, weaving a sense of civility into an otherwise barbaric situation.

Jeremy Tusk knew full well he had married a stranger for her pedigree and pleasant appearance. He took a nuisance off her father’s hands and, to sweeten the deal, he also opened a few doors in the southern trade for him. She had been sold by one man and bought by another.

The threat of silence set upon the table as they were almost done with the final course and so, she wandered over to the gramophone and revived Paul Whiteman’s Whispering.

Tamara wasn’t a prude, though Jeremy might have believed that. And, even if she would have never admitted to it, she wasn’t avoiding being alone with him out of a reluctance to give herself to him. On the contrary, she knew she wouldn’t be able to resist him – how else was one to vanquish loneliness?

But, she dreaded the idea of intercourse with her husband. It felt as if she would be sealing the deal, approving the trade, agreeing to the contract that had brought him and her together. She knew that, oddly enough, she’d feel cheaper after being with her husband than she had ever felt after being with men whose names she couldn’t even remember.

A giggle escaped her wine tainted red lips and she shrugged in response to Jeremy’s inquisitive gaze.

“Let’s dance,” she heard herself suggest and he obliged with a smirk.

The man knew how to move, and she found she was lost admiring his face.

He kept a thin mustache, like the actors in those moving pictures, and his eyes were beautiful, even if a little tired. With a long face and a straight, well-defined nose, he reminded her of the Portrait of a Poet by Amedeo Modigliani – she loved his works.

The tune came to an end and so did their evening together. She didn’t protest when his hand took hers and when his lips kissed her fingers.

But, despite her expectations, there was no attempt to kiss her, to enter her room or to persuade her to remain in his company longer.

She stood in front of her vanity table staring at her reflexion, puzzled by her husband’s gallantry.

The fact that he didn’t even allude to wanting to spend the night with her bothered Tamara more than she would have liked to admit. Was he actually being coy about sex?

But what irked her, even more, was that she wanted it now, so much so, that she had spent the better part of an hour staring up at the ceiling, in darkness, stuck in a cold large bed, trying to sleep.

So, she dared slip out of her room, wearing nothing but her silk white night gown. Her bare feet took her along the corridor toward his room, only to freeze at the sound of Jeremy’s voice coming from downstairs.

Tamara couldn’t make out what he was saying or even guess who he was speaking to but she assumed it was the maid, or the butler.

She approached the stairs quietly and took a peek in the entrance hall, just over the railing.

Tamara could see Jeremy’s shadow and the one he was now whispering to – a man. Someone she had never seen before, probably an employee from his cotton trading company; he was well dressed and young, maybe not even twenty – perhaps the son of one of his employees, come, in secret, at that late hour, to ask for a job, a favor, a…

They kissed.

She was sure of it. Jeremy had leaned in and kissed the boy on his lips.

No, no, surely this wasn’t what she had seen.

But, as the boy walked backwards toward the front door, seeking to leave, Jeremy kissed him again, this time, for a while longer, deeper and with an embrace.

She didn’t want to believe it, and for a few seconds she just stood there, staring at them. But once the shock faded, Tamara fled in silence, hiding inside her room.

There was outrage, then pure wonder, confusion and then revelation.

Tamara burst into laughter, covering her mouth, and trying to keep her chuckles in check for fear she might be heard.

All her avoiding, worrying and thoughts of self-importance had been for nothing.

Nothing was what it seemed, was it? You’d think that she would have learned that by now.

She continued to laugh under the covers of her cold bed and soon, her low snickers became quiet sobs.

There was nothing left for Tamara but loneliness and, for the first time in years, she had no choice but to feel it and let it swallow her whole.


Julia Proud is an animation artist and a storyteller. She has experience writing movie scripts, which most likely shows in her books by the manner in which she structures her stories and the way she chooses to walk the reader through a scene.

Actions, dialogue, and the characters’ interpretation of the world are important to her.

She is a firm believer that a story’s first job is to entertain, no matter the medium in which it presents itself. But don’t label her writing mindless fun – Julia knows that real entertainment is achieved by engaging the mind and tricking it, even for a moment, into believing that the story and its characters are real.

 
Julia is currently working on expanding the Jazz Noir Collection that she’s recently started with A Dead Man novella. The Jazz Noir universe is comprised of stories set during and around the Prohibition era, in the U.S. and Whispering Desires is part of that universe.

http://juliaproud.com

FROM WHENCE COMETH THE SONG

Kenneth Harper Finton

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 A NOVEL IN PROGRESS

©2014 Kenneth Harper Finton

CHAPTER ONE: THE MARE’S NEST

“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” – Mae West

The child and the boy that Adam used to be was so foreign to him now. Looking over pages that he wrote more, Adam barely recognized his former self as the person who wrote them.

Adam came from a conservative and opinionated small town in rural Ohio. Those who lived in his little town often claimed it was God’s country. Adam supposed that it might good for the spirit to be content and proud of your community. God’s country seemed to be a stretch, though. So many wonderful spots in the world better fit that description.

Life seemed to be so much more idyllic and simple then. Yet, it seems to Adam that this is never the case. Faded memories – the…

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