This week we have stories by:
Marla J. Mercer
Mick Bordet <——— This week's Winner
Marla J. Mercer
My story is based on a newspaper item that I found in the Business Section of the Los Angeles Times dated 8/19/09. The headline reads, “Coffee Jar Case Isn’t Closed”. It’s about a former male model who is suing Nestle USA for using an image of his face on the Taster’s Choice freeze-dried coffee label without his permission. The piece gave me the idea for the following story entitled . . .
An Unauthorized Likeness
By: Marla J. Mercer
A woman in the dayroom is using my face without permission. I saw her reflection in the window today as I was taking a brief walk around the ward. She was standing next to the television. When I turned to confront her, she quickly darted into the water-therapy room. I immediately reported the infraction to the new nurse. He is a big man with thickets of black hair on his forearms. I believe his name is Nurse Roland, though I may have him confused with one of the characters in the novel I am writing—I’m not sure.
That’s one of the things I like about my stay here at the hospital. The members of the staff understand the subtleties of my craft and make no demands on me to sort out what is real from what is fictional and vice versa. When I lived at home with my husband, Benjamin, it was an unspoken rule that I keep my writing-mind separate from my wife-mind, a task I found extremely difficult and frustrating. Sometimes it took all my concentration to keep the filters working. In retrospect I’m surprised that the screaming didn’t start much earlier.
But, I digress. Getting back to my complaint, using the image of another’s person face without prior approval is a clear violation of hospital policy, and unfortunately, this is not the first time it has happened. On several occasions, I have noted that same forlorn-looking woman using an unauthorized likeness of my hands and upper torso. If appropriate steps are not taken to stop her, I may be forced to sue. I will ask my husband about it the next time he visits. Benjamin is an attorney and knows all about the law.
Take, for instance, the details of my commitment. Benjamin was able to quickly cut through the legal red tape and have me admitted for immediate long-term care, forgoing the usual 72-hour observation period. Everything is spelled out quite clearly in the meticulously prepared documents that he has since filed. Benjamin prides himself on being efficient and well-organized, which is why he considers me to be such a disappointment.
I suppose I can’t blame him for thinking that I have failed him as a wife. For the record, though, I would like to state that I tried very hard to be the kind of competent woman he wanted me to be. Each morning, before Benjamin left for work, we would carefully review the list of daily household chores and errands that he had prepared for me.
“Just work your way down the list, one task at time, and you’ll see how easy it is to get everything done,” he would say.
I would nod in agreement and kiss him goodbye, fully intending to follow his instructions to the letter.
It’s just that . . . I would find myself walking past the computer. And then I would start thinking about a story I was working on, and without even realizing it, I was Alice down the rabbit hole. Before I knew it, Benjamin would be home from work, and I would still be dressed in my pajamas, clicking away at the keyboard, and not a single item crossed off the list.
I have tried to explain the phenomenon of writing-related time warps, but Benjamin thinks I am crazy. To him, time proceeds in an orderly and methodical fashion. His minutes are well-trained soldiers on parade, each equal distance apart and marching in perfect cadence. He keeps a very close eye on them, too, and is forever checking his watch, especially when he comes to visit me.
Luckily, the fluid nature of clocks and calendars is no longer an issue that concerns me. The staff here keeps track of everything on my behalf. Visiting days, appointments, meal times, medication schedules—I need not give them a second thought. For the first time in my life, I am free to write day and night, without any restrictions.
It took my good friend, Doctor Melvin, to figure out that if I am writing, I am not screaming, which is why he has issued orders for the staff never to interrupt me when I am working. Their cooperation and support do not go unnoticed and will be duly acknowledged when my novel is published. I will also be including a special dedication to Doctor Melvin for supplying me with the most amazing computer imaginable. It has increased my productivity a thousand fold.
My old computer at home required me to manually type the words to my stories, a method so pathetically slow that only the tiniest percentage of my ideas ever found their way to my fingertips. Here at the hospital, however, Doctor Melvin has granted me round-the-clock access to a special brainwave computer that eliminates the need for any keyboard input whatsoever. With my new equipment, I am able to transfer each and every thought directly into the central processing unit at the same lightening-fast speed at which my neural synapses are firing. Though Doctor Melvin has yet to reveal the technical specifications of the hardware, I strongly suspect the circuitry involved is similar to the machine used for my shock treatments, for I often experience a tremendous rush of creativity after a session.
I have asked Doctor Melvin and the staff not to mention anything to my husband. If Benjamin were to find out about the brainwave computer, I fear he would have me transferred to another hospital. After what happened the night I was committed, I am convinced he would stop at nothing to keep me from pursuing my writing career.
“I’ve had it with this little hobby of yours” he had declared that evening.
I had just returned from the grocery store and was putting a sack of groceries on the counter. “What are you talking about?” I had asked.
“You weren’t here when I got home, and now it’s six-thirty, and you haven’t even started supper. I’ve tried to be tolerant and indulge you, Lena, but I’ve reached my limit. Look at this place. It’s a mess. Enough is enough. From here on out, you’re going to stop all this writing nonsense and get your priorities back in order.”
His words had slapped my face as surely as an open palm. “But, I can’t stop writing,” I had protested. “My stories are the only things in my life that—”
“Your stories are gone,” Benjamin had interrupted. “While I was here by myself, wondering where you were, I was forced to take matters into my own hands.”
A shiver of fear had run up my spine. “What do you mean?”
“I’m saying that I’ve solved our problem. I deleted all your document files and shredded your paper copies. I cleared everything off the external hard drive, as well.”
“It’s for the best, Lena. I read a few pages. Believe me—it’s no great loss. You’re a housewife, not a writer.”
And that’s when the high-pitched screaming had started. Until then, I hadn’t realized the full range of my vocal chords. At least, I think I was the one doing the screaming. It’s possible that it might actually have been a character in my novel. It’s so hard to keep these things straight. Or perhaps it was that very sad-looking woman who keeps using my body without proper authorization or consent. I have a hunch she is the one I sometimes hear crying when I wake up at night. Maybe I should write a story about her.
Then again . . . maybe I already have.
An Unauthorized Likeness by Marla J. Mercer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Crowded Living Space
By: Norval Joe
“Come on, it’s over this way,” Dean said. He motioned for his cousin to follow, and ran forward, not waiting for a response. When he reached a bend in the passage, he turned to wait for the slower boy.
“Wait, Dean, let me rest a bit. No one is following us anyway.” Bent over, his hands on his knees, he gasped for air.
“We don’t know that Vance, my little brothers are sneaky and persistent. If you’d stop breathing so loud, I could listen for them, and know for sure.” Dean stepped back down the dark hallway and listened. Vance tried to control his breathing. For the few seconds while there was silence, Dean confirmed that they were, in fact, alone.
They held their lanterns in front of themselves. While the light illuminated the ground at their feet for only a few yards, it was picked up by reflected by small sensors on the walls for almost 100 feet. “Three more sensors on the left and then we turn,” Dean said.
“How can you be sure. I’m completely lost, and you think you know where you’re going?” Vance was skeptical.
“Look, Vance, you just have to pay attention. How far was it from our apartment, to the lowest inhabited floor?”
“Umm. Six, I think. Was it six,” he asked Dean?
“No,” Dean said, incredulous. “It was eleven. Then how many floors did we descend until got to the long passage? Think about it, four flights of stairs for every floor, you should have been counting.” He could see Vance wrinkle his brow and purse his lips in concentration.
“Ten?” Vance guessed.
“You have no idea, do you? Come on, you look rested enough.” Dean walked down the hall, his lamp creating an island of light in the vast darkness. “We descended eighty four flights of stairs. That’s twenty one more floors. Thirty two in all. At about twenty feet per story we’ve dropped 640 feet from our apartment and 420 below the last active air pump.”
“Air pump. Now I get it,” Vance said, and wiped sweat from his forehead. “Is that why it’s so stuffy down here?
There aren’t any air pumps working.”
“Yeah. Where the people live they have to pump the air in to keep it fresh. Once, I tried to get to an opening on our level. I wanted to see the sky and breath outside, in the open air. I walked for almost a day, maybe in circles, but I never found a way out. Here is the next turn. Come on, in here.”
They entered another passage. It ran a short distance, maybe 100 yards, and stopped at a heavy door.
“Be careful here,” Dean said to Vance. “Here, take this chair leg and jam it in there when I open the door,” Dean said and indicated the hinged side of the door. “It worked to hold the door open the last time I came through here, but it was tough doing it by myself.”
Dean pulled back a large spring loaded bolt, held it with one hand, and pushed on the manual door release with the other. Years ago the door may have been operated electronically; prismatic sensors on the door and wall were evidence of past technology.
Dean pushed the door open and Vance wedged it like he was told. Wind from outside rushed past them blowing their hair and clothes, and trying to force the door shut again. There was just enough space through the open door for each boy to squeeze through and onto a narrow ledge.
Dean was smiling as he watched the other boy make his way out onto the ledge and look down. The shock and fear on his face was clear and Dean laughed out loud, and shouted at his cousin, “slide sideways over this way. There’s a wider place to stand.”
They moved along the narrow shelf to a broader landing where they could sit, comfortably, and catch their breath.
The outer wall of the building dropped away into darkness impenetrable to the light of the small lanterns. Only a few feet away, across the infinite drop, was another building. It had a similar landing to the one where they sat, and an open doorway.
“So is this what you wanted to show me? A ledge above a bottomless pit,” Vance asked. “I mean, what can you see? All I can see is ways up to the side of the building and that other one over there.”
“No, this isn’t it. We’re almost there, though. It’s just through that door and way down at the end of the passage.” Dean replied pointing at the rectangular shadow on the building opposite where they rested. He got to his feet, took a few running steps and jumped across the chasm.
“Are you crazy? What are you doing?” Vance cried at Dean.
“Come on, you wimp. You could step across that big a space if you didn’t think about it. Let’s go. We need to get back home sometime.” Dean laid on the pressure.
They walked along the passage without talking for some time, then Vance said, “how many apartments do you think we’ve passed? And not a person in one of them.”
Dean started calculating, “well, there are supposed to be around 8000 apartments on the floor we live on, and that’s without crossing to other buildings on our same level. We’ve dropped 21 floors that are uninhabited, to where we crossed over to this one. If this building is anything like ours, that would be 42 floors total, so about 320,000 apartments. If you put 20 people in each of them, like we have at home, then you could house 6,400,000 people in the space we have walked.”
“Huh,” was all Vance could say.
“Hey, look ahead of you,” Dean said.
“Why? All I can see is five feet in any direction with this cheep lantern,” Vance said, then stopped, suddenly. “No, wait your right. What’ that?”
Dean didn’t answer. Instead he burst into a run, and shouted, “let’s go.”
They ran the rest of the distance to the open doorway at the far end of the passage where they burst through and fell gasping for breath on a landing similar to that at the opposite end.
Again, Dean watched the other’s face as realization dawned on his cousin.
The sun was only slightly smaller in appearance to the great orange planet above them. The sun stood side by side with Jupiter as if pausing for a moment before passing behind the gas giant.
“Perfect,” Dean said. “Last time I was here the sun was on the back side of the moon and all I could see was the planet. Let’s wait for the full eclipse before we head back.”
They ate crackers and protein slices they had brought with them and watched as the sun slipped slowly behind Jupiter. When the sun was completely hidden, Ganymede was cast into an eerie semi darkness, illuminated by the glow from the planet.
Narrow stairs climbed precariously up and down the cliff like exterior of the city building. Other buildings, like mountain peaks, rose from below, built upon the foundations, or even the backs, of other, more ancient structures.
“Come on, let’s head back. Our mothers are probably worrying by now,” Dean said. He got up and brushed cracker crumbs from his clothes. Vance followed and got to his feet as well.
“Dean, why don’t we stay here? It’s so crowded back home, with four families crammed into one apartment. Here we have plenty of space to move around, and the air is fresh. It doesn’t need to be pumped; we can just leave the door open.”
“There are only two problems,” Dean said, heading back up the tunnel. “Food and water. We need both to live, and right now the only source of those is Uncle Rob. He’s feeding all of our families.”
There was a slope to the hallway they hadn’t notice coming down. They were soon huffing as they hiked back up.
Between breaths, Dean suddenly said, matter of factly, “I saw one of the slaves.”
“You did not, liar.” Vance said, out of childish habit.
“I did. That time I was trying to find a way out on our level. It was carrying some packages for an old woman.” Dean slowed to allow his companion to catch up.
“Was it ugly? I heard they’re blue, I would kill it if I found one. For taking all our jobs. Well, for taking our parents jobs.”
Dean shook his head. “It was kind of blue, but kind of grey too. Something to do with how they lived underground on Callista.” He paused, then started again, “You’re right. It’s not fair that they come in here, get all the advantages of modern civilization, live with some rich old woman, and take all our jobs.”
“But then we wouldn’t get to have all the fun we do, if we weren’t squeezed into the one small room together, would we?” Dean asked sarcastically.
They both laughed as they stepped through the door way onto the inner landing, between the two buildings. The laughter ended suddenly and they stood, stunned.
“Well, ok. I guess my brothers will have a little more space in the bedroom from now on,” Dean said. “The door to our building is closed, and there’s no way to open it from outside.”
No karaoke for you! Bad wiring spells tone-deaf
By: Arlene Radasky
“Gracie? Where are we going tonight?” Josh’s voice carried over the stunted walls of the warehouse like office.
“Oh no, you didn’t invite him, did you Gracie?” Mary’s stage whisper didn’t carry as far but embarrassed me just a much.
“I couldn’t help it, he overheard us talking at lunch. You know how much fun he said he had the last time he came with us,” I responded in a muted grimace. “He invited himself.”
I stood up, looked toward Josh’s voice and saw him standing, no towering, over the half wall that separated us all like mice in a maze. He was at least six foot two and had a body of a tennis player. I always compared a lanky man’s body to a tennis player’s. I loved watching tennis and dreamed of meeting Andre Agassi and Roger Federer climbing the stairs of my apartment building. But Josh was a not a tennis player, his rangy dishwater blond hair hanging to his ears in disarray; he looked like the geek he was. His shirt pocket sported at least two pens and the black-rimmed glasses were not over his brown eyes, but slipped half way down his nose. And he wasn’t coordinated. As a matter of fact, we all had learned to step out of his way when he was up walking. He invariably would catch his feet under a chair or even his own foot as he made his way to or from his cubicle.
“Tony’s Bar and Grill,” I said.
He disappeared. I shook my head as I again imagined him climbing into one of those little clown cars. How comfortable can he be all day long in the tiny cubicle of our office spaces? It was hard for me to stay put all day in our individual cell-like squares.
I heard Mary getting ready for our departure and reached into the bottom drawer for my sweater and purse.
Mary stood waiting in the entrance to my cubicle while I turned off my computer and straightened up tomorrow’s work on my otherwise bare desk. Mary had pictures of all her nieces and nephews spread around the walls of her cubicle, a vase with a plastic rose, an tiny hour glass filled with sand from the Grand Canyon, a six inch Eiffel Tower and more that she arranged and rearranged everyday. She had been to the Grand Canyon last year and said when she held the Tower that she could imagine herself climbing its steps “all the way to the top to look over Paris someday”.
“Why don’t you at least bring in some pictures of your family?” she asked.
“I see them often enough, I don’t need pictures,” I said. I didn’t want to explain that there was no family to have pictures of. My twin brother and I had been orphaned, farmed out to foster families, after our parents were killed by a drunk driver when we were ten. Then he got sick three years ago, just before I started work here, and died. I remembered him just fine. Anyway, there were no pictures of him that I knew of. The foster families we were with never took pictures.
“Come on, if we don’t hurry, all the good seats will be taken,” I said. We caught up with Josh at the elevator. “We can take a taxi and share the fare or the train, take an hour and still have to walk a mile,” I said.
“Taxi,” they both said at the same time.
The three of us squeezed into the backseat, me in the middle because my legs were shorter, and I told the driver where we were going.
Just after we got started, Josh’s cell rang. We all had to squirm into yoga-like positions while he dug into his pocket. Finally retrieved, he opened his phone.
“Hello. No, Tamisha, don’t do that. I’m sure she’ll be fine. Just be sure there is water and food out for her and I’m sure she’ll come out when I get home later. Okay. Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
What…did he have a wife hiding under the covers at home?
I looked at Mary and she shrugged.
“Do you need to go home?” I asked.
Brave Mary leaned forward and asked, “Well, who is Tamisha and who the heck is the water and food for?”
We didn’t know what his situation was at home, but I knew I remembered him saying he wasn’t married the last time he came out with our group. There was no way I would want to be out with him right now if he were.
“Tamisha is a neighbor. She lives in the apartment next to me.”
The silence was deafening, even with all the traffic on the streets and the songs on the taxi radio with words I didn’t understand.
Mary had not settled back into the seat yet and even found enough room to turn toward Josh. I squirmed as the little room I had between them seemed to grow smaller.
“Okay. Tamisha goes in and feeds Twinkie when I’m late. She loves my dogs, well, now my dog, and I’m hardly ever late so she told me to call her when I needed. I called her before we left.”
Now it was my turn to ask. “Twinkie?”
“Yes, Twinkie. She’s my miniature Dachshund. I had two but Burger died two weeks ago and Twinkie still misses him. She hides under my bed most of the day.”
Oh my God. A rush of memories flooded my brain. My brother had a Dachshund. He said he wanted a pet and a small dog was perfect. His dog’s name was Brandy. He said it was because she was the color of his favorite drink. She was five years old when she got cancer and died. He spent a small fortune, money he didn’t have to spend on a dog, on her. But she died anyway. It was just months later that he was diagnosed. At that moment, I realized just how much I missed seeing that little dog. All the times I saw them together, before her illness, I remember him smiling.
On my left Mary said, “Oh, I hate those little wiener dogs. They look so weird. I mean, why are they so long? And so low to the ground? I don’t like any dogs. I’m allergic.”
Now I realized just how little I knew about Mary.
“I love them,” I said. “Are you going to get another to keep Twinkie company?”
“I have my bid in with a family who has a litter of pups. They live near my sister. I have the pup picked out and he will be ready to pick up in two weeks, when he is two months old.”
“Yuck. Puppy pee all over your carpet and chewed slippers is all you have to look forward to,” said Mary.
Josh’s arm lying on mine, in this crowded cab, did not seem so much an inconvenience any more. Actually, I kind of liked its pressure on mine.
The taxi pulled up to the curb in front of Tony’s and we fell out of the back, one at a time, all reaching for our money. Paid, the driver took off, singing along with the song on his radio.
We found our table in the back, but with a fairly good view of the karaoke stage. Four others from our office were already there so we pulled up some empty chairs and joined them, Josh sitting next to me.
I loved karaoke. I don’t know why, but even with my fear of standing in front of any one and talking, to the point of throwing up before any meeting I have to give a presentation at, karaoke did not scare me. I loved to sing. And here was a stage, shared with others like me, who knew we would not get the chance any other time to sing in front of a crowd. Perfect. So I came as often as I could.
The noise was loud enough that I had to lean toward Josh and asked, “Last time you came, you didn’t sing. Are you going to tonight?”
He shook his head hair bouncing around his face, “No. I’m tone deaf. I can’t sing. I actually can barely tell one song from another.” His finger pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. “I can tell by the words, but if it is instrumental, I can’t tell classical from jazz.”
I stared at him. “Really?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am a part of a study. I’ve been to Harvard Medical School three times now. There is a doctor there, who wanted to find out how different our brains were. I get all wired up and then she records what happens when she plays music. And she asks me to sing. Afterwards, we have a good laugh. My singing is really bad.”
“But then, why did you come here tonight?”
I think he blushed but it was hard to tell in that light.
“I want to get to know you better. And I thought it would be easier this way. I don’t do well asking women out on dates.”
“Yes. You. I like the way you smile and you are so nice to everyone in the office. Even Mary.” He smiled and I could see his eyes crinkle. I loved it when men’s eyes crinkle.
Suddenly I wanted to tell him everything. Everything that I had never told anyone in the office before. About my parents dying, about being raised by foster parents, about my brother’s dog, Brandy dying and then my brother, Terry leaving me. I wanted to get him into a corner of a quiet place and open my heart. Why? Why? Because he loved Dachshunds and his eyes crinkled.
“My brother had a Dachshund, named Brandy, who died of cancer. Was that what Burger died from?”
“No, his kidneys shut down.”
We were almost yelling when the crowd got quiet as the first karaoke singer started. It was Country Western night and a lot of teasing and cat-calls were expected at some of the songs that were going to be picked. All in fun. I smiled in anticipation.
It was my turn. I got up to the stage and made my request.
Two measures of music led into Ghost Riders in the Sky and I started singing.
An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty pack of brown-eyed dogs he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw
Their tongues hung in greetings and their tails wagged hello
He knew the respect they carried and their hot breath he could feel
A longing of love went through him as they thundered through the sky
And he saw the pups coming hard and he heard their yipping cry
Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi yaaaaay
Ghost Dachshunds in the sky
Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi Yaaaaay
Ghost Dachshunds in the sky
Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi Yaaaaay
I heard laughter I had heard before. Looking over at our table, I saw Josh laughing and wiping his eyes. It was my brother Terry’s laughter. The same from the belly laughter that I didn’t hear often enough from him. Yes, I told myself. I don’t care if he is tone deaf. I love his laughter. I want to get to know Josh much better and meet Twinkie.
by: Mick Bordet
It had been a long day for Jim Sykes. Not only had he spent the last five hours with his mother, listening to her planning out the strategy for her entry into the World Cloutie Dumpling Championships, “they’re to be held in Lochaber, this year, you know, James,” she had told him at least a dozen times, but he had been volunteered to give his crotchety sister a lift back to her home in Auchterarder. If he didn’t know her well enough, he might have thought she was so crabbit* because she had spent the last week with their mother, a kind, well-meaning old widow who threw herself into each new venture with a passion rarely seen in the over-eighties. Up until the recent announcement that the dumpling competition was to be held in Lochaber, practically on her doorstep, she had been knitting scarves for “the old folks”, as she called everyone in her own generation. Now she had something with a challenge, a deadline and, most importantly, the opportunity to prove, once and for all, that she could out-bake Sadie MacIver and receive a trophy to prove it. Jim and his sister, Brenda, had sat patiently, listening to her admit that some arty-farty chef from one of the posh restaurants would probably win, but as long as she made it into a round higher than Sadie, she’d be happy.
Brenda always spent at least one week every year at her mother’s house and had been doing so since their father died. It had started with her feeling she should be there for her mother on the anniversary of his funeral, but as the years went on, she found she enjoyed the company more and more. She was quite happy living alone with her two dogs and a goldfish for company most of the year, avoiding most human contact, but had to admit that she always looked forward to her annual trips North, even if she always came home with a new set of neuroses about her mother’s latest infatuations.
“I may love them to bits,” said Sykes as he waited at the junction to join the traffic speeding by on the A9 towards Perth, “but thank God I live on my own. If Janice had been that intense, I’d probably have strangled her long before she got the opportunity to leave me.”
He was glad to be back on dual-carriageway after the last two and a half hours travelling under fifty around the highland roads. The scenery on the road to Lochaber was certainly more stunning and rugged than that on the East coast, but he was happy to exchange beauty for the chance to put his foot down and get moving again.
“Aw, damn it!” he cursed as he rounded a corner not much more than a mile further on to be confronted by a long tail-back of traffic. He tapped the screen of his satnav to work a way around the jam, which directed him to turn off onto a B road that would return him to the motorway on the other side of Perth. The new route took him back onto twisty country roads, through the village of Forteviot, where a line of cars had parked along his already narrow route. There was a group of people milling around in the middle of what had once been a field, but now looked like a cross between a construction site and a crime scene. His natural curiosity got the better of him and he parked his own car at the end of the line, locked it up and walked up to the gathering to see what was happening.
He was almost disappointed to see a sign announcing an open day for an archaeological dig that was taking place. That was not something he would expect to see drawing crowds like this, nor would it, in the past, have been of any interest to him. However, given his recent brushes with obscure ancient symbolism, he did now have a newly discovered interest in Scotland’s distant past, so headed towards the middle of the group of people.
There he found a young man with rosy cheeks and wind-blown hair explaining the latest find to those gathered round him with an infectious enthusiasm.
“… and it is clear from the items found in the tomb here, that this was a man of some standing within the community, most likely a king. The effort required to move a slab as large as this,” he said, pointing to a huge rectangular stone sitting to one side of the hole in the ground, “would not be undertaken lightly.”
Sykes glanced at the huge rock, impressed with the feat of engineering required to move such a massive object, but more interested in the artefacts the man had mentioned lay within the tomb. Only after a few moments did it occur to him what he had just seen. He moved closer to the rock and adjusted his glasses to look at the detail. There, carved into the stone, were a set of familiar symbols. Now he wished he had known about this earlier and had seen the man’s whole presentation.
“Excuse me,” he said to the man, interrupting his talk,”but could you tell us about these symbols?”
“Well, they are a bit of a puzzle, I’ll admit,” the youth answered, “you see, those were carved on the inside of the tomb, but their location is such that they would have been scraped away when the rock was dragged into position. It seems that they were etched there only after the stone had been laid in place, so either these people had some way of raising and then lowering four tonnes of solid stone, or…”
Sykes finished the sentence for him, “… or someone was buried alive.”
# # #
Alfrad thought back to the day it had all started, the day the stranger came to the village. His people had shown the man the same courtesy and hospitality that they had shown Alfrad eighty years earlier when it was he who was the stranger, looking for shelter from the biting rain. It was in their nature to welcome any such traveller or visitor on a quest and they saw nothing untoward in the new arrival. Within a day or two of his appearance, though, Alfrad started to notice that the man was constantly questioning people and most of the questions seemed to point back to him. Why was this person, whom he had never even seen before that day, so interested in his life?
Seeds of doubt had been sown amongst the people he considered to be his friends, his adopted family, even. Now they were asking him questions, clearly prompted by the stranger, about where he came from, why he had stayed here, so far from his own kin and, most telling, why it was that everybody knew him to be a visitor from an island far away, yet nobody had any memory of his arrival. He stalled the questions as best he could, but there was no good answer. How could he explain that he had been living amongst them for a dozen years before even the oldest of the elders had been born?
Over all the years he had lived in here, nobody had asked such things, indeed he didn’t believe the thoughts had even occurred to them. He had felt like this was his home, had never been more at ease, comfortable and loved, but for the first time ever he had become an outsider.
A group of eight men, guided from the rear by the stranger, had grabbed him from his sleep that morning, binding his wrists and legs and preventing him from reaching any of the tools he owned that he could have used to protect himself.
The shallow pit was of his own devising; he had taught the villagers the stone-working skills necessary to dig and line it, ready for use as a multi-purpose store for the harvest over the winter months and as a water store over the dry summer. He had struggled for his life when they dragged him over and threw him in, then all had gone dark as his head hit the stone floor.
He regained consciousness as the huge slab was being pulled over him, waking in time to see the last inches of daylight being blocked out.
“Help me! Why are you doing this?” he shouted in desperation.
“You have tricked us for too long, daemon. Connor has shown us the truth of it. You never age, your skills in stone craft are unnatural and you talk of strange things, the like of which we have never heard.
Alfrad was stronger than most men, despite his narrow frame, but with his hands tied and the sheer weight of the massive stone slab, he was unable to stop them closing out the daylight forever. He had never cried before, his people rarely did, but now he wept. Not for himself, but for the experiences he would miss, for his friends, misled by some unknown evil or insatiable greed to betray him and for their future, for without his guidance and teaching, they would be subject to the same diseases, famines and hardships as every other un-developed clan in the area. Then at some point, when it was too late, they would realise their mistake and rue the day they had listened to the twisted words of a stranger over their friend and ally.
All that remained was for him to wait for the end, his mind drifting off as the oxygen in his tomb was used up. Productive to the last, he worked with a piece of quartz from beneath him to scratch out a message to his people. He left the symbol for his own clan and alongside that, the symbols that said simply, “Forgive them”.
*Crabbit – Scots word for grumpy