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CONFESSIONS

The phone rang.  It was eleven at night and I wondered who would call me this late.  I answered the phone and instantly  recognized the voice saying ‘hello’.

“Hello John” I said, “Man, it sure has been a long time since I talked to you; well, let’s see, I think it was last November.”

John’s voice sounded kind of faint.  “Yes, old friend, it’s been a while and I’m calling to unburden my mind, so to speak.  My doctor told me I only have weeks to live and there are some things I want to put straight before my time is up.”

“But John, I don’t understand. Last time we talked, you were just fine.  What’s the matter with you?”

“I felt OK last we talked, but sometime after that I began feeling a bit of a pain in my stomach.  I passed it off as nothing to worry about, but it kind of persisted and after a few months I went to see my doctor. He sent me for some tests and the results were bad news.  I have advanced pancreatic cancer with no hope of a cure.”

“My God, John, this is hard to believe.  Have you had a second opinion?”

“Yes and the result was the same.”

“How long have you known, John?”

“I got the bad news 5 days ago and I”ve been drunk for three of them, trying to come to terms with the situation; but look,  I’m calling you, not to get your sympathy, for you know all too well I don’t go for that sort of thing,–no, I’m calling to make a confession.”

“What do you mean ‘confession’?”

“Well, it goes back a couple of years, when we were working in Central America.  You remember we couldn’t reconcile the gold bullion production with mill head assays.  We concluded that someone was stealing some gold and both of us figured it had to be the mine manager and the mill superintendent in collusion and that there wasn’t much we could do about it, unless we could find out just how they did it and then nail them.”

“Yes, how well I remember.  We never did find out just how they managed to do it and the theft kept going on.  I figured the loss was about 100 ounces a month or more.”

“Well, the reason you never found out is simple.  I was in on it right from the very start. The three of us each got about 30 to 40 ounces every month and it went on right to the end, when the mine closed. I took home a total of 2800 ounces, which I hid in my house here in Colorado.  I sold some every now and then on the black market, which, given the high gold price, provided me with a very good living.”

“John, I find it incredible you would stoop to that.  Why, John?  You had a good salary and everything you wanted.”

“That’s true, all but for one thing.  I would never get a pension, given that I worked overseas for most of my life and rarely paid any taxes here in the US, and all three of us were in the same predicament. That’s when we decided to create our ‘own’ pension fund. You were the one that suspected something wasn’t right and I went along with you, just so we could keep you from discovering the truth.”

“But why are you telling me now, John?  There is no reason for me to know, especially since the mine closed and the company went out of business.”

“Well, old friend, there is a very good reason for me telling you now.  In a few days, you will receive several parcels containing small bars of gold.  They are shipped and declared as ‘brass metal bars’.  I know what you are thinking right now,- it’s stolen goods, but what the hell, I can’t return them and I won’t need them where I’m going, so take them and enjoy life on the sunny side of the street.  Buy yourself a nice villa on an island somewhere in the Caribbean and watch the tropic sundown with a bottle of rum and some Latin music. It’s my gift to you for being my best friend for so many years.”

“I don’t know what to say John.”

“Don’t say anything.  Thanks for all the good times and don’t call me back.  I intend to speed up the arrival of the grim reaper with my colt 45.”

“John, no John!”

The phone went dead.

NOTE: Written in memory of my good friend John Ross, who passed away some time ago.  The story is mostly fictional, but John’s life was filled with adventure and I had the privilege of sharing some of it with him.

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Vanity

The eyes slithered across her body like someone probing her sexuality; probing for some weakness or something to criticise, some vulnerability to exploit.  For a fleeting moment, they looked into her brown eyes, as if trying to gauge her mood, but moved on down to her breasts, then her abdomen and her hips. They stopped there, starring, with disapproval that clearly showed in the narrowed eyelids and crow’s- feet spreading from the corner of her eyelids.  They measured her from top to toe, judging, critiquing, approving, disapproving, with a penetrating stare that send shivers through her once youthful body.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”  She said and walked away.

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The Ticket

  

Winnings

         Paul had to stop at the convenience store on his way home from the office. He hated to do that, but Lila had forgotten to buy milk and cream when she shopped for groceries.  Dam it, why can’t she make a list of the things she need, instead of shopping just from memory, he thought. She knows all too well I loathe stopping at the local convenience store.  It smells of greasy food and the guy who runs it looks like he came from the slums of some place in Asia.

It was raining cats and dogs when he reached the store and he got wet running to the entry.  Dam it, now my suit will get wrinkled and I won’t be able to wear it for tomorrow’s meeting with the people from Barlow Ltd. he thought.    Paul went over to the cooler, got the milk and cream and walked to the counter and paid for it.  He noticed how dirty the man’s hands and nails was, when he gave him the money and shuttered at the thought that this guy handled everything sold in the store. Next time Lila asked him to stop at this damned place, he would find an excuse not to.

There was a sign above the tobacco cabinet proclaiming the weekly lotto prize was 45 million dollars.  Hell, he thought, why not get a ticket, even though he practically never gambled.  He asked for a ticket, paid for it and stuck it in his pocket.

“Lila, I’m home!  I put the milk and cream on the counter in the kitchen.  I got wet in the rain so I’ll go and change.  What’s for supper?”

“Pasta Carbonara and a green salad,” shouted Lila from the living room. I’ll call you when it’s ready”

Paul went upstairs.  He was pissed off and had a slight headache.  Jeepers, what a lousy day it had been.  His secretary was late typing the proposal and presentation for tomorrow’s meeting with the Barlow Company and he had to wait for it.  He spotted several errors in it when she gave it to him for approval, which caused additional delays. Sometimes, he thought, she was careless with her work and he planned to have a word or two with her about that.

After supper he went into his little office and began reviewing the presentation, thinking of how he best could impress the Barlow people.  It would be a very lucrative contract if he landed it and no doubt would result in a promotion for him.

Breakfast was the usual affair with small talk about this and that.  “Don’t forget, I’m going for lunch with aunt Cory, said Lila.  I’ll pick her up at around eleven and drive to Fall River where we will lunch at The Red Rooster restaurant”.

“OK, love, have a nice day and, – Oh by the way, can you take my grey suit along and drop it off at the dry cleaner on your way.  Tell the cleaner I won’t need it until next Monday.”

“Will do, sweet and good luck with the presentation, I’ll see you tonight.”

“Thanks”, said Paul and headed out the door, blowing a kiss toward Lila.  It was a nice sunny morning and he felt great.

Lila went upstairs, showered, put on her sexiest lingerie and a tight fitting blue dress.  After finishing her makeup, she dialled a number on the bedroom phone, said hello, hello and hung up.  Shortly after, the phone rang; she grabbed it: “Hello Richard, how are you darling? Paul left for the office an hour ago.  I’m fine Richard; I made the room reservation at Edgewater Inn as we agreed.  OK darling, I’ll meet you there.  I can’t wait to see you again.  Bye-bye for now”

She left shortly after in her little red Honda.  The morning rush was long over so the traffic was light.  Suddenly she realised she had forgotten Paul’s suit.  “Dam it,” she said to herself, and headed back to the house again.  She parked in the driveway with the engine running and quickly went into the house, took his suit, returned to the car and drove away again.

She stopped at the dry cleaning store, dropped the suit off and told the man that her husband wouldn’t need it until next Monday.  “Very well, he said, it will be ready before then, if you want to pick it up sooner.”

“Thanks,” said Lila and left the store.  She got into her car and drove away with a big smile on her face. The thought of being with Richard exited her.

Sergei’s parents had emigrated from Ukraine when he was a young boy. Life had not been easy for his parents for many years, but eventually they had prospered.  His parents had worked hard and saved their money until one day they could buy a dry cleaning business.  As soon as Sergei had finished his schooling, he began working for his father, learning the business.  It was not hard work, but long hours sometimes. After his parents retired and he took over the business, he had modernized and expanded it.  His wife was helping him and he had one employee, which enabled him to maintain normal business hours.  Life had become very good.

Sergei took the grey suit the lady had just handed him and checked the pockets.  He always did that himself, for several times he had found some valuable items and wanted to make sure they be returned to the owner.  In one pants pocket, he found 35 cent.  Oh, well, he thought, I’ll put them in the charity jar on the counter. The jar was marked “Books for children” and was for the charity of his choice, -a bank savings account for his little boy, Michael. The take was on the average was $21.00 a month and there was 935 dollars on the account now. Someday, Michael would have a tidy sum of money for his education.  Funny how it is, for no one ever once asked expressly what the charity was for, they just arbitrarily put change into the jar, so he didn’t feel it was steeling, since he didn’t ask them to.

In the inner jacket pocket, he found a lotto ticket. Uncertain what to do with it; he put it by the side of the cash register.  He noted the ticket was for the coming Saturday’s draw and decided he would check it after the draw, just to see if it was a winning ticket.

Another customer came in with some clothes that needed special dry cleaning.  He discussed it with the women, who looked exquisite in her expensive clothes and made out a receipt for her. This kind of cleaning was very profitable and he thanked her as she left.

As he passed by the cash register, he looked at the lotto ticket again.  What if it was a winning ticket? Should he go and claim the prize or be honest and give it back to the owner?  In the end, he decided to wait and see.  It would be easy to be honest and return the ticket if it wasn’t a winner and no doubt enhance his reputation as an honest person in the eyes of the ticket owner. It gave him a strange feeling of delectation thinking about the ticket’s potential for winning and he compared it to the one he had bought a couple of days ago.  His wife didn’t like him gambling, but because of the big prize, he had stopped at a convenience store on his way home yesterday and purchased one.

He took his ticket out of his wallet and began to compare the numbers with the ticket he had found in the suit pocket. Well, he thought, this is quite a coincidence.  The lotto dealer identification number is the same on both the tickets.  Clearly, the owner of the suit had bought it in the same convenience store where he had bought his.

Most of his customers were business people who wore clothes of the type that had to be dry-cleaned, and he knew many of the repeat customers very well. Some of them were chatty, like the lady who managed a travel agency.  She always talked about her annual travel trips, which each year was to a different place, just so she could advise potential travel clients what a particular place was like.  She could talk a blue streak for ten minutes or more at a time, which Sergei listened to politely, nodding in agreement, adding a “yes” and “you don’t say”  here and there for emphasis and to act as if interested in her tall tales. The fact that he thought she was a real bubble head he kept to himself.

Then there was the old gentleman, a retired, apparently well-healed chap, widowed and always bringing his dog into the store.  The pooch was a mixture of an unknown number of misalliances with other street dogs of dubious background and could at best be labelled as an ugly mongrel, but he worshipped it profoundly, forever extolling its virtues and extreme intelligence.  He claimed he could talk to it as he would to his friends and it would understand every word he said. Out of respect for the old man, Sergei never contradicted him; even though he was convinced he was somewhere  in the middle stages of Alzheimer disease.

The day passed with an average number of customers coming and going, although after four in the afternoon, there was a sudden increase in patrons dropping off clothes to be dry-cleaned. His wife helped him serving the customers and by six o’clock, he closed the store.

The next morning, he opened at the usual time and put the needed change in the cash register.  He looked for the lotto ticket he had left by the side of it, but it wasn’t there.  It wasn’t on the floor either or anywhere he looked. He could only conclude that someone had pilfered it late yesterday afternoon, when the store was busy. Well, at least he didn’t have to worry about whether it was a winning ticket or not, nor having to return it to the owner. His conscience was clear.

Gary had rented a bachelor apartment and simply just relished being away from his parents, under whose roof he had lived for 20 years.  It wasn’t that he was ungrateful to them for making sure he got an education, and keeping him at home, rather, he wanted his freedom and live on his own.  He had completed community college and gotten a job as an electrician with a local building contractor, which paid quite well. He had wanted a bigger apartment, but not enough money put a damper on that. It would have to wait until he had saved some more loot or perhaps win in the lottery.  That ticket he snitched in the dry-cleaning store yesterday, when he brought his jacket in to get cleaned; well, one never knows, that might just be a winner. He couldn’t resist the temptation.  The ticket was lying on the counter next to the cash register, so he just grabbed it, when the old man turned around, put it in his pocket and walked out.

He took out the other two tickets he had bought in the convenience store last Monday and compared the numbers with those on the ticket he had snitched. They were quite different, kind of oddball, but what the hell; the odds of winning are astronomical, so those numbers would be as good as any he thought.

Gary had invited two of his friends over for a couple of beers and to watch a hockey game on the TV.  He opened up a bag of potato chips, dumped them in a bowl and put it on the coffee table together with some small bags of peanuts; arranged the chairs around the TV and sat down to wait for Tim and Peter, who arrived just before the game began.

During the first intermission, Gary got an idea.  “Hey guys, he said, did any of you buy lotto tickets for tomorrow’s draw?” “Yea, said Tim, I bought one” What about you, Peter?” asked Gary.  “Sure did, he said, I’ve got two.” OK, guys, between us we have six tickets, for I have three. If you are willing, we could have a bit of a fun game here. What do you say if we put all six tickets in a bowl, mix them up and each of us then draw two tickets? If any of us wins anything, we share it evenly amongst us.” “Sure, said Tim and Peter, that sound fine.  We each improve our chances of winning at least something, if one or more of the ticket numbers are drawn. “Well, said Gary, to make it more interesting, let’s agree to give the holder of a winning ticket and extra ten percent of the winnings.” “Yea, why not, that sounds OK, said Tim and Peter.

They put the tickets in the empty chip bowl, face down, and mixed them up.  Each drew one ticket, then reversed turns and drew one more.  “OK, said Gary, we will meet here tomorrow and check the tickets.  The second period is coming on guys; let’s watch the game now.”

After the game, Tim and Peter left. Tim didn’t have a car, so Peter drove him home.  Tim had been unemployed most of the winter and was a bit hard up for money.  He had just landed a job at a local parts manufacturing plant that had opened again after being closed a couple of years, due to an economic down turn in the auto industry. He hoped he could keep this job for a long time, so he could get back on his feet again. The room he had rented in a private home was like a jail cell to him, and although the owners were nice, he couldn’t stand living there.  He wanted an apartment of his own again.

Tim made some coffee and sat down to watch the news.  There was a brief mention of the lottery prize being 45 million dollars for tomorrow.  He took the two tickets out of his wallet and looked at them.  One had some real oddball numbers: surely, that would not be a winning ticket he thought, but then again, anything is possible.  He drank some of the coffee and began thinking about his girlfriend, but those odd tickets numbers kept nagging him.  “Jeepers, he said to himself, supposedly that was the winning ticket, what kind of life-altering event that would be.” He began dreaming of all the things he could buy and places he could go. His girlfriend would go nuts; for she wasn’t particularly well heeled either, and she would want some of all that loot to go shopping.

Tim got all excited about the prospects for winning with that ticket. He had to share the winnings with Gary and Peter, which would give each of them 15 million dollars, although he would get ten percent off the top for having the winning ticket, giving him 19.5 million.  “That’s serious pocket change, he said to himself.  I wouldn’t make that much money if I worked the rest of my life at the plant. It almost blew his mind fantasising about this whole, crazy scenario.

He slept till late Saturday morning, late being nine o’clock, for he was so used to getting up at six. The coffee machine was on and he made some toast while waiting for it to brew his morning caffeine fix. He turned the TV on and watched the news for a while, which typically consisted of reports on murder and mayhem.  Why is there never any good news?  He thought. It’s depressing to listen to all the violence, corruption, conflict and what not going on around the world. The weather report called for rain later in the day, so he decided to go and get the few things he needed now.  On his way back, he stopped by the drug store, bought the local newspaper and something to snack on.  He saw the ad above the lotto booth, proclaiming tonight’s 45 million dollars prize and a crazy idea hit him.  He walked over to the booth, grabbed a player slip and took the ticket with the odd numbers out of his wallet, copied them down on the slip, handed it to the attendant, who put it through the reader and printed the ticket. He checked the numbers against his ticket and they matched.

Saturday evening Tim bought a dozen beers and took a taxi to Gary’s place.  Peter arrived a bit later, also bringing some beers.  “Well, said Gary, tonight is the night. Are we going to win or not?”         “You’ve got to be kidding, said Peter, the odds of winning are simply astronomical.”

“You never know, you have to be optimistic and I think positive,” said Tim. They will be drawing the numbers at 9:00 o’clock, so turn on the TV and we can watch it.”

“Well, said Peter, there’s the numbers.  Let’s get our tickets out and check them.” Gary checked his tickets first and had only a couple of numbers correct. Those numbers are weird, he said. No-one will win that prize.”

“I told you, said Peter, we are not going to win.”

Peter checked his tickets next and shouted “Oh my God, I have four numbers correct.  We just won 10 dollars. That’s just enough to buy a few beers. Tim, it’s your turn now.”

Tim took his two tickets out. “Hey, look at that, I have three numbers right on the first ticket.  That’s good for a free ticket, so we can play again next week.” He checked the second ticket and grew silent.  He just sat there, not saying a word, with an uncanny expression on his face.

Peter interrupted the silence. “I told you guys, the odds of winning are astronomical.  We didn’t win the big prize.

At that moment, Tim let out a yell that could be heard a three blocks away. “Guys, he said, we are all millionaires, for I have all the numbers correct.  Check it out, guys, double check it again.”

Peter and Gary checked the ticket and began hooting and hollering. “We are rich- dam rich, rich, rich, we can buy whatever we want.  God, this can’t be true, said Gary.   Tim, sign the ticket so you can go and claim the prize on Monday.”

“Boys, I have some very good news for you, said Tim.  I can’t sign that ticket, because I have two of them.  I bought a second ticket yesterday, with the same numbers.  I thought they were odd, but I had a totally uncanny intuition that it would be a winner. One of you two have to sign the ticket and claim the prize, for it would look suspicious if I claimed them both. You two can keep the winning ticket we played together and share the prize between you. I’ll claim the prize for the second winning ticket which I bought yesterday.  You will each get 11 million dollars and I will get 22 million. That’s more money than I could ever earn in my life.  I have for years dreamt of living on some pacific island, off the tourist beaten track. Don’t ask me what I’ll be doing there.  I’ll cross that bridge when I find the right island”.

“How do you know there are only two winners?” asked Gary.

“Well, said Tim, the numbers are so odd that it seems extremely unlikely there are more, but even if there is, I’ll stand by this deal.

—-Paul came home from the office early.  He was elated, for the Barlow people had accepted the deal. His presentation had been successful.  He turned on the TV and to watch the news. There was a mention of the big lottery prize and suddenly he remembered the ticket he had bought. He had put it in his jacket pocket, but his suit was at the dry cleaners.  He would ask Lila about it, but she wasn’t home.

The phone rang and he grabbed it. “Hello”, he said.”  “Would you be Mr. Carlson?” a man’s voice asked.  “Yes, he said, what can I do for you?” “I’m the manager at Edgewater Inn. I’m calling about the earring your wife said she had lost in the room during your stay here last Monday.  We have found it and wonder if we should send it to you or she will pick it up herself? “I would appreciate it if you would send it.  Do you have our address?” Yes, we have it from your wife’s credit card, which she charged the room to and by the way, we all admired the yellow Ferrari you are driving.  What a marvellous car to look at.”  “Thanks you,” said Paul, and hung up.

Paul was astounded. His wife unfaithful; the thought had never occurred to him. He knew exactly who owned the only yellow Ferrari in town and couldn’t wait for Lila to come home and explain just what she was doing sharing a room in Edgewater Inn with Richard Dalton, his former boss, on a day when she was supposed to have lunch with her aunt at The Red Rooster Restaurant in Fall River.

He felt a migraine coming on.  This wasn’t going to be the celebratory evening he had anticipated and he had every intention of calling Richard Dalton’s wife to inform her of her husband’s indiscretions. With a feeling a dread inside him, he put the bottle of champagne he had bought to celebrate his success, out in the garage.

       Kenny Beechmount, Copyright 2011.

        Comments are welcome

 

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 The Water

             Samuel Bayfield was eager to go on his cycling trip to the little village his friend and roommate, Thomas, had told him about. Thomas had wanted to come along on the trip, but his boss had asked him to work the whole weekend, and since he worked the nightshift, it was out of the question. Samuel began to pack the two bicycle panniers with just enough clothes and things he would need to overnight in the village inn where he had made a room reservation a week ago.  According to Thomas, the village was located some 15 km off the highway along a scenic, unpaved country road with a lot of ruts in it, but that was OK he thought, his bike would handle that easy.

            Samuel headed for the kitchen, made a couple of sandwiches for the trip, filled his two water bottles, and put them in the fridge. It was past eleven, Thomas had left for his night shift, and it was time to get some sleep, for he wanted to leave early.

            The morning was slightly foggy with low-hanging clouds, but the coolness made cycling down the paved road easy. The traffic was light and he relaxed and enjoyed the freshness of the air and smell of the countryside, with fields of wheat, alfalfa and some just a sea of yellow flowers. Small farms lay tucked away amongst the fields, shaded by old leafy trees and conifers. He began looking for the stone symbol that marked the entry to the side road. Thomas had told him to look for a tall stone on the left side of the road, so it should be easy to find. The wheels of his bicycle and the steady pedalling made a monotone sound, interrupted only when a vehicle passed him, which was rare.

            He found the gravel road a couple of hours later; spotting the stones that marked the entry, and stopped to examine them closer. It wasn’t just one stone, but four, placed in a circle by someone, but for what purpose he couldn’t figure out. There was no road sign indicating that a village lay at the end of it, nor a road name.  The stones were higher than he was, but did not have any markings, not even some cheap, painted graffiti. He wondered if this was the correct road.

            It was 12:00 o’clock, when Samuel mounted his bike and began cycling down the narrow gravel road. There were farmer’s fields on both sides, but no sign of any cows or animals or any cultivation, and no houses to be seen anywhere. That’s weird, he thought.  Doesn’t anyone live out here? He kept cycling for a half hour or so and then stopped for a break, to eat a sandwich.  The sun had broken through the clouds and he could see some wooded areas out ahead. The village must be on the other side of the woods, he thought.  He looked back toward the highway and spotted something gleaming in the road.  It seemed to be closing in on him, but he ignored whatever it was and began peddling down the road again.

            The road made a turn to the right and he cast a fleeting look behind him.  What he saw startled him to a point where he nearly lost his balance on the bike. The road behind him had filled with water. It was a river as wide as the road itself and it was coming toward him.  He watched it with anxiety, having no idea of what was going on, then jumped on his bike again and pedalled in a sprint down the road for a couple of hundred metres, stopped and looked back again. The river was about 25 metres behind him and seemingly stopped there. He kept going, stopping now and then to check, but it still followed some distance behind him. On the left side, he saw a trail leading away from the road, and turned in on it, to see if the river would follow him. It did, but it was now just a small stream, only filling the trail and still some distance behind him.

            Samuel headed for the wooded hills just ahead of him.  Together, they formed a horseshoe-like shape with a large depression in front of them. The stream that had followed him along the trail was now catching up with him and began filling a large depression below the hills, slowly making a lake.  He dragged his bike up one of the hills, leaned it up against at a large maple tree, and watched the stream creating a lake.

            Confused, he wandered around the woods for a spell, not really knowing what he wanted to do, when he came across a path, perhaps made by some animals. He followed the path, but it didn’t seem to lead anywhere, running helter-skelter here and there, but suddenly a small, cemetery with just a few burial sites appeared before him. Curious, he entered the place and tried to read the writing on the headstones, but they were badly weathered and illegible. He saw one at the far end that looked newer and walked over to check it out. Astonishingly, he saw the inscription “Samuel Bayfield.” on it, but no dates. How curious to find someone with his name, buried here he thought. He turned and began walking back to the path.

             “Hello Samuel, and welcome to Bayfield farm.” a voice said.

            Perplexed, he looked around but couldn’t see anyone. “Where are you?” he asked?

             “You have come, and you brought the water that will commence the change,” the voice said.

             “Who are you?” asked Samuel, “show yourself, and what is this change you are talking about?”

            There was silence, a creepy kind of stillness and he thought the whole thing was someone funning him, some kind of a hoax or perhaps it was all in his mind, his imagination gone wild.

            “Samuel Bayfield, the voice called out, you have come in the 80th year, which is the time of the change to the next generation on the farm. I thank you and now I bid you farewell. You must now go to the farm. A new Samuel Bayfield will come here in your place, in another 80 years, for this is the way of the Bayfield farm and it shall be so until the time of the great upheaval. You must never return here.  If you do, you will be propelled into a void until the great upheaval, the time of which is written in the sun.”

            “What is the great upheaval,” Samuel asked. “When will it come? Tell me who you are.”

            Again, there was only silence, a deep quiet that disturbed his mind.

            Suddenly a strong breeze blew through the trees, rustling the leaves and blowing debris all around him.  He held his hand against his face to protect his eyes and turned his back into the wind.  Slowly, it died down and Samuel looked around him.  There were only trees and bushes to be seen.  The cemetery was gone and the path he had followed had vanished. He began walking but didn’t know which direction he should take. Where was the farm the voice had told him to go to? The sun was not visible through the dense forest so he couldn’t get any bearings, but he kept on walking without knowing where he would end up.

            A clearing appeared in the woods and as he came closer, he saw some buildings that looked like a farmstead and noticed a very old man and woman and a middle-aged couple in the farmyard, all of them standing close to each other and holding hands.  Samuel hesitated to approach them, fearing they were performing some kind of a ritual, but one of them saw him and gestured with a waving hand to come over.  He walked toward them slowly and on reaching, them, apologized for his intrusion. “I am very confused and uncertain of where I am and I have seen and experienced some strange things today, which I do not understand,” said Samuel.” Can you help me find my way back to the road, for I fear I’m lost?”

            The old man took him aside and said, “There are things that I must tell you and then you will know what it is you have seen, but you will not understand it. You are not a prognosticator or a predictor; you are an event instigator who will cause an occurrence that happens once every 80 years on this farm.  It’s called the change-over.”

            “We are the Bayfield family and this farm has only ever been owned by four generations of our family, who are reborn again and again. We are like a wheel with four spokes, each representing a generation.  I was 26 years old when I came and my wife was 23 and our children were one and three years old. Now I’m 80 years old and the time have come to return to the rest period, together with my family.  My father will take over after me and he will also be 26 years old when he comes, his wife and children the same ages as mine were, when I came.  After him, my grandfather and after him my great grandfather will take over, their wives and children the same age as mine.  After my great grandfather returns to the rest, I return here again. For each of us, the cycle is 320 years and it has been so for 6400 years.”

            “At the moment of changeover, said the old man, “the farm will disappear and the land return to what it looked like before the farm was created and then reappear again as it was, when first it was built, with the same buildings and animals.  My father will come across the lake that the stream, which you caused to appear, is now creating, and this is the only way he can come. When the farm reappears, he and his family will occupy it until he is 80 years old, and a new changeover will again take place. That event will be precipitated by another person named Samuel Bayfield, who will have the same experience as you are having today.”

            “You are quite right, I don’t understand”, said Samuel. “Do you have any neighbours? What about your children, do they go to school?  Do they have other children to play with?”

            “No”, said the old man, “we have no neighbours and the children need only to learn how to be helpers on the farm.  Our lives are simple and always the same.”

            “But how did this all come about”, asked Samuel, “What happened 6400 years ago that resulted in this perpetual reincarnation?”

            “A story has been passed down through the millennia,” said the old man. “My family was cursed for disobeying a God and as punishment, we were forced to live in an unending cycle of rebirth into the same continuum, and it will be so until the great upheaval.”

            “What is the great upheaval?” asked Samuel.

            “We do not know what it is, or when it will happen, but we know that it is written in the sun,” said the old man.

            “I do not understand how all this can be.  I have never read about anything like this, nor heard tell of such, said Samuel.

            “You must go now, said the old man, “For you have fulfilled the reason for your coming, although you did not know.  The Gods will be thankful to you and henceforth, you shall enjoy a rewarding life, filled with happiness and good fortune.  Go to the stone that you see over there and when you reach it, you will see another stone.  Walk to that and follow all the stones that you see, one by one. When you reach, the last one you will be back to your own time again. I now bid you farewell, for the moment has come.”

            Samuel began walking and sure enough, when he reached the first stone, he could see another further ahead.  He looked back, but saw nothing but trees.  The clearing with the farm was no longer there. The whole experience was unexplainable, bewildering, and surrealistic to him. How could he ever explain to Thomas what had happened to him, without being accused tripping on something. When he reached the second stone, he looked back again, but the first stone was nowhere to be seen.  He kept going, and the stone behind him disappeared as soon as he reached a new one.  There was nothing to guide him back to the farm.

            Suddenly, he came upon the big maple tree where he had left his bicycle. The lake was gone and the trail leading to the gravel road was dry. Everything seemed normal.  He mounted the bike, wanting to escape this nightmarish event as fast as he could and soon reached the gravel road, which was also dry and normal. Half an hour later, he made it to the highway and the first thing he noticed was a sign saying: “Brewton Village, 20 km.” That was not there when he first arrived and the four tall stones that marked the entry to the road when he came, were gone. In their place was a single, large stone with some graffiti painted on it. He looked at his watch and bewildered saw that it was precisely 12:00 noon, the same time as it was when he first arrived at the four stones. There was no way he felt like going down the road again, to the village, where he had a reservation at the inn. He just wanted to go home.

            Thomas, returning home from his night shift, unlocked the door to the apartment, and headed for the kitchen to make some coffee. He heard Samuel shouting in his bedroom, run to the door, thinking he was in some kind of trouble. He couldn’t understand what he was shouting; it all sounded like a bunch of gibberish. Thomas knocked on the door and opened it.  Samuel was sleeping, but tossed and turned as if he was fighting some kind of demonic spirit. He walked over to the bed and shook his shoulders to wake him up.  “Samuel!” he shouted, “wake up, you are having a nightmare.”

            Slowly Samuel woke up and looking completely bewildered at Thomas, shouted “Hey, what’s going on? Where am I?”

            “Jeepers man, you must have had a real bad dream,” said Thomas; are you OK? Why don’t you get up and have some coffee with me? You are going on your biking trip to Brewton village today, remember?”

            Samuel, getting his state of mind back to normal. “Thomas, he said, there is no way I’ll ever go there. I was there in a dream last night, a dream so weird and creepy I can’t even begin to explain it to you.”

Kenny Beechmount

Copyright 26 February 2011. All rights reserved.

Comments are welcome

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The Old Grist Mill

The Miller’s Daughter

Efrain was sitting in his favourite garden chair underneath the cherry tree. It was what he did every day during the summer months, if the sun was shining and the weather warm enough to keep him comfortable. Some days, when it was not, he would ask for a blanket from his daughter, Tina, who was caring for him in the evening of his life. It was a glorious, early summer afternoon with a gentle breeze rustling the leaves in the gnarly old cherry tree, loaded down with sumptuous looking red berries that the starlings feasted on several times a day. Strangely, no-one else seemed interested in eating them.

He had often sat and studied the tree and today, he thought how much it reminded him of himself. He didn’t think it was as old as he, but the contorted, knotty branches seemed to imitate the way he felt about his own ancient body, racked with arthritis and worn from years of hard work at the old grist mill and making malt at the brewery. He felt immensely tired today but didn’t want to fall asleep. Instead, he let his mind roam down memory lane for there is nothing like a journey into the time that once was, he thought. After all, today’s foolish world could not be compared to the old days.

The sun warmed his aged body as he drifted into a world of his own. Presently he found himself sitting on the wooden driver’s seat in the front of a wagon, loaded with sacks of grist, as he had done so often when he was young, but there was no horses hooked up to it. How strange, he thought. Was he dreaming? The wagon floated in the air above the grist mill and he could see Wilona, the miller’s daughter, with her white apron draped around her black dress and her dark hair tied with a green ribbon. He tried to wave to her, but he couldn’t move his hands. It was like he was paralysed, unable to call out to her or get her attention. 

Slowly, the wagon drifted over the landscape, past farms, manors and small groups of houses, all of which were familiar to him. For a while, it hovered over the little house where he was born. He thought of his parents, both of whom had spent their lives in abject drudgery on the farm belonging to the nearby manor house. He knew he had grown up in poverty. There was never money to buy all the things they needed, but his mother always had a little candy for him when she returned from her weekly trip to the country store.

He smiled as the wagon drifted toward the sheltered, small cove and the little straw thatched house near the beach, the first place he lived after he had married Wilona. He looked for his little daughter, but couldn`t see her. Perhaps she was inside with her mother, waiting for him to return from the mill. She was such a lovely little girl, full of life and rambunctiousness.

Life in the small cottage had been filled with love and tender care, but when he looked down on it again, he saw that it had changed. . The picket fence was no longer there and the little shed where the pig was kept had also been removed. The wagon drifted into a cloud and nothing was visible for a while. He gazed into the misty greyness and tried to remember what had happened; why the little house, where he first lived with his bride, had changed so much?

The cloud passed by and the wagon floated over the church where he had married the miller`s daughter so many years ago. He tried to spot her grave, but there were too many and he couldn`t distinguish hers from others. Why had she left him so early? Like a phantom image, Wilona appeared before him, her open arms beckoning him to come. Efrain desperately tried to reach her, but he couldn’t move. He called her, but no word came from his mouth and he didn’t understand why. What was the matter with him? Why could he not embrace his love or speak to her?

Slowly she vanished from his sight and when he looked down again, he saw the town in the distance with the tall church belfry and the little harbour with all its fishing boats. It lay nestled picturesquely in the bottom of the bay that stretched its shimmering surface along the shores, with all its small, secluded beaches. He recognised the little red summer cottage on one of them and gleefully reflected on the many times he and Wilona had spent a Sunday afternoon there, drinking coffee with Charlene, the widow of the barber, who owned it. Tina would play in the sand on the beach, chattering excitedly to herself about things that only she and the make-believe world she momentarily lived in could comprehend.

He could see the brewery, where he had toiled for so many, many years, making malt. Strangely, he was able to smell the steamy, yeast-like odour that permeated the room where the malt was made. It was hard work, he thought, year after year the same, but such had been his lot in life and it had not been all that bad. The door to the stable where the horses were kept when he was young was open, but no horses were there; instead, several trucks were parked in the yard outside. Much had changed, little by little, during the 40 years he had worked there. Machines had replaced work that used to be done manually and new owners took over just before he had retired. He didn’t worry about it, nor did he want to think about it, for it had been a place of drudgery for him.

It must be late afternoon, he thought, for the sun was making longer shadows in the narrow, cobble-stoned streets that hadn’t changed since his great grandfather’s time. He liked some things to stay the same and remembered walking down the narrow alley ways, lined with houses that seemingly always had been there, although the really old, straw thatched houses were gone before his time. Then he saw the old house where he and Wilona had lived so many years and where Tina grew up. The little back yard was still there, but there were no flowers and the house seemed to be empty and not well cared for. It was old and frail like him and would disappear someday soon, just like he would, he thought.

Saddened, he looked ahead and recognized the little wooded area beyond the marshland on the east side of the town. He wondered if the centuries old oak was still standing there and imagined the tree as it used to be when he was young, its giant trunk and huge, thick branches, knotted with large burls. The ground around it would be covered with a blanket of acorns in the fall of the year, on which the squirrels would feast for days on end and fill their larders for the winter. The sweet woodruff grew nearby in the thick undergrowth. He remembered how his father had taught him to pick them and put them up to dry in small bunches and then hang them on a wall in the living room. A while before rainy weather arrived, they would give off a sweet, wonderful aroma. He had always marvelled at that and called it “The rain plant”.

With the afternoon waning, the sun had turned a deep copper colour. The wagon drifted slowly toward the harbour, passing over the centre of the town and the old bell tower, whose bells had tolled for the departed souls of the town ever since it was built several centuries ago. It would not toll for his, he thought, for he would rest beside Wilona and the bells of the church near his birthplace that tolled for the souls of his forefathers for more than 300 years, would also toll for his. It was the way it should be, for it represented continuity with tradition and connection with the past, and that mattered.

The wagon was now over the water, crossing the bay that was bathed in the deep orange light of the setting sun. He saw a few fishing boats leaving the harbour to set their nets for the night and the gulls that always seemed to follow them. Presently, he was floating over the farmland where his ancestors had toiled since anyone could remember. It was the same as it had always been and he was pleased to recognize so many familiar places that had remained in his memory for so long. He saw the church and not far away the old mill, but its wings were damaged and no longer turning. He wondered what had happened. Why had it stopped working?

His daughter’s house came into view in the landscape and languorously the wagon drifted over the garden. He saw himself sitting in the chair by the cherry tree and couldn’t understand why. How could he be both down there and up here at the same time? A blinding light encircled the wagon and a strange, unfamiliar sensation enveloped him, but it was a good feeling. He saw someone coming through the light and reached out with his hands and then he heard Wilona’s voice saying “Efrain, I have missed you”. He could move again and felt curiously strong and full of vitality.

Tina walked down the garden toward the cherry tree to bring her father into the house. A large flock of starlings scattered from the tree as she approached Efrain in his chair. She called out to him, but he didn’t answer. Efrain had gone to join the miller’s daughter forever.

Kenny Beechmount

Copyright 2011

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I wrote this short story during a stay in Denmark

A WINTER MORNING ON THE ISLAND

 (Helnæs Island, Fyn. Denmark)

An elderly woman was the only other passenger on the bus and both of us were sitting quietly engrossed in our own thoughts, now and then looking through the grimy windows to catch a glimpse of the countryside. The narrow country road we travelled on, twisted its way through the landscape in lazy curving motions, ostensibly quite indifferent as to which direction it took. It was early in the morning and the sky was still stretching its greying arms and shaking darkness off its shoulders, while slowly painting the rolling hills with the colours of a midwinter dawn. The driver kindly stopped when I asked him and I left the warm comfort of the of the bus, leaving the old lady behind. The cold air hit my face like a slap on the chin. I was tempted to board the bus again, but oh well, never mind, I thought. Cold or not, I must go on, for I wanted to experience a winter morning on this ancient Island, where once some of my ancestors had lived and toiled.
I left the road and began walking toward the sea shore along a little trail leading across a field. Small tufts of withered, frozen grass poked through the pasture’s thin blanket of snow. They looked like little straw brooms and crunched noisily when I stepped on them with my heavy boots. Small windows of transparent ice covered a myriad of frozen puddles and, like small mirrors pointed toward the sky, reflected the pale rays of the early winter morning sun.
I stopped for a while to savour a momentary silence, which spread across the frigid landscape. The hands of winter had gripped the land with its icy fingers clawing deeply into the soil and I sensed the tranquil serenity which lay before me. It was a timeless instant. My mind and spirit was nourished with images and emotions, imprinting them somewhere in my grey cells. Perhaps it was the stillness playing with my senses for during a few seconds, images of other landscapes, more friendly and belonging to other seasons, seemed to flash before my eyes. My love for summer and a green earth made mockery of the bleakness displayed before me, as I contemplated the sleeping, frozen landscape.
A sea gulll broke the spell with loud squawks as it plunged toward me through the chilly air, perhaps protesting my presence. Close by, a farm house lay nestled snugly amongst a group of pines, arrogantly displaying their prickly, dark-green fur coats to their anaemic surroundings. It was as if they knew they were amongst the chosen few who could show the colours of summer’s splendour, when winter’s ruthless reign had reduced all else to naked skeletons of brownish humdrum colours.
 
I began walking again, stomping my feet to keep them warm and soon reached the shore, where I was greeted with a sharp, stinging breeze. The wind bounced in gusty playfulness off the frozen banks of clay and sand, which announced the end of the land with brazen abruptness. The beach was littered with stranded chunks of ice, mingled in abstract confusion with dark brown seaweeds and wave-polished stones and boulders. A small boat lay overturned at the water’s edge, yawning through a gaping hole in its bow, the victim of some bygone angry storm.A thick blanket of bits and flakes of crushed ice subdued the waves that rolled back and forth in languid motions along the shore. Grinding sounds could be heard as they scoured away, with torturous monotony, at the myriad of seashells and stones scattered on the beach. Some ducks sat huddled together on a floating chunk of ice, puffing their feathers to keep warm. Further in the distance, gulls were surfing on the bitterly cold wind, eagerly scanning the waves among drifting rafts of ice for some small morsel, with which to satisfy their hunger. I followed the beach for a distance, hugging the clay banks for protection against the cold wind, which slashed, at my face with knifelike edges. My entire body protested against the relentless onslaught of its stinging, ice-cold breath.
I found a narrow trail which leding up over the banks onto a large, open meadow inhabited only by a rapidly turning windmill, which sent it’s whooshing sound into the empty space around it and arrogantly thrusted its tower into the air. Further on, the meadow yielded its flat, wind-blown expanse to gently sloping fenced-in fields and little copses of shrubs and trees, tucked away in sheltered hollows. I heard a dog barking as I passed close to a farmhouse and an old man came out from the barn, looking puzzled at me and, perhaps justifiably, wondering what I was doing. I waved to him and shouted that I was just out for a walk and kept on going. Soon I came back up on the road again and began walking toward a small forest about a kilometre away. The sun momentarily looked down upon the landscape through grey and angry clouds, rushing across the sky in wild pursuit of each other.
The woods welcomed me with a calming protection against the frolicking wind. Aging trees stood rocking gently in their winter sleep, their naked arms outstretched toward the feeble warmth of the sun. The Beechwood trees showed off their tiny little brown spears of dormant, verdant splendour, all of them waiting for the day when nature once again would bring forth the season in which they would reign in brilliant glory. Ivies, so scarcely noticed when the trees are clad in swanky summer frocks, now boastfully display their glossy little green flags, riding on bearded stems with lofty, unrestricted ambitions and defiantly waving at winter’s futile attempt to tame them. I tried in vain to visualize these trees decorated with clouds of fluttering leaves and their feet submerged in an unending sea of anemones and violets, as they would be in springtime.
Here and there, small drifts of snow lays scattered like fluffy white pillows on the forest floor, resting on yesteryear’s blanket of brown leaves. A few sprigs of pale greenery poked their heads through this cosy cover of leaves as if searching for encouraging signs to spur on their pent-up energy to grow and mature. Did they not, in some curious way, mirror an image of my own impatient youth when the promise of tomorrow could never arrive soon enough? The calmness and shelter among the trees deceived my senses, for it was still bitterly cold, and an eerie, creaky sound resonated through the woods as the wind played spiteful games among the half-frozen limbs in the crown of the trees.
Shortly the little grove of trees, pretending to be a forest, gave way to a ploughed field with long, brown furrows protruding through the snow filled troughs between them. Stone fences lined the perimeter, like a frame around an abstract painting of brown and white stripes. I chose to go around the field rather than having to stumble across this frozen sea of waves, and walked along the stone fence, which led me to a farm. The upper half of the Dutch door to the stable was open. Heat from the interior escaped as plumes of shimmering air, wafting an odour of stabled animals through the wintry crispness. Strangely, there was no snow on the thatched roof of the main house. Patches of moss clung to the grey-brown stubble as if someone had spattered green paint on it. Smoke came spiralling out the chimney from some cosy warm wood stove in the house, only to be blown into hastily retreating, bewildered looking smudges in the air by the still fairly brisk wind. The thought of a nice warm kitchen only served to heighten my perception of the cold ambience. How tempting it was to go and knock on the door and ask to be invited in for a moment to warm up, but alas! The time when such an action would have been quite normal and acceptable belonged to a bygone era, when the spirit of human kindness was more common.
The narrow paved road near the farm drew a black, curved line in the landscape with neat little houses, perched on both sides like small toy building blocks, rendering splashes of colour to the landscape. Somewhere up ahead I expected to find a side road leading down to a country Inn and given my present state of bodily well being, I couldn’t think of a better destination. The prospect of hot coffee, a meal and some warm comfort produced a feeling of urgency and spirited me down the road at an increased pace and soon I was brought face to face with the Inn. I opened the door and a wave of warm air rushed toward me. My glasses instantly fogged up, producing momentary blindness. I took them off and a hazy picture of the interior unfolded before my now slightly improved vision. The dining room stared at me with naked tables and chairs. A comely woman appeared and bid me a friendly “Hello” and “How are you”? I returned the greeting and replied in a self-pitying voice that I was miserably cold.
After seating myself at a small table by a window, I cleaned my eyeglasses and began looking around the room. A faint smell of stale beer and tobacco smoke lingered in the air. Some faded, smoke stained paintings of nondescript landscapes tried desperately to adorn the walls. Dishevelled houseplants hungering for some loving care, were placed here and there on the windowsills. The tables and chairs bore marks of many years of use, deeply ingrained in their rich, dark brown patina. The floor showed similar signs of heavy use by generations of patrons. This was no doubt a place frequented primarily by local residents.
The woman brought coffee to my table and asked smilingly if I wanted something to eat. I ordered a hot, breaded fillet of Plaice, with curried mayonnaise and a beer. She made a note of my order, but lingered around the table for a moment longer. I could sense her growing curiosity and desire to ask me something, but she turned around and walked back to the kitchen. Well, I thought, who could blame her if she wanted to know who I was and where I came from. After all, I was not a local person and had arrived on foot, rather than by car, the more customary mode of transportation for a strange visitor to this somewhat out of the way Inn. Shortly, the waitress returned with the meal and beer I had ordered and I consumed it with a ravenous appetite. After a cigarette and the rest of the coffee, I was left quite satisfied and ready to leave again, – this time on the homebound leg of my journey. After paying my bill and bidding farewell and thank you, I left.
Once again, I encountered a gusty blast of frigid winter misery. I began walking toward the highway, passing hills and groves, dormant, frozen fields and meadows and wondered which of them my ancestors had spent their lives tilling and harvesting. How many generations had lived and died here? In the not too distant past, had some of them perhaps not been bound to this ancient land as mere serfs for the Lord of some Manor? They lived and died, generation after generation, each passing their wisdom, life experience and genes to the next, – each in turn taking a few more steps up the ladder of knowledge and what we so self-assuredly call “progress”. It struck me that I owed my existence to their perseverance and ability to survive, during a time when this in itself was more of a challenge than I readily could visualize.
After a few kilometres walk, I reached the causeway leading onto the mainland. The wind had subsided somewhat but it didn’t seem to make any difference to my state of comfort. It was well past midday and the sun was hanging quite a bit lower on the horizon, playing hide and seek between sombre, dark grey clouds. I heard a car coming from behind and it stopped a short distance ahead of me. As I reached it, a man opened the window and asked if I was going to town, to which I replied in the affirmative. “Hop-in”, he said, I’m going there to get a few things. I needed no second invitation, for my bus was not due to arrive for another hour. We reached town in a matter of 20 minutes or so, and he was kind enough to drop me right where I lived. I walked up the familiar stairs to my apartment, happy to be home again after hiking some 14 km on a day, when common sense should have prevailed and kept me snugly indoors. It was nice to sit in a comfortable chair, a cup of hot coffee and something a little stronger within arms reach. After a while, I realized how tired I was, but the journey had been worthwhile. It had given me moments of contemplative pleasure and would remain fresh in my memory for a long time.

Kenny Beechmount

 
Helnæs Island, Fyn. Denmark 1987.

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