The church was full today. The whole town had gathered to say a heart-felt goodbye to one of their oldest residents, Jan Prideaux. Eighty four years of age, old Jan had continued working until the day he died. Like his father and grandfather before him, masters of their trade. Now the village would no longer have a blacksmith. As a boy he had cut his teeth shoeing the horses from the farm, the big house and the local hunt stables. All had succumbed to changing times. Motor cars, tractors and the demise of hunting with dogs. No more would the smithy ring to the sound of hammer blows, the hiss of steam from drenched iron or the wheeze of the bellows keeping the raging fire aglow. It was fitting that Jan would be carried through the doors so beautifully decorated with the crafted ironwork of his last commission.
Graham inserted the key. Behind him Julie nibbled her upper lip and looked at the peeling paint on the once dark-blue door. He seemed to her to be taking a long time and it was cold standing out here on the dark doorstep. There was very little light from the street lamp on the opposite side of the road. At last he said, “That’s got it,” and pushed the door open before reaching for the light-switch. The hall stayed dull as if the lamp was operating on low power. “After you,” he reached behind her and stood to one side as she entered, “the first door on the right,”. She took a step forward and turning the handle indicated, pushed the door open. He reached past her and flicked another switch, this time the light was brighter. “Welcome in,” he smiled, “what do you think of it?”
Julie looked around, her first impression was she had entered a Victorian boudoir with two large armchairs, a dresser with a large mirror and old-fashioned china ornaments. A tall dark wood bookcase filled one wall. The top two shelves were crammed with very old looking books in leather binding. She realised that it was probably these which gave the room it’s distinctive, rather unpleasant smell. If she was going to visit him again she would have to do something about that. A strange thought occurred to her that it smelt like something long dead.
Graham looked at her nervously, he could sense something wrong. He hoped that she would not be another of his guests who got frightened and asked to leave before his fun began.
Look at these walls, a chocolate box cottage you may think. You may change your mind when I tell you a little of it’s history. A dwelling has stood on this site for at least four centuries and before that a dolmen from the bronze age. The stones themselves, taken to be used as gateposts on local fields. There are no records of the previous owners of the cottage but when the current owners moved in they wanted plain whitewashed walls in keeping with the other moorland cottages. The painter who they engaged for the task, a local man, shook his head when he agreed the price but completed the task. After less than a week the gleaming white walls began to adopt a pinkish hue. It always happened. The locals believed it was the blood of the ancients buried in the ground below seeping back up through the earth.
And God looked down from on high at the gathering below. She smiled in order to put them at their ease, for arrayed in a circle below was a representative from all the nations of the Earth. Chosen at random and summoned while in an enchanted state, none had a recollection of how they had come to be here or why they had been so chosen. God enfolded them in her arms and in soft tones began to speak. Speaking in tongues so that all the gathering were able to understand the message she imparted. To emphasise her imparted warning a loud rumbling began to emanate from the very bowels of the Earth and the earth opened giving all assembled a glimpse of the infernal future for the planet. A certainty if these messengers were unable to convince their fellow countrymen throughout the world of the necessity for change. God released the people from their spell to return and begin their work. It was now dependant upon the inhabitants of the planet if they wished to avoid the second great flood. A flood of fire of their own making.
“Tell me Bottom, which colour would you like to wear?”
We stood up on the cliff looking down at the scene of destruction below. The gale force wind so strong that we could hardly stand. Waves crashed over the bow of the stricken vessel. We could not keep our torches alight unless we lay upon the ground sheltering them from the driving rain with our curled bodies. The cries from below sounded English but there were also high-pitched screams in a language I couldn’t identify. Daniel beside me had toshout to make himself hard, “I s’pect tis them Frenchies they’ve been tellin about, poor buggers.” I only nodded in agreement. There was nothing we could do till the sea and wind settled. Then we would go down to the beach to see if anyone had got off to the shore. All we could was sit and wait.
At first light the wind had lessened. There was no sound. Fearing the worst we climbed down the fisherman’s path to the shingle beach. The ship had completely broken up overnight. There were rough, broken planks of timber, chests and casks scattered among the rocks. Much more numerous were the bodies. Some lying face down, arms outstretched as if scrabbling at the sand. Some face up, their faces white, fixed in fear, eyes dull and lifeless. The worst sight were a group of both men and women lying like rag dolls close to a cave entrance.
Going over to examine them we were stopped in our tracks at the sight. All were wearing leg-irons and neck-braces chained one to each other. It was obvious, they were slaves being transported to the colonies. The sailors hadn’t even freed them at the time of the wreck in order that they might have a chance of escape.
I believe it was that one act that turned us against our sea-faring brothers. Without a word being spoken the vow never again to help them was taken. Not only that, our loathing at their cowardice was so high that we were encouraged to start the act of wrecking and thus gaining benefit from their distress. Much to my shame I can safely say that was how and why our terrible, callous and cowardly acts of piracy started.
It was only when we arrived in the basin that I read once more the ancient scroll that had been entrusted to my safekeeping. I realised that despite many years of poring over by student and fellow supposed expert alike we had based on our ideas on a mis-translation of the words. By carefully reordering the words finely etched on the copper plates I could see that our expedition was bound to end in failure. A disbelieving Lot had thought they could divert a river back to save his home but the ferocious heat had turned it to salt.
Another storm forecast. The third today. Sunset was another forty-three hours away so we could expect a few more before the day was out. Hopefully we would be able to get outside and rig the anti-icing screens before dark. Although only a curious form of purple twilight, not truly dark, it wasn’t safe working outside once the sun had gone down. The natives seemed to gather strength at these times and always wanted to make a scene. Their parties were not for me sadly. I preferred to sit in my chamber watching re-runs of old sports games on my telekran. Anyway there was actually some work to do tonight. My discovery on the Carmillion plain today deserved a couple of extra hours. The only difficulty was how to get the news back home during one of the sparse communicator periods. That was when I got what I would call my flash of inspiration. Just like one of those bolts lighting up the mustard-yellow, methane-cloud filled sky. I will lodge a full report in my next telecast.
Sam looked at the trees lining the highway. Varieties that he and his fellow prisoners had uprooted many years before. He knew tears would flow with every mile they covered, with each new memory. Memories of a life passed and lives lost amidst tears, both wasted and wasteful. Tears mixed with sweat-diluted blood. In the blazing, tropical, midday sun, moisture was precious, the guards watching every move, seldom and reluctantly offering water to drink. They had laid the track yard by yard but now he was perversely pleased to see their death railway transformed into the main highway through Burma
Philip put on his coat and hat. With the rather old but still functional library ladder tucked under his arm he walked out to the now quiet high street. Elated, he realised that the clear night sky held the promise of a stargazing bonanza.
Leaning the ladder against the old viaduct wall and ignoring the stark warning, bright in black on the mud-hued brick, he slowly started to climb. After fifteen minutes he found no inspiration so with a loud sigh he climbed down.
He shuffled home to his apartment. The thought of a tumbler of whisky while listening to a jazz record afforded him much pleasure.