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Posts Tagged ‘Short Stories’

The American multimillionaire and scientist Craig Venter has just synthesised artificial life, mixing four chemicals off his lab shelf to make a living microbe. His new microbe, which he calls Synthia, behaves like any other, dividing and dividing to generate millions of identical offspring.

Author’s note: One might think that a discussion between immortal beings would be irrelevant, being all knowing and all seeing as they are, but it seems that they do it nevertheless.

The Creator is working in one of the huge laboratories with strange looking creatures (which I shall call Aids) doing all sorts of strange unfathomable (to us) things. One of them stands watching at the Creator’s side as another galaxy reaches completion. 

‘May I say something?’ says the Aid.

(more…)

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“Thought is an interloper, which thrusts itself into the affairs of the senses.
It has a profit motive: thought directs the activity of the senses to get something out of them, and uses them to give continuity to itself.”
U.G. Krishnamurti

The following was written by someone who arrived later

Once there was Mother Thought
who gave birth to Baby Thought.
How this happened is not known
to this day.
Baby Thought wouldn’t listen
to Mother Thought.
It knew everything better.
Mother Thought and Man
were inseparable.
Baby Thought wanted more
and in its frustration
devoured Man
and its Mother.
But Baby Thought was then alone
using Man to weave its dreams.
Mother Thought looked on sadly
helping Man whenever she could
from inside.
Baby Thought eventually went mad
and Man with it.
Mother Thought departed
and was never seen again.

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Where have you gone now Rupert Bear
Who took my hand and lead me there
Into a world of childhood bliss
That all too soon I had to miss?

With Badger, Trunk and Algy Pug
There I would lie upon the rug
And only moving legs could show
When off from Nutwood we would go

To seek adventures far and near
That brought a smile and then a tear
The wonder of magicians’ spells
And meeting elves in leafy dells

Then off back home to Mum and Dad
With memories both good and bad
To safety of their loving care
Tomorrow off to who-knows-where.

Information on the stories of Rupert Bear can be found here

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Mars looked down from his throne at the multitude in the great hall. It was a time of celebration: nothing in particular, just a celebration that Mars thought it was time for.
Things were going well with warring; there was always one going on somewhere, thank Mars.
He rubbed his hands together and looked down at his favorite mortals, wine sloshing in their goblets. There were Adolf and Genghis of course, always good for a lot of shouting and table thumping, at the very least. Napoleon and a handful of Caesars were arguing some point of strategy with a Japanese Emperor – a particularly notorious one whose name Mars couldn’t quite remember. Well, it had been a long evening.
He could see smoke rising from Genghis’s rather shabby clothing, still smoldering from the attentions of the servants of Pluto, down under.
Bacchus, with a lot of backslapping, was dealing out wine as if there were no tomorrow.
Mars turned to Venus sitting by his side and smiled. She smiled back lovingly. She didn’t really enjoy all this debauchery, but, as she didn’t get out much these days, it was a pleasant change from brooding over lost love. And, anyway, Mars was always tender when he took his mind off battles and weapons, which, unfortunately, seemed to occur less and less these days. Sometimes even immortality sucked.
“How’s Cupid these days?” asked Mars, smiling sincerely.
“Oh, well, well,” she answered somewhat distantly, “the trouble with his pulling arm has gone away, so his arrows are flying around again increasing populations.”
“That’s good news,” said Mars.
“More population, more wars,” he thought. It was a simple equation as far as mortals were concerned.
In the middle of the hall a large group was fighting now. He could see arms and legs flying about as swords flashed in the light from the enormous open fire and the massive hanging chandeliers. Cannon balls were flying around willy-nilly and muskets were exploding their body carving innards. Nuclear weapons and other advanced technical horrors were not recognized by the Gods, and mortals who used them down there could expect little mercy when later being assigned their afterlife fates up here.
Mars, who lead the original debate, had said that he found these weapons to be a little, well, too much. They were so, well, undemocratic. Complete annihilation just happened too damned fast. No glory in that. There had to be gushing blood and visible sinews, not instant atomic particles, at far as he was concerned. And he would continue to be the concerned party for some time to come, he’d decided. Oh, there were others who had tried to take his power away, but none had succeeded or even lived to enjoy prolonged immortality. The other Gods had agreed pretty much whole heartedly, though Diana had gingerly admitted to getting a teeny-weeny amount of pleasure from big bangs.
Times were good as even Saturn had to admit.
(Time to Gods is, or course, a rather trivial and awfully relative thing. In fact, they wouldn’t have much to do with it at all, if it weren’t for its necessity in dealings with mortals.)
The smoke was getting rather thick now in the hall and there was a lot of coughing from those who still could, so Mars raised his hand and, as trumpets sounded, the hall fell silent. The air-conditioners did their work and the broken furniture, undead bodies, and parts thereof, were quickly removed by his minions. Swords were sheathed and muskets lowered. Gun carriages withdrew into the shadows. Tom (The Great) Minion had his whip cracking as always, and son Alf shook a fist at Adolf who had raised his one good arm again. It was an old habit.
Everyone suddenly looked up as Mercury, who had taken on the roll of The Messenger with some gusto, suddenly flew in through a high window, and after circling round a few times for effect, alighted like a feather on the podium just in front of Mars, though at a respectful distance.
“Well, Freddie, what is it this time?” said Mars, always fascinated by the ridiculously small folding wings.
“Jupiter’s coming,” said Freddie, rather out of breath and still missing his Queen.
“Damn! Always comes uninvited that one,” said Mars, stroking his beard, “and he always makes such a show of being the BOSS – that booming voice of his and all the lightning bolts flying around disturbing the guests. Never takes the hint either from all the cowering in fright.”
“Well, got to be off again,” said Freddie. “More messages to deliver. Catch you again soon and have a good one!”
With flapping wings and a short wave he rose, circling upwards, until he became a small speck and disappeared through the same window.
“Show off!” shouted Mars to the dissipating eddies, and then turning to Venus, “Well, it looks as though things are going to get really out of hand again then. Big Daddy’s underway and you know what that means,” he said.
The feasting in the hall gathered new momentum.
‘Yes, and he’s such an awful bore, even when he gets round to talking. I don’t know how Juno puts up with him,” said Venus, admiring the rippling muscles of some stalwart just below.
Suddenly a feeling came over her, though it wasn’t love.

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I walked at a run down the dimly lit corridor, its lighting blinding my eyes. On each side there were doors, some opening inwards, some opening outwards, and there were others.
Some rooms were empty with only a few people inside but many were fully empty. In one I saw Jack who was just out of sight.
“Hi Jack,” I called out loudly so as not to disturb the others.
Looking up he turned away and waved.
“Hey Jan,” he thought walking over and giving me a hand which I quickly concealed in the bag I was carrying on about.
“Thanks,” I said. “How did you know?”
“That you needed a hand?” he said.
“No,” I smiled grimly.
“Oh, well you asked me for one didn’t you?” he said.
“I don’t remember. When was that?” I said.
“In about ten minutes, if my watch is right which I left at home,” he said.
“Oh well, I guess I won’t be needing it until then,” I said fumbling in the bag where the hand should have been but wasn’t.
“It’s not here,” I said.
“Well It wouldn’t be would it? I haven’t given it to you yet,” he said peering into the now closed bag.
“Oh how stupid,” I said, feeling clearly faint.
“Never mind old chap,” he said. “If you need one then let me know. I’ll still be gone when you come back.”
“Oh, right Jack,” I said wearily. “Well thanks for the hand you’re going to give me. It really helped.”
“No trouble, it really is,” he said offering me a hand.
I shook it and after thanking him again he closed the door and disappeared inside.
The bag felt heavy but I didn’t dare open it.

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Well here we are on the final lap. I want today to give an account of a story I came across in an old book I bought some time ago. The bookshop has closed now but I became quite friendly with the owner when it was still open and often visited, sometimes buying something or often just browsing. He was pleasant in his manner but often gave one the feeling that his thoughts were somewhere else. He told me at a certain point that he had received instructions to move to another location. I said I was sorry to see him leave though he didn’t seem to have any reservations himself. ‘Time to leave,’ he’d said, though admitting that he would miss my company.
He left me an address where he could be contacted if I so desired. It turned out to be a small publishing house in London that looked after his affairs but on inquiry knew nothing (or would not reveal anything) of his activities.
The book’s title is “Tales of Distant Worlds”, by J.J. Rea, a volume that appears to be long out of print, although the bookseller did say that copies seemed to become available ‘ now and again’. I thought at first it was just a science fiction collection, but one story, the third, struck me as being something more than just fiction. It’s difficult to explain but perhaps you’ll understand when I’ve given you an indication of its contents without relating the whole story.
It begins as follows and I quote:

“One day I was in this bookshop and whilst browsing the shelves a volume caught my eye. I know you’ll think I’m mad but I’m sure it moved as I looked, fractionally. Before I could recover from this unexpected occurrence and seemingly due to an automatic response I had it in my hands. It was a large dark brown book of some material similar to leather though it didn’t have quite the same feel or smell (I always smell books, it’s an old habit). Somehow I felt a strong urge to open it and examine its contents.
I looked around the further empty shop and saw at the back a table with a few chairs. I walked over and sat down, placing my cane on the chair next to mine and laying the book on the table I opened it carefully. I felt the shop owner was watching me but when I glanced in his direction he just appeared to be busy with  what I assumed was the normal everyday administration of any bookshop.
I returned to the book. It was entitled “Wonders of Sirial” and there was a short introduction telling the reader of a visit to a strange world. It was signed H. Tobin, Regus I, which was a strange enough in itself I thought, but I was driven to read on.
The introduction began as follows:
“In the galaxy there is a star, very much like Earth’s Sun, though far removed from it. Around it orbits a shining blue planet called Sirial. It could almost be a twin of Earth, though the continents are different. The people are divided into different races as on Earth but there the similarity largely ends. One could call it a sister planet.
It was always an honour to meet a Higher One and I had the good fortune to do so on Tallus, where we were both attending some gathering. Irian was his name and though they have no gender I shall, for simplicity, refer to him as a male in what follows. No one knows much about them and there are only theories as to where they came from. Their wisdom and friendly natures have lead them to achieve high office on many worlds. Some suspect them of  having strange powers and there seems to be some evidence for this.
As we sat talking he suddenly turned the conversation to the above mentioned planet, which he said was quite an unusual place. Apparently The Higher Ones had been visiting it for some time and had made records of their experiences with the people who lived there, something which they normally didn’t need to do but in this case it seemed they had good reason.
To outsiders there is a strange almost hypnotic peacefulness on this planet he told me. He enthusiastically went on to give a brief description of the world and its inhabitants which was indeed most intriguing. At a certain point I asked where it was located, but he said that he could not yet reveal that information for reasons that would become clear if I should wish to learn more. With such a promised invitation I expressed my great interest to do so, being an avid traveller of distant worlds myself, and he asked if I should therefore care to visit him the following day at his lodgings, to which I gladly agreed.
The following morning saw me entering his rather lavish apartment and being lead, by one who I assumed was someone in his company, to a comfortably furnished room. Irian appeared almost at once and the companion withdrew without a word. After the usual pleasantries and some excellent refreshment served by the companion, he offered me a chair behind a large glossy table. Excusing himself briefly, he disappeared through a side door but soon returned holding what I saw was a universal recorder. After placing it before me he told me that it contained all their findings on Sirial and as he pressed a few keys on the small console a text appeared next to a picture of two humanoids. He said he wanted me to read this part first as it was significant for what was to follow. I did so and when at last I sat back and caught his eye he looked deep into mine and asked if I understood the urgency of the matter. I said I did.
He paused for a moment as if reading my mind, which he may well have been doing, and then leaning towards me he said that he had a request of me and that he now had to admit that our meeting the previous day had not been entirely accidental, which I had already begun to suspect for myself.
He continued that because of my connections in the quadrant where Earth was situated he wished me to convert the material of his findings into a readable form for Earth’s population and to arrange for copies to be placed there through a certain distributor, the name and address of whom he would supply. Arrangements would be made to free me from other obligations and to ensure my trouble free passage and the necessary secrecy in this matter.
I said I would be honoured to do so and somewhat later I left with the material and other information he had supplied. The further details of this undertaking I cannot reveal here, but suffice it to say that everything went smoothly thanks to Irian’s influence and the book was placed strategically on Earth as he wished.
This is the book that you now have before you. I am certain you will find the reading of it rewarding. Some readers may laugh at what they might see as a futile attempt to describe some unattainable paradise, nothing more than a fairy tale only suitable for the innocent, but they can be assured that the planet and its inhabitants truly exist.”

I read parts of the first few chapters in which Tobin describes a planet where a species lived that was similar to humans on Earth. They were a highly intelligent and saw themselves as the caretakers of their world. There was this natural peace he had referred to which seemed to emanate from everything around. One felt a living presence was how he described it. They lived in complete harmony with others of their species and with all other lifeforms and saw the world itself as a living entity which they referred to as the ‘giver of life’, which might also be interpreted as ‘mother’. They also lived according to certain longstanding traditions, adjusting there lives to remain in tune with what they saw as the planet’s wishes. There was always just enough sunshine and rainfall when they were needed for the crops and wild animals, that might to others have appeared dangerous, never did to these people. They saw them as fellow inhabitants to be respected and they walked and talked with them, having no fear or language barriers.
They took from the environment only what was necessary to sustain them and gave back in kind, so that a natural balance was always maintained. The people the Higher Ones met were dark skinned and lived in large round houses where several families were housed. An average village (there were no larger communities) consisted at most of three hundred individuals with a variety of livestock. There was no surrounding enclosure which was apparently not needed. The division of their people into villages stemmed only from efficiency of purpose and there were no boundaries, either physical of psychological. They had few belongings, just tools and objects that were needed for daily life and their clothes were simple but both cool and warm when needed and pleasant to the eye as were their few adornments. They were excellent craftsmen using wood and other natural materials but also metal.
They used language sparingly and if asked something they would answer directly and always truthfully or say they did not know. They seemed to have no need of a written language though symbols were used in daily life and could be found on objects both in their villages and outside. Their spoken language was closely tuned to the environment and had a very descriptive nature, though amongst themselves they seemed to largely communicate non verbally as they seemed to do with their environment.
This is illustrated by the fact that they would suddenly decide to move to a new location, to an outsider for no apparent reason and without any sign of misgiving or remorse. If they were asked why they would smile and say that the answers to such questions were already there and all one had to do was open oneself up to them. This was their explanation for much of what happened in their daily lives.
They also somehow knew of a sister world far away where a population of similar beings lived but had somehow ‘lost the way’. This was something that seemed to concern them. They said they had tried to contact them but to no avail, though another attempt was being made.”

I glanced briefly through the rest of the book which further described, in seemingly great detail, the wonders of that place. I noticed that on every other page there were symbols in the left hand margin. In a glossary at the back these were given a brief description which indicated that these were used by those people and represented local features, objects or creatures of their world and their associations.
I closed the book somewhat reluctantly and with a strange feeling of exhilaration.
I stood up somewhat dazed and taking up my cane and the book made my way to the owner to ask him if I might buy it. He examined it carefully for a moment and then smiled, ‘Oh that one you can have for free. I don’t have to buy them you see.’
‘Someone donates them?’ I asked rather puzzled.
‘Well, you could put it like that. Why don’t you have a look at the place where you found it,’ he smiled urging me with a wave of his hand to do so.
Leaving him to wrap the book I returned to where I had found it and, sure enough, another copy was now standing in the same place. I was sure I’d taken the only copy.
‘Strange isn’t it?’ he said as I walked back. ‘My assistant says that corner’s haunted but I reckon everything happens for a reason, don’t you?’ There was a twinkle in his eye.
Rather perplexed, my mouth formed into a brief smile and thanking him I picked up the offered parcel and stepped hurriedly out into the street. Somehow the air had an unexpected freshness which helped calm my somewhat shaken nerves and the few people passing by turned to smile in an unusually friendly way. I headed off home with mixed feelings of bewilderment and euphoria.”

The rest of the story tells of the writer seeing the world change before his eyes and the marvels that subsequently occurred. He came to firmly believe that the books somehow opened up a sort of window through which the power of those distant people traveled to ‘revive’ the people of Earth, releasing them from the curse that had blemished their lives since time began.
I tried to find further information on the origins of the story but to no avail. Call me an old fool, but when I enter bookshops now, I’m always on the lookout for that one book which I hope one day might find me.

The End

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A doctor’s surgery – somewhere in a western democracy – mid morning.
A disheveled Mr Jones sits awkwardly opposite his doctor supporting his right wrist with his left hand. He seems not at all to be his normal self, whatever that was.
‘Hello, you out there!’ cries Jones to someone who doesn’t appear to be there at the moment. He stares at the clinically white wall, in the middle of which hangs a large calendar with flowers in a vase that is urgently keeping watch over the days.
‘Oh God,’ he shouts as if to rebuke the calendar’s seeming indifference or perhaps to raise the doctor’s status. ‘I’m receding into the distance. Is anyone there to grab my hand and pull me back to sanity? Insanity’s winning the race. I wish I could jump into another galaxy and find a world where one can still discover warmth and friendship – somewhere free from greed, selfishness and enduring expectation.
Please stop the fools feeding me all their insufferably boring entertainment and endlessly trying to sell me things. It’s like a monster that’s got me by the throat and is throttling me, tearing my protesting soul to shreds. I can feel its claws digging into my inner flesh. Can’t they see that the arrow of time has been reversed: that we are now as young spoiled brats always screaming for new sensations and that we soon will be as babies clambering for sustenance from the mother’s dried up breast?”
He pauses as tears appear in his eyes and the doctor gladly seizes his opportunity.
‘Mr Jones, please, my dear fellow, restrain yourself,’ he stammers, shaken by this outburst but not stirred enough to abort his trained diagnosis of the situation. ‘Calm down and let me look at your sprained wrist, man, then we can er discuss er other things,’ he fumbles expectantly with the end of his stethoscope and attempts to rise.
Jones forges on, unabated by anything as superfluous as reality and the doctor, defeated for the moment, drops back in his chair.
‘When will this damned nightmare end? Will I ever wake into a world where normal things happen and keep happening? Have the gods planned a day when the prayers of the lonely will be answered?’
Jones suddenly stops as the doctor’s interjection enters his brain at last, through some back door that was obviously difficult to get open. He turns towards the gray hair and glasses.
‘Ah, ah, but that was then!’ He hesitates as if receiving the words from a hidden ear-piece.
‘But, but how do you think my wrist got sprained?’ he croaks and then hesitates again as if the question is aimed at himself. ‘Yes, of course, I smashed the kitchen table in two with it, for God’s sake. Like a samurai cleaving the arm from an assailant. Ah, those were times of real glory and sacrifice.’
He appears to have drawn back into some historical mist.
‘Mr Jones, please,’ says the doctor trying to rise again. ‘Try to calm down, you really must. Things are never as bad…’
Jones glares at the receding hairline and the thin lips as if they belong to someone whose about to rob him of the last vestiges of humanity. He leans over the desk and points a finger at the face now decidedly grayer than when he came in, his words falling like bricks upon the polished surface. The doctor falls back helpless, his hands gripping the arms of his chair.
The voice of Jones becomes lower and heavier as if the next tirade has been stuffed down the barrel of cannon and is awaiting the lighted fuse. After a short delay there follows the explosion. ‘The endless, bloody wars! Destroyers of flesh – disintegrators of all that is dear – hellish games for those perverts whose hearts are colder that absolute zero. Madmen. Can’t they rise above their own incompetent stupidity and recognize the futility of issues even less important to the universe than those it shits out every millisecond into irradiated chaos? Is there not one and only one – one to which every part exists only as decimal places after an infinity of others, in some immensity that only God can define?
The doctor raises a hand as if asking permission to speak, as Jones pauses again while new ammunition is being loaded.
‘I er, really don’t know Mr Jones. Look, life’s not perfect for any of us. If you’ll just calm down perhaps we can discuss these things rationally…’
‘Rationally, RATIONALLY!’ shouts Jones bringing the fist of his damaged hand down onto the desk. He turns, his wild, pain filled eyes stopping the assistant in her tracks, who has just rushed in through the door. He stands up shakily, the only movement now, as if for everything around him time no longer exists. In reality, it is only for him that it doesn’t.
He staggers out of the door and through the waiting room, colliding painfully with a man who was obviously going somewhere but now doesn’t even flinch. He blunders through the outside door into the street and into an unearthly silence. His bloodshot eyes stare at the bird a few feet away frozen in mid flight.
A thin smile appears on his face as he catches sight of the large silver craft above the rooftops opposite and raises his arms as it drops towards him.

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The Concert

For me there’s nothing like a large helping of seventeenth century religious choir music to chase away any daily worries that may still be hanging around. It’s like being suddenly transported into another age of troubled but intense silent devotion, when religion was indeed the opium of the people and a quick death almost guaranteed.
It creates an atmosphere so very different from our modern view of life. What once brought people with clasped hands to their knees and perhaps tears to their eyes can still move us modern hardened folk. It’s not for everyone I admit. Some would rather go for a thundering rock concert, some for Jazz in all its forms or whatever. Well I like those too (well perhaps not the thundering variety – not anymore) but as far as I’m concerned ancient chords can sometimes lift and sooth the aching soul in a way that modern music cannot.
Well anyway, it was cold and rain was in the air as we arrived in the village where the performance was taking place. It was a village we hadn’t visited before and there was winter stillness in the air; no one but the straggling concertgoers was on the street.
Due to road works we had to park the car some way away from the church where the concert would be held. In the distance its lighted spire could already be seen. We were rather late so we headed off quickly in that direction passing mountains of sand and piles of bricks, until we entered a street that seemed to bring us nearer to our goal. Indeed, turning another corner we could see the open doors of the brightly lit church entrance welcoming us inside.
After buying tickets we walked along the isle to our seats. We were rather late so most were already inside. It was quite a good attendance considering the weather forecast.
It was a rather sober prodestant church: very white with no adornments on the high walls though with several modestly decorated stain glass windows.
The wooden benches on which we sat were designed not for comfort but for piety. They were placed rather too close together so that knees couldn’t quite be kept together and I hadn’t sat so upright since military training. Running along and resting on wooden supports, where the devoted apparently placed there knees when praying, were flat metal pipes that proved to be central warming elements. These were undoubtedly a reluctant and costly modern necessity to ensure that the number of churchgoers didn’t further diminish.
Before us on an upraised section supported by two pillars was an imposing organ of which only the pipes could be seen from where we sat. Under this the choir would shortly stand as I could see a microphone devoutly waiting, and as usual a small organ was in place in the middle. This choir is very well known in these parts and has appeared on radio and television. They also travel widely, often to foreign countries within Europe. The choir master is a very proficient organist and composer and he always has this small organ at hand to set the right tone for the choir and to accompany them when required.
Well I won’t bore you with their repertoire but it was, at least for us fans, a fine, moving performance. There were works from musical monks to renowned composers and everything in between. Unfortunately, as always, there were a couple of members of “Rent-a-cough-and-Snivel” present to aggravate the proceedings and they received the usual angry sideways glances, but of course they’re used to that and take it all in their stride.
When the last notes had been sung and we were all emotionally filled with wonderful musical passages, the choir filed past to a room at the rear with smiles of appreciation at our enthusiastic applause. Then to the sound of muttering we wandered casually to the exit, which was also the entrance, and walked somewhat reluctantly into the night.
It was raining; well almost sleet really, with the temperature I estimated (being and old meteorologist) just above freezing. Anyway it was cold and wet.  We hadn’t taken the umbrellas with us because were parked so close by, or so we thought.
Off we went in the direction we thought we would find the car again but to our dismay no road works appeared. It was unlikely that they had been cleared by a sudden rush of enthusiasm by the workmen after a promise of triple pay, so an air of uncertainty and trepidation gradually developed as we plodded on, our eyes swivelling in all directions in search of something familiar. We hadn’t noted the street name on arrival because it seemed so close to our destination and we were in rather a hurry.
My wife (the savior of the hour) said she had noted that the offices of a certain well known Bank were situated near where we had parked the car. Well, after walking around for a while and not seeing anything familiar, bank or otherwise or any local inhabitants to ask the way, we were getting rather wet and irritated and I was feeling rather less than chivalrous exposing my wife to such an ordeal. The rain was also becoming more intense and we had to face the truth – we were lost. I considered knocking on a door and asking for a room for the night when two cycling youngsters came out of the gloom towards us. I shouted to them (rather too loudly but there was a sense of desperation) as they turned into a side street and luckily they stopped. I explained our predicament and after some discussion they luckily agreed to lead us to the right spot where the Bank was situated, as it appeared too hard to explain.
We finally arrived at the street were the car was parked and after thanking the two boys profusely we dived into the car and headed off towards home with the heating turned full on.
I only took one wrong turn getting out the village and then the signposts took over.
The music of the evening had already receded into the distant background of our memories.

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Alien tastes

‘Ah Rogers,’ said Smythe, ‘come in my dear fellow. Sit down next to me and move as little as possible if you will.’
Rogers edged towards the chair indicated and sat shakily down, his mind turning summersaults. He’d seen these creatures from a distance but up this close they were… well, words failed him actually, though his stomach had the right idea.
‘Rogers, this is Dr. Juno Knag. Well, that’s the nearest we get to his real name using English. Dr. Knag, this is my assistant Rogers.’
Smythe whispered to Rogers. ‘Don’t extend anything. Just nod in his direction when you see the red flashing thing above the green blob.’
Rogers looked up and down and from side to side.
‘There!’ said Smythe, pointing with a shaking finger. ‘Please excuse our bad manners Dr. Knag, but my assistant has much less understanding of your anatomy than I.’
The red flashes became somewhat brighter.
‘Dr. Knag is both an anthropologist and a culinary expert, Rogers. An unusual and interesting combination don’t you think?’ said Smythe, as he smiled in the general direction of Knag.
‘The red flashing membrane you see, Rogers, shows that Dr. Knag is communicating. The colour shows his moods, which for us are rather complex and as yet not fully understood. He reads our minds telepathically and has seemingly little trouble mastering our languages.
With this gadget he has given me I can understand what he is saying as well.’
He tapped a small blue flashing something on his forehead.
‘Oh wait! He’s speaking now,’ smiled Smyth shifting a little in his seat
The flashes became a dull red again and a strange high pitched musical sound filled the air.
‘Oh yes,’ said Smythe as the message seeped through, ‘well, it seems they formerly studied other species with a view to eating them­ – before they became civilised that is.’
A thin green stalk waved in the air and a picture emerged in the mind of Smythe.
‘They ate small things about our size for starters,’ said Smythe rather mechanically, as if someone else were moving his lips.
Rogers shifted his chair back a little and his eyes widened as they flitted uncontrollably over the apparition before him.
‘And things the size of elephants for a main course,’ continued Smythe his voice shaking; then as a picture shook his mind awake, ‘my God, the creature I’m seeing now has six…,’ he choked on his words as his mouth, temporarily out of work, hung wide open.
A few seconds passed without notice.
‘Well, anyway, he says that’s all in their past now,’ managed Smythe, recovering a little and releasing a weak strangled laugh of relief. ‘It would seem they have changed their ways. Er … sorry, what’s that you say Dr. Knag?’
The flashes of red were now turning purple.
‘Oh, you still revert to eating living flesh in emergencies.’
They heard a commotion outside in the corridor and then screams and shouts – then, suddenly, all was quiet again.
‘And what would constitute an emergency then Dr. Knag,’ croaked Smythe, although he had a terrifying thought as to what the answer might be.
The purple flashes were now changing to blue.
‘Yes, yes, of course,’ he laughed hysterically. ‘If there aren’t enough Groblicks available then something must be eaten. Yes, I can see that would be the only answer. Oh, luckily you only have to eat every few months. Well, that’s a relief. But wait, you’ve been here about two months now.’
After a short worried pause he added, ‘It seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it Rogers?’
Rogers’s mouth opened but nothing audible emerged.
Smythe continued. ‘I can’t find a translation for Groblicks, Rogers, but the picture I’m receiving shows them to be some sort of large flesh eating plants, very nourishing it seems.
The flashes had decided that blue was their colour for the moment.
‘Oh, now Dr. Knag informs me that, unfortunately, they don’t grow on our planet, and that the shipment they’d ordered hasn’t arrived yet,’ said Smythe. ‘Well, that really is a misfortune isn’t it? Not handy at all really, eh Rogers?’
The purple flashes turned white as Smythe received a terrifying message.
‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking Rogers?’ stammered Smythe with a quick forced smile in the direction of Knag.
Rogers nodded, his face draining of blood as he saw the horrified look appearing on Smythe’s face.
‘Well Dr Knag,’ croaked Smythe with a sickly grin. ‘I must apologise, but if you’ll excuse us er… we do have some rather pressing er… business which demands our attention for the moment. Perhaps we can meet again later at your convenience.
The flashes turned to white and blue.
‘Let’s go Rogers!’ hissed Smythe as he received Dr Knag’s thoughts.
Rogers staggered back with a horrified look and fell over his chair as the grotesque shape before him suddenly appeared to wobble.
There was a blinding whiteness as something billowed out from the mass of Dr. Knag and enveloped Rogers, drawing him inside.
Smythe jumped up screaming – kicked his chair aside – made a frantic dash for the door – but, before he could turn the handle, the same fate overcame him.
Dr. Knag burped loudly and, slithering over to the door, opened it with what looked like a long three fingered appendage. He then peered outside and saw his colleague Stang in the corridor.
‘Any leftovers Stang?’
‘No Sir, all gone I’m afraid,’ said Stang. ‘The men were starving, Sir. Pity we couldn’t find anything resembling Groblicks. I rather liked these humans; they had such nice manners and were so accommodating.’
‘Yes,’ said Knag, ‘I’d got to rather like Smythe myself; an able and most agreeable fellow.’
‘How do you mean – agreeable, Sir? That he agreed with you or that he agreed with you?’
‘Ha! Very droll, Stang. A bit of both I would say. Well, we might as well take over the place and deal the humans out amongst us; until such time as the Groblicks can be imported or substitutes are found, which seems unlikely. When is the first shipment due to arrive?’
‘About ten earth days, Sir,’ said Stang.
‘That long eh? Well I hope there’ll be enough to go round till then. It’s been a while since I’ve eaten something like you Stang. I’ve rather lost the taste.’
‘Yes, me too Sir. Well, maybe it won’t come to that.’
‘I’m afraid our actions will upset our partners, the Ting,’ said Knag, ‘but I’m sure they’ll understand that it was, after all, an emergency. At least we don’t eat the way they do.’
‘Anyway, listen,’ he continued, ‘I’ve got a splendid idea for some entertainment while we’re waiting. I thought of turning this island into a golf course. Smythe informed me of this game of theirs, golf they call it. I find it most intriguing, a real challenge of wits and skill.’
Knag explained the basic details to Stang.
‘Seems a lot of fun Sir,’ said Stang whose flashes were not overly enthusiastic.
‘There are lots of hills and rivers and we could blast a few craters here and there. In place of sticks and balls we have to use the armaments, of course, but that’ll raise the excitement value of the game don’t you think? The version Smythe described was a very timid affair at best. I’ll bring it up with Colonel Kreg.’
The two slithered off still in discussion and, as they rounded the bend in the corridor, flashes of red and blue followed them.

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Pleasantly surprised

Mostly I don’t like cities – noisy, dirty, sucking things – but yesterday was different.
A cool breeze played with the warm sun and was winning as we entered that concreted, skyscraped landscape.
There seemed to be more colour, fragrant wisps of scent and delicate savouries drifted, freshening the mildly polluted air, and there were many more smiling faces than usual. Children, still, not screaming, seemed to have gathered round for the occasion. It was as if I was somehow shielded from aggravations, not through any conscious effort of those around me I was sure. Perhaps it was one of those times, each one has, when one seems to be at the centre of things.
Even my opening of a bottle of evanescent water which sprayed the immediate surroundings, mostly me, couldn’t destroy the pleasant mood now soothingly solidifying.
First to the shoe repair shop to claim a half hour of their time replacing worn down soles.
‘I could add an extra sole,’ smiled the man looking at her. She is by today’s standards small and even by yesterdays standards rather small. Anyone who didn’t understand these people, as he knew we did, might have taken this as an insult worthy of retaliation in kind.
‘No, I can manage quite well, thank you,’ she said, cramming a long explanation into a short sentence.
Then to the bookstore, alone, drying out, as she went off to search for the latest fashions, something she also prefers to do alone.
I say bookstore, but bookpalace might be more appropriate. Six floors of books, one also containing things for satisfying eyes and ears without turning pages. All joined by escalators, a lift and to top things off a restaurant, at the top, with a view over the lower forms of concrete shrubbery and containing a reasonable percentage of sky. There was also a snack bar somewhere in the bowels for those who required efficient but no extra attention.
There were chairs and sofas placed at strategic points on all floors which gave an air of library relaxation and where, apparently, one could lounge and read to ones content, although I imagined that somewhere a stopwatch might be running down.
Although, in view of the immensity of their undertaking, I thought they’d obviously tried their best, they didn’t have the books I sought. Without further information, which I had no inclination to accrue, I put this down to my eccentric reading habits.
I did, however, buy something else which I came across, so we both came out happy I guess.
Later still, reunited, and both fed and watered, I’m trying on pyjamas under her direction, which I found rather tedious due to the clinging warmth of the store, seemingly protected by a reluctant air-conditioning. When I finally made my entrance onto the catwalk, I induced a smile from a small boy who happened to be sitting nearby. I smiled back, not knowing what he found most amusing, the pyjama, me, probably both. But it didn’t matter. Suddenly changing clothes didn’t seem half so bad, so I tried on two more, now mostly just for the fun of it.
At the last minute, having had second thoughts about something she’d seen earlier, we went back to where there hung a collection of trendy, but also handy, shoulder bags that could carry a hundred sandwiches but folded up to the size of a large purse. Irresistible.
Then back to the shoe repair shop to collect those two waiting, whose useful life had now considerably been lengthened.
One small frustration over mislaid keys quickly evaporated in the lingering air of congeniality as we stepped into the car for the journey home.
The city didn’t wave goodbye as I thought it might.

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The feudal systems almost here – again
The lords and ladies gather for the feast
Soon they will have the power to rule us all
The politician neutered like the priest
With promises of wealth and might they’ll win
The loyalty of those that laws enforce
All those dissenting will be brought to heel
And none will feel the need for self remorse
But power corrupts as history often shows
And those that wield it perish in the end
The circle can be broken for a while
But comes the time when Nature will amend.

The storm is coming and there won’t be rain
Our shouts of joy will just end in pain
There are too many people on this planet, they say
So some must go so the rest can stay
And there has to be order or the chaos will spread
They’ll be much better off with a lot of us dead
Except those needed to sustain their place
As the icing on the cake of the human race.
Sing Hurrah! Hurrah! For the wealthy and sane
As the human race goes down the drain.

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Dear Big Brother,
There are terrorists living at the bottom of my garden. Well, I’m pretty sure there are.
When I’m out, I’m almost certain they’re using my telephone. Perhaps if you tap it secretly, which I read is now entirely legal, you can catch them talking about blowing something up, or plotting something. If you don’t catch them at anything untoward, then maybe you can use their ‘innocent discussions to fabricate new messages, which will effectively drop them in it.
Anyway, feel free to do what you must to get rid of them – apart from blowing up my house and grounds of course. I know, I know, you can’t give me a guarantee that you won’t.
I understand – well it’s now pretty obvious really – that as far as you’re concerned, all people who wear, or have ever worn, or have ever thought of wearing, those long nightshirt thingies are potential terrorists; except perhaps those devotees who also wear nightcaps. A black beard and/or moustache and a suntanned appearance also stand quite high on the list, I believe. But then again, that would include Uncle Rupert, who also wears sandals in the house (having lived too long in foreign lands), and, when I come to think about it, Aunt Jane might also just qualify. These two are, well as far as I know, innocent of any serious misdoings.
Then I read about those of any colour or creed who are arrested and often disappear for having outspoken opinions on dodgy matters concerning your authority, but who do not fall under the above category. Indeed, when I consider this further, these descriptions really fit millions of people all around the world, so you’ve got your work cut out for the coming decennia at least.
Well, as long as we trustworthy neutered citizens can all sleep safely in our beds, eh?
I remain your obedient servant,
Noam Ercy

P.S.
Well, I’ve finally found out who’s living at the bottom of the garden. It’s not as bad as I thought but it’s better to be safe that sorry, eh? His name is John and he insists he’s a prophet of the coming Messiah. He fits the above description alright and he does rant on about the Bible condemning all perversions and lack of faith and devotion. When I argued about it sending mixed messages and pointed out a few poignant passages, he got quite cross and said I would end up in hell. Well really! I told him to pack up his belongings and move on.

P.P.S
I’m watching him now: trudging away across the field at the back of the house, his nightshirt flapping in the breeze; bent under the weight of his backpack containing all those religious books. Poor fellow, I hope he doesn’t do anything stupid.

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Worlds apart

I was floating on the sea of humanity. The boat was old, the paint drab and flaking, and the timbers rotting in places. The ragged but strong sail billowed as it filled with the relentless wind of change, blowing ever blowing, urging me onwards towards my fate. My gnarled hand pushed gently on the rudder against the swell.
I looked into the waters and saw the ever present faces rising and falling, some smiling, some emotionless, others grimacing and the hands, always the hands, reaching out from the water beckoning, and often grasping the sides of the boat causing it to rock. With an oar I would discouraged them by beating the sides with an urgency of purpose until they withdrew.
Long ago there had been others here with me but gradually they had been drawn into the water while they slept, were weak or when they just gave themselves over.
I was now mostly alone
Never sleep.
Friends and family would regularly rise and join me on board, but they couldn’t survive long up here in what to them was an alien atmosphere; so they would always return quickly to the waters, sometimes without warning. They were ever urging me to rejoin them in their world where they still thought I belonged, but I could do more than ignore their pleas though the frustration of my not being able to tell them why weakened me. Their life, exciting and fulfilling as it may have been to them, held no longer any attraction for me. I had risen at an early age and had no wish to descend again into that bewitching silken softness. They thought me mad of course though they did their best to hide their suspicions. Of course their senses told them nothing of the world here above, where the insatiable demands of that sea were left behind, and which to them was but a pale sterile imitation of their own fantasy.
Why didn’t they see the need to escape for themselves? They could join me again, in an instant, if they only listened to the inner voice and accepted its secrets, but the warm soft water held them in its firm velvet grip, seducing them for its own pleasure.
Sometimes other boats would pass by but apart from a friendly wave most would continue on their journey. Occasionally others would draw up alongside and stay for while. Some were memorable visits and all were helpful in raising the spirits.
Strangely there were also large sleek liners that sped by with crews in smart uniforms and colourful passengers; and there were mysterious vessels, with blackened windows and portholes, on which no life could be detected.
If only I could sleep. No! I had to remain wary of the hands ever reaching out, and the harbour was waiting, of that I was sure. Perhaps not far now. Then I would step ashore, to what? Another world? Another life? As usual no answer came, only the deep silence urging me on.
I was shaken from my reverie by the scratching sound of a bird settling on the bow rail and flapping its wings. It was the friendly blackbird that visited often. Seagulls were always swooping, screaming, and diving up into the thick scudding clouds. Were they real or just phantoms? There was no land nearby or was there? Perhaps these were questions that belonged only to the restless sea where the answers were already known.
The wind freshened and looking up I saw the sail straining against its rising force.
Just a little longer.
The boat rose into the waves tossing and rolling as it sped ever onwards, the eyes watching in silence.

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Fire down below

Fred looked across the street to the grey stone walled building opposite, reflecting the boredom of the age. Then his eyes moved to the dark impenetrable windows that were fashionable these days, some slightly open as if letting out the darkness.
A pigeon dived out of nowhere and came suddenly into his line of vision, then flapping, up, up, up, reached the edge of the building’s roof and then was suddenly gone as if the universe had, for some intangible reason, removed it from existence.
‘Like life,’ thought Fred as he leaned on the shabby green lamppost. At his feet a shard of paper tumbled by, caught by the wisp of a lost passing breeze. A few yards to his right an old van stood parked tightly against the curb, rust eating away at its joints, and its pale blotched whiteness streaked by the careless scratching of time. The windscreen was striped with dirt washed up from the recent rain that had defied the efforts of the aging wipers.
The jangling symphony of busy town streets rose steadily in volume.
Shops were opening and he could hear the sounds of doors opening and shutters being unlocked and released to slide upwards into their dark recesses.
He stared unfocused as vehicles flashed by: large white, red, dark green, bluish, grey – slicing the space between him and the building. No one ever saw space repairing itself in an instant, not even Fred, but he knew its secret.
The sun broke through the scudding greyness of the early morning clouds now slowly evaporating as its rays lifted the nighttime coldness from the dusty streets.
Relentless time was urging people and things to move as the unhindered unconscious effort to change the unchangeable surged through the clotting arteries of the human race.
Fred sighed as the universe released him and the world brought him a bicycle which pulled up beside him.
‘Hi, you’re early,’ said Arthur his round face smiling briefly as he stepped off.
‘Couldn’t sleep,’ said Fred, ‘so I cycled round the park a few times.
‘Where’s yours?’ said Arthur.
‘Round the corner by Brent’s. Shall we?’
They walked together, Arthur weaving his bike round the obstinately parked vehicles.
Then they were in the country racing side by side along narrow lanes filled with freshness and springtime vigour. Trees rose up before them, showering dark leaves overhead, before falling behind. The stemmed colour-flecked greenness of the roadside parted in waves as they flashed by, prodding the resisting air easily aside.
Rolling fields of yellow-green gently waving crops, unplanted dark brown furrows, and grassy greenness daubed with white and yellow splashes of daisy, buttercup, and dandelion appeared suddenly over rustic fences, drawing the eyes aside like magnets. Grazing brown and white cows lifted their heads briefly to see what all the fuss was about.
Small birds dodged back and forth in their frantic never ending search for food; their careless pursuit sometimes causing our cyclists to duck their heads.
After a few miles they stopped for a breather, leaning the bicycles against an old wooden gate. Only the sound of a distant tractor and the twittering of a bird in a nearby maple joined the whispering of the morning breeze.
Fred leaned with his back against the gate, his pale thin cheeks now tinged with red and his short dark brown hair now tangled by the rushing air.
Arthur with his elbows on top looked down between sloping rows of apple trees into the valley below, where near a farm building a white horse was prancing round its enclosure. His face was redder than usual, but the breeze had given up on his short cropped blond hair.
Fred pulled out a packet of cigarettes.
‘Want one?’ he said offering the already torn packet to Arthur.
‘Thanks mate,’ said Arthur pulling one free. “Nice spot here.’
Fred flicked his lighter and lit them both up.
‘Lucky, the ones who live out here eh?’ said Fred pulling in the smoke, his eyes drawn to the lane ahead as if it would allow him a glimpse of the future. ‘Fresh air, quiet, lots of space, neighbour of Mother Nature, the feel of soil under your feet instead of foot pounding concrete and tarmac.’
‘Yeah it sure has a lot going for it but to live out here? I don’t think I could take the seclusion; not an easy thing to get used to. You’d have to be born to it I reckon,’ said Arthur looking down at the dried mud tracks leading off from the road.
‘There’s always something,’ said Fred flicking ash carefully into a small pool of leftover rainwater. ‘Maybe one could make a go of it with the right person. Maybe a pottery business. You know, something creative like that; not actually working the land. Don’t think Audrey would be in for it though, she likes the city too much.’
‘Well you’re in marketing,’ smiled Arthur, ‘so you’ve got a head start. You might be underestimating Audrey. She’s up for adventure if you ask me and she is studying art. But come on Fred, I can’t see you sitting between the Awe’s en Aar’s discussing the crops or lack of ‘em and the shape of a cow’s udders.’
They laughed.
‘You’d miss the city life you know you would. Think of it, no Sid’s Snooker Palace, no nightlife, and no variety – except of your own making. Only flower shows, fetes, and gymkhanas for entertainment; and maybe a village dance when the moon’s full. My God you’d be drawing on the church wall in no time.’
‘Your not really keen on the idea are you?’ laughed Fred.
‘Well, of course, I’d miss Sid’s and you’re right in a way, but there comes a time when you have to move on; the universe moves and drags you with it either screaming or happy – your choice,’ he added kicking at a lump of soil which obediently disintegrated.
‘See that?’ said Fred pointing down.
‘See what?’ said Arthur following his finger.
‘There was a lump of soil there, sitting all cozy and self contained, minding its own business, oblivious to the crushing indifference of tractor tires or the devastating innocence of sudden downpours; and then it met my foot which also brought it to sudden annihilation, sending its parts back to the great creator for reassignment. That’s how life is. The only thing between you and annihilation is passion. The universe feeds on our passion Arthur. The creative force.’
‘Well you’ve got enough of that for us both I reckon,’ said Arthur clapping him on the shoulder.
‘You’ve got passion too. Everyone has, deep inside, but most never get to develop it. They get lead astray or give up because society’s too bloody demanding and unforgiving,’ said Fred taking a last pull at his cigarette. ‘I’ve seen it in you when you’re on about politics and stuff. Get red in the face you do and you make people sit up and take notice.’
‘I believe that’s anger more than passion. Ow!’ said Arthur shaking at the cigarette burning his fingers.
‘Anger’s the flame of passion,’ said Fred,’ you just have to control it so you don’t get burned, ha, ha.’
‘Yeah, well I would like to make a bloody difference, somehow. Stir up the muddied waters,’ said Arthur licking his fingers.
‘That’s what I mean, that feeling deep in your gut.’
They crushed out the cigarette buts and deposited them somewhere in Fred’s saddlebag.
‘On to our brilliant future then,’ said Fred. ‘Race you.’
They mounted up and with Fred whooping shot off down the hill.
Somewhere in eternity a star exploded.

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All in the game

‘What d’ya think?’ said Fred looking along the cue at a red ball destined for the middle pocket. ‘About what?’ said Arthur leaning on his cue and sipping his beer.
‘What we were talking about before we came to this fleabag snooker hall,’ said Fred smiling as the ball rolled slowly into the pocket and the cue ball came nicely in line with the black.
‘Oh that,’ said Arthur sitting down at a small dusty, scratched and probably dark brown table whilst placing his pint leisurely on a much used beer mat.
The beer was good, which was about the only good thing one could say about Sid’s. Some said you could see the furniture moving, if you looked long and hard through the strained light that leaked from the lamps above the snooker tables. Lamps that were designed to shed light on the game and not on the vagaries of those in the darkness beyond.
‘Yeah, well what d’ya think?’ urged Fred as the black disappeared.
‘Wish you could still smoke in here,’ grumbled Arthur.
‘Stay on the subject mate,’ said Fred. ‘Don’t think Sid would notice if you lit one up in here anyway. Smoke’s still circulating here from cigs puffed a hundred years ago. It refuses to go out even when the front door opens, and beware any less polluted air that thinks it’ll make it inside.’
They both laughed.
‘Better not,’ said Arthur. ‘He might kick us out.’
‘Hey Sid, you mind if we smoke?’ yelled Fred towards the bar.
‘Bugger off,’ croaked Sid whose voice, though weakened by lungs too long devoid of fresh air, was somehow amplified by his trusty late Edwardian furniture and fittings.
‘Ok let’s see,’ said Arthur somewhat irritated as his nicotine level reached critical. ‘A quick trip over to the continent; see the match; drink ourselves stupid; and back home for bacon and eggs.’
‘Yeah, well. Eh, you bein’ sarcastic?’ said Fred his voice faltering as the red wobbled on the edge of the far pocket. ‘Damn, I always miss the easy ones.’
‘The easy are not easy and the hard are bloody hard,’ laughed Arthur taking a swig before moving to take his shot. He looked up and down the snooker table. ‘You’ve pushed that one nicely against the cushion anyway.’
‘We could make a weekend of it and take the girls,’ said Fred grabbing his beer from the table and leaning against one of the pillars supposedly keeping Sid’s upright.
‘Oh yeah, well great but Sybil can’t stand football, you now that,’ said Arthur.
‘Well, maybe she’ll come if Audrey twists her arm, and its only for one evening. It is the European Championship after all. Top class and all that,’ said Fred emptying his glass. ‘They won 4-1 last time without penalties. The atmosphere will be tremendous.’
‘Um, well, we can but ask. Oh bugger!’ said Arthur missing an easy red. ‘Sleeping with Sybil is better than sleeping with you at any rate.’
‘Can’t fault you on that one. We can go into town before the match and then have a ball afterwards. Basel’s not a bad place for nightlife according to Betty’s Travel and there’s Sunday when we’ve got the whole day to enjoy ourselves. We’ve saved enough cash and the girls’ll chip in,’ said Fred setting his glass down and moving to the snooker table. ‘It’ll be great, you’ll see. You’re turn with the drinks.’
He screwed a red into the left pocket and watched, licking his lips, as the cue ball after tenderly kissing two cushions rolled easily behind the pink.
‘You’re on form today. Well, you seem to have it all worked out,’ said Arthur as, drowning the last of his beer, he collected the glasses and moved off towards the bar.
‘No doubts about this boy – pure craftsmanship,’ whispered Fred to himself. ‘Get in you little …,’ he urged and the pink dutifully dropped out of sight.’
‘Two more please Sid,’ said Arthur pushing the glasses across the bar. ‘Bit slow today.’
‘Slow every day since the bloody football and everyone sitting rooted to the telly or off to the bloody contriment,’ hissed Sid through the few stained teeth that still owed him allegiance.
He skillfully pulled the pints with hands that moved on their own.
‘Well, a few more days and they’ll all be back groveling here in the dark,’ said Arthur.
His humor was lost on Sid who just nodded as Arthur paid and picked up the glasses.
Back at the table he set down the beers and turned to Fred.
‘Right, let’s do it. All for one and one for all,’ he smiled.
‘Great, I’ll ring Audrey,’ said Fred pulling out his mobile from an inside pocket.
‘You already asked her?’ said Arthur.
‘I did mention it – in passing,’ said Fred. ‘Hi Aud, it’s me. Yeah great love and you? Hey listen.’ He gave her the good news. ‘Ok love, see you tonight, yeah, bye, bye.’
‘She’ll come and drag Sybil with her if necessary,’ smiled Fred, ‘but we have to promise not to talk about football all the time and not to drink too much.’
‘Shouldn’t be hard,’ smiled Arthur and they both laughed.
Sid’s stayed upright.

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‘Read that about the Irish saying no to the Treaty?’ said Fred inspecting his shoe and rubbing it against the back of his trouser leg.
‘Lissy Bon, who hasn’t? Think it’ll make any difference?’ said Arthur sucking on his fag.
‘Well they can’t just ignore it can they? I mean that wouldn’t be lawful, would it? Someone’d get very upperty if they just went ahead. Undemocratic they’d shout and rightly. The question is what now?’ said Fred watching a tall blond sidling past.
‘The bastards’ll find a way around it, you mark my words. They’re so bloody determined to push their plans through,’ said Arthur blowing a short lived smoke ring.
‘Most people are fed up with the way they force their ideas onto us. Look at immigration. I mean, all those foreigners streaming into the country with no regard for the consequences. Maybe it’s good for business but socially it’s a bloody disaster. When you suddenly throw together people from different cultures and persuasions it’s like a powder keg waiting for a match, any dumb bastard can tell you that,’ said Fred feeling pangs of frustration at having thrown out something like this once too often.
‘Don’t think they care much. “Things’ll sort themselves out” is their bloody motto seems to me,’ returned Arthur waving to a mate passing on a bike. ‘The nations must join together for the good of all, Fred.’
‘Means just more damned rules and regulations, as if there aren’t enough already,’ threw in Fred for good measure.
‘Mind you some of those eastern woman are …,’ murmured Arthur as a picture formed in his imaginative mind.
‘Yeah, yeah. Sex raises its ugly pulsing head. Keep your trousers on,’ laughed Fred nudging him.
‘Well anyway, of course there are advantages. I mean we need more workers to help the economy – aid production and all that,’ said Arthur not quite convincing himself.
‘Yeah, but who wants some bandy ‘insky’ telling us what to do, God help us,’ spat Fred flicking his spent fag end with finger and thumb neatly into a waste bin on a lamppost nearby.
‘I know what you mean,’ said Arthur, ‘and you have to watch your tongue these days or some bastard’ll have you on some discrimination charge.’ He leaned on his other foot.
‘Yeah, it won’t be long before we have zippers for lips with digital locks so some twit can shut you up just by pushing a button,’ said Fred with a smile.
‘And locks on our zippers,’ laughed Arthur. ‘Well one things for sure, the rich’ll get richer and the poor poorer, nothing’ll change that.’
‘Not good for us then eh,’ chipped in Fred kicking a small innocent stone into the road.
‘I mean in a sense money makes you free doesn’t it?’ continued Arthur as if he hadn’t heard. ‘For the rest it’s just locks clicking and the sound of keys being thrown away.’
‘Maybe we’re seeing ghosts where there aren’t any,’ said Fred surprising himself.
“Fancy a drink?’ he added suddenly pulling away from the wall. ‘Feel I need one after this load of crap. One for the Irish,’ then suddenly remembering, ‘and the Dutch and the bloody French.’

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