Sunday, 16 September 2018

Price of a Happy Home

I was standing at the bar when Mary, (not her real name), came staggering in under a ton of IKEA bags.

"Some light shopping," I joked as she laid her load by the bar.

"I need a brandy or a Sherpa if you have one."

"A brandy so," I said happily and let the amber liquid flow into the glass.

"I've had the week from hell," she huffed and took a sip from the drink.

"Go on, tell me more," I asked and settled in for her story. I like Mary, she has a dry wit that tickles my funnybone.

She rested her elbows on the counter and began. "The other day I found four floating-shelves down in the Co-Op and knew they'd look great beside the fireplace. When I got home, John (not his name either) hit the roof when he saw the price of them. That much? For a bit of timber and a few screws? It's daylight robbery! he said. Nothing would do him but to take the shelves back."

"Why didn't you put your foot down and say you wanted them?" I asked, polishing a glass to seem industrious.

"You know what John's like. Life wouldn't be worth living if I did that. Anyway, an hour later he lands back home with a plank of timber, a box of screws, a box of wall plugs and some brackets. He said he got it all for half the price of the shelves, not that I believe him. He starts measuring and I just knew in my bones that it was going to be a disaster. Before long he was hacking up the timber with a rusty old hand-saw. Now, John couldn't could cut a straight line if his life depended on it. Sure enough the ends were all cockeyed. So he cuts off another bit, then a bit more and before he's finished the things are too short. You should've heard the language out of him, it would make a sailor blush."

"Now that does sound like John," I agreed. "Did he give up?"

"Like heck he did. Back down the Co-Op he went and this time he came back with more timber and a bench saw! Flipping thing cost nearly two hundred quid but he said it was good value because he'd use it again. Anyway this time the shelves were cut and the edges were straight. He marked up the walls and drilled holes for the brackets. In fairness, they looked grand when he had them up."

"Job done," I said with a smile and gave the bar around her glass a wipe.

"Not even close. An hour later I looked up and saw the shelves were...drooping."

"Drooping?"

"Yes, the brackets he'd gotten weren't strong enough. The whole lot had to come back down and he was off to the Co-Op again. This time he came back with huge ugly iron triangles. He was in such a mood by now that he didn't even bother measuring again. He just guessed where the holes should go and drilled. He was like a dog. I couldn't tell him they were all crooked or that there were holes all over the wall, he would have exploded. They are up a week now and stuff keeps sliding off whenever someone slams a door. John won't even look at them, its like he's pretending they don't exist."

"Oh God, I can see why you need a brandy. What are you going to do about them?" I asked.

"Ah, they wont last long. I've been prying them off the wall a bit at the time. They'll fall down any day soon," laughed Mary and took another sip of her brandy.

"Is that why he let you go mad with the credit card," I asked nodding at the bags on the ground.

"Yes, and no," she said cryptically.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I wanted some stuff for the bathroom so I made a big list of materials waited until the match was due to start then handed him the list and suggested he pop down the Co-Op for it. Well, he took one look at the list and said, This lot will cost a fortune, you'd get if for half the price in that IKEA place," and like that, I was free to go shopping while he watched the match.

"Mary, that's positively Machiavellian!"

"Would you get lost with your big words," she said and she picked up her bags to leave. Before she did she gave me a wink and said, "I'll tell you this much, there's more than one way to skin a cat."




Friday, 14 September 2018

The Face of God

The Face of God

I think I've figured out why I love surfing so much. It's the feeling of being out of control, on the edge of destruction, only to survive.

To me, that is the face of God. It's a reminder that we are gifted with the wonder of the universe, laid before us in all its forms and we should feel blessed to be here. In that moment, we could, should, be snuffed out but we are allowed to exist to pay testament to the beauty of this world, this universe, in its finest moment.

It is only on the edge do we really appreciate what a gift life is, don't waste a second.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Fish Food




Fish Food

            The world is a strange place, it’s a list of conundrums. It's vast and minuscule, wild and civilised, discovered and mysterious. Humanity has long-ago shaken off the term animal and promoted themselves to a higher station. As a race we act without question or constraint, we build up, knock down, consume, alter, discard, create and destroy.  We do all these things in the noble name of species but realistically it is the greed of The One which drives us. Seven billion individuals, all scrabbling to have more then they need, careless of what they leave for those that follow behind.

            Nobody noticed the first few occurrences, which is hardly surprising as they happened mid-2018 and the world had more pressing matters to deal with. In America, Trump sat at the head of the most powerful nation on the planet. Nobody knew what to do with him, particularly the Americans. Across the world Mother Russia had its own issues of leadership, entrenched and devious in nature. What were a few dead cats in comparison to that?

            By 2022 the scientific world had started to focus in on the strange...well, beachings. You'd expect whales or dolphins but not birds, dogs, cats, rats and mice. Now that's weird but not weird enough to attract the attention of the public. It took some video footage of an incident on YouTube to do that. A woman with about a dozen dogs decided to capture her trip to the beach with a GoPro. As they drove up to the car park, the dogs began to go wild in the back of the car, barking and whining, pawing at the glass to be let out. As soon as the woman opened the boot of the car she was near floored by the wall of on-rushing animals. They raced across the car park and down the beach toward the ocean. By now the woman knew something was amiss and called them to heel. The animals ignored her and rushed straight in to the water, shoving through rolling waves and pounding surf until they were swimming well out of their depth. The camera bounced as the woman chased after her pets, screaming for them to come back. She actually managed to catch up with one old dog and pluck him out of the water. The hound thrashed and struggled, eventually snapping at the woman's fingers causing her to drop him. Immediately the little dog resumed his single-minded journey out to sea. The little terrier didn’t make it past the line of breakers. He was pushed down again and again by the waves until he drowned. Not once did he try and turn back toward shore. The woman’s anguished cries can be heard on the video as she called for her pets to return. One or two of the stronger ones made it all the way out of sight but most eventually bobbed and sank while the video rolled. Not one dog survived.

Bill Ashton had been working at The White House since the impeachment of President Trump. The country was still reeling from the chaos of those years. Thankfully they had a steady hand on the helm now in Dean Bell. Some might even say boring. No midnight tweets, no rants at other heads of state, no making up national policy on the back of a bar napkin and writing it into law the following day. Bill had heard all the stories and a little bit of him wished he had been around for the excitement. Today was another working day and Bill started shifting through the mountain of internal memos that waited on his e-mail. Whittling down what those above him needed to be bothered with. When he came across a request from the CDC, or Center for Disease Control for funding. Bill wasn't exactly sure what he should do about it.

The CDC was one of those sit-up-and-take-notice departments. A bit like the CIA calling to your house for a little chat. It was mostly nosiness that made Bill pick up the phone and call Professor Stanton, the requesting authority, to find out more. Basically Professor Stanton said there had been dozens of animal drownings across the country. He and his team were trying to figure out why. The latest find was a whole island of brown bears found floating near the mouth of a river in Canada. They wanted to go up there and do biopsies on the bears to see if they could match something to what was going on in the states. This needed to be cleared by The White House and permission sought from Canadian authorities. Bill promptly sent on the request up the line and forgot all about it.

Six months later a Greyhound bus on the Golden Gate bridge grabbed the attention of the world. Half way across the driver simply stopped the bus, opened the door, walked to the edge and jumped. That was weird enough but when nine passengers followed him over the edge the story made national headlines. One eye witness described them as sleepwalking or like zombies. The term Water Zombies caught the imagination of the world. Right around the country similar incidents began to happen and the press were baying for a statement from the President. An emergency meeting was called to formulate a response.

The boardroom was stuffed, Bill stood, after all he was only a bit player in this particular drama. They all waited on the leading man to arrive. Bang on time the door opened, and President Bell strode confidently into the room. All the chairs squeaked as people started to stand but the President said, "Stay seated everyone. Thanks for coming today. Ok, let’s get started, time is not our friend. How many incidents have we confirmed?" he asked taking a seat and looking around the table.

The Secretary of State coughed before speaking, "Over eighty. There's been a sharp spike of suicide for no reason, and unexplained drownings, but confirming they're connected is impossible. All the dead were autopsied, nothing in common. They come from different parts of the country, different economic backgrounds. The only thing that links them is this apparent hypnotized type demeanour before the event."

"Could they have been hypnotized?" asked the President looking around the table.

"It's impossible for someone to be made harm themselves under hypnosis, your brain just won't let it happen," said a lady toward the end of the table.

"And you are?" asked the President.

"State department, Sir, but I'm also a Doctor of Psychology," the lady said looking bashful now she realised who she was addressing. The President smiled to ease her tension.

"What makes someone take their own life?" he asked.

The lady smiled at him and answered. "Depression, lots of other illnesses, most of which stem from chemical imbalances. They take time to develop where all of these people seem to be alright one minute and then dead the next."

"Is there someone here from the medical examiner’s office?" asked the President and a man near the top of the table raised his hand. "Were there any drugs found in the bodies?"

"In some yes, in other no. Nothing common to them all. Nothing like Spice."

"Spice?"

"A synthetic marijuana. Sometimes called the zombie drug."

"So if it’s not a known drug could it be some chemical weapon?"

"Not one of ours," said a medal strewn General.

"Someone else?"

"It’s possible," said the General and he actually seemed happy about that fact.

The President rubbed his head as if a headache were building. At last he looked up, "Ok, I want the military to open up all research in this area to a discovery team made up of people from the state department and medical examiner’s office..."

"Sir, they don't have the necessary clearance," objected the General.

"They do now," said the President angrily. "and I want a CIA report on my desk about the activities of our enemies. Now my friends, the wolfs await." He got to his feet. In an adjoining room the press were waiting for their pound of flesh.


***

President Bell went before the nation and assured them that every action would be taken to assist the families of these tragic events and no stone would be left unturned to find an answer to this strange behaviour. Despite his assurances, the situation got worse. All across the globe mammals of all descriptions were throwing themselves into the water, lemming style, including people. Sometimes whole groups would be affected, sometimes it was just one in the midst of many who suddenly took to the water. It was as if they were being drawn to it. 

Oceans, lakes, rivers, pools, canals. It didn't matter the type. People were diving in and refusing to come out until they physically could not swim any more. Some even drowned within touching distance of the edge and would not reach out to save themselves.

The plague spread across the world. There were photos of the Ganges in India, so thick with floating bodies that it is possible to walk from one side to the other without getting your toes wet. Floating islands of corpses were found in both Atlantic and Pacific, bodies pushed from all over the planet by the tides. Ghost ships bobbed in the waters, all crew vanished forever. Despite the combined might of science, nobody could explain what was happening.

Bill was at his desk one day when a call came in that would change his world and the world in general forever, "Bill Ashton's desk," he answered. On the other end of the line an elderly voice coughed and spluttered before speaking.

"Mr Ashton, this is Professor Stanton from the CDC. I called you about a funding issue some months back, do you remember."

"Canada, I think. I'm sorry but I only really direct the mails, Professor, I don't grant the fees," explained Bill.

"No, no. I got the money. It’s not about that. I am calling because I think I know what is causing this crisis."

"You do? Have you not reported it to your superiors in CDC?" Bill said, getting excited despite himself.

"Of course I have but they won't listen. They call me a kook."

"At this stage I would imagine they would listen to anyone. This situation is...unprecedented."

"On the contrary, young man, this situation is so precedented it is down-right normal."

"What do you mean?"

"Evolution, my friend, evolution."

"Professor, I'm afraid I don't follow."

"What is causing the behaviour is a parasite. A microscopic worm called Dipyllothrium or Dippy for short. It’s a worm found in fish."

"Professor..."

"You have to listen to me. I must get this information to the President. You are the only one I know in The White House, you must get me in touch with him. The future of the human race could depend on it." Bill hung his head. This old guy sounded like a kook and if his own people wouldn't listen to him, how much of a fool was he going to look bringing this to the president. On the other hand, people were dying, and nobody had any answers. Could he live with being the man who would not list to the man who held the answers?

"Ok, Professor, give me your number. I’m not promising anything, but I will do my best."

Bill brought his information to his supervisor and the decision was made to fly Professor Stanton up to Washington and present what he suspected to a panel of experts. Bill was told to attend, after all, he was the one vouching for this man.

Two days later the meeting room was filled with doctors and experts of all description. Bill met Professor Stanton at the gate and escorted him up. The man produced ancient laptop with Star Wars stickers on the cover and Bill groaned internally. Stanton must've been seventy years old if he was a day. His hands shook as he tried to fit the projector cable to the side of the machine. Bill felt his job slipping away from under him. That was the moment the meeting room door opened and President Dean Bell walked in. Bill's stomach went into knots. The room jumped to its feet and Bill's supervisor went to speak to the president.

"Is this the man," asked President Bell, nodding toward the white-haired Professor.

"Yes, Sir, but we haven't assessed his theory yet. I was going to..."


"Well I'm here now, why not see what he's got," said the President walking past Bill's supervisor and approaching the Professor with his hand extended.

"Dean Bell," he said shaking the Professors hand.

"Jim Stanton," said the professor warmly.

"Show us what you got, Jim," said the President moving to stand beside Bill rather than taking a seat at the table with the polished brass of his administration.

Professor Stanton was surprisingly short, "This is Dipyllorthrium or Dippy for short." he said indicating a small nondescript squiggle on the screen. "It’s a parasitical worm found in most species of fish. Basically, one fish eats another, they are transferred to the new host, bread and reproduce. They are completely harmless to both the fish and those that eat the fish, or at least they were. As you are aware, the global fish stocks have been diminished by over fishing in the last number of decades. With less fish, there were less fish eating fish and the numbers of these worms were being wiped out. This triggered a drastic change in they way these little creatures act. I believe they have evolved to produce chemicals that make their host unstoppably attracted to bodies of water, and as such, returning the worms back to their breeding grounds. All Dippy wants is to be fish food.

"How small are they?" asked one man.

"Tiny, invisible to the human eye," said Stanton.

"You are telling me something that small can control what we do and think."

"Viruses are far smaller and yes, Dippies in numbers could produce enough chemicals to make even a host as big as a human their drone.

"You say all fish have these? I ate tuna for lunch, why have I not lept into the Potomac?" said the same man who had questioned the size of the worms.

"Have you seen the Potomac since lunch?"

"No."

"Well you might well do, yet. You see, I believe this chemical reaction is triggered by what we see. These worms tend to gather, on mass, in brain tissue, including optical nerves. Also, not all Dippies have evolved to produce this reaction, but they are learning. Therefore more and more people are being affected."

"What evidence have you of this theory," asked President Bell, sounding more respectful than the previous questioners.

"In a group bear drowning in Canada I found elevated numbers of Dippies in all the bear brain samples I collected.  I have since went back and biopsied all the samples collected from earlier events and found similar numbers. I offer no guarantees only a possibility," said the Professor, folding his arms across his chest. The room remained silent for a long time. In the end it was President Bell who spoke.

"Get this information out to all medical examiners in the country. I want all available victims tested for this...Dippy worm and I want the results on my desk before they go on anyone else’s. " Nobody moved. "Now please," said the president quietly and the whole room jumped to its feet and rushed out. When only Professor Stanton, Bill and the President were left, the president turned to the older man and asked, "What can we do to stop this."

"Simple really. Don't eat the fish," said Stanton.

"And if we have?"

"Stay away from the water."



The End

Friday, 31 August 2018

Rock Bottom


     She sat up in bed wondering if the men she could hear shouting in the darkness were part of some vivid dream. When she heard feet pounding up her stairs, she knew this was no dream. 
     She reached out to wake Barry but he was already out of bed and racing toward the disturbance. The bedroom door exploded inward and she heard herself scream, Barry jumped back as a figure in black battle dress rushed into the room with a shouldered machine gun. Barry’s hands shot skyward as a second man rushed into the room and knocked her husband back onto the bed. The lights came on, throwing this nightmare into stark reality. Her heart was racing and her voice box seemed frozen solid. The man kneeling on her husband’s back was roaring, “Armed Gardai! Don’t move!”
            More and more people entered the room and Kate suddenly realised she was naked. She pulled the duvet up to her chest and started to shout at the men invading her home. “Stop! Stop this! Get out! Get out! Leave him alone!” as screamed as Barry was handcuffed. The gaping muzzle of the gun shifted position until it was aimed directly at her and anything she was about to say vanished from her mind. Never in her life had she felt so violated, so helpless.
            “Hands out in front, now!” yelled the man. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t think, this was all wrong, all so terribly wrong.
            “NOW!” the man yelled and the gun jerked in his hand. She dropped the cover and rammed her hands out like one of the cartoon mummies. The chill air played across her chest and felt the eyes of these men, these strangers, ogling her. The cold steel clamped down on her wrists and pinched her skin.
            “No,” she said weakly, but her plea elicited no sympathy from the eyes floating behind the plastic visor. Kate used both hands to snatch up the duvet and cover her breasts.
            The man with the gun turned his head toward the door and said, “Clear.” A tall suited man entered the room. He was over six feet and had a serious face. He nodded and the man with the gun stowed his weapon. When he spoke, his voice was quiet but his words carried authority beyond their decibels.
            “What’s your name?” he asked Barry.
            “Barry Rusk, what’s all this about?” yelled her husband, straining his neck forward causing the veins to stand out under his reddening skin.
            “Barry Rusk, I’m serving you with a court appointed search-warrant for this address as well as business holdings on the Nass Road.”
            “A search warrant...for what? You’ve made a big mistake, huge! I’m going to have the lot of you fired.” Barry yelled struggling with his bonds and trying to sit forward. A black-clad guard placed a gloved hand in his back and pushed him back down.
            Kate felt her blood boil, “Get your filthy hand’s off him. Who do you think you are treating us like this? He’s an engineer... an engineer, not a criminal. Whatever you think you’ll find, you won’t and then you’ll be sorry. This is Ireland for Christ’s sake.”
            The tall man looked at her, his face giving nothing away and instead of explaining himself he asked her, “What’s your name?”
            “Kate, Kate Rusk! Who else would I be?” That was when she heard Toby crying from the room next door. All the shouting must have woken him up. “Take these damn things off me, that’s my son,” she yelled shaking her manacled fists.
            The man turned to one of the other guards standing in the room and said, “Bring the child to Mrs Rusk.”
            “Take these off!” she yelled.
            “Out of the question I’m afraid,” the tall guard said.
            “I’m not having him see me like this,” she yelled and felt hot tears start streaming down her face.
            The guard sighed and rubbed his forehead as he considered the position, then he looked out the door and called to someone unseen. “Can you ask Detective Sim’s to come up here.”
            She heard the door to Toby’s bedroom open and the cries become clearer. She was about to say something when the big guard moved forward and locked her with hard and unflinching eyes. “I’m going to uncuff you but if you set one foot wrong, give me one reason...they’re going straight back on, you got that?” Kate felt herself nod. The tall guard produced a key and removed the restraints. At that moment a female guard appeared in the door walking a crying Toby in by the hand. As soon as he spotted her, Toby rushed across and threw himself up on the bed and into her arms. The big guard turned back to his men and said, “Take Mr Rusk to the sitting room while the search is conducted.” He turned toward the female guard and in a softer tone asked, “Would you take Mrs Rusk to the kitchen?” The woman nodded and moved into the room as the rest of the group led Barry out.
            “What’s all this about?” Kate asked the female guard, hoping the bond of sisterhood would trump any stupid piece of paper a court had mistakenly issued.
            The woman just smiled and said, “Why don’t we get you into some pyjamas and go down stairs?”
***

            Kate was dressed in striped PJ's as she carried a sobbing Toby down the stairs. She turned to join Barry in the sitting room but the female guard behind her rested a hand on her shoulder and said, “Into the kitchen please.”

     As she walked into her own kitchen she felt like a piece of livestock being herded around. Her shock and fear morphed into rage. This was all a mistake, that much was clear, but she wasn’t going to let them off the hook with an apology when this was all over. No, no way! She was going to make them pay and pay big for doing this to her. For victimising her family, for scaring her child, for making her feel helpless. Barry wouldn’t stand for it either, he had that look in his eye upstairs, the look that said he would ruin the men that kicked in the door to their house. At that moment two men with search dogs walked through the hall.
            “Search dogs? What are you looking for?” Kate snapped but the woman stayed mute. This was her kitchen, her home and she was being treated like a...like a...interloper. She wasn’t going to stand for it. “What’s your name?” she demanded.
            “My name is Detective Sims,” said the woman holding out her ID and in a colder tone of voice she said, “Sit...please.”
In the distance Kate could hear the big guard from upstairs questioning Barry and Barry ripping into him in turn. Ten minutes passed before a bellow rang through the house. “Detective Adams, can you come to the garage, I think you should see this.” For no rational reason a chill raced over Kate’s body. It was the excitement in the voice that did it. What could they have possibly found in the garage that necessitated a dozen guards, search dogs, and fucking machineguns!
            A few moments later the big guard in the suit appeared in the door hauling Barry along by the elbow. “Can you come with us Mrs Rusk?” he asked, but it wasn’t a question, it was a command. Detective Sims rested a hand on the back of her arm, urging her to her feet. Kate moved forward and was amazed at the change that had come over Barry. He was no longer demanding they be set free, or that all the guards get the hell out of their house. Now he simply allowed himself to be led with his head bowed.
            “This is ridiculous! I demand you let my family go this instant!” Kate yelled. She was going to keep fighting even if Barry had gone to jelly. She felt Detective Sims’ grip tighten on her arm, readying herself should a struggle break out. There was real strength in that grip and any thought of struggling seemed stupid. Once they were all in the garage the man with the search dog unhooked the grass collector from the lawnmower and began taking out small plastic packages. Five in total.
            “I’ve no idea what they are but they are not ours!” she yelled, turning to her husband, willing him to explain what was happening. If anything, his head was hanging even lower than before. “Tell them Barry.” But Barry said nothing, it was the big guard that spoke.
            He turned to her husband and said, “Barry Rusk, I am arresting you under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. You don’t have to say anything but anything you do say can be recorded and used in evidence against you. You are entitled to have your solicitor, if you don’t have one, a solicitor can be provided for you. Do you understand the rights that have been explained to you?” Barry said nothing, and the big guard motioned for him to be taken away. Toby began to scream and trash in her arms, and honestly, she felt like screaming herself. It felt as if a trap door had been opened under her feet and her life had just plummeted to rock bottom.
            The female guard turned Kate toward her and said, “Kate Rusk, I am arresting you under The Misuse of Drugs Act...” Another trap door opened and rock bottom seemed a very long way up.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Zara's Emporium of Wonder

The kitchen door flew open and the handle slammed into the wall, denting the plaster.

"Benny McAlister! How many times have I told you not to slam that door?" she shouted, an accusation that halted the excited ten-year-old in his tracks. He'd made her heart jump and that added considerably to her ire. His manic grin melted ever so slowly, like an ice-cream-cone in the summer heat. He looked like a scolded puppy, how could she stay mad at him? In a much kinder tone she asked, "What is all the rush about?"

Kids are like Geiger counters for adult emotions, he knew he was out of trouble. His smile got hoisted back to full mast as he rushed forward waving a colorful flyer. "It's the circus, Mom! The circus is coming! THE CIRCUS!" he cried spinning in a circle. She thought her son was half human and half springier spaniel.

"I love a good circus," she said taking the flyer from his little fingers. The circular depicted a big top with a golden-caped woman standing in the ring masters position, her hands were raised and beaming smile crowned her magnificently. Around her, trapeze artists tumbled, jugglers juggled, clowns threw buckets of confetti and beautiful ladies balanced on the backs of snow-white horses. At the bottom of the page an adoring sea of faces looked on in amazement. The masthead declared, in big bold letters, For one day only, this Friday! Zara's Emporium of Wonder! 

"I don't know, you might be a bit old for this?" she teased.

"Moooooooom," he wailed, turning his face into a crumpled mask of disapprovement but she knew him too well, he was only playing along with her joke.

"Well...if you're sure," she said and let the half statement, half question, hang in the air.

"Mom!" Benny said stamping his foot.

She broke into a grin; she couldn't help herself. He was such a little man. "Alright, we'll go," she said and it was like striking a match to a fire cracker. Benny danced around the kitchen chanting "Yes, yes, yes,"and pumping his little fists in the air.

***

Benny spent the rest of the week counting down the minutes to the arrival of the circus. On Thursday he rushed in from school to say the big top had gone up.

"You should see it, Mom. Its HUGE!" he said with his eyes bulging and his arms spread as wide as they would go. Its red, yellow, green, blue, orange...its like a rainbow but one you can touch," he said excitedly.

"Did you see any elephants?"

"No, no elephants."

"What about lions or tigers?"

"Nope," he said a little disappointed.

"Well perhaps its not that kind of a circus, it might be a people circus. Did you see any circus folk?"

"None of those either," he said sadly, all the fun was gone out of his big news.

"I bet they were all inside putting out the seats for the show," she said. 

"Yeaaaa! Betcha that's it," he said, joy radiating from his face once more. He bounded away toward his bedroom and she called after him. 

"Don't forget your homework or there'll be no circus at all."

"No Mom!" came the cheery reply from the hallway.

***
Friday night took forever to get here, according to Benny at least. Trying to get him into his good clothes and his hair brushed was a nightmare, he wouldn't standstill for a second. By the time they got out the door it was dusk. They walked hand in hand toward the town green. Before long they could hear the music being piped through the Tannoy system, a music teacher once told her it was called Entry of the Gladiators, but to her it would always be the sound of the circus. On the evening breeze she could smell sweet buttered popcorn and candyfloss. Around them children ran past dragging adults toward the source of all the excitement. Benny was soon pulling on her arm, eager to join the fun.

When the big top came into view it was just as Benny described, only better, because it now twinkled under a constellation of electric light bulbs. She bought a stick of candyfloss for Benny and a tub of popcorn for herself before lining up to purchase tickets.

Klunck! Klunck! went the brass plate beneath the ticket vendors window and two pink tickets shot out. It looked like the booth was sticking its tongue out at them. She felt Benny squeeze her hand as she ripped away the stubs. He was on tender hooks and she even felt a few butterflies herself. Perhaps the magic of the circus never leaves you. They crossed the threshold and it was like stepping into a different universe. Beside her Benny said, "Whoha." It was dark, but not gloomy. Strings of bulbs hung from the roof of the big top and it looked like someone captured the night sky and moved it inside. Benny ushered her toward the front row and picked seats for them ringside. A circus has its own smell and this one was no different. She inhaled a lungful of earthy air overlayed with warm tarpaulin and a hint of sawdust. Under all that lingered the musky smell of animal. Perhaps Benny would get to see some tigers after all.

Soon the lights dimmed and two follow-spots sprang to life, dancing over the excited crowd before settling on a red velvet curtain across the performance area. A splendidly attired ring master appeared and strode purposefully to the arena. His voice boomed over the crowd without need of amplification. His curling mustache danced as he spoke. The first act to perform was a troupe on the trapeze. Benny was mesmerised. His little body swayed over and back in time with the swinging gymnasts and when they let go...he held his breath, tensing every muscle in his tiny body, until the catch was made. When the act was over he jumped to his feet and clapped like his life depended on it.

The next act was a sword swallower, followed by a fire breather, then came the jugglers and a contortionist. Not a sign of an animal but if anything the smell of beast was getting stronger.

A huge boom rang out and Benny nearly jumped out of his skin. The velvet curtains flew apart and a gang of clowns ran into the ring chasing a tiny police car. Round and round they went, crashing into each other, slipping, tripping, falling and tumbling until the whole crowd was cheering, well everyone except Benny who was hugging her arm and trying to hide his face behind it.

"Whats wrong?" she asked having to raise her voice to be heard over the laughter.

"They're not nice, I don't like them," he said and she knew by his voice he was terrified.

"Oh honey they're only men in funny clothes and makeup. They are just trying to make people laugh."

"They're monsters," he said and hid behind her completely.

"No they're not," she said. She never thought her adventure loving little man would be afraid of clowns.

She thought she heard him say, "They have teeth," but she couldn't be sure. He refused to come out from behind her shoulder until the clowns had finished their routine and departed the ring. Benny was still shivering when the ring master came back and braced himself for his next announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Prepare to be amazed! I present to you...Lady Zara!" Drums rolled and the lights went out completely. When the drums reached their crescendo the spotlights came back on and a very tall woman, dressed from head-to-toe in glittering gold, had appeared in the middle of the ring. The crowd drew in a collective breath and went, "Wooo!" Without a word Lady Zara began her act. The ring master was right, she did amaze.

She made a box levitate into the air and then passed a hoop around it to prove there were no wires. With a flick of her hand the box shot into the air, where it opened by itself, and rained down confetti on the crowd. She put the ring master into a large box and then cut him in half before putting him back together. She made a pair of doves appear and when she let them go they flew up and vanished in a ball of flame.

For her final trick some helpers rolled a tall black box with a curtain hung across the front of it into the ring. Lady Zara walked toward the crowd and looked directly at Benny. With a long finger, Lady Zara beckoned him to join her. Benny didn't move straight away instead he looked up at her for approval. She worried he was still shaken after the clowns but this was a once in a lifetime chance, the chance to see magic up close and personal. She nodded her approval and Benny sprang forward, eager for this new adventure to begin. He clambered over the edge of the ring and joined the tall woman who was hold out her delicate hand toward him. The audience applauded as Lady Zara led Benny to the box and pulled the curtain open. There was nothing inside. The magician rapped on each side to let the crowd would know the box was solid before placing Benny inside. The crowd grew quite and held their breath. Lady Zara pulled the curtain across with a snap of her wrist and the drums rang out three times. The sorceress threw the curtain back and Benny was gone.

All around people clapped and cheered but she couldn't join in, she was frozen to her seat with terror. Inside her chest her heart was thundering, her boy was gone. Yes, she had expected the illusion but there was something unnatural, something wrong about the whole thing. She was about to rush forward when the gold clad woman flipped the curtain closed and open again. It happened so quick the result could only be described as magic. Benny was once again standing there, gazing out of the box with his mouth hanging open ever so slightly. The sound of clapping grew louder and the crowd climbed to their feet in appreciation. The tall woman took Benny's hand and escorted him back to the edge of the ring. He was not smiling, he was not crying, he was...well...nothing. He looked dazed.

When Benny reached her she hugged him and said,"You're the star of the show, honey!" Her heart was still aflutter but she expected Benny to be uncontrollably giddy. Instead, he stood unmoving in her embrace and she thought she felt him tremble. She pulled back and looked at him. His eyes were far away.

"Are you ok?" she asked seriously and starting to get worried. He didn't respond so she gave his shoulder a little squeeze and that seemed to do the trick.

"It was dark and filled with voices," he said cryptically. She started to understand. Benny must have gotten a fright when the curtain closed. The sound of the crowd in the dark must have terrified him. She just held him close in a tight embrace to let him know he was safe now and as she did the lights in the tent came back up to full power. The show was over and it was time to go home. She stood and handed Benny the popcorn left in the bottom of her tub but he didn't want it. He took her hand as they prepared to move and his skin was shockingly cold on hers.


All the way home she asked Benny questions about being the star of the show but he refused to answer, he just walked along limply at her side. When they got home she tried to get him to eat but he refused, he even refused hot chocolate and marshmallows. She got him dressed for bed and thought he might be coming down with something. She put her hand on his forehead, expecting it to be warm, but it was like touching stone. Benny was freezing.

"Are you feeling bad, baby?" she asked but he shook his head and said.

"Feeling funny, tingly."

Tingly? That couldn't be good. She was going to get Doc Foster to come straight over. What ever was going on was not right at all. She tucked the duvet in all around Benny and he didn't stir a muscle. Only his head poked out the top. "I'll be back in a minute, if you need anything give a call," she said and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"Mom?"

"Yes Benny?"

"They were all calling my name."

"Who honey?" she asked rubbing his hair.

"The voices in the dark."

"Oh, baby, it was only a trick. It wasn't real," she said seeing a tear gathering at the corner of his eye.

Benny sniffled once and gave a little nod before saying, "ok."

"I'll be back in a jiffy. Are you sure you wont have a hot chocolate?" he just shook his head sadly.

***
She left the door ajar as she made a five minute call. Once that was done she went straight back to tell Benny that Doc Foster was on his way over but the room was empty. The duvet still was formed to his shape and it looked like he had evaporated.

"Benny," she called and went to check the bathroom but that was empty too. She ran back to the bedroom with dread in her heart. She checked the window but it was locked, as were all the other windows and doors. She called his name over and over again as she checked every room twice before rushing out of the house, calling his name, no screaming his name. A light sprang to life on her neighbours porch and Dale appeared in his PJ's.

"Whats going on?" he asked, worried. All she could say was Benny's gone, as she dashed into the street continuing to call for him at the top of her lungs. All along the road lights began appearing. When Doc Foster arrived there were already two sheriffs cars in the driveway with their bubblegum bars flashing. He had wanted to give her something to calm her down but she refused. She needed her wits about her or what was left of them. She tried to make the police understand the Benny had not gone out, he had vanished, but they didn't get what she was saying.

They started checking all the houses around the area and asked her to call his friends to see if he had turned up over there. No matter how many times she said, "One minute he was there... then he was gone," they just didn't get it. In the end she just went along with what they asked, they were the professionals after all.  

It was the small hours of the morning when they took her to the station, to take her statement. She was loaded into the back of a cruiser and driven into town. At the passed the green she was shocked to see the big top was already gone. That was when she realised she had not told the cops about the trip to the circus. It had to be them, the carny folk, they took her boy!

It took a long time for the officers to understand her frantic pleas but eventually they got it and one got on the radio.

"Dispatch, Missing ten-year-old, Benny McAlister attended the circus tonight and his mother believes someone from the circus may have snatched him. APB on all circus vehicles leaving the area, stop and search." In her heart a tiny sliver of hope shone in what was otherwise a black place. They'll find the circus, she thought, they had to.

Over the next hour or so she recounted her story again and again, answered the same questions asked a thousand different ways and none of it got them any closer to finding Benny.  It was morning whey they dropped her home. She asked the officer if they had found the circus. The guy turned his head around to give her the benefit of one eye.

"No Ma'am. Not as much as a piece of sawdust. Its like they were never here, but they were, my young'uns went to it. It sure is a mystery."

She dragged herself inside and collapsed at the kitchen table, sobbing uncontrollably for what seemed like ages. When she eventually did raise her head the first thing she saw was the gayly coloured flyer Benny had brought home at the start of the week.

For one day only!  Oh God, why did you have to come, she thought and something about the flyer made her look a little closer. Lady Zara was just as she remembered her, shimmering and magnificent. It was the clowns that caught her attention. Yes their makeup was smiling but it their real mouths were turned down in a growl, and one, one seemed to have fangs. She wiped the tears from her eyes and gripped the flyer in both hands, drawing it closer so she could inspect it minutely.

Now that she was looking closely, none of the other performers were smiling, only Lady Zara and that was when she began inspecting the tiny faces in the crowd. What she had taken for open mouthed wonder before seemed more like crying out. All those faces, terrified faces, and right in the middle, one she'd known all his life. Benny, his eyes raised to hers, his arms outstretched, and his mouth open wide as he cried out...pleaded, for her to save him.

She started screaming again but this time she knew she'd never stop.








Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Portent

Her eyes fluttered reluctantly as sunlight warmed her face. Was it morning already? She stretched and heard the whisper of crisp linen as the sheets pulled away from her body. One by one she let her legs drop over the edge of the bed. The room was blindingly bright and made her squint.

She padded out of the bedroom on autopilot, her brain still foggy from sleep and turned toward the half open nursery door. She pushed it and tiptoed across to the crib.

A tiny lump lay peacefully under the snow-white comforter. She smiled proudly down on her little man but didn't try to wake him. As the seconds ticked by she realised how quiet the room was. No creaks of timber expanding in the warmth of a new day, no leaves rustling on the tree outside, no cars passing, no voices on the street - no anything. Most importantly, no baby snores coming from under the blanket.

"Billy?" she said gently and laid her hand on the swaddled bundle. Not a stir. "Billy?" she said again, her fingers drew back the cover. She could only see his face in profile and Billy's lips were half open, her eyes registered the blue tinge to his skin and the utter stillness of his chest. It was a vision so horrible it splintered her mind into a thousand pieces.

***

BILLY! she screamed and shot bolt upright in the bed. Her arms were stretched out as she instinctively reached for her child. Tom bounced out of the bed, disorientated and frightened. From the nursery, an urgent shriek joined her cry. April sprang from the bed, her skin drenched in sweat, her heart racing a mile a minute as she ran toward the baby's room. She snatched Billy from the cot, inspecting his screaming pink face but her mind was having difficulty piecing things together.

"You're ok! You're ok!" she said as she rocked him. The vision of Billy- blue and unmoving was still too real, too vivid to be dismissed. She kept looking at him, kept checking him, even though he was making enough noise to wake the dead.

"Jesus Christ! What was all that about?" demanded Tom from the door. April could only cradle her boy as her brain tried to recover from the shock. Tom's fear turned to anger as he threw his hands in the air and stormed from the room.

"You're ok," April told Billy, over and over again, until she finally started to believe it herself.

***

When Billy's cries dwindled to whimpers, she picked his blanket from the crib and wrapped him in it. There was no way she could make herself leave him down so she took him with her to the kitchen. Tom was standing over the sink with a glass of water shaking slightly in his hand.

"You scared the life out of me," he said, no longer mad.

"It was horrible," she said holding the back of Billy's head as she bounced him gently in her arms. 

"What was?"

"I saw him dead in his cot, he was blue!"

"It was only a dream."

"No, I know a dream when I have one. This was something else, it was too real. I could see everything, feel everything. It was real."

He put the glass down and came toward her, taking them both in his arms and hugged them to his chest. "You're exhausted, we both are. Look at him - he's fine." She did look down and Tom was right, Billy was even starting to close his eyes for another sleep. She was too tired to argue, to tired to explain, so she let her own eyes close to enjoy the warmth of Tom's love. She couldn't explain it but she knew - knew- that this was more than a dream. 

***

Two nights later the dream came again and this time it was worse. This time she knew what was coming even as she went through the motions. When she drew back the cover she knew what she would see but if anything the vision of Billy was even more horrible, more realistic. Again she woke the house with her scream and it took her even longer to get a grip on things. This time Tom, was not angry, he was something more worrying. He was frightened, frightened for her. He tried to reassure her, tried to reason with her but she just pushed him away. He didn't believe, he couldn't believe, because he had never seen. April was no fool and she knew there was more to this than a stupid night terror. 

The next morning, after Tom had gone to work, she began researching dreams on the internet. It was mostly rubbish about unresolved childhood issues or daily conflict being lived out in dreams but then she found something called Psychic Premonitions. Dreams of the future or possible future. It made terrifying reading. Story after story of people dreaming their own deaths only to swerve it in real life at the final moment.

She thought about her own dream and her fear grew deeper. Was her premonition unavoidable? She thought about showing Tom the articles when he came home but instead she wiped the history on the computer. He just wouldn't understand.

That night the vision didn't come but she hardly slept with worrying. Tom tried to sooth her off to sleep but it was pointless. If she was honest with herself, she didn't want to sleep, she was afraid of dreaming.

She started the next day groggy and cranky. Breakfast was a sullen affair and Tom had barely said "Good bye," before she had the laptop open, scowering the internet for advice. Eventually she found a chatroom dedicated to psychic phenomenon and decided to log in. She posted a question about premonition dreams and was bombarded by interest. They all agreed on one thing, psychic dreams were real and they were a signposts for the future.

Spiritguide443 gave the most useful advice, she said that you had to figure out what you did in the dream that made the terrible thing happen, then change that in real life.

It made sense to April and all night she tried to figure out what it was in her dream that caused Billy to die. She could only think of one thing. Billy stopped breathing for some reason, she would have known - if she hadn't been asleep. That was it!

That night over dinner she explained her theory to Tom, leaving out the bit about Spiritguide443 and the internet. Tom said it could do no harm to get Billy checked out by their doctor and suggested she get a check up herself.

"There's nothing wrong with me," she snapped.

"Jeez, I'm not saying there is. It's just...well...the dreams and...everything." Each of his words were hand grenades going off in his face, but he failed to see the danger of his actions. The rest of the night passes in sulky silence but eventually she relented and an appointment was made with the doctors office for the morning.

They were sliding into bed, April turned to Tom and asked, "Will you stay up for a bit and watch him while I sleep?"

"April," he said, the sigh in his voice said everything. It said he thought she was being silly, overreacting, irritational.

"Please," she said softly and gave him her biggest doe-eyes.

"Alright, if it will make you feel better," he said sitting up and taking his book from the bedside table. April rolled over and for the first time in days felt secure enough to close her eyes.

It might have been minutes or hours before she woke, thankfully a waking that wasn't accompanied by manic screaming. She rolled over and saw Tom snoring! She sprang from the bed and raced into the nursery waking Tom in the process. She didn't even have to go inside the door to hear Billy breathing and as if knowing she was there, he farted. Little rascal. She went back in to their bedroom leaving both doors wide open. Tom was rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"You promised," she said glaring at him.

"I must have nodded off, what's the big deal. I would have heard him if he cried," said Tom fluffing his pillow. April got back into bed but sat rigidly against the headboard with her arms crossed.

"Come on, get some sleep," he said trying to draw her lower in the bed. She shrugged off his hand and huffed. "Suit yourself," he said and turned away from her. She sat there in the dark, furious with Tom, listening to Billy breath. Slowly the hours passed and the sky outside the window began to lighten. Her eyes closed a few times but before sleep took her properly she jerked awake.

The next morning she drove to the doctor's office like a woman on drugs. After a fidgetfilled hour in the waiting room they were called into the doctor's office. He gave Billy a good going over but declared him as healthy as a horse.

"You on the other hand look like you would benefit from a few days holiday," the doctor said seriously.

"I've not been sleeping so well," she said and decided to bite the bullet and tell him about the dreams. To his credit he didn't ridicule her, but he was far from reassuring.

"Vivid dreams and anxiety are not uncommon in your circumstances but the worst thing you can do is to bottle this up. You need to talk with someone who can help you." He was making it sound like she was loosing her mind, and she was starting to feel that way. He questioned her further and each probe made it sound like she was depressed or not coping. She just kept nodding and agreeing until she could get the hell out of his office.

That night Tom asked about the doctor. She lied and said the doctor thought it was a good idea to keep an extra vigilant eye on Billy as sudden infant death was not as uncommon as people made out. Tom looked shocked and asked, "Really?" She knew the look in his eye, he was working at the idea because it wasn't sitting right with him but was concerned enough to follow her lead. That night she pretended to sleep until she knew Tom had nodded of, then she slipped out of the bed and spent the night on the floor beside Billy's cot.

Tom found her in the morning and went mad. Before she could stop him he was on to the doctor demanding to know what was wrong with Billy. He listened in silence, his ears glowing red and when he hung up the phone he turned and this time it was he that glared.

"The doctor said Billy is fine! Why did you lie to me?" She started to cry and tried to explain herself but it all sounded so mad when she said it out loud. Tom said she was round-the-bend, and he was going to make sure she saw someone about it before things went too far. She begged but Tom was not for changing his mind. Tom stormed out of the house, slamming the door which startled Billy into crying. April knew she had to do something, she need help but not the type Tom intended.

That night she again pretend to sleep and had to fight her mind to stop it shutting-down for real. She was so tired she was having difficulty concentrating and remembering things. Tom had let her down, he had abandoned her when she needed him most. Now there was only one person she could turn to, her mother.

When she felt Tom's weight settle fully in the bed, she slipped out and stuffed a bag with essentials before going to Billy. She picked him up, being careful not to wake him, then slipped out of the house. She strapped Billy into his baby-seat and sat it beside her on the passenger seat. She had to steady herself as a wave of dizziness washed over her. It was only twenty minutes to her mothers and she would believe her and help protect Billy. Twenty minutes and she would be safe.

She scraped against a garbage can as she backed out and knocked it over. She knew Tom would have woken and she knew he would try and maker her stay. She put her foot on the gas and peeled away from her own home. How had it all come to this?

She managed four turns before headlights appeared in her rear-view mirror and she knew in her gut it was Tom coming after her. She pressed harder on the accelerator and felt the car shimmy. Up ahead a bend loomed and her wheel pumped across the white line as she fought for control of the car. She was starting to see double as her mind struggled to stay alert. She wrenched the car back across the white line but it was all too much for her exhausted body. Her mind wobbled and her vision spun. She blinked her eyes closed and no matter how much she tried she could not open them again. Her world went black.

***
Her eyes fluttered reluctantly as sunlight warmed her face. Was it morning already? When had she fallen asleep? She stretched and heard the whisper of crisp linen as the sheets pulled away from her body. She moved her leg to let it drop over the edge of the bed but it collided with something solid.  The room was blindingly bright and made her squint. She looked around and recognized nothing, she wasn't at home, this wasn't her bedroom. She moved her hand to the side and felt the restraining bar and she heard the rhythmic beeping of some sort of machine. She looked to her left and saw Tom slumped in a chair, his hair a mess and a few days growth of beard on his chin. She tried to get up but she was so sore she winced. The sound woke Tom and he shot out of the chair and came to her side.

"Where am I?" she crooked.

"The hospital, you went off the road," he said taking her hand.

"Where's Billy?" she asked looking around the room. She saw something terrible in Tom's face, a pain so deep, so crushing, she knew the answer to her own question. As the first tears flowed over Tom's face she closed her eyes, searching for darkness and she hoped she would never come back from it. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

Magic in the Kerry Sky






Sometimes my breath is taken away by the majesty of nature, like this morning when the sky above seemed painted by the hand of a genius. 

I wanted to share some amazing photos I have managed to click on my phone over the months.



This mornings sky on my way to bed.





The Magic of Banna Beach


Lofty getting in the picture.

 Fire on the Mountain.

 A procession of fluff.

 Holly with a peak of the man above.