Sunday, 11 November 2018

Mrs Kinsella's Boot

We often forget how lucky we are, or should I say, I often forget how lucky I am.

I live in a wonderful country. Yes, we've had wars but thankfully we now exist in a time of peace. We have an economy where anyone wishing to make a living can do so and the majority of our population lives in relative comfort.

Now I do say relative because all things are relative. I hear people complaining about the hardships they're enduring and there are hardships for sure. There are people who are homeless, some people have to spend days waiting on hospital trolleys for a bed to become available. There are those who suffer from addiction, mental illness, disadvantage and economic degradation. There are problems and many who are suffering from them.

But how do our problems stack up against those experienced in other countries or even Ireland a hundred years ago?

Today, most of the homeless can access emergency accommodation in the short term and eventually be  placed in social housing long term. Those waiting on hospital trolleys are getting treatment, even if in less than comfortable surroundings. In this country there are services for all manner of struggles and most of them are free. All in all, I think we're not doing bad at all.

What brought this to mind was a story I heard about a woman called Mrs Kinsella. Mrs K lived in Dublin around the year 1918. Those were tough times, real tough times. I think today's pampered kids would have a heart attack if they had to live there for even one day.

To set the scene for you, Dublin had just been through a bloody uprising that saw the city turned into a shooting gallery, women over thirty were just getting the vote, unions were battling the tyranny of powerful industrialists, work was hard and poorly paid, education was a luxury not a right, money was scarce and if you didn't have a job, well, you starved.

The Kinsellas had been married about seven years, the first of which were spent squashed into a small bedroom in Mr Kinsella's mothers house. Two kids later, that room was about fit to burst. The day they put a deposit down on a tiny two bedroom house of their own was one of the happiest of Mrs Kinsella's life. They moved in carrying all they owned in four small cases but felt like the richest people on the earth.

The house was close to the center of Dublin and only a short walk from Mr Kinsella's factory. Within a year, another little mouth had appeared in the Kinsella home along with an ominous bump forming under Mrs Kinsella's petticoats. Mr Kinsella was working all the hours he could and even became involved with the union to ensure a better life for his family. Despite all this there wasn't enough money to go round. Wednesday often found the cubbards bare with two days till pay day. The preasure was growing on the family and it had caused more than a few heated discussions. Mr Kinsella was a proud man, he wouldn't go begging to the church for a hand out, nor from his family...banks were for people who already had money, not the ones looking for it so the only way of getting a few bob was to visit the pawn broker but Mr Kinsella wouldn't hear of it.

"No wife of mine will go begging to those bloodsucking moneylenders," he declared when Mrs Kinsella suggested it and she had little choice but to forget about the idea. Women had just as much pride as the men in those days, but it was they who had to tend the kids as they cried themselves to sleep with their ribs tickling their back bone. Mr Kinsella was a prideful man but he had the good fortune to marry a woman who was brave enough to do what was right, no matter what the world, or husband, would say.

The amazing thing about having so little is how much value little can have. The Kinsellas weren't unusual in this time, nobody had much. A winter coat was a treasure when the rain was driving down on your back, and an even greater treasure if it covered a thread-bear jumber. The first years of the century were good times to be a Pawn Broker. People would turn up with a clock, a watch, a suit of clothes...practically anything. The article would be wrapped in brown paper, tied with string, and put on a shelf for safe keeping while its owner went away with a few shillings jingling in their pocket. Friday was a busy day because it was payday. The people would arrive to the shop, repaying their loan with a little interest, and reclaim their property.


The first time Mrs Kinsella went down the Pawn Brokers she returned without her boots. Mr Kinsella went ballistic. He ranted and raved until she promised she'd never shame him like that again. Her words agreed but in her mind she simply decided to get more creative.

First thing she did was to change her name. All the woman of the time were doing it. She might leave the house as Mrs Kinsella but when she placed her package on the counter of the Pawn Brokers, Mrs O'Connor was scribbled on the brown paper.

After a while she became a regular in the shop and the man behind the counter stopped checking what she had brought in to trade. He was always sure she would be back on Friday...regular as clockwork. Mrs K took to bringing neatly washed and folded bed linen. Mr Kinsella never missed them. And after a while she kept a special set of older sheets, worn away in the center but folded in such a way that they looked perfect on the shelf.

She had pawned Mr Kinsella's good suit a few times, the one he wore for union meetings and mass, before he spotted it and started locking up the wardrobe. That suited Mrs Kinsella just fine because she simply took the back off the wardrobe and crossed her fingers that Mr Kinsella wouldn't have a union meeting on a Thursday or Friday morning.

But the thing that really made Mrs Kinsella famous was her habit of pawning one of her boots, only one. The man behind the counter never asked why only one boot...but often wondered as he watched the lady limp away from his shop. If he had asked, he would surely have labeled the woman a genius.

Mrs Kinsella dressed like all ladies in those days, in gowns that brushed the ground. Once she had left the Pawn Shop, one boot on, one boot gone, she would make her way around the shops and get what she needed. That night she would feed her brood, and Mr Kinsella of course. Once all the kids were in bed the couple would sit each side of the fire and discuss the happenings of the day. This was when Mrs Kinsella's one remaining boot became vital. Mrs K would deliberately stick the foot with the boot out under her skirt, making sure Mr Kinsella got a good look at it. Once she had seen his eyes glide over the booted foot she could relax in the knowledge he wouldn't question the origin of the bit of bacon they had just eaten for dinner.

I have to tell you every word of this story is true and it makes me sure of one thing. The men of 1918 drastically underestimated the ladies in their lives and I'm fairly sure things haven't changed much in that respect in 2018.


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Wish Upon a Star


Greg planted his shepherds' crook firmly in the moss-covered soil and let his weary body hang from it. Tramping across mountains was hard work and every year he did it, it got harder. He closed his eyes and let the breeze whip through his grey whiskers. It might be a difficult way to make a living but it was still better then sitting in some soul-killing office. The warmth of summer still clung to the wind but that wouldn't last long. Winter would soon show its teeth. He arched his back and felt his old bones creak. Bess, his dog, lay panting in the heather; her long tongue lolling happily out of the side of her mouth. He leaned down and let his work-weathered fingers comb her silky fur. Bess closed her eyes with pleasure.

"I'll catch my breath, girl, then we'll get the last of these buggers done."

She nuzzled his palm with a love pure and true. Greg adored two women with all his heart, Bess, and his wife, Mary. Leaning on the crook he surveyed the hill above him. He had one hundred and twenty sheep grazing the mountain, as long as he hadn't lost any. He'd checked just shy of one hundred already but there were more to do. Scattered across the hill were pens where he could gather his heard, it made the job easier but without Bess, it would be impossible.

High up, where barely a blade of grass would grow, the rest of his heard were wandering. It was as if they were doing it on purpose.

"Right! Standing around here won't get us home before dark," he said, pulling the tip of his crook from the ground. With a twitch of her withers, Bess sprang to her feet and was rearing to go. "Walk on!" he commanded and the dog bounded away in front of him, leaping gorse and fern gracefully. Greg remembered days when he could have done the same but they were a long time ago.

They climbed higher and higher until they reached the ancient sheep-pen used by his father and his fathers father. With a shrill whistle he sent Bess bounding up the mountain to draw his scattered flock down. Together, they worked the animals, Greg directing the dance with a combination of whistles while Bess followed his instructions precisely.

Soon the flock was a cloud of wool gliding slowly toward the open mouth of the pen. Then, one animal broke ranks and scarpered for freedom. Bess was about to chase down the renegade ewe but  Greg blew a long piercing call, stopping her in her tracks. The sheep galloped away without a backward glance and disappeared over a cleft in the hill.

"God Damn yea!" he swore. There was no way he was going to start all over again for one sheep. He got Bess turned back on the main group of animals and finished guiding them into the pen. As he swung the gate closed he looked at the area of mountain where the runaway sheep had vanished and said, "Nothing as stupid as sheep."

Dusk was drawing in by the time he examined the last penned sheep. They had passed the summer well, a few minor cuts but nothing serous. When he released the sheep he knew he'd have to go after the lost one. It was only one, but he was he kind of man who wouldn't leave a job half done. One tired step at a time he pulled himself up the slope to the last place he'd seen the sheep. When he got there he paused and scanned the heather. He thought he heard a faint sound but couldn't be sure until it came again. Any man that spent sixty years with sheep would have recognized the bleat of a ewe in trouble.

"What have you gone and done yea daft thing?" he said out loud as he clambered down into the gully, honing in on the cries. Fifteen minutes later he found her tangled up in a discarded length of barbed wire.

"Shush...shush," he cooed as he moved in on the struggling animal. Bess watched intently as he got down on one knee beside the ewe. Crimson blotches marked the spots where the sharp barbs pierced her flesh. The ewe's eyes were full of panic so he spent some time soothing the frightened animal before beginning to unravel the deadly wire. It took a while to get her free. Before he let her go he applied balm to the cuts. Infection could easily kill an animal. By the time he struggled up off his knees the sun was sinking behind the hill.

Climbing down the slope was actually harder than coming up. Each jarring step sent a shudder up through his aching body, rattling his joints and straining his muscles. There were't actual paths up here, just animal trails worn into the bracken. Even in the near-dark Greg found his way easily. He knew the mountain like the back of his hand. After a while he was forced to stop and massage his spine. The stars were beginning to appear in the darkening sky. He was about to get going when he noticed something. At first he thought it was the north star but then realized the speck was moving.

"Lookit, Bess. A shooting star," he said point up a the sky. Bess cocked her head as if admiring the phenomenon. "Perhaps I should wish for a new back."

The light grew stronger and seemed to come straight at him. He was mesmerized by its beauty. When the object hurtled directly overhead. Greg couldn't help ducking and throwing his hands over his head. From behind him came a huge bang and the ground shuddered under his feet. Greg uncurled his hands and looked over his shoulder. A few hundred yards away a black furrow had been plowed into the side of the mountain. Greg hurried forward as fast as his legs would carry him. Bess was clearly less enthusiastic but kept up.

He followed the ragged trench until he came to a crater. In the bottom lay something about the size of an egg which glowed extravagantly. For the second time that night Greg got down on his knees. He reached toward the object expecting to feel heat. He always thought these shooting stars burnt up before they hit the ground. Amazingly his fingers touched the thing without being singed. He plucked the glowing item from the clay and held it tenderly in his hand.

"Beautiful..." he said to Bess, only to realize that the dog was nowhere to be seen. "Bess?" he called but the words wobbled as they came out. The smile fell from his lips as he felt his palm begin to tingle, then throb. The sensation grew in strength and ran up his arm, infecting his body and mind. He knew he'd made a huge mistake and tried to drop the star but his vision blurred and the world went dark.

***

Slowly, painfully, he opened his eyes. Far above the stars swirled into focus and he remembered what had happened. Gingerly, he sat forward and something fell from his hand. He looked down at the blackened lump lying in the grass. No longer did it glow, nor did it seem different from the rest of the rocks littering the ground, but what had happened was no accident. There was no way he was touching it again. He rolled onto his knees and struggled upright. 

"Jesus..." he groaned as he swayed on his feet. Tenderly he explored his body for injuries. Besides his headache, nothing hurt more than usual. Eventually his head cleared enough to see the moonlit countryside. All seemed normal, well normal except for one thing...he was alone.

"Bess! Bess! Where are you girl?" he called. A whimper came from a nearby bush and the dog edged her nose out into the open. She seemed terrified.

"It's all right," he said moving forward but rather than being reassured the dog skittered away and rocketed down the hillside toward home. This day was going from bad to worse. Bess knew her way, he was sure of that, what he was less sure of was his own ability to make it all the way down after what he'd endured. He took his first tentative steps down the mountain.

He found the going good, even easy. His strides seemed more fluid than usual and his feet found solid ground with a surety he'd not felt in years. It might have been an illusion but he thought he arrived back his own farm gate in no time. A light was burning in the kitchen window and a dark plume of smoke wafted from the chimney. On cue, his stomach growled for his dinner, he could nearly taste it from where he stood. He swung the gate open and the hinges sang their high-pitched song, a noise which always brought Bess running, but not tonight. Greg was starting to worry about the girl, he hoped she hadn't done herself a mischief. He crossed the cobbled yard and his boots rubbed familiarly against the time-smoothed stones. Today had been the strangest of his life and he couldn't wait to tell Mary about it.

He unlatched the kitchen door and ducked beneath the low-hung still. The house was warm and the air was thick with the smell of baking.  

"I'm home," he called as he hung his coat on the hook behind the door. He could hear the TV in the front room, it must be time for Coronation Street. As he did every night, he opened the fire-pit of the kitchen range and turned his backside to it. Mary often said If he was given a choice between heaven and hell, he'd choose hell as long as he could go in arse first!

"You'll never guess what happened up the hill," he called into the front room and heard the volume on the TV go down.

"What happe..." Mary said as she came into the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. When she lifted her eyes to meet his, her words cut off in mid-sentence. She stood there; starring: dumbfounded.

"What's wrong?" he asked as he saw the colour drain from her cheeks.

"Get out! Get out of here!" she yelled backing away and putting the kitchen table between them.

"Mary.."

"Get out!"

"Mary, what's wrong with you?"

Then confusion replaced shock on her features. "Those are Greg's. Where did you get them?"

"What are you talking about woman," he said, starting to lose his patience.

"What have you done to Greg?"

"I'm Greg..."

"No no no." she said backing further away.

"Mary," he said trying to round the table.

"Get away from me!" she screamed and ran from the kitchen, throwing the door open and leaving it open.

"Mary!" he called and thought about chasing her but it seemed the wrong thing to do. He went as far as the door and called her name once more but she was already heading down the lane. "Fecking hell," he said and closed the door. What the blazes was going on today?

He was still standing in the kitchen half an hour later when the night was filled with blue light from a a Garda car racing into the yard. He opened the kitchen door went out on the stoop. He spotted Mary and the neighbours from down the road standing outside the yard wall.

Sargent Casey leapt from the squad-car with his batten drawn. "You...don't move," he yelled pointing the club at him.

"What do you mean...you? And this is my house! What the hell is going on?" he demanded. This seemed to knock the wind out of the guard who looked around as if looking for guidance from Mary. Mary was in floods of tears and had no guidance to give. The Sargent turned back and said, "This is Greg and Mary O'Brien's house, who are you?"

"You know damn well who I am, Sean. We've sank plenty of pints down at Finnigan's," he said harshly. "Including last night."

"You think you're Greg O'Brien?" the Sargent stuttered.

"Who else would I be?" he said walking forward to join the Sargent at the car. What the hell was going on?

"Don't move," the guard said but Greg kept going. "Don't move!" Casey yelled in a tone that stopped Greg in his tracks. He actually though the man would brain him that sick of his. The guard looked him up and down before asking, "Where did you get those clothes?"

"They're my clothes!" Greg said getting annoyed.

The guard pointed at his pants and asked, "What's that?"

Greg looked down and saw blood from the injured sheep he'd freed up the mountain.

"Blood," he said but got no further into the explanation before the Sargent rushed him and knocked him to the ground. To say he was shocked was an understatement and that was before he felt the bite of handcuffs on his wrists.

"What's going on!" he screamed but nobody seemed interested in answering that question.

***

Greg was pushed harshly through the Garda station by a man he always considered to be a friend.

"Are you going to tell me what this is all about?" he asked, hoping his civil tone would bring some sort of sanity back to the situation.

Sargent Casey didn't reply, instead he punched him viciously in the back forcing him to grit his teeth and stifle a cry. He was guided past parts of the station he'd never seen before, toward a steel-doored cell. He was shoved inside so hard he nearly lost his footing.

"Take it easy, I'm an old man you know!" he yelled and turned to see a look of befuddlement on the Sargent's face. There was a protracted moment during which Greg believed anything could have happened but it was Sargent Casey who moved first. He grabbed some clear plastic bags from a shelf and threw them on the bunk then spun Greg around to unlock the cuffs.

"Take those clothes off and put them in those." he said pointing at the bags on the bed. The guard was a ball of barely controlled fury, his jaw was working overtime as he ground his teeth and his fists were balled ready for a fight. Greg had no idea what he had done to deserve this kind of treatment.

"What for?" he demanded.

"Evidence."

"Evidence of what?" he said throwing his hands in the air at the absurdity of the situation. He had never once in his life broken a law...or at least no laws that mattered.

"You're being held on suspicion of causing harm to Greg O'Brien."

"Have you gone completely nuts. I'm Greg O'Brien!"

The guard whipped out his truncheon and cocked it over his shoulder. "Get those clothes off before I knock you the fuck out and do it for you," the big man snarled, his shoulders bunching under the blue shirt and his face going an alarming shade of red. As mad as this whole thing was, Greg felt it was better to do what was being asked rather than getting a taste of that night-stick. When the bags were full of his working clothes Casey snarled, "All of them," indicating his y fronts.

"Jesus Christ," he muttered as he stripped down his underwear and tried to cover his manhood as best he could. After a short time of standing bollock naked in the cold he was given a set of musty smelling clothes to put on. They smelt like they had been robbed from a wino.

"Can I use the toilet now or is that forbidden?" he asked snidely, not believing he ever counted this man among his friends.

Casey pointed to a room across the corridor and said, "Leave the door open."

Greg went in and was about to pee when he caught his reflection in the mirror. He nearly died at what he saw. Instead of a seventy year old farmer looking back at him, he was faced with a twenty something year old man he'd never seen before. His hair was full and dark, his face wrinkle free and glowing with youthful health. He reached up and traced the line of his jaw. The fingers in the mirror did the same on the face of the young man. What he was seeing was beyond belief, beyond understanding, beyond rationalization. In shock he turned to the guard and asked, "Do you see this?"

"See what?" he snapped with disdain.

"Me you see me? This."

"Of course I see you. You're the crazy one, not me."

Crazy? Yes it was crazy. There was no other way to explain what he was seeing. Were they all seeing the same thing? Could it be a trick of his mind after picking up that thing up the mountain. It might have given him a shock or radiation or anything. He looked back at the guard and asked, "How old am I?"

"I'll be the one asking the questions," he growled.

"Please...how old," Greg was on the verge of tears.

"Mid twenties, at a guess."

"Oh God. It can't be...its not possible," he said looking back in the mirror again. That thing up the mountain had done something to him. Swapped his body with someone else, or something. He needed help, he had to get someone to help him. It was no wonder that Mary went mad when she found him standing in the kitchen.

"What shit are you on about now? Are you on drugs? Is that it?"

Greg turned on the Sargent with wide eyes and rushed forward. He was desperate for him to see what and who he was. "It's me! It's Greg O'Brien! I can't explain whats happened but is me. You got to believe me. Something happened on the mountain but I cant explain what. I passed out it...it....its all a blur."

"What happened up on the mountain? What did you do to Greg?"

"Nothing! I'm Greg." he said, beyond desperate to find one person who could see his side in this.

"We'll find out..." threatened the guard but he didn't get to finish the sentence. Greg grabbed him by the shirt.

"I'm Greg. I'm Greg. I'm Greg! I'M GREG!" he yelled. The punch caught him clean, sending his chin all the way over his shoulder, driving him into the arms of Morpheus for the second time that night.


***
When he woke he was in the cell and the door was locked. He spent a long time exploring his face with blind fingers. He wished there were a mirror on the wall or something so he could see himself in. It felt like his face from the inside but on the outside his skin was smooth and tight. His hands and body were changed as well. He hadn't noticed them before but the body he was in was not his. It was still him inside, he still had all his memories, his emotions but how could he reconcile the two. When the cell door opened again, it was not Sargent Casey on the other side but a suited man he'd never seen before.

He was hauled into the interview room and the most difficult night of his life began. He tried to tell them what happened but even to his ear the story was nuts. Stars falling from the sky, strange glowing rocks, blackouts...who in their right mind would swallow all that. Greg knew he had to make them believe, so he told them everything. Everything that happened, everything he remembered. In all the detail he could remember, to try to prove he was who he said he was. In the end they looked at him like he was crazy.

Eventually they put him back in the cell and time passed even slower. He worried about Mary. She must be going out of her mind, wondering where he was, why he hadn't come home and who she'd found standing in her kitchen. He was sure of only one thing, he had to get out of here and back to her. It felt like days before Sargent Casey reappeared with a sandwich and a mug of tea. 

"What's going on Sean? What are they going to do with me?"

"Don't call me Sean...you don't know me!"

"Just tell me."

The Sargent put the tray on the bunk and glared at him for a second or two. Greg thought he would walk out without answering but it seemed Sargent Casey couldn't help being a decent man. "That depends on what they find on the mountain. There are hundreds of solders and guards up there right now. You better pray that Greg is in once piece when they find him or you'll never feel the sun on your face again."

"They won't find him because I'm Greg and I'm right here!" he nearly cried.

"Shut up and eat your food," he said slamming the door closed.

"I'm right here!" he yelled hammering the door with his fist. Someone had to believe him.

A while later the suited man returned with a question. "You said you were on the mountain when something fell from the sky and changed you into a younger man, is that right?"

"That's what I have been telling you all night. I know it sounds mad but yes, yes, that's exactly what happened.!"

"Can you show us where it happened? We might find something that could prove what you are saying is true."

"Of course. I'll take you to the exact spot."

"Right, lets go," said the man standing aside to let Greg out of the cell.

They got him some boots and an overcoat before cuffing his hands in front of him. They lead him through the station which was now crammed full of people talking on radios and peering over maps. As he moved through the building a hush fell over those who were gathered under the roof. Outside the station stood two four-wheel-drives with their doors open. Once they were aboard the engines started up and began plotting a course back to his own house.

They had to go through his yard to get onto the mountain path. One of the guards got out to open the gate and Greg caught a glimpse of Mary watching them through the kitchen window. She was so pale and drawn, Greg wished he could hold her and make her understand. He smiled and raised his fingers to wave but her face morphed into a mask of hate. She spat at him, his lovely Mary. The phlegm splattered against the inside of the window and she vanished from sight. That just about broke his heart but he had to find a way back to her, he just had to.  

They bounced their way up the dirt road and when the road ran out they walked. His body might be young and fit but his heart was broken. The climb seemed endless. Normally it was only himself, Bess, and the sheep up on that hill but today the place was packed. Lines of people were searching the bracken, beating it with sticks, combing for clues to a crime that had never happened.

Greg led them higher and higher, nearly to the top of the mountain. He found the spot he was looking for with no trouble at all. He pointed out the trench gouged into the ground by the falling star and the crater where it came to rest.

"This is the spot. The rock is around here somewhere," he said, getting down on his knees to search. Surely some clever science type person could discover what had happened if they had the star to work from.

"We'll take it from here," said the suited guard hauling him up to his feet.

"Hang on, we have to find the star," yelled Greg trying to free himself from the policeman's grip. As he was herded back from the crater he saw a group of men move up and start photographing the area. Then they produced something that looked like a metal detector and started scanning the ground.

"What's that?" asked Greg.

"Ground radar. We will soon find where you burred him."

"There is nobody burred..."

"Get him out of here, Sargent," said the suited man turning away. .

"Get moving," snapped Sargent Casey giving him a shove to begin the journey. They were never interested in finding the fallen star. They just thought they'd be able to cut the search short by playing along with his madness. As Greg began the climb down he knew he was more lost than ever.

When they got back to the station Greg was locked in the cell once more. He started to wonder how long they could hold him before they charged him or could they charge him? After all, he hadn't done anything.

It was dark when they took him from the cell again. This time there were more people in the interview room waiting for him. There was Sargent Casey, the two suited guards and another man who was seated in the corner. They took him through all his answers again and again until his head was spinning.

"So what happens if we let you go? Were do you live? What's your name?" demanded the Guard in the suit.

"I've told you a thousand times, I'm Greg O'Brien and I live here."

"But you admit you don't look like Greg."

"I know, I know that more than anyone. I cant explain what happened but there has to be an explanation." All the men exchanged glances. The suited guard continued to ask questions.

"So, if released you intend to go back to the O'Brien farm and Mary."

"Of course, she's my wife. I'll explain what happened. Once we've talked she will see the truth...I know she will."

"And you still maintain you did nothing to hurt Greg O'Brien?"

"Did you find a him up on the mountain."

"No..."

"And you never will because I'm sitting right here. So...are you going to charge me or let me go."

All attention moved to the stranger who was sitting in the corner of the room taking notes. He looked pained and worried but eventually he nodded his head and closed the notebook he was writing in. He delved into a bag by his feet and withdrew a vial and a syringe.

"What's that?" asked Greg, not liking this one little bit. Needles were never good.

"Hold him, Please," the man said, his voice cultured and soft.

Sargent Casey and the suited guard pinned him to the chair as the man filled the syringe from the vial.

"What are you going to do to me?" Greg yelled.

"This is only a sedative, you've had quiet a day. It'll help you...cope."

"Don't touch me with that!" yelled Greg trying to free himself.

"You're a very sick young man. We're going to get you the help you need," said the man approaching with the needle. He pulled Greg's sleeve up exposing the fleshy part of his shoulder and jabbed him.

"It won't take long," the man said to the guards as if Greg were not even in the room. He slid a cap back on the tip of the needle and returned it to his bag.

"Mary needs me, you can..." Greg said but his head began to fill with cotton wool and all the strength left his body. Slowly the guards released him and Greg slumped back in the chair. His body might be unable to work but his ears were working just fine.

"So you're going to section him, Doc?" asked Sargent Casey.

"He is clearly delusional. We need to find out who he is and until then...its for the best."

"I better tell Mary what's happening," Sargent Casey said and was about to leave when asked another question. "How long do you think he'll be locked up."

The doctor shook his head and said, "It's hard to tell right now but as things stand...he may never be let out."

"Throw away the key if you can," said Casey as he left the room.

Greg got his elbows under him and with a huge effort he lifted his head and said, "The wish..a new back..wish on a.."


Then his mind blinked out like a shooting star racing across the night sky.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Rock Bottom - P2





Kate looked around at the starkly decorated room and it did nothing to lift her feeling of doom. It was painted battleship-grey and the walls were bare of any adornment, not even a window to distract her from the detectives sitting across the table. She was weary of all the questions they threw at her, not that she had any answers. She was alone on her side of the table, she hadn't asked for a lawyer, after all she was innocent, why would she need one? By her elbow a machine hummed quietly as it recorded every word she uttered. With the back of her hand she wiped away a tear, one of countless tears, endless tears and most of all useless tears.
“Who were the drugs going to?” asked Detective Adams, his arms folded over his chest as he leaned back in the chair giving the impression he never got tired of asking the same things.
“I don’t know,” she said, the machine had recorded this particular I don’t know a dozen times already.
“Where did they come from?” the big guard asked.
“I didn’t even know they were there! I don’t know how they got there! I don’t know where they were going, and I don’t know who they belong to!” she yelled and slapped the table in frustration. “The only thing I do know is that they're not mine and they sure as hell aren’t Barry's either! He wouldn’t touch the stuff!”
“I don’t think you know your husband as well as you think,” said the woman sitting beside Detective Adams. What had she called herself? Sam? Sa something...no, Sims. That was it, Sims.
“What do you mean by that?” Kate asked the woman angrily. Detective Adams flipped the folder laid before him closed and let the four legs of his chair rest flat on the floor.
“Concluding the interview at...ten-fifty-three am,” he announced for the benefit of the machine and then switched it off. He scribbled a few notes on the outside of his file. He then turned his eyes on Kate as if deciding what he should say next. The man had a presence, his face was scared but he had kind eyes.
“Mrs Rusk, your husband has told us you knew nothing about the drugs,” he said.
“I’ve been telling you that for hours,” she said and heard the exasperation in her voice. It was like this was some stupid prank that had gone too far.
The guard sighed and pushed on with what he was staying, “He said you knew nothing about the drugs and was clear on that point, but he has refused to say anything else."
"I'm not surprised. Barry would never have anything to do with drugs...neither of us would."
"We didn't end up at your house by accident and neither did those drugs."
"So?" Kate asked like a petulant teenager. It was refreshing to be the one asking the questions for a change, even if it was one of one syllable.
"Someone put those drugs in your garage, it if wasn't you, it could only be your husband."
"But why would he? Was he minding them for someone?”
“That much...hardly,” said the guard. Kate thought back to the five little packets lying on the floor of her garage. She knew nothing about drugs. Was that a lot?
“How much are we talking about?” she asked
“A lot. On the street what we found could be worth between fifty and eighty thousand euro, depending on the purity of course.”
That loomed large in Kate’s mind. Fifty thousand or more...Jesus. Those were figures that made national headlines and she remembered seeing jail sentences in double figures for less. She felt the foundation of her reason wobble a bit before reality came to the rescue. The people in the papers were scumbags, drug-dealers and criminals. She and Barry were nothing like that, they were innocent people caught up in something stupid...surely they’d see that?
“I don’t know what happened but I’m sure there's a rational explanation," she pleaded, hoping they would see how sincere she was being with them. She’d told them nothing but the truth from the moment she got here.
"If there is we won't get to the bottom of it with your husband refusing to talk," the woman said, her words more unforgiving than the man's.
The two detectives got up to leave, tucking folders under their suited elbows. Kate should have been happy to see them go but she wasn’t. Somehow when they were sitting there asking their daft questions the world made sense.
“What happens now?” she asked, and the two detectives paused.
“You’re free to go, for the moment, Mrs Rusk. Someone will come to get you soon," the man said and was about to walk away when he stopped. "I would advise you to talk with your husband. We're not the ones he needs to worry about. Someone is out a lot of money and they're not going to be happy." Then the two of them walked into the corridor and slammed the door behind them. With the clang still echoing through the room Kate collapsed back in the hard-plastic chair.
About ten minutes later a female guard with a rosy complexion appeared at the door. "Right, my love, let’s get you out of here."
The woman made inane small-talk as they walked towards the front of the police station. Was it that she was ignorant of the destruction that had rained down on Kate's life, or perhaps it was the woman's shield against the grimy world she was forced to deal with every day? Kate signed a form and her meagre belongings were returned to her. She looked around but there was no sign of Barry. She turned on her phone and tried his number, but it rang out. She was still wearing the clothes she hurriedly put on during the raid the night before. She had no keys for the house, or purse, she had nothing. She tried Barry's phone again with the same result. Not knowing what else to do she returned to the desk where a grumpy sergeant stood. She felt like a school girl approaching the principal’s office.
"Will my husband be released soon," she asked timidly. 
The man gave her a cold look and said, "Mr Rusk is being kept in custody until he appears before the Four-Courts, later today."  That was the final straw for Kate's self-control. She felt her bottom lip quiver and saw the look of dread light up in the eye of the stringent man on the other side of the desk. She felt helpless: standing in her nightclothes, not a penny in her pocket, nobody to help fix things and all she seemed capable of doing was crying. She saw the desk sergeant’s eyes go skyward as Kate's sobs morphed into full-on bellows of despair. This man dealt with violent criminals’ day in and day out but faced with a blubbering female he went to pieces. In a semi panic he called over the cheery woman that had brought her up from the interview room.
"Get her home, would you," he said to the woman and turned his back busying himself with the important task of tidying up papers. To her credit, the female guard didn’t flinch at the chauvinistic overtones in the man’s command. Instead she came to Kates side and placed a warm hand on her shoulder. She cooed reassurances in Kate’s ear as she moved her charge away from the desk.
It turned out there were no police cars available to take her, so the guard organised a taxi for her and even billed it to the station. Kate was deeply grateful to the kind female guard despite the fact is was her lot that locked eher up in the first place. Kate waited outside the station for her lift to arrive and was never so grateful to be out in the open. Although she had only spent a few hours locked up, it had been a few hours too many. She didn’t know how Barry could be coping any better than she was.
Half-an-hour later, a hard-worked taxi creaked its way across the city with Kate trying to make herself as small as possible in the back seat. Thankfully the driver was a taciturn individual and less than happy having a criminal in his car. The only thing he’d asked was her address and after that he was content to listen to the radio. She pretended not to see his vailed glances in the rear-view mirror, if she had been in his position she would be keeping a weather eye out as well.
The radio played middle of the road pop music, designed to lubricate the masses through their mundane daily chores. Given the way her night and morning had turned out, a mundane day seemed like heaven to Kate. Right now, she was a living contradiction. She tried to diminish her presence in the car by sitting statue still but inside her mind was in turmoil. Shocks were piled on top of shocks, half told secrets, ridiculous revelations, nonsensical allegations, complete over-reactions all hammered at her sensibilities until she was incapable of any sort of thought at all. No matter what angle she approached her situation from, no answers appeared. It might have been her own stupidity, but this was all beyond her. The more she tried to come up with a way out of her troubles, the more troubles she seemed to have.  
On the car radio, the music gave way to the news. Stories of political infighting were interspaced by a bus strike and the restriction of Irish fishing rights. Then the newsreader uttered words she would never forget. “Gardai have seized of a substantial quantity of drugs in the north of Dublin City. A man in his forties and a woman in her late thirties are expected before the courts later today. In other news, the protests at the historic burial site on Tara continue...
Jesus, hearing that made it all so real. The world knew now. They’d said a woman and man were expected before the courts, did that mean she might still face charges from whatever was going on? Could she yet end up in prison because of all this? Today had been enough, more than enough. There was no way she could survive inside jail. And what about Toby? The taxi driver glanced back at Kate and this time he didn’t try to disguise his distain. Kate looked down at her hands and folded them into a parody of prayer, refusing to meet the man’s gaze. As seconds ticked by she felt the weight of the drivers eyes lift off her and she breathed out. He could think what he liked, all she wanted to do was get home to Toby.
Outside the taxi window everything was looked so normal, college students walked toward classes with bed-head hair and hungover eyes, postmen delivered letters, an old lady dragged a wheeled carrier away from the bus-stop toward the supermarket, pigeons searched the sidewalk for crumbs. Everything was as it should be. Inside the taxi, everything was different. She was being treated like a criminal by the police: there were bags of drugs hidden in her lawnmower, armed men had broken into her home in the middle of the night, she’d been dragged away in handcuffs, her son was frightened beyond words with nobody but the neighbours to comfort him...shit she wasn’t even sure she knew who her husband was. The world inside the taxi was a fucking mess, a big one.
All her adult life Barry had been there to guide her, to answer her questions, tell her what to do, to handle the decisions. Where was he now? On his way to the Four-Courts, manacled to a ruddy-great guard is where he was, and she was sure there’d be plenty of reporters on hand to record her humiliation. This was going to ruin them completely. 
With that thought came another one. What if the reporters were waiting at the house? That thought made her stomach flip. She imagined Toby watching his mother being chased down by a pack of blood-thirsty journalists, watching his parents being tried on the six-o’clock news every night, it would ruin him. Toby might still be a child, but that didn’t mean he was stupid. She straightened in her seat and did her best to gather herself. She was Toby’s mother and she needed to be strong for him, for them.   
As her road came into sight she crossed her fingers. “Please, please, please,” she asked the great entity in the sky, but didn’t have the wherewithal to know what word to put after Please.  Her house appeared in the distance and her weak mantra seemed to have done the business. There were no gangs of reporters or even fluttering crime scene tape to mark her home as the one now being talked about across the whole of the country. If there were any hidden blessings to this whole debacle, this could be counted as one.
“The third on the right please,” she said to the driver and he pulled up at the end of her drive way without a friendly word. Kate climbed out of the car and closed the door, delighted to be away from the mute monstrosity of a man with his judgemental eyes.   
Kate turned toward her neighbours’ home, Clare’s home, her best friend. The only one she had been able to turn to in her time of need. It had taken a lot of persuasion on her part to get the Guards to allow Clare to mind Toby last night, they had wanted to turn him over to social services. Kate shuddered at the thought of it, it would be like locking him up. No matter what had happened, no matter how those drugs had found their way into her life and her home there was no way she was going to have her son become one of those kids abandoned to the incompetence of the state. The sad thing was she had no family she could fall back on. She had been an only child from a well to do family. Her Dad had passed away years ago and her mother was in a nursing home now, believing everyday was taking place in the 1950’s. Without Clare she didn’t know what she would have done.
Kate had taken three steps toward the house before the front door burst opened and Toby came rushing toward her. He was still in his pyjamas and crying so hard she couldn’t make out what he was saying. She scooped her little man into her arms and near crushed him with desperate delight. Whatever fortifications she’d built up during the taxi ride crumbled and she began to gush again. Clare appeared at the door and paused there, letting Kate comfort Toby in her own way. When she did come across, her face was drawn and concerned, her arms were folded tightly across her chest as if warding off a great evil.
Kate hoped Clare could see past all the police, and radio reports, to see the truth. They were great friends and neighbours for years, but this was something that could rock the most solid of relationships. The truth was, Kate needed Clare now more than she ever needed anyone in her life. She couldn’t blame the woman if she turned and walked back too her own house and slammed the door, but she prayed she wouldn’t. Kate had no Barry, no family, no support of any kind, she had no idea what had happened or what was yet to come. If she was forced to face it alone, she was sure she would fall apart.
“We’re not drug dealers...” she started to say before Clare cut across her.
“I know you’re not, yea stupid mare,” she scoffed and threw her arms around both, gathering them to her motherly bosom. When she let them go Clare said, “Who knew I was living next-door to Al Capone.” Kate knew beneath the joke her friend was worried, but she loved Clare for the bravado. It was just what she needed right now. Clare pointed at the house and said, “I sent Jimmy to stay at your place after the coppers left. The door’s busted and it wouldn’t lock properly.”
“You’re so good, both of you. Thanks for minding him,” Kate said nodding toward the shaking child in her arms.
“Don’t be daft.”
“Look, come over once I get Toby settled and I’ll explain everything.”
“You don’t have to explain anything to...”
“I want to. I need to talk about it. Please”
“I’ll be round later so, if you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” said Kate as she forced a smile on her face. She pried Toby away from her so she could to talk to him.
“Really, everything’s’ fine. Those men won’t be back, ever, I promise,” she said and kissing the tip of the nose, something she knew he hated. He’d normally say Phooey and rub the kiss away. Today it just made him cry a little less.
“I’ll tell Jimmy you’re back,” Clare said, turning toward Kates home. She didn’t get far before Jimmy appeared at the door. Kate went to thank him for his help but Jimmy sprang away from her as if electrocuted. He pretended not to see her as he hurdled the low hedge between the houses and vanished into the safety of his own home. Clare’s face said she was beyond livid. Kate could see her friend’s back bunch up with rage and her hands balled into fists. When she turned around Clare’s cheeks were burning with shame.
“He’s a spineless...” she said but it was Kate’s turn to kindly interrupt the apology.
“It’s fine, who could blame him?”
“I could and will!” Clare said savagely and stormed after her absconded husband. Kate felt sorry for Jimmy; being arrested again would be a kinder fate than facing Clare in the mood she was currently in.  
When Kate got inside the house she saw what Clare meant about the door. The Guards must have hit it with a sledgehammer or something. The lock had been forced in and the door jamb was all splintered. Kate closed the door and wedged a dining room chair under the handle. That was when she noticed everything else. All her belongings had been moved, drawers searched and haphazardly thrown back. It didn’t exactly qualify for term trashed but the house felt trashed to her.
Toby was still sobbing softly into her neck and she needed to do something to assure him that normal life was still going on.
“Are you hungry, baby?” she asked but he shook his head in the negative.
“Are you sure? You look sleepy, are you feeling tired?” to this he gave a nod yes and sniffled. “Come on and I’ll tuck you in for a nap,” she said carrying him up the stairs.
“Where’s Daddy?” he asked softly.
“He is still helping those people that were here find what they lost. I’m sure he will be home soon.”
“Did they look under the couch cushions?”
“What?” she asked concerned, pausing on the stairs to look at Toby. What could Toby know about this?
“When Daddy loses his car keys they are always under the cushions on the couch.”
“Oh, I see,” she said, and she had to smile at that. “It was the first place they looked and no, it wasn’t there. Anyway, there’s nothing to worry about. Daddy will be back very soon.” This seemed to make Toby a lot more...relaxed.”
 Thankfully Toby’s room looked no messier than it normally did. She got him into bed and tucked his duvet tight under his chin like he liked. She was about to get off the bed when his little hand shot out and took hers.
            “Don’t go, Mom,” he said. She looked down at his face and smiled.
            “Make room so, I could do with a little cuddle.” She settled in beside him and felt his warm little arm come to rest across her neck. It was true, she did need this. She wanted to wish this whole nightmare day away. If only she could close her eyes and wake up yesterday, when everything in her life made sense, but that was never going to happen. She tried to close her eyes, but sleep wouldn’t come and that was despite the warmth of the bed and the gentle snores of her child. Eventually, she slipped out of the bed to make a start on reordering her world.
            She put a call into a builder who’d remodelled the kitchen last year. After a bit of pleading the man promised to have a carpenter call over before the end of the day to repair the front door. When that was done she set about straightening out everything, cleaning and polishing as she went. The house felt unclean like it wasn’t hers anymore. She rubbed the surfaces so violently it was like she was trying to scrub the tarnish of criminality from her life. Deep down she knew what she was doing was useless.
The rubbish bin in the kitchen was overflowing but she kept adding more to the pile instead of emptying the liner. The reason was simple, the wheelie bins were in the garage, the source of all her heart ache. Eventually, she had no choice but to empty the thing and chided herself for being so stupid. She snatched the black bag out of the dustbin, spilling some of the contents on the kitchen floor. With harsh movements she knotted the top of the bag and approached the door to the garage. She flung it open and stood before the black void inside. Her hand hovered over the light switch, but her fingers refused to bend. Her breathing quickened, and she felt the tiny hairs along the back of her neck prickle. The air coming at her was cool and filled with the smell of paint, old oil, drying clay, rubber boots and dust. It was the smell of her childhood, it was the smell of her daddy’s garden shed. How she loved that place, nearly as much as he loved it, it was their sanctuary from the tireless disapproval of her mother. She remembered so many lost days, the two of them hiding away from the tyrant they lived with. Wet days were the best, she would never come looking for either of them as long as it was pouring down. She could still feel the hard clay encrusted workpants under her legs as she sat on his lap listening to stories of long dead Irish heroes and their deeds. His deep baritone voice making the words come alive until the pictures were unleashed in her mind as a technicolour movie. He could make the most trivial things seem enormous. She really wished he were here now, to take her on his knee and assure her that everything would work out just fine.
She took one more deep breath and flicked the switch down. The harsh florescent light flickered once, then once again before plinking into life.  The blinding light chased away the ghost of her Daddy and with it any comfort he had brought her. There, in the middle of the floor lay the cause of all her misery, the lawnmower. The sight of it sent a shiver down her back and she marched past it stiffly, slamming the bag she carried into the green dustbin. She turned back and was about to storm out again when she stopped. Why was she being like this? What would it achieve? Pretending stuff didn’t exist was not going to get her anywhere. If she couldn’t even confront an inanimate piece of garden machinery, how was she going to deal with everything to come. She walked over and stood over the thing. The grass collecting basket was off and lying on the ground beside the mower. She pushed it with her foot and the opening came into view. There was nothing inside it now but dried out husks of grass. Gone were the small bricks of poison that might yet send her to prison. What a stupid place to hide drugs. The only place worse would be under the bed! It was as if....
It was as if someone wanted them found. Her jaw unlocked and hung slack, pulling the skin of her cheeks down and her eyes wide. Someone wanted those drugs found! How did the guards pick this house to search? How did they find the drugs within minutes of coming into the house and who in their right mind would hide a fortune in illegal drugs in a fucking garage? They had been set up! No, not they, Barry! For the first time, it all made sense.
Barry was always bragging about how well his company was doing. How he was the envy of other engineers. How he undercut, drove hard deals, dealt harshly with those who got between him and success. Had some of those chickens come home to roost? Some of those contracts were worth tens, no hundreds of thousands of euro. Could it be that one of Barry’s rivals had decided to plant drugs in their house, inform the guards, the watch as the rest unfolded. It was plausible, more than plausible! It had to be what happened.
Kate felt a rush of exhilaration run through her. She had to call those detectives and tell them what she’d figured out. Once they knew what she knew, they would find the person responsible, she was sure of it! She dashed from the garage to the kitchen to get her phone, but a crash echoed through the house, making her freeze on the spot. It was the chair she’d placed against the handle of the door falling over. For the second time in one day, her house was being invaded, and this time she was alone.

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