Sit a while and read the account
Of my fall from grace and how I climbed out
Of the hole in the ground into which my life fell
And the stroke of good fortune that saved me from Hell
I’m going to tell you, right after this rhyme
Of a lonely, old man's tall tales of a time
When his bones weren't so brittle nor muscles so weak
When the old man was younger, not nearly so meek
Of wars and of pirates, of battling clans
Of islands deserted and dastardly plans
That all needed thwarting, and thwart them he had
When the lonely old man was a strapping, young lad
Now, read on my new friend, I need to convey
The events that led me to that place and that day
When first I met a man with white hair
A man that wasn't really thereThe café had been far busier than usual. I’d been hoping this would be the case. A “forestry management” firm, lumberjacks in my day, had been employed to start work clearing an area in the woods ready for the construction of a new abattoir to begin. The local people weren’t happy, but my till was.
“Did I tell you that I was a lumberjack, once upon a time.”
The old man seemed to have done every job imaginable.
“Really?” I was only half listening. “I bet that was fun. Where was this?”
“Forest of Argyll, you ever been?”
“No, I don’t…”
“Beautiful place. Breathtaking, literally breathtaking.”
The young man had driven north all day, through brilliant sunshine and thrashing rain, watching the world outside the windscreen of his little Commer camper van turn from day to night.
It was nearing midnight when he’d decided he’d arrived. He’d had no destination in mind when, eleven or so hours earlier, he had left. He’d tossed a coin at the motorway junction, heads for north and tails for south, then set off.
He’d had limited funds in place for his trip, so when his journey was blocked by the river Clyde he’d elected to drive around rather than pay the fair for the crossing. He was in no hurry and, anyway, he wasn’t a fan of boats these days.
And so it was that, under a bright, night sky, the young man found himself in Ardentinny. He followed the rutted track that led from the road, past some caravans and through some trees, to a small beach on the banks of Loch Long. The young man killed the engine, the radio still hissing Abba’s “Dancing Queen” through the tinny speakers in the door, and sat a moment looking out across the spooky waters.
Beautiful. Even in the dark, simply beautiful.
It was nearly November and very cold. Too cold for most of us to dare sleeping in an ancient van on a beach in Scotland, but the young man liked the cold. He liked the warm too, and the rainy. Windy weather was another of his favourites.
The young man boiled a kettle on the little stove and filled hot water bottles, tucking a couple of them into his sleeping bag and wrapping his pyjamas around another, which he placed alongside the first two. He filled and boiled another kettle of water, this time using it to fill a large vacuum flask, drank a pint of cold water and climbed into bed.
He slept for four hours before waking up and swapping the now cool water in his hot water bottles for hot from the flask. Once done, he stepped outside in search of a tree to wee against.
The young man slipped on a big pair of Wellington boots, grabbed his dressing gown and a big, heavy torch then stepped out into the night, his breath freezing in plumes as it left the soft warmth of his mouth.
As the young man neared the tree line he flicked the switch on the torch to “on”, banged it twice with his hand, rattled it, loosened and tightened the battery cover, tutted and continued into the forest, hands extended in front of him and groping his way through the darkness.
A few paces in and the young man decided here would do just fine. He went about his business, shivered, turned and stumbled over something soft and furry that had been making it’s nocturnal way home after a successful night’s foraging.
As he hit the ground and began to tumble down a steep bank that had lay, unseen, just centimetres to the right of his right foot he let go of the torch, briefly aware of it’s bulb flickering into life as it bounced before him, before his head connected with a large, smooth, flat stone.
“Ouch, looks painful.” It really did.
“Yes, well, no, not now. But it was.”
The otter watched the young man sleep, the flow of his blood from the deep wound on his head had long since stopped, the red stain it had left on the moss that was acting as a pillow now sparkled with frost as the sun began to rise. The young man opened his eyes as the otter made a squeaky, whining noise, twisted around twice and disappeared through the bush behind him. There was a “plop” as the now unseen otter slipped back into the water and went to do whatever otters do when they’re not watching over unconscious youngsters.
The young man had never been so cold. He had no idea how long he’d lay there, but it was too long. Shivering violently, his teeth chattering inside his ashen face, he stumbled up the embankment that he had fallen down the night before. He couldn’t be far from his camper.
The young man usually had a finely honed sense of direction, but after the events surrounding his toilet visit he’d been left dazed and confused. He stumbled and tripped in completely the wrong direction for a minute or two before realising his error, turning around and stumbling off in yet another wrong direction. Then another. Within thirty minutes he was hopelessly lost. The exertion did little to generate enough heat to compensate for the loss of heat he’d already suffered. He realised that he might die, alone in the woods wearing wellies, pyjamas and a dressing gown. That would certainly confuse any inquiry into his death. The young man smiled. Maybe he should put a flower up his nose and paint shapes on his face, really befuddle the investigators. He snorted a laugh.
“Who’s there?” A voice, frightened, from somewhere off to the left.
“Hello?” The young man peered in the direction of the voice.
“Go away. You’re not welcome. There are loads of us and we’ve got guns.” The voice sounded like a child’s.
“Guns?” The young man started to move in the direction of the child.
“Yes. And dogs. Lots of dogs. Vicious dogs. Turn around and go away and we’ll, we’ll, we’ll let you go.”
“Your dogs are well behaved.” The young man approached the bush from which the voice seemed to emanate. “Very quiet.” He reached out and parted a couple of branches. “AHA!”
The little boy in the bush held a hand in front of his mouth and blew hard. Pepper. He blew pepper into the young man’s face.
His eyes and throat burned as he staggered backwards sneezing and rubbing at his eye.
From beneath the carpet of leaves under the young man’s feet the net that had been laid there leapt upwards, taking him with it. This was rapidly turning into a very disappointing morning.
Upside down and with eyes streaming he watched as the youngster approached, holding before him a long, pointed stick.
The door opened and a couple of men from the Forestry Management company came in, hard hats tucked beneath their arms and newspapers in their hands. I took their orders as the old man continued.
“Ouch,” the young man yelped, “Stop prodding me with that blummin’ stick.”
“I’ll ask the questions.”
“It wasn’t a question.” The young man said sternly. “Ouch, stop it!”
“I’ll give the orders.”
“Fair enough. So, what now?”
“I dunno, I’ve never caught anyone before.”
“Well, aren‘t I the lucky one.”
“You’re from the home, aren’t you?”
“The naughty boys home.”
The young man snorted. He’d spent time in a care home as a child, before his parents had adopted him. The other kids at school had teased him when they found out, and the locals referred to the beautiful building in which he and his fellow orphans resided as the naughty boys home.
“No, I’m not from there. So, could you maybe let me down now, please.”
“Why should I?”
“Because I’m cold, dizzy, upside blummin’ down, I have blood on my face, pepper up my blummin’ nose and, most importantly”, the young man grinned at the child, “I have…”
“…biscuits?” I asked the lumberjacks as I pushed two cups of steaming coffee across the counter at them.
The old man squeezed behind me and into the kitchen to begin preparing the order I’d just taken. There was a crash as…
…the young man hit the ground. The boy from the bush stood over him, pointed stick pointed at his face. The young man frowned and slapped it away as he sat up.
“You said you had biscuits.”
“I do have biscuits. In the cupboard in my van.” The young man grinned again. “Ouch! STOP THAT.”
The young man followed the boy from the bush along the little, winding track that led to his own make shift camp. A little shelter, of solid construction, lay to the left. A selection of big, smooth stones formed a circle around the small campfire, over which hung a cooking pot full of steaming porridge. A wooden chest and a clothes line, from which hung freshly laundered underwear and a dead rabbit, made up the rest of the camp.
“Did you do all this on your own?”
“Yes,” The young man said proudly, “all on my own.”
“Impressive. You live here then? In the woods?”
“I’m on the run.” The boy from the bush began ladling porridge into two metallic, military, mess tins before handing one to the young man. The porridge was too hot to eat, but the young man was too cold and hungry to wait. He scalded his mouth but continued to shovel down the oats as he crouched by the fire.
The boy from the bush told the young man his tale. The naughty boys home from which he’d escaped sounded like a lovely place when he’d begun his description. Good food, nice surroundings and friendly staff who smiled constantly. It certainly sounded to the young man like a more comfortable existence than a bed made of twigs in the forest. But there was more.
Half seen in the shadows. Fleeting glimpses of the faces. Pale and sallow, eyes like coal and a smile that chilled.
And there were the songs.
Half heard in the night and coming from the silence of the darkest corners of the dormitories in which the naughty boys slept, a far away voice, a lonely voice, a woman’s voice, soft and hauntingly beautiful. The voice sang words that couldn’t quite be heard, distorted by the crackly, hissy chants of a thousand wicked voices, whispering and chattering all around it. The boys would lie, curled up in their beds with their knees pulled up to their chins and the covers over their heads, wide eyed, keeping as still as they could so as not to be noticed. Too scared to even breathe for fear of the motion of their chests alerting whatever dwelt in the dark to their presence. They held their breath and waited, with tears in their eyes, for the song to end.
In the cold light of day the boys would talk about the voices in hushed tones, careful to not be overheard by any of the staff and not to mention their own tears. Occasionally, a boy would summon up the courage to ask someone for help before being “relocated” to a new home, never to be heard from again.
“Well, I’m not surprised you ran away.”
“You believe me?” The boy from the bush seemed surprised.
“Oh yes. I’ve seen much weirder things myself, kid.” He grinned a grin that the boy from the bush couldn’t help but return. “Shall we have a bit of an adventure?”
The old man was collecting the dust pan and brush from under the sink to clean up the broken glass from the broken milk bottle that he’d knocked from the work surface.
“No problem,” I smiled, “no point crying over spilt milk.”
“Ha, yes, indeed, very good. Now, where was I?”
The best adventures happen at night. The prettiest garden can be a spooky place once the only light that falls on it comes from the moon and the stars. But the best plans, and every adventure needs the very best plan, come in the daylight hours when our minds are uncluttered by ghouls and goblins, spooks and spirits or cold, dark eyes and sad, sad songs.
The young man and the boy from the bush had performed a reconnaissance mission after breakfast. The naughty boys home had once been a castle on the hill overlooking the Loch. A small castle, but a castle nonetheless. Over the centuries newer parts had been added until, now, it resembled a manor house, the entrance to which was the original barbican. The moat that had once protected the inhabitants from the marauders and foreign invaders had long since been drained and was now nothing more than a soggy ditch lined with blue wildflowers and thick ropes of nettles. The young man whistled in admiration.
From their vantage point in the bushes the pair discussed their plans to breach the ancient defences of the naughty boys home. The young man had explained that, since the most obvious answer is usually the right answer, the question as to what were the ghostly goings on in the pitch blackness of the dormitories at night probably had a perfectly simple, earthly explanation.
“It’s just someone winding you up, kid. I’ll bet you.”
The kid wasn’t convinced.
“Ah, trust me. I’m seldom wrong.”
“That’s a funny name.”
“No, I mean I’m not wrong often.”
“But you are wrong sometimes?”
“Well, yes, but like I said, not often. I’ve not been wrong for ages.”
“You’re crouched in a bush wearing a dressing gown and wellies with red circles around your eyes from pepper and with blood all over your pyjamas. You must have been wrong at some point last night.”
“Yes, exactly, so, since I’m not wrong often what are the chances of my being wrong two nights on the trot?”
“Are you actually asking me that? I’m not very good at maths.”
“Look, I’m sure everything is going to be alright. It’ll be someone playing a trick on you all, you’ll see. And if not, we’ll just use plan B.”
“You have a plan B?”
“I always have a plan B.” The young man grinned.
Two children’s bikes clattered to the ground as two children leapt from them, laughing and each carrying a small bag.
“Trick or treat.” The pair chirruped in unison.
“I sell food, kids, I don’t give it away.”
“Oh you are a misery guts.” The old man grinned at me as he wandered through from the kitchen. “Here, kids, I’m sorry I’ve only got these.” He handed them a fistful of pink wafer biscuits each.
“I love these.” The little boy grinned back at the old man then turned to leave.
“Kian.” The little girl barked at her companion, “manners.”
“Sorry,” He flashed his charming grin at his friend then turned to the old man. “Thank you.”
The children skipped and stumbled back out into the street.
“Duck.” The old man said, matter-of-factly.
“Hey, misery guts.” The little boy called from the door, “Here’s your trick.”
“What?” I turned to the door as the egg struck me in the middle of my chest, sending yoldkand albumen spattering onto my chin and the counter behind which I stood.
“You little….”, I growled, “Did you see that?”
“I did try to warn you.” The old man smiled as he passed me a tea towel.
“What did that little girl call him? I’m going to speak to his parents.”
“David. She called him David. Anyway…”
The castle’s defences seemed to be geared more toward keeping the children in rather than keeping others out. During the reconnaissance the young man had found a set of ladders, with a rung or two missing, half hidden in the undergrowth close to the back wall.
“This’ll be a piece of cake. Sneak in, wait for whoever’s playing silly beggars to start singing and then burst through the door with a hearty “Ta-daaa!””
“That’s it? Ta-daaa? That’s your plan?” The boy from the bush jogged along behind the young man carrying to other end of the rotting ladder.
“You can throw in some jazz-hands too if you like, but thing’s don’t have to be complicated to work. The simpler the better.”
Once on the roof it was easy enough to scramble and clamber across to the roof of the dormitories. A long, flat, mossy roof with a parapet and a glazed dome in the middle. The young man and the boy from the bush made their way to the dome and peered down.
The little hallway below was dark and gloomy. Three doors led off the hallway. Behind each, a dormitory in which thirty or so boys slept, or at least tried to sleep.
Eventually, from further along the portion of hallway that couldn’t be seen from the dome, came a noise.
“Here we go.” The young man whispered. “You just watch, it’ll be something perfectly ordinary.
The noise came closer, slowly. A gramophone, of the wind up variety with the big horn for a speaker, was being dragged and pushed along the tiled floor. In place of the turntable was a box with a black, velvet cloth covering it. It was pushed into position between the three doors and a hand began to wind the handle, the box beneath the cloth slowly turning before another hand snatched away the velvet.
The box was a case made of glass. Inside, mouth open and mounted on a spike, was a head. The glass case rotated around the head, glinting in the moonlight from the dome above. Mounted on the side of the gramophone a small pair of leather bellows creaked as they worked, pumping air through a pipe and into the throat of the head of…
…the tall lady? Could it be? The now deceased Queen of the Under World, last seen dangling from the stinger of a giant bee?
The air began to operate the vocal chords in the tall lady’s throat. A voice, distant and indistinct, warbled and crooned louder and louder, joined by the chattering, whispering voices of those that had brought this wicked contraption.
Little, grey, slimy and scuttly they rubbed their hands and grinned their terrifying grins as they unscrewed the lids of jars, towed behind the gramophone on a trolley. The tall lady’s technicians. Those monstrous little creatures that had done her wicked bidding and built her horrid creations.
From the key holes of the dormitory doors a gas, fine and white and only barely visible, began to seep. The technicians danced around with the jars held above their heads, collecting the whispy clouds and sealing them within.
High above the young man and the boy from the bush watched, open mouthed. Their eyes wide, neither breathed. Almost invisibly, wisps of the same fine, white gas as was being harvested below snaked from their mouths, hitting the pane of glass through which they peered and spreading across until it could no longer be seen.
The technicians finished there malevolent task and replaced the velvet cloth, stacked the jars in the trolley and retreated, back to whichever Hellish hole they’d come from.
I stood, scrubbing my apron, as the old man continued to recount his tall tale. Something about technicians and some tall woman. I looked in the mirror and wiped the egg from my chin with another tea towel.
The Faeries had been here a very long time. They’d seen the time before man, before the great wars, before the splitting of the worlds, and they would see the time after all that was gone, when man was no more than dust.
But for now, they shared their Earth.
They didn’t need a lot to survive. Just the air that we breath. Literally, the air that we breath.
A faery is a beautiful creature, but a beauty that cannot be described. Nor can it be seen by mortal eyes, our primitive minds would be blown. And so they allow us glimpses. That beautiful view or magical moment that takes your breath away, leaves you standing agape and wide eyed. The moment you meet the love of your life, that second you forget to breathe, that’s what they need. It’s a fair deal. We don’t even notice it, no harm done, just holding our breath for a second or two, but to them it’s life blood. In return they give us beauty. Great beauty. The majestic mountains, the puppy tied to the post outside the newsagents, the great work of art and the wink your granddad gives you, those things that make you happy, that’s them. That’s the Faeries.
Many millennia ago a wicked Queen, a tall lady, had needed cheap and easy to control staff. She’d tried monkeys, that had been a disaster. Monkeys, she discovered, throw their own poo. That just wasn’t good enough. Next, humans. With one or two, fat and thin, notable exceptions they were far too fragile. So Faeries it had to be.
Enslaved, caged and tortured the Faeries were “trained”. The tall lady gave them a form, a body in which they were imprisoned and more easily controlled and, once the Faeries minds had been sufficiently damaged they were put to work. They were the perfect staff.
But the immortal Queen proved less than immortal. Her demise at the hands of that little, blond girl and her bumbling friends had come as something of a shock to them.
Without their employer’s provision of sustenance, the technicians needed our breath. Stuck within their fleshy and menacing prisons, the technicians weren’t best suited to the creation of breath taking moments. The best they could illicit was a scream or, even better than that, fear. Paralysing, petrifying, fear. So they became farmers.
The farmer Faeries needed cattle. The cattle had to be young, young minds scare more easily. The castle in the forest had made the perfect farmhouse and came with ample room for livestock. The naughty boys home had been born.
I shook my head. I’d found myself staring into the mirror lost in my own thoughts. The old man was still chatting away. I adjusted my egg-free apron and began to cook, cracking eggs and tossing bacon into a frying pan where they began to sizzle.
The young man shook his head and took a deep breath as his companion did the same.
“See, I told you it’d have a rational explanation.”
“But…”, the boy from the bush stared at the young man, “but, but…”
“Now then, this turn of events renders plan A a none starter.”
“No hearty ta-daaa?”
“No, no hearty ta-daaa.”
“Okay. So what’s plan B?”
“Plan B, my friend, is the same as it always is. Plan B is to take a deep breath, sit down and think up a plan C.” The young man grinned his grin.
“Sounds easy enough.”
“I’ve seen those things before.”
“What are they?”
“I have absolutely no idea, but I know they’re not good. Right, let’s get this party started.” The young man drew himself up to his full height, puffed out his chest and re-tied the cord on his dressing gown. “Follow me.” He strode away across the flat roof, following the corridor down which the chattering group of technicians had retreated, his left Wellington boot squeaking with every other step.
“So you’ve got a plan C then?” The boy from the bush asked.
“Are you going to tell me what it is?”
“Of course, you’re a very important part of the plan.” That grin again.
Behind the small block that housed the kitchens lay a small, cobbled courtyard. In day’s of old this area had been used to house a pig sty. The best way to keep your meat fresh, in those olden days, was to keep it alive until you were ready to eat it. Nowadays, the kitchen contained a freezer so the area contained nothing more exciting that some bins, a few milk crates and an old pushbike. The young man and the boy from the bush dropped, as quietly as they could manage, from the roof and into the shadows where they crouched.
“Ok, so what now?” The boy in the bush whispered.
“I’m going in through that,” the young man gestured towards the back door, held open with a mop and bucket, “Then I’ll track down those things and get rid of them.”
“What about me?”
“You wait here.”
“But you said I had an important part to play.”
“That’s right, you do. Sit here, keep quiet and wait for me.”
“How long should I wait?”
“Give me five minutes, if I’m not back by then…”
“…give me another five.” The young man winked at the boy from the bush and, before he could say another word, left.
The boy from the bush held his breath.
“There you go, lads.” I placed the plates of food in front of the hungry lumberjacks.
“Of course, I couldn’t take a small boy with me into a situation like that, could I?”
“No, no you couldn’t.” I’d missed most of what preceded the question, but I was sure there wasn‘t going to be a test on it after so I just smiled and hoped I was nodding in the right places. “Go on, what happened next?”
The young man snuck through the dark kitchen, feeling his way along the big, steel counters. He considered arming himself with on of the large, sharp knives that must be here somewhere, but they were all locked away in a cupboard. The best he could do was take up a long, heavy ladle and the large, metal lid of the biggest cooking pot which he held like a shield.
“Squeek.” The noise of the left Wellington boot seemed far louder inside. The young man used his right foot to remove his left boot, standing on its heels as he wriggled his foot out. He left the right boot in place and set off through the door.
Far ahead he could just make out the squealing and scraping of the technicians macabre sound system being dragged along. He paused, holding his breath and listing.
A fine wisp of mist from his lips passed through a silvery beam of light that shone on the wall to his left, cast through the small, high windows by the bright moon above. The young man furrowed his brow and watched the wisp curl and swoop through the air, engulfing dust motes that sparkled like they were grains of diamond sand within. With no better plan, he followed the mist.
The technicians weren’t expecting anyone to follow them. The children would be far too frightened to dare leave their rooms. And as for the staff, well…
The technicians finally arrived at the staff dining room. A grand room, it had once housed great banquets and dances, with suits of armour lining one wall. A tapestry covered the chimney breast in which sat a roaring fire. A huge chandelier, the dozen candles it contained casting a flickering light on the room below, hung high above. A steep, steel, spiral staircase led both to the mezzanine floor above and to the cellars below. Against the far wall lay a great oak chest.
Excitedly, the technicians placed the gramophone back atop a cabinet in the corner, positioning it exactly within the confines of the dust-free square on the filthy surface, then dressed for dinner.
Elegant suits with bow ties, shiny shoes, sophisticated evening gowns and strings of pearls. Then, the finishing touch…
…the masks made from the faces of the real, now long dead, staff.
Ten of the eleven technicians took their seats at the long, dirty table, lining up the glass jars and removing the lids, as the last of the group, a tall, thin, respectable looking chap with a monocle and pipe, removed the velvet cloth and began to wind the handle, rotating the glass box that now surrounded the tall lady’s head.
The mist within the jars began to bubble as the long dead lady began to sing her haunting song. The gloom of the room was lifted slightly as the jars began to glow. The eleventh member of the dinner party hurriedly took his seat and began to run his long, grey hands slowly, drooling and flicking his black tongue across his lips. The technicians closed their eyes, threw back their heads and began to feed on the fear stolen from the children in their care.
Taken from "The Lonely Man Chronicles".
Night after night
Right after the fright
That they’d given the kids in their care
They ate at that table
As fast as were able
Then disappeared back below stairs
Acting refined while they feasted on fear
And munched on the sorrow and glugged back the tears
They chatted and giggled and sang wicked songs
Told terrible jokes and trumped wicked pongs
Never taking a moment to stop and to think
Of the hero approaching with grin and with wink
But approach them he did as the Queen’s song was sung
To right the wrongs and to free the young
Boys that they kept and they scared for their supper
The first to leap up was the first one to suffer
“Eleven to one?” He thought before then
Swinging his ladle and making it ten
All at once the ten tore off
The human masks and clothes of cloth
The leapt and they hissed and they clawed at the air
They hunched and they sneered and they spat and they glared
At this insolent child who was up at this hour
And dared to stand when most would cower
His gown had come open, it flapped like a cape
As he leapt like a dog and he rolled like an ape
Dodging the blows of his black hearted foes
He paused and he grinned, then he picked his nose
Before girding his loins and fixing his mind
On his long, lethal ladle and making ten nine
Nine became eight, then another two fell
All quickly consigned to the dark depths of hell
By the young man with the grin and the twitch in his eye
Who laughed as he fought with no fear he would die
He lashed out his long ladle, mid running-dive
From the top of the table, and six became five
The five that remained when the young man did rest
Backed away slowly toward the great chest
Wherein they would find a weapon that might
Put an end to this boy on this very night
But wait, what now? He’s decided to yield?
Casting aside ladle and cooking pot shield
The man in the gown turned his back on his prey
Scratching his bum as he walked away
Snatching an axe from a suit that had last
Contained a brave knight many years in the past
He twirled it and swung it and, nearing the door
He turned and he threw it and five became four
In one smooth, swift movement as he passed it by
He slipped the knot holding the rope that ran high
From the hook on the wall to the candles that hung
From the beams up above and on this, the lad swung
Looking so dandy in his fine flowing gown
As he passed by the candles plummeting down
The creatures did scream as they craned their necks back
Three crushed to death under the attack
Of the big iron ring with the wax and the flames
That the young man had sent to end their wicked games
Much better odds now so many were gone
The young man relaxed, eleven were one
Relaxing is great when you’re by a pool
Or in that six weeks when you have no more school
But never, my friend, when you find yourself in
A castle and fighting a fight you must win
For it’s right at that point, as you take a deep breath
You’re foe will fight hard to avoid certain death
The chest creaked as it opened, the creature brought out
A gun with a barrel just like a pigs snout
He squeezed on the trigger and sent forth a shell
Forged in the deepest dark, dank pits of hell
The creature laughed loud and he narrowed his eyes
And called out to the boy “Here, kid, surprise”
The floor that he stood on, once solid and strong
Crumbled beneath him and sent him headlong
To the scene down below where the candle flames did
Ignite some fat from a cooking pan lid
The flames spread fast, engulfing all
Lighting and heating the grand dining hall
The young man had fought hard and fought so well
But pride had come before he fell
To the floor on which he found himself lay
Battered and bruised and about to pay
The ultimate price for trying to portray
Himself as the hero that saved the day
The technician leveled the wicked, otherworldly, pig-nosed shotgun at the young man’s face. The young man’s smile evaporated.
His finger tightened on the trigger, his diabolical smile spreading across his face to reveal his tiny, sharp teeth and snake like tongue. He was about to enjoy himself more than he had in a long time.
Then he paused. That face, he’d seen it before he was sure. But where.
Almost immediately, he stopped caring. That face would soon be no more than a smudge on the stone floor of the great hall.
Were it not for that moment’s hesitation the young man would never have become the old man. Without it the impact from behind would have occurred after he’d pulled the trigger. But hesitate he did, and all was lost.
The boy from the bush had raced through the corridors on the squeaky, rusting pushbike left lent against the wall in the yard where the bins were stored. On his head a metal mop bucket, doubling as a helmet, and tucked beneath his left armpit a mop, balanced on the handlebars and itself doubling as a lance. The boy from the bush roared a great roar as he sped through the door, little legs pedalling for all he was worth.
The soppy head of the mop struck the creature in the centre of his back. The momentum was such that the wooden stale tore free of the screws holding the head in place, becoming a blunted spear which carried on through his leathery flesh, destroying his small, black heart and erupting from his chest. The creature died with a look of confusion on his face.
The young man sat up slowly. The thick, almost black, stinking blood of the creature covered him, matting his hair and dripping in thick globs from his chin. The young man smiled as the boy from the bush removed his improvised helmet and climbed from his steel steed.
“Fine, thanks.” The young man was wiping his face with his gown.
“Sorry about the mess. What were you doing?”
“I was about to be shot in the face, until you rescued me. I owe you one.”
“Rescued you? Wow. That was lucky.”
“You weren’t trying to rescue me?”
“No, I was just riding a bike. I got bored.”
“So what, you just thought you‘d ride a bike through the halls in the dark with a bucket on your head and impale a, whatever, thingy, that dead thing over there?”
“Yes. Well, no, not the impaling bit. But yes, the rest.”
“And this is the kind of thing you do when you‘re bored?”
“Yes, well, it’s not called the naughty boys home for nothing, you know?” The boy from the bush smiled.
“What has this got to do with you being a lumberjack?” I was scooping the handful of change the forest managers had left, as a tip, on the table.
“Lumberjack? Oh, yes, well, I had a few transportation difficulties, so I found myself a little bit stranded. I got a job. As a lumberjack.”
“That was quite a roundabout way of telling me that.”
“Well sometimes the fun comes in the journey, not the destination. The destination is just the end, my friend.”
“And the home, what happened to that?”
“Burnt to the ground. When the fire brigade eventually got in there, nothing was left. Shame, it was such a beautiful building.”
“And the children?”
“Oh, them. So sad. They all perished.”
The little camp site had gotten a whole lot busier. Ninety two boys and one young man worked tirelessly for days, chopping, sawing and lashing together the boughs of trees to form dozens of little shelters scattered higgledy piggledy around the first. The smoke from a dozen fires drifted lazily skywards. Some of boys were collecting mussels from the cold waters of the loch, others checking traps for squirrels or rabbits to go in the cooking pots and still more foraged for berries. And every one of them awoke each morning, refreshed after a sound night’s sleep, with a smile on their lips.
The young man had intended to continue north in his little campervan, but when eventually he found the beach on which he was sure he’d left it, it was no where to be seen. He was stranded.
The young man stood on the beach, hands in the pockets of his gown, shivering and admiring the view. He smiled as he gazed out along the loch, admiring the majestic mountains and thick forestry, the clear blue sky, the fishing boats putt-putting through the mists as they made their way out to sea. Beautiful. Just beautiful.
Breathtakingly. Literally breathtaking.