Reminiscing (an excerpt)

This excerpt is taken from a piece featured in an anthology of short stories, Giant Tales: World of Pirates (launched on Valentine’s Day 2014 on Amazon, and now also available from Barnes and Noble).

Enjoy!

Giant Tales: World of PiratesThe gang had sailed into their first port of call, Old O’Riley’s. Everyone was in good form and up for some action. The game had them all on fire, while the rum was flowing freely. Just how many he threw back that night, Robert couldn’t be sure. What he did remember was that the drunker he got, the better his wooing ability became…

… Robert smiled devilishly to himself as he hoicked on his leather thigh-highs and gave his bottle a swig. Tonight would be rowdy at the very least and that was fine with him.
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Forgotten

I smell antibacterial hand wash and hear the unmistakable ch-ch of crisp, recently-pressed linen as I stretch my legs out. I open one eye and peer furtively around me from underneath the covers. I see mint green walls and a standard public-issue chair to my left, flanked by a row of tiny windows.

I scrunch my shoulders tightly and arch my back. My bottom is numb. I move to rub some feeling back into it but am greeted by a tugging sensation to my lower right arm. I glance down to see a stream of tubes leading to a softly beeping monitor.

So, I’m in hospital.

I venture to pull myself into a sitting position, mindful not to disturb my bonds overly. From my elevated vantage point I can see a bunch of flowers in a glass vase sitting atop a small wheeled table to the right of me. A tiny white card peeks from behind slightly wilted leaves. I can just make out one word.

‘Alex’.

I am wondering who has left the flowers when the door squeaks open and a pudgy, middle-aged, balding man tiptoes in. On seeing me, his face immediately brightens and he scampers to my side. He pats my leg and cocks his head to one side, his eyes glistening.

“You’re awake!” he exclaims as if my open eyes might betray otherwise. I open my mouth to respond but only manage a croak.

“Here, here…” he shuffles purposefully to a nearby waiting plastic cup and fills it with water, “… drink some of this.” He hands me the drink carefully and I accept the offering with an unpractised hand. He notices my discomfort and steadies me. I take a small sip. It tastes slightly stale, as if it’s been left out for a while. The liquid goes down and I realise how dry my throat is. I take a few more sips and motion that I am satisfied.

“You gave us quite a scare, you know?” he continues, removing the cup. “The doctors say you’ll be alright but your noggin may take some time to heal.”

This new information prompts me to lift a hand to my head. A thick bandage is wound tightly around it and it’s only at this point that I notice that my hair has been shaved off. I breathe sharply and point to the small mirror I spy on a shelf. He winces slightly, which immediately increases my apprehension. He hands me the mirror and I slowly examine my face. I can hardly see any detail for the crowd of cuts and bruises. I gasp inwardly, trying to recall how I came to be in such poor disrepair.

All I manage to get out is, “How…?”

“Don’t you remember?” He looks concerned but quickly fills me in. “It was a van. You were knocked down at the crossing almost a week ago.”

A week!

“I… I don’t remember.” I stammer. Suddenly I realise that I really don’t remember. Anything. I grab for the mirror that I’d left by my side and stare at my face again, struggling for a glimmer of something to remind me of anything at all. The second viewing brings more clarity but only enough to establish that I am in fact a woman.

I can’t remember who I am!

I panic.

My pulse begins to race as a storm of billowing grey clouds erupts in my mind. Over and over I wrack my brain for the tiniest instance of something that I can latch onto. I look to my visitor who could be a complete stranger for all I know, and that makes me fret even more.

“Alex! What’s the matter?” He cries, following my erratic movements with ever-growing trepidation.

“Can’t remember. Can’t remember!” I shout in desperation. I look at him again and again, straining against the very little I seemingly am at this very moment.

“Alex, it’s me, Dom, your brother!” He offers back, trying to calm me down. But I won’t be calmed. Who am I? What do I do? Do I have children? Am I married? The now-gale-force winds tear a gaping hole in the fabric of my consciousness that I can’t shield myself from. The whistling is deafening. The strength of the beast rages around me now and I start to flail uncontrollably.

I can’t breathe!

The soft beeping of the monitor is replaced by an explosive crescendo of concerto proportions and I momentarily wonder if the beeps can get any louder or faster. The drastic change in my condition alerts an army of white coats to burst into my room. Shoving Dom aside, who by now is ashen and could possibly do with sedating himself, they crowd around me, each brandishing their favourite specialist prodding tool.

Throughout the chaos, my heart is also threatening to break out of my chest and it is this fact that they all converge on. I realise then that I am having a heart attack.

As if forgetting everything isn’t bad enough!

Thump. Thump. Thump. My heart and my head seem to be dancing to the same beat and I can’t keep up any longer. I black out.

A warm breeze blows across my cheek and I catch the soft sweet scent of star jasmine. My children are hunting for Easter eggs in the garden and my husband, my beautiful Joe, chases them around the towering willow as they fall about, laughing their little bellies off. I smile as I make my way to the store for some well-earned ice cream. “Be back in 10!” I shout and wave back, though they don’t pay me any heed, so lost are they in their fun. I shake my head as I cross our road. And then I see a white van.

Shadows

Sleep

With my body curved into a tightly-knit ball, I tugged hard at my bed sheet, trying desperately to cover more of my head without covering it entirely. I needed a slight breathing space for my nose and a tiny slit for part of one of my eyes to see through… just in case. It was a typically hot summer’s night – 30C – and whereas everyone else in the household slept uncovered with the fans on, I could not. I smouldered under the confines of my self-imposed cotton torture chamber.

This is ridiculous! At least uncover your head, for goodness’s sake!

I was thirteen years old and we had just moved into the modern split-level house on the East Coast. The removal from the ‘burbs was to afford us a better standard of life, conceded my parents, but so far there was nothing great about living in this particular house. Mine was the top-most bedroom. It had wonderful views of the bay and forests in the distance, a sunny disposition in the day, and mind-crippling noises in the night – every night.

All I wanted was to fall asleep but all I got was the creepy skin-crawling feeling that someone was watching me from the corner near the door. A thin sheet was not going to save me – definitely – but it was all the available protection I had. I had struggled with the dark for as long as I could remember and bothering my parents at this age every night just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Tonight was no exception. I lay there, scrunched, sweating, slightly hyperventilating… my heart beating at about a million miles an hour. Every noise I heard was an extreme exaggeration of reality – I knew this but still the covers remained firmly fixed to my forehead. Suddenly I felt it.

An itch.

Right in the middle of my back, in that place that’s just out of reach, is where the bothersome fixation had decided to manifest. I had two options: I could disappear completely under my covers, contort myself into a shape offering the best chance of reach and relief; or I could de-cloak, do the same but risk exposing my position to any available invisible enemy. At the time, this was a very real conundrum for me and meanwhile, I got hotter and the itch became more insistent.

But why? I found myself quietly crying into the night. Why would the Universe plague the same person with the fear of the dark AND an itch that needed immediate scratching on pain of fainting? Maybe it was my tiredness or maybe it was the heat, but I swear that the itch took on a persona of its own and I began to see it as a cricket on my back. Why would a cricket be on my back? How did it get in? If it got in, what else could have crawled in as well? By this stage, I began to imagine a whole swarm of insects sharing my bed and taking refuge all over my body. I had visions of being found dead in the morning by my mother, covered in unexplainable bites. And that was it!

I flung, but mostly peeled, the covers from my sweat-soaked form, performed an amazing half twist in mid-air (my memory may be a little sketchy here), scratched the living heck out of the offensive little thing, and then landed flat on my back, vindicated. I felt the familiar rush of relief wash over me and it was the best feeling in the world. I lay there smiling stupidly for a couple of minutes before recollection was restored and I realised I was…

Exposed.

I immediately scrambled to my knees and made to dive back under my covers quick-as-a-flash, but the damage was already done. I had ventured a furtive peek towards the door and suddenly the ‘feeling that someone was watching me from the corner’ came crashing back into my psyche in a new-and-improved silhouette version of its previous self. I paused, half tangled in my covers and had another look. The silhouette had not moved.

So what are we looking at here?

I really tried hard to be reasonable and salvage the last vestiges of my sanity right there and then, offering all manner of explanations. But there wasn’t one. Because there was no logical explanation why I would look up at my door in the complete darkness and see a shadow that was darker than darkness itself. A humanoid shadow. I had to take another look; a third look… possibly my final look. I knew this but curiosity killed the cat and all that – it had to be done.

I mustered together the final fragments of what was left of my crumbling, non-existent courage and defiantly looked up at the door. The shadow was there for the third time, dutifully. At least it was consistent. I sat there, teetering on the edge of a total meltdown and an unprecedented need to know more. I studied the figure not five feet before me (and a little to the left). Our ceilings were 8 feet and the shadow stood at least 7-foot tall. It donned what looked like a long cloak of sorts, like you’d imagine a monk might wear, the hands obscured, presumably up its sleeves. Still, no movement.

Say something!

I’m not saying something!

I came to realise that I was arguing with myself over something that may have been a simple figment of my imagination. I must be tired. Should I approach it? Let’s not go there. I blinked a few times, pinched my arm. I was definitely awake. I inched towards the right of my bed and poked the curtain. Light rippled across the room from the outside street lights. On hitting the shadow, the most curious thing happened. It wasn’t affected. I was expecting the light to interrupt the composition of the shadow but if anything, the light was engulfed by it. Did that make it a good or a bad shadow? If it was a bad shadow and I threw something at it – because… come on, I was never going to approach it myself – would I be made to feel the full force of its dark wrath?

I looked at the floor around my bed, stealthily, mind; I didn’t want the shadow to think for a moment that I didn’t have my eye on it! I found an old purple and black striped sock. That would have to do. I swiped it up in my hand and fumbled it into a ball. Under-arm or over-arm? I decided to keep it civil; an over arm lob would surely signal an act of hostility on my part. I aimed for where I presumed the arms would be and let fly.

What happened next defied all sense of logic. Everything I’d learnt at school went out the window and all I was left with was the realisation that this was no ordinary shadow. The sock sailed right through the shadow and disappeared at the point where I expected it to impact the door.

F*CK!!!

I was trapped! I couldn’t escape through the door because, thanks to my little science experiment, I’d established that solid things got lost in the void that was the shadow. My windows opened via a roller system but didn’t open far enough for me to escape that way. But even if I did manage it, I would then be trapped on a more-or-less four-storey roof with no way of getting down. I was paralysed with fear enough that when I opened my mouth to shout for my mother, nothing but a dry croak came out.

The formerly-still shadow chose that moment to move. It lifted a seemingly accusatory finger towards me and I froze. I kept running through my mind that this was just a dream and that I would wake up at any moment. But I didn’t wake up because this wasn’t a dream.

I was past panic and was so scared that I suddenly caught myself wondering why I was actually scared! I relaxed, somewhat, took a deep breath and sat cross-legged on the bed. I looked up at the shadow that had moved back into its ordinary place in front of the door. I lifted my arm slowly… and waved. Suddenly I felt a wave of dizziness hit me and felt the unusual sensation of falling back in slow motion. As I fell, my eyes closed slightly but I could still make out a series of shapes that began manifesting around me. I forced my eyes wide open to see… clouds!

I was so confused and so tired. I wasn’t scared anymore and figured that if the shadow wanted to hurt me it would have done so already. Overwhelmed and over-tired, I blacked out.

Nine years later, I was married and living on the North Coast, ten hours away from my parents’. It was a warm and windy day and I took the opportunity to put a load of washing on. I had almost finished taking everything off the line when a sudden gust rose to swing a bed sheet into my face. Startled, I swung my arms out, grabbed the sheet and inadvertently tripped over my feet. I landed in a heap, surrounded by all the washing I’d just brought down with me. I harrumphed and looked up at what should have been an empty clothes line… except it wasn’t.

There, hanging on its own, barely disturbed by the flapping wind was an old purple and black striped sock.

Origins

origins

Darkness.

I felt like I was being cradled by the black sea of nothingness that enclosed me. I had no sense of the boundary of my being and that which surrounded me. The darkness was part of me and I was part of it. I felt neither warmth nor a chill; there was neither quiet nor sound. No smells. Nothing to touch. Yet I was not afraid. I felt… taken care of.

I stayed in this state of quiet existence for what seemed like an eternity and then a pin-prick of light erupted in the distance, or, maybe it wasn’t that far away, but I understood nothing of spatial awareness then. I gazed calmly at the little white dot and watched it shimmer and warp like a tiny mirage. I waited. It grew. And then it was on top of me, enveloping my every sense until I felt like a million tiny explosions of feeling had erupted all over me.

Me.

But what was me?

As I became accustomed to the light and began to make out shapes and forms, I took stock of the landscape around me. There stretched out a vast expanse of lit-up dark terrain in all directions, like a light-field grid, and a repeated light geometric form that seemed to impress itself wherever I cared to look. I ventured movement and was rewarded with the sense of my right top-most appendage directly before me. I regarded it with mild curiosity as I grew more accustomed to its weight and capabilities. Transferring my attention to the left, I discovered I had a matching pair and I stood, most amused for some time, revelling in the sudden extension to what I was.

Then lo, shifting my sights downward, I was doubly astonished with the sight of two lower appendages. Unfortunately, having afforded previously unfocussed attention to my lower extremities also introduced gravity to the mix, it seemed, and before I knew what was happening I felt myself crumpling to a heap.

If there was anyone else in the vicinity, this would now prove to be embarrassing, had I an understanding of the concept! I concentrated hard and forced myself to feel all of me. With this rudimentary site map of sorts firmly in mind, I willed myself to an upright position and was immediately granted my first head-rush. But at least I was up. Then, one pace after the other, I propelled my form forward towards… anywhere.

Time.

A seemingly inordinate amount of what I understood as elementary linear time had transpired since my initial awakening out there in the vast expanse of here. I lived an uncomplicated life of providing the basic necessities to assure the continuation of my existence only. I gathered knowledge and wisdom, accumulated feelings, and formed relationships with others I’d discovered around me. We weren’t all the same but we were all here for the same common purpose… which I was still a little hazy on.

I lay in the private chamber of my abode, a simple white affair of sleek organic lines and non-geometric planes. I had learned about myself plentifully, but in all this time, I was yet to be assigned an identity. Although I was aware of the central core to my being, I had not seen my true self… as was the same with everyone else here. On chancing another being, the same phenomenon would occur; the identity focal point was always obscured by a dark void just waiting to be filled. And there was the repeated light geometric form always, which I now understood as being a triangle with a ring encircling a fine dot point at its apex. Curious, but familiar now.

This particular moment in time was different. I felt a yearning to rise and venture to where I had not yet been: to the sacred place. I arose and draped my loose-fitting robes around me. Outside I was met by my companion: a small noisy critter that followed me to all places and would accompany me again in this moment. I but thought of transport and felt the familiar rush of time and space swirl around me, my previous location being replaced by the towering, glittering edifice that was the temple. The translucent pillars rose from their solid crystal plinths, disappearing into the void like soft beams of light.

I felt my companion fuss below me, making its intention clear that it was keen to follow me in. Alas, this was not to be and for the first time I felt the searing weight of loss and sadness on realising that our acquaintance had arrived at its natural end. I took a furtive step towards the temple entrance before turning one last time to my friend and expressing forward what I always had in its presence. We both knew that I would never return.

Inside the gleaming crystal structure, I was greeted by a host of similarly robe-clad beings. I was escorted to a dimly lit circular hall bearing a solid stone dais at its axis and, surprisingly, the repeated light geometric triangular shape branded on almost every surface. I was bid to recline. The robed beings encircled me, holding on to one another and began murmuring softly under their breaths. A quiet chant.

I lay peacefully for a while before feeling the extraordinary sensation of weightlessness. I felt light, in both senses of the word, and a warm peace spread over every fibre of my being – not just within the semi-physical vessel that I inhabited presently, but everything and everywhere. At that moment I felt the full expanse of my true self swell and spread and I came to realise oneness with everything there ever was and will ever be.

I was a part of everything and everything was a part of me.

I felt lift and then the awareness of being propelled out into the extreme vastness and farthest reaches of the Universe to finally alight in the place where I was destined.

I opened my eyes; unfamiliar sights, sounds, textures. I felt cold. I was hungry. I heard a gurgling sound emerge from my lungs.

I cried for the very first time.