Peace Of Mind

 

“Why did you pick me? Why do you think I can help you?” I said.

I took a sip from the vodka she’d poured me when I arrived.

 “Because you found those kids when no one else could.”

I’d heard this speech before, or some version of it. There is something mystical about being able to do something that no-one else can, I guess. 

And then there’s the kidnapped kids element — tugging at the heartstrings.

 “Do you know how I pulled that off — the high point of my career?”

She looked at me over the rim of her glass. Her blond hair was still pulled back, and I wondered what she looked like first thing in the morning.

“I was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t know they were there. I was banging on that door because someone had hemmed me in — parked so close that I couldn’t move my car. I was tired and pissed off from chasing the story all day — asking questions of people who didn’t want to answer, or couldn’t, and I guess I sounded angry. The fuckwit must have thought I was the police and he legged it out the back door. When the front door came open, and that little face looked up at me and said, ‘Have you come to save us?’ I just froze. I expected to get a shotgun pushed into my face.”

She never broke eye contact, and I thought she was going to say something, but she just gazed at me with those eyes. Now I was wondering what she would look like after a torrid afternoon in a hotel bedroom.

“The kids were all scared and tired and grubby, and except for the boy who opened the door, they were all silent. I sat on the old vinyl couch in the living room with the kids and waited for the police to arrive. I’m not sure that the switchboard operator believed me when I rang it in. I left the front door open to show that we were in there and we were okay, but it didn’t stop the Special Response Squad from bursting in with the familiar sound of ‘ARMED POLICE. GET ON THE GROUND.’ I still have that fuckers knee print on my back.”

She held her glass tightly, her lips slightly apart and I wondered all sorts of things about those lips.

 “They caught Stanley James Smith a few houses away, and I got a curt apology for being roughed up. You know how it is Mr Fox. We can’t be too careful. Sorry about arresting you and all the rest.” I said with my best ‘cop in charge’ accent.

 “I asked him what his name was. Commander Wilson. I was in charge of the search. He put his hand out to shake mine — for the cameras. Fuck you very much, Commander Wilson,” was my reply — or words to that effect. The Commander smiled at me and said, Fair enough. We both produced our best smiles for the camera.

About a year later I won the Walkley Award for my series of articles on the Cameron Street Primary School kidnapping. The story stretched over four Saturday editions — about twenty thousand words and not once did I mention the kidnapper’s name — didn’t give the fucker what he wanted — fame.”

“But you got yours — fame, I mean,” she said.

“Yes, I did, and every time someone mentions those kids, I feel like apologising.”

“You must have done something right in another life — the Universe likes you.”

“Maybe. The votes aren’t in yet. So exactly what is it you think I can find for you?”

“Peace of mind,” she said.

“I charge extra for peace of mind.”

Prophesy

It all started innocently enough, but by the time it was over I was very rich, lives were destroyed, and three people lay dead.

“No one should ever know their future,” she said with that lovely little smile that I remember so affectionately. By the time this all developed, my mother had been dead for more than fifteen years, but I look back now, and I remember her words. She was fearful of the future and what it may hold. Her fear was rooted in her past, and it coloured everything she saw.

I’d been attending the Meditation Circle for a couple of years. I’d ‘found my feet’ again after wandering aimlessly for many years.

“Come along one night; You’ll enjoy yourself, and you might just learn something. You’re a moody bugger, Billy. You need help. Get off your arse and get your head straight.”

He was annoying, but he was right. If I didn’t do something I was going to slip back into that black hole again. I could feel it coming on.

The lady who ran the group was friendly and warm.

“Hi, I’m Trevina, and I facilitate the group. We are all equal here. It’s a Circle and no one sits at the head of a Circle.”

‘Good luck with that,’ was what I was thinking, but I didn’t say it out loud.

“Thanks for making space for me Trevina. My mate dragged me along. There are a lot more blokes here than I expected?”

“Souls don’t know if they are male or female. We just ‘are’,” she said.

“I guess,” was all I could think of as I made a mental note of where the exit was.

Trevina glided off in the direction of a bunch of middle-aged females who were clutching coffee as though their lives depended on it. We were in the middle of spring, but the evenings were still cool. Someone had turned on the heater, and the large room had an easy, comfortable feel to it. Chairs were arranged in a circle, and each chair had a different coloured cushion on the seat.

“Those cushions could tell a story or two,” said a rather tall lady. She stood almost as tall as my six feet, and she had perfectly brushed, slightly coloured hair which could not completely disguise her seventy years of life. She had a twinkle in her eyes, and I knew I had found a friend.

“Somewhere there is an Op Shop that is completely out of cushions,” I said.

“Collected over many years, I should think. Many a bottom has compressed them, and they keep coming back for more.”

“What would you say that was a sign of?” I asked.

“Perseverance, I should think,” she said.

“So what do you do here ……..?”

“Norma. We find ourselves.”

“Sounds like something someone would have said in a 70s movie,” I said.

“If you keep coming you will find out what I mean.”

“Now you have me intrigued. I was thinking about what we were going to have for supper when we eventually get out of here and now you’ve got me thinking about hippie girls in tight jeans with free love in their hearts.”

“I used to be one of those girls. It was a lot of fun at the time.” She gave me that smile that I was to see on the face of many of the people who regularly attended this Circle. Anywhere else, and I would say that it was smug, but not here. Not in this room. Here it seemed to suggest that they knew something that the rest of us did not know. They knew that the knew. Amazingly, they were happy to share what they had discovered.

I looked to see if I could find the friend who had brought me. Ross was standing on the far side of the room talking to a skinny female. She hugged him, and he walked in my direction.

“What’s with all the hugging? Not that I want to discourage females from hugging me, but I must say that I haven’t come across so much hugging since I was in kindergarten.”

“You’ll get used to it. It comes with the philosophy.”

“You haven’t walked me into some religious cult have you, Ross?”

“No, you crazy bugger! Exactly the opposite. Everyone here takes personal responsibility for the way they live their lives. They don’t live by some old man’s dogma.”

“Okay, take it easy. I was just joking. So no religious mumbo-jumbo. So what do you do?”

“We meditate and we discuss stuff. Some of the regulars are Mediums and Psychics, and they need the mental discipline that regular meditation brings.”

“Do you have any fortune tellers?” I was winding him up, but he didn’t bite.

Someone walked past us and headed for the coffee urn, and I could have sworn that they said, “That’s why you are here.”

I turned and looked at them, but they didn’t return my gaze. The person who might have said that was a short dark haired female, probably in her late thirties. She was the only female in the room who was wearing a dress; all the others were rugged up in slacks and pants.

“She’s cute, and she’s going to find that house.”

“What house? Do you know her? What the fuck are you on about Billy? You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Never mind. Just find a seat and try not to annoy anyone.”

“Fuck you blondy. They love me here.”

“I’m not blond anymore dimwit; I’m old and grey.”

He was right. We were ‘getting on a bit’. Not exactly old, but not young anymore either.

So, the Circle settled down, and the meditation began.

Ross was right, and as the next couple of years went by he continued to be right. My mind settled down; I discovered that I could do things that most people could only dream about, and I learned to love this rag-tag bunch of misfits.

I hugged a lot of people, and I listened as the Mediums among us connected with the Spirits of dead relatives and friends. I watched the tears flow, and I saw the laughter in their eyes. I learned that I could, under certain circumstances, tell what was going to happen to people in the future. I wasn’t the only one who could do this, but I was the best.

As long as these happenings stayed within the Circle, there weren’t any problems. We all understood the unwritten rules. No lottery numbers and no bad news.

For some reason, it was impossible to read your future, only someone else’s.

Mostly, the information was vague and general, but helpful. People in the Circle loved it, and I became a bit of a minor celebrity. My ego could handle it and because I was so grateful for my deliverance from the black hole of depression I was very careful not to do anything that might jinx my luck.

If I had to put my finger on it, I would say that it all started to unravel when I switched to the daytime sessions.

Trevina ran a nighttime group which I attended, and a Friday morning group. She asked me if I would like to come to the morning group. My work schedule was flexible, so I said yes.

When we took a break for a cup of tea, I liked to sit out on the footpath in front of the old shop that was our meeting place. The building had a long and colourful history, and I’m now quite sure that its energy contributed to what was about to happen.

The group would be deep in conversation fuelled by the events of the morning and copious amounts of caffeine. I’d take a chair out into the sunlight and sit quietly with my mug of terrible coffee and gather my thoughts. It wouldn’t be long before someone would wander out and join me, but for a few moments I had the sun and the solitude, and it was wonderful.

The shop had a verandah which, in the days when it was built, would have protected the shoppers from the inclement weather that is a feature of our mountain climate.

To catch the rays of the sun I moved my chair slightly out from under the metal clad verandah and as I look back I realise that this was the final piece of the puzzle.

As the pretty lady with the coloured hair joined me and broke my solitude, I noticed a delivery van pull up. The driver got out and proceeded to open the back of his van.

“He’s going to have a hell of a headache,” I heard myself say.

Dianne, the pretty lady with the colourful hair, said, “What do you mean?”

I blinked a couple of times and tried to form an answer.

The delivery driver opened the back of his van, and a large cardboard box hit him right between the eyes. He went down hard, and a bunch of us retrieved him from under the contents of his badly packed van.

The wounds on the front and the back of his head were producing a lot of blood, and some of the bystanders were expressing their alarm.

“He’ll be fine. But in a couple of days, when the police search his house he’s going to be in a heap of trouble.”

The onlookers went quiet for a moment, and many of them were looking at me.

“A garage full of stolen white goods,” I said.

A week later, at our next Circle, someone showed me the local newspaper.

The delivery driver was arrested after the police visited him to talk about a noisy dog complaint. They had the wrong house and the wrong street, and they apologised and turned to leave when the driver’s son opened the garage door to retrieve his skateboard.

Everyone thought it was funny, but I had a sinking feeling. This premonition was way wilder than anything I had come up with before.

I took my cup of piss-weak coffee out on to the footpath and soaked up the sunlight.

When I opened my eyes, there were a bunch of people standing around me silently waiting for me to say something.

“What the bloody hell do you lot want?” I said.

“Tell us what is going to happen,” said a slightly scruffy older lady.

“You knew about the truck driver,” said a tall man in workman’s clothes.

“I’ll tell you what is going to happen. You are all going to bugger off and stop annoying me. I don’t know anything you don’t know.”

This wasn’t exactly true. As I looked at each person, I could see a scene being played out in my head.

The little boy with the scab on his knee was going to get a puppy for his birthday, and they would grow up together. The scruffy old lady would be dead before Christmas, and no one would come to her funeral. The bloke in the workman’s clothes would find a wallet and return it to its owner intact. The owner of the wallet would, in turn, facilitate the entry of the workman’s son into a private school and the experience would lead the boy into a sad life of drugs and crime.

“Don’t give the wallet back. Stick it in the mail and don’t put your address on the package.” The workman looked at me like I had just stepped on his foot.

“How did you know about the wallet. I only found it this morning?” he said.

As I looked at him, I knew he would ignore my advice. I wanted to tell him what was going to happen, but I had a strong sense that what I was seeing was going to happen no matter what I said.

The worker looked shocked as he produced the wallet from his back pocket and held it in mid-air. I had the feeling that he wanted it to fly away so that he would not have to decide.

Things escalated rather quickly from there.

My mate could see the profit potential, and I tried to talk him out of it. I like the quite life. I needed a bit more money, who doesn’t, but this seemed to me to be against the spirit of what we had learned.

I did my best to avoid the limelight, but I knew when I looked at Ross that he would eventually work out that his ability combined with the energy of this amazing old building would produce a similar result for him and anyone else with a modicum of ability.

It got crazy and dangerous, and I did my best to steer clear.

There were a few dead bodies, as a result, but I’ll tell you about them some other time.

I’ll bet you are wondering how I became rich, especially as I mentioned that I cannot read for myself.

Cast your mind back to me sitting outside the shop in the sun before anyone knew what I could do.

Across the road from our meeting place is a shop that sells newspapers, greeting cards and lottery tickets.

I was enjoying the sunlight when I noticed an agitated young man. He attracted my attention as he stood outside the shop obviously deciding whether to go in or not. It occurred to me that he thought that this was his last chance.

As I looked at him, I could see two possible futures for him, and each one hinged on his decision. As he stood frozen on the footpath, his future was nothing but misery and disappointment ending in his death from alcohol-related complications.

Eventually, he moved towards the shop door and the pictures I saw changed dramatically. The money he was destined to win would not solve all his problems, but his life certainly improved, at least, it did for the foreseeable future.

In my head, I watched him filling out the lottery form. I quickly wrote down the numbers and, needless to say; we shared the massive amount that the lottery had built up as it had remained unclaimed for several weeks.

I have never told anyone this story, and I’m counting on you to keep it to yourself.

People get a bit crazy where money is concerned, and I like a quite life. 

Nearmiss

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I’d been delayed, and as I walked back to my table, the rising sun sent a soft golden glow across the Piazza.

My assistant was no longer sitting at the table. His working night had ended, and he was probably propping up the bar at Il Baccaro or wrapped around one of the night owl females who frequent this part of the city.

I love the early morning. Most of the evening people are seeking refuge in a cafe; bacon and eggs over the latest wholegrain toast, black coffee, no sugar and a bleary-eyed remembrance of an evening that will not come again.

As I approach the table I see my tally book lying where my assistant had left it. My keys lie on top of the book, undisturbed.

I like keys. I prefer an analogue solution to security wherever I can find it. I’m not disturbed by electronics; it’s just that I like the feeling of a key turning in a lock and the sound they make when they jangle in my pocket.

The huge black umbrella is not offering any shade to the two well dress gentlemen seated at my table; the sun is way too low. I have a sense that there was a third man seated where I usually sit. He hasn’t been absent from the table for very long, and I’m wondering if he is due to return.

The two well-dressed men give me a lazy glance.

I’m still in evening dress and although I’m a little dusty, well presented after a long night of keeping ‘book’ for the rich and famous. Millions of dollars and only a few slips of paper to show for all that activity.

My two ‘guests’ are dressed in expensive suits and carrying expensive guns, well concealed. The value of what they are wearing would purchase a well-kept second-hand Mercedes. Where they come from the streets are full of Mercedes and during their Civil War, a few decades ago, the news footage showed armed men, ambulances and swirling smoke. Even the taxis were Mercedes. The vehicle of choice for a Middle Eastern civil conflict.

My occupation didn’t require me to carry a concealed weapon, but I did. A large calibre two barreled Derringer strapped to my right ankle, and I’m proud to say that I’ve only needed to draw it once.

Part of my job is calculating the odds; seeing the trouble coming before it arrives. I have had to dodge the occasional closed fist and the well-aimed polished boot, but mostly I can calm a situation down before it comes to that. Sore losers are an occupational hazard.

I brushed the dust and a few flower petals off my seat before I sat down and the larger of the two well-dressed gentlemen said, “You may not want to sit there Mr Barker. In fifty seconds, it is going to be unhealthy for anyone who is sitting in that chair.”

Fifty-seconds isn’t very long to decide if he was just a smart arse and I’d used up a few of them calculating the odds.

It seemed safer to assume that he was telling the truth when he and his silent companion, who was directly in the follow-through line of fire, got slowly up from the table and walked away. The taller one had to duck to avoid hitting his head on the umbrella.

I picked up my book and my keys and left the table with as much composure as I could muster.

After I had taken a few steps, I heard the zip of the bullet and the crack of the splintering chair and table top. The bullet would have struck the quiet gentleman somewhere between the groin and the kneecap.

There was no audible bang. The shot must have come from a considerable distance. The police would work all that out at their leisure, but now I had some celebrating to do. I had ‘dodged a bullet’ and made a lot of money all over the course of an eventful evening.

Now, if I were lucky, Gilda would be home waiting for me.

I must say that’s misleading. Gilda never waits for me. She does her own thing. It’s just that we share a very expensive apartment, and we sometimes arrive there at the same time, usually early in the morning. On those occasions, we sometimes do the sorts of things that men and women like to do.

The apartment has glass walls on two sides, and I never draw the blinds. I love the view that it affords. The ancient part of the city is, by now, bathed in the golden light that this section of the world is famous for.

This morning, Gilda arrived home before I did. She is making eggs in her underwear. Her body isn’t perfect. Her torso is slightly too long when compared to her beautiful legs. I consider her breasts to be perfect, but some would say that they could be a little larger. She has long black hair, dimples on her bottom and delightful pink toes.

Last night she had been wearing a black bra and panties — lots of lace. I see the dress she was wearing hanging on the outside of her huge wardrobe.

Not including the bathroom, our apartment is one large room with a king-sized bed in the middle. I hope to be lying on that bed a little later and I’m hopeful that I will be knee-deep in Gilda, but it will depend on the type of night she has had.

My carnal ‘ace’ will be the story about nearly being shot. That kind of ‘near miss’ adventure story has given me the green light before.

Gilda gathers information and what she collects makes her a lot of money. It’s exciting and dangerous, and she loves every minute of it. She has an incredible memory and in her line of work it needs to be.

She knows I’m in the apartment, but she does not look up from her breakfast preparations. I remove my jacket, tie and Derringer and stand behind her. She smells amazing. Her scent produced over a long night’s work mixed with the remnants of her French perfume, and my equipment is on full alert.

I place my hand on her bottom and my expectations for the morning are in my hand. If she brushes me away, it means the night went badly and so will my morning.

She does not react, but neither does she dispense with my wandering hand. So far so good. My luck is holding.

“If you keep doing that you won’t get any breakfast,” she says in a voice that gives me further hope.

“That’s a tough choice for a man, food or carnal delights.”

“I didn’t say you had to choose.”

I couldn’t tell if she was smiling, because I was looking in another direction and imagining my good fortune.

A good breakfast and the delicious Gilda to follow.

I didn’t get shot, and I’m going to get laid.

It’s been an awesome day.

Book Review: Slightly Spooky Stories.

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There was a knock at the front door and the dogs went nuts.

They really hate that ‘delivery bloke’.

We had been spending time with a friend the night before. Dinner at an Indian restaurant in Olinda [a beautiful part of the Dandenong Ranges, not far from our home]. A couple of glasses of wine, and unseasonably warm evening, and a couple of ‘slightly spooky stories’ supplied by the owner of the restaurant. When you hang out with Mediums interesting things happen. He told us a few stories about being aware of Spirits and my friends tried to connect him with his grandmother, but the staff were getting restless — it was late and they wanted to go home — fair enough, a conversation for another day.

We went back to our friends house and the conversation flowed well into the morning. Fortunately, I’d stopped imbibing somewhat earlier so my head was in reasonable shape when we heard the knock at the door.

You would think that I would be very pleased to see my latest book in print, and I was, but this moment [six books so far] is always a bit of a letdown.

So much goes into the publishing of a book you probably wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t been through it. Then the final part of a very long process arrives at your door, and the project is finally complete [well almost, there is always the constant marketing….. like this article].

The idea for this book [anthology] came about while I was writing TRUST: What it feels like to be a medium. I wanted to add a couple of stories that came into being because of the influence of a reading I had given or seen given by others. I then realised that I have written a lot of stories that are vaguely ‘spooky’ [I don’t do horror, it’s not my thing]. I bundled them all together and sure enough, there was more than enough for an anthology. [book two in this series is well under way]

As many of you will know, I often use an illustration or photograph to kickstart a story. Many of these stories happened the other way around and I had to find a suitable illustration to go with each story. This is where my talented son Matthew comes into the story. Matt lets me use lots of his photographs to headline my stories. Naturally, a lot of my inspiration comes from other people’s illustrations and it would not be right to use them in a book without asking permission. This would be a huge task and not viable for a writer who aims to break even and possibly make a bit more to convince his wife that people really do want to read what he writes.

I’ve been a photographer since the early 1970s, but all my early work went missing when we moved house in ’86, and a lot of my early digital work disappeared when I experienced my first hard drive crash, so I’m very happy that I can choose some of Matt’s excellent photos to enhance my stories. Slightly Spooky Stories has several of his photos, but the really important one is the cover shot. I told him about the project I was working on and he sent me this shot and I was blown away. It was taken in the main street of Belgrave which is the next town further up the mountain from mine. Walking distance in fact. It’s a time capsule shot of sorts as the street artwork has deteriorated quite a bit since this shot was taken.

The first story in the collection is a particular favourite of mine and was honoured, a little while ago, by being chosen for inclusion in one of Australia’s premier literary magazines, Southerly [The Long Paddock, their on-line edition]. Naturally, I was very proud and more than a little bit surprised considering the stack of rejection letters I had been collecting up to that point. I don’t submit my stories to Lit’ Mag’s anymore so this might be my last and biggest success [several of my stories have found homes in magazines all over the world and a full list is in the back of SSS]

The stories in the book vary in length with ‘Emily’ being the longest, but ‘An AK47 and a banana’ comes in a close second.

In this modern busy world, this is the perfect book to read on the tram or the train on the way to work.

The longest story takes about 20 minutes to read, but most are much shorter.

If you chose to read the book in bed you will not have nightmares but each story will make you wonder what came before and what happened after.

Naturally, you can purchase this book as an eBook as well as a paperback. It is available from Amazon, Apple, Smashwords [all formats] as well as Kobo and Barnes and Noble.

The paperback is available from me, and if you are in North America you can purchase it from my printers, Blurb [postage makes it a bit more expensive if you are outside of North America].

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This book has traveled a long way and so have I.

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If there is such a thing as a ‘book selfie’ then this is it.

A Bit of the Other.

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The sun was getting low, and its height exactly matched my mood.

When things get bad, I have strategies.

Top of that list is walking.

It occurred to me that I had not walked this way in a long while and I wondered why. With the sun filtering golden light through the tall pine trees I was instantly transported back to a moment in my childhood — some sort of fete or carnival, pine trees, afternoon sun and a feeling that the world was a remarkable place to be.

The tennis courts were cut deeply into the side of the hill, and I wondered why the soft mountain soil had not washed away over the years. Hard timber benches lined the top of the cutting presumably so that people could sit and watch the games — the games being played some twenty feet below.

This high vantage point gave the activity a surreal quality — more like a movie than real-life.

All of the other players had left for the warmth of their homes and their loved ones. For some, it would be a quick shower and out again to enjoy the nightlife. For others, it would be a quiet night in front of the fire with good conversation or the comfort of a well-chosen book.

The following day meant a return to work with only memories of a long weekend to share with those who would stop and listen.

Work did not beckon me.

My life was on hold and only time would tell which way it would go.

I walked to the last of the three courts which also offered the highest vantage point.

A young couple were playing a listless game, and it seemed to me that the man was very patient with the two females on the opposite side of the net.

I supposed that he was playing both of them at once because he considered himself a superior player, but his demeanour did not support my supposition.

The two females were dressed in the same cute, short tennis clothes — the kind that conveniently reveals frilly knickers whenever they bend over to retrieve a ball.

It was an odd convention that a man was allowed to watch a woman play tennis in a short skirt, but under different circumstances, he would be rebuked for staring.

What odd creatures we humans are.

One of the women seemed a little paler than the other, but apart from that, they could have passed for twin sisters, at least from my elevation.

The paler one appeared to be the superior player, but even so, she got distracted from time to time and often retrieved the ball in the slow dawdling manner of a child.

The male remained patient throughout, and I admired his calmness.

I could remember similar occasions when all I wanted was a decent workout, and all I got was a giggling opponent who couldn’t hit a ball to save herself. We had to abandon that game because my partner was afraid of disgracing herself.

“If we hadn’t stopped I was going to pee myself.”

I was mildly amused, but I hadn’t raised much of a sweat. Her tennis dress was driving me crazy, and I remember asking her to keep it on when we got back to her place. The knickers had to go, but I liked the dress, and I got my workout, but there was not a lot of tennis involved.

If I had behaved in an impatient manner my evening might have turned out quite differently, and I wondered if that was what was motivating the patient young man at the far end of the court, but somehow I doubted it — there was something else going on.

The late afternoon light can cause a person to see things that are not there, but in this case, I thought it was causing me to see something that shouldn’t be there.

From my hardwood perch, high above the ‘brick dust’ courts, it seemed to me that the paler of the two women was in fact slightly transparent.

It seemed that I could see her, but I could also see through her.

Not like a pane of glass, for she had form and substance, but more a sensation that I could see her and beyond her, all at the same time.

There wasn’t anyone nearby to ask, ‘Can you see what I can see?’ And in any case, I doubt that I would have asked the question. My world was strange enough as it was and I guess I didn’t want to believe that I might be ‘loosing it’ completely.

Tingles ran up my spine as I watched the three people gather up their belongings and leave the court.

I was left with my thoughts and the fading light.

A few moments later, after the three people had disappeared from view as they walked close to the cliff and past the courts, one of the women and the patient young man walked up the steep path and passed by my seat.

I’d assumed that they would continue down the hill to the carpark or back towards the town.

The young man walked on a few paces and stopped, but avoided my gaze.

The woman stopped next to me and while staring at her tennis shoes, as though she had not seen them before, said, “You were watching our game. Do you often watch strangers enjoying themselves?”

“I watch people all the time,” I heard myself say.

I answered partly because her presence made me feel light and free of concern. I know that sounds a bit strange, but that is how she made me feel. I’m long past the age where I become speechless around a pretty girl, but I was surprised at how quickly I responded.

“I didn’t mind you watching, but I think you made my friend a bit nervous.”

“Your friend looks a lot like you. So much so that I took her for your sister. A twin possibly?”

“I meant my boyfriend,” she said.

She didn’t say anything else for quite some time.

She seemed a little uneasy, and I was keen to know why her mood had changed so suddenly, but I was not going to break the silence.

“Did you see her? she said, with a slight emphasis on the word ‘her’.

“Of course. It’s hard to miss two beautiful women who look so alike. She’s a better player than you are if you don’t mind me saying?”

As I said this, it occurred to me that I should not have. I was enjoying talking to this person, and I was in no hurry for it to end.

The boyfriend was staring at his shoes as well, but I don’t think he was wondering about them. He was quite keen on his tennis shoes propelling him and his girlfriend away from this conversation, but I also had the feeling that he had seen all of this before — maybe even a number of times.

I didn’t feel threatened by either of these people, and although this may sound strange to you, everyone had made me feel uneasy in recent times, but not these two.

Her reply took me by surprise, “You can see her?”

“Not right now,” I said, and I wasn’t trying to be funny, “but down on the court, I could see her clearly. She’s just as beautiful as you, but she has a more confident gait.”

“She’s more confident than me in most things. You might say that she’s the best of me.”

“Now you’ve got me really intrigued. Is she related to you? If not, why do you dress the same? I know enough about women to know that they don’t enjoy it if another woman is wearing the same outfit.”

“We are very closely related, but I’m more interested in why you can see her clearly.”

“Joan, this conversation is starting to bore me, and I think you should leave it alone. It is time for us to be going. We’re going out, remember?”

Until he spoke these words, I thought that I was not going to hear from him at all, but now that he had I sensed a tiredness in his words as well as the resignation that I had seen down on the court.

“My devilishly handsome boyfriend has a point, but I must say that you are the first person to tell me that you can see her clearly, and I want to know why assuming that you have the time to talk?”

“I do have the time, but I’m worried about you catching a cold.”

It’s true that I was looking at her legs and feeling just a tiny bit cheeky. Her long-suffering boyfriend gave me a look that said he was more than capable of being less than patient if the occasion required and I acknowledged his annoyance by looking away as he placed his white tennis jacket around her shoulders. He then retreated back to his original position on the pathway and continued his visual examination of his tennis shoes.

Her boyfriend’s jacket was way too big for her, but she looked cosy with it wrapped around her.

“She’s been with me for as long as I can remember. She ‘comes out’ whenever I have a specialist job to do. I guess she is that part of me which is good at whatever I’m attempting. When the job is done she becomes a part of me again, and that is why she is not with us now — the game is over. When I was little, I thought that everyone had an ‘other’. I called her ‘other Joan’, and I’m ashamed to say that I blamed her whenever things went wrong. Especially if something got broken — ‘other Joan did it, not me.’ Strangely, my ‘other’ never seemed to care — never seemed upset. She always understood. She was ‘the best of me’. I found her presence comforting, especially on those dark days when I doubted my usefulness to the world. In a funny kind of way, I was my own best example,” she said with a smile.

I found myself smiling as well.

Her situation seemed like a very good one, and I found myself wondering ‘why her and not me?’ Then I remembered I was the only person she had come across who could see her ‘better self’. Maybe that meant I had something special in me — because I could see the ‘special’ in her.

This was all starting to sound like I should rush out and hug a tree, but besides that unlikely image, I was feeling good for the first time in a long time.

As you would expect, our conversation continued for some time.

I half expected her to make an excuse and pull away, but she didn’t. She seemed almost as interested in our conversation as I was. I asked her how long she had lived with this ‘extra person’ in her life. Was it something that came on suddenly or had it always been that way?

“I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t so. I thought that everyone experienced an extra self and I reasoned that most people were shy, so the subject didn’t come up — the same way that best friends don’t talk about all their adventures.

I was amazed at how quickly I became comfortable with the idea.

In the end, her boyfriend became impatient again.

“Joan, we have dinner with Trevor and Jackie tonight. We need to get going?”

Despite his growing impatience, he had an easy-going good humour that told me he’d to come to terms with his girlfriend’s friendly nature very early in the relationship.

They both looked quite young, but their demeanour said otherwise.

My best guess was early 20s. He was about 6 feet tall, and she was about 6 inches shorter. They were athletically built and attractive.

It was the woman’s smile that you noticed first.

I was quite sure she could defuse any volatile situation by simply flashing that smile.

When they finally moved away, bags over their shoulders, I watched them go without any feelings of self-consciousness.

I wanted to see if the young woman would turn and look in my direction one more time.

She did, and I saw her lips move before the words registered.

“Your inquisitive self is showing.”

I thought she was just being cute until I caught a glimpse of the second shadow on the ground very close to mine.

“You ask very good questions.”

“Thank you,” was my startled reply.

It’s a strange thing to be complimented by a slightly transparent version of yourself.

It had been a surreal day and the evening was looking decidedly bizarre as well.

“Where are we going for dinner tonight?” said my slightly transparent self.

“Excellent question,” was my reply.

Life Under The Sun.

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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

“You know what I like about this job?”

 

“OK, I’ll bite, what do you like about this job?”

 

“The hours…hohohohohahahahah.”

 

“ Didn’t see that coming.”

 

“Did ya get it? The hours. Not bad if I do say so myself.”

 

“Time is irrelevant to us but not to them, got it.

Now, let me ask you.

Why are you in this job?

There was no reason why you couldn’t go back, was there?

You don’t seem like a someone who had reached the end of his evolution, so why are you here?”

 

“They did give me a choice.

They said I could go back, though why anyone would want to is beyond me.

But they said that I would be wasting my time.

I’ve experienced it all and they reckon that it hasn’t made that much difference.”

 

“Yeah, I can hear them saying it. Pompous bunch that lot. No malice in them but pompous just the same. So, you don’t get to go back?”

 

“No, I can go back, but as support crew.

You know what I mean.

If one of my group needs a bit player then I can put my hand up.

To be honest that’s OK by me.

I don’t enjoy being there all that much.

So, doing a ‘walk on’ suits me just fine.”

 

“Who do you get to fill in for you while you’re away?”

 

“I don’t bother.

I just invoke ‘frozen time’ until I get back.

But, I must admit that all that ‘time’ stuff was a bit confusing when I first came home.

It takes a bit of adjusting.

Besides, this part of the job is not as ‘hands on’ as when they are young.

And it isn’t as much fun.

They have trouble hearing you as they get older. That makes it a bit lonely.

I like it when they are young and I get to catch them when they fall off stuff, and I can play with them when they don’t have anyone else to play with, and I can tell them things because the rules are not as strict about that when they’re young.”

 

“Wouldn’t you rather be in the choir?”

 

“Nah, I like getting my hands dirty, so to speak.

Let’s face it, I’ve never been that bright.

Muscle was all I was good for when I was down there and it’s what I’m good for here. I don’t mind, I can go and listen to the choir any time I like.

They make me feel all tingley when I listen to them.”

 

“So how’s ‘yours’ getting on?”

 

“He’s pretty busy.

The missus is driving him crazy.

I had a talk to Ariel about that and she says that his missus is going through a bad patch but she has stopped asking for help so Ariel’s hands are tied.

I asked her to try a little harder because her person is driving my person round the bend and I feel like I should be able to help; at least a bit.

Add to that, the kids are getting into heaps of trouble.

I think that they are taking advantage of the mum being distracted.

I spoke to Barachiel and Cassiel and asked them to have a word.

After all, their persons can still hear them.

But they said they were having trouble getting through.

I asked them to try harder.

They didn’t like that and I thought that we were going to see some feathers flying but they knew I could take ‘em both if I had to so they backed off.

That brings me to another point.

Why does everyone get cool names like Ariel, Barachiel and Cassiel and I get Bob?

Answer me that.”

 

“It’s your name dude.

It’s the one you got right back at the beginning.

I like Bob.

It’s strong, dignified, well maybe not dignified, but it is strong.”

 

“That’s easy for you to say, your name’s Dominions.

I can just see it written down somewhere……. ‘and we sent Dominions to deal with the plague; oh yes, and Bob went too,’ very inspiring.

By the way, how did that plague thing work out?”

 

“Rats mostly.

It took a while but once I managed to get that little bloke to listen, they worked out that if they got the rats under control the whole thing settled down.

We lost a lot of persons along the way though.

Couldn’t be helped but.

There was much screaming and crying and stuff so I guess they couldn’t hear me.

That little bloke was good though.

Once he figured it out, things started to improve very quickly.

I asked to be excused from the next one.

I don’t think I’m right for that sort of thing.

Still, you go where you are sent.”

 

“I thought you did a good job on that one.

It went on a bit but they didn’t have much in the way of medicine back then and they were a superstitious lot so you did well to get through to one who would listen.

By the way, what do you think of that new bloke in the Mediums section?”

 

“He all right.

Friendly enough but he’s so new.

It’s not that long since he finished his last tour.

But I guess that could help him in his work.

Having been one of them so recently has got to help.

I find that the longer it has been since I was one of them the harder it is for me to remember how they think.

I remember that it was particularly annoying having to drag around that body all day and all night.

At least when I feel asleep I could be free again for a few hours.

That was fun, but then I would have to go back and that hurt.

Do you remember ‘hurt’?”

 

“Do I what!

Took all the fun out of it.

Not a big fan of ‘hurt.’

I hate to see my person in pain.

I know that they signed up for it and all that, but still, just the same, I don’t like it.”

 

“You know the bit I like?”

 

“What?”

 

“When they get back here and they start to remember what they have always known.

I never get sick of seeing that look on their face.

Magic.”

 

“Yeah, me too.

Makes it all worthwhile.

I’ve enjoyed talking to you but I better get back to it.

My person is only just holding it together and he needs my strength.

Strength is what I’m good at.”

 

“Good on ya mate.

He’s in good hands.

‘Bob is on the job.’”