Saturday, January 14, 2012

Where now?

Written for Sunday Scriblings 'Tribe' and Carry On Tuesday # 140




"There are just ten of us, that’s all. None of us remembers life before the Tribe. Did we have lives before? Some of us resemble children, others adults. One of us looks older and wiser than any person I’ve ever seen before, yet like ours, his face is featureless,smooth and pale as alabaster. We are like living statues."
  
Julie and John couldn’t have children of their own. They’d long ago resigned themselves the fact. They became short term foster parents but handing back one child after another became more painful every time so they gave it up. They couldn’t understand why with so many parentless children in the world, they seemed unable to adopt one. The pain of waiting was beginning to put a strain on their relationship. One night John, unable to sleep, wandered over to the bedroom window. At first he thought he was dreaming, for there in the middle of the lawn stood ten motionless bodies attired in white hooded cloaks. The only features on their smooth white faces were laser-like eyes which dazzled him as he watched, standing there, staring. A shiver ran through his body. When he awoke in the morning he thought it must have been a dream.

"We don't sleep like Julie and John. We have no need for food. We have no need for water or any of the things those in the outside world rely on. We simply exist, and exist simply. We are sitting in a circle among the trees. It’s dark all around. A white mist is swirling between the skeletal branches over head. The Wise One slowly rises to his feet; a moonbeam shimmers over his hunched form like white water across rocks. He looks upwards. ‘Where now?’ he croaks."

Hard Arthur they called him. Never worked, at least not legally. Everyone avoided him, no one crossed him. He lived in a shadowy world where people who owe money disappear and revenge killings are said to be his speciality. He was married once. No one knows what happened to her. He was left with a child, a boy called Mark. He looked about seven years old although he may have been older. Mark, all skin and bone lived in a wheelchair; he had for as long as people could remember. Quite why he ended up unable to walk was subject of much speculation among the folk of the grim estate on which they lived. Even the Children’s Service kept well clear for fear of what might happen if they interfered. One night Arthur was slumped in a tatty old chair staring at his TV in a drunken stupor, whilst Mark was curled up in his bed crying after another beating for something he doesn't remember doing. Arthur heard a noise, a roaring sound from outside. The wind started howling and branch went rat-a-tat on a window pane. He pulled himself up and staggered unsteadily across the room to door.  As he twisted the handle the force of the gale caught the door and flung him out into the garden. Suddenly all was still. He layed there surrounded by ten ghostly figures, some small, some tall but all with the same featureless faces and piercing laser eyes. The next morning and he was found floating face down in the river. How he got here no one knows; no one cares.

 "So why am I one of the Tribe? What am I doing here? Was I once one of the others in the outside world? Did I ever know Hard Arthur? I’m not happy, but I’m not sad. I just am. One day is the same as the next but we don’t know boredom. Right now the Wise One is standing before us, arms splayed as if asking for guidance. ‘Who now?’ he mutters."

Following Hard Arthur's death, his son Mark was taken into care. He had never been happier. You would think that being consigned to a wheel chair watching his friends in the children’s home playing ball would upset him. But no, he now lives in a world where people care about him. He’s not known that before. Gone are the days when he used to sneak down in the middle of the night to find a crust of bread because he was so hungry. Now his clothes are clean and the sheets on his bed smell like flowers. One night something happened; something that was to change Mark’s life. It was like a dream, only it wasn’t. He heard the sound of an owl outside the dormitory window. It seemed to be calling him.  He pushed back the covers and slowly sat up. And then he did something he could not remember ever doing before. He stood. Slowly he put one foot in front of the other and began to totter unsteadily towards the window. He pulled back the curtain and jumped as the owl flapped in his face and flew up into the sky. Then he saw them. He rubbed his eyes with his little clenched fists expecting to see nothing when he opened them again. But they were still there. Ten people all dressed in white. Two of them were small like Mark, and their laser bright eyes looked straight into his.

 "Children in the outside world run around. They climb trees and play hide and seek. Mark, the boy we visited last night will now. The little ones in the Tribe don’t. They just sit like the adults. I'm  wondering if I’m a bit different from the rest of the Tribe. I mean, I’m sitting here and thinking. Are the others thinking? Sometimes when I’m deep in thought the rest of them turn their heads towards me and just stare as if they are trying to read my mind. Perhaps they know that I’m questioning our existence. The Wise One is on his feet again. Where now I wonder? "

It was just before Christmas. Whilst Julie and John quite enjoyed Christmas, one thing was always missing from their celebration. One night some carol singers came to their door. There before them stood twenty or so children singing their hearts out; their round cheeks flushed pink, and their little button noses red from the cold. But a glow of warmth seems to radiate from them. Julie and John hardly spoke again that evening.  The next morning Julie was to go shopping and she’d given John the task of putting up the festive decorations. Just as she was getting into her car the phone rang indoors. John answered it. It was Beth, the lady from the Children’s Service. As he talked he banged on the window and beckoned Julie to come back. The next day    Beth wanted to bring a little boy from the children's home to see them. His name was Mark.  If all went well they would at last have a chance to adopt.


"Earlier today I was left on my own. The rest of the Tribe were huddled together; I knew they were talking about me. I am beginning to feel different. I seem to be growing away from my family and starting to become more inquisitive about life on the outside. Clearly they have sensed that too. It’s Christmas Day in the other world and I’m wondering if I’m missing something that I’d enjoy, not that I understand what joy feels like. Anyway, the Wise One is about to speak."


Julie, John and Mark were sitting around the Christmas tree opening presents. Mark always knew that people unwrapped parcels today, but he’d never had one before. It was the perfect family scene. It was dark earlier than usual that afternoon. John zigzagged across the room avoiding the scattered gifts, and started to close the curtains. He thought he was imagining things because outside the window stood the same ten motionless bodies in white cloaks that he saw all those weeks ago. They stared at him with their laser-like eyes. He screwed up his eyes for a second and the room began to spin a bit; perhaps he’d had one too many glasses of wine . Just as he thought, he must have imagined them, for when he opened his eyes they’d gone. Or had he imagined them?


"I’m standing here in the woods, in the dark and the mist is wafting around me. I’m surrounded by the Tribe. One by one they raise their right arm and point at me. Their eyes begin to send sabres of light into mine. The Wise One walks toward me. ‘Your work is done here’ he whispers, ‘away you go’. 'When?’ I ask. ‘Now’ he hisses."


I was sitting half watching one of those dreary reality shows on television when the phone rang. I thought about ignoring it and letting  the answer phone take the call for me . But then I decided I’d take it myself ; after all it may have been someone suggesting we go out for a beer, and right then I was pretty bored. Blow me down if I wasn’t right. It was John. We hadn't seen each other for months and he wanted to catch up. Young Mark it seems was in bed and Julie wanted to watch something girly on the box so he’d got permission to escape to the Dog and Duck.

Well, John always did have a fertile imagination, but what he told me that night took it to another level. Men in white sheets with green eyes? I ask you ; whatever next ?

May be continued!



9 comments:

  1. The interplay of stories made me think how subversive 'Janet and John' books were..I need to re-read..this is a delicious layer cake of words..Jae

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  2. Interesting! Didn't really understand the ten though, or who I is, lol. Well I guess I did, kind of, lol. I'm scratching my head here, you know.

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  3. I did re-read this and am not only mystified I am also hooked. This is just the appetiser to a series I think and has tremendous potential. What you think is a dog in the corner with his tongue lolling out is me!

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  4. This is so rich and ripe with possibilities. I will check in again next time.

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  5. You been mixing drinks again haven't you?

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  6. So many possibilities here. Continue, continue! Whitesnake says 'drinks.' Drinks or not, this has me hooked.

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  7. The boy from the Tribe was/is John's friend? I might be channeling too many sci-fi movies in this story to speculate. :D Two stories weaving in was a great touch.

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