Perilous Journey

by Charlotte Tsoku

He sat motionless staring into space.

“Are you ok?” Julie asked, brushing a strand of hair from his face.

“Can we meet at the park?” he enquired tapping his fingers on the table

“Of course” replied Julie, tilting her head backwards.

Julie took a deep breath, taking in the rich aroma of the coffee that filled the air.

Micah took a mouthful of the hot coffee savouring it`s taste.

“Shall I order you a mug of coffee?” he asked

“No thanks Love I`ve got an appointment with Prof!” she replied. A smile spread across her face, exposing a dazzling set of white teeth.

Julie stood for some time, transfixed to the spot, momentarily lost in thought. Her thoughts were in a turmoil.

Micah had acted strangely these past few days, she thought. He had changed since he met that girl with long black hair.

  Famida had joined their class late in the first semester. She had instinctively become friends to both them. Julie had gone out of her way to make Famida  

welcome to Wits University.

One day as they sat having dinner, Famida had blurted out that Micah`s parents would not approve of his relationship with Julie. The cultural differences she

 said were too vast to bridge.

Julie could not shake off the feeling that Famida   was secretly in love with Micah. Was he equally in love? Was he going to tell her today when they met at the park?

Julie`s thoughts went back to that enthralling evening in the cafeteria at Wits University.  They had had a couple of drinks which loosened their tongues. Micah had tipped a glass of red wine over Julie`s white blouse.  Julie was enraged, but when their eyes met, a spark ignited. They kissed passionately afterwards and became inseparable lovers since then.

Micah, sensing Julie`s presence was suddenly jolted back to life. He stood up and pulled her towards him.  His strong arms encircled her tiny waist, in a long tight grip.  A gasp of air escaped from Julie`s mouth. Breathing heavily Micah sealed her open pouting red lips with a deep passionate   kiss.

Whilst in this embrace, Famida walked in, strut across the floor with a familiar clank towards their table. She sat down, eyeing the two lovers with envy. They however, were oblivious of her presence. She cleared her throat loud enough for the two to jump apart.

Disentangling herself, Julie held Micah at arm`s length, admiring his tan and muscular body. A shiver ran down her spine, a yearning for consummation. She threw herself back into his arms.  Famida red faced, rose   from her chair and strode across the floor. She could feel hot tears burning her face.  Midway the floor she turned her head back, gave a last glance at the two and ran out the door.

 Back in class, Julie recalled when she had first introduced her boyfriend, to her parents. They had not said much nor revealed their feelings. She remembered her mum`s slips of the tongue that evening. These had cast unanswered questions in her mind.  An Iranian?  Julie`s mum had thought to herself. Was her daughter venturing into unchartered waters?  She had wondered, but dared not to ask.

Her thoughts were in a turmoil, when she met with Micah later that afternoon. She had almost tripped, as she raced towards the park. The thought of losing him was hard to contemplate.  Famida, it seemed had become a wedge between them, a formidable enemy, the thought was painful to bear. Why had Micah frozen and held his breath when Famida ran out of the cafeteria?

Micah was sitting on the bench, in the park, when she arrived.  Breathless she planted a quick kiss on his full lips and nestled beside him.  He remained motionless, his face etched in furrows,   brown eyes staring into space.

“Have you been waiting long?” she breathed, a pink warm glow highlighting her high cheeks bones.

“Too long……yes too long?” he replied sternly, his face contorted as if in pain

The pink colour left her face. She nestled closer to his muscular body, to feel the spark that had joined them. Her large blue eyes were searching intently into his face.  A lump rose to her throat, a sniff, and then tears suddenly rolled down her pale cheeks. Julie pulled a tissue under the sleeve of her white blouse. A torrent of uncontrollable tears flowed from her sad blue eyes .She   blew her sharp pencilled nose quietly, dabbing the tears.

Micah`s brown deep set eyes evaded her gaze.  He stood up, his medium sized frame towering over her. Micah frowned as he put his hands in his pockets. He took off his jacket, hands shaking; he was frantically searching for something. Julie looked up, her large blue eyes narrowing from the glare of the setting sun.

“I`m so sorry Julie, to have wasted your time” said Micah in a dull voice

“Please Micah, I can`t bear this anymore” cried Julie turning her face towards him

“Julie I`m truly in love for ever!” exclaimed Micah

“Oh no please!” screamed Julie, as Famida`s face flashed past her mind.

He lowered himself back on the bench besides her, brushing off the offending tears from her face.  Micah cradled her in his arms.   The pain in her heart and behind her eyelids was intolerable.

Micah suddenly disengaged himself and turned away from her.  He reached inside his pocket and held his hand in there for a while.   Julie kept her throbbing eyes shut; this seemed to soothe her eyeballs.

Like a man possessed, he moved closer to her again. He opened the blue box in his hand, exposing a shimmer of diamonds set on a gold band. When Julie opened her eyes, they fell upon the most exquisite set of shimmering diamonds. Her heart missed a beat. She gazed into his face in utter shock and disbelief.   Hand on her breast, she held her breath, let out a scream and burst into tears again. They were tears of joy this time.

“Will you marry me, Julie Anderson?” asked Micah, in a low husky voice

“Yes….Yes….Micah, I will!”  Cried Julie, her voice echoing in the air, in sheer exuberance.

She extended her left hand towards him. He held it in one hand and slipped the ring gently on her left finger.

Micah scooped her up into his arms, and sealed her mouth with a long and deep passionate kiss.

Julie clung to him as she returned the passion.

Famida had been seating undetected a few paces from the now newly engaged couple. She was wearing a burka. The long black apparel hid her face, neither of them saw her as she quickly walked past them. They sat on the bench holding hands and kissing, oblivious of their surroundings. Famida was the first to be told the good news. She seemed to share their happiness. She joined the couple and their friends for a night out. Julie could not resist flashing her diamond ring.

The following months had gone quickly, Julie recalled, as they prepared for the wedding. Micah`s parents had been invited but a week before the wedding, they had rung they couldn`t attend. Julie had felt very disappointed as she had been looking forward to meeting with his parents. Now happily married to Micah, Julie wondered about her in-laws, was Famida right after all?

She remembered the day of her wedding which had taken place in a small country church.  Julie had looked radiant in her shimmering, pearl studded white wedding gown. The church was filled with Julie`s family and friends. Famida was not among the guests she had suddenly gone to Iran a week before the wedding. Why had she suddenly gone back to Tehran.

They had taken their vows, promising to love each other for better or for worse until death do them part. Julie wondered if Micah felt the same about the vows. She felt elated and proud that her parents had shown up. She was however apprehensive about Micah`s family. What connection does Famida have with her husband’s family? Had she gone to Iran to antagonize her with Micah`s family?

Julie soon fell pregnant with their first baby two months after the wedding.  Micah had taken a job at his uncle`s car sales company as executive director. They had bought a house in a plush suburb in Manchester.  Their life had settled into domestic bliss, she could not have been married to a more adoring husband.  Although Julie had yearned to start a career of her own, she thought motherhood should take precedence. She put her aspirations on hold. She calculated that a year later after birth of their first, she would find a job. She would become a Solicitor in one of the popular law firms. As for now she should be content with being a housewife and soon a mother to be. Micah worked hard to make up for it and tried to give them both a good life.

One day before the birth of their first child, Micah came home excited. His parents wanted him to visit with Julie to Tehran.

“I will book us a flight within a week” said Micah

“Oh no! I`m not ready to travel on the plane, my morning sickness will be worse.” replied Julie,

“We can`t delay this, Dad wants us home” said Micah beaming with joy.

His parents` absence at his wedding had hit him very hard. Micah would go to any length to gain his parents` approval.

A week later Julie found herself in a strange country, surrounded by a different culture. Micah seemed to have turned into a different person. Julie could not understand his thinking. He seemed unable to reconcile with his British life. He seemed to have forgotten about being British. Julie for once in her life felt the pang of emotional desertion. She felt isolated and a twinge of anxiety crossed her mind

 It came as a surprise when he told her to wear the burka like all Iranian women.  She had not thought about it nor discussed it with him.  It did not occur to her that he would expect that from her, on this short visit. Why hadn`t her husband warned her? At least she would have had time to choose what to wear.

Micah  couldn`t afford to antagonize his parents anymore she thought. Julie realised for the first time, that marrying an Iranian man was a challenge. To Julie`s horror he announced he was returning to England alone. Micah finally put the nail on the coffin when he told her that his parents wanted the child she was carrying to be born in Tehran.

The days went by quickly as her bump grew in fits and bounds. Micah was prepared for his return to England without his wife.  Julie`s   heart cried out in anguish as Micah left. She couldn`t accompany him to the airport.  She was confined to the Bungalow with no outside communication or means of transport.

Life for Julie became torture, she had no one to talk to, and she felt isolated. She had never met with her in-laws. However she had all her material needs to live catered for. The ten roomed bungalow was full to capacity and brimming. Julie had all she needed except freedom and a husband.  It felt like living in hell`s hole. She would sit outside the bungalow in the backyard reading to pass time

 She yearned to go for a walk outside the house. Julie knew she dared not as she was being closely watched.   There was no contact from her beloved husband either. Julie would lie awake every night worrying about her unborn child`s future. She struggled to erase her husband from her thoughts with no success. The feeling of isolation and rejection was overwhelming. She felt like she was being buried alive.  She became increasingly anxious and paranoid. She felt unsafe and panicked she was going to lose the baby.

She thought there was a woman next door who was watching her every day.  She could not distinguish between her delusions and reality any more as she sank into depression. One morning she imagined that the woman was waving at her, from the top window of the house. Julie apprehensive, by now did not know whether to wave back or not. At some stage she thought she could hear a familiar voice of a female laughing in the house next door.  

One day she heard the voice clearly calling out to her. The voice called itself Samantha. Julie was taken by surprise but also responded. This developed into little chats across the fence with the unseen owner of the voice

When a trust relationship was finally established between Julie and the figureless voice, she would share her frustrations and despair with the voice of Samantha. Alone Julie wondered about the familiarity of the voice. She however shrugged off these feelings as a fiction of her imagination.

The voice of Samantha promised to help Julie all she can.  She told Julie to always wear all her jewellery on her body. She would arrange for her to be smuggled into nearby Turkey.  Where she could make her way back to England. She promised her that a friend would be waiting at the Turkish border to take to the airport. The voice said if the baby was born before the planned escape Julie had to have a contingency plan. She would give Julie some sedative drugs to give to the baby to make him sleepy, keep him quiet to avoid detection. 

She also advised her to strap him across her tummy with a big blanket to keep him out of sight.  She would have to barter her escape by paying with her jewellery.  This was the only hope she had of ever leaving Iran. She was to meet with the smugglers out of Tehran.  Samantha would   drive her to the next town so she is not detected. Once outside the city she was going to be left on her own.

The escape was planned for night time. Julie would not be able to see the two men who were going to smuggle her out. These two men spoke very little English, the voice said and didn`t want to be detected. Escapees often spilled the beans when caught. Samantha`s voice told her a donkey cart would be waiting for her outside the city. Julie was to climb into it without saying a word. The donkey cart would travel through mine fields and mountains across Tehran into the border post of Turkey. Where a known friend will meet her as arranged

 The voice warned her there was a risk of being captured by the authorities. The smugglers sometimes get greedy or double cross escapees.   These arrangements made Julie anxious. She however believed in the supernatural. She was convinced in her mind a power beyond her comprehension had come to her rescue. Her overwhelming determination was to leave Tehran, this desire made her feel able to cope with her present circumstances. However in the back of her mind she was not sure whether to trust or distrust the voice and the reality of smugglers made her fearful.   

On the day of escape Julie wore all the jewellery she had and all what Micah had bought for her, on her body. She wore a large burka that disguised her body and spread a blanket across her now large frame. True to the voice`s promise, a car had arrived at past midnight to fetch Julie, it was parked outside her bungalow. Julie climbed into the car. There were car keys in the ignition, instructions were scrawled on a piece of paper lying on the passenger seat. Julie was to drive herself to some meeting place. A satellite navigator gave her the instructions how to get there.

Julie was calm as she contemplated what lay ahead. The car sped off skirting and screeching finally coming to a halt in a dark deserted strip of land. When Julie looked around, all she could see was the large expanse of dead desert. The mountains stood out like human frames against the backdrop of the moonlight.  Julie felt a cold shiver run down her spine when she saw the donkey cart and the donkeys parked in the darkness.

 Julie switched off the car. lumbered slowly and heaved herself onto the cart. Once settled on the cart, some woman dressed in a burka appeared and whispered something into her ear. It was that familiar voice she recognized.  Julie nodded; slowly she peeled off her rings from her finger. She held them fondly against her breast. A single tear dropped from her eye. She reluctantly let go and gave them to the lady dressed in a burka. This had startled Julie, satisfied with the payment, Julie waited for the two men to arrive

 Julie must have fallen asleep, from sheer exhaustion. When she opened her eyes the woman was sitting beside her on the donkey cart. Julie attempted to speak to her but there was no answer, it was like talking to a brick wall. Perplexed Julie turned her head towards her rescuer. To her shock she looked straight into the face of Famida.  She had taken off the burka. Her long black hair falling down her shoulders.

Julie suddenly felt sweeping waves of nausea and dizziness. Her heart began to pound hard against her chest.  An excruciating pain shot across her abdomen. The pains came hard and fast.  Julie finally passed out.  She kept drifting in and out of consciousness. She could hear Famida`s familiar voice distinctly clearer now.

“Julie you`ve got to hold on!”  shouted Famida in desperation

“The baby is coming anytime!” cried Julie, panting 

Famida pulled the reins, racing against time. Searing pains shot through Julie`s body as the donkeys galloped into the darkness

  Will she make it on time?

The Perfects

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfects have risen from the earth to save the planet from total destruction.

It is 12/12/2012; the end of the Mayan calendar. The world leaders, through their greed and lust for power, have triggered their arsenal of nuclear weapons.

As the final hour approaches, the Perfect’s chosen ones; the pure of heart, called the ‘Kudos’, must find the underground world of Avalon, so that they may survive, when life as we know it is wiped out

once and for all.

 

The Perfects

by Wendy Reakes

Chapter 1

Thomas Stone was a photographer; freelance, with a contact in every paper in New York City. He told them he was twenty-five when he went touting for work, but the truth was he had only just turned seventeen and he still lived at home; living with his mother and her boring boyfriend who were trying for a baby of their own to seal the deal of their alleged love for one another. Or so they said.

Tom didn’t see it that way. The walls were thin, and the grunting and groaning that came from the room next to his was the reason he left at night, climbing through his window to the city below their apartment; their home on the lower-east side. And wherever he went, his camera went with him, like a conjoined twin, never leaving his side, working with him as he ate and slept and even when he peed. As far as Tom was concerned, his camera was his lifeline, a perpetual rope-ladder to drop out of his window so that he never had to go back; so that he could afford to stay on the streets where he dreamed and flourished.

Now tonight, as Tom left the apartment, going down the rusted fire-escape to the stench and the sirens and the sin of his favorite city, he wondered if this would be the night he caught the Perfects on film. The night when he would at last record their entities for prosperity, spreading the word of their magnificence and their power to defend us against evil, forever and ever.

 They called Melissa Lake, Mia, but on the Internet she was known as Lakey, a picture of Loch Ness her avatar.

“I’m so goddamn fed-up,” she typed, shaking her head as the words formed on the screen.

“LOL. ‘Goddamn’! That’s not very English!” he responded.

“I wish I was American, like you. Live in NY and see you each day.”“Instead you have the English countryside…poor old you.”“Stoney, have you any idea how boring it is living here, surrounded by goddamn trees?”“Whoa, there’s that word again.”“LOL” Mia chuckled. He always made her laugh.

“Well…Anything?”“Nope. Not last night.”“Don’t worry you’ll see them. It’s just a matter of time. I’m going out soon. I’m waiting for the parents to go off. Not hard when you live in the country. There’s nothing else to goddamn do, but sleep.”“Right” “Look, I’ll let you know if I see anything, but if not I’ll IMS you at our usual time tomorrow.”“Gotcha. Be careful, Mia.”“Hey, you know me…I’m goddamn cool!”Mia turned off the message box and checked her emails. Not much happening there either. She went into Firefox and checked the news. There had been a sighting. ‘Perfects out of hiding’ the headline screamed. Last week a man reported a sighting….’

“Whatever!” Mia muttered, shutting down her net-book.

 It was then, that night, the Perfects came.

“Hey, Mia.”

Mia turned and saw two of her friends across the road standing near the entrance to the park, next to the post-office, closed and barred with metal shutters.

“Hiya” she called back, crossing the road, looking left to right dodging the cars that were passing.

“Anything happening?”

“Nah, it’s quiet.”

“What about number nine?” Mia strained her neck to see over the railings.

The two girls laughed. “Yeah, they’re at it again.”

Mia raised herself on her toes. The York’s house was over the other side of the park. She could just make out a light through the trees coming from their bedroom. The curtains were closed but the glow allowed the silhouettes inside to dance within its folds. She could imagine him, with his fists flaying, knocking old Doris to the floor.

“Why don’t you come?” Mia whispered. “Why don’t you come?”

She had driven here every night for the past ten days. It was a town called Devizes, in the South-West county of Wiltshire, where the countryside presented itself over rolling meadows and pockets of villages sitting between folds of fields. Mia lived in the nearby village of Avebury, accessible only by car from where she lived in a large house surrounded by grass and trees and cows chewing the cud over rickety crumbling walls of stone.

“Shush!” Anna said.  She, Charlotte and Mia hushed, as they gazed over the fence of the locked park to the house where the York’s lived.

“Something’s happening,” Mia said. “I can feel it.” She stood for two more seconds pausing for a noise to fire into the night. Then, as if no longer able to wait for what she knew would inevitably come, she charged towards the gate of the park and climbed over it.

“Mia!”

“I’m not waiting here. They’re close. I just know it.”

She ran stealth-like, across bordered flower beds and neatly mowed grass, past trees reaching to the stars in the blackened sky to the fence on the other side, directly opposite the house where the York’s lived.

Mia stood near a tree just inside the park. She jumped when she heard the sound of old Doris, suddenly wailing inside her house. He was starting again, regardless of the damage he must surely be inflicting upon her.  Why don’t they come? Mia pondered. It must be time.

It was.

Suddenly as if a draught had blown past her, she saw a figure in front pacing towards the York’s house. Then another stepped out from behind the tree next to her.  She saw another and then another until finally five Perfects were watching the house where Doris York’s audible whimpering broke into the night.

They were men with no skin. Not ‘visible’ skin; only an impenetrable translucent film, covering muscle, fibre, sinew, arteries, and cartilage. Their veins were molded within the landscape of muscle, pumping the blood and making it look as if the blackness of it was racing around their forms, like charges firing through live wires. The sinews in their necks were taut, synchronizing with the strains of their movements, liaising with their brains and the workings of their bodies, pulling it all together; collaborating with it.

At six-feet-six tall, their limbs were long and powerful; calves and forearms like a giant’s fingers, working and laboring over a task of precision and accuracy. Their hands and feet were weapons, so powerful and manipulative that to confront them would be perilous. Their shoulders, like great mounds, held a protruding chest, breathing as if a thunderous storm was about to offload onto a daisy swaying peacefully in the breeze.

Their backs were like rods of steel, unyielding with no arch to take away their erectness.  Their buttocks, tight and pert were rounded above thighs of bulging magnitude. And their manhood’s were tucked into a pouch of skin, protecting it from the day.

And above it all, their heads were their guides. 

A visage of grey, white coloured bone, covered their delicate brains and the flesh of their faces like a gladiator’s helmet. From the skull there branched protrusions, protecting the cartilage of the nose, covering the brow and the cheeks and the chin that pointed outwards, as if to go up against its authority would be to face certain death. Two round holes perforated the molded bone, enabling them to see with their penetrating blackened gaze. And the only flesh, pink and human-like, was the flesh of their ears, like ours, listening and twitching as they responded to cries of distress and torture.

Mia couldn’t take her eyes off them. She had heard all the myths, but she knew it was speculation, since no one who had actually them had lived to tell the tale. Now, she was processing the vision in front of her as if she watching a movie for the first time, wondering about how much of the legend was true.

It was said they worked in groups of five and they were standing before her now like the five points of a star. They were tall and formidable; all the same height and the same build. On the backs of their whitened skulls she could see random markings carved there, distinguishing one Perfect from the other, like fingerprints etched on bone.

One turned and looked at her. She took a step back, but somehow she wasn’t afraid. She was fascinated by his gaze, even though his face was covered in that skull-like structure, she could still see his expression. It must have been his eyes and she could have sworn he was telling her to follow them.

Then he tilted his head. ‘Come,’ he said without speaking. ‘Come and see.’

 His name was Varquis. He was the overlord of the perfects, the one who ruled them all on England’s soil. But instead of remaining aloof, separate as a leader should, he had his own unit; four perfects, who were his sons.

This night they were grouped outside a house where pain and suffering happened each day. They had been alerted to it many nights before but they could not come. Too many other issues needed attending, matters of extreme importance; matters which, had they not descended upon, disaster would have surely resulted.

Varquis was now waiting for Urigon, his youngest son, to focus into the group so that they may begin.  ‘Uri,’ he said, his words connecting with the others through their souls.

‘She is still here. She is not afraid.’ Urigon turned his head towards his father.

‘Very well.”Urigon turned back to the girl standing behind them, next to the tree where he had once been hiding. He tilted his head. ‘Come,” he said without speaking, ‘Come and see.’ Mia watched them move forward. The gate on that side of the park was open. They went through it and crossed the narrow side-road, moving towards the house where the York’s lived.

Mia followed them, keeping her distance. She watched them walk with sure strides and climb the steps. She saw the door open, just as she fell against a thick hedge protruding above a low brick wall. She could feel her heart racing and her pulse throbbing in her neck.

She gasped when she saw Mr. York. He had opened the door as if he was responding to a gentle knock, as if he was expecting friends for tea.  And as he stepped forward, Mia saw his face as a light from inside the house illuminated it. He seemed so startled by the vision he saw there, that he was transfixed as he watched one of the Perfects step forward.  It reached out and took him by the throat. Then raising him into the air, as if he was weightless, the Perfect held him with his powerful arm outstretched as old Mr. York’s legs flayed beneath the bulge of his large sagging belly.

He was dropped to the ground as he cried in shame. He knew his time had come, as all the perpetrators knew when the Perfects came. He stepped forward and he sobbed as he walked inside the group of five, down the steps to the road where Mia was hiding next to the hedge.

She watched as they crossed the road, heading for the park and then she heard a scream coming from the open doorway to the house. Old Doris was leaning against the frame, panting from tearing down the stairs. She was covered in marks over her swollen face. “Alfie,” she screamed. “Alfieeee.”

Mia, no longer interested in the tribulation of old Doris York, scampered across the road in the Perfects wake.

 Varquis could feel her following and he could feel Urigon sensing her presence, like a dog sniffing for sustenance for his empty stomach. She was right behind them, moving from tree to tree, disguising herself from the light spilling into the darkness.

The man in their midst; the creature in the void, was muttering as he stumbled along with them. He was praying to a god he had never worshipped before that night, praying for him to be rescued from certain death. He didn’t deserve it, he assured his god. He was provoked. She deserved his wrath. She was always getting things wrong.

Varquis instructed his unit to halt. They stilled and they turned to the creature in the void. They were in position, like the five points of a star, joining forces with their strength and their souls, closing in, moving slowly forward as the man in the middle screamed for his life.

They were touching him now. Their chests were bulging forth and the veins in their necks were throbbing as the power of their being, surged through them like water breaking through a dam, rushing over new soil. Their feet were shuffling against the hardness of the ground and their insteps were arched allowing more weight to be funneled into their torsos so that the strength there was unrivalled. Their arms were at their sides and their hands were almost touching, but as they moved in, they lifted them, and locked them around each other’s shoulders like comrades discussing strategy.

But here, there was no discussion. No intent other than to destroy. As their bodies touched the man in the void and as he screamed his last strangled breath, he was expelled of life, crushed to oblivion, his parts turning to ashes as the force of the cage of flesh obliterated all traces of him, other than the remnants of his sorry, miserable life.

The Perfects parted. They took a single step back and the ashes of the creature in the void fluttered to the ground like powder from a shaker, falling into a pile of dust.

Varqis banged the earth with his heel to dig a shallow hole and then he spread the ashes into the soil, crushing them like a pestle would crush peppercorns in a mortar. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the man in the void was sent back to the earth from whence he came.

Wendy is 49 and lives in Bristol. She began writing over five years ago, when she lived in France. ‘It’s hard not to write when you live in France,’ Wendy says. ‘Especially, when it’s a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse surrounded by acres of vines.’ The Perfect’s is Wendy’s second novel and she is currently working on her third, ‘The Song of the Undergound’, about a lost subterranean city, beneath London. Wendy has written several prize-winning short stories, and many of them have been published in various anthologies: more recently with Little Acorn Press; to be published in July this year. She has recently delved into script-writing, when she wrote a four part drama for TV and whilst she is working on her new novel, she is developing her web site, where she offers a not-so-serious daily blog about that elusive road to publication. You can find more about Wendy and her work here.
 Http://wendyreakes.weebly.com/
 
Wendy says, ‘Writing for me is like having a fire in my belly, sometimes the flame dies but most of the time it rages and I am startlingly bright.’

A Raw Talent

by Fay Wentworth

Three of the travellers passed me by as I wrestled with the key in my shop door. The father never spared me a glance; thin, leaning to the shape of his greyhound slinking light-foot at his side. A cigarette drooped, sodden as the man’s hair, and his eyes were dull, watching the distance as his hand limply clasped the lead.

By his side a sturdy youngster; baby-fat legs toddling to keep pace, cherub hands clinging to the chain of a smaller animal, some semblance of a dog in the furry coat and lolling tongue, his pedigree distilled over many matings. The child’s eyes still held innocence and wonder as he gazed at the sun-washed gardens, the spring flowers sparkling with dew, nodding in the gentle breeze. A smile played around his mouth as his breath panted. The dog pulled him forward.

Behind, a gangly youth tarried. He watched as I fitted the key. I smiled at him to dispel my nervousness. His ragged clothes, too small for his bony frame, wafted the smell of the hedgerows to my nostrils and his skin clung to fine bones. His eyes were wistful and sheered away from my smile, slid to the shop window and gazed hungrily at the paintings displayed. Grimy fingers reached for the glass as if trying to touch the colours and his shoulders heaved in a sigh.

“How much for the watercolour?” His voice was hesitant, surprisingly mellow and I paused as the door swung open. The paintings were originals, expensive, but his longing was obvious. And he had called them watercolours, correctly.

“The prices are all different. Come inside and have a look.”

I knew I was being foolish, following my instincts again instead of thinking sensibly. But it was too late. He stepped through the doorway behind me and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the two dog-walkers disappear over the brow of the hill. We were alone, the boy and I, alone among the treasures of art, and I took a deep breath to still the uneasiness that hovered on the edge of my mind.

He didn’t touch the displayed paintings, but his eyes caressed the brush strokes, his tongue following the lines of his thin mouth as his body hunched towards the watercolours.

“Too expensive.” He sighed quietly, a look of resignation wafting fleetingly over his features. He hadn’t expected otherwise.

“Do you paint?” I was curious and watched him as I opened the shutters, sunlight splaying over the canvases. I switched on display lights and noticed he recoiled from the glare.

He shrugged. “I did, once. Haven’t any paints now.”

“The local college holds courses. Would you like to enrol for one?” I held out a leaflet, an artist beaming colourfully on the cover.

His wistful look turned to derision. “I couldn’t afford to!” He almost spat the words and I flinched. I hadn’t meant to humiliate him.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled and turned away, concentrating on opening drawers, taking out pad and pencil, showing business professionalism; wishing he would leave.

“I could do odd jobs for you? I work hard.”

I stared at him, confused. He wanted work? I shook my head and his shoulders slumped. “Thought not.”

The doorbell clanged and the old wooden doorframe rattled as he released his anger. He didn’t glance again in the window as he scurried up the road.

The encounter had shaken me; me, the independent career woman, proving myself as good as any man in business; me and my powerful equilibrium, disturbed by a ragamuffin.

For the first time in thirteen years my fingers itched to paint, to expel the emotions that overwhelmed me, onto paper. I clenched my fists in denial. I never wanted to hold a brush again. Grief had dispelled my talent and I had no wish to suffer further frustration through any attempts to paint again. My creative days were over. Now I took my joy in other artists’ work.

I watched for him next day. This time he was alone, leading a lurcher. “You could mow the lawns if you like. Dig the flower beds.”

I stood on the pavement blocking his passage. His expression was surly and I felt colour flame my cheeks. I thought he was going to step around me but suddenly, a thin smile lit his face and his eyes seemed to waken.

“You’ll pay me?”

I nodded, aware of the disapproving look shot with venom by my neighbour. “I’ll pay. What’s your name?”

He hesitated. “Reuben. I’ll be back later.”

He continued on his way and a wave of anger rushed through my mind. “Fool,” I muttered as I re-entered the shop. “You’re a fool.”

He was surprisingly agile in the garden. Soil turned, weeds stacked in neat tumps and flowers spread their leaves in relief. I watched his thin body coil over his labour. When he rested on the grass I took him tea and biscuits and sat besides him, unsure of myself.

“I should like to see you paint.”

He dunked a biscuit and caught the soggy mass with his tongue. “Have you any paints I could use?”

I fetched paper and half-used tubes of pigments. I set up a small easel and gestured to him. “Take an hour out, paint me a picture.” I walked away before he could refuse.

His face was stiff with concentration. His eyes flicked from garden to paper and his fine fingers moved with gentle precision.

It was several hours later when I allowed myself to creep behind his shoulders. I was amazed.

He had captured the euphorial hues of the buds, his grass was alive with the wind, and the imaginary tree shading the meadow my lawn had become was majestic in its spring splendour. A figure strode across the field, upright, free, hair tossed by the breeze, and running ahead was a dog, a beautiful golden Labrador, its tail swaying joyfully, its tongue lolling in happiness. I was spellbound.

“Where did you learn to paint like that?” His gifted talent excited me.

He shrugged. “I lived with my grandmother for a while, in a house. She painted and I copied.”

“You don’t live with her now?”

“She’s dead. Don’t have time to paint, or money to buy paper.”

“Sign it,” I instructed. “In the right-hand corner.”

He looked uncomfortable.

“Just your first name, Reuben.”

He held the brush aloft for a moment and then marked a sloping R and a squiggle.

“Very artistic.” I smiled. “You must come again.”

He jumped to his feet. “You said you’d pay me. I must get back.”

He followed me to the house and stood at the door.

“Come in.” I walked through to the kitchen.

Warily, he followed, his eyes afraid as he stared at the windows and he shivered as the door slammed behind him in the breeze. The key fell from its hiding place on the ledge of the doorframe and he picked it up, slowly placing it on the table. His eyes never left the door. Then he reached for the handle and opened it, watching it, hands dug deep in his pockets, until he was sure it would stay for him to escape. I smelt his fear. Breathing quickly he snatched the coins and turned, his steps reaching for the freedom beyond the walls.

“Will you come again? What about your painting?”

I saw him shake his head as he ran across the grass towards the gate, and his foot kicked the pigments beside his easel and scattered them. A great sadness welled in my heart and I gathered his borrowed materials and took the painting through to the gallery.

I found a wooden frame to fit his picture and hung it on the wall. It was quite beautiful. He would only be about thirteen, maybe older. Thirteen. Thirteen years; had it really been that long?

I had loved this shop the moment I set eyes on it. I was on holiday, touring aimlessly through the lush countryside, seeking solace for my hurt. I took a room in the village; the shop was for sale. It was a spur of the moment decision, a crazy madness that saw me moving within days to the other end of the country, my past a shadow in my mind.

It took thirteen years to build up my stock of watercolours. Collectors began to know my name, I was commissioned for special purchases, but I never picked up a brush again myself.

Now Reuben had rekindled that old yearning and my fingers traced his brushstrokes. Could I still paint? Was I strong enough to try? Thirteen years was a long time. Had my life been different it would have been my son holding the brush and mixing colours; I liked to think he would have inherited my talent, had he come alive into this world. Maybe he wouldn’t have had the gift, but I would still have loved him.

I suppose I knew in my heart that Reuben wouldn’t come back. As I walked to work the next day the neighbour told me the travellers had moved out.

“Good job too,” she said. “Made a right mess of the meadow, they did. Left piles of rubbish and several hens are missing!”

I smiled politely and strode across the garden. The kitchen door swung open at my touch and a shaft of fear speared my mind. Slowly I walked through to the gallery. The paintings had gone, all but one. His painting hung crookedly, alone on the magnolia wall, surrounded by dust squares where the watercolours had been. I took the painting down and carried it to the kitchen where I hid it in a cupboard; then I phoned the police.

The insurance company wasn’t happy. There had been no break-in; the kitchen door had been unlocked. The stern police officer pointed out the folly of hiding a key on top of a rickety doorframe.

“One shake,” he pushed against the door to emphasise his point, “one shake and the key would fall. And look at that gap!” He pointed to the space below the door. “Slip the key from under and there you are, easy pickings.”

I didn’t say a word. He was right. I should have been more careful, hidden the key better, especially after… I saw Reuben standing in my kitchen, heard the wind bang the door and the rattle of the key as it fell. Of course, it might not have been the travellers. There had been several thefts in recent weeks, and they had all been attributed to the wide boys in the nearby town.

“Had any dubious callers lately?”

I shook my head and he sighed. “Ah well.” He snapped his book shut and stood up. “I should replace that door, get some security locks.”

I nodded and showed him out. I knew I would never see my paintings again.

I recouped some of my losses. I cleaned the walls and built shelves to carry bric-a-brac for the tourists. I bought cheap paintings from local artists and recovered the walls. His picture I hung high, almost to the rafters, where the late sunbeams caught the golden hair of the dog, and brought alive a meadow in the beamed shadows. Several tourists liked the painting.

“It’s not for sale,” I said, studying the R and squiggle that spoke of Reuben. “It’s not for sale.” And they would turn away, disappointed.

I suppose you could say it’s an original, a unique original. Maybe one day it will be valuable. Maybe one day Reuben will come back and the deep ache in my heart will ease.

But somehow, as I sit at my easel in the garden, my hesitant hand splashing watercolours across the canvas, I doubt it.

Author bio:
 
Fay has pursued her love of creative writing through careers, marriage and motherhood. Over 80 of her short stories have been published in popular, small press magazines, anthologies, and placed in competitions. She has recently had a collection of short stories published by Butford Publishing Ltd entitled Destiny’s Footprints. Details are available at www.butford.co.uk
She has also had two novellas published in large print, available in libraries: Chase a Rainbow and Winds of Change.