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  1. #1
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    Soooo I've been writing a novel on and off for the past four years of so. It started off as a little therapy to help me come to terms with the death of my Granddad, but turned into something more. It's quite personal, but I hope others will enjoy

  2. #2
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    ~~~~The Rose~~~~




    ~~~Prologue~~~



    There seems to be a moment in everyone’s lives that they can remember as though it happened yesterday. A moment so fresh in mind, that you can close your eyes and recall the tiniest of details. What time of day it was, who you are with and where; even if the birds are tweeting their blissful ballads to the new day’s sun. All this because time stood still; making seconds feel like minutes, or hours, or an eternity; cementing facts deep into the subconscious.

    Unfortunately though, this time without an end isn’t always the happiest. This was the case for me, a normal eighteen year old gap-year student, almost six months ago when I woke to the best ring tone ever – Kasabian’s ‘Club Foot’. Little was I to know that this phone call had started a chain of events that would change my perception of reality, bending the barrier between what’s real and what isn’t, changing me forever.





    ~~~Germination~~~




    1



    I awoke in a daze. Not knowing where I was; only that it was early because of the darkness, I couldn’t see my nose. I could make out a hint of dawn’s sun at the edges of the curtains, fighting its way into the room to part the darkness.

    A headache, Jesus I had a headache so bad it felt as if something was trying to hammer its way out of my skull, and my mouth, it was as dry as a desert. I felt terrible, but it served me right for not listening to the doctor who told me to lay off of the drink while on medication. Being on anti-depressants, or happy pills as my friends affectionately called them, made me a real light weight when drinking, though I like to think that this had three advantages. One, it made it a cheap night when two or three gins got me wasted. Two, if I made a complete arse of myself I wouldn’t remember any of it by morning. And three, getting wasted helped me bury memories of a past I wish I could forget.



    2



    All I ever wanted to do after a night out in the pubs was to sleep in until the early hours of the afternoon. It’s how I am. One of my favourite pastimes is to sleep. And that morning being warm in bed, it was more than tempting to ignore the call and go back to sleep.

    A elbow to the ribs and a ‘shut your phone up’ from my lovely girlfriend Nicola made up my mind. I had more than enough intelligence to know that obeying the ‘boss lady’ was best for my health.

    Dragging myself out of the duvet I blindly searched for my glasses. They couldn’t help me in the pitch black, but I was on auto-pilot and felt lost without them. Next was always my mobile. It was still on the bedside table playing the sweet music which had shattered my slumber. I grabbed it, made my way on unsteady feet to the bedroom door and onto the landing. Bright morning sunlight from the skylight momentarily blinded me. The black spots that had dirtied my vision didn’t stop me collapsing at the top of the stairs.

    All of this took less than twnty seconds – an age.

    Using the wall to keep me upright I focused on the mobile. It was 7:05am on a sunny October day. I wasn’t shocked by the caller. Of all the people to wake me at that ungodly hour, it was always going to be my Dad. I placed the phone to my ear and heard one short sentence that, even sat in the warm sunlight, chilled my bones. “Tom it’s time, please come to the hospital as soon as possible.”



    3



    Each of those words had hit me like a bullet to the chest because the sun was rising my Granddad’s last day alive. I felt sick, breathless and fought not to faint. I concentrated on a painting of a rose on the wall opposite. The sunlight had set it on fire. Picked from my Granddad’s collection for Nicola’s parents. A thank-you for providing me a roof after being disowned and thrown in the street by my Mum. The hurt of the episode came back, and combined with the impending loss of my only Granddad, it threatened to drown me.

    My Granddad was a good man, and though not the tallest, he was active for his grand age of seventy. Walking his Golden Retriever in the Derbyshire countryside and busying himself in the greenhouse kept him fit. Wherever he went though, he was smartly dressed, but he was never clean shaven. That made me smile. All the care he took with his appearance, and not to shave off the grey and ginger beard didn’t make sense. That was my Granddad, always keeping you guessing. Like the times he would try to scare me by sticking his false teeth out with his tongue. Obviously, he had a rare sort of humour too.

    He had retired from a long career in the coal industry to his love of all things botanical. Living in an old farmhouse meant he had the space for a large garden, an orchard and a huge greenhouse. All were filled with weird and wonderful specimens that he had sourced from trips all over the world. They were with fellow enthusiasts. No-one knew who these people were. Granddad liked his secrets too.

    I expect the plants and trips didn’t come cheap because he also ran a small antiques business. Ceramic figures, mainly of animals, were his speciality. It was where the money was, he said, while showing me that they lived in the holiday home opposite to the main house. He was gearing up for an auction before his trip to hospital. So the figures are destined to stay in their boxes and bubble wrap coffins for the foreseeable future. Granddad still had so much he wanted to do. He’s too young to die.

    It’s a shock that Granddad’s going to die. He’s been in intensive care for over two weeks, but had been slowly recovering from the bacterial infection on his heart. The bacteria had gained entry to his bloodstream by a small cut on his thumb, more than likely from a plant thorn said the doctor. Granddad wouldn’t talk about it. He left the family to it frustration at seeing a physically and mentally strong man being destroyed from within by organisms so small we couldn’t see them.

    We thought he was fighting through. The medical team reassured us that they had found an antibiotic that combated the bacteria. And it seemed to work, allowed Granddad to be brought out of the induced coma. We had hope. We were positive. But after the phone call I realised if to be false, a fake hope.



    4



    Creaking floorboards made me turn my head. Gliding across the landing was what appeared to be a beautiful young woman with pale skin lit by the morning sun, an angel. “Who was it?” whispered Nicola bringing me to my senses. My mind wasn’t right. It was clutching at straws, hoping that it was all a cruel dream and my Granddad was going to live.

    Nicola and I had been together only eight months and I was the luckiest guy in the universe to have her. It wasn’t just her looks, the model figure, her smile and eyes that sparkled in any light that attracted me to her. She’s kind, generous, has a wicked sense of humour and bright red hair down to her neck. I’ve had so much trouble with my family (mainly my Mum – the bitch) in our short time together and Nicola’s stuck with me. She was the one good thing to happen to me in years and now, because of his travels, it looked like she would never meet my Granddad.

    Nicola sat on the top step and put her arms around me, wrapped me in her love. “It was my Dad. He’s at the hospital. Granddad doesn’t have long left,” I said while holding back tears. I wasn’t going to cry. Granddad’s voice was playing over in my head – “crying is a weakness, you remember that.”

    “We better get you dressed and off to the hospital then,” Nicola said as she led me back to the bedroom and pulled a big jumper over my head. “You have to keep warm,” she said. “And don’t forget to take your pills. I don’t want you being ill too,” I was warned. I took them with a glass of cool water, because I knew better than to argue with the ‘boss lady’.



    5



    The journey from getting dressed to arriving at hospital, all of 9 miles, is a blur in my mind. The sky was cloudless, the cool wind was cleaning the trees of their leaves and I thanked my lucky stars that Nicola was driving. My mind wasn’t right. If I had been driving there was as much of a chance that we would have ended in a ditch and then a hearse on the way to hospital than keeping to the road.

    I didn’t like hospitals. Especially since my youngest sister had almost died in one earlier in the year. They are sad places that sick people go to be healed, and to die. As we turned into the hospital car park the menacing building came into view. It looked nothing like the shiny new hospitals that were popping up all over the country. With the dirty brickwork and few windows that had metal bar covers it could have been a prison.

    “Do you want me to come with you?” asked Nicola.

    “Yes,” I replied not taking my eyes off of the building. “But only if you want to, I don’t want to force you. Hospitals aren’t nice places.”

    “You know that I’m always here for you so stop being silly,” she reassured me while placing a kiss on my cheek. “You really need a shave though.” Nicola hated my stubble, but it was my way of rebelling against her ‘rule’, and she knew it.

    Hand in hand, we walked through the largely deserted car park to the hospital entrance. Our problem? The hospital is predominantly on a single floor making it around a mile long and our destination, the intensive care ward, is at the rear of the building. The route to our destination is long and winding, full of left and right turns.

    “Are you sure you know the way? I’ve not seen a sign for the ward in ages,” Nicola whispered, as if trying not to wake the dead.

    “Don’t worry your pretty little head, because the ward’s just round the next corner. A nurse who found me lost, showed me a short cut and I’ve walked it so many times in the past two weeks that even a zombie could have memorized it by now,” I replied while catching Nicola’s eyes.

    With a grin on her face and an eyebrow raised, Nicola stopped. “I hope that you’re not referring to me as a zombie!”

    “I would never dare do such a thing. I don’t want a beating do I?” Her look of playful shock almost had me laugh out loud. “Come on, we best get a move on,” I said as I thought I could happily become lost in the many corridors, not wanting to find the ward and the inevitable held within. But I pushed on. I had to be there if it was to be the end for my Granddad.



    6


    Above two large doors and lit up by fluorescent lights that hurt my eyes was ‘Nightingale Ward, the intensive care unit’s name. The doors were locked, regulated by the nurses to keep unwanted visitors out. I buzzed the intercom while looking at my reflection in the doors glass window. What stared back scared me. My skin held no colour, my eyes were bloodshot, I was a general mess and wouldn’t have been out of place in one of the patients beds.

    “Good morning Nightingale Ward. Which patient have you come to see?” stated a faceless female nurse’s voice with robotic efficiency.

    I was like a rabbit caught in headlights. I couldn’t respond. “We’re here to see Tom’s Granddad – Mr Archman,” said Nicola while squeezing my hand.

    “I’m sorry,” said the nurse sounding more human. “Your family are in the waiting room.” And as the intercom clicked off the doors swung open.

    We entered the ward and took the first right into a small room where most of my family were sat in quiet contemplation. I say most, because my Dad was pacing around the centre of the room. He looked worse than I did. His eyes were puffy from crying and lack of sleep. It hurt me to see him in such a state. As a Dad he was more than I could ever have hoped for. Always there for me and Grace, my sister, especially after our Mum (the bitch) left with another man. He would do anything for us.

    Grace, who is three years younger than me, was huddled up next our Grandmother in a corner. Her cheeks were wet from tears. They glistened in the sunshine as she tried to smile.

    It was a nightmare.

    Smartly dressed as ever, looking strong for everyone, my Grandmother had one arm around Grace comforting her. I heard her whisper that everything would be ok. That Granddad would soon be with God in a better place, all the while fingering the crucifix that lived on her necklace. How little she knew.

    “Thank-god you’re here,” said my Dad as he made his way over to us. “I’m not sure how much longer the doctors would keep Granddad alive.”

    I gripped Nicola’s hand tighter. “What happened? I thought he was getting better?”

    “Unfortunately, the bacteria has come back,” interrupted a doctor who appeared to be in his early sixties. He was s light man, with a deep tan that clashed with his pure white coat and hair. “My name is Dr Wildgoose and I’ve been heading the team that’s looked after Mr Archman for the past two weeks. And you’re right young man, he was recovering nicely, but that changed yesterday morning. His body temperature and blood oxygen level decreased sharply. More tests were performed and the results showed that the bacteria, that we had thought was retreating, had spread to the lungs and liver. Now here at Calow Hospital we like to think that we are never beaten. So, with the permission of Mrs Archman, we increased the dosage of antibiotics to never before tested levels in hope that they could turn the tide in our favour.”

    I looked at my Grandmother and she nodded in agreement.

    “The drugs made no impact and the bacteria have continued to spread. Septicaemia, or blood poisoning, has set in and to try and protect the major organs, the body will switch them off one by one. Sadly, me, my medial staff and Mrs Archman met last night and agreed that it’s in the best interests of Mr Archman that his life support be switched off, but only after any family, who want to, say their goodbyes. Thanks-you all for being extremely understanding in this difficult time. While he was conscious, I got to know a little bit of Mr Archman. He’s an extraordinary man and I know he will be a loss to the world. I’m dreadfully sorry for how this has turned out.”



    7



    I was chilled to the bone, though the thermometer in the waiting room read thirty degrees. We sat in silence. Not a single one of us wanted to start the process of goodbyes.

    “I can’t do it. I want to remember Granddad from before he had all those tubes stuck in him,” stammered Grace shattering the silence. “That’s not my Granddad in there.”

    “That’s fine, everyone understands and I know Granddad would too,” said our Grandmother.

    “I’ll stay here Tom, it’s ok, you go,” Nicola said as she rushed over to comfort Grace. I had mixed feelings - selfish ones. It was nice that she wanted to look after Grace, but who was there to look after me? And the girl I loved, and one day hoped to marry, would never meet my Granddad who gave me so much.

    My Grandmother didn’t give me chance to think more on the subject. With the use of her walking stick she tap… tap… tapped her way over to me. “Will you help an old lady say farewell to her husband?” she asked with a smile. “I seem to have sat too long and my leg likes to remind me of it.”

    I tried a smile of my own as I let her hook an arm into mine. She turned to my Dad and motioned at the door. “Peter, will you lead the way?”



    8


    I was glad to find out there was no need for us to wear masks, gloves and aprons. We were told the bacteria could only be transferred though bodily fluids. Only the normal hand wash was needed as we took the short journey along the ward to my Granddad’s private room. Dr Wildgoose and his medical staff were lined along the corridor as if they were a guard of honour. Grandmother stopped us before entering. “Remember him as he was, that’s what he would have wanted,” she said before opening the perfect white door to our loved ones death chamber.

    I was like walking into a dream. The heat hit me like a furnace, the machines were all talking their secret language and the room was filled with flowers. From floor to ceiling, orchards, lilies and roses. All such vivid colours. It was amazing. My Granddad’s own ‘Garden of Eden’.

    “Do you like it?” Grandmother asked with her smile still in place. “I contacted the local florist last night and with the permission of the good doctor, had the flowers brought in for his last night. There are even a few of his from the greenhouse in there. I thought, if Geoffrey can’t die at home, I would bring home to him.”

    Amongst the foliage, was a lone bed where Granddad lay with a thin white sheet pulled up under his arms. Wires and pipes went in and out of his body. It was hard to see where the machines ended and Granddad started. A tracheotomy was carried out a week ago, but he could still breathe normally, he only needed a little help. Now, it was all the machine and his chest rose and fell in jerking movements. Even though it was the end for Granddad he had managed to put on weight.

    “It’s a combination of the drugs and being bed bound,” Dr Wildgoose said reading my mind. “All the machines will now be shutdown apart from the ventilator,” he said while pressing buttons and turning dials until the only sound was that of the ventilator, forcing air in and out of Granddad’s lungs. “I’ll be just outside if you need me.”

    “Thank-you doctor, for all you’ve done,” said Dad as he took Grandmother and led her to the left side of the bed.

    “I will always love you, you were mine and I will be yours until the day I die,” Grandmother said as the first of many tears fell down her face aging her another ten years.

    Watching Granddad was a terrible experience. I could see the life draining out of the body. As his heart gave out and gravity took over, blood pooled at the back of his body and his skin’s creamy pink transformed to black and blue.

    And that was that. Even with the ventilator forcing Granddads chest to rise and fall, he was dead.

    Without making a sound, Dr Wildgoose drifted past me, flipped a switch which caused the ventilator to power down and Granddad’s chest to fall for the last time. He checked for a pulse, a formality, and pronounced the time of death as five past eight in the morning of 13th October, 2005.

    Tears were now streaming down Grandmother’s face, but she found the courage to speak. “Tom, please pass me a flower, Geoffrey loved his flowers.”

    There were so many to choose from, but I chose the reddest rose, grasping it carefully as to not catch myself on one of its many thorns. I was hypnotised by its beauty. It was perfect. A conflict took place in my mind. I wanted to give it to Grandmother like she asked, but equally I wanted to keep it for myself, never letting it out of my sight.

    But I did give it up. My feet moved, I passed over the rose (my precious) and a weight had been lifted from my shoulders like Frodo after casting the one ring into the fires of Mount Doom.

    “Did that rose come from the florist?” I enquired.

    “No,” was Grandmothers reply. “It’s one of a few that your Granddad brought from his greenhouse to display in the house before he became ill. It’s fitting you picked it,” she said while placing the rose gently on his chest. “Geoffrey loved his flowers,” Grandmother said again as Dad placed an arm gently around her small frame and led her from the room.

    I was on my own with a dead body. It may have unnerved others, but unwilling to leave the room. It was surreal I thought while I walked to the bedside and began to brush Granddad’s hair with my fingers to the parting he liked. Always right to left. I placed a kiss on his forehead and was shocked to feel how cold he had become with the death chill already setting in.

    After whispering, “I’ll miss you,” in his ear I lifted my head intending to leave, but my legs turned to jelly and almost collapsed with freight. Were my eyes playing tricks on me I asked myself? It was the alcohol still in my system I told myself. Because Granddad couldn’t have winked at me. He was dead.

    Stood still, I studied Granddad’s face to see if I was going insane and it happened again with the same eye. A quick opening and shutting of the eyelid to reveal a red eye beneath. And Granddad had turquoise eyes, not red ones.

    “I’m in shock, that’s all, and my eyes are playing tricks,” I tried to reassure myself.

    I backed away from the dead body, deciding that it was time to find Nicola, all the while never taking my eyes off of Granddad. And as I bumped my back on the doorframe behind me I quickly turned think that I would be better with a cool glass of water, thinking that I would never see Granddad again.

    How wrong I was.

  3. #3
    The Tenant Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean's Avatar

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    are you going to post all of it, or only the beginning? I'd much rather read everything at once (can't wait, in fact, having loved everything by you I've read so far)

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
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    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. #4
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    I'm going to poverything I have so far, just a little at a time because so far I have over 40,000 words re-written and around another 40,000 to go over and thanks for the compliment, it is really appreciated!

  5. #5
    The Tenant Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean's Avatar

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    really really looking forward to seeing all of it! I'll convert it to .mobi and read on my Kindle (reading off the monitor kills the old eyes)

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
    When one is in agreement with bears one is always correct. (mae)

    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. #6
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    Cool, thanks, I'll probably put a few thousand words up every few days

  7. #7
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    Another instalment. And I apologise for the mistakes that I'm sure are there


    ~~~Vegetation~~~




    1


    It took the authorities three days to release Granddad’s body for the funeral. The hospital bigwigs didn’t want the public relations disaster of letting an unknown illness spreading throughout the local community and I couldn’t blame them. I found a letter marked confidential and addressed to Grandmother. I shouldn’t have read it, but equally shouldn’t have been kept in the dark. The letter contained the results of the autopsy. And I was alarmed to read that in the end, the bacteria had travelled to every major organ in the body, including the brain, and had started to attach itself to muscle fibres and bones. But because the bacteria couldn’t live outside of the host (my poor Granddad), there was no chance of it being transmitted to another living creature. Cultures were taken for more research and the body was released.

    Still though, we had a fight on our hands. The authorities wanted Granddad to be cremated, fire the ultimate destroyer was thought to be the only way to guarantee the bacterium’s destruction. But in stepped someone with influence and money on behalf of the family, reminded the authorities of their findings and saying that there would be a normal burial. Granddad had powerful friends, powerful enough that the cultures of bacteria were destroyed in what the local paper described as ‘a freak localized fire’.

    Granddad had already bought his grave plot. No-one knew about it. A morbid action, but also a brave one. Not many in this world face up to the fact that our time on this planet is short. Most people couldn’t look the Grim Reaper in the eye and say you’re prepared for the end. Though, Granddad wasn’t like most people.

    It was two days after his tracheotomy when Granddad told us. And by telling us, I mean nodding and shaking his head, making words with an alphabet card. With a large pipe in his neck there was no speaking.

    Granddad hated it.

    My Dad was helping me to keep Granddad company, recounting the latest victory of our beloved Derby County football Club while listening to music by the genius that was Beethoven. Granddad lay, eyes closed, not moving a muscle. I didn’t know if he was asleep or just pretending, but we kept talking, hoping to raise his spirits.

    Out of the blue, Granddad grabbed his alphabet card and waved Dad over. I couldn’t see what letters Granddad was pointing at, or what Dad was writing down. I held my place.

    “But what does it mean?” asked my Dad over Beethoven’s Symphony Number Nine. He got no answer. Granddad had put the card down and closed his eyes.

    “What did Granddad say?” I questioned Dad. The reply I got was a piece of paper thrown in my lap. “Where are you going?” I asked, but Dad had already left. I was talking to myself. Looking at the paper in my lap I had my answer.



    Park House, my room, bed side draws, top draw, brown envelope



    Dad had run off to Granddad’s house on a scavenger hunt. I looked up and there staring straight back with his turquoise eyes was Granddad. His eyes scared me. They overflowed with sadness like he was resigned to his fate. Granddad smiled with a mouthful of pearly white teeth. It crossed my mind that the nurses must have been cleaning his teeth, including his false ones.

    I was beckoned to the bedside while he picked up the alphabet card. I pulled over a chair and with pen and paper ready followed Granddad’s finger as he pointed out letters with a purpose.

    I’m dying, he pointed out then looked up to see I was following. I didn’t know how to reply, but wasn’t given a chance anyway. Granddad put a finger to his cracked and useless lips before continuing. His finger now flying across the letters with more urgency and with a final ‘e’ he was done. His turquoise eyes settled on me and I saw so much life in them.

    The doctors can’t help me now, a can feel it. Don’t be sad. I don’t feel any pain any more. Look after your Grandmother for me. I hope to see you both in the next life. Remember that flowers can bloom twice.

    Stunned and confused I didn’t have a chance to reply, to ask for some clarification. A nurse had come to take me away saying that Granddad needed his rest as I was going to ask what he meant by ‘the next life’. Like me Granddad wasn’t religious. Well not that I knew of then.



    2



    Dad found the envelope. And inside – the sale of a plot in a local cemetery. The same cemetery where Granddad’s parents are buried.

    Situated on the edge of Bolsover Town, the cemetery’s rows of black, grey and white headstones look out over a vast expanse of picturesque Derbyshire countryside. Fifty wide, the headstones are split by a path down the middle that, itself, is escorted by rose beds. In the centre of the path is the focal point of the cemetery, an ancient weeping willow that paraded the sombre feeling of the place.

    On the three sides that don’t look off of the hill, there are large oak trees that wouldn’t have been out of place in Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest. All of them ancient, twisted beasts that cut the cemetery off from the living world. And nestled in between them is the entrance. Two large wrought iron gates decorated with flowers, most notably, roses.

    This is where I found myself on the 15th October, all dressed in black apart from a white shirt. With a black tie, black socks and black boxers I was dressed for the burial, but I felt alone. Nicola’s family had a holiday to Spain booked. She had wanted to stay but I told her I would be fine.

    Up above there was a blue sky. The only evidence of the night’s storm was the many puddles where the sun sparkled. I love autumn. The array of colour in the trees leaves couldn’t be beaten. It was warm. Unusually so for the year. I bathed in the sunshine while waiting for the funeral directors cohorts to carry the coffin, which was overflowing with roses, to the open grave.

    The service was to be a traditional Christian one. It was Grandmother’s choice. It didn’t matter that Granddad wasn’t religious, that the family wasn’t religious. She was calling the shots. The same with the decision that the burial was to be a family only event. I wanted Granddad’s friends and old work colleagues to be there. But Grandmother said there was a reason, and that was that, end of discussion.

    The priest, a small, old gentleman, with little hair and a gaunt face led the way. I was happy to see some roses still in bloom before they died ready to live again after the oncoming winter. We reached the end of the path, over looking the hill, but weren’t at the open grave. Because the plot was bought more than a year ago, graves had been filled in around it and we had to walk on the sunken ground, fully aware that there were decomposing bodies more than likely full of worms beneath.

    Everyone cried at the short service. Even I had a tear in my eye as the coffin was lowered. The priest said a short prayer and asked if anyone would like to say a few words. With tears in her eyes and a shaky voice Grandmother was the only one to do so. “I will miss you my love, we all will.” Then, bringing her had out of her jacket pocket, she produced a handful of blood red rose petals which she sprinkled down into the grave.

    The service was over. Dad led Grandmother and Grace back to the path. But I stayed put. I had spied a lone rose petal blowing around my ankles. It called to me and cracking my knees I bent to pick it up. To wonder at its beauty, its colour and its velvety softness.

    In the corner of my eye I caught the priest staring at me. He appeared so old that he too, could soon find himself in a wooden box wearing his best suit. “Don’t be downhearted young man; for your Granddad today will be seated in the house of the almighty where he will live again in joyous harmony,” he said in a croaky voice.

    “What makes you so sure there’s life after death?” I replied. “That there isn’t anything but darkness?”

    “Because I believe it to be true. And young man, belief is a very powerful entity,” said the old man who started singing a hymn to the heavens as he made his way back to the path.

    “Tom, are you coming or are we leaving you here?” shouted Dad from the waiting cars.

    With a smile on my face I let the petal drift to rest upon the coffin and began the walk back to the cars. You might wonder why I was smiling during a funeral when everyone else seemed full of sadness and loss. The petal had triggered a forgotten memory from earlier in the year. In the memory was Granddad where he could live forever.



    2



    “Be careful, these plants have travelled a distance and are very delicate. I’ll set Eleanor on you” Granddad threatened as I pushed past some tubular leaves. Florescent green and rusty red the ten centimetre leaves were striking and should have been easily avoided, but I was still half asleep and waling in a strange world.

    I was inside the greenhouse. A huge structure that half a football pitch in length and width., its domed roof reached high into the sky and could be seen all over the village of Whaley. A massive extension to the farm house that dwarfed the chicken house, but I, along with the rest of the family had no real idea what Granddad had in there. Leaves and bubble wrap covered the glass at ground level to keep out prying eyes. The greenhouse was Granddad’s private space. Its contents, his secret. I had no idea why I was being allowed into his botanical kingdom, but I felt honoured.

    That cool, June morning, I awoke to a voicemail from Granddad. “Morning Tom, I know that you’re still asleep, you lazy git, but I’m back from my travels and have something to show you. So move your backside and get to Park House pronto.”

    Twenty minutes later I found myself waiting outside a house made of glass, staring at a locked door and doorbell when I felt I should be still in bed nursing yet another hangover. Ding dong it rang and minutes later I heard the unlocking of not one, but umpteen locks and bolts before the door was thrown open to reveal Granddad who was dripping sweat onto an open shirt. His chest was revealed showing several long thin cuts that could have only been a few days old. Granddad saw they had caught my eye and proceeded to casually fasten.

    “What took you so long?” I was asked. “So much of the day has already been and gone”

    “The day is still young when you stay awake to the early hours,” I replied with a smirk.

    “I will never understand the youth of today, that’s for sure. Come on, I won’t live for ever.”

    Taking a step closer to the door, I could see the remains of bruises on his right cheek and a hint of a black eye. I hesitated. “Are you sure? You’ve never let anyone else in before. What makes now so special?”

    “I have acquired a unique plant on my last trip that I thought I would share with my favourite Grandson.” With that he turned and limped into his personal jungle. “Shut the door behind you, don’t touch anything and you’ll be just fine,” Granddad ordered. And into the world of plants I went.

  8. #8
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    My glasses steamed up as soon steamed up. The heat and humidity was incredible, but it was worth it. I was greeted with an incredible sight of a plethora of plants every kind crammed into every available space. Hanging baskets fell from the girders above and there were tables too, where young plants could have a chance to grow before being woven into the ecosystem.

    “I bet that hasn’t come from the Derbyshire countryside, has it?” I said referring to the tubular leaves while following Granddad down a paved path.

    “What amazing powers of deduction you have,” he replied with a large helping of sarcasm. “This is between, you and me. Which includes the gorgeous girl you haven’t introduced me to yet. Promise?”

    I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Yes I promise. And I haven’t introduced you yet because you’ve hardly been in the country. That and with your ugly mug I don’t want you scaring her off,” I added with a smile.

    “Well I do hope to meet her; she must be a rare breed if she can cheer you up after all you’ve been through. Anyway, this plant my uneducated Grandson, is from a ‘house of God’.”

    “What the hell is that supposed to mean? I thought you were a fellow atheist?”

    An annoyingly cheeky smile appeared on his face. Granddad had taken great pleasure in the ambiguity of his answer. “They are massive sheer mountains of sandstone that reach three thousand feet out of rainforest canopy to the heavens above. ‘House of God’ is a direct translation from Venezuelan and you can see whay they named them that, they are up in the clouds where only Gods can go. By helicopter I flew over the Auyantepui Mountain that houses Angel Falls around two years ago to bring back specimens. Flying over the Angel Falls, seeing the water roar over…”

    “Alright,” I interrupted. “Get to the point or I’ll soon be as old as you!”

    “I was only setting the scene for you,” said Granddad glaring at me. “At the top of these mountains there is very little soil for vegetation to get their nutrients. So our little friend, the Pitcher plant, thrives there by consuming insects and small mammals. It’s it amazing how something so beautiful can be a killer?” Granddad said chuckling to himself while limping off.

    “I’m not so sure about that,” I muttered to myself as I followed trying my best not to bang into any more plants thus avoiding another lecture. “Who do you go on all your jaunts with? Anyone I know or is that still a secret?” I said as I followed the curling path past a palm tree, completely aware I was utterly lost.

    “A friend,” was my reply. “Someone you shouldn’t worry about.” And then he stopped, because the path surrounded by shrubs, all bar one holding small pink heart shaped flowers, and another palm tree was a dead end. Granddad stood with his back to me. “Walk through the bush with no flowers, don’t deviate, even if the branches are tearing your skin. And remember your promise, don’t tell anyone what you are about to see,” he commanded. He then limped off of the edge of the path and through the single bush with no flowers.

    I was expected to walk straight after him into the unknown. I thought Granddad to be a madman, but, with a deep breath, I plunged into the waxy leafed bush while sweat rolled into my eyes and branches clawed at my skin.

    It was worth it.

    The sight as I walked into the centre of a small clearing that lived under the tallest dome of the greenhouse was overwhelming. I was surrounded by countless red roses. Sunlight streamed down from the glass dome above to hit the hundreds of petals, dying the bushes to a weird red and green mix.

    The roses surrounded a circular wooden patio of mahogany that held a simple desk with a single draw and leather recliner chair. On the desk were a scattering of writing pads, copies of ‘The Hobbit’, ‘The Stand’ and, what caught my eye, a large leather bound book with red gilded page edges that was lit by a small black lamp. The black leather had no writing upon it, only a simple etching of a rose.

    Leaning back in the chair, my Granddad appeared more than pleased by my reaction. It’s beautiful isn’t it? I come here to relax and think things over; this place has a calming effect on me.” Ironic that at that time, Granddad looked the opposite of calm – tired with black bags under his eyes.

    “These roses have taken me an age to get together, they need so much care. But they aren’t what I have brought you to see,” Granddad said while moving his seat to reveal something that had been hidden to me by where he was sat.

    All the roses in the clearing appeared to be the normal, knee height, garden variety. Apart from the one that Granddad had unveiled. It stuck out like a sore thumb. Still a rose, but its stem which was as thick as my arm was two metres high and its flower, that had deep blood red petals, was as big as a human head. It had just the two leaves, huge with veins that throbbed. The thorns on the other roses were small like vampires fangs, but this roses were as long as adult fingers and from the end of them a red liquid would collect and drop to the soil below, staining it red. It was a waterfall of red; how I would imagine a vampire crying blood.

    The giant rose hypnotized me. An eerie yellow glow shone from the centre of the flower. And it sang to me. Sweet music saturated my body, relaxing every muscle. I felt high. Had a sense of extreme ecstasy. I wanted to be close to it, stroke it, caress it. I knew I would find the thorns to be no sharper than cocktail sticks. They couldn’t hurt me. How could something that made you feel so good, harm you?

    “Wow, hold your horses. You don’t want to touch it,” chirped Granddad breaking my train of thoughts.

    Unknowingly I had walked from the desk to standing in front of the giant rose and was in the process of reaching a hand toward a thorn. I had no memory of the minutes since first laying my eyes on the plant.

    “It’s ok,” Granddad said. It happens to most people the first time they see it, puts you if a trance, it’s how it catches its prey in the wild.”

    I had so many questions I didn’t really know where to start, but they flowed from me like a river.

    “Is it real or am I having some sort of delayed alcohol induced dream? That rose … that rose is huge, like nothing I have ever heard of. Is it a mutant? Did you find it on your last trip? It looks like something out of Jurassic Park!”

    Granddad shuffled papers on his desk; covered the leather volume without looking my way. “Unfortunately I still know very little about the rose and its effects. Majestic though isn’t it? Each of its thirteen petals perfectly moulded.” He caught me in his turquoise eyes. “For the time being, all you need to know it the rose is every bit as dangerous as it is beautiful. As Golem would say of the one true ring – ‘it’s tricksy’.”

    “What was the point in bringing me here? Do you expect me to forget all of this?” I was becoming frustrated, because I knew I wasn’t getting the full story. It was like being shown a Christmas present, only to be told that you can never open it.

    “Patience, please, I will explain as much as I can if you give me a chance. This is a delicate subject, because the more you know, the more I will have placed you in harms way. By being here, seeing the rose, I have caused you enough danger. Though one of the rose’s effects is to cause temporary memory loss. When you set foot outside of the greenhouse you might forget ever being here.”

    “Hold on a minute,” I interrupted. “How do you know that? Do you forget of the rose’s existence every time you leave?”

    “My honest answer is that I don’t know for sure. I’m sorry for all the confusion but I needed someone I could trust to know about this …”

    “Well that’s a contradiction if ever I heard one.” I felt angry, belittled and used. “You say you want me to remember, but also you say that I will forget it too. That doesn’t make sense.”

    Granddad sighed. “You didn’t let me finish. It’s not a permanent dose of amnesia. The memory is stored, ready to be called upon when you need it. Hopefully you’ll never remember this, but I can’t guarantee it. There are bad people that want the rose for ill gains.” His fist slammed down onto the desk. “He said the rose was his by right, that I was wrong and misguided – but it is he who is wrong, the rose belongs to no-one.”

    I knew it was a hopeless question, but I gave it a shot anyway. “Who do you mean?”

    “No-one you know. And even if he does come here for the rose, behind the reinforced glass he will find a selection of the worlds deadliest plants. There is only a single safe route to the clearing. You will know the path, I’m sure of it. Don’t stray. And only enter the clearing the through the waxy leafed bush. The others with the pink flowers are ‘Bleeding Heart’ bushes. You only need to brush against them for their toxins to enter your bloodstream, give you a rash (note Granddad grinned) and mere minutes later cause your heart to explode.”

    “Christ, you could have told me I was so close to death.” I collapsed to the floor in a heap, checking every speck of uncovered skin for a rash. There was none, but I was tired, it was too much to bear, I had too much to live for.

    “It’s ok,” Granddad said offering me a hand and then pulling me up. “If you were going to die you would have done so by now.” He looked at his watch. “We should leave. Spent too long here. And if everything goes to plan I’ll bring you back her to explain more in a few months.”

    “If you answer me a question, I’ll play along and leave. If not who knows what I will do,” I threatened.

    Granddad grinned once more; showed me his stained false teeth in anticipation. “Go on.”

    “The cuts and bruises you tried to hide earlier. Are they to do with this rose?”

    “Yes, and they hurt like a bastard, but I would have given more if it meant the safe keeping of such a wonder. I may still have to give more. Only time will tell.”

    “You shouldn’t joke about death,” I said.

    said Granddad before leaving his chair, limping over to the bush with waxy leaves and disappearing out of sight.

    After giving the giant rose another look, I too exited the clearing through the bush with waxy leaves and found Granddad waiting on the other side. I was paranoid the whole journey back to the front door. I didn’t dare touch any plant, no matter how harmless it looked with flowers or exotic leaves, for all I knew they could have been killers.

    I made it back to where the whole episode began in one piece and still breathing. But just as Granddad said, after I took my first step outside of the greenhouse, I may as well have been a different person. Everything was forgotten. “So, come on then what was it you got me out of bed to show me?” I asked as Granddad began to lock the door.

    He smiled. His theory had proved to be true. “Let’s go down to the house, shall we?” I followed and had a few beers, none the wiser the the morning’s events.



    5




    In the car on the way to the wake Granddad’s words played over in my mind – “The memory is stored, ready to be called upon when you need it.” The timing wasn’t a coincidence I thought. Granddad was dead and the giant rose was calling to me. Questions. Did I want to go back? Was it the giant rose that infected Granddad or something related to the man my Granddad was wary of? Was the giant rose real? That was the first question I had to answer. I had to follow the path to the clearing to see if it really existed or that it didn’t and I was going insane. Which answer scared me most? I couldn’t split them.

    The wake was being held in a community room next to the old stone church that held the service. On the edge of the town of Church Warsop the church, that was so old it was given a mention in the Doomsday Book, could hold near a hundred people in its inner sanctums that were etched with stonework of angels and gargoyles. And earlier in the day for the funeral service the place was packed. Every seat was taken and more fit in by standing at the back. I knew Granddad had friends, but it blew me away to see so many people attend. When we were younger, my sister and I had likened Granddad to Grumpy, one of Snow White’s dwarfs because he loved to moan about anything and everything. To us, he was grumpy Granddad … and we loved him.

    I sat next to Grandmother on the front row of the church that she and the rest of her flower arranging club had decorated. The rest of the family filled that pew, so few of us there were. And apart from her brief trip to the pulpit to recite and excerpt from the bible, Grandmother held my right hand tightly in hers. Her rings cut into my skin. It hurt, but she didn’t mean it and was hurting too. I imagine losing a husband after being together for forty nine years will cut deep. So I grit my teeth, lived with the pain, both physical and mental.

    Being against religion I hated the service. We were there to celebrate Granddad’s life, not how merciful and good God was with numerous hymns and prayers. And that’s why initially, I had a lot of respect for Mr Savage. Out of the whole congregation he was the only soul to answer the priests call for someone to say a few words.

    If Mr Savage was in the congregation when I walked behind Granddad’s coffin I hadn’t noticed. Maybe my glasses deceived me. But when he rose to walk to the pulpit he stood out like a fox in a field of sheep.

    I almost laughed out loud at how ridiculously eccentric he appeared. Everyone else in congregation had stuck to the traditional black and white, but this old gentleman, who looked to be in his late fifties, had broken the trend in spectacular fashion. He wore a cream suit, with a white shirt that had the top two buttons undone to show off his deep Mediterranean tan. Short unkempt grey hair with a small fringe sat on top his head, while an equally grey bushy moustache, that curled at the ends, lay below a large beak like nose. His eyes were deep set, one held a monocle, but both shone a bight blue. A colour of a cold winter’s morning and as old as time itself. To complete the outfit, he swung a wooden cane back and forth as he took large strides in cream leather loafers. The top of the cane was in the shape of a rose,; it appeared to be ivory, though stained a deep red. Being tall and thin it took him no time to reach the pulpit where he smiled over the congregation.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” he boomed. “Good morning one and all. Firstly,” he looked over at Grandmother,” my condolences to Marian and the Archman family. Secondly,” he smiled back over at the congregation, “I’m sure you are all pondering my appearance, and my attire,” he chuckled. “My name is Bertrand Savage and I have had the honour of knowing Geoffrey, on and off, for the last three years. Together, we have ventured all over the world in search of such wondrous things, during which he bestowed upon me his wisdom, generosity and kindness. It is like a dagger to the heart to lose such a companion, a confident and a brother in arms. Let us not dwell on Geoffrey’s death but celebrate his life and how he has touched each and every one of us in such a positive way. Life is such a beautiful and yet at the same time delicate thing, just like a red rose. Thanks-you.” During his speech, Mr Savage avoided eye contact with me, that was until he mentioned a rose when he looked me dead in the eyes.

    He stepped down from the pulpit and after a weak smile aimed at Grandmother, while leaning heavily on his cane he made his way back to his seat. The speech had taken it out of him; he appeared ten years older and his blue eyes had dimmed. But a scattering of the congregation clapped during Mr Savage’s walk. And if Grandmother wasn’t crushing one of my hands I would have joined in. Mr Savage had said what I was unable to. It was like he had been inside my head.

    The priest wrapped up the service with the Lord ’s Prayer while the coffin was carried to the waiting hearse. I didn’t recite it, I had no room for God but Grandmother said every word with conviction. The service was over and my hand was released from its torment. As everyone silently filed out of the church Grace tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the thin trickle of blood that was snaking its way down my fingers and dropping to the floor. She made a proper fuss of me; wrapping my hand in and array of plasters that had appeared from the cavern that is her handbag.

    Outside in the car park there wasn’t a spare space. We passed a huge dark black Bentley that was guarded by its chauffeur. He was suited and booted in a drab grey uniform and stood to attention with his hands behind his back. Big aviator sunglasses and a flat hat covered most of his face, but I still saw that fine silver stubble covered his cheeks. A big chap, with muscles straining against their fabric jail; he and the car, that would be worth as much a house, were out of place just like Mr Savage I thought. As I held the car door for Grace and we started out journey to the cemetery, I was itching to get back to the wake, to talk to Mr Savage, to find out more about him and Granddad too.



    6




    Returning back to the church’s car park following the burial service I peered out the window in search of the Bentley and its chauffeur. And sure enough they were present and correct, though now, with no-one to keep away the chauffeur had turned to buffering the bodywork. With autumn taking a firm hold of the weather, every other car had a coating of brown and yellow leaves, that was, apart from the Bentley. Mr Aviator’s ward didn’t have a single leaf upon it. That was dedication I thought.

    After exiting the car with my sister we followed our Grandmother’s walking stick that struck gravel to the community hall and the cold buffet that waited within. A small crowd soon gathered around Grandmother offering their condolences which left us to explore and especially for me to look for Mr Savage. I didn’t want anyone’s pity and watching me all the time, whispering and staring. I wanted everyone to cheer up, remember the good times less they drown in sadness and take my sister and I with them.

    The room that was decorated with flowers (many a red rose) filled, tables lined the walls and the buffet set on tables in the rear. Cocktail sausages, sandwiches filled with cheese or ham or tuna, mini pizzas and meat pies, salads and crisps; the table was full but very few people were eating. Instead, they occupied the bar which held filled with beers, wines and spirits to drown sorrows.

    I recognised very few faces in the crowd, but one found us. Reg, a small plump Yorkshire-man who always wore a flat cap and his beard long enough to rival Gandalf the Grey was a family friend. I had known him years myself, but he and Granddad went way back and he had recently settled in Whaley, the same village where Granddad and Grandmother’s farmhouse lay. Reg’s black fingers, that were stained that way from a life dealing with coal, held two paper plates filled with food. His brown eyes were filled with sorrow. The old coal miner hurt just as mush as my sister and I and had already been hard on the drink. He was an alcoholic and his breath stank of sherry, but for the minute he didn’t seem drunk, his words weren’t slurred. “Follow me you two.,” he said in a gruff voice. “I’ve got a table that’s nice an’ out t’ way, an’ donna worry I got you some grub. Need t’ keep your strength up.”

    Reg led us to a small table that was furthest away from the bar and food, away from all the people who meant well but threatened to suffocate my sister and I with their kindness. Two wooden chairs, a pitcher of water and a pair of glasses awaited us. Reg filled the two glasses and set our food down. He knew I wasn’t hungry, that I didn’t want to be there, but away with my thoughts and memories. But I had to stay. I had to talk to Mr Savage.

    “You two stay here out o’ t’ way, but if you need anything shout up. That donna just mean here, but anywhere, anytime, no matter if tis big o’ small.” He passed me a dirty scrap of paper with a mobile number on it which I tucked away in my wallet. “Your Granddad was always good to me.” And with that, the plump man shook both our hands, turned and disappeared into the sea of people.

    The food and drink sat untouched. We sat in silence. People tried to make eye contact, to see if we were ok, still conscious, but we sat as still as can be. I people watched. Usually the most fun of games, but then, it was depressing. Everyone was so old and frail, moving at a snails pace. I decided then that I never wanted that; to become old, to lose my independence and have to rely on the good will of others just to live. Good people were a dieing breed.

    Suddenly, through the blacks and whites there was a cream suit weaving gracefully around bodies as a fish does in coral. It was Mr Savage and there was only one thing on his mind - our table.

    “And here I find you both,” said Mr Savage who had found some life back after his speech. His eyes shone bright blue once more. “I feared that the grandchildren of my lost friend had retired home after I saw you were vacant from your Grandmother’s table. Still, now we finally meet and I am honoured to make your acquaintances,” he said while taking a bow.

    He stole a chair from the neighbour table, sat and crossed one leg over the other. “Your Granddad was a great man and I will miss him until the end of my days. His passing has hurt me as it has you two, there is a part of me that has died with him. But equally, when I think of the places we have visited, the trials that we have overcome; I know he will never really leave me. For the rose has died, but if we sustain his memory it will grow again, more powerful than before. He will be immortal.” Mr Savage had ceased talking to us. He was in his own world as he gripped his cane with such force the veins in his hand stuck out.

    “Mr Savage, where did you and our Granddad go? He never told any of the family.”

    “Please call me Bertrand,” he said with a smile and began to twist the ends of his moustache. “Personally, I think a more accurate question would be, where have we not been,” he chuckled while avoiding my question. “We first met during an auction in London, got talking and found we shared a love of flowers. Especially the rose. Do either of you love roses?” Bertrand asked us but only looked at me.

    I couldn’t hold the blue eyes gaze, but I didn’t reply. Did Bertrand know what Granddad had hidden in his greenhouse? All I knew was that I had made a promise and I intended to keep it.

    As there was no sign of a reply from me, Bertrand continued, “I mentioned that I had organised an expedition to the Himalayas, that money wasn’t an obstacle and would he like to join me? A fire lit behind your Granddad’s eyes, he accepted my offer and our friendship began. I’m terribly sorry that he chose not to share our journeys with you both. I really hoped he had.”

    “Is that your car outside, the one with the chauffeur?” asked Grace who always was brighter than me.

    Bertrand chuckled. “Yes it is. That beast is my second love, of course behind the flowers. It may be a little over the top, but in my line of work it gives the ultimate protection while not scrimping on comfort. The President of America has one very similar, though, I admit, his is slightly bigger,” he added while smiling like the Cheshire Cat from Wonderland. It was forced and fake. It unnerved me. “Did you talk to my chauffeur – Mr Lilley?” He looked at us again waiting for a reply that would never come. “No, I guess he isn’t the most approachable character. You can’t blame the poor chap though, not after what he ahs been through. Still, he’s dependable and I would trust him with my life. But if I snuffed it he wouldn’t get paid would he?” chuckled Bertrand to himself. That smile still stuck to his lips.

    Grace took the lead once more, “what sort of work are you in if you need a car fit for a president to go to a funeral? I guess its bomb proof?”

    Bertrand’s smile cracked for a second before he regained his composure, stood, rummaged in a pocket before passing over a card to Grace. “Its been a pleasure to talk to you both, though I’m afraid I am expected elsewhere on business. Though I am staying in the area for some weeks, so if either of you have any questions my number is on the business card and I can be reached anytime, be it day or night. For the grandchildren of my most valued friend I can provide anything.” With that he bowed again and disappeared into the crowd as a ghost would through a wall.

    Grace leaned her head against my shoulder. “He was a nice man; weird, but I’m sure he means well.”

    “I guess so,” was my reply as I pondered the old man who could have been a politician how he never answered the important questions.

    “I don’t think he liked my questions about his car very much. Do you think we will see him again?”

    “I hope so,” I replied while looking down at the business card Grace had placed on my knee – Bertrand Savage, Chairman of Savage Pharmaceuticals and Industries. What was Granddad’s involvement with the chairman of the world’s largest pharmaceutical company? I intended to find out.

  9. #9
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    The next day I awoke with another hangover. You may think of me as an alcoholic. I may have been close, but I wasn’t there yet. It was the first hangover since Granddad died.

    I know I shouldn’t have been drinking, especially being on the meds, but at the time, it felt like the right thing to do and I didn’t regret it. No matter what anyone says, when you’re feeling down alcohol helps. I think too much, especially the past, but after a few beers … puff … everything is gone. I have a clear mind. It’s bliss. I sleep and sleep and sleep. And all without a single dream that cut into my subconscious. It wasn’t the best answer to my problems, they always came back, it was the easiest. And alcohol is never in short supply.

    The memory of the night before was sketchy at best. People I had never met before bought me drinks – beers, large gin and oranges’, lots of gin, negligible amount orange and a pair of ice cubes. The taste of orange still filled my mouth and it would do for the rest of the day.

    I threw back the duvet covers and to my relief, there was no evidence of sick. A great sign after a night on the booze. I still wore trousers and a shirt. My suit jacket was nowhere to be seen. Who ever had put me to bed had saved what small slice of dignity I still held. I was so dehydrated that my eyes squeaked in their sockets as I slid my glasses on. My right hand throbbed as a stark reminder of the funeral, laughing at my hopes that it was a nightmare.

    There was only a slither of light that made its way past the blind and into the room. At first I didn’t recognise my surroundings. Not until Sally the golden retriever charged into the room did I realise I was in Dad’s old room at my Grandparent’s farm house.

    It was what I called the RAF room. Model aeroplanes and posters covered the room which had two single beds, a wardrobe and a set of drawers. On the wall by my bed in pride of place a quote from Winston Churchill still hung, ‘Never was so much owed to so few by so many,’ which referred to the Battle of Britain and the brave fight by young men in the skies above. Granddad loved that quote. He always told me to never give up.

    I was sat on the bed furthest from the door and window. Sally had jumped onto the other bed. She faced me and dropped her dirty cuddly toy spider which, trailing a line of slobber, hit the floor and bounced onto my feet. I stood and reached behind her ears to give them a good scratch. “You’re a good dog aren’t you? Yes, yes you are!” I could help but be upbeat about dogs, especially Sally. They aren’t worried by life’s trivial problems, they are just happy and want to play and please and have fun. Sally had closed her eyes, obviously in heaven, but she only allowed herself a minute, because she had a job to do. Off the bed she leapt and after collecting her spider she bounded to the door, stopped and with her ears stood to attention barked at me. She wanted me to follow and I wasn’t going to disappoint. “Alright you slobbery dog, I’m coming, I’m coming.”

    Outside the bedroom door and on the landing I found myself face to face with Granddad’s bedroom door. My Grandparents had slept in separate bedrooms for as long as I could remember. With them it was more a case of ‘can’t live with them and can’t live without them’. Instead Sally had slept on Granddad’s bed. I wondered where she would sleep from now on. She had a beanbag in the kitchen but that was rarely used. She went everywhere with Granddad. Like a man and his shadow, they were inseparable.

    To my left was a small stained glass window. The sun was in full force, distorting the colours of the garden from greens and browns to reds and yellows. It looked like the church art had been replaced since I had last visited the house. Instead of Jesus on the cross, a single red rose was the focal point. The red colour stretched along the landing to the top of the stairs where Sally sat unblinking. “Woof,” she said, “woof woof woof.” And shot down the stairs so fast I was afraid the big dog would fall. But Sally was sure footed for her size. Wagging her tail she sat waiting to continue the game.

    Along the landing and down the stairs the walls were full of paintings. None of them were rose related, but one did have a posse of dogs dressed up and playing poker. I reached the cold tile floor but Sally had already moved on. Her claws tapping against the floor echoed down the hallway.

    I warmed myself in the sunlight streaming through the unused front door in front of me and listened for another soul in the house. The library to my right and the livingroom to my left were as quite as a cemetery. Turning I went down the hallway that curled to the left. On the right was an empty kitchen. I continued to the utility room, with every step the air became colder and stepped down to the freezing stone floor. As if someone had stepped on my grave a shiver went up my back.

    It was no wonder the room was freezing, the front door was propped open by an owl shaped doorstop. Red ivy leaves from the front of the house were blown through the open door by strong gusts of wind while Sally pawed at my shoes that were lined up neatly by the coat stand. As soon as my laces were tied the dog was off again. I grabbed blindly at the coats, wrapped one around my skinny frame and went into the cold.

    My teeth chattered and my hair blew into my eyes as I took long strides past Granddad’s silver estate car and began up the incline of the garden, past the beech hedging on my right, and along the front of the house to the left that had the ivy snaking across it like Medusas hair. Earlier in the year, on the right side of the house the ivy had suddenly died, just like one half of the houses owners had died a mere three months in the future. Somehow it knew what was to come.

    All that to the wings, but straight ahead was my destination.

    At the chest of the garden and on the edge of the greenhouse’s shadow was a wooden bench. Sat on one side, still with spider in her mouth, was Sally, and on the other side, swamped in a huge coat, was Grandmother. She turned with her scarf trailing like a kite behind her and spoke to the dog who proceeded to jump from the bench and trot past me tail swinging and happy in the fact that her mission was a success.

    Grandmother patted the now empty space. I sat but neither of us spoke. We looked out at the red brick house that sat on a hill and the countryside that spanned for miles behind. The winds attacked the trees, stripping them of their leaves and the flag of St George smacked itself wildly at the end of the flagpole.

    “I like sitting here,” said Grandmother to the winds. “It helps me put things in perspective. Reminds me that we’re all so small in God’s plans.” She turned to face me and I looked away. “I’ve been praying for an answer but I don’t know why He chose to take your Granddad away from us. I just hope that in His great wisdom He had a reason, because I can’t see it.”

    My mind went blank thinking of a response. Nothing I could say or do would bring Granddad back. I could have been cold; told Grandmother that there is no God, that she was wasting her time praying and waiting for an answer. That a bacteria killed Granddad. Darwin would say it was ‘natural selection’ and ‘the survival of the fittest’. That she should remember the good times and look to the future, she still had a lot left to enjoy. But, I acted the coward and gave into my hangover. I stayed quiet.

    “How is your head this morning?” Grandmother asked.

    “It feels like someone is trying to smash their way out of my skull with a sledgehammer. But, apart from being a little thirsty, I’ll survive, I always do.” I was more than a bit thirsty, I felt like a lemon in the Saharan sun. “How can I help then? Because I’m sure you didn’t task Sally to bring me here for the view?”

    “Did you realise that you’re wearing Granddad’s coat? It suits you. You should keep it.” Until that point the only thing I realised about the dark blue wax covered coat kept out the wind.

    Grandmother brought a hand out of a pocket and held out an envelope to take. “When your father found the deeds for the cemetery plot in Granddad’s drawers, it wasn’t the only letter in there; there was one for you too. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to pass it along. Until today I didn’t feel the time was right.”

    I looked over at the greenhouse. Granddad was sending me messages from the grave, but I knew what wanted – to find the giant rose once more. “We don’t know where the keys are,” Grandmother said almost reading mind. “He’s left me a hell of a mess too. The Stable (what we called the holiday home) is full of china figures in great dusty boxes. How am I to sort them? I’m not a young woman anymore. I struggle to walk without my stick for Christ’s sake. And that glass monstrosity that I can’t even begin to know what to do with. Then there’s the chickens, your Granddad knew I’m afraid of birds. It’s all too much.”

    Grandmother sighed and clasped my leg with her hand. I was thankful my hands were safely tucked away out of striking distance of the rings. “Do you remember how I saw a ghost in my bedroom all those years ago?” she asked to which I nodded. “Well last night I saw another. It was your Granddad in his favourite suit, but it was torn and terribly dirty. It was so vivid it could have been real. I feel lost Tom, I really do.”

    I took the envelope and for the first time since sitting on the cold bench I caught Grandmother’s eyes. They were red and puffed from silent tears. I looked away at the envelope and saw my name written in fancy calligraphy. Turning it over I saw there was a rose drawn on the rear, through the sketch looked wrong. All of the lines didn’t quite meet up because it had already been opened.

    I then knew part of the reason for Grandmother’s tears. It had been her who opened the letter. She had seen a chance for her to feel closer to her dead husband and I didn’t blame her for taking it. I would have done exactly the same. So I didn’t tell her I knew. It wouldn’t have gained anything apart from hurting further an already broken old lady. I sat silent as Grandmother used her stick to stand, as she walked down the grassy slope to the house and disappeared. I could have comforted her, but back then I was a coward always taking the easy way out.



    8




    As the wind continued to play with my hair I passed the envelope from hand to hand, guessing at what message it held inside. I felt like kid at Christmas looking at a present, exited at all the possibilities of what was held within. What I wanted? Direction, instructions for what I was to do about the giant rose that lives in a glass jail.

    I was disappointed.

    With no ceremony I ripped the letter free to find two short sentences written in the same font as my name was:



    Remember Your Promise

    The Keys Are With Eleanor



    Granddad was a clever man to the end. No-one apart from me could understand the meaning, not even Grandmother.

    At double speed I headed to the chicken house, unclasped the hatch and opened the door to the feathery fiend’s domain. It was a dark, dust and small stone building that was filled with straw and dead grass. On the left were two rows of beds, each with their own curtains of rags, where the same chickens always went to lay their eggs.

    Eleanor, is you hadn’t already guessed, is a chicken. An angry hen that only Granddad knew I had named. And as soon as I put a foot on the straw covered floor the came to say hello in her own special way - she flapped around my ankles while trying to peck me to death. I didn’t know what I had done to the bird, but without fail like a dog guarding its territory she attacked me every time I was within striking distance. Her naming happened one morning when I was trying collecting eggs. Eleanor was at her antics, and while screaming obscenities at the bird it clicked. The hen was just like Nicola’s best friend Eleanor, who when drunk loved nothing more than giving me a cheeky kick in the ankle or skin. Granddad had popped his head in wondering what was taking me so long and saw me shouting at the hen, calling it bloody Eleanor. Granddad loved it and the name stuck.

    Three along and one up was the bed that Eleanor always went to. I reached in a hand past the rag curtain and had a good feel around. Cold metal touched my fingertips. I had found them and with great satisfaction I bought the heavy bundle of keys forth. But the keys weren’t the only thing I felt that didn’t belong in a chicken’s nest.

    Cracking both knees, I bent and pulled the rag curtain completely out of the way. Sat in Eleanor’s nest under a pair of eggs was another envelope, this one covered in a clear plastic bag. I picked up the warm, fresh eggs and placed one in each back pocket while silently thanking Eleanor for her offering as I shoved her out of the way.

    It took me seconds to take the envelope from the bag. There was no name on the front. I knew it was for me as I tore the envelope to pieces. Other chicken’s joined Eleanor around my feet hoping that it was feed I had dropped. I stepped out of the chicken house and the feathery frenzy reading the three words that the letter held:



    Pam Heath’s Murder



    The message didn’t make sense. I didn’t know a Pam Heath.

    I ripped the letter up and threw it to the chickens to make sure no-one would know of its existence. It was a message to me and I had to figure it out I though while walking down the garden. A drink and cooked eggs would help me think. The answer would come to me I was sure.

    But food had to wait a little longer. I had spotted an old acquaintance. Charlie the horse had his head over the wall to his field that lived over the village’s road from the farm house. We had been friends for years and I never missed to give an apple to the great brown stallion. There was a simple pleasure in a horse mashing an apple into my hand.

    In the autumn there was always a tub of apples from the orchard by the properties gate for walkers or horses. Granddad had made a few batches of cider over the years but there was always an excess and he hated to see them rot away on the garden floor. I picked the nicest two of a poor bunch, left the gate and crossed the road to give the horse an apple.

    Granddad loved horses, or more accurately he loved to bet on them. They had made him a pretty penny over the years, and none more so than Red Rum he told me one day while tussling with the papers quizzes. Cross-words, sudoku and anagrams were his pick of the bunch.

    Charlie neighed. I thought he wanted the other apple, but with ears up, he was looking along the road that led out of the village. A moment later I heard it, a roaring engine that was becoming louder with every second. I jumped the wall to stand by Charlie, to try and soothe the horse as he became distressed, all as a black car with blacked out windows sped past, tearing the grass verge which I had just vacated. The car travelled another ten metres before skidding to a halt and reversing to be inline with me and Charlie.

    “Calm down Charlie, its ok, you’re fine” I whispered offering him another apple which he took, but still breathed excessively through dilated nostrils.

    With a smooth hum a rear window retracted into the shinny black bodywork; and I wasn’t surprised to see Bertrand Savage’s face, complete with toothy smile from ear to ear, appear from within. “Good afternoon Mr Archman,” he said whilst looking at my bandaged hand. “That looks nasty. How are you on this beautifully crisp day?”

    Better than you, I thought. His monocle still sat in his right eye and he played with his curly moustache like the day before, but he looked ill. He was deathly pale, with black bags under his eyes and sweat beading on his forehead.

    “It’s fine, I’m surviving,” I replied hoping to cut the chit chat and get to the point. “What’re you doing in Whaley? I thought you were more suited to a city?”

    Obviously trying not to make eye contact, Bertrand took out his monocle and began cleaning it with his blue shirt. “Your Grandfather’s passing has hurt me deeply; I couldn’t think straight, it made me ill. The business might have suffered to I took the executive decision to take some time off in the area where my good friend lived. I have a room at your local pub, ‘The Black horse’. Your Grandfather always said it had the best beer in the midlands, and who am I to argue?” he said chuckling to himself, then coughing into a handkerchief. “Would you care to join Mr Lilley and I for steak and chips?” he said regaining some composure and the hideous smile.

    “That’s nice of you to offer,” I replied bringing the eggs out of my pocket. “But Grandmother and I are going to have eggs for lunch, maybe some other time.”

    “Yes of course, I understand that she needs family around her at this sad time. Is she coping ok? Because there is quite an estate for her to sort through. I may be old myself, but with age comes experience and I have a vast amount with all things botanical. I would like to offer my services to the family. I would hate for such an exquisite and hard constructed collection to become a burden.”

    And there is was, his true intention coming to the forefront. “Thanks for the offer, but at the moment were keeping everything in the family.” I put a hand in a coat pocket and fingered the keys, touching each one but not allowing them to make a sound. “We haven’t even found the keys yet and until we do, the greenhouse will be left as it is. I mean we wouldn’t want to break in only to die terribly because we touched something poisonous.”

    Bertrand twisted his moustache in thought. It was irritating. I wanted to tell him to stop, to leave me the fuck alone so I could get a drink. I kept quiet and patted Charlie. “You’re right of course. That would be very unfortunate indeed. I wonder,” he looked at me with those blue eyes,” have you ever entered the confines of the greenhouse?”

    “No, never,” I lied. “Granddad never let anyone in.”

    “Hmm, well this is a sorry state of affairs. Are you sure, not even you, his favourite Grandson?”

    I lied again.

    “Nope. I’m sure I would’ve remembered don’t you?” Bertrand, his smile gone, face deadly serious, searched my eyes for any hint of the lie. I gave him my poker face. He could have stared at my face all day and never realised I was such an accomplished liar. When you lived in such a dysfunctional family that is swathed in secrets, lying come easy.

    “Ok young man, I believe you, don’t worry.”

    “But I don’t have anything to worry about, do I?”

    Bertrand’s face transformed from serious to all smiles. “Absolutely nothing at all. Well, apart from standing next to that beast of a horse. Prey animals you see. Very unpredictable but at the same time powerful too; it’s a dangerous mix. I admit I never understood Geoffrey’s fascination with such weak creatures, almost as baffling as his fondness for anagrams. Pointless things they are, no good for anything.”

    “Horses or anagrams,” I asked.

    “Both,” spat Bertrand. “Blood horrible things they are.” He curled a lip and shook his head in disgust. At least he wasn’t playing with that fucking moustache. “Right, I’m famished. Mr Lilley, shall we leave Mr Archman to recover from last night’s festivities?” He looked at me again. “My offer of help remains open. Remember I am but a phone call away.”

    “I won’t forget,” I said. “Also, you ought to tell Mr Lilley to try slowing his driving down, if he keeps up that speed you’re like to hit someone or end up in a ditch.” Something that I wasn’t too bothered if it happened.

    Bertrand, the fucker, laughed in my face as the window started sliding back up. “I trust Mr Lilley with my life, he was taught by the best,” he said. “Good-bye my friend.” It was then I realised that my impression of Bertrand Savage had turned full circle in twenty four hours. At first I saw him to be someone who was brave and a good man. After that conversation I thought him slimy and false and fucking irritating to boot.

    I watched the black motor eat up the two hundred yards through the village to the pub in no time. I stayed a moment thinking things over, calming Charlie … and it clicked. I knew the answer to the riddle. It was an anagram.

    I said my good-byes to Charlie ran back to the house, threw my shoes off and hung the coat up and followed my nose to the kitchen. Frying sausage and bacon filled the air as Grandmother floated around the cookers. I downed a glass of what tasted like the coolest, freshest water I had ever tasted and placed the eggs on the side.

    “Those bloody chickens have finally come through for once. I can’t wait to be rid of them,” said Grandmother referring to the lack of eggs from the chickens over the past months. “Still,” she looked them over, “I do like poached eggs. Should be ready in a couple of minutes.”

    “Great,” I replied struggling to hold the excess saliva in my mouth. “I’m just going for a wash. I’ll be right back.”

    “You best be,” said Grandmother. “Because it seems someone else has their eye on your sausages!” And she was right; Sally, sat with drool spilling from her mouth, was watching Grandmother cook like her life depended on it.

    My stomach grumbled, but I left the kitchen, traversed the hall, stairs and crawled into the bathroom. I had hit the wall. Tiredness filled my limbs as I pulled myself up and in front of the sink. From the mirror a stranger stared back. My skin had no colour, two day stubble covered my chin and cheeks and greasy and lifeless my hair stuck to my face and the bag under my eyes were so dark I could have lost myself in them. All that, but it were my eyes that were the worst. Blood vessels had burst to turn them red.

    I plunged my head into a sink of cold water and looked in the mirror again. There was no change. It was then I realised why my eyes were so bad. I hadn’t taken any pills since the morning before; it was the onset of withdrawal symptoms. I had unknowingly begun going cold turkey. And there wasn’t any chance of taking my pills any time soon if I wanted to keep them a secret from Dad.

    I left the bathroom, water dripping from my face, not thinking about the lack of pills. That I wanted, no, needed them. It wouldn’t have changed anything. I concentrated on the task at hand. I opened the door to Granddad’s bedroom. And inside it was dark, eerie, nothing had changed apart from everything having a thin coating of dust. A blue towel still covered the bottom half of the double bed for when Sally used to sleep there. A wardrobe sat at one side of the room, and on the other drawers and bookshelves; all of them were crooked because of the uneven floor. This room was where Granddad ‘saw’ most of the farm houses ghosts. I put it down to a vivid dream or one too many whiskeys.

    I spotted the statue of ‘Red Rum’ straight away. Surrounded by ceramic cattle, the great horse was mid-gallop on a wooden plinth. Even feeling like shit, I smiled at the sight of the wooden base not sitting flat on the top of the drawers. Underneath like I suspected was another envelope.

  10. #10
    The Tenant Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean's Avatar

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    I really really can't wait to see the whole. I try to squint when I scroll down, not to spoil anything, but what I catch glimpses of is soooooooo enticing!

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    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. #11
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    Thanks Jean ... next few thousand words and the end of 'Vegetation'



    9



    It was Bertrand and Charlie who helped me decipher the message. Anagrams and horses, the two of Granddad’s interests that Bertrand didn’t understand. I should have seen the answer sooner, simply turning the message backwards would have done most of the work.



    Pam Heath’s Murder = Red Rum Has The Map




    I took the letter back to Dad’s old room and with shaking hands I pulled a piece of red paper that had one jagged edge free. It appeared to have been torn from a book. I guessed at a book bound in black leather with a rose imprinted upon it. And on the paper – the map. A detailed layout of the greenhouse; and in particular the route I needed to reach the giant rose. Parts were colour coded and annotated. Purple equalled Hemlock, the plant that was the undoing of Socrates. Yellow was ‘Milky Mangrove’ that left you blind to stumble into other wonders like the orange sections of Poison Ivy or the blue’s of Monkshood.

    A dangerous place to go, but I had no choice in the matter. Things had been set in motion, I was helpless to stop them and soon I would stand in the shadow of the giant rose that was crudely drawn in the centre of the map. It looked like a child’s drawing, with long thorns on a chopstick stem and a huge lollypop of a rose head that had a beam of yellow light streaming onto its name written beneath.



    Rosa de los Muertos Vivientes



    My worst subject, and by a long way, was languages. The only word I could remember from three years of learning Spanish was cerveza, or beer. I knew that rosa was rose, but the rest of it went straight over my head. Nicola was a language genius, knowing German, Portuguese and importantly for me, Spanish. But she was in another country and I was to meet the giant rose on my own. But first I had a score to settle with my stomach. There was a good old fashioned English breakfast waiting for me in the kitchen, so I folded the map, placed it in a back pocket and followed my nose.



    10




    The food was heaven. An egg and sausages and rashes of bacon and baked beans and fried bread and a plenty of orange juice. Indeed the food of kings. Not great for my arteries or heart, but Jesus, the taste.

    At one end of the kitchen table I sat stuffing as much into my mouth has quickly as possible, while Grandmother, sat opposite, only picked at her food, never raising her eyes from her plate. Sally paced between us looking for crumbs, or even the jackpot – a slice of sausage. Her spider toy sat alone and forgotten on her beanbag.

    “Gran, you know that I’m currently unemployed?”

    “I most surely do. Any ideas on what you’d like to do?” she asked back looking me in the eyes. It hurt me to see her so sad. I couldn’t hold her gaze so I took to playing with a slither of fat I had stripped off of the bacon.

    “Err not yet, but would it be ok if I stayed in Whaley for a bit? I could help look after the chickens and sort Granddad’s antiques in the Stables and anything else that you want help with.”

    A hint of a smile surfaced on Grandmother’s face. “Sally and I would love to have you stay for a while; wouldn’t we Sally?” The dog wagged her tail, hoping that people talking to her meant food. “You’ll have to tell you Dad, I’m sure he’ll bring you some clothes over. And don’t forget to tell Nicola too. Lovely girl she is and welcome here anytime too.”

    “Thanks Gran.”

    “Well you are my favourite Grandson,” came her reply. She looked down at the plate of food sat in front of her. “Well, I seem to have lost my appetite. I think I’ll go and have forty winks.” And with her spitfire apron almost reaching her ankles, Grandmother, gingerly walked to the door and disappeared.

    Then there were two.

    Sally sat, ears forward, big eyes darting from the plate of food Grandmother left and me. I knew what she wanted. Equally, Sally knew I was weak, that I couldn’t say no to her puppy dog eyes. I gave in. I threw half a sausage in the air, Sally leapt and the meat was gone when she hit the floor.

    I left the dog licking her lips and searching for other crumbs. Grandmother going to bed had given me a chance to use the keys and map and I wasn’t going to waste it. My shoes and the coat went back on and out into the cold I went, striding up the grass slope as the sun above had already begun to lower.

    Adrenaline rushed through my veins. I was on edge, anxious about what I would find. I saw faces in bushes; hideous, one eyed beings with thorny teeth and red berries for eyes. I saw shapes in shadows; clawed, black hands stretched to me from the orchard. Like a child playing the game of ‘don’t step on a crack’, I wouldn’t dare step on a shadow for fear it would prove to be real.

    My mind wasn’t right. But I found the greenhouse door. It had seven locks for my seven keys. They all fit and unlocked the bolts. The door opened to me revealing the overgrown jungle hidden inside. A single step inside was all it took for the humidity and heat to kill my vision. It was oppressive and covered me like a blanket, but there was nothing to do, the map showed heaters deep in the structure that were set with a timer. Something I didn’t want to mess with. I had one goal and didn’t need distractions. Concentrating on the giant rose was bad enough.

    I threw the coat to the floor, unbuttoned my shirt, wiped my glasses, took a last gulp of fresh air and closed the door. Paranoia wouldn’t allow me to lock the door; it told me that if I needed to escape quickly I wouldn’t want to be messing with seven locks.

    My concentration was fully committed to the crinkled map that I held in both hands (the threat of losing it didn’t bear thinking about) as I began my journey to the centre of the greenhouse. Left and right, all the foliage morphed into a single wall of tangled vegetation. I wouldn’t touch anything. I was on edge. I jumped, hoped and crawled to do so, thinking myself a Spanish conquistador exploring the Amazon for the first time; in an alien world, wary of everything, each corner, each plant could spell death.

    Half way along the path I stopped to put the map in my pocket. Sweat coated my fingers and dripped from my forehead and the map had begun to smudge and I heard something – a voice.

    It was in my head.

    Like a rabbit disappearing into a top hat, puff, all the tiredness, apprehension and ill feelings were replaced with a feeling of serene happiness. I drifted along. I was high.

    “Just a little further, don’t touch the plants, just a little further,” said the voice guiding me around left and right turns. It was bliss. Sweeter than Beethoven’s symphonies. “Follow the bush with no flowers,” it said and then stopped.

    Silence.

    I wanted the voice. I was me again, lost with the cravings, ready to scratch at my wrists so I could feel, ready to scream at the familiar palm tree with stood before me. My body had found the end of the path, but I feared I had lost parts of my mind in the jungle. ‘Follow the bush with no flowers’. An echo. It was a broken record for a broken brain. It consumed me, playing over and over in my mind while I skirted a dirt path around the circle of bushes.

    The sun was failing and all I saw were pink heart shaped flowers. ‘Follow the bush with no flowers. Follow the bush with no flowers. Follow follow FOLLOW’. The heat was suffocating. My legs went to jelly and I hit the deck. I closed my eyes and banged my head with fists. ‘FOLLOWFOLLOWFOLLOW’, was so loud that my head threatened to explode.

    I opened my eyes to scream in frustration, to be left alone, to die in peace. But I saw it. Waxy leaves shone back at me through the twilight. The bush with no flowers was being suffocated by its deadly neighbours, hidden by the overgrown branches.

    As if my life depended on traversing the waxy leaves I found my feet and rushed towards it. Rushing could have been my doom. My legs tangled and I fell head first into the leaves and branches and they tore at me, grabbed at me, but I won through, lady luck was on my side. The heart shaped flowers hadn’t infiltrated the safe bush and I rolled onto the wooden decking. Death wasn’t waiting for me at the end of that path.

    The voice returned. ‘You made it, you made it, you made it, I’m so happy you made it’. It sang to me. It was joyous song. I sat there with a smile on my face. Tears of sweat fell down my face. The place was real. I wasn’t completely mental.

    I was surrounded by a congregation of roses, hundreds strong, all turned to face the giant rose, all listening to the sermon of the Rosa de los Muertos Vivientes. Above, the sun was gone and the sky was on fire. The patio, the table and chair, the bushes and my clothing, they all turned red, everything turned red apart from the centre of the giant roses flower head. From it a yellow beam of light shone to light a circle on the patio.

    Before I knew it, my feet were moving, with purpose, they knew were to go. Past the table, past the chair, the roses appeared to turn, watching me, following my every step. And in the yellow gaze of the giant rose, I collapsed as a monk would before the alter of Christ. My knees hit the decking with a thud, I felt no pain, my mind was too full of the song of the rose. The light was an island of cool air, my skin tingled, goose bumps appeared and my hair stood on end. I held my right hand up to block the light and saw it was a bloody mess. The plasters hung lose showing that the old cuts had been joined by new ones and blood trickled down my arm. More worrying though, was the giant rose that leant to the left. Its leaves drooped to the floor where several petals lay shrivelled and dead, the thorns were still present and menacing, but the waterfall of red liquid had all but stopped. The rose was ill, but the song kept playing on and on and on.



    11




    I don’t know how long I waited for answers in the yellow beam of light. I hoped for a transfer of wisdom, that the rose could guide me once more as it did through the greenhouse. As the last rays of sunlight gave way to the darkness of night, with my head bowed, I waited. The lack of answers didn’t frustrate me though. Oh no. Screw the ‘happy pills’, I felt at ease for the first time in years. Whatever the rose was doing to my brain it had it purring like an Aston Martin. Even the idea of Grandmother worried by my absence wouldn’t move me.

    Stars, far away planets and the moon appeared, and with their appearance, the rose’s song began to wane. It stuttered and misfired like an ancient car engine. With it the beam of light flickered on and off, on and off, on and off, until it didn’t turn on again. The song had ceased and by moonlight I saw two petals fall from the rose head and float to the ground.

    Without the light to keep me cool the heat hit smothered me once more. It didn’t bother me; the sense of high hadn’t abandoned me yet. I stood and felt my way to the recliner, sat down and tried to attach the plasters on my hand once more. With only moonlight to guide me I wasn’t risking the return leg until morning, dieing wouldn’t help the giant rose recover. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but inside, I knew of the importance of the plant. I didn’t have enough of the story, but I knew the rose wasn’t evil. How could it be? My mind had been torturing itself for as long as I could remember, but the rose fixed it, fixed me. “I won’t let you die,” I promised myself while closing my eyes. “That can’t happen.” Because if the rose died, I feared I would end up the same way.

  12. #12
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    ~~~Reproduction~~~



    1




    A cockerel woke me at the crack of dawn. Bloody bird, I thought. Why couldn’t it have had a lie in for once? All I wanted was to curl back up on the chair and rejoin my dreams where everything was back to normal, Granddad was alive and the only roses in the world were the garden.

    But the cockerel wouldn’t shut the fuck up.

    And it was all a lie anyway.

    The heat was still fierce. I opened my eyes, they squeaked in their sockets as I tried to take in my surroundings. My skin was taunt, sweat stains covered my clothes, my throat was dry and my tongue sandpaper.

    I prayed for a drink.

    And it was answered. On the desk sat an old orange juice bottle filled to the brim with clear liquid. It hadn’t been there when I arrived in the clearing the night before and if I hadn’t collected the bottle with my own hands I would’ve believed it to be a mirage.

    It took half the bottle to quieten my thirst. But the bottle’s appearance posed a conundrum. I hadn’t locked the doors, but no-one knew I had opened them, that I was sleeping inside and being slowly roasted. Why would anyone struggle through the jungle of deadly plants at night to deliver me water and then disappear?

    I glanced at the giant rose and was shocked to see it stood as straight as an arrow, holding its leaves high and the fallen petals gone. Compared to he night before it was a picture of health, the only difference, the whole plant, not only the flower head, was red.

    I stood and saw my plasters flutter away. The sweat will have let it lose, I thought. I looked down expecting to see the same bloody mess from the night before, but the cuts were healed, only a scattering of blemishes and a smear of blood were the only evidence they ever existed.

    More confusing still, was that next to the fallen plaster lay a feather from a hen. It was the beginning of a trail of feathers that led to the giant rose. I followed the new take on Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumb trail, and being careful of the thorns, ran fingertips down I leaf. It confirmed what the red colouring was.

    Blood.

    The fresh blood coated the plant from flower to root and the pile of feathers that covered the soil beneath. Only parts had begun to blacken and coagulate. The blood stank of death but had delivered life to the giant rose, made it strong again, started the waterfall from the thorns once more. But the light and the song that calmed and empowered me never started up.

    I had never seen so much blood in my short life. I tried to wipe it from my fingers, but under the nails and in the skin creases it stuck like glue. I felt eyes on me. Thought the person who brought the water bottle had spilled blood while I slept and still watched me.

    My nerve broke.

    So I ran. I grabbed the bottle and ran, forcing my way through the bush with no flowers, slid the map out of my pocket and sprinted for home. My muscles moved in harmony with my mind. I ran faster than I ever had before. I had a newfound strength and found the door with ease.

    At the door I wrapped the coat around me, braced myself and stepped out into the freezing cold. The temperature had to be near freezing. Steam rose from the top of the greenhouse, twisting its way up to the sky that was filled with cotton ball clouds that threatened with snow. Snow, a dreaded word in the village of Whaley. Gritting lorries and snow ploughs never bothered with the village leaving it cut off from the rest of the world, nothing coming in and nothing going out.

    I locked the door and knew where to hide the keys. The chicken house was safe and close to the greenhouse, because I wanted, no, needed to go back and hear the rose’s song that I craved. Through the old door and into the hen house I went, but no chicken came to peck at my ankles. They were all bunched up in the furthest away corner, cowering away from my shadow.

    There was no Eleanor.

    Her bed was empty and she wasn’t with the rest of the hens, I would have know that bird anywhere. The realisation that the blood and feathers in the greenhouse were more than likely hers hurt. It hurt real bad. I hoped she hadn’t suffered, that she had a quick death and that I could meet the person who had done that to her so I could make them pay. I placed the keys and map in Eleanor’s bed and with my head hung low, made my way back to the house. Eleanor may have only been a bird, but she was my bird and with Granddad gone, had been my responsibility. I couldn’t bring her back from death, but I could avenge her, I could make her attacker pay dearly. If only I knew who they were.



    2




    I thought that the door would have been locked, that I would have to use the spare key under the welcome mat to gain entry, but the cold brass handle turned, the door was unlocked. Not only that, the spare key was missing.

    Inside I threw off my coat and shoes, locked the door with Grandmother’s keys that were hung up and started to tip-toe past the kitchen where, I was caught literally, with blood, red handed. The smell should have given the dog away, it was evil, like rotten eggs that got up my nostrils and to the back of my throat. Sally was sat in the doorway, her tail wagging furiously, her golden coat filthy with black handprints and a feather in her slobbery mouth.

    I put a single finger to my mouth. “Shhh, there’s a good girl; we don’t want to wake up Grandmother.” As I scratched behind her ears she pushed her head against my hand and dropped the feather. It was a chickens, and more than likely one of Eleanors.

    None of it made sense. Someone had taken the spare key, collected Sally and a bottle of water, gone to the chicken house and chicken-nap Eleanor, take them all to the centre of the greenhouse, sacrifice Eleanor, take Sally back home and disappear with the key and Eleanor’s remains. Who? Why? All I knew was that I needed to get the blood off my hands and get back to bed before Grandmother woke up. Then I could start to solve the who’s and why’s.

    I left Sally gnawing at a chew and went for the stairs. Grandmother was still asleep as I passed her bedroom and went for a shower. She was still snoring for England when I left after the longest shower in history. Steam had plumed around me as I scrubbed and scrubbed until my skin was red. The blood had come off easily, but I felt unclean, dirty, and no amount of washing helped. It’s why I went to bed. To travel to unconsciousness, to my dream world and escape reality where chickens were butchered over giant roses that held mystical powers and cuts could be healed in less than twenty-four hours. Under the duvet I felt safe, but by then I wasn’t in control, I was but a puppet, but didn’t know it. Things were about to get even more interesting.



    3




    “Wake up Tom, we have a guest for lunch,” said Grandmother beckoning me to rise.

    Terrible timing. In my dream world I was back in the circle of roses where a god awful smell filled the air, and sat in the chair watching a man with his back to me. He spoke no words, but in the moonlight I saw he had Eleanor in one hand and a long machete in the other. Before I could cry out, he held the bird above the giant rose and cut its throat. I meant to confront the man who wore a dirty suit. But I was awoken. I never saw his face.

    I sat up, saw a pile of clothes and a pair of steel toe capped boots that I knew at the bottom of the bed. Dad was here I thought while putting on the warmest clothes I had, a thick pair of jeans and a hoody that smothered my wiry frame, and then following my nose downstairs to the kitchen door. It was shut, and Sally (with her coat golden once more) was stood with her hackles up and nose to the bottom of the door. That was when I knew the ‘guest’ couldn’t have been Dad, he thought Sally was as much a part of the family as I did and would never leave her alone when people were in the house.

    I slipped through the door, leaving Sally outside for the moment and had my answer to whom the ‘guest’ was. Sat across from Grandmother at the kitchen table was Mr Savage. Like royalty he had his left leg crossed over the right and while holding a saucer close, he sipped at a steaming brew of tea. He was still suited and booted, this time though, with a black suit, shirt and tie combination he was dressed for a funeral. His face was still pale, and as he twisted his body to smile at me, behind his eyes there was a whisper of pain.

    “Did you have a shower early this morning?” asked Grandmother who I was pleased to see looked a lot happier. I feared she had forgotten how to feel joy, but wrapped in a white dressing gown and wearing cow head slippers, she had a smile on her face.

    “Yeah, a nightmare woke me; I was too hot and sweaty, so I thought a shower would help and it did. Probably too well seeing as how long I stayed in bed afterwards. Anyway, why’s Sally out in the hall?”

    “Thomas, I’m sorry, it is my fault and has nothing to do with your dear Grandmother – I am allergic to dogs you see.” The man with the stupid moustache had made two mistakes, the most heinous was calling me by my full first name which I hated. And the second, well, without turning I opened the kitchen door. In slow motion with teeth bared, hackles still up and uttering a low growl, Sally paced into the room and sat by my side. I crouched and put an arm round her, partly in reassurance, but also to stop her springing at smug Mr Savage’s throat. The thought of more blood turned my empty stomach.

    “No, I’m sorry Mr Savage, Sally is more of a part of this family than you will ever be and if she wants to be in here, she stays.”

    “Tom, that’s no way to talk to a guest. I thought you had been brought up better,” Grandmother chastised me. “Bertrand has come here to offer help with those bloody plants your Granddad has burdened me with and this is how you repay him.”

    “With all respect shouldn’t this be kept in the family until we know that we can’t cope?” was my reply as I thought about letting Sally wipe Mr Savage’s smug grin from his face with her teeth. Granddad had left me the greenhouse, had left me the giant rose and I wanted to keep it that way.

    But Grandmother had a guest, and she wanted to show that she was boss in her home. “While you’re in this house, you will do what I say, and you will apologise.”

    I couldn’t risk being sent home. I had to protect the rose, find Eleanor’s killer and more than anything else, sit in the cool glow of the rose once more. “I apologise Mr Savage, but I don’t need your help,” I said begrudgingly while looking in the old mans blue eyes.

    “I accept your apology young man, and I understand where your coming from, but your Grandmother would like my help so I am honour bound to do so,” My Savage replied while, with one eyebrow raised, looking me up and down and smiled. “At least your hand has made a miraculous recovery.”

    I placed my right hand in a pocket, out of view; as my blood boiled at the sight of that smile.

    “Right, now that we’re all friends, what would you like for breakfast?” asked Grandmother while making her way to the cooker. “And kindly put Sally back in the hall for me.”

    “I’m not hungry,” I replied before ushering Sally out and slamming the door behind us. Voices reached my ears, they were just noise, I didn’t want to listen. My stomach grumbled, disappointed that I had turned a meal down. The last time it had had any nourishment was the prior morning, but I told myself it wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

    As soon as I had Sally’s steel lead in my hand she went mental, running this way and that, bounding around like a mad idiot. The dog lived for going out on walks; the chance of chasing a squirrel beat dry dog food everyday. Little did she know, we weren’t going far. I wanted to de-stress and the best way to do that was with a plate of chips and a refreshing pint of the Black Horse’s finest larger.

    After wrapping up against the cold with Granddad’s coat and pulling the hood far over my head, Sally pulled me out of the front door. And that’s the funny thing about walking that dog, that it’s Sally who really takes you, her lean frame pulling on the lead, tongues lolling to one side, she was basically strangling herself. I had tried to stop her, sure that it must have hurt, but there was no arguing with such a happy animal.

    I locked the door, turned and smacked into Mr Savage’s big black car leaving a hearty scratch on its side from the steel lead. With my hood up I hadn’t seen it, I wasn’t upset by the end results, just wished I hadn’t cracked a knee against the bodywork. Pulling my hood down I expected to see my reflection in the aviator’s of the chauffer who guarded the car while its master wasn’t present. But the uniformed subordinate didn’t come to the aid of the monster car. That felt all kinds of wrong.

    To Sally’s dismay I slipped the lead back off her, but her tail started up again when I told her to find the missing chauffer. “Find the chauffer, find Mr Lilley, go on, get him. Good girl, you’re such a good girl. Go, get him, BITE him.”

    The dog shot up the grassy slope. I took my time with a smile on my face, and when the cries of a man in pain reached my ears it grew to a crazed grin. A low growl reverberated in the air as I turned to see the greenhouse. Sally had Mr Lilley cornered by the greenhouse’s door; in place of her spider toy, the chauffeur’s hat now took pride of place in her mouth, this allowing me to see his strawberry blond hair, destroying his serious and intimidating look

    “Well look who we have here?” I said in a jolly manner while cracking my knees to get to Sally’s height and placing an arm on her collar. Her focus never left the man who was either shaking from fear or anger, I hadn’t yet decided.

    “You keep that fucking mutt away from me, or so help … so help me God you will be fucking sorry,” stammered the chauffeur in a gruff voice.

    I laughed in his face.

    “Are you sure you want to be threatening me? Especially when my sweet and fearless furry friend has taken such a liking to you.” The chauffeur’s right trouser leg had been half torn away. Lines of blood from teeth marks flowed down the skin. “And she doesn’t take too kindly to being called a mutt. You’re a pedigree dog aren’t you, yes you are.”

    “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” said the chauffeur with gritted teeth. Still shaking, he took a step forward, and with a leather gloved hand, he removed his aviators. Only one blue eye stared brightly at me. It was the same colour as Mr Savages. The other, was a white dead piece of flesh crossed with a scar that stretched from his mouth to hairline. He was trying to intimidate me, but for once I didn’t back down. I had a new feeling of confidence, and showed it by releasing Sally from my grasp who inched her way forward towards her quarrel.

    “Now, would you rather explain to me why you’re messing with Granddad’s greenhouse, or would you prefer to talk to his dog?” I played my cards. I knew he was scouting the greenhouse for a way in but I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

    The chauffeur’s lone eye darted from side to side, weighing up his options, seeing if there was a viable path past me and the teeth. “You can’t understand how mind numbing it is buffering an already spotless vehicle for hours on end. I go out of my fucking mind. So, I decided to stretch my legs in the garden when your dog fucking attacked me.”

    “Don’t talk such shit,” I spat as the time for playing games had ended. I wanted to let Sally have him for dinner. I had a bloodlust. The thought of his broken and bloody body gave me a perverse sense of satisfaction.

    “Why would I lie to you? What the fuck have I got to gain from that?”

    Everything, I thought.

    “Sally, why don’t you go and say hello to our friend again, maybe give him a kiss or two.” The dog let the chewed hat fall to the floor and let out a deafening bark throwing spittle through the air.

    The bark seemed to wake the chauffeur to the seriousness of his situation. “If you let that mother-fucking MUTT attack you will be sorry. Mark my words, you young prick, I’ll hurt you in places you never knew you had.”

    Looking into his eye I knew we were at a stalemate. I had two choices, walk away, or make good on my threats. With a smile I went for the latter.

    “Kill.”

    Sally sprinted and leapt for the chauffeur’s jugular. The two bodies fell to the floor, Mr Lilley’s arms straight, shaking, trying to hold Sally’s snapping jaws at arms length. “Jesus fucking Christ,” said the chauffeur as the dog’s teeth were centimetres from his nose and warm saliva dribbled into his single working eye. “Fine, bloody hell fine. Just get this whore of a dog off me.”

    Without saying a word I walked over to the two bodies and hunched down to their level. I could have called Sally off then, but I waited minutes. I was in complete control and the chauffeur was going to know it. As hot steam bellowed out the dog’s mouth, I watched panic fill his face. He wanted to cry out for help, but rancid dog breath filled his lungs and his entire energy reserves were needed for him to keep his face. The dog got so close as to lick his nose before I called her off.

    “Sally…,” tongue lolling, the dog turned her head to look at me, “… heel.” And with a hint of sadness that the hunt was over she returned to my side.

    The chauffeur turned over onto all fours, had a coughing fit, retched up some phlegm that looked like blue slime and leaned back against the wall of glass. He mumbled some words while using a sleeve to wipe the sweat/saliva combo off his face.

    “Speak up,” I commanded.

    “I bloody said, I bloody came to bloody see if the blood door to the bloody greenhouse was bloody open. The boss asked me to check it out, I don’t know why, I don’t care; all I care about it following orders and getting paid. You fucking happy, you tosser?”

    “Very,” I said with a laugh and a smile. “And don’t worry, I won’t tell your boss that you broke to a young prick.”

    I looped Sally’s lead round her neck and started off for the pub. The chauffeur was still coughing and spluttering. “I promise on my mother’s grave I will make you sorry for this. I’ll make you cry out for mercy and then carry the fuck on.”

    “Good-day to you Mr Lilley.”

    For the time being I was done with him.

  13. #13
    The Tenant Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean's Avatar

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    nothing since Feb 25?????????????

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
    When one is in agreement with bears one is always correct. (mae)

    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. #14
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    Sorry Jean i lost track of it, here comes another instalment (though reading some it i can see so many ways i would change it!)

  15. #15
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    4



    The village of Whaley has just eighteen houses, a population of 38 with an average age of over 50, a garage and a pub. All bar two are situated off the main road that’s shaped like a sickle; the handle starts at Granddad’s house and runs to the Black Horse pub where the road curves out and round to the point of the blade and the end of the village boundary. And the other two? They lived on a proper countryside road, wide enough for one car with a terrible surface, that runs from by the pub to Creswell Crags – and archaeological site two miles away.

    For walks, Sally had always been taken to the ‘old tip’ that was a few hundred yards if you turned left out of Granddad’s. Full of new trees, plenty of grass and proper paths, it was a hotspot for dog walkers and hikers alike, for it too led to Creswell Crags. But we were headed for the Black Horse pub where Sally and I had been going since we were pups. It’s a homely place; filled with comfy chairs, antique wooden tables, original wooden beams in the ceiling and most importantly for me and Sally, a roaring open fire in each room for you to warm your feet upon.

    Inside the doorway I took Sally off her lead so she could trot over to the bar and the landlord, Barry, who stood behind the bar and always had a tit-bit for her. The portly man in his mid thirties who had little hair and a great fascination of the fairer sex had owned the pub for the last five years, and to the village’s relief, had managed to keep the relaxed ‘alcohol and home made chip’s atmosphere of his predecessors. Pub quizzes, darts, that most exciting of games – dominos, and cheap booze kept the punters coming back for more. Barry loved the pub almost as much as he loved women, and even for the over weight, balding man that he was, he never had any trouble with catching a lady. Granddad joked that with all the secret children he had, Barry could have his own private army.

    “Tom my lad; what a pleasant surprise! My condolences though, your Granddad will be sadly missed in the Black Horse, he certainly was a character. How you holding up?”

    I pulled up a bar stool. “That’s good of you to say; and yeah, I’m not too bad, it’s still not quite sunk in that he’s gone. Me and Sally just had to get out the house for a while to just … well, chill out. Everything’s a little mental at the moment.”

    “Chill out you say,” said Barry with a mischievous smile. “Hmm, well for today, your money is no use here.”

    “Jesus Barry, I shouldn’t be drinking,” I said thinking of the giant rose, Eleanor’s murderer and mostly Mr Savage. I hadn’t had my pills for two days, the anxiousness was still there, but only a shadow in the background. And the skirmish with the chauffeur had given me strength and confidence, for the moment locked my anger away. “Mine’s a gin and orange then,” I said deciding that it couldn’t do any harm to have one.

    “Gin and orange?”

    “Yeah,” I laughed. “What’s wrong with that?”

    “A bit of a girls drink in’t it? Don’t you want tonic water?”

    “Nah, tonic water’s rancid, an old person drink!”

    “Touché,” he said. “Head over to the gang, you can check if they’re still breathing. And I’ll bring it right over. Any ice?”

    “Please, and if it’s not too much trouble a plate of chips for me and steak for Sally.”

    “Steak?”

    “She’s been a good girl, deserves it.”

    “No problem, coming up,” he said while bending to give Sally some fuss. I left them to it and headed to the pubs large flat screen telly that had five old gentlemen surrounded. Even with the roaring open fire near, all wore long coats and flat caps. I started sweating just looking at them.

    “Good-day gentlemen,” I remarked.

    “Shhhhh! Young man, wait one god damn second, weather’s on and there’s talk of biggest t’ snowfall in thirty years; this early in winter, world’s going barmy,” said one of the old men without turning to face me.

    The BBC weather report confirmed the old mans ‘talk’; a Siberian wind was to bring down sub-zero temperatures and buckets of snow.

    “That don’t look good for business,” said Barry who had snuck up with my drink in hand.

    “Aye, that’s about right young Barry,” said the old man. “You’ll have t’ find your skis,” he laughed with a rasping voice and it soon turned into a cough that echoed around the room. “So who is the young man that threatened to talk all over t’ weather? I have an idea, but it’s so long since I heard t’ voice my old head aint sure.”

    The old man turned.

    And through a face full of hair, a pair of old and glazed over eyes lay half hidden. Long silver hair, eyebrows as thick as a man’s thumb and a beard, the king of beards, so big and think I don’t know how food made its way to his mouth. One of life’s many mysteries.

    All five old men had beards and looked to have come right out of Middle-Earth. They were part of a seven strong group of ‘wise’ men that made up the village council, cleverly named – ‘The Seven’. What decisions they made, no-one knew, but they met every few days to watch the cricket, and even more so, to hear any gossip. This old man who looked me up and down was their patriarch. It was a long time since I had seen Bob, but I couldn’t forget the oldest man in the village (one of the oldest in the country) who, at a grand old age of one-hundred and five, had fought through both world wars and loved nothing more than recounting stories of his bravery, over and over and over and over again. Only five of the group were sat before me; of the other two, Granddad was pushing up daisies and a quick scan of the other faces told me that the other AWOL member was dear old Reg who looked after me at the wake.

    Bob took my left hand with his right. It was missing two fingers, while storming Sword Beach a stray Nazi bullet had relieved him of them, but he wasn’t ashamed, he always shook hands with maimed hand. The missing fingers didn’t weaken him, far from it, their absence made him stronger, made him proud and I guess, unique. For an ancient gentleman, he was in incredible shape, still mobile, didn’t need a walker or home help and his handshakes were so strong, they threatened to crush my fingers. He was a proper English war hero.

    “Is this Geoffrey’s grandson all grown up who stands before me?”

    “What gave me away? I know I don’t look much like Granddad.”

    Bob squinted until his eyes became slithers of white. “I never, ever, forget a face; especially with eyes like the ones you share with your Granddad. I’ve never met anyone else who has eyes that change from blue to green depending on the light.” He sat back and let out a sigh. “I imagine your helping your Grandmother sort t’ estate out; poor souls been left with a right mess, specially with that greenhouse monstrosity.”

    “Did Granddad take any of ‘The Seven’ in the greenhouse?”

    “As far as I know, none of us have even put one foot inside. T’ monstrosity was never discussed.”

    “And where’s Reg today?” I asked. “I thought he would be in here drinking away his sorrows with you guys?”

    “Reg was due here over an hour ago, it was his turn t’ get t’ first round in. Good job we didn’t wait, I would have died of thirst,” said Bob who closed his eyes and paused to think. “I know my grey matter in’t as useful as it used t’ be, but I can’t remember Reg ever being late. Even when ill he braved t’ outside world t’ get t’ meetings; like t’ rest of us, he loves being apart of t council, and even more than that, he loves a glass of sherry.”

    “Or even a bottle,” Barry chirped in while passing me a bowl of crispy, golden brown chips which I began to stuff into my face. “All this talk of Reg has me worried; I mean I don’t want to lose another customer. So I phoned his house.”

    Bob opened his eyes. “Any answer?”

    “Nothing. Not a dickie bird,” said Barry who had gone as white as a ghost. “The line to the house was dead. I just hope it’s the weather.”

    “Doesn’t Reg live in the last bungalow out of the village?” I asked in between consuming the last few chips.

    Both of them together,” yes.”

    “Then it’s no problem for me and Sally to call in before we go back to Park House. It’ll give more time for the posh idiot and his ginger crony to leave the area.” I downed my drink. After finding the giant rose it was good to finally have some direction again. “When was the last time anyone saw him?”

    Bob was silent for a full minute before he answered with steady, clear words; as if he were afraid there were to be his last. “Reg came t’ council meeting yesterday lunch; said he would see us all today. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. And with t’ snow coming I can’t imagine him leaving t’ village for anything. I bet t’ drunk will have fallen over asleep and knocked t’ phone off t’ hook.”

    Silence followed. An awkward silence where Barry and I considered the validity of Bob’s words. It all sounded logical, but as I looked deep into Bob’s clouded eyes I knew there was more; a truth that I couldn’t yet be privy to. Bob was an expert poker player, keeping his cards close to his chest until the last second, until he was ready to pounce and take all. Was he then bluffing with the smile on his lips or was there more to the disappearance of Reg that he wasn’t telling me? I just didn’t know.

    Barry went back behind the bar; it was where he was most comfortable. “When you mentioned the posh idiot and his ginger crony, I assume you meant Bertrand Savage and his chauffeur?”

    The anger displayed by my face gave my answer away.

    “Well I hope you haven’t got your hopes up about them leaving? They’ve bought all the spare rooms for the foreseeable future; paid more than I was asking and up front too. There’s only Bertrand and his chauffeur at the moment, but amongst all the questions I was told to expect more guests soon.”

    “Questions,” I snapped. “What sort of questions?”

    “Just the normal stuff for tourists – what local attractions are there? I mentioned Robin Hood’s Major Oak and Creswell Crags that aren’t too far away. And then …” Barry stopped talking, broke any eye contact and sheepishly looked at his feet.

    “Barry, then what, what else did he ask?”

    “Ok, ok, ok,” Barry said making eye contact once more. “I’ll tell, and it’s only because you’re Geoffrey’s Grandson; that man was one of my best customers. And you didn’t hear it from me either; Mr Savage thinks he’s bought my silence. Do I have your word not to tell anyone else?”

    “Of course,” I said without hesitating.

    “He wanted to know about your Granddad’s greenhouse and I coughed up all I had. Everyone has seen the structure; you can’t miss the damn thing can you. But the contents, no-one knows. Mr Savage wasn’t happy with the lack of information and threatened to take his business elsewhere. I couldn’t let that happen so I went on. The Black Horse brings in many different characters and I like to know that they’re happy with the establishment. And the best way for me to do that is to listen in on customer’s conversations.”

    Like me, Bob knew how Barry could ramble on about any old rubbish when you let him. “For Pete’s sake, spit it out you pillock.”

    “I told Mr Savage I oversaw your Granddad talking to Reg about a rose.”

    “The anger inside me increased exponentially. I closed my eyes to rein it in, but a picture of Barry on the floor, a broken pint glass impaled in his head with blood flowing freely and collecting like a beverage fit for the vampire Lestat passed through my drug deprived brain.

    “Barry, why would you tell that stranger our business?” asked a solemn Bob. “Mr Savage has, on more than one occasion, tried t’ bribe answers from me; no amount of money would convince me t’ betray my comrades.”

    “I needed the money; simple as that. The pub’s been leaking money for months and without Mr Savage’s capital, I would have been forced to close. Don’t you want ‘The Black Horse’ to survive?”

    “Of course we want it t’ survive you stupid boy,” replied Bob. “But there are better ways t’ do it than selling out your friends.”

    The counting hadn’t calmed my inner anger; it was raging inside my head, filling it with ideas of blood and death. I marched over to the bar, walked through the small swing door, slammed down the chip bowl so hard that Barry vaulted over the bar (quite a feat for such a large man) and poured myself two fingers of whiskey. The rose was in the greenhouse, my happy pills were god knows where, so the only thing that was left to me was sweet, burning whisky. I downed the golden liquid, poured another, downed that; and for good measure, had a swig direct from the bottle. For the time being my anger was calmed and I regained a small sense of composure.

    “I’m going to Reg’s, hopefully he’ll still be in the land of the living.”

    “Oh come on Tom,” said Barry in a shaky voice. “Mr Savage only wanted a word with Reg, not hurt him. What would he gain from that?”

    “To close a loose end,” said Bob stroking his beard. “It’s happened all throughout history; once t’ interrogator is done, they usually cover their footsteps with t’ spilling of blood.” And with the aid of a few choice words and a walking stick, Bob made his way over to shake my hand once more. “If you find anything out about Reg, will you let an old man know, my door is always open t’ you. And be careful too, I don’t want t’ be attending another funeral any time soon.”

    I shook my head in understanding, turned and with Sally at my heels, went to where, the coward, Barry stood. A stranger might have thought me mad for messing with a guy three times my size with the physique of the world’s strongest man; this guy though, was a pussy cat who shied away from confrontation and probably couldn’t have hurt a fly if he’d wanted to. I stood by him, but didn’t waste any energy turning my neck to look upon the Judas. “If Reg’s been harmed, you can be sure that me and the dog will be back to do ten times worse to you.”

    “Tom, I’m sorry, ok; you can’t make me feel any worse than I already do. If I’ve done anything that leads to Reg being in harms way I won’t be able to live with myself.”

    “Save your words,” I whispered. “They aren’t worth the air you waste forming them.”

    And without another word, Sally followed me out of the warmth and into the freezing outside. I spied a single snow flake land on Sally’s jet black nose. The intricate shape of frozen water stuck there for a moment, then melted to nothing, its unique shape never to be seen again.

    The snow was coming.



    5



    We set off to Reg’s small bungalow that resided further down the main road towards the tip of the sickle’s blade; his was the first property you met when entering the village from the west. Before that chilly day I had only ever driven past the house, I’d never been inside to meet the man, only ever meeting Reg at ‘The Black Horse’, Granddad’s house or a charity function.

    A neat paved path led up the middle of the garden to the front door. The grass appeared freshly cut; every blade of grass the same size of its brothers and sisters and a perfect deep green. There were two large windows at the front of the building; each had its black curtains drawn. No light entered and none escaped. All I saw was the reflection of a slightly tipsy young man with his dead Granddad’s coat flapping in the wind.

    I hoped that Reg was holed up in bed, an empty bottle of sherry on the bedside table and his phone off the hook having been knocked to the floor in a drunken stumble. That I would soon be back in Park House watching the snow fall from beside a log fire with a cool beer in hand.

    A now familiar sight met me at the door, one that was unsurprising after it had been haunting me since being at Granddad’s death bed. In amazing detail, a single rose had been etched into the wooden door. I trailed the thorn ridden stem with a finger until a sharp pain made me pull back. At the tip of the finger a bead of blood had formed where the splinter had entered; it was in deep, I couldn’t squeeze the miniature stake from its home so I ignored the irritating stinging and pressed the doorbell.

    There was no answer. Not a sound resonated from the building. Sally sat with more and more snowflakes floating around her as I rang the bell again and again and rasped the door with fists so hard it shook in its frame again and again and again.

    Still no answer.

    “Sally, wait!”

    The tinkle of the dog’s lead dragging along the floor had alerted me to her disappearing around the side of the bungalow. With snow melting on my glasses I followed her and saw, nose to ground and tail wagging, she was trailing a scent until she disappeared into the back garden. Barks of happiness, like when she heard Granddad’s car pulling into the drive, signalled that she had found something.

    The majority of backdoors in the village of Whaley are half wood and half glass. I have no idea why, maybe it was all the rage in the past as to let more light in the home. All I did know was that the glass weakens the door significantly and to prove my point, Sally had her front paws on the wooden section of door, tail wagging back and forth as she clambered to get into the bungalow through the smashed glass section.

    Glass littered the floor inside and outside the door. I easily dragged Sally away, with strength that I was only starting to recognise, and tied her to a large conifer where she could have some relief from the elements and look upon the door. Sally strained against her collar, making herself choke, cough and splutter, fighting against my will with everything she had; she cried, but, I wasn’t about to let her cut her paws on the glass, not for a minute.

    I hadn’t noticed the mud that covered the door handle until I put my hand in it. The picture of Sally with muddy handprints on her coat flashed through my mind. Then the smell hit. It was foul, rancid, putrid; bloody fucking horrible. It got up my nose, tickled my taste buds and mad my eyes water. It took my breath away, forced me to place a hand on the wooden section of door to steady myself while I threw up some chips. They never taste the same second time round; a lot less crunchy.

    Still, I manned up; I pushed forward with a crunch of glass under foot into a kitchen filled with twilight. The curtains were closed, but from the doorway there was enough light to see Reg’s flat cap hung on the wall. That filled me with dread. Them man never went anywhere without it. And out of the cold wind I heard the babble of a news reader from a tv somewhere further in the bungalow. It was good news that was some evidence of life, but my problem - the muddy foot prints on the kitchen floor went in the same direction.

    On tip toes I followed the trail. I was as silent and as quick as possible as I passed through a hall with walls lined with old black and white photographs; more than once I stuck out a hand to steady myself as the fetid smell became more and more potent.

    The footprints went into Reg’s front room. I flicked on the light. The was a few pieces of furniture hidden within, but as I suspected, no Reg. A large flat screen tv was hung on one wall, on the wall opposite was a bookcase filled with dusty botanical tomes, under the covered window was a three seat sofa and in the middle of the lavishly carpeted floor was a leather recliner and a coffee table. I sat in the recliner just as the news had finished and the weather started … ‘heavy snow, only make journeys if they are absolutely necessary.’ The intruder had sat in the middle of the sofa, the man sized mud stain told me so. And it was no wonder Barry couldn’t get through by phone; pieces of Reg’s cordless phone were scattered throughout the floor and the phone line pulled from the wall.

    I reached forward past a full mug of coffee and turned off the tv, it was full of dire news and I’d had my fill; with no idea where the mud man had taken Reg I had but a single idea about my next move – Mr Savage. I had to stop playing games, force him to tell me his real intentions and get everything into the open. For that to happen I had to make my way back to Park House where I imagined the slimy business man still was.

    I put my weight on my left hand to leaver myself out of the low recliner, but it slipped on the leather and I was seated again. I looked at the hand and was shocked to see it was my own blood that my hand had slipped on. All four fingers on my left hand were slashed open above the knuckles revealing flesh, ligaments and bone. There was no pain, even when I pulled back a flap of skin; it was a surreal moment, one that I wasn’t sure what to make of like a child seeing their reflection for the first time.

    The lack of pain should have worried me, but all I could think about was the giant rose; that it healed the cuts on my right hand, so why not the left. I cradled the mess of a hand in my other and started to retrace my steps. I know had a trail of blood to go with the muddy footprints to follow. Along with blood splattered on the floor there were lines of blood scattered along the wall where I had used my hand to steady myself. It was then I knew I had to clean the blood up. What if someone reported Reg missing and the police turned up? Did I want my blood smeared all over the home of a missing man? Not fucking likely.

    In the kitchen I placed my hand straight under the hot tap. It was boiling; steam bellowed round my face, steamed up my glasses and the water spiralled down the plughole pinky in colour. I felt nothing in my wounded hand. Not a thing. Still, at least the wounds were clean and I was able to wrap the hand in a clean tea towel.

    The cleaning didn’t pose much of a problem; even one handed. Yes the blood smeared to an orange on the tiled floor and painted wall, but they soon came clean. The leather recliner took longer; the blood had stuck in the wrinkles and dribbled down the side. I scrutinized every square inch, which, is how I found something unexpected. Not loose change or a lollypop with hairs stuck to it; a photo with grubby finger marks.

    He had lied to me.

    Granddad said that I was the only other person to know of the giant rose’s existence. The photo said otherwise. Standing either side of the bloody thing (literally, the rose was dripping with blood) with smug smiles on their faces were Granddad and Reg.

    My paranoia and anxiety began to grow into monsters. Of the two other people to know of the rose, Granddad was six feet under and Reg was missing. And if Granddad had lied to me, then anyone could; I could only trust myself.

    I placed the photo in my back pocket, gathered the cleaning equipment and in a bin bag along with the tea towel that was no more use no the slashed fingers had ceased bleeding and went to Sally who appeared exhausted. She wagged her tail at my coming, but only half heartedly; she had spent so much energy pulling against her restraints.

    The grass about her, where I knelt and pulled her into an embrace was shredded. “I’m sorry, I really, really am, but it was for your own good. Let’s go home so you can rest up; there’s nothing more for us here.” Looking down I saw Sally licking my wounded fingers; I couldn’t feel her slobbery tongue, but I felt better to know she’d forgiven me. At that time I felt that Sally was the only friend I had close and we needed to stick together.

    It was slow going walking back through the village to Park House. Snow continued to swirl around my ears, but we passed ‘The Black Horse’ and Bob’s house, only making a single stop to dispose of the bin bag in a random houses bin, and with heads bowed in defeat walked through the gates. Reg was more than likely as dead as Granddad and my only friends were a depressed dog and an increasing amount of snowflakes.

  16. #16
    The Tenant Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tito_Villa View Post
    Sorry Jean i lost track of it, here comes another instalment (though reading some it i can see so many ways i would change it!)
    at last!! how far are we from the end?

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
    When one is in agreement with bears one is always correct. (mae)

    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. #17
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Tito_Villa View Post
    Sorry Jean i lost track of it, here comes another instalment (though reading some it i can see so many ways i would change it!)
    at last!! how far are we from the end?
    Of what i went through last time, another 35,000 words. I thought i'd written up 40,000 but in fact it was over 60,000.
    And the 60,000 words consists of the prologue and parts 1 - 3; there is also 2 interludes and 2 more parts.

  18. #18
    The Tenant Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean's Avatar

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    so, we are approximately in the middle?

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
    When one is in agreement with bears one is always correct. (mae)

    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. #19
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    Maybe a quarter of the way through

  20. #20
    The Tenant Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean has a brilliant future Jean's Avatar

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    ooohhhhh..... will have to wait for so long..........

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
    When one is in agreement with bears one is always correct. (mae)

    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. #21
    Guardian of the Beam Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa is a glorious beacon of light Tito_Villa's Avatar

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    It might be easier to email you what i have? Yes, it's raw, and needs re-writing, but i think the story is pretty good

  22. #22
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    so tempting!!! Do you do much editing before posting it here? I would love to read the more or less final version

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
    When one is in agreement with bears one is always correct. (mae)

    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. #23
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    it's been three months!!! so many things have happened! I have turned 50! and here - nothing...

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
    When one is in agreement with bears one is always correct. (mae)

    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. #24
    Fundraiser Emeritus Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958 seldom gets put on hold Merlin1958's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean View Post
    it's been three months!!! so many things have happened! I have turned 50! and here - nothing...

    For, Bears at 50...



    The Houston Astros cheated Major League Baseball from 2017-18!!!!

    They cheated their way to a couple of League Championships & a World Series!!!!

    Is that how we teach our kids to play the game now?????

  25. #25
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    but where is Thomas with his novel??? beginning to feel really worried

    Ask not what bears can do for you, but what you can do for bears. (razz)
    When one is in agreement with bears one is always correct. (mae)

    bears are back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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