Category Archives: writing – stories/drafts

Story a week 1 – The PM

I’ve decided to post a short story a week. I’m going to start with stories that are already out there. Hopefully by the time I’ve gone through them I’ll have some new ones to add.

Number one: The PM    (From the PM and other stories)

The PM

The PM

The PM

            ‘How on earth are you going to run a country when you can’t even remember your phone?’ asked Linda, fixing Michaels tie and placing the phone into his trouser pocket. ‘If you can’t dress yourself properly, what you going to do when the economy collapses?’

‘Don’t blame me dear,’ replied Michael giving her a kiss on the cheek, ‘blame the great British public who voted for me. Besides, I can’t do any worse than the last lot now, can I?’

‘That’s what worries me, I’m afraid that you can.’ She beamed a smile at him and he gave a hurt look in response. ‘OK, Prime Minster, I’ll go easy on you since it’s your first day. Just try not to sell the entire country to the Chinese if you can manage.’

‘I’ll try, but I mean, if they offer me a good deal like a holiday home in Hainan or one of those new smart-phones with the holographic controls, well, who am I to refuse?’

He was interrupted by a grinding sound from the other side of the hallway.

‘What’s that noise?’ he asked, walking over to the door way and playing with the air vent beside it; it seemed to be the origin of the grinding sound.

‘The filter will be clogged again,’ said Linda walking up beside him and gently pulling his hands away from the vent. ‘Now don’t get your suit dirty.’

‘But I only cleaned the filter a couple of days ago,’ he protested, stepping back from the vent.

‘Well, either you did a terrible job, or the air is getting worse. Both are high possibilities.’

‘I thought you said you were going to go easy on me?’

‘I lied, you’re a politician, you should be used to people lying to you. Speaking of which, don’t let those industrialists worm their way around you. You were elected to fix the three E’s, so don’t you forget them.’

‘Environment, Environment, Environment.’

‘That’s right. So don’t let them tie you down for the next five years. You go into parliament and get it started today, alright?’

‘Who’s the Prime Minister here, me or you?’

‘As the Prime minster’s wife I am entitled to boss my husband around. So really it’s me, just don’t tell anyone.’

‘Right you are dear,’ he said, giving her one last kiss, before putting on a freshly washed surgical mask and heading out the front door into the bright flashes of the waiting photographers.

The car was a short distance away, but to get there he would have to pass through a sea of journalists or the gauntlet as it was called by the MPs. He always hated the photographs and questions; it would be worse now that he was the Prime Minister. Taking a deep breath he pushed onward.

‘What will be your first task as PM?’ shouted one journalist in his ear. He had to be careful with the answer. Too many politicians had been caught out by a flippant response that bound them from the first day onwards.  He hadn’t spent the last ten years climbing the greasy pole only to be kicked back down on his very first day.

‘We will be sticking to the commitments of our manifesto,’ he answered confidently, pressing further into the surge.  It was a stock answer that he would only be able to use once.

‘What do you say to the opposition leaders comments that your policy will destroy our new industrial era?’ He paused for a moment then pushed on. It was a question that many people wanted answered. It was the whole reason he got into politics in first place. That and the usual lust for power.  He turned to the waiting journalist, his feet still walking him to the car as he talked.

‘I’m glad you asked me that,’ he said. ‘For the past ten years this country has been systemically re-industrialised, which in itself was not a bad thing.’ The car was getting closer, the driver waited with the door open. ‘But look around you, now you can actually see the air.  The previous Government have sacrificed the quality of people’s lives for economic gain and we are now choking on the environment meant to sustain us. The world is on the verge of a global disaster and unless we take action now and make a change, even if that means slowing down some of our industrial development, the planet of our children is surely doomed.’

The journalist was armed with a back up question, but the car was now close enough for Michael to dive into.

‘How many jobs will be lost Prime Minster?’ he heard the reporter shouting as the door was slammed closed. He breathed a sigh of relief as the driver began to pull away. His task wasn’t going to be easy, even with the electoral mandate, reforming the environment was going to be a challenge, especially when they had to start cutting jobs instead of trees. He would just have to keep running from that question as long as he could.

‘Number ten Prime Minister?’ the driver asked as they turned onto the main street. He hadn’t noticed how stocky the man was as he had made his dash for the car.

‘Yes please. What happened to my old driver?’ he asked, suddenly remembering to put on his seat belt.

‘Oh, he was reassigned. Ministerial drivers are given some extra duties.’

‘Ah, I see, you’re security personnel of some kind then?’

‘That’s right sir. You’re faster than the last one, took him a while to get it,’ said the big man beaming back a smile in the mirror. ‘They found it was cheaper just to double up drivers and bodyguards. No point having an extra salary, you know?’

‘And what if you have to drive and fight at the same time?’ asked Michael.

The driver shrugged. ‘They haven’t though of that sir,’ he said.

‘Do they at least give you a gun?’

The man nodded, patting his jacket, then reached over to the glove compartment, opening to reveal a small armoury of automatic weapons. ‘They give us lots of guns. Don’t you worry sir, you safe with me.’ He pushed the compartment closed. ‘To tell you the truth sir, I’m really itching for some action. I hope you don’t mind me saying so.’

‘No no, carry on,’ replied Michael, not entirely sure how to respond; the last driver had been somewhat less militant.

‘You can’t believe what it’s like to have all our training then never really getting the chance to use it. I’m former SAS, you know. If you ever need any special assistance, just you let tell me sir and I’ll get it sorted out for you.’

‘By special assistance you mean?’

‘I mean special assistance.’

‘Right, eh thank you, I see. Oh look, we’re here, thank God for that,’ he said, remembering to have word with his new aides about changing his driver. The car pulled up and he moved to get out.

‘Remember Prime Minister,’ said the driver rolling down the window, ‘just you let me know.’

Somewhat relieved, he got out that car and made his way to the door, where he stood waving for a moment at the crowds and photographers. He wished his wife was with him, but she hated the publicity. It was hard enough to get her out on the mandatory state visits. The truth was he didn’t blame her. He wasn’t much for the crowds either. He was there to make his mark on history and while doing so, he planned stay as far away from the great general public as he could.

Once he was sure he’d given the press enough chance to get their shots, he walked towards the door of number ten. This was his time. This was his moment. He had worked his entire life for this chance.

‘Just don’t mess it up dear,’ he heard his wife’s voice say somewhere in his head.

There was no handle on the front of the door for him to turn, but as expected it glided open on his arrival, pulled open by a beaming young man. Giving one last wave, he moved inside into the strangely silent foyer.

‘Good morning Prime Minister,’ said the young man who had opened the door. He sounded educated, perhaps ever aristocratic, certainly not what Michael expected in a member of staff. In fact the man’s whole demeanour screamed Michael that man was in PR. Only people from that field could have such sharp suits and perfect immovable haircuts.

‘Eh good morning. Are the rest of my staff not here yet?’ he asked.

‘Not yet Prime Minister, first there are other matters we have to attend to.’

‘I’m sorry, this wasn’t really the welcome I was expecting. Excuse me, but who are you?’

‘I’m afraid in this present case, I am the bearer of bad news. You may call me Marcus.’

‘Right eh, Marcus, and this bad news would be?’

‘You are not the leader of this country Prime Minister,’ said the man confidently.

‘Em, I think I am, in fact, did you not just call me Prime Minister?’

‘Yes I did, but no, you are not.’

‘Ah, I see,’ said Michael. ‘You’re here from the Queen. Thought she’d send one of her old guard families down to put the new republican PM in his place? We’ll you can tell the old bint to bugger off. The eighteenth century passed long ago and her and her inbred family should have gone with it.’

The man gave a little chuckle. ‘I am not here from the Queen.’

‘Then who the Americans, the Chinese, the bloody Bilderberg group, what? I did win the election didn’t I?’

‘Yes you did,’ answered the man calmly. ‘Now please follow me while I introduce you to someone.’

Not waiting for a response, the man turned and started walking further into the house. Michael hesitated, and then cursed himself as he followed anyway. This better be some bad joke by the last party, he told himself as he caught up with the man.

‘You’ll need this,’ said Marcus, handing him what looked like a smart-phone and headset. ‘Keep it with you and don’t lose it. It’s your translator. When we go into the room, place the device on the table and put on the headset.’ The man opened the door to one of the conference rooms. ‘Oh and I would advise you to mind your manners.’

With no time to protest Michael was ushered into the room. A large glass chamber, twice his height and filled with smoky brown gas, waited in front a long metallic table which was adorned with a series of strange looking buttons and dials.  He looked back at Marcus who stood at the doorway waiting. The younger man pointed to the translator in Michael’s hands, then to the metal table. Picking a random space free from the complicated looking controls, he placed the device on the table and put on the headset.

The smoke in the chamber cleared slightly, revealing a fat, gargantuan, leathery green face.

‘What on earth,’ shouted Michael, jumping back from the chamber.  Looking back he caught sight of Marcus shaking his head franticly from side to side. Taking a deep breath, he gained some composure.

‘Congratulations on your win Prime Minster,’ said a crackling voice through the ear piece.         ‘I’m sure my aide has already informed you that you are not the leader of this country. That is my job. I administer this planet for the purposes of the Orion Empire, you many call me the Overseer. Serve me well and you will still have a part to play.’

‘I’m sorry, the Orion Empire?’ asked Michael, glancing back at Marcus who stood like a solider at the entrance.

‘Yes, we control a vast number of worlds, of which your planet is but one. Sadly your people yet lack the sophistication to be a full part of the Empire. So we must maintain the pretence of countries and governments until they are ready.’ The face inside the heavy chamber blinked slowly and heavily, allowing Michael time to take in the information.

‘So you are saying that you conquered our world?’ he asked.

‘Yes, around twenty years ago,’ replied the Overseer impassively.

‘But there was no war, nothing like that? I’m pretty sure I would have remembered an invasion of alien creatures. Even with the quality of journalism we have, I’m sure it would have made the papers,’ protested Michael walking closer to the chamber to get a better look inside.

‘There was never a need. We have ships with weapons in orbit, any opposition and we can wipe out your country in an instant. Previous leaders were smart enough to realise that.’

‘Well, I have to say, I’m rather disappointed. I was expecting to be taking over as the leader of the UK.’

‘And you will be Prime Minister. We see no need to micromanage everything. But there are some key points that you must agree to.’

‘Such as?’

‘The program of mass industrialisation will continue and you will drop your environmental objections. Your country is of no use to the empire in its current state, you must develop.’

‘But hang on, what about the manifesto, what about global warming and people’s health? The public are expecting action from me and my Government.’

‘My Government you mean and as for your other objects, global warming is a myth, your manifesto promise will be retracted over time. Is that understood?’

‘We can’t just go back on…,’ started Michael angrily.

‘You don’t yet understand, do you Prime Minister? Either you go along with our program or I will bring about an end to your entire country. Would you like to be the last Prime Minister of the UK?’

‘We’ll it does have a certain stature to it, but no I suppose not.’

‘Then be the Prime Minister that helps the world become part of a galactic Empire. Education, transport, trade, can continue on under your own discretion, but industrialisation will continue, is that clear?’

‘Yes, well it seems I have little choice in the matter, do I?’ said Michael turning to leave the room.

‘Another small thing Prime Minister, the next time I request your presence you will refer to me as my Lord, and don’t forget to take your translator you will be needing it soon.’ Furious, Michael snatched up the device and stormed out of the room.

‘Prime Minster,’ said Marcus as he left the room.

‘What is it? I have a meeting with the Cabinet in a few minutes.’ he snarled.

‘No one must know about this. Not the Cabinet, not your wife, no one, do I make myself clear? It’s not just you that you’d be risking,but the whole country, maybe even the world.’

#

‘So now that’s sorted,’ said Michael, taking large drink of his cold tea. ‘There is something I have to bring up which you are not going to like.’ The room fell silent, when the press had been barred, the Cabinet had known something bad was coming. ‘It turns out our plans for the environment may have been overly optimistic.’

‘What do you mean optimistic?’ asked the Chancellor in his thick Scottish accent, his fat cheeks already boiling red. ‘That’s the whole damned reason we’re here. The public just threw the last lot out of office for that very reason.’

‘I know Jim, I know, but it’s not the right time.’

‘Right, rest of you, out!’ ordered the Chancellor. There was no questions, the room cleared in impressive time.

‘You know if I ordered them out, it would have taken them twice as long,’ said Michael as the last minister closed the door. ‘Maybe you should have been the PM.’

‘God knows I wanted the job. But I’m a party man. Our people will do whatever I say, but the public, they like you, not me. You’re the one they voted for. You’re the one they put their hope in. Don’t let them down now Michael, don’t become just another…politician.’

‘But there’s more going on than you know.’

‘Look whatever they have on you, it doesn’t matter. The oil companies only have so much power, unless you’ve been caught with a sheep or in Thailand, then I can keep the party off your back,  Even if it is something like that, and God I hope it isn’t, I’ll do my damdest. Just push through the reforms.’

‘It’s not the oil companies…,’ started Michael.

‘It doesn’t matter who it is. In fact, I don’t want to know who, what or anything else. Whatever the hell brought this on you forget it, just stick to the plan. I’ll keep the party in line, Alright?’

#

Michael walked up to the podium to address the house. His own victorious party waited with anticipation, the other side already jotting down their planned objections to what he would say. He caught sight of the last Prime Minster sitting in the back benches on the far side, the man nodded at him knowingly. At least someone understood his position.

For the first time he realised how hard he had made the man’s life with his own environmental objections. The former PM must have been under the same restrictions that he was now. He made a mental note to apologise at a later date. Then a second note to forget the first; he still hated the man too much to go supplicating himself.

‘First of all I would like to start by welcoming all new MPs from all parties to the house,’ he began. People expected him to be conciliatory, though given the choice, he would much rather have been smug; the years in opposition hadn’t left him unscathed. ‘I look forward to working with you all in a constructive way over the coming years.’ There was a mumble of expected agreement from the house. ‘That said,’ he continued a little nervously, glancing at the Chancellor and calculating the risk he was about to take. ‘Anyone who stands in the way of plans to reduce industrialisation and bring a new, greener, cleaner Britain, had better beware. We have a mandate from the people. And the People voted for three things: Environment, Environment, Environment. God help anyone who dares to stand in our way!’

As he leaned away from the microphone, he caught sight of the former Prime Minster, his head shaking nervously from side to side as if expecting the attack to happen at any moment. Michael smiled confidently back as the cheers rose up from his own party.  The rest of his speech would be as he had planned as well. He was in charge of the Country and no alien lizard thing a in jar was going to tell him what to do.

#

When he returned to Downing Street, Marcus was waiting from him; he was clearly not impressed by the Prime Minister’s address.

‘That was not a good idea,’ he whispered to the Prime Minster as he walked into the foyer. The PM’s staff had moved in and the place was a bustle of activity. ‘The Orion Empire is a dangerous enemy to make. Do you want the UK to become the next North Korea? Because that’s they way things will go if you don’t play ball.’

‘You really believe they have that sort of power?’

‘Yes I do Prime Minister, and you would be wise to recognise it as well. The Overseer wants to see you now. I would strongly suggest you take a consolatory attitude for all our sakes.’

‘What are you getting out of all of this Marcus?’ Michael asked as they walked briskly towards the conference room.

‘I help to keep the species alive, that’s what I get,’ he answered sharply.

‘A sycophant like you keeping the species alive, that’s a terrifying thought.’

Marcus ignored the quip, holding the door open to let Michael through. ‘Just remember to call him My Lord.’

The Prime Minister walked towards the table and tossed the translator irreverently onto it. The smoke in the chamber cleared slightly, revealing the angered face of the Orion. As the face emerged, his own doubts surfaced as well.

‘What the hell did you think you were doing Prime Minister?’ spoke the voice through the translator. ‘Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, perhaps you still think that this all some kind of a joke?’

‘I think I was elected by the people not by you.’

‘And you think those people will thank you when their country is crush under heal?’ said the overseer holding up a complex looking device to the chamber glass. It looked small in its gigantic, clawed hand. ‘You see this Prime Minister. I’ve already set my ship to target London, a good place to begin don’t you think? One touch and your civilisation will come to an abrupt end.’

‘And you along with it.’

‘Ridiculous, I will already have transported back to my ship before the first wave of destruction hits your pathetic little city. You have one last chance. I’ll give you until tomorrow to think about it. And when you come here, you will start by addressing me as my Lord.’

‘I will not. I refuse!’

‘O but you will after you’ve gone home and talked to your wife, taken a last stroll around London, watched the babies in their prams then you’ll have a change of heart.’ The face faded back into the smoggy chamber.

Michael stared back defiantly at the fog, but inside he was unsure. Was it really up to him to decide people’s fate like that? Well, he was the prime minister of the UK, but if the people knew what was really going on.

He turned to leave, walking angrily towards the door. It wasn’t until he removed the headset that he realised he had left the translator sitting on the table. Catching Marcus’ concerned glance, he hesitated for a moment. Then thrust the headset into his pocket and walked confidently past the young man.

Once he was out in the hallway and the door closed, he grabbed the headset from his pocket. Being careful not to disturb the microphone, he placed it over his ear. When the voices in the other room came through clearly he smiled nearly as much as he had done on election night.

‘I’m sorry my Lord,’ he heard Marcus say. ‘Give him a little time, once he thinks about it he’ll follow your program.’

‘He is too much of a liability, the terraforming is already behind schedule,’ replied the scaly voice. ‘An alternative will have to be arranged. We only have four more years until my ship returns. What chance do I have of selling this planet to our prospective clients if they can’t even walk on its surface? Should I tell them to come and freeze in this cold environment? Should I tell them to come and suffocate in this unbreathable air? We need a leader who is willing to increase the industrialisation, someone less resistant. Only then will this place be ready in time.’

‘I understand my Lord…’

‘You understand, but you’re not doing anything to assist. You have your promised escape from this world before it becomes unliveable for your species, your chance to continue your flawed genealogy on another grim rock like this one. If you wish to keep that place, I suggest you find a way of removing this Prime Minister and putting another in his place.’

It was enough for Michael. Removing the headset he half ran half walked through the busy house.

‘My driver, I need my driver,’ he shouted to one of the aides nearby. The young man instantly hung up his phone call and started dialling another number. ‘And you there,’ he said pointing at a surprised girl. ‘Tell everyone I want them here now!’

‘Who’s everyone?’ she asked.

Everyone. Start with the Cabinet, then the army generals and go from there.’ The girl nodded in a stunned dreamy sort of way. Without pausing he continued out the front door, blinded momentarily by the unexpected flashes; he had forgotten press would be there. Covering his eyes, he pushed onward to where, he was surprised to see, his driver was already waiting.

‘Where to Prime Minster?’ asked the driver standing to attention beside the car.

‘You remember that special assistance you offered me?’

‘Yes sir, of course.’

‘Well I’m going to need it.’

‘Right you are sir, just tell me who to shoot.’

‘Don’t shoot anyone unless you have to. Now let’s get some guns,’ said the Prime Minister opening the door by himself and rummaging in the arsenal in the glove compartment. He passed one of the weapons to the driver, a machine pistol, and took another for himself.

‘You know how to use it?’ asked the driver.

‘No but that’s why your here,’ he replied, coming out of the car with weapon in hand, clearly visible to the waiting journalists. The cameras erupted more than before. ‘I’m just here for the photo-op.’ He gave the cameras a few moments then turned back towards the door of number ten. ‘Now come with me and remember don’t shoot unless I tell you to.’

They rushed through the corridors, the staff, stunned into silence at seeing their gun wielding Prime Minister, watched the two men as they rushed towards the conference room. As they got to door, Michael put on the headset. He was glad to hear the two of them still discussing how to get rid of him.

Without hesitation, he threw open the doors, pointing his pistol at the chamber, while the driver ran in behind him.

‘Grab him,’ he said to the driver, pointing at Marcus. He was glad to see the terrified look on the man’s face. ‘And feel free to beat him up a little. Not too much though, we want him alive.’  The driver didn’t need any further instruction, a surgical strike with the back of his free hand brought, Marcus crumbling to the ground with his hair still perfectly in place; the big man looked disappointed at the lack of resistance.

Michael turned his attention to the chamber, the smoke clearing to reveal the overseers face.

‘Really Prime Minister?’ asked the Overseer, ‘are you prepared to risk you country for your own vanity?’ The hand and device appeared at the window.

‘Go on,  press it,’ replied Michael, ‘lets see what happens.’ For the first time the certainty in the overseers face eroded. ‘I know about your plans. There is no Orion Empire, you’re just some intergalactic conman, worse than that, you’re a bloody estate agent. My wife controls my house, my Chancellor controls the party, but you know what? I was elected as the Prime Minister of this country. I might not have been the best of choices, but they voted for me and I am going to have my five years whether you like it or not.’

‘Should I shoot Prime Minister?’ asked the driver his weapon eagerly aimed at the chamber.

‘God no, I’m sure the MOD have some oversized anal probes they’ve been dying to try out. His friends will be back in four years and when they come, we’re going to have nice clean air, not the muck that they breath, and more importantly, we’re going to be ready for them.’

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-PM-stories-Chris-McKenna-ebook/dp/B00I70I2DM

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Filed under short stories, writing, writing - stories/drafts

Blurb – Help needed!

So I’m re-releasing Bardo and I’m also putting out a book of short stories. I think they’re not too bad. However, I really need help with the blurbs. They’re a big part of selling a book and I think it’s a skill in itself to write them – a skill I just don’t have.  Here’s what I’ve got so far, any suggestions would be a big help:

The PM

The PMIt should have been the Prime Minister’s first day in office. He should have been leading the country out of environmental disaster, but he’s not the only one who thinks he’s in charge.

The PM is a collection of short sci-fi and fantasy stories. It’s an eclectic mix of engaging fiction, inspiring ideas, humorous tales and daring adventure. In these fourteen stories, find out who’s really in charge in “The PM”, learn about the secret life of teaching in “Teacher without portfolio” and discover what dangers await in the depths, in the powder fantasy “Hold the line.”

Bardo

BardoNikki finds herself in a world between realms, the Bardo, and time is running out. Soon her essence will be scattered forever. Can she pull herself together?

Bardo, follows Nikki, a young schoolgirl who has an unfortunate accident and finds herself trapped in the Bardo. It won’t be long before she’ll be scattered across the realms. With only a dog to guide her, can she re-unite herself in time to escape? Fun, fast and humorous, Bardo asks questions about some deep issues, including who we really are, the nature of life and death and why schools insist on students wearing school uniforms when there are much more fashionable options available.

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Filed under writing - stories/drafts

After Life (Short Story)

After Life

By Chris McKenna

English: Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in...

English: Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in Dhyana, unharmed by the demons of Mara. Sanskrit Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript written in the Ranjana script. Nalanda, Bihar, India. Circa 700-1100 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Will you be leaving immediately,” he asked. His response was not what I had expected. I guess I thought he would try to persuade me to stay.

I don’t have much to take with me,” I answered, glancing up for the first time at the little monk I had once called master. He looked as serene as the Gautama statue in the monastery shrine.

Then you are free to leave in your own time,” he said. And for a moment I felt a pang of anger. Was this to be the end of it? Ten years as master and student and this is how he would let us part?

Don’t you want to know why? I asked, trying to keep the emotion from my voice.

Your reasons are your own,” he said.

His calmness infuriated me as much as it had eluded me. Didn’t he understand how hard I had tried? Didn’t he know how hard a choice it was for me to be giving up?

Very well,” I said standing up to leave and just then, for just a few seconds, he raised his head and looked straight at me. No words came, he didn’t need them. The placid little faced asked the question, “Are you sure this is what you really want?”

I paused for a moment feeling my breath rise and fall and knew that it was. And with that I walked away from my old life and old vows.

#

 

I left the Monastery alone. There would be no one there to meet me. I felt like a convict leaving a prison and it was true, I was a reformed character. There had been so much ego then when I had first entered the gates. I was going to become a monk and find enlightenment. I would leave my poor friends behind with all their worldly concerns. I hadn’t expected it to end in humiliation.

Now where was I? A failed monk wearing donated clothes and carrying the handful of cash they’d given me to see me on my way. I pulled out the notes I had crumpled into my pockets as I left. When I had first entered the monastery it would have been enough for a couple of days. Now I had no real concept of what it was worth. I would just have to make do.

I took one last look at the monastery building. It seemed odd in its Scottish country side setting. It’s semi-eastern design looking foreign against the misty hills, in a way I’d never noticed that before.

I started to walk down the country road that led to the village. Yet, despite my lack of funds and my wasted years, I started to smile. I felt light and the sun seemed brighter than it had in years. Birds few past, insects skittered, trees grew and I paid heed to none of them. I simply absorbed them all, breathing them in with each step. I was free. After ten long years I was free.

I’d been to the village before of course. The rules had not been so strict that we had been locked away in cells. Yet, as its little buildings came into view from the hills above, I felt like a conquistador coming across a new civilisation. What would I do there? Where would I sleep? All of these were unknowns, yet they didn’t seem to bother me.

The village was small, little more than a single main street with a few public buildings and several smaller roads darting of into short rows of housing on each side. The first building that caught my eye was the pub. It was a quiet little place made of old stone with a few picnic benches out the front. The sort of place where families could stop for a meal and beer after a long days walk.

I felt the cash in my pocket and decided I would take a look.

The inside of the place was much as I expected. There was a large fire place around which there were sets of tables and chairs. A few groups of tourist were eating their lunch. A couple of young waitress, possibly sisters, moved among them distributing and collecting plates as they went. At the far side of the room, through another little door, was a small bar. I could make out the mirror and the upturned whisky bottles waiting to be drained. Clearly the clientèle were the traditional sort who went for quality over price.

I made my way into the room, sitting down at one of the tall stools in front of the taps. Two older men, sitting in cramped table over on one corner, didn’t seem to notice me, but one man sitting at the bar gave me a half nod, before taking another sip of his beer.

A youngish boy appeared behind the bar and I ordered a random ale from the tap in front of me. The name had sounding appealing. He sat amber filled glass in front of me and I paid what he asked with one of the notes from my pocket. If the prices here were anything to go by, then the money I had wasn’t going to last me long.

I tried not to think of it as I lifted the glass to my lips. It would be my first drink in over fifteen years. I don’t know what I expected, the lightning bolts of my Catholic upbringing maybe? Instead there was just a pleasant but slightly bitter taste that brought back memories of old friends that I had long forgotten. I was suddenly nostalgic for my youth and all those unmet ambitions I’d had. Would I have achieved any of them had I not dropped out all together? Was there still time? There was a sense of possibility in the air.

Wife kicked you out?” asked the man beside me. I’d thought he was older, but now that I could see his face he seemed around the same age as me, maybe a little closer to forty than I was.

“More like I left her,” I said.

“Oh that’s not a good way to go. You’ll regret that in the end. God knows I did,” he said, taking a long drink of his beer. “What’d she do that was so bad?”

“I don’t know really,” I said, “It seemed right at first. I mean things really worked out at the start. I learned a lot, but we just hit a rut. The last few years, it’s just not been the same. In fact that’s the problem. It has been the same. Everyday has been the same. Nothing’s moved on. Nothing’s changed. Is there any point in staying together if you don’t grow?”

“Companionship?” he asked. “God know I miss my missus.”

“I’m not sure that’s enough.”

He stopped and examined me for a bit.

“We’re not really talking about a woman here are we?” And I have to admit, I was surprised at his intelligence.

“Not exactly, how did you know?”

“I don’t know, but something about you says you’re not a man who’s had to have a woman put up with him. There’s something single about you. That and your lack of hair. From the monastery?”

“I was.”

He glances at the ale on the bar.

I shruged.

“You know I’ve always wanted to know what goes on up in that place. I mean we’ve never had any trouble down here like, but you know, we wonder.” It was the first time I’d ever thought about the people in the village thinking about us. I’d always thought we were far away from the community, something separate.

It’s nice. Meditation, reading, chanting.”

“If it’s nice then what you doing here?” he asked. It was a good question.

“Like I said. Things just hit a rut. Is it any different from anything else in life?” I asked. “What do you do?”

“Farmer. There’s not much else around here to do. Farming and a bit of tourist stuff.”

“So would you be happy if things weren’t going anywhere on your farm?”

“They’re aren’t,” he answered. “I plant stuff, it grows, then I harvest. There’s not really anywhere to go with that. Cash is breaking even, so no chance to expand. Can’t say I have a problem with it though. Seems it takes a certain type of person to do what you did.”

“You mean join the monastery?” I asked.

“Aye. Giving up on love and life like that, takes a kind of commitment that I could never understand. I mean you’d have to really believe.”

“You have to really hope.”

“Well that as well.” he said, “So how long have you been out?”

“Since today,” I said, and he nods as if it’s a common situation. How many other failed monks had made the same journey I had, I wondered. I tried to remember a few of the names of people that had left before me and couldn’t think of one. Would I be forgotten in the same way?

“Stopping in here then heading back home? Got a family or something?”

“Not really, at least, no one I could stand right now. I didn’t leave on the best of terms with most of them. I think it would be best to describe my leaving as less than magnanimous. I got a bit caught up in things. I’m not sure I could take going back on my hands and knees just yet.”

“A man’s got his pride,” he said nodding, “So what you going to do then?”

“Who knows?” I said. “Today I had to leave. Tomorrow I can start thinking about the rest.”

He looks into his beer as if it’s going to answer the questions in his head.

“Tell you what,” he said, “I could do with a hand on the farm, wouldn’t pay much, but there was a girl staying in an old caravan out back. She left to go off to India or Thailand or something like that and left the old thing to pay her rent. Would take a bit of cleaning mind you, but you could move in there.”

It’s my chance to examine his drinking, but he seems sober enough.

“Well it seems too much like good fortune to say no,” I said. “I thought I was going to be spending the night in the open somewhere.”

“Well it’s not charity. It’s going to be hard work, but at least it’ll be something until you can get yourself back on your feet. By the way, my names Jim.”

“Padma..1” I started to say then stopped. “Craig,” I said for the first time in years. “My name’s Craig.”

 

#

 

He wasn’t lying about the work. In the monastery we had little jobs, or “practices” as we called them. It might have been some gardening or sweeping around the complex. Sometimes things would require a bit more work and we would have to paint or redecorate a shrine room, but everything was done calmly and mindfully.

On the farm it was about speed and timing. Everything had to be done in the right order and at the right time. The tasks Jim gave me at the start were simple enough. Most of them involved lifting things from one place to another. At first I tried doing it mindfully, by paying attention to each movement and touch as I lifted the sack or barrel and feeling the weight and texture in my hands.

Come on, what you doing?” Jim yelled from up at the farm house. “We’ll never be finished by lunch time if you keep that up!”

He was right. I wasn’t a monk any more. Now I was a farmer and farmers didn’t do mindfulness. Instead I just got on with it, getting things done as fast I could and let my thoughts flow however they liked.

It took weeks for me to be of any real use on the farm. I’d come to suspect that most of the jobs that Jim was giving me were more physical training than of any real use to him. Each night after work Jim and I would sit drinking a couple of beers together, before I clambered of to my little caravan and passed out from exhaustion. It felt great. There was something nice about doing a hard day’s work and earning my rest that I hadn’t felt for a long time.

It was a Friday lunchtime when Jim decided that we needed a break.

“Let’s go to the pub,” he said. “I think I owe you a decent meal and a pint.”

I think that Friday might have been the most satisfying meal I ever had. There’s something about a chunk of beef that no amount of soy beans is ever going to match. The beers and whiskeys that flowed after that were quite a treat as well and my head started to dance. Steadily, locals piled in and joined in the night of revelry. Lunch tables were put away and the restaurant section became more like a club.

Jim wasn’t much of the social type, but he had a couple of close friends that he found himself talking to and while I didn’t begrudge him their company, I felt lost in the detailed farm talk. So I walked around, drunk enough to introduce myself and make a little small talk with my neighbours.

Then I met Erin.
She must have been ten years younger than me. A pretty little girl with dark hair and constant smile. She wasn’t beautiful in the traditional sense, at least not like a model, but she looked homely. She wasn’t the woman that most men dreamed about, she was the woman they saw themselves marrying.

Now I am not the most handsome of men and nor was I at that time. But not being a local and my odd history did give me something of an exotic flavour. Or at least so the whisky in me told me and I walked over and introduced myself.

So you’re the reformed monk I’ve been hearing about,” she said as we found a place to set out of the way of the main revelry that was starting to border on boisterous in places.

“That I am.”

“Must be quite a shock being out here,” she said, “all those temptations that you have to resist.” For a moment her face was placid then she followed it up with a wicked smile. “Go buy me a drink.”

I rummaged in my pockets pulling out the last of my notes. The wages Jim gave me were little more than pocket change. I’d been hoping to make enough to sent back to cash the monastery had given me when I left, but there was always something to pay for, little places to where to cash was drawn before you had a chance to save it. Still at least I had enough for a glass of wine and another beer for myself.

We left the place shortly after that, stumbling together up the pitch black country roads towards Jim’s farm. It must have taken us hours, but it only felt like a few minutes.
Erin was not what I had expected. She was more than I had expected: smart sassy, confident. She had me double drunk.

Now I don’t normally go home to any boy’s caravan,” she said. “But it seems like it’s a girl’s duty for someone so recently back in the fold.” And with that she kissed me, then took my hand and led me inside.

I woke to the bright morning sun to find Erin already gone. She left a little note that said:

THANKS FOR THE FUN NIGHT XXX

 

It was followed by a scrawl that I took to be her signature and her number.

As I got washed and dressed, I thought about her and how fantastic we would be together. I’d missed years of this and here was my chance to make it up again, maybe even a chance at a family.

It was a strange thought. I’d always said to myself that I’d never wanted a family or children. But suddenly it was all I wanted. It was the whole world. I’d put aside all my high minded attainments and rather than feeling empty, I felt full. I felt happy.

When I got out of the Caravan Jim was already working.

“Someone had a good night,” he called across to me. “Don’t worry I gave her a lift back to her folk’s house.”

I tried not beam a smile and failed. He just laughed at me. Then it hit me that if I wanted to see Erin I wasn’t going to be able to do it on the wages that Jim paid. Sure a caravan was quaint at first for a girl, but long term?

Jim,” I said. “You’ve been great to me, so I feel bad asking but…”

“You want to know if I can raise your wages?” he asked, “I wondered when it would happen. A girl seemed a likely time. Well you’re a hard worker so I can give you a little more, but to be honest with you Craig, you’re not going to get any more than that working as a farmhand. I’d be sad to lose you, but have you not got a trade you could go back to?” I’d been a bank clerk once, but who wants to hire someone more than ten years out of the job? In my days most of the filing had been on paper and I suspected things had moved on from there.

“Not really, at least nothing I could do now. Still thanks for the offer, it’ll help a bit.” It was a lie, the raise he was talking about would maybe let me buy an extra couple of beers on the weekend. It certainly had no long term future.

The thought riled me. Ten years for what? Nothing worthwhile, certainly nothing usable. Still at least things were getting better. At least I had a job and a girl. That was a start. Little steps, I told myself. Little steps.

When you’ve got some repetitive work to do there’s lots to fill your head with. Most times it’d be the voice on the radio or thinking over something Jim had said the night before. But after that night out, there was only one thing I could think about: Erin. She dominated every thought in my life. Every moment I worked, I was working for her and the few times I wasn’t thinking about her I was thinking of ways to get money so we could be together.

It was the following Tuesday night while Jim and I were drinking our beers that he handed me a couple of twenty pound notes.

“Alright you love sick puppy. Go and see her,” he said.

He didn’t need to tell me twice. “Thanks Jim,” I said. “I owe you.”

“That’s right you do.”

I pulled the paper out of my pocket and went to the phone and dialled her number. A woman’s voice on the other end answered.

“Oh she’s down at the pub I think,” said the older lady. She never asked who I was, but I could feel the curiosity.

“Thanks, no need to tell her I called.”I said, “I’ll go down there and see her.”

“Well tell her not to be late,” the woman warned. I guessed the warning was as much for me as it was her.

I walked, in fact half ran, down to the village, springing in through the door to find the place much quieter than I expected. I remembered it was a weekday and that there would be no party tonight. Quickly I scanned to room and spotted her. She was sitting at the bar by herself with a glass of house red.

“Erin,” I said, walking over to her. Her reaction wasn’t what I expected.

“Craig,” she said, glancing over at the bathroom and fiddling with the bag on her lap. “What you doing down here?” I notice the other drink beside her, an ale of some sorts.

“I came looking for you. I called, but…” I didn’t need to say any more, the look on her face gave me all the answers I needed.

“Craig, look I don’t know what to say. I’d had a fight with my boyfriend down in my uni in Leeds. I came home. He came up here to find me. Look I’m sorry I don’t know what to say.”

It was like a knife to stomach. I felt so stupid. A girl I had met once in a bar! I didn’t even know she was a university student. Who was this person I was talking to? Who was the person I had made in my head?

I understand,” I said, then walked through the little door at the back and into the little bar. I didn’t want to see him. Somehow I knew he would be nice. Someone I would like. That would make it all the harder.

Finding a corner by myself where I couldn’t see into the other room, I ordered as much whisky as I could drink with the money that Jim had given me.

I woke up the next day with a screaming headache. Somehow I had got back to the caravan. I remembered vaguely walking up the road in dark and yelling at the stars. I hoped I hadn’t woken anyone up or done anything real stupid. What an idiot I was.

I got up, washed, and changed my clothes and made my way out to start work. Once again Jim was already out and about. He never seemed to sleep much. He didn’t say a word, just gave me a nod and then pointed over at halve a dozen oil drums that he would need me to move into the store room.

What a fool I had been. How could I have made so much over one night of drunken sex?

I picked up the first drum, laden with the weight of my own thoughts and shambled into the store room with it. When I got to the second one, I moved slower. Feeling its real weight and feeling the touch of the metal against my hand. With the third one I moved slowly, watching all my movements and feeling everything that came in contact with me.

 

“And with craving pain follows.”

 

It came from somewhere inside me. Somewhere I had locked up when I left the monastery. But it was right wasn’t it? When I’d had nothing, wanted nothing I’d been happy. I’d been content to sleep at the roadside. I’d been content working away on Jim’s farm. It had been with me all the time. But I was losing it. Something I’d had all along, something so precious, I was starting to lose it.

I sat down on the muddy ground and started to meditate. It had been a long time, but it came back to me as naturally as breathing. My thoughts were gone. I was there, I was content and I understood. I had thought I was making progress in the monastery, but every day it had been there. It hadn’t been the raging river of change that I had hoped for. It had been the steady dripping of water that would, in time, wear away mountains. My time had not been wasted.

When I opened my eyes, Jim was sitting next to the barrels smoking a cigarette.

“So have you figured it out yet?” he asked.

“I figured something out,” I said

“Well that’s better than most manage in a life time,” he said letting out a puff of smoke. “So, when you going back?”

“Back?” I asked.

“To the monastery.”

“What makes you think I’m going back?” I asked.

“Well you’re not going to get much work done sitting around here like that,” he said, trying to hold back a grin, “Look the grass is always greener. That’s what I thought when it came to my missus, now she’s gone. And I don’t blame her. It took me too long to see what I was missing and to see what we had. Took me too long to work up the guts to go tell her I was sorry. Sometimes you’ve just got to admit that you were wrong.”

 

#

 

When I arrived that the Monastery I asked to see the Master. I was pointed to a seat where I could wait and I knew it would take some time. I smiled at the fact that I knew the place so well. I sat down to meditate while I waited and when my eyes opened, my old robe and an apple were sitting on the chair next to me. I put it on and walked into the meditation hall to join my brothers.

 

 

 

 

1In many Buddhist orders they take on new names when they choose to follow the path.

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A new chapter of a new book

Been working today on part of a new book. It’s been pretty intense to write. First of all I’m out of practice but more than that I’m used to writing light fiction and this is a lot more personal.

My big worry so far is that it’s too angstsy. It’s not going to be like that the whole book. But I’m worried it will be put people off. Any thoughts?( NB: grammar and spelling are still going to be a mess, so just ignore those for now. It’s early days)

Chapter 1

It seems to happen for different people, at different times, for different reasons. A death in the family; an ageing face in the mirror one morning; a close call in a traffic accident. But for me it was simple boredom. At least that’s where it started.

I don’t know when, but at some point in my life I just started getting tired of it all. When you’re young everything seems so bright an so new and then one Monday morning you’re old and you wake up knowing that the day is going to be exactly the same as the past ten years. Then its every Monday, then everyday. The days of the week becoming the bars of your prison.

But by then it’s no longer just boredom. It’s become something else, something beyond the simple words. Something insatiable. The punishment of Tantalus. Frustration. Frustration becoming anger. Anger at life. Anger at the world for offering no chance of change. Anger at ourselves for not finding a way.

Your mind is invaded by a question:

“Can this really be all there is?”

And that devil has a thousand guises:

“Am I nothing more that work, sex and caffeine?”

“Where did my life go wrong?”

“What’s the purpose in it all?”

But it’s all the same lingering unanswerable question. And facing the void of unknowing we do what hundreds of generations of humans have done before us: we start to pray.

On our knees we ask for revelation, we beg that something more will be revealed to us. But we abandoned god long ago and now his church sits empty. We bit into the apple too many times and knowledge and the sciences have become our gods and so our prayers fall on deaf ears. And we know, however much we fight it, we know that we are alone.

We’re just solitary chemicals, blips of insignificant energy strewn around in the randomness of the cosmos. We are pitiable machines that deserve no salvation – because there is no salvation for the likes of us. We, the cursed, that have evolved so far that we can see what we really are. We that can see the pointlessness of our own existence with no way to act upon it.

But I did act. I don’t know what series of events conspired on my behalf. Which supernova erupted billions of miles away? Which comet pass through our solar system? Which storm battered the shores? Which blade of grass grew? I did act.

Life for me had been simple. Simple and meaningless. I’d been raised by loving parents yet never learned to love. I’d gone to school, studied and gained all manner of papers and accreditations, yet learnt nothing. At the end of more than two decades in the education system, I found myself behind a desk watching as another two passed me by.

I could write pages about that job. I could expound on the products we bought and sold. Chemical supplies for the most part. I could rhyme of our client lists and suppliers. I could lecture on out company philosophy. But it would be like the job itself: pointless.

It was a simple position and one that I cared nothing about, but for the monthly pay checks debited to my account. Silver handcuff. I lived for weekends. Grinding though Monday to Friday so that I could earn enough, to get drunk enough, to forget that I had another five waiting for me on the other side. Like so many others, I was funnelled like cattle to be milked for my profit to the company. No life but for that which would benefit our market share.

But don’t misunderstand, my owners were nice. My boss Lisa was a benign little woman who came up to my chest and I am not the tallest of people. She was always cheerful and pleasant as she piled up the work for the coming week.

Lisa had come from the Philippines and married to a local businessman who probably worked in an identical but slightly better paying company at the far end of the industrial estate. She lived only for her family. Whether that was her two children that she went home to every night or the network of family that she posted cash to every month. Either way she was far from tyrannical. I would better describe her as motherly, even with those below her at work. She was the sort of person you would feel strange swearing in front of.

Despite all this I despised the woman. As the mouth piece of the company I looked on her as a captive looks on his jailer. But more than that, I hated her contentment with her normal little life. Why did she not feel the way so many others did? Why was she content when we were not? I have since wondered if it was the children. I never had children of my own. Would I have cared more if I had? Would I have been more willing to pretend to care for their sake?

It matters not. For as it stood I shovelled the shit she put on my desk will all due care and diligence, while watching the clock with one eye. Before returning home to my two bedroom house in the suburbs where I would spend my evenings in a comma of internet and film induced numbness. That was except for Fridays. Friday was the night for Eliza.

Eliza was not my girl friend, but far more than a friend. She looked after me. We looked after each other. On Friday nights we would bar the door to her five year old son and bar her mind to her ex that had had ran off and left her with him. Then we would sit drinking together while watching a film. We would chat and laugh about the stupidity of our respective offices or complaining about the cards that life had dealt us.

Eliza’s life was much like mine, but with the added insult of her wayward ex. She was condemned to her days in the call centre most weeks. Cold calling people who had no interest in upgrading their gas supplies. She’s been a pretty girl at school, with a touch of something foreign in her blood that made her dark and more seductive than most others. She had attracted many and chose the wrong one.

I never found out his name, she never used it, but I heard that he was in the army. A good looking fellow I guess. The kind that would be popular in school and then not amount to much after. I’m not sure if he waited until the kid was born until he disappeared, or not. But he was good enough to leave the house and some cash before vanishing into the sunset.

I don’t think Eliza hated the guy. I think she missed him. Always hoping that some day he would come home. She never chased after him, nor tried to get him for child support. She wanted him willingly or not at all. She had her pride and she had his son.

We’d talk about him and work until we were both drunk enough to find ourselves wrapped around each other. Her most passionate times were always after she’d spoke about him. Sometimes she would cry as we had sex, but most of the time it was fun and playful. I don’t think we ever seen the end of a single film.

It was an escape for both of us and although not without it’s affection, it was not love. It was something between lust and love. A in-between shade where they both existed and did not. An agreement of two lonely people, to be a little less lonley for at time.

In the end I would leave her as well.      

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