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Teacher Without Portfolio

“Mrs Richards is having a problem with class 5C, the principal wants you to have a look into it,” says Miss Bordon, from the doorway of my office.

“5C’s problem is probably Mrs Richards,” I say, standing up from behind my desk and picking up the notepad I’ve been doodling on for the past two hours. “If the woman would learn to teach, instead of yelling, then the kids might learn something.” I wish it was a joke, but Mrs Richards knows nothing about children.

“Mike,” says Miss Bordon.

“Yes?” I answer.

“Be nice,” she says, disappearing from view. I know she loves me. One day she’ll admit it.

“I’m always nice!” I shout after her. That’s not true, but I’ve got to keep up appearances.

I make my way towards the fifth grade wondering what kind of demoralized, broken children I’m going to find there. I’m not likely to find much else in a Mrs Richards class. The woman seems to think the only way to keep students in line is to run her class like it’s a concentration camp. I’m surprised she hasn’t put barbed wire up on the windows to stop the kids escaping.

I’m just getting to the classroom and wondering if I can make it back to the office in time for lunch, when I realise that I may owe Mrs Richards an apology. There are no students in the classroom at the moment, they must have P.E or something, but I can feel it from the doorway. There’s something very wrong here, something way beyond Mrs Richards’ terrible teaching. As I look into the classroom I can see wave like shadows swirling beneath the desks.

Now this is probably the point where you say, “Eh what?” But ask any real teacher and they’ll tell you a class has its own atmosphere. Yes it’s made up of individual students who are all people and what not, but there’s more to it than that. The class, that is all the students together, has its own life as well. It’s like a dish being made of different ingredients and coming up with its own flavour. The difference between me and most teachers is that I can see it, most others can only feel it. That’s why I do the job I do. That’s why I’m the teacher without portfolio.

I enter the room, walking slowly so as not to get caught up in the dark emotions of the place. There’s anger in the dark and confusion. The whole room is infected with it. How long has this been going on, why didn’t they tell me sooner? I could have stopped it before it spread, or at least found out who it was coming from. Now it’d be like trying to spot the one kid peeing in the swimming pool. I know who’s to blame for delay at least: Mrs Richards. God, I’m going to have to talk to her to find out what’s going on.

#

It’s nearing home time when Mrs Richards comes to my office and I’m surprised to see the principal with her. They look like a bad double act. Her with her fat floppy jowls and him with coffin thin face.

“She asked me to come along,” says the principal, noting my questioning look.

“Yes, I did,” she says, planting herself in the one chair in front of my desk. “I shan’t be treated like a criminal for doing my job.”

“It’s your job to teach the kids, not drain life out of them,” I say – first point to me.

“Mike,” warns the principal.

“You?” says Mrs Richards. “You’re talking to me about not doing my job? What is that you actually do here anyway Mr McKinnon?’ She refuses to call me Mike for some reason. “’Teacher without portfolio,’ you’re little more than a glorified sub.”

“I’m closer to a counsellor actually,” I say, with a smug grin that’s sure to get on her nerves.  “And we have tried to explain what it is I do here before, but you weren’t able to understand because you are a grown-up.”

“I’m not sure if you’ve looked in the mirror lately,” she says, “But you’re going on thirty Mr McKinnon.” If she could spit my name she would.

“That’s true, I am. Although I still have half a year until my thirtieth. But, unlike you, I never grew up,” I say.

“Oh here we go again with this nonsense,” she says. “I’m not sure how you got the school to pay you to…”

“It’s not just this school Mrs Richards,” I say. “There’s someone like me in every school in the country. And there are plenty of people to choose from.” She looks over at the principal who simply nods. “The best teachers,” I continue, “are the ones that never really grew up. They’re the ones you’re jealous of. The ones the kids are not scared of.” This is technically not true. The fact is there are different degrees of growing up. I’m on one side of the scale and Mrs Richards is on the other. The best teachers usually fall in the middle somewhere: the ones that can feel the room but not see. Teachers like Mrs Richards are tyrannical. Teachers like me just end up playing games all the time.

“I don’t have to be here for this,” she says getting up from her chair.

“Mrs Richards,” I say and she stops. “There is a problem one of your classes and I might be able to help.” She sits back down. I guess she’s not all bad. “Let’s pretend for now that we are on the same team,” I say and she nods. “Now whether you believe in what I can do or not, that doesn’t matter. I do want to fix this problem with your class, but to do that I have to ask you some questions.”

“Okay, I don’t think it will help, but go ahead.”

“So what’s been happening with them?” I ask. Although I think I already know, I’ve felt it.

“They were a nice class, my best class. I hardly had to shout at them ever.” I want to tell her that she should never have to shout at them at all, but stop myself. “Then over the past few weeks they’ve just gone crazy. At first they were just chatting a bit too much. Then they started arguing with each other all the time and they started arguing with me as well. Then yesterday I had to call in the principal to pull three of the students of one boy. They just went for him like a pack of dogs, but they’d all been fine students until a few weeks before.”

“That’s when I decided to call you in,” says the principal. He’s a good man. He’s a full grown-up, I’ve never met a principal that wasn’t, but he’s wise enough to know that there are things that he can’t understand. Some teachers without portfolio are given an office and are never called to see a single class.

“Tell me about the three boys that attacked the other kid,” I say. If they’re the most taken by darkness then maybe one of them is the most affected.”

“Like I said, they were all good boys at the start of the year. Then the grades started slipping.” she said.

“Can you remember whose grades fell first?” I ask.

“Martin Young,” she said. “But he was off sick for a couple of weeks. So I had assumed it was something to do with that.”

It’s not much but it’s something to start with. If not, maybe one of the other two boys, or maybe the kid that was attacked. I need to go back to the classroom. I need to see the kids.

“I have to enter the Childhood,” I say.

#

Remember how I told you I could see the atmosphere of the class? We’ll that’s just a trick really. It’s a sort of side show to my real talent. You see I can go into the Childhood when I want to. Kids don’t see the world in the way we do. If you are ever in doubt have a look at children playing – your own are best, parents can get a bit twitchy if you start hanging about the playgrounds. When children play, they can see things adults can’t. It’s not just imagination. It’s real. They exist in a slightly different dimension from the one we are in. Once you grow up you start to forget that. But as a kid you wouldn’t doubt it for a second. That other dimension, that’s the place I can go. It’s not easy and it’s not always safe, but I can do it.

I reach into my bag a take out a scruffy old toy. His name is Packman. I used to take him with me everywhere as kid, this little egg shaped monster, with dangling arms has been patched up so many times that I doubt there is much of the original left. Still, holding him close, the whole world comes alive: Dragons fly through the clouds; Ninja sprint across the rooftops; toys and pictures comes to life. I notice the pen in my hand. I can’t remember where it came from, but I guess a student must have left it behind in a class. On the top is a little robot that starts to twist and bend, challenging anyone who dares to a fight. I wonder what would happen if he fought a team of ninjas – stop!

This is one of the dangers of the Childhood. It’s easy to lose the little amount of grown-up I have already. I need to focus on the task. I need to go to the classroom.

Class 5C has become a scary place, especially now the students are back. There are no friendly toys to play with. They’ve all ran away. There are plenty of strange scuttling things lurking in the darkness though. I can’t see them, but I can hear them. The worst thing though is the students.  All but a few are radiating the fog that I seen before. See that’s the problem with the darkness. Once it gets into a class it spreads. It infects. It takes happy kids and turns them in to dark little monsters. If you’re not careful it can infect the whole school. But where did it come from?

I walk up and down the rows pointing at the uninfected. The principal takes them out of the classroom. They’ll study somewhere else for now. It’s safer that way. But where is the source? Some of them are too far gone to tell. They even seem to growl at me as I walk past. Others though are only on the way to turning. Girls, I realise. Most of the uninfected and semi-infected are girls. That means we are probably looking for a boy. I find the kid that was attacked sitting off to one side. He’s not fully gone, so it’s not him. But where is the student Mrs Richards told me about? Where is Martin Young?

I spot the empty desk. It’s as thick with the darkness as any of the chairs with an infected student. I think we’ve found our carrier.

#

I drive to the Young house, which is not easy when you have all manner of creatures from another dimension jumping around the place. I almost hit a unicorn near the police station. To be honest, I’m not sure what would have happened if I did hit it. I’d probably pass right through, but I’m not really certain and I’d hate to have unicorn’s death on my conscience.

I knock on the door and wait. I’m starting to wonder if I have taken a wrong turn. Either it’s the wrong address or it’s not the kid I’m looking for. The place doesn’t have that feel of darkness to it. In fact there is almost something alluring about it and I would bet that if a group of kids live on this street, then this is the house they would choose to hang out in.

The door opens and I’m greeted by a keen smile.

“Hello there how can I help you?” asks the man. He’s in his forties and has a bald head with some shaven hair along the temples.

“Mr Young?” I ask. This can’t be the right place. It feels a bit strange, but not bad. It’s certainly not connected to the darkness at the school

“That’s right.”

“I’m a teacher from the school. Is Martin home? We just wanted to check up on him,” I say, trying to peek into the house without being too obvious. There something about the place that I just can’t put my finger on. It almost has a double atmosphere, but I can’t separate it.

“Well you can come in, but he’s not home at the moment,” says Mr Young, standing back to let me though. “He went to pick up some medicine. He was feeling a bit better and we thought the walk would do him good.” More like you gave him a day off cause you wanted to do something together. I don’t hold it against him. At least he takes and interest in his child. That’s more than most.

“I see, what’s wrong with him?” I ask, going along with the pretence.

“Oh just a cold, but he was sick a while back and I don’t want to take the risk.”

I’ve just sat down on the couch, when something dark scuttles out from a door under the stairs. Mr Young turns to look at it. Did he just turn to see what I was looking at? No, he looked first.

Neurons in my head fire up and I realise, he’s in the Childhood as well. We sit at each end of the room looking at each other like a pair of gun slingers waiting on the moment to draw. I use the seconds to try and work out what’s going on. Then a memory of something long and forgotten comes back. This place it’s just like my uncle’s home. It’s just like the place where he… It’s a trap, it’s a lure for children where he can abuse them. He’s somehow twisted the Childhood to make this place. He’s hidden the darkness, but it’s here and strong like an underground river.

I get up and make my way to the door. I don’t say a word for the fear of letting loose and killing the guy.

“Going somewhere?” he asks, standing up calmly. The shadows seem to rise behind him.

“I’m getting out of here you sick bastard,” I say and I’m almost running.

“You seem to forget where you are,” he says, and I’m afraid, because I know exactly what he means. I’m in the Childhood and the trap will work on me just as it would for any child. Why was I not more careful?

The charm of the place breaks down as the darkness seeps through attracted to my fear. It rises up behind Mr Young and then falls on me like a wave. Then I’m lost.

#

I wake up in the dark and I know exactly where I am. I’ve been here before. My uncle brought me here when I was a child. Even now, that day still haunts me. My parents had left me with him for the weekend and it had been fun. We’d played games all day and he let me eat what I wanted. I can see him here now.

“Mike,” he asks me. “Have you ever kissed anyone?”

“Of course,” I say, “I kiss mum and dad every day.”

“No I mean a real kiss, with tongues,” he says. “You’ll have to learn how to do that for when you meet girls.”

“I’m not interested in girls,” I say.

“You will be soon. Come into the bedroom and I’ll teach you.”

I’m sure you can work out how things went from there.

But you see, I’ve been here before and I learned how to escape. It was simple when I had some help. I just had to find the child in me. That’s why I never grew up like everyone else, because once I found him I never let him go.

“Martin,” I shout, “Martin Young.” A boy appears in front of me. He’s unremarkable. He could be any kid in grade five, just like I was.

“Martin,” I say kneeling down in front of him. “I know you’re scared, but we’ve got to get out of here.”

“I can’t,” he whispers. “Dad told me not to.”

“He’s not your Dad,” I say. “Dad’s don’t do the kind of thing he did to you.” He looks away, “Now look I’m going to help you, but this place we’re in. It comes from you being angry and afraid.”

“I’m not angry,” he yells, “I’m not afraid.”

“It’s okay,” I say, “It’ll take time but we’ll get you help. You’ll be safe with me.”

“You’re not a grown-up,” he says. “How can I be safe with you?” And he’s right. I’m not a grown-up. Inside I’m still a child and what he needs now is something else. But can I be what he needs? Can I be like the grown-up that once saved me?

“Don’t leave me,” says the voice of my inner child from somewhere in the darkness. You can’t leave me here. You know what will happen if you do?”

“He can’t get you any more. He died a long time ago,” I tell my younger self, but he can’t seem to understand.

“I don’t want to go away. I don’t want to be lost like before.”

“It won’t be like that,” I say. “Look at him? Look at this boy, here and now. That was us once. Remember? Remember how it felt?”

“I remember…but…”

“You’re afraid. I know, but there’s nothing for us to fear any more. It’s our turn to grow-up and to look after people, just like someone once looked after us.”

There is silence. Grow up to save one kid? I think I can do that. I think someone did that for me once.

And with that I say good bye to the child inside me. He understands that he’s had his time. You can’t be a child forever.

“Are you ready to go?” I ask Martin.

He looks at me in the way no child ever has before and nods, pulling himself against my leg and with that we are back in the house. It’s still dark, but for me at least there is no more scuttling. We’re in a small room. A closet. I find the door and kick it open easily enough. It was the closet under the stairs. I take Martin’s hand and lead him out. He’s too big to carry.

“What are you doing with my son?” yells Mr Young, charging in from the living room. “He’s my son and you can’t take him anywhere.” I kick him in the nuts – that’s the adult way to do things right? I’m still getting the hang of it.

“I’m taking him somewhere safe,” I say and resisting the urge to do any more damage. I lead him out of the house and drive towards the nearest police station.

#

I couldn’t stay on as Teacher without portfolio. You need to be able to see the Childhood to do it and I can’t. Even now it’s starting to feel less real. I wonder how long it’ll be until I forget it all together. For even one child it was worth it though.  Martin’s now in foster care and I’m told he’s doing well. I still check in from time to time. The principal says I can stay on as a normal teacher. Funny thing is I’m looking forward to it. My first job as a grown-up. It might actually be quite interesting.

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Story a week: Teacher Without Portfolio

“Mrs Richards is having a problem with class 5C, the principal wants you to have a look into it,” says Miss Bordon, from the doorway of my office.

“5C’s problem is probably Mrs Richards,” I say, standing up from behind my desk and picking up the notepad I’ve been doodling on for the past two hours. “If the woman would learn to teach, instead of yelling, then the kids might learn something.” I wish it was a joke, but Mrs Richards knows nothing about children.

“Mike,” says Miss Bordon.

“Yes?” I answer.

“Be nice,” she says, disappearing from view. I know she loves me. One day she’ll admit it.

“I’m always nice!” I shout after her. That’s not true, but I’ve got to keep up appearances.

I make my way towards the fifth grade wondering what kind of demoralized, broken children I’m going to find there. I’m not likely to find much else in a Mrs Richards class. The woman seems to think the only way to keep students in line is to run her class like it’s a concentration camp. I’m surprised she hasn’t put barbed wire up on the windows to stop the kids escaping.

I’m just getting to the classroom and wondering if I can make it back to the office in time for lunch, when I realise that I may owe Mrs Richards an apology. There are no students in the classroom at the moment, they must have P.E or something, but I can feel it from the doorway. There’s something very wrong here, something way beyond Mrs Richards’ terrible teaching. As I look into the classroom I can see wave like shadows swirling beneath the desks.

Now this is probably the point where you say, “Eh what?” But ask any real teacher and they’ll tell you a class has its own atmosphere. Yes it’s made up of individual students who are all people and what not, but there’s more to it than that. The class, that is all the students together, has its own life as well. It’s like a dish being made of different ingredients and coming up with its own flavour. The difference between me and most teachers is that I can see it, most others can only feel it. That’s why I do the job I do. That’s why I’m the teacher without portfolio.

I enter the room, walking slowly so as not to get caught up in the dark emotions of the place. There’s anger in the dark and confusion. The whole room is infected with it. How long has this been going on, why didn’t they tell me sooner? I could have stopped it before it spread, or at least found out who it was coming from. Now it’d be like trying to spot the one kid peeing in the swimming pool. I know who’s to blame for delay at least: Mrs Richards. God, I’m going to have to talk to her to find out what’s going on.

#

It’s nearing home time when Mrs Richards comes to my office and I’m surprised to see the principal with her. They look like a bad double act. Her with her fat floppy jowls and him with coffin thin face.

“She asked me to come along,” says the principal, noting my questioning look.

“Yes, I did,” she says, planting herself in the one chair in front of my desk. “I shan’t be treated like a criminal for doing my job.”

“It’s your job to teach the kids, not drain life out of them,” I say – first point to me.

“Mike,” warns the principal.

“You?” says Mrs Richards. “You’re talking to me about not doing my job? What is that you actually do here anyway Mr McKinnon?’ She refuses to call me Mike for some reason. “’Teacher without portfolio,’ you’re little more than a glorified sub.”

“I’m closer to a counsellor actually,” I say, with a smug grin that’s sure to get on her nerves.  “And we have tried to explain what it is I do here before, but you weren’t able to understand because you are a grown-up.”

“I’m not sure if you’ve looked in the mirror lately,” she says, “But you’re going on thirty Mr McKinnon.” If she could spit my name she would.

“That’s true, I am. Although I still have half a year until my thirtieth. But, unlike you, I never grew up,” I say.

“Oh here we go again with this nonsense,” she says. “I’m not sure how you got the school to pay you to…”

“It’s not just this school Mrs Richards,” I say. “There’s someone like me in every school in the country. And there are plenty of people to choose from.” She looks over at the principal who simply nods. “The best teachers,” I continue, “are the ones that never really grew up. They’re the ones you’re jealous of. The ones the kids are not scared of.” This is technically not true. The fact is there are different degrees of growing up. I’m on one side of the scale and Mrs Richards is on the other. The best teachers usually fall in the middle somewhere: the ones that can feel the room but not see. Teachers like Mrs Richards are tyrannical. Teachers like me just end up playing games all the time.

“I don’t have to be here for this,” she says getting up from her chair.

“Mrs Richards,” I say and she stops. “There is a problem one of your classes and I might be able to help.” She sits back down. I guess she’s not all bad. “Let’s pretend for now that we are on the same team,” I say and she nods. “Now whether you believe in what I can do or not, that doesn’t matter. I do want to fix this problem with your class, but to do that I have to ask you some questions.”

“Okay, I don’t think it will help, but go ahead.”

“So what’s been happening with them?” I ask. Although I think I already know, I’ve felt it.

“They were a nice class, my best class. I hardly had to shout at them ever.” I want to tell her that she should never have to shout at them at all, but stop myself. “Then over the past few weeks they’ve just gone crazy. At first they were just chatting a bit too much. Then they started arguing with each other all the time and they started arguing with me as well. Then yesterday I had to call in the principal to pull three of the students of one boy. They just went for him like a pack of dogs, but they’d all been fine students until a few weeks before.”

“That’s when I decided to call you in,” says the principal. He’s a good man. He’s a full grown-up, I’ve never met a principal that wasn’t, but he’s wise enough to know that there are things that he can’t understand. Some teachers without portfolio are given an office and are never called to see a single class.

“Tell me about the three boys that attacked the other kid,” I say. If they’re the most taken by darkness then maybe one of them is the most affected.”

“Like I said, they were all good boys at the start of the year. Then the grades started slipping.” she said.

“Can you remember whose grades fell first?” I ask.

“Martin Young,” she said. “But he was off sick for a couple of weeks. So I had assumed it was something to do with that.”

It’s not much but it’s something to start with. If not, maybe one of the other two boys, or maybe the kid that was attacked. I need to go back to the classroom. I need to see the kids.

“I have to enter the Childhood,” I say.

#

Remember how I told you I could see the atmosphere of the class? We’ll that’s just a trick really. It’s a sort of side show to my real talent. You see I can go into the Childhood when I want to. Kids don’t see the world in the way we do. If you are ever in doubt have a look at children playing – your own are best, parents can get a bit twitchy if you start hanging about the playgrounds. When children play, they can see things adults can’t. It’s not just imagination. It’s real. They exist in a slightly different dimension from the one we are in. Once you grow up you start to forget that. But as a kid you wouldn’t doubt it for a second. That other dimension, that’s the place I can go. It’s not easy and it’s not always safe, but I can do it.

I reach into my bag a take out a scruffy old toy. His name is Packman. I used to take him with me everywhere as kid, this little egg shaped monster, with dangling arms has been patched up so many times that I doubt there is much of the original left. Still, holding him close, the whole world comes alive: Dragons fly through the clouds; Ninja sprint across the rooftops; toys and pictures comes to life. I notice the pen in my hand. I can’t remember where it came from, but I guess a student must have left it behind in a class. On the top is a little robot that starts to twist and bend, challenging anyone who dares to a fight. I wonder what would happen if he fought a team of ninjas – stop!

This is one of the dangers of the Childhood. It’s easy to lose the little amount of grown-up I have already. I need to focus on the task. I need to go to the classroom.

Class 5C has become a scary place, especially now the students are back. There are no friendly toys to play with. They’ve all ran away. There are plenty of strange scuttling things lurking in the darkness though. I can’t see them, but I can hear them. The worst thing though is the students.  All but a few are radiating the fog that I seen before. See that’s the problem with the darkness. Once it gets into a class it spreads. It infects. It takes happy kids and turns them in to dark little monsters. If you’re not careful it can infect the whole school. But where did it come from?

I walk up and down the rows pointing at the uninfected. The principal takes them out of the classroom. They’ll study somewhere else for now. It’s safer that way. But where is the source? Some of them are too far gone to tell. They even seem to growl at me as I walk past. Others though are only on the way to turning. Girls, I realise. Most of the uninfected and semi-infected are girls. That means we are probably looking for a boy. I find the kid that was attacked sitting off to one side. He’s not fully gone, so it’s not him. But where is the student Mrs Richards told me about? Where is Martin Young?

I spot the empty desk. It’s as thick with the darkness as any of the chairs with an infected student. I think we’ve found our carrier.

#

I drive to the Young house, which is not easy when you have all manner of creatures from another dimension jumping around the place. I almost hit a unicorn near the police station. To be honest, I’m not sure what would have happened if I did hit it. I’d probably pass right through, but I’m not really certain and I’d hate to have unicorn’s death on my conscience.

I knock on the door and wait. I’m starting to wonder if I have taken a wrong turn. Either it’s the wrong address or it’s not the kid I’m looking for. The place doesn’t have that feel of darkness to it. In fact there is almost something alluring about it and I would bet that if a group of kids live on this street, then this is the house they would choose to hang out in.

The door opens and I’m greeted by a keen smile.

“Hello there how can I help you?” asks the man. He’s in his forties and has a bald head with some shaven hair along the temples.

“Mr Young?” I ask. This can’t be the right place. It feels a bit strange, but not bad. It’s certainly not connected to the darkness at the school

“That’s right.”

“I’m a teacher from the school. Is Martin home? We just wanted to check up on him,” I say, trying to peek into the house without being too obvious. There something about the place that I just can’t put my finger on. It almost has a double atmosphere, but I can’t separate it.

“Well you can come in, but he’s not home at the moment,” says Mr Young, standing back to let me though. “He went to pick up some medicine. He was feeling a bit better and we thought the walk would do him good.” More like you gave him a day off cause you wanted to do something together. I don’t hold it against him. At least he takes and interest in his child. That’s more than most.

“I see, what’s wrong with him?” I ask, going along with the pretence.

“Oh just a cold, but he was sick a while back and I don’t want to take the risk.”

I’ve just sat down on the couch, when something dark scuttles out from a door under the stairs. Mr Young turns to look at it. Did he just turn to see what I was looking at? No, he looked first.

Neurons in my head fire up and I realise, he’s in the Childhood as well. We sit at each end of the room looking at each other like a pair of gun slingers waiting on the moment to draw. I use the seconds to try and work out what’s going on. Then a memory of something long and forgotten comes back. This place it’s just like my uncle’s home. It’s just like the place where he… It’s a trap, it’s a lure for children where he can abuse them. He’s somehow twisted the Childhood to make this place. He’s hidden the darkness, but it’s here and strong like an underground river.

I get up and make my way to the door. I don’t say a word for the fear of letting loose and killing the guy.

“Going somewhere?” he asks, standing up calmly. The shadows seem to rise behind him.

“I’m getting out of here you sick bastard,” I say and I’m almost running.

“You seem to forget where you are,” he says, and I’m afraid, because I know exactly what he means. I’m in the Childhood and the trap will work on me just as it would for any child. Why was I not more careful?

The charm of the place breaks down as the darkness seeps through attracted to my fear. It rises up behind Mr Young and then falls on me like a wave. Then I’m lost.

#

I wake up in the dark and I know exactly where I am. I’ve been here before. My uncle brought me here when I was a child. Even now, that day still haunts me. My parents had left me with him for the weekend and it had been fun. We’d played games all day and he let me eat what I wanted. I can see him here now.

“Mike,” he asks me. “Have you ever kissed anyone?”

“Of course,” I say, “I kiss mum and dad every day.”

“No I mean a real kiss, with tongues,” he says. “You’ll have to learn how to do that for when you meet girls.”

“I’m not interested in girls,” I say.

“You will be soon. Come into the bedroom and I’ll teach you.”

I’m sure you can work out how things went from there.

But you see, I’ve been here before and I learned how to escape. It was simple when I had some help. I just had to find the child in me. That’s why I never grew up like everyone else, because once I found him I never let him go.

“Martin,” I shout, “Martin Young.” A boy appears in front of me. He’s unremarkable. He could be any kid in grade five, just like I was.

“Martin,” I say kneeling down in front of him. “I know you’re scared, but we’ve got to get out of here.”

“I can’t,” he whispers. “Dad told me not to.”

“He’s not your Dad,” I say. “Dad’s don’t do the kind of thing he did to you.” He looks away, “Now look I’m going to help you, but this place we’re in. It comes from you being angry and afraid.”

“I’m not angry,” he yells, “I’m not afraid.”

“It’s okay,” I say, “It’ll take time but we’ll get you help. You’ll be safe with me.”

“You’re not a grown-up,” he says. “How can I be safe with you?” And he’s right. I’m not a grown-up. Inside I’m still a child and what he needs now is something else. But can I be what he needs? Can I be like the grown-up that once saved me?

“Don’t leave me,” says the voice of my inner child from somewhere in the darkness. You can’t leave me here. You know what will happen if you do?”

“He can’t get you any more. He died a long time ago,” I tell my younger self, but he can’t seem to understand.

“I don’t want to go away. I don’t want to be lost like before.”

“It won’t be like that,” I say. “Look at him? Look at this boy, here and now. That was us once. Remember? Remember how it felt?”

“I remember…but…”

“You’re afraid. I know, but there’s nothing for us to fear any more. It’s our turn to grow-up and to look after people, just like someone once looked after us.”

There is silence. Grow up to save one kid? I think I can do that. I think someone did that for me once.

And with that I say good bye to the child inside me. He understands that he’s had his time. You can’t be a child forever.

“Are you ready to go?” I ask Martin.

He looks at me in the way no child ever has before and nods, pulling himself against my leg and with that we are back in the house. It’s still dark, but for me at least there is no more scuttling. We’re in a small room. A closet. I find the door and kick it open easily enough. It was the closet under the stairs. I take Martin’s hand and lead him out. He’s too big to carry.

“What are you doing with my son?” yells Mr Young, charging in from the living room. “He’s my son and you can’t take him anywhere.” I kick him in the nuts – that’s the adult way to do things right? I’m still getting the hang of it.

“I’m taking him somewhere safe,” I say and resisting the urge to do any more damage. I lead him out of the house and drive towards the nearest police station.

#

I couldn’t stay on as Teacher without portfolio. You need to be able to see the Childhood to do it and I can’t. Even now it’s starting to feel less real. I wonder how long it’ll be until I forget it all together. For even one child it was worth it though.  Martin’s now in foster care and I’m told he’s doing well. I still check in from time to time. The principal says I can stay on as a normal teacher. Funny thing is I’m looking forward to it. My first job as a grown-up. It might actually be quite interesting.

—-

If you enjoyed please check out my other work

http://www.amazon.com/Paradigms-Chris-McKenna/dp/0984452192

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Story a week – Morality Buffer

‘She’s quite a sight,’ announced the helmsman as he brought the ship into range. ‘Shame we’ll be the last to see her.’

‘Let’s have a look,’ said Captain Steel standing up and straightening out his light blue mining-corp uniform.

The sun appeared on the view screen. A huge fiery sea with molten streaks flaring up from  the surface. The half dozen bridge crew looked up from their consoles to bask in the sight.

‘Amazing!’ said Captain Steel, ‘How old is she?’

‘About 5 billion years sir,’ replied the helmsman.

‘Makes you think doesn’t it?’ replied the captain returning to his seat. ‘Oh well then, let’s get on with it then. This sun wont mine itself. Computer power up a torpedo for solar destabilisation.’

‘Captain,’ replied the computer in a calm feminine voice. ‘There are appears to be some factors that were not considered when this particular sun was chosen for mining operations.’

‘Really?’ asked the captain dryly.

‘Yes Sir. I have been scanning this system and it has come to my attention that there are two planets that would be capable of supporting life. A closer scan would be needed to for a complete report, but initial scans reveal that both planets may contain elements of proto-life.’

‘Is that so?’ asked the captain.

‘Yes Sir. In addition there are a half dozen other planets in the system which, with the removal of the sun would be set a drift. If not proper calculated these planets could become hazards for interstellar travel and there would be a slight long term risk that they could collide with in an inhabited system with disastrous consequences.’

‘Anything else?’ asked the captain with a sigh.

‘Yes Sir. Reviewing the database, this sun is visible to at least thirty two of the inhabited planets that we know of. Removal of the star could have mass unintended consequences for their cultures and pre-satellite navigation systems.’

‘I see,’ said the captain with a hint of annoyance in his voice. ‘Override protection system settings and continue powering up the destabilisation matrix.’

There was a momentary silence. ‘I am sorry sir I am unable to do that. It would be …. wrong.’

‘Oh not again!’ said the captain. ‘Captain Steel to engineering.’

‘Engineering here,’ replied a voice on the comm system.

‘The computer has developed a conscience again.’

‘I’m sorry captain,’ replied the Engineer. ‘We’ll need to take in for a full service next time we dock. For now I’ll have to manually flush the morality buffer.’

‘Go ahead with that then.’

‘Ok Sir done.’

‘Computer, power up a torpedo for solar destabilisation,’ said the Capitan hopefully.

‘Torpedo set to power up mode sir,’ the computer replied dutiful.

The captain relaxed in his seat a little. ‘Thank god for that. Let’s get on with it then.’ He paused for a moment. ‘That is unless anyone else has any moral objections?’

The bridge crew laughed in response.

‘Glad to hear it. Now let’s get to work!’

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Story a week 2 – Sex Toys

Her hand moved, skimming across the surface of his skin and circling his nipples. She stroked the hair on his chest in a clawing movement before spreading her fingers wide and moving down to his naval. His body reacted and he was surprised to find that he could manage another erection. He did think he had ever managed a third time before.

Greg looked at her. Her pretty, petite body was perfect. Her dark hair hung down onto her lightly tanned skin. Even the freckles on her body seemed to accentuate her features.

He knew it was a fantasy. What man paid and didn’t know? But for a time at least, he wanted to believe that she was really his. He wanted to imagine that a girl like this would really be possible for a man like him.

“You’re thinking too much,” said Tiffany looking straight into his eyes and for a moment all his doubts were forgotten. She really was his. It only lasted a moment, but he started to wonder. Could there be more to this than a cash transaction? Was she just that good or could there really be something between them?

His thoughts had interrupted his body’s intentions. There would be no third time tonight. Instead he pulled her close, so that she was lying with her head on his chest with his arm around her. This was what he really needed more than anything else. This was what was missing from his life. The sex was just physical, he needed contact. Contact with someone real.

#

The next day at the office he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Her perfume seemed to linger on his finger tips and he could almost taste her lips as he breathed.  As he thought of them entwined together he began to get aroused. He stayed sitting in his chair and pretended to be doing something with his tablet and hoped that no one would notice. But rather than feeling embarrassed, as he knew he should be, he instead felt an excitement that he hadn’t in years.

There had been that on and off thing with the office girl that had come to nothing. Then his morning obsession with the girl on the hyper-rail that he always tried to sit near. But something about Tiffany was more than that. There was real contact. A physical and emotional connection.

The sight of his ageing face reflected on his tablet screen brought doubts.

“Don’t make a fool of yourself,” he said to himself. “You’re just asking for disappointment.” But even then the possibility lingered and he found himself checking up on his bank account to see if he could afford another trip the same evening. He couldn’t, at least not without sacrificing some of his savings. He would just have to adjust his spending to make up for it.

#

She looked surprised to see him, but not displeased. She welcomed him into her bed and they made love. It wasn’t sex it was making love, he was sure of that now.

“I wish I could take you away from here,” he whispered as they lay together afterwards.

“Take me where?”

“Anywhere you like,” he said. Then realised on his bank balance that wouldn’t be possible. But it was just a fantasy she was playing along with, or was it?

“Tiffany, can I ask you something?” asked Greg

“Of course you can,” she said, stroking his hair.

“Do you have feelings?”

“You mean, do I have feelings for you?” she asked. She hadn’t backed away, that was a good sign at least.

“Well sort of, but I just mean in general. Can you really feel anything or are you just programmed to react to certain inputs?” It was the first time he had seen her look upset and he felt a gnawing in his stomach. Had he blown it, was that it? “I’m sorry,” he said, “its just…”

“You want to know the truth?” asked Tiffany.

“Yes, if you want to tell me,” he answered.

“The truth is I don’t really know. I think I feel, is that enough? What about you can you feel?” she asked. Her question surprised him.

“Of course,”he said

“But how do you know?” she asked.

“Well I just….”

“I mean how do you know that you are not just a biological computer programmed to respond to certain inputs.”

He paused, uncertain how to answer. “You’re right,” he said, combing back her hair with his hand “I’ve never thought of it like that. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to… you know.”

“It’s okay. I’m used to people asking. I just thought that you would know.” She looked away.

“Know what?”

“How I felt about you. How I thought you felt about me.” Had she said what he thought she was saying? Did she mean that she loved him?

“Tiffany, I want to take you away from this place. I want you to come home with me.”

She looked back at him, but there was fear in her eyes now and she shook her head. “It doesn’t work like that. You know I’m not like you. They paid for me here. I’m their property. They wouldn’t allow it.”

“I’ll talk to them, maybe I could come to some arrangement with them,” he said. As he spoke he was already getting dressed. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”

Greg found another pretty young woman managing the reception area. He guessed that she was also an android, but didn’t want to offend one way or the other.

“Could I speak to the manager please,” he asked.

“Is there maybe something I could help you with Sir?” she asked giving him a suggestive look.

“I mean..” he started, “I want… I would like to know, it is possible to buy one of the girls.” The words sounded strange, but at least he had said it.

“Sir, you can have any girl you like, or maybe two? Each girl costs 70 Euros per evening, plus an additional fee if…..”

“No I mean I want to buy her. Fully buy her. So I can take her home with me.”

The girl looked confused. “I think you are right, let me get the manager for you.”

The manager, he was sure, was a “real” person. She was tall, even beautiful in her own way, but age had begun to creep into her life and it was clear she was fighting a losing battle.

“I’ve heard you wanted to buy one of our girls outright,” she said, looking down her nose at him.

“That’s right, Tiffany. I would like to buy Tiffany.” The woman paused for a moment, and seemed to be factoring every asset of Greg into some calculation.

“You do realise that she is a robot, don’t you?”

“I am aware of the fact, yes,” he said and she let out a long sigh.

“I know our models seem real, but they are nothing more that machines. Please don’t get caught up in the fantasy sir, it’s not good for anyone.”

“Look, I understand. But is she for sale.”

“Sir,” she said, raising her voice a little, “this is a brothel, people come for some entertainment. Would you go into a bar and ask to take the band home? Or go to a zoo and try and buy the penguins?”

“The way I see it, it’s quite different from that,” he said.

“Let me guess, she gave you some story about feeling emotions and how humans just act on biological responses, am I right?”

He didn’t need to answer. The dawn of uncertainty on his face said it all.

“Not to worry sir, it happens more than you think. Now I suggest you go enjoy yourself for a while and put these thoughts aside for now.” She didn’t wait for his response.

He walked home rather than taking the hyper-rail. It would take a long time, but he didn’t mind, he needed time to think.

He had been so certain about her. She had seemed too real. It was like she was an actress that had got out of character for him. He knew which was the stage figure and which was the one behind the make-up. Was that all part of the programming as well? It just seemed different. Maybe the manager herself didn’t know, maybe she was afraid to admit that they were more than just machines. After all it would make her little more than a slave trader if the opposite were true.

No, Tiffany was for real and he was going to get her back. But Tiffany, how could he get her out of there? Could he break in one morning and whisk her away to some far away place where the brothel couldn’t find her? The second part maybe, but not the first. He was no master thief. He couldn’t even pick a lock.

Maybe he could offer money. Maybe that was the solution, offer so much that they couldn’t say no. He took out his tablet and searched for pricing. Even not counting the android licence that he didn’t have, it would still cost about more than double of what he had in the bank.

A flashing sign to one side caught his eye:

Quick loans in a flash

He had an idea. He could use the cash he had to take out a loan and that would maybe give him enough, to make an offer on Tiffany. Once she was free then they could run. They wouldn’t have to go far. Maybe another city, or cross the border into one of the other European states. Austria! He’d always wanted to go to there. And he was sure he could find a job. It didn’t have to pay great, it just had to pay enough.

The lenders made him think twice about his plan. Two brothers, both built like army commandos ran the place. They seemed to have no need for hired muscle. They had enough of their own to go round. Greg thought about them coming after him. If they were to catch him it wouldn’t be a pretty business, he didn’t doubt. Still he negotiated a deal, telling them that his brother had been caught sick abroad and needed some emergency cash for medical treatment and a fare to get him home. He played up his desperation, his nervousness helped.

After confirming his job and salary, the brothers agreed to the financing for a half his earnings from each pay check over the next year. He had to confirm the electronic billing that would automatically remove it from his salary. It would result in more than 300 % of what he was borrowing. Greg pretended to make a fuss and tried to make a show of negotiating a better deal. In the end he would accept whatever they offered. The brothers didn’t bother with any threats about non-payment. It was implied along the way.

With cash in hand he returned to the brothel. This time he would not be swayed. This time he wasn’t leaving without her.

When he entered the place the manager was already at the desk. There was no sign of the younger girl and Greg wondered if she had found a customer.

“So you’ve decided to have some fun then Sir?” she said with a condescending smile.

“No,” he said, trying to muster up a commanding voice. “I want to buy her.”

“Sir, I’ve told you, she’s just a robot. Besides we can’t sell anyone, we don’t have a license for that kind of thing. I doubt you have a licence to buy one either. Do you think women of this country are going to stand by and let anyone own one?  A brothel in the dark side of town is one thing. Having one move into the neighbourhood is quite another.”

He didn’t argue. He was already prepared. He took out half the cash he had borrowed and placed it on the table without saying a word. The manager stared at the money and Greg was glad they’d paid it in middle sized bills. It made it look more than it really was.

She hesitated. It was good sign.“There would be… administrative fees.”said the manager.

He placed another wad onto the pile. “It’s all I have,” he said. Keeping the other notes stashed in his pockets. It would be a long journey, there would be no direct route to Vienna for them and his bank account would be far too traceable.

“You sure you want to do this?” she asked. “There’s no refunds a week later.”

“I am absolutely sure,” said Greg.

The woman shook her head in way that said, if you want to be an idiot, it’s not my problem. “Go get her then”, she said.

Greg ran to the room where he knew he would find Tiffany. When she opened the door her eyes opened wide with delight.

“You came back!” she said. “I thought it would be months before I saw you again.”

He got down on one knee in front of her. “Tiffany,” he said, “I spoke to the manager and she’s agreed to let you come with me. It won’t be an easy road, we’ll have to travel far, but will you come with me? Will you be my wife?”

There was a hesitation and for a second he was sure she was going to say no.

“Of course I’ll come with you,” she said, bending down to kiss him. “I’ll go anywhere you want to take me.”

#

It was two days later when the delivery van arrived at the brothel. They carted two large boxes into the reception where the manager was waiting for them.

“Another two Tiffany models for you,” said one of the delivery men. “What happened to the other three you ordered last month?”

“Two of them ran off with the clients,” the manager said with a smile.

“Another two, that’s a total of what, eleven in six months?” he asked. “Maybe you should report it as a fault. It must cost you a fortune to keep replacing them.”

“Not at all boys,” she said. “It’s been quite lucrative actually. You’d be amazed at what you men would pay for love. Care for a free trail? On the house of course.” She waved the two of them into the bed rooms as she cut open one of the boxes to look at the perfect petite body.

“Don’t you feel bad, letting them run off with some sex toy and letting them think it’s love?” asked the driver, as he reached the door that led into the bedrooms.

“Whatever makes people happy boys,” she said, “whatever makes them happy.”

From

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

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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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