A Child of a Lesser God

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The full moon had formed over Thing’s cave 12 times when he decided that enough was enough.

He now realised that his mother and father were not coming back home.
Where ever they were, he hoped with all his heart that they were happy. That night, Thing sat at the mouth of his cave and thought about all the stuff that concerned him.

He needed to get a job since the money and tokens his parents had left in the cave were just about to run out. Thing had done okay at school, especially with counting and numbers. Perhaps he could get a job in the town’s bank. When Thing awoke the next morning he found himself still sitting at the mouth of the cave. He got washed and made his way down the mountainside, crossing the main street and into town.
Thing was used to people staring just because he was different. People didn’t like difference, it frightened them, and frightened people didn’t always behave rationally.

He loved life, and he loved the town where he had gone to school and where he had found (and sometimes lost) friends.

He went to the employment agency to see what job were available. Thing didn’t notice as he entered the office, that everyone stopped and stared. Thing wasn’t the first of his kind who have lived in the town. There had been Thing’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and of course, his parents.

All of his family had gone to the northlands where many of the Things had formed a colony. His own parents would have gone there too, was it not for the fact that his mother had taken ill and gone to hospital. The last words his father had said to him was that he was just popping out to see his mother. Neither of them returned, although Thing had spent many sleepless nights waiting and wondering.
He had many good friends in school and some enemies but that wasn’t any different from anyone else. Children learn either love or hate very early in life and rarely do they forget.

The one brave soul in the employment agency asked Thing how he was doing.
“Fine,” said Thing. “Very fine, indeed.”
Thing told the person that he was good at numbers and counting. The agency manager went through many cards, saying ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’ to most of them. Then he pulled out a card and exclaimed ‘a-ha’.

The job was at a café near Thing’s old school. He’d remembered the owner being a kind elderly gentleman. As was requested on the card, Thing popped along to the café for an interview.
The old man remembered when Thing’s parents had held a birthday party for him in the café. The old man was happy to give Thing a job and he was able to start immediately.

The following morning Thing almost skipped all the way to work, given that it was such a nice morning and that he enjoyed being at the café. He had company there and people to talk to.

In the middle of the morning, a middle-aged man came in and when he saw Thing, the man said he didn’t want no dirty animal serving him and he expected a human to give him a cup of coffee.
When the old man told the customer that Thing was his new server and that was that, the man said he would be taking his business elsewhere.

The old man thought that would be the end of it but it wasn’t. By the time he was ready to shut the café, the middle-aged man was standing outside with several others of his kind and all of them had flaming torches.

“If you don’t put a human behind the counter then we are going to burn the place down.”
Thing told the old man that he was sorry, it was all his fault, and that he wouldn’t return to the café the following day – but the old man just shook his head and said ‘nonsense’.
Then the old man went outside and faced the gang of men intent on burning down his café.

“You men, think that because Thing looks different that he deserves to be treated differently. In fact to be treated as a lesser being that you. Is he a child of a lesser god? I don’t think so. How many of you created yourselves? How many of you brought yourselves to Earth? None of you? I didn’t think so. We are all in this living together and all we can do is live together. It is you with your black hearts and thoughts who are different from the rest of us. The problem is you hide your evil thoughts in a body and brain that looks like everyone else. But you are not like everyone else. You are evil and most of all, stupid. So burn my café down if you want. We will only set up in another place, and yes, Thing will be there too. You people are what is wrong with the world, not Thing, not me.”

And with that the men, one by one, threw down their torches and wandered off. The middle-aged man came forward and spat at Thing. The old man wiped the spit from Thing and apologised to him.
“I cannot make an excuse for such a person. They are what they are, and we must exist beside them. Now you go home, have a rest and I will see you tomorrow. We have living to do.”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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A Story From A Room

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Once upon a long ago, a man walked into a room. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the place – it was just a room. Simple as that.

The first time the man walked into the room, he had spent too long listening to those who talk about darkness. Those are the souls who live, work, breathe, and create darkness. Their glass is always half-empty and it is always someone else who drank from it. They would rather you didn’t smile, after all what have you got to smile about?

Having let all this bleed into his mind, the man walked into the room. In the corner was an old lady with a cat. It looked as if the cat was the old lady’s only friend, she was willing it not to die. If the cat went, so the old lady would probably follow. Across, in another corner was a boy looking out of the window. The boy looked lost, as if he was searching for something that lay beyond the horizon. Perhaps he was getting ready to jump, thought the man. Lying on the floor in the centre of the room was an old man staring at the ceiling. The man wondered if the older gentleman was looking at something in particular – but the man looked up and could find nothing of interest. Perhaps the older gentleman was depressed and could not find the energy to move? The man, sad and down, left the room and closed the door behind him.

Another man walked into the room. He had basked in the warm sunshine and had breathed the air full of the scent of flowers before entering. In the corner of the room he saw an old woman who was finding comfort and love in a beautiful cat. The animal was just as happy to be stroked and petted. At the window was a young boy who looked happy and excited to watch the sea and the sun create diamonds of colour. On the floor lay the boy’s father who was watching the rainbows on the ceiling created by the sun hitting a little crystal vase. The man smiled at the beauty in the room and left.

In this particular room moments before either of the men had entered, the boy’s father had tripped over his child’s cat and was lying injured on the floor. His son had called an ambulance and was watching out of the window to see when it arrived. The grandmother was trying to calm down the cat who was understandably upset after being tripped over.

And so to the point: there is no right, nor wrong in any place. There is only the truth as you see it.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

The Night Café

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It wasn’t planned, nor had it been meant. It had just happened, much like the start of the Universe at the Big Bang.

Treacle (actually she was Christened, Ann but no one had ever really called her that) still had one of the keys to the village hall door. She was eighty-two years of age, and still sprightly, as some folks were want to say. She had cleaned the hall, girl and woman, for the last sixty-seven years, and still she found herself nipping in from time to time to check if the place was its usual pristine self.

If it wasn’t, she would straighten a curtain here, or wipe a smudge there, but usually she found that she had taught the younger folks well, and that they had all done a good job.

When Treacle lost her Harold, after he had a long battle with Alzheimer’s, she found her life as empty as the biggest hole in the world. For the last eight years, she had watched the love of her life take a long and slow walk into oblivion. She couldn’t actually say when the man she loved had properly left her, as the shell he had become hung on for a while longer. It was the longest good-bye in her life.

She neither cried, nor complained. What was the point? Everyone was walking around with some burden on their shoulders. Her’s was a burden of love.

One Tuesday morning, she awoke as she always did around 3.24am. It was always there or thereabouts – Treacle couldn’t help wonder if there was some significance to that time on the clock.

It was a warm Spring morning and the Sun would be rising sooner rather than later. So Treacle got dressed and wandered down to the village hall. She knew there would be something there to keep her occupied – let her stop thinking about Harold.

When she stepped inside there were a few bits and pieces left scattered from the Kid’s Club, and she soon had those tidied away.

“I’ll make a cup of tea,” she said out loud to Harold, hoping he was listening.

She had found an old digestive biscuit in one of the shelves and was about to sit down to enjoy her drink, when there was a tap at the door. She looked at the clock, it said 4.17am. Maybe it was the police.

Treacle, always being one to avoid problems, went along a few windows to see if she could see who was at the door. She recognised the silhouette, it was old Tommy from across the High Street.

Tommy had been a widower for many a year, and had accepted it all – like he did life – with a stiff upper lip.

“Hello Tommy, what brings you here at this time?”

And Tommy explained that he’d seen the light on in the hall and wondered what was up. It was Tommy who had said about the village, that if you put on your bathroom light twice in one night, some neighbour would call an ambulance for you.

Treacle made Tommy a cup of tea and they shared a digestive biscuit. They didn’t talk about anything in particular, and most of the time they didn’t talk at all. It was just nice to have another human being to sit with in the wee small hours of the morning.

The following night, Treacle woke around the same time and once again she was down the village hall and once again, Tommy knocked on the door. This time Tommy brought his dog with him.

“Seems a shame to leave him in on his own.”

Treacle had bought newer biscuits – ones with chocolate on top – and both she, Tommy, and Elvis the dog shared them.

The following night, Tommy was disappointed to see that the hall was in darkness and later found out in the village shop, that Treacle had gone to visit her daughter.

By the time that Treacle got to the hall again, Tommy had been talking about their night-time meetings, and when Treacle sat in the hall at 3.30am – there was a knock on the door and Tommy, his dog, and seven other people joined them.

It seemed that there were many people in the village who found it difficult to sleep. A couple of them played cards, one or two just sat and talked about this and that. One lady, whose husband was fighting overseas, sat and knitted her Christmas presents.

At the end of the month, Treacle was opening the hall three nights a week, and there were about a dozen people coming in at any one time: people who found the dark of night the loneliest time in their lives.

The blackness always made demons and problems seem ten times their size, and leave the soul empty and dark. No one could fight their night problems – folks would have to wait for the return of the sun to be able to just stand again.

But the club, The Lonely Soul Night Café (as Tommy called it) started to attract young and old. Edward, who had lost his dad a few years earlier, still had night sweats and found that talking to other hearts sometimes took the pain away a little.

Bernadette, who had always liked a little sherry to help her sleep, found that there was more warmth and kindness in the night café, than at the bottom of a glass.

They even started to put on little plays, or folks would write a poem, or a song, or perhaps they would just stand and say how they were feeling that particular week. Maybe they were missing their love-heart, or their children, or regretting chances they had missed in life. Whatever it was, it was spoken and dealt with at the café.

Some folks started to find that they made it through to the morning without wakening. For some they felt sad they had missed another night at the hall.

But for most, it meant that their healing was starting and they were ready to face the world again.

And that was everything.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Making People Happy

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There weren’t nothing special ‘bout me. Least ways not so you’d notice. I was born into a family of losers and then it was downhill all the way. I tried, I promise you, I really tried, but I just couldn’t seem to get on with anyone or anything.

I’m just going someway to explain why I am where I am. I’m on the streets – homeless, friendless and lifeless. Don’t think it couldn’t happen to you, ‘cause it could. It’s no more than a hop, skip and jump from successful businessman to a bum asking strangers for money. All I did was blink – okay, and probably made a few bad decisions along the way but people can’t make good ones all the time. It’s not possible, you’ve just got to learn to keep the number of mistakes to a minimum.

One night, I rock up to Sandro’s Café to see if there’s anything to eat. Sometimes he has an old cake or a stale pie that he’s going to tip out on to the streets and he puts it aside for me. That ain’t his real name by the way. Not Sandro, it’s Jimmy and he’s from the east of the city but he’s got a good heart and I think he can call himself whatever he damn well likes.

So I’m looking for Sandro and he’s nowhere. I calls out but I may as well have been shouting down a big black hole. Then I hear a kind of sobbing from the back room. I knocks. Nothing. I knock again. Still nothing.

So kind of brazen like, I open the door.

“He..lo..ho,” I shout and then I hear this sobbing in the corner. Seems that, Jimmy……sorry Sandor’s better half has left him for the guy who delivers the pizza toppings. Since I’ve been sleeping in the fresh air, I tend not to touch anyone anymore; it can lead to all sorts of problems. But I felt that the sobbing coming from Sandro was so deep that I had to put a hand on his shoulder and tell him that everything would be all right. Now here’s where it starts to get strange, there was a kind of warmth travelled from my hand to his body, and the warmer my hand got the brighter the room got.

The next thing I know Sandro is laughing and giggling like he’s swallowed dentist’s gas or something and I’m like..’whoa’. I mean what’s going on? Sandro gets up – says he’s feeling a million dollars and asks me if I would like some fresh cake for a change, and maybe some soup, if I feel like

If I feel like it? I haven’t eaten in two days, so yeh, I feel like it, all right. After a real good feed I go back to the park for a pleasant night’s sleep.

I wake in the morning to find some guy trying to rob me of my coat; one that I had found under a railway bridge when the owner of the coat, was out and about. So maybe there was a little karma coming back at me from the universe. He goes to hit me in the face when he sees that I’ve have woken up, so I grab his wrist and it happens again. There’s a surge of heat from my hand and this guy must be feeling it. He jumps back and shouts something like ‘holy sh…’ – well you know what I mean. Then a smile starts to give birth on his face and before you know it, the smile is taking over his face, like he’s just had a funny cigarette or something. I don’t want to go into details in case there are kids reading this, so lets just leave it at that.

The guy stands up, shouts ‘hallelujah’ , then kisses me on the cheek. He says he’s never felt so good in his life and gives me some money and tells me to keep the coat – my coat, well it sort of is my coat.

That afternoon, I pass Sandro’s café on the off-chance that he might still be in a good mood and there might be something to eat in it for me. I see that his café is really busy and he’s standing in the middle of the floor telling everyone something or other, so I hurry passed real quick.

“There he is, “ shouts Sandro.  I look around and he standing outside the café with about 20 other people and they’re all looking at me.

“He’s a miracle worker. He’s the man who make miracles happen.”

I guess I panic and I start to run. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

As I’m running down Saffron Street, I start to ask myself how all of this could have happened. Did I bump my head? Was I visited by an alien or an angel? Have I always been this weird and never noticed?

Half way down, there’s a building or something and lots of people going in. Okay, so I never noticed that they were all in black but in I run, sit at the back and hope no one notices me.

It’s a funeral and I’m the only one there in a red coat. Then the wife or sister or mother or friend of the deceased comes in and shakes everyone by the hand. She looks at me and gets kind of upset that I haven’t put my hand out. Then she shakes it and I can feel the warmth seeping into her and then she starts smiling and laughing like she’s on some kind of drug.

It’s then that I realise that there’s a right time and place for a miracle (if that’s what’s happening to me) and this ain’t it. The woman is dancing and laughing all the way down the church and the whole congregation is looking at her, then back at me as if I gave her something.

It suddenly hits me what I should do next, I go around the whole church and shake everyone’s hand. Boy did that funeral turn into a party – they were all dancing in the aisles and I took this as a sign to make a quick exit out the back door.

I went back to my park bench just to hide out and take stock on what was happening. I felt that I would wake up at any moment and it would have all been a dream.

I decided that maybe I could use whatever this was for good before it ran out, so I went to a local children’s hospital with a few toys I had found here and there. They were clean, I washed them in a stream  – I asked the nurse if it was okay to hand them out and she said it was all right. I gave the kids the toys to play with then shook each of their hands. Boy, they were smiling and laughing and were really happy. Maybe I did have something good to give after all.

I am the man who can make people happy.

Perhaps it was a virus or an illness, or a gift from the big man upstairs, whatever it was I didn’t want to look too close and maybe ruin it.

People started coming to the park, night and day, I’ve no idea how they found me, but they found me and wanted me to shake their hands. I would tell them it was 3am but that made no difference – they said that if I didn’t shake their hand then they’d jump off a bridge. Not all of them, but enough of them tried to blackmail me.

It’s funny how I was making all these people happy and no one really said ‘thank you’. Not that I was expecting it, but it’s as if people thought I had this gift and it was their right to have some of it. Perhaps that was true but I couldn’t make one particular person happy and that person was – me.

A journalist turned up offering me money to tell them my story, and although I did need the money I felt that wasn’t why I was given this gift – if that’s indeed what happened.

Then one day one of those talent contests, you know the ones, the type of TV show which makes people cry, asked if I was interested in entering. I would be famous they said, no one has a gift like yours, they said.

So on I went and people loved me at first. ‘An angel sent from heaven’ was how the Papers wrote about me and then the audience got bored, apparently making people happy wasn’t good television and I was booted off the show.

Then the gutter press ran a story about me, and how making people happy was likely to be an addiction and that I was nothing better than a drug dealer.

A drug dealer – I ask you?

As the man said on the television – being happy all the time was unnatural and that I was probably the same. I had to leave town and move on.

And now that’s what I do, I keep moving on all the time and wonder if anyone wants to know a man who can make people happy.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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The Shadow House

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The building was old and smelt of a lonely staleness. As if once upon a time people had thrown a party there and then had closed the door behind themselves.

It had been built to fulfil a dream of a man whose name had been long since forgotten; one who had run out of money before the completion of the place and like his body had begun to turn to dust and rust.

It had lain that way for over fifty years when, Patrick, who had taken the wrong path one day, passed it and decided to buy it. The interior was part Art Deco and part Art Nouveau, part lost and part full of colour and life. It suited Patrick perfectly, because he too had a dream and that was to build a very special museum. One that would be unique – one that would bring tears and joy both at the same time.

To fill it the way he intended meant that Patrick had to hide in quiet places. He had to sneak into rooms when folks were occupied in other things – he had to search in old huts and sheds where folks had left the things that Patrick was seeking.

He found them. There was no problem with that, because people always left traces of themselves and that would always lead Patrick to a new seam of discovery.

It took him over two years to get the collection together the way that he wanted, and a further year to present them the way he wanted. In the end, exhausted and tired, he looked at his work and it pleased him.

For the opening night, he invited all those from whom he had taken an object – whether they knew or not. Some were amazed, others shocked, some were crying and some laughing, but no one could ignore the beautiful strange building with its beautiful contents.

The corridors were dark, and the walls were white to show off their contents. A man, a woman or a child would go to their exhibit and point; for on the big, impressive walls of the strange building were displayed – in all their glory – the shadows of the people’s former selves. Some folks stood next to their shadows and tried to fit into them, but time had moved on.

People looked at who they once were and wondered what had happened to them, to their lives. Some laughed, some cried, some wept, some danced but all were moved to show some emotion when they came face-to-face with their shadows.

Patrick felt his work was now done and that his house of shadows was indeed complete.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Sleeping Warrior

The story of a 16-year-old boy from a Scottish island who seeks revenge. A journey which takes him from the ’16 Uprising in Dublin to a heroism at the Somme.

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St.Pols near Arras France, November 7th 1920.

There was a darkness of sorts by the time the two men entered the chapel. The Brigadier looked towards the older man who closed his eyes.

“This one”

The officer nodded that he understood, as the General lifted his hand from the Union flag. There was a gentle sadness in both their actions as they lowered the body into the wooden box, it could so easily have been one of them; yet neither noticed the silver chain with the blue medallion drop from the coffin. Unseen, it found its way into a crack.

They wouldn’t leave him on his own, not tonight; this poor soul had slept too long alone.

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Four summers earlier that same chain and medallion clung to the neck of a boy stuffed to the brim with life. His name was Sammy Galbraith and he was living up to all of his sixteen summers.

“When I catch you and don’t think I won’t Galbraith, I will crack that stupid head of yours open, I swear to God I will”

The Reverend Winters was fifty-three, apparently God’s ambassador on earth and a bit of a horseman. He took an exception to his daughter’s affections being dallied with by the local boys, especially that Godless brute Sammy Galbraith.

Being on foot allowed Sammy more manoeuvrability. He managed to slip behind Old Shaker’s Rock and wait for the reverend to go riding past. A piercing sliver of sunlight found Sammy’s face; he lifted his head skywards and smiled as an eagle patrolled the warm thermals above.

By the time his pursuer realised he had lost the boy he was already riding towards what he considered the source of the problem, Sammy’s father.

Johnny Galbraith, who had only been thirty-two years old when he left his legs in a field in France, had a son of sixteen whom he loved and a wife who no longer cared if he lived nor died.

Before the war Johnny had been in complete charge of Lord Inverstark’s stables, now he wasn’t even in control of his own body. He sat in a wheelchair on the porch of the tied cottage, angry at life and always looking toward the mountains that were once his to conquer.

Their island was named Annshal and it sat about a mile off the mainland of western Scotland. As the sun sank below the Annshal Mountains, the silhouette of their peaks would assume the outline of an ancient soldier at rest with his spear by his side; he was known to the locals as The Sleeping Warrior.

The reverend’s horse came to a halt in front of Johnny, just as the soldier was contemplating whether returning from France had been a good thing, or  whether he should have been  left there and buried along with his legs.

“Your son has been pestering my daughter once again Galbraith, I will ask you, as I have done several times before – will you not control your lad?”

“Perhaps your daughter likes to be pestered Winters have you ever considered that?”

“I realise that the war has served you with a great injustice Mister Galbraith but you should tread with the utmost care in what you say and not judge all women by the standards of your own wife. I look forward to you having a word with your son.”

Johnny reached for the pistol he kept by his chair and pointed it above the reverend’s head.

“You wouldn’t shoot a man of God? Behave yourself man.”

Johnny fired the pistol into a tree.

“You’ll regret this”. The reverend already having turned his horse was riding away. “Mark my words Mister Galbraith, you will rue the day. Rue the day.”

At the age of thirty Fiona was still pretty, and anyone with eyes could see why Lord Inverstarck found her attractive.

It had started off innocently with Fiona covering Johnny’s work while he was away at war but it soon became something more between Fiona and the Laird (as the locals would refer to them in hushed tones). To be really  truthful, Fiona had attempted to make things work between her and Johnny after he came home. She knew he had been injured but he had failed in his letters to mention the missing legs. Even they were not the problem; the real concern was the darkness that now ate at Johnny’s heart. The night she’d left for good, he had threatened to kill them both. She had only walked in the door and his ever-present gun was pointing straight at her.

“Why are you so angry?” She’d never dared ask him that before but with a gun pointing at her head, she didn’t feel she had that much to lose. He said nothing and put the gun back by the side of his chair. She went into the room, packed a small case and as she walked past him, he grabbed her wrist. “I love you” he said.

“I know”. He freed her and she walked out.

Fiona was exercising the horses when she felt a shadow cross her eye line. She didn’t have to look up for she knew who it would be, who it always was, her son Sammy. They no longer talked he would just sit on the hill  and stare at her, something he did every day. She loved him but it had been such a long time since she had told him.

_________________

They had kept their word; he had been watched over every step of the way. The coffin had been placed in an oak casket and banded with iron and a medieval crusader’s sword.

The inscription read ‘A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country’.

He would rest tonight in Victoria Station and tomorrow, the 11th of November 1920, he would travel to Westminster Abbey to lie at peace for ever.

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Lord Inverstarck had expected to go directly to France. The troops had been stationary at the Somme for a very long time but there was also word that the Irish were planning an uprising and they wanted him at Dublin Castle before Easter, 1916. It was Fiona’s suggestion of a Ball in honour of his departing.

“You are the Laird and the islanders will want to have their goodbyes”.

She was right of course and he thanked God for Fiona but Inverstarck didn’t particularly care for the islanders or the island. He had been having a jolly time of it in London, living at the family apartments in Kensington, his plan had been to continue with the army for a few more years then move into banking. It had all been decided by Father while the boys were still at Harrow. Harry would take over the Lairdship of Annshal on his father’s death and Robert would remain at liberty.

No one had expected Harry to die so young.

So by default Robert was Lord Inverstarck and all that encompassed, most of which he had no taste or time for. Hereditary was hereditary and not even God could set that apart; to make the best of a problem was  Robert’s philosophy. Still, there were compensations, the estate (if you included the properties in London) was relatively well off and Fiona was proving herself to be a beautiful distraction. If they could only rid themselves of that annoying husband of hers and the troublesome brat she had given birth to, things might take a turn for the better.
With any luck, Ireland would keep Robert occupied and there would be no reason to travel to France. He could be back in Annshal and in Fiona’s arms by autumn.

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Robert McAnders, Lord Inverstarck of Annshal, was to report to Dublin Castle by the 1st of April, 1916 and so the Ball was arranged for the previous Saturday.

It was a dark early afternoon and there were still several weeks to go before the clocks were changed. This was the first time it had been tried and it kept the British in step with the Germans who were both in a bid to save daylight.

It was one of the few things that would be saved that year.

Everyone on Annshal was invited to the Laird’s farewell and all were expected to attend, that included men without legs and their sons. The Farewell Ball was Fiona’s first real challenge in the House and there was much to prove to herself and to the others. Proof that she was worthy of being at the Laird’s side (and not just in his bed), that she was more than just a grooms’ wife with ambitions and that she would make a worthy spouse to Robert – if that chance ever arose.

These were strange times, very strange indeed, and the old ways were crumbling in the hands of the islanders. In the past Fiona would never have been allowed such an important task as to arrange a party. She would have only been a badly kept secret but things had changed and who really knew what the world would become when the war was finally over.

The Staff, under the charge of Fiona, had done their jobs well. Inverstarck House had never looked more beautiful than it did that night with its face scrubbed and brightened by the snow.The paths were marked by large torches which could be seen from a mile away. Those who had the means arrived by coach and the rest on foot. Men from the mainland, who were not at war, were also invited and most of them made the effort to see the Laird off to Ireland. Robert McAnders was an influential man and one to be respected. It did them no harm, if they ended up in Ireland, to have the ear of the one of the governors of Dublin Castle.

Whether overlooked or by intention, no one had sent a pony and trap to the Galbraith’s cottage. Sammy saw this as a sign that they should stay away but Johnny was determined that they make an appearance. This had been the way of things before the war and in his mind, it still was – nothing had changed.

Sammy pushed his father’s wheelchair in silence as the snow built up in front of the wheels. This made the effort to move his father very strenuous. The chair would grind to a halt, Sammy would shove and then everything, including them, would shudder forwards. His father ignored his son’s discomfort. His boy had legs and as such, he should make use of them.

There was a time when Johnny Galbraith had been popular and it had suited him to be that way. A sociable and thick-skinned man was the only way to deal with the landed gentry that was how they played the game.

When Johnny had been brought home, the House had sent some horse tack over to be cleaned, probably at the request of Fiona, but he had taken this as a patronising gesture. His depression started in France, as it may have done for many men, but Johnny had found that the act of just opening his eyes after sleep took every sinew in his body. The sharp stab of realisation which followed dreams was one of the most painful parts of his life. Johnny wondered how many condemned men found a temporary solace in sleep and then a pain in awakening that burned at their very souls.

Some men were born for war and took it with an ease and perhaps such men were stupid or brave – Johnny was neither of those. He looked into the eyes of the men who were still to go to war and he noted their pity. It was obvious they couldn’t comprehend his pain. To them, all he had done was make a wrong turning into the forest of darkness but if he would only swing around and chose a different path, it would lead him to back to the light. For those who know depression it is not about taking the wrong road, it is about the ground swallowing you up whole.

On the train journey home he would constantly stare down, always at the floor, never wanting to catch sight of someone smiling or even worse laughing, for in that lay contamination. He had to protect his anger. His anger helped him survive.

The drive in front of the House was not built to accommodate a wheelchair so Sammy pushed his father around to the back. It was here that the party was centred. The pipers stood in the snow playing a merry tune and would continue for several hours before they were allowed time in front of a large fire and a dram of whisky.  There was a blast of heat and the smell of drink as some of the Highland dancers reeled their way on to the snowy courtyard and back through the large door.

Inside the House Inverstarck held court, yet always circling within reach was Fiona who would not be presumptive enough to stand next to him.

In one corner of the ballroom were the Reverend Winters and his beautiful daughter, Isla. It had been the intention of the Reverend to keep her at home that evening but, as his wife had stated, if Isla was not exposed  to the more gentile society of Annshal then she would continue to make contact with the lower classes. The Reverend agreed but with one proviso, Isla was to move no more than two feet from his side.

What the Reverend Winters failed to observe was how much Sammy and Isla were in love. They had known each other almost all of their lives and instinctively knew what the other was thinking. She had seen other boys and he had kissed most of the other girls on the island, but in the end they always found each other, like magnets in a fog.

All Isla had to do was look towards a door and Sammy knew what she meant. She whispered something into her father’s ear and he reluctantly waved her away.

“Are you all right here father?” asked Sammy, never taking his eyes from Isla.

“Be quick Sammy, whatever it is, I don’t think my presence is much appreciated and keep away from that old goat Winters.”

Sammy found a large heating stone by one of the fires and placed it under his father’s chair, to hold it fast.

“I won’t be long.”

“See that you aren’t.” His father was decidedly agitated.

Isla and Sammy found sanctuary in a small cupboard in the upper floor and closed the door on all their problems.

There was much about that evening to keep Johnny looking at the well polished floor: people were dancing, smiling and laughing, everything that he had once enjoyed but had buried in France. Still, he had to be here even if it was only to see Fiona. When they say that war is expensive they rarely mean the ammunition.

Inverstarck was called upon to make a speech about how the estate was in safe hands, Johnny wondered if this meant Fiona.And then it happened, Robert McAnders called Fiona to his side. Whether it was his imminent departure or a foolish action fuelled by drink the result was the same. He was letting the world know that this was his woman and in front of her own husband. Even the Reverend’s jaw dropped.

What was going through Johnny’s mind could only be guessed at, but there he was sitting in his chair and pointing the gun at Inverstarck.

For a few moments no one moved then two things happened simultaneously. Fiona stood in front of Inverstarck whispering ‘he won’t shoot me’ and the other thing was a servant made a leap towards Johnny’s gun causing it to fire.

The blood gushed from Fiona’s chest as she fell.

In the cupboard on the upper floor, Sammy and Isla were so caught up in the act of making love that they were oblivious to the noise of the first gunshot.

They did not make that same mistake with the second one.

Cross

3

It was a crisp, cold November day and the crowd pulled in their coats tightly around them. A general silence descended as the coffin rolled by drawn by six horses on a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery. As the cortege turned at Hyde Park Corner shoulders moved up and down and some sobbing escaped, a young voice cried out, ‘Goodbye Dad’.

When he arrived at Whitehall and after King George 5th unveiled the Cenotaph, there was a two-minute silence. Then he drifted homeward  to Westminster Abbey where he was carried to his final resting place guarded by one hundred holders of the Victoria Cross. Earth from several battlefields was placed in the grave including several barrel loads from Ypres; it would let him feel at home and in the Abbey, he need never be alone again.

For seven days his grave lay covered by a silk funeral pall. One week later, a temporary stone sealed his grave and on it was written:

“A British Warrior Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country. Greater Love Hath No Man Than This.”

_________________

Only a handful turned up at the funeral, Isla was there of course and her father, who led the service, but most of the islanders stayed away. Not because they disliked Johnny but they felt it would displease Lord Inverstarck who had since left the island for Dublin. He had sent word to the hospital in Glasgow that Fiona should receive the best of care and that he would pay all her bills, and that was the end of that as far as Inverstarck was concerned.

Sammy was sad that he never got to say goodbye to his father. By the time both he and Isla had heard the gunshot and appeared in the ballroom, his mother’s wounds were being tended to and his father body was lying slumped over the chair bloodied and alone. No one was taking care of him. The ballroom had been cleared of everyone apart from Inverstarck and a few servants. It was obvious now that his father must have assumed he’d accidentally killed Fiona and then turned the gun on himself.

Sammy had an emptiness that gnawed at his stomach and finished in his heart. He felt alone and dizzy and he was just about to topple into the grave when Isla gripped his hand hard and pulled him back from the edge of  several dark things. One of those dark things was the thought he was having about killing Inverstarck.

Isla guided Sammy away from the Churchyard, holding his hand for the very first time in public. She looked at her father daring him to object but instead Winters cleared snow from Johnny Galbraith’s grave and let a tear fall from his eye. The minister was as only as strong as the enemies he had.

Sammy and Isla went back to his house and lay by the fire holding each other until the sun came up yet, peaceful as this was, nothing could erase the cancerous thought that was eating at his brain. He must kill the Laird, this, the man who had stolen his mother and caused his father’s death and who had fled to Ireland without visiting her in hospital in Glasgow. The Laird would be better off dead.

“Are you feeling happier my wee lamb?” asked Isla while stroking her boy’s hair.

“I am now.”

Isla smiled, completely misunderstanding the comment.

_________________

On the first day alone 40,000 people had come to visit him when the Abbey doors finally closed at 11pm. By the following year there had been millions. On November the 11th, 1921 a slab of black Belgium marble was used to finally seal the tomb. Engraved on the marble, in brass made from melted ammunition, was a further inscription which ended with the lines:

“THEY BURIED HIM AMONG THE KINGS BECAUSE HE
HAD DONE GOOD TOWARD GOD AND TOWARD
HIS HOUSE”

Sleep well my friend, sleep well.

_________________

Isla had so much to tell Sammy yet his mind seemed to be elsewhere. He was agitated and continued to talk about leaving. She felt if the war continued as it had done he would be leaving soon enough.

A week after his father’s funeral, he did leave. There was a ferry that went from Glasgow to Dublin and called in at several islands on the way. It only stopped at Annshal once every three weeks and today was that day. Sammy packed his bag and wrote a letter to Isla. She would find it propped up beside the fireplace when she called looking for him. He took a Bible and a silver chain to which was attached a blue medallion. Sammy’s father had been given it by his mother to pass on to his sweetheart. His father, Johnny, had given it to Fiona who had left it at the cottage on the night she packed her bags.

He also wrote a letter to his mother, one he been composing most of the night. This too was to be left on the fireplace but when the time came, he ripped the letter in half and threw it onto the fire.

He lifted a shirt that belonged to his father, took in the smell of the man who was no more, then walked out of the cottage.He may have been too long looking around for as he arrived at the pier the ferry was already leaving.

If he didn’t go now, he knew that holding on to that much hate for several more weeks would destroy him. He swung his bag over his shoulder and ran as fast as he could. Sammy flew down the pier and when that ran out,  he jumped the ten or so feet to the edge of the paddle steamer. He just made it, and as the ferry was leaving the harbour, Sammy found himself holding on to the side of the boat for dear life.

“Give me your hand boy and I’ll help you up”.

Sammy couldn’t make the face out at first as the low winter sun was blinding his eyes.

“Come on now.”

Sammy reached out and caught the man’s hand. It was strong and it pulled him up the side of the ferry without a struggle.

“The name’s Shamus.” He said.

If only Sammy had listened to his instincts and not grabbed that hand.

bobby stevenson 2017

Arran
Photo of Annshal island (Arran) taken by Tom Stevenson

Finding Beauty

pascalcampionart

As she watched the Robin look through her window

She was sure it was smiling

It might even be looking at her.

Upstairs her mother lay,

Motionless – gone now,

Soon she would have to telephone someone,

And tell the world,

But until then, she would just watch the smiling bird.

 

The light of his universe came into the room,

His granddaughter smiled and everything was right with the world,

She sat on his knee, and he kissed her on the top of her beautiful smelling head,

‘What is the longest word you know, Granddad?’

He wanted to say ‘Alzheimer’s’ – while he could still remember,

But instead he kissed her head once more,

And held her tighter.

 

She handed him a sandwich made with love and tomatoes,

Through the train window,

And he noticed that behind his mother, was a stranger helping up a woman

Who had tripped,

The man wiped her blooded knee with his handkerchief,

Then he smiled,

And the son realized that those were the things he was going off to fight for.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

painting: Pascal Campion.

Young Jed’s Story

tow

Young Jed’s father, Old Jed, had been the best darn garage man in this part of the county. It wasn’t just him who said it, everyone did. Old Jed had dedicated his life to the good folks of Cesarwood and their little automobiles – which was a good thing, considering the horseless carriage didn’t make it into Old Jed’s life until he was in his early twenties. Yet the boy and latterly the man, had been born to fix such things. He had engine oil instead of blood running around those veins.

Everyone said so.

And I guess Old Jed wouldn’t have been the father to young Jed, if it hadn’t been for the persistence of Myra – the local beauty who would walk past the garage at every opportunity. If she hadn’t, well young Jed wouldn’t have been born and Old Jed would have died a lonely old man, I reckon.

Jed, old Jed that is, could think of nothing more than a car engine. Even when Myra got a ring on her finger and a child in a crib, it was always the automobiles which were uppermost in his mind. When young Jed had grown some, Myra thought it best to take her son down to the garage to learn some of his pa’s wisdom, otherwise they were both likely never to see the man.

And young Jed, although not as good as his father, was certainly competent at fixing things. And that is how things kinda progressed for the next few years.

Then Old Jed went to the great garage in the sky and the business was turned over to his son. Myra went into a long decline of mourning and never really set foot in the garage again.

At first, young Jed kept the momentum of the garage going, and it didn’t seem that hard, but what he had forgotten was that folks get old and no longer drive. His father, as well as fixing the autos, was always out looking for new, young customers.

So within a relatively short time, Jed’s work began to dry up and he was struggling to keep himself in new shoes.
What happened next is probably a mystery to Jed as it is to anyone else. Young Jed saw the Judge’s car parked outside a café on the west of town. Jed loved the big automobiles that the Judge drove and so went over to have a closer look. It was then that Jed happened to notice that a little bit of rod was coming loose. Jed looked around and so help me, he loosened the rod a little more.

Jed sat over by the library and watched as the Judge started up the car and got no further than a drunk man’s crawl up the street, before the automobile came to a crashing halt. There was smoke and there was a burning smell as Jed drove over to where the Judge was cussing.

“Can I be of help?” asked young Jed.
“Well, I’ll be, young Jed, just the man I need righty here, this goddamn minute,” said the Judge – cussing as he usually did.

And so Jed went around the car, taking in deep breaths and shaking his head as if it was going to cost a pretty penny to fix (which it did). But the Judge could afford the cost on account of being the richest man this side of the Mississippi.
And that was what started young Jed on a life of what some might call crime. He would go out at night and loosen a nut here or a bolt there. He’d keep records so as not to pick on any particular car too often.

“Ain’t it strange,” said Mister Holly, “that my car seems to break down every 12 weeks, without fail, if you know what I’m saying.”

And young Jed did know what he as saying – very much indeed.

I’ve got to be honest and tell you that they never caught young Jed – but Karma threw its hand into the ring. When young Jed died, the undertaker’s hearse was one that Jed had only just loosened a screw on. So instead of taking Blind Man’s corner up on the turnpike, the wheel came off the hearse making it turn over and Jed’s coffin went shooting out and off into the Mississippi.

They never did find young Jed and folks in town found that their automobiles didn’t break down so often.

Strange that.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Save

Hallowe’en.

erikjohnsonhires-adapt-1900-1

The name of the first one was Sadie.

That would have been sometime during the Civil War, probably around 1863. There was a story that some Confederate troops on their way back from Vicksburg had taken the family hostage. When Sadie’s parents heard the news of some stragglers heading towards their home, her father had made them all take shelter in the cellar. It was said that the ‘Feds took the family hostage to ensure their own safe passage back to the South. Now here’s where it gets kind of weird. When they caught the runaways, they had the mother, father and son James in their custody. The troops swore that there was no one else down there in the cellar. Maybe Sadie escaped, maybe she was killed, maybe she’s still down there.

The second one was known as Robert.

Just before the USA joined the Great War in Europe, there was a family called Collins who had lived in the house since the 1880s. The son – called Robert – when he was about 6 or 7 first went down to the cellar to play. When his mother asked him one day who he was talking to, he gave the reply: ‘why, I’m talking to my friend, Sadie.’ His mother put it down to his imaginary pal. Robert’s father joined up with the American army and headed to France to help on the war front. Robert was so upset that he sat at nights looking from his bedroom window, and waiting on his father to return. One cold winter’s evening Robert went down to the cellar to talk to Sadie and was never seen again. The story in the town was that, Robert, being heart-broken, had runaway to see his father.

In the late 1950’s, a father and his twin boys had rented the house for several months. The place had gained a name locally as being spooky and no one had lived in it since the thirties.

The twin boys, Gregor and Eugene, had taken to playing English soccer in the basement. They had painted goals at either end and would spend hours down there. One night when their father went down to tell them it was time for bed, all he found was a ball, and an empty room. Someone had scrawled on the wall in red – ‘Sadie loves Gregor’.

The father was blamed for their disappearance. It was known that he liked to drink and sometimes had a temper on him. The local folks said it was possible that the father had killed his boys. He was executed, February 1st, 1959 still claiming his innocence.

In 1977, a homeless man by the name of Seth, took shelter in the house. It had been derelict for several years by that time. Seth happened to pass another night at Seymour’s Farm, some ways down the track and mentioned to the farmer about the night he spent up at the house on the hill.

“Couldn’t get to sleep,“ he said. “’cause of them pesky kids.”

When the farmer said that no one local went there anymore, Seth was having none of it, and assured the man that local children were using the house to play in.

Around the new millennium, the house was bought by a family that had come from out West. The mother and father both worked for a big new pharmaceutical plant that had come to town. They had seen nothing that they liked in town and decided to buy the old shack on the hill and turn it into a family home. It took them all of 8 months to get the place the way they liked. In that time, they lived in a mobile home on-site.

Sometimes at night, and while the house was still being rebuilt, their middle daughter, Angel, who still pined for her home back West, would take a walk around the new home. The night before she disappeared she told her elder sister that she was 100% sure she had heard a racoon or something in the basement of the new house. When she went down, there was nothing much to show except for a few scratches on the wall. The following evening, Angel went for her usual evening walk and never returned.

Given the fact that they were sitting pretty comfortable money-wise, the family expected a ransom note or something similar to materialise – it never did. Heartbroken, and without their Angel, they moved back West for good.

So this Hallowe’en, me and some of the kids from town have decided to throw a party up at the house. We’re all going as folks from the past. One girl is going as Sadie, me and my brother are going as Eugene and Gregor. One or two of the girls are going as Angel.

I just thought I’d let you know.

I’ll also let you know how we get on.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

Sunshine

man-dressed-in-sea

I guess I could begin this story with ‘once upon a time’ but then that would give the impression that it’s a fantasy – but that’s not exactly true. Well some of it’s not true. You can make your own mind up. Maybe there’s a moral to the story – maybe not.

A long time ago – a long, long time ago – all the sunlight had finally been choked out by the smoke, and the exhaust, and those rancid gases which were produced to make the rich, richer.

The stories spread, like most bad ones do, embarrassingly fast around the world (from mouth-to-ear) that the sun would never ever shine again.

Those who were born after the ‘great darkness’ never knew a world that was any different, and therefore didn’t miss the feel of sunlight on their skin. The older generations told stories of sunburn, and days at the beach, of picnics sitting by the river, or of just closing your eyes and listening to the quiet hum of summer under a sunshine haze. The younger souls looked at one another and assumed that the elders were exaggerating or remembering a past through mist-ed minds.

The truth was that no description could ever properly describe the joy of a day packed to the brim with sunshine.

There was one sad soul, Edgar. He was just old enough to remember the wonderfulness of being between his family and sitting in the sunshine being happy. As the sun-light had evaporated, so had Edgar’s happiness.

Edgar felt that the rays of the sun would never warm his face again, and that possibly, happiness would never rush through his blood stream once more.

As Edgar grew older, he became more cynical, more abrupt, and unhappier. He felt that his happiness would only return, if the sun did the same.

Above the hamlet where Edgar lived, there was a high peak, called the Mountain of No Return. This is where folks, who had found life a struggle, would climb up and think about their existence. Some came back down and some did not.

Edgar did what all sad souls did – he started to believe his own thoughts. He started to think that his happiness would never return and hug him once again, that life would be a sunless existence for eternity.

One cold morning, Edgar started to climb the Mountain of No Return. All the way up he tried to size up his life, wondering if he could have changed anything to make it better. Each time he weighed up the black thoughts with the good thoughts, the downside always won.

When he got to the top, he looked down to the dark valley below – the one behind the mountain that never saw sunshine, even when the sun had been sitting in the sky. It was long drop and although Edgar didn’t know what lay down there, he knew that if he jumped it had to be better than living the way he did.

Edgar closed his eyes, whispered ‘sorry’ as much to himself as to his family and friends, and then he stepped off the edge.

About half way down, Edgar felt the heat of the sun on his face as it broke through the clouds for the first time in many years. As he opened his eyes he could see the very bluest of skies above him.

Then he remembered that he was jumping off a mountain.

“Oh crap!” Were his final words.

bobby stevenson 2017