Short Story: Anchorage

Anchorage

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Alaskan twin brothers Harry and Irwin were always competitive, if Harry bought a mule then Irwin would have to get a horse and cart, if Irwin had a horse and cart then Harry would ditch his mule and get a carriage with elliptical spring suspension, seating for four with storage for drinks and, as they became older, so it went on.

By the time they had reached their 26th birthdays, the slight differences between them had grown into advantages to be used against each other. Harry was the better looking of the two and so would attract the ladies that Irwin could only dream of. He did, however have one leg shorter than his other, resulting in Harry having to wear specially made (and especially heavy) shoes slowing him down to a level that Irwin was always first on the train for the window seats and first to the bar when getting the drinks.

Despite their differences, the twins eventually moved into a cabin built precariously on the icy slopes of the wrong side of the mountains overlooking Anchorage. From there, they would wander into the forests, hunt moose and bears to sell to furriers in the town before stopping at their bar halfway home. Invariably their arrival home would be accompanied by a slurred argument about half forgotten grievances of the past, but would end, thankfully, with them falling into a drunken stupour and their memories the next morning being wiped clean by the rising sun. And so, their lives carried on predictably the same way for a good many years.

On one particularly normal day, the boys had successfully slaughtered a family of bears, cubs n’all, and were now in their regular drinking hole enjoying their favourite past-times of shooting whiskey, playing billiards, and arguing the toss about any subject that came to mind. Once they were just about to lose their eyesight to the local booze, the door opened and in walked a dark figure covered in fur. The boys and the barman looked on as it dragged itself to the bar and flung off the coat to reveal a buxom yet weathered female (not a lady, even in Alaska…) who was now demanding whiskey based service.

This was a triple wammy, someone new in the bar, someone female and new in the bar, someone female, new and who clearly enjoyed a good drink. While Harry was style spittling down his eyebrows, Irwin was already sliding up to the bar and slurring sweet nothings to the stranger, apparently called Emmy, and was soon joined by his clumping brother now fighting for her attention on her other side.

As one jigged for her amusement, the other would give tales of manliness and daring. Stories of surviving avalanches would be part told before being interrupted by balancing acts with shot glasses piled on noses. It might be known that a great deal of women would find this sort of attention seeking barriage to be an annoyance but Emmy was happy for the entertainment and, besides, she found the two to be appealing in their own ways (an appeal that grew with each drink they bought for her, coincidentally).

Bottles later and the three of them were soon trudging their way through the snow towards the cabin for post-bar merriments.

Unknown to the boys, Emmy was not one for remembering a face and, as Irwin went to write his name in the snow, Harry tried his luck with the lady and on Irwin’s return and Harry’s search in the store room for more drink, Irwin would equally throw his hat in the ring by, as far as Emmy was concerned, the same devilishly handsome man.

Hearing the giggling and sweet nothings from the other room, Harry stormed in with his hunting rifle and loudly voiced his objections to his apparently wayward brother. Now, little known to the boys but as Irwin and Harry were chasing each other around the room shouting perceived injustices and with Emmy laughing loudly between slurps of whiskey, the ice-based cabin was now becoming somewhat unstable and, as Irwin ducked and Harry fired his weapon out the window to the mountain side, the shock was all that was needed to finally dislodge the cabin and send it sliding towards the bay below.

Irwin panicked, Harry checked his image in the mirror lest he leave a badly styled corpse, Emmy drank in between screams and panicked giggles. With a slap and a slide, they hit and flew across the ice below, eventually spinning to an uneasy stop. Silence, then a creack, and then an audible cracking. Even with the high blood alcohol limit, the boys knew that this was not a good place to be in.

First priority to be dealt with: Slowly, Irwin made his way towards the door, carefully slid it open and, beckoning to Harry, gently picked up the whiskey and slid it towards the shore, case by case. Then the next priority: Emmy tiptoed and wobbled toward the door, the cabin creaking with every third step. A final leap for safety and she slapped face down into the ice, the final straw. The ice cracks shot like lightning under the cabin and, as Emmy scrabbled for safety, the cabin cracked and started sliding under the collapsing ice. A last bottle shot out of the cabin door as the air escaped gushing upwards and, as Emmy drank from the welcome gift, she peered down into the water, her whiskey fuelled cheeks making her oblivious to the searing cold. As the cabin sank slowly downwards, Emmy dragged herself off to a soft snow pile and rank herself into a stupour. Irwin scrambled clawing his way up the floor as the cabin rapidly filled with water, with his final exhausted grab he tok hold of the entrance frame and almost tasted freedom until he looked over his shoulder to see Harry, weighed down with his heavy shoes, blubbing and bubbling under the rising waters. A feeling of duty briefly washed over him as icily as the waters he was perhaps going to drown in, he remembered the girls he’d lost, the bike he’d bought, the life he could have had without his brother and, squinting his eyes with curses, made one final pull to jettison himself out of the cabin and towards the surface.

The edge of the ice hole he dragged himself on to was a sorry sight with a slumped and possibly dead Emmy lying in the snow pile a short distance away, her apaprent corpse comforted by only a whiskey bottle for a friend. He wondered how it might look to the authorities to find him, his cabin, his brother and perhaps this woman now gone. He’d hang for sure. Convincing himself it was for better reasons, Harry turned and, with a scream of “Irwin!” dove into the dark, icy waters, never to reappear.

The local wildlife rejoiced.

Unlike the local distillery…

Regarding Jim.

This morning I awoke to the news that the crime author, James Thompson, had passed away over the weekend.

I had heard of Jim through my writing group here in Helsinki. He had moved here years ago from the US and carved out a successful career writing dark, gritty novels based around the career of an Inspector Vaara. Vaara starts out his career as a potentially good policeman based in the north of the country, eventually moving to Helsinki and finding his life changing over the course of the following novels.

Jim had kindly offered to give a talk to the group about his work and the potential problems involved in getting books published, sticking to story structure and so on. I had been unable to attend the meeting so contacted him directly about possibly discussing my own work which he agreed to and gave me invaluable advise about reaching a wider audience, the voices used in my own work, and how to build a persona as an author i.e. finding a way of expressing yourself through your words and sticking with that where possible.

I met up with Jim on a few more occasions, he always made time where he could, before he eventually moved away last year to Lahti. Unfortunately contact with him was limited during this time and it was with the typical irony that, just as I was kicking myself around to emailing him to see how things were going, I heard of his untimely death.

My own life has experienced a number of let downs and losses in the past few years, and this should be the wake up call I need to value the time I still have to create and to reach out to people as a writer. To hear that someone like Jim, who had his fans and followers, has passed on makes me (in one way) glad that he had managed to achieve a good level of public fame through his work but as always there’s the feeling that each writer always has so much more to say. It’s a rare well that runs completely dry.

If you believe in such things, Jim has gone on to meet with other folk and to have his own adventures there. In the meanwhile the clock ticks and each second that goes by should be a reminder that things need to be done, while they can. Creating is it’s own reward, and to deny yourself of that, only ends up with one victim.

Bless you, Jim, and thanks for all you gave.

thompson-bio


Please Help

I promise to write a proper blog post very, very soon, but in the meanwhile could you wonderful readers please help me? I created a small trailer for one of my books a while back and it’s in competition for the international trailer festival.

I need a good few votes to push it up the rankings:

 

http://bit.ly/19xBVXa

 

I will happily return favours, where possible and legal, to anyone who helps:)

 

Thank you in advance and have a good, safe Christmas!

Mind melt

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to lose my job. I experienced many thoughts and emotions as  reult of this but one of the outstanding ones was “woo-hoo, I can now concentrate on my writing”. This was, predictably, not to be.

Although I managed to get some short stories written and a number of novels started, I didn’t actually complete very much. I can put this down to two core reasons: one would be that I had no real concept of time and therefore had no deadline by which to complete my work, nothing was pressing and so I had no driver.

Secondly, of the short stories I did complete and went on to submit to websites, I had perhaps not the reaction I’d wanted (although I’m not sure exactly what I did actually expect).

There’s the over-optimistic vision of having agents bang down your day on finding your work online, which is not going to happen… there is hope that you will write something submit it, and wake up the next day in a life of brian style scenario where people shout your name and beg you for further words of wisdom. This is equally deluded but still it would be quite nice to find happening. Finally, there’s the long slow potboiler in which you become some sort of Sugarman character where you are actually unaware of your growing popularity and then people hunt you down for a documentary that tries to find out who this dark, shadowy, revolutionary figure is.

None of these things happened. I did, however, foolishly pay an amount of money to a (apparently established and respected) website to get my work published, only for it to be rejected. I should have paid attention to my own advice of never paying reviewers, agents, publishers and so on. Additionally, where I was published, the reviews only seemed to be provided by other authors and therefore seemed to smile through their words with knives behind their backs. A horrid experience.

My Twitter followers have remained quite static in number, and the only extra followers seem to be other authors intent on advertising their latest efforts to me: another author! The point being what exactly? Surely they should be hunting down bookclubs and reading groups? Coca Cola, to my knowledge, don’t go to Pepsico every week and try to get vending machines installed, the same logic can be applied here. Very, very bizarre thinking.

I will continue working on books soon, and I can’t pretend I haven’t learned anything these past months, but my intention was to write something more optimistic and forward thinking rather than the cynical tomes that are currently sitting in my head waiting to see daylight, or moonlight.

The Dead Famous pt 2 seems more likely than ever, but I had hoped to tell my cat story first. Oh, well, c’est la guerre.

Trillers (Part 2)

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Josiah Neuwirth looked out over his land. It had been another good day and the harvest this year would be sure to see his family through the winter. The previous year had seen tremendous snowfall, Josiah and his wife May had lost the youngest of their four children to hunger and prayed that God would stay his hand with the other three this year.
The sun began to set, Josiah heard May calling him to eat and he started off down the hill to the farmhouse. As he made his first steps he was stopped in his tracks. In the distant woods struck a clear blue line of lightning.

If a fire started in the woods it might spread to the crops, he quickly got some water from the rain barrel, grabbed a sack to beat the ground with, and ran off into the woods.

Upon his arrival, there was no fire, in fact no sign that a lightning strike had happened at all. He smelt no smoke on the air and, scratching his head in confusion, turned back to the house and was stopped there. In front of him stood a bizarre looking man, smiling. His clothes were not known to him, his skin was clean, perhaps a foreign dignitary? He had no time to consider more. The man stopped smiling, stepped towards Josiah and calmly stuck a knife into his throat.

Gurgling on the blood, Josiah fell to his knees as the stranger stabbed him again, and again, and again. Calmly, the man wiped the blade on a pocket handkerchief, put it into a side bag, and walked off into the woods, leaving Josiah’s body to be discovered by his wife a few hours later.

The town gathered together in the square and Josiah’s body was carried into a nearby house for examination by a representative of the Governor’s office. It was the first violent death in the town since the French and Indian War and the event was sketched for the local records. It was this image that was seen, almost four hundred years later, by the researchers at TEID.
The picture was not exceptional but for one thing: in among the crowd stood a man quite unlike the others. There, clearly with mid-22nd century attire, was Gerald Key.

Gerald was known to the authorities as a killer with a long and seemingly random history of attacks and slayings and then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t. Gerald had always hated his parents and, after bouncing around through time killing as randomly as he ever had, he then took his final trip to kill them when they had first met when young.  He pointed a gun towards them as they kissed, both were instantly killed and, just as quickly, Gerald disappeared. He would never exist, his crimes would never be know as they had never happened. It was the perfect crime.

Only luck and chance ensured that the machines still existed, and the time machines flew in and out of the past causing havoc, appearing to farmers in the midwest of the 1940’s who now reported seeing UFO’s. The spinning arrival of the machines lead to massive unexplained circles appearing in crops all over the globe, but this was the least of the problems, the biggest problem lay in the people that would follow in Gerald’s wake, despite their never having known about him. They were the Trillers.

Picture by Christian Meyn

Trillers (Part 1)

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By the mid-22nd century, time travel had become a mundane and everyday reality. When the phenomenon had first been introduced to the mass consciousness due to a theft of documents by a government employee, massive steps had been proposed to limit the possibly detrimental effects of what would likely become a hugely popular social pastime. An international committee, after much deliberation and the investment of a great deal of working hours and taxpayers money, eventually decided on three rules of time travel:

1) Do nothing to affect the social development of the people of the time
2) Do nothing to deliberately invoke a change to events in the future, particularly for perceived personal gain
3) Behave with no emotion as emotion breeds emotion in others and so can affect events

As soon as the committee announced these rules to an eagerly listening world, researchers at TEID (Time Effect Investigation Department, a team set up to monitor the behaviour of it’s citizens by researching past documents) began to find that the rules weren’t perhaps as effective as they had hoped. Time travelling citizens trying to behave without emotion were being viewed with high suspicion in Nazi Germany, the witch hunting eras of the late 17th century and the vampire fearing villages of mediaeval Slavic Europe. All of these unfortunate souls were being summarily tortured, executed, and were failing to return home from their trips.
They also found it impossible to not affect social development as travellers ended up in the bars and public houses of times throughout history, invariably became drunk and opinionated, and ended up either instigating or, in some exceptional cases, getting a little carried away and leading entire revolutionary movements.

Lastly, it was quickly realised that it was impossible to not have an affect on future events as a whole anyway as the person’s mere arrival and subsequent existence in the past occupied space and therefore had instigated a change by just moving the air particles, anything over and above that would cause a more obvious chain reaction (such as stopping traffic at a road crossing or feeding an animal) and so it was deemed impossible to enforce any of the laws they had worked so tirelessly to create.
At this point a press conference was set up to announce this failure, one journalist pointed out the impossibility of enforcing such laws due to the nature of time travel anyway and, after a lot of silence and shoe gazing, the scientists and international representatives decided to disband and research something that could be controlled instead, with no doubt at all, such as wormhole leaping.

Despite the best efforts of authorities to restrict the sale of time travel machines, a huge black market was predicted, then materialised, and then once one particuarly entrepreneurial individual, Jiff Beaner, had gone three hundred years into the future and bought not only all the books on the history of time travel so as to learn all the industrial lessons of his competitiors to come, but also returning in a much bigger time machine with (after a few trips) parts enough for a time machine manufacturing unit from the future as well, mass production kicked into play and the time machine was now in 63% of all households by the end of the first manufacturing year alone. Naturally, Jiff was soon outdone by another who carried out exactly the same plan as Jiff had and outdid him overnight. Not only did the competitor have all of Jiff’s ideas for the next three hundred years but he also had a manufacturing unit three hundred years newer. Then someone outdid that man, and so it went on ad taedium.

Time Travel became a standard leisure activity, people beamed from here to there, and the world continued (as far as they knew) the same as it always had.

Then, not long afterwards, a researcher at TEID came across something that would change the public’s perspective of time travel completely. It was a man called Gerald Keys, he had travelled to 18th century colonial America, and there for no reason yet apparent, he had killed sombeody.

Photo by usamedeniz

Stone’s Flow

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A short story I wrote this morning:

Out from the mists that surrounded Stone’s Flow rode eight horsemen. At their head was a recruiting sergeant. He called for all men of age to step forwards and to fight for the South. John Blenny was 17 and, with his mother, Hannah, gripping at his arm, he stayed back as he watched his friends and kin gradually step forward over the hours, fetching what belongings they could take, kissed their loved ones goodbye and headed off to fulfill their duty.
As they followed the horses out of the village, the mists swirled and embraced the men one by one, until only a wall of twisting grey remained. The village had been struck by a pox only a year before, brought by a visiting cousin, the children quickly became feverous and, one by one, perished along with some of the menfolk. Two miscarriages had ensured this generation was not to continue and many feared for the future of the settlement. Now the remaining men were being taken away, a final nail in the coffin, it seemed.

The mists stilled. A silence descended on the village, what was there to be said? One by one the womenfolk went back to their homes and duties. John stared out towards the woodland, felt again the tug of his mother’s hand, and went back to the house. The work would not do itself.

Evelyn had known John for always. Everyone in the village of Stone’s Flow knew each other, but Evelyn knew John especially. She had watched him when they played as children, his hair curling up over his collar. She had watched when he first went into the fields with his father and had slipped in the dirt while trying to push the plough. She had watched as he stood by his father’s graveside, the preacher casting handfuls of dirt onto the coffin and John had shed only a single tear. She had watched as he turned into the house instead of going away to fight, and she had been able to breathe again, knowing that for now at least, he would be safe.

Not long afterwards, Hannah was struck by a fever and, despite John’s best efforts, she passed and was buried in the churchyard alongside her husband. Evelyn had stopped by to help with the house during these hard times and, as youngsters do, John and Evelyn grew affectionate for each other. They would have chosen a better time to be together, but decided to see it as a gift from God and were married soon afterwards on John’s eighteenth birthday.

They moved into Evelyn’s house as it had better stabling and decided to sell John’s childhood home as soon as the war was over.
John worked the fields with his horse Firefly while Evelyn kept the house, they had simple needs and wanted for nothing. Each morning Evelyn brought John food and, as she walked away, he never tired of watching her golden hair catch the sunlight, or of her loving look as she smiled over her shoulder at him.

The war, however, still thirsted for more soldiers and, soon enough, now that John was of age he was called up to fight in his local regiment. He gathered what belongings he could, kissed Evelyn goodbye and swore he would return to her, no matter what might pass.

Evelyn stared emotionless as he walked off into the mists, and was gone.

The weeks following were hard. She knew nothing of the fields and, with no men about, the village slowly began to fall into disrepair, but the womenfolk got by.They looked out for each other and nobody wanted for food or warmth. They even set aside enough to have a harvest festival and danced and, for a short while at least, forgot the tragedies that had befallen them.

The next morning, things changed.

A rumbling could be heard from across the hills, a murmur at first, but then loud enough to awaken the villagers and to know that something was coming and, without speaking a word to each other, somehow all new that a testing time was headed their way.
Panic gripped the animals of the village, Firefly particularly kicked and started within his stable, breaking free of the ropes that bound him and smashing threw the doors, he ran out and bolted into the woods away from the sound.
The mists swirled, and in rode a score of battle worn and bloodied union soldiers on horseback. Their uniforms were muddied and their faces wore the emotional badges that only warfare can award. Their eyes had the humanity taken from them, and they would give no pity nor charity to any who crossed their path.
“Sergeant, secure the church and find stabling. Corporal McLellan, fetch supplies from the stores, the rest of you make camp in the churchyard, we’ll stay here and move on in the morning.” The Captain moved slowly and deliberately forwards, he eyed the women as they rushed out to see what was unravelling before them, he saw Evelyn particularly. Her hair caught the early morning sun, her face, although a little swollen from the night’s air, still showed her natural beauty and he noticed, as men of his type were wont to, her figure beneath her night gown, flowing downwards but out over her womanly hips.
He had been among the filth of the battlefield, the ground had run with the blood of his men and the previous years had sapped away any elements of humanity that he might once have had. He could no longer be called a man and cared nothing for other people’s wishes. He was going to take her, no matter what.

As the villagers tried to carry out their normal daily work, the men raided the stores to their own satisfaction, taking all the liquor that had been stored away for Christmas and packing their horses with ammunition and dried goods. They had no intention of recompensing the locals for their losses, and no-one was to ask them for anything as any communication might have brought danger to them all.
It turned out that their caution would only delay, not stay, the inevitable actions of their visitors. As the liquor slowly drained away, so did the men get louder, rowdier, more volatile and unpredictable in their actions. They kicked at the women rushing to their homes from the cattle sheds and laughed as Evelyn, carrying what piglets she could to her home for safekeeping, slipped in the mud and fell to her face to the squeals of the piglets and the drunken soldiers. The captain sat in the churchyard by his tent, bottle in hand, and said nothing. He just stared.

All went to their houses and battered down their hatches in a token attempt to keep themselves safe from danger, but as one o clock in the morning passed, these minor defences would prove their worthlessness. Evelyn was awoken by a shrieking on the far side of the village, and then another in her neighbour’s parlour, continuing to the street. Panic.
She had no time to consider where her rifle might be, the door blew open with a smash and the Captain marched in, bottle in hand, and dragged her off to his tent, and her fate.

Morning. The sun rose and shone threw the mists piercing at any gaps like a probing sword. The soldiers had left before first light. Doors lay open, some off their top hinges. The street was strewn with ripped clothes, drag marks in the mud, broken bottles, traces of blood. Silence hung in the air

There was no point in discussing what had happened, the women walked, broken and drained, back to their homes. Their eyes were soulless, their bodies broken, their spirits crushed and cast aside. This was what war had brought to them.

Village life is regular with a predictable monotony, and this is exactly the routine that the women of Stone’s Flow fell back into. There was no need for meetings, no need to reach out to the world, it would do no good, and who would listen? The world apparently had troubles of it’s own. The war continued, but no news of it reached the village. Their lives descended into the grey.

Two years would go by before the mists would part again, a wanderer returned. Out of the woods walked John, now twenty years old, not just a man but a man of the world. He had fought through as best he could, one bullet had taken his cap and another passed through his shoulder but a slap of the iron by a quick thinking field surgeon had cauterized the wound and no infection had taken root. His company had been decimated and, although he had to return to the front within the week, he looked forward to sleeping in his own bed again, washing his body with fresh water from the stream, holding Evelyn, if only for a short while.

The village was silent, the women peaked cautiously at John through the shutters as he walked down the centre road. Although two years had passed, the broken bottles remained strewn about the place, the church door left open with no pastor to put things right. It was not the place he had grown up in, and loved, and gone away to protect. “Fight there so we don’t have to fight here”.

Evelyn stepped out of the house, John approached the porch and, without saying a word, he stepped inside, Evelyn followed. His kit hit the floor, his boots came off, and they both lay down on the bed, staring, and then sleeping.

The fields were in danger of falling fallow. A man’s work continues, and duty is duty.

The plough had not seen work these past years and was in danger of falling into uselessness. A sharpening stone and some hard work, and the plough was back to a good state.

The morning was crisp and fresh, but not so cold that a man could pretend that a field would not need working. But there were no horses, not even cows to pull the weight. John called, and again, and then a whistle. Slowly, Firefly cautiously stepped out of the woods. A second whistle and, pricking up his ears, Firefly ran with abandon to John, letting him groom him with his hands.

He had survived, somehow, but was wasted and his ribs and hips were visible. This pained John but work had to be done, he fed Firefly with what grain he could find and, after a drink from the stream, put him to work in the field. The straps around his head had rotted with damp and had to be replaced with what rope John could find, it would hurt the horse if he used it for too long, but with good breaks from time to time, he felt it would have to do. By now the womenfolk had gathered in number and watched as John went up and down the field until Firefly frothed at the mouth with exhaustion, it would be enough for this one day. Evelyn watched as John led him to the stable, she was sorry that she hadn’t looked after him properly in those early days, but was glad that all had worked out for the better. Firefly would be ok and, more importantly, so was John.

On the third day of field work, there was movement in the village. Union soldiers had returned and the womenfolk were nowhere to be seen. As the Unionists went from house to house searching for provisions, John quietly loosened Firefly’s harnessing and sent him into the woods. There was a rifle at Evelyn’s but he was out in the open. The only way to it was through the mists and round the village, arriving there at night while the soldiers might be asleep.

Twenty men had ridden into Stone’s Flow those years before, now only eight remained, apparently having deserted these past years and survived on the spoils of their deeds.

Night fell, and John stole his way into Evelyn’s house. There she was, silent and watching, as John found the rifle, loaded it, and with extra ammunition crept out into the night.

The first soldier, a drunken sentry, fell to John’s knife. A second to a rifle shot which alerted the others to his presence. They swiftly gathered and headed towards the sound of the firing. John went back towards Evelyn, and waited. No lights inside gave away his presence and an open side window gave him a clear sight of all the men as they slowly, foolishly, made their way in a line towards him. Unexpectedly, they stopped.

The women looked on, Evelyn waited, John, cocked his rifle.

“I don’t know who you are” shouted the captain, “but if you come out now we’ll kill you nice and quickly, if you don’t come out…”

A bead of sweat ran down John’s forehead, he wiped it from his eyes and steadied his now shaking aim.

“If you don’t come out, well’ we’ll just burn you out and then kill you anyway, just like we did to the womenfolk here last time. You hear me? What’s it gonna be?”

John paused, Evelyn had been everything to him.Two years of fighting had told him that conversation meant death, he fired a bullet straight through the Captains forehead. His men’s horses jolted as John fired again and again, reloading, and then heading out of the building and taking good aim at the now fleeing Unionists. One by one he picked them off, one by one their blood ran into the mud of Stone’s Flow.

The next morning, John dragged the soldiers’ corpses to the churchyard. There, inside the church, he founded the piled corpses of the women. Long dead, but bloodstains on their dresses and undergarments were still distinct. Rings on their fingers had been ripped away, some fingers removed where they would not give easily. In the middle of the pile was a mop of matted but still golden hair, there lay Evelyn.

John had heard of the icy steel of the bayonet, how it felt to those who had survived it, he remembered how the bolt of the bullet hitting his shoulder had felt. He had felt the shockwaves of exploding cannonballs. All this was nothing to the wave of coldness, utter grief, it sucked all energy from him and he fell to his knees, crying so hard that no sound came out. He put Evelyn’s hair to his cheek and sobbed a stream, a river, a torrent, until he passed to sleep from being drained so hard.
The next morning, John dug a pit and threw in the soldiers’ bodies. Throughout the day, he dug graves, shallow as they were, for each of the women and erected a cross for each. He dowsed the soldiers in the remaining liquor and cast a match on them.
Lastly, he carried out his Evelyn, sweet Evelyn. He laid her in a sheet, kissed her good night, and wrapped her bound. As he slowly shoveled the earth onto her corpse, a single tear ran down his cheek, he swept it aside, and rammed home a cross to her pathetic grave.

Out of the mist stepped Firefly, somehow he had sensed that John now needed him again, and John, stroking Firefly’s nose and taking the rope harnessing from his head, climbed up to ride into the mists, rope in hand. The grey wall enveloped them as the bodies burned behind them.

Evelyn stood waiting, John walked out of the mist and they rushed to each other’s arms. The women looked on as the young lovers held hands and walked into the house, together away from the dangers.

John was home at last.

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