Short Stories

I have always written but hardly ever submitted by writing for publication. However, the wordpress blog site gives me the opportunity of doing so now, and so I shall start with a short story, which I finished a few years ago.

THE PRISONER

It did not take them long to get me to the prison complex. I arrived in darkness.  The soldiers pushed me into a stone dungeon with a single electric light bulb hanging from a flex in the centre of the ceiling.  The electric light gave a painfully dim atmosphere in which it was impossible for me to see clearly.  I was alone in the dungeon.

The walls and the furniture, beds and chairs, were built out of grey concrete blocks. There was, as I suppose as you would expect, no art in the building of them.  The blocks were of poor quality, with some bits worn away and other parts broken.  Scattered around the dungeon I counted five piles of blocks made into flat high beds. My prison dungeon was windowless. A small barred hole in the door did not let any light in because it was covered from the outside, so that, I imagined, the guards could spy on me.   I figured out that I should choose one of these blocks for a bed. I could not sleep on the floor because it was wet and filthy. The beds were at least dry and relatively clean.  It was not going to be luxurious.

The guards slammed the door shut and left me alone. They did not throw me to the ground. They did not beat me. Prison doors always close loudly.  Alone again. My eyes became a little more used to the dim light given by the electric bulb in the ceiling and I saw a steel door in an opposite wall.  Of course, it was, like the main door, locked.

For a long time, for many days, I stayed alone in that place.  They, whoever they were, pushed my food to me through a hole in large door.  Just before dusk they opened the steel door by a mechanism that I did not understand.  It led to a circular high walled courtyard, also built from grey blocks, which was entirely featureless save for a primitive walled toilet.  At least I could see a disk of sky above me where I escaped for precious moments from the dull light of the bulb.         I was to exercise in this yard and did so for many days. Before it became completely dark I had to get back into my prison, before the steel door closed, otherwise I would spend the night freezing in the yard until the steel door opened the next day.

I could hardly distinguish the clouds in the sky. There were no colours to see.  Every evening I walked around the yard for some relief and used the toilet. I decided not to count the days. Counting days in prison is simply counting your life away. I did not want to know just how much of my life I was losing.

I always find it tempting to think of any change as improvement but change simply involves difference. When I had been in the prison long enough to develop a routine and harden myself to my loneliness there, the guards opened main door and ushered in limped four other prisoners. For a brief moment I thought that freedom or death had come but when I saw hollow faces, grey with pain I knew that there would be no freedom. I was not even sure of death just the opportunity to share this misery with other human beings.

Now there were five of us, all broken men together a hand whose fingers did not work. My new companions were captured pilots, highly trained and skilful in the arts of war. Their flying machines had flown fast and brought death to many people. Our captors hated my companions for the death that they brought. Death is the old man’s friend but not the death that does not come in the early hours of a winter’s morning or the sedated compassion of an opiate filled end. These men brought death from the skies upon the young as well as the old and the healthy as well as the ill.

In flight, in fearsome flight, a flying machine would be shot down. Sometimes the pilot died in the flames; sometimes as his body hot the earth, other times upon the weapons of his enemies as his parachute brought him close to them. Sometimes soldiers captured pilots and some of them brought into my prison to rot there with me.

I was not part of this war. It had nothing to do with me. I was in prison for other reasons, not crimes, just reasons.

We shared our lives.  We needed the comfort of company.

It is strange how nature and circumstances throw people together. Your first friends are your family. They all want a bit of your soul.  Your family teaches you how to behave and how to give up bits of your soul. It shows you how to use the scraps of soul you inherit or shake out of them.

Then your neighbours create more people around you and you form a community with them. Then schools, colleges, work they all surround you with people each taking from you and giving to you things that you do not want.

It gets harder. Your own soul aches for company. You are sad when friends reject you so you dance to please them. You move your body in patterns to amuse those who surround you, forestalling their rejection for several precious and delightful instances. You mingle and blend, fit in and join, calling your own dance, created for acceptance, your own individual personality.

Friendship out of necessity is a slow process but I found two especial friends, two souls that I could nibble at. We shared small events, as we killed some cockroaches, found ways to keep our beds dry, found ways to sleep. Our guards moved so silently that I could never hear their footsteps outside.  The noise that my companions made was my music.

Over the next few days I discovered that my friends were named Raineater and Skydance; they had proudly killed many enemies.  They explained the war to me and how they fought it and who was winning it. They told him about their experiences in the sky, how they were selected for training.

Their tearful eyes told of their happy parents who said goodbye and saw them no more until training was finished. They confessed that their trainers had given them drugs to build their bodies strong with lightening reactions so that they could catch a fly in flight. Then they had different drugs to stop their bodies growing further so that they could fit into a flying machine, which fitted like a glove built centimetre perfect like another skin. I would have loved to have seen it real.

The machines were designed so that they could take off with a loaded bomb, but could not land with the bomb. They had to discharge the bomb within a designated period of time otherwise it would blow up. They were not trusted. It was a nightmare. I was glad not to be part of it.

I loved Skydance best of all.  Skydance was beautiful even in his starving beaten face. We had no glass, no mirror, nothing to reflect our image back to us. We could only see each other and Skydance was beautiful, I could see him.

I spent the days talking to Raineater and Skydance.  I found out about their families and I told them about mine.  I became close to them, so close that we could communicate almost without talking. This is friendship.

Friendship is a marvellous thing, better to observe than experience.  Friends can be together, never speaking, simply enjoying each other’s company.  Everyone can see it.  Sometimes the friendship is so strong that it brings joy to those who observe it.  Thus it was with us.

After a while we did everything together.  We walked around the exercise yard together, side by side, and we stared at the circle of sky together. Our eyes nearly became impervious to the painful light together. We ate our food dipping our fingers into our bowls at the same time and chewing and swallowing in synchrony.  We fell asleep at the same time we woke at the same time.  Our rituals became increasingly important and we held to them. Our ritual was good; we ate together, Skydance, Raineater and me.

Our finest ritual was our morning ritual, when each of us took turns to tell our stories. That way we understood our friendship better. We concentrated hard mostly closing our eyes as we described our lives or listened to our friends describe theirs. Our eyes could picture. Closing our eyes blocked out the painful dim light. With eyes tightly shut we listened one day as we told of our dreams.

Skydance spoke first.

” I make pictures in my mind.  When I close my eyes I fall asleep and when I fall asleep I dream.  When I was younger I dreamed a dream many times.  It was a blank dream.  There was no scenery and I was in no place but suspended high, infinitely high. I knew that if I fell I would die.  There was a rope, an infinitely long smooth rope.  I was travelling along it being so careful not to fall.  I became an expert at running along the rope keeping increasing perfect balance.

“I do not think I had any sense of purpose.  I think I was simply doing what I had to do by running along the rope.  I was so good at running the rope that I was given a bicycle somehow, the details are indistinct.  I bicycled along the rope making even better progress than before.  This was easier than the running and I was travelling much faster.  I realised that I would reach the end of the rope soon and that I would be happy when I reached its end.

“Happy, and singing to myself I watched over rope at the point where the bicycle’s front wheel was about to travel over it.  This happy rope, this perfect rope.  I was delighted at how clever I was to bicycle along the rope.  And then it happened.  A knot appeared in the rope.”

With this picture of a bicycle about to hit the knot clenched firmly in my imagination I opened my eyes and looked at Skydance tearful in his beauty.  If, at that moment, I could have untied the knot in the rope so that my fine friend could progress, I would have done it, and if not, I would have killed the man who made the knot.

“That knot meant that I could not reach the end of my journey, I could not fulfil my purpose. Just when I learnt how to cycle along the rope and was making good progress, the journey came to an end. It must have ended terribly, I do not know, I always woke up before I knew. I dreamed this dream many times; I always woke up before the end in a cold sweat. I tried to pretend an ending in the half sleep half wakefulness to camouflage the horror from my mind. I failed.”

Raineater spoke.

“I have never dreamed.  Each night when I close my eyes I sleep.  I do not dream.  When I wake I come from nothingness where nothing is.  When I sleep I die until I am wake.  I can nearly picture what you say.  But it is hard.  You are trying to share a taste with me by describing it. That cannot be.”

I told my friends what passed for my dreams. I do not know if they understood them as well as I understood theirs; I think they understood enough.

I suppose that we were bound to share things, all five of us were so bound, perhaps like fingers in a glove.  Some things were possible to share.  When we received our food Skydance and Raineater gave their bowls of food to me and I poured the contents of their bowls into mine.  I then carefully divided the food so that everyone got an equal share of hot grain, meat and liquid. They trusted me to be fair. I was particularly fair; we all eat the same, we all drank the same. Later the other two asked me to share the food equally.

We tried to keep each other clean and free from lice and ticks, like a family of primates.  The parasites that covered us bothered us badly.  It was easy to infect our skin by scratching; infected skin took ages to heal.  We had no medicine or bandages.  We spent hours pulling the lice and ticks off each other and crushing them between our fingernails.

We needed razors, combs, soap and water for washing.  We had no soap, razors or combs. The little water we had was for drinking, to keep us alive, or what passed for being alive in that prison.  We did not get water every day; we were happy when we got a small cup of muddy green water in our rations. We drank greedily it as though it were the finest wine.

I became skilled in sharing food equally. I was responsible for the division of our precious food. All of my friends trusted me to do this properly and their trust was not misplaced or abused.

Dirty, sharing even dirt, we passed the months away.

It might have been our diet, I cannot be sure, but the light seemed to grow a little dimmer each day. It became harder to see thing clearly. I felt aches behind my eyes, a constant nagging near pain that never went away.

While we established our friendship and our rituals we also marked out our own territories, like dogs.  My bed, or rather the blocks that comprised it became my exclusive domain.  No-one touched it and I did not touch anyone else’s bed. Beds were sacrosanct, an exclusive territory that would never be invaded.

It can be very difficult to personalise something that everyone else has got that is exactly the same without any possessions but every prisoner made his own bed his special home.  Some arranged their clothes as pillows during the night; others used their shoes.  Every man had a different way of lying on his bed and slept for different lengths of time.

And each evening when exercise was finished (some men were at first caught out by the self closing door and learned that they must come out of the yard into the room after exercise or spend nearly a day in the cold outside), each man in walked into our prison room and sat on his bed.  In the ever increasingly dim light and in the room looked more frightening each day.  To relieve the boredom I developed the habit of being first back into the dungeon after exercise.  I used to rush straight to my bed, sit on it and enjoy a brief moment of solitude sitting alone. As much as I hated the prison room, as frightened as I was, I preferred to sit there alone missing that circle of sky, giving up the decent light outside for my private moments.  There was no other chance to be alone.  I used to sit on my block bed, half close my eyes in the dim light, and imagine that I was walking in fields and across hills of another far off country, where there was no war, where I had come from.

Sometimes I would sit on block in gently kicking my heels against the side of his bed.  Sometimes I would lie on his bed and stretching his arms under my neck exercising my ankles by rotating them together.  Sometimes I would just lie very still.

My friends (they were now all friends) respected my feelings and I am grateful to them for that.  They knew I was different. They allowed me these a few moments of solitude every day.  I was very grateful to them for this.

The third prisoner, Firemaker, told the others that they must allow me these private moments and not rush back fro exercise until the last possible moment, not until the door was closing, so that I could have some time alone.

“You must remember”, explained Firemaker, “that he did not have our upbringing.  He did not go to school.  He did not play our competitive games.  He did not debate with our teachers.  He has not killed any of the enemy.  We must respect him and allow him these a few moments every evening to be alone and we must not be hurt when he wants to be alone.”

I was very grateful to Firemaker.  I made a special point of thanking him for expressing so well what I found hard to put into words.  These prisoners were much better with words than me. I had nothing that I could give him but my thanks, which is all that I had to offer Firemaker. I vowed if ever I had a chance to help Firemaker then I would help him far beyond all reasonableness, I would lavish gratitude upon him ten thousand fold.

I think that Firemaker liked the way I moved. He watched me as I almost dragging the soles of my feet along the ground. I thought I got some energy from contacting the floor.

I got accustomed to the routine.  There was something pleasing and logical about being a prisoner.  I wanted my freedom, of course, but until I was free I could manage.

One evening (in these days I regarded evening is as the beginning of a new day) after exercise I ran back into the prison room ready for my moments by myself.  After the freshness of the yard, the atmosphere in the dungeon was stifling.  The dim light penetrated my skin.  And as entered the room, the light showed the shapes. I saw there was a new shape.  On the bed belonging to the fourth prisoner – what was his name – Windholder?- lay a simple wooden open coffin.  I was frightened to go near to it, so I stood at the doorway wondering what this meant.  Eventually the other four prisoners stood beside me. We were all frightened at this terrible sight.

Windholder walked towards the coffin.  The lid of the coffin was missing and he peered inside, carefully so as not to touch its’ polished wood.

“It’s empty,” he said, “it’s completely empty.”

As he spoke the main door of the dungeon opened quickly for the first time since these prisoners had been admitted. Half a dozen guards marched in.  They seized Windholder as he looked at the coffin on his bed.  Holding him at right angles to the open coffin his face pointed towards the ceiling the guards stretched his neck.

“Now” said one of the guards, so silently that I strained to hear him.

While my friend, my fellow prisoner, was being held eyes to the ceiling neck stretched, one of the guards pulled out a long knife and slit his throat; his blood dripped into the open coffin in bursts, each throb a last vain effort of his heart to pump blood around his body, blood that brings oxygen and food throughout. But the heart pumped in vain; the life giving blood could not reach his brain. The heart pumped in the way that a chicken can sometimes run around when you have cut its head off. And then the pump slowly stopped. It had drained its sticky fluid into the coffin.

We were horrified.  The whole thing happened so quickly and so unexpectedly.  The poor man died before our eyes thrashing is blood into a highly polished box, his limbs tightly held as the life was squeezed from him.

When the blood had finished pouring from the neck of the dead man, (he was no longer Windholder, just messy dead meat and bones) the guards pushed his corpse into the coffin.  The body was too tall for the coffin so the soldiers chopped his legs at the ankles of the newly made corpse until the feet were severed.  The body now fitted easily, the soldiers lay the feet by the side of the body, closed the lid of the coffin and carried it away without a word.  They did not even look at us, as though the whole exercise had been carried out in front of no one.

We walked from the corner where we fled to witness this murder to our beds, careful to avoid the dead man’s bed.  Each prisoner lay on his bed and wept, wept for the dead Windholder, wept for the man who was a friend.

When death strikes it is at first very shocking but you get used to it as a fact, as an accomplished fact.  You get to treat it as a long lost friend, a friend who you are glad to see again.  All of the prisoners, except me, had seen death strike.  I was in a state of virgin death.  They had dealt in death, killing thousands with their bombs.  We shared the horror between us, as evenly as if had divided it like one of our wretched meals.

The days turned over and things almost returned to normal.  The death had brought us closer together.  We discussed it endlessly.  And the most commonly held opinion was that he had been killed as retaliation.  This was punishment visited upon a captured flying man.  There was no alternative except continue in our acquired routine.

After that day although our routine continued nothing was normal. Every time I returned from exercise at dusk his stomach tied itself in a knot end his throat struggled until he saw that there was no coffin on any bed in the dungeon.  He had some relief until the next day, when as the time grew closer to the end of exercise, so my heart beat faster and I felt apprehensive of death of being helpless when I was killed.

From the moment Windholder died four of us knew that we were all dead men, men who only had precious days of the life left and no more.  We talked hardly at all. We no longer shared.  No one wanted me to divide our food – what was the point? We no longer shared experiences.  We had to live the limited life that remained alone.  We stayed on our beds or close to them and we all avoided the beds of the men who were dead.

Some of us spent hours in prayer.  Others stared vacantly into space worried, rubbing fingers or foreheads so consistently that open wounds and sores appeared.  Some prisoners of us kept beds tidy; others did not

Of course I did not know how long it would take for me to lose my life and join my comrades in coffins but I knew that it would come and that worried me.  My stomach was in a perpetual knot, I felt as though I would be sick.  I wondered how I could continue to breathe.  Walking, talking, eating and breathing became an incredible effort.  Even the simplest things in his life became dreadfully hard and the expectation of the sight of a coffin on my bed when I returned from exercise made it difficult for me to think at.

More weeks passed and we became ill, listless and vacant.  And then it happened again just as I knew that it would happen again.  First back I saw a coffin lying on Raineater’s bed.  It was Raineater’s turn I thought, quite lucidly.  I walked a few steps into the prison and gently half closed the door behind me to give Raineater a few more moments of peace.  I looked at the coffin.  It was very plain with no carving no design and no metal.  It was made of a light coloured wood.  It was well made, as though made by machines by the thousands as indeed it was. It was polished so highly that I could see, for the first time in many weeks my face in its reflection. At first I did not recognise the old gaunt thin man that I saw, bearded, filthy, weak like a twig that could be snapped apart and discarded lightly into the wind.

The door eventually opened and the remaining five prisoners walked in.  Raineater walked up to his coffin he opened it.  He laid his head back across the open coffin with his eyes staring at the ceiling.  He closed his eyes and climbed inside. The door of the dungeon burst open and those familiar guards, those figures of death, walked in to the dungeon and cut Raineater’s throat as Raineater lay calm in his coffin. Raineater, who never dreamed, was despatched to a dreamless death.

That night as I sat on my bed, too frightened to look at Skydance, I thought about Raineater and the times we had together – those times would not come again he knew.

I had no time to say goodbye to my friend Raineater, just the hurried moment when Raineater pushed past him to jump into his coffin and wait for his death.  I did not know whether Raineater had decided how to face death.  I guessed that Raineater had made his decision as to how he would die as soon as he knew that he would die, as soon as he knew that we were all going to die.  Raineater would not hide plead or struggle for life.  Raineater would die with dignity.  And so Raineater had died.

When people are very ill, perhaps with a cancer gnawing at them, growing tumours perhaps, they go into hospital, perhaps for an operation, perhaps for treatment. The ward or room might be bright and light but it is not home. It does not contain things that you want near you. When you die in hospital you die without the things that made your life. When you go into hospital to die, you go there knowing that you will never see the outside again. Thus it was with us.

I expected that they would leave us alone for several weeks. I expected that the guards would have followed their previous system and that I would have a few weeks of certain precious life. I would use those weeks, I decided, in some magnificent purpose.  I spent hours that night trying to think of a magnificent purpose to which I could devote my life. I was not successful and resolved to think some more.

The very next day, my head clear after the short exercise in the yard, but not yet decided upon a magnificent purpose for my last weeks of life, I came in for my moments of solitude that my two good friends still allowed me. There it was. I saw my coffin on my bed.  Firemaker and Skydance had not seen it yet. It was my turn to die.

I quietly rushed to the coffin and picked it up. I did not pause. It was light, much lighter than I imagined it or else my fear gave me great strength and purpose.  At first I thought I should carry it to Raineater’s bed but I knew that would not do.  There was no time to delay.  I could hear the other prisoners preparing to enter the prison from the yard, their slow feet shuffling.  Firemaker’s bed was nearest to mine.  I carefully placed my coffin on Firemaker’s bed and then stood by the doorway so that when it opened I was pushed aside.  When Skydance and Firemaker saw the coffin on Firemaker’s bed, I feigned their horror at seeing it there.

Firemaker did not face death like Raineater.  Firemaker struggled and shouted and screamed as the guards held him.  He called to his friends to help but they did not.  They were too weak and too scared to help Firemaker.  They simply watched as the guards collected Firemaker held him over his coffin slit his throat and pushed him in.  Firemaker was a not tall man.  It was not necessary to mutilate his body to make it fit in the coffin, but they did. Firemaker’s blood lay in puddles on the floor, evidencing his struggles and the fact that this coffin leaked the blood on the floor festered for days until the cockroaches had gorged themselves fat with it.

And so Firemaker was dead.  It was a simple as that.  Firemaker had been kind to me and I had determined to help Firemaker whenever I could.  Firemaker screamed for help but I had stood and watched, as he died, as he died in place of me, an unknowing sacrifice. I had finessed a few more days of precious life.

I had, I supposed, placed my coffin on Firemaker’s bed purely out of some kind cowardice and fear of not knowing with any certainty what it would be like for me to die, from a selfish point of view.  I did not want to die because dying would likely cause me pain and take me where he did not want to go. It would likely be a place of nothingness and although I suppose that I would not know if I were on a place of nothingness so it would not make a difference when I got there it was the knowing that I would go there that was so hard to bear.

Did I do the wrong thing? On any understanding of what was happening to us, we were being executed one by one. It would make no difference to me if Firemaker had another day or one hundred days of life, but it would make an difference to me if I had a hundred days of life.

My whole life has been pushing me towards death, early death probably.  There I could not the pleasure of a woman; he growing old. My line, started from the very first piece of life on earth would stop with me. I would become a dead end, a knot in the rope of history beyond which the bicycle could not travel.

Skydance and I took to sitting on our beds, not moving for fear of contravening some unknown rule.  I could at least look at his beauty then. All that I could think about, despite his great beauty, was death and the means of death.

When a slaughterer kills animals it is his kindness to sharpen his knife. A sharp knife with no blemishes, no nicks or abrasions is a gentle end for a calf or a pig. With great care the butcher of animals (we eat animals) creates a perfect blade. Steel is best, not stainless steel, but fragile thin steel that the sharpening stone can hone and grind into a wicked fast death. Some slaughterers stun the food before they cut the throat, they deem it kinder. Others hold that making the animal senseless is less humane and nothing kills more sweetly than a sharp knife pulled around a neck in less than a second.

There was no time to mourn; I did not know whether I should be first or last when I came back from exercise.  I believed that my death was inevitable and so I took to entering from the dungeon from exercise last of all. Skydance let me do this and hurried to end his exercise first allowing me precious moments alone in the yard. There I found it more precious. There the death of my friends became less important; all that mattered was the circle of sky in which I tried and failed to distinguish the clouds.

One dusk, upon returning from observing the sky one evening, looking forward to observing Skydance, I saw a coffin in the arms of my friend Skydance. He was carrying the coffin from my bed to his own. He told me that he thought it should be his turn to die. He said that he believed the guards put coffin on beds at random.  He would now test his theory, he told me smiling. I did not tell him that I had already had the proof of it. To admit to killing Firemaker would have educated my friend but for what purpose. He now had no use for the knowledge I could impart to him. I thanked him for my life, such of it as I had left. Skydance whispered to me, gently, and kindly, “Don’t be sad, I have had my life”.

Skydance’s eyes held mine and as we heard the sound of the prison door opening, the march of the guards, the sound of the other prisoner’s throat being cut. I held his eyes as I watched Skydance’s blood spilling.

Then I was alone.  I sat on my bed, like a child playing a game.  I sat on home. No one could touch me when I sat on home. I rocked on my bed. I thought about my friends and knew that I had reached the end. I would die soon.

It was a relief that Skydance had died. It gave me relief. No one need ever know what I had done. Even though I had done it for the best motives, for the best reasons it was possible that not everyone would see it the way that I saw it. The prisoners who died were not from my country; they were no fighting my war for my benefit. Every possible witness that mattered had died. It was fine.

The door opened again. I stayed on home, safe on home and turned my head to look at my executioners as they entered. It was my turn to die unless against all possible hope something had happened to change that.  The eyes of the guards were not cold and they did not now move quietly. I faced them. It was time to face my death. I could imagine their very shapr balde scratching slightly as it slit my throat and then I expected that I should lose consciousness very quickly, the heart pumping my life away into a coffin.

But there was no coffin. There was no receptacle of death. There was nothing to catch my blood and yet the guards entered. There was no knife, no machinery honed for my death. The guards were not adhering to their rituals, which, while not my rituals, was not pleasing.

I feared some other means of death. I had been planning to lie still and relax as they dragged the blade across my neck – that had seemed the best way to die and a way to atone perhaps for my crimes by submitting to death at their hands. But if I did not know the means of death it would be hard.

Most executioners distract the condemned mad just before he dies, fooling him into thinking that he has still a few minutes more of life. At a hanging the hangman releases the lever just as soon as the rope is around the hooded neck, but as he puts the rope around he whispers to the condemned that it will only be a minute or so more and then he instantly kills him.

I did not want to die like that. I wanted to die knowing how I would die, knowing exactly how many seconds were left to me. I hoped to read the seconds in the eyes of the guards but I could not.

One guard spoke with kindness perhaps, or perhaps with resignation.

“It is not death. You have been reprieved. The war is over. The killing is over. You are free.”

They opened the door to my prison. Outside as I walked into the light my eyes hurt with its incredible brightness. I was free for the rest of my life, however long that might be.

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The next story was published in a Canadian journal, the Hippotamus, edited by one of my friends, in 2004

THE CONVERSION OF PAUL

The new school was next to the old church. He had taught for many years in the old school and when the school moved he went with it. He taught me in the old school. It was quite hard to find somewhere to park my car, because he was a popular man. I think that he was popular because he had no delusions about his weaknesses. He cared for the kids that he taught. He first taught Latin and classics, but changed with the times as the times changed him and ended up by teaching politics and sociology. I saw, as you do, old school chums whom I had not seen for years, older, fatter, and grey now in some cases and in other cases the blond locks had turned to shiny pates. I picked my way through the pews until I found a space next to someone who had been in my class.

The church was very crowded. I had never been in it before. I always thought that he was Jewish, but you can be surprised about stuff like that. He had nominated this church for this ritual. You never really know people. I would have expected that.

I think, and I am pretty sure that I am right, that he converted from Judaism to Christianity before he became a teacher. I never knew the reasons and I suspect that his conversion was more a matter of emotional convenience than belief. I do not accuse him of being hypocritical or playing the main chance. He was a dedicated teacher who had inspired thousands of us.

I was very interested in his family. He was, I thought, a private man. I never knew how many children he had, but most of all I wondered what his wife looked like. He had an eye for the girls, I remembered. In those days the fashion was for them to wear their skirts very short. The girls left home with knee length skirts but by the time they got to school they had rolled the waist of their uniform high so that their skirts became mini and they allured teachers and boys alike with the beauty of their legs.            He could never take his eyes off them. He studied their legs (as we boys did too, but we were young) extremely assiduously, in fact even more carefully than I studied the legs and breasts of the pretty young teacher in the French class. I thought, as did the girls, that he was a bit of a dirty old man but a fine teacher for all that. Although at that age boys like me are not noted for their observation, even I could see his eyes light on the pretty face of a young teenage girl, study it, move down to examine her breasts and then her thighs, all without breaking his exposition about verbs or grammar or whatever was the subject of the day. He never touched them, never patted their heads or put his arm around their shoulders as some teachers did in those politically incorrect days. But it was clear that he liked the ladies.

He took it personally if a pretty girl gave up the subject he was teaching in favour of some other teacher’s subject. I think that he wanted them around for scenery, in some strange way. Now, I, like most men, know all about looking at the ladies. We spend most of our time doing this and the ladies spend nearly as much time making themselves fit to look at.

For some reason, this made me wonder about his wife. She never came to school functions. I never saw her. What did she look like? I wondered if a man who liked the ladies so much had married a very beautiful one. I thought that he must have found a very special wife. Someone told me that his wife had come from Geneva and that she was pretty and petite so as the coffin was carried in I looked out for who she might be in the procession that followed it. There were four people of my generation – his children and in laws I guessed, and several of his generation. They stepped behind the coffin and filed to the front pew.

After some of the usual ceremonial nonsense, one of the younger family members stepped into the pulpit to address us.

“I am honoured to be able to talk at Paul’s funeral”, he said, “although of course deeply sad.”

His next words were the usual stuff about celebrating Paul’s life rather than mourning his death. I slumped back in my pew, ready to be bored but his next sentence was the stuff of dreams, strange dreams.

“I should say straight away,” the chap was a good clear speaker, “that Paul’s wife, Yvonne, would have come here today; she wanted to come here today, as she made clear to me, personally, but she had to look after the grandchildren, so she could not come. She specifically told me that she feels no bitterness and to make that clear to you all.”

“Shit, I thought, I still won’t see what his wife looks like.”

“Today, our thoughts have to be with Paul’s loved ones, his daughters, his grandchildren and of course his partner, George.”

And then I saw. In the front pew I saw an old bald weeping man, slightly crumpled in his clothes. Paul, who had spent his teaching life examining young ladies, had after years of study, converted. He left behind a partner, George. He spent the last years of his life with another old man. Perhaps the studies of the teacher had drawn him to a particular conclusion. Now I could never look at his wife.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

SHIT

I woke to the sound of Credence Clearwater Revival’s Susie Q being played with extra amplification through the wall of the next room by another student in our hall of residence and to the smell of shit. Not the sweet kind, but the fecal kind. I wondered if I was ill, perhaps my bowels had exploded in the night but I felt normal. Perhaps I had fallen asleep next to an unflushed toilet. I tried to move and found not a cold porcelain bowl but a large smooth sweaty body in bed next to me. It was a fat girl. I moved my hands and felt sludge like material. I brought my hand to my face but the smell was too much for me.

My hands were messy; if I picked up my glasses they too would be covered with the stuff. Credence were putting a spell on me now, but it did not get rid of the shit. I tried to draw short breaths and held my hands by my side as I threw off the covers with my legs. I jumped out of my small bed, seized my glasses. I wanted to see. I could wash them later.

My activity had disturbed the fat sleeping form next to me. Her feet were tucked up in the fetal position and it gave her the shape of a naked half moon. She woke up and grinned, inanely. I had no concept of what an inane grin was until that moment.

I could see that we had been lying in shit for some hours. It was deeply ground into the bed clothes and no doubt beneath that into the mattress. I found that I was standing in a puddle of shit and a small trail of the stuff led out of the room and crept under the door.

Credence were now wailing about Proud Mary. I knew that Bad Moon Rising was next but no moon could be as bad as that I captured in my bed. I tried to clear the fog in my head. What happened?

Last night I tried to pull at a party. You know how it can be. You get to a party and look around for someone to try to fuck. At first your standards are high and so you only talk to the good looking women.  As the night goes on you fail with the good lookers and aim your sights a bit lower, at the average lookers. The trouble with doing that is that the average lookers have seen you fail with the good lookers and don’t want to be seen as picking up their cast-offs. So the average lookers blow you out.

By this time you have two choices, only two. Either you get pissed and pretend to everyone at the party that you never wanted to pull, you were only fooling. This strategy never really works but your friends usually go along with it to avoid hurting your feelings. The other strategy, sometimes born out of adopting the first strategy and then changing your mind half way through, is to pull an ugly one, a really ugly one.

Now, I don’t want to be accused of uglism or fatism. Fat people deserve every chance in life and should not be discriminated against, I guess. They are friendly, warm and kind. In fact there is more to them than thinner people. I loved fat people, then. And sure enough, there, in the corner on a settee was a fat ugly one. She had seen my antics, but kindly did not mind them. We talked danced. I half remember that she cooked me bacon and eggs in the kitchen before I grabbed her hand and took her in my bed sit in the hall of residence. I was going to do her favour, so I thought.

To be frank I don’t remember much about the sex that followed, because my mind clouded over then until I was woken by Credence and the smell of fecal substance.

Credence stopped suddenly. The fat girl in my bed grinned at me. Lovingly. It was though I was her lover of many years standing and we had reached new heights of love making and she would now mother me, nuture me and have my children. She would stand by me, make a home for me, love and never leave me. She would be there for me for richer or poorer, better or worse.

I tried to inject some sense of reality into her fat brain.

“What the hell is all this?” I stormed.

“What?”  She had a high pitched annoying voice, close to a whine.

“This fucking shit!”

“Oops, I must have had an accident.”

I encouraged her to clear the shit up. I went for rags, buckets, mops. I opened my door keeping my eyes fixed on the thin trail of shit as it led out into the corridor and into the bathroom.. I grabbed some toilet paper. I could not find anything else. On the way back with every roll of paper that I could find there was a small collection of other students whose rooms shared this landing outside my door.

“What the fuck have you been doing in there?”

“Shit stabbing?”

“It wasn’t me, it was some fat cunt that I pulled when I was pissed!”

The fat girl heard me and opened the door. She was naked and smeared in shit. My room was smeared in shit. She arched her back grabbed one of my towels, marched to the showers, showered and vanished out of my life leaving me to clear up her mess.

Life at University was very difficult after that. Students gossip tremendously and I acquired a reputation for disgusting practices which was wholly undeserved. Pulling at parties became impossible; no one invited me to parties. I had to move outside the University circles and those attempts were not wholly satisfactory as my reputation preceded me where ever I went. In the end I changed my University and changed my course and changed my name.

And ever since then I have adopted a new strategy at parties. When I pull I make sure that there is always a bucket of disinfectant under the bed, some rubber gloves and baby soap. Baby soap works best for getting rid of the smell. Believe me. I know.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

The Horse

I had been in prison for so long that my gait was unsteady and the light hurt my eyes. I turned the corner, out of sight of the prison guards, empty handed and empty in my soul. I wanted to regain my self-respect, if I could. I would, I decided, try good works and good prayers, but first I knew that I had to survive. Helping others must happen after I was in a position to help them. I had to help myself.

However poor and little the food in prison was, at least it kept me alive. I walked hungry, just wanting to get far away from all of those people associated with the prison. I walked until I could walk no further and paused to look around.

The town had gone; there were bare muddy fields and naked trees. The day grew dark and I grew cold. My miserable clothes, rags, did not keep me warm. There was no shelter and I feared returning to the town. Ahead was a small farmhouse. The farmer must have worked these newly ploughed fields although I do not know what crop could have prospered there.

There are many people who are good and kind at times. I expect that no person is always good, perhaps good in bursts because the strain that the Almighty places upon you in his requirements as to behaviour is unbearable without distractions. I, before I was imprisoned, sold prayers and holy relics; these distracted those who would be virtuous so that kept from unrighteous acts. That was my virtue.

The farmer who lived in that farmhouse was a mainly virtuous man. He found me cold and lonely, my teeth chattering with painful cold, my fingers and toes freezing. He brought me into his home, unquestioningly. He fed me with warm and simple food and sat me before his fire. He showed me photographs of his wife; she had died in a bombing raid. He showed me pictures of his three sons. They had all been killed in the war fighting for his country. Their well-preserved bodies lay in a military mausoleum. His photographs showed three handsome well built young men without defects. He told me of the sacrifice he made for his country. That was how he described the loss of his sons. In the war his sons died and his wife died. He told me that the war was fought to save his farm and other people’s farms. The land was saved but the people died. There was now land without people.

The farmer also told me of how he worked his land to feed the people. This time of year, with winter setting in, he climbed upon his plough and broke the soil up into large clods. The winter weather would break into smaller pieces of soil and in the spring, as the soil warmed up, he would climb upon his tractor and sow seeds of wheat. By late summer the wheat would be fully grown, with almost every seed producing ten more seeds. He would cut down the wheat, store or sell it, and then start again, keeping some seed back for the next sowing.

He was proud of how well he fed people. This year, he explained, his fields were too muddy to work properly. There had been fighting on his fields. Men had killed each other there and as a by-product of the killing the earth was churned up and lost its character. Later the army cleared the remains of the dead from his fields, well most of them. His plough still turned up skulls and pieces of bone. The wheels of the tractor that he drove threw up withered body parts.

At first, the farmer told me, he called the Army who swiftly removed the body parts and re-interred them. In the end he stopped calling the Army. The bodies of his sons were preserved in a sTh He felt that the bodies of his sons were serving no purpose, not even decorative. They had been carefully injected with formaldehyde. Someone skilled in these maters then repaired any broken or battered body parts and then the bodies were covered in make up so that they looked life like but they did not look like themselves. After all this careful work on his sons the farmer said that their dead bodies had been enclosed in sumptuous silk lined coffins – I knew all about coffins. Then the coffins were sealed tightly and placed in special tiny rooms made in the marble walls of the military mausoleum. There they served no purpose. A name plaque indicated the names he had given them when they had been born to his wife and when they had been killed in war.

The mausoleum was a place to say a prayer, he supposed. I knew about praying. The farmer was concerned that even the dead bodies of his sons should serve a purpose. Their bodies served no function now; they belonged to the army. He knew that. So he kept the dead of other men’s sons in his fields, where their flesh and bones would fertilise his crops for many years. Those died in battle would be useful after their deaths. It was important for the farmer to make use of everything. The war had wasted too much, much too much.

He complained bitterly about the muddy fields. It had rained for many months. He expected that his crops would fail; the seed would be washed away with the soil if the rains kept raining. The idea of wasting seed horrified him.

I suggested that I should help the farmer, who agreed but said that he would not need my help for many months but that he would provide food and shelter for me until I was to help him. I had not meant to stay with the farmer for a long time. I wanted to recover some strength and then be away, far away, to a place where I could find my fortune.

I had been starving too long. I told myself that I would never go hungry, never again. The pitted feeling in my throat and stomach could be prevented by food. Hunger probably caused me to make errors, or possibly see things more clearly but whatever it did, I resolved to have no more of it.

The farmer’s home was simple but it was better than sleeping outside. It would be, I decided, a residence from my prison to my palace. I wanted to live in a palace. I had already suffered much.

The days were spent between us in simple pastimes. There was nothing to do on the farm. We tried to drain the fields by digging trenches but the rain was so heavy that it was useless. So we stayed indoors most days. The farmer would cook a simple porridge of wheat. This lasted for several days. Every few days we would eat some eggs or some meat, simply cooked. There was plenty of food. I never felt hungry and I put on weight as my body recovered. I became healthy. I became strong.

As the days grew shorter we stayed inside, rarely wanting to go outside. Every day the farmer went to feed his favourite living thing, a splendid horse. Sometimes I watched him feed the horse and sometimes I helped him groom the horse. I had never been close to such an animal before.

The horse was kept in a large stone barn, which was dry and warm. It was well aired and lit by soft natural light through open windows. It was magnificent. Its head rose higher than mine; its black body was covered with a mass of fine hair. Its body presented power. It could run faster than any man and pull heavier loads than men although this horse had never worked. Its legs seemed huge at the thighs but impossibly thin at the hoofs. The farmer kept it cleaner than he kept himself.

The farmer told me that not only was this horse his prized possession but it was his most valuable possession. It was prized for itself and its value. He valued it not merely in the way that men valued possessions, by what they would fetch, but also by for its associations. His sons had ridden the horse, squabbled over it. They rode it at races that were common before the war, where they won much credit, and also for recreation. Now only the farmer rode the horse.

The food that we fed the horse was made from the same seed that we ate. The horse had grown strong and powerful on it and so did I.

The farmer showed me another valuable possession. He kept it hidden behind the photograph of his wife on the shelf that was central to the farm, the shelf where he honoured his dead, his parents, his children and his wife, by standing their pictures there. The possession was a ring that belonged to his wife. He told me its story.

His wife had died in the war, killed by bullets fired from a flying machine that roamed the skies looking for people to kill. The pilot saw his wife working in the field, pulling weeds. The pilot aimed the gun and fired twenty or so roughened bullets into her body. The bullets were especially roughened to make sure that they would kill better and rip flesh apart. That shows the inventiveness of men. They tore apart her body, roughly diagonally. The ring was on her left hand, which was joined to her left arm, which was joined to her neck and head. It was also fixed to some ribs and a breast. His wife had become a one limbed gore red insect.

The rest of her torso was found paces away from her head and arm. The farmer said that her head looked distraught in death. It took all his courage to try to pluck the ring from her finger. In the end he failed and had to hack off her finger to get the ring off, the ring with its highly precious gem.
He put the ring behind her photograph. He never wiped the blood and flesh from it, so that they dried across the gold and the jewel.

He loved his wife and that touched me. He would have sacrificed his own life if it would have saved his wife, but such gestures never work. I think that his wife’s ring, beloved wife, was the only thing without intrinsic value or merit that he possessed. As long as it was hidden in his house it was his talisman and kept him well and safe.

He put the ring back after he showed it to me. He would, he told me, never touch it again for years, and then only to dispose of it at a time when he felt near death, so that it would not come to waste.

As the days passed I lost my gaunt and haggard appearance. My body filled out with muscle. My eyesight repaired itself. My farmer friend shared his clothes with me. He looked after me kindly, as though I was his son.

I was touched by his unnecessary kindness. Many people have been kind to me. This man enabled me to recover my strength and power. I thought that I would never see clearly again but his food mended my eyes.

The days now were very short. We fed and brushed the horse every day. When it was dry we walked it and then cleaned it. The farmer promised me that he would teach me how to ride his horse, when the days became longer and warmer.
Although we fed watered and cleaned the horse every day, we cleaned and oiled the tractor infrequently. It was a fine machine that covered the ground quickly no matter how muddy it was. It was good transport in those muddy fields.

The farmer taught me to play chess, a pointless game except for self-gratification. It lends itself to two people sitting down, trying to be clever. I found out all about it. It is all about a few limited rules. Each person has the same players, which are laid out mirror like a reflection. There are six types of pieces. Each type is allowed a certain specific way of moving on a chequerboard. It is a bit like war, but more predictable. It is a loose affair of attempting to dominant the board, for no purpose except to win. There are no riches, glories or advantages from wining.

We spent the days together playing chess; between moves he told me of his life but I was wiser. I told him of my hopes and dreams. I told him how I wanted to be free, above everything else. I did not, I trust, hint at the time I spent in prison. That would have been unbearable for him. He could not have lived with my pain.

I prayed with him and I think he understood from that I had some skill in prayers. You see, my prayers a like the game of chess. One word follows another in magical sequence that creates consequences. I did not explain to him about holy relics for he was not that kind of man. It would not have helped him to know about them and I did not wish to puzzle him. But chess and prayers brought him comfort and I joyed in that.

When you start a game of chess you have few choices of moves. As the game develops, with each person moving a single piece alternately, the choices open up into almost limitless routes. Then, as pieces fight and die, their bodies removed from the little world of chess, the choices become less until either defeat for one side becomes inevitable or the carnage leaves behind two exhausted opponents, neither winning but both losing.

There is no room for sentiment in chess; if you become overly attached to apiece, perhaps a rook, you will lose. If you are not prepared to force others to make sacrifices, you will lose. I lost many times at first, but eventually I gave the farmer a good game. As I learned the game sometimes planning my moves far in advance, I won some matches. I was careful not to cheat. The farmer would not have liked that.

As we played chess I took the opportunity to find out about the land where I had found myself. The farmer had travelled extensively before he married and inherited his farm. He told me of the marshes that bordered his land to the west. There, he said, were dangerous parts; a man might not sink in them but he well might lose his way. Once lost, he would find that every clump of marsh grass looked alike, every puddle looked the same. There were no trees or hills visible, from which a man might take a mark. A man might die in the marshes if he were lost. Marsh snakes might kill him. He might find the marsh wind blowing secret songs in his ears, songs that would make him mad. He might find the marsh women who would seduce him and then eat his body.

The marshes could be crossed, if a man kept his head when crossing them. He would need something to carry him safe across. Something reliable. When that reliable thing carried a man across the marshes he would come to another country, a place of great prosperity and opportunity. The farmer became quite agitated when he described how the inhabitants of this land loved possessions. The recent war had damaged many possessions in the farmer’s land, so many that people did not wish to become too fond of mere things. They disdained material items, so that friendship, hospitality and love were highly prized. Jewellery, like the ring that his wife wore, fine horses and well made machines, while having some value here are worth far more over the border. People in the farmer’s country were not yet ready to travel and trade; they needed to rebuild their lives and homes after the war. The land over the border had not fought in the war but had laid up, in a kind of mania, wealth in the form of possessions. There seemed to the farmer no sense in this desire for things of no intrinsic value.

By the time warmth was beginning to return to the soil we started to gently work the fields. Cold winter had done its work well. The large clods had been weathered into finer substance. Sowing the land was easy with two. The farmer drove his tractor while I stood on its rear platform. I scooped my shovel into the seed box tied to the tractor and with the huge sweep of my arm that the farmer had taught me, scattered the seeds into the soil. I would have thought that the birds would have welcomed what we were doing and chanced to feed upon my friends seeds but we saw no birds.

The rains had stopped and the fields were drying. We had done our work and as far as I could see there was no more real work to do until it was time to collect the crop and store it or sell it. The farmer grumbled constantly about work, but it was mostly minor maintenance that he grumbled about and the work that he made for himself, such as the work with his horse.

I could not understand the use that his horse provided him. It seemed as unnecessary luxury to me as the hidden ring. I asked him about the usefulness of the horse, being careful in my tone and questions. He patiently explained the usefulness of the horse. If his tractor broke down, or if fuel became rare (as it did in the war) the horse could plough a furrow, more slowly than the machine but as effectively. It was a good means of transport to the town, especially useful when he had to sell the crop. He warmed to this theme, explaining the usefulness of the animal until I had to tell him that I had not realised that there were so many uses in the hope of stopping him.

He the paused, looked carefully at me and then in a lowered voice, afraid that someone might hear, told me of the real value of the horse. The value, he said was in its actual value. The animal was so fine so fast and so beautiful that he would never use it for farm work. He would sell it, one day. He would wait until and if prices rose so that he would get its real value in the town, or if that did not happen, he would take it across the border and sell it there.

Across the border he would be able to buy five more farms, ten more tractors, as good a wife as was to be had, all in exchange for the horse. That was why he cared so much for it. He was frightened that it might die before he could realise its investment value, but trusted in the Almighty to keep it alive; what the almighty might forget he would not. So he cared for the horse.

He offered to teach me how to ride. Although I was unfamiliar with animals I was eager to learn. He saddled the horse, putting on all sorts of paraphernalia. Then he brought me close to its side.

When you stand so close to a horse and have to ride it for the first time you are surprised at how big it is. You are also (or at least I was) impressed at how strong it is. Its muscles seemed to be to be perfectly balanced. Its odd shape, slender legs, broad neck and back, sleek head were made for speed. It smelled of power and of fantasy. I could not understand how it would let a man control it so well but then in a stubborn reckless manner, fail to obey the same man. You could lead it easily to what it wanted to do but you had to fight and dominate it to make it behave in a way contrary to its wishes. Its eye, its large eye viewed from it profile shone danger and caution for a man.

I learned to ride the animal well. It was, ultimately, simply a question of dominating the beast, using my strength and using my balance. The animal could only be free within the constraints that I set for it. That was our bargain. I rode over the fields tearing up parts of the young growing wheat when I raced off the path. The farmer rebuked me for this, but kindly and only for a short time. Then he said that it did not really matter, this years crop would be good.

The warmer weather brought him memories of his wife. He had loved his wife. In a low voice he spoke of her when we sat outside his farmhouse, drinking strong spirits in the evening, watching his wheat grow in the fields. He needed to do this, I think, that is talk about her and her life with him and her death.

She was, of course, the most perfect woman. She had grown a little thicker after she bore him three sons but that did not spoil her figure at all. She was kind to him, made a fuss of him whenever she saw him. She would do whatever she felt would please him. It may be to arrange his pillows perfectly; she might cook him especially good food, although all her cooking was excellent. In bed at night she would yearn for him, excite him and if he were tired clamber on top of him. If he were feeling strong and vigorous she would submit to him murmuring his praises.

In the morning she would hold his penis, gently bringing him to erection and then fellate him as he lay in that delicious half sleep. Even as she grew older, even after children, her breasts remained firm. He told me that if he ever saw another woman that he wanted his wife would arrange it for him.

It is strange; he spoke of her to me in the way that young men boast about girls that they do not care about in the heady spring of youth. They create, as he did, a mixture of fact and fiction and in the repetition come to believe their own stories. He was old, too old for this talk, and yet he seemed to profit from it. I have become a voyeur in his farm.

He told me that he liked to look at his wife, just look at her. He looked at her when she sat opposite him, at the dining table. He looked at her as she worked in the farmhouse. He watched her as she gave birth. He loved looking at her shape, how she held herself and how she stood. Most of all, he loved watching her face. It made him proud, comfortable and happy.

He wished that she out lived him. The day when he found her body in two pieces in the fields was the blackest day of his life, even blacker than when he learned that his sons were killed. By the time he found her head and arm he was already carrying her torso. He could not easily carry both so he made a rough bag out of his shirt and placed the head and arm (with one breast poking out of a bullet torn dress) into the bag. He forgot the finger in the field and never found it. Perhaps an animal ate it. He slung the bag over a shoulder while holding the torso with both hands.

She was fairly newly dead. By the time he got to the farmhouse rigor mortis had set in. He did not want to break the rigor so he had to cut the bag away from her upper body part and when he did he found her hand grotesquely groping her breast while her neck bent hideously back averted her open eyes. The legs on her torso had bent into a hideous imitation of a fresh foetus.

The state sent morticians who offered to repair the damaged body and make it nearly good again, but he refused. He buried her seven days after she died as she was beginning to smell, without a coffin in the field. It took him so long to dig her grave. He buried her very deeply in the ground, so deeply that his plough would never disturb it, deep into the bedrock of clay. The grave was dug so deep that he had to use a ladder to get in and out, the longest ladder he possessed. He had to carry each bucketful of clay up the ladder. Filling the hole, said the farmer, was the hardest part. The mound weathered down eventually. Now there was no sign of her grave.

It was late summer when I put my plan into effect. The weather had been dry and the wheat had grown well. I decided that if I acted now the farmer would be busy with harvest and distracted by the demands on him. That would make good my escape. He was a good man and I imagined that he would be too heart broken by my actions to do anything. His spirit had largely been broken by events and this might well break his heart. His death by natural causes (for such I hoped) would perfectly cover me. My actions would never be discovered. His death would also bring him peace that he lacked in life. It would be a neat end for both of us.

The farmer usually rose early but today I rose earlier still. I wore his best and warmest coat and filled their pockets well. I crept into the stable, where the horse, now used to me, was standing. I saddled it and led it out. As we passed the tractor I picked out its key and threw it far away. I then mounted the horse and walked it away. The further we got from the farm the faster I made the horse go.

I rode on the paths until we were well past the fields of the farm. Then I took the horse across country heading away from the rising sun. I could see a line of mountains in the distance but before the mountains I saw the marshland, which I reached when the sun was high in the sky.

As the horse and I rode through the marshes I started to think about what I should do with the rest of my life. I would be very rich and very happy. I would sell the horse, after speaking to many people in order to discover its highest value. That would be best. I having found persons of wealth interested I shall sell the horse at the best price that I can get. I shall buy a luxurious home with some of the money and use the rest to gain more money. I shall trade until I become rich and fat.

I know that the farmer has been kind to me but I have been kind to him. I have provided my company. I have listened to him talking about intimate things that he thought would shock me. I have not been shocked. He will never be able to enjoy the benefits of his horse; he hardly spends money. It is not sufficient to admire a beautiful thing; you must do more than love it. You must use it and it must benefit your life. It should swell your esteem and your belly. I will use the horse beneath my feet much more usefully than my farmer friend. He says that everything must have its use. I shall hold him to that.

I shall arrive across the border well dressed. I will stop just in sight of the nearest town, the nearest very large town. I shall wash there, clean myself up so as to look respectable. I shall find the best hotel and stay there. With my horse everyone will assume I have great wealth. I shall spend days finding out the best price for my horse. I shall also discover the important people of the town. I shall discover a wealthy man with daughters or a very rich widow. That is all I need to plan now. The rest I can improvise.

We arrived at the marshes. It seemed featureless from a distance but now there I found it full of clumps of large grasses and bushes. The horse seemed to know the way through, notwithstanding that everywhere looked the same. I spurred the horse on, so that it rushed by the bushes, jumped over the swampy puddles and raced through narrow paths of solid ground. Beyond the marshes, barely discernable in the fading daylight was the border, marked by a range of low mountains. So to my destiny, I rode faster to try to reach the mountains in daylight.

In late summer when the weather is hot the sun sucks the moisture out of the land. When the sun sets the moisture turns in the colder night air into a mist. In the marshes the mist was thick and higher than the horse and me. It moved and folded on itself. We could not see more than a few yards. If the horse were a sensible beast it would have stopped dead. If it were obedient it would have stopped stock-still. But the horse was capricious and stubborn. It ran as fast as it could.

I found myself think of how a horse runs. The sequence of its legs is difficult to measure with the eyes but I believed that it moves its right foreleg first and the its left fore leg close after. Just as the left fore leg is gaining purchase, the right rear leg pulls the horse forward and then the left rear leg follows. The right leg, bended knee kicks out as the process continues.

Knowing how a horse runs (and I only think I know) does not help you when you want it to stop. I pulled in the reins and did all the things that the farmer taught me but the horse ran away. I clung onto the horse for fear of being abandoned by the beast. It ran where the mists were deepest. It ran off the paths that it had carefully trod before sometimes sinking deep into the marsh; when it did this it panicked using its tremendous strength to free us. Once free it galloped aimlessly again. It galloped to places that I did not want to go.

At first I was annoyed. This spoilt my plans. My escape was to be careful uneventful, not this blind meaningless dash into nowhere. I resented this magnificent animal even though it was to be the foundation of my fortune. Its made running was beginning to hurt my thighs and my back as I desperately balanced to stay on its back.

It soon became dark and this frightened the horse even more. It was now mad pursuing what it did not know in a place that it did not want to be.  The dark mist shrouded us and no matter how fast we ran or how wildly we stumbled it sheaved us.

My resentment and anger had turned into fear; if the horse dislodged me from its back I would be lost in a marsh. Here the snakes were poisonous and there was no food. The still water smelled vile. Here I would die in the sight of no one. I did not want to die like this. It was because I thought that I would die that I believed in God again.

Dear God, I had, I am sure, stolen from the farmer who provided me with food and shelter and warmth. I have betrayed his trust and is hospitality. I have scorned his friendship. I do not know if my punishment is fittingly death; I hope it is not. I repent. I do not want to die. I repent. I have wronged a good man. I repent. This is not the time to cast doubt on what I have done. I have done wrong and I wish that I had not done wrong.

Then it occurred to me that even if I had not done wrong I still might find myself facing death now, but in a different way. An innocent bystander faces death. I new born child may be ripped from its mother’s arms and speared on the point of a bayonet. That child did not wrong. I understood that punishment can happen even without wrong doing.

The horse became a little tired and stopped. I dare not dismount the horse for fear that it would run away, pulling the reins from my weakened arms and leave me alone in the marshlands. Every now and then the horse ran for some time but the stopped, very still. The dark became lighter. The sun did not drive away the mist, so that it took on a ghostly hue. I understood that my time was ending. I heard a grating sound. I feared it. A dark shadow came closer to me, closer, almost formless. It gradually, as it came closer, took on a form. The mists lifted and I saw the shape perfectly. It was the farmer riding his tractor, calling my name.

The horse calmed down. It stood still as though it was the most obedient humble creature in God’s creation. The farmer called to it, friendly words. I could see the horse’s eyes were calm, blinking, like mine, as we found the bright morning sun staring at us.

“You have come a long way,” said the farmer, “on my mad horse. It could have killed you. It must have bolted when you took it for your early morning ride. I feared it did, because its spirits are high now. It could have killed you or caused your death. I am sorry and ashamed.”

The farmer misunderstood my actions. He did not know that I intended to steal. He thought me as kind as he. He wanted me to understand that it was entirely his fault. He should have provided me, his honoured guest and friend, with a safe mount for my early morning ride. He had failed and was nearly the cause of my death. The horse was safe to ride longer distances only when blinkered. He brought the blinkers and fitted them. Now I would be safe but he wanted to compensate me, for the injury and fear I had suffered.

We talked for a bit. Mostly I listened to his apologies. I was careful to be non committal. He gave me a small bundle of clothes and some food. He knew, he said, that I could not easily stay with him who had put me in such danger. He would always welcome me but he thought it was better for me to make my start in the world. He gave me a start. He gave me the horse. That was his compensation to me. That was my foundation.

By the time we parted the sun was high in the sky and the horse well blinkered was happier now that it was properly mine. In the near distance I could see the mountains of the border and I headed for them as the farmer headed back home.

The farmer finds us and saves us; he has not realised that I was stealing his horse; he thought that it bolted.

He apologises for the horse’s spirit; it is his fault.

He compensates me and says he is ashamed

He gives me the horse

I leave him

I feel the ring in my pocket; he’ll never know that I stole it until I am long gone.

_________________________________________________________________________________

SETH

CHAPTER 1

Seth looked across the broad and dusty plains.  If he tried hard, he could reach the woodlands tonight.  He could see the woodlands at the edge of his eyes. That is where the people were. It had taken him four years to travel this far.  He had walked the whole way.

When he said goodbye to his parents, they had given him seven coins, which were his inheritance.  His parents knew they would never see him again.  They cautioned him to spend wisely.  He had the coins safely tucked away hidden in a corner of his pocket, each coin no larger than his thumbnail.

He was eighteen when he kissed his parents for the last time.  Now, at 22, he had no other experience of life beyond that which his parents bequeathed to him and that which he learned by walking for four years across the plains.

The landscape he had seen had been unrelieved by any mountains.  The rivers were unnaturally straight with dull banks.  The grass was tough and unsuitable.  There were few insects and big skies.  Wandering across the monotonous landscape had given him a stubborn quality, which enabled him to survive the monotony for four dreary years.

Seth had forgotten the taste of meat.  He never knew the taste of fish.  His education comprised of learning to read and to count. He was good at both. He never believed that it was necessary for him to learn more. He could barely conceive what more there was to learn.

His clothes started out when he left home very stiff very thick and very strong.  They hurt at first when he walked as the hard material rubbed against the inside of his knees.   As he walked his clothes moulded themselves to the shape of his body except for those parts, such as his feet, where his body moulded itself to the shape of his clothes.  His thick and heavy hat protected him from the sun.  It kept out the rain and on the days when the sun shone hard it kept his head cool.

He started his walk with hope and expectation and now the end was in sight his hope became apprehension and his expectation fear.

He had not met any person on his journey; there were hidden eyes that watched him and hidden arms that laid down food.  These were days of duty.  These were days when it was more blessed to provide what a man needed than it was to exchange needs for advantage.  People lived clean and blameless lives.

Seth had not been involved in any activities for which he was required to feel shame.  He could acquire things, but not for the sake of having them but in order to display them to others.  He could compete, but not to win or to gain advantage.  He could lead but not dominate.

The road was stony here.  As Seth walked he kicked up small clouds of dust when it was dry.  When it was wet his footprints pushed water aside in little puddles muddying the sides of his trousers.  And he developed a style of walking, a way of walking that seemed to make it easier to cover the distance.  As he walked his accomplishment grew and with the woods in sight Seth was now a fine walker. Today the road was dry and fine dust hung around his footprints in the still air visible to eyes that were not there.  The dust clung to the edges of his feet and the bottoms of his trousers colouring them.

He had no company on his journey and so he developed a way of talking to himself, which kept him entertained.  He would explain to himself what every feature was that came into view; he would refine his observations over the years.  He spoke out loud so that the sound of his voice would give him the impression of company.  He expected that when he reached the woods that he would find his people, marry and acquire his own house, that is a house in one place that never moved, and find his own living in that place where others, of his own kind, lived.

That is what Seth remembered from his parents explanations to him when they sent him on his journey; he could not be sure but he thought that he remembered it properly. Four years can change a man’s memory, Seth knew.

“This section of the road is very stony. Normally on this journey the stones are five or six inches round and two or three feet apart, the rest of the road surface being squashed dust.  In this part we have smaller stones that appear more frequently. Look, some are dirty green and those there on the right hand side of the road are a dusty red.  I could find a use for the stones. If I were careful and thrifty I could collect stones of the same size and perhaps use them as a decoration in a garden.  The right stones would make a pretty gift for a wife.  They look much prettier when they are wet than when they are dry.  Can I keep these stones wet?  Of course I can grow crops when I reach the woodlands and stones there might be red.  It is perfectly possible in the way of things that some substances are rare in some places but plentiful in other places.  They would be expensive and precious in one place but cheap and common in the other.  Here on the road there are no woods.  There is only rough grass.  Trees from which wood can be obtained are so rare that I have not seen any in the past few years of walking.  But I have seen lots of stones.  I expect in the woodlands I will see no stones and perhaps I ought now to collect some stones for use there later.”

Seth modulated his voice as he spoke; sometimes he deepened it, for fun.

A man can run out of things to say to himself after four years walking on the same dreary road.  He can build up his dreams, lay out his ambitions set himself targets for his future life.  But the future always seems far along the road, even when it is close by.

When Seth was a boy in his parents’ house there was a small flagstone covered yard.  There was thirty six flag stones in the yard, a row of six up and a row of six down down, each of the same size but each having slightly different characteristics, like members of the same family.  They were pressed closely together.  Seth could remember, even now, the look of every flagstone.  He remembered the position of each stone in relation to each other and in relation to the other features of the garden.  When he was allowed to play in the garden, on those few special holidays, the flagstones were his friends.  He danced around them quietly and smiled at them.  They watched him play.  They encouraged his skills.

One flagstone had chipped edges, another a slightly blue hew. Several gathered moss; some never got dirty.  Some kept puddles when it rained.  Each was a friend.  It is strange, how the friends that you make at given times in your life are the friends that you return to all the time.  You meet a person, talk to him, meet him again and the next thing you know is that person is your friend and you are his.  Seth’s friends, his only friends, were the thirty six flagstones four years away.

Some were colourful, shining with bits of sparkles while others solid and dull.  They would hurt him if he fell onto them but for that to happen he would have to make a false move. They, his friends, were dependable. If he did not upset himself the flagstone friends would never harm him.

There was nothing at home except these flags to entertain him.  Seth’s parents never had any instruments or machines that showed pictures or played sound.

Seth created his own entertainments; he found that if he rubbed his eyelids hard he could make the most wonderful patterns in most brilliant colours.  By pushing his eyeballs and releasing them colours in the patterns changed.  It became a cycle of a magic show.  If he rubbed his eyes in the special way he could nearly make pictures in his own eyes, which nearly told stories of almost exciting adventures involving virtually perfect people.  Whenever he went to bed he rubbed his eyes hard and harder pressing his fingers, but best of all his palms of his hands.

As he rubbed his eyes patterns changed into other patterns, like a soft kaleidoscope whose mirrors were curved. Colours melted into different colours as the patterns changed. Sometimes he drove himself deep into the vortex of the swirling silent show.

Another entertainment was to dream. Seth dreamed he could fly.  As a young boy he would fly, soaring above all of the land where his parents lived, past the features around the undulating hills holding dry grass.  Flying was easier than walking.  It was much safer. No devil could reach him in the sky.  This was his happy dream.

Flying in his dreams was to Seth the best possible thing, an adventure without evil and when conducted in a dream a device without risk.  No harm to Seth and no harm to others.  This is the way, he knew, to live a good and virtuous life free from the risks and problems that others could engender, causing no harm.  His flight was not fast enough to be a threat to the birds that shared the air with him.  Travelling through a cloud caused no harm to the cloud.  The clouds seemed to welcome him invading their bodies with his.

The lonely boy makes whose friends are flagstones also makes friends with his dreams.  Seth dreamed the saddest dream and he dreamed it for many years.  He dreamed that he would go on a journey with his parents and they would wander away from home.  Seth knew that he had to stay close to Mother.  But to stay close to Mother meant he had to hold her hand.  And he told her “I’ll hold you, I’ll hold you and you’ll offer, won’t you Mother?” Her hand was too high; he could not hold it. They walked together in limitless fields of dry grass and he lost his Mother’s hand.  Detached, he had to wander the world looking for her and his family.  Where were his family?  At first he was not unhappy exploring a new world but he soon missed his family and when he thought of his Mother tears would well up inside his eyes.  A familiar turning would leave him further and further away from home going to a place that was not right.  He almost made it but never quite.  Just before he woke up he found his home and his family and would wake up crying from his dream happy that he had found home.  He would wake the tears of happiness.

He made himself find them in his dream in a half aware half asleep state. He forced a happy ending out of his nightmare. He made it work well in the end and he returned to Mother in the same comforting way that life returns to death, eventually, but without forcing it.

A dream of unknown quality was knowing that he would have to take his journey to the woodlands to find his people.  His Father told him that it would take years that on his 18th birthday he must leave his mother and his father, leave the comfort and the safety that they provided and walk to the woodlands in the east.  He was told by his father, his stern father, that he would know the woodlands, he would recognise them when he saw them.  And that is what he saw now. His father, of course, had been right. On the horizon there were jagged green fingers. He was nearly at the end of his journey. He saw them a continuous layer of green trees, which, as he walked close to them, became larger and more massive.

Out of habit Seth started talking to himself.

“I can see the trees. I can see the leaves and woods.  This is the place where I will spend the rest of my life.  I have spent four years walking here.  I will shortly be where they are.  What will they be like?  I will know them when I find them. And when I am there I will meet the people with whom I will live for the rest of my life.  I have nearly reached the safe deliverance from danger.  I have not seen any danger but now I see the woodlands and I am grateful.  The woodlands are my place of safety my place without risk.  I am nearly safe”

Seth found it difficult to describe new things. Sometimes he reached great heights of poetry in his talking to himself, describing the grass of the path of clouds of the vast open sky.  Poetry that was heard by no one and once uttered vanished more surely than a drop of water on dry sand with not even the smallest sign that it had once been wet. He started to find the right words to describe his woods but then lost them before they fell out of his mouth.

He looked down at the path; this was familiar; he could describe this.

“The path is becoming more even and the stones are becoming replaced by pieces of bark and wood.  There is, in the distance, a place where, after four years, this path ends.  It is path, or is it a road?  It is not wide. I might meet someone here.”

Seth walked on.

“The road is grey turning light brown and I can see grass growing in the road, and I have not seen as before.  As I walked in to woodlands I leave behind me for ever what I have passed.  As I go forward I do so the knowledge that my journey takes me to my destination, the destination for which I have been prepared all my life.”

These thoughts pleased Seth.  They made him feel important, always helpful when being pleased.  He had learned some things but there was inside him, he knew, an accumulated body of special instinct that distinguished him from everyone else.  He might not have the most learning but he understood and perceived more than any living being.  This state made him especially grand and useful.  He could, he thought, be worshipped and respected by the whole world, even by his enemies.

Closer to the woods, the path became made of wood, rough logs cut from trees and bedded into the earth.  Walking on it gave him a strange sensation.  His shoes did not like it. He had not done this before.  The trees became very close.  As the road entered the woods, when Seth could actually touch trees leaves and plants.  There was a mystery now that surrounded Seth as he walked.  He could hardly see the sky.  It was nearly dark as night but not quite. There were signs of strange small animals living in the trees.  Some flew, just like Seth dreamed he could fly, others ran jumped and climbed trees.  The space on the ground between the trees was not covered with grass but with rich colours of flowers and plants and mosses.  He missed the comforting dull grass.

But there was a bigger surprise to Seth than the richness strangeness of the woodlands.  He had walked for four years down a single path.  It was path that his mother and father had sent him on.  There was only the one path and it travelled eastwards for four lonely years during which he could remember he hoped exactly what his parents said but could no longer picture their faces in his mind.

He reached the woodlands, he thought, here was his success. Here he had reached the place he was meant to be all his life. He was happy because he was here and he walked happily along the path through the trees. Suddenly here was terror. The path forked.

When you walk a lifetime along straight road, a road that never meets another, a road you can see miles ahead over soft plains, you feel a little disturbed when the road enters the woods.  The horizon is no longer exists.  You can cope with this. You never expected the road to fork and when this happens you become a very frightened.  Seth became very frightened.  His father and mother had told him that his walk last for years. They warned him about the rain the wind snow and the sun.  They even warned him about hurricanes.  They prepared Seth for everything that would happen suddenly.  They did not need to tell him that his clothes would eventually fit him or that he would eventually fit his clothes.  They did not need to tell him about the slow subtle changes in path.  These things happen gradually and Seth could learn about them as they occurred.

His parents had not known that the road divided into two.  Did this mean that Seth had set off on the wrong way?  Should he go back and start again?  Or was this the right road?  Was there any difference between the paths?  His parents had prepared Seth for everything, except choice.

The fork raised implications.  What if he travelled down the road, choosing the correct branch by accident, and found at a later stage, another fork? What then?  What would happen if the road became indistinctive in some other way? He would end up in the wrong place and place where he couldn’t be with his people.  What then?  Did his people have enemies?  What would happen?

Seth sat by fork in the road.  He now had to make choice.  He could go left, he could go right, or turn around and go back.  He grabbed hold of his coins, his inheritance hidden in his pocket hoping that they would provide him with some inspiration.  Nothing.  He touched them, rubbed his fingers.  The coins had become scratched.  They were no longer pristine. He looked at his hands carefully.  There were lines in his hands that forked.  They criss-crossed.  They ended up in different directions but finished nowhere.  Some of them did not even reach a logical end.  Nothing.  Some ended logically but nowhere. No inspiration.  He could return home.  Would that be disobedient to his parents’ wishes?  It would take four years to get home.  He would be older.  Another four years to get back here to the fork.  He would be eight years older, yes, but that was one possible way to resolve the dilemma.

It started to rain.  Here the rain was.  It trickled down over Seth’s broad hat over on to his hands.  And the smell of dampness and the thousand other scents that the rain brought up out from the floor of the woodland disturbed him.  He had to make his choice.

Seth sat at the side of the road until he was hungry.  He stayed there two days.  Four years and two hard days.  Over four years his legs had become used to walking.  He made good progress with his shuffle.  The soles of his feet became hard.  His muscles stretched.  He became strong.  Every step until today moved him closer towards his destination and every movement along the road brought nearer the place where he would carry out his destiny.  Until he found fork in the road he was confident that he was moving to his destination.  His destination was, of course, his destiny.

He concentrated hard. Perhaps his Father had told him something, given him some hidden information about this problem. He could not see his father’s face in his mind now, the features had been forgotten on his journey.  He could not see his mother’s face in his mind. But he could think what his father might have said, unremembered instructions on fine details left hidden in the corners of his mind might come to aid.

His father knew everything, and his father would never mislead him.  His father, who loved him and wanted him to succeed must have known, perhaps?  His duty was to do what his father told him and if Seth were not careful his duty would not become his destiny.

His mother wanted Seth to become strong, healthy and happy.  But his Father moulded Seth more.  He set him on a path that his Father had never travelled along and given him instructions that his Father had never followed.  Strength and health were secondary.  Happiness did not matter.  His Father demanded that Seth progress, virtue in progress for its own premise a doctrine of adherence.

He stood off and faced the fork in the road.  One of the roads must be forward.  Both roads and wound through the trees.  Neither was straight.  Which one was forward?  Perhaps the road to the right was straighter the road to the left.  It was difficult to measure it properly.  He had no instruments.  He had his stones in his pocket and he lined them up as best he could.  It was difficult to judge but it seemed possible that the road to the right was straight.

Which way was ahead?  Ahead was eastwards but it was impossible in the forest to tell which way was east.  It was hard to be certain where the sun was.  The trees were so very high and they were clouds in the sky that hindered his view.  There were confusing shadows.  The east had to be in one direction and in one direction only.  Either it was to the right, or it was to the left. He could not tell.  He would wait until he could decide.

Here two roads for joined together.  He had to proceed from the premise that his father would never tell him a lie.  Here he could see and the touch to separate wooden roads.  It was inconceivable that his father was mistaken.  Clearly, one of the roads was a false road.  He examined them carefully.  He could find no difference between them.  And yet it is father told him there was one road that he must stay on.  Perhaps there was something in the substance of the road that made it the right way.  This was difficult.

The fork to the right seemed solid, Father-like in an indefinable way.  The fork to the left was softer although there was no physical difference in them that Seth could discern.  Perhaps Seth should follow his Father’s injunctions and turn right.  Was the right fork the right road?

And yet the left fork had its attractions too.  Left could be correct.  His Mother had nurtured him and comforted him.  He was always safe with her.  His father was more frightening, less loved.  Mother might be best.

He had to find east and he had to choose the road.  He decided to sleep.  If he approached the problem in the morning he might discover the solution.  Tomorrow was another day and could wait until he had found the way he had to go.

Over the years Seth had found away of making himself sleep peacefully.  His hands naturally fell into his groin.  He gently a rubbed himself, making his penis larger.  When it was the strong he brought it into the open and gently masturbated.  After the climax it was easy for Seth to fall into a deep and happy sleep.  He knew that when he awoke in the morning he would, through the inspiration of his father, find the right way.

It was just before dawn that he found himself being roughly shaken.

“This one is a dirty bastard,” one voice spoke.

“He is another one of those pilots who have been killing our people.” Another voice raised itself.

As Seth opened his eyes he saw that soldiers surrounded him.  He was being shaken by one of them while others were fixing chains around his ankles and his wrists.  They were jeering and swearing at him.

“I am not a pilot. I’ve never killed anybody,” protested Seth, but the soldiers paid no attention to him.  Seth, who was not a man of many words, kept silent.  The soldiers chained and beat Seth and dragged him down the wooden path that forked to the left.

“The right way is the right way”, Seth thought bitterly.
CHAPTER 2

It did not take long for Seth to arrive at the soldiers’ destination, but he arrived in darkness.  He was pushed into a stone dungeon with a single electric light hanging from a worn out flex in the very centre of the ceiling.  The electric light gave a painfully dim atmosphere in which it was impossible to see clearly.  Seth was alone in the dungeon and he looked around. He had not been searched, as far as he could remember but his gold coins were gone.

The walls and the furniture, beds and chairs, were built out of grey concrete blocks.  The blocks were uniform in size and colour but of poor quality, with bits worn away and bits simply fallen from the blocks, giving a desolate appearance.  Scattered around the dungeon were eight piles of blocks, each one loosely cemented arranged like a flat bed but higher than a bed would be. The dungeon was windowless but there was a small barred hole in the door that was covered from the outside. Strange lenses hung out of sight and out of reach high in the ceiling.

One of the soldiers said to Seth, “You must choose where you sleep here.”

With that the door slammed shut and Seth was alone in the dungeon.  Alone again. He saw a small wooden door in an opposite wall.  Of course, it was locked when Seth tried to open it.

For a long time, for many days, Seth stayed in the dungeon.  His food was pushed to him through a hole in large door.  In the evening the small wooden door was opened by a mechanism that Seth did not understand and Seth found that he could walk into a circular high walled courtyard, also built from grey blocks, which was entirely featureless save for a primitive walled toilet.  The sky appeared as a disk above him. The once limitless skies of the plains were shrunk to the circle of sky. The thousand shafts of forest sky were concentrated above him, when he walked into to garden.

Seth understood that this was his exercise period, this period in the evening when he could hardly distinguish the clouds in the sky and when they were no colours for him to see, because of the dusk.  And so every evening Seth walked around the courtyard, exercising himself and using the toilet.

And so after getting used to his surroundings Seth created a new routine.  He feared that he would never carry out his father’s command that he would never find his people.  Escape was impossible.

It is always tempting to think of any change as relief and so when the iron main door of the dungeon opened and in limped seven other men Seth hoped briefly that freedom would come.  But when he saw hollow faces, grey with pain he knew that there would be no freedom, just the opportunity to share his misery with other human beings.

So it came to pass that there were eight broken men in the dungeon. Seth talked to them and discovered that they were captured pilots. As pilots they were highly trained in simulators and when they were skilful in their art flying machines were built around their bodies. The machines could fly fast and bring death to many people. They were hated for the death that they brought and the men who flew them were hated most of all.

In flight, in fearsome flight some times a machine would be shot down. Then the pilot was shot out of the machine and propelled, he hoped to his own side. Sometimes it worked but when a pilot failed to reach his own side soldiers captured him. All this Seth learned.

The prisoners began to share their lives.  They needed the comfort of their company.

It is strange how nature and circumstances throw people together. Your first friends are your family. They all want a bit of your soul.  Your family teaches you how to behave and how to give up bits of your soul. It shows you how to use the scraps of soul you inherit or shake out of them.

Then your neighbours create more people around you and you form a community with them. Then schools, colleges, work they all surround you with people each taking from you and  giving you things that you do not want.

It gets harder. Your own soul aches for company. You are sad when friends reject you so you dance to please them. You move your body in patterns to amuse those who surround you, forestalling their rejection for several precious and delightful instances. You mingle and blend, fit in and join, calling your own dance, created for acceptance, your own individual personality.

Friendship out of necessity is a slow process to reach fruition. Yes, at first the process was slow for Seth.  In a matter of a few days, Seth found two friends, two souls that Seth could nibble at. These were the first souls he had touched. His father had been too grand and distant and sat high and far from him, impossible to touch. He could not share things with his father. He could not remember his mother. Not even in an old fashioned way.

Friendships developed out of small incidents.  One day the guards brought in new clothes.  They instructed him the prisoners to undress, to take off their shoes and put on the grey cotton suits that they threw in a large pile in the middle of the room.  Seth pulled out some trousers that were too short and a jacket doors to big for him.  He swapped in the trousers with one prisoner called Raineater and the jacket with another called Skydance.  Smiles were exchanged and the safe knowledge flew through Seth’s head, that here were two people who would like him, who would help protect him.

The guards moved so silently that Seth could never hear their footsteps.  Although Seth seemed to behave differently from the others they found his features irritating and his demeanour dangerous because it was strange.

The guards would speculate as to who had killed the most of their people with bombs dropped by these pilot prisoners and in their speculations Seth had mass murders attributed to him in substantially greater numbers than all the pilots in the dungeon had themselves committed.  Such a number was already large and was swollen by Seth’s silence and burning hatred of the guards who kept him from fulfilling his Father’s command.

Over the next few days Seth discovered that Raineater and Skydance professed values like his.  Raineater and Skydance had proudly killed many enemies.  They explained to Seth and how hard they had trained in order to become skilled in the flying.  They spend hours talking about how they flew aircraft.  They told him about their experiences in the sky.

They told Seth about how they were selected for training. Every child had to undergo a series of tests. The tests included mathematics, navigation and mechanics but the key test was reaction time. Only the fastest children were selected for further training. Upon a child being selected his parents were richly rewarded. Only boys were selected, as far as knew, although both girls and boys were tested.

The happy parents said goodbye to the selected child who saw them no more until his training as a pilot was finished. In a special school the pilots were trained for six months, sharpening their reaction time, strengthening their bodies and teaching them how their aircraft would work. They were then moved to factories, dispersed over the countryside. Here they were given special food and drugs to build up their bodies and then more drugs to stop their bodies growing further. At this stage they could, in theory, fly an aircraft but they had never been in the skies.

Each pilot was allocated his own factory – each factory took no more than four pilots and went to great lengths to ensure that they never met each other. The factory would build an aircraft for each of their pilots. Each plane, called “a bird” fitted like a glove. It was built centimetre perfect so that although it was hard to climb into, once inside the pilot was almost in an extension of his own skin.

Then they flew, in six hour shifts. Each bird was loaded with bullets for the attacking of stray civilians and armed forces but the chief weapon was the smooth brown bomb of fearful destructive power. Each pilot was urged to his mission of landing his bomb on a city, town or village. The bird was constructed so that it could only take off with a loaded bomb, but could not land with the bomb. The pilot had to discharge his bomb on buildings otherwise it would blow up the bird and the pilot. It was a nightmare.

Raineater and Skydance held strict obedience to their fathers; Seth thought that their fathers must have been like his father.  Each father had laid down simple strict commands that the son was pleased to obey.

Seth realised that the guards thought that he was a pilot of a flying machine.  Seth loved Skydance best of all.  There was no reason save that Skydance reminded him of his father. They were treating him as though he had murdered their people.  It did not occurred to send to tell the guards that they were mistaken, or to try to explain to them the purpose of his journey into their land.  He knew that these were not his people.  The prisoners were his people, temporarily at the very least, and he was proud to be one of them.

For man who has spent four years walking over a uniform a plain, spending a few months in the grey dungeon was not hardship for Seth.  He would spend his day talking to the prisoners, especially to Raineater and Skydance.  He found out about their families and he told them about his.  He became close to them, so close that he could certainly read their thoughts at times and at times they could almost read his.

Friendship is a marvellous thing to see.  Friends can be together, never speaking, simply enjoying each other’s company, and it stands out.  Everyone can see it.  Sometimes the friendship is so strong that it brings joy to those who observe it.  Thus it was with Seth and Raineater and Skydance.

After a while the three of them did everything together.  They walked around the exercise yard together, side by side, and they stared at the circle of sky together.

They ate their food and together, each of them dipping his fingers into the bowl at the same time and each of them chewing and swallowing as closely together as makes no difference.  They fell asleep at the same time.  They were woken at the same time.  They even used the toilet in the same sequence, Seth first, Raineater next, and Skydance last.  These little rituals became increasingly important to them over the months when they were kept prisoner.

They stopped seeing the guards.  Food was pushed under the door.  The guards spoke no words. No noise made by others reached their ears.  It was though no one was guarding them and yet they felt that they were being watched almost every second.  Their eyes nearly became impervious to the painful light.

The best ritual was the morning ritual, when each of them took turns to tell their stories. That way they understood their friendship better. The listening friends concentrated hard on what the telling friend said mostly closing their eyes to picture more easily what was being described. Each of the friends started at the beginning of his life and moved chronologically through the things that happened to him.

Skydance’s story moved Seth the most. Although Skydance described things that were not easy for Seth to picture, he could picture in his mind what Skydance said. The first part of Skydance’s tale that moved Seth was in the early days, when their faces were covered with stubble, not beard, and when they were still developing their ritual to perfection.

“You, Seth, have told me about your pictures that you make in your mind.  I, too, make pictures but I do not to rub my eyes.  When I close my eyes I fall asleep and when I fall asleep I dream.  When I was young I dreamed a dream again and again.  It was a blank dream.  There was no scenery and I was in no particular place except I felt that I was suspended high and that if I fell I would die.  There was a rope, like a infinitely long tight rope.  I was travelling along it being careful not to fall.  I became quite good at it.  After while, in my dream, I became an expert at running along the rope.

“I do not think I had any sense of purpose.  I think I was simply doing what I had to do by running along the rope.  There was a sense of destination that I had – no more than that, no real purpose.  I was so good at running that I was given a bicycle.  I do not know who gave it to me.  I sensed that it was probably my father.  It could be no one else.  So I bicycled along the rope making even better progress than before.  This was easier than the running and I was travelling much faster.  I realised that I would reach the end of the rope soon and that I would be happy when I reached its end.

“Happy, and singing to myself I watched over rope at the point where the bicycle’s front wheel was about to travel over it as I journey.  This thick happy rope, this perfect rope.  I was delighted at how clever I was to bicycle along the rope.  And then it happened.  A knot appeared in the rope.”

At this point in the story Seth, who had been concentrating hard, opened his eyes and looked back to Skydance.  Skydance’s face was a picture of horror and tears dripped down his cheeks. When there was an unnatural pause as Seth and Raineater looked at Skydance.  As Skydance cried so their hearts opened to him.  If there was a way at that moment that Seth could have untied the knot in the rope for all time he would have done so then.

“Finding that knot in the rope meant that I could not reach the end of my journey, I could not fulfill my purpose. Balancing on the tight rope was hard enough, it was even harder to learn to bicycle along it. Just when I learnt how to cycle along the rope and was confident, no longer scared and making good progress it came to an end. I always woke up before the wheels reached the knot, but I woke up in a cold sweat knowing that disaster had struck. I would not reach the end.”

After Raineater and Seth had listened to Skydance Skydance’s story they fell silent for a few moments.  Seth then told of his experiences of shapes and colours that he saw when he closed his eyes tightly and rubbed his eyelids hard.  Skydance and Raineater listened to how the colours change and how the shapes changed.  Raineater then spoke.

“I have never dreamed.  Each night when I close my eyes I sleep.  I do not dream.  When I wake I come from nothingness where nothing is.  When I sleep I die until I am wake.  I can nearly picture what you say.  But it is hard.  It is as though you are trying to describe a taste of a substance that I have never tasted which tastes like nothing I can imagine.  You are trying to share your tastes with me.  I cannot make shapes and colours with my eyelids.  I cannot dream.  But I thank you for trying to show me what you do.”

This was how they shared their dreams.  Like all such sharings they never really worked.  So much was left to their imaginations.  At the end of it no one really understood what the others meant but they knew they had shared an experience, which was not possible to communicate.  And so they each shared it in their own way.

And they were bound in a common prison by the walls and by their attempts to share things.  Some things were possible to share.  When they received their food they gave their rough bowls of food to Seth who poured the contents of their bowls into his.  He then carefully divided the food so that everyone got an equal share of hot grain, meat and liquid.

They tried to keep each other clean and free from lice.  The parasites covered them and bothered them badly.  If they scratched their skin became infected.  Infected skin took ages to heal.  That was no medicine and no bandages.  And therefore they encouraged each other not to scratch and spent hours taking the lice from their own skin and the skins of their friends.  They could just about take out the lice, which they would then squash between their fingernails.

To be clean they needed razors, combs, soap and a small amount of water. They had none of these. The little water they were given (and it was always special to find in their daily rations a small cup of muddy green water) they drank, and drank greedily as though it were the finest wine. Apart from this their only liquid was the gruel that they were given each day.

Dirty, sharing even their dirt, they passed the months away.

It might have been their diet, it might have been their guards turning down the electric light, but the light seemed to grow a little dimmer each day. It became harder to see thing clearly. They all felt aches behind their eyes, constant nagging near pain that never went away.

While they established their friendship and their rituals they also concentrated on their own territories.  Every prisoner had his own bed, which was made up from concrete blocks.

It can be very difficult to personalise something that everyone else has got.  The eight block beds were arranged symmetrically throughout the cell.  Within a matter of days and every man had made his own bed his special home.  Some men arranged their clothes as pillows during the night; others used their shoes.  Every man had a different way of lying on his bed and slept for different lengths of time.

And each evening when the exercise was finished and they had used the toilets, each man in walked into the dungeon and sat on his bed.  In the ever increasingly dim light and in the dungeon looked more and more frightening.  To relieve the boredom Seth developed the habit of being first back into the dungeon after exercise.  He would rush straight to his bed sit on it and enjoy a brief moment of solitude sitting alone.  There was no other chance to be alone and his four years of walking had made him yearn for his loneliness.  He could sit on his block bed, half close his eyes in dim light, and imagine that he was walking on his way to find his people.

Seth’s fellow prisoners were flying men, men who had spent a lifetime in classes, in schools, in discussions, training and exercise with others.  It was no hardship to them to be with others.  It would have been hard for them to be alone.  Seth knew he was different and he knew that he had to cope with his difference.

Sometimes he would sit on block in gently kicking his heels against the side of his bed.  Sometimes he would lie on his bed and stretching his arms under his neck exercising his ankles by rotating them together.  Sometimes he would just lie very still.

The others respected Seth’s feelings.  They knew he was different. They allowed him these a few moments of solitude every day.  Seth was very grateful to them for this.  He realised that Skydance and Raineater did not quite understanding that he needed free moments every day.  He got to learn that another prisoner, one of whom he knew as kind and considerate, one of the more senior pilots a wise but grey man called Sigmund, explained Seth needs to his friends.  Seth knew this because he heard Sigmund talking.

“You must remember”, explained Sigmund, “that Seth did not have our upbringing.  He did not go to school.  He did not play our competitive games.  He did not debate with teachers.  Seth spent his childhood waving his mother and his father.  He has been lucky to do this because he has acquired the wisdom of his father.  Seth has spent four years walking alone.  He has not killed any of the enemy.  We must respect him and allow him these a few moments every evening to be alone and we must not be hurt when he wants to be alone.”

Seth was very grateful to Sigmund.  He made a special point of thanking him for expressing to his friends what Seth found hard to put into words.  He told himself for if ever he had a chance to help Sigmund then he would help Sigmund beyond Sigmund’s expectations.

Sigmund had been watching Seth carefully.  He liked the look of the strong young man whose manners was slightly different from everyone else.  Sigmund like to watch Seth do things; he saw, with pleasure, how he washed and how he rubbed his perfect body with the poor soap and thin water that was left for him.  He smiled to see Seth exercise hard in the yard, making sweat pour off his shoulders and staining his shirt.  He liked the way Seth moved, almost dragging the soles of his feet along the ground as though he got his energy from contacting the floor.

Seth began to almost enjoy the routine.  As the months past there was something he found pleasing and logical about being a prisoner.  He wanted his freedom and he wanted things to change but until they did change and until he was free he could manage.

One evening (Seth was beginning to regard evening is as the beginning of a new day) after exercise Seth ran back into the dungeon ready for his a few moments alone.  After the freshness of task in the yard the atmosphere in the dungeon was stifling.  The dim light penetrated his skin.  And as he ran into the dungeon, as the light showed the shapes he saw there was a new shape, a shape that he had never seen before in the dungeon.  On the bed of a very tall prisoner lay a simple coffin.  Seth was frightened to go near to it, so he stood at the doorway wondering what this meant.  Within A few moments the other prisoners stood beside him each of them frightened at this terrible sight.

The tall man, upon whose bed of the coffin lay, walked alone towards the coffin.  The lid of the coffin was hinged and he opened it.

“It’s empty,” said the tall man, “it’s completely empty.”

As he spoke the main door of the dungeon and full the first time in months half a dozen guards marched in.  They seized the tall man by the arms and legs.  Holding him at right angles to the open coffin his face pointed towards the ceiling the guards stretched his neck.

“Now” said one of the guards so silently that Seth nearly missed the sound.

While the tall prisoner was being held eyes to the ceiling neck stretched, one of the guards pulled out a machete and slit the throat of the tall man so that his blood dripped into the open coffin.  The other prisoners were horrified.  The whole thing happened so quickly and so unexpectedly.  The poor man died before their horrified eyes.

Without speaking a word and went every drop of blood had finished pouring from the neck of the tall man, now the dead tall man, the soldiers pushed his body into the coffin.  The body was too tall for the coffin (he had been a very tall man) and so the soldiers chopped his legs at the ankles until the feet were severed.  The body now fitted easily, the soldiers lay the feet by the side of the body, closed the lid of the coffin and carried it away without a word.  They did not even look at the prisoners, as though the whole exercise had been carried out in front of no one.  It was, for all that, a ceremonial killing.
CHAPTER 3

There were seven prisoners left.  Seven left alive.  Each prisoner walked to his bed being careful to avoid as far as possible to bed that belonged to the very tall man, the very tall man who had been killed like you would kill a chicken.  Each prisoner lay on his bed and wept, wept for the tall man, wept for the man who was a friend and was no more.

When death strikes it is at first very shocking but you do get used to it.  You sometimes even treat it as a long lost friend, a friend who you are glad to see again.  All of the prisoners, except Seth, had seen death strike.  Seth was a virgin in the state of death.  All except Seth had dealt in death and killed thousands of people with their bombs.  This was some kind of retaliation.  The very tall man had been punished for the sins of his people.  But knowing this did not dry up the tears in the eyes of the prisoners.

The days turned again and things almost returned to normal.  The death of the tall man had brought to the prisoners closer together.  They discussed it endlessly.  And the most commonly held opinion was that the tall man had been killed out of retaliation.  Perhaps their people had bombed a city, destroying it, killing everyone in it and this was the punishment visited upon the captured flying men, the men who was similar to the men who had done this thing.  There was no alternative for the prisoners but to continue in their routine.

Every time Seth returned from exercise at dusk his stomach tied itself in a knot end his throat struggled until he saw that there was no coffin on any bed in the dungeon.  But of course this did not be the position for long.  Within a week Seth again stood horrified by the door of the dungeon and then was surrounded by his fellow prisoners, his close friends, and watched another coffin on another bed.  And then another man was held above his own coffin and had his throat cut and the blood poured into the open coffin and another body was stuffed into coffin, another body of a friend.

This execution was carried out in perfect silence.  The guards did not say a word and did not make a sound.  The prisoners stood eyes fixed at the spectacle or else heads bowed eyes closed in silent hopeless prayer.

From that moment the prisoners knew that they were all dead men, men who only had precious days of the life left and no more.  They talked less.  They no longer shared things.  They did not share food and they did not share their experiences.  Each of them realised that the limited life that remained to them had to be lived, had to be experienced, had to be understood alone.  The prisoners tended then to stay on their beds or close to them and all the prisoners avoided the beds of the men who were dead.

Some of the prisoners spend hours in prayer.  Others stared vacantly into space worried, rubbing their fingers together or rubbing their foreheads so consistently that open wounds and sores appeared in what had been perfect sallow skin.  Some prisoners meticulously kept their beds tidy; others let their beds become messy.  No one masturbated, no one laughed.

There were now six prisoners left.  Seth did not know how long it would take for them to lose their lives and join their comrades in coffins but he knew that it would come and that worried him.  His stomach was in a perpetual knot, he felt nearly busy all the time and his throat felt as though he would be sick.  He wondered how he could continue to breathe.  Walking, talking, eating and breathing became an incredible effort.  Even the simplest things in his life became dreadfully hard and the expectation of the side of the coffin on a bed when he returned from his exercise made it difficult for him to think all talk or do anything.

A few weeks past and the prisoners became more and more ill, listless, and vacant.  And then it happened again.  Seth walked into the room and saw a coffin lying on Raineater’s bed.  It was Raineater’s turn he thought quite lucidly.  As he stood in the doorway he walked a few steps into the dungeon and gently closed the door behind him to give Raineater a few more moments of peace.  He looked at the coffin.  It was very plain with no carving no design and no metal except for the hinges on the side.  It was made of a light on treated wood.  It was well made, as though made by machines by the thousands as indeed it was.

The door opened and the remaining five prisoners walked in.  Raineater walked up to his coffin he opened it.  He laid his head back across the open coffin with his eyes staring at the ceiling.  He closed his eyes.  His friends about their heads some looking at him some crying.  The door of the dungeon burst open and those familiar guards, those figures of death, walked in to the dungeon and cut Raineater’s throat.

That night as Seth sat on his bed, too frightened to look at Skydance, he thought about Raineater and the times they had together – those times would not come again he knew.

He had no time to say goodbye to Raineater.  Just the hurried moment when Raineater pushed past him to open his coffin and lay back and wait for his death.  Seth did not know whether Raineater had decided how to face death.  When he spoke to Skydance about it afterwards Skydance said that he guessed that Raineater had made his decision as to how he would die.  Raineater would not hide plead or struggle for life.  Raineater would die with dignity.  And so Raineater had died.

Seth expected there would be a break, if the guards followed their previous behaviour there would be no more coffins for several weeks and those few weeks of certain precious life Seth would use, he decided, in some magnificent purpose.  He would think about his father in all those trying collect everything that his father had told him.  He had already started to talk to gain amongst his fellow prisoners of his father.  He ceased to be interested in their talk about themselves.  He might not live for long and it was important that when he died he left behind some knowledge of his father.

The very next day as Seth came in for his moments of solitude after his exercise he saw his own coffin on his own bed of blocks.  He closed the door behind him.  None of the other prisoners had seen what he had seen.  He rushed to the coffin and picked it up.  It was light, much lighter than he expected.  At first he thought he should put it on Raineater’s bed or on the bed of the tall man but he knew that would not do.  There was no time to delay.  He could hear the other prisoners preparing to enter the dungeon.  Seth with the coffin in his hands rushed to Sigmund bed.  He gently placed the coffin on Sigmund’s bed and then rushed back to the doorway so that when it opened the pushed him slightly aside.  The prisoners saw the coffin on Sigmund’s bed.

Sigmund did not face death like Raineater.  Sigmund struggled and shouted and screamed as the guards held him.  He called to his friends to help but they did not.  They were too weak and too scared to help Sigmund.  They simply watched as the guards collected Sigmund held him over his coffin slit his throat and pushed him in.  Sigmund was a not tall man.  It was not necessary to cut his legs at his knees this time but they did. It was messy with blood left on the floor (this coffin leaked) and muscle by the side of the blocks that festered for days.

And so Sigmund was dead.  It was a simple as that.  Sigmund had been kind to Seth and Seth had determined to help Sigmund whenever he could.  And Sigmund screamed for help but Seth had stood and watched as he died, as he died in place of Seth, an unknowing martyr.

Now Seth felt disgusted with himself.  He had killed his friend.  It did not matter to him that these deaths were in retaliation.  It was not important the Seth should not have been in prison and did not matter that it would have been equally unjust to have killed Seth.  There was no consolation in being alive.  He could not even persuade himself that it was necessary to act the way he acted for the sake of his father and his father’s wisdom.  He knew that he had placed his coffin on Sigmund bed purely out of cowardice.  He knew that he did not want to die and that dying would cause him pain and the journey to a place where he did not want to go.

It seemed that his life was pushing him towards death, early death.  He would not the pleasure of having a woman; he would not be able to grow old with his wife and would not be able to enjoy his children or grand children. The line would stop with him.

The next death was different.  And when they came back from the exercise, and this time Seth did not rush to be back but rather walk back with the others and take his chances, they found on one of their friends beds not the coffin but a bucket made of leather.  It did not look in frightening.  It stood looking quite friendly on the bed of a prisoner called Luke.  Luke had been a jovial fat man when Seth first met him.  His time in prison had ravaged him and his skin hung over his thin body like a suit to several sizes of too large.  Luke still retained some of his joviality.

“Whatever they got for us now?”  Said Luke.  “Perhaps out of concern for our welfare they are providing us win an indoor toilets at last!”

Skydance smiled sadly and said he thought it unlikely.  He knew his enemies. The others looked hopeful. They also knew once, but now hoped that what they knew was untrue. A bucket is not a coffin.  But Seth believed that the bucket was merely another death receptacle and that they would soon see how it was to be used.  He kept in his thoughts to himself.  They brought him no comfort and they would not comfort his friends.

There was no mad rush of guards into the dungeon and so that first Seth and his fellow prisoners hoped that the bucket was at least meaningless.  They sat on their beds and Luke, for fear of contravening some rule that he did not know, kept the bucket on his bed next to him.  It would be, thought Luke, ironic if he would be punished now because he had moved the bucket.  He thought about moving to an un-used bed, one of the beds of the dead, but decided that the least evil lay in staying where he was.  Luke was about to change his mind and move to one of the other beds when the dreadful sound of the dungeon door opening made him it turned his head towards the guards that rushed in to the dungeon.

Luke jumped off his bed and ran towards the other door in the hope of finding it open.  It was locked so he ran towards the door of the dungeon where the guards the had come in.  This door was not locked.  He opened it and screamed as he saw outside the dungeon.  The others did not know what he had seen because the guards overpowered him and pulled him back into the dungeon slamming the door shut.

They held his head over the bucket eyes pointed towards the ceiling and slit his throat as though he was a some kind of chicken being slaughtered for a hurried meal.  They waited until his arteries and veins had pumped most of the blood out of his body into the bucket.  When the blood flow was no more than a slow to slimey trickle the bucket was half full.  They said his head completely, put it in the bucket, through his body on his bed, his headless body, and silently dreadfully terribly marched out of the room with the bucket.

It was almost as though there was no time to mourn Luke when two more prisoners were killed.  There was a double killing one evening.  By this time Seth did not know whether he should be first all last in the room when he came back from exercise.  He believed that his own death was inevitable and so he took to entering from the dungeon from exercise last of all.

On this occasion he saw there were two coffins, one of them on one bed and the other in the arms of his friend Skydance who was carrying a coffin from Seth’s bed to his own.

“Well you doing?”  asked Seth.

“It is obvious, isn’t it?”  replied Skydance.  “I think it is my turn to die today, and today is a good day to die.”

“But it was meant to be me”

“Who knows?  Do they put the coffin on a bed at random?  Or leave it to us to choose?  It seems to me that anyone who is sitting on a bed without a coffin escapes.  I will be sitting on my bed with a coffin when the guards come in, and we will both see if my theory is right.”

“Thank you for my life.”  said Seth.

“Thank you for what?  For a few more hours of life?  For another meal or may be two?  The food is not that good here! ”

Skydance for first time in days held his head up and looked directly at Seth.

“Look, I should explain some thing.  My people spend a huge amount of their wealth in the training flying men like me.  Our duty is to kill our enemy and to kill as many of them as possible.  We drop explosives on their villages and their towns.  We do not discriminate whether our explosives are dropped on hospitals or nursery schools or factories.  It is our duty to deal death to our enemies.  When something goes wrong for example when our flying machine dies, we are captured.  We expect to be treated badly.  We have killed thousands of our enemies.  We stay alive as long as possible because we hope that the wall the end and we may be released.  This has happened several times.  So you must understand that when we are captured we live in hope of the war ending, that is our only hope.

“When the war ends we are exchanged with other prisoners for the people have captured.  We are important because our training has cost so much.  If, within a few more months, the war starts a gain then our people have us as pilots.  Our time in captivity teaches us to be hard and cruel when we bomb again.

“I am now sick of the killings.  My enemy has shown me how people die and that is my choice now, to die.  And in truth, my friend Seth, I die because there is no hope.  I am sick of life without hope.”

Skydance’s eyes the held Seth’s eyes and while their ears heard the sound of the dungeon door opening, the march of the guards coming towards them, the sound of the other prisoner’s throat being cut, because this was after all a two coffin entertainment, until the guards came into the sight of Seth and he saw them grab his friend and spill his blood.

As the guards were closing the two coffins Seth moved back and sat on his bed.  The other remaining prisoner, who had been watching two deaths, pushed the guards aside and  ran towards the door of the dungeon.  He could not open it.  He was too nervous and too frightened and strength had deserted his hands.  He clawed at the door until one of the guards reached him and pushed the tip of his machete through his heart.

Seth sat on his bed, like a child playing a game Seth was home.  He could not be caught.  But he could watch as the guards stuffed the stabbed prisoner’s body into the coffin with Skydance and although the lid bulged when it was closed, it would do.

The guards left Seth, still home, still on his bed alone. No one could touch him when he sat on home.

On many nights during the occurring horrors of the last few months Seth believed that he would never sleep.  He was wrong, of course.  Sleep came even after hours of fear and loathing.  He was frightened to die and he hated himself.  He had cheated his friends out of days of life.  Now those days of life seemed to be a complete waste of time, no more than that, they now were an occasion for his suffering, greater suffering and he had ever imagined.  He had suffered in those days and instead of dying proudly he would have to die hating himself.

He had started in the dungeon alone and now he was left alone it.  The routine became unbearable and although the dungeon was empty except for him it seemed to be smaller than before.  The light bulb was so dim that his exercise at dusk seemed to happen in bright light.  After it each evening’s exercise during which he was now walking very slowly around the yard, Seth hoped that when he opened the door to his dungeon that he would find the coffin on his bed, a coffin on any bed.

Every evening after exercise Seth was disappointed.  He would close his eyes before entering his dungeon and say to himself but when he opened the wooden door he would find his coffin, he would find the thing to carry him to his death.  Cutting his throat would be a fine relief.  He was weak.  His exercise came more and more tired, more and more pointless.  It was a huge effort to put himself on his bed.  He begged in for the guards to come and kill him.  He wanted them to take him away.

He lost track of time passing as the light in his dungeon went out.  In the pitch-blackness he could not find his food and although he could, when he was conscious, see the doorway opening into his exercise yard, he could not find the strength to lift his body from his bed. He lay in his own urine. In his waking moments he would feel the sores on his body, rubbing them for the divine pain they brought him. He pictured them in his mind as friendly islands around his body.  His fingers could visit most of them and explore them.  His fingers could cultivate the bigger islands, ploughing them and rearranging their geography.  The most delightful islands were out of his reach even the delicious parts of the small of his back that he could not touch or in the even more fruitful lower legs and feet.  Adapting those islands would be delicious.

He was barely conscious when the guards came in for him.  The light was brighter than before and he could clearly see him.  They did not bring a weapon and although he moved his eyes fiercely and quickly around the room he could not find a coffin to carry him.  The guards put it tubes into his arms and poured drops of water on to his tongue.  They then called a bitter tasting powder into his mouth and washed it down with more water.  He felt his strength slowly the returning and the water cleared his throat.

” Let me go, let me go!”  He cried, tugging at the tubes but without the strength to remove them.

“We will make you better.  You will not die.  The war has ended.  It is peace now.”

The guards carried Seth out of his dungeon very gently.  Beyond the dungeon door were warm rooms beautifully coloured in reds and blues.  His weakness meant that he was unable to take a day everything that his eyes saw; the sights were unusual and dangerous.  His wish for death was less now, and his tiredness forced into eyes closed.  Having prayed for death, Seth slept.

CHAPTER 4

Seth opened his eyes.  He did not know how long he had slept in that he was refreshed.  His body was mending.  He was born, in the bed that felt inordinately soft after his prison bed, and his eyes for the first time in weeks did not hurt him.  Next day his bed he saw a small table which held a bold of exotic fruits.  On the window ledge (The view was of a beautiful valley with fine trees) were vases of flowers precisely arranged.  There were machines for playing music from his bed.

Every day for week Seth was nursed by a series of competent but silent nurses who washed him, healed his sores, shaved him and brought his food.  He no longer wanted to harm himself and although he tried to me explore his body it did not satisfy him.  He was young and he grew stronger quickly.  The nurses gave him medicines, which also helped his body recover for months of abuse from which it had suffered.

On the seventh day a small plump man came into Seth’s room.  He looked very ordinary but was surrounded by at all the men and women in uniform who paid the small plump man a great deal of deference.  He seems to command to them with slight gestures of his hands.  They interpreted as gestures perfectly and a small man acted as though it was in conceivable that anyone would either fail to understand him or fail to obey him.

“I am Kendall, and I am the leader of these people. We were going to kill you, but now we are thinking of exchanging you.”

“I am not one of your enemies,” said Seth, simply.

Kendall looked around and his entourage.  He slightly inclined his head towards one of them.  It led to whom he gestured spoke

“The prisoner was captured in the woods.  There was no sign of a parachute.  We assumed that he buried it.”

“He would hardly make this claim if his only chance of freedom, being exchanged, has no basis in reality” said Kendall.  He turned towards Seth.  “You know what you are saying, of course.  If you are not one of the enemies, the enemies will not exchange you; they will have no interest in getting you back.”

“I do not know the people who are your enemies.  I travelled here at the command of my father.  I came from the West to find my people.  I have not yet found them.  I have never flown and I have never killed.”

“Never flown? Except in your dreams?” asked Kendal gently.

“You have done me a grave injustice,” said Seth, “and now you say that I will not be exchanged.  You should let me go free.”

“You’re not the only person who has suffered injustice, and there will be many people in the future will suffer worse injustices than the one that has befallen you.  We have simply taken a few short months of your life but have given you much knowledge in your captivity.  We returned your health to you and indeed our medicines will make you fitter and stronger and cleverer then you were before.  If we had offered you such a bargain when we captured you, you would have taken it.”

Kendall signalled to one of his entourage. A man produced a clear bottle with a golden coloured fluid.  A small measure was poured into a glass, which was handed to Seth.  Kendall nodded his head at the glass.  Seth put it to his lips and sipped from it.

It was a cool liquid which had a hotness as it went down Seth’s throat.  There was an after taste of the forest in it, of dry brown leaves and forest bark and of speckles of sunshine.  It tasted of the woodland birds and flowers.  It comforted his tongue and his gums.  It found its leaves through the spaces in his teeth.  He was no longer angry with Kendall.  The injustice had occurred but it was now finished.  Kendall watched Seth finish the drink, turned sharply and walked out of the room.  Seth called after him wanting to continue the conversation with Kendall ignored him turning to more important business.

For the next few days Seth was kept in his room and told to stay in bed.  Four times a day one of the nurses brought in a light meal, a pitcher of water and a small glass of the golden coloured fluid. Seth looked forward to the fluid.

He became used to its taste; it seemed to become less natural, more synthetic. But he drank it not for its taste but for its effect.  He craved mildly for it. For minutes after he drank it he felt happy and pleasured.  It reminded him of the feeling he had after he played with himself, spilling his seed and falling happily to a comforting sleep.

The fluid did not send him to sleep but woke him up, making him feel alert and lively. There was calmness in this vivacity and joy in the feelings. He associated the act of having the fluid pass through his mouth with great and good feelings.

After enjoying the fluid so well he experimented further to see what better pleasure he could draw from its properties.  He swallowed half of it holding the rest in his mouth, swishing around as though it was mouthwash. He tried to pleasure himself.  The blood pushed the fluid quickly around his body. The lights of his room blinked on and off, disturbingly rhythmically. He could not concentrate on what he wanted to do. His hearing became very intense as he listened to the sound of mice running behind the skirting boards and the whine of the lights subtly and gradually changing pitch. There was tonal beauty in every sound.

Then as he tried to stand up he found himself standing on his bed losing his balance. He tried to grip things that did not exist. The lights flashed more even though there appeared to be no source of light. He could smell every pore of his body and the blood that ran through his veins and arteries.  He could feel the life inside him unbalanced changed and weird as he held the liquid in his mouth for ages. He felt his teeth were slowly being dissolved, that his throat was pleasurably being melted and that his hair was falling out.

Was this enlightenment? He resolved to save up the next portions of fluid so that he could take a larger dose of this medicine. Yes, that would bring enlightenment.

He could hold the fluid in his mouth no longer. Erect, with his right hand holding his penis tight he closed his eyes to stop the blinking lights. They did not stop and he subsided slowly on the bed naked vulnerable until he passed into unconsciousness.

Empty lonely sleep. Dead in the ears foxed and hunted with sharp needles pointing lances at those precious eyes now away from sight. Eyes in beat fast waltz beat. On the dead side a small sign of life gleams and is gone where there lies Seth body outside himself as he stands above his nearly lifeless tonal form looking onto the curves and blemishes of that once perfect body untouched except….

These are the ways of our place the peace of our place the misery and control of this form’s substance. Alone pitched against and no one to hold a hand over his painful shoulder to comfort him; cremated and nowhere to say a prayer.

Did Seth see his mother?  Was he standing over a place that was not her grave?  She was gone and he was alone.  Was she holding him, comforting through his nights.  When she faintly him, touring the middle from her body into his, did she drop some of the life force into the?  As the life is to the out of the gradually he grew.  These things were related. His life grew as alive died.  That must be what his father’s when he told Seth, when Seth was young, that his mother died for him as everyone’s mother dies and dying gives us life.

Yes, that was it.  Now he understood.  She was buried here, even though her burnt her body to kill the plague; underneath the stone wall and shiny tiles of this hospital polished floor lay the ashes of his long dead mother.  Her neck broken, the undertaker smiling for business.

She could see him through the soles of his feet.  His father could only see him from the East.

When he woke up he saw that there were two uneaten meals in his room, but no glass of golden fluid. A pert pretty nurse came in with another tray; more food but no fluid. She seemed completely neutral to him. It was as though she was serving an inanimate object. Was it only yesterday that she flirted with him silently? He asked her for some fluid. He did not tell her that he had in mind to collect three, no four glasses of golden fluid.  He would drink then anything experience want this quantity would do.

The nurse, who liked Seth yesterday, found him unattractive today.  She didn’t understand why, she did not even think why, that she knew that he wanted to keep in this her distance from this person.

She spoke to him.

“It is not for your benefit. The fluid can bring dreams but if you hold it in your mouth before swallowing it the dreams become too intense. It is forbidden to hold the fluid in your mouth because the intensity of the dreams is addictive.”

“Am I never to drink it again?” asked Seth.

“No. You are in hospital being made well from your illness. You are better now. If you become ill again you will need it then, but not until then and not until Kendall authorises it.”

Seth understood.

Kendall came to see him a few days later. His entourage surrounding him as Kendall made decision and gave instructions about what seemed to Seth to be thousands of unconnected complicated issues that Seth could not even begin to understand.

Kendall told Seth that he would never be allowed to abuse the fluid again; he had proved himself untrustworthy, but this was no more than Kendall had expected. Kendall then left.

But before Kendall left he turned briefly and stared into Seth’s eyes.  And in that moment Seth knew that Kendall knew.  Seth knew that Kendall had seen what Seth had done in the dungeon with the coffin.  He must have been observed all the time and every one of Seth’s actions had been reported to Kendall.

“Yes,” said Kendall, “I know all about it”.

Seth looked at Kendall with fear.

“Hidden cameras. They were everywhere. We could see everything you did. Those coffins must have been heavy to drag from one bed to another. They were rough-hewn; did you get splinters? Small shards of woods that worked their way into your fingers through hard into your flesh? You still carry the pieces of the receptacles that carried the blood and bones of your dead companions inside you where these remnants will always remain. Whatever you do, whatever fame we permit you to achieve, whatever you do your body will, at my discretion, bear evidence of your betrayal of those who cared and comforted you, a testament of your worthlessness.”

Kendall paused.

“I shall let you, Seth, go out into the world with your sins. And whenever I want, I shall expose them to those around you. Enjoy your life, when you can. Those you betrayed were worthless killers, men who would bomb my people, defenceless people, men who would knowingly pull levers that unleash dead and torture to everyone, even small innocent children. The lives of these men should have been ended, but when I reveal your betrayal – if I chose to do so – I will keep that part of it as our secret. That is all. You can leave now, you must go from my land.”

Kendall turned sharply and left, without looking back at Seth.

One of the entourage stayed behind to tell Seth that he would be released tomorrow and would be returned to the same place in the woods where he had been captured.  He would be provided with new clothes and shoes.  His golden coins, which they had found in his old clothing, would be returned to him.  He would also be provided with writing materials and some food for his journey.  He was not to speak with anyone until he had been returned to the woods.  If he took the road that forked to the right he would be out of this place.  He was forbidden from returning to it.  Seth nodded.  He agreed with these conditions.

Seth remembered his golden coins. He has forgotten all about them, great gift of his wise father. He would need them to be with him.

Early next morning Seth found himself walking on the road that forked to the right and wound through the tall trees.  As Seth walked winter came into the forest softly, stealing the leaves from the trees and heartening the earth’s arteries.  The soft slowed step in winter crept slowly in, one certain step at a time taking him towards his destiny now tangled by Kendall’s interventions in his journey.

Seth walked for days.  He had to sleep on the forest floor because there was no place where he could find lodgings.  He ate the food that Kendall had arranged for him to be given.  Each day became slightly colder for the last and the days became shorter so that the time for Seth had to walk diminished each day.  Each night Seth built a fire and slept by it.  He found that during the longer evenings and nights if he started to sleep too soon he would wake up in the middle of the night when it was very cold because the fire had gone out.  In those circumstances he could not walk, it was too dark to find the way in the forest.

So for something to do he used the writing materials.  Every evening by the light of the fire he built Seth wrote about his imprisonment.  He did not write down what really happened, he could not tell about moving the coffin; so he wrote down what he believed he wanted to happen on what he wished had happen and he wrote it so slowly and so painstakingly that he believed it to be true.  He re-lived his imprisonment but this time things happened differently.

It may have been the medicines that he was given, it may have been beautiful golden liquid that he could still taste in his mouth even after days, but Seth wrote beautifully and powerfully.  He would spend hours writing at night. The next day when he returned to the paragraph and read it he would spend hours changing it.  By the end of week he had written two pages of the story of his imprisonment.  He turned the discarded drafts in the fire before he went to sleep each night so that he was left with perfect pages in his book.

It was not easy for Seth to write.  He had but limited experience, a simple childhood, a long journey, and the horrifying imprisonment; he had not really known the company of people; he was walking to where he hoped his people would be but he had learned caution from his limited experiences.

He thought about the kind of rules that his parents had given him, wise advice for his journey that ended in failure. Writing the rules was hard; they would not stay written.  What started as a simple straightforward rule would branch in several directions.  Each branch was perfect and each branch was separate.  Each branch had its own circumstances and frequently a branch divided into different sub branches.

Each evening when the lights of the fire that he built became dim Seth used his book as a pillow and covered himself with his fine new coat.  He curled as close to the dying fire as he dared so that his face and chest and the front of his legs became hot.  When he had warned himself he turned over and straightened so that his back became warm.  Before he fell asleep each night, with his back to the fire, he found if he played with himself he would sleep fine.  And so he spilled his semen on the ground every night that different place and the rush of blood through his body as he masturbated gently died after his climax and he fell into such a deep sleep that no matter how cold it became he never awoke until the daylight shone through his eyelids.

And as the days turned into weeks Seth’s book grew into twelve pages but he was satisfied with.  The days grew colder, the nights colder still.  He would sometimes wake up in the morning and find a fine layer of ice covering his body.  As he stood up from his sleep he would crunch the ice, sometimes crunching the frozen semen that he spilled the night before when it was as a warm as his body.  His walking time became less as the days grew shorter.  The forest grew thinner until from time to time he walked past no trees at all, merely a few bushes and long luscious grass.

The road changed too; it was no longer built from wooden logs but from slabs of cut stone.  Instead of his feet being received in by for giving the would that moved slightly with each step, the soles of Seth’s feet touched hard unforgiving stone that made them sore when he woke up in the morning.

To keep his mind alert Seth took to reciting his writing.  It had a pleasant rhythm when he did this had made walking and thinking easier.  As he recited it he found that he could be more critical.  The words could be adapted so that they became clear to understand, not while being read but while being spoken.  Twelve pages could be spoken out seven times in the course of the morning walk, and five times in the course of the afternoon.  After reading twelve pages twelve times Seth could build his fire, change the writing according to the things he had discovered that day about it, and then put himself to sleep.

Seth had written down rules but within each rule he had found a thousand different variations.  Sometimes, he found, but he lost the thread of what he was writing and becoming immersed in the beauty for the words made with their sounds.  As he fashioned his writing and he let it play its music through his head.  The notes of the words made as much sense of the words themselves.  The words conveyed the meaning arts the sounds made the music.

And with the confidence that writing brought Seth walked through the winter.  Just when the days seemed unbearably short they grew longer again by small degrees.  The new light was very welcome to Seth because he could write longer.  But he had to find more wood for his evening fire because even though the days were growing longer they were also getting colder.

By now they were no trees just rich grassland.  Seth knew it was rich because he could feel perfect grass under his feet.  He could not see it; it was hidden by snow.  And as the snow settled on the grass and on the path it also settled on Seth head and shoulders.  That day that snowed was the coldest.  And the next day, when it snow that more, seemed warmer to Seth.  He did not mind the bitter weather.  He was frightened of disobeying his father’s injunction to stay on the road.  The snow was so thick that he could no longer feel the grass under his feet and he could no longer tell where are the road was.  He stopped, concerned that even by inadvertence he would break the rule.

As he stopped so did the snow.  The clouds parted and the sun shone weakly on Seth.  He knew that stopping was likely to prove dangerous.  The last time he stopped to think which way he should go he was captured and imprisoned.  He feared that this would happen again.  This was a conflict between the injunction to stay on the road and the injunction to go forward.

As he stood thought see he saw walking across the snow people.  They were dressed in the warmer clothes and thick boots.  There were dozens of them and they formed a circle around Seth each of them staring at him.  There were men and women in the circle.  The men were arms carrying long thin swords by their sides.  The women were unarmed.

Beyond the men and women were small clumps of trees and between the trees were smaller houses. Here were the woodlands. Not the dense forest where the soldiers were. He should have listened more carefully to his father.

As a Seth looked into their eyes he knew that to these were his people.  His physical journey had ended.  He was home way he is father and mother wanted him to be.  He raised his hand in greeting to his people.

“I have been sent to join you.  My parents told me to come.  You are to be my people and I am to be one of yours.  It has been a long journey.  I am very glad to be here.”  Seth saw them smile at him.

A thin man approached Seth and gave him his warm coat.

“Welcome,” said the thin man, “You are very welcome.  We guessed that people in the West would journey to us, or else send their children.  We are very glad to see you.”

The thin man approached Seth, shook his hands.  He ended guided Seth across the snow with the other people following close behind until they came to a village.

“There are many people in the world” said the thin man to Seth as they entered the village, “and most of these people are at war with each other.  We few in this village do not send armies out to conquer all flying machines out to destroy people.  Sometimes we lose some of our people who leave us to seek their fortune with others.  This is a wrong way.  And sometimes we gain people who come to join us; you are one of our gains.”

So thin man paused so that he could make sure that Seth understood everything he said.  When he saw that light of understanding in Seth’s eyes he started to speak again.

“I am Peter.  I have to explain all about us to you.  I hope that you will be patient with me because I must teach you everything you need to know and that means everything I know.

“You are younger and your strong.  I am older and not so strong.  I have a wife and we must find a wife for you.  Your days of playing with yourself are finished.  I know how it is to pleasure yourself but he will find it a far finer thing to take pleasure in a woman, especially when the woman will take pleasure in you.  This woman will be your wife and we must find a suitable one for you out of our unmarried women.

“When we have found you a wife, we shall find you somewhere to live with her.  This will be somewhere that will be closed all of us when we can look after you.  Your wife will teach you a great deal.”

Peter called for all the unmarried women to gather together.  Within a few moments a large circle of women formed around Peter and Seth while many other men and women, outside the circle, looked on smiling.  Peter took Seth’s hand and walked around the circle of women slowly so that Seth could look at each one carefully.  He did this seven or eight times while the other people chatted to each other watching Seth carefully and watching the reactions of the women.

To Seth every woman he saw looked absolutely beautiful.  Beneath their thin garments he could see a diverse beauty of form; each woman had a different shape that every shape was beautiful.  Each woman had her hair done in a different way but everyone was perfect.  Each woman had different eyes and Seth could have looked into every one of them for the rest of his life.

Peter summoned a well shaped blonde girl over to Seth. Snow stayed softly on her lips for a short while; she put her tongue carefully over her lips, licking all the snow off them. Her blonde hair, cut just above her shoulders, moved in the gentle wind that blew the snow. The wind blew the village.

“This is your wife, Seth.  Look after her well.  Honour her and deserve to have her as your wife.  We call her Rebecca. This is your husband Rebecca.  Look after him well.  Honour him and deserve to have him as your husband.  His name is Seth.  And now you are married, with this simplicity.  John, find Seth and Rebecca a suitable home.”

John, an older man, took them by the hand and walks them towards the village.  They were many houses all of which were about the same size and all of which had gardens around them.  John took them to one of the houses that appeared to be empty because it had no decoration and its garden was wild.  John explained to Seth that this was his house, his and Rebecca’s, and they could do with it as they wished.  They could decorate it, or leave it as it was.  They could furnish it if Seth could acquire the furniture.  They could grow fruits of flowers vegetables or weeds, whatever they wanted.  The people would make sure that they did not starve and no work would be expected of them for many years.  They were to concentrate on their children and expanding the population of village as fast as they could.  As newly wed people they would be given as much latitude as they wanted and they could do much as they pleased.  Food would be brought to them every day.  If they chose to socialise with the rest of the village then they would be most welcome.  If they chose to stay alone, that would be understood.

Rebecca looked carefully at this young man who had been given to her as a husband.  He was strong, that much was certain she thought, and he had a splendid look about him, as though he was made by some great artist almost perfect.  His head was square and his jaw strong.  His voice was pleasing and had a musical kindly quality about it.  He might not be the most perfect husband in the world, but in this village he was a good man to have.  His body it was strong, strong enough to have endured a tremendous journey, while his mind was alert and sharp; he would provide good seed for her body.  He would give her children.

With these words John closed the door behind them.  They had not exchanged a word with each other.  Seth felt nervous; he was only used to the company of his mother.  He instinctively cupped Rebecca’s breasts in his hand and rubbed them gently.  She kept for eyes fastened on his, watching them wander over her body.  He greedily looked at her breasts while he undid her gown around her chest exposing the beautiful perfect breasts.  He looked at each of her nipples as they slowly became erect and red with his touching.  He moved the breasts together one in each hand and then pulled them apart up and down in slow circular movements; together apart and around he moved them as he stared.

Rebecca kept for eyes on his eyes feeling him in his strong hands gently touching her. This was a pleasure for Seth.  He watched Rebecca’s staring eyes and her half smile and then looked again and her sweet breasts that he carefully love. He put his lips to each it nipple in turn in and gently sucked it and then wrapped his tongue over the point.

In Rebecca took her right hand, Seth took his left and live their separate hands working together they unclothed Rebecca.  She stood pleased with her nakedness as Seth moved his hands to her round stomach, which he gently caressed.  He moved closer to her replaced his fingers on her buttocks moving them in small circles.  There he would grow a child. He dropped his fingers down lower than grabbed the back of her thighs in each hand.  By gentle pressure on her thighs by his fingers her legs moved apart. Legs akimbo, hair ruffled she gained a solid stance.  All the time Rebecca’s eyes looked deeply into Seth’s, so deeply that it hurt and he had to look elsewhere, any place except into her eyes.

He brought his right hand around to her vaginal opening.  Her pubic hair felt coarse in his fingers.  He dragged it away and moved his fingers into her vagina.  With his left-hand he pulled his trousers down and guided his erect penis into her vagina, bending his body at first and then straightening as he entered her.  Entry was easy because she was ready for him.  She was wet.  As soon as he entered her he ejaculated.  Playing with himself never felt like this.  His whole penis was surrounded by her body and she seemed to suck him in to her deep.

After their short lovemaking his penis lost its strength and seemed to be pushed out by her muscles.  He let go of her body and she, without eyes still fixed upon him, moved away from him.  She lay on the floor with her legs high on the wall service to keep his semen inside her.  He staggered and sat on the floor in the opposite corner of the small room.  She kept staring at him.  She was still too far away for him to touch.  After one last quick glance at Rebecca Seth put his hands over his eyes and sitting in his foetal position fell into the deep sleep.

Seth understood as he fell into his sleep that he had finally made love with a woman.  He wanted to make love with many women.  This was his first woman, this was his wife.  He drifted deep into sleep and dreamed.

In his dream he realised that having had one woman he could now have any woman he wanted.  He approached many of them, all of them with different names and sizes all of them with different shapes and ideas.  No woman rejected him.  Every woman in his dream down dressed and let him make love to them.  He did not climax, but that was not be important thing.  The most important thing was to gather a collection of women who had all of touched his penis inside their bodies.

When he awoke he found himself clutching Rebecca.  He did not know if she had moved close to him, or if he had moved close to her.  His legs twined around hers.  His arms clutched her shoulders and the hair, her blond hair fell into his eyes as he opened them, irritating them and getting tangled with the sleep in the corners of his eyelids.  Her gentle breath from her sleeping face blew and on to his cheeks.  He kept her until he fell asleep again in his arms and when they awoke he made more urgent love to her, staying inside her a little longer and making less semen for her womb.  After their love they slept again until they were awakened by John knocking on their door.

Rebecca, covering herself with her robe, let John into the house while Seth pulled out his trousers and draped his jacket over his shoulders.

“It is time for me to teaching, Seth, and I trust that you are ready to learn.”  Said John.

“I’m ready if you let me wash first”.

“I will meet you in my house.  Any one of our people will take you there” said John.

“I will take my husband to your house.”

Those were the first words that Seth heard Rebecca speaking.  She had a complicated voice and in truth Seth was a little disappointed that was not really the kind of voice that he liked.  Until she had spoken it had not occurred to him that he could talk to her.  And so after John had left and Seth prepared himself by washing his body and shaking out his clothes, he talked to Rebecca.

She had a formal way of a speaking, or so Seth found it, carefully constructing her sentences and pronouncing in each part of each word with exactly equal emphasis.

They talked of simple things, that they would eat when Seth had returned from his lesson with John, and that they would have to organise some furniture for the house which was completely devoid of it.  Rebecca told Seth that John had beautiful things, so many beautiful things, inside his house and that while he was having his lesson Seth could get some ideas about how their house should be.  Rebecca told him that she expected that they would have children, that was their duty.  She would prepare food for him when he returned.

After he was clean, but before he had put his clothes on again, he approached Rebecca who was sitting on the floor carefully watching all of his actions.  He stood close to her, so that his penis was close by her mouth.  With his fingers he gently parted her lips and tried to put his penis inside her mouth.  For the first time in their lovemaking Rebecca moved away.

“Your seed is not for my mouth”, she said strictly.  “Your seed is for making children and it is a sin to waste it.  I am not a sinful woman and you will not find a sinful woman in this village.”

With this admonition ringing in his ears, Seth dressed quickly, put on the coat that Peter had given him and walked out into the snow to find John’s house, leaving Rebecca watching him as he left. She had given him directions but now would not come with him. He realised that his actions must have upset her because she was not by his side to point out the place where John lived.  But as John predicted finding his home was not difficult.  There were so many people eager to help Seth.
CHAPTER 6

John’s home was the most magnificent place that Seth had ever seen.  Rich carpets covered the floor and the walls were covered with expensive fabrics.  There were complicated paintings hanging on the walls and delicate China standing in glass covered cupboards.  There were ornate tables and made from many different kinds of polished wood and elaborately carved with pictures of animals.

Next to a table, on a small stool, sat John’s wife.  John introduced her as Iris, named after the flower.  Although she was almost twice Seth’s age, she was attractive, as far as Seth could see.  The breasts seemed well formed underneath her robe of and her skin was relatively free of the blemishes that often come with age.

Seth was very aware of her skin. For the most part, he noticed, it was covered in a light downy hair. It seemed beautifully clean. Small brown moles appeared lightly, and at irregular intervals. These would, Seth knew, remembering his mother, grow darker and larger as Iris grew older. Rebecca’s skin was perfect, but Iris’ was desirable.

Iris had short black hair cut just above the neck that pointed to her attractive gown covered back. She wore her robe down to her feet.  It hid her legs and Seth thought that a shame. He hoped that he would see her move, or at least cross her legs, so that he could catch a glimpse of them.   She did not participate in the lesson. She sat in silence.

Iris looked carefully at Seth. She sat as still as she could trying to make herself be insignificant and unimportant to this new man who had come to the village.  She thought that his body would be good for seed, but she was old and she would never have children now.  She knew all the men village and their habits and customs.  Seth had a more pleasing shape than any of them but most of all his eyes were beautiful.  She could dance for those eyes.  She could strip herself for those eyes and for the smile in them. Yes, she could perform for those eyes. She could feel her body getting old and found it disconcerting, as she got older, that she looked more and more at younger men, not with lust or desire, but with curiosity.

John made Seth welcome and sat him in an armchair while he stood at some distance.  He pulled open a drawer and out of it brought Seth’s writings.  Seth felt foolish.  He had been distracted by his marriage and by Rebecca.  He did not even remember his own writings.

“This is very good, indeed it is excellent,” said John. You are writing down things that we have never thought about. This book might well b a force for good, or a force for evil. We will discuss it at a later stage, but until we do may I insist that you keep it safe?”

Seth promised that he would and carefully placed in his writing book into his pocket.  He folded his arms and listened to what John told him.

John first explained that there were nearly two thousand people in the village.  There were many more women than men but each man could only have one wife.  Each couple had a duty to make as many children as they could.  Unfortunately they were few children being born are now and John considered that it was because the village needed new seed.  With Seth’s new seed they could replenish their numbers and become strong again.  There were many enemies who could attack them.  So far the village had lived in peace with its neighbours, but people everywhere were becoming more warlike.  It was likely that some stage they would have to defend themselves against aggression.  They counted on Seth.

John talked about the manners and customs of the village.  It was important for Seth to know this. He then went on to talk about how it was likely to live and then talked about how it would be likely to live.  As he talked Seth looked around the room with its sumptuous furnishings and riches beyond anything he had seen before.  The room felt warm, warmer than his house.  He felt a great longing in his body for Iris, even though he had been inside Rebecca. The fire looked inviting and as John talked on Seth saw pictures in the fire.  He saw dragons and horses, flying machines and pilots with the sad faces of Skydance and Raineater staring at him.  And on talked John.

As the wood turned and crackled on the fire and as the flames grew higher against the richly textiled wall so Seth entered a new state of mind.  It was a delicious feeling of half sleep and half wakefulness in which Seth could picture Rebecca’s body moving next to his and then the body of Iris and then of other unknown unconnected possibly imagined women, women he could pleasure places where he could spend his seed.  The warmth of the fire comforted him and seemed to hold him in its arms without burning.  His eyelids barely open, his ears muted to the sound of John’s voice.  These were the pleasure dreams.

Intense in his passion, passionate in his pleasure, Seth considered how perfect things were now and how terrible they were before.  Now, in the warmth, watching the fire and listening to John drone on he was happy and felt he could never be unhappy again.  How far the dungeon seemed now and how distant the images of his friends lying in the coffins in their own blood throats cut.  Those thoughts were enough to change his mood.  He was foolish.  He had reached a state of less and by his own mind turned his happiness into sadness.  No one was to blame for this; he did it to himself.  He could not keep his mind clenched on the job any more than he could keep his mind fixed upon what John was telling him.  He allowed his unconscious mind to absorb John’s teachings while his consciousness examined, with meticulous care, the surroundings.

For the next period of Seth’s life the pattern was set.  Seth listened to John rambling on about things that John thought important.  While the John talked Seth watched the fire or looked around but the rich room or sometimes, when the light was good, look through the window in as the trees first grew buds which appeared as the snow melted and then leaves and then had their branches thicken wild birds built nests in them.  And Seth lusted after every woman he saw, whether she was young or whether she was old and when she was married or whether she was single.  Most of all Seth lusted after Iris. Seth ate the food that he was given, made love many times to Rebecca, and went for long walks away from the village and thus got to know the geography of the land surrounding the village well.  So even though he was new to the place, within a short while he knew the surrounding countryside better than the villagers who rarely left the village and when they did stuck firmly to the paths.

Seth’s quick and supple memory easily logged and mapped out the terrain in his mind.  When he reached a lonely spot he would play with himself, thinking of the most recent women he had seen, imagining them with him yes with him penetrating them.  And having spilled his seed on the floor out of sight, to see that he did not save for Rebecca, he then wrote down those parts of his book that he had formulated on his walk, now so much clearer to him having spent his energy.

He would then return to village, find John, sometimes Peter, listened to them talking in that state of half wakefulness and half sleep that he enjoyed so much.  That ended as he would return to Rebecca and make love as quickly as he could concentrating his mind hard to climax as soon as possible.

Over the months as the trees became very green and the weather warm enough to enable Seth to travel around without his coat, he saw that Rebecca’s tummy grew round and large.  In there she grew a baby, which would be the first baby to be born in the village for many years.  The villagers praised Seth; they lavished presents upon him and Rebecca, ostensibly for the baby.  In celebration of what they expected to be a happy event some other villagers, led by Peter, built a house for the baby close by Seth’s house.  The baby, when it had been born and when it had grown up, could live in the house.  If it were a man it could bring its wife there are and if it were woman its husband would be pleased to be there.

As Rebecca’s tummy grew surprisingly large so Seth grew in status amongst all the villagers.  Peter first and then John, conceded that Seth’s wisdom was greater then theirs.  John talked to declaring to whom so ever he met that he could teach Seth nothing, that Seth had wisdom beyond that of the village.  John referred to the book that Seth was writing, proclaiming that those parts of which he had the honour to read were so perfect in their wisdom that the writings would help every person who read it.

When people met Seth they would pay him their respects by bowing their heads gently to him.  Some of them inquired after the progress of his book, hoping that they would have the privilege of reading it soon.  Others declared that they were not clever enough to be able to read what Seth had written and no doubt hoped that a summary of the principal points were also be available.

Peter and John determined that they should print the book.  They had no printing machinery and so made a long and dangerous trip into the city of there nearest enemy to acquire the equipment to enable them to print Seth book.  They collected from the villagers small treasures that they could exchange for the printing machinery.  John made the most valuable donations to the pile of treasures that they took with them to the city.

They returned with the machinery and erected inside a small house that they specially built for the purpose.  Seth informed them that his book was ready and Peter and John set about printing it.

The very act of printing the book was an arduous task for Peter and John.  The machinery arrived in a wagon in many small boxes, insulated with straw.  Peter and John assembled it slowly, bit by bit, oiling and greasing it as they went, making sure that the cogs and levers were correctly assembled. More than once they made mistakes, which involved them having to undo part of the work they had started, and just as they thought that they had finished they found that a key frame had been assembled upside down.  That meant unpicking almost all the work and starting again for scratch.  But Peter and John never complained and shooed away all help that was offered.  When the printing machinery was assembled they were very tired, their hands were tattooed by the oil and grease stains and by the printing ink, and their muscles ached, but they were very happy.

It is not possible for any person to describe Seth book.  To do so would give a totally misleading impression.  It is not the sort of book that can be fairly summarised, it is far too precise for that, but is possible to explain that when read there was a feeling of comfort and security in the reader which coupled with a sense of awe and mystery gave an intrinsic happiness.  As Peter and John proofed it, then printed it, they read it and this made them feel both shaken and content.  Despite many others help they refused to let anyone assist them in their task.  They took to handling the book with a special care, touching its pages gently and when the other wasn’t looking kissing it.

As the first copies of Seth book were printed and bound together Rebecca gave birth.

It was an easy birth; all the women who helped Rebecca said so.  It was a splendid joyous birth because Rebecca delivered twins, a boy and a girl; this made Seth proud and all the other villagers, especially Peter and John, confident in their assessment of Seth as a high, invaluable and an especially good person.

As was the custom the babies would spend their days playing or nursing at their mother’s breasts surrounded by admiring people.

Peter and John presented Seth with the first copy of the book at a small ceremony attended by the whole village.  The pages were bound in fine gilt leather because Peter had decreed that every copy of the book must exhibit as much extrinsic finery as possible being so full of intrinsic truth; the truth has got to be surrounded by beauty.  Some copies were bound with beautifully embroidered woven cloth, other copies with highly polished hard wood, but the most magnificent copies were bound in leather.

When they gave the book to Seth at the special presentation, Peter regretted that they had no platinum with which to decorate the binding.  They had sown diamonds into the spine of the book and emeralds onto its front cover.  If they had platinum, said Peter, they would have tried to make the outside of the book as magnificent as its contents deserved.

Seth said how delighted he was see the printed words of his father set out in a way in which everyone in the village could study them.  These words, he said, were not his own creation.  His father had prepared him for his long journey to this special place with the words that he had written.  Now everyone could read them and everyone would know what his father said.  There was much cheering and pleasure, with many people repeating to each other how fortunate it was that the book was written and published at the same time as Rebecca giving birth to a child, for the first time in the village in years.

The happy ceremony turned into a festival.  Rough tables were organised in the central square of the village, close to peter’s house, and filled with food and wine. Every one drank and ate too much; they enjoyed their laughter and concentrated their pleasure.  Seth, honoured and pleased by these events, looked for Rebecca.  He wished to touch her breasts again and make love.  The last time he did this he had made everyone happy as he could see from the smiling faces.

Seth found his wife in his house, now more luxuriously furnished than Peter’s house, with all the presents from the villagers. She was in bed. He approached her in his usual way by touching her breasts, swollen with milk for his children. Rebecca pulled her body back, away from Seth’s hands. He approached her again, this time more gently but faster and less deliberate. He managed to touch her nipple nd almost held it between his forefinger and thumb. This time Rebecca said “no” loudly. This surprised him.

“No, no, no. I am not doing it. I don’t have to do it, I am a human being. I am not your possession.”

Seth was surprised and hurt by this outburst. He had never hurt her, he had always tried to be gentle with her. He had written the book, which had caused such a sensation in the village. He was respected by every person there. He loved her. He had given her his seed that had made the baby and that had brought all the presents that they now enjoyed. Why even the fine bed upon which she lay, the carefully embroidered sheets, and the delicate china in the next room.  He had written the book so expensively bound. It was surely not too much to expect her allow him to penetrate her. He was ready and the seed in his body needed to be spilt.

Seth marched towards the nearest clump of woods.  He did not look at anyone he passed but swung his arms moodily; he could not wait to get to woods and the away from these people who were celebrating and who all wanted to shake his hand and tell him that he had written a great book.  He had to find a way to prevent Rebecca from denying him.

When Seth reached the woods he could not be seen from the outside.  He could see the village houses in the sunshine and hear the mingled noises that the people made.  He laid on his side of looked at his penis, wishing he could put it inside his own mouth and suck it.  The skin and the head of his penis were perfect and he watched as he masturbated furiously.  He could feel pain around his skin as his rough hands chief the skin and made it bleed and sore.

He heard the noise in the woods and towards where he thought the sound came from.  Iris appeared.  She was naked, her robe over her shoulder.  Without speaking, in her glorious silence, she made love to him violently, almost viciously.  He climaxed as her entered her, but that made no difference to her demands.  When they had finished she played with herself with a violence that Seth could never imagine a woman undertaking against herself.  She lay there prostrate looking at him in her ecstasy as she made herself climax.

When their lovemaking ended they talked to each other as they slowly replaced their clothes.  Iris had a beautiful voice.  Her speech was like song and her mind was active and intelligent.  It was easy for Seth to fall into a rhythm of ideas with her because when he said something to her she replied developing the idea, talking about the subject in a way that Seth had never imagined possible.

As they spoke Seth wondered why he had chosen Rebecca when there were women like Iris in the world. He bitterly regretted her age and the fact that she was married. She would have been a worthier carrier of his seed.

As Seth walked back to the village, taking a different route from Iris, he reflected more about Iris.  She was difficult to make love to; she was too demanding, too obsessed with her own pleasure and she did not take enough care with him. He wanted someone to admire him when he climaxed.  He did not want to admire someone else.  He wanted to be, at that moment, the most important thing in all the world for Iris.  He did not like the idea of her a making herself climaxed and casting off his attentions while she concentrated on her own pleasures.

And his garments were stained now when they had once been pure.  The stained of the grass were mixed with the stained of his pleasure; blood coloured the edges of the holes in his clothes that Iris tore into anxiety to get to him.  He touched his back with his fingers and felt and newly healing scars that Iris made.

Had he risen or had he fallen?  Had he done something good all had he committed the great sin?  What it right to satisfy himself with Iris while Rebecca nursed his son?  He had enjoyed himself, particularly the first sexual contacts with Iris.  In truth after that he and it had not become so good but it was good enough for him to want to repeat the experience.  He knew that Iris would want him again.  She was old and had enjoyed his young body.  She had eaten of him and would want to eat more.

The sex was only part of it.  Iris had danced for him.  She had swayed under his body as he became sweaty and moved her arms in her dance, her dance that she enjoyed.  Her movements were special and fragile.  He had watched a underneath him as she danced.  Unlike Rebecca, it was though their two bodies had arisen from the same trunk and were permanently attached so that while he looked on, large stern and pleased, she had danced to please him more.  He looked down as she had danced and, looking up into his eyes, danced to please him more.

Seth knew that he had deserved this pleasure.  This was his reward.  He was obviously the best man in the village.  He would love all the women there, he told himself, or as many of them as he chose.

As Seth walked closer to the village He thought of all the women there.  He could have alone, he could have them together.  They could watch what he had some of them.  This was the way that he wanted to live.

In his pocket he felt his golden coins.  They never left his side.  No one else in the village had gold and Seth kept his told the secret from everyone.  He was getting luckier as things went away he wanted them to.  When Seth reached the village the celebrations had ended.  People was sleeping in the warm evening, some of them a lying on the grass and others safely tucked in their beds.

Seth thought it was time to have a sad and lovely dream again; he wanted that feeling of sentimental pleasure and sadness, enjoyable sadness that the dreams inspire.  In these memories, memories of dreams, he shrouded himself and although he was too young for a shroud (we are all too young for a shroud) he wanted to capture feelings to bring him pleasure beyond sensual participation of material joy.

It was better to travel when you sleep, he thought, with them to risk the twists and turns and mistakes of the road way.  And the joy of travelling away new dream is shared by all and leave home and those are many indeed.  It is precious and beautiful when you awake crying from the dream, crying out of joy comforted with love and warmth.  If we could all dream that dream each night we would die happy and we would die young because we would not wish to wake from a death.

There are many faults in people like Seth although there are not to many people like Seth.  In his concentrated attempt to force himself to dream a particular dream, he became careless.  Such was his effort that when he fell asleep he did so with his seven golden coins in his hand, as though they would pay for the dream.

When he awoke he found village still asleep.  Rebecca was in her bed.  His son for whom he had not yet got a name was sleeping close to her.  The white walls of the room reflected enough light for Seth to see clearly.  He remembered as he broke that he did not dream of the dream that he wanted to dream.  He was a little the annoyed about this; and perhaps there was a way that he could make it happen later.

He stood up stretching and by habit felt in his pocket for his coins.  He remembered that he had not hidden away before he slept and looked wildly at the floor for them.  They were nowhere to be seen. He panicked; some one had robbed him of his inheritance – his father’s gold coins were gone. He shouted, waking up Rebecca and then the baby. They knew nothing about the loss, they had not even woken when he came in last night.

He did not have to remember the attitude of those who had commanded him before.  The tone of voice, the authority came naturally to him.  Rebecca and the unnamed baby trembled.

”  Where are my coins?  Who has stolen my coins?”

His voice became louder and even more harsh.  He no longer felt the softness and pleasure of yesterday.  He felt dirty and intolerant.  The theft had stained him. He dragged the Rebecca outside the house, baby in her arms crying with fright.  The people in the village, who had never heard shouting as violent as Seth’s left what they were doing and gathered around his home.  Some had hurried out in their sleeping clothes, their heads still musty with the after effects of the wine they had drunk. Every person was upset and frightened by Seth’s explosion.

“Some ungrateful wretch has stolen my gold.  My father gave me seven precious golden coins.  They are gone.  Who has them?  I have done so much for these people here and by my father I swear that I will punish the person who has dared to do this to me.  In stealing from me he steals from everyone in the village.”

The people looked frightened.  No one knew what to say.

John stepped forward.  Iris stood behind him dressed in a flowing robe.  She looked older to Seth this morning and her face was pitted and not smooth.  He could see the shape of her breasts beneath her robe.  She did not look frightened like the others.  She just looked old. John was not frightened; he smiled graciously at Seth.

“Do not be upset, I am sure that no one here has stolen from you.  Why, we did not even know you had coins.  If we had, I would have explained to you that it is our custom to share such treasures, which are so especially valuable for the benefit of the whole community.  For example, with such gold we could have bought a better printing apparatus.  But you have lost it without using it and therefore it does not matter that you have not.”

“So that is what you did”, said Seth, “You took my gold for your printing while pretending all the time did you were acquiring equipment by other means.  You have stolen was my father gave to me and that is far more valuable than any precious item you can price.  You have stolen my inheritance.  This is the greatest wrong that you can do to anyone.”

“I have stolen nothing,” shouted John who was no longer smiling, “and you should know that.  Why do you accuse me of such a crime?”

Seth stared at the old man.  He crossed his arms as he frowned at him and pointed his head viciously towards John.  John simply returned his stare.  Suddenly and clearly, is clearly as he had ever felt any thing, Seth felt the contempt that John had begun to feet for him.  The contempt was creeping in through the pores of John’s skin, working its way through his arteries, poisoning as it flowed.  It smelled, it had an aura.

Seth was not going to allow anyone to feel contempt for him.  He snarled bearing his teeth.  He wanted to speak but he had to wait before the words could come out.  And while he waited he felt disgust grow inside of him and this person who now dared to contradict him.

” You know who I am and you know that I’m not mistaken.  The wisdom of my book resides in me.  To falsely accuse is a greater crime and now you accuse me of making a false accusation against you!  You have no fear of evil; this must be because you are part of it.”

“Just who are you?  You have written a book but this does not mean did you are vested with infallible powers.  I have taught you and I know how you can be.”

The people became shocked.  John had been promoting Seth and his writing as blessed with the greatest virtue, the virtue of wisdom.  The last person they expected to have any critical words of him was the patient smiling John who had taught him so much.  The teacher seemed jealous of the pupil.  The pupil had exceeded any point that his teacher had reached and the pupil had entered into areas about which the teacher, yes and all the village, never have imagined.  This was sacrilege by John, and although the sun shone warmly on the people there were cold feelings in all of their hearts.

“Hold his hands and feet,” ordered Seth.  The village obeyed.

Chapter 7

John’s hands hurt.  His head ached.  Worst of all the ropes that found his feet to the lintel above his doorway of cut deeply into his flesh as the weight of his body suspended from his front door way dragged his slender frame down.  His head was only a few inches from the floor.

At first he found the blood rushing to his head painful but now he had got used to that, was the ropes that cut into his feet that hurt him.  Hanging upside down, after the few hours, seemed to clear his head.

On benches that had been hastily laid down sat most of the adult villagers.  The benches faced John so that he could see the faces of the people who were his jury.  Seth sat on a high chair to the side of John so that John could see his profile.  The trial had not started and villagers were fidgeting while they waited for Seth to start the proceedings.  Seth was deep in thought.  He had to decide the rules and procedure for trial.  He wanted to make them as simple and clear as possible.

John looked across at the expressions on the faces of villagers.  They were once faces that were loving and friendly to him, faces that showed respect when their eyes met his.  Now they were hard and curious.  They were perfectly content to participate in a trial where the accused had been strung up by his feet and where the rules were in the process of being fixed by the judge, who was also the complainant.

John’s life was near its end, whatever happened now.  In his clear thinking he understood that his guilt would inevitably be established.  It could hardly be otherwise.  His innocence was merely a fact whose truth or otherwise was entirely irrelevant to these proceedings.  John knew that he would be sentenced to death by a man whom he loved like a son and taught the things he had to know.  It did not matter what happened to the village now.  A few hours ago he led his life according to what he believed would be good for the village.  Now it was as unimportant as a spent breeze.

He saw the people that he had once loved looking at him as though he was a kind of spectacle.  This was their circus.  This was their opera.  John thought through his pain that he wanted to give these people that he loved until a few hours ago peace security and prosperity.  But all they really wanted was entertainment.

He had been a leader of sorts.  His age and intelligence made the respect he had received natural.  He had never abused their trust.  Of course, he had built up some wealth; his possessions were enviable but no one had envied them.  He promoted Seth as his prodigy because in the book he saw that Seth had depths of spirit and understanding that he had found hard to find in the village.  But now he knew, as he faced death hung from his door, that with the spirit came ambition and with the understanding technical efficiency.  He would die.  It was hopeless.

The villagers became silent because Seth had stood up.  He called upon Peter to write down what he said.

“Write it down true, Peter, so that we may have a record that all may consider in the future.  I will not allow gossip and idle conversation in the future to present a false and corrupt account of what happens here today.  Peter, mark this well.”

Peter nodded and prepared his writing materials in front of him. He had been given a small desk, the only surface in front of anyone, and he realised the importance and significance of his task.

“I have provided you with rules for life” said John as Peter scribbled furiously yet in a dignified way.  “I must now provided rules for dealing with wickedness.  First, everyone properly accused must be tried by the adult villages.  By properly accused, in order to avoid false accusations, the accusation must be approved by me.  Secondly, everyone so accused has a chance to confess.  If he or she confesses when accused then no capital punishment will be permitted.  Thirdly, if there is no confession the trial will hear the evidence of all relevant witnesses, which the villagers will weigh from their knowledge of the witnesses.  Fourthly, a majority of villagers will decide innocence or guilt.  Fifthly, and lastly, in the event of guilt the punishment shall be death.  These rules are fair and will be held strictly.

The villagers nodded as Seth paused.  He could see their approval.  Peter wrote vigorously his old hands becoming cramped but he put all thought of cramp out of his head and kept on writing.

At the front most bench, in the centre, sat Iris.  Her face was set hard.  Her husband, in the flower of his life, possibly a slightly wilting flower, looked sadly at her but she did not respond.  She had enough of being married to him. It was time for a change.

“We must put the question of innocence to the accused.” Seth looked at him grimly.  He thought that John looked tired and resigned far beyond what his torture had inflicted.  He hoped that he would not confess.  John had insulted him.  His brain stirred against John as though some device had been inserted in it that pulled all mercy and pity out of him and left him uncorrupted by feelings for others.

“Do you confess to the crimes of stealing my inheritance?  Stealing the most valuable thing any of us have – that we have been left by other fathers?”

John said nothing.  He was feeling dizzy.

“If he says nothing then is he deemed to have confessed?” asked Peter who alone dared to break the silence that followed.

John heard his one time friend’s question.  He knew that life was impossible now.  He struggled to speak.

“No, I do not confess.  You are all betraying me.  I am already dead.”

Seth turned to Peter.  Record his answer that he does not confess.”

A murmur of excitement filled the benches.  Now the trial would be entertaining.

Seth called witnesses, at random.  Did you see this man steal? No exactly steal but as I was passing your door he was there, looking furtive, suspicious.  Not actually take the coins but he asked me advice on how to make objects of gold.  Not actually with the coins but I saw him running away from your house, his pockets chinking as though he was carrying coins.  The first witnesses gave their evidence.

The villagers became more entranced by the trial.  The next witnesses when asked the question answered “As I was passing his window I saw him counting out gold coins” and I saw them in his hand as clearly as I see you now” and “they were not coins that I had ever seen before.”

This was enough, deemed Seth.  He asked John if he had any defence that he wanted to put on.  But John did not answer.  He wanted to keep his life focussed clearly during what was left with it.  Some things were dreadfully important.  Answering Seth’s questions or futilely trying to prolong life were not.

The only sentence, in the light of such overwhelming evidence, was death.  The whole village, even Iris, agreed.  It is certain that the village wanted its entertainment to be pure exciting.  And as Seth stood up to pronounce and then execute the sentence the people became nervously silent; even the birds stopped singing.

Seth arranged for John to be hoisted higher above his door way, high enough for a bucket to be placed under his neck.  The change of position brought, John noted, momentary relief to his feet.  He knew that a more permanent amelioration was imminent.

Seth positioned Peter to one side of John’s body and Iris on the other.  John looked peaceful and beautiful.  He kept his eyes open, looking through and beyond the village into the place that he was about to go.

Seth gathered his cloak and strode around to the back of John. He gently rubbed the flat side of a long thin sharp knife against John’s neck and then silently and carefully cut open John’s neck, so that as he died the blood fell into the bucket.  Seth saw how elegantly John died, unlike many of the prisoners, and in death, his head grotesquely half severed, John still maintained a dignity.

The trial was over and amid a great deal of discussion the villagers packed up their benches.  Seth ordered some of the men to build a coffin for John as quickly as possible.  Many arms made the work quick and a rough lidless box was produced into which John’s body was placed.  At the very edge of the small copse where Seth first met Iris the men dug a grave and placed the coffin in it.  John looked garishly peaceful in death.  Crowds of curious villages saw him.  At the graveside, while John’s body was still warm, because these events had happened quickly, Seth poured the blood, partially congealing, over the body, and then arranged for the grave to be filled in.

For many years no-one approached the copse.  They were not frightened of John’s ghost.  It was just that the grave was to shallow, and the stench, particularly in summer, was most profound.

CHAPTER 8

Seth was quite surprised with himself.  It was not difficult to kill John.  He regretted doing it because he knew that John had not stolen his inheritance; he had discovered the coins under his bed but he immediately hit them so that carry on with his accusation against his mentor.  Seth and very pleased with the way he had received in the village.  The fact that he was new and the fact that he had written down his father’s thoughts made all this possible and made him a hero.  His popularity might decline and it was essential, for the welfare of the village and for the communication of his father’s wishes, but he achieved leadership.  John was beginning to see his weaknesses.  Once John communicated these to the villagers Seth would find that it would be a disease are quickly spread.  John had to go.

John had been kind to him.  He had told him in many things and created the atmosphere of respect and awe in which Seth was held.  John had been mainly responsible for printing the book.  This John, who lived in a magnificent home, and in his friend.  John was kind and John was good.  John had lived much of his life and, taking everything into account and weighing everything carefully, it is necessary for him to end John’s life now.

Peter, who had been so much under the influence John, had followed Seth.  Seth knew he would.  Peter showed the same eagerness to obey Seth as he had displayed when collaborating with John in the printing of the book.  Nothing, but nothing was too much trouble for Peter who was adapting himself into the role of the indispensable lieutenant.

Seth let the sadness of John’s death pass across his mind.  It was hard to put it out, and although Seth knew that his death was wholly right and justified.  It was a holy sacrifice for the common good.  Without it, if John had been allowed to challenge Seth’s infallibility then the consequences would have been appalling.  Seth might never reach the position of leadership in the village, which was his destiny.  As it was the challenge enabled Seth with a good excuse for asserting his leadership.  This was the way, and he had to stick with it.

The sight of the blood flowing from John’s neck was not as disturbing as the other death’s Seth had witnessed.  The way in which John was suspended made the whole execution terrifying for the villagers, who had never seen a capital punishment before, but faintly ridiculous for Seth.  He would find a way of putting out of his mind.

Seth called for Peter who came scurrying along as fast as he could.  He arrived panting, because his old bones and joints would not run as quickly as his mind directed them to.  His ability to control his body was imperfect with age although he would have once, he told himself, hurried so fast that before the call had left Seth’s lips he would have been there.  Creaking and panting in a slightly farcical way Peter rushed up to Seth, whom he saw sitting contemplating matters of doubtless great importance.

Peter knew that although he had far lived longer than he would live, he had reached his own private destination in life; the service of a man who had wisdom and would lead.  This, Peter knew, would bring him happiness and protection.  It seemed that times were becoming more violent and he did not want to end his life with the kind of pain and humiliation that John had suffered.  He could protect himself through service and sublimate his will to that of Seth.  Seth deserved to lead the village, he knew; no one else had produced twins, no one else had managed to write a book containing so much wisdom.

Seth waiting until Peter was near enough so that he did not have to raise his voice.

“I need to study” he told Peter, and then instantly regretted having given an explanation.  “Bring me the Book”.

Peter was honoured to have been brought into the confidence of the man he admired and served.  He hurried away to get the book, remarking to those he passed that Seth needed the book to study and that they would all do well to study like Seth.

When he brought the book to Seth, Seth noticed that it was the most lavish jewelled version, the version that John had been so proud to produce, the actual book that John had presented him with at the ceremony.

Peter did not directly hand the book to Seth, but placed it on a tray and gently placed the tray in front of Seth.  It seemed more fitting and correct.  Instinctively.  After Seth picked the book up, Peter as quietly and as quickly as his old limbs would allow, moved away, back to a nearby room when he too got started to study his own copy of the book as did many of the other villagers, having heard that Seth was studying.  The secret of self-preservation was imitation.  In time the villagers became reverend students of the book.  There was safety.

Seth, who now had now need to be frightened having frightened the villagers so perfectly, was not in need of safety.  He was as safe as any person can ever be in this fickle unpredictable World.  If he wanted something Peter would come breathless to ensure that the precise wish or desire was fulfilled in the smallest possible time.  He could eat whatever food he wanted and sleep with whoever he chose; he did not lack sustenance.  He know lived in John’s magnificent home and slept with John’s wife when he wanted to.  He did not lack possessions.

Seth needed comfort.  Having placed himself in the position where he was above everyone else and could command all of the villagers he had no one to whom he could turn his exposed thoughts to, no one to share his unguarded moments.  He understood that this was the price for what he had achieved, but that did not make it any easier to bear.  He was carrying a lonely burden and he could not share even the slightest weakness.  In sleeping with a woman he would have to approach her from the position of helping her, favouring her, possibly impregnating her.  In buying goods he would be blessing the seller of them.  In walking he would be compacting the gravel in the road and in breathing he would be purifying the air.

His eyes cast downwards on to the beautiful book that Peter brought him.  He played his eyes over the printed words but he did not read them.  He could not read them.  He had a buzzing in his ears, that refused to go away.  The noise started as soon as John’s body was covered with earth and stayed at the same low pitch since then.  He did not notice it, until it was time to sleep or time to read.  The buzzing made sleep difficult and interrupted, but not impossible.  It gave him a poor quality of rest and refreshment gained from rest was negligible.  When he tried to read the buzzing appeared to become louder and louder.  It prevented him reading.  As soon as he gave up trying to convert the words on the page into sounds or meanings the buzzing slipped back, became light, bearable and friendly.

The distraction of the buzzing at first made him listless.  He thought hard but could not find a reason why he had been so afflicted.  He tried to remember more about what Kendal said (so much had happened since then, so much life had passed).

He could return to Kendal.  Kendal had had Seth at his complete mercy and released him only after implanting the device.  If Seth returned to Kendal now as a leader it would be hard to see the advantage for Kendal to fix the buzzing. The golden fluid would mend him, Seth knew. Now Seth had absolute power amongst his people, Kendall would not damage him.

Was any one else trustworthy, Seth asked himself?  No, clearly not.  No one else could be trusted.

These thoughts when through Seth’s mind as his eyes wandered over the page and his hands turned the pages.  As new thoughts when in and out of his head Seth nodded very slightly.  He would seek out Kendall.

12 Responses

  1. I’ll return and read those stories – they look interesting, but I don’t have the time to do them justice right now.

    I am slightly ashamed to admit that I’m in much the same situation as you – “I have always written but hardly ever submitted my writing for publication.”

    We need to make the effort and have the courage to hold our work up for public criticism, but so many of us don’t, eh? Plus, of course, the establishment is so often really only looking for the next William Shakespeare amongst newbies – or a fast buck from some celbrity name.

    • Thanks, CJ, and I’ll welcome any criticisms. There are poems hidden there too!

      Robert

  2. @Robert: I’ve read The Prisoner and enjoyed/was intrigued by it. It needs a fair bit of editing (particularly since I think you might originally have written it in the 3rd person and some of it slips back into that). Interesting concept, though 🙂

    Mostly, I just don’t get modern poetry, so I’m no judge of that at all.

    Chris

  3. PS: If, as I suspect, you’re a bit of a romantic at heart, you might like some of my short stories too – http://cjwss.wordpress.com

  4. Thanks for the comments, CJ, they are really helpful.

    Some of the poems are not too modern – some scan and rime and hey, there’s even the odd sonnet!

    Robert

  5. Making a note, and pencil in your New Year’s Diary to look up Amazon for Roland Bank’s New Book ” The Law The Law, but Where’s the Justice !”

    More Important, forward for this message to all your colleagues who care about their clients, you be the Judge whether its Factual or Fiction.

    Many Thanks
    Dave

  6. The humour in your writing is wicked and your engaging stories show a different aspect of your character – keep up the good work – I really don’t know how you fit so much into your day.

    Respect and Peace!
    @dam

  7. Robert I enjoy reading your non-ficton debate the story ‘ SHIT ‘ this is so so funny especially the conclusion “….And ever since then I have adopted a new strategy at parties. When I pull I make sure that there is always a bucket of disinfectant under the bed, some rubber gloves and baby soap. Baby soap works best for getting rid of the smell. Believe me. I know…”
    With regards to ending up with a munter at the end of a party I can give you the benefit of wisdom of John Nash watch the scene from Beautiful Mind ‘Adam Smith was wrong’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Touau7QRv8I Game Theory !!!

    Can I suggest you take a look at the book ‘ The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time ‘ I am only upto page 30 but I can say every page has had had rolling around laughing, sure it would appeal to your wry sense of humor.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Incident_of_the_Dog_in_the_Night-Time

    • Thanks!

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  9. Wow, marvelous blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website
    is magnificent, as well as the content!

  10. Hi I am so happy I found your web site, I really found you by accident,
    while I was looking on Yahoo for something else, Nonetheless I am
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