It had been a good day. By late afternoon, the housework was done, the beds were made and the washing was blowing in the warm sunshine. With all the chores out of the way, I had two whole hours to myself.
I turned on the machine and opened Word. Some people find the sight of a blank page intimidating, but to me it’s a promise, an invitation; an event waiting to happen.
I never know what might be, but the familiar frisson of pleasurable excitement ran through me. Laying my hands across the keyboard, I waited for the miracle to happen. I have never understood it but, as long as it continues to work, that’s fine.
Well, that was how I felt back then as I settled in my old chair.
Marsha always took her dog for a walk in the evening. He spent long hours of the day on his own, while everyone was at work, and she liked to have this little time with him, letting him run and play. Dashing about in the park, chasing the ball and barking, he was a bundle of ebullience. Leaping up at her he always made her smile. It unwound her nerves, and if she had a particularly bad day, then this unadulterated joy helped to put things in perspective.
She loosed his lead as they went through the great iron gates and made for the meadow area. The sun was a glorious red-gold ball in the purpling sky. The leaves on the trees were painted by evening light and the air was balmy and kind. Swinging her arms, she revelled in the feel of her muscles unburdening themselves. Marsha threw back her head, tossing her hair away from her face. In spite of all the hiccups and problems of everyday life, she still found it a beautiful world, and the simple pleasure of taking the dog for a walk was a treasure to be stored against coming storms.
“Chesney, come on Ches. Bring me your ball, come on fella.” He was standing a few yards away, the ball at his feet. The fur on his neck rose and she was amazed to hear a growl start deep within his body. “Hey Ches, come on boy. Come on.” She patted her thigh, calling him, but he wouldn’t come. As she stepped closer he backed off lowering his head and baring his teeth.
A moment too late, just a moment, then she became aware of the figure standing behind her. She had been concentrating so intensely on the disturbed dog that she had allowed herself to become unaware of her surroundings. It was against all the advice she had ever been given about being out on your own.
Life is brutal, there would be no second chance. It didn’t last long but it was a time of terror, a time of pain, a time to die. In the end, her battered and abused body lay on the blood spattered grass, and Chesney lay whimpering beside her as the dark figure fled into the undergrowth.
Ah, so it was to be one of those stories was it? Pushing back from the computer desk I stretched my shoulder muscles and hunted down a cold drink.
Not knowing where the story will go can be a mixed blessing. Once I open my mind to the gift I make the trade. If I start it then I must finish. That’s the deal with the Muse. If I don’t write my ideas down, they dissipate like soap bubbles to be lost forever. Do the lost stories go off and find someone else to write them or do they simply dissolve? So much wasted wonder. Once a deal has been made, it has to be written even if it sits in a folder on the computer glaring out at me whenever I open the directory. Poor lost stories, glowering in the dark, waiting for a moment in the sun. At least that was what I felt back then, I was sorry for the wasted words.
I took a little break. I brought in the washing and then went back to re-read, wondering where I could take it. No matter what I tried it just wouldn’t come, there was nowhere to go with it. Whichever route I went down it was wrong. The words were wooden, the phrases crippled and the paragraphs like wounded whales thrashing on the literary beach.
The view through the window showed me a sky turning indigo and the evening song of the blackbird drew me out. I headed across the main road and into the park.
Strolling in the warm evening I felt the tension lift with the warming of my muscles and the stretching of my limbs. I turned into the meadow. There was no-one else around but it felt safe and comfortable. Walking on I breathed in the scent of the mown grass and the perfume of the trees. Ahead there was a small hump on the grass. It was just a heap, maybe a pile of grass cuttings or some coats discarded by the homeless people who slept in the park at this time of the year. As I drew closer, it formed and took on meaning. The red splotches were not a pattern on fabric nor fallen blossom heads.
I began to run, my panic overwhelmed any feelings of self-preservation or danger. She lay on the blood splattered grass, her clothes strewn around; discarded rags. There at her side, whimpering and quaking, was the dog.
Oh Muse, what have you done?
I did all that was expected of me, dictating a statement to the police and buying flowers for the spot in the park. I avoided the reporters; prowling dogs circling the killing field.
I didn’t write. I couldn’t write. When I felt strong enough I crept into the directory and opened the file folder. I wiped it clean with the electronic duster. The dreadful words were disassembled and the fragmented letters were cast into the void. The digital pulses scattered across the ether into infinity.
A dark space remained in my mind where the awful premonition once sat. I knew it was there and didn’t look at it. The story knocked at my subconscious now and again and I turned away. Still it remained, a screen burn on the inner surface of my intellect, fading so very slowly.
For many weeks when the itch started I cleaned the cupboards, went for walks, cooked for the freezer. The night-time whispers, tiny germs of ideas pulled at me in my sleep and so I played music through ear phones. The inspirations jolting into my mind at the sight of a new lamb or a fading rose or a cloud formation fizzled and fled in the face of my refusal to be led down the path of creativity.
At last I sat one day typing some letters to friends and my fingers betrayed my resolve, dancing independently over the keys and opening the story folders. The empty page taunted me. It was silly for me not to write, a life without stories, was a life not worth living.
It had been a coincidence, and with the passage of time, it was now hazy and indistinct. I had obviously attached far too much importance to my part in the incident. It would have happened whether the story had been written or not. That poor girl was destined for the tragedy of her horrific end. The monster that had destroyed her young life was not born of my story but existed, prowling in the real world, and so I wrote again.
I sent off two short stories and an article, one came back with its tail between its legs and a perfunctory note of refusal but the others were accepted. They were published and read and had some tiny acclaim. Nothing happened, the stories were just stories, ink on paper made from noughts and ones in an electronic machine. Yes it seemed like magic, but it was workaday and commonplace and carried no mystery.
I wrote of a boy, a small boy with freckles and tousled hair and a love of electronic games.
Timmy was supposed to be home before it was dark. His mum always insisted that he be home before the sun left the sky. Playing with Jimmy they had drawn the curtains in his room so they could see the screen and watch the computer animated figures leaping and fighting and dying. They were unaware of the afternoon turning to early evening and of the birds performing the pre-roosting routine. At last the aliens were conquered and they staggered game dazed into the kitchen to be shocked at the dimness of the light in the room. Timmy grabbed his bag and coat and stormed out of the back door.
He knew he would be in trouble if he didn’t get home quickly. He ran down the drive and up the avenue, he would take the short cut through the park. The sun had gone and the street lights were flashing on as he passed. He ran as fast as his legs would take him. He didn’t fear the dark or even fear the park, he only feared the tongue lashing he would receive from Mum.
The great gates were still open and he dashed in, past the ice cream stand and the swings, past the duck pond and the crazy golf. Down into the trees and into the shadows. The muted noise of the road disappearing into the undergrowth. As the light faded, he felt a frisson of nerves. He ran faster, his breath loud in his ears, his heart pounding against his chest and his legs screaming with the red heat of his muscles.
He ran on past the benches and past the litter bins and the low shrubs. He didn’t run past the exit gate, he didn’t run past the fish and chip shop and he didn’t run down his own drive clattering the yellow wooden gate. He never ran through the front door and into the fear driven anger of his overwrought mother.
What to do with this? Another dark story about the park. Delete it, scrub it away. No don’t be silly. If I am to be hidebound in that way and only write safe pretty stories then why write? If it can only be sunshine and butterflies then somebody else might as well do it. No, leave it and work on it, take it to an end. Maybe it will have a glad ending, a happy reunion with bright smiles and sighs of happy relief.
The Newspaper flopped onto the mat, the alarm turned on the light and so the ordinariness of morning started another early summer day. While the kettle boiled I collected the paper and flung it onto the table where it unfolded of its own volition. The headline screamed at me fracturing the early peace and shattering my recovering nerves.
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS BOY?
The picture was a tousled haired boy with freckles, a school photograph with his tie askew and his bright eyes full of promise and mischief. His desperate mother pleaded for his return and the police asked for any and all help to find this child. He was picked up on the CCTV cameras around the park entrance but not on the ones near the gate he should have used as his exit.
I waited in vain for news of the boy but he was lost and like all the other lost boys he faded into grey. Now I wouldn’t write, never again. Unplugging the computer and stowing it in the back of the cupboard was a termination. I pretended quirkiness to explain the hand written notes and snail mail letters. I took myself back to the dark ages. Access to the bank is possible by mobile phone, and Facebook and Twitter could carry on without me. It surprised me how quickly I adjusted and how easily I fielded the questions.
“I just want to see how it was before. I want to remind myself what it’s like to live without it. I don’t need it. You should try it, you really should – go on try it.”
My friends looked askance and at times scandalised. They didn’t know, couldn’t know the truth – well what I believed the truth to be. Their incredulity and mockery wouldn’t undermine my resolve. I wouldn’t write again. It was never my main income, little more than a hobby, an indulgence. It was gone. I didn’t do that anymore. I couldn’t do that anymore.
So after four months, possibly five, my life was different. Occasionally I would see something of mine referenced and a pang would grab at me somewhere deep inside, but that was then and this is now I told myself.
That was until the day I saw the old typewriter in the junk shop. Could it be, that if I used it with no outside connection, no junction with the universe, just black ribbon and white paper, that it would be alright?
I bought the little grey Brother machine. It sat on my desk and smiled at me in its dishevelled, overused way. It was wonderful, I had no way to know who had owned it before but I hoped it was a writer rather than a cycling club secretary or a typing student but it didn’t matter really it was a pathway back. I felt safe. For a while it was strange, no spell checker, no online thesaurus but it was clean and honest and I loved the clicking and clacking and the whirl of the paper feed. The carriage return made a satisfying sound and the keys quickly became friends with my hands. The words rushed from my fingertips. I sent the stories away and I found my smile again.
It was restrictive, of course it was. These days so much of the publishing world is internet based but there were ways around it and I could rely on “artistic temperament” to by-pass some of the problems and the main thing was that I was writing again. The papers cascaded into piles, short stories, poetry and articles. My nerves unwound and my friends rejoiced in my rediscovered sanity and calmness. I had missed it so very much.
So here I sit tonight. The moon floats outside my window and the stars are popping open. It is quiet and still and I am happy in the office with my little grey machine tapping out the words and spewing forth the finished pages.
I am feeling so much stronger now so I thought I would write it down, what had happened and why I didn’t write for so long. Maybe one day I will make something of it who knows but for now I have the urge to start a different story.
The office is cosy, the little desk lamp casts its homely glow into the richness of the old polished wood. The tapping of the keys and the swish of the paper fill the silence with small energy.
I take another sip of the brandy which rests in a crystal goblet beside the pile of finished papers. Somewhere out in the night there is the sound of a car horn and the shoosh of tyres on wet tarmac. Deep in the back of my mind another sound registers. A tiny tinkle, the fall of splintered glass onto carpet and the click of a forced window lock. Neck-hairs prickle as the night-time fizzles with something unknown, something threatening. Breathing is suspended as the stairs creak under tentative pressure and a hand squeaks against the banister rail. Slowly the door handle tur…………………
Read more: Short Story: Writing | Shortbread