Bind Him To Me

“Can I tell you a secret?”, he says. He looks me in the eye and dips his hand over the side of the boat, rippling the surface of the lake with his fingers. It is early morning. Not yet truly light, not quite five o’clock. We are surrounded by grey shadows. I am at one end of the rowboat, he is at the other. It is so quiet here, we could be the last human beings in the world.

“Can I tell you a secret?”, he repeats. He takes his hand out of the water, leans forward and takes hold of my hand. A shiver runs through me, it is not because his hand is cold from the lake.

“The problems with secrets”, I say, squeezing his hand. “Is once you share them they are no longer secret”. I am thinking about the secret I shared with him. Although, as it turned out it wasn’t much of a secret: he knew I was in love with him. But he told the others what I had said, word for word. For two years afterwards, my life was hell. It wasn’t the taunts, the name calling, or the occasional beating. He no longer talked to me.

“I know you can keep a secret.”, he is looking at me intently, now. “You are a good friend. Better than I deserve”. I shake my head. He looks away, his hand still holds mine.

It is true: I already keep a secret for him. He told me he had just been experimenting. It was normal, he said, everyone does it. I’m not like you, he said, I’m not like that. He would kill me if I told, he said. But it is an easy secret for me to keep. It is our secret, not one to share with others.

The sky is lightening, and the shadows are retreating. I think there may be tears in his eyes. I place my other hand over the top of his. I hope the sun does not come too quickly: it might destroy the magic of this moment.

“Do you remember Amy Twyford?”, he looks me in the eye again, and I nod. Everyone in this town remembers Amy Twyford. “Did you know I was seeing her?” I nod again, although I didn’t know. He blinks twice and I am now certain: I can see tears in his eyes. I am jealous, I suddenly realise, of a girl who has been missing for over a year. He wipes his eyes with his free hand and breaks my gaze to look out over the lake towards the dock, now visible in the weak light.

“That night, we met here. I wanted it to be special, romantic. So I placed candles around the edge of the dock. You could see the flames reflected in the water. ‘Like ghosts dancing on the bottom of the lake’, she said”, he returns to look at me, and I can see the blue of his eyes. “Everything was going so well. We talked, we drank, we kissed” – it is my turn to break eye-contact – “and then suddenly- I can’t even remember how it started – we were arguing. We were on our feet yelling at each other. The next thing I know she was in the lake. She must have slipped. I didn’t push her. I swear, I didn’t punch her.”

I look back at him, but he is staring at the dock, eyes-wide. “I tried to pull her in, I grabbed at her clothing, at her hair. There was blood. Quite a lot of blood. She must have hit her head on something as she fell. I panicked, I let go of her and she lay there, floating, drifting. After a while I got my head together. I went back to the boat house and grabbed the old anchor and some rope. I tied one end to her legs, the other end to the boat. I put the anchor in the boat and I rowed out to the middle of the lake. I untied the rope from the boat and retied it to the anchor and then I heaved it over the side. And Amy followed it down.”

He is sobbing now. I move carefully, so as not to upset the boat. I take him in my arms and I hold him. I watch the sun rise through the trees, it makes shimmering patterns on the lake’s surface. I think about what lurks beneath the surface, beneath where we sit. I wonder what she looks like now, the girl at the bottom of the lake.

The sun is above the trees and I row him back to the dock. He has come back to me and I am happy. Now I share his secret, it will bind him to me.

***

Written by Bruce Arbuckle (November 2012)

This story was entered into the Weekly Short Story Contest on http://www.writingforums.org/ (29th November 2012)

Theme: The Secret

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Ladrón Mentiroso (Part Two)

The Ladrón Mentiroso posts are written by Bruce Arbuckle for the writingforums.org Role Playing Game: A New World. Part I. The First Sand.

The year is 1557. In a world where anything is possible, a group of adventurers have set sail to open new trade routes to the East. But what they have discovered is a New World, with new rules.

(To read Part One Click here to read the whole thing visit writingforums.org)

Ladrón Mentiroso (known as The Reverend) – Part Two

Mentiroso was collecting shells by the waters edge, when the commotion broke out. A wounded man and something bound to a log, were brought out of the jungle by a group of near hysterical men. He observed the scene. He noticed that Pello, the bard was staring off into the jungle. He seemed to be looking at something, but Mentiroso couldn’t see anything. The bard then looked over to the men and told them to bring the injured man to his fire.

Mentiroso established the creature bound to the log was dead, and therefore of no risk to his personal safety, before he wandered over to examine it more carefully. The bard had began working on the injured man.

“What an abomination!”, Antonello appeared beside him. The creature, some kind of giant cat, was full of metal – some of it piercings, other bits bolted on to its jaws and claws. For sport, some kind of religious ritual or just sadistic pleasure, Mentiroso couldn’t tell. But he didn’t like it.

“I think we can assume we are not alone”, he said peering down at the beast. “Quite delicate metal work. Shame we lost our blacksmith, his opinion would have been useful”, he looked over at the wounded man by the fire. “Do you trust the bard?”

“As much as I do you, Reverend. I’ve known each of you the same amount of time.”

“Quite”, Mentiroso looked up. “It’s just, he’s no more a doctor than I’m a… than I am. What’s he going to do sing the man a song?”

“He seems to know what he’s doing, Reverend. But if you think you can do better…”

“No, thank you sir. I have always found my skills lie elsewhere.”

“Well, best leave the bard to it, then.”

“Yes, well it’s your funeral”, Mentiroso looked back over at the wounded man. “Well his, at any rate.” Antonello – clearly having lost his sense of humour – left his side to join the bard.

Mentiroso stood back and said a few words of prayer to the Makers, just loud enough for the others to hear. He stared out into the jungle. If there was one of these beasts out there, there could just as likely be ten. For that matter, he didn’t particularly fancy bumping into whatever had mutilated the poor creature. Ar the edge of the jungle some trees moved. There was no wind: there was something there. He almost called out, but instead he watched carefully. There it was again. It was the same area of jungle the bard had been looking in, just before he started playing doctor.

Mentiroso began walking towards the jungle, trying not to draw attention to himself. A branch moved, and this time Mentiroso caught sight of a creature. It looked just like a… well, his belief in sprites and faeries was as strong as his faith in the Makers. That is to say, non-existent. But whatever it was it definitely wasn’t human. A monkey of some kind, no doubt. The creature made eye contact with him and fled. As it disappeared into the jungle something dropped onto the floor.

Mentiroso weighed up risk to himself over his curiosity. The later won. The creature didn’t look capable of torturing a cat, over-sized or otherwise. He moved carefully to the edge of the jungle and peered into the dark undergrowth. He could see no movement. He looked back at the group of men, surrounding the wailing man by the fire. No one seemed to have noticed his absence. He began searching the jungle floor, nervously looking around to ensure the monkey didn’t return.

He had almost given up when he saw something under a bush, several feet away. It appeared to be glowing blue. He checked behind him, again. The men were still concentrating on their writhing companion. He lunged quickly to the bush and grabbed the object, before retreating to the relative safety of the jungle edge. His back to the men by the fire he opened his hand to examine the object. It was as hard as stone, smooth as glass, blue as the sea. He looked closely at it. There were two white lights trapped within, swirling around, moving continuously.

An ear-piercing scream from the man by the fire, startled some birds from the tree tops and Mentiroso almost dropped the stone. Then silence. The object in his hand pulsated, swelled somehow. It felt as if something had forced its way into the stone. Or had been dragged in. He peered into it. There were now three lights spiraling within.

“Reverend?”, Mentiroso almost dropped the stone a second time. “Have you found something?”, it was Antonello.

“Why, yes”, he said, deftly secreting the stone in his pocket and exchanging it for another object. It was not the first time he had used pickpocketing skills on himself, he was pleased he had not lost his touch. He turned to face Antonello. “I found this shell, here. Curious, it should be so far away from the sea. No?”

Antonello took the shell and looked at it closely. “Not really”, he said, throwing it to the ground. “Come on. It appears your skills are required after all.”

Mentiroso turned to follow Antonello back towards the group of men, standing heads bowed, hats in hand, around the body of the man. He stopped. He thought he heard something. It was a voice, but somehow intangible, inhuman. He turned back to the jungle and listened again. He thought he could make out a single word, echoing through the trees: “Thief!”

Mentiroso shrugged and started to walk back towards the huddle of sad and frightened men. He had been called worse.

***

Written by Bruce Arbuckle

Published (as BritInFrance) on writingforums.org on 23rd November 2012

To read the whole thing (including all the other characters story lines) visit writingforums.org

To read more on RPGs visit writingforums.org

Ladrón Mentiroso (part one)

The Ladrón Mentiroso posts are written by Bruce Arbuckle for the writingforums.org Role Playing Game: A New World. Part I. The First Sand.

The year is 1557. In a world where anything is possible, a group of adventurers have set sail to open new trade routes to the East. But what they have discovered is a New World, with new rules. After 7 weeks at sea and 4 deaths the adventurers have landed and are ready to explore…


Ladrón Mentiroso (known as The Reverend) – Part One

Ladrón Mentiroso sat on his trunk, leafing through the large book. He hoped his farrowed brow, and thoughtful expression, would lead others to believe he was finding inspiration within it’s pages. In fact, he was watching Antonello carefully, as he walked from one group of men to another. Ever since the blacksmith had his little “accident”, Mentiroso had made it his business to keep a closer eye on all the men. Luckily most of them were The Maker-fearing idiots who would swallow any nonsense as long as it came from a man wearing a clerical collar, but he didn’t intend to take any more chances.

“Reverend?” He looked up, quickly removing his instinctive scowl at having his thoughts interrupted, and replacing it with the caring regard of the “reverend”. It was one of the kitchen boys.

“Yes, my boy?” Mentiroso said. The boy held out a plate and a mug of ale. “Ah, thank you, my son. The Maker be with you.” Mentiroso made a vague form of a cross with his right hand before taking the plate and the mug. “And do thank Chef, for me,” Mentiroso said, nodding in the direction of the large man by the fire. If he had known all the little extras afforded to a Priest, he would have considered joining the Church for real, a long time ago.

Of all the men under Columbus’ command, Antonello seemed the best judge of character. And therefore, the one to be most careful around. Columbus himself, like most men in his class, was easy to manipulate. Columbus was a pompous ass, full of his own self importance, and a fair bit of rum too, if Mentiroso was not mistaken. Antonello was another being altogether. Clearly intelligent, sure of himself but did not immediately assume that people respected him because of his rank. Yes, it was important to ensure Antonello remained a friend and not a foe.

He was close enough to hear Antonello speak to a young man, Jemsey-something-or-other.

“Jemsey, you’re coming with us! Up, up, up!” Mentiroso, successfully covered his smirk, by taking a huge swig of ale, as the young man jumped to his feet, as if someone had hit his privates with a hammer.

“Lead the way, sir,” the young fool said. That one would lay down his life for a better, as soon as take a nap. Certainly, he would ensure no harm came to one of The Maker’s chosen ones.

Mentiroso put down his now-empty plate and mug. Picking up his cane, he strolled over to Antonello, trying not to over-emphasise his limp.

“Mr Antonello, I wonder if I could have a word?” he said. He waited until he had Antonello’s full attention.

“Perhaps it would be beneficial for me to come on your, eh, ‘scouting party.’” Mentiroso said. “Always useful to have The Maker on your side, don’t you think?” He paused, and looked around him, “And I really could do with stretching my legs.”

***

Written by Bruce Arbuckle

Published (as BritInFrance) on writingforums.org on 9th November 2012

To read the whole thing (including all the other characters story lines) visit writingforums.org

To read more on RPGs visit writingforums.org

This Strange Day

I felt a tingling sensation in my forehead. A few microseconds later a Call came through. It was The Manager. He wanted to see me. I stepped away from the production line, and signaled to Employee 87L000/SP5. He looked puzzled, but took my place without missing a beat.

I strode past my Section, over one thousand of us. I felt… concerned. I had to search for the word. It was an unusual feeling to have. The last time I had been ‘concerned’ our rations had been cut in half for one month. We had not met our targets. That had been over a year ago.

What the Omigos give freely, they can also withhold.

It took me 25 minutes to walk the two miles across the factory floor to see The Manager. I passed 4 other Sections. No one looked up, as I passed. This factory was smaller than my previous home. I had lived here for 3 years.

There were two Security Officers at the entrance to the elevator. I knew then, that there must be Visitors. Security is not needed here. There is never any trouble.

There were four of Them in the office. Four of Them, and The Manager.

“Saviours”, I said. I bowed as low as I could.

The Manager initiated a Call. He informed me that only one of these beings were Omigos: the large man in a suit, sitting behind The Manager’s desk. The others were Tourists. Tourists were not Omigos – they looked like Omigos, but they weren’t. I wasn’t sure what they were, but they did not wear Crowns, so that made them not human. The Manager informed me They had come to review something called “Human Rights”, and they wanted to ask me some questions. The Call lasted less than 0.1 of a second.

“No, no! Please do not bow to us”, one of the Tourists said. His voice sounded strange. “Please”, he said again and pointed to a chair. I looked at it, confused. Did he want me to move it?

“He would like you to sit down”, said the Omigos. He laughed as he said it. I was not sure if I was meant to laugh too. I decided not to. I sat down.

“What is your name?”. One of the Tourists was female, and it was she who now spoke.

“I am Employee TwentyThreeLFiveHundredForwardSlashENThree”, I said.

“That is a rather long name”, she said. “What does it mean?”

I shrugged. “It is my Crown name”, I said.

“Your Crown name?” she said. She looked puzzled.

“It is the serial number on his Crown”, the Omigos said. He sounded tired.

The female tourist did not acknowledge the intervention. “Do you have a shorter name?”, she asked. I shook my head. “Are you married?”, I nodded. “Then what does your wife call you?”, she asked.

“Husband”, I replied. I heard the Omigos laugh again. This time I thought it would be impolite not to join him.

“How old are you?”, it was the first Tourist who spoke. His voice was gentle.

“It has been 21 years since my Day of Crowning, My Lord”, I said.

The first Tourist smiled. It was like his voice, it was warm and kind.

“Please”, he said. “Call me Aarif. You are 36 years old, yes?”. I was confused, but remembered that as Tourists and Omigos are not Crowned they count their age from the date they were Created.

“Yes, My… Aarif”, I said. “I had 16 years to endure, before my Day of Crowning.” I saw a strange look pass across his face.

“Then you were 14 years old when Omigos took over?”, it was the third Tourist, who spoke now. He was also male, but appeared older, his dark hair flecked with white.

“When the Living Gods returned to save us”, I said, thinking carefully. “I had endured 14 years, My L… Aarif”, I said.

“My name is Zheng Maa”, he said. “You can call me Zheng. It is this man whose name is Aarif. And this”, he said gesturing to the female. “This is Lajita.” I nodded, though still confused. “We are from the Free World Alliance”, he added, as if this clarified matters. I initiated a Call to The Manager, but he did not pick up.

“Do you remember your name?”, the female Tourist – Lajita – said. “From before you were Crowned, I mean”. I shook my head. “Does it hurt, when you are Crowned?”, she said.

“No”, I said. “The Crown is what keeps hurt at bay”. The mantra rolled off my tongue, but it was true. The two inch-wide band of metal, circling my head, had over two hundred needles buried deep in my head. They connected my brain to the circuitry in the Crown. It helped keep us human: without it we became demons. The Crown regulated chemicals, and helped us communicate. One of the many gifts the Omigos gave us when they returned. No, the Crown did not hurt. I didn’t remember it hurting on the Day of Crowning, either.

I felt a tingling sensation in my head. For a moment I thought The Manager was Calling, but when I picked up there was no-one there. It was not a Call. I had had a Flash.

“Mark”, I said. I was surprised to hear the word come from my mouth.

“I’m sorry?”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said.

“Mark”, I repeated. “I think I may have been called Mark”. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw the Omigos move.

“Mark”, the Tourist-called-Lajita said. “That is a lovely name”. As she spoke, I had another Flash – a memory – of another woman at another time who had called me by that name.

“I think”, said the Omigos. “I think we should stop this interview”. I stood up.

“No!”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said. I had never heard anyone speak to an Omigos like that. I stood there, waiting for the world to end.

“Sit down, Mark. We want to continue this conversation”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said. The Omigos motioned for me to sit, so I did.

“What do you remember before the Omigos Corporation took over?”, the Tourist-called-Aarif asked. I stared at him. I did not understand the question.

The Tourist-called-Lajita lent forward and touched my arm. “It’s ok”, she said. She smiled, “do you remember your mother and father?”

“No”, I said. Another memory came to me. A Flash: two bodies being loaded onto a large Transporter. “They died”, I said. The Omigos shifted his weight, his chair creaked.

“This Employee is feeling a little worn out, by all your questioning. We should allow him to return to his duties”, said the Omigos. I began to stand. The Tourist-called-Aarif slammed his hand on the desk, and I fell back into my seat. Shocked.

“Mr Snelling”, he said. He was pointing his finger at the Omigos. “We have been appointed by our Nations to conduct a review of Human Rights conditions at the Omigos Corporation. We have been granted free access to all the countries ‘owned’ by the Corporation, and all the factories and those ’employed’ within. We can, and we will continue this interview.”

The Omigos lent forward. I tried not to look at him. “We do not care what Beijing, New Delhi, or Tehran think of us, Mr Abassi”, he said, pointing at each Tourist, in turn. “We think nothing of your ‘democracy’- it is a sham and always has been. It is time you learned this Truth”.

“Truth!”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said. He was loud and it hurt my ears, and my head. For the first time since my day of Crowning I felt scared. I felt strange sensations in my head. The Crown was trying to regulate my brain chemicals.

“The Truth!”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said, looking at the Omigos. “The Omigos Corporation: the richest men in the world, fed up of running governments from behind the scenes! You supplied Crowns to the Armies of the West, designed to improve communication and enhance aggression: no one even guessed at their true capabilities. You started a flu epidemic which killed a million people in India alone, just to ensure your so-called vaccine would kill half a billion people who would have opposed you in the West. And then you activated the Crown and used your armies to enslave those who were left.”

“I’d say that was a fair historical summary, Mr Abbasi,” the Omigos said, leaning back in his chair. “But remember this: the Crowned are happy. Happier than you. Or I, come to that. They have no ambition, no aggression (unless we program them to have it), no fears, no jealousies. They are not hungry, they are healthy.

“In the world before the Omigos Corporation, were there not sweatshops, operated by children, women and slaves? Yes, Mr Abbasi, there were. But they were in India, China, Africa and the Middle East. They provided the West with their computers, their trainers, their toys and designer clothes. Were those people happy, Mr Abbasi? No, they were hungry, desperate and resentful. The people of the old-West cared little for them, as long as they got what they wanted for the price they wanted. Just as the so-called Free World cares little for the Crowned of Omigos, as long as we keep producing the goods. That, Mr Abbasi, is the Truth.”

“Enough!”, the Tourist-called-Zheng said. He put his hand on the arm of the Tourist-called-Aarif. “We are doing more harm than good”. They all looked at me, then. And at The Manager. I followed their eyes. The Manager was pale, shaking, rocking in his chair.

The interview was ended. They gave us a few minutes, just enough for our Crowns to stablise our brains, and our bodies.

As I left the office, I looked at the Tourist-called-Lajita. “You smile like her”, I said. She raised her eyebrows, and smiled again. “You smile like my mother,” I said.

I had difficulty concentrating on my work, afterwards. Employee 87L000/SP5 had to intervene twice. I wanted tell my wife and children about the interview. The eldest was preparing for his Day of Crowning: in two weeks he would be 16. He was more curious than I, he would be interested in the events of this strange day.

I felt a tingling sensation in my forehead. It was a Call from The Manager. He sounded excited.

“The Omigos were delighted with your performance, today,” he Called. “We are both being promoted. We need to go to the Centre. For Training.”

The Manager was waiting for me at Side Entrance B. The doors opened and I followed him outside. The sun was bright. I blinked: I was unaccustomed to the light. I had not stood in the sun since being moved from the last factory, three years before. It was warm on my skin. It felt good.

I wondered what Training would involve, and how long I would be away from my wife and children. I tried to Call her I could not get through. I shrugged. Any faulty functions on the Crown would be fixed during Training.

The Transporter arrived and I took a deep breath. I followed The Manager as he stepped inside. I noticed it had three words printed on the side: “Disposal Centre (London)”.

I smiled. At least the journey to the Centre would not take long. I should be home in time to kiss my children goodnight.

****

Written by Bruce Arbuckle (November 2012)

This story was entered into the Weekly Short Story Contest on http://www.writingforums.org/ (22nd November 2012)

Theme: Dystopian Fiction

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

When The Storm Came

“You’re in a bad mood,” his mother said, when he entered the kitchen. “You’re putting me right off my breakfast, with that face-like-thunder.”

She grabbed his left hand and bent back his two smallest fingers. He used to think they would break, it hurt so much, but she knew when to stop.

He felt a tear roll down his cheek, despite his best efforts not to show he was in pain. His mother let go. She made a sound that resembled a chuckle.

He went over to the sink and pulled a bowl from the pile of crockery and gave it a rinse under the tap and a wipe of the towel.

“Giving me the silent treatment, are you boy?” she said.

He said nothing. He could feel her eyes burn a hole in his back, as she watched him pour cereal into the bowl.

“There’s no milk,” she said. He could hear the laughter in her voice and could picture the expression on her face. That one sided smirk, that glint in her eye. She was trying to make him angry again, she wanted the excuse. He wouldn’t give it to her. Not this time.

“You’ll have to go to the shop,” she said. “I need milk for my tea.”

He kept silent. He returned to the sink, and found a spoon, and took his bowl to the table. He sat down and concentrated on eating his cereal. It was dry and tasteless. It took all his saliva and a lot of energy to chew it, and swallow it down. But he was used to swallowing things that tasted bad.

“Don’t make me ask you again, boy,” she said, after a while.

He could hear her unwrapping a packet of cigarettes, but still he said nothing. He stared at the remaining cereal in the bowl, and chewed. He heard her lean back in her chair, heard the click of the lighter and heard the sharp intake of breath as she inhaled. He waited and was rewarded with a cloud of smoke blown into his face.

“Go and get the milk, love” she said, her voice suddenly gentle, kind even. “There’s a storm brewing, and I wouldn’t want you to get caught in it.” He flinched as he felt her hand stroke his cheek. “Hate you to catch your death,” she said.

He raised the spoon to his mouth, but it never reached it’s intended destination. He flinched again, as much at the sound of the spoon clattering against the cupboard door, as the feeling of his mothers hand as it clamped his own to the table.

He said nothing but raised his eyes to meet those of his mothers. He knew what was coming. It had happened before. Many times. This time he wanted to look her in the eye as she pushed the burning tip of the cigarette into the flesh on the back of his wrist. The pain wasn’t as bad as the first few times. But it hurt, all the same. She would bandage the wound later, and he would wear long sleeves. He always wore long sleeves.

She held his stare as steadily as she held the cigarette, as she gave it a final twist before releasing her grip. She left the cigarette, were it was and leaned back on her chair.

“You think you scare me, boy?” she said, reaching for another cigarette. “You think, I haven’t seen that look, before?” She toyed with the lighter, and waved the unlit cigarette at him. “Your father was an evil man, boy,” she said. “And it is my job to see that you don’t turn evil, too.” She lit the cigarette. “I will break you, boy, just like I broke him”.

He said nothing. He stood up. The crumpled cigarette fell to the floor. He picked it up and put it in his bowl. He fetched the spoon, and placed them, carefully, in the sink.

“Money’s in the top drawer, boy,” she said. “Better get some more cigarettes, whilst you’re at it, and a bottle of gin,” she smiled at him. “You’re a good boy,” she said.

The money was there, as she said it would be. He took it. He paused at the open drawer, staring at the thing which lay at the bottom.

The storm came then, as he knew it would. He had felt it building for a long time.

Later, when the rain came, he stood outside.

He lifted his face to the sky and wondered if ten-year-old boys could live by themselves. He stretched his arms wide and let the storm wash his mothers blood from his face, hands and clothes.

***

Written by Bruce Arbuckle (November 2012)

This story was entered into the Weekly Short Story Contest on http://www.writingforums.org/ (8th November 2012)

Theme: The Storm

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Good Start

“Three rows from the back,” he said, as he struggled to get his coat off. “Just like the first time.” His wife, on the seat next to him, offered nothing in return. He was, however, rewarded by a brief, but curious, stare from the young mother two rows in front, as she lifted her son onto her lap.

Remembering the bus journey of more than fifty years past, he smiled. February 14th 1958: Valentine’s Day, the day following their wedding, and the first day of their honeymoon.

His mother was unhappy with their wedding date. “Thirteenth,” she had sniffed, shaking her head, as he stood before her, two months earlier, delivering a reassuring squeeze to the hand of his bride to be, who squirmed uncomfortably under the weight of his mothers frown. “Unlucky date,” and then, with an uncommon display of optimism, “could be worse, I suppose. At least it’s not a Friday.”

The feelings of excitement and anticipation, of their first journey together as man and wife, had been viciously crushed on arrival. Humpbuckle-on-sea was an old fashioned place, even then. Grey and listless: even the sea crawled up the pebbled beach, reluctant, bored, until it could bear it no longer and ran back down the shore laughing and free.

Mrs B’s B&B was one of many drab sea-front guesthouses. From the outside it appeared merely neglected and uncared for, while internal inspection revealed years of systematic abuse. It smelt of boiled cabbage, damp towels and cheap aftershave. The latter – they discovered at breakfast the next morning – radiated from Mrs B’s twenty year old son, a pimply but likable youth, who flaunted a ready wit and an Elvis-style quiff, greased with oil liberated from the deep-fat fryer in Chippy’s Chip Shop on the pier, where he could be found serving up one-liners and fish suppers, every Friday and alternate Wednesdays.

Mrs B had greeted the newly-weds with a brisk nod of her head and a meagre smile. She resembled a particularly unhappy bulldog.  Their wedding certificate was examined with a suspicious eye, while she barked the rules of the house at them.

She led them up two flights of creaking stairs, only to abandon them in a ghastly twin room, decorated with a fading painting depicting the crucifixion of Christ, two moth-eaten bedspreads (chosen with an expert eye, so as to clash spectacularly with the peeling floral wallpaper), and a spider called Boris, who lived adjacent to the damp patch in the shadowy corner above the cracked sink. The plumbing hummed when the sink was in use, and thumped alarmingly whenever the toilet – a long, cold walk to the far end of the corridor – was flushed.

Lowering their suitcase onto the threadbare carpet, he joined his wife, where she sat on the bed nearest the window, and took her hand. When she turned to him, he looked deep into her eyes, and was surprised to see laughter, where he had expected to see tears.

The ability to find amusement in that which would make others cry characterised their relationship, setting the tone of the marriage. It was what he loved about her most.

The bus pulled in to the bus station, and he waited patiently for the few remaining passengers to get off; the young mother, her son asleep in her arms; a young girl, no more than eight, mobile phone clamped to her ear, gum chewed loudly; a serious looking young man, bag clutched to his chest. He watched them all file off the bus, before rising unsteadily, painfully, to his feet.

They returned to this seaside resort every year, grumbling whenever it threatened to succumb to the pressure of modernisation, although it never yielded. They would sit on the same bench at the end of the pier. They could still just make out their initials, carved on that initial trip and now worn by weather, time and the friction of other people’s buttocks. Sometimes they would throw chips to the gulls that swooped around them, shouting their insults into the wind. But mostly they would sit, and find humour in each other and the world around them.

A smile on his lips, he gently lifted the urn from the seat beside him. He nodded a thank you to the bus driver as he climbed down the steps. He let his tired feet take them both to the pier for their final journey together.

***

Written by Bruce Arbuckle (January 2010)

This story was entered into a short story competition on thenovellette.com in 2010

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.