We pushed through on the dawn, ragged banners tilting skyward as the sun’s dust punched holes in our eyes and set our clothes ablaze in gold. At that moment we could go no further, feet tangled in long grass taking root as our minds set out branches with fat, flat leaves to catch the light. Were we rescued now, as the heavy sky rolled without thunder and the last of the wind from the battlefield carried the last of the screams over the long horizon. We were haunted now only by the ghosts we brought with us; slumped on our shoulders, arms hooked around our ankles as they crawled to safety too. May we never find it – the last words of the dying, hissed out of empty lungs. Never safety, never peace. We watched the sun rise and there in the cold its warmth passed over us; the distant heat of violence, an unending explosion in the silence of space whispering to a stop on our skin. We sat, and peace flowed from us. We would turn to stone, our stations presenting a riddle to future generations passing by this spot. We would watch the sky and guard the Earth beneath.
They shuffled out of the gates and over to the edges of the frozen lake. One or two of them found the cold air too sharp even for their smoke-toughened lungs and would burst the air at intervals with fits of coughing. Other than that, a drumming quiet lay across the crowd.
Waiting rooms are always the worst, she thought. This one was at least nice. Nice. And clean. Tidy, airy, bright with big windows letting in the sunshine reflected from the cars that sat waiting for owners who will have changed. Small changes, changes that the lolloping, dozy cars would never notice. Some of the changes would be in the mind, anyway. Knowledge, certainty, fear.
Granddad always says he’s a scientist, an inventor, but really he’s just crazy. He’s never discovered anything, his inventions are all just broken wheels and elastic bands gathering dust in the shed and to be honest his “Scientific methods” leave a lot to be desired.
“…bones, for some reason!” and he laughed; hugely, uproariously. She sank into herself. Oh god, that laugh. So certain of its own hilarity, so arrogant, so obnoxious. A toxic cloud of self-amusment that drifted slowly out from him until it stifled the genuine fun from any given room. He should have a warning, a yellow triangular sticker slapped on his face. Caution. Fumes.
She fumed. He could feel her resentment, white hot burning a hole in the sofa they just about shared. The gulf between them made it feel like two separate pieces of furniture. He tried to lighten the mood with a joke that screeched down to Earth in flames. Why did she do this? Incinerate the joy around her? She should have a warning, a red circle. Danger! Naked flame!
Those two are so great together, though you wouldn’t know it to hear them talk. They have a real spark, true chemistry. The way she reacts to him… It’s like hate, but you can see she’s knocked out by him, and she makes him just explode. They should have a warning, a big sign. Keep out. Private.
Sometimes all anyone wanted was to hear the rasp of the projector, the glassy sheet of film purring coolly though the gate and painting its vivid light on the wall. Some days it was all that I could think about, the thought that the darkness could be lit this way, like magic. Like stars up close.
“Some friend you turned out to be,” she murmured as the cameras rolled. So many; did there have to be so many cameras? The din of the film spooling through them all was overwhelming. She couldn’t think; maybe that was the idea.
Oh isn’t this nice?” said Mole, tickling round the last nested table with a duster. “All clean for Spring.”
“It’s snowing,” observed Weasel. He sipped at his tea. “It’s been snow, hail, thunder, rain… Call this Spring?”
“Yes,” said Mole, firmly. “Spring is a season of surprises. Imagine a Spring that was just one type of weather all the way through! Heavens, we’d be bored of sunshine.” Mole thought about Summer, so bright it was impossible to look out of his molehill without heavy sunglasses.
“Well, I could get used to it,” Weasel picked up a biscuit. “I enjoy sunshine. Keeps my fur dry and sleek.” Mole sighed. Weasel would never agree with him, not once. He disagreed just to be disagreeable.
“Was there are reason for your visit, Weasel?” In irritation, Mole found a pile of teatowels that he started unfolding in order to refold. “Was it just to drink tea and discuss the weather?”
“I have business in this part of the wood,” Weasel’s drawling voice was setting Mole’s teeth on edge. “It may concern you, you know. It may interest you to know that…” A noise interrupted the conversation at this point. A huge thump shook dirt from the ceiling.
“I JUST CLEANED THAT!” screamed Mole.
“Ah,” said Weasel. “I think it may have begun. Surprise!”
Yes. He sat back and looked around at the house. Neat and tidy. Clean. Swept top to bottom and left to right. Nothing… he jumped, and peered at a lamp. No, not done.
He sprang from the chair and flew to the table on which there stood a small desk lamp. Clicking the power off, he reached in and unscrewed the bulb. Few years ago, he thought, I’d have burnt my fingers.
He held the bulb up to the window and turned it over. What was he lookiing for? Hard to tell these days, but he knew he woud know it when he saw it. He swiped at the bulb with a duster, then ran a finger round the socket. It came back dusty but otherwise there was nothing to see.
Can’t be too careful, he thought, screwing the bulb back in. Never know who’s listening and to what. Don’t give them a chance to hear, Still, a clean sweep for devices meant no-one was trying to listen to him. But… Wait.
“He find the device?” asked the man in the truck parked just around the corner.
“Nothing,” his female partner looked pleased with herself.
“Dammit, he’s got to find SOMETHING, he’s expecting us to be watching everyone. He’s a mole, he’s going to be EXTRA paranoid,” He thought about it. “With reason. No dummy?”
“There’s a dummy! He just hasn’t found it. I think,” she added quietly. “He’s not as good at cleaning up after himself as he thinks.”
I’d never intended to become a butcher. Frankly, the smell of raw meat repulsed me. I was a delicate child, and the thought of handling animal carcasses all day filled me with a kind of visceral horror. But the inertia of reality prevailed and when the time came I inherited my father’s spotless white apron, and the name “Webber and Sons” ceased to have real meaning.