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Earth Spinning

Stories

Mr. D'Arcy's Breeches
 
                      By Roy Bateman
 
Having partaken of a light breakfast - three groaning platters of assorted cold meats and a dozen quails' eggs washed down with an unusually modest two bottles of claret - Emma Wellbeloved took her leave of Grunge, the crusty old butler, and swept gracefully off through the draughty corridors of Soddem Hall to seek her house guest, the elusive Mr D'Arcy. At times, he was an uncommonly difficult fellow to locate.

Her Uncle Silas, the Master of Soddem, had been retrieved with some difficulty from the grand fireplace where he had snored away the night (having lost yet another drinking contest to the rector) and was currently being revived in his study with refreshing draughts of brandy. He responded to Emma's dainty curtsy with a feeble wave and an agonised groan.

But D'Arcy...where could the fellow be? Emma had already scoured the immaculate lawns, but only those outside labourers whose task it was to trim the croquet lawn with their teeth were visible, setting about their onerous task with forced grins. He might, of course, be in the stables, attending to the needs of his prize mare - but it seemed rather early in the morning for that sort of strenuous behaviour.

But of course! She'd frequently seen the object of her desire sneaking off in the direction of Uncle Silas's magnificent library. He was a scholar and an Oxford man, after all, and it seemed logical to seek him there.

*****

"Mr D'Arcy, pray tell me, what is that book you examine with such uncommon interest?"

"This?" D'Arcy laughed in an unconvincingly hollow tone, slamming it shut and parking his elegant breeches upon the vellum covers. The richly-illustrated volume had indeed held him rapt, to the extent that he'd been oblivious to the delightful Emma's entrance. "Why, it is a trifle. Nothing...nothing but a charming travel book. Stories of the Ottoman Empire. Your uncle recommended it to me, as a man who seeks to broaden his mind."

"And has it, pray?"

"Ahem," D'Arcy coughed. "It has indeed." D'Arcy retrieved the book from its place of safety and attempted to cross the library, clutching the object of Emma's undisguised interest tightly under his arm. Despite her hooped skirt and the constrictions of her delicately-stitched undergarments, however, Emma was surprisingly light on her feet. Before D'Arcy could gain the safety of the library ladder, she had blocked his route. Standing before him with an innocent smile, she extended her hand politely.

"May I see?"

"Miss Wellbeloved, I would hesitate to bother you with such a frivolous volume!" D'Arcy laughed. "I would have thought that your interest lay in books of a Christian and improving nature. "

"If you please. It is certainly an unfamiliar book to me."

"Th...that is because it is normally kept upon the top shelf, I understand," D'Arcy stammered, blushing slightly. If you must...."

"Thank you." Emma carried the heavy volume back to the table in triumph. "And, sir, I pray you make an appointment with your tailor as a matter of urgency. Methinks those breeches are somewhat...er, tight upon your person. At the front, particularly."

"Perhaps, Miss Wellbeloved," D'Arcy muttered, covering his embarrassment with a handy copy of the "County Gazette." In his opinion - and his own was the opinion that he valued above all others - it was damned bad form for a young lady such as Emma to draw attention to such a personal matter. Why, if a chap couldn't deal with Cupid's swelling in the time-honoured fashion, what could he do? He could hardly dash off and enlist the services of one of the upstairs maids now, could he?

"Why!" Emma murmured, ignoring his plight and opening the heavy gold-embossed cover with some difficulty. "This is indeed an exotic volume. Now I understand why my beloved Uncle Silas is so proud of his...." Emma coughed demurely. "His travel books."

"I believe that his library is indeed famous throughout the shire," D'Arcy observed. "I recall my father talking about it with great affection, but it was only upon coming down from Oxford that I was myself invited to examine its treasures."

"Pish, sir!" Emma exclaimed. "I do believe that your being a member of the male, and therefore naturally superior, sex, has brought you privileges beyond my own sweet and girlish expectations."

"Why, Miss Wellbeloved, you speak damned plain for a girl, I'll grant you that!"

"Indeed, Mr D'Arcy, my years at Miss Spanker's Academy for the Daughters of Gentlefolk were not wasted. Have you perused many of my uncle's travel books?"

"A few," D'Arcy admitted, crossing to the east window. "That chap Grimble, he'll have to be slung out of his cottage. He's not up to this lawn-cutting job, you know, not since he lost all his teeth. Gums just don't produce the same finish, somehow."

"That seems fair," Emma admitted with a shrug. "My uncle only retained him as a kindness...it is almost a twelvemonth since the magistrates ordered his teeth to be kicked out. And, in truth, passing water on the Sabbath is indeed a grave offence."

"I agree. And in the font of St Peregrine's, too...the silly fellow might have had the manners to wait until the christening had finished."

"That's the labouring classes for you. In the circumstances, his punishment was quite lenient."

"In my father's time, it was a transportation matter," D'Arcy added, chuckling. "He'd often tell me of trips to Salisbury Assizes, just to laugh at the poor wretches swooning when the bench sentenced 'em to The Colonies. But he had a rare sense of humour, my father. These younger judges are far too soft, if you want my opinion."

"These travel books...." Emma reminded him. "They feature the curious habits of untamed, primitive peoples, do they not?"

"Indeed they do. In warmer climes, it is quite astonishing how little apparel is worn. Why, beyond the Niger...oh, I did not mean to upset your delicate sensibilities, Miss Wellbeloved."

"I am quite unflappable, I assure you. But it is fortunate, is it not, that the tropic sun does not blaze over our own temperate Wiltshire? I would think it quite improper for English ladies to disport themselves in so wanton a manner. Decent young men like your good self would be constantly employed in averting their gaze."

"Indeed," D'Arcy mumbled. "Indeed...." His eyes glazed over at the thought, and he found himself hastily reaching for the "County Gazette" once more. "But most of your uncle's collection comes from closer to home. From Paris, for instance."

"Oh, they are fashion plates? Paris is quite famous for its modes."

"Fashion plates, yes. Er, of a sort."

"But they show young ladies posing in various garments?"

"In a sense...."

"Now," Emma said, casting her eyes downward once more. "I would not expect to find anything untoward in here, surely? I understand that, unlike the Hottentots, the ladies in Muslim lands affect great modesty in their clothing?"

"Indeed they do," D'Arcy agreed, hoping against hope that Emma's notoriously short attention span would cause her to lose interest before she came across anything too revealing.

"Good heavens!" Emma exclaimed, her eyes widening noticeably. "One could hardly say that these particular ladies are showing any modesty at all."

"Th...then they cannot be ladies!" D'Arcy spluttered.

"They certainly cannot be gentlemen, Mr D'Arcy," Emma murmured. "Unless Miss Spanker's much-appreciated lessons on human anatomy were gravely inaccurate."

"Your education was certainly a modern one," D'Arcy coughed. "But, pray, do not tire yourself reading further. I could summarise the text, should you so choose...."

"I am perfectly capable," Emma rebuked him sharply. "This chapter - 'The Sultan's Favourites' - looks perfectly fascinating." D'Arcy pretended to take a scholarly interest in Dyson's "Ancient Churches of Wiltshire" as Emma turned her book sideways to examine the carefully-tinted lithographic illustration more closely. For a while the library remained deathly silent, until D'Arcy finally pleaded:

"I beg you, Miss Wellbeloved, Emma, to desist from looking any further. Such shameless displays of human depravity might cause you to faint clean away."

"Why, sir! How on earth would you know about such things! This, for instance...." The supposedly innocent Emma stabbed an accusatory forefinger at the full-page illustration, a tangled heap of writhing nakedness, and D'Arcy looked away in embarrassment.

"I would know nothing of such matters!" he blustered. "It is unfit material for any Christian gentleman to possess, and I shall take the matter up with your uncle at the earliest opportunity."

"I am not sure about unfit, Mr D'Arcy," Emma shrugged. "Though it is, I admit, a little ambitious. If this young lady relaxes her grip upon that er...protuberance and falls, she will surely cause severe and permanent damage to the vital extremities of the young man directly beneath her."

"Why, yes," D'Arcy whispered, coming closer to examine the picture and raising his eyebrows. "I believe you are quite correct. I would not, personally, have believed that particular combination of figures to be humanly possible."

"Oh, it's possible," Emma informed him. "Though it is dreadful hard upon the elbows after a while."

"Miss Wellbeloved!" D'Arcy exclaimed, sinking to his knees and taking her delicate hand in his. "I do believe that I see you in a wholly new light this morning! Would you do me the honour...."

"Not until we are married, sir! Then, you can buy me a suitable set of elbow protectors."

"Of course, the very finest. Why, I am the happiest man in Wiltshire!" D'Arcy shouted. "But first, of course, I must beg your uncle's permission. As you are his sole heiress, he may not look kindly upon the suit of a mere baronet."

"Fie, sir!" Emma fluttered. "He will do as I say, as always. I regret, Mr D'Arcy, that I may have uttered an untruth earlier. In fact, I have been secretly perusing this library since I was ten, including the somewhat inflammatory material on the top shelf, and the threat of depositing a full inventory of my uncle's 'exotic' literature with the editor of the 'County Gazette', a strict methodist and complete abstainer, works wondrous well as a persuader."

"What a clever filly you are!" D'Arcy exclaimed, clearly impressed. "And what a useful thing the Gazette is."

"Indeed, sir!" Emma chuckled, averting her gaze from D'Arcy's over-tight breeches and glancing downwards modestly. "It covers all sorts of embarrassment."
 
(Read more of this author's work at www.ukauthors.com)

Tim and Sue

 

                                By Drew Gummerson

 

    Tim and Sue have invited me to dinner and I am standing in front of the mirror deciding what to wear. The mirror is not much help as it is small and situated at head height. I blame Sue. Not for the mirror. But for other things.

    I met Tim when I was seven. He was sitting at the back of the class, I was sitting at the front. One day the teacher asked me to go and pin a big sun on the Robinson Crusoe diorama we were making and the rest is history.

    Tim and I did a number of things together. We had made-up kung-fu fights, we talked about Fame, we swapped Figurine Panini stickers, we did our O levels, A Levels, university. Then after a riotous weekend in Blackpool Tim went away to find himself. Only he didn't find himself, he found Sue. Sue was being sponsored by an offshoot of Medicine sans Frontieres to work on hygiene issues with a Vietnamese butcher from Ho Chi-minh City. She thought it was all rather ‘Ra’. Sue had been to public school and her mother was something big in the UN.

    I was supposed to be best man at the wedding but at the last moment for reasons I have never fully understood I was replaced. Tim was decent about it and in his own words, upgraded my accommodation quite a number of stars. I wasn't that bothered; about the best man thing I mean. It wasn't really me. And besides, I got to pee in the sink and empty the minibar of a top-class hotel.

    All this was a few years ago now but Tim and I still keep in touch. Tim and Sue live in a big house with a double-garage and gnomes and I live in this leaky flat above a Chinese takeaway. It is swings and roundabouts. Not everybody's happiness comes in the same kind of package.

    Sometimes Tim and Sue invite me over to dinner, like tonight, and I worry about what to wear. My clothes don't seem to fit into their house. Maybe it is more than that. I don't know.

 

*

 

I knock on the door and it is Tim who answers it.

    “Hello,” he says.

    “Hello,” I say and I hold up the wine.

    “Lovely,” he says and takes the bottle from me.

    “Where's Sue?” I say.

    “Come on in,” he says and I know something is up.

    Tim takes me through to the living-room and tells me to sit down. I do and Tim goes out of the door that leads to the kitchen. I realise I haven't taken my shoes off. From experience I know this will make Sue mad so I go back out into the hallway. I put my shoes on the wooden shoe-rack that Sue bought from a reconstituted wood store in Denmark and I go back into the living-room. Tim is standing in the middle of the floor with two glasses in his hands and he is staring out of the window.

    “Who else is coming tonight?” I say.

    “What?” says Tim.

    “For dinner?”

    “Oh,” says Tim. “It's just us tonight.” And then he passes me my wine. I take it and knock it back in one, a bad habit I have developed. I want to ask Tim if by ‘just us’ he means just me and him or just me and him and Sue. I feel however, that this wouldn't be appropriate and so instead I excuse myself and go into the kitchen and refill my glass. When I come back Sue is there.

    “Hello Sue,” I say, “you are here then?”

    Sue looks at Tim and then she looks back at me. “Where would I be?”

    “Tim was telling me that you're taking origami classes at night-school,” I say. “He says you fold paper beautifully.”

    This is supposed to be a joke but nobody laughs.

    “It's play therapy,” says Sue and then she says, “Wasn't somebody getting me a drink?”

    I wonder for a second if it was me and I look guiltily down at my newly full glass of wine but then Tim quickly exits the room. Now it is just me and Sue. Sue looks out of the window and I look out too. I see that they have had their hedge cut into the shape of various kinds of animals.

    “We had them done for a barbecue,” says Sue. “I'm not sure if it was a success.”

    I don't know if she is referring to the hedges or the barbecue. I often find that I am caught between two stools in my dealings with Sue.

    “It's just us tonight then?” I say.

    “Yes,” says Sue. “The three of us.”

    “I can't remember the last time the three of us were together.”

    “I can,” says Sue and then Tim is coming back and he is passing the glass of wine to Sue and another one to me so I now have two. One in each hand.

    “Hey up!” I say. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”

    I see Sue look at Tim. Tim says, “Are you hungry?”

    “Starving.”

    “Tim has some news to tell you,” says Sue.

    “What?” I say. “What news?”

    “We're having pizza,” says Tim quickly. And then he looks at Sue. “Aren't we Sue?”

    Sue takes a drink of her wine. She drinks nearly all of it and the passes the glass to Tim. “Could you refresh this one for me please darling?”

    “Pizza,” I say. “What's the special occasion?”

    “I’ll be back in a minute,” says Tim taking Sue's glass. “Don’t do anything I wouldn't do.”

    And then he is gone and it is just me and Sue again.

    “So what's this news?” I say.

    “Oh,” says Sue and she does something with her eyes. “Tim is going to tell you himself. I'm on my best behaviour tonight. I've promised Tim.”

    “So Tim’s on a promise, is he?” I say. It is another joke but again Sue doesn't laugh and I am pleased to see Tim coming back. This time he has a tray and on it are three glasses. Three glasses. Three of us. I already have two.

    “Are we all getting pissed?”

    “I don't like the word pissed,” says Sue.

    “We used to get pissed all the time,” says Tim. “Come on Sue, you promised.”

    “I do know how to have fun,” says Sue. “Remember that time in Norwich?”

    “Pinky had to go to hospital,” says Tim.

    “What happened?” I say.

    “Pinky talks about it all the time,” says Sue. “She says it was fun.”

    The doorbell sounds.

    “That'll be the pizza,” says Tim.

    “I’ll get it,” says Sue.

    And then she is gone and Tim is coming over with the tray. I have a glass in each hand and I wonder if Tim expects me to put one of them on the tray or to take another one off.

    “What's going on, Tim?” I say. “What is this news?”

    Tim shakes his head. “Did you see the England match? Owen was great wasn't he?” He mimes kicking a ball and some of the wine slops out of the glasses onto the tray he is holding.

    “Is everything ok between you and Sue?”

    “Fine,” says Tim. “Fine.”

    “This pizza comes in boxes,” says Sue, coming back into the room. “Are you sure its right?”

    I try and suppress a laugh and then Tim is talking. “Oh come on Sue, you did know pizzas came in boxes.”

    “I'm not totally, you know,” says Sue. “But I thought you were calling caterers.”

    “It's just us three,” says Tim. “I told you about this evening. Just like old times.”

    “Yes,” says Sue, “the three of us.”

    “Just like old times.”

    “Shall I serve or will you?” says Tim.

    “I’ll do it,” says Sue and she goes out of the door carrying the three boxes.

    “She is alright, isn't she?” I say.

    “Yes Sue's fine,” says Tim. “It's just that…”

    “What?” I say. “Tim, what is this news?”

    “It’s nothing,” says Tim.

    “That’s not the impression I get from Sue.”

    “Well,” says Tim, “you know Sue, don't you?”

    “I've put it on plates,” says Sue, coming back into the room. “We did want it on plates, didn't we?”

    “You look like a waitress Sue,” says Tim.

    Sue has one plate in one hand, one in the other, and one plate nestled somewhere between her right elbow and her hip.

    “Oh don't,” she says, “wait till I tell the girls about this.”

    “That'll be funny,” says Tim.

    “Yes,” says Sue. She looks around the room. “Pizza margarita for table number twelve. Any sauce with that sir? Any sauce?”

    “Oh Sue,” says Tim.

    “Any sauce,” says Sue. She calls loudly to the side of the room and moves her hips so one hip is higher than the other. “We've got sauce in the kitchen table number twelve. Coming right up.”

    “Coming right up,” says Tim. Tim puts his glass of wine down on the table and starts to laugh. “Oh Sue don't.”

    “Coming right up for table number twelve,” says Sue. “Hold you horses.”

    “Hold your horses, honestly, I don't know where you get it.”

    “The waitress is in,” says Sue.

    She is walking around the room now. She stops by an armchair and bends over it.

    “What's that sir, you want more sauce too?” Sue straightens and twists her head around and calls towards the kitchen. “Hey kitchen, we've got a run on the sauce. I tell you what, just bring the whole goddam bottle out.”

    “Sue,” says Tim. “Sue.”

    Now they are both laughing. Tim is looking at Sue and Sue is looking at Tim and they are both laughing. And it is as they are both laughing that Sue says it.

    She stops looking at Tim and she turns and looks at me.

    “I found the pictures of you and Tim.”

    “What?” I say. I pause the wine glass halfway to my mouth.   

    “But it's all going to be ok,” says Sue. “Daddy has offered Tim this fabulous new job. It's in Bangalore. It's all going to be ok? I can do that too, you know? I can.”

    “Tim?” I say.

    “I…” says Tim.

    “Pizza's up!” says Sue. “Pizza's up!” It is almost a shout.

    “Sue,” says Tim, he takes a step towards Sue and holds out his arms. “You know I love you. You promised. I was twenty-one for Christ's sake.”

    “I can do that!” shouts Sue. “I can be out there!”

    “Tim?” I say.

    Tim sits down on the sofa and puts his head in his hands. “It's Blackpool,” he says.

    “Blackpool?” I say.

    “He was sitting on your face,” says Sue. She starts to cry and her arms go limp and the pizza slides down onto the floor. “He's never… I've never…”

    “I was twenty-one,” says Tim.

    “Is that what you want?” says Sue. “Is that what you want? What would your mother say? What would your mother say?”

    The final question, I realise too late, is directed at me. I look around the large living-room with its expensive furniture and I wonder what it is that I should say next. That night in Blackpool was just a one off. I don't know why my mother has been brought into it. But then, I have never understood properly how the middle-classes operate. Along with a lot of things, it has always been a mystery to me.

(Read more of this author's work at:  Drew Gummerson)

ONCE THROUGH A LONELY VALLEY

                     BY M.A.MEDDINGS


The vicarage was a more substantial dwelling than my limited knowledge of the area would allow. I freely avow; I had previously considered those regions amongst the least advantaged of the See; the people susceptible to suggestion, at odds with the faith. That my theories proved correct, is due; in no small measure, to my providential appointment, in the year of our lord 1826, to the rectorship of Burbage, in the county of Wiltshire.
Yet, truth to say, when I came in the first instant, to give just account before Diocesan assembly, I confess my initial misgivings, somewhat allayed, by the apparent opulence with which the previous occupant, a Dr Josiah Dunford, had conducted his affairs.
By all account, evidenced by the dire apathy displayed towards church affairs by the lay community, it seemed some of the Doctors energy; that reserved for his own comfort, was more profitably expended on his 'flock'.
That he felt unable to do so, was I believe, due to the abject remoteness of the outlying communities. I was never further from the truth.
In the normal way, Dr Dunford would have held service in such scattered districts, at least three times a year. Subsequent religious worship was then arranged under the authority of locally appointed laity. Dunfords duties at that juncture then included, in common with those clergy, whose parishes were of a like nature, a visit to the village communities at such intervals, that balanced spiritual guidance might ensue.
In truth, his ministry stretched far beyond the bounds of regular contact. The few roads across the high downs, were little more than rough tracks, barely passable and always the haunts of footpads and thieves.
It was with a deal of belated understanding; if not indulgence therefore, that I accepted my appointment to administer the faith with more vigour than he. In so doing, I was safe in the knowledge that; if taking the scriptures to a wild and desolate land tested me, at least a warm bed awaited my return home.
I took up my post at the end of Lammas of the year, and set immediately to the task; a long and arduous one; of wresting those fallen on barren ground, back to more verdant pasture. In doing so, I unwittingly stepped beyond the edge, into the path of a black malignant evil.
To his everlasting credit, the good doctor had produced during the early part of his ministry, extensive chronicles of his work. Included amongst these, was an anthology describing in, closest detail, the character and social structure of each community within the bounds of his parish.
With a presence of mind that belied a latter-day indifference, he had produced a 'tract' of invaluable worth to one such as I, who being a stranger to those regions, might find difficulty gaining the trust; of what were essentially, an insular; if not infidelic people.
Where the anthology gave life to those points on the map that were village hamlets, nestling 'neath the brooding mass of the downs, its companion volume, a methodical log, written daily, gave truthful account of my predecessors difficile 'regime' as guardian of the faith.
Naturally, since I was at pains to effect an improvement in the relationship between church and community, wantonly neglected these years past, I spent long periods during the first weeks of my ministry, embroiled in what Dunford had written.
Burning copious amounts of oil in my lamp, until the early hours; night after night;
I gradually uncovered evidence of a dreadful; tormented drift into 'Erubus'.
There, clearly elucidated within the 'journals', for those who would see, was a catalogue of the man's wretched disenchantment with the Christian faith
An entry for 19th of January 1825, evidence enough.
'Oh why has god forsaken these lambs, is there nothing he will do to help me endure my ordeal? This is not what my faith was for, nor that of Judith Cowper.'
It was not always thus.
An entry made on 17th of May 1822, at the very beginning of his work, read.
'My parish, spread as it would seem, to the very edge of the world, is amongst some of the most beautiful countryside in this realm. The people, if a trice simple, seem welcoming to strangers, and if not as familiar as I would hope with the teaching of the lord, will I am sure, uphold the gospel as rigorously as any, once I arrange regular community gatherings.
On Sunday, the church was packed to bursting at both services, though I fancy Evensong slightly less popular. Still, I am optimistic that just reward will come from good ministry. Next Sunday I am due to hold Matins at Shanbourne, a brisk canter to the East and I vouchsafe, those inhabitants met when last I called, will have spread the word. I look forward therefore to a healthy administration'.
Not until I was some two thirds of the way through Dunford's journal, on a black; wind swept night at the end of October, did I begin to detect an 'offensive' turn to the 'quill'.
No longer were the daily entries, those vibrant; descriptive passages that graced the beginning of the diaries, when, embarked on a new 'quest', Dr Dunford exhibited all the characteristics the church needed in such as he.
Now his words, written with a hesitancy, foretold his disenchantment, as if he willed the reader detect in his script, an abhorrent; understated inhumanity. Clearly, he had experienced during his travels, a depravity so base as to lose all regards for those people it had been his mission to help.
In the beginning his words were those of a youthful priest, energetic in his drive to sustain the faith, now they were the words of the disavowed.
'I have come upon a community in this pleasant domain, without salvation'.
Thus read the entry for 20th of November 1823:
Another, weeks later on the 15th of December, was even more desperate.
'The beast is amongst them! His evil greed not sated by Judith Cowper, he has claimed another, and I fear I am of no avail'.
It ended abruptly, with a faintly scribbled sketch of a demon. There in the margin of his diary, alongside a testament to the heavenly peace of Judith Cowper, Dunford had drawn the unearthly features of the mythical fiend, unmistakably executed in great distress.
Sorely troubled, I passed on through, page after page of the half demented ravings of a broken man. A man who had lost his faith.
I had almost finished my work for the night and was preparing to retire, when I became suddenly aware, from a slight; barely discernible creaking of the boards out side my study. My endeavour interested others.
Since I was alone in the house, except for Mrs Longine the housekeeper, It did not surprise me; upon investigation, to find the good lady compromised, by my swift action.
'You will I am sure Mrs Longine, have just reason why I find you abroad at such a late hour, and in a situation that begs explanation'.
With hand on arm, I restrained her sufficiently for embarrassment to subside.
'That I have sir, but you'd best, leave well alone. Enough tragedy, that Dr Dunford has gone, let alone me likely to lose another master'.
She continued as I ushered her back into the study and offered her a chair before my desk.
'I do wish you hadn't found those wretched books of his. They brought nothing but trouble since he went on his travels. All right he was the good Doctor. Thought he could change things. That's what killed him in the end. I told him when I knew what he was about, that it's no good planning salvation for those who don't want it. Best left to their own devices, that's what I always say.
Doctor Dunford though sir, He was a stubborn if kindly man. Saw honesty in what I regard as 'scallywags'. He wouldn't rest until he'd visited all the villages with his 'holy message'. At least for the most part, he returned at evening, a man at peace with himself.
It wasn't until he crossed the 'ridge' that he started to return at night, ill at ease. He would sit for hour's sir, locked in his study night after night, writing and, though I am loath to speak ill of him sir, I think, drinking a great deal. I could here him from where I sleep at the top of the house, bemoaning and torturing himself about some imaginary failure on his part, raving about the beast he hadn't dare believe in.
'I've failed these lambs Mrs Longine. I am the 'good shepherd', lamentably wanton to the task', he would say, and no amount of encouragement on my part could console him.
He was a man broken by hard work, but I confess surprise at how quickly he went into decline. Beset by a malady; an illness, that had taken hold and was rapidly draining him,
I declare I've seen no fever like it.
Never was the same man sir, after he came back from the Netheridge valley'.
I had let her continue far too long. The hour was late; much later than she'd been used to and I suggested we both retire, whilst there was darkness enough to make sleep worthwhile.
At my study door she half turned as if to say something, thought better of it, and was about to go, when I restrained her again.
'Oh! Mrs Longine', I said as casually as I could, 'pray before you go, answer me but one question, who was Judith Cowper'? She paused for a second; clutched at her throat; let out an anguished; choking cry and before I could comfort her distress, with all the 'hustle and bustle' so common in her calling, disappeared, through candle lit corridors to the dark side of the house.
On the morrow I summoned Mrs Longine, immediately breakfast concluded, with strict instruction to fill my saddle packs with food enough to sustain a man in earnest, for a full two days ride. She dutifully obliged without comment and me, for my part, thought the better of questioning her again on the matter of Judith Cowper.
I was; I informed her; bound for the land, beyond the high ridgeway; South of the gibbet; to the very limits of the parish. To the Netheridge valley, where I knew Josiah Dunford had uncovered an unsavoury darkness.
Safe in the assurance of 'god speed', I girded my stallion; as fine a mount that one could find and took the 'high ground' by mid day. Then, tracking Southwest across the 'drover's trail'; through dark beechhanger woodland; I came down before the fall of evening, as did 'Pilgrim', into the 'Valley of the shadow'.
Yet long before I saw Facconde, a tiny hamlet clinging to the sides of the steep sided downland; I could hear the sound of community life. It was not the heady bustling sound that hangs on the air; aftermath of joyous street fairs, but a much more horripilant sound. The hollow sound of wood against wood, mallet on oak. It, the dread sound of the coffin maker, kept active these month's past.
It was something I think, a little on Five of the clock when steadily pushing on, I came upon the centre of worship, a late Saxon church; set apart from the village; on a plateau of high ground, sloping up from the river.
A track, barely a cart's girth wide, 'straggled' unevenly through the marsh, from village to church, which stood bereft of all dignity; testament in its dilapidation, to the abject diffidence of which I speak.
Beyond the church, a cemetery, neglected these ten years since, of Christian burial, forbore what truth my predecessor had seen. The people of this community were without the lord.
Thus in the watery glare of a late Autumn sun, I stepped forth amongst the abandoned tombs of that forgotten graveyard, scanning each for the name I sought. Judith Cowper. Daughter of that parish; whose name; often repeated in the demented scrawlings of Josiah Dunford, held a significance without equal.
Eventually, chance brought its own reward. There, nearest the lych gate than any, a grave lay undisturbed; except for the intertwining of brier and vine, with the inscription.

JUDITH COWPER
CHILD OF THE FAITH
Died 7th March 1824
At rest with the Lord.
Incubo Mortis.

I stepped back in horror. Indeed the 'beast' was amongst them.

As I kneeled head bowed under protection of the crucifix, a sound arrested my attention. From beyond the bounds of the cemetery, across the marsh; in the half light of evening, I caught the dark outline of a cloaked figure driving a rude wooden cart. Before it drew nigh, I saw my original assessment was wrong.
It seemed there were two figures set side by side, on the driving seat. One a child; of half a score year no more, the other a man, at least three score and ten, dressed in dark attire, had the bearing of one no stranger to sorrow.
As they approached, I thought best for no just reason; other than subterfuge, of announcing my presence, seeking instead the secret determination of what matter sent them abroad on this twilight.
The cart drew to a halt under a large Durmast oak. Its leaves, the winds of Equinox had taken some weeks hence, leaving its branches a black tangled outline against the deepening gloom. The occupants of the cart were quickly to their task, bearing with great effort, a previously unnoticed passenger, who cared the less; cradled in the bosom of raw oak.
Vainly struggling, the old man and boy, ultimately achieved what they intended; the rough sarcophagus balanced precariously on a hastily constructed planken bier. Then the strange group, went on up a small incline leading to the top end of the churchyard, to the spot where a row of unkempt graves marked the edge of 'Golgotha'.
For my faith, I had scarcely noticed the tombs before. Even in my desperate search for the interred Judith Cowper I erred, for surely then; I must have passed them; three times' times or more. Yet, even still, I found my attention doubly lacking; for there; set between two of the graves, was a pit freshly dug. Into this, the elder of the two pall bearers descended.
Presently he emerged, bearing a rope; a pole and a lantern, which illuminated the sepulchre in an eerie yellow light.
Under the shroud of that dismal aureole, the strange figures; man and boy; bore down upon the casket and lifted it grudgingly towards the edge of the grave, where, using rope and hook, they lowered the grim box to its final rest within the tomb.
I could desist no longer. For what was my cloth; if not to comfort those in need. Clearly there were two mortals in need, if not of spiritual guidance, at least of devotional muscles. I had of late ignored the tilling of soil, but was confident my condition would render strong help in the task of filling the grave with god's earth.
Hence, I announced my presence; as gentle expedience allowed.
'The lord is with you good sir in your task, but for sure you might use some pastoral aid'.
My annunciation proved less gentle than I intended, for both incumbents dropped the instruments they wielded and took flight, leaving to my mercy; the sibylic hearse and draft horse. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways, for my burden had increased without just intent. I now faced the prospect of administration to one departed this world, but alas the arduous task of physical internment of the corpse unaided.
In flight, what implements of excavation there were, the two bearers had involuntarily thrown into the pit, alongside the cadaver. It therefore became my ghastly task to descend the grave to retrieve the same; a duty not without trepidation, even for a man of the cloth. I declare, I was more than relieved to be clear of the abyss and about the business for which my ordination served me.
Under the light of lantern candle, I thus began holy scripture to the one departed. As I approached the end of the sacrament, a sound from within the grave arrested my deliberations and I paused; the better to hear. Yes! I was not mistaken! There it was again. A faint scratching noise, accompanied by an undeniable tap! tap! A doleful knocking upon the lid of the coffin.
'In the name of Jesus, it cannot be so', I thought, 'surely a figment of the imagination; the lateness of the hour maybe'. Knock; knock; the dull solemn thud, echoed up from the bowels of the earth. Not mistaken, the sound came from within the very coffin itself.
Dread realisation caused me belatedly to scramble to release the wretched soul of one, almost buried whilst still living.
The lid of the coffin, more stubborn than most, did not easily set aside. Yet; with bar and crow, in the confines of the burial chasm, I gradually lifted the oaken cover clear of the corpse.
There was a movement within the casket; but under the dim light of my lantern, I sensed it came not from the body itself. I turned to lift the guttered candle, so that I might better illuminate the precinct and became aware of a clamorous scratching. Something small was climbing out of the pit into the night.
The corpse was quite beyond all earthly ministry; resurrection was futile, yet, it seemed not minutes before, life within the casket, had not waned. I was lacking in haste perhaps, to effect renaissance. Yet, I think not. Just now! Something did surely; clamber from within the coffin.
All inquiry satisfied.
The scratching I heard perhaps, nought but a pitiful rat, come latterly, before the coffin, finally sealed, to feed upon the last of life's sustinence. Despicable beasts all, and one, who received just reward; premature entombment but for the ministry of a man of god. On opening the catafalque, I had unwittingly released the creature to its meagre existence.
I could not in all conscience, reseal the coffin without establishing, what outrage the loathsome beast had served, and lifted the lantern to close examination. Contrary to my vain expectation, there appeared scant damage to the body, except for a group of deep scratches; claw like incursions into the hard flesh of the shoulders. I found them difficult to explain, but conjectured them, surely not the result of hard labour by the deceased. A woman of high birth, some two score years and ten at least, she was one; in evidence of the gentile hands, hardly used to yeoman labour.
She was deserving I think; of scant disturbance and due respectful ministry err occlusion of the coffin lid, whence I made to achieve the same.
A glistening from the base of the casket, close to the side of the corpse's neck, caused me desist awhile longer and I reached into the coffin. Whereby, I extricated a number of shining disk like scales, not dissimilar to those discarded by certain species of fish. I placed them between the covers of my prayer book, that I might, at a later juncture, investigate their origin through more learned company.
Satisfied that god's ministry was finite, I began laboriously filling the grave with the heavy soil, and, invigoured by the desperate hour, sought swift conclusion to my endeavour, whence I took charge of the stray horse. Then, along with my own steed, ushered it into harness before the abandoned hearse.
Since the night had descended beyond that of safe travel, I resolved to take my charge across the marsh from whence it came, in disdainful hope that I might find sustenance for the night in the hamlet Facconde, object of my original destiny.
The village proved no less dilapidate than the church. Within the confines of one thoroughfare, lay all the habitation Facconde boasted.. A dozen or so, dimly lit; wattle and daub hovels, provided accurate accompaniment to a more substantial rotund structure. This, built of brick, might have served as a pound. The only other building of consequence, was a less than compact; rambling type of building, designated the 'Jack - o - lantern inn', as baneful a corruption of the title I had thus far seen.
Clearly the 'hostelry'; I am loath to deem it such; was the centre of village life, if that term suffices, for I noted from within, a deal of boisterous; drunken; conversation. Hardly inviting I save, but to the weary traveller, in need of food and shelter, as advantageous as any in those parts.
The Landlord, a cumbersome brute;of a truculent nature, found difficult to suppress, even before my gentle pleasure of domicile that night, appointed my needs to a woman of the house whom I took for his wife. Hesitant in the least to oblige; she finally relented, and at her behest; I ultimately found room and lodging as dictate demanded.
Taking charge of my needs, she led me up a flight of stairs to an upper floor. There, oak panelled corridors ran full breadth on either side; from stair head to gable end. At that point, they turned sharply and ran along the sides of the hostelry, above a group of stables. These, fully enclosed a broad hostelier's yard, at the rear of the inn.
On either side of the corridors; set back into the oak panels; a series of doors gave access; to the individual apartments of let. So it proved, for eventually, the woman, ushered me into one such room and left me to my own device, except that, upon 'inquisition', the hostelier's spouse volunteered the information I sought.
By account, it seemed my untimely acquisition of the horse and cart had preceded me. The good woman imparted such advice, that I understood clearly. They were the property of Mathew Wild, one time journeyman under service of the local estate, employed these years past, in those joinery skills, germane to the grisly task of entombment.
'And from whom doth permission derive, if restoration of these chattels to their lawful owner, is achieved. Pray madam, who is the master of the same estate'? Said I.
After a moment's hesitation, during which, I sensed a definite reticence to divulge the information I sought, the good lady spoke.
'Why sir, that place belongs to none other than Jonathan Cowper, and his father before 'im, and his before that. There were Cowpers in that place, from time immemorial. No good it's done 'em neither, for all that. Sorry state of affairs they've seen these years, no mistake'.
'The family I trust, from whence Judith Cowper was true born, am I correct'?
'So you are sir, though many tongues be silent on that matter, fear of mortal retribution. There, I've already said too much. Best you forget what I've said this night, be about you business on the morrow and be gone. Don't go interferin' where you've no need, lest you suffer the same fate as the other reverend gentleman. There's no good in these 'ills. Only the forces of the devil abide. Begone. Forget the salvation. There is no saviour for these wretched folk'.
She ended the tirade as abruptly as she began and before I could restrain her longer, she'd gone into the dimly lit precincts of the inn to tend her 'flock'. For my part, I felt the need for a rest long denied and prepared for a sleep that came within the hour. It was anything but the peaceable concern I'd intended, for in the dark subconscious corners of my mind, baleful fantasies emerged at odds with nature.
Throughout the long night, a siren plagued me in the form of a maiden, whose bearing and striking beauty belied what appeared her lot. Dressed in the plain clothes of yeoman stock, her grace forswore, in my estimation, a higher breeding. I do confess, she aroused in me; feelings alien to the celibate life.
Aware that her beauty disturbed me beyond reason, she began a slow; sensuous; 'Aphroditic' dance, whose capricious intent became a swirling involuntary enchantment. Round and round the satyr swept; with ill disguised eroticism, until, I went willingly; purposefully, into the 'pit of a dark damnation'.
I awoke at five of the clock, aware of a guilty lustful sin, condemned in my own hand, of a carnal wantonness from which there was no salvation. I had, against my faith, succumbed to an issue of the devil, surrendered to an evil desideratum that drained my body and soul of all energy.
Yet, at dawn, before a small table at the bedside, I kneeled in prayer and saw the vision for what it was, a dream, nothing more. It was disturbing in the least, but merely the notional wanderings of the weary mind, set to wild invention at sleep's denial.
I set the spasm aside, as I faced the day. There was much to do. Ill time for disquiet in the name of the lord and I descended to breakfast, with scant sense of unease.
It was not until I had taken the meagre food the tenancy provided and about my day that disquiet returned.
Having established approximate direction to the Cowper demanche; through the ill tempered pleasure of the landlord, I was thankful to be free of his house and into the cheery brightness of a late Autumn sun. Village activity was at its height and I was expectant of Christian grace from those who passed. Yet, despite 'good fellowship' on my part, I became ill received by all but an officer of the Kings Horse, whose troops had encamped on the high road to the North of the village.
'Good fortune is yours sir', said the officer in reply to my request for direction. 'I am unfamiliar with these hills, but a corporal of the horse in my command, travelled these regions before the wars and will provide direction I vouch'.
A hastily barked command, brought forth to the attention, a lightly built; swarthy looking pug, who bore the 'veteran' scars of campaign. His curly black hair gave him the mark of gypsy; people more used than most, to the rigours of life.
'Hornsey, in all your forays afor ye took the Kings shilling' said the officer, 'Did ye ever come close to a manse in the name of Cowper? If ye have, then speak; the reverend gentleman seeks direction to the same'.
Hornsey rubbed his stubble beard awhile, then; as realisation came, his countenance lifted and he replied.
'Eh! That I have sir, though none too pleased for the knowing, not for sane mortals that place, so it aint. Begging the reveren's pardon of course, but my advice be, give the Cowper brood a clear birth, lest the curse descends. They are eternally damned. Victims of the devils spawn no less. My advice to you sir, is to leave the cart in safe reach of their domain, and like as not they'll find it. Whatever you do, stay well clear, or walk with god'.
If a trice dramatic, he delivered the prophecy with good intent and I could not in all conscience, allow the admonishment of the trooper, his superior thought appropriate, for his insolent manner.
'Please lieutenant, I'm sure your corporal meant no offence, and none taken, indeed I am untimely grateful for your heed to my welfare, however, I must in all faith, return that which is not mine. By all account it seems the Cowper brood is in need of Christian ministry. Sir, the direction if you please'. Unable to delay me longer, the gypsy, for, I shall call him thus, stated in clear terms, the appointed way.
'Follow this road sir, to the beech wood beyond Ashridge. Then in about two miles, you will come upon a track that turns Southeast and falls in about a mile or so to the valley floor. Take to this road, and on a hard canter, by the turn of the hour, you will be on Cowper land. The house lies at the head of the valley, in clear view for a quarter or more. God speed; go with care'.
By the turn of noon, I had taken my charge to the gates of the Cowper seat, wherein I made known my intent. A servant ushered me with appropriate grace, to a library off the main hall, and bid me take comfort, whilst he, an elderly retainer; whose bearing touched a chord, announced my presence.
I found myself thus inconvenienced in the least. I had intended but a short stay, as courtesy demanded; the prompt surrender of chattels that had become an encumbrance, and a swift departure. I was heedful of administration to the larger community, rather than an outcast brood, yet the Cowper name intrigued me and I unwittingly set aside uncharitable instinct, an instinct that might, upon reflection, have provided my salvation.
I descended instead, into a bottom less pit.
Across the hall, I could here the sound of sombre voices, given periodically to agitation. Clearly master and servant were at odds concerning my visit and I began to feel 'cold comfort' my lot. Ultimately, after what seemed an age, the servant returned with hospitable grace. His master bid me stay the while, since the hour was late, at least for supper and breakfast next morn.
With a warm bed and comfortable sleep that night the indemnity, I could not, in all practical terms, forgo what was obviously, the best course. I had seen little amenity these two days past, needed rest and accepted what seemed no more than charitable fellowship. In my acceptance, I was less heedful than I might have been, of the 'gathering clouds' or the soldier's warning.
In the meantime the servant informed me, I was at liberty to use the library or take in the grounds of the house at will. The master would enjoin me for supper on the stroke of eight. If I needed clean towels and fresh water in the interval, I might call as it suited, whence the manservant would provide escort to the appropriate powder closet.
Left to mine own device, I chose fitful surveillance of a splendid collection of books and manuscripts embraced within the confines of two book presses, extending from floor to ceiling across one wall.
On the adjoining wall, a collection of small drawings, engravings and the like, attracted interest, but they took the eye eventually to large windows opening out from the front of the house towards a terraced garden. Through much of the summer, the windows undoubtedly provided adequate natural light, so that anyone using the library, could do so without resort to lantern. A window seat set into the bay of each, beneath the sill, confirmed that assessment and would have, ordinarily made the task of reading, both comfortable and enjoyable.
Since the time of year was such, that daylight began to wane not long after noon; I found the window seats ineffective, and resorted instead to a lantern hanging at the side of one of the bookcases. I was thus able, under its specific radiance, to select whatever took my eye. That nothing, immediately aroused my interest, probably said more for the abject state of my spirit, than for the variety of the collection, and I confess, that since coming into Cowper demesne, a dreadful melancholy had overtaken my being.
I was about to ring for attention; that I might attend to my person, when the nomination of a small mezzotint, almost hidden behind the drapes drawn against the wall, attracted my interest. It was by all standards, a superior engraving of the woman who had been the subject of Josiah Dunfords most serious reflections and, the cause of my most recent discomfort.
Judith Cowper was by any state, a beautiful woman, whose striking looks the artist had faithfully emblazoned with quill and tint. Yet, beyond an animal fascination, the drawing drew me to detail only fully revealed under the fading light of late afternoon. In the glare of the setting sun, I took the engraving to the window; that I might determine the exact nature of a scrolled cartouche drawn in the top corner.
The nomenclature was clear and direct. It read.
Judith Cowper 1629 to 1656
wife of Mathew Cowper Magistrate
Chief Examiner of the Faith.
I might ordinarily have set the tint aside at that juncture, satisfied in the least, that the cruel inquisition attended on good Christian souls, under Cromwellian protectorate, was at an end, but a sparsely drawn device; added in my estimation later, bore close inspection.
I took the lantern aside and in the comfort of window seat clearly revealed the drawing of the demon imp, identical in every detail with that drawn by my predecessor in the margin of his journal, the vile faun Incubus; menacing; threatening. Dunfords words were revealed,
'This was not what my faith was for, nor that of Judith Cowper'.
In grim shocked realisation; I'd barely repeated the final words, when the manservant, interrupted my deliberations. I was, with due respect invited to attend his master's pleasure.    Subsequently, he led me through dark corridors to a substantially appointed sitting room; illuminated at that late hour, only from the glare of an enormous fire. Infront of this, enveloped in the confines of a large chair, Jonathan Cowper sat, Master of the house.
He was clearly maladjusted this day and quite drunk. An unbalanced rambling, a stench of stale liquor and a recently emptied wine decanter, seemed evidence enough of the man's despair. Having been assured by attendant servant that debauch was not his master's lot; he had descended to drunkenness upon the untimely death of a beloved wife; a wife whose internment I had most recently interrupted, I could do no more than assure both men of good intent. The deceased, I told them; buried ultimately within the confines of her appointed grave, found peace with the Lord.
My assertion that I was shameful for the souls of those who left the desperate corpse, to the ministry of a stranger, drew sharp reaction from my host, whose drunkenness had done little to despoil what was, a naturally sharp wit.
'You sir are a fool', he declared abruptly then continued in much the same vein.
'But for your considerate return of what are mine, your just ministry upon the soul of my wife, I might have you flogged and thrown off my land, for a pious interference in matters that ill concern you. As it is, I will avail you of a few facts that might dispel your sanctimony. Please, take a seat. My hospitality is yours. It is no night for travel. You will of course take wine and refreshment before you retire'.
With that, he commanded retentive servant to bring the prepared meal to the sitting room, that we might enjoy it in the pleasant warmth of the huge fire.
Jonathan Cowper was not an elegant man these days, but there was little doubt, in the not too distant past, a life more fine was his lot. His clothes, if bearing the signs of careless neglect, a condition brought on by the sad demise of a loved one, were of the finest cloth and cut to perfection. He was of high breeding but, I declare, the trials of life had brought him into the pit of despair.
The faithful retainer, whom I recognised now, for one who left me to hard labour and Christian ministry, a day since, made plain a dark concern for his master's state of mind..
'He is I fear, beyond the salvation of any. Been like this since she passed on'.
The hesitancy with which he uttered the final words, as if it concealed a confirmed secondary cause, more foreboding than the simple euphemistic declaration of death, caused me question how; my most recent charge had departed life.
There was a silence, during which the servant, not one; in my estimation; of a hesitant disposition, glanced tentatively in his master's direction, seeking his approval for the continuance of the narrative.
It seems, Cowper destiny began to wane at the end of the Civil war, with the inception of a curse set on the house by one Meg Jacobs; a spinster of the parish; relative of Cowper brood and witch accused. By all account, she was put to the stake after vile torture, on the authority of Mathew Cowper, chief examiner of the faith and lieutenant to 'Witchfinder' Hopkins, whose pestilential scourge swept the land in false name of the lord.
Before her cruel death, from the midst of the flames, her curse set,
'Eternal damnation on the house of Cowper and all who comfort or succour them'.
Within the year, the Christian life of Judith Cowper, was sacrificed to the curse, taken by a malignant spawn of the devil, midst strange circumstance. She had in life, exhibited a serenity of spirit and kindness, that none would believe ill with her, nor indeed, could they justifiably do so, for she had the nature and ministration of a saint.
Her health if not lusty, bore a robustness that belied her slight frame, in common with most of her clan. The Cowpers by all accounts, kept local physicians the poorer for want of sickly countenance, and it was a sad doctor indeed, who relied on that brood to fill his table. The more surprising therefore, that in the spring of 1656, in the prime of her 27th year, Judith Cowper succumbed to a malady that none could explain. A viscous decline sapped her strength and took her beauty.
Within weeks, she had suffered such a reversal of health, that her once youthful face, had taken the form of a harridan; so haggard, that none could bear to look upon her. Out of concern as much for himself as his piteous wife, Mathew Cowper, had her room permanently locked, so that only he might allow entrance therein. Consequently the tragically ill Judith became a prisoner in her own home. None except her physician and maidservant visited her, and they were afforded, but fleeting examinations of what was, by the turn of the equinox, all but a corpse.
Her meals, taken to her room by servants but once a day, at the behest of her odious husband, were table scraps fit only for hounds, left outside the temporarily unlocked door until she collected the dish. The servants then firmly fastened the door, until her faint cries signalled the end of her scant feast.
Medical attention to her condition, was in the least, draconian. None dared say what disease had befallen her, and expedience, lest others became afflicted, dictated they left her alone, to suffer. Some feared the plague; so rife these years past. Yet, informed diagnosis, such that it was, suggested not. If her demise came the sooner, the speedier might be the examination to discover what ailed her.
One unqualified in medical matters, and faithful maid servant, Sarah Howe; set the task of washing her mistress daily, had no fear of the plague. She had seen and recognised signs of the devil's work. Only she had heard the cries of desperation at the dead of night, as the devil's imp took sustenance. Only she had noticed the tell tale lesions of the skin on the shoulders, where the base creature had clung night after night, feeding upon the life blood of her charge. Only she knew the awful truth others dared not suggest. The curse of Meg Jacobs, a dreadful Incubus was abroad and had taken a deadly toll. She knew, but would not speak for fear of consequence, should heretic be she branded. The torturers rack; no just reward for frank counsel. Hence, she kept her silence, until the night her mistress passed on.
Then, at the Eleventh stroke of the clock, awoken by a cry from within the locked room, so desperate, that she could no longer obey her master's bidding. She unlocked the door. Her charge cried for help and she could desist no longer. The key; cast upon the lock, which turned with grateful ease; within seconds, she was at the foot of the bed.
Enshrouded in a deep gloom, the lofted candle scarcely penetrated the room. Yet, it shed enough light to illuminate the bed head, where her stricken mistress lay, gasping for life. There, snarling vehemence; for the disturbance of its final feast, was the evil marplot; spawn of Satan, the archfiendish Incubus.
Sarah Jane Howe, god fearing woman of the parish, could not in the love of Christ, allow the bestiality to continue longer, and lunged forward with the candle holder into the face of the creature. It recoiled in terror momentarily; snarled its anger once and vanished into the darkness from whence it came.
When master Cowper arrived to investigate the reason for the commotion, his bride was long since at peace and he duly commanded her internment at all speed. As to Sarah Howe, sworn on pain of death, to keep close what had occurred that night, went out of Cowper employ; fearful of eternal damnation in the words of the curse. With good reason.
Within the year, she paid the price of attendance upon the Cowper brood, befallen into the clutches of the Devil's issue.
Yet before she died, she unburdened herself of the terrible things she held close. Then she died in peace, safe in the knowledge, that kith and kin, were forewarned of the danger. Any who sought and received succour unto the house of Cowper, were accursed for eternity. They too, like the Cowpers became a brood displaced from community life, as one after another of god fearing men, denied them assistance.
The family thus withdrew into the bounds of their lands; outcasts without hope. Serving and served by none but themselves. Banished to the eternal retribution of Belial, whose scourge went unrelenting. Generation after generation, succumbed to the Demon with a fearful greed, for It measured the innocence of none. Any, who subordinated god fearing duties to the Cowper name were taken, along with those who bore the blood line. Culled at random! Men to the lure of a Succubus, womenfolk to the lust of the Incubus!
Incredulity may have masked my bearing as the finale of the discourse approached, and, loathe to let the matter rest, I asserted with all forcefulness, my belief that the will of god, with due worship, could rescue the afflicted family from further evil. My affirmation firmly scoffed; I, branded a parsimonious scoundrel; the narrative continued towards its unbelievable conclusion.
In the spring of 1822, Josiah Dunford, having recently been appointed to the ministry that I now hold, came upon the stricken community where Christian worship had been denied for half a century. Almost immediately he recognised the evil influence of a demagogue and made speedily to the task of establishing from whence the evil came.
Confident that he could rescue a fallen community from the shadow, he set forth to bring regular scripture to the valley, in an attempt to restore the realm of the holy spirit. In his ministrations he stumbled eventually on the source of all malcontent; the Cowper scourge.
His faith was such, that he might; by example, lead the good folk of the stricken village out of darkness into light. Thus Josiah Dunford began to visit the Cowper seat, where he enjoined the pitiful outcasts in Christian worship, hoping to demonstrate that none need fear the devil's work if they proclaimed the lord.
If his faith was strong at that point, his estimate of the powers of darkness lapsed. He withstood grim examination in his care for a child of the parish; kin to Sarah Howe, taken on a whim by the Incubus, its evil lust having been transferred through the Howe Line. For his part Dr Dunford struggled valiantly for the soul of the Howe child, but at length, his faith deserted him and he fell victim to the evil in the form of a terrible Succubus that tormented him nightly until life itself expired.
His unfortunate demise within the bounds of his house at Burbage, went unreported for months, until a kinswoman of the Howe line, domiciled as his housekeeper, brought news at Lammas of the good parson's death.
The community at Facconde again became embroiled in the abyss from which there seemed no escape. The devil's spawn took toll of the most recent member of the Cowper household; Margaret Cowper wedded these three years past to Jonathan Cowper. By nature a kindly soul, who wished ill to none, she had by her just administration to the poor of the community, sought to re-establish the grace of the Cowper name.
All without just reward, for in the fourth year of their betrothal, she was taken in carnal lust, and became yet another victim of the evil abroad. Jonathan Cowper stayed with her until her drained and broken body lay in an open casket, where ultimately her immortal soul might be rescued for the lord. Throughout the terrible ordeal, he remained; impassive yet heartbroken; brooding for a love so cruelly taken. Then, in the early hours he awoke from a brief sleep to find his beloved's last minutes on earth being molested by the demon imp, come to seal its baneful regime again.
In his rage; Cowper threw himself upon the wretched fiend; determined it would defile none other, and bodily entombed the creature within the casket, alongside the body of his wife. He then hastily secured the coffin, whilst the faithful servant went at all speed, to enlist the aid of those, who would, help surrender his betrothed to the deep clay.
Fear of the dreadful scourge on the house of Cowper, caused none to voluntary enlistment, despite the outcast's assurance; the devil himself was entombed within his wife's grave. He received scant pity, as one after another, turned their backs on the Cowper seat. All except one.
A boy child; James Howe; scallywag relative of Sarah Howe, had reason enough to see the end of a fear that gripped the lonely valley. On his part, he had none. His only fear was that the whole community would endure eternal damnation, if they did not rid themselves of the pestilence. Thus he came to the gates of the Cowper house a free spirit; a child of hope and, in the evening of the third day, they; servant and boy, took the casket to a grave they had freshly dug in 'Necropolis'.
No majestic Cromlech, befitting of a high born lady this, but a cold deep pit; a rude catacomb that might entomb a beloved one, yet still provide imprisonment for the defiled creature entrapped within the catafalque. A virtuous purpose thus destined to ignoble reward, through the inept stumbling of a man of the cloth, the sole representative of a church, that had long neglected these abandoned people.
I had, by my unwitting intervention and subsequent opening of the coffin, released the cacodemon to exact its revenge again. The shiny disk scales I found in the coffin, no more than the dislodged husks from the ghoul's skin; enclosed now within my own pouch, for an examination no longer valid.
The awful truth was self evident. The incubal reign would continue unless, with God's help, I could rescue my 'flock'. Thus, with due pardon, I retired for the night, resolved in all things, to rid this forgotten community of the evil within. On the morrow, I would return with all speed to Burbage, where I might, within the sanctity of the church, devise the casting out of the Devil.
Brave resolve tested dreadfully that night.
Having taken prayers before retiring in the accustomed manner, I settled down to review the text of Revelations, an apt scripture in my dread failure, that any might suggest. I had barely gone beyond the tenth verse, when I drifted uncontrollably into a deep sleep.
I may have slumbered on for an hour or so, I know not, but on the stroke of four,
I awakened, to an oppressive feeling, that I was not alone in my room. Someone, a creature not of this life, watched my dreaming. Beads of perspiration covered my face and though the night air; cool at that time of year; might have kept me chilled, I found my night attire, sodden with my own sweat.
I was running a high fever and made to correct my comfort, when I became aware of a presence next to the bed. I felt the rapturous touch of fingers on my forehead and turned to find a maiden of breathless beauty, kneeling at my side.
In her countenance, that of an innocent girl by all judgement, I found a menace beyond all reason; an ominous threat, belied by her outstanding loveliness. She drew near with a bewitching smile, that served to test my celibate life. Drawn unyieldingly closer, yet aware of the danger, I sought the protection of my crucifix, which lay on the bedside casement.
The girl swept my salvation from beneath my outstretched hand and gently took me through a blissful enchantment, into a dark evil ecstasy. In the dead of my night, I succumbed to the lascivious Succubus; the devil daughter; odious 'Hermeline'.
It is now some months since I made fast my departure from the high ridge valley Facconde and I; 'man of the cloth', see eternal damnation. These weeks since, I have been unable to bring myself to Christian worship and freely confess the despoiled nature of life. I too, like Josiah Dunford before me, am without the Lord. Bereft of hope at the whim of an enchantress.
She visits me nightly to lie with me and take my strength. My days, have become the wretched disavowed existence of an encaged animal. Her beguile is without mercy and she takes from me, life to sustain her own existence. I am weak, unable to take much sustenance from the good Mrs Longine's table. It is a good seven days since I last took wholesome food.
Mrs Longine came to me some five days ago and brought Dr Rothes to attend my person. I was unable to speak clearly of what illness afflicted me, but I gathered from the half hidden glances in my direction, and the veiled whispering between them, that neither physician nor housekeeper, considered me long for this world. I must confess in passing that it occurs to me, I have not heard Mrs Longine these last few days and fear she will have left me to mine own device.
The evil one came again last night to feed on my very soul. As she swept me into her desperate, carnal web, I took comfort and hope from a discarded article carelessly lost by my forbear. Found, just hours ago between bed cover and counterpane, I know not how it came there. I am sure the considerate Mrs Longine would have spoken of it, had she found it. Even so I am thankful of it, in the midst of torment. Though I swear, even in my delirium, I would have surely found the distinctive jet crucifix, engraved clearly with the monogram of the late Josiah Dunford, had it been there yesterday.
It seems strange; that in my hour of need, the disavowed Dunford, should indirectly come to mine aid. I am truly grateful of this providence. Last night, even as my tormentor took my tortured body in her lustful embrace, I clenched the holy cross of Jesus to my chest, then sank helplessly into the darkest pit.

Coal and Diamonds

           By  Mark Turley

It was a time of scandal, of former masters consortin' with former slaves, folks were real careful 'bout leavin' the house, but sometimes, when it got real late, I used to sneak out from the back and find a place to sing. Singing can be a mighty beautiful thing, though they say it’s a sin. I can’t see how somethin’ so beautiful can be wrong. Momma says it’s a form of vanity and folks that’re vain, get tempted. If you give in to temptation, the devil'll make a demon outta you.
I didn’t see the lawman, he kinda hid inside his greatcoat in the shadows.
“What kinda words are those?” He growled, surprising me from behind
“I never meant it, I never meant at least half of it.” But the turning of the giant clock outside the flophouse buried my words in its tick-tock-clang-clanging.
“I’d like to believe you, ma’am. More than I’d like to find a barrel of bourbon on my porch tonight, but I just can’t find it in me. It’s such a dark night and your eyes are like chunks of coal. It’s hard to see. It’s hard to see them. It’s hard to see you.”
He set me off, head cocked, chin on shoulder, just wandering and wondering, fiddlin' with my curly hair, as I’ve always done. My daddy used to say my mind’s like a butterfly, cause it finds it hard to settle. You know it just flutters around, making its own way. Momma said it showed ungodliness. I thought about coal and how coal and diamonds are nearly the same thing. But one’s considered valuable and the other’s just useful to have around. It would have been so much finer if he’d said my eyes are like diamonds. But most folks around here never seemed to say that kinda thing to me.
He saw me thinking, head cocked, chin on shoulder.
“What’s on your mind missy?”
“Coal – coal and diamonds.”
He was right enough though. As right as a farm-raised townsman in snakeskin boots can be. It was a powerful dark night. Like deep winter. But it was the middle of May. Momma used to say that the devil likes the dark, night-time’s like a playground for him, which is why good folks are always in bed before ten.
I think he read my mind.
“So if you never meant it, missy, why you out the back of town so late? The flophouse lot’s no place for a young ‘un. Why, you can’t be more’n 18 years old.”
“I’m 19 sir.”
“I bet you’s heading into the woods weren’t’cha. I bet you’s go’n do some voodoo.”
I stamped my feet on the dusty ground and covered my boot laces in dry earth.
“No sir! Them dark deeds and dolls don’t interest me! I’m a Presbyterian, I go with momma every Sunday!”
“Presbyterian my eye. You’s a goddamn demon, I can tell by the shape of your ears.”
He let go of my arm then. There was an indentation, hand shaped, under the taffeta lining of my sleeve. I guess if running had been on my mind, that would have been the time. The urge did swell for a second, but then subsided, kind of like the tide, or love.
“You better damn come with me now, missy. I can smell trouble on a night like this from my front steps. There’s demons in them woods tonight and you go’n help me find ‘em.”
“No, sir, I’m just taking air, treading the road, I don’t wanna go down there.”
He nudged me with the steel nuzzle.
“Move now.”
I walked with heavy heart, for them woods never brought no-one no good. As I went I cocked my head to one side, chin on shoulder. I remembered Miss Appleby, the butcher’s daughter. She used to go into the woods weekly, real regular. Then one time they followed her ‘n found her a dancing with the devil. Shot her dead before she knew they were there. Franny Winterburn too, after there was trouble in her family, she was a found in the morning up against a big ole hickory tree with a bourbon bottle in her hand and a hole in her head. They reckon the devil got her too. Like I say, plenty bad things happen in them woods.
I could hear him behind me, kinda snorting as he walked. We was about to pass through the treeline when he said,
“Can you smell the trouble, missy. The stinks a getting’ real strong.”
I paused as he spoke, cause his words broke through my thinking, but the nuzzle pushed me on, into them woods, into the darkest place I knew. He was grunting and snorting regular now, like a hurt hog or somethin’ and his breath fair rattled in his throat, like he had consumption. More than once I heard him spit and the sound made me think of my daddy, when he’d a come back from work, sharecroppin' on the ol' estate, with a temper and a sit out on the porch with his tobacco, chewing it up and a hawking it at roaches. If he was in a real mean mood, he could kill four of five, imagine! Killing roaches with brown tobaccy spit! Momma told him it was a filthy habit, but not when he was in a mean mood. No-one said a nuthin’ to my daddy when he was mean.
We were walking slowly now, cause the branches and twigs kept a catchin me in the face.
“Come on missy!” He kept a sayin’, real urgent, like he was in a hurry.
“I can’t! These damn trees’ll have me in the eye!”
He came up awful close behind me then, crunching through the leaves. I could feel that rattlin’ breath on my neck.
“Who taught you to curse like that missy?”
“No-one” I said. “I justa know.”
I felt his hand on my back, flat and strong, pushing me deeper into the woods.
“I knew you’s a demon.” He said, laughing or coughing. It was hard to tell which it was. “I just knew. And I think you go’n see some mo’ of yo’ kind soon. Real soon, li’l missy.”
And so we went on, for five minutes or more, me in front and him behind, stepping and crunching, I knew I would have brambles and dead leaves caught in my laces when I got home. My momma would want to know where I got ‘em. There was a time, when I was barely out of diapers, I was climbin’ a tree in Chester Adams yard and got my sleeve caught on a branch, tore it right up. Momma really gave me hell for that, she said a young lady like me had no cause to be climbing trees in the first place, I should be spending my time with a needle and a crochet kit like her. I coulda never fire my interest in crochet though. Even though I tried. She was mighty disappointed with that, more so cause I was always getting into scrapes. After I had a fist fight with a boy at school she became afeared. She told the pastor she thought the devil was in me. Pastor was horrified and said I was just spirited, like a wild horse. He said there was no reason to be upset.
But sometimes I think momma might’ve been right. I thought about it long and hard and I guess a body could have the devil in ‘em and never know. Probably be obvious to everyone else though. I’ve done some terrible things in my time. I stole a twizzler from the penny counter at Mr. Rogers’ store and one time I put a pin on Cal Franklin’s chair at school. I hated that little sneak. If you got hate in you then it musta mean the devil’s inside someplace. Maybe he just chooses when to show himself.
“There!” He said. His hand was on my shoulder, tight, so I couldn’t move. I raised my head to look.
“You a see ‘em lil missy?”
I followed the line of his finger through the dark. There was light some ways ahead. A flickering, lively light, that stirred with the breeze. The wind brought whispers and giggles towards us.
“You move real slow lil’ missy.” He said in my ear. “Don’t you make a single sound.”
I moved forwards with such stealth, placing my feet on the ground as if they were made of china. All I could hear was his breath rattling around like bone dice on a shuffleboard. I started seeing shapes as we got nearer. There was folks there, that much was clear. Figures were kinda twisting around, making noises, wrapping themselves into strange positions.
“Demons” he said and a little bit of spit hit my neck. “We caught us some demons missy!”
He moved himself up, alongside me, pointing that nuzzle of steel in front. We continued moving, still careful. There was six of them, I could see that real clear and plain. They were pressed together in pairs. I looked to my right and his eyes were wide, stuff dribbled from his nose into his moustache.
“You ever seen what demons do?” He whispered.
“No sir.”
“Are you sure missy? You never done it yo’self.”
“No sir!” I whispered, but I felt like shouting.
“Well look real good missy. See what they do, afore I send ‘em back to hell!”
I could see the demons real well by then. The fire was close enough to show all of ‘em. Three of ‘em was white demons and three of ‘em was black. The white were on top, squirmin’ movin’ up and down.
“You ever seen such degradation, missy? You ever seen such sin?” He cocked his rifle and the excitement justa shone from him. His legs were twitching. Sweat jumped outta his forehead and streamed down his cheeks.
He fired three shots in all. That was all he could get off before the white demons ran away. He was a good shot though, every one he fired found its target. Even though he was old for a deputy.
The three black ‘uns lay on the ground, one had blood matted in her hair, another a hole between her breasts and the third had been shot in the side. That one was still alive, squallin’ and a wailin’, so he walked to her and put his boot on her throat, treading the breath out of her.
I went down on my knees, praying, head bowed. I was aware that it seemed lighter. Maybe we’d been walking for longer’n I thought.
“You see!” he said, not whispering no more. He had his back to me. “The demons are here missy! You just have to know where to look!”
He turned to face me, then, the end of his gun still smoking and I justa knew I was in trouble. There was a look in his face I had never seen before, his eyes almost seemed to shine. His teeth too, glowed yellow like his hair.
He threw down the gun and loosened his belt. I shoulda ran. P’raps I couldn’t find my feet in time. P’raps it’s cause the devil’s in me. But I think it was cause I was scared. Everyone knows a demon when they see one, so close. And he was. My god, he was. To this day I don’t why a demon should be so keen to kill his own kind.
All I could do was lie still and sing. It helped to take my mind away. He squirmed on top of me and he was heavy. I felt something like the nuzzle of steel he had pressed me with before, but I knew he’d thrown the gun down.
It was over merciful quick and he stood and fastened his belt, bending to pick up his rifle. I stopped singing to listen.
“Don’t tell a soul, li’l missy.” He said, the moon shining in his blue eyes. “If you do they’ll know you’re a demon, just like them.”
He swung his arm, pointing at the dead ‘uns on the ground. I thought for a moment that I recognised one of ‘em from chapel. But that’s silly. Demons don’t go to chapel.
I nodded from where I lay, tears trickling past my ears. I began to push my petticoats back down from where he had gathered them around my waist.
And for some reason, it was the damnedest thing, but as he walked away, leaving me by myself in the woods, I got to thinking about coal and diamonds again.
 
(Read more of this author's work at: www.markturley.com/4466.html)

Poetry

Whom Do They Offend?
 
                       By Aamir Aziz

I have witnessed holy love
between flowers and the sun
and self annihilation
of sacred caterpillars,
in honour of the candle flame.

This lends due veneration
of light to my spirits,
but where should i seek this light
in these modern exploits?
Our pygmy stalwarts turn
all worshippers to their track,

every ignorant pilgrim
visits their furnished temples.
Aloof, stands the clayed cottage
of the dustman,
which shakes and cracks
with their boastful stares on every turn.

his eyes flush and his heart gushes with blood
at this difference, but mental peace
and satisfaction with his daily wages pacify him.
He knows the secrets of dust and decay
 
and the skills of Pioneer Potter, whose viceroy
he is,  and in his vexation lies His displeasure.
That is why I don't bow before these
nervous torch bearers, for love thrives on honesty,  
purity and truth of each partner.
 
Author's Biography:  Aamir Aziz lives in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where he has recently completed his Masters Degree in English Literature from International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan.  He has gained inspiration from Bertrand Russell and  W. H. Auden, two of his favourite authors.   His work may be seen in Voices.net, International Anthology of English Poetry, Vol. 10, 2005.   His poem 'Whom Do They Offend?', is rooted in Socialist leanings. Quotes, Mr. Aziz, "So far, my philosophy of poetry is that apart from emotions and aesthetics, poetry has a social role to play".  He may be reached at aamiraziz82@hotmail.com.
 

TIN CAN

       By Alejandro Bacani

Face worn out, as he walks the street of survival,
an eerie sound, light convexing,
as he pulls a not so shiny can,
molded with wheels and a string.
Hands in despair,
"lady, may I have some of that, piece?"

Flashing eyes, ventured the road of nowhere,
nibbling sweetly as it's shadow rolls graciously.

A place in scarcity, he dwells,
Smile in a morsel of ration;
fodder it may be,
with a toy slipped in his fingers.

A tin turned car, a can satiating innocence,
elegantly sways in a nanve mind maze.

Strolling and marching, giggling and chuckling,
another tin sheen its way,
waiting to be hammered,
turn into a precious gem
in a poor lad's heart.
Opulence in a tin can car.

Author's Biography Pending

JANUARY'S ANGER
 
                By Lorraine Brooks
 
Your moods reflect the whim of the wind
And yet the ground you walk on is my idol.
I have awakened to the fleeting ghost of your presence
As often as I have slept
The smooth, clean sleep that would be mine
If you were beside me.
 
Do not wander nor wane
Away from my imaginary ecstacy -
Nor presume my ever-standing willlingness
To be your slave.
Nor forget that you are the spirit of a heart
That reaches ever for your kiss.
 
Author's Biography:  Lorraine Brooks 
currently works as Director of Employee Assistance at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY. Her most recent work, 'A New Yorker's Perspective of the World Trade Center Tragedy', has appeared in The West End News, Portland, Maine. An avid METS fan, Lorraine's satirical baseball poetry, reminiscent of 'Casey At The Bat', has gleaned a growing following of regular admirers at www.artalumni.com

Blood Type
 
             By Suzanne Nielsen

Write what matters
does it matter that I write
what matters to me
when the matter is
irrelevant to you?
Maybe it’s the word matter
that clogs my blood
or the word write
when its antonym
is wrong
that’s the job of an editor
to wrong the write
and call it
quantifiably
coagulated
fiction that bleeds

Poverty

         By Okonkwo Churchill Obinna


I
 
You sound ugly
Just as a word
Your only equivalent is death

You crawl in

Unmanned

Unnoticed

Uninvited

Deadly and poisonous
Like a snake
In preparation for an attack
Poverty,
You are a snake

Or are you denying?

II

You are a deadly virus
Like HIV
You expose one to attack

Insults

Indecency

Insecurity

You make decent families
To live among drunkards
Wife beaters
And in degrading habitat

Wont you say no?

III

You signify hunger
Like a beggar
You bring one to shame
You make one to be preached at

Frustrated

Confused

After starving,

You leave your victims
 
explored

Swindled
 
and dishonoured

Poverty,
You are a betrayer

Or, are you denying?

IV

You stink
Just like death, your king.
With you, a whole family
and Grandparents
live together in one room;

eating and sleeping

defecating and fornicating,

sickening and then dying.

Privacy is unthinkable.
Hygienic food is a forgotten issue.
You pollute the air with filth;
filth from cheap tobacco smoke.

A suffocating filth?

V

You kill finally,
just like AIDS.
You can ask Mbeki
whether there is
any difference.
You kill
 
softly

Slowly

Silently

Yet spreading rapidly,
You lead to death.
The only exit
to our grandfathers.

Will they Welcome you?
 
Author's Biography:
                 Okonkwo Churchill Obinna
Mr Okonkwo Churchill Obinna, is originally from Nnobi in Idemili South Local Government of Anambra State Nigeria and now resides in Onitsha, Nigeria.  He had his primary and secondary education in Nnobi before proceeding to St Charles Special Science School Onitsha.  He holds a first degre in Geology/Physics ( combined honours ) from the university of Nigeria Nsukka ( 1998 ), and has worked as a Graduate Assistant at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka for two years.  He has two unpublished works ( a compilation of poems ) "Tunnel of Confusion" and Beautiful Nonsense".  He is currently working on his third collection of poetry, "Voices from the Spirit World", while completing his Masters degree in Petroleum Geology at Federal Universty of Technology Owerri, Nigeria. His intrest include writing poems and short stories and works on The Erosion Menace in Anambra Basin South-eastern Nigeria: Causes Impact and Solution.  He may be reached at churchillobinna@yahoo.com

In Camera
 
     By John Williams

I am the man who brings you famine.

Without me,

the parchment people would die

unseen,

dry out and be

blown away by winds that stir up ancient dust,

but not the hearts of men.


I focus and aim

between the hollow eyes of a dying child

Steady...

Shoot!


His agony dissolves


Into myriad Images.

You cannot see the tears I cry,

and, since I never speak, I never lie.


I am camera man
 
Read John Williams' Poetry & Prose

Competition Winners

Convergence  

 

Competition Winner 2005

 

  By Michael S. Craig

 

Sand spilled through my fingers

Grains down the hourglass

A dimming maelstrom

 

I watched through sweat-stung eyes

In this poignant obscurity

Standing in his footprints

 

It revealed itself,

Just moments before

Obsidian tip under my brush

 

Finely worked facets

Marked its craftsmanship

Bespoke his skill

 

Its gleaming black surface

Still perfect,

Still sharp, still lethal 

 

Life is often like that

A chance encounter

Fated crossing of paths

 

There a thousand years

Resting with infinite patience

For this time, this place

 

Not cast off like the others

Rather a gift of meeting

His hand to mine

 

Two men from different worlds

Paleolithic hunter and Neolithic seeker

Reaching out through the millennia

 

Meeting within this small stone

While all time fades

Into this one, eternal moment

 

Tales From the Earth
 
Competition Winner 2005
 
    By Michael S. Craig

                                        

 

He knelt in the soil

Sifting through centuries

Listening for the tales  

That echoed

Through the strata

Stories of those

Who came before

Chronicles

Of their lives and ways

Found here

In this vast library

Of all the worlds memories

Where to travel

Back through time

You need only learn

The language of the earth

For then she’ll reveal

Her greatest mysteries 

 

Author's Biography Pending

Ugly Goddess 

Competition Winner 2005

       By  Ysabelle Cheung

 

She is the goddess of freaks. The freak of a goddess.

Her wet palms chalky pink, cracked, calloused

By the labours of torture, racism.

Her turgid skin is similar to that of a dark eggplant,

shiny and tinted, highlighted with streaks of blue,

yellow, purple.

Her bluetops twist in an upwards motion

Towards the sky, held by the angry hands of God,

And she is the goddess of low status.

Will she ever bow her head?

Will the black flowers in her hair ever die?

Everyone knows that

A girl that stands up for herself = goddess

 

 

Author's Biography: Ysabelle Cheung

 

Ysabelle Cheung is fifteen years old and lives in London.  Her origin is Chinese, but her nationality is British.  She is currently enrolled in the Godolphin and Latymer school.  She drew inspiration for 'ugly goddess' from racism combined with the torture of bullying many children face today.  Ysabelle is looking forward to a career in journalism orpossibly as a writer.  She is just starting two new novelettes, but feels generally more comfortable with writing poems. She hopes to be recognised one day.

 

 

HUBBLE ULTRA DEEP FIELD
 
Competition Winner 2005
 
                              By Leonard Wilson

On March ninth of two thousand-four
we saw picture of the past
More than thirteen billion years ago
to be more or less exact
 
With near infa-red photography
{magnetic waves near visible light}
With multi-object spectrometer
measuring wave lengths
of a strange and distant night
 
We see how it was...
four to eight hundred million years
from the day it all began
Where the first stars 
in the universe were formed
following the famous bang
 
We see oddities and chaos
Mighty galaxies collide
Some are shaped like tooth picks
Some like balls of colored light

Others flat and wide
We focused on a tiny spot
Ten thousand galaxies,involved
It would take a million years
to scan the sky and see it all
 
What Hubble let us glimpse
has long since gone away
We are looking through time's window
Thirteen billion years have passed
But here...
 
it's just today
 
Author's Biography: Leonard Wilson
Until three years ago, Leonard Wilson wrote only song lyrics in Sacramento, California, USA.  Now, he enjoys reading and writing various types of
poetry.  His latest passion is writing short stories, for which he is seeking publication.  He currently resides in Central Washington state with his wife and twelve year old son.  According to Leonard: 'I have always loved words.They are a better window to the soul than eyes, in my opinion'. Leonard's work may be read at www.ukauthors.com.

A Journey To Oblivion

Competition Winner 2004

By Valerie McKinley Grantham

--------------

Standing, listless in the blistering heat of noon,

pale faced, eyes wide in mortal fear.

They were herded like cattle off to market soon,

unknowing of their fate, their future far from clear.

At times, a murmur would shudder among them,

disturbing the fetid air, increasing their tension.

Speculating, wondering when

the day would end, thinking thoughts too awful to mention.

Then, the soldiers appeared, ordering them to move...

they marched,

they trudged towards the evening, and the dying sun

to a railroad, loaded and goaded into cattle trucks...

feeling parched,

unaware their torture had only just begun.

Hour after weary hour they journeyed ... onwards ... onwards.

No water ... no food ... no hygiene ... no relief.

Some, suffocating in the slime on filthy stinking boards,

fortunate in the end, their suffering almost brief.

Some lucky to be by the outer walls of the trucks,

sometimes feeling the luxury of a cool sweet breeze

that never penetrated inwards; other poor souls fought in rucks

to breathe the air, risking death in a frenzied squeeze.

On the third, or maybe the forth day

the trucks juddered and screeched to a stop.

Young women fell to their knees to pray

their cracked lips stinging with tears salty and hot.

The people cheered, joyfully jumping down from the train,

thinking their ordeal at an end,

then guards with guns rendered their joy in vain

as they cruelly bid them all attend.

They divided the children, the old and sick to the left,

the men, the women and adolescents to the right;

families split up, feeling horribly bereft,

could Almighty God in Heaven not see their plight?

The men, the women and adolescents were set a task,

the others were sent for showers;

A journey to oblivion, by poison gas,

and a funereal pyre,

where no-one ever sent flowers.....

Author's Biography: Val Mckinley Val was born in Leicestershire, but now resides in Lincolnshire with her husband, Mac.  According to Val, " Writing poetry has been part of my life for many years and has become more important to me, as I grow older".  Val is a self taught writer, overcoming a limited education 'due largely to childhood illness and an old fashioned family attitude toward the education of girls'.  When she is not writing, her time is devoted to a large family of two children,  three step-children and 'an array' of grandchildren.  Her main hobbies are gardening and 'reading anything I can lay my hands on'.  Val's work covers those who are often overlooked and misrepresented in society, using historical background to focus life's tragedy and triumphs.   She has a superb quality of depicting the mundane facets of life, with tender clarity.  Her work may be found at UKAuthors.com.

Apology

         By Nalini Prabha Lalla
     Competition Winner 2004

 
Tis the knife
that cuts us free from
the moorings of the past.
It cleanses, it cauterises.
Scars, now long faded
ache no more.

Apology, closure
that frees us from the clinging sands of bitter memories.
'Tis a toasty sun of resolve
to shed that stunting shroud
and soar fearlessly
into the  future.

The Marleyesque chains of
the bitter past are shed
to revel unafraid in the
caressing tides of
the beckoning future.
Unfettered, to sail that unknown sea.
the desolate Isle of
Bitter Memories.
Unforgotten
but thankfully elusive.
 
Author's Biography Pending

Communicating With A Larger Body of Water
 
Competition Winner 2004
 
By Suzanne Nielsen
 
I see her move about town
same old soul
tattoo tear etched
under her skin
leading to a labyrinth
of stories unfolding
like curvy cobblestone streets
that Charles Dickens
wandered.
Lagging
by a lagoon in lower town
she is that creature
down under
lurching
longing
forthcoming.

Author's Biography: Suzanne Nielsen   Suzanne teaches writing at Metropolitan State University and The Loft Literary Center.  Her publications include poems, short stories, and essays in anthologies as well as national and international literary journals.  Most recently her work has appeared in The Comstock Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, The Minetta Review,  Mediphors, Moondance, Asphodel and 580 Split. She was awarded the 2003 DeAnn Lubell Professional Writer’s award for her essay: Bruce Chatwin, He’s a Real Nomad Man.” She writes a monthly column, "Cool Dead People," for www.doubledarepress.com. "Cool Dead People" also appears in print quarterly through Whistling Shade Literary Journal.

Belly Ache

         By Shaun Moffitt
Competition Winner 2003
 
"What's a little belly ache? Ain't nothin'.
Back in'22, thirteen of us lived
in a tent city outside Sallisaw.
We pretty near had no food, lived a week
on a batch of biscuits that Ma scrounged up.
Well then everybody commenced pukin'
and crappin' til come to find out Pa had
gone and stuck boll weevil poison in an
old bakin' powders can and forgot to
mark it. Aunt Ruby was too scared to nurse
Frankie so he got all sickly and death-
lookin', which she could not take. So plumb tired,
she says,  'What the hell,' and unsnaps her dress.
'Might as well let the poor bugger die full.'

 

Okie Sky
 
Competition Winner 2003

         By Shaun Moffitt
 
They moved every few years--Arizona,
California, Missouri, and Kansas,
Georgia for a few months. They always came
back to Oklahoma like stray cats who
frequent the porch where food appears. The earth
was flat and by mid-century fertile yet
still cheap. The whole family worked it and went
to bed with clumps of grass and dirt catching
between the sheets. When Montie Jean looks at
the photos of that time she pays no mind
to their dirtiness, ratty hair, torn clothes,
blank faces. Instead, she sees black and white
sorghum fields worked by bodies strong with heat
from an Okie sky, June, 1952.

Author's Biography: Shaun Moffitt  Shaun likes to frame drum, drink gin and tonics, and write poetry, not necessarily in that order. She is an Okie from a long line of Okies, descended from a bunch of Brits and a few Vikings. She teaches speech, composition, and literature to community college students. When she’s not teaching or bandaging her skateboarding son’s mangled knees, she makes dolls—some of which can be seen at her website: http://www.hometown.aol.com/galdolls/home.html. Shaun's poetry is an exquisite vignette of a woman's roles, capturing consistancy of feeling and expression, throughout time.

 
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