Friday, 31 December 2010

On second thoughts 2

Thackeray gathered his remaining officers round him inside the tiny ruined Chapel that served as his headquarters. The remnants of his native infantry battalion manned whatever part of the perimeter still afforded cover. The guns were for the moment silent. Powder-stained and ragged, his officers crowded round the map Thackeray had spread on the battered altar, which would soon revert to a bloody operating table.

“We’ve been though much since Kandahar,” Thackeray’s strong voice belied his exhausted eyes and wilting side-whiskers, “So I’ll not attempt to gull you now.”

He outlined a circle around the compound with a blunt forefinger, “There are twenty thousand Mutineers out there, in a bloody frenzy, armed to the teeth. We have approximately...” and he glanced at his aide-de-camp Masterson.

“About a hundred and ten native infantry, at the last count.” replied that worthy. “But they’re slipping away to join the rebels on an hourly basis.”

There was a grumble of disapproval amongst them; such treachery was not to be countenanced. Thackeray drew himself up.

“There will be no relief column,” he growled “And there will be no surrender. I expect you to hold to the last man.”

“To the very last bullet, Sir,” they assured him.

Then adjusting their buttons and belts to meet their destiny with full regimental dignity, they strode out to die like Englishmen.

Thackeray waited for each return to his post. Then he tore off his tunic and smeared himself with boot polish. Winding a filthy turban about his head and sticking a murderous knife in his belt, he left by the back door. He hunched his back and ran with a curious, crippled gait. He hoped to God he looked like an old Sepoy as he slipped through the lines to blend with the oncoming hordes.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

On second thoughts 1

Dexter’s first impression of Wendy was that she was a difficult woman, hard to please, impatient and volatile. She was attractive in a peaky sort of way, and educated enough to hold down a job superior to his in the accounts department. But she was someone to stay clear of.

Wendy disparaged all and sundry. She sneered in triumph before she pulled them to pieces. Her only smile was in bitter vindication of her angry forecasts on the derelictions of others. Most people in the department were too scared of her to actively dislike her.

Then one day Dexter saw her gazing out of the window, with an expression of such melancholy that his heart keened with her. She seemed consumed by a timeless sadness. However, she became aware of his attention and gave him such an icy, challenging stare that he hurried away and pretended to busy himself with the copier.

It was clear to Dexter that Wendy was a wounded soul. She had been deeply hurt in some way. Life had been cruel and so she had thrown up these sturdy defences around her. How lonely she must be inside that armour.

He revised his opinion of her, clinging to this new subtle truth even as Wendy continued to harangue those who didn’t come up to her sky-high expectations. Behind the virago, Dexter could see the wounded baby girl, helplessly adrift in a hostile world.

He found himself defending her to his colleagues. This sudden turnaround of their shared aversion led to him becoming as isolated as she was. Dexter didn’t care. His empathy was too strong to give way.

So, they both soldiered on alone. Until the Christmas party when Dexter kissed her impulsively under the mistletoe.

Wendy broke his arm in three places.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Further Acts of Faith 2

The ruins of the little fortified chapel stood in sun-bleached relief against the azure blue sea. An on-shore breeze ruffled the coarse grass of the promontory to which the Knights Oracular had retired, after the disastrous Battle of Hattin ended the Second Crusade.

While other Orders scuttled back towards Europe in disarray before Saladin’s conquering armies, Grandmaster Bernard Desmouches led his small band of heavily armed clairvoyants to this obscure outcrop on the Levantine coast.

They built their lodge and in its cellar buried whatever pillage they managed to retain. They hid their mail coats, broadswords and axes. And kept their heads down.

Lacking the commercial skills of the Templars, the militarism of the Teutonic Knights and the pastoral vocation of the Hospitallers, the Knights Oracular relied chiefly on their gift of Second Sight. They told the fortunes of passing travellers and whenever they saw trouble ahead, they kept out of the way of it.

Passers-by saw only a community of raggedy, wild-eyed hermits, shuffling round on an uncomfortable rock overlooking an indifferent sea.

They had always been regarded with distrust and derision by their more assertive brothers-in-arms. And, as history is written only by the winners, they have disappeared from all chronicles of the Crusades. The current vogue for the Templars and the Grail, conspiracies amongst the early Church and lost testaments has failed to dislodge them from obscurity.

At last a famous author stood amongst the fallen stones of their final refuge. He observed the scratched symbol of the open mouth (often misrepresented as a vagina) on the cornerstone. He picked his way down to their cellar, with a hammer and chisel, to unearth their secrets and their remaining treasure.

The last remaining, spindly buttress fell in on him, killing him instantly.

They’d seen it coming, of course.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Further Acts of Faith 1

Trevor met the old man one night at the bus-stop. Trevor was waiting for a bus. The old man was living there; his possessions consisted of a battered brown-paper parcel, tied up with inordinate amounts of string. Trevor shifted from foot to foot, impatiently consulting his watch. The bus remained resolutely absent.

After a while, the old man cleared his throat and spoke, “Not very happy in your own company, are you?”

Embarrassed, Trevor remained mute. With great relief he spotted the bus arriving.

“Easily done, though,” the old man stood up. “Getting to know yourself. Getting to like yourself, even.”

Trevor found the old man sitting next to him on the bus. He stared ahead, but the old man continued in a gentle but persistent manner. “All it takes is an act of faith.”

When Trevor got off the bus he found the old man still with him.

“Are you following me?” he asked, irately.

“Not at all,” demurred the old man, “I’m accompanying you.”

And so he was, right up to the door

“I live here,” protested Trevor.

“After a fashion,” agreed the old man.

“I’m not inviting you in,” insisted Trevor.

“That’s fine,” replied the old man, “Just wanted to give you this.”

He handed Trevor the battered parcel.
“I can’t, “began Trevor.

“In it,” the old man assured him, “you’ll find everything you need to be happy.”

And then he walked off.

Trevor sat alone on his sofa with the parcel and, despite himself, began to disentangle the string. Inside was another parcel, almost identical but slightly smaller. He set to work again. He persisted, driven by curiosity and irritation in equal measure. By the early morning his room was filled with crumpled brown paper and innumerable lengths and tangles of string. And nothing else.