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 In the mountainous region of Kookemoore (area089) is settlement 089426, commonly referred to as Raven’s Rest. It is the last inhabited point along the mountain road, beyond is the unrelenting peaks known as the Steeps. Electrical storms have plagued the region for generations, bringing with them swarms of pteroraptors. This makes overland communication quite difficult so settlements such as 089426 rely on a series of underground cable communication tunnels. These are monitored and maintained by communications officers, the ‘wind-catchers’.

They are individually charged with a small area of com. tunnels, accessible via openings on the surface. It is an isolated existence, however it is not a deprived one. They are given more than ample rations and accommodation.
This is the personal diary of communications officer 089426480.
____
I was born in a small mountain town called Raven’s Rest, population 500. It is set into the side of Raven‘s Peak, hanging above the valley below. It is mostly self-reliant, using large greenhouses for all means of agriculture. The more vital parts of the town are inside the mountain itself, such as the hospital, the barracks.

When the wind-catchers used to ride in on their gliders I would watch them circling over the valley before landing at the entrance to the settlement. When they would leave, they’d use the upper hanger exit , it is the highest point of town and was built on a natural rock shelf. They’d just drop away, and for one moment my breath would catch as they hurtled towards the ground.

Gliders are strange contraptions; they look so fragile. They are made of highly durable materials and are more likely to survive a crash in one piece than the humans riding them. I don’t pretend to understand how the collapsible frame and fine metallic fibres work in their entirety but I believe the process of the wind rushing over the yellowed membrane creates a static charge. This causes the membrane to expand allowing it to catch the wind. It is guided by a very simple bar mechanism.

There are seasoned catchers who would sit in the corners of Joe’s (the only pub in town) during their duty-leave, swapping stories and scars, hooting about how much each one hurt. I would roll my eyes as I passed, thinking they’d ridden the wind for so long it had snatched away some of their brains. I know now that the only reason they laugh at it is because if they don’t they will never get the courage to get back up when they fall down.

My Grandfather always told me humans were not created to fly; our clumsy limbs are far better designed for falling.
____
It has been 1 week since I left home, surprisingly I find I miss it. I miss waking up in the morning to the smell of fresh bread from the bakery down the road, I even miss the gossipy Baker’s wife.

Raven’s Rest is a funny place, it was established a few hundred years ago when the ruling government still released rebels into the mountains to picked off by the pteroraptors or die of exposure. Settlement 089426 was the last stop before they were marched to their deaths, a joint prison and barracks where the doomed traitors would have a last meal and a restless night’s sleep. It was around the time the town was beginning to stabilise in numbers that the infamous rebel leader Simon ‘Raven’ Dale was captured. He spent the whole night writing a letter to his younger sister. The other prisoners asked him why he wasn’t sleeping in a warm bed while he could, and he simple answered that he’d have all the sleep he could wish for soon enough.

My Grandfather would tell me the story as a child. He didn’t have many stories, but he enjoyed repeating them with such relish that we never told him that we had heard it all before. He was particularly fond of stories about the rebels; I think he sometimes wished that the revolution had succeeded.

Today I was working on one of the tunnel access panels. The tunnels themselves are underground, but if the weatherproofing on the doors and the outer control panels are not checked regularly then it means weeks of climbing through small chutes and painstakingly replacing the heavy-duty rubber seals.

When I returned to my home my rations had been delivered, although I received no letters. I continue to send correspondence to Grandfather and Riley, I am not expecting a reply anytime soon. Riley wasn’t pleased when I joined the Establishment and it may take a few weeks of careful wheedling before he is ready to forgive me. I hope that he will be willing to speak to me by the time I arrive in Rest for my first visit home.

I do not expect a letter from Grandfather.
____
I had my first encounter with the pteroraptors today. I have, of course, studied them at the training camps, but those were sad specimens, poor preparation for the sharp beaks and almost worrying intelligence. They’re fast too, and the swarm moves as if it shared one mind, when one goes down, they all screech with rage. Their screams horrific harmonies to the beating drum beats their pale wings make. White skin stretched across their bodies so tightly that you can see the blue-black veins just beneath the surface.

They appeared on the distant horizon as I was returning home, I knew that there was a possibility that a swarm would appear. A brief electrical storm, which had prevented me from travelling too far from home by air, had sprung up just before lunch. The moment it had passed I was in the air, hoping to make it home undisturbed. The air was chillingly still the way it is after storm clouds have whipped it up before. I was spiralling higher in the hopes for better currents and a speedier journey home when through the crisp air I spotted what looked like a small cloud just above the tree line, heading into the valley. My heart jumped into my throat. I almost fell from the sky as minor panic began to choke me with the slow realisation that if I didn’t move soon they would catch me in the open, and I would die.

Excluding the sound of the wind, it is deathly quiet in the air. That day I heard a hideous shriek, as if a child was dying in abject misery. If I had looked behind me then I may simply have plummeted to my death.

I have never been so relieved to see my little hatch before. In little over a week it has become my sanctuary, although that may have been the abject fear talking. I dropped from the sky, hoping the sudden action would buy me a few vital seconds that I needed to activate the defence system. As I hit the ground I stumbled and thought it was all over when I heard the whistling of the wind over the angles of the pteroraptors bodies.

I tore from the harness that kept me attached to the glider. My hand stung as I slammed my hand onto the emergency shield button, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as it crackled into life. Through my flight goggles I watched as their momentum carried the nasty buggers straight into the electric force field. I smashed my hands over my ears in the hopes to block out their cries. The acrid smell of burnt flesh hit me as I pulled of my goggles and mask and slumped against the hatch into my small underground abode. Despite the terrible smell I was still pulling in deep breaths, trying not to retch. In a few moments I knew I would have to make a report, check my equipment for any damage and more important make a call to Riley, telling him I’m sorry about the time I broke his favourite toy car, or the time I told the girl he fancied (Stacey Alder) that he still wet the bed at age 10, or the fact I left him alone with Grandfather because I couldn’t cope with everyone knowing our business all the time.

In the end I made the report, checked and repaired my equipment, scraped the remains of the pteroraptors off my shield and went to bed.
____
Do you know why they train you to regularly use a diary during training? The reasons are two fold. The first is that if anything happens to you during the course of duty they can use your diary, along with official reports, to retrace your steps and hopefully find a body.

The second, and unwritten reason, is to stop you losing your mind. Many of the people who choose to become communications officers are from small towns, where you are surrounded by friends, family and neighbours all the time. You are then taken to the training complex in Sidley (089421) where you share a room with 20 other apprentices while you achieve your qualifications. It is a shock to the system to graduate and suddenly you‘re all alone. That is why at the camp you are told it is vital, but not compulsory, to keep a journal.

The training camp is a strange place. Candidates arrive from the entire 89th region in the hopes that they will be given a chance to leave the small town they came from. The irony is that after a few days you start to miss the suffocating feeling of Rest, or wherever you’re from. I imagine eventually that loneliness will go away but not before it becomes a gnawing sadness inside you. I haven’t reached that point yet, but I have been told it’s usually around the three-month mark. That’s why they give you leave for a week every three months.

At the moment; I’m just missing the idea of home. The last time I saw Riley was at the train station. The only safe way to reach the camp is by the bullet train, and even then it’s definitely a trip you don’t want to make lightly. He walked me to the station, but refused to see me off at the platform. He said he loved me, but he couldn’t forgive me for what I had done, and then he hugged me and left. The last time I saw Grandfather was the evening before, I don’t think my leaving bothered him all that much and he couldn’t come with us to the station. He thanked me for his nightly cup of tea and I left him in his chair.

As I have said, the journey to the camp is a bit of a nightmare. Even with clear sky, it is a full day of travel. The bullet train is also the only way to travel through the electrical storms, as long as the line does not flood. The only real threat is the occasional swarms of pteroraptors, which follow in the wake of the storm. They feed on the carrion, and are extremely aggressive towards all forms of life. They will land on top of the train and use their sharp beaks to rip away at the metal skin of the train, once inside they will destroy the electrics in order to get through to the passengers. Highly skilled sharpshooters emerge from the train after the storms have passed and strap themselves to the top and sides of the trains to combat the problem.

As a child, I would dread the electrical storms that would crash in the sky outside, and just when you thought everything was okay you would hear the unholy screech of a pack of the pteroraptors. If I slept at that point, I would dream that hell itself had arrived on earth, outraged with the state of man, its harbinger the clash of the angry sky. It was as if the earth itself was rebelling against humankind.

Now I do not mind the storms, at the camp it was an excuse to relax and do nothing. The eventual arrival of the pteroraptors was greeted in the manner you would expect for target practice.
____
There is little to report as it has been raining constantly for almost two days now, there is a large storm passing over. I have been told via the weather network that it will blow itself out by the end of the week but until it does I am grounded.

I was walking back from the section I have been working on (it is about a 30 minute walk) and stumbled across the Raven’s Rest road outpost. It’s a small set of structures built into the side of the valley to help disguise them in the woodland. The running of the tiny complex falls on the head of the Clarke family. Now I think its Frank Clarke, 72 and widowed, who is the outpost keeper, but I did not stop to see how he was doing. I probably should at some point, especially since it is at the centre of my jurisdiction.

The outpost is not visited often because the mountain road is a slow and dangerous way to travel. In the valley, the woodlands hide travellers from predators and the elements, but the rocky mountain passes are extremely exposed. The outpost was set up by the Establishment in order to offer a place for traders and visitors of Raven’s Rest to recuperate before the last stretch of their journey. Before the railway it was in high demand, now it is only really used by wind-catchers heading into town to pick up spare parts, clothing or to visit family on their leave.

Some of the other catchers have mentioned on the communications network that there is a good bar there, and they gather there to meet travelling companions heading out of the valley in either direction. Other catchers, who do not need to go into town for whatever reason, choose to stay there instead.

As a child my Grandfather would stop in there when he took me to see my father in the next town over. The wind-catchers would always escort us either way so that we did not have to do the journey alone. The rooms are small and they sometimes smell of dust but overall it is a clean, quiet place, at least in the sections I was allowed in. I have never actually seen the bar. The late Mrs. Clarke would always sit us in the kitchen and slip me biscuits under the table. My Grandfather would trade stories with Mr. (call me Frank) Clarke pretending not to notice that I was on my fourth honey and oat cookie. I made a promise immediately that considering tomorrow there was little to do until the storms passed, I would check the bar out, and maybe even stay over if there was room, it would save me a walk in the dark and wet.

When I was 11 we stopped travelling to visit my father and a few years later Mrs. Clarke passed away. To the best of my knowledge she took her honey and oat cookie recipe to the grave with her.
____
I am writing this from the kitchen at the outpost. Tomorrow is my day off and I have spent the majority of today in the rain. I have started drinking but it must be 6 o’clock for somebody, somewhere. There are three other coms. Officers who within easy travelling distance of here, but only two have made it in this afternoon. When I entered the bar they offered me a greeting, but then went back to their conversation. They were eating cheese sandwiches, washing them down with warm cider. My stomach made its jealousy known, and after asking them where I could find the person in charge they pointed me out to a little courtyard behind the bar. I found Frank, much older then I expected, sitting on an upturned crate, smoking a pipe and staring out at the rain. The very picture of a contemplative loner. I cleared my throat in the hopes that I would not startle him. He just waved his hand through the pipe smoke and gruffly replied.

“One minute, I’ll get you your refills in one minuet.” He blew out another long puff, and we both watched intently as it was beaten into submission by the rain. The only sound that followed for a few moments was the sound of water hitting the corrugated steel of the roof of the canopy. I was about to declare that I wasn’t looking for a refill, but a place I could change into the dry set of clothes in my pack when he tip the remains of his pipe into a puddle and turned to face me. “Well,” he said, surprised at the new face, “why didn’t you say something sooner, look at you your freezing to death.” With that I was lead helplessly through the complex to a room of my own.

After a hot bath, and a change of clothes, I found myself wandering back down to the bar. The two other coms. Officers had now moved onto a game of cards. They offered to deal me on the next hand and relieve me of my money, but I declined.

I found Frank in the kitchen heating up cider and making more sandwiches. The sight was so hauntingly familiar, for a moment my chest ached for the Grandfather of my childhood, who should be sitting at the table swapping jokes and admiring the absent Mrs. Clarke’s cooking. The feeling was so sudden and strong that I was momentarily cast adrift in the doorway, and it wasn’t until Frank told me to sit myself down that I could remember how to move.

I introduced myself; Mr. Clarke was surprised but clasped me on the shoulder and then went to fetch the “good hooch”. He asked me all about how I was finding the lifestyle of my profession, and how my family were.

“Riley is good, he is working as a mechanic in town. Grandfather is good. He can’t really leave the house on his own anymore.” I shrugged; everyone in town knew what had happened to Grandfather so I never had to give updates before. I suddenly hit me that this man could have no idea about the man Grandfather had become and I really didn’t want to be the one who told him that.

He just nodded however, and then we carried on talking about other thing, he told me that his nephew was going to be moving to train as the outpost keeper, so that Mr. Clarke could eventually retire. He had a sister in the capital that had a spare room. His nephew wasn’t from Raven’s Rest, but used to visit often. I have vague recollections of throwing mud at a skinny boy, just a few years older then myself on one of the trips with my Grandfather.

After hours of chatting, drinking and the occasional awkward silence, Mr. Clarke, excused himself for bed and I began to write this. Before he left me alone though, he made me promise to volunteer to escort his nephew from the train station at Raven’s Rest to the outpost, as it will coincide with the end of my leave.

I also wrote a letter to Riley, in the hopes that he has stopped ignoring me, I left it in the box marked outgoing mail. It should arrive at Rest in the next few days.
____
Dear Riley,

I’m sorry I won’t be home for Grandfather’s birthday. Hope all is well. Give my love to Grandfather and anyone else who asks. I’ll be home the week after, if my room is still free?

Love,
T x
____
Dear Thel,

Don’t be such a dramatic idiot. Of course your room is still free, who would sleep in it. We’ll celebrate Granddad’s birthday when you’re here, it won’t make much difference to him.

Yours,
Riley.
____
I didn’t get a faithfully yours, or sincerely your devoted cousin, or love Riley, but I got a letter so I am counting that as a victory for now, at least I don’t have to find another place to stay while I’m in town. I have ordered a book for Grandfather’s birthday; it should be arriving at the outpost just in time for me to pick it up on my way into Rest.

I had to call in some favours to get it with some of the guys from training. They eventually tracked it down in a small fishing village south of the capital, and have sent it with the spare parts for my glider repair kit so it won’t raise suspicion. Mr. Clarke promised me that he will keep it safe when it arrives there, and will lose the forwarding address.

When I spoke to him a few days ago he told me he didn’t have much to lose, and as long as I didn’t go getting his nephew into trouble he would be happy to help any relative of ‘Old-Man Coor’. I’d never heard my Grandfather referred to with such respect, it made my stomach churn in a surprisingly nasty way.

I miss him.
____
People don’t talk in my family. As a child I remember a lot of shouting and long silences. When I was sent to my Grandfather at the age of 4 I didn’t miss home. I only have vague impressions of what it was life to live there. Somewhere in the collection of things that have become my memories over the years there are photos of me as a baby in some unfamiliar home. It’s not my home, my home is in Rest.
Riley came to live with us a year later, after I turned 5. We still didn’t talk about anything truly important, but there was more general noise. He was 7, and I thought he was a messiah sent to show me how to live my unimportant life because after a few hours he had caught a frog in a box just outside the greenhouses. He had a look on his face which spoke of unerring confidence as he condoned to let me carry the box back home. The frog escaped while we were sitting down at dinner, from the smug look on the cats face I’m glad we never found any remains.

We didn’t talk on the walk home. He met me at the gates of the town, he had to have been waiting there for at least 3 hours, but he played it off as an unhappy coincidence. He shouldered my duffle bag and we walked the whole way home in silence. I wasn’t brave enough to start a conversation in the high street. We bumped into a few people who stopped to say hello, but the only time Riley deigned to join the conversation was when Stacey Alder stopped and gave me a hug, leaving only after she had a promise that we would both meet her in Joe’s later for a drink and a trip down memory lane. Riley agreed because Stacey has lead him around by the short hairs ever since she learned to flutter her eyelids. I agreed because Stacey would be paying and I had promised to meet some other wind catchers there while we were all on leave. When I mentioned this prior arrangement, Riley’s face shuttered closed and he muttered something about getting home. He turned so quickly that he missed the sad look Stacey shot him as he began to walk away. I said an apologetic goodbye and rushed to catch up with my stony faced cousin.

We weren’t disturbed for the rest of the walk home, partly because we took to the side streets after that, and partly because Riley’s cold stare made people think twice before interrupting our journey. I just did my best to keep up with him, feeling like a scolded child and hating him for making me feel that way.

When we reached home he stormed up the front steps and into the house without so much as a glance in my direction. I took a moment to take in the house I have dreamed about since I left to join the Establishment. My dreams were often restless ones, that made me wake in my lonely existence, desperate for some one to talk to, but pleased no-one was around as witness to my weakness. I thought this moment would fill me with dread as I reached for the door handle and enter the house.

I didn’t, instead I remember the time I tripped on the stairs and chipped my front tooth. There was a little blood and a lot of tears, but I whisked to the dentist almost immediately and didn’t have to eat anything but ice-cream for two days.

As I entered the house the smell of dust, pipe tobacco and coffee washed over me. I was a smell unique to my home and something I associated with being wholly masculine. There was the sound of a clock ticking somewhere in the depths of the dusty house, in big grandfather clock that I knew would still be in the study to my left.

The stairs ahead of me creaked as Riley’s heavy feet stomped down them with all the grace of a drunk bull. He stood in front of me for a few moments glaring at my glider which I held between us like a shield.

“Your bags in your room, you can put that in the shed,” he said gesturing to my improvised barrier. “We‘ll have lunch in about an hour.” With that he was moving to the kitchen.

“Where’s Granddad?” I asked.

“Where else?” Riley responded. With that he was gone. The door to the kitchen firmly closed. I went out back to store my glider and flight gear and then went up to my room.

My room was exactly the same as I left it, I was surprised that it had been dusted and aired. Riley has always hated doing chores and I would have thought he would have taken my absence as an excuse to stop cleaning my room.

When I fist moved in I had what is now Riley’s room. For a few years we shared it, but as we got older Grandfather decided it would be more peaceful if we had our own spaces to retreat to. Almost instantly the number of arguments halved and so did the pranks. I stopped putting instant pudding in the shower head and Riley stopped filling my bed with things he found in the garden.

We helped each other decorate our bedrooms. Riley’s is green, with a surprising amount of plants in it. He also has all of the family photo albums in his room. He used to look at them in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep. Grandfather got fed up of him sneaking out of bed, waking us up so he let them keep them in his room. I made digital copies of every picture in there before I left. It took me weeks of wheedling to get him to agree to it.

My room is brown. I was never bothered about the colour, it was the paint we had left over when we had finished painting the shed. It has lasted a long time, and has the feint shimmer of weatherproofing. It never bothered me because you can’t see much of the wall anyway. Instead of plants, I filled my space with hundreds of data-disks. Each one is another docu-vid, technical manual, historical volume or collection of fiction. When I was 11, I became obsessed with reading and would lock myself in my room for days absorbing words. I began to link what I learned to the world, and I hated the thought that one day I would need knowledge and would not be able to find the relevant disk, so each is chaotically categorised in a filing system that is remarkable hard to explain, even to those who know me best.

I ran my hands across each shelf before collapsing on my bed. My bedclothes smelled clean, and I buried my head under the pillows for a few moments, closing my eyes tight against the pain in my chest.

After I had recovered from the feeling of being home, I stripped out of my dirty travel clothes, washed in the bathroom sink and dressed in some soft cotton trousers and a long sleeved shirt. It was not a cold day, but one where the sun spends it time hiding behind the clouds. Every time it disappeared and the wind picked up, I knew I would regret choosing a t-shirt.

I padded down the stairs, I wore thick socks, but no slippers. I didn’t want to attract attention until I was ready for it and slipped down into the den. The small room had always been dwarfed by the large fireplace, and overstuffed chairs that occupied it. There are no TV’s permitted in my Grandfather’s house, so all the furniture is instead turned to make the radio, next to the fire, the focal point. Off against one wall was a drinks cabinet which used to be used only on the night of the turn of the year. Now two glasses and a decanted brandy sat on top. The key which used to hang around Grandfather’s neck sticking out of the keyhole.

Above the fireplace was the obligatory family photo. It was taken on my birthday, the first year Riley came to stay with us. Both of us had been forced to wear our best party clothes, but the effort by the adults who cooed over us was ruined when we returned from the garden for jelly and custard covered head to foot in sticky mud. It had been deliberate on our part, the day was dry and sunny, so we had gotten the garden hose out and decided to make a slide on the grass. It was Riley’s idea, but I would have followed him straight into the Steeps if he’d asked. I took the blame, because it was my birthday, and Grandfather laughed as we climbed all over him covering him in muddy prints. One of the parents had captured the moment we entered with Grandfather’s look of shock and our two grinning, muddy, mugs.

That night as Grandfather tucked me into bed, he told me that it was bad to lie, but if it protected the ones we loved exceptions could be made. He made me promise to never lie to him again, but said he would have done the same, if he had known he wouldn’t get in trouble, he would have lied about the mud slide too.

The next day he made Riley water the garden and replant grass in the muddy patch we had left in our wake. I thought Riley would ignore me with all the determination of a busted seven year old boy, but instead he chased me around the garden and tackled me into a bush. I was laughing the whole time.

On the other side of the den is a door into my Grandfather’s study, I was working up the courage to knock on the door when Riley entered. I spun around, embarrassed at being caught in hesitation and he just sighed and shook his head.

“Lunch is ready if you want it.” He turned and I followed him into the kitchen. He sat me down and then piled my plate with stew and mashed potatoes. It smelt heavenly, and it was gone in the time it took him to plate up and get drinks. He just sighed and shook his head, taking my plate to the counter to serve me seconds, as he turned away I almost thought I saw a smile.

The second time around the food tasted better, because I had taken the edge off my hunger. Every few seconds Riley would pause eating as if he wanted to say something and then, as if he had thought better of it he would take a sip of his water and continue eating. It was driving me up the wall, so I put my cutlery down and stared straight at him. Suddenly his plate must have spontaneously combusted, it was the only explanation for the focus with which he was staring at it.

“Are we talking again yet?” He choked at the candid question. As a child he would sometimes ignore me when we had a really bad fight, my response to this would be to follow him around asking “are we talking again yet?” Eventually he’d give up and talk to me. Today was no exception.

“Well we can’t live in the same house for a whole week if we’re not talking.” He said, neatly putting his fork down too. And for the first time since I had returned looked me in the eye.

“Why not?” I grinned at him. “We’ve gone way longer without speaking before.” He didn’t smile back like I thought he would, instead he lost my eye contact again and chased some potato around his plate.

“I’m still angry at you.” I could deal with that.

Lunch was more civil after that, although still just a stilted. Riley told me about his work, he’s been working for an old friend of Grandfather’s for a long time as a mechanic, although now he’s been placed in charge of training the new apprentices who have just joined. He told me they are all hard workers, but were slow to catch on. He asks me what are kids being taught in school. I said I wouldn’t know, I hardly ever stayed in lessons, he just smirked at that. We didn’t talk about my work.
After lunch I helped Riley wash up and then he said he needed to go back to work. Just before he was going to leave he hesitated at the door. The next thing I knew, I was being swept into a bear hug but before I could reciprocate he was making his way out of the door.
“I did miss you ‘Elma. I’ll see you tonight.” Then he was gone, and was left alone in the hallway, not even trying to battle the big grin that was breaking out on my face.

I didn’t know what to do with myself while Riley was gone, so I checked the dirty washing basket and sure enough it was full. I put a wash on, and decided to air my room. But once all the dusting was done, and there were no more chores to hide behind I knew I would have to face my Grandfather.

I stood in front of his office door for about 15 minuets before I got up the courage to knock. There was silence for a moment before a clipped “come in” floated from my Grandfather’s inner sanctum. I pushed the door open and was hit by the strong smell of pipe tobacco. I breathed in deeply for courage and where there had always been a warm smell, similar to cinnamon, underneath the smoke, there was now only the smell of mould and neglect.

“Don’t just stand there in the door, come in and sit down,” my Grandfather barked. Before I knew it my legs had obeyed and I was perched in the over stuffed armchair facing the large, mahogany desk. Grandfather was reading a hardback law text, the pages yellowed with age and crinkled as his finger slowly made it down the page. “What can I do for you?” He asked without looking up.
My Grandfather started a law degree when he was my age but dropped out to marry my Grandmother a year before he graduated and settled in Raven’s Rest. Grandmother was pregnant with Riley’s father and his twin sister Agatha. A few years later she died giving birth to my dad. I asked Grandfather once whether he regretted moving to Rest. He said that sometimes things didn’t go the way you planned them, but the universe had a habit of balancing things out. In Rest he became the editor for the local paper, and in his spare time he helped the community by offering free legal advice. He told me he would never have found his own slice of contentment if he had left my Grandmother to pursue his career. He loved our town, and the people who lived in it.

Over the last couple of years though he slowly pulled back from the town and isolated himself. He pulled back and buried himself in his books and his writing. When I was 17 he retired from the local paper, and that was the last nail in his carefully constructed wall. I realised later that he had been pulling back for far longer then a few years, that we had all been carefully manipulated to fall into place as his care providers. We were to be his minions, his servants in the real world, and what was worse we were forbidden from talking about the terms of our imprisonment with the community. For all that we were his conduits, we were just as isolated as him.

It didn’t stop people finding out about the reason that ‘Old-man Coor’ was refusing visitors. No one would ask, but their pitying looks and whispers spoke words to me and Riley. Riley dealt with it by becoming even more of a social butterfly, I joined the Establishment as soon as I could as a wind catcher, because I knew that it would make Grandfather angry. The sad truth is that he never noticed. I just didn’t factor into his world anymore.

Seeing what my Grandfather has become is always heartbreaking. As I sat in front of him, I noticed that he’d lost weight, his eyes had sunken. Hair had slowly migrated from the top of his head to his beard, which was now long and scraggly. His clothes looked wrinkled, as if he had been sleeping in them for a couple of days, and there was splatters of ink all up the white shirt sleeves. Grandfather has never revelled in technology and mechanics like me and Riley, and always refuses to do his personal writing on anything but old fashioned paper.

“It’s me Granddad, Ellie.” His face snapped up, his eyebrows drawn together, I struggled to keep the tears that were welling up from spilling. Then suddenly the fog in his eyes cleared and he smiled brightly at me.

“Of course it is, it’s good to see you Ellie-Belly, shall we have a cup of tea?” I nodded and moved to leave but before I could Grandfather was looming over me. Then I had a nostril full of beard and I was being hugged for the second time that day. It was all a bit too much, I sobbed. Most of the men in my family are all over six foot, but I take after my mother, and as such my Grandfather’s hug swallowed my whole body.

“There, there silly, why are you crying?” My Grandfathers voice cracked from years of smoking, shouting and laughing.

“No reason, I just missed you.” I sniffled as he released me and wiped my nose on my sleeve.

“You are silly, I live here too.” I know I should have explained, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to upset him on a good day, so instead I just agreed.

We sat in the kitchen for half an hour chatting about books we had both read before Grandfather complained of exhaustion. It hits him suddenly and sometimes his speech pattern suffers. I helped him into the den and laid him out on the sofa. I went upstairs to fetch a blanket for him, and when I returned his eyes were unfocused, staring at the ceiling through heavy lids. I approached him quietly, hoping not to disturb his thoughts, but he snapped out of it as I lay the blanket over him.

“Thank you.” He said, semi-focusing on my face. I pulled a footstool over and perched beside him, gingerly taking his hand. He retuned my touch with a light squeeze, far lighter then it would have been in the past.

“I have two grandchildren about your age.” He said, his face covered in a soft smile. A fist slammed into my chest, squeezing my heart and my lungs. I just smiled back, the tears finally spilling over.

“Yeah?” I croaked out. He nodded and gestured to the picture hanging over the fireplace.

“That’s them when they were little, cute kids.” He said laughing lightly, his speech was slurred and his eyes unfocused again. “Wiley-Riley and Ellie-Belly.” His hand slipped from mine, he was lost in his mind, and wouldn’t emerge for some time. He wouldn’t miss me.

There is a cupboard in the kitchen which is for emergencies only. Inside is a packet of cigarettes, a lighter, an envelope with an undisclosed amount of money, in varying currencies, spare keys to all the locks in the house and a bottle of vodka. When Riley was arrested for joyriding, we finished the bottle off and as punishment for being caught, Riley was charged with keeping the cupboard stocked at all times. Every time one of us made a mistake, the title of ‘Keeper of the Cupboard’ changed hands, but it was always well stocked. I grabbed the cigarettes and the lighter and headed into the garden, stopping at the fridge for a beer.

The sun was fading from the sky, casting long shadows in the garden, making it feel as if the world was slowly being eaten by darkness. I sat on the decking, stretching out my legs in front of me and smoked as I watched the sky burnout. A few hours, or minuets, later I was joined by Riley with a beer, he lit his own cigarette and pulled me against his side.

“I spoke to Granddad.”
“Yeah?”
“He’s lost weight.”
“Yeah.”

Eventually we would make dinner, feed Granddad, put him to bed and then scurry off to our own rooms to hide, but for now I was happy to sit with Riley and enjoy being home. At least outside the house I was home.
Leaping lizards Caped-Crusader!

Welcome to the Strange

"An inch or so above the bed
the yellow blindspot hovers
where the last incumbent’s greasy head
has worn away the flowers.

Every night I have to rest
my head in his dead halo;
I feel his heart tick in my wrist;
then, below the pillow,

his suffocated voice resumes
its dreary innuendo.
there are other ways to leave the room
than the door and the window."

Monthly mayhem

February 2011
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