Barney and the Bear

Barney’s old four-wheel-drive Jeep bumped along the uneven track that led down to the shore of the lake. It was his favourite fishing spot. He’d been coming here for longer than he could remember. The road off the highway had led through densely wooded forests, that he had seen grow thicker over the years. A fire that swept through more than ten years ago had just regenerated it to almost twice the number of trees that had been there before. He stopped in his usual spot, pulled out his gear and set himself up. He unfolded a camp chair that he’d picked up at a garage sale. It was an expensive, top of the range one, and he was inordinately pleased he’d got it for a song. It was a deceased estate sale. He didn’t care. He was quite happy to sit in a dead guy’s chair. He baited the hook on his fishing rod, cast it, set it in its holder, and sat down. In the old days, he used to read a book. Now he had an iPad. He settled his hat on his head and recommenced reading a story he’d started the previous night.

Several hours went by. He hadn’t had a single nibble. but he was engrossed and it didn’t matter much. So, he almost fell off the chair when a deep gravelly voice asked, ”Caught anything yet?”

He straightened up and looked around. He gave an involuntary yelp, then fell over backward. Standing behind him, was a big brown bear. It was looking at him with a quizzical look on its face. He scrambled up, but there was nowhere to run except into the lake. That wouldn’t help. Bears can swim, but amidst the terror and fear, he was aware of two things that should have been impossible. One, bears were not native to the country, and two, worse than that, it spoke to him. English at that. Bears can’t speak, or shouldn’t be able to. This bear obviously didn’t know that. As he stood there petrified, the bear spoke again.

“So, have you caught anything yet?”

“No,” he stuttered.

“Pity,” it said.

“You can talk,” Barney stammered.


“How come?”

“I dunno. Can’t all bears?”

“No,” Barney replied, and continued, “And you shouldn’t be here. Bears aren’t native to this country. Have you escaped from a zoo or circus or something?”

“Don’t know what either of those things are,” the bear said.

“You don’t?”


“So where’d you come from?”

“Back there.”

The bear gestured at the forest behind him,

By now, Barney had overcome his fear. The bear didn’t appear to want to harm him. Not yet anyway.

“So where’d you come from before that?”

Comically, the bear scratched its head with one huge paw. Then it settled down on its haunches.

“Not sure.”

Barney picked up his chair, turned it around to face the bear and sat down. He adjusted his fishing rod but didn’t check it. The bait was probably long gone by now.

“So what do you remember?” he asked.

In the back of his mind, it registered how absurd the whole thing was. He was having a conversation with a bear!

“I remember a bright light, floating in the air, seeing beings who didn’t look like you around me, poking things into me.”

Barney was fascinated. Had the bear been picked up by aliens?

“They stuck something in my head,” the bear continued.

“I don’t remember much more, till I woke up here in this forest. You’re the first human I’ve encountered.”

“Wow,” Barney exclaimed.

“You were abducted by aliens. They gave you the ability to communicate. But I think they put you back in the wrong country.”

“I don’t know what any of that means,” the bear said, “ But whoever they were, they’re coming back for me.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s in my head.”

“And when are they doing that?”

“Don’t know,” the bear answered.

“I’d stay in the middle of the forest out of sight if I were you,” Barney advised.


“Some humans have a tendency to regard anything they don’t understand as a threat,” Barney told him.

“They’ll try and capture you, or shoot you.”

“I see,” the bear said thoughtfully.

“Thanks for the warning.”

The line on Barney’s fishing rod suddenly tightened. He turned around, jumped up and grabbed it out of its holder. Gradually, with effort, he reeled it in.

“It’s a big one,” he said.

As he pulled the flapping fish closer, there was a splashing sound. The bear had entered the water. He grabbed the fish with both paws.

“I’m hungry,” he said.

“Do you mind?”

Bemused, Barney shook his head. The bear pulled the fish off the hook and swallowed it in one bite. Barney hadn’t even seen what kind of fish it was.

“Thanks,” the bear said.

“I’d better get off. I sense they’re coming soon.”

He lumbered off. Barney watched him go. He slowly re-baited the hook and swore when it pierced his finger. His mind was definitely not on what he was doing. Understandably so perhaps. He cast the line, set the rod in its holder and sat down again. Had the last few minutes actually happened? It seemed unreal. Perhaps he’d been dreaming. He picked up his iPad but found he couldn’t concentrate. He sat there restlessly for a while, then decided to pack up. He’d more or less convinced himself he’d been dreaming. There could be no other explanation. He stowed all his gear in the back of the Jeep, shut the tailgate and walked round to the driver’s side door.

He stopped dead. In the sand nearby, were huge paw tracks. He looked around, then hastily got in the car and took off. The bear had said he was hungry. Just because he could talk, didn’t mean he wouldn’t be above taking a bite out of him, if he came back. He drove as quickly as he dared up the track. Once he reached the road, he floored it. The old Jeep still had a bit of go in her. He almost freaked when he caught a glimpse of brown on his right, but it was just leaves from the diseased branch of a dead tree.

When he left the forest behind, he slowed, then pulled to the side of the road, got out and looked back. There was nothing to see. The sun was now quite low in the sky, and there had been no other traffic. He wondered where the bear was. He stood there for a while, just running over the conversation he had with it. It was crazy. A bear was abducted by aliens and then given the ability to speak. And English at that. Maybe they got him in Canada. He could just as easily have been able to speak French then. He wouldn’t have understood him if he had, And to cap it off, they dumped him back in the wrong country. The thought amused him somewhat. The aliens weren’t as smart as they thought. The whole thing was just nuts, he decided.

He turned and got into the car. As he drove off, he caught a flash of light in his driver’s side mirror. He screeched to a halt and jumped out. In the distance, just above the tree line, he saw a pulsating blue light. He watched in fascination as it hovered, then disappeared. Scant seconds later, it reappeared, hovered again, shot straight up then winked out of sight.

Belatedly, he realised he could have captured the whole thing on his phone. Too late now. He slowly got back in his car and sat for a while before driving off. Nobody would believe him if he told them what had happened. A brown bear abducted by aliens, given the ability to speak English, dumped in the wrong country, then taken back again. They’d tell him he’d been hallucinating, dreaming, on drugs, or drank too much.

But he knew the truth. What was the point of it all, he wondered. He guessed he’d never find out. He hoped they put the bear back where they found him.

His fishing spot would forever hold a different kind of memory for him now, he thought, as he drove into the gathering dusk. The place where he had a conversation with a talking bear.


“Are we there yet?”

Charlie opened her eyes, yawned, then asked plaintively, “Are we there yet?

Deacon snorted then said, “How old are you again?”

“But we’ve been driving for ages!”

“Yes, and you’ve been asleep for most of it,” he retorted.

“You prefer to drive anyway,” Charlie said.

“Because you’re a lead foot and I want to get to the grandkids alive.”

“Okay, Okay! So how long now anyway.”

“Still a long way. We might stop at the next motel or something”

“Haven’t seen any sign of anything for miles,” Charlie remarked,

“You saw that through your closed eyelids, did you?”

“Oh shut up. Wake me when we get to a motel,” Charlie said and settled back again.

Deacon shook his head and peered ahead at the long ribbon of black unwinding in his headlights. He hadn’t seen another car for quite some time.

An hour or so later, lights appeared in the distance. It was a service station set back from the road. As he neared it, he saw the vacancy sign of a motel behind it. He was puzzled. He didn’t remember seeing it last time. Nevertheless, he turned off onto the side road and headed for it. A sign said ‘Wayside Motel.’ He stopped outside reception, then got out. There was a sign on the door. It read, ‘If closed, go to the service station.’

He got back in the car. Charlie stirred, and without opening her eyes, asked, “Are we there yet?”

“Yes dear. Of course we are. I turned the car into a plane,” he said sarcastically.

Her eyes opened.

“Very funny. Where are we anyway?”

“Motel,” he answered, reached for his wallet that he had placed in the centre console, then got out again and walked to the service station. The man behind the counter was old, with an unruly mop of grey hair. He was wearing a wrinkled red flannel shirt that looked as if he’d slept in it. He looked expressionlessly at Deacon with red-rimmed, deep-set black eyes. His face was an unhealthy white pallor. He wondered if the man was ill.

“May we have a room for the night at the motel please?” he asked politely.

The man turned, took a key from a board behind him, and handed it to him.

“Fifty dollars,” he said, his voice a throaty rasp.

Deacon was surprised at the price, but handed him the money.

“Don’t need a receipt,” he said.

The man, nodded, kept looking at him, or almost through him, he thought.

It made him feel very uncomfortable.

“Thanks,” he said, and walked out the door. Through the window, he saw the man was still staring into space.

‘That was weird,’ he thought.

He decided not to share his feelings with Charlie. The key was for room number six. Back at the car, he got in, started it, drove into the carpark and stopped in front of room number six. There were no other cars, they had the motel to themselves.

“Want your suitcase? Stupid question. Of course you do. Here’s the key. It’s six. Go and open the door.”

“Aye aye, skipper!” she responded and got out.

He pressed the button for the boot, retrieved her suitcase, and his bag, shut it and walked into the room. Charlie had turned on the lights. The room was neat and tidy, with a queen-sized bed in the middle with a floral patterned cover over it.

“Smells musty in here,” Charlie wrinkled her nose, as Deacon deposited their bags on the bed.

‘We won’t be here long,” he said.

“ And I’m buggered, so I don’t care.”

Charlie wandered off.

“There’s a kettle and tea things over here,” she said.

“Want a cuppa?”

“Yes please.”

Deacon pulled out sleep shorts, a tee shirt and his toilet bag and went into the bathroom. He was having a pee when Charlie came in and filled the kettle. She pulled a face.

“Noisey,” she said.

“Piss off,” he told her.

“Oh, you’re so funny,” she said, left and shut the door.

A little later, he sat on the bed, sipping his tea. There’d been milk in the small fridge.

“Strange. I don’t remember this motel or the service station last time I came through here,” he said.

“When was that?”

“Dunno. Long time ago.”

“Well, you’re old. Your memory’s pretty shot,” she told him.

“Thanks, I love you too.”

He finished his tea and put his cup on the bedside table.

“Can’t be bothered brushing my teeth,” he told her.

“I’ll do it in the morning,” and climbed into bed.

“Eew,” she said.

“Disgusting creature. No good night kiss for you.”

He pulled the blanket up over his shoulders and turned on his side.

“Good night,” he said in a muffled voice.

He was asleep in minutes. Charlie looked at him fondly. She wasn’t the slightest bit sleepy, unsurprisingly, but she had her kindle. She was halfway through her latest downloaded novel. She’d finish it tonight. A few hours later, she too was asleep. Up above, the vacancy sign had gone out.

Deacon woke with a start. He’d been dreaming. There was a fire. The heat was intense, there was a roar of flames, smoke was billowing in the air. He and Charlie were watching it from a distance. There was no danger to either of them, and he couldn’t tell what the building was that was burning. He turned over. Charlie was sleeping peacefully, her back to him. He put an arm around her and drifted off back to sleep.

It was six the next morning. After showers and an early morning cuppa, they were on their way. Deacon left the key in the room. Soon, the motel and service station had disappeared from view. Two hours later, they were in a large town. They pulled into a service station, Deacon filled the car, then they went into the cafe for breakfast.

“I’m starving,” Charlie announced as they sat down. She picked up a menu and perused it.

‘Full breakfast for me,” she said to Deacon.

A smiling waitress came over.

“Ready to order, folks? “ she asked.

“I am,” Charlie responded.

“Old slow coach here is still deciding.”

“No rush,” the waitress said.

“Have you folks come far?”

“Well, we’ve been driving on the north road for a couple of hours, so not that far,” Charlie said.

‘We stayed in that motel just off the road.”

“Oh? And what motel was that?”

Charlie turned to Deacon.

“What was the name of that motel last night?”

“I think it was the Wayside Motel. It was attached to the service station,” he responded.

The waitress, whose tag said her name was Debbie, said in puzzlement, “I don’t know of any service station and motel in that area.”

Charlie put down her menu.

“We definitely stayed there last night.”

Debbie turned and called, “Len, come here a minute.”

A grey haired man came out from behind the counter and approached their table.

“Len’s lived in this area all his life. He’d know about the service station and the motel,” she explained.

Once more, Charlie told him about their previous night’s stay. His eyes widened, then he whispered, “Oh my God.”

In alarm, Debbie said, “What is it, Len?”

Deacon and Charlie looked at each other. Len pulled up a chair and sat down, while Debbie looked on with concern.

“I don’t know how to explain this, folks, but, there was a service station and motel there, just off the road. But twenty-five years ago, to the day yesterday, it caught fire and both burnt to the ground. The owner, Joe Latimer, an eccentric old fellow, died in the blaze.”

Deacon and Charlie stared at him in horror.

“But we stayed there last night!” Charlie cried.

Debbie had her hand on her chest, eyes wide,

“I’m sorry, but it’s the truth,” Len said.

Deacon said shakily, “I saw him. Old guy, grey hair, red flannel shirt, dark eyes, I gave him fifty dollars, I thought it was cheap.”

Len nodded.

“Yep. That’s him, and that’s what he charged then.”

Deacon said slowly, “I woke up in the middle of the night. I had a dream about a fire. Charlie and I were watching it. I couldn’t see what the building was that was on fire,”

The four stared at one another in silence, then Debbie said, “I guess I’d better get you good people some breakfast.”

“I don’t think I could eat now,” Charlie said.

“I can,” Deacon said.

“I’ll have the full breakfast please.”

“How can you eat after this, this weird thing that just happened to us?” Charlie asked.

“Easy. I’m hungry,” Deacon answered.

“And two teas please,” he said to Debbie.

She left.

“Thanks, Len, I think. This will be something to tell our grandkids when we get there, won’t it? Grandpa and grandma stayed in a ghost motel last night.

I don’t think they’ll believe us, do you?”

“I can’t even believe it!” Charlie burst out.

Len got up and said, “Probably not. Maybe you shouldn’t tell anyone. They’ll think you’re nuts. Anyway, gotta go help Debbie.”

He went off, giving them a lingering look as he went.

Charlie looked at Deacon.

“I’m not sure I know how to feel about this,” she said.

“Yes,” Deacon said thoughtfully.

“I can understand that.”

He grinned suddenly.

“Why are you smirking? What’s so funny?”she said crossly.

“The Wayside Motel,” he said.

“What on earth is funny about that?”

Charlie was getting irate.

“I know what to say now every time I get asked that silly question.”

“What silly question?”

He laughed and said teasingly, “Are we there yet?”


The Car

The car took the corner on two wheels, leaving smoke in its wake. It flashed past a minivan driven by a nun. She instinctively braked, her little vehicle sliding sideways, ending up among the rose bushes in the front yard of a startled elderly lady gardener.

The car careered down the street and sped past a police car, which instantly turned on sirens and lights and took off in pursuit. The car weaved its way through the early morning traffic, slowed as it came to an intersection, allowing the police car to catch up, turned on its right turn signal, then abruptly turned left. The police car, about to turn right, skidded across the intersection and crashed into an inconveniently parked garbage truck. The car continued on its merry way, passing trucks and cars as if they were standing still.

Alarmed police called for air support and a helicopter was soon in the air. It picked up the car as it turned onto the freeway and shadowed it as it turned north, passing traffic at around two hundred kilometres an hour. Startled motorists were immediately on their phones, and two television station helicopters joined the chase in short order. They were instructed to keep a safe distance from the police chopper but were soon streaming live coverage to thousands of avid television and other media watchers. Meanwhile, authorities were trying to establish where the car had come from and why it was travelling at such speed. Nobody seemed to know. It just appeared. Ahead of the car, more police vehicles entered the freeway and were travelling in a convoy. Alerted by the helicopter of the car’s approach, they travelled abreast along the road blocking its path. The car did not slow. Fearing a rear-end crash, one police car slowed. The car flashed through the gap, police cars in pursuit.

The car had heavily tinted windows, including, unusually, the front windscreen so it was impossible to see the driver. Also, it was an unrecognisable make, and it was a shimmery colour, quite hard to describe. Some television and radio callers claimed have seen the car earlier in the day. It had been motoring through the suburbs at normal speeds. It had drawn attention because of its shimmery colour and tinted windscreen. One caller claimed that the car had sped up when it passed a church and a hearse had emerged and come up behind it. Whether there was any reason to believe this had any bearing on subsequent events was impossible to know.

Meanwhile, the car continued on its way up the freeway, destination unknown. The police helicopter kept up its aerial pursuit, the police in their cars a discreet distance behind it. A hundred-kilometre stretch lay ahead. A convoy of trucks entered the freeway and was deployed to travel three abreast on the three-lane freeway. A much more formidable obstacle than the police cars. The car approached, still travelling at over two hundred kilometres an hour. The trucks slowed, still side by side. The car reached the rear of the right-hand side truck, unbelievably tilted on two side wheels and shot past the trucks. It bounced back on four wheels and continued on up the freeway.

The media helicopters excitedly relayed the vision back to an increasing audience. The police helicopter had to call off its pursuit to refuel. The media helicopters keep authorities abreast of the car’s progress. More on the road police vehicles joined the chase. As best they could, police tried to clear traffic ahead to avoid a major catastrophe.

By now, the pursuit had been on for about three hours. Trailed by the police convoy, the car sped on. Then an off-ramp appeared, curving sharply to the left onto a bridge crossing a wide fast-flowing river. Without slowing, the car took the off-ramp and flew onto the bridge. Luckily, there was no oncoming traffic as it bounced onto the wrong side of the road. It hit the railing and burst through it. It plummeted over the edge and cartwheeled down into the river, hitting the water with an almighty splash, every second recorded by the media helicopters. It sank swiftly and disappeared from view, presumably being washed downstream by the fast-flowing waters. The helicopters hovered low but could see nothing. Squads of police cars pulled up on the bridge, but apart from the broken and twisted railing, there was nothing to see.

A protracted and intense search of the river found no trace of the car or its occupants. The media coverage was intense. The speculation, discussion, and wild theories went on for weeks. But gradually and inevitably, it faded, to replaced by other news. However, the strange appearance and equally baffling disappearance of the car remains an unsolved mystery to this day.


The Vanishing

The hall was packed to capacity. There would have been standing room only, except that it was prohibited for anyone to stand, except for watchful security personnel. The Master had so decreed it. This was the first of a nationwide speaking tour. He was starting in the biggest city, in the biggest hall. For the next three weeks, he was to crisscross the country, even deigning to visit some larger regional centres. They too surely deserved to hear his message.

It was a simple message, one that had been delivered so many times in the past. Faith, hope, love. Follow my teaching and your place in the afterlife is assured. It did not come cheap, but all seemed willing to pay to hear the oft-repeated message. The difference was, it was being delivered by the Master, as he was simply called. A tall, silver-haired, handsome figure of a man, with arresting, some said, hypnotic green-gold eyes. He was charismatic, without a doubt. He exuded an aura that many found irresistible. When he spoke in his soft, deep, soothingly modulated voice, it seemed as if he was addressing you personally, even if you were among thousands. Those who had heard him, returned time and again, simply to hear that voice again.

He dressed elegantly, in the most perfectly fitting suits. Decried for his less than humble attire, he merely noted that, while the original saviour was of humble origin, he was no saviour, merely a messenger. Thus he would dress and live as he saw fit. That included his Mercedes car and his ten bedroomed mansion. He ignored the critics and the naysayers, who were legion, as did his adoring followers and acolytes. It was rumoured that, just before his appearances on stage, he would make love to three of his most nubile female acolytes. He did not deign to answer any of these allegations. Questions about where the money went that was so generously paid by the attendees at his appearances also went unanswered. As long as no laws were broken, it was nobody’s business.

So, on this first night of his nationwide tour, the Master emerged on stage to thunderous applause. He raised his arms in the air, and the applause rose to a crescendo. He wore a thousand-dollar Hugo Boss suit, as a critic was later to sarcastically observe, only because the two thousand dollar one was at the cleaners. He lowered his arms and waited for the noise to abate. The lights were never dimmed. As he explained, he wanted to see them in the same way that they saw him. He opened his mouth.

And vanished.

A buzz of noise went up around the hall. This was something new. It had never happened before. Was it some kind of stunt? Would he appear in the middle of the audience somewhere?

He didn’t. The seriousness of the situation manifested itself when security personnel, support staff and even some female acolytes ran on to the stage and milled around in consternation. Everyone seemed to be searching frantically for signs of the Master. People in the hall started calling out questions, but the looks of bewilderment of those on stage gave no answers. There was no trapdoor on the stage floor, so that was no explanation. The noise in the hall increased as confusion reigned, then someone decided that as there seemed no rational reason, it might constitute a threat and hurried to the exit. That precipitated a rush as everyone joined in. People streamed out of the doors causing chaos as they flowed out into the streets. The police, summoned by the security staff arrived and strove to restore order.

An intense investigation commenced as did the sensational media frenzy. Speculation, and theories, and inevitably, conspiracy theories abounded.

The investigation came up with no rational explanation for the Master’s mysterious disappearance. It did unearth some interesting facts about him. For one thing, his name was Larry Johnson, a former used car salesman. He disappeared prior to the business collapsing into bankruptcy, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nobody knew where he had gone until he resurfaced as the Master, complete with his own select following which gradually expanded until he was putting on national tours. As for the money collected, not a cent went to any worthy causes, unless the Larry Johnson Foundation could be classed as such. Apart from paying security, business and administration costs, it all went to the Foundation, which strangely enough, did all its banking offshore in countries with very relaxed banking regulations, and funded the Master’s lavish lifestyle. None of this made any difference to his loyal followers and believers, understandably, given the propensity for blind, obdurate belief on the part of some of the general populace. Some believed he had been summoned to a higher calling, others, that he had been removed before he could convert more to his cause, still more believed he had been abducted by aliens.

The mystery was never solved, and the Master never resurfaced. Despite the strange and sensationalist nature of the disappearance, it inevitably went the way of all such matters and gradually disappeared from public awareness. Those desperately needing causes to believe in found others. In the end, for those doing research in this area, it was simply referred to as ‘The Vanishing.’


A Stitch in Time

Elspeth squinted through her glasses. Her knitting lay entangled on her lap. She had fallen asleep again in mid knit. Now she had to unravel it all again. Laboriously, she unpicked her stitches, stopped and stared at what she saw on her needle. There was a stitch in a colour she didn’t recognise. It was bright purple among a row of pale pink. It was after all, a baby blanket meant for her oldest granddaughter’s soon expected latest child. They had two boys, and desperately wanted a daughter, and their wish had been granted.

She peered owlishly through her glasses at the errant stitch. How on earth had that got there? She looked closer. It was definitely purple. She was perplexed, then decided it was just a flaw in the wool. Should she unpick it? It was an awful lot of work for just one tiny stitch. She fingered it. A strange sensation pulsed through her finger, passed up her hand, her arm and coursed through her body.

She convulsed, her sight dimmed, and she felt herself leaving her body and floating above it. Damn! Had she just died? Is this what it felt like? She looked down. Her other body seemed to be peacefully asleep in the chair, knitting clutched in hand.

Elspeth had always been an adventurous soul. Now, seeing she was up here, she was going to explore. She floated to the door and through it, and looked around in bewilderment. The nursing home had gone. She was floating above an empty field, with green pasture as far as the eye could see, and cattle, herds of them were grazing everywhere. In the distance, she could see smoke rising from the chimney of what looked like a farmhouse, just visible on the horizon. Had she gone back in time? She must have. She had vague recollections of a farm she had visited with her mother as a very small child. Was this it?

She propelled herself towards it, and was soon hovering above the roof. It didn’t look familiar, but it wouldn’t, not from this perspective, she chided herself. She went down and found herself in a huge kitchen. It was hard to tell if this was the place. Her recollection as a child would be different. She had to explore. Off the kitchen, there was a dark hallway with several doors presumably leading to bedrooms. She glided to the end and found herself in a large sitting room. That’s what they called it in those days, didn’t they? It contained chairs, two large sofas, a love seat, a huge dresser and some occasional tables. Wide double doors opened on to an expansive patio. There didn’t seem to be anyone around.

She turned and went back up the hallway. There were sounds coming from one of the bedrooms. She hesitated, then curiosity overcame her. She poked her head through the door, then hurriedly withdrew. Elspeth was not a voyeur. She wondered who the couple was, enjoying some ‘afternoon delight’ or ‘horizontal folk dancing’ as her late husband Des used to call it.

She decided to explore some more, but found herself unable to go anywhere else. Inexorably, she was being drawn back to her body. Maybe she wasn’t dead. They had revived her.

She woke with a start, her knitting still entangled on her lap. She had vague recollections of a purple stitch, a tingling feeling, floating in the air, endless green fields and a farmhouse. No nursing home. She had gone back in time. She examined her knitting closely. No purple stitch. It must have been a dream, but it seemed so real. She recalled with slight embarrassment the couple in the bedroom. And looking down at her body, thinking she must have died. What a relief. She giggled to herself. That purple stitch. She knew what it was. It had been a stitch in time.


Black Cat Encounter

The wet road glistened in the headlights. It must have rained earlier in the night, Rhonda surmised, but it made no difference. It didn’t diminish her sense of urgency as she pressed her foot down on the accelerator. She didn’t know where that sense came from but she seemed to have no control over it. Her headlights, even on high beam didn’t illuminate as far ahead as she would have liked, but she did not slow down. Suddenly, the edge of the beam picked up a large black cat that seemed to stare directly at her then crossed in front of the car. A black cat! She couldn’t kill a black cat. It was bad luck! Instinctively, she slammed on the brakes. The car skidded sideways on the wet road surface. It hit the raised side of a nature strip, overturned and then slid sideways into a brick wall in front of a house. In an instant of excruciating pain, her last thought was of the irony of her superstitious fear of bad luck killing a black cat resulting in her own death. Surely, luck couldn’t get any worse than that.

Rhonda woke with a start. Her nightie was drenched in perspiration, her blanket twisted around her body. The dream evaporated, her heart was pounding in her chest. Her overwhelming feeling was one of relief that was all it was. But it wasn’t the first time she had the dream. She had dreamt it twice before, but this was the first time she had actually died in it.. The previous occasions she had woken up just as she saw the cat. What did it mean? She wasn’t particularly superstitious. In reality, would she have swerved to avoid the cat? She wasn’t sure. And what was the urgency causing her to drive that fast on a wet road! She mentally shrugged. Who knew what it meant.

She was parched, so she got up and padded into the kitchen She poured herself a glass of water, and drank it down in one gulp. Then, as it was daylight, in fact, just after six am, she thought she might as well go to the gym for a workout. It was something she had neglected to do lately.

Soon, along with a surprising number of other keen gym enthusiasts, she was running easily on a treadmill, headphones on, Beyoncé blaring in her ears. She stayed for an hour, and feeling quite invigorated, left the building and headed for her car. She stopped in her tracks. Curled up on the bonnet was a large black cat. She was startled, the memory of her dream returning in a rush, then she slowly approached the cat.

“Well, now,” she told it. “You need to get off, I want to go home.”

It looked at her unblinkingly and did not budge. Tentatively, she reached out and recoiled when it snarled at her.

“That’s not very nice,” she told it reprovingly.

The cat ignored her. What to do now? It had a collar so it must belong to someone, but she couldn’t see any disc. Resolutely, she got into the car, started the engine, and moved forward. The cat didn’t budge.

“Damn, “ she swore. She couldn’t drive off with it sitting on the bonnet. She would probably be breaking some animal rights law or something although she wasn’t sure about that.

She stopped the car, reversed into the car park space. She was getting a little frustrated. She got out and told the cat,” You need to get off right now, or I’m not going to be responsible for what happens to you.”

“Are you talking to the cat?” a voice intruded.

She swung around. Unnoticed, a man on a bicycle had stopped behind her. Under his helmet, a pair of brown eyes looked at her in amusement.

“Yes, I am,” she replied, “It won’t get off my car!”

“Did you try asking it nicely?”

“Yes, I did!” she said sharply.

He grinned.

“Want me to try?”

“If you like.”

He dismounted. She noticed he was quite tall, dressed casually, in a worn leather jacket, red tee-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Not your typical Lycra-clad cyclist. He wandered over to the car and rubbed the cat under its chin. To her astonishment, it purred loudly, allowed him to pick it up off the bonnet. He deposited the cat on the ground, whereupon it sauntered leisurely across the carpark and disappeared behind a building.

He grinned at her and said, “That’s how it’s done.”

“So you’re a cat person then,” she opined.

“Nope,” he responded.

“Then how come it snarled at me when I tried that.”

He said slyly, “Maybe you did something to him in a former life. It was a him by the way.”

Her mind immediately went to her dream.

“But I killed myself trying to avoid running over him,” she exclaimed.

“Really?” his eyebrows raised.

“You look very much alive to me.”

She stammered, “I meant…” her voice trailed away.

“It was a dream I had,” she confessed.

“In which you died saving the cat?”

“Yes, Not that cat, I don’t think. Another black cat. Why am I telling you this anyway? Thanks for what you did. I have to go.”

“So soon? It was just getting to the interesting part.”

“What interesting part?”

“The part where you explain why you dream about dying while you save ungrateful black cats.”

She looked at him for a while, then, “Why on earth do you care?”

He said seriously, “It sounded as if the dream quite affected you.”

About to retort, that it was none of his business, she stopped. He had helped her by removing the cat from the car. Maybe it would help to talk to someone.

“I’d like to but…”

“But what?” he asked quizzically.

She said reluctantly, ”I’m not in the habit of talking to people about stuff like dreams.

It feels silly.”

He said gently, “We don’t have to talk about that, I’m sure there are other things we can talk about. We can talk about dreams when we’ve gotten to know each better.”

‘Better?’ she thought. Actually, since she had shown Marcus the door almost a year ago, she had had very little interest in anyone. Maybe it was time to start.

Almost shyly, she said, “Alright. I’m Rhonda.”

“And I’m Phillip,” he said, holding out his hand to shake hers.

On the roof of the gym overlooking the carpark, the black cat looked down at the two shaking hands. He gave a prodigious yawn, before turning and climbing down and making his way back inside the building.

©️ Cesmo

The Algorithm

The room was quiet, the atmosphere exuding a sense of calm serenity. Seventy-three people sat cross-legged in rows on the floor, eyes closed, hands resting on their knees. The room was circular and appeared to have no doors or windows. A blue light pulsated over the assembled throng, its origin unknown. They were an assortment, a mix of men and women of all races and ages, from all walks of life, and from a number of nationalities. The youngest probably teenage, the oldest, septuagenarian in appearance. They had all materialised at exactly the same time, and immediately assumed their cross-legged positions.

Precisely seventy-three minutes after it had first appeared, the blue pulsating light gradually faded. The occupants also faded from view until the room was empty. All returned to their places of origin.

Out in the world, life in all it’s complexities, carried on as before. But there was a difference. Seventy-three individuals dispersed around the world, each with newfound power and a sense of purpose. They were destined to have a profound effect on the world.

In the country of Lebonia, a young man awoke, his mind fresh, clear and alert. He stared contemplatively at the ceiling of the small sparsely furnished bedroom in his little flat, then rose. Shortly, after a shower and breakfast, he was dressed in his usual conservative dark suit and was riding his scooter into the city, his destination, the Ministry of Defence, where he worked as systems analyst deep in the bowels of the innocuous, nondescript building. Its appearance was at odds with the role it played in the subjugation of its people. Whilst the sector in which he worked had as its purported purpose, the role of analysing threats to the sovereignty of the nation, in reality, an intricate and comprehensive network of surveillance apparatus spread across the country, and fed into a central database in this very building, spied on its own citizens. Any activity deemed suspicious and.perceived as a threat to the authority of the powerful cabal which had covertly and assiduously assumed control of the ruling party, was ruthlessly eliminated.

Over the years, thousands of the country’s citizens had quietly disappeared or languished in one of its many prisons. The cabal’s grip was relentless and all-encompassing. Its individual members were rich beyond belief, their coterie of supporters kept in line with inducements and promises of similar rewards for their fealty. Meanwhile, the majority of the country’s people lived in poverty, slaves to the demands of the ruling party, placated from time to time with grand gestures such as the establishment of new stadiums, or entertainment complexes to keep them diverted and compliant.

The young man passed through the usual security checks and quietly took his place among his colleagues at his work station. He logged on to his computer, typed in his password, then entered an algorithm and waited. It did not take long. He had no idea where it originated, the numbers were in his head that morning, but he knew its purpose. It contained a virus that instantly spread throughout the system and wiped out every little bit of data on its citizens that had hitherto been collected. Cries of consternation erupted around him, but he ignored them. This was only the beginning.

He opened a new screen. It contained all the personal details of every member of the cabal, including their bank account details, many secreted in offshore banks. He entered another algorithm. Soon, every single account had been emptied, their contents transferred back to the government departments from which they had originally been pilfered. Lastly, when this had been accomplished, which only took minutes, he once more cleared the screen. Then he entered a third algorithm. This brought up the names of every member of the cabal, and detailed listings of their various corrupt and, in some cases blatant misdeeds, and launched them onto the World Wide Web. Every single social and news media platform was suddenly inundated with a wealth of detail. Despite the fury and denials that would inevitably follow, there would be enough evidence to ensure that the cabal would be swept from power, and perhaps a less corruptible form of government would emerge.

Around the world, in a total of seventy-three countries, similar scenarios were enacted as the corrupt activities of those entrusted with their governance, were exposed. Upheaval followed.

Time would tell if the changes that ensued, would result in any long-lasting meaningful reform.

For now, the mysterious algorithm had served its purpose.


Deal with the devil


The name reverberated in his ears. Strange. It didn’t come from outside.

It sounded as if it was inside his head.


There it was again. Blearily, he lifted his head from where it rested on his backpack, turned over and fell off the park bench where he had been sleeping. He landed on the ground with a thump.

He rolled onto his side and looked over at another bench across the path from his. There was a figure sitting on it. It was night, but there was a full moon. He could see it quite clearly. It was a man. A very well dressed man it appeared. Dinner jacket, bow tie and highly polished gleaming black shoes. He blinked, then struggled to sit up, leaning his back against the bench.

“Did you call me?” he asked in a croaky voice. “And how do you know my name?”

The man’s mouth moved, but once again, he heard the voice in his head.

“I know everything about you, Athol,” it intoned.

He was hallucinating, he decided. That cheap flagon of wine he had consumed before lying down on the bench, that was probably responsible.

“It isn’t and you’re not,” he heard in his head.

So now it was a mind reader as well.

“Yes I am,” he said aloud, defiantly, struggled up, lay back on the bench and closed his eyes.

“You can’t rid of me that easily,” the voice said in an amused tone.

“I am going to make this easy. I told you I know all about you. You lost your job, your wife, your house, everything. So now you’re homeless, living on the streets, drinking yourself into a stupor every night. Here’s the deal. I can fix all that. All you have to do is promise me your soul when you die.”

Athol’s eyes flew open. He struggled to sit up and stared across at the man.

“Are you telling me you’re the devil?”

“The devil, Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, whatever, it’s me.”

Athol muttered to himself, “I’ve finally lost it.”

“No you haven’t,” the voice in his head said cheerfully.

“I don’t believe in you!” Athol declared.

“That should make your decision easy, shouldn’t it. Just say yes.”

“What will happen if I do?”

“You’ll get your life back. You’ll live long and prosperously.”

“Why me?”

“Why not you. I just happened to be in the area. Your soul’s as good as anyone else’s.”

“How do I know you’re telling me the truth. I might drop dead in the very near future.”

“True, but what have you got to lose. You don’t believe in me and you’ll die in much better circumstances than this,”

It all sounded too good to be true. Athol was still convinced he was dreaming or hallucinating. Yet, the devil was right. What did he have to lose? His soul, that’s what. But he didn’t believe in that either. He looked across at him. He looked very real and very elegant.

“Why are you dressed like that?” he asked abruptly.

“I like wearing dinner jackets,” came the prompt response. “Remember when you used to wear them?”

Athol winced. It was a painful reminder of just how far he’d fallen.

“I have to think about it,” he muttered.

“What’s to think about? Yes or no.”

Athol was torn. His head said yes, but the vestiges of his long-ago Christian upbringing very firmly said no.

“I can’t decide!” he burst out.

The devil rose to his feet.

“Pity. Well, I can’t wait around for you. Plenty of other fish in the sea.”

He grinned wolfishly. “You never know. I might get you anyway.”

Athol watched in wonder as he slowly disappeared.

He closed his eyes, but the conversation he had just had roiled around in his head.

Sleep now was impossible. He got to his feet, shouldered his backpack, and set off along the path to the exit of the park. There was a homeless shelter several kilometres away. He would head there and see if they could accommodate him for the night. Then he would make a serious effort to pull himself together.

Hallucination or not, it had taken the thought of a deal with the devil for his soul that had shaken him out of his downward spiral. It felt like an omen, one which he was determined to heed.


Second Chance

Hillary laughed uproariously. She was more than a little drunk, a feeling of euphoria sweeping over her as she roared down the country road, wind whipping through her hair in the open-top little car. Dwayne would be so pissed when he woke up to find his pride and joy had disappeared. The MG he bragged to all and sundry he had picked up for a song and lovingly restored to its present pristine racing green condition. She tore around a corner, the backsliding away, but, drunk or not, she expertly corrected the skid and continued down the road. She knew it like the back of her hand and had no qualms about pushing the little car to its limits.

She rounded another corner, then stood on the brakes as she confronted a horrifying spectacle, a truck, hazard lights flashing was stalled halfway across the road. She wasn’t going to make it. The little car slid under the back of the truck, and the top half sheared off, taking her head with it. It went rolling over and over ending in a shallow ditch.

She watched as the head came to a stop. Her eyes were wide with shock, or surprise, she wasn’t sure which. What did interest her was how she was able to observe this tragic accident with such detachment. She felt her mouth turn up in a quirky smile. ‘Detached,’ that definitely described what had happened to her head. Talk about literally losing your head. Of course, she was dreaming wasn’t she. Any moment now, she would wake up from this gruesome dream, wondering why she had allowed herself to be talked into coming back to sleaze bag Dwayne’s place. Nothing had happened, he had been too drunk.

She wasn’t even sure how he had managed to drive back to his place, but when he passed out, she took her chance, found his keys and left. At least, that’s what she thought had happened.

The impact had jolted the truck. The man who had been working on the engine under the bonnet had fallen off backwards. Now, he picked himself up and cautiously made his way to the back of the truck. His face blanched as he saw the remains of the car wedged underneath. He didn’t look any further, and was soon on his phone.

‘Ok’, she told herself, ‘time to wake up.’ Except she didn’t.

‘Shit, I’m really dead,’ she thought. ‘Have I got a body?’ She looked down and was relieved to see she was quite intact. She had visions of her detached head floating about in the ether. Apparently all your bits came together in the afterlife. So if a deranged killer chopped you up and dispersed your body parts hither and thither, you still wound up whole. Good to know.

She looked around. Isn’t one supposed to see a light and head towards it? That’s what happened in the movies. Nope, no light. She was hovering somewhere above the accident scene. She wondered idly if the truck driver was aware of her presence. He was pacing up and down, obviously distraught. Who wouldn’t be? A figure materialised next to her. It was a young man neatly dressed in a grey pinstriped suit, with a red bow tie, and he was frowning down at a tablet he was holding in his hand. ‘The very picture of sartorial splendour’, she thought, but what was with the red bow tie?

“Hello,” she said tentatively.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said in a grumpy tone.” You’re not on my list.” “Pardon?” she said, surprised.

“It’s not your turn, you shouldn’t be dead,” he said in an aggrieved tone. “Really? You do see my detached head in the ditch over there, don’t you? And goodness knows what my body looks like under the truck.”

He ignored her. “Somebody stuffed up. As usual, I have to sort it out,” he sighed.

Abruptly, she found herself lying on Dwayne’s couch, his body half draped over hers. He was snoring like a chainsaw. She struggled to remember what had happened. He had driven her home, then made advances to her, but fallen into a drunken stupor before he got very far. She must have fallen asleep and had this really weird dream. She struggled out from under Dwayne. She needed to go to the toilet. She found it eventually, and almost gagged at the state of the bathroom. The man was a pig. But her need was too great to worry about the niceties of the disgusting pigsty in which she found herself. She did what she had to do, and made her way back to the living room. The keys to the MG were lying on the floor next to the couch. She picked them up. According to her dream, she had taken the car and killed herself. Well, she’d take the car anyway and drive herself home. Hopefully, she gets there safely. It had been a dream after all.

It really was a lovely little car to drive. The wind whipped through her hair, it reminded her of the dream, but she was careful to keep to the speed limit. She rounded a bend and her heart almost stopped. There was a truck stalled halfway across it. She steered easily around it and saw the driver who lifted his head as she went by. She recognised him, and almost drove into a ditch, the same ditch her head had rolled into in her dream, except it wasn’t. How else to explain it. She couldn’t possibly have recognised the driver if she hadn’t seen him before. She thought of stopping then decided to keep going. No point in tempting fate. She needed to get home.

Home to reflect. It seemed like she had been given a second chance. She had better make the most of it.


The House

The house was quiet. You’d expect it to be. It was midnight. No one was home. So it was surprising when the giant flat screen tv on the wall of the media room flickered to life. There was no sound, just images running silently across the screen. It was eerie.

But that was only the beginning.

In the kitchen, the microwave dinged. There was nothing in it but the light was on. Then the left door of the large double door fridge slowly swung open. There was no food in it. The occupants of the house were away on a cruise to Hawaii and had emptied it. Luckily, it wasn’t the other side which was the freezer. It was full.

One of the top of the range gas cooktop burners fired up with a muted click. It was the left-back, not one usually used. Above was a range hood, underneath an electric oven. The oven light came on. The setting was exactly 200c. On a large granite benchtop, stood a toaster, a juicer and a ninja blender. The ninja started up, but because there was no liquid in it, it made a harsh high pitched whining sound that reverberated through the house. One side of the toaster glowed red. The dial was twisted to the far right. If any bread had been in it, it would have wound up as a piece of charcoal.

The dishwasher, also a top of the range model lit up and started a cycle. Just a rinse one. It was silent, unlike the ninja, which whined incessantly. Just off the kitchen, was the laundry. It contained a Samsung combo front loader washing machine and dryer. It was pretty cool. It had an app and wifi support. You could check on your washing even when you weren’t home. Probably not from a cruise ship on the way to Hawaii though, but you could have if you needed to. It was quietly going through the quickest wash cycle. It was hard to tell if there were any clothes in it. Unlikely, one would have thought.

The other door from the laundry led to the garage. There was no vehicle in it. In all likelihood, it was parked in a long term carpark near the cruise terminal.

Back inside the house, the lounge room next to the media room contained a wall unit and an expensive chesterfield suite with two side tables and lamps which each emitted a soft glow. In the hallway, there was, unsurprisingly, a hall stand. It too held a small lamp. It was not on.

Upstairs were four bedrooms, each with an en-suite and bathroom. The largest presumably belonged to the parents. It contained a neatly made king-sized bed with two-bed side tables. Each held a lamp, both lit. There was a large flat screen tv on the wall at the foot of the bed. Unlike the one in the media room, it wasn’t on. Only two of the other bedrooms showed signs of recent habitation. The size of the clothes strewn everywhere testament to the fact they were probably young and rather untidy children. In one there was an Xbox console on a desk, with a monitor. It displayed a violent video game. One character was decapitating another over and over. It was gruesome. Very likely it belonged to a boy.

In the other untidy bedroom, small items of female apparel were strewn everywhere. On a small table sat a lamp in the shape of a frog. It glowed and made an intermittent croaking sound. A doll lay on the unmade bed. Disturbingly, it’s head was twisted so that it faced backwards. The toilets in the bathrooms of the three bedrooms were all continually flushing. The fourth bedroom showed no signs of recent occupation.

So the house appeared to be alive and it missed its occupants so much it replicated their activities when they weren’t home. It was either somewhat comforting or rather creepy.