The Squirrel

She watches it for a while as it scurries from the base of one tree to the next. It stands up on its hind legs and seems to sniff the air for a moment then continues to rummage around the fallen leaves. Eventually it scurries so close to her legs she feels she could bend down and touch it. Carefully she reaches into her handbag and pulls out her phone, taps in her pass code and then on the camera icon. She slowly raises her arm to point the camera at the squirrel just as it moves off. She has to turn slightly to her right as she swivels to follow it so she can get it in the frame properly. She feels a tap on her left ear.

‘Oh my goodness I’m so sorry’, he says. ‘I was so intent on trying to get a picture of that squirrel I didn’t realise I was so close’.

‘That’s ok’, she says and smiles. ‘I was trying to do the same’, and laughs.

‘I’m Gordon’, he says. ‘My wife used to come here and feed these little blighters all the time when she was alive. I love to come and watch them still’.

‘Mary’, she says. ‘I lost my husband last year. He wasn’t one for parks my Fred’.

The squirrel disappears behind a tree, content.

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The Church By The Loch

PP0519

The Reverend took a drag of his cigarette.

The nicotine swirled around his lungs, infusing each inch, each sinew, with a tarry, poisonous calm. He exhaled, lightly brushing fragments of ash from his pristine black cassock as the smoke billowed aimlessly into the crisp mid-morning air.

He looked up, breathing in the vision etched out before him. Loch Awe, in all its majestic tranquillity, flowed calmly in the near distance, brushing the air only minutely and sporadically with the gentlest lap of a wave. On each side of the loch a cornucopia of trees and other foliage stood to attention, their colours fledgling enough to suggest the oncoming onslaught of Spring but their branches bare enough still to further suggest that the winter months had not quite been dispersed with as of yet. The sky above, pregnant with an array of clouds, failed to cast a gloom over the spectacle, instead providing only temporary cover for a collection of swooping and hovering birds, scribbled silhouettes against the overcast canvas. Their silent somersaults adding an extra layer of beauty, if not a touch of the surreal, to the scene.

The Reverend sighed. A boundless, contented sigh. One as satisfying as it was necessary in light of the sight before him. He took another drag.

A flicker of colour nudged its way fleetingly into his peripheral vision, enough to break the spell cast over him by the loch and all its surrounding elegance. He looked to his left. He narrowed his eyes, straining slightly to see. In the distance, maybe one hundred yards or so from him, an older couple sat on a public bench. Both held their phones up, aimed in his direction. He let the cigarette hang limply by his side, the smoke pluming towards the ground before pirouetting in an upwards arc and fragmenting through the air. The Reverend’s expression hardened, his lips pursed. The lines scrawled into his face by his quickening march through middle-age clustered together in a pained, almost angry, frown.

Who are they? Who the hell do they think…? Who’s sent them? Taking a bloody picture?! Or, even worse, a video?! Who in the name of God do they think they are? Hardly the archetype for this kind of…I mean…who the hell sent them?!

A crowd of thoughts jostled numerously, and incoherently, around the thoroughfare of his mind as his face remained contorted in a tug-of-war between anxiety and anger. He felt the cigarette nip at his fingertips as it ran down. He flicked it instinctively, raised it to his mouth and took another drag, this time through the slight quiver of his lips. His expression stiffened further, this time solidifying around the anger.

He strode forward, his steel toe-capped boots crunching loudly against the gravel path. And then he stopped. Checked in his intentions by the older couple as they casually stood up from the bench and walked slowly hand-in-hand in the opposite direction, disappearing into the wooded path beyond. The Reverend felt his heart beat, his lungs resume their purpose. His entire body seemed to sag into normality as his mind clicked into gear. He turned around and stared up the 18th century gothic church towering above him. He smirked. Of course there was nothing sinister in an old couple taking a snap or two of one of the area’s most scenic buildings. An old couple out for a stroll, nothing more.

His boots crunched against the gravel once more as he stepped towards the church door. He felt a drop of rain caress his shoulder. He turned one last time to take in the image of the loch, allowing the artistry to wash over him yet again. He smiled and took one final drag of the cigarette before stubbing it out against the church wall, letting it drop to the path below.

He opened the heavy door, stepping through before closing it behind him. The sound echoed through the cavernous building, ricocheting off the wooden ceiling.

‘Ok then!’ he announced in a clear, booming voice, loosening his collar as he stared towards the assembled bodies – both men and women – bound and gagged in the middle of the aisle, their faces crippled by terror. ‘Let’s have some fun shall we?’

The Reverend smiled as he pulled the gun out from beneath his robe.