Greener

Completed today (June 21st) as part of World Writing Day

Stop.
You’re going to fast.
Enjoy the finer things.

Hurry!
You’re missing out,
life’s passing you by,
you must seize the day!

Stop.
Try meditation.
Live in the moment.

Hurry!
You need to make a living,
a career,
you must make the most of your live!

Stop. Hurry! Stop. Hurry! Stop. HSutrorpy…!

Graham Alone

Graham was searching for sleep but that night it was eluding him. He’d searched in his bed until all light had faded away, then he’d tried the guest room but there was no sleep there either. He stood in the middle of his living room, under the electric buzz of a chandelier, trying to prove whether he was swaying back and forth or if his mind was playing tricks on him.

He held his hands out in front of him to see if they were shaking. He hadn’t paid much attention to the multiplication of wrinkles across his skin but the loss of simple abilities worried him greatly. As much as he willed his arms to stay still they would not obey.

He mused that maybe sleep could be found in his favourite pass times. He went to his library and browsed the many weathered hardbacks. He drew out five of his favourites and sat on the only chair in the room – a grand old armchair – and began flipping through them. He usually felt re-reading an old book to be like visiting an old friend but as he flicked through the familiar pages no conversations began. Any enjoyment of the pages was disrupted by a nagging feeling that there was something else he was supposed to be doing, another more important page he should have been reading. Eventually he chucked his books aside.

Graham continued wandering the house. He could hear faint tick of a grand clock somewhere in the building. He searched for sleep on the couches in the living room, in the kitchen cupboards, in the last of a bottle of wine. It continued to elude him.

Graham eventually climbed the stairs to his study. He stared at the door for a long time, perhaps swaying slightly. Absently he let himself in. In the smallest room in the house sat a desk with a typewriter atop it. To the left of the typewriter there were piles of blank paper. To the right there was neatly arranged stacks of paper full of text. There was a shelf on the wall with nineteen books on it, each with his name on the spine.

Graham sat down at the desk and looked to the papers on the right. He flicked through a couple drafts of a ghost story he was working on and mused on how to improve it further. He took a piece of blank paper and loaded it into the typewriter. The paper waited patiently to be given meaning.

Graham sighed and looked out of the window. He’d chosen an east facing room for his study so he could watch the sun rise in the morning and then the shadows stretch away from him through the evening. Although the curtains weren’t closed, the window offered no light to him at that hour. From memory he could feel the outline of the space that was inhabited by the sky, the single track road leading to his house and the hill with the lone tree atop it. He stared out the window imagining the darkness being lit up, as he had watched happen times before.

His fingertips settled on the keyboard. The keys rattled slightly as his hands shook atop them. He sighed and typed ‘No matter what I do I can’t rest.’

He roamed round and round the house, listening to the ticking of the clock. He began to talk to himself. He whistled in the hope that sleep would come back to him, like a faithful dog. He mumbled the names of those he used to know. He got no responses.

Graham stood in the living room once again, surrounded by the nice things he had accumulated over the decades. He felt a familiar compulsion to tear the house down. He wanted to flip the chairs over. Throw the lamps across the room. Rip the wall paper up. He imagined a younger version of himself destroying everything he had worked for. He imagined it so many times he began to believe it could have happened. Graham began to sway, then instinctively grabbed the arm of a chair to steady himself. Fear of falling broke him from his daydream. He sat in the chair, listening to the buzz of the light bulbs and the loud ticking of the clock. As he stared out the window his eyes were beginning to have a burning sensation from tiredness but they still would not hold shut. As he sat and pondered and listened, he saw a light moving outside the window. As he watched the light pass his breathing quickened and he could feel his hands shaking again. He got up and looked out the window. He watched light move up the hill and stop at the tree.

Graham, pulling a coat over his pyjamas, stepped into the bitter cold of the early morning air. He stumbled through the darkness up the hill, guided towards the tree by the faint light. It was shining upon the face of a middle aged woman. She was staring at it and tapping at it – the screen of her phone. He stared at her, hands trembling, plagued with indecision. Transfixed, he walked towards her.

He spoke but she did not react to him. She looked both familiar and like someone he used to know, over four decades ago. He walked behind her and looked over her shoulder at her phone. It appeared she was scrolling through news headlines from a past that never happened. A different team winning the super bowl. A war in North America, while there was peace in Israel. He felt compelled to reach out and hug this stranger but a fear held him back. He waved a hand in front of her face to get her attention.

She looked at him then. He stared back.

“You chose,” she said. She then pointed. Graham turned to follow her arm. She was pointing towards the window to the study. When he turned back she was gone.

Graham’s vision grew fuzzy and breathing became difficult. He leant against the tree for balance. His thoughts became scrambled. The concept of time was slipping away from him. He could hear the ticking of the clock again, louder than before.

He stumbled back to the house. Clambering in confusion, he found himself sitting in his study once again. The first etches of colour could now be seen across the sky, the entire night having passed him by.

Graham held his hands out in front of him and watched them shake worse then ever before. He moved his hands to his chest where he was feeling incredible pain. He realised that was what had stolen the sleep; the pain in his chest that he had been ignoring all night.

Graham forced his hands to the keyboard once again. He wanted to write something profound. He needed to. He typed hurriedly as his senses continued to confuse him.

He became aware that the paper was full of text and he was repeatedly writing over the last line. He took the piece of paper out and reached for a fresh sheet. As he stretched, the chair seemed to pull away from underneath him and he fell. He thumped against the desk then landed on the floor, the blank paper falling over him, suffocating him, while his shelf of books and the drafts of stories sat by and watched.

His last piece landed next to him. It was mostly meaningless, a random collection of letters and spaces. Only the top line presented itself coherently. ‘No matter what I do I can’t rest.’

The clock stopped ticking.

Hers ‘n’ His

I made a ‘choose your own adventure’ style game back in August 2014.

Check it out!

More context for those that enjoy reading about writing over reading writing…

I studied Computer Game Technology at University, so there was a couple times when some friends of mine were participating in a ‘Game Jam’, which is when people all around the world try to make a game in a weekend based on a specific theme. Because it’s a worldwide thing and it was set up somewhere in America, in the UK the starting time was like 3 in the morning. In order to keep myself primed for my best work at this time, I went clubbing before hand. I have fuzzy memories of arriving back at the flat, being told the theme was Connected Worlds and beginning the masterpiece linked above.

I always feel the most fun of an interactive story is just having as many options as possible. It’s annoying when you’re playing a telltale game or whatever that says it’s interactive but you know you’ve only got a fairly low level of influence on the story proper. So my ‘goal’ when making this story was just to throw in as many options as possible, sprawling out over the universes, until the game jam weekend ended.

E N J O Y !

The Launch

Craig and William glanced through the draft Steam Store page for what had to be the last time. There had been many last times, interrupted by a sudden realisation or a different delay, but now they were out of last times and out of money.

Only one press of the enter key stood between them and releasing their video game into the world.

Craig nervously flicked through the screenshots. He still wasn’t quite happy with his background art, he worried the animations were a little too choppy and there were elements of the art style he regretted integrating.

William looked at the project and loved the art. He was amazed by Craig’s artwork and the speed he’d managed to create it all. He saw an entirely different breed of problems. He’d never quite figured out that bug that made objects disappear, one in one million times. He hadn’t had time to re-write the audio code, which he knew would be a pain to maintain. There had never been quite enough play testing to convince him the design was actually solid.

“You did good work, Craig,” William said. “It’s a beautiful game.”

Craig scoffed. “The gameplay is the only thing that makes it worthwhile,” he said, and he meant it. In his eyes, William had pulled together a very tight control system, with a seamless design.

“After looking at it for so long, I’m not sure I can see anything good about it anymore,” William said.

“I know how you feel,” Craig said.

They stared in silence a moment longer at the decorated page, the enter key so close yet so inaccessible. It seemed like an optimistic approach was futile. Craig felt a wave of negativity that drew him closer to release; apathy, frustration and a sense of letting go.

“I’m going to hit it,” Craig said, reaching out for the keyboard. “Fuck it.”

“Wait,” William said, causing Craig to hesitate. “What if people don’t like it? What if they hate it, even?”

“That won’t happen,” Craig said. “I think it’s half decent. You think the other half is decent. It’ll be fine.”

William sat back, sighing. “I didn’t think it’d feel like this,” he said.

“Like what?” Craig replied.

William shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought it’d feel satisfying, not nerve wracking. I thought we’d be gaining something but I don’t feel any different. I thought the game would feel finished but it just feels like we’re giving up. Collapsing, instead of crossing the finish line.”

“We could work on this forever,” Craig said. “It’s about time we let go.”

William bobbed his head. “What do you think will happen?”

“There’s a handful of things that could happen,” Craig said. “First, like you say, people hate it, or no one finds it, and it tanks. We give this up and go back to normal jobs to pay back the debt we’ve racked up. We’ll still wind up doing the occasional game jam so essentially we’re back to where we started. That’s the bad option. Second thing that could happen. It does okay, gains some fans, and we get enough funding to make another game. That’s the good option. The third possibility is that it totally blows up, gains hundreds of thousands of followers and we become insanely happy for the rest of our lives, like Notch, Toby Fox or Davey Wreden.”

William snorted and hugged himself.

“What do you want to happen?” Craig asked.

William sighed. “I don’t know. I just hope people like it.”

Craig nodded. “Yeah. Me too.”

Craig hit enter.

My Net

I stand in the stream of sand and hold out my net. The sand rushes past, eroding me.

A variety of objects passes by, some hidden under the surface, others partially visible. I see different metals, tyres, empty bottles, fluffy toys, computer gadgets, countless things flowing past me.

I see a scrunched-up painting approaching me. I hold out my net and the paper slips into it. Only once it’s in my net can I look at it properly. It awakens an interest in the arts within me and it remains in my net.

Next I see a precious rock. I can’t reach it from my position. I struggle against the current as I take steps towards it and reach out with my net. The sand is deeper here. I manage to catch the rock; the heaviness of it strains my arms. I can now see it’s gold.

I turn towards the far side of the stream, where I was. I see another person with their own net, looking towards me. I’m tempted to move towards them but I worry I won’t reach them and I’m tired from wading to where I am, so I remain in place.

From where I am I can reach many things. I catch some blank paper, small jars of paint, and some brushes. With my net in the sand I pick up unseen objects as well, an empty tube of lipstick, more scraps of paintings, shreds of writing. It all builds up in my net.

I take a break from catching things and see what I have gathered. Compelled by the original painting and the other objects I’ve picked up on the way, I spend some time using the paper, paint and brushes to create my own painting. Once it’s finished, I put it back in my net.

My legs are growing weary now, the constant stream of sand making them grow red and sore. I grow fearful. I look back to all the things I missed. An endless stream of possibilities behind me.

It does not matter now. As I lose the strength to stand my ground, my net breaks, and everything I gathered up is scattered into the sand for those downstream.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost…

lochGillis parked his car outside Justine’s flat. He was a little early and knew she’d be a little late. He fiddled around with his phone until she opened the door and climbed in.

“I’m not late, am I?” she said as she messed with her seat belt. Gillis read the time as 1733. They’d arranged to meet at half five.

“Depends what you call late, really,” Gillis said, starting the engine.

Justine checked her phone. “Yeah, I’m on time. Good.”

The duo left behind their grotty student flats and got on the road to home. Or, rather, their parents home. Justine would still consider it home. Gillis would not.

“Do you think Mum’ll have kept it a secret?” Justine asked.

“She’s got this far, which is pretty impressive for her. Even if she gives it away in the next hour I’d say she’s done pretty well.”

“That was pretty funny,” Justine said, “when Dad was trying to hint it was his birthday this weekend. Did I tell you about that?”

“Nope.”

Justine giggled. “He called me up, and he was like ‘so, I’ve kept this weekend free.’ And I was like ‘oh, is something happening? I’d arranged to go to Newcastle with some friends.’ And he was like ‘Oh… Didn’t your mother tell you?’ I was trying really hard not to laugh.”

“But Mum did remind us it was his birthday this weekend.”

“She reminded you. I know these things. Didn’t Dad call you too?”

“No, actually,” Gillis said.

“Oh… Well anyway, I start telling him about this Manchester trip I have planned. I didn’t push it since he normally picks up on these things but he wasn’t at all suspicious. I hope Mum does keep it under wraps, I can’t wait to see his face when we arrive.”

“Maybe we should sneak in a window as well,” Gillis said. “Let’s just appear and pretend we never left home.”

“That’s a crap prank.”

Gillis frowned but his phone rang before he could say anything. ‘Your Fantastic Father’ appeared on the screen. Justine gave Gillis a look.

“He put that in,” Gillis said. “You’re not here.” Justine zipped her mouth. Gillis answered on the hands free.

“Hello Gillis,” Peter said. “I’ve just got it out of Mum that you’re coming to visit this weekend!”

Justine silently groaned. Gillis sniggered. “Why’d she tell you that?” he said.

“She’s no good at keeping secrets,” Peter said. “She gets very defensive so I can tell. Is your sister with you too?”

Justine shook her head. Gillis shrugged at her. She shook her head again.

“No, she’s… She’s getting the bus I think. She always says my car smells.”

“Right then. Okay,” Peter said. “Well, what I was thinking, since it’s my birthday and you’ll both be here, why don’t the four of us go for a hill walk? It’ll be like old times.”

Justine put her face in her hands. “Oh yeah,” Gillis said. “Sounds fun.”

“Oh great!” Peter said. “We’ll leave early tomorrow. I’ll find a route to do. This’ll be fun, won’t it? Mum’ll make some sandwiches. Where are you now?”

“Just leaving the city.”

“Right-o. See you soon!”

“Bye Dad.”

Justine groaned as soon as he hung up. “You can’t be serious.”

“What?” Gillis said. “I thought you like hill walking.”

“‘like’ is a strong word. It doesn’t really compare to a weekend of free food and lazing around. Why did you say yes?”

“Well I couldn’t say no. It’s his birthday and all.”

“You could have tried.

In a huff, Justine called up the contact simply called ‘mum’ on the hands free.

“Hello?” Lizzy answered.

“Mum,” Justine said. “Why did you tell Dad we’re coming? Now he’s taking us on a hill walk. This is a disaster.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Lizzy said. “He came in when I was making a cake and – ”

“You’ve made him a cake and he repays you by dragging you up a hill? Amazing.”

“Oh come on Justine, don’t be difficult. I enjoy hill walking as much as your Dad does – ”

“Yeah right,” Justine muttered.

” – and you’ll enjoy it when we’re up there. I’ll make sure he picks a nice easy route and we’ll have it over in no time. It’ll make him very happy.”

“Whatever. See you soon, Mum.”

“Bye Justine.”

“Goodbye Mum!” Gillis added.

“Oh! See you soon Gillis. Bye. Bye.”

Justine hung up. “I thought we were done with hill walking,” she grumbled.

Peter dragged everyone out of their beds early the next morning. They’d had a perfectly pleasant meal the night before and Justine had made an attempt at concealing her disinterest in the walk. Now they were parking the car somewhere that probably wasn’t supposed to be a parking space at Who Knows Where. A river was channelled down the U-shaped valley surrounded by sloping hills, coated in heather and scree.

“Backpack for you,” Peter said, throwing a bag to Gillis. “And a backpack for me.” He put it on.

“Don’t I get one?” Justine asked.

“Do you want one?” Peter asked.

“I’m just curious as to why Mum and I didn’t get one.”

“The bags aren’t heavy, there’s just jackets and some lunch in them.”

“You’re avoiding my question.”

“You can swap with your brother later if you want.”

Justine made a face and wandered off while everyone else swapped their trainers for hiking boots. Justine didn’t have any boots since she’d given her pair to a friend (or, as her friend would testify, left them at a friend’s house) when she left to Uni, happy that her hill walking career was over.

“How does this go again?” Gillis asked Lizzy as he fiddled around with the laces.

“Check this out!” Justine shouted. She was holding a dead frog out in front of her with two sticks. It’d been dead a while.

“Oh, come on Justine,” Lizzy muttered, as she did up Gillis’ shoes.

“Wow,” Peter said, getting closer. “Would you look at that. I recommend we don’t bring it with us.”

Her name is Absfelt. And she’ll follow me everywhere I go.”

“Right-o.” Peter turned his attention to his guide book. “This is the path here,” he said, pointing at a thin rocky trail suggesting a way up the nearest peak. “Let’s get going.”

Absfelt followed the family approximately fifteen metres before being unceremoniously flung back into the heather.

Gillis walked up front with Peter as Lizzy and Justine trailed behind them.

“How long is this walk?” Gillis asked.

“The book says nine miles. So it shouldn’t be that far.”

“Does that nine miles include going up and down, or is it just horizontal?”

“Hmm. I’m not sure. It shouldn’t make that much difference though.”

Gillis looked around the hilly landscape. “You know I’m not very fit right? I’m not sure I’ll make it the whole way.”

“Nonsense. You’re a strapping young man.”

“I’m a programmer who lives off oven meals.”

“You’re not visibly overweight.”

“My main form of exercise is walking from one pub to the next.”

“You went to the gym for a while.”

“That was in high school.”

“Do your legs work?”

“I guess.”

“Then you’ll be fine. Just keep walking and we’ll be fine.”

Justine started singing loudly behind them.

If IIIEEEE would walk five hundred miles

then IIIEEEE would walk five hundred more

just to BEEEEEEE the gal who’d walked ten hundred

MIILLEESSS too far for your lazy arse!

“Hmm,” Peter said. “I never knew she was a fan of them.”

“Oh, I can feel it already,” Justine said further up the hill.

“What is it?” Lizzy said.

“The blisters. They’re coming!”

“Blisters don’t form that quickly.”

“But, Mum, you know that feeling, when they’re forming. The kinda tenderish feeling in your skin.”

“Where are they forming?”

“All over my heel. And on everyone one of my toes. And there may be a few on the back of my ankle as well. We’ll just have to go back now.”

“Don’t let Dad here you say that,” Lizzy said.

Justine huffed and walked on in silence.

“We always have to do what they want to do,” Justine complained to Gillis a while later. They’d got to the top of one low peak and now they were moving downwards again, towards another higher peak. “What about what I want to do?”

“What do you want to do?” Gillis asked.

“I don’t know. Play scrabble or something.”

“I hate scrabble.”

“Well, what would you like to do?”

Gillis smirked. “I spend my free time playing games and talking about games. I’m not sure we could get our parents involved in that stuff.”

“Well we should,” Justine said. She kicked rocks out of her way as she stomped along the path. “If we have to do what they enjoy, they should have to do what we enjoy.”

“We’ve not gone on a walk together in about four years. And it is Dad’s birthday.”

Justine snorted. “On my birthday we’re going to Manchester. To look at art galleries. Dad’ll hate that.”

Peter stopped at a fork in the path. The left path zig-zagged up a tall hill and the other went along a V-shaped valley and quickly disappeared around a bend. He stared at his guide book long enough for Justine to catch up.

“Where next, captain?” Gillis said.

“I think we go…” Peter pointed up the left path to the top of the hill. “… That way.”

Justine groaned. “Do we have to?”

“Oh come on, Justine,” Peter said. “We’re adventuring! Aren’t you always reading books about adventurers?”

“Yes, from the safety of my couch.”

“Is there any way around it?” Lizzy asked.

“You too!” Peter slapped his face, dumbfounded. Gillis couldn’t tell if he was putting it on or not. “Come on. It’ll be fine. Let’s go.”

“DaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAD!” Justine moaned.

Peter frowned and looked at the map again. “Alright fine. We’ll try to go around it. The only problem is that that throws us off the path a little bit. But that’s fine. We’ll figure it out.”

And so the party left the path to trudge through the heather.

The next hour and a half was tricky. The group had got a fair distance away from the path before they were having to lean towards the hill to stop themselves slipping. The problem with trying to walk around a hill in an area called The Highlands was that there was no real beginning or end to a single hill. After trying to walk across an increasingly steep hillside a group decision was made that the best thing to do would be to move up the hill.

The four of them scrambled up a steep scree face on their hands and knees. Justine’s loud objections had burned away in to a subdued irritation which increased as twigs and leaves found their way into her low-grip trainers. Peter lead the way up the path.

“Watch out for that patch,” he shouted behind him. “Those rocks are loose.”

“They’re all loose,” Justine mumbled to herself, at the back of the group.

Peter was wedged in one nest of rocks, struggling to find somewhere to put his foot. He tried to stretch his arm up to a higher stone. However when he tried to pull himself up, the stone became loose. He let go and it tumbled down the mountain face.

“Watch out!” he yelled behind him.

Gillis was the next in line. He looked up to see the stone falling towards his foot. He was aware that Mum was just below him and was holding her body much closer to the cliff face so in a snap decision he kicked the rock as hard as he could when it passed him.

“Argh, fuck,” he cursed as pain filled his foot. He’d made the right choice. He looked down to see Lizzy’s head right below his foot. “Dad, you bloody idiot!” he called up.

“Watch out,” Peter called back. “These rocks are loose too!”

Once everyone got to the peak, Peter looked around to get his bearings. Gillis ripped off his laces, dug his foot out of the big boots and thick socks and examined the damage. Lizzy had a look. His big toe was red and bruised, although there was no bleeding or broken skin. Lizzy got a small bandage out of Gillis’ backpack and wrapped it around the toe.

“It might be broken,” she said.

“What does a broken toe feel like?” Gillis said.

“Oh, people break their toes all the time. It’s not that bad really.”

Gillis winced at the pressure of the bandage. “Compared to what?”

“What’s going on?” Peter said.

“Gillis hurt his foot,” Lizzy explained.

“Doing what?”

“He kicked a rock.”

“What? Why?”

“Because – ” Gillis started, then flinched with pain as Lizzy slowly put his sock back on.

“Well that was a silly thing to do, wasn’t it?” Peter said. “Can you still walk?”

“I got up here,” Gillis said.

“Ah good. Now then.” Peter wandered off, looking at the map again.

Lizzy gave Gillis a smile. “It might not be broken,” she said.

“Thanks Mum,” Gillis said insincerely as he put his boot back on and stood up. If he avoided putting weight on his big toe he could still walk without much pain, however it was awkward to walk in such a way on the un-even highland ground.

“Lizzy, where’d you put that compass?” Peter said. He was rummaging around in his backpack.

“Where did I put it?” Lizzy said. “I didn’t put it anywhere. It normally stays in the backpack.”

“Yes but we took it out. Didn’t we? I remember seeing it on the table. Justine, see if there’s a compass in the other backpack.”

“Well,” Lizzy said, “if anyone took it out it would have been you.”

“I can’t find anything,” Justine said.

Peter sat on a rock and thought for a while. “Oh well. Looks like we don’t have it. Don’t worry though. I have the map here and I know where we are.”

Everyone else looked around. They’d all completely lost their sense of direction. The U-shaped valley they’d parked in was not identifiable. “Really?” Gillis said.

“Yes really. Don’t worry. The path is this way,” he said, walking on. The others had no choice but to follow.

Peter lead as the group walked as one unit. He could sense that the mood in the group was somewhat low. Gillis was keeping up but seemed annoyed at him for some reason and Justine had settled into a thick brood. Lizzy was keeping alert and seemed to be enjoying the sights but was constantly checking up on the kids and seemed uncomfortable. Everything was fine though. He was confident from the map that they were going to stumble across the path again at any moment. That’d lift their spirits. To keep them going he decided to tell them a story.

“Now, kids,” he said. “Did I ever tell you about the time I went hill walking with your grandparents and uncle when I was your age?”

Gillis and Justine looked up from their feet to briefly scowl at their father before looking down again.

“Well, we were on one of the Scottish islands. I forget which one. It was long from the south end to the north end but thin from east to west. We were trying to walk the height of the island. Dad said we just needed to keep walking north and we’d make it. So we were walking north, over all these hills and bumps and your uncle was in a bad mood. Now, since I was around your age he was around fourteen or something. So he was stropping around, like teenagers do.

“Anyway, we found this nice little clearing with these big rocks in it. Granddad and I started climbing these rocks and messing around while Gran sat down to rest for a bit. But your Uncle was being in a stroppy mood and he just wanted to get back to the house so he could get back to his book or whatever. So he just wandered off on his own!”

Peter looked back to see if this twist gained any kind of reaction. It did not. But they were still walking so he kept going.

“So, when we stopped horsing around we looked about to see that your uncle was gone! We couldn’t believe it! He’d just slipped off! We started shouting on him. Michael! Michael!” Peter yelled. “Michael where are you?! There was no reply.

“So we started looking for him. He must have got a decent head start because we couldn’t find him anywhere! We walked north for a bit further but he couldn’t be found. So we decided the best thing to do would be to start telling people he was missing.

“We went east to some buildings and asked around to see if anyone had found him. We walked around fairly aimlessly, in a confused panicked state. Boy was your Gran upset! She was worried he’d fallen in a bog or something. He was totally, and utterly, gone!

“We decided to go back to the car after a while, hoping that he’d made his way back there and failing that that we could drive around asking people if they’d seen him. When we got to the car someone had put a message onto the windscreen! It had the address of a cafe we’d been to earlier and said Michael was there! We drove there immediately and guess who we found?”

“Uncle Michael,” Justine muttered.

“That’s right! While we’d been out looking for him and worrying our bottoms off, he’d been sitting in this cafe enjoying free hot chocolate and kit-kats!” Peter laughed.

“What did Gran say to him?” Gillis asked.

“Oh, we were just happy we’d found him.” Peter looked around. His story had succeeded in getting everyone to pick up the pace but he hadn’t been paying as much attention to where they were going because of it. They really should have hit the path by now… He looked at the time. It was nearly 2pm. “Maybe we should have lunch.”

Sandwiches wrapped in cling-film were passed around. A chilling wind blew through and whiteness filled in the blue of the sky. Peter passed around waterproofs for everyone for an extra layer “since we’ve taken off our burners.” Gillis had an old one of Peter’s which was far too big for him and Justine had an old one of Lizzy’s which was far too short. Neither bothered to complain.

Peter was brooding over the map. Gillis went over to him.

“Where we at, chief?” Gillis said.

“Hmm… I believe we were here,” Peter pointed at the map, “then we went this way… But that can’t be right otherwise we’d have hit this path here.”

“Oh. So where are we then?”

“Hmm. We started here… Walked to here… Went off the path there… Walked up the river here… Then went this way. I think.”

“Dad. Where are we.”

“We should be in this area I think.” Peter circled a large area on the map.

“Are we lost?”

Peter scoffed and waved his hand around. “Oh no. Don’t be silly. We’re just a little off track is all. That hill should be this hill, and that valley should be this valley, so we should be… Here.” Peter pointed at another point in the map. Gillis wanted to help but he hadn’t done orienteering since a competition in high school. He hadn’t come last, as such. He hadn’t come back at all.

Gillis made a face at Peter and left him too it. He was tempted to tell the others but he didn’t think Justine would take it particularly well.

“This is so dull,” Justine said when Gillis sat down next to her. She was scooping twigs out of her trainers. “I don’t want to be here.”

“Do you want to go back to the car?” Gillis asked.

“No. I want to be in the car. Are we going back now? Have we gone far enough?”

“It’s not much of an end point.” They looked around the windy valley.

“Deer,” Lizzy said. She’d wandered a little farther up a hill.

“Yes?” Peter said.

“No,” Lizzy said. “There’s some deer here. Quiet.”

Peter, Gillis and Justine slowly crept up the hill to look over the edge. The elegant creatures nibbled on some grass together. There was four of them, standing together in a group. They were close enough to feel the warmth of each other, to feel and be comforted by each other’s presence.

“Ah,” Peter said. “We’re down wind so they’ve not smelt us yet.”

When Peter said that one of the deer lifted its head and looked around. It looked straight at the family. Without making a noise, it began to trot off. The other three followed it instinctively.

“Dad!” Justine snapped.

“Sorry,” he said. “They were going to leave sooner or later. Look how they run. Isn’t that interesting?”

The deer quickly went out of view. Justine huffed and shimmied back down the slope.

With Peter leading the way, the party walked for another half hour or so. They weren’t sure. It was difficult to keep track of time. The sky drifted in and out of blueness, threatening to turn sour at any moment. Peter asked if anyone had checked the forecast. They hadn’t.

The party stumbled across a small lake. It’d take maybe five minutes to walk around and had a small beach-like bank at one side.

“Oh,” Peter said, clearly surprised.

“What?” Justine said.

Peter looked at the map, then up at the lake. “I don’t think this lake is on the map.”

“… What?” Justine repeated.

Peter made some grumpy noises and looked at the map.

“Where are we?” Lizzy said, looking over Peter’s shoulder.

“We’re around here,” Peter said, pointing unconvincingly.

“There’s no lake there.”

“Yes I know, the lake is not on the map.”

“For God’s sake,” Justine said, pulling out her smart phone. “This is what I get for trusting you.” She pulled up a map with GPS. “We are here. Next to a lake.” She shoved the map into Peter’s face.

He looked at it, then back to his map. They were about two kilometres from where he’d thought they were, and twice as many kilometres off track.

Peter looked back at his map. “What happened?”

Lizzy looked at the map. “We went off road here… Then up here…”

“No,” Peter said. “We went up here.”

“Incorrect,” Lizzy said. “We went up the hill an extra hundred metres or so past there. Which means when we went upwards, we ended on top of this hill. Not that hill.”

Peter grumbled to himself. “Yes. Well. Good spot, you two. You’ve passed the test, and all that.”

“Oh good,” Justine said. “We doubled back on ourselves. The car’s just east of here.”

“But we didn’t make it up – ”

“Where’s Gillis?” Lizzy said.

The three of them looked around. Gillis had wandered over to the beach area and was taking a rest.

“A day at the beach sounds much better,” Justine said, going to join him.

The four of them spent an hour or so by the lake. Justine ribbed Peter for getting them lost. He said he’d had it under control, although he was secretly relieved they’d caught his mistake.

Peter tried to teach Gillis and Justine how to skim stones, although he wasn’t very good at it himself. Lizzy enjoyed watching. The walk back to the car was quick as there was a path and Justine lead the group forward at breakneck speeds.

“Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Peter said once they’d all got back into the car.

“I’ll never admit I had fun,” Justine replied.