Dinner at the Manor

The Fifteenth Lord of Stultshire, sat in his drawing room, watching the motorcars pull up outside of his historic abode. His family tree was lain bare on his gravel pathway leading to the mansion. Sons mingled with Daughters, Aunts with Uncles, obscure cousins no one seemed to know. There they all headed towards the ancient manor house, the epicentre of this branching network. He had summoned them there, he had an important issue to discuss. The inheritance. His Lordship was an exceptionally old fellow. Now it was time to arrange what would happen on… well, he didn’t like to dwell on it.

His Lordship caught a glimpse of his half-reflected face in the window. His features now exaggerated by time. His “distinguished” nose was now a reddened swollen mess. His brows were a thick tangle of black and white hair, almost like they were compensating for the lack of any on his scalp. Deeps wrinkles snaked across his plump face, he had a life of decadence to thank for that.

The bell rang from the entrance, his loyal staff eagerly answered the door. He could hear the footsteps of his faithful butler, Lawson, as he approached the drawing room. The door slowly creaked open.

“Your lordship, they are here.”

“Good.”

His Lordship rose slowly from his seat, his joints grinding and groaning as he did so. He slowly turned to the door held open by Lawson, who was standing bolt upright like one of those statues from the parlour, or was that in the smoking room. His Lordship had never been one to ask for help. That was something that had been thrust into his lap. The proverbial silver spoon was permanently held between his lips. He made his way past and headed down the stairs slowly taking his time. Awaiting at the bottom was a group of some of the most influential people in the country. Politicians, writers, actors. They all bowed down to him. His Lordship made his way to the main dining hall as a gaggle of desperately clingy young men eagerly held doors open for their beloved uncle or grandfather or whatever. They were licking his boots as he made his way to his seat. There was a brawl going on as minor relatives eagerly held his seat back for him. He took his seat at the head of the long thin dining table. Before him on either side stretched relatives as far as the eye could see. They were all eagerly discussing any slander they could. So and So got his maid pregnant, What’s his name preferred gentlemanly company and old thingy was still as mad as a box of frogs. God how much energy must they waste in this endless gibberish.

Finally, the food arrived. A cornucopia of perfectly cooked nourishments was laid before them. His Lordship’s extended family wasted no time as they quickly devoured anything that was laid before them. They were almost animalistic in their hunger. His Lordship could swear he could see the salvia drool from their mouths like a hound’s. The feast continued, course after course of some of the most lavish food imaginable. Strange new food from the far flung corners of the earth quickly devoured with gusto. The raw greed in these people’s hearts, laid bare for all to behold. The feast continued. Drink, drink and more drink. Wine, liquor, anything was eagerly drank down with great aplomb. Bacchus himself would be shocked at the level of alcohol that was easily imbibed by his extended family. The discussions grew rowdier, louder and more salacious with each glass. Thankfully, the meal finally drew to a close. Now it was time for what they all really wanted to sink their teeth into. His Lordship slowly forced himself to his feet.

“I have an announcement.” His Lordship croaked. The dynasty looked on, eyes intently focused on him. The drooling was back, greater than any food could conjure up.

“I have decided who should inherit the estate when I’m gone.” Insincere cries of shock came from various points at the table. Some insisted His Lordship had a long life left, all the while secretly hoping for him to leap off the mortal coil as soon as possible.

“Well, I look at this family and do you know what I see?” His Lordship paused for dramatic effect. “I see a horde of fair weather friends. A group of cads, scoundrels and vagabonds.” Murmurs of slightly confused laughter rippled across the table. Surely this was some kind of farce? “I can say with an absolute certainty that none of you reprobates deserves this position of honour and great wealth. Thus, I’ve decided to bequeath the Lordship of Stultshire to, my beloved butler, Lawson.”

The room was deathly silent, until a loud metallic clattering could be heard as the most powerful butler in the land collapsed in shock. Like boxers set to work by the ringing of a bell, a full blown kerfuffle sprang to life. Desperate pleas for compensation were mixed with angry threats all aimed at His Lordship. His Lordship calmly turned from the table as the anger and accusations of his family began to turn in on itself. Each member claiming that it was someone else’s fault and not their own. His Lordship continued up to his room, as the commotion downstairs continued. He took his seat and watched as the family feud spilled out of the manor and back towards the cars. Drunken shouting echoed across the estate, as bandy legs wearily weaved their way down the path. His Lordship had a chuckle to himself. That’ll teach them.

The Tall Grass

Extract taken from the Visit Scotland website;

The  picturesque Perthshire small town of Aardraven sits south of the River Tummel and South East of the majestic Loch Tummel – source of the former. Often missed by commuters as they travel either North (to the Cairngorms) or North West (to the West Highlands), Aardraven is perhaps best known for the small cluster of near-perfectly preserved 18th century buildings, courtesy of renowned architect William Adam, situated in the town’s ‘High Street’. Particularly famed is the majestic baroque-style and oft-photographed Aardraven Town Hall. Adam was also responsible for the design of Aardraven House, the imposing Category A-listed country house which sits on the outskirts of the town within the 3000 acre Aardraven Estate. The Estate is owned by John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven, and his family. Once a working estate, employing a staff of hundreds, part of the ground within the estate now lies derelict and overgrown. Despite this the beauty of Aardraven House cannot be underestimated and is a must see for any travellers willing to head off the beaten track during a trip up north. Try to catch a glimpse of the house and its surrounding estate as the sun sets, in turn creating a truly stunning and evocative silhouette against the tranquil background.

***

Letter from John William Archibald to the Aardraven Community Council dated 24th May;

The Much Honoured John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven
Aardraven House
Aardraven Estate
Perthshire

To Whom It May Concern

It will come as no surprise to you that I am quite outraged at the manner of your previous letter informing me of the imminent ‘transfer’ of part of my estate into the ownership of the community for, as you term it, ‘sustainable development’ and the plans to ‘erect a community beneficial Ecovillage’.  Whatever the bloody hell that is.

This will NOT stand. This kind of gross insult to my name, and my family’s name, is beyond the pale. I can assure you with absolute confidence that this land, all 3,000 acres of it, belongs to myself, the Laird Of Aardraven, and my family. This will NOT change and letters of this ilk will not impede upon this irrefutable fact.

You state that ‘as per the raft of previous correspondence’ the project has been unanimously voted through, agreed and passed without any objection from myself or my estate. I can assure you that this is a scandalous falsehood. Your previous letter is the first I have heard of this ludicrous and very probably illegal venture. Socialists like yourself and that tinpot parliament in Edinburgh may very well wish to impose Land Reform on those of us who actually generate the wealth within this country but I can promise you that this cannot and will not apply to this case or to my land.

The law of ownership, under the Act Of Prescription, will prevail and when it does, swiftly and fiercely, I will be expecting no less than a full, frank and grovelling apology from yourself and all in this town that dare to question the legitimacy of my land and my family’s name. I have always kept a distance from the townsfolk of Aardraven, happy to let you dwell within your charming little town, but let me remind you that I am Laird, no less, of this area and have a good sight more sway than any council or committee that you wish to assemble. I remind you; this land, all of this land, WILL remain within my family’s name. Of that there is no doubt.

Yours,
The Much Honoured John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven

***

Letter from Irene McPhee, Chair of Aardraven Community Council, to John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven, dated 26th May;

Dear Mr Archibald

Thank you for your recent correspondence (dated 24th May). It was good to finally hear from you regarding this matter – we, and many others as I will outline in this letter, have attempted on numerous occasions to contact yourself, or any representative of your Estate, in relation to this matter.

I feel that I should clarify a couple of points noted in your letter.

1) The lower Aardraven Ecovillage project is a fully approved sustainable development intended to enhance both our town’s tourist potential and our town’s environmental credentials. Using a variety of renewable energy sources, including the Hydro Electric plant on the banks of Loch Tummel, we intend to fully power an Ecovillage which will provide facilities including shops, restaurants, museum space, educational facilities and upwards of 200 much-needed new housing units. All of which has been fully costed, funded and approved by the Community Council of Aardraven, the Scottish Government and has been verified by our legal representatives as viable and adherent to the law of the land.

2) You state that our last letter (dated 29th April) was the ‘first I have heard of this ludicrous and very probably illegal venture’. I will answer the legality part of that quote in point 3 below. As to this being the ‘first’ you have heard of the scheme, I would like to refer you to raft of previous correspondence from our Council dating all the way back to January 12th last year. Enclosed with this letter are no less than 42 letters from ourselves relating to this matter, many of which ask for an urgent response, and a further 23 from the Scottish Government outlining the terms of the agreement and requests for consultation from yourself or your representatives.

3) The legality of the scheme is absolutely not in question I can assure you. I would like to quote from the Land Reform Act (2016) in relation to this matter. We, or any community or charitable body, are able to request the transfer of a section of privately owned land should the transfer ‘further the achievement of sustainable development and be in the public interest’, and if the transfer is ‘likely to result in significant benefit to the community and is the only practicable way of achieving significant benefit’. In both cases this has been agreed as fact. The act also states that Scottish Ministers will seek the views of the owner with the right to sell…on any application. They have attempted to do so many times, as have we, and set deadline after deadline in terms of asking for a response. None of which was forthcoming until now.

To repeat what I, and others, have stated in many of the previous letters to yourself Mr Archibald, we absolutely do not seek to cause a feeling of disharmony within this transaction. Neither are we attempting to ‘steal’ or purge land from yourself. The handful of acres earmarked for this development is, as you know, within a section of your land which is vastly overgrown with weeding, tall grass and other aspects of foliage. We completely respect your right of land, your right of ownership, but with the land as rundown as it currently is our proposal would be to regenerate the land, allowing it to help rejuvenate and enhance our town and bring in much needed revenue. Please be clear that this is not a comment on your, or your staff’s, upkeep of the land.

Please feel free to contact myself or any other members of the Community Council on the numbers provided on the back of this letter. Failing that our next Community Council meeting is being held on June 6th and you are, of course, very welcome to attend and discuss any concerns you may continue to have regarding this matter.

Yours sincerely
Irene McPhee
Aardraven Community Council Chair

***

Extract from John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven’s, personal diary dated 30th May;

Nonsense. Absolute bloody nonsense. Spoke to that woman from the local mob on the phone for a good hour or so today. Waste of time. A broken record. Repeating the same over and over again. Quoting the new land thieving act again and again. As if she believed it would influence me in any way. Bloody idiot. Disrespectful. That’s what her and all her kind are. I’m the bloody Laird of the Estate for christ sake! Cottars the fucking lot of them. There never would have been this kind of behaviour in my father’s day. Or his father’s And so on. No. There was a fear back then. A respect. An Ecovillage for god’s sake. This is wild countryside. Not a plaything for sandal wearing hippies. On and on about the letters they’ve sent me. Tens. Dozens. Multiple. How the bloody hell should I know what letters they have or haven’t sent me. There hasn’t been the time. Or the staff. There’s been other considerations. Other problems. Problem. That doesn’t leave me the time. I can’t hire staff. I’ve tried that. And look how that ended. No. I can’t. The land must stay within the family. I will not let it go. I cannot. I’m 78 years old for god’s sake. Too old for this carry on. Too worn down. They can’t see that though. It will stay in the family. I’ll attend their silly little meeting. I won’t flinch from this.

***

Taken from the minutes of the Aardraven Community Council Meeting dated 6th June;

Irene McPhee (Chair) – Ok, now we turn to the next item on the agenda – The Lower Aardraven Ecovillage Development.

JW Archibald – Yes now, yes. I’m here to have my say finally. If you people will let me that is. Trying to shove this down my bloody throat. That’s what you lot are doing. I can assure you I will not consent to this. I will contact my solicitors and I will…

Irene McPhee (Chair) – Mr Archibald, sir, as I reminded you on the phone the time for consultation and legal involvement has been and passed. We sent numerous…

JW Archibald – Oh do shut up you silly woman. Numerous letters, numerous letters. That’s what you keep repeating time and again. A man of my stature cannot be expected to read or respond to every correspondence can he.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – Mr Archibald, if you insult Irene or anyone else here once again I am afraid I will have to ask you to leave.

JW Archibald – Oh be quiet. I am having my say. God, the amount of money I and my family have put into this bloody town and this is the kind of disrespect I have to contend with. Well I will not stand for it. That land is my land. My family’s. You will not steal it. Rest assured.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – The land is derelict Mr Archibald. In a state of ruin.

JW Archibald – My own land is my own land. What state it is in matters not to you or anyone other than my family.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – But the rest of the land is fine. Just that portion, that area. It’s an utter mess. It’s a sight and a half. That’s why we’ve proposed this Mr Archibald.

JW Archibald – It is my bloody land. I’m almost 80 for god’s sake. I can’t be expected to tend the entirety of my land at this age without any staff can I.

Irene McPhee (Chair) – Mr Archibald, we fully understand this and this is one of the reasons for this development. It will enhance the land, enhance the area, enhance…

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – Why do you have no staff Mr Archibald? Sorry for interrupting Irene but I’m just curious.

JW Archibald – That is none of your business. And I resent the further intrusion on my affairs. Apologise now.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – I do not intend to offend Mr Archibald, I’m simply asking. You used to have a whole string of staff at your disposal. It diminished over the years of course but still.

JW Archibald – This is entirely none of your business. I will not repeat myself again.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – Are you in financial difficulties Mr Archibald?

JW Archibald – What a scandalous thing to say you bloody little…

Irene McPhee (Chair) – I apologise Mr Archibald. Iain, that is completely out of order. Mr Archibald’s finances have nothing to do with this affair.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – I meant no offence Irene, I’m only asking because this development would help alleviate those troubles, bring in some extra revenue you know. That’s all.

JW Archibald – You can wipe that bloody smirk off your face you impudent b*stard. The disrespect here is sickening. You wouldn’t have dared talk to my father or his father in this manner. No, not a chance. They would have thrown the lot of you off this land and replaced you with bloody sheep without so much as a second thought.

Iain Findlay (Community Council member) – It’s a bit much to be advocating a return to the Highland Clearances Mr Archibald. And you speak of family, well you’ve no wife, no heir, no one to inherit the land as it stands. So, let’s be honest, in a few years time…

At this point the meeting was suspended due the threat of a physical altercation between JW Archibald and Iain Findlay, the former throwing his cane violently towards the latter. Both were escorted from the town hall.

***

Extract from John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven’s, personal diary dated 6th June;

Bastard! Bastards! The lot of them. Especially that snivelling little bloody shit of a man. No heir? No bloody heir?! Where the hell does he get the gumption to say a despicable thing like that to me. No heir!? I’ll bloody well show him. Show the lot of them. No heir? Well they’d get a bloody shock if I…no. No. No. I won’t. Can’t. Those insignificant bloody nobodies!! Who they hell do they think they are. Just who the hell do they think they are talking to? Disrespecting. Staff? They dare to question me about my staff? My own staff!? They’ll get nothing out of me there. Nothing. Private business. Private land. My bloody land! Stupid little bloody crackpot council meeting. Christ’s sake what a joke. The Banana Republic of Aardraven. Well they’ll be hearing from the solicitors, that’s for sure. Worst of all it wasted my bloody time. Took me away. From this problem. The eternal bloody problem. Precious minutes. Wasted. Well I’ll make sure no more time is wasted. They WILL NOT take that land!!!

***

Official Notice of land transfer for 20 acres of Aardraven Estate to Lower Aardraven Sustainable Development Initiative dated 10th June;

FAO – John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven

The agreed and legally ratified transfer of 20 acres of the southern section of your Estate for use in the Lower Aardraven Sustainable Development Initiative will take place on 20th June.

The Site Manager for the project will be in touch with you before then to agree the procedural requirements and the timetable involved in the development. We will strive to ensure throughout that the minimal amount of impact is inflicted upon yourself and the remainder of your grounds during this time.

***

Letter from John William Archibald to both the Aardraven Community Council and Scottish Government dated 17th June;

The Much Honoured John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven
Aardraven House
Aardraven Estate
Perthshire

To Whom It May Concern

This absolutely will NOT stand. This land, MY land, cannot be procured. Cannot be stolen. I fully intend to involve my solicitors in this matter – this was my intention weeks ago however certain personal affairs have accelerated in and required my immediate attention. I will instruct them to enforce an immediate block on this development. You say this has been legally ratified but I GUARANTEE that my legal team will find a flaw in your argument.

This is theft. Pure and simple. I have read your so-called Land Reform Act and quite frankly consider it with the contempt and disdain it deserves. It’s an odd, bitter piece of legislation I must say. Revenge for your crofter forefathers being tossed out of their straw dwellings back in the 1800s is it yes? Either way it is a relic. Pathetic. Theft. We, the families that own these ‘estates’, are about the only thing that brings money into this paltry little outpost of a country. You should thank us for wanting to live rather than taking the more sensible route down to the more prosperous English countryside.

I could go on but I won’t. I’ll only say this CANNOT and WILL NOT happen. I will use any means and force necessary to prevent it from happening. This land absolutely MUST remain in my family’s name. Expect to hear from my legal team post-haste.

Yours,
The Much Honoured John William Archibald, Laird Of Aardraven

***

Extract from John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven’s, personal diary dated 19th June;

THE END. The final chapter. All these years of seclusion, of suppression. All futile. The festering wound about to be ripped open once more. My name. This family’s name. Threatened with ruin. Degradation. Tomorrow is when they’ll discover it. When they start that daft little project of there’s. Mechanical equipment, diggers, cement lorries have already started arriving ahead of the commencement. Waiting. Overshadowing all. The wolves at the door. Ready to rip the tall grass to shreds. To plunder that land. MY Land. What should be my own private dwelling. Untouched by any other. PRIVATE! Personal. Out of sight, out of reach of those others. The problem now becomes unmanageable. They’ll know soon enough. Questions. Recriminations. NO! This land CANNOT be relinquished. Defiance. Protest. Yes. I’ll fight against this scorched earth insanity! Anything to prevent them. Those bloody solicitors. If only I’d had the time to contact them. They would have put a stop to this debacle. This affront. But the problem just wouldn’t allow it. Consumes all. MY TIME. MY ALL. What chance of escape? To flee into the acres. To flee into the countryside. I know this estate better than anyone. Better than these philistines. Parasites. But to flee would mean…no. I cannot risk. Or must I? The darkness thins, the dawn is approaching. Judgement…

***

Extract taken from the Police Scotland report written by DCI Robert Fyvie in relation to the incident at the Aardraven House Estate on June 20th;

Having spoken to several of the construction workers it has become clear that the Allan Baig, the Site Manager, having already attempted to contact Mr John William Archibald in the last week or so, knocked on the latter’s door several times early in the morning in an urgent attempt to ensure a smooth handover. No answer was forthcoming (this includes dozens of unanswered phone calls made to Archibald’s landline). At this juncture Mr Baig explained that he looked in several windows of the property and, eventually due to no further response, proceeded to the back of the property. Mr Baig arrived at the back at the house to find the back door ajar. Again he knocked several times, once more to no avail. Mr Baig then entered the property, calling out to Mr Archibald. It transpired that the property was empty or ‘abandoned’ in the words of Mr Baig. According to the latter a loaf of bread was left open on the kitchen counter, a buttered knife lying next to it, and a near-empty open bottle of Single Malt sat on the kitchen table. It appeared as though a sudden, hasty departure had been made. Mr Baig at this point thought no more of it and returned to the site to commence work.

The crew then cordoned off the land in preparation for the work – at this point it should be noted that the land had previously not been properly surveyed due to the initial silence and later intransigence on the part of the land owner, Mr Archibald, which led to a reliance on historic plans of the estate being used to scope the work before arrival. At this stage several members of the Aardraven Community Council, and other members of the community, arrived to witness the beginning of the development. At around 9:30am the first construction vehicle moved into the field and commenced digging the land. Moments later Mr Baig, standing nearby, called for the vehicle operator to cease after he noticed an ‘object’ protruding from the soil. Upon closer inspection it was found to be skeletal human remains. Mr Baig urged his crew and the community members to retreat from the field. As he moved into the field to closer examine the remains Mr Baig stumbled over a mound of dirt obscured by the tall overgrown grass and weeding. This in turn led to his discovery of further human remains. At this point Mr Baig hastily exited the scene and contacted the police.

Upon further inspection of the site we have discovered at least 20 shallow graves containing human remains buried in the field beneath the overgrown collection of grass, weeds, nettles and other foliage. Many of the remains have decayed to the point that, without the confirmation of a forensic report, I am confident to say they have been in the field for many years, possibly decades. Others appear to be more recent fatalities. All work on the site has, of course, ceased indefinitely until such times as our investigation is fully concluded.

I and many of my fellow officers approached Aardraven House with extreme caution only to find it, as Mr Baig had earlier reported, empty. At this point we conducted a search across the estate looking for John William Archibald, owner of the house and said estate. Mr Archibald was found an hour or so into the search, approximately three miles from the house, by the banks of the River Tummel. It is believed that he had fled the estate in the early hours of the morning. His condition on discovery was extremely grave and it has since transpired that he is suffering from hypothermia. Due to his condition, and his advanced years, he is currently in a critical condition on life support at the High Dependency ward in Perth Royal Infirmary.

Found with Mr Archibald was a man thought to be in his late 50s/early 60s. The man, the name of whom we are still to establish, clearly suffers from mental health issues, severe problems with his speech and had to be approached with the utmost caution as he was gesticulating violently in defiance of our officers. The limited amount of information we managed to obtain from Mr Archibald before he slipped into a critical condition, and subsequent research and initial tests, have, we believe, established that this man is Mr Archibald’s son. Mr Archibald has never married and was never known to have any children. A quick check of census information seemed to support the latter conclusion. Mr Archibald’s younger sister, Annabelle Archibald, did live in the property for many years however she passed several years back. At this stage the identity of the man’s mother has not been established.

The man has since been remanded in custody for questioning.

***

Extract from article entitled ‘AARDRAVEN HOUSE OF HORROR’ taken from The Courier newspaper, dated June 29th;

The man, now believed to be 59 years of age, known only as ‘Boy’ to the authorities, and son of John William Archibald, Laird of Aardraven, has been arrested and charged with 20 counts of first degree murder. Men, women and children, the majority of whom are said to have worked on the Aardraven Estate over the years, are said to be among the victims.

John William Archibald, who remains in a critical condition at Perth Royal Infirmary although he is currently off life support, has been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the covering up of the crimes and burying the remains within the grounds of his estate.

Sources from within Police Scotland have revealed to us that ‘Boy’ was, they are now certain, born of an incestuous relationship between Mr Archibald and his youngster sister Annabelle Archibald. The birth of the child understandably brought shame on the family and they subsequently took measures to conceal the matter from the public withdrawing further and further from public life – their widowed father Robert Samuel Archibald, previous Laird of Aardraven, died from heart complications only one year after what is now understood to be ‘Boy’s year of birth.

Thanks to snippets taken from interviews the authorities have ascertained that ‘Boy’ was kept locked away in a room in the East Wing of the house for large portions of his life. As deep-seated mental health issues and brutally violent tendencies began to reveal themselves as he approached adolescence, Mr and Mrs Archibald struggled to contain their child. The issue grew significantly worse as the years progressed. Mrs Archibald died in 1997 thought, at the time, to be as a result of natural causes. This verdict is now being re-examined in light of these recent discoveries.

A police timeline seems to suggest that ‘Boy’ committed his first murder in his late teens, bludgeoning an elderly farm worker to death with a pickaxe in the kitchen of Aardraven House after escaping from his room one day. Mr Archibald has allegedly confessed to the burying of the man’s body, and all the others, under the cover of darkness within the section of his land recently earmarked for the Lower Aardraven Ecovillage development. Several of the remains are expected to link conclusively to a number of open missing persons cases stretching back as far as the 1970s. The sources have thus far refused to entertain or comment on the rumours that many of the remains were subject to signs of cannibalism.

The discoveries of course account for the rapidly diminishing staff numbers over the years leading to the more recent situation of no staff at all working on the Aardraven Estate. So much so that the estate had seemingly ceased all operations. This may explain the estate’s alleged erratic and perilous financial state. The estate is, by all accounts, on the verge of bankruptcy.

A spokesperson for the Aardraven Community Council has confirmed that, as of now, the plans for the Lower Aardraven Ecovillage have been put on hold indefinitely. Many believe the plan will be fully abandoned in the coming weeks or months as the gruesome details of the story fully emerge and entirety of its impact is felt upon the town as a whole.

Silhouette

May2017

Behold, the scene that fed my past,
though my childhood laughs did not echo there
and the silhouette of what is left
is flattened now, with those bare
and winter-ready trees
having autumn-lost their drinking cups
stand blindly, looking up,
dry towards a dimming sun
which paints moist a faint landscape glow
though I see no field or garden now
and there is no gardener to wipe his brow
in summer heat,
in this cardboard cut-out version
of my childhood seat.
I see but a scene set forever in fading light
where no detailed features may return,
no matter how hard I wish or fight.

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.

Final Sunset

May2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

She has not always shone
for all to see,
her light hidden often
in the shadows

Eclipsed by brighter stars,
her brilliance has flashed
only briefly through gaps
in the clouds

Only those flying
closest to her have
felt her warmth,
have seen how brightly
she can shine

And when her
final sunset arrives,
the sky will glow
with colours so wondrous
and her life
will live on
in those who loved her