Soul Searching

Over the years my aunt used to tell me about a time when I was a tot in a restaurant. Apparently a baby girl and I just sat and stared at each other, transfixed. Unimpressive though it sounds now, it sowed seeds in my imagination. And, when you have a mind that goes on without you, each new retelling waters those seeds.

At a similar time to putting pen to paper, or finger (singular) to typewriter as it was in those days, I began another short piece. My Dad ran a television repair shop. A bit of an institution in the village, and only slightly to the left of the centre of the universe to me. When he decided to close it down I tried to capture some of its unique essence in words, only very few of which I made up.

Eventually I merged the two projects into one and developed it through a succession of blogs into what it is today. I have no idea if/how it'll change over the coming years. I'm in the dark just as much as you are.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep*. And to summarize, He created light, sky, land, sea, vegetation, day, night and then creatures, respectively.

And after that it was on to people. He set up a factory in which to make their souls ready to be slotted into their skin, flesh, and other gooey bits which were being produced on earth. To this day a sign still hangs over the main doorway: 'God & Son. Est. since before the beginning of time'.

The heavenly soul factory was churning them out to satisfy the earth's insatiable demands. "If the Boss hadn't told'em to go forth and multiply," complained one of the workers, "we could have had a coffee break by now." He raised his eyes to wherever it was those in heaven raised their eyes and carried on, grudgingly.

"Oooh, get ole sour-grapes over there," cooed a member of the labelling department peeling off a label and sticking it to a soul, "Grumpy as ever. Should have pensioned him off eras ago, really they should."

The label read, 'Soul no.: 19,789B/1103L/YO65-34. Intended for body type: Human (not interchangeable). Best before: One billion heartbeats.' Then it was tagged 'Celestial Standards Approved, "A" Grade. Made in Heaven.' A quick visual inspection followed and then the addition of an 'expiry date' ended the whole procedure.

This was the place where it all started. Everybody who was anybody, and even those who weren't, once began their time here.

Outside the factory there were one or two unnoticed smiles on the next cloud but one further along, a constant line of souls just floating, and that was about it. Except for the occasional stork and plenty of mist. That said, lately there had been a few satellites glinting in the distance too, but they were largely unobserved for some reason. The heavenly workers wouldn't have been all that excited by the satellites anyway, or any of mankind's inventions for that matter.

Mankind was always impressing itself though. Boats were easy; bobbing up and down on the water was of no problem at all. The wheel took a little longer, and flight a lot longer.

But as if to labour a point mankind tried to do it all higher and faster. The speed of sound had already been conquered and mankind thought itself masterful. They thought the same though when they managed to travel at the speed of smell all those years ago. Well, when the wind was in the right direction. And the speed of light was next on their agenda.

The heavenly workers didn't bat an eyelid. They were more than capable of exceeding those speeds without the aid of machinery. Not that you'd notice as they begrudgingly went about their business.

Sidney was a stork. A bad tempered and tired stork from an eternity of flying backwards and forwards between heaven and earth delivering babies. The latest infant was a particularly heavy one and Sidney's mood could not have been worse.

The 'UEP' (Universe Expansion Programme) was a superfluous project to Sidney and caused unnecessary galactic diversions which were just a little more than he could cope with. He mumbled as he flew between the spherical giants and through the unfathomably vast expanses in which they hung. From afar these great swirling orbs merely resembled glistening globules. But closer up none were insignificant, none were unremarkable, even against their backdrop of mind-boggling nothingness.

Zaxer 8, to give you an example, was remarkable because it had twenty-three moons, twenty-two of which were larger than itself. Zaxer 8 had precious little daylight. But a modicum was better than nothing.

Klayon Minus was a disk-shaped planet, a flat world whose residents believed it to be a spheroid. Many a calamity was bestowed upon its adventurers as one by one they fell off the edge of their world.

Having zoomed across the reaches of forever Sidney finally descended towards a gyroscopic ball of rock known simply as Earth, a twirling globe that existed inside a bubble of air.

"Maybe you should make it a goal to lose a bit of weight . . ." Sidney muttered to the soul he was carrying as he crashed through the Kármán line and thundered through the hole in the ozone layer, which, contrary to popular opinion, was deliberately left open for this very purpose. ". . . Of course it's not you who has to worry, is it? Oh no! It's muggins here who has to carry you . . ." He became so engrossed in bickering with a no-year old that he hadn't noticed the soul gradually slipping from his beak.

Secretly the whole journey from heaven to earth gave Sidney the screaming abdabs. It was always unworldly and timeless. But metaphysics aside, if you could measure 'timelessness,' it would have taken about three quarters of an hour.

The night sky glistened with a crescent moon and twinkling stars which provided an adequate distraction for the stork dodging jet planes and then swooping down over the maternity unit of Mangrove Hospital.

"Sugar!" Sidney yelled as he helplessly watched his latest soul falling straight from his beak and into the wrong red, screaming baby's body. He wasn't used to being startled, having seen it all before. Or so he thought.

He wasted no time in heading back from whence he came, still complaining, "I don't know why I bother, I really don't. They'll be an awful lot of paperwork to do for this one . . ."

And there was.

Meanwhile back on fluffy Cloud Seven the conveyer belt from the factory had just placed Soul 19,789B/1103L/YO65-34 at the end of the 'Souls to be Departed' line. Catering for the latest baby boom, they were coming out fast and furious. And none more furious than the very next soul out of the factory's archaic exiting system. Soul 19,790B/1103L/YO65-35 stumbled straight into Soul …34 making them both topple over, and causing a chip on Soul …35's shoulder that would last for a very long time to come.

"What the heck do you think you're doing?!" Soul …35 demanded.

"What the heck do I think I'm doing?" Soul …34 got back up, shook itself down, and continued with a degree of timidity, "It was you who went into me!"

"Oh, so it's my fault you're standing there, is it?" Soul …35 tutted.

"Look, this is where I was placed . . ."

"And you always do everything that's expected of you, do you?"

"So far, yes, but I haven't existed for very long. Things could change!"

Not the most auspicious start to a relationship that would almost certainly last as long as they shuffled towards the loading bay. Yet despite their differences they were strangely drawn to one another. They argued about what earth may be like, what the less industrial areas of heaven might be like, and what their favourite colours, songs, foods and books might be. Of course it was a little early to know, but it did pass the time which was good because there seemed to be an awful lot of it.

They took no notice of any of the other souls in the queue and disagreed endlessly about everything and nothing.

". . . still, lovely cloud," said Soul …34 amiably, vainly attempting to stave off yet another quarrel.

"What's so lovely about it?" Soul …35 replied tartly, adamant to keep their conversation solidly fixed on a collision course.

"Well . . . err . . . it's got a silver lining."

"Every silver lining has a cloud though!"

"That's one way of looking at it, I suppose . . ."

Sidney's voice echoed from an unseen tannoy, "Soul 19,789B/1103L/YO65-34, please proceed to Loading Bay Twelve."

Soul …34 was oblivious to everything apart from the latest argument into which it had been drawn.

"Oh, shut up."

"No! You shut up."

Sidney glared. "Oh come on," he snapped, "I've had a hard day!"

"Seriously, shut up!"

"Or wha . . ?"

"I don't . . ." said Soul …35, over-emphasizing the letter 'T', and sounding out every syllable staccato style, ". . . think-I'm-get-ting-through-to-you. Don't-say-an-oth-er-word . . . "

The tone of Soul …35's voice suddenly changed as it said something that Soul …34 couldn't quite make out amid all the kerfuffle. It was one of those evocative remarks that lingers in the air with a question mark hanging over it and it begs to be chased. But whatever it was, it was left there procrastinating, teasing and tempting like an irresistibly taboo sin.

Soul …34 couldn't chase it though, or even manage a simple, "Pardon," before Sidney finally lost his temper. "It's you!" shouted the old bird, "Look! I can see your number from here! NOW COME ON!"

Being so abruptly interrupted at this early stage could cause serious and long term repercussions, but that really wasn't Sidney's problem. He'd leave that one for the angels or whoever dealt with such matters. He glowered savagely, lunged forward in the most undignified manner and grabbed hold of Soul …34. He paused for effect making a point of ignoring take-off clearance from the Divine Air Traffic Control and shot earthward still spitting feathers, "Why on earth do people want babies?"

Sidney swept the unwilling soul away, straining through the sky's expanse. But the interrupted conversation caused such a profundity of feeling and haunt both souls, resonating deeply within them until such time that they would meet again and maybe finish off what they were saying.

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race *
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

*Except the first two sentences of Chapter One: The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

It could have been anywhere in the nineteenth or twentieth century. Or there abouts. Nothing really helped you determine anything more precise.

And, it could have been anywhere in the country. But, the country was definitely England.

Imagine, if you would, a forgotten village in the death throes of the age of the car-boot sale. A pretty village called Pobblestrum. The houses were capriciously strewn hither and yon. Not one building was the same as the next. There again they were never designed to match. The architects may have thought in much the same way as ladies getting ready for a party who phoned each other to make sure they wouldn't be wearing the same outfits as their friends.

They decided amongst themselves that Eric couldn't possibly use black window frames because Paul was using black. And besides, they wouldn't possibly have gone with his chimney!

The higgledy-piggledy thatched roofs, stained-glass windows and cobbled pathways laid quietly and whimsically in the Bogcragston Valley, and were inhabited by all sorts of characters such as Ladies and Knights of the realm. As well as the high and mighty there were the lowly, bred to tug their forelock to whomsoever required this invaluable service. The village also attracted more than a sprinkling of the famous and infamous. Like rats, you were never more than eighteen metres away from a celebrity.

Pobblestrum lacked nothing in respect of tweeness and eccentricity. It had its ponds and its trees, its barns and its granges, its churches, and its 'Cleric Crossing' signposts.

If you were to take a brisk stroll along any of the tangly roads or alleyways, which few of the sauntering locals ever did, sooner or later you were bound to come across one of the quaint clusters of village shops. One such establishment, the watch shop, was run by a man who had every reason to be gloomy.

"I've only had one customer all day," he complained, "and all he wanted was a second hand second hand."

Obviously whoever 'he' was, he was from out of town. Most of the residents weren't bothered about seconds and minutes; they were perfectly content to look at their calendars every now and then.

Just a stone's throw away was the radio repair shop, bringing more unwanted technology kicking and screaming into a world of coopers, blacksmiths and rag trotters.

In days gone by, rather a long way by, the shop was a barn. It still had a lot of its original character; uneven floors and walls and old wooden beams across the ceiling. No horses, or even barn dances anymore though, and a radio stood where a bale of hay once was.

There was no mistaking its rustic charm despite the stacks of dismembered wirelesses precariously balanced on one another with their innards jutting dangerously out. Between these bendy piles of gently swaying bits and bobs a clearing zigzagged through to the workshop at the back of the building, from which the mingling aromas of coffee and electrical burning constantly drifted.

The workshop itself was the epicentre of the whole operation. It consisted of two work-benches cluttered with tools of every type. And very often a doojigger of some kind or another, in various states of repair.

Deserted and imaginatively shaped strings of spiders' webs looped and dangled unstably from every nook, just managing to support their dense layers of thick brown dust. And from every cranny, particularly those near the ever-boiling kettle, a curious off-coloured mouldy gunk made interesting patterns on the walls.

The man behind all this paraphernalia was George Smart, and he ran his business like a well oiled machine. Like a well oiled machine that had been dropped from a great height, got quite badly mangled and perhaps should never have been oiled in the first place.

George was a solemn man who couldn't truthfully be described as happy-go-lucky by any stretch of the imagination. But he was a brilliant engineer.

Most of the time George relied in his ingenuity while problem-solving, but other times he depended on mights and maybes. There was certainly madness in his method as he tackled each new repair. Things never ended up looking quite the same as when they went into the shop, splodged with some nondescript something-or-other, and the odd ill-fitting part protruding from here or there. But, whatever the job-in-hand, the broken thingamajig did usually work a lot better than ever before.

George had just that morning become a father.

It was one of those murky Thursdays, although beneath Pobblestrum's gabled skyline George felt "Monday-morningish." It wasn't particularly cold, just dark and damp. On opening the shutters what little light there was streamed out leaving the place greyer and gloomier than before.

George felt cold though and kept checking the thermometer to see if he really was. They were at loggerheads as usual so he went over to tap the face of the antique barometer on the wall. Its needles resentfully creaked around, and finally ground to a halt pointing to 'Unsettled.' George glanced out of the window to see if the window agreed. Fortunately it did, so there was a relief.

But as he plodded around contemplating the temperature, he managed to conceal the glee of fatherhood beneath a thick veil of gloom.

Soul 19,790B/1103L/YO65-34, now renamed Donald, was already familiarizing himself with his new bodily functions. The most entertaining by far was bringing up his food and watching his mother's expression change.

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

On the other side of the horizon to Pobblestrum, and about the same distance again, laid another exquisitely enchanted village. Omnidowns consisted of an intricate web of single track roads, all of which inexplicably went downhill which ever direction you were heading. And, with similar oddness you never reached the bottom. Which ever of its narrow and weaving lanes you chose, you seemed to come across the same land marks time and again.

On the outskirts of the village there was a small wooded area which normally went completely unnoticed by passers-by. A little way in there was a small glade where the grass became shorter, the toadstools larger, and the flowers more colourful. In the height of summer, glorious heliotropes and vermilions almost shone from the undergrowth, although Alf alone knew from which flowers they radiated. If any. That area seemed to continue limitlessly, beyond where the sky should start, and your eyes would begin to go in and out of focus at that disconcerting point.

This perplexing world with its haunting beauty had a complete otherness to it, even to the locals of this idyllic dreamland. Alf was unfazed though. There again, you often wondered quite how much he actually noticed.

It seemed entirely appropriate that this was also the site of Alf's house. Not an extraordinary house as you might imagine, but a place that he could call home.

Alf Matheson was a short man with an unlit pipe permanently fixed to his mouth.

The people of Omnidowns, the tinkers, the tailors, and the candlestick makers, all believed their ancestors to be apes. But Alf's, according to local folklore, were gnomes. Whatever his ancestry though, Alf was a legend in that neck of the woods and probably had been for centuries. And it was easy to see why. This was the man who, while walking his dog one day, had come up with 'The Sandwich Theorem.'

Alf realized that farmers had their own mystical and unfailing know-how, especially when it came to weather forecasting. They knew, for example, that red sky in the morning meant, 'shepherd's warning.' They knew when it was dark over Will's mother's house it was going to be wet. If the cows laid down, the heavens would open. And, of course, if your bunions twinged then showers were imminent. In fact it was a pretty safe bet that if almost anything happened it was going to rain.

Had William Wordsworth lived there he certainly would never have written, 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.' The clouds simply weren't lonely.

Of course the farmers did have access to the radio now, thanks to that new-fangled shop at the far-flung end of the diocese. So maybe, just maybe, the BBC's weather forecasts had some bearing on the farmers' wisdom. But maybe not.

Sagacity wasn't exclusive to farmers though.

'The Sandwich Theorem' was tried, tested and proven beyond any certainty. And proven, Alf felt, without the need for mathematical investigation or scientific analysis.

Albert Einstein, eat your heart out!

Time and distance were two aspects of the same thing, and as such the same yardstick could be used to measure both. The yardstick in this case being sandwiches.

For instance, from the kissing gate that opens in to the scablands to the south of the field, to the stile that leads to the pastures in the north, you have time to eat exactly four and a half sandwiches.

It was an idea that was unquestionably second to some.

Time and tide wait for no man, no matter how many sandwiches he may have, and Alf was due at the maternity unit of Mangrove Hospital to sit dutifully, but reluctantly, beside his dear wife, Anne.

Judging by the expressions on their faces Alf was having a far harder time of it than she was. Anne comforted him patiently throughout that splurge of indelicacy otherwise known as birth.

Soul 19,789B/1103L/YO65-35 was like so many others at her tender age, and was ever so unused to her new body; how her bladder worked, her fingers, legs, and all of those niggly little bits. But at least she now had an easier name now: Judith.

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Every Friday The Bogcragston and District Gazette published restaurant reviews on page thirty-five. People needed to be told what they liked thought the editor, it'd be a pretty dangerous world if not. This week The Elf and Firkin hogged the limelight. A small public house with a newly converted room at the back and poor lighting that Rick, the landlord, referred to as 'ambience.' Oh, and it had a chef who happened to have a very good friend on the staff of The Bogcragston and District Gazette.

There were a number of ways you could sample the gastronomic delights of Hammelhampton's only eatery. You could, for example, book up a couple of months in advance, just turn up unannounced on any given day, or win the local rag's latest competition.

The Elf and Firkin was a proper pub; dim, grimy and dank. Billiard balls loudly cracked against each other as darts dangerously ricocheted from almost every surface. Beer-stained clientele blended seamlessly with woodworm eaten barstools and dart-marked objet d'art. And a crooner's muffled voice battled for pride of place from the radiogram in the corner of the room.

The donation of the said radiogram ensured a table for George Smart and his family.

Wars and ration books were so deeply ingrained into George's psyche that he found himself pottering around the house, and not just his own either, twiddling with thermostats and then wondering why he felt cold.

And then there was saving fuel. Walking to Hammelhampton seemed the only sensible way of getting there. It would save petrol he insisted. A quick bimble past Pobblestrum's Latin Quarter and the age-old ironmonger's shop on the way out of the village, then just across a few fields. Probably no more than three or four miles across country.

"And how the hell are you going to get Donald's pram over the stiles?" His long-suffering wife Mary was as thrifty as the next villager but there were limits. "The only thing it saves on, my darling, is common sense! Good grief, George, life's too short."

"Yes," George mumbled to himself, "but the days are too long." Trying to accept defeat cheerfully, but still emanating his usual mishmash of greys, he picked up his car keys, "OK, darling, we'll drive shall we?"

Alf had already made up his mind to drive; it helped him think. Not that that always a good thing.

He had managed to name all three beverages traditionally drunk by the natives of Bogcragston Valley on Saint Ivy's Day. And as a result, ended up winning the Bogcragston and District Gazette's latest competition.

Most everyday things foxed Alf, but the extraordinary was commonplace. He had hand-fed creatures as yet undiscovered by the rest of humanity, and even a few thought to be extinct. And it certainly didn't pay to get him started on aliens. But, when it came to liquid refreshments he was very much in touch with reality.

With the anticipation of hurtling along the cobbled motorway he clenched his pipe between his teeth, pulled on his driving gloves and started his car. Was that what cobblers did, he wondered, make roads?

He gave himself a shake to prevent the onslaught of yet more mental acrobatics and started his car again. This time the battered, well-worn engine spluttered a bit and worked itself up into that familiar rattling noise that Alf had come to know and love.

The Elf and Firkin's kitchen door was kept firmly closed, hiding the hodge-podge of soggy leftovers that blocked the plughole and dirty crockery that haphazardly bobbed up and down in the murky water that filled the sink. The kitchen door also kept Doug, the chef, out of sight. He wore his white hat with a slight tilt and his crinkled, hand-rolled cigarette with a slight limp as he put his feet up on the kitchen counter and waited for his first order.

Rick's ill-fitting skin hung from his bones like hand-me-down clothes, highlighted impressively by his sagging chins and drooping jowls which wobbled hypnotically as he flinched and twitched. Fortunately he was aware of his appearance and a shrewd enough businessman to stay out of sight while the punters were eating. "The masses are beginning to surge in," he excitedly announced to his chef, "just as I knew they would!"

"Isn't surge too strong a word?" Doug asked. His words left his mouth accompanied by wafts of smoke, "we do only have two tables after all."

"Yes, but they're both booked tonight, aren't they?" Rick said proudly, "A full house!"

"Neither are paying customers though . . ." As far as Doug was concerned he had given quite enough encouragement for one day, and besides there was work to be done.

Rick didn't notice that he'd lost Doug's attention and waffled away enthusiastically. It was unclear how long he had lived in these parts, but he spoke authentic gibberish and that was more than good enough for the folk out here in the sticks.

The Smarts and the Mathesons arrived at The Elf and Firkin at the same time. George and Alf both scrambled to hold the door open for one another, each demanding, "After you!" If Alf's upbringing had taught him nothing else, he had learned that the early worm gets eaten. And for George, it was merely hedonism for the humble.

The ploughboys lowered their tankards of warm ale and watched the two families make their way through the saloon bar and into the dining area. A elderly domino-playing gentleman paused to lift his cloth cap and scratch his head. He looked at his opponent and asked, "If they're 'ungry, why don't they just get a packet of pork scratchings?"

"The young'uns all go through this palaver, mate. Don't you remember when we were their age?" They both shrugged and resumed their game.

The diners were eventually seated. Astonishingly even the babies were catered for and highchairs provided. Alf was convinced this was the start of a slippery slope towards child-friendly pubs everywhere. A disturbing thought for one so passionate about preserving the degradation of the pubs of the time. "They'll be no-smoking areas one day too, you mark my words!"

This seemed a little far-fetched, even for Alf, but who said sages couldn't have their off days? Some more than others maybe.

Questionable stains on the table cloths could have told their own stories, but neither they nor the frantic goings-on behind closed doors were of any interest. Alf scoured the menu for sandwiches. Anne and Mary found pleasure in all the culinary delights on the menu. But George, less so. To him there were fewer delights than you could shake a stick at.

Donald and Judith, however, were suddenly unaware of their surroundings. Seated opposite each other they immediately became fixated, even to the extent that they stopped gurgling. They recognized each other. This was their big chance to finish their conversation and resolve once and for all. This was it!

Except of course that neither could talk just yet.

Bodies are like puppets to the souls that inhabit them, and worked from the inside. In these cases though, not very expertly. There again they didn't come with instruction books.

Their thrill at seeing each other again was such that they literally couldn't contain themselves. And their souls extended farther than their under-developed physical counterparts, floating ever closer, hovering unseen above the table.

You know when you've been putting oil in your blocked-up ears? A day or two later they start to burble a bit, and following the burbling there are a few isolated pockets of lucidity. They don't last long, but they're such a relief when they do fleetingly occur. Well, in spiritual terms this was a similar moment of clarity.

When their mothers strapped them into their high chairs, they had no idea how inadequately they would hold them. Not only had the babies become free of from the straps, but also from the very confines of their own bodies. Unfortunately for them they didn't have complete independence and were still attached by some sort of spiritual rubberiness. Something that Donald discovered to his peril. Having stretched himself just that little bit too far, with a jolt he suddenly pinged back into his startled little body.

From this age onwards bodies mature and solidify, and their locked-in souls become largely ignored. But they usually survive. Life continues and hangs on like grim death.

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Quite unprepared for it, Donald found himself adrift in the ocean of adulthood. Stability bored him and unpredictability scared him. But one thing he was sure about was shaking the dust of Pobblestrum off his feet once and for all.

In moving to the outskirts of Bogcragston, he exchanged Ladies and Knights for ladies of the night, wychert-lined alleyways for litter-lined streets and cob cottages for derelict hovels.

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Tractors used to drip oil onto rain-drenched farmyard rubble causing multicoloured patterns. As a little girl, Judith imagined these sparkling hues to be places where rainbows had touched the ground.

Then enter the interim years, and no longer a little girl. Like many other young women Judith was empathetic and perceptive. She worried about the state of the world and the shape of her nose. She was also determined that come hell or high heels she had to get out of Omnidowns at the earliest possible opportunity.

So she scrimped and she saved and finally had enough money to put a deposit down on a small flat in the suburbs of Bogcragston, the county town. She didn't move there because it was picturesque.

It wasn't.

In fact, Bogcragston was one of the few places that had its appearance enhanced by the introduction of speed cameras.

The concrete roads were constantly covered with fuel spills and acid rain. Not rainbow residue anymore though, just toxic eyesores now. And despite her keenness to leave home she often felt like an exile from fairyland.

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Most of the post was on the dirty carpet; bills, TV Licensing threats, bank statements, all disregarded as junk mail. Not even worth picking up let alone throwing away. A small glossy flyer still hung in the letter box though and Donald grabbed it merely to see if he could catch it before the door fell back into its hole. Not a big achievement, but an achievement nonetheless. He waded through the rising tide of paper that littered the floor, sat at the table, lit a cigarette and surveyed the flat.

On the top floor, it offered little protection from the elements. In the summer it was like a greenhouse. And in the windy season the walls vibrated and the roof shuddered. It howled through windows and whistled through the doors at randomly varying pitches and rhythms, not unlike jazz, only more musical. The water in the toilet bowl became tidal and you'd be lucky to use it without getting splashed by its violent waves.

In 1970s America, NASA sent Voyager 1 off into outer space, even making it turn around several years later and snap a photograph of the earth from a distance of some 3.7 billion miles away.

In 1970s Bogcragston, the company contracted to build Apollo Towers couldn't even make a flat that worked properly.

On top of that a few 'improvements' only made matters worse. Not only was Donald's father an orthodox Anglican minister, but he was also something of an unorthodox DIY expert. George had a peculiar method for reaching up; he would hunch himself down and raise his hands. His unique 'upward crouch' may have contributed to the doors not quite closing properly, the toilet needing an extra flush and the shelves sloping in different directions.

Donald inhaled deeply on the cigarette he was only barely conscious he was smoking and he looked at the flyer he had been equally unaware he was holding. Estate agents regularly expressed their interest in other people's homes in such a crass manner. But this time the words showed more promise. Donald flicked his ash, only missing the ashtray by a few inches, and glanced over in Judith's direction.

Sitting silently just 3.7 feet away, Judith looked fraught.

Her dad had also felt it necessary to make his own contributions to the flat despite strong discouragement. Alf was an interesting man whose voice and mouth were always slightly out of synch with each other. A good trick if you can do it. But in Alf's case not good enough to detract from his inadequacies as a carpenter.

An avalanche of musical notations and orchestral scores sprinkled across the floor was a filing system that Judith understood completely. Authentic Omnidowns woodwork in the vague shape of a filing cabinet was not. Merely another object to rattle in time with the gales. Or indeed to rattle whenever you just walked past.

Judith finished her glass, unsteadily placed it back onto the table next to the empty wine bottle, brushed the cigarette lighter to one side and picked up the letter she was now finally inebriated enough to open.

Her audition with the Capital Symphony Orchestra seemed to go well at the time, the Principal Cellist was encouraging and the conductor wasn't completely off-putting. The contents of this envelope would tell her just how well it went, and would decide the next direction of her life one way or the other.

She took a deep breath and looked over towards Donald, "It's now or never," she said slightly unsteadily.

Donald was distracted by his own uncertainties and simply grunted.

Both were betwixt the then and next and things were becoming increasingly fractious.

Having only wafer-thin walls separating their adjoining flats meant that they had lived in dreadfully close proximity for the last seventeen-and-a-half years. But they'd never even seen each other through their nicotine stained glass windows, let alone had an inkling that they were next-door neighbours. Not once had they even passed each other in those grim foreboding brick corridors that the estate agents always played down. They hadn't so much as seen each other through the spyholes that were located at exactly the wrong height in their front doors.

Not once.

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

One dingy flat was much the same as the next and a music degree doesn't change that. In other respects moving to the big city was an eye-opener for a country girl like Judith, and one that she welcomed wholeheartedly. Becoming a small cog in the big wheel of a professional orchestra wasn't the most profitable career move but it took her farther away from home and into pastures new.

Getting there had been an uphill struggle at times though. As a youngster Judith had little alternative but to practise her cello in the front room of her parents' house. Not the most conducive place to begin learning an instrument by any means. Or anything else come to that.

Alf's totally non-existent feedback regarding Judith's playing demonstrated an unusually positive attitude for him.

Anne did opine though; her frequent visits to the toilet meant regular interruptions for Judith. "We didn't have time for those sorts of shenanigans in my day, darling," Anne would explain. "Oh, sorry, I shouldn't talk, should I? Don't worry, just pretend I'm not here. I'm sure it's very good, dear . . ."

Anne and Alf's 'encouragement' was usually a case of listing Judith's failures in order of priority. Their reaction to her cello playing was surprisingly upbeat. This was them giving her their blessing.

Judith was quite reasonably nervous about her very first rehearsal with the great ensemble and arrived far too early. With time to kill, she remained in her car listening to a science programme on the radio; a cell dies, is then replaced and the cycle of life goes on. Apparently every seven years you get a new nose. An idea that rather appealed to her.

She finally forced herself to get out of the car and unhurriedly complete the last and shortest leg of the journey, the walk across the car park.

The hall was as dark as it was quiet. A few dim chinks of light harmonized with the odd far-off, unintelligible voice, and the occasional door creaking somewhere in distance.

Judith lurked in the shadows hoping not to be noticed, or to seem too sinister if she was. It wasn't long though before the place started filling up with people of very different appearances and odours. Instrument cases clicked open, chairs scraped over the already scratched wooden floor. Shuffling music and chattering friends all added to the decibels that began to resound throughout the superb acoustics of the vast room.

In the mayhem it was difficult follow the other players' conversations and Judith had to make do with passing snippets.

Veronica, one of the oboists, with her pre-moulded hairdo and gargoyled face, who resembled something Goya may have painted during his dark convalescing period, saw herself as head of the unofficial, but very real, Unwelcoming Committee. Talking to her friend but deliberately within earshot of Judith, she asked, "What do lightening and cellists' fingers have in common?"

Claire, not the most charismatic violist the world had ever known, merely shrugged. She looked like the summer of her life was behind her, and judging by her expression, it had rained.

Judith would have jumped down the throat of any man who judged women by their appearance, but as a woman herself she was doing so with sisterly bitchiness so that made it all right.

With a self-satisfied grin, Veronica continued to answer her own question, "They never strike in the same place twice." The one joke she ever remembered fell on deaf ears.

Judith's desk partner was someone she would have to at least try to get on with. Brenda seemed really nice. A bit too nice maybe. If she'd learned nothing else from life, Judith knew that the sweeter the smile, the more venomous the smiler.

The Principal Cellist, Mary, still seemed just as encouraging as she had at the audition. Enthusiastic and hearty she gave the impression that she lived entirely on raw meat and cups of tea.

Judith was sure they were all extremely talented musicians and wanted to be liked by them all, but with the firm proviso that she didn't have to like any them back. She also hoped that whilst playing they would sound more united than all this hullabaloo.

A thin man with thick-rimmed spectacles balanced half way down his nose strutted up to the podium and the hall fell silent. He glanced through his eyeglasses at the score in front of him, and then over the top of them to the assembled musicians. "Right," he said quietly, "we have a lot to get through this season." He picked up his baton, which he knew had more power than a lightsaber within these walls, "So, without further ado . . ."

For Judith these early days meant a lot of hard work, they were very regimented but extremely productive. She settled in quickly but relished her time off, and returned to the country for home-cooked dinners and fresh air whenever she could.

For Donald it was just the short journey from Bogcragston back to Pobblestrum as he returned to pastures old.

He tentatively made a few attempts to reintegrate himself back into a life that once was by attending village fêtes and so on. Some people looked exactly as they had years before, almost as if they had rotting paintings of themselves in their attics. Others were totally unrecognizable, but he didn't know who they were.

Likewise, he was just another stranger in their midst. A lifetime ago all the locals knew a young, spotty Donald. Now no longer acned nor youthful, he was an alien on his own stamping ground. For him, around every corner there were constant reminders of bygone days. For the indigenous folk of Pobblestrum, around every corner there was some greying, worried-looking bloke with a fag in his mouth who they'd never seen before and didn't care if they ever saw again.

Donald imagined getting himself a dog might help him to get some sort of grip on his many neurosis. A therapy dog. A Guide Dog For Life. And in doing so he quickly became and indoor type with an outside life. He began rediscovering the locale, circumnavigating the dog-walking circuits and strolling the lengths and breadths of the footpaths and bridleways of the area.

Dalmatians weren't that common around there so Dana got all the attention. Neurotic middle-aged loonies were everywhere so Donald didn't. But that was fine. Getting into the swing of things he doffed his cap to the odd peddler man as he headed towards the edge of the village, and his dog headed in every other direction.

What ever the weather or time of year, Dolores always wore a long rain Mac and ankle socks which revealed just a little too much of her blotchy legs. She was probably completely normal in every way and maybe not in the least bit eccentric at all. But from an onlooker's point of view it seemed strange that you'd pass her going the opposite direction on one lane and then bump into her again on another at the other end of the village. A place where, common sense would tell you, she couldn't possibly be.

Logic-defying truths sat awkwardly in a world that thought it could explain everything but clearly couldn't. Donald had imagined becoming at one with this rural community again would mean mentally dropping down a gear or two, but not a bit of it. As he glimpsed Dolores again for the umpteenth time he concluded that it'd be easier on the brain just not to think about it. Go with the flow, he told himself, or more accurately, go with the dog, who dragged him towards Saint Ivy's church.

Donald was reminded of his youth, and the importance of getting to church early to ensure a back row seat.

Reverend Sourby may not have been as joyless as he first appeared, but he certainly knew how to disguise his evangelical zeal and Christian good cheer. This was the very man who'd coined the phrase, "Grimace, God loves you."

St Ivy's was one of those ancient churches. Not the sort of place where one goes to be healed; there was no wheelchair access for one thing. Although, with some careful manoeuvring it might just be achievable. However, with a few modifications and a bit of careful thought it could be made totally impossible.

No, it was more the sort of church where you went in healthy and came out worse for wear. Just one of the sermons delivered in those morbid tones would have been more than enough to give migraines to the untrained.

There again Reverend Sourby could lend something to a funeral service that few others could.

Donald wore grey so he blended in with the walls, and he remained a stealth parishioner until he'd used up his 490 forgivenesses, after which he drifted away.

The church pretty much marked the end of the village, beyond it only fields for a very long way.

Even beneath the dull clouds the shires retained their outstanding beauty. Miles of hedgerow criss-crossed the sweeping downlands. Thoroughfares meandered throughout the acres of landscape, snaking through glade and grove and twisting through cattle and crop. Having traversed a couple of coverts Donald reached the dirt track he'd been heading for, with more emphases on dirt than track. But for all its shortcomings this was a veritable canine highway and people brought their hounds from far and wide.

Ahead the path kinked to the right slightly and then split into two marking the east corner of a triangular field of tall Miscanthus grass.

The Capital Symphony Orchestra was in the process of recording the soundtrack for a new feature film. A bit of variation from the usual auditoriums, and it afforded the players the weekend off. Judith escaped the stale air and artificial flickering lights.

In normal daily life it was only ever her arms that had any exercise and Judith decided it was high time she redressed the balance. Her parents' dog was called Rex, although often referred to as Pongo. Despite her reluctance to walk him in the past it was never too late to start. Who said an old cellist couldn't learn new tricks?

Unfamiliar with the best doggy routes, Judith followed Rex down the hill, all the way to the top, along to the homestead and the rusty old Bridleway signpost. The gateway to the wilderness. Rex knew exactly where he was going though. He knew all the best thickets by a long chalk, and would happily show Judith his very favourite places for burying bones should she feel the urge to do so herself.

She didn't.

But she was happy enough just to tag along like a tourist in the woods. If nothing else it would be interesting to be reminded what trees looked like before being made into cellos, violins and the like. She only hoped that they were chopped down humanely, but, on the other hand, didn't feel too badly if not.

The bridle path followed anything but a straight line, and the scents that Rex chased took him even farther from one. But overall they both trended towards Pobblestrum.

The wetlands were awash with gorse which was untidy and pretty in equal measures, and not marred one iota by the greying clouds overhead. Lush grassy plains receded into mere tufts approaching a rickety old bridge. And on the other side, the lane became almost completely tuftless with barely anything but mud squelching underfoot and under paw. Once there, Judith could see the tips of the Miscanthus a little way ahead.

Approaching exactly the same spot, Donald looked the perfect country gent, with his cloth cap and colour in his cheeks for the first time in his adult life. His canine companion tore into dingles and out of the dells on her never ending search for food.

Judith's bohemian look complemented her well, her hair loose and blowing in the breeze, her full-length skirt with its syncopated rippling. A stark contrast to the orchestra's dress code. Rex disappeared into one copse and reappeared from another, clearly having a great time. Granted, the same great time he had yesterday and the day before that.

Heaven didn't intervene very often, and when it did it usually went unnoticed. The sky began to clear, leaving only magical white clouds streaking across the blue as the sun was getting low. And to lend enchantment a light mist began to form in the distance. A four-leaf clover stood high and proud, hoping to be spotted by a passer-by.

All of a sudden the two dogs shot into each other's view, and instantly froze. Although it has to be said they even halted with gusto. The traditional standoff ended with Dana and Rex hurtling into the elephant grass for a game of chase.

Judith had never had a lot to do with Rex before and wasn't sure what to make of this situation. She chose to yell at him. "Rex! Come back here!! Now!!!"

Rex gently reminded her that he was actually in charge, and he would come, but only when he was well and truly ready, thank you very much.

"Rex, did you hear me? Rex . . . REX!!"

The hair on the back of Donald's neck stood on end. He'd never had any near-life experiences before, but that voice was so evocative of another place and another time. He would be taunted by echoes and reflections until he saw voice's owner just around the corner. But until then were never ending seconds in which dreams lived and died.

All along the way Donald had made mental notes about his route, after all he would eventually have to turn back and head home, and preferably before the butterflies swapped places with the moths like The Changing of the Guards.

Remembering that dogs generally aligned themselves with the magnetic north-south axis whilst defecating, he'd carefully paid attention to Dana as she did her 'business.' He had meticulously paid heed to the course of the sun, albeit mostly through a profusion of clouds. He'd made a point of keeping the bee-less hives to his left and the Neolithic barrow to his right.

All very well, but which was home?

He had tried to be too clever too soon. He'd amassed a lot of information and even picked up on many of the compasses nature freely provided, but didn't have an inkling how to actually use any of them.

In addition to the odd chair leg, the bodgers of yesteryear left in their legacy a labyrinth of footpaths. A network that was mapped out by later generations and signposted. Great wooden stakes at every intersection, each headed with arrow-shaped boards directing travellers to a choice of here, there or elsewhere.

Maybe, just maybe, Donald should have taken more notice of those simpler, more observable clues.

But since hearing that voice, the whole idea of heading home suddenly slipped from the forefront of his mind and into murkier recesses. It's surprising how priorities change so radically in the ravages of time. Even in just a few minutes of ravages.

"Rex, I'm warning you, if you don't come back here this minute . . !" Judith persisted in vain.

With one final step Donald finally reached the east corner of the Miscanthus triangle which opened up his field of vision. And just in time to see the silhouette of a girl turning around and walking away into the sunset.

Judith squinted and under her breath asked herself, "Why do people walk into the sunset? You can't see a damned thing!"

As he watched her silhouette moving farther away, Donald noticed that the magical white clouds streaking across the sky weren't clouds at all, but merely aeroplane trails. And as he inadvertently trod on the four-leaf clover, he realized that the atmospheric mist in the distance was actually smoke; the local arsonist had taken it on himself to set light to a nearby barn.

Donald touched the peak of his cap and bade farewell to a brief spell of magic before turning round and heading back.

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Over the years Judith had acquired a marriage, a separation and a divorce. She never believed in fairytales anyway, and certainly didn't have high hopes that even a virtuoso violinist would really come up to her expectations. She didn't suffer geniuses gladly. As far as she was concerned enough was enough, she was single again now, and most definitely unavailable.

It was ironic that a philistine town like Bogcragston would have a new state-of-the-art theatre built in its centre. However inartistic it was though, this was a place where greed was a virtue and if there was a potential for making a bob or two it would seized upon.

Today the CSO were coming to regale the townsfolk of Bogcragston with some unwanted culture. It was thought that they wouldn't attract the masses so they were merely given the matinée slot. But the musicians welcomed the change of venue and playing somewhere the smog was marginally thinner. And for Judith it was a long overdue homecoming.

Donald had never acquired so much as a marriage let alone a separation or a divorce. It was better never to have loved at all, he repeatedly told himself. Though, without quite knowing how, one thing he had managed to acquire was a ticket for today's performance of Fauré's Requiem.

The junction where the main trade routes met would almost certainly be busy and he'd envisaged watching the sands of time disappearing as he waited at this infamous intersection. In reality the traffic was light so he arrived far too early. Time lost was time lost forever. But, under the circumstances he would have to lose a lot of time forever wandering around the vicinity of Bogcragston's Theatre Royale. "It never rains but it drizzles," he mumbled to himself.

The roads were far busier than Judith had anticipated. She'd had to wait at the major junction into Bogcragston for nearly a minute and she was furious! Finally the lights turned green and the old banger gracelessly lurched into the car park and stopped, just missing the parking space Judith had been aiming for. She leapt out, opened the boot and inadvertently rammed her cello case straight into Donald as he passed by.

"What the heck do you think you're doing?!" Judith demanded.

"What the heck do I think I'm doing?" Donald got back up, shook himself down, and continued with a degree of timidity, "It was you who went into me!"

"Oh, so it's my fault you're standing there, is it?" Judith tutted.

A feeling of déjà vu stopped them both in their tracks for a split second.

"Look," Judith said, "I'm late . . ." She picked up her cello and headed off towards the stage door.

The orchestra ceased and the choir hushed. Silence. Solemnity. The wisdom of the crowd was always going to be dubious but they clapped anyway, almost as though they didn't really know how to cope with the quiet.

Those on stage slightly outnumbered those in the audience. The former shuffled out in their throngs from one end of the theatre, and the latter in their droves from the other.

All the cars herded together as they entered the one-way system, dispersing gradually at each junction thereafter. Neither Judith nor Donald really knew Bogcragston very well anymore, and they tried to leave the mayhem as quickly as they could, heading towards Omnidowns and Pobblestrum respectively. A quarter of an hour later they both found themselves at the traffic lights just outside the theatre.

Donald felt happier finding himself back where he started, albeit facing the other direction. The lights had just turned green and he was on his way again, and this time he would manage to get out of town!

"OK, I've got myself back to square one," Judith sighed with relief. She fumbled about trying to find a map and looked up again just a little too late to react to the lights ahead changing to red. There was no way she could have stopped in time, not at the speed she was going. So she accelerated instead, and hoped. A strategy which had always served her well in the past.

The sounds of tyres screeching, metal crunching and glass breaking all stopped more abruptly than you might imagine. Certainly more so than they imagined. It was all over so quickly. Judith got out of the car and made a beeline for Donald.

"What the heck do you think you're doing!?" Judith demanded.

"Why is it," Donald finally stood his ground, "every time we cross paths we also have to cross swords? You push your cello into me and it's my fault! You drive your car into mine and it's my fault! What is wrong with you?"

"What's wrong with me? Ha! Come on, let's look at the damage. I just hope you're insured, buddy!"

Judith and Donald turned to look at the wreck. Unidentified shattered things littered the road, some of the more jagged items were covered in some sort of red liquid. "We're lucky to have got out of this alive," Donald said in a quiet, shaky voice.

Judith nudged Donald and nodded towards a motionless body slumped over a steering wheel. "I'm not sure we did."

The more they stared, the more they were able to discern. Even if the bodies they were gaping at belonged to other people it would have been a truly gruesome sight. But they didn't, and it felt like their stomachs churned. Which they didn't.

A couple of storks standing behind them gave a quiet cough to gain their attention. Sidney gave them a bit of an old-fashioned look when they turned around, and grumbled, "Brilliant! You two again!"

"Now then, Sidney, remember your Public Relations course. And remember your blood pressure. I'll handle this." Arnold, the more senior stork, looked at Donald and Judith. "A very nice performance, Mizz Matheson," he said calmly, "That last movement particularly, 'In paradisum deducant angeli.' Do you know what it means?"

Judith shook her head.

"'May angels lead you to paradise.' Only in reality it's not angels. It's us I'm afraid. I know everyone associates us with delivering babies to the world, but we also return you after you've . . . umm . . . well, not to put too fine a point on it, after you've died."

Judith opened her mouth, but Arnold piped up again, "Please don't ask us to explain the whys and wherefores, we're only storks"

The emergency services had arrived on the scene, and seemingly had been there for some time. The cars were being cut open and more of the corpses revealed. "There's not much dignity in death, is there?" Donald said as he watched one of his bodily arms dropping into a pool of oil. At the same time he flinched as if he could actually feel it.

"That'll wear off," Arnold assured him.

Donald turned to Judith and spoke into the increasingly fragile atmosphere, "Till death do us meet, I suppose. Do you still want my insurance details?"

Judith smiled, "Why don't you just shut up?"

"No, seriously . . ."

"Look," she said, trying, not very well, to make light of what was happening, "how many times have I got to tell you to shut up?"

"No! You shut up."

"Or wha . . ."

"I don't," Emily laughed, over-emphasizing the letter 'T', and sounding out every syllable staccato style, "think-I'm-get-ting-through-to-you. Don't-say-an-oth-er-word!"

"No," Arnold interrupted, "Neither of you say another word!" He briefly glanced at Sidney and out of the side of his beak said, "I see what you mean about these two." He turned back at Judith and Donald, took a deep breath and told them, "We're on a pretty tight schedule. Eternity isn't as long as you think, you know, just a few blinks of an eye. So, please, come with us now."

For the first leg of this once in a death-time journey it was almost as if God had replaced the sun with a low-energy light bulb, you couldn't see the sky for the clouds. Engulfed therein for a few seconds before going onwards and upwards, carefully avoiding the flight paths of angels.

Right around the back of heaven there's a large door with a sign above which is rather unclearly marked with the words, 'Goods In'. No one has ever bothered to change the sign, but it should have actually read, 'Good? Sin?' The reason being, this was the place where all the 'used souls' have an assessment on how they used their precious gift of life.

It's the place where everyone stands before the ever knowing God. He smiles patiently as they flounder around trying desperately hard to find excuses for all the rotten things they've said and done, and why they hadn't kept in touch all this time.

Arnold and Sidney descended through a silver lining and landed expertly in front of saintly looking figure wearing a fluorescent jacket over his white robes. The storks released Judith and Donald, and Arnold handed a clipboard to the saint, "Sign here please, governor."

The saint scribbled his name and handed the clipboard back without a word to Arnold. His eyes twinkled as he smiled at Judith and Donald, "I'm Peter . . ." he told them. His voice was deep and strong, but controlled and kind. His face was wise, and his prominent laughter lines showed how comfortable he was with his smile. ". . . although everyone just calls me Pete. If you'd like to come with me, please." As he walked he removed his hard hat to scratch his head. He waved the helmet towards his guests and chortled, "Got to wear these things under the new regulations. You'd think it's a bit late to worry about Health and Safety by the time you get here, wouldn't you? Oh well, you get one die every minute."

"It's enough to try the patience of a saint," Judith pretended she knew what he was talking about.

"No!" Pete chuckled, "It takes a bit more than that."

Everything seemed so ethereal when they arrived, but Pete was reassuringly normal. They moved along effortlessly, bobbing a little through the wispiness at first, but getting into the swing of it as they went along.

A door appeared out of nowhere. That wasn't normal. But, hey, when in heaven. It opened and Pete motioned them through. "Look, you two," he said, "take a seat and talk amongst yourselves. I'll be milling around if you need anything. Please excuse me now though, I've got to see a man about a God." He winked playfully and gave them another of his gleaming smiles before he vanished, wraithlike, into the hazy air.

"It's been a funny sort of day, hasn't it?" Donald said as he reclined into a very easy chair.

"A funny sort of life," Judith reflected.

They recalled the failed meetings of their pasts; the time they sat opposite each other as babies, the period they'd lived next door to each other, the occasion when they'd been walking with their Dalmatians in the same fields. "And it took us so long before we actually met and spoke." Judith contemplated.

"Argued," Donald corrected her.

"Well, all right, argued."

"Yep, it was just shy of a lifetime. Speaking of which, do you remember before we were born?"

Judith nodded thoughtfully.

"And just as that stork carried me off, you said something, didn't you?"

"Oh yes," Judith said in hushed tones as though she'd only just realised that she'd completely failed to convey the single most important message in her life, and beyond.

"What was it? What did you say?"

Judith opened her mouth to answer. But at exactly the same time a holy usher appeared before them. "Judith, God will see you now."

Written and conceived by M J Race

Copyright © 2018 M J Race
All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.