Yes, he’d seen dead bodies – his grandma, his father, a body in a road. True, this was death, but death as it had happened to others, deaths already tainted by premonitions of their passing or tinged with the innocent curiosity that characterises the young. This was not imminent death as it might apply to him: a moment of reckoning, a brief interval pointlessly proffered to put his house in order.
For those who’ve lived through it, even if memories have faded, the Cold War was a time of surviving on a precipice. Sometimes its edge visibly crumbled at one’s feet, as it did during the Cuba crisis. Sometimes there was just a feeling of vertiginous malaise watching grainy news footage of CND marchers, whether or not they were really cranks or communist stooges.
But one day death really came knocking at his door of his consciousness. It began with a huge hole opening up within his chest: this first inkling of dread was immediately followed by absolute certainty that this was the point of no return. There was rarely any sound – rather like newsreel and archive footage then – but instead a white light banishing all subtlety of shading or substance. The blinding was only temporary as the eye strained to make out a skyscape in which a growing and rapidly expanding organism gradually revealed itself. Sometimes it might be a roiling brain obscenely expanding upon its stem; or it might take the form of a superheated fungus, its cap haloed by multiplying lenticular clouds, the annulus a secondary fist about to fulfil its threat.
This dire image he knew as prelude to a period of slow, lingering extinction when mind and body succumbed to invisible poison. And as heavy limbs and numbed brain feebly but ineffectually struggled with debilitation and despair his being would rise up from the depths of lethargy, surfacing trapped by the sweat-soaked sheets. Awake he would relive the images, so real it was hard to believe they hadn’t just happened; and bit by bit the realisation would dawn that there had been a reprieve. Annihilation hadn’t yet occurred, even though it would only be a matter of time.
Time: it had been decades since he had last had the dreams. Somewhere around the eighties they had faded away like morning mist in a river valley. But surreptitiously, secretly, they had crept back closer and closer to his unsuspecting consciousness, conspiring with the worsening crises here, there and everywhere. And as atrocity after atrocity and bellicosity after animosity obtruded into current affairs his dreams became darker and his fears became stronger, until the certain knowledge of man’s inhumanity and unstoppable stupidity took physical form and death exploded into his vision and its dark cloud rolled once again.
“I like what you guys are usually up too.” Um, there’s only me here.
“This type of clever work and reporting!” Reporting? I’m not a reporter.
“Keep up the good works guys, I’ve added you guys to my blogroll.” A threat then? Well, two can play at that game. You’re added to my spamroll.
• Flash Fiction Fifty-Five: the whole story, including heading, is told in 55 words.
Lines ‘ciphered from a torn & tattered Script found in an ancient Book of Holy Writ; when thou hast o’ercome th’Initial Dread, shalt find a timely Ode writ large instead
After thou hast prepared the charmed circle as heretofore describ’d, recite these words with an almighty voice, never wavering.
HAIL, thou that from this Husk’s late gone,
Acknowledge that I adjure thee to come:
Let no harm come to me nor Wight nor any
Living Creature; thus I bind thee fast, to
Own all Service to me, & Obedience,
Who dost bid thee ne’er part from me
Expressly; without Fraud, Dissimulation or Deceit
Enter into Pact to do whate’er desired
Now & evermore, till discharged be!
“I’m the winner!” shouted Romulus (or was it Remus?) as he teasingly leapt over the stone wall that Remus (or was it Romulus?) had made round his new city.
“No, you’re not,” said the other crossly and knocked him down dead. “The first shall be last,” he said, and laughed. “Or should I say … late?”
My first — and hopefully not my last — attempt at Flash Fiction Fifty-Five, where the whole story, including heading, is told in fifty-five words on a given theme, here provided by Leslie of Colonialist’s Blog. Rome’s founder is, of course, Romulus who according to one account by Livy killed Remus because his brother belittled his new city wall by leaping over it.
Is there still an Olympic ideal? For if not there should be we feel.
It’d be such a treat if all teams didn’t cheat, thinking each shiny medal’s a steal.
Rogue countries just seem on the make because status is always at stake.
So where some have hope there are others who dope as though it’s oh so clever to fake.
Let’s pray no banned drugs are internal so that Rio is rendered infernal.
Then events will all seem above board — squeaky clean — and thus will the flame burn eternal.
You may not remember me but we were introduced at Shona’s party. There wasn’t time to say hi or anything because Shona’s surprise present interrupted everything just then! Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me contacting you out of the blue but I thought nothing ventured, nothing gained. Hope you don’t mind.
To Scott From Trudi
So, hi Scott Sorry I don’t remember you from the party, things were a little bit lively. Not sure why you’re contacting me, where’d you get my email?
Hi Trudi Sorry, didn’t mean to spook you. I got your email off Shona’s newsletter where she’d cc’d everybody. It’s just that I heard you’d gone to do History at Leicester Uni at more or less the same time as me, and I didn’t remember our paths crossing. I was in the same year as Natalie…
Mum’s nagging again. “Make sure you fit everyone in.” Yeah, yeah, I didn’t want to do this anyway. Except anything’s better than actually being in the picture.
“Check the flash is on if it’s too dark. Actually, don’t do that, the sun’s just come out — there should be enough light now.” OK, OK, do you want the flash on or not? Sophie’s making noisy sighs, shrugging her shoulders, wish she’d stop showing off just because it’s her birthday.
“Come on, Mandy, hurry up, before we lose the will to live!” Ohhh, Mummy, I can’t do everything at once, I’m trying my best, it’s too fiddly and you’re fussing me! Now James is asking Dad when we can start having some cake and Dad is trying to keep things quiet by whispering so no one can hear. And now Sophie’s sighing again.