Love Humbles.

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To really love and be loved by someone we have to lay down our guard, trusting them not to stomp all over our fragile inner being (and they sometimes do). Most of all we have to lay aside our pride, love is always humbling, or it isn’t love.

Gayle Erwin (one of my favourite pastor/ comedians) coins the term “falling in lust” to describe the initial attraction a man and woman may feel for each other. Sadly this type of relationship is often portrayed as love in movies etc. but while physical attraction and sex generally forms a large part of romantic relationships, there has to be more, much more, or it will explode in glorious colour but then fizzle like a firework, leaving you with ashes.

Sometimes we want to be loved for our attributes, our looks, our strength, our intelligence, but real love cannot be founded on any of these (even being a kind/good person). We all mess up sometimes and one of the most important things we can learn in life is to come to terms with our own fallibility. Love founded on looks will die with age; an accident can take away strength and sickness our intelligence. I love the movie “The Ugly Truth”. I’m not sure why, perhaps I identify with the romantically inept female lead. Most of all, I love the end where he says he’s in love with her and baffled she asks why. He replies something to the effect of, “Hell, I don’t know why. I just am!” That’s how love is, it doesn’t love “because” it just loves, unconditionally, no matter what, warts and all. To receive this kind of love is humbling, it is undeserved.

I think this generation have it far harder than mine. The promotion of a cool image, of pride and independence makes it much harder to dare to expose your vulnerability, the inner you. However it’s impossible to form a love bond of any sort unless both parties drop the social masks and reveal their inner selves, and that’s humbling, more than that, it’s terrifying for some. Yet to be without these bonds of love whether romantic, parental, sibling, or friendship, is to live a life lacking the vibrant colour love brings.

thread in the darkness.

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A thread in the darkness, silken, reflective,

Glowing in the stillness and silence of the night that had engulfed his world.

He reached out. It did not quail.

Spider silk strong, it responded to his touch as he wrapped his hand around it.

Tensile strength lifted him, souring from the darkness to a world of light and song.

He looked into eyes pure and true. Love reflected,

The tiny thread that rescued him sprang from those eyes.

He took her hand, delicate, frail, yet strong as the web she had wove round his heart.

“Don’t ever leave me,” he whispered.

My convalescence project.

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(A new book – rough draft of the first chapter – feed back welcome!)

THE CHILD. (An apocalyptic tale.)

Light spring rain drummed its rhythm on the forest leaves. It was oddly silent, both felt it. The camp lay ahead swallowed in the camouflage of its protective gully. Their eyes met.
“I…” her voice was stifled by a sturdy hand as he pushed her against the trunk, long finger on taunt lips – warning! Eyes wide with fear she watched as he shrank beneath the ferns. She stood pressed hard against the concealing bark as if drawing strength from the forest giant. Had they come!
With urgent motions he beckoned her to follow. Rustling through unfurling stems they crawled their way back. She was shaking, hands trembling as they sought perchance, her enlarging belly catching on the stems. Sinking into the shadows they gained their feet.
“Can you run?” he hissed, eyes flaring.
“The others,” she whispered.
“Too late! Can you run!”
“Yes.” Grasping hands they careened through the trees, whispering branches concealing their passage. On and on they ran till she began to stumble. With laboured breath they paused against the gnarled side of an oak.
“The children,” she gasped.
“I could only save ours,” he ran a hand protectively over the curve of her belly. “The woods are full of men, hundreds of them. They won’t stand a chance.” Tears coursed down her face. “We need to move,” he urged, “after they’re finished they’ll come looking.”
As if in confirmation the sound of guns rent the stillness, screams echoed through the silent groves. He wiped a soiled sleeve across his eyes.
“We have to go…”
She nodded. Stumbling on over roots and shrubs, pursued by screams and gunfire echoes they melted into the ancient refuge of man. Tall sentinels guarded their way; ferns muffled their footsteps as gentle rain washed away all traces of their path.
*
“Did they have dogs?”
“Didn’t see any… Hope not. The stream at least should delay them even if they pick up our scent.”
“Sleep now. I’ll keep watch.”
Bathed in tears she surrendered to exhaustion. He looked out over the forest. He’d chosen high ground. He’d see them coming. The bush and scrub concealed them well enough. The forest was their home, their refuge, and had been for the past two years. The forest where he’d met her, where they’d managed to survive all this time, hidden away from prying eyes. Till, now… now it was all over, his friends, companions, closer than brothers, even their families, all dead… He brushed the tears away, but they kept coming, here in the darkness of the forest with none to see but the trees. Why could they not let them be, what harm had they been to anyone, simple folk most of them, farmers, travellers, working with their hands, living off the land. There was nowhere to go, no place was safe, only in the forests, in the wilderness of the mountains could they hide, for how long he didn’t know. There was no real escape only the constant game of cat and mouse he’d been playing for the last five years, the five years since he’d left it all behind to flee into the wilderness. It had just been internment camps back then, people disappearing silently, one day there, the next gone, never to return. Now they had no need of subterfuge, they killed openly, the last voices of protest silenced in those last Easter raids. He’d not been near civilisation since; some did, bartering for food, for the necessities of life, but he’d not. He’d grown hard, his frame lean, but strong, nourished on roots and herbs, fish, and meat from the traps. The wilderness had sustained him. He was thankful now for his grandfather’s obsession with the “outdoor life”. He’d groaned at the time, but some of those things had saved his life. Gramp’s rifle lay still looped across his back, loaded, the few remaining bullets carried in his backpack. There’d be no more, the camp munitions such as they’d been, (a couple more hunting rifles and two or three boxes of amo.) were gone now. He pulled out the wrapper – four, plus the three in the rifle. What good would that be if they found them? How would he get meat for the winter if he used them? Head bent in his hands, his lips murmured restlessly… “God, don’t let them find us, don’t let them find us!” Empty words…
He had to pull himself together, be strong for her and the child. There had to be an end to this… pictures flashed before his eyes, blood mottled skin, life draining, how could it end any other way?
Morning broke clear and sunny, birdsong celebrating the dawn, in denial of atrocities beneath the unfurling fern stems – nature reclaiming her own. He’d fallen asleep she noticed, his back to the tree, rifle across his lap. She watched as dappled sunlight traced patterns on his skin catching the chestnut fire in his hair. How she loved him. She remembered the first she saw him when they brought her to the camp bedraggled and malnourished, a haggard shadow of her former self. She’d wanted him even then, the smile, the bright eyes, the life in him…
He stirred. There was no food she realised, nothing… only what he carried in his pack. She’d teased him for taking it along, but now she saw the wisdom. He was never parted from the pack, now she knew why…
His eyes opened, a smile glimpsed, then faded. “We’ll need food and water,” he muttered glancing round. Young nettles swarmed in abundance, but they couldn’t risk a fire…
“We’ll head towards the river,” he announced, water was the most urgent need and fish could be eaten raw if you had to…
*
The ground became marshy as they trudged along, fallen saplings, resigned to fate, crisscrossed their path. Easy foraging here, frogs, fish and all manner of plants, fresh water and timber, hopefully far enough away from the assault force for safety…
*
Days turned to weeks, new blooms decked the river bank and raised their heads where sunlight traced the forest floor, the vast swathes of bluebells had relinquished their office to myriad hued cousins. Summer was on its way bringing plenty in its wake. He was a good provider yet it had been hard, enough to survive, but not enough to fill the belly.
He’d that morning set off to the old camp in hopes of gleaning all they’d need for her delivery and for the child. It should be safe enough now, he’d said, the soldiers would not stay that long, they had other things to do, other “nests of traitors” to destroy. He’d left the pack with her taking only his rifle and pocket knife. He said he didn’t want to be loaded down, but he couldn’t fool her…
Crawling face down among the forest’s carpet he edged towards the gully. All seemed quiet, the right kind of quiet. Birds flew hither and yon in their perpetual search to placate their growing young, insects hummed. The forest had resumed its quiet cacophony of sound, proclaiming the departure of the hunters. Relieved but still cautious he edged forward. The smell became intense. They could have at least buried the bodies… they were unrecognizable now, gnawed by forest inhabitants, decaying back from whence they came, nature reclaimed its own. He tried not to look.
He was surprised they’d not torched the huts, they usually did. Perhaps they were in a hurry. No matter. Their old lean to still stood only a few beams fallen. He ran his hands over the bullet holes that riddled the frame. If they’d not gone foraging, if he’d not taken her along…
Pull yourself together man, get what you need and get out of here. Rummaging through the debris he found what he was looking for, the big pot, the blankets. They’d need washing again now… Thread, he must have thread, to tie the cord. Thank God he knew the basics; there were no doctors in the forest. Glancing around he grabbed their tumbled winter coats, stuffing them into one of the blankets and tying it. That was all he could carry. It would have to do for now, he’d get more later, he told himself, but in his heart he knew he’d never venture back.
His hands full, view obscured, he never noticed the wire his foot nudged as he strode out of the hut.

(It is a deliberate ploy that no names are used – I have a reason lol!)

The knight errant.

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th

He comes knocking at my door. Doesn’t he know ivory towers have limited access? He tries to scale the walls, but they’re too high for him and he’s not as young as he was. I feel bad and invite him in for coffee and a chat sitting opposite, out of reach, across the coffee table.

He wants me to fall in love with him, doesn’t he know I’m busy here? I have things to do in my ivory tower. Of course I’ll love him from the other side of the table, love that doesn’t divert or cost. I’ll put a band aid on his hurts, even kiss them better, but I avoid his lips – too much trouble this falling in love.

I’m no longer a child that waits starry eyed for a prince, my true prince lives in my heart, his image safe from the corruption of everyday life, (better that way). I don’t want to get involved with this knight, I want to retain my focus.

How childlike he seems pleading for love and I am a mother, my heart is touched, but better not to start something you’ll never finish. It’s not fair to tempt, to lead on, he wants the real thing and I can’t give him that.

Knight like I am married to my quest. I have no present interest in “being in love”, to give love, yes, to be loved, yes, but not to fall “in love” again. Surely he must understand. I’ll make it clear…

And so he saddles up his horse and goes looking for another princess, another tower. My offers of friendship, of future admittance ringing in his ears as he rides off into the sunset. He will return now and then when nearby on his journeying, drink a cup of coffee, probe to see if things have changed, if I might open the door to that inner chamber of my heart. My offers of alliance are not what he seeks, this wayward knight. I wish I could give more but know it wouldn’t work. Though I live in an ivory tower I’m not in distress, I don’t await a rescuer for he lies already in my heart. I was rescued long ago. Together we watch as he rides away a prayer for him upon my lips.

my ivory tower

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ivory tower

(Flash fiction fun re-blog from May 25th 2014 on the theme of “fairy tales”)

Well it didn’t look much like an ivory tower, with faded red brickwork and pealing white window sills it didn’t seem the type a prince might climb, but to be honest I didn’t look much a princess either, dumpy, with bushy dirty blond hair and a generally unkept appearence. I was studying law trying to make ends meet with an evening job at the local Indian restaurant.

I met him at the library. I was using the computers as my internet was off. I must admit he didn’t look much like a “prince charming” either, tall, skinny and  experiencing an outbreak of juvenile spots which I’d had my own episodes with, but he had nice brown eyes. He glanced up as I sat down and gave a half grin.

“Your internet down too?” It was more a statement than a question.

“How did you guess?” I gave the prescribed sigh.

“Easy, you’re a student I can tell. What are you studying?”

“Law, and you?”

“I.T. would you believe!” We both laughed and the ice was broken.

He never was a prince; save perhaps in the inner recesses of his heart, but the coffee we enjoyed together after never tasted so good. He offered to look at my connection and got it working, after that we were friends even when his was hooked up again.

He began to invade my tower (though he always used the steps even when the lift was broken.) Slowly I began to change; I died my hair honey blond and invested in a straightener. I encouraged him to eat better and in doing so began to lose weight myself. As he filled out I slimmed down and we became a more presentable pair, even the spots cleared up after a while. My ivory tower had become a cosy brick home. My prince moved in bringing modernisation.

But the greatest surprise of all was when he came to eat at the restaurant where I work. He fitted right in; he was the nephew of the owner you see!

31 day challenge day 20

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A difficult time in your life?

When you see an adventure in a movie it looks exciting, like fun, but in real life it’s not quite the same. Your stomach doesn’t just churn it grips like a fist and twists. Feeling you’re about to fall apart at any moment you have to hold things together, hold yourself together in order to survive. Later folks may oh and ah at the story but at the time it isn’t like that. It’s just plain scary.

I experienced this during my break up with my first husband. Handsome, romantic and from a rich and influential S E Asian family he swept me off my feet but intercontinental marriages are not for the faint hearted. It wasn’t a matter of he didn’t love me, rather he loved too much but in the wrong way. Our passion became destructive to where, despite my total faithfulness; he was so paranoid that I might fall for someone else that life became unliveable. I didn’t even dare talk with other men for fear of his beating them up. It was totally out of control, reasoning and counselling didn’t help. I knew I was pregnant again and that I needed to escape while there was time if I wanted to keep possession of my children.

The details of that 007 style escape are too long to recall here, but if I tell you they included bursting through armed guards to plead with a general to take me and my daughter on his private plane to escape to the embassy you’ll get some idea.

The British embassy said they couldn’t help me without possibly causing an “incident” (his father had helped finance the leader in power and his brother was in the government) but they put me in touch with a local charity that could hide me and help me get out of the country. This was followed by a couple of weeks of staying  in an orphanage in the boonies, hidden away from windows etc. The conditions were pretty primitive but they were good people. Finally, shaking inside, I was driven to the airport. As I handed over my passport I was stopped. My heart thudded in my chest (my secret fear was that his family had given my details to immigrations to prevent my leaving). Thankfully there was just some obscure tax I hadn’t paid and I was able to board a plane next day.

My parents met me at Heathrow airport horrified at how thin I was. At seven months pregnant I weighed less than my normal weight (stress). For the next two weeks I ate and slept and slept and ate. Wonderfully in spite of all this my new baby girl was born small, but perfect, growing up to be beautiful, smart and best of all a wonderful, good-hearted woman. To have her made the whole experience worth it. We escaped “without even the smell of smoke!”

Be wiser than me take care who you marry!

Unsung hero. (A true life “Fairy Tale”)

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fairy tale

There were a lot of medals in my mother’s family including 3 Victoria Crosses (the highest British award -quite rare) and I grew up hearing about them, but this is a story about another kind of courage.

My grandfather  took part in one of the WW1 Christmas Eve cease fires so well depicted in “Joyous Noel”  (If you have yet to see it this year is the perfect time!) It tells how the war stopped for a while on Christmas Eve and both sides met to celebrate Christmas, play football and show pictures of loved ones, thus realizing their common humanity.

Soon after this he and a friend were trapped behind enemy lines. Unable to break through back to their unit they began to wave their arms above the trench they were trapped in, in hopes of being shot (they’d heard the injured were sent home). Eventually they were captured walking in “no man’s land” still miraculously unscathed despite a hail of bullets.

After two years as a prisoner of war he returned to England and soon after fell in love with a beautiful gypsy girl marrying her against his family’s wishes.( His father was a big land owner and he the eldest son). Refusing to give her up he was disinherited and spent the rest of his life working on the roads rising only to the rank of foreman due to his father’s influence (though much loved and respected). Amazingly I never saw a trace of bitterness either towards the Germans or his father.

He was always special to me even as a child (though I never heard his story till after his death). He was the only one who seemed to understand my anti-war feelings. He had a great deal of quiet wisdom which I always respected. To me this is the highest form of courage to stand for what is right against the flow and to do so without anger or hate.

The Crystal Portal.

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(1st chapter peek at my as yet unpublished book)

Chapter 1. Discovery.

Trees hung in festooned splendor, the air thick with the heady smell of earth. A mouse scurried through the undergrowth. Nature ran wild. It was an ancient and forbidden place. Ash crouched down examining, his eye taking in every sign.There they were again, this time more defined, imprints of a foot, small, feminine? …definitely feminine. The light was dimming, soon the dogs would come. Best get after them.
“But a woman, here in the forest? It had always been men, always!”
Resolute, he shouldered his bow “better an arrow,” he told himself. “Better an arrow than the dogs!” He had seen what the dogs could do, razored teeth and claws slashing, tearing… bred for the task… they could… His belly churned at the memory. No, an arrow was a better way to go. He always told himself so, but for all that he had no stomach for this quarry.
He stalked panther like, through the trees deep set eyes seeking his prey. The tracks were fresh, she couldn’t be far, if “she” it was. He became aware of a slight rustling up ahead, a glimpse of white among the trees.
“It was a woman, and a young one at that.”
Fitting a silent arrow he crept forward. Trees and bracken obscured the shot. He wanted to make this clean, painless if possible.
“No hurry,” he told himself, “she could not out run him. In all his years as a tracker he had never lost a quarry.” He crept closer.
“She’s staggering,” he thought, “near exhaustion.” For a moment pity touched his heart; then it hardened again. “Why did they keep coming? What was it that drew them on?”
He could see her no more. Suspecting a trap of some sort he edged forward. There was no trap. She lay a breathless, crumpled heap, tangled locks strewn beside her, limp arms protruding from ruffled fabric, face tense and pale, yet she was beautiful… Exhausted eyes opened in horror and a stifled scream caught upon her lips.
He stood frozen, eye meeting eye. She did not, could not, move.
“Why didn’t she run? Running made it easier!” She lay looking at him her gaze wide and fearful. How could he kill her, how…?
“Better than the dogs. Better that than the dogs,” he told himself. Bracing he raised the bow, pulled back the string… the eyes closed.

“Why doesn’t he fire?” She just wanted it to end… Seconds turned to minutes, dragging past like lifetimes…
Rough hands seized her. She waited for the stab of a dagger, a grip at her throat, but there was neither, just the swift patter of doeskin boots on the leaves. Opening her eyes she saw the masked helmet of the trackers, harsh engraved patterns like a beast of prey leading up to horned crests. Half man, half beast, so they said. She had heard stories of the trackers, of what they did to Urkisht women! She struggled finding her voice only to be drowned by a giant hand stifling her breath, arms like bands of steel around her. Her wits shattered by fear and exhaustion she passed into oblivion…
*
The cold eddy of water revived her senses. She kept still biding her time; she must catch him off guard. He was wading across a stretch of water toward an island of some kind. The sun was low in the sky but not yet set, they couldn’t have come far. The padding had given way to a peaceful swishing sound that belied the terror of her situation. Even if she might get free how could she escape? This was his territory, not hers. He was a tracker and soon the dogs would come! She had spent the last two nights sleeping far above the forest floor but tonight she had no strength to climb…
Gaining the bank he set her down motioning her to be quiet. Reaching up he pulled off the helm that obscured his features shaking out a mane of thick, black hair that curled down past his shoulders. Green flecked eyes met her own, augmented by strong regular features and a mouth that slowly creased to a smile as if somehow it had forgotten such things and now remembered. This was no monster!

“What is your name?” The resonate voice broke the silence.
“Ellese…”
“Why did you come here?”
“I seek the portal. The voices told me I would find it here.”
“It is forbidden!” The voice was stern, commanding. “You must go back, I will take you to the forest’s edge then you must return home. Tell no one! Do you understand! To stay here is death! The dogs will find you and tear you to pieces – don’t you understand!?”
“I know for I have seen it, but I must go.”
“Why? Why would you die?”
“To save my people, but I do not believe I will die.”
“None of them did! But they are all dead. No one has ever made it through the forest alive.”
Ellese stopped for a moment. “Why didn’t you kill me? You had the chance, but instead you brought me here.”
“I couldn’t bear the dogs to get you. They…”
“But you could have killed me. Have you killed others?”
“Better that, than the dogs!” Ash’s defence system kicked in.
She’d seen visions of the dogs, unnatural beasts, elongated fangs protruding from grotesquely dappled mouths, eyes red and all devouring, like no dog she had ever seen. A shudder shook her body.
“Yes, better than the dogs,” she said, “but why did you not kill me?”
“I … I couldn’t. You were too … I don’t know… perhaps the look in your eyes. I never looked in their eyes, they just ran.”
She remembered the voices, “don’t run… they’ll shoot you.” She looked up into the clear jade speckled eyes. “Thank you. I could not have gone on; I had no strength left to climb. I have not eaten in days”.
A look of concern passed over Ash’s face. He paused a moment.
“Wait. Wait here,” he said. “Look for dry wood and I shall bring food. I’ll not be long. Don’t leave the island. The dogs don’t come to this place, they hate the water!” With that he strode off back through the river his bow strung across his back.
Ellese watched him go, the soft swish the only sound in the stillness. She was alone, alone and safe, for the time being at least. He wouldn’t harm her it seemed, but what could she do? She couldn’t go back…
Perhaps he would help her? Help her! What was she thinking? He was a tracker, a tracker with a conscience perhaps, but a tracker none the less. Tomorrow he would escort her out of the forest. He might save her life but he would not aid her.
“He is a tracker! A tracker!” she repeated to herself, but somehow the knowledge could not erase the feeling of that silent gaze. There was something more to him… She picked up a branch then discarded it… too wet. Seizing another she began to rapidly gather the needed wood. Her strength, having recovered somewhat, would not last.

True to his word he was not long in coming. He set out at once to skin the rabbit he’d shot and start a fire from the gathered wood. She watched as he worked, her strength depleted, observing the quick, skilful fingers, his concentration as he kindled a spark, the slow smile as the blaze began. He turned to look at her. She turned away embarrassed. She hadn’t meant to stare but he was not as she had imagined a tracker. There was a softness to the eyes… The build was there, the broad shoulders, the height – they were chosen for their skill and strength.
“But trackers were hard, ruthless killers, despoilers of women, servants of the Ispen…” She watched as his hair, no longer constrained by the headpiece, fell forward in soft waves. There was a strange, contradictory mixture of power and gentleness about him. She observed the hands as they deftly speared the rabbit onto a whittled spit. She imagined what it would be like to be touched by such hands, would they be tender, sensitive like the eyes or would they be harsh, unfeeling? Something within her stirred. Uncomfortable, she repressed it.
“He was a trapper, remember! Trappers took the Urkisht women from the villages, they were like animals they…” her senses reeled in apprehension…
He looked up catching the glint of fear in her eye. Putting down the spit he came towards her. She recoiled in dread.
“It’s alright,” he said holding out his hand as to a startled animal, “I’m not going to hurt you…” There was a slight choke to the voice, a hidden pain. He stroked a strand of hair from her face. “Don’t worry I’m not that way, at least not with you…” the pain was back. Ellese noticed it, like a great beast with a thorn. Impulsively she reached up to grab his hand pressing it to her lips, in silent thanks. The smile glimpsed forth again for a moment.
He returned to the fire positioning the improvised rod between two split branches. The smell of meat soon fragranced the air, as smoke rose in wispy tendrils.
“I’ll see you safe to the edge of the forest,” he said, his eyes trained on the task. “First eat and recover your strength. The dogs are out by now; we must wait here till morning.”
“But, I can’t go back. I have to find it… the whispers they…”
Ash looked up, one eyebrow raised in question. “Whispers? You hear voices? Is that why they come?”
“Yes…” Ellese looked down, hesitating, then continued in a hushed whisper. “I’ve heard them since I was a child.”
“What of your parents. Did they know about this?”
Ellese was evasive. “They knew a little. They said I must stop, but I would hear them all the time. I’d see things too, in my dreams, a place full of light and colours…”
“And they let you go?!”
“No, they tried to stop me, especially my father. He would rant and rave telling me none survived, that hundreds had tried and failed down through the years their bodies dragged back to the villages,.”
“Why didn’t you listen?”
“I did at first, but when they took my brother to get his mark… something happened. We had always been close, I knew him like the back of my hand.” Her fingers fluttered expressively in the evening air. “He changed. It was as if something died in him that day.” Tears gleamed unshed in her eyes. “I knew I had to do something. It would be me next. I don’t know why they didn’t take me already.”
“I know,” Ash looked wretchedly down at the ground. Picking up a stick he traced a pattern in the soil. Ellese waited.
“They had you marked out…”
“But why…”
“Just look at you. The trackers and their subordinates keep an eye out for likely women for their “entertainment”.”
“You mean I would have been taken!”
“Yes. They don’t mark the women they want. It’s a badge of serfdom you see…” his words faded.
“I’m sorry!” He flashed her an intense look as he blurted out the words. “I’m sorry it’s that way!” There was silence for a few minutes, as Ellese digested what he said. She put her hand on his arm.
“But you are not like that.”
“You’re mistaken, I am. I’m like all the rest.”
“No, I don’t believe you.”
“It’s true, if you only knew …” His voice trailed off once more. Ellese rested her head on his arm.
“Perhaps you did these things, but it does not sit easy on your heart,” she whispered.
He turned to look at her as she raised her eyes towards him, his face streaked with pain and remorse.
“I could have killed you today.” He said fixing her gaze. “I almost did.”
“But you didn’t do it.”
“No I didn’t… I don’t like what I have become.”
“You could change! You could come with me.” There was only a scowl in reply as Ash moved to adjust the spit avoiding the conversation. He fussed around the fire for a while adding fresh sticks and branches before finally returning to sit beside her.
“You don’t understand!” He spat out. “A man’s conscience is not his own to keep. The Ispen dictate all things. Even were you to reach this … whatever it is, what then? They’d just send the dogs after us and that would be the end of it … or perhaps worse…” he muttered under his breath.
“But the portal, it’s a gateway to the other world! If one of us could get there things would change. They have power to fight the Ispen!”
“How? You have no idea! The Ispen are not men as we are, they have powers you never dreamt of. They can go inside a man’s mind and make him mad!”
“As they did you?”
“No, I did that to myself.”
“I don’t believe you!” Ellese retorted grabbing his arm and forcing him to look into her eyes. “You are not evil like the Ispen. Your heart is good!”
“No you’re wrong! I am evil! You don’t know the things I’ve done… to your people too!”
“Whatever you did your heart cries out against it!” She could glimpse tears wallowing in his eyes reflecting the gleam of the fire. It was as if he were burning inwardly.
“You can be free! You can pay back my people for the wrong you did by helping me get to the portal…”
“And then what? I cannot follow you into this world you talk about. I’d be left behind for the Ispen to vent their anger on.”
“Never!” Ellese shouted, her strength almost exhausted by her fervour. “You don’t know me! It’s true only those called can enter in, but I would come back and the worlds would be united. Then we would be free, your people and my people.”
“How?”
“I don’t know. There is something they want to give us, some power, power to defeat the Ispen and reunite the worlds.”
Exhausted by her tirade Ellese slumped against his arm, her strength expired, her head spinning. Ash looked down in concern.
“You are exhausted. You must rest.” Silencing her protests he took off his cloak and, wrapping it around her, laid her down beside the fire.
“You need to eat, you’ll feel better then.” Weak and dizzy Ellese had no choice but to comply. She lay limp and shattered, watching deft hands ease the spit around as juice seeped down sizzling on the hot embers. Her eyelids grew heavy as sleep fell like a comforting blanket and in her dreams voices came, soothing, cajoling, bringing relief…
Ash’s eyes swept over her as she slept. Like most Urkisht women she was small and delicate. Small but robust, he told himself, else how could she have made it this far? She was daring for one so young and frail; even now she wanted to go on. Braver than him perhaps he thought grimly, daring enough to try to change things… but then she didn’t know all that was at stake…
Bored with his cooking he picked up a stick aimlessly whittling one end. His eyes kept straying back to her taking in the white skin and soft pale hair with its autumn tints. It must be beautiful when it was combed he thought. At present it was soiled with the debris of the forest, adorned with russet leaves and twigs. He pictured her bathed and groomed, clad in robes the women wore in Anlar, though the picture was beguiling it troubled him.
The Urkisht women kept for their pleasure were little more than slaves, slaves reduced to whores. She was not one of them, would never be one of them!” Then it dawned on him… “Yes, she would.” If he took her back that’s exactly what she would be one day, a trackers whore! He kicked out in anger at a nearby stone sending it flying. She stirred a little at the noise. Damn them! Damn the Ispen and damn the captains too, they were the ones that had brought him to this.
But suppose she were right, suppose there was another way. It would be worth fighting for, worth dying for…
“There are far worse things than dying,” he reminded himself. He dug the dagger into the soil tossing away the half whittled stick. Listless, he pulled it forth and again plunged it in the earth. His gaze returned to her, her innocence, her goodness, should it be destroyed? Should he let her go forth again on her own to die a fearful death when it was in his power to help her? Forces strove fierce within him.
*
Ellese was awoken by a gentle shaking. A fragrant smell filled the air, and her stomach growled in anticipation. Ash smiled thrusting a portion of meat into her hands.
Ravenously she fell upon the rabbit, juice escaping down the corners of her mouth. He grinned, his own repast gone in seconds, he enjoyed the spectacle.
“I’d best prepare a place for us to sleep,” He said rising up. “It gets cold at night and that cloak of yours doesn’t look much use. Best lie together and keep warm…” he hesitated a moment. “If you … don’t mind…?” he finished awkwardly. Ellese paused for a moment from her feast. To sleep curled up with a tracker?! Yet had he wanted he could have forced himself upon her at any time, she reasoned. Better trust to fate, what choice was there, to say she’d rather sleep alone, and reinforce his conception of himself? She was already trusting him with her life!
“It has been terribly cold the last two nights.” It was true, it had. She shot him a hesitant smile as she continued surveying a bone for tasty morsels. Ash gathered leaves and bracken using his dagger to cut soft grass, thankfully it was mostly dry.
Her meal over Ellese washed her hands at the water’s edge. He passed the flask he carried at his belt. She raised it to her lips and he could not help but notice the soft lines of her throat as she drank. He turned his head away. He didn’t want to indulge such thoughts.
Soon they were bunched up together, Ash’s cloak tucked around them. It was awkward. Ellese had never slept so close to a man, not even her brothers, crowded as it had been in their little croft. She took in the smell of leather, the scent of the woods that hung about him. He felt warm after the chill evening air, inviting… After her trauma she craved to be close to him, to be enveloped in sturdy arms, to feel protected… but he was a tracker. Emotions stirred within her.
“Ash,” she whispered, “did you ever have Urkisht women?” she felt him tense.
“Yes,” he admitted. “Yes. I told you I…” There was a catch in his voice again. She paused sorry she’d asked. Raising her hand to touch his cheek she was surprised to feel a tiny trickle cross her finger, a tear she had seen withheld must have spilled over in the darkness.
“I am a monster… I’ve killed, I’ve injured, and yes, I’ve had my share of Urkisht women also…”
“But you hurt because of it.” Tears welled over; she could feel their touches in the darkness as they sped like tiny vessels of pain down her fingertips. She drew him closer sheltering his head on her shoulder. A cracked sob burst forth all the more poignant for its solitude as if deep inside a dam had broken and the water seeped forth in a silent stream of hurt and regret. She could do nothing, nothing but hold him. Darkness surrounded them in its shroud of silence. There were no more sobs, just a feeling of intense intimacy as he strove for control his body trembling with the effort.
“I forgive you,” she whispered. “For my people, I forgive you.”
He raised his head looking into her face, the dying lights of the fire painting flickering pictures on her nose and cheeks. There was nothing deceptive, just a pure childlike innocence. She meant what she said.
For a moment they gazed half hidden in the prevailing darkness, locked in a strange empathy, then he distanced himself. He could not take advantage, not now. Gently he tucked the cloak around her, his arm a protective shield across her shoulder. Exhausted she was asleep in moments.
Ash could find no such release. Thoughts tumbled about him in alarming clarity. He saw himself for what he was, a coward, a dissembler. The excuses were many, he had memorised them all. Why revolt against the Ispen was impossible, why he must continue as their agent, why it had to be that way, but Ellese with her simple faith had blown them all away like thistledown in the wind. A girl would do what he feared to do, dare to oppose the evil. Could he in all conscience call himself a man leaving her to go alone where he dared not go? As the dim light of dawn filtered through the trees his striving ceased. He knew what he must do no matter the cost.

(I’ve now put all my posts of this together to make it easy to read for anyone that’s interested. All comments and suggestions welcome.)

Fat. (A love Story)

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fat

Tess looked down at her burgeoning waistline in despair, how could she “love herself” when every time she looked in a mirror her confidence crashed.

“Mummy, mummy! We’re going to be late!” Taylor’s insistent fingers pulled at her skirt. Self recrimination would have to wait; a sixth birthday party would start in half an hour. Grabbing the car keys and shoving the present under one arm she bustled out the door.

It was the usual chaos, kids yelling and screaming, laughingly unaware of the grim facts of desertion or the realities of trying to hold a family together when half of it was missing. She looked with envy at their host, her size ten jeans still housing a “tight ass” no wonder her husband had stuck around. It was her own fault Steve’s eyes had wandered.

They were serving cake now – to take or to abstain? What was the use, she may as well indulge, what difference would it make? Biting down on chocolate fudge she was disturbed as a large posterior squeezed onto the bench beside her.

“Sorry,” the voice was touched with humor. “I seem to take up all the room these days!” the ample frame was brightened by a friendly grin.

“Tell me about it!” She gestured to her expanding rear end and they both laughed.

“You’re still indulging then,” he gestured to the cake.

“Why not, nothing seems to work anyway.” He laughed pointing to his own chocolate mound which looked like it had faced major attack. They talked for some time easy in each others company till the games ended and two chocolate faced munchkins headed in their direction.

“Can I give you a lift?” the easy repartee faded, he looked slightly awkward.

She waved her car keys, “no thanks, I have my own.”

His smile dropped for a moment then resurfaced. “I’ll see you around then,” he said.

Taylor looked up. “We live in the white house on the corner of James St.” he chimed in.

Tess coloured. “You’re welcome to drop by…” she mumbled. “Yes, come by, me and Jess could play together!” Taylor chimed in loudly. Tess’ tinge turned to scarlet but Ed was smiling.

“How’s about tomorrow night about 7?”

“Sure…” she wanted to sink through the floor, “if you want to…”

“Of course I want to,” Ed beamed, “it’s not often a guy like me gets to talk to a pretty woman.”

*

Tess looked anxiously at the door. The bell rang. Ed stood there with a bunch of flowers in hand.

“Thought it might be better than a box of chocolates!” he joked. He was making it clear he was interested.

“That’s so good of you! I haven’t had flowers in a long time…”

The evening went well, so did the Saturday meet up at the park. Finally he mustered up the courage to ask her out to dinner. To her astonishment he ordered salad. Flustered and not wanting to look like a pig she poured over the menu.

“Now you order what you want Tess,” he grunted, “I like you just the way you are, but I want to look good for you. There was no reason to stay in shape after my wife died, but now…” he paused embarrassed.

Tess smiled, “I think I’ll have salad too,” she said.

Beyond the Veil .

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The Doctor. (first of a series of apocalyptic short stories)

Waking in the silent emptiness of my room my eyes adjust to a shimmering form. I see water cascading down sunlit rocks. This time it is a woman that waits. I watch her bathing in the mottled light of the pool below the falls. I’m disturbed to see her limpid back and arms disfigured by an angry cross work of scars. She is still young, mid-thirties I’d guess.

They are pioneers. It is a glimpse of a time yet to come upon the earth. “They,” for a man has come to call her, his clothes rough and old, hair dark and unkempt, his face shaded with stubble. There is a dog. No, two dogs. He’s been hunting, rabbits hang over his shoulder and he holds a rifle…

Now I see a hut, rough made of logs and timber. In some places leaves and branches still stick out, like it was raised in a hurry by someone not too adept at the job.

He watches as she emerges from the water his passion for her warring with his anger for those scars that mar her beauty. He turns his head as she reaches for her clothes. She seems more at ease with the scars like she no longer harbors anger. I sense they have not been together long. I want to see their story.

 

Like hitting a rewind button, scenes flash before my eyes.

 

He was gone when they blew up the house. It was not till later when he was returning that the story began…

 

*

 

A man jumped in front of the car frantically waving. Dan thumped on the brakes. What on earth??

“You can’t go back!” Robert yelled, his face contorting against the half open window. “They are all dead. You have to flee.”

“What are you talking about?” Dan stuttered, “Who’s dead?” Dan had seen plenty of death, but the next words tore his world to shreds.

“Mary and the kids! They’re dead! You can’t help them. I saw the bodies! You’ve got to go!” Tears of desperation were running down his friends face. Dan couldn’t move. He sat stunned, his mouth agape.

Taking matters into his own hands Rob reached in pushing him aside to take control of the vehicle. Dan was in shock; he could do nothing. Robert hastily stuck the car into reverse edging into a nearby driveway to turn.

Dan slowly came to his senses.

“But why? I’m a doctor, why would they kill my family.”

“It was you they were after.” His friend said grimly. “Don’t give them the pleasure of taking you, head for the hills!”

“But my family? I must go back maybe…?” Dan reached to grab the wheel.

“You cannot help them now!” Rob hissed as he pushed him away trying to keep control of the vehicle. “They are dead I tell you! I saw it! I saw their bodies! You must believe me! If you go back now it will all be for nothing!” Robert was almost screaming in desperation.

Dan recoiled, defeated by the intensity of his friend’s eyes. Robert spoke the truth. His mind numbed once more as, tears streaming down his cheeks, he gazed out of the window at the blackness of passing streets, his heart frozen in disbelief.

“Try and pull yourself together man,” Robert said, his own voice raspy. “There’s nothing you could have done. You can grieve later. Right now you need to get out of here. I shouldn’t be here. I have a family of my own to worry about!” The last statement got through to Dan. Robert was putting his own life and family on the line to warn him. His inert body churned into motion.

“Thanks Rob!” he said putting his hand on his friends arm, his voice oddly cool. “You can pull in here. I can take over now. You need to get back before curfew. You need to get back … to your family…” his voice broke as fresh tears streamed.

Robert looked up gratefully, guiding the car into the curb. It was late and the roads deserted, hopefully no one had seen him…

“You’ll come?” The Dan asked grabbing Robert’s sleeve. “You won’t stay here!”

“No,” his friend said quietly, “but I can’t go without Alice and the kids.”

“Of course not.”

“Where will you head?”

“I don’t know. I can’t think too much just now.”

“If you’ll take my advice you’ll head south, up into the hills,” Robert whispered as he bundled out of the driver’s seat, “there’s more chance to hide there.”

Dan nodded in dazed agreement as his friend sped off into the blackness. There were no street lights just the gentle glow of candles from within the curtained windows. Reaching forward Dan turned off the headlights, better play it safe he reasoned. Edging along the road in a cloud of blackness he was thankful for the moonlight and the full tank of gas he always kept for the medical emergencies that had become part of his life of late. His calm exterior belied by the fire of rage within.

 

His mind, now cold and calculating, kicked in. He’d need supplies, bullets, (like most he carried a rifle in the boot) and enough gasoline to get him up in the mountains, then what? He made a mental list carefully checking off each item. He checked his wallet. He still had a wad of notes used in his black market dealings. No one would take them here but once he was out of the city he might find a place. His eyes flashed to his medical card.

“No, too risky!” He told himself it would be a complete give away. He cursed that he had not replenished his bag before leaving.

 

Finding a much neglected gas station happy to take the contraband bank notes he stocked up well. Having gotten clear of the major cities he abandoned the car, leaving the keys in the dash and a little gas in the tank in hopes someone would take advantage and drive it to some other location to hide his trail. The remaining can of gasoline together with his other supplies he hauled into the wilderness on his improvised medical trolley.

At the hospital there had been generators, to cope with the frequent power cuts but then most of his work had no longer been at the hospital. That was what had brought all this upon him. Why had he not just done as they said? Why did he have to go helping those not approved for medical aid? Why had he done it? He never thought they would go so far…

Resolutely he set his face to the slope above him. Day had long dawned and a drizzly rain began to fall as he edged his way up the foot path…

*

 

Years have passed, his skin is now tanned and weather-beaten, the soft surgeons hands grown calloused and hard, like his heart. He keeps to himself gleaning his needs from the surrounding woods and the occasional abandoned vehicle – others, not as lucky as him. He had gotten out early, knew already the places to hide. He had watched the exodus from the cities wash upon the lower slopes of the hills, watched the gunships come and mow them down… Some had escaped, running like rabbits for some bolt hole, but most were dead or rounded up in the camps. His sacrifice had been for nothing, the lives he’d once saved were now encased in wire and prison bars while the elite grew fat on ill-gotten gain. In his heart bitterness and hate have out grown their casement, their evil vines entrapping his mind and eyes till his soul is dead to the wild beauty that surrounds him.

 

*

 

It had been a good days hunting. His precious bullets had all but run out long ago like much else but there had been time to adapt, time to carve his bow and learn to use it with precision, time to acquire the art of trapping to find where the autumn berries grew best, where the salmon spawned, how nettles and doc could be harvested. His frame was lean but well-muscled, his sinews strong and subtle. He sought quietly through the undergrowth for his last trap.

His eye stayed, riveted. Tell-tale drops of blood told a story on the rugged tufts of grass, instantly alert his gaze swept the earth. It seemed some large beast had dragged its self along the forest path, but what? … too small for a bear, too large for a deer. Stealthy he followed the scarlet trail and scattered soil.

A body appeared, a scarlet heap of wretched humanity, the earth and fauna forming a small circle of blood drenched color amidst the green! They must have dragged themselves from the camp he realized. He had seen the cloud of flies that dwelt on the decomposing heap where the dead were stacked before being tossed into the pits that silently swallowed them. But this one had not been dead. This one had survived. Anger surged in his breast as he approached the macabre form. It was a woman.

His breath caught in surprise as he perceived a slight rise to her chest, a flutter of life. Quickly he bent down to check her pulse. She was alive! bloody, exhausted, but still alive! Glancing around he grabbed her up in his arms. He dared not go directly back but veered through the course of a nearby stream to mask his tracks. The torturous course of her journey was clear for any to read, if they bothered that was. They probably assumed her dead as she soon would have been had he not found her.

She was amazingly light, skin and bones for the most part, even so he was exhausted by the time he stopped. “Home” was little more than an arrangement of branches set against a log swung between two trees, a very simple affair easily dismantled when he moved on choosing not to settle in one place too long.

Her eyes flickered open for just a moment as he set her down, registering his face. Grabbing the pan of broth from his morning meal he tried to spoon a little between her lips, but she had succumbed once more to unconsciousness. Better so he thought bleakly coaxing a tiny flame to rekindle the fire and setting a pan of fresh water to boil. The wounds were fresh and caked in dirt and soil from her passage. It would be a miracle if they were not infected. He cursed his lack of medical supplies.

Sponging the worst of the debris from her wounds with an old cloth he kept looking at her face, miraculously unmarred. It had been a while since he saw a woman. “How could they? How could they he stormed! They are not men but beasts, not fit to live!” Anger raged within. He knew of the camp and what they did there.

His hard calloused hands took pains to be gentle. Her eyes opened again as her face contorted in pain.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I must clean your wounds or they’ll get infected. I’m sorry I don’t have anything for the pain…” his voice trailed off.

She inclined her head in acknowledgement then slipped back into oblivion.

 

*

 

Dan wrung his hands in anguish feeling helpless. The fever was mounting. He looked down at her weak, flushed face, all eyes, staring sightless at he knew not what. Her hands burned like fire at his touch. There was only one chance to save her. He bit at his knuckles. “Better not risk it,” he told himself. “Let her die, what is she to you anyway?” He turned away. Then cursing grabbed his rifle and the two rabbits hanging from the branch. Would they be enough? They’d have to be! Sliding down the hill in the gathering darkness he cursed his humanity. Why hadn’t he left her there? She’d die anyway. They’d all die sooner or later. What was the use? …

 

It took hours to reach the camp, they would be asleep by now, watching only those locked within in their long cabins and barred windows. He remembered when it was built. He thought it must be an army camp till they put up the barbed wire. He thought it a prison and worried less. Then he saw them come in their hundreds, women children, young and old, some barely able to stagger off the buses and trucks, others tied or chained together. It was far too many he reasoned; how could they be housed and fed? It became obvious as a northern wintery wind blew the foul answer on the breeze. It was not a prison camp but a death camp. Here far from prying eyes they slowly disappeared transformed into mounds, the new hills long overgrown with moss and wild flowers covering their gruesome secrets. Why she had been beaten and left for dead instead of their usual more effective methods he did not know, but he could guess – men were ever men and she had been beautiful. A tear trickled rebelliously down his cheek a tear forbidden many years since when his heart had been transformed to stone, when he had ceased to care or so he told himself.

The camp was in sight now. He’d been here before, knew where the pharmacy was, watched the doctors go in and out. They did not watch the perimeter. Who would ever want to enter such a place? He dug furtively at the earth below the fence. It was just wire here. He kept the rabbits close. He had seen dogs patrolling.

Gingerly he lowered himself under the wire, his breathing hard from tension. Like a shadow he bounded across the yard to the medical shed. The door was locked but the window opened easily. He slipped inside groping in the darkness. If only he had a torch. His hand hit something, matches. Yes of course they must have matches. He knew all about generators, doctors would always have a backup. Cautiously lighting a match shielded by his trembling hand he spotted the candle close by. Above it shone a glass cupboard. Quickly he perused it. He was tempted to take more, but it would be missed he told himself. One jar could be misplaced, they wouldn’t worry about one jar, but if he took more…

He glanced around the empty courtyard. All was clear. His eyes rested on the cabins beyond. In a sudden surge of compassion he wished he might free some within those chained buildings. He must not push his luck he reminded himself, enough he got the medicine.

 

As he dove back out of the window he heard a sniffing sound. Untying the rabbits he held them out in the darkness glimpsing an approaching shadow. A howl erupted as a second dog appeared. He tossed the rabbits and bolted for the hole. The dogs, diverted by the fresh meat, began to scuffle. A light went on in one of the huts. A door opened as Dan crawled breathless under the fence lying still and flat against the hole. He watched as a small circle of torchlight flickered over the bickering dogs. A laugh broke the silence.

“They got a rabbit, that’s all,” a voice boomed into the darkness. “Get back to bed.” The door closed, the light went out. Sweating with relief, the tiny bottle safe in his pocket, Dan recovered the hole and headed back.

*

It was almost morning when he staggered to her side. She was burning with fever. He quickly put two capsules into her mouth raising her up to sip some water. She spluttered and one of the capsules spilt its contents on the floor. He muttered a curse and took another.

“Slowly,” he told himself. Having accomplished his task he lay down to rest, there was no more he could do. Exhaustion swept over him like a blanket of forgetfulness. He slept long, so long, right through the day and into the night shattered from the stress of his intense journey. Stirring from his sleep he sensed a movement. A hand reached out brushing his beard as a weak voice whispered, “thank you.”

Dan was up in a moment lighting the lamp, a remnant of his medical days when the failing electricity would go off at the most inconvenient times. He lit it carefully, matches and oil were valuable; he never knew when opportunity would serve to get more. His task accomplished he looked down at his patient. The fever was down and a weak smile graced her lips. Quickly grasping the opportunity he poured a cup of water and placed another capsule on her tongue motioning her to swallow it. He gently raised her head a little so she could sip the water. He felt her hand grip his arm. Her eyes looked up in thankfulness though she could speak no more.

He lay awhile awake looking up between the woven branches and rough tarpaulin of his shelter. He must build something better, soon cold weather might come and rain for sure. She needed somewhere safe and dry if she was to recover; he would start tomorrow…

 

*

 

The scene shifts to sometime later. The shack is built (though the tarp. still serves as the only roof). He is helping her to walk outside. She smiles at him in appreciation. She can talk now and the cloths and bandages are off her wounds. The leaves are yellow and the wind cool. She sits on a rock to see the work. He drapes a blanket around her shoulders and hands her a mug of hot broth. Her eyes still hold shadows of black, signals of her brush with death but she is stronger, her emancipated frame now animated by a lively smile. She touches him affectionately but he does not respond, afraid to let love back into his life, afraid to feel.

 

*

 

I see him now alone in the woods, angry again. He roars out a great bellow of frustration as his axe crashes into a tree. His body has grown strong and muscular from his outdoor lifestyle, but within his heart still bleeds. Angrily he throws down the ax, he can bare it no longer…

 

She was up and about now cooking on the outside stone hearth, a blanket artfully tied about her against the cold. She looked up and smiled as she saw him coming from the woods.

As he drew closer she sensed it. Something was wrong. She’d seen that look before but never on Dan.

Gasping she set down the pot and turned to run – too late. Grabbing her by the arm he forced her inside, flinging her on the bed, his arms like steel vices pinning her down beneath him. She did not resist, she knew better, gritting her teeth, preparing her body for the coming assault.

“What had happened? Why? Why should he do this?” she screamed within, “He had been so kind and gentle to her.” But in her heart, she had always known, something lurked within him, some dark, hidden demon.

Lips forced their way over her mouth, hard, intrusive as he ripped at the blanket.  She knew not to fight; she’d learnt that long ago at the camp. Pulling back to look at her exposed breasts he encountered her eyes, shocked, hurt, fearful.

Anger melted away as, like a lanced balloon, he collapsed, his body imprisoning her. Enormous sobs broke forth forcing open the bowls of his heart. He raised his head, tears streaming.

“I’m sorry,” he stammered, “so sorry… I don’t know what made me do it. I fought so long against it. Now you will never forgive me.”

She leant forward.  “I understand,” she whispered, “I do.”

“How could you understand!” he yelled back, the anger rising again.

“They hurt you,” she said simply, “just like they hurt me, only your scars are on the inside.”

He looked down at her in astonishment.

“Let me heal you as you have healed me,” she whispered. He rested once more on her shoulder a torrent of unshed tears finding outlet.

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” she whispered, “We’ll make it together; we’ll heal each other.” Slowly, softly she began to kiss his face undoing his shirt and pulling it from his shoulders. “You’re a good man,” she whispered. “I know you are a good man, you’ve just been hurt real bad, like me, but I love you. I won’t let it devour you, I won’t!” He reached down to cradle her face and kiss her, this time soft and gentle. She sighed audibly.

“See,” she said, “Love is worth fighting for.”

 

*

 

The picture pans out again. I see years pass, the final destruction of the cities, the return of peace. They are still at the shack but now it has a roof and a lean to area for cooking. There’s a child, a young toddler with rosy cheeks and his mother’s smile. Their clothes are still basic, the furniture rough hewn, but the doctor’s face is different, he has caught the woman’s smile his scars are healed.