Friday, 31 August 2012

The Night Time Spider




jmwsmith.webeden.co.uk




The Night-time Spider

Being in hospital is bad. Being hounded by a large black spider is bad. Combine the two situations and what you have isn't something bad.
It's a living nightmare.
I won't bore you with the details of the illness that took me into hospital. Some of you might be squeamish. Suffice it to say that when it was over and the general anaesthetic wore off, I came awake to the strains of Rod Stewart's excellent song 'I am sailing.' Someone later explained that this is what the nurses do; when it is time for you to regain consciousness they put on some loud music to give you that little extra nudge into wakefulness. Sure beats being shaken by the shoulder!
Somewhere underneath the sheets I had endured a 5 inch gash to my tummy. A canula from a drip was embedded in the crook of my left elbow. A catheter had been inserted into a most tender part of me, all the way up into my bladder, because it was going to be some while before I could move enough to use a 'bottle'. Well, that's what the nurses called it. Quite appropriate. Anything that is designed to receive and safely contain a quantity of liquid has to be called a bottle, hasn't it? Sorry, I promised not to go into my illness and here I am going on about it like a right old drama queen!
The nurses were like the ones we usually encounter in big hospitals. There are good ones. There are bad ones. It depends very much on your luck as to how many of each you encounter. There was a highly dedicated young male nurse called Pramot. Always smiling, always helpful, very capable. And an English nurse called Christina who clip-clopped up and down in her high heels all night long, entirely oblivious of the fact that the noise was keeping sick people awake. Now, it's better not to complain about such things as then they put an asterisk against your name on the board at the nurses' station, and from then on you are labelled a troublemaker and treated accordingly. It's not very pleasant, as I quickly learned.
There was an elderly nurse called Alice who mumbled and fumbled and got things so wrong that it was all I could do not to scream out in frustration. There was angelic Angelina, a wispy and pale nurse with a voice like a softly-played harp. I decided I wouldn't have minded going to heaven right there and then if it were peopled by ethereal beings like her.
But this is about my living nightmare. A recurring one. The terror of it had been driving me insane. Even the weak morning sunshine through the tinted windows could not dispel it.
I am a light sleeper. Which is why the tiniest sound brings me awake. And this is what would happen........
Coming awake with my head all fuzzy, I would sense a presence on the floor, just a few feet away. Out of the corner of my eye I would detect a massive black spider. It would inch purposefully towards me where I helplessly lay, unable to defend myself. Closer and closer it would come. All I could do was wait. I hate spiders. Now, it's not so bad when you can actually see one from a distance. But believe me, it's a steady descent into gibbering insanity when you are lying helplessly and it begins inching closer. And closer.... and closer....and then simply disappears under your bed. And you lie there, heart pounding, mouth dry, every never jangling, waiting for it to appear over the side of the bed to enfold you in its hairy embrace. The agony I went through!
Until one night I decided I'd had enough, I couldn't take it any more. Somehow I was going to stay awake. Somewhere deep down I was convinced that the spider would stay away if I was wide awake. In other words it was all a dream. Sorry, a nightmare.
Well, my mind had almost completely gone (more than half way to Timbuktu, I imagine). But enough of my brain was functioning to enable a simple exercise in cunning.
I waited until Pramot appeared to administer the customary sleeping pill that I had been prescribed. Even as he watched me with a wide and friendly (and quite unnecessary) smile, I hid the fact that I hadn't swallowed it. If I didn't fall asleep then the spider couldn't get me, right?
Wrong!
Now, one fact I clearly remember; it always happened at around the same time. About 12 o'clock. I knew this because it was the time that I would hear the faintest scraping sound. My eyes would snap open, my body convulsing, and there I would lie helplessly, drenched in the sweat of mortal fear, waiting for the spider to start crawling towards me.
So now 12 o'clock arrived. Nothing happened. I watched the dimly lit face of the clock on the wall opposite as the second-hand ticked away. Yay! No spider tonight! It couldn't happen after 12 o'clock. It had never done so in the past, therefore it surely stood to reason that it couldn't happen now. I made up my mind that I would train myself to stay awake until 12 o'clock every night. Goodbye, hairy black giant spider!
I was still congratulating myself on this significant victory, so at first I did not notice the familiar looming shape out of the corner of my eye. When I did my breath caught in my throat as my eyes bugged out. It couldn't happen. Not now. It was 12:05! I was wide awake, I had to be. Look, there was nurse Alice, mumbling and spilling multi-coloured pills across the counter as usual. There strode Christina, heels clip-clopping as she sailed past with her nose in the air. There was Angelina--- well--- just floating around looking fantastic as usual.
 And then there was the spider. In the semidarkness, still advancing towards my bed.
This was not a nightmare. The spider was real! It was finished. I'd gone crazy. A shriek of utter desolation burst from my lips.........
Lights went on. Patients started yelling. Everyone was staring at me. Something touched my left arm.
Aaaaargghhh!
I jerked my head sideways to look.....
It was only a hand, small and chubby. Pramot's smooth and beautifully sun-tanned hand.
'I'm sorry, John. Did I startle you? So sorry, I didn't mean to.'
Pramot, super efficient and calm. The best nurse on the ward.
Pramot, my night-time spider.
I felt such a fool when he explained.
He had only been doing his job. At 12 o'clock every night he would squat down on his haunches from a distance of 6 feet away. It was the only way he could get a proper look underneath my bed. Vaguely, in the gloom, he could then make out the silhouette of what he had come for--- the bottle into which had drained the liquid contents of my bladder. He needed to empty the bottle. Obviously! And he would approach me in crablike fashion, across the floor. Squinting in the dark with his head twisted sideways. Doing his best to keep in view the bottle so it would be easy for his questing hands to locate when he reached underneath my bed.
Well, you know what everyone called poor Pramot from that day onwards, don't you?
Spiderman.
A superhero, was Pramot. I, of course, had never doubted that!


Hi, my name is John. This is my eighth weekly blogpost. The previous posts can be reached by scrolling down. The next one will be posted next Friday, 7 September. It will continue in a lighter vein.
      The ducklings are all still fine. Maybe it is time I started calling them ducks now, for verily they have grown to such a size that today I had trouble distinguishing their mother from among them! They seem in no hurry to fly the nest---sorry, fly the pond where they have been born and have thrived. Maybe they will become our residents ducks now. After all, so many humans never venture much outside their home-town and seem to be perfectly happy. Isn't there a famous story where a young man goes off to search the world for the perfect wife, but eventually returns to marry the girl next door! They will not let me pet them, which is a very good sign, though. Actually I hope they will fly away, for we only live once and I think we should try and see as much of the world as possible and never fear the unknown----even though I will miss them terribly. Well, at least I haven't got to the stage when I have started giving them individual names (which is also a good sign!).
         For those of you late to this blog, you can click on the July posts in the white box at the top on the right to see the post called Tragedy At The Duck Pond (and subsequent updates like this one) to appreciate the background to the duckling saga (Thursday 19 July post).
       And here are my ebooks........ 


                                         WSWTEndings Vol 1 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 2 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 3 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 4 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                        SSWTEndings Vol 1 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                        SSWTEndings Vol 2 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)
                                    
                                    Longer Wacky Stories With Twist Endings (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)
                                  Look Out...Mum's Gone Crackers (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                   

                                       Hunting The Beast (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)
                                               

                                       May Never The Dead Return (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                     

                                       Running With Zombies (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                                               

                                 Wacky Stories For Grown Up Kids (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)

                                               

                                       An Unlawful Act In Libya (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)
                                    

                                            A Layman's Guide To The Meaning Of Life And Death (click) 
My website: http://bit.ly/OtFU9Z




  
              





Friday, 24 August 2012

Epiphany At A Roadside Diner




jmwsmith.webeden.co.uk


Epiphany at a Roadside Diner

It happened on my way to spending the weekend at a friend's house.
It was still too early to wake him up, so I stopped, a few miles away, to have breakfast at a diner just off the road.
The place was empty and I ordered coffee and sunny side up eggs on fried bread ( I know, not healthy, but I like it). The lady behind the counter was middle-aged, about average in build with a detached air about her. It was as if she was physically there, but mentally elsewhere at a place that interested her far more, judging by the occasional glint in her sad eyes. Unfailingly polite, though, making a big attempt to smile cheerfully as she placed my breakfast on the counter. She intrigued me, with her 'inhabiting another plane' air of  cool but polite reserve. I remember thinking that none of any nastiness from her daily customers would impact on her at all; they would be no more than shadows on a screen. Good for her, I found myself thinking. And that's because I'm one of those people who heartily dislikes customer interface in any line of work.
I glanced across and saw she had been doodling on a paper napkin. She had drawn a large door with a big handle. The door was half open, and outside was a swirling mass of flying birds, the sun, moon, trees and flowers, a rainbow like arc. But inside the door was a carpet, a table lamp, ordinary objects in an ordinary room. She caught me looking, and quickly screwed up the napkin with a guilty air.
'Nice artwork,' I murmured, to put her at ease.
 'It....it's nothing.'
She said it in a way that made me think it was far from being nothing.
'What we draw absent-mindedly shows a lot about our inner thoughts,' I added. Maybe I was trying to get her to talk a bit more? It's not something I usually try to do with strangers, but I was still curious about her. She didn't reply, and there was a dreamy sort of half smile on her face as she tidied away my breakfast dishes. I paid and was getting ready to leave. No sense in pestering people. It wasn't good manners, however curious I was about her. Then, just as I got up, she turned and said,
'It's where I go--- you know, when I'm not busy.'
She glanced around nervously even though there was no one else around. I settled back on my stool and put on the kindest face I could.
'And where would that be?'
'Oh, it's just a place. An open place next to a wood not far from here. At the edge are some tall bushes, and if you go through them you......' she stopped, looking confused and breathing heavily, not meeting my eyes.
'There is nothing wrong with that,' I soothed.  'It's nice to have somewhere you can be alone.'
She brightened up even more.
'But I'm not alone. I'm never alone there.' Her vagueness had been replaced by a barely controlled excitement. She was now truly alive, a vibrant presence in the small diner. 'Joey is there. He's always there. I can hear him.'
Hoping she wouldn't notice, I measured the distance to the exit in case I needed to leave in a hurry.
'Joey is with you? Is he a friend?'
'Friend?' She seemed confused. 'Joey? No, Joey is my son. My little baby.'
'Er...... right.'
I nodded encouragingly, waiting for more, reassured that the wide and heavy diner-counter was between us.
'You must think I'm mad,' she burst out.
'No, no....never,' I lied quickly.
With what seemed a huge effort she controlled herself, taking long and deep breaths and sitting herself down. A little of her former sadness had returned.
'It was some 10 years ago. Alfie---that's my older son, had taken Joey for a walk. Joey was only four. It was a warm day. Alfie lay down under a tree in the wood---somehow he managed to doze off. He swears it was only for a few seconds. When he opened his eyes Joey was gone. We never found him.'
She fell silent, staring down at her hands where she had crumpled one corner of her dress into a soggy mess. There had to be more. I had to know.
'He couldn't have just disappeared,' I prompted gently.
'Didn't I mention....at the edge of the wood there were some bushes. Beyond them there was the....highway.' She spoke the word reluctantly. 'But Joey would never go there, we'd taught him to stay clear of roads.'
'Ah....'
That's what Joey had been taught, only he clearly hadn't learned. It was obvious that he had wandered onto the highway and been kidnapped or something. No one ever just disappears off the face of the earth. There was just one problem; try convincing the diner lady about that!
She looked up calmly and met my eyes.
'You can think whatever you want, but whenever I stand by those bushes---even now---if I stand for long enough I can hear Joey calling out to me. And I always call back, 'I'm here, my baby. Momma's waiting for you. I'll wait for you for always.' You know, Mr.....'
'Call me John.'
'..... John. I'm Sally. Have you heard of these time-slip places? Like in that Stargate film on TV? That's what's happened. Joey's slipped through one of those time-slip doors and the poor love can't get back. One day he will....it stands to reason, doesn't it, John? If the time slip door can open once, it can open again, can't it?'
'No reason why it couldn't,' I replied hastily, amazed at myself for going along with her fantasy. This had to stop. The poor woman was deluded. It wasn't right for her to torment herself like this.
'Um...Sally....has anyone else ever stood there and heard Joey calling out?'
I had to take it slowly. Sally shrugged.
'Can't say for sure. The newspapers talked to me. Folk come from all over. Most of them couldn't hear anything. But a few....a few did. And....'
By now Sally was slowly deflating---there's no other word to describe it better---back to her former self. Sad. Detached.
'.....the newspapers said they must have been just as kooky as I was. The world is full of oddballs like that, they said. After a while they left me alone....but I still go there. I sometimes take a picnic and lay it out in the shade of the bushes. I know that one day Joey will walk right back through again, and he'll sit down and join me. I always make sure I have his favourite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches....'
Sally trailed off. I knew I was losing her again. I was like the others. I didn't believe her. I was never going to be part of her world. It had been a mistake for her to think so. We were back where we had started, the distance increasing into a yawning gulf between us every second.
I got up to leave. She didn't bother to look up. She knew what I now thought of her. There was nothing I could give her.
'Must go.' I pasted a false grin on my face. 'Nice talking to you Sally.'
I edged sideways to the door. She didn't reply or even look up.
Outside, the sun was shining. It was a beautiful morning. I thought of my friend waiting for me and the fun filled weekend he had promised--- fishing, some pheasant shooting, a ride in his new boat. It was great to be alive. Sure, it was tough for Sally, but I didn't belong in her world.
I got into my car and started the engine. And then I switched it off. I couldn't get Sally out of my mind and I felt ashamed of myself. All sorts of philosophical musings began crowding my brain. I thought of the way life throws bad stuff at us. The few moments of happiness that we must fight to achieve. How we are all too often buffeted by fate, hurled about like rag dolls, left shattered and bruised to struggle to our feet and start over again. All for what? It all seemed so pointless, yet here I was, perhaps able to show a brave woman like Sally that there might be a point to it after all! And what had I done? Why, I had turned my back on her and walked away, confident of my sanity and my grasp on reason and reality, no way prepared to believe a word she said.
Like all the others. That's what Sally had said.
I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I had to put things right. I had the power to do it, because I had just remembered something.....
With a new spring in my step I turned around and marched straight back into the diner. Sally was sitting exactly where I had left her. She looked up with glazed eyes.
'Sally, I was wrong. I just remembered---you know, when I got outside. I read this piece in a newspaper a while back---one of these true encounter things; there were witnesses, you see.....'
And I sat back down on the stool I had vacated minutes earlier and told Sally, the diner lady, all about a similar case where long after a mysterious disappearance people could hear the voice of the person who had vanished. And at that moment, as I sat telling Sally about it, I swear I believed every word of it with all my heart.
Well, what more is there to say? The effect on Sally was a wonderful sight to behold. At first she was suspicious of me, then she got carried away by my enthusiasm. After all, she herself wanted to believe it so much.
When I had finished she got up and came around the counter to give me a great hug. I was no longer frightened of her any more, and I hugged her back. Sally smelled of newly cut grass, fresh summer air and dandelions.
'Bye, Sally,' I said gruffly, and headed out again before she saw the tears in my eyes.
We all have our own ways of coping. This was Sally's way. Who did I think I was, Mr Hotshot Writer with his superior education and reason.
 Hah!  
Why, I was nothing in front of people like Sally, who had the strength to survive such a terrible event in their lives. It had been my privilege to admit this to her!

Hi, my name is John. This is my seventh weekly blogpost.   The previous posts can be reached by scrolling down. The next one, called The Night-time Spider, will be posted next Friday, 31 August. My tweeps have been complaining that I write depressing stuff, so this next one will be in a lighter vein.
      The ducklings are all still fine. They are becoming rather chubby and spoilt. Who knows, maybe they’ll take up permanent residence here. And why not? The world is a jungle, but here they are pampered and looked after! Everyone says it’s a miracle how they all survived when none of the previous lot did. There is no real explanation. It is a puzzle. For those of you late to this blog, you can scroll down to see the post called Tragedy At The Duck Pond (and subsequent updates like this one) to appreciate the background to the duckling saga (Thursday 19 July post).
       And here are my books, in ebook and paperback editions........ 

  
                                         WSWTEndings Vol 1 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 2 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 3 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 4 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                        SSWTEndings Vol 1 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                        SSWTEndings Vol 2 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)
                                    
                                    Longer Wacky Stories With Twist Endings (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)
                                  Look Out...Mum's Gone Crackers (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                   

                                       Hunting The Beast (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)
                                               

                                       May Never The Dead Return (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                     

                                       Running With Zombies (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                                               

                                 Wacky Stories For Grown Up Kids (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)

                                               

                                       An Unlawful Act In Libya (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)
                                    

                                            A Layman's Guide To The Meaning Of Life And Death (click) 
My website: http://bit.ly/OtFU9Z




  
              




Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Best Place To Be





jmwsmith.webeden.co.uk


The Best Place To Be

Everyone has their own best place to be. Their favourite place. Their chill-out zone. For some it is in their bed, others have a particular park-bench. The garden. A work-shed. I know someone whose best place to be is sitting in the loo!
Mine is in my car.
I am alone in it most of the time. I like that. I can talk to myself. Sing. Listen to music. Put on my shades. Switch on the air-con. It is my home from home.
But most of all it gives me thinking space.
Driving is like knitting, or weaving, or hoovering the floor--- it concentrates your attention so the thinking part of your brain can get on with the important stuff.
And what do I think about in my car? A lot. My brain just freewheels and latches onto something. I know someone won't walk into the room. And there won't be a knock at the door. My cell phone is switched off (isn't yours? Well it's a good idea when driving). And if I get tired I can pull over and still enjoy my solitude, my quality time and space.
Sometimes it's memories. People. Like the young girl I used to know. I was 12 and Celia was 16. Our families were friends, we went on trips and outings. She was quite pretty and had many admirers. Her little handbag was crammed full of highly emotional love notes from the guys at school who daydreamed about her. I wasn't into Celia romantically. I was a slow developer, I suppose.
 Once we shared a tin of condensed milk we'd stolen from the kitchen. I was fine with it but Celia got sick, her slight frame heaving and twitching. I wanted to comfort her by putting an arm around her, but I was too shy. I regret that.
Celia was always smiling or laughing, never moody or sullen or simply detached like so many girls at her age. People loved her. Celia bewitched them. You can't cultivate that talent, you either have it or you don't.
One day, when she was still 16, she came home from school. Said she was tired. Her mom went to heat up Celia's usual cup of milk. When she returned Celia had fallen asleep. Or so her mum thought. Only Celia wasn't asleep. She was dead. Her heart had failed. It was some sort of congenital birth defect that no one had ever been aware of, they said afterwards.
And then there was Josh. A friend of mine from school. Rich parents, very spoiled. But still vulnerable and lacking in confidence, due mainly to having two, much older brothers, who bullied him. I liked Josh. I could relax with him because he looked up to me. We'd drive long distances in his car, with him trying to find shops where he could buy the coolest new in-car accessory. Completely pointless and unnecessary, very silly and expensive bits and pieces, but try telling that to a teenager wanting to prove himself!
He had a sound system I envied, and I'd go to his house simply to listen to his music. His favourite was The Moody Blues' beautiful album In Search Of The Lost Chord, which, strangely enough, many years later became my favourite too. I still adore it!
And then one day after a massive argument with his loutish and drunken older brothers, Josh left home in little more than the clothes in which he was standing. Now, teenagers do that all the time. It's nothing new. But this was different. Josh never came back home and they never found him. His parents scoured the earth for him--- they were able to, they were rich. No sign of him. Not a trace.
I remember some years later when I bumped into his dad he simply looked at me in a stunned sort of way--- and burst into tears. I didn't know what to do. It felt terrible.
So you want to know what I think happened to Josh? I'd rather not say. It just depresses me. But if you insist I think he hitched a lift from someone and then something terrible happened.
Well, back to my car, my moving grooving meditation chamber. Now, I want to get one thing straight. I wasn't extremely close in any way to Celia or Josh. But I've always found myself missing them like crazy over the years. There's something about having someone snatched from you suddenly and forever. At least if they had decided to emigrate to the other side of the world there would have been a chance I might, one day, have seen Celia and Josh again.
Now you'll probably think me strange for saying this, and perhaps you'd be right. But there is still a place where I can meet up with them. Yup. You've guessed it. Alone, in my car.
All I have to do is to think about Celia and Josh, and they will open the back doors of my car and slide right in.............


Hi, my name is John. This is my sixth weekly blogpost.  The previous posts can be reached by scrolling down. The next one, called Epiphany At A Roadside Diner, will be posted next Friday, 24 August. The ducklings are all still fine. Almost time that they started spreading their wings to fly away. Mum flies off for several hours on end to encourage them to do this---much like human mums start developing their own life once the kids have grown up! For those of you late to this blog, you can scroll down to see the post called Tragedy At The Duck Pond (and subsequent updates like this one) to appreciate the background to the duckling saga (Thursday 19 July post).
And here are my books, in ebook and paperback editions........ 


                                         WSWTEndings Vol 1 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 2 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 3 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                         WSWTEndings Vol 4 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                        SSWTEndings Vol 1 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)

                                        SSWTEndings Vol 2 Kindle and paperback editions  (click)
                                    
                                    Longer Wacky Stories With Twist Endings (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)
                                  Look Out...Mum's Gone Crackers (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                   

                                       Hunting The Beast (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)
                                               

                                       May Never The Dead Return (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                     

                                       Running With Zombies (Kindle and paperback editions)  (click)                                                                               

                                 Wacky Stories For Grown Up Kids (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)

                                               

                                       An Unlawful Act In Libya (Kindle and paperback editions) (click)
                                    

                                            A Layman's Guide To The Meaning Of Life And Death (click)    
 
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