fiction, photography

THE THICKET

Chris R-1-201 Image by Christine Renney

There was a wood directly behind the house and although Joseph had been living on the outskirts for almost a month he still had not ventured into this small but dense thicket. When he needed to make his way down into the village for supplies he would walk around it. There was a beaten track that began just beyond his garden and led straight into the trees but each time Joseph reached the edge and peered in he would find himself stalled and unable to take the next couple of steps. He could see that the path was very narrow and overgrown with bramble and gorse encroaching on either side and it seemed to him that it became even narrower as it disappeared into the darkness.

The others living on the outskirts were making use of the path. Joseph often noticed one of them pushing through the tangled branches and disappearing into them, or someone emerging head down and hunched over, laden with supplies. But once clear they would stretch and yawn, readjusting to the light and reacquainting themselves with the sky.
Just a few days ago one of these men had spotted Joseph watching from the window and, putting down his heavy bags, he had glared back. Looking down Joseph pretended to busy himself at the sink and when he raised his head again, the man was gone.

Following this incident Joseph began to imagine that the others were talking about him, that he was a topic of their discussion. He was sure they were perplexed as to why he continued to walk around, trudging in the wet grass of the meadow, rather than making use of the more direct path leading through the wood. Joseph was convinced they considered him a fool and were laughing at him. He began to keep his distance even more, as far as it was possible. But he continued with his chores, working in the gardens and chopping firewood and hauling supplies from the village. It took him a little longer but Joseph was working hard and doing his share and the others had no reason to complain.

Joseph has hardly slept in days. He creeps from the house and moves stealthily across the garden in the moonlight. Reaching the trees, he stands at the edge of the footpath. The others don’t use it after dark and certainly not at this late hour. Joseph is determined that tonight he will be able to do it, and steeling himself, he takes first one step and then another and suddenly he is walking through the wood. In fact, he is moving quite quickly, almost running and he can’t see but he can feel the brambles and the gorse brushing against his legs and pulling at his coat. And just as suddenly Joseph stumbles and he is down, flat on the ground. There are scratches on his hands and blood on his face and dirt in his mouth. But he isn’t hurt, not really, a little bruised maybe but no more than that and yet he can’t move. Joseph is now frozen to this spot and he wonders how far has he managed to come? Half way perhaps? But he suspects that it is considerably less than that.

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fiction, photography

TREMORS

Chris R-1-74 Image by Christine Renney

He wanted desperately to pinpoint when it began, the exact moment that he had felt the first tremor. But it hadn’t happened like that, suddenly and revelatory. No it had been slow.
Ever so gradually he became aware of something happening beneath his feet. Slowly he had become more and more attuned until he was able to anticipate when the next tremor would occur and, readying himself for it, he could prepare for the impact.

He wondered if there were others who felt the tremors and suffered as he did. He watched his family and friends. He studied people in the street, in the supermarket and on the bus, people anywhere and everywhere. He concluded that if they did, if there were others who felt the tremors, then they were much stronger than he and better at hiding it.

He sensed that he had always sensed them, subconsciously at first of course, and then consciously. They were buried deep down in the ground – the faintest of flickers, dying torches in the darkest mine shaft. The tremors hadn’t surprised him, hadn’t shocked him and this, in itself, was shocking. And now they were taking their toll and he could no longer stand firm and continue as if nothing was happening. He could no longer pretend

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fiction, photography

THE NOISE

Chris R-0246 Image by Christine Renney

The noise coming from above has changed. I’m not sure how to describe the difference but it is louder, all the walking and talking, even the water rushing in the pipes sounds more urgent, more focused. And I don’t like it.
They arrived, an eruption of activity, and I suffered throughout the redecorating. All the hammering and the drilling and the scraping. The work is now complete and the noise is less frequent but when it comes it is in bursts, more eruptions. It seems that they are always in a hurry; forever readying for somewhere or something else.

I can hear their television but I doubt that they are sitting and watching. The music, when it comes through the ceiling, is a dense and muddy block. I suppose that in a club it would make sense but not here and, despite the volume, I can still hear them moving around but they aren’t dancing and they aren’t listening.

I have a key. My former neighbours pressed it on me, ‘in case of emergency,’ they said. I didn’t want to take it, didn’t want to be a part of anything minor or major that they might consider an emergency. ‘It’s just in case we lock ourselves out,’ she said, sensing my reluctance, ‘or if anyone needs to get in whilst we are away.’ ‘Of course,’ I had said, ‘of course I’ll take it.’
I had forgotten the key. It languishes in a drawer, alongside nuts and bolts, nails and screws, all the bits and pieces that one day might prove useful. Rummaging through, I fish it out. I hold it up to the light, reacquainting myself with it and I add it to my keychain although I am unsure why.
Having it is enough. It dangles from the ignition as I drive. Each time I unlock the door to my flat it jangles alongside the others on the chain and for a while it is enough.

I hear their door slam up on the landing. Their clatter and their chatter on the stairs and they are gone and it is quiet. But I am agitated and although they aren’t at home my anxiety doesn’t subside. When they switch the noise off it doesn’t go away and I can’t settle, not tonight.
I have the key in my hand again. I have removed it from the key-ring, separated it from the others so that I can hold it. I consider damaging it, rendering it useless, unusable but how? I could take a hammer to it I suppose, force a nail punch into the grooves or place it in a vice and squeeze until it is misshapen and won’t fit. But I don’t have a vice, I don’t even have a hammer. I could of course take the key out onto the pavement and drop it down the nearest drain or I could simply return it.

I had been required, the key had been needed. I had let someone in, a workman and there had also been a delivery. I remember two men carrying something up the stairs. A fridge freezer or a washing machine, and I watched as they struggled with it along the narrow hallway and disappeared into the kitchen.
I had waited out here on the landing, shuffling in the cold without a coat, and when the men had done what they needed to do, retrieving the key I had pulled the door to.

I haven’t been inside, I haven’t as much as stepped across the threshold but I have used this key before, I have unlocked the door before and so why shouldn’t I do so again? Who will know?
I almost slip on the veneered and shiny floor and my footsteps echo. I move slowly and try to stifle the clatter of my feet but I can’t, not up here, and of course it doesn’t matter. There isn’t any need for stealth. I am alone.
I move more quickly, now stamping and stomping loudly. I switch on the lights and, letting the flat glare, I take it in. All is uniform and strangely fresh. There is a fragrance in the air and, breathing deeply, I am reminded of an office. It is sparse – minimalist and modern, not built for comfort. It isn’t any wonder that the young couple can’t settle but they will of course move on. Perhaps together, perhaps not, but both of them will enjoy more, will have bigger and better. This is just a beginning.
I resist the urge to rifle through their belongings, to mess with the scatter cushions. And in the kitchen I sit on a high stool at the glass counter and wait.

 

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