Archive | September, 2016

THE LIVING WORLD

28 Sep

A voice almost penetrated the charcoal gloom and Bernard thought he felt weight. Back in wherever it was he’d found himself … was it Heaven or was it Hell? … he’d had no awareness of weight at all. But everything had been so confusing for the last how-many days or weeks in that Afterlife and in the company of someone who might have been God or might have been Satan or possibly could have been an unbelievable amalgam of the two that he found believing in the evidence provided by his senses something he could hardly be expected to rely on.

He struggled and somehow managed to flicker his eyelids but all he could see was an unfocussed charcoal world with black shapes moving here and there inside it. He groaned, but it was a hiss, deafening to him but silent to the world.

“I think he’s stirring,” one voice might have said, though he couldn’t be sure. “And look: his eyes!” it added.

“He’d have been on his way to the mortuary without your inspired intervention,” said another.

“I was a nurse before they made me redundant,” rumbled a female voice. “I liked nursing, but you know how things are…”

Suddenly he liked the female voice. Suddenly it wasn’t the loathsome treble that he’d always heard when women opened their mouths. Now it was beautiful, like harps are beautiful, and musical, in stark contrast to the man’s groaning bass.

But then, there were harps in Heaven, if that’s where he’d really and truly been. He’d heard them. And choirs with soprano voices with madrigals and folk songs by the score. And meadows of tiny white flowers being woven into beautiful chains to hang round an angel’s neck.

“You must have given him the kiss of life for absolutely ages,” rumbled a bass voice. “I wass getting jealous! And then all that pummelling away, massaging his heart. You’re the kind of woman a man needs to have around!”

“I hope you’re not being a pervert, Terry,” giggled the soprano.

“I was thinking of what you just did, Amelia,” sighed the bass. Terry, she’d called it.

“If you hadn’t heard the bang as he fell then we’d have been too late to do anything,” she purred.

Terry lived in the flat next door and Amelia called on him ever so often. Amelia was a woman and suddenly something in his mind flashed the suggestion that he’d seen her lots of times and might have known she was pretty had he been bothered to think about it or even look. But she was pretty. And a nurse? He hadn’t known that! But then, he hadn’t really known anything about anyone had he?

He closed his eyes and went to sleep. Not to death, not to the nightmare of the Afterlife, but to honest-to-goodness sleep.

And when he opened his eyes again everything was different.

The charcoal monochrome had gone and shapes appeared. He groaned. It was deafening, but it was sound and it was him.

“Hello!” said a lovely voice.

“You’ve got a lovely voice,” he managed to say, and to his almost total surprise it seemed to come out just about right.

“So you’re a bit of a Romeo are you, chatting a girl up the moment you open your eyes,” she teased. And he knew she was teasing. That was something he’d never understood before. Teasing. But here and now he knew teasing and even smiled at it.

“Where … am I?” he asked.

“Now that’s better!” almost laughed the lovely voice. “You’re in hospital with pipes coming out of most orifices after recovering from a heart attack that might have killed you if you weren’t lucky enough to have really Christian neighbours…”

“Christian?” he asked.

“It’s what you call people who save your life,” she said, a little tartly. “They could be Muslim for all I know, or Buddhists or Baptists or Jews. There are some really good Muslims around, but what the woman did was extremely … er, Christian. She brought you back from death because your heart had definitely stopped, and you’ll see the bruises on your chest when you’re up and about to prove it. And, you lucky man, she breathed the oxygen of life into your lungs. That was some inspired kiss, that was.”

“She … she kissed me?”

“She saved your life!”

“And I was dead?”

“As good as. The grim reaper had his paws on you, and that’s a fact.”

“The grim reaper?”

“You know. The hooded guy with a dirty great scythe. Now you just lie still and stop babbling. Doctor’s on his way and he wants to take a good look at you.”

“That’ll do, nurse.” That was a new voice from a new face, a man this time, smiles and reassurance and too young to be much more than a foetus. The nurses drifted away and scurried around another bed. Bernard’s eyes drifted after her.

“I’m looking at a woman…” he whispered.

“Pardon?” asked the doctor.

“No matter. She said I might have died.”

“That’s a moot point. Your heart certainly stopped beating but, it seems, your brain kept working or your neighbour would never have brought you round.” said the doctor, busily fiddling with pipes and dials.

“I met God,” sighed Bernard.

“That must have been nice,” replied the doctor, used to the ramblings of newly conscious patients.

“It wasn’t really.”

“Oh. Why not?”

“Well, God and the Devil were one and the same and Hitler’s head was a football and everyone was making daisy chains or playing music of strings or flutes and the bus crashed…”

The doctor shook his head. Here was another rambling patient, newly recovered from the brink of death and what sounded like a nightmare. “It must have been quite a meeting.” he murmured.

“It was horrible! But it showed me a few things about myself that I’m only beginning to understand. But I’m seventy and there’s an awful lot of stuff I’ve left too long. I’ve never…”

“You’ve never…?”

“I’ve never had a girlfriend … and I suppose it’s too late at my age!”

The doctor smiled, then chuckled. “Never say never,” he murmured, and wandered off.

© Peter Rogerson 28.09.16

I reckon I might have typed THE END under the last sentence because that’s what it seems to be. I might edit the whole thing over the days to come and see where that leads me. I might even slip a little bit of something new here and there in it if I think the effort’s worth it. Or I might not.

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THE BUS IN THE TUNNEL

27 Sep

“What I hate more than anything,” muttered God, twiddling his thumbs and wringing his hands (not at the same time, of course) “is when the bus is late. It’s always irritated me, and I hate being irritated.”

He and Bernard must have seemed an odd couple as they stood at the bus-stop at the increasingly murky end of Heaven not so far from the tunnel entrance, one every bit like a celestial saint and the other an elderly and rather timid naked man. Bernard had only travelled down that tunnel once before, but that once had been enough to convince him that he hated it more than he had ever hated a mode of transport before. The bus had seemed too large for so narrow a tunnel.

“What time’s it due?” asked Bernard, innocently.

God scowled in the way that only deities can, and when he spoke next the trees in the neighbourhood all trembled as if a storm was about to brew, and the skies darkened a shade. That’s the way things get when gods get angry.

“There is nothing like time in the Afterlife,” he grated loud enough for all the devils in Hell to hear (and remember, the two of them were still in Heaven). “I commanded the bus to come, and come it has not!”

Bernard was about to suggest that the driver had got the time all wrong when he realised that time wasn’t the issue because it couldn’t be, and he kept his mouth clamped shut. God’s anger, it seemed, was best avoided.

It was before he could make any further comment (or anger the deity in any other way) that the bus arrived, a rickety and ancient vehicle that rattled even over bumps that were invisibly in the miroscopic range.

“A fine vehicle,” murmured a suddenly calm God. “We’ve had it for years, you know, and it’s only used on the rare occasion when I want to make this run. I don’t treat so many sinners to a day like you’ve had, Bernard my lad. Not at all! But your sins are of the, what shall I call it, the negative sort. You’ve omitted love from your life which is very different from doing any of the dire things some of my inmates have managed to sin about. Take that rotund little kick-about fellow with the moustache, for instance. He came up here to the Hell side of my Afterlife and I saw at once that he would suffer much more in the Heaven side, so I transferred him. It didn’t take long for armies of those who he’d murdered and tortured to round up on him and sing particularly spiky madrigals straight into his ears until he showed signs of becoming even more insane than he already had been in life. And there have been others, too many to mention individually… but climb aboard, old fellow, and let’s be off before the bus melts or the driver goes on strike or something equally horrible happens…”

The two of them heaved themselves aboard the ancient vehicle and it set off with chunter, the driver muttering audibly about inadequate rest times and his tachometer and the importance of staying within the law, and he managed all that whilst reaching for a celestial mobile phone and attempting to compose a text to his Union headquarters and simultaneously driving off at break-neck speed into the tunnel.

“Go easy, fellow!” commanded God.

“This is easy,” came the surly reply. “I need my rest, you know, and I was back there on the golden meadow trying to make it with a young blonde filly with a smile to die for, and she was busy making a mile-long daisy chain whilst singing about an old man river in the sweetest bass voice you ever did hear when I got the message that you wanted the bus immediately. And I’d not had a moment’s rest, but I had to pull my non-existent pants back up and drive the bus like there’s going to be no tomorrow for fear of losing my driving job…”

“There isn’t going to be any tomorrow,” smirked God. “Hadn’t you noticed, fellow-me-lad, that there’s only today? For eternity? So what what would a fine young chap like you want to be worrying about what’ll never come? And why worry about one sweet young thing when there are so many? Now be a good fellow and take me to the darkest of all places in time for tea and I’ll arrange a dozen blondes for your over-active virtual loins to get excited about later!”

“That’s a deal, squire!” almost yelped the driver, and the bus rocketed forwards into the tunnel as he put his foot down.

“I hope he knows what he’s doing…?” ventured Bernard.

“So do I!” grinned God. “Now where was I? I know, telling you about some of the sinners I’ve had to deal with. History is littered with them, many achieving a high status amongst mortals. Take royalty, for instance, seeing as you’re a British Spirit. That fat king Henry with all the wives … he was a brute if ever there was one. Almost as bad as the moustachioed football back there, the one with the testicular deficiency…”

“So it’s true?” interrupted Bernard. “When I was a lad we sung a corny little song about him only having one you-know-what. I say we, but I really mean all the other boys. I didn’t like to because singing about you-know-whats seemed a little too close to sinning, and mummy wouldn’t have liked it.”

“You missed out a lot because of that matriarchal bully of yours,” sighed God. “It’s why you’re in Hell now. None of your fault, that much is clear … but the decision was made and as you know all decisions are irreversible except for the odd dispensation like that football.. You never had a lover of your own, did you?”
Bernard shook his head. “Mummy said that girls, and later when I was a bit older women, were the cause of all the evil in the world because they were responsible for original sin,” he said quietly. “And I still believe her. She knocked that lesson into me alright, and she could be so harsh with a whole variety of painful punishments that left me with bruises for my sinfulness for most of my young years. So in my heart of hearts I know it’s wrong for a man to go anywhere near a woman.”
“Such thinking paved your way to Hell,” sighed God. “Wouldn’t you be happier plaiting daisy chains or singing sweet harmonies with the other chaps in Heaven?”

“Like back there? Goodness me no! It all looked so mind-numbingly boring!” exclaimed Bernard.

As he said that the bus lurched with a suddenness that even made God jump.

“Blasted thing!” shouted the driver, “the steering’s gone and gorn!”
Then everything happened at once. Lights flashed, a roaring sound seemed to penetrate to the very centre of Bernard’s brain and something heavy, really painfully heavy, crashed against his chest as the Afterlife flickered out and Bernard’s spirit knew no more.

© Peter Rogerson 27.08.16

26 Sep

I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but as I’m not a believer in Heaven, Hell nor any of the fanciful inhabitants of ancient biblical texts I feel perfectly at liberty to add to what I already think of as fiction. This is part 13 and when I started I thought I knew where I was going but imagined I’d get there in an episode or two. I’m still going to the original destination but getting waylaid by new ideas on the way. By the way, I’m mulling over changing the title soon.

The sound of God whistling for he who was promised as a new friend for Bernard seemed to cut the air like a knife cuts vegan butter. It was both shrill and divine.

“Now where’s the pesky fool got to?” muttered God. “Stanley, are you around by any chance, I need you?” he called to nowhere in particular, which meant to everywhere.

A sprightly man in football shorts (white ones with little lions wiggling their bottoms as he walked) appeared as if by magic, which is how he might have done it.

“Aren’t you Stanley Matthews?” asked Bernard, goggling.

“Sir Stanley, if you don’t mind?” said the footballer.”And yes I am. What is it you require, m’lord?” he asked of God.

“Have you got the German tyke?” asked the deity respectfully. “I thought I saw you heading him a few years back.”

“You mean my football?” asked Stanley Matthews.

“Exactly him. Have you got him?”

“Of course I have. He’s become my football, the evil little creature,” replied Stanley. “Me and the lads have been kicking him about of late and knocked some of the corners off him, but we don’t seem to be able to blot out that nasty little moustache of his! But he’s bouncing around somewhere. Talk about a thousand year Reich! We’ll treat him to a thousand years of extra time, see if we don’t!”

He didn’t need to say any more because, on cue, a round blood-stained object covered with cuts, abrasions and bruises rolled up, and Bernard recognised it at once. There could be no doubt: it was Adolph Hitler’s head and Adolph Hitler was scowling.

“What’s he doing in Heaven?” asked Bernard. “I tried so hard to be good all my life, never dallying with girls because mummy told me girls are all bad and filled with sin, and when I end up as a tortured soul in Hell I find that the most evil man of all time and surely the greatest sinner has ended up in Heaven! It’s not fair!”

“Know thine enemy,” smirked God.

“What he means,” said Stanley with a nod and a wink, “is young Adolph here has got so many enemies he doesn’t know where to hide! You must have heard the phrase about there being no hiding place? What he did in life was truly dreadful, we all know that, and if someone who is that evil, that full of inhumanity, is going to suffer as much as he deserves to suffer then he might as well be amongst those he’s wronged. I mean, look at him: all that’s left is his head and we intend to score a few thousand more goals with that before the Great Referee blows his whistle for Time and we tally up the score!”

“That’s justice,” nodded God, “he’d be much happier amongst the fires and spumes of my other domain! And over there he’d probably bump into a few fellow torturers and murderers, and get up to mischief on the smallest possible scale before I stamped on it, but that little might give him pleasure. And pleasure, my chum, is what he must never be allowed to experience. He deserves only pain and suffering.”

“You said he was to be my companion…” grumbled Bernard, “I can’t wander around with a disembodied head! Especially one I despise as much as I despise him!”

“Not even for half an eternity?” asked God.

“Not even for half a second.” Bernard decided there and then that it was time to be firm even though he had always respected the very idea of the deity he was talking to and thought him capable of no wrong.

“I do believe I can see your point,” sighed God, “and it’s good to hear you sticking up for yourself for a change. If you’d stood up to that dragon of a mother of yours when you were alive, well, you might be a permanent resident in Heaven. As it is, the day trip is almost over and it’ll soon be time to go back to the comforts of endless fires and torture in my other kingdom. Well, Sir Stanley, it seems we don’t need your ball after all.”

“That’s perfectly okay, Squire,” grinned the footballer in his snazzy shorts, and he took the three steps required to run towards Adolph Hitler’s head and planted an almighty kick just under that mean little moustache.

“Good shot!” called God as the head soared away, screaming like a demented beast and dripping a few drops of celestial blood as it rocketed over a landscape dotted with little white flowers and pretty girls plaiting them into necklaces that shone under the endless sun of Heaven. And louder than the scream was the sing they were singing, plaintively asking where all the flowers have gone…

“I hope he scored,” whispered God as Sir Stanley Matthews ran off, his little lions dancing an almost erotic jig.

“You know, I can’t feel sorry for the evil cteature even though I saw him kicked in the face by a man who knows how to kick,” said Bernard.

“My, you’re getting to be almost good,” said God, slapping him on the back. “Pity you couldn’t have been this understanding when you were alive … things might have turned out very different in your own afterlife if you had!”

“I don’t understand where I went wrong,” sighed Bernard. “I tried so hard, denied myself all sorts of joys and pleasures, not even daring to watch the pretty girl next door for fear of getting a … you know, reaction in my underwear. I took aspirins to cure reactions like that, not that they did much good. Maybe I should have tried paracetamol?”

God shook his head. “That would be just as silly,” he said seriously. “There’s only one reason why you truly wanted to watch that lass next door and that’s because you were designed to do it. Denying yourself something that’s totally natural isn’t being good! It isn’t being in any way faithful to my creed! It’s being stupid. And you spent an entire lifetime being so stupid that you ended up as a true sinner. For one man’s life is but a part of a journey being taken by all of humanity and if you forgo your part then the journey gets broken, and I don’t like that. No sir, I don’t like it at all. That’s why my Hell is overflowing with priests and nuns. They followed the same path as you, my simple-minded little servant, and are paying the same price, though not all get treated to a day trip to Heaven as a treat like you have!”

“I didn’t understand…” whispered Bernard.

“You didn’t think!” barked God, “for if you had thought, truly thought, you would have seen the truth. It’s been shining everywhere all your life like a beacon from tomorrow. But shush. There’s no more time for idle chatter. It’s a return to the bus stop and a journey back to the dubious comforts of Hell! Come on! Last one there’s a sissy!”

© Peter Rogerson 26.09.16

THE NEW FRIEND

25 Sep

It’s been a week since I last visited this story because my wife and I have been in Italy enjoying the lakes there. So, like me, you may have to refresh by reading previous parts, all of which have been posted, in sequence, here.

“Now then, now then, now then,” smirked God in bis best Jimmy Saville voice as Bernard stared at his old University friend, Philip, “there’s no call go be gawping at that young fellow! He’s here and he’s happy here. He spends a huge amount of time with my angels. He gets on so well with them he does.”
“Angels? But I thought he … I mean, it seemed ro me…”
“That he was gay?” suggested God.
“Exactly, though I don’t always like to put it into words, but if that’s what you call it that’s what I thought,” muttered an embarrassed Bernard.
“Then it’s perfectly natural. Haven’t you read the ancient manuscripts ascribed to my way of thinking?” asked the benevolent Deity. “Haven’t you taken note of the contents?”
“I’ve read most of it,” confirmed Bernard.
“Then you’ll know that my angels are fellas,” smiled God. “Each and every one of them! Remember Gabriel, he of the deflowering of the so-called virgin Mary? They’re all blokes, all manly figures, and there’s nothing a manly figure likes more than a bit of how’s your father… and it’s not naughty like you seem to think it is, especially if there aren’t any of the alternative gender around to fiddle with. It’s natural. It’s how I … er … created them in the first place, and angels haven’t got the feeble excuse of needing to reproduce the species because the angelic species is immortal and eternal. So don’t you go worrying about your friend Philip: he’s in good hands, and plenty of them!”
“Oh dear,” groaned Bernard.
“Now before you burst into floods of tears let’s go for a ride in my boat,” said the immortal King. “For I’ve got the best boat ever and it’s got a proper throne on it so I can take my rightful place in glory and have all the teeny boppers prostrate at my feet, licking my toes for the perfection of my toe-juice and generally being obsequious.”
“Boat? Throne?” stammered Bernard, lost and confused.
“Both,” said God. “Now come on! There’s a heavenly river down here, and you’ll see what I mean.”
Unable to find words in order to do anything Bernard found himself walking the few yards that separated them from a river that he hadn’t noticed before, even though it flowed like a special and mighty celestial Rhine through a verdant scenery that never ended.
On board were a dozen or so delightful scantily-clad young females, all with golden hair and all with sparkling blue eyes and the most perfect smiles.
“These are my harem,” said God, “and I love every one of them! They bathe my feet with the purest of waters drawn from the river and I love the sensation like I love no other, save one, and I’ll leave you to guess what that might be, you naughty fellow! But first, to my throne so that I can administer justice!”
A golden and gem-encrusted chair appeared, with an enormous and luxuriously padded taffeta seat that Bernard thought looked the most inviting seat he had ever seen. And his deity, his guide, sat majestically on it as though it had been made specially for him by craftsmen in possession of more than human skill.
“Now I feel at home,” sighed God. “What do you think of my darlings? The curve of so many tender bosoms, the swish of so many silken skirts, the smile on so many cherry lips? Does it not feel appropriate for Heaven that its Lord and Master be surrounded by so much subservient beauty and by so many hands eager to caress my languid locks and tickle my tender and noble flesh as I struggle to administer justice in this sacred land … can you imagine that …?”
“What justice?” almost whimpered Bernard.
“Aha, there are so many calls on my wisdom,” sighed God, “for am I not the arbiter above all arbiters and do I not let peace and love flow from every pore of my body? And there are occasions, rare I must admit, when even I have to don my black cap and order an execution! Yes, even that! For sin is everywhere, even on odd occasions in Heaven! And then executions are messy affairs, with screaming and agony and eyes blinded by hatred, and flesh torn by flails barbed and toxic with poisons unknown anywhere but here so that ultimate pain can be inflicted for ever and ever, amen!”
“Surely the dead have no flesh?” stammered Bernard questioningly, “surely that’s all been left behind in life?”
“What?” roared the deity, suddenly and for no apparent reason enraged. “You dared suggest that I punish those who have died? No, I would never do that, for their punishment is being here and twiddling daisy chains whilst chanting meaningless madrigals or playing winsome harps. Always under a shadeless sun! No – those I punish are my angels, and when I do that I do it with a deft cruelty mankind can never achieve, for angels cannot die! They must scream their pain to the forty-seven corners of the Universe for all eternity! And by eternity I really mean for ever and not the silly span attributed to time by men like Einstein!”
“I’m sorry…” mumbled Bernard. “Can I go back to Hell please? It makes more sense there.”
“But I thought you’d spent a lifetime trying to be perfect in order to get here,” grinned God, his violent mood evaporating in an instant. “I thought you wanted to be here, to live a life of endless and tuneful monotony whilst suns die and new stars are born, to die in turn themselves?”
“I only wanted to do the right thing…” whimpered Bernard.
“And by golly you did!” roared God. “Come my little friend, come with my and I will introduce you to a brand new friend, and I know you’ll like him because he was the direct opposite to you whilst he lived! Now where did I send him? My memory … it’s no what it used to be!
“Adolph, where have you got to my charming moustachioed chum!”
© Peter Rogerson 25.09.16

THE DAY TRIP

16 Sep

This is the eleventh part of a longer tale, all of them having been posted on this site over the past eleven days. If you want to check up on the oddity that is my story it’s available here or on writerscafe (http://www.writerscafe.org/writing/peterrogerson5/1827530/)

There was the sort of silence that can mean anything or nothing, then Bernard looked up at Satan who was lurking, grinning that Cheshire Cat grin on his ruddy scabby face, just to one side of him.
“Philip was a good friend,” he said, a little stiffly.
“Yet you rejected him!” growled the Devil.
“It was because he was … unusual. I didn’t understand … I’ve never understood.”
“And you condemn what you admit you don’t understand?” barked his inquisitor. “How shallow! But come. I believe you’ve seen enough in my looking glass for the moment. It’s time for the day trip I mentioned!”
“Day trip? Are there days here, then?” asked Bernard, tongue in cheek. “I thought Eternity was just that – a spread of forever on the ether of the Universe!”
“Like butter on bread? What a quaint thought!” almost giggled Satan. “A mighty large slice of crusty brown, then! Come on, hurry or we’ll miss the bus!”
He marched off faster than Bernard could walk, and to his humiliation he found himself having to trot behind the swaying tail of his satanic jailer. And that’s what the relative relationship between them seemed to Bernard, that of prisoner and jailer.
At the far end of the huge cathedral-like space was a bus-stop. Bernard hadn’t noticed it earlier, but it was there as big and real as any bus-stop anywhere. There was something incongruous about it, something so out of place that Bernard looked around to see if there was a comical beggar sitting near it, with a hat for coins or even paper money. But there wasn’t. The bus-stop was no beggar’s prop but a real bus-stop as witness the ancient rickety bus that trundled up to it.
“Fares please!” barked the spirited driver, grinning from ear to ear as if laughing at a private joke.
“That’s enough of that!” reproved Satan. “You know where we’re going! And the fellow with me has a pensioner’s bus pass. He can’t show it here and now because it’s back in the land of the living, but you can take the honest word of Beelzebub that he’s got one!”
“Right you are, squire,” cackled the driver, “you are in a jolly mood this morning! So you’re off to show the scallywag what he’s missing, are you? You want him to become all jealous of the good time being had on the other side, the sweet music, the acres of little white daisies fresh for the plucking and the plaiting, all that kind of thing? And the angels, fair of flesh and bosom, wafting their fragrance here, there and everywhere? Or has he left a lady friend behind and does he want to weep for her? Crocodile tears, they’d be, by the look of him. Now hold on tight! Off we go and be warned, there might be some pot holes on the way. This road isn’t maintained as it should be, and that’s a fact! There are more blisters in its metal surface than in a dollop of Swiss cheese!”
“That’s enough idle chatter!” reprimanded the Devil, guiding Bernard to an empty seat. “Now hearken to me,” he continued, “as you know you’re destined for an Eternity in Hell on account of having lived a wasted and useless life, so I don’t want you to get any big ideas about the Authorities round here changing their minds, because that sort of thing never happens. But I do think your Eternity of sulphurous misery might well be made a tad more or less palatable by a taste of what you’re missing, and a chance to wave a hand at your old friend Philip…”
The bus did a tremendous jerk, and entered a tunnel that was only just big enough for it to fit in.
“Jeez, this is a tight fit!” called the driver as if he’d never driven that way before, “everyone breathe in and we just might make it!”
The tunnel went on for mile after mile, all in total darkness except for the dim glimmer of light from the bus’s barely incandescent headlight. Then, suddenly, in a blaze of splendour the bus roared into a totally different landscape from the one at the other end of the tunnel. Instead of shooting sulphurous smokes and flames and the stench of decay vast meadows and fields stretched for as far as the eye could see in every direction, interspersed here and there with small patches of woodland. Bernard could see that everywhere figures were moving almost randomly, and he was sure that the air was filled with the sound of singing, not just a small choir but a mass of choirs, thousands, no millions, of voices softly singing in harmony with each other.
“Heaven above!” barked the driver as the bus pulled in at a bus-stop with barely a jerk.
“We get off here,” announced the Devil. “Come on, fellow my lad, and enjoy a taste of a different Afterlife!”
Bernard glanced at him, and then gasped.
His companion still had the same face, but the sameness emphasised the difference between the ruddy-complexioned creature with horns and reeking of sulphur and this majestic figure, fair of hair and wearing a coronet of fragrant flowers on his god-like head. He looked down at Bernard and the expression on his face was benevolence itself, each laughter-line clearly one etched by time from sympathetic smiles and contented mirth. This was no devil, no fiend from hell, but God himself. That much was obvious, and Bernard sighed his pleasure at the thought.
“Is that still you?” he stammered.
His companion smiled broadly, and nodded. “This is my other land where I tend my sheep and conduct orchestras of lyres and flutes. And this is where I have brought you, for over there, in the distance, you can see a friend…” And he pointed.
Distance suddenly seemed no dimmer of clarity as Bernard spied, maybe a mile away but sharp and clear, the figure of his old University friend Philip, waving at him and smiling with a warmth that seemed to wash from him and soak the entire meadowland that lay between them with a fresh and loving fragrance.
“So he made it to Heaven?” enquired Bernard quietly, “and yet … I recall … he tried to tempt me to sin with him … he said he loved me and we all know how sinful that would be … and I rejected it! Why is this? Why is Philip happy and joyful in Heaven whilst I, who guarded against ill-doing, must suffer and linger in Hell?”
“You have the wrong idea of what is Sin,” said God, sadly. “For Sin is the opposite of Love, and Philip has only ever known love. See how he smiles and waves ….”
“And how he is naked,” gasped Bernard, blushing.
© Peter Rogerson 16.09.16

THE GENTLE FRIEND

15 Sep

Bernard turned away from the looking-glass in Hell with tears in his dead eyes. The image of his teenage self being hugged by his mother faded.
“That’s the only time I ever remembered,” he whispered.
“Of being shown affection? Of being loved?” asked Satan with a frown on his ruddy face.
Bernard nodded. “She was quick to hurt me,” he said thoughtfully. “She wanted to save me from sin and if the only way to do that was through punishment, then punish me she would. Even when I was big enough to defend myself from her quite easily I didn’t dare. I knew it was for my own good because she told me so, and she knew how to hurt a lad.”
“She’s here too,” said the Devil. “She’d been here since she died, in a corner over there…” he pointed into the shadows at the far end of the cathedral-like hall with its sulphurous fumes and the constant background sound of souls in torment. At least that’s what Bernard thought the noise was, though he hadn’t as yet seen any souls, tormented or otherwise.
“Her sin was wicked because it was creating your sin,” the horned monstrosity went on to explain to him. “Bit by bit and year by year she reduced you to the mean spirited creature that you are, and for that she earned her Eternity with my angels caressing her with whips of fire and rubbing acidic salve into the cuts left by their lashes. For every time she hurt you, for every time she punished you, she’s receiving an endless series of beatings and thrashings herself. She quite likes it, I’m told. It seems that she liked inflicting pain on you more because she liked receiving it in a strange sort of way herself than because she was really worried about your immortal soul! I don’t think she’d have coped much with Heaven, which was what she said she really wanted. Humans are odd things: they think they want one thing when they really want another! Would you like to see her?”
Bernard thought for a moment, and then shook his head vigorously. No. He’d had enough of her when she’d been alive even though she’d claimed to have saved him from evil. But what good had it all done? Here he was in Hell anyway despite her efforts, and apparently she wasn’t so far off either.
“Then attend to your story,” said the Devil.
Bernard found himself looking back to the mirror, which was clearing once again.
“You’re about to see the finest person you met in life,” sighed the Devil. “Even I liked him, and that’s saying something. Look: you’ve moved on and you’re now a student at the Church University, having finally left home and gone to study for a life in one or other of the rather silly churches that abound on the world. I suppose it was what you wanted?”
“Mother chose it…” mumbled Bernard, and stared in horror at the image that was forming in the huge satanic glass.
“Look well,” urged his horned guide, swishing his tail in encouragement.
“It’s going to be Philip,” whispered Bernard, “I can remember the day … I can remember Philip…”
He saw himself standing in his own small study by a fireplace where the smallest imaginable flames flickered, hardly warming the room at all. And that room was freezing. He could see that the windows across from the fireplace quite clearly had ice on the inside, crisp and white and crazed. That was a cold room even in summer, he recalled, but in the depth of winter it was painfully freezing. It was rumoured that in the past weak students had died in it, their bodies too weak to withstand the chill hour after hour and day after day.
Another student entered, shut the door in order to minimise the draught and smiled at Bernard. He had a fresh complexion and the winning smile of youth on a face free from blemishes.
“You’re right, it’s Philip and right now he’s in the other side, plaiting daisy chains and singing little songs of praise,” whispered the Devil. “He died too young, I’m afraid, but he was too good for this place. But watch on!”
“Hi, Philip,” the Bernard in the mirror said to the other, smiling.
“I was hoping to find you sweetheart,” smiled Philip, “it’s cold enough to freeze the warmest heart in here! Put another log on the fire!”
“It is cold,” agreed Bernard, “but there’s only a small amount of fuel left and we might need that later.”
“That’s the good thing about you,” smiled Philip, “always planning for tomorrow in the hope that tomorrow will actually come!”
“It will because it always does,” murmured Bernard.
“Well, we need warming up or we’ll freeze to death! How about a game of wrestling?” suggested Philip, “you know rough and tumble to warm ourselves up? There’s nothing like exercise to ward off the cold of winter, and there’s no doubt that a good old tussle is really good exercise …”
“I don’t understand…” replied a very confused Bernard, always frightened of any kind of proximity to others.
“It’s not against anything in the good book,” assured Philip, “I have checked, you know, though if we accidentally got too close … accidentally, mind you … it might get interesting and we might lose control…”
“Lose control? Lose control?” almost shouted Bernard at the word control. “There’s too much sin in the world, too much intimacy, too much … touching!” It might have sounded like a well-worn mantra to Bernard even back then, but it had been hammered into him over many years of parental indoctrination and he didn’t recognise it for what it was. Yet he could remember the feeling he got at the suggestion from Philip, and part of it, a shard of it, was one of joyful anticipation, and that needed to be repelled as if it was poison.
“No!” he almost shouted, “I need to….”
“You need to what, darling?” asked Philip.
“I need to live a life free from sin!” It was as if his own mother was speaking her words through him.
“But darling…” stammered Philip, “I don’t mean… you can’t think … Oh, darling…”
Bernard hadn’t noticed it at the time, but he did now, from his vantage point in front of the looking -glass in Hell. Philip was crying, real tears oozing from the corners of his eyes as they welled up, and then trickling down his too-smooth cheeks.
“He’s weeping,” he whispered. “Why?”
“He loved you,” replied Satan. “See.”
Bernard watched as Philip slowly, sadly, backed out of the cold room and out of the door, his face a mask of horror at what he clearly saw as a rejection.
“I’m no sinner…” he mumbled as he closed the door behind him, “I’m not!”
Then Bernard was alone in the freezing room again. Puzzled, he left the meagre fire and took the few steps to the window. Then, with a wavering fore-finger, he scratched in the ice that had formed on the inside of the glass I hate sin in angular almost childish letters before sitting on a tatty armchair in a dark corner of the dark room, the picture of abject misery, and weeping himself.
© Peter Rogerson 15.09.16

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR

14 Sep

This is Part 9. The previous 8 parts have been posted here.

The air was suddenly more sulphurous as fumes belched from somewhere deep underground and filled the cathedral-like place where Bernard was standing, close to tears.
“What do you mean… it was her idea?” he asked. “She loved me. She always said she did. She wouldn’t want me to rot in Hell!”
“You’re not rotting, sunshine,” grinned the devil. “You’re being preserved by beautiful sulphurous gases! And I know it was her idea because she told me!”
“But she’s in Heaven and you’re here!” protested Bernard.
“Phooey! Wait until you’ve been here a bit longer and you’ll know more about how things work,” almost grinned the Devil. “I move about, of course I do, go from here to there and back again, side to side, however you want to look at it! When I’m here I choose to wear a trendy set of horns and a fetching tail and while I’m there I sit on a golden throne with nymphs and angels at my feet and plait daisy chains to the sound of sopranos singing Bob Dylan songs!”
“You mean you… you’re the Devil and God at the same time?”
“Of course I am, silly! Think of the crazy power struggle if there were two omniscient beings fighting over the souls of the dead! We share things quite equitably, thank you very much, and the whole scheme works like clockwork.”
“And Granny Frost mentioned me to you?”
“That she did, laddie! She told me how disappointed she was not to be a great-grandmother, how heart broken she was that you have brought her branch of the family tree to an end and how it all seems to have made her life into a waste of effort. She was most definite about where you should end up when your time came. In Hell, she said, in the deepest depths of Hell. So here you are.”
To say he was shocked would be to underestimate the way Bernard felt about the way events were apparently going against a lifetime of certainty and the constant battle against sin that had dominated it, and he was about to elaborate on his feeling when the gigantic looking-glass started to clear again, the rolling mists slowly taking shapes that he recognised.
“Now pay attention,” smirked the Devil gruffly.
And reflected in the satanic glass Bernard could see himself as a teenager, in the front room of his home and looking out of the window at a removal van outside the house next door. That house had been empty for several weeks and at last somebody was moving in … more than somebody, it seemed, but a family. And amongst that family was a girl of about his age, a pretty and well-dressed girl with beautiful long dark hair that teased passed her shoulders and cascaded half way down her back. For a brief moment she glanced towards the window behind which Bernard could probably have been seen, and seemed to smile at him.
“The slattern!” hissed his mother just behind him, also straining to look past him at the new arrivals as they moved into the house, delivery men hauling their luggage and calling to each other in loud and instructing voices.
“What, mum?” he asked.
“That creature with the long hair and short skirt!” she replied, still hissing, and Bernard couldn’t help wondering in what universe the girl’s skirt was actually particularly short. “She’s out to ensnare you, my boy, that’s plain to see,” continued his mother. “Ever since Eve picked the evil apple in the Garden of Eden the females of the species have been condemned as evil sinners, and you can see it in that trollop, just look at her sickly smile and the way she walks, the jaunty heave of her oversized chest, the way her very feet are beckoning at you, a mere boy ripe for the plucking, as she walks.”
“But you’re a female, mother…” he dared to say, and he ducked a moment too late as her hand smashed against the back of his head, leather gloved and painful.
“And don’t I know it, wretched child!” she shouted, loud enough for those emptying the removal van next door to hear. The girl, long hair, tidy skirt with swinging pleats, obviously heard as she glanced up a second time.
“Yet I kept myself from sin,” his mother continued, as she swiped him a second time. “Knowing that I had the devil’s spores inside me, that I was of the gender that caused the fall of mankind as he was slung by a justified Lord out of the Garden of Eden I have never had anything to do with a man! Their disgusting parts, filled with sin and stench, they can keep to themselves and away from me! Ask your father and he’ll tell you! I call him your father, but….”
“I know the facts of life, mother,” he said, and stepped to one side in order to forestall any more painful swipes to his head. “We do that at school, don’t you know? And I know what you and dad must have done for me to be born. It’s the same in all of nature, from the smallest creatures on God’s Earth to us humans!”
“How dared you!” shrieked his mother, “how dared you liken the noble God-crafted mankind with dogs and mice and rats! We are superior. It says so in the good book! It is for us to control the wild creatures of the world, not join them in an orgy of copulation! And when it comes to you, sonny-Bernard, have you never heard of virgin births? Have you? And if you have you know how you were conceived, away from all that is evil and sinful. And if you don’t believe me that’s something else you can ask your father!”
His teenage self turned away from the window.
“You’ve told me before and of course I believe you,” he said quietly, “there’s no need for you to hit me! I mean no harm.”
Then, in a sudden change of mood, she wrapped her arms around him and, with tears in her eyes, told him of course she had, he must know the truth, mustn’t he, because wasn’t he her very special son?
“And dearest boy,” she added, “that girl out there… have nothing to do with her, not now and not ever. I can tell by the look in her eyes that she means nothing but evil. Look at her legs! And the evil smile on her face! I can see that she wants to turn you, my darling Bernard, into a sinner. And that is what you must never be … you must never sin!”
“I know, mother,” he said, loving the way she wanted him whilst at the same time gently massaging his face with her bosom as she wept.
© Peter Rogerson 14.09.16