The hovering shape
It was the sudden movement in the shadows in the corner of the room that shocked her. Her scream echoed down the corridor, alerting John that something was amiss. He dropped the book he was reading on the table and hurried towards her. She stood frozen in the doorway, staring at the shape hovering by the drawn curtains. Wide-eyed with quivering lips she was suddenly aware of John pressing close to her.
‘What is it?’
‘There – in the corner.’ She pointed with a shaking hand.
He peered towards the spot where she was pointing. ‘Can’t see any…’ he gently pushed her aside and calmly walked across to the shape. ‘Here boy,’ he said softly. With a waggling tail the mysterious shape morphed into a black dog as it came into the light coming from the corridor.
‘Meet Luther,’ said John as he rubbed the dog’s head. ‘I brought him home for you as a surprise. He was an abandoned animal. I got him from the Animal Welfare League. Why anyone would abandon such a friendly dog beats me.’ The dog raised itself until its paws rested on John’s chest. It tried to lick his face.
‘Surprise?’ You call that a surprise? Blasted animal nearly gave me a heart attack. Next time you do something like that – at least give me a warning!’
All rights reserved. © 2015 Trevor W. Hampel
Read more of my short stories here.
The empty chair
The rain showers continued to sweep across the sky every five to ten minutes. It wasn’t rain, just brief scudding showers. The piercing cold wind that gushed through the landscape with every shower kept many people encased in their inner worlds, people like Jack.
Jack sat comfortably in his large chair, softened and contoured by his body from many hours on many days over more than five decades. He could see the clouds racing over the low hills just to the west of his small, comfortable cottage. The rain splattered briefly against the glass. He put down the novel he was reading, resting it on the crowded coffee table at his elbow.
Jostling for a place on this low table was a motley collection of mugs, perhaps nine or ten, brown, green, one black, chipped, old, stained from many cups of tea. Next to the mugs was an eclectic collection of books threatening to topple to the floor at the slightest nudge; several novels, a much used Bible with a grimy cover, two books on Christian philosophy, a small atlas, and an assortment of books of varying size, colour and topic. Perched on top was today’s newspaper, drooped languidly over the books and held somehow from slipping to the floor. A partly completed cryptic crossword faced the ceiling.
Jack looked at the dark clouds coming his way. He felt at peace, and so pleased he didn’t have to wander outside today. He hugged his faithful old jumper closer. The flames from the fire in front of him flickered and curled. He turned his attention from cloud watching to fire watching. The hypnotic dancing of the flames made him drowsy; he’d drift off to sleep at some point late in the afternoon, when the warmth of the flames and the tiredness of his eyes from reading lulled him gently to sleep.
He smiled. ‘So this is what retirement is all about,’ he declared to the empty room. ‘How long has it been? Ten, twelve years or so? I never seem to get bored, or regret leaving work.’
The memories of work surged back into his mind. He had enjoyed his many decades of teaching but he missed the children and working with his colleagues on a daily basis. He certainly didn’t miss the many meetings, the long hours of planning and preparation late into the evenings and the countless hours of marking books and papers. Now he had the time to read all those books he had accumulated over the years. He also had the time to just stop and think, or just relax and not only smell the roses in his wonderful garden but to also just sit and watch the birds, the butterflies and the bees.
He glanced out the window again. The dark clouds looming darkened the room even more. ‘Rain coming, by the look of it.’ He turned back to the fireplace, and then to the empty chair next to it. Despite his feelings of peace and contentment, this empty chair darkened the room more than the coming clouds. It brought a saddening chill to the room.
The chair had remained empty now for six lonely years.
Since Alice left him.
He still visits her grave occasionally.
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2015 Trevor W. Hampel
Read more of my short stories here.
Every now and then one comes across a book or a film which has a lasting impact upon one’s life.
This is one such book.
The story of Malala Yousafzai is very well documented, so I only really need to give a bare outline here for the remote possibility that a reader may not have heard of her. Growing up in Pakistan Malala and her teacher father became known throughout their country – and worldwide – for their attempts to ensure that all children have access to education, and in particular girls.
During most of her life, however, Malala has seen the obstruction to this fundamental right by various leaders and influencers in Pakistan – and Afghanistan as well. The Taliban actively discouraged girls from becoming educated. Their lack of success led to them openly attacking whole communities, forcing the closure of hundreds of schools and even destroying them. In this process many thousands were killed or became refugees in their own country.
In this book, Malala graphically depicts her personal struggle to be educated, her father’s unwavering support and determination, and the terrible cost they as a family endured, culminating in her being shot in the head while on her school bus by a Taliban adherent. She plainly explains all of this this against the current political and religious environment, and her determination to continue.
The latter part of the book gives an almost matter-of-fact account of her treatment, first in Pakistan, then in the UK, and her eventual recovery. Despite the attack she seems to have no malice or bitterness about what happened but rather an even greater desire – a firm resolve – to see all children, and especially girls, be fully educated, and this on a global scale. Subsequently she has spoken personally to many world leaders, addressed the United Nations, and more recently been awarded the ultimate accolade – the Nobel Peace Prize, at age 17, the youngest ever recipient.
She is still a teenager.
I think that it is incredible to realise that she was only born in 1997. She has already achieved so much in her short life. Her life, and this book, should stand as an inspiration to the current generation of young people around the globe – and it am sure it will continue to be an inspiration to generations to come.
Jane thought she was the first one there. She hesitated at the door. Did she have the right time for the meeting? Was it the right day? She had a habit of getting times and/or days mixed up.
In one classic example she had been an hour early catching the bus to keep an appointment in the city. The bus she should have taken had crashed, killing several on board. She felt relief – and a little pang of guilt. What if God had meant her to take the correct bus, and He had meant for her to die? What if now, as a result of that mistake, she was no longer in God’s will?
She couldn’t entertain that thought because it sent her head spinning. The logical extension of that was thinking about all those little decisions one makes every day. What if even one of them was not according to God’s perfect will for her life? Did that mean everything else was suddenly out of kilter? She blocked her mind of such thoughts, consoling herself with the thought that God had given her a free will to choose. All she had to do was to be prayerful, especially when confronted by big, important and life-changing decisions. That gave her a peace that calmed these troubled thoughts rolling around in her head.
Back to the situation facing her. She hadn’t seen anyone coming in from the car-park. She peered through the door; the lights were on. Good – someone was already in the building. She tried the door; it swung open easily and she juggled her way through it, balancing her briefcase, a few extra books she’d picked up at the last moment, her lunch box and the essential bottle of water.
The air in the entrance foyer was much warmer than the crisp, frosty air outside. Her heels clicked like gunshots on the hard floor. Jane continued along the corridor leading from the foyer, glancing briefly at the garish posters of coming events lining the walls. She stopped at the door announcing that it was the ‘Conference Room.’ She pushed open the door with her back, still trying to maintain some semblance of balance with the unwieldy load she was carrying.
She spun around to face the front of the room. She froze. Busily arranging items on the conference table was someone she hadn’t seen in years. Jeff looked up, surprised as she was.
‘Jane,’ he said. ‘How good to see you. How long has it been? Three? Four years? Or has it been longer?’ Arms outstretched, he was striding quickly over to where she stood glued to the floor.
‘Jeff,’ she croaked. ‘It’s been a while.’ The words almost choked her. How could she forget that momentous weekend in Sydney? Images flashed into her memory; scenes, thoughts and feelings she had tried to suppress in the intervening years.
Jeff’s outstretched arms embraced her, enclosing her in that unwelcome manner of a loathed relative. He gave her a generous kiss on both cheeks which by now were deeply flushed. It was not so much that his hug was unwelcome; it was more of a mixture of surprise, delight and discomfort knowing that all the stuff she carried prevented her returning the hug. Annoyingly, a small part of her desperately wanted to reciprocate, but a surging wave of anger made her just want to slap his face.
‘Let me help you.’ Jeff manoeuvred her gently towards another nearby table and helped her to unload. Always the gentleman, he helped as she took off her coat.
‘Thanks. I never thought you’d be here,’ she stammered. ‘Why are you here?’
‘Simple. The conference coordinator John is quite sick and couldn’t make it here today, so – ta da – you have me.’ He spread out his arms and Jane thought he was going to give him another hug.
She stepped back a little, nervously adjusting her top.
‘I must admit I was delighted – and a little surprised – when I saw your name on the list of participants. So what have you been up to?’
Ignoring his question she blurted out, ‘What happened to you after that weekend in Sydney? I never heard from you again, yet you knew exactly how I felt?’
Her outburst stunned him momentarily. His eyelids flickered a little and he took a deep breath. ‘Well, I know you must be disappointed, but you know how it is?
‘No I don’t!’ She knew she was getting in deeper than she had planned if they should ever meet again. ‘I don’t know how things could change so drastically from what we agreed to on parting.’
‘You don’t understand,’ he said. ‘I thought that…’ Before he could finish his sentence the door swung open and two more conference participants came into the room. ‘Welcome. Please settle in, get your name tags and make yourself a coffee.’ He turned back to Jane. ‘We will talk later.’ A warm smile and he turned back to welcoming more people into the room.
Jane felt like she had been dangling over the edge of a cliff with only Jeff’s firm hand-grip between her and certain catastrophe. Now it was more like just a fingernail holding her there. Jane found a seat towards the back of the room. Within minutes the room filled with chatter and movement until all settled down to listen. Jeff attended to the normal house-keeping announcements before introducing the keynote speaker. Jane saw the lips moving, but she didn’t take in more than a few words. She saw the images on the screen, but they were meaningless blurs.
Morning tea and lunch were crowded walls of noise. She longed to take Jeff into another, quieter place and continue their talk, but other people kept him occupied. Midway through the afternoon she saw him check his phone. She watched as he leaned over and whispered to someone before leaving the room.
She never saw him again.
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2015 Trevor W. Hampel
Read more of my short fiction here.