It’s Only a Moment – A charity project in aid of Alzheimer’s

It’s Only a Moment.

Auntie Lizzie found me on the main street of my hometown (Bellshill), despondent and crying over something I don’t recall, but I’m sure it seemed world-ending to fifteen year-old me.

Auntie Lizzie took me into a little baker’s, (Dalziel’s) gave me tea and cake and just let me talk at her.

When I’d finished moaning, and sobbing and snotting, she simply took my hand and gently told me that ‘It’s only a moment in time, son. It’ll pass.’ We talked some more, had a laugh about some things and parted. It was probably one of the last times I saw Lizzie.

Many times through my life, happy times, hard times, heart break and emotional despair, I’ve recited Auntie Lizzie’s words to myself. To remind myself that it will pass, that it was only a moment.

 

Moments are something that defines Alzheimer’s, for those living with the condition and for those supporting someone they love through it. Moments of lucidity, or joy or anger or despair. Moments where the person is lost, or trapped deep inside themselves under the weight of misfiring neurones and jumbled memories, when their very sense of identity seems a distant chink of light in a dark tunnel.

A series of moments, where the present world seems alien, and unfamiliar and cruel…perhaps. Sometimes it seems wondrous, but not often. Moments where they return to themselves and smile at someone who loves them in recognition. Just a smile, but that moment reminds you that they are in there and still love you. That moment returns part of your soul to you as surely as it does theirs.

Moments that pass. Moments that are excruciating; but beautiful moments also that, despite the maze they walk in, makes you rediscover that part of them you thought may be gone. A squeeze of a hand. A wink, a smile. The words, I love you.

Moments. They pass even when sometimes we wish they wouldn’t.

Mark Wilson

May, 2017

 

Today sees the release of Ryan Bracha’s Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn project. An ambitious undertaking, Ryan brought together a group of writers (me included) with the remit, ‘Tell a story about this man named frank who has just died’. At that point Ryan’s task was to weave these disparate voices and stories and writing styles into a cohesive, flowing novel. A task which he succeeded in, and with quite some flair.

By the project’s end, Bracha and I discussed which charities we’d like to receive all proceeds from the sale of this book. I proposed Alzheimer’s charities, as my aunt had died recently. Auntie Lizzie isn’t the only relative in my family to have endured this condition.

Whilst I hadn’t seen my auntie in a number of years, her death (as these things often do) brought back some long forgotten memories of a time when Lizzie helped me.

 

All proceeds from the sale of Prank Peppercorn will got to Alzheimer’s charities. You can find more information on Alzheimer’s here:

 

http://www.alzscot.org/

http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/

https://www.dementiauk.org/

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Blurb:

Thirteen ways to remember the dead. Thirteen histories of a loving husband.

Betty Peppercorn is burning her husband Frank today. Well, she’s burning her property. The corpse she was left with as a reward for loving somebody for better or worse. Frank exists only in her thoughts, anymore. To her knowledge, Frank had no friends. Betty’s not even sure he existed before they met. It comes as a major surprise, then, when several strange faces appear at the funeral, each of them bringing their own stories of what Frank meant to them. As the day goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that Frank was not the man she thought he was. Thirteen new and established writers collide in this brand new novel-of-stories project from Ryan Bracha, the brains behind Twelve Mad Men, The Switched, and The Dead Man Trilogy.

All proceeds will be donated to Alzheimer’s charities. Featuring contributions from: Dominic Adler – The Ninth Circle Jason Beech – Moorlands Kevin Berg – Indifference Paul D. Brazill – A Case of Noir, Guns of Brixton, Kill Me Quick Robert Cowan – The Search For Ethan, For All is Vanity Craig Furchtenicht – Dimebag Bandits, Behind the 8 Ball Shervin Jamali – The Devil’s Lieutenant Jason Michel – The Death of Three Colours, The Black-Hearted Beat Allen Miles – This is How You Disappear Alex Shaw – The Aidan Snow series Martin Stanley – The Gamblers, Glasgow Grin, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum Mark Wilson (CP Wilson) – The dEaDINBURGH series, On The Seventh Day, Ice Cold Alice

 

 

The Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn is available now from Abrachadabra books at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

After Call Work: Gross Misconduct by Ryan Bracha – Review

This novel is a sequel to After Call Work: Verbal Warning which was one of my favourite books of 2016.
In This follow-up, subtitled ‘Gross Misconduct’, we once again encounter the insipid call centre introduced in Book 1. Rather than simply continue the story, utilising the same characters, and expanding on the previous events, Bracha has chosen to introduce a handful of new characters for his readers to love, as well as build on some familiar players from Book 1.
As is Bracha’s custom, he avoids the easy route and avoids giving his readers a simple sequel to the previous work, choosing instead to tell a story that runs parallel to the events in Book 1, with the plotlines overlapping, converging and diverging. This decision is exactly the type of work ethic and tight plotting that makes Bracha the standout Indie writer on the UK scene.
Bracha continues to grow as a writer, utilising a simple, unflashy, first-person, present-tense narrative, but peppering it with some lovely technical quirks, my favourite of which is the odd occasion where he breaks the fourth wall, slyly making the reader complicit In his character’s choices and self-justifications.
Despite this choice of narrative style, Bracha’s precise characterisation lends each of his players a distinct and unmistakable voice. It’s quite a feat.

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Another step forward in Bracha’s development, and quite simply a fantastically entertaining read.

 

You can find Ryan and his books at Amazon

A Decent Wee Wummin

A Decent Wee Wummin

 My granny had a phrase for folk that gave more than they had the means or the time to. ‘She’s a decent wee wummin, that yin.’

(Occasionally she’d say it about a man).

She didn’t offer this compliment to everyone we met. Few had earned it, but those who did were clearly held in high esteem by my gran, judging by her respectful tone.

It’s a phrase I haven’t heard in a long time. Not since my Granny passed.

I was born and was raised in Bellshill Lanarkshire. The Lanarkshire of the seventies and eighties was a curious mix of affluence- people were paid well at out local steelworks- and deprivation- those same people struggled through periods of industrial action. In 1980 the workers stayed out for fourteen weeks.

That’s fourteen weeks without pay, without means, for working men and women and their families. They took this action out of principle. The hardship they endured in those long weeks foreshadowed the extreme decline and poverty that was to come to the area and its residents after the closure of these works and the loss of so very much from our communities.

During these periods of industrial action, our townspeople, showed those traits and characteristics that I’ll forever associate with the people of my hometown.

Butchers and grocers provided meat and food packages. Local coal merchants gave what they could. Social clubs filled halls with warmth and welcome. People looked after each other, even if that only meant a kind word or an understanding or supportive glance from a friend.

This is the Bellshill I frequently write of and the people I try to show to those few who bother to read my books. Funny people. Kind people. Hard, welcoming, gallus and good people.

Senior and young holding hands

In this modern world of Duck-faced selfies, grasping consumerism, and paranoia about our immigrants, it can feel as though those times, and the people who lived in them, are long gone. That the values our people held and demonstrated so readily have vanished forever to be replaced with blinkered self-absorption and hearts as black as our yearly Fridays.

The media feeds us a perpetual loop of doom and an image of ourselves that segregates each of us from the other. We look at each other with scorn and envy. We treat our neighbours with suspicion and mistrust. We fear foreigners when each of us is an immigrant to this little island. Facebook and Twitter seem filled with hate and disdain, cynicism hangs over us daily.

None of this is reality.

The people I populate my stories with, the kindness they exhibit, are not a relic of the past, Good people, decent wee people still exist.

 

An elderly woman was robbed in Bellshill recently. She lost her belongings at a time when few of us could afford to. Thankfully she seems to have been unhurt… physically.

This kind of incident can happen anywhere, in any town, village or city. People of any ethnicity or means can be mean-spirited enough to prey on those most vulnerable to them.

On Facebook today. A lady named Elaine Lyness Ramsay asked for donations with which she could perhaps replace the woman’s loss.

Elaine has done what I know most of us would like to think we would do… if only we had the time. Elaine put herself in the lady’s shoes. Felt her loss deeply enough that she couldn’t ignore it. She worried about an elderly woman who’d lost her money and a portion of her dignity. Felt how vulnerable the woman must’ve felt. Concerned herself with whether the lady would have money to pay for food, or electricity or heating.

She visited the police station, she found a route to getting any funds raised to the lady involved and she gave people a means to donate.  And our people did respond and donate what they could, just as their families did throughout the hard times of the past.

Thanks to Elaine, this lady will know for certain that there are still good people in her town who can’t see someone knocked badly. Who refuse to let someone suffer, or feel alone and uncared for. .

Isn’t that what Christmas is about?

Isn’t that what being from Bellshill means?

Elaine. A Decent wee Wummin.

 24th December. Update:

Elaine has to date collected over £600 pounds in cash and stacks of food and goods for the lady. 

We can all be incredibly proud of Elaine and those people who donated for this wee wummin.  

dEaDINBURGH: Hunted – Preview

The following excerpt is unedited and taken from

dEaDINBURGH: Hunted (Din Eidyn Corpus 4)

Available to pre-order now at Amazon

Filtering out Dad’s scraping and clattering, I focus on the errant noise. The pattern of the sounds tells me one of The Ringed is nearby, probably in amongst the trees or shrubs and making its way towards our little picnic site.

Leaving dad to busy himself with the tea, I move quietly towards the source of the noise. Shoving a heavy branch from my path, I come across a female Ringed. Both of her legs are badly broken. She walks with the ankle of her right foot folded all wrong, so that her foot trails along behind. Her lower right leg is missing completely giving her a tilted gait. I let a sigh out and draw one of my knives.

Seemingly intent on moving her awkward limbs, she doesn’t notice me until I’m three feet from her. When she looks up at me, I gasp and take a step back.

She’s newly-risen. Aside from the damage to her legs, she’s in good condition. At a guess, I’d say she’s been dead less than a month. It’s not the condition of her, or that she’s so close that makes me start. It’s her appearance. She’s my age, has my hair colour, height and general build. She also has her right eye missing.

The girl’s lips snarl back to reveal a mouthful of gums. No teeth remain in her head. Stepping towards her, I shove her powerless arms aside before driving my heavy blade through her brain. The girl flops, adding to the detritus. Sprawled onto the forest floor, I get a clear look at her. She does look like me, very much like me. Unnerved I draw a second blade and press my back to a silver birch for cover. My eye catches a glint at her leg. Peering closer, I get low. It’s a knife worn exactly where I sheath my own.

I close my eyes lightly and concentrate on the sounds around me, like Joey taught me. Filtering out animals, birds, the wind and swaying branches, I pick out an altogether more human sound.

To my left, perhaps fifty feet from me, a light and familiar footstep disturbs some dry leaves.

The girl, the location, the macabre humour of her appearance…Suddenly the tableaux makes perfect sense. In his head anyway.

“You might as well come out, Bracha,” I try to sound bored.

A moment later he ghosts out of the shadows, lifting aside a low branch with his golf club. Leaning on the club, one leg crossed over the other, he smiles broadly at me. “So wonderful to see you, Stephanie my dear.”

A soft kick to the dead Ringed girl’s shoulder, “I do wish you had played a little more nicely with my friend, though. It took me an age to find her.”

I make a deliberate show of re-sheathing my blade and taking a relaxed stance. Despite his jester’s demeanour, His eyes note every move I make. Nodding at the dead girl, I ask. “Why?”

His expression shifts to one of deep sincerity. “I missed you, Stephany,” He says. The bastard is telling the truth. He selected this girl, took an eye and dressed her as me so that he had someone to talk to…no. So that he had me to talk to. Had he really grown so used to having me around?

His eyebrows lift in faux nonchalance. “She was a lot less trouble than you, though, Stephanie. Although… you do have a certain way with you.” The shark grin returns.

“You know I’m here to kill you?” I ask flatly.

He lifts his club and performs a little flurry with it, twisting it around his fingers only to toss it overhead and catch it on his waiting foot. With a flick, he punts the club back into his waiting hand. Throughout his performance, my eyes watch his hands and feet for a hint of an aggressive twitch. The display is not a distraction. He’s simply happy to see me.

“Well of course, my darling. There’s no-one else I would rather dance with.”

Showing him a shark-smile of my own, I draw two of my knives.

“But…” He blurts, holding a hand out in front of him.

“As you’ve brought my dear friend Jimmy along on the trip, let’s say we have a civilised discussion before we engage in our dance. Get to know each other once again, maybe share a meal. I also have some interesting information to share with you and your little community.”

I’d forgotten the sharpness of his senses and his habit of scouting the area he’s in regularly. I rebuke myself silently at his mention of James and resolve to remember my lessons better in future, if I have a future.

Wondering how long Bracha has been watching us, I shake my head minutely. “No.”

Bracha sighs and leans back onto his club once again.

“Manners, Stephanie. What has happened to people’s manners in this city?” He looks at me expecting as response. I give him none.

A long resigned sigh comes from him. “Well, I suppose if you absolutely insist…” Allowing his golf club to thud to the ground, Bracha draws two of his favourite blades. His movements are much less smoothly executed than I’m used to. The cold and his injuries have shaved another portion of his speed and agility. My heart races as I realise that I’m faster than him now. I’m capable of a greater range of physical attacks also. I have a chance, so long as I don’t underestimate his decades of experience.

A wistful look replaces his predatory expression. Bracha nods at my Ringed doppelganger. “I can always make friends with you once again.” He crouches to the Ringed girl. Coating his knives in her blood and saliva he resumes his fighting stance.

“When you awaken.”

End of Excerpt

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dEaDINBURGH: Hunted (Din Eidyn Corpus 4) is available to pre-order now at Amazon

After Call Work by Ryan Bracha – Review

Following his success with The Dead Man Series and The Switched, Ryan Bracha has followed up his best works to date by upping the ante once again

After stepping out in the too-accurate dystopian world of New Britain and the Fucked up, satire, The Switched, Bracha is keeping things simple this time and returning to more ‘normal’ settings and characters; as normal as a journey in Brachaland gets at any rate.

Set in a fictional call centre, After Call Work, follows two central characters and narratives. Barry is the consummate, loser. A jobsworth, an underachiever and borderline suicidal, Barry fumbles his way through knife with all the social skills and guile of a five year old.

Penny is more self-assured. Popular, confident and the focus of Barry’s growing desire, the two set things in motion neither can predict nor control.

As regular Bracha-readers have come to expect, the writing is pacey, technically skilful, creative and smacks of great characteristic and character development. Setting the novel in the real world, rather than some futuristic or body-switching earth, takes nothing from the creativity or entertainment of the novel. What it does though is to allow Bracha to utilise all of his skills in placing real people in messed-up situations and peeling away at their emotions, personality, their beliefs in who they are and their ability to endure to the end of his novel.

Bracha has all the talent of a Billy Connelly or a Roddy Doyle in observing people and conveying the best and worst of human nature to his readers with deadly and often funny accuracy.

After Call Work: Verbal Warning is book 1 in a new series. I’m all in.

If you’ve never read a Bracha book before, this is the place to start. If you’re a long term reader, strap in and enjoy another top-notch addition to Bracha’s bulging body of work.

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You can find Ryan and his books at Amazon UK and US.

dEaDINBURGH: Hunted – Preview

Jess is a new character created for the fourth dEaDINBURGH novel. 

The following excerpt is pre-edit and copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing:




One Year after The Battle of Edinburgh Castle

Jess

 

 

The tree bark digs into my back but does not betray my position. The afternoon’s rain has soaked though enough to lend the outer bark a little flexibility. A snap of underbrush to my left sends me to my haunches. Spider-like, hands and feet, I crawl silently from my cover under the oak, moving across the wettest, softest parts of detritus towards a fox hole I’m likely small enough to fit inside.

Feet first, I slide my entire body length into the burrow; silently praying that foxy isn’t home. My legs continue to disappear into the humid darkness. Each inch of progress without resistance from earth or occupant slows my pulse. Finally, I clear the burrow entrance with my head without incident and pull some brush over the opening.

My legs are extended straight behind me, my butt scrapes the ceiling of the burrow, the crown of my head touches there also and my chin the ground. My arms are extended in front of me, fingertips mere centimetres from the brush I’ve placed to disguise my sanctuary. It’s a tight fit, even for me, the smallest and youngest of my community. Just as I’ve been taught, I breathe very deliberately and deeply, taking a small part of my mind elsewhere, the Claymore’s pavilion, a sun-drenched patio area I lounge and read in regularly. Once I mocked the gentle passiveness of Claude’s training.

Now, entombed in damp, warm earth, my only protection from the four adults trailing me, I say a silent prayer thanking him for teaching me to tame my physiological responses and take my mind elsewhere.

 

The footsteps of two of them draw near and I pull my scarf up over my mouth that my breath- fogging on the cool springtime air- doesn’t betray my presence.

Abruptly they appear a man and a woman. As I’ve been trained to, I take in their appearance, their mannerisms, their gait, physical strength, the movement of their bodies; likely stamina and flexibility. I assess the danger they present to me and decide to stay clear of them for now.

The man has been tracking me through the undergrowth of the forest. This surprises me, it shouldn’t, no-one survives in the dead city without some level of skill. I mentally chide myself for having assumed that he was less than able, simply because he did not walk, move or behave like a fighter. He may not have the physical attributes to make me wary of him, but his mind and senses are quick. Mindful of his busy eyes, I slow my breathing further and relax my muscles lest an involuntary tic or twitch betrays me.

The man is young, perhaps twenty-two. The woman with him looks to be around forty, I find it hard to tell with people that old. He makes a wide sweep around the clearing directly outside where I lay. The woman rests against the same trunk I took cover behind a few moments previously. Fearful that somehow they’ll hear the movement, I fight a smile that’s tugging as she obliterates all trace of my having leaned there for a spell with her own actions.

The young man scans the ground, his eyes moving to the oak where his companion rests her rear. “The trail ends there, at that oak tree you’re under,” he gasps worriedly. “There are a few scratches here and there.” He points out a fee tracks in the leaf litter leading away from my actual position. “But, anything could’ve made them, Mags.”

The woman’s eyes fill with tears. “She’s just a kid, Michael. She can’t be more than eleven or twelve years old. We have to try to help her. God knows what these maniacs have in mind for her.”

The man, Michael roots around, shuffling leaves and branches aside with his feet fruitlessly. A sag of his shoulders set the woman off again.

“C’mon Michael,” she screeches.

Michael’s face is a mask of fear. “For God’s sake be quiet, Mags,” he hisses. They’re bound to be gaining on us by now.”

Mags snuffs at her sleeve, her eyes boring into Michaels, but stays silent.

“You saw what they did to the group they sent out here yesterday.

Mags’ face blanches at the memory.

“C’mon,” Michael says softly. “Let’s keep moving.”

Mags, making enough noise and leaving a trail obvious enough to give her position away to even the most dim-witted pursuer, follows Michael, who would plainly be better off leaving her behind.

 

A few minutes after they leave, the other two from their group stumble through the same little clearing. Both men, they are an odd pairing. One of them is small, clearly terrified. He has a bookish look to him, soft hands and a thin frame. The movement of his eyes and head as he walks reminds me of those of a frightened sparrow, starting at shadows and woodland sounds.

The other man is a big one. Heavily packed with functional-looking muscle, his movement screams not just strength but speed also. He trudges clumsily, which tells me he has no finesse to him. It also implies that he doesn’t require any. His power and speed would make any subtle execution of combat a hindrance to him. Come within six feet of those shovel-hands and gigantic feet at the ends of long powerful limbs and he’s in control of the situation.

I mentally note all of this, comparing it with past experience and formulating a handful of possible strategies. The others shouldn’t be too much of a problem to evade or engage. This one is going to be a challenge.

The giant turns angrily to his cowering companion. “Stay here.” He barks. The smaller man whimpers…an actual whimper, like a cowed dog.

The giant’s lip curls into a sneer. “You shut the hell up, Steve,” he says pointing a thick sausage finger into the smaller man’s face.

Steve lowers his eyes.

The giant sighs. “Look, I just need to go follow Mags and Mike’s trail. I’ll catch up to them and be back for you, alright?”

Steve manages a nod. “You think they caught up to that wee lassie?” he asks.

The Giant shrugs, “Don’t know, don’t care. They were stupid to follow her.”

Conversation over, the giant smoothly disappears into the dense treeline, leaving Steve to find himself a stump for a seat.

Seated with his back facing my bolt hole, Steve shifts and fidgets so much he masks the minute sounds of me removing my camouflage and shifting my body across the ground, out of the burrow. Slowly I use my fingers and toes to gradually drag myself from the close confines of the fox burrow. The sounds of the forest keep his sparrow eyes darting to all the wrong places as I clear my knees from the burrow and rise silently to the balls of my feet.

Picking my way around any twigs or other potential noisemakers, I near him, smiling to myself at the dullness, or perhaps shrillness, of his senses. I draw my blade as I take one final light step towards him. Something primal in his psyche recognises a predator stalking him, but Steve is simply too busy jumping at shadows to listen to the ancient voice in his head trying to alert him to the hunter. Me.

My blade cuts through his carotid artery as my hand stifles any trace of sound from his mouth. I follow up with a stab through his voice box, just in case then shove him face first to the leafy ground to die quietly.

One down, three to go.

Three of the Ringed shuffle clumsily into the clearing, drawn by the loo, I suppose.

Fighting the urge to whoop with the thrill of the kill, I dampen my excitement and follow the giant’s messy trail, leaving the Ringed to their meal.
dEaDINBURGH: Hunted (Din Eidyn Corpus 4) is due for publication on 13th July, 2016 and available to pre-order now at Amazon

Little Fella

My current project is a (sort-of) follow-on to last year’s On The Seventh Day.

Titled ‘The Gig’, the book weaves together a series of short-stories based on experiences and moments sent to me by friends. The following excerpt is uncharacteristic of the rest of the book in terms of tone and themes, but was a very important story for me to write.

Huge thank you to the family who inspired the story for the trust they placed in me.

Trigger Warning:

if you have been affected by mental health issues or the loss of a young child, you may wish to reconsider reading on.

The following (un-edited) excerpt, titled ‘Little Fella’ comes from Mark Wilson’s forthcoming publication, ‘The Gig’. Due for release in spring 2016:

Little Fella

 You feel light…you feel just… free. It’s the only way I can describe the change. Free.

Free from all that stuff you cared about before. Free from anything that hurt or worried you. Free from wanting things. Here, it just feels like everything you ever needed has been given to you somehow, even though you ain’t been given a thing. Being here feels like you’ve just been fed, or hugged and won’t ever need anything ever again.

The room I’m in is empty apart form a few things. It has some magazines and toys and a big comfy couch in front of a telly. I ain’t watched anything. Haven’t felt the need. I think I’ve been here for an hour, but there’s no clocks and I weren’t ever no good with telling time anyway. Not on a clock and not in my head.

A girl called Meg met me when I got here. ‘Splained how I got here and what would happen next. Only eight, years old, She’d said. Straight up to Level One.

S’good. I’d thought that even babies have sin in them they have to pay for. Meg said, No. Not anymore. Just need a signature and up you’ll go, she said.

Suits me fine, and I ain’t really that surprised. Never liked the idea that kids were bad just because they were there. Must be one of the changes the new guy brought in up there.

The door slides open and a girl comes into the room. I mind me manners and stand. She smiles at me. I like her straight away. Some people ya just do, don’t’cha.

She tells me her name is Beth. You are a very special boy, she tells me.

The old me would be thinking, what’s she after? But that boy is gone. Thank you, I tell her without asking why.

Beth puts a hand on each of my shoulders.

“You’re the first soul I’ve helped through this place,” she says. “That means two things.”

I like her. She’s cool. I like that she’s new here too.

“Firstly,” she says. “As you’re my first soul, I’ll never forget, you. Ever.”

She taps the side of her head like a mini-me is already in there, making himself at home. Despite feeling like I don’t need anything, something swells inside me, pleased at meaning something to her. Forever means something here in this place. I haven’t been here long, but I ain’t stupid. I know what eternity means.

“Secondly,” she says. “I have an offer for you, Craig.”

It takes a second for me to remember that my name was Craig, when I was alive. I smile back at her. Thirty seconds after meeting Beth, I’d do anything for her. She catches something in my eyes, they all do that in this place, like they know what you’re thinking. P’raps they do.

“Don’t rush to agree. You’re not beholden. You have your place on Level One, but I want you to consider helping me out around here.”

I nod. If I had a tail it’d be wagging. She smiles warmly at me. Patient, like.

“Craig, come with me and I’ll show you what you’re needed for before you decide.

I follow Beth out of my little room, out onto a large office complex full of little pods. Me mam worked in a place like this, probably still does, I dunno. I loved running around and between pods, using her workplace as a maze, imaginary snipers round every corner.

Beth closes her hand around mine, pulling me gently along. She leads me into another room off of the main office space.

There’s a baby’s crib in the centre. One of them Moses baskets, like me little brother has…had. It’s got blue sheets and a little soft toy, a gorilla, sitting inside, but no baby. Beth gives my hand a squeeze.

“Wait,” she whispers.

A light fills the basket. The same light I felt when I came here, to Sheol. From where I’m standing, I catch sight of a little foot jabbing into the air, then a hand. A happy gurgle follows. Beth lets go of my hand and walks towards the basket. She places a hand into it and beckons me with the other.

Inside there’s a little boy, tiniest baby I ever seen. He looks fresh out the station, like me brother Harvey did when he were new, but much smaller and very red. He’s a little bruised and bashed, like they all are at birth, but no gunge. He ain’t crying. I suppose he’s feeling satisfied, happy and content, like I did when I got here.

As soon as I think it, I feel a tear run along my cheek. Beth, tickling the kid’s chins, puts an arm around me.

“It’s hard. Isn’t it?” She asks. I don’t know what to say, I don’t even know why I’m crying, so I just nod. I don’t feel any less content than I did before, but there’s something; a skelf of need jabbing me.

“Where’s his mum”, I ask. “Or his dad. Ain’t they here yet?”

Beth shakes her head. The kid in the basket coos at her as she runs a finger along his chubby cheeks. The bruising and denting, all the signs of his delivery, are fading. He looks fuller, more healthy. Beefy, me Gran would call him.

“They won’t be here for a while…Earth time,” Beth says kindly.

I move towards his cot and run my finger along between his eyes and down his nose. His eyelids droop. I do it again a second time and watch the little fella fall asleep. Beth grins at me.

“You’re good with him, Craig.”

I shrug.

“Worked on me brother,” I say. I nod at the little fella. “Why’s he here?”

Beth’s smile disappears for the first time. “He’s the reason I need you, Craig. Him and so many other babies.”

I reach into the basket and pull his blankets around him, careful to not wake him.

“He doesn’t have anyone here?” I ask.

“No,” Beth says. “All of those who would know him are still on Earth. He needs a friend, someone to take him up to Level One, get him settled in until his family arrives.”

“When will that be?”

Beth smiles again.

“Won’t be long. Almost by the time you arrive upstairs,” she points a finger up, “His people will have passed over.”

I must look a bit puzzled, cos she puts a hand on my arm and lowers herself to my height.

“Time moves different up here, Craig. A few minutes passing here can be many, many years on Earth.”

I nod. “So you want me to take him, to his new digs. Why me, anyone can do that. You could do it.”

Beth laughs at my cheek. “Yes, I could, Craig, but I have many roles to fulfil here. This isn’t one of them. This job, takes a special kind of person. We only use kids for it.” Beth looks a little sad as she stares at me.

“They…the babies, they only trust other kids, and only kids have the mental strength to do this job properly.”

I must have the face on again, cos she grins again before continuing.

“It’s not a delivery job I’m offering you, kid. You have to bond with this baby before you can take him where he needs to go. You have to witness his life, his thoughts, his pain, and then take him to his new, eternal home.”

Beth places a hand on my cheek.

“It’s…difficult, Craig. Not everyone can do it. It takes a special kind of child; a caring child. One who knows empathy but is resilient enough to take part in the bonding and not be destroyed by it.

“What’s empaffy?” I ask.

“It means that you’re the type of person who understands someone else’s feelings and even share them sometimes.”

I nod, thinking of Harvey.

“Living someone else’s life through their eyes can be painful, especially a baby’s. But that’s what it takes to get these little souls where they need to be. Someone has to take their pain in and process it for them.” Beth’s eyes fill with tears.

“Because they cannot do it for themselves.”

I crack my knuckles. Part of me expects my mum to tell me off for it, but like the little fella, me mam ain’t here yet.

I stand quiet for a while. Beth don’t say a word, just looks into the little fella’s basket.

“What’s his name?”

“Findlay.”

“Okay,” I tell her. “Show me.”

Beth smiles sadly at me. “Thanks Craig.”

She places my hand on Findlay’s forehead, my palm gently resting there and then I’m gone.

 

 

∞∞∞

 

 

It’s dark where I am, but warm…safe. I feel the limits of Findlay’s body, my body now. I’m floating in liquid. It’s…wonderful. I pull on something and kick my leg out in joy, moving something soft. A hand shape moves over where I kicked, pressing it’s gentle, loving reassurance to me. Happiness fills my little heart at the contact.

Findlay’s mum…my mum.

I can hear her voice. Singing as she moves around, making me giggle as I slosh around inside her. Her voice is everything good in my world. I tumble and kick and sleep and dream; her words the soundtrack to my entire existence. She speaks to her friends, to her workmates, to strangers and to me. Always to me. It gives me hiccoughs when she talks to me.

I love you, little one. I can’t wait to meet you.

I get excited and do roley-poleys.

Sometimes Dad speaks too. I like him, he makes me laugh and he makes my tummy fizz when he talks. But, mum. She’s there with me, always.

I breathe the liquid around me. I pee into it and laugh to myself. Mum rubs the walls around me.

Behave yourself in there, I’m sleeping.

She doesn’t care, not really. She’s giggling along with me. I slosh around in her belly as it moves with her laughter, making me laugh harder with the tidal surge.

 

Something…something feels…..So tired.

Mum. I’m so tired. Mum?

She’s there. I feel her but I can’t kick anymore to let her know I hear her. Something rushes into her blood making her heart race. The sound is deafening. She’s crying. She’s talking to me, but not like before. Not gentle, not happy, not calm.

I’m okay. I’m here, mum.

It’s a lie. I’m not, I’m going somewhere else, but I want to speak to her, kick her, one more time. She’s in so much pain, she needs me.

I leave her. I’m not inside her anymore. Not the real me. My body is still in there, but it’s following me out her into the room. Awareness crashes into me.

I look down on a woman pushing my body from herself. My mummy.

I’ve never seen her face, we’ve never seen each other’s faces until now, but I know her better than anyone else ever has. We have a bond. I know her well enough to know that she’ll endure. Even this.

Peace washes over me. All fear vanishes. I try to tell her. Mum, I’m up here. I’m fine. Look up. Just look up.

I watch as part of her leaves along with my limp little body.

Joy.

I scream with my immaterial voice.

Mum, don’t, don’t let that leave. Keep it. I’m here, be happy, I’m fine. You’ll be with me too soon. Don’t lose yourself.

She can’t hear me.

Like always she finds something in her. Something that pushes her pain aside only slightly, just enough to focus on my sleeping face and talks to me anyway. Not to the real me, I’m leaving, going elsewhere, but to part of me that’s left behind.

“I love you Findlay. My beautiful son. My boy.”

I love you too mummy, I smile down at her. My new form begins to tear.

It’s not painful, it’s wonderful actually. Part of me leaves my spirit and rockets towards her. It joins with her soul. It plants a seed that might become happiness for her in the weeks to come.

I take one last look and smile, satisfied that a part of me will always be joined to the soul that made mine, before taking my leave.

 

 

∞∞∞

 

I blink hard a few times, accepting that I’m me again, Craig. I’m on the floor, on all fours. Beth stands beside me, one hand on my back for reassurance, the other wrapped with its arm around her own body. She’s obviously worried about me.

She needn’t.

I take her hand and give it a little squeeze, but that’s it. I’m focused on Findlay now.

His face has changed so much already in the few seconds I was away. He’s a toddler now, maybe two years old. Blonde hair, healthy, ruddy cheeks and his mum’s smile in his sleep. I place a hand on his cheek, waking him. His blue eyes brighten in recognition when he sees me.

Sitting up, he raises his arms. “Cwaig,” he says smiling his rascal smile.

I reach into the basket, already too small for him, and lift him out, to place him standing onto the floor.

He laughs.

“Mummy?” he asks.

I take his hand and lead him to the elevator.

“She’ll be here very soon, little fella. Here with you and free. C’mon.”

End of Excerpt

  gig

You can find Mark Wilson and his books at Amazon.