Pragmaclast - September 2004
Jack - Ella Gale
Eye - Cat Ward
(page 4/7)
Pragmaclast
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Jack

Mary swirled what was left of the red wine and stared at the lines of alcohol that ran down the side of the glass, the candlelight gave the wine an ember-like lustre as she held it up:

"More wine please."

"Of course my dear." Jack half-filled her glass, her eyes were bleary, she was less alcohol tolerant than him, although he too felt the comforting glow from the wine. She curled up against him on the soft beige sofa, Mary, the woman he loved more than anything, but didn't hate her enough to marry her. One messy divorce, and an eighteen year old son who only visited to ask for money, had left him with a rather low opinion of marriage.

It was late on a Saturday night, yet neither of them were tired, the conversation flowed like fine wine; the wine flowed like water.

"Jack, have you ever seen a spirit."

"What?" Mary was like that, she often came out with completely unprecedented questions, she was quite childlike in that respect.

"Well, have you? I only ask because a friend at work said that she thought that everyone had, at some point, but they just never mentioned, for fear of ridicule. But I never had..."

"No Mary, I have never seen a spirit.", said Jack in a condescending tone, he was shocked. The memory, that he didn't even know he had until now, rose in his mind. How is it that he could have completely forgotten? He looked at Mary, decided not to share it with her yet, until he had time to think it over.

* * *

The year he had turned eighteen, that was when it had happened. The habit of wandering by himself was an old one; he found that he thought better when he walked. His mother's house (his parents having separated five years previous) was one of many red-brick terraced houses that lined up in rows across the steep hills of Sheffield. The alley that turned off his road led to open scrubland, a home of beleaguered shrubs and heather that grew up amongst the abandoned shopping trolleys, bottles and remains of deliberately started fires. It was the day before he left for university, the last day that house was his home. Once gone he only returned for unavoidable holidays. He had turned into the alley, he could hear the traffic from the road, but here, just twenty metres away from the road, he was alone, outside of the normal run of things. People didn't use the alley anymore, there had been a murder here once, so kids weren't allowed, and even lustful teenagers kept away. But he remembered running on the scrubland behind, and walking along this alley before the murder, and he had decided to say goodbye to the area where he had played as a child.

He heard a scuffle to his right, the fences at the side of the alley were overgrown with thorny shrubs and blackberry bushes. He saw a tiny mouse dive out of cover, he paused, barely daring to breathe, frightened that he might scare the mouse away. It stood up on its back legs and sniffed the air, slowly leaning closer to the mouse, he watched it tremble with each heart beat. It didn't move, he wondered if it could knew he was there.

Suddenly, Jack felt cold, his skin was tingling, it was as if the colour has gone out of the day, he felt watched. Straightening up slowly, he raised his eyes to look down the alley, expecting to see nothing. There was a man there. He stood still, making no sound, it was then that Jack realised that he couldn't hear the traffic anymore, or indeed any noise, it was as if he had gone deaf. The man was about five paces from him, he had looked amused to see him at first, now his eyes were open wide with horror. Jack almost looked behind him to see what this man was so afraid of, but he knew there was no one behind him, the same way he knew that this man shouldn't be there. There was a feeling of wrongness that emanated from him, everything in the alley could feel it. Jack was curious, he didn't feel scared, and the man was quite old, greying hair and wrinkles, he could see that clearly. He took a step forward, towards the old man, he realised quite suddenly that he could just about see the alley though him. He took another step, his eyes fixed on the old man who viewed his approach with trepidation, and another, and the old man was gone. He felt reality rushing back on him: the alley was empty, the birds were singing, he heard a car go past, revving up it's engine.

* * *

The first pale predawn light descended on the room, Jack sighed, knowing it was too late to fall asleep now. Had he seen a ghost? And how was it that he had not even thought about what he had seen in all the years hence? In fact he had even forgotten about the existence of the alley and the scrubland he used to play on.

The room was now tinged pink by the sunrise, disentangling himself from Mary, Jack made his way into the bathroom. A long hot shower, and he would leave early. Today was the day he had to go to look over his mother's house. She had died a year before, but he hadn't yet gotten around to clearing out the house. Mary suggested that there might be some mementoes he would want to keep, so he couldn't leave it to the house clearance people, not yet. The house had actually already been sold, and a young couple, baby on the way, were ready to move in.

Eye by Cat Ward

After leaving a note for Mary, he left; the drive from Kent to Sheffield was quick at that time of the morning. The house was exactly as he remembered it, the furniture was all in the same place, but anointed with a year's worth of dust. He opened the curtains, the sunlight stabbed into the small room, illuminating dancing shapes of dust. There were even cups out on the kitchen table, and a plate, with cake crumbs on it. This was odd, his mother was a very tidy person, and she had known when they took her off to the hospital that she wouldn't be coming back. 'Estate agents', he muttered, as he tipped the crumbs out the kitchen window. He glanced at the plate, and in his shock he dropped it. It smashed on the tiles outside. Scrabbling with the back door, he realised he didn't have the key. He ran out the front, and around, the gate to the back garden was locked. Frustrated, he put his hands in his velvet jacket pocket, and paced up and down in front of the door. The plate had looked just like the one he had smashed years ago, his mother's favourite. It was the last out of the set she had been bought on her wedding. Over the years they had all gotten lost and broken, except one which he was expressly forbidden from touching, but which he had broken when he was younger. He went back into the kitchen, it looked as unlived in as the other rooms. He placed the cup on the shelf, and left. He had decided that he didn't want anything of his mother's, let the house clearance people sell it or bin it, he didn't care.

Jack walked back to his car, it was parked directly in front of the house. He unlocked the car door, and paused. He hadn't been there in years, but the old memory had awakened a curiosity, he felt pulled in that direction. He locked his car, and set off on foot, slipping naturally into his fast rhythm of walking. Arriving at the entrance of the alley, he paused momentarily, then cautiously crept down it. Jack was alert, his eyes roved all around the alley, looking for the slightest hint of danger. There was nothing, he emerged at the end of the alley, looking back he expected to see the old man, but there was no one there.

He wandered around the scrubland, did I really used to play here? He pondered. But he could pick out the trees he used to climb, and the hidden paths he daydreamt along. They all seemed so small and insignificant to him now. The sun was high in the sky, it was about midday, he hadn't yet breakfasted, so decided to make his way back to the car. He started down the alley, and looking up saw a boy, well really a teenager, he couldn't have been more than twenty, kneeling down. Puzzled as to what it was that caught the boy's attention, Jack crept up to him until he was close enough to see the mouse. He watched the boy with amusement, until the boy stood up slowly, and the mouse ran away back into he hedgerow. The boy looked curiously at him, but Jack felt as if an icicle jabbed him through the heart. It was himself that was staring back at him! The boy, was him, he recognised not the face, but the gestures, the posture, and his old tan leather jacket. The face didn't look quite right to him, then he realised, it was backwards. How can this be? The boy, Jack, took a confident step forward, then another, then he vanished. Jack, his ears deafened by his own heartbeat, his hands shaking, ran down the alley and jumped into his car. He kept looking behind him, expecting something other than the normality behind him.

He raced along the little country lanes on his way home. Was he the old man? Fifty is hardly old, but then to an eighteen year old, thirty-five is ancient. He moved the rear-view mirror, well maybe the hair dye doesn't really cover the grey, and yes, there were wrinkles round his eyes, in fact all over his face. Jack didn't see the bend until it was too late. The car flew off the road, and down the hill, spinning over several times, before it came to it's final rest against a tree.

* * *

Whistling, his hands shoved in the pockets of his tan leather coat, Jack sauntered back to his house. He was already starting to forget the old man he had seen. Having already packed his bags for university, he decided to sit in the kitchen, and have a little cake. As he opened the cupboard and knocked his mother's favourite plate to the floor.

Ella Gale



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