Monday, 30 September 2019

The price to choose

Three days had passed, apparent only by the small stream of sunlight he felt on his bare legs. He was naked except for a leather hood which was stifling through the day and constrictive at night. His legs and arms were bound to the metal chair. The chair was bolted to the floor. He had no idea how he ended up here or who his captor was. It had been expertly organised; he had been walking quite happily in the crowded high street and barely felt the tip of the syringe as it entered him. The drug had been instantaneous; he didn’t even remember hitting the pavement. When he woke up he found his entire body and head shaved. The air felt cold on his body now. All he could hear was the sound of his own blood coursing through his veins and the scuffle of the leather over his ears; all he could smell was the odour of his own body; the sweat and excrement that pooled around him.
He was unafraid though. All this life had led to this point; he knew this as he had always known. He was unafraid.
Time passed.
He heard sounds; the first since he had first woken up; sounds from outside: keys grating in a rusty lock, the door protesting as it scraped open; a lone fox screaming. It must have been night outside because the air now smelt cold and sweet; the peace interrupted by the man walking in. The door was shut and now the footsteps sounded dull; each step measured, planned. He was a man who knew how to use his body.
The hood was taken gently off and he was now able to breathe unencumbered. He said a silent prayer and felt the air cool against his sweat encrusted, stubbled face.
“Brother.” The man said, and caressed the top of his head as if he was a child. It was still dark in the room but he could make out shapes and shades of grey and gloom. The man had found a chair and now sat opposite him. He could feel the warmth of his body just feet away.
“I know who you are.” The man whispered. “Your name is Job.”
“It is as you say.” Job replied calmly.  “And what is your name?” Job asked, although he knew deep inside.
“You can call me… Simeon.”
“I can see you have a sense of humour.” Job replied. His hands and feet were numb, useless now as he had been tied up for so long.
“It helps in my line of work… but you already know what my line of work is, don’t you?”
“I have heard of you through your reputation.” Simeon mock bowed as if he had been complemented. “I know more about you then you may realise.”
“And let you are sitting here, remarkably calm even though you fully understand what will happen to you… and that there is no chance for your leaving here alive.”
“I am resided to that fate… it is my…”
“Karma? Yes.. that is something that you know an awful lot about, I’ve been told. You see, you may have an understanding about what I am, but I know all about you. Before I tell you why you have been brought here I will tell you more about myself. Isn’t that what one does in these situations? Maybe that will help you understand more about what will be happening to you later. They say that anticipation counts a lot towards any experience. They call me the Witness.”
“I have heard the name.”
“My services are available only to a chosen few; those that can afford me. I am like any other businessman; I provide a simple service. I do one thing and one thing only: I torture people; and for the forty years I have been on this Earth I have learnt all there is to know about the human mind, body and spirit.” Simeon smiled benignly as if contemplating his lot in life. “I have two sorts of client: business and personal. Amongst the businessmen are governments and corporations. Their needs are quite specific: interrogation and confession. On the whole payment is dependent on results and speed –to illicit a confession without killing the individual is a rare skill. Many people fail because they become emotionally involved. It is also a skill to tell lie from truth; but I am a master of understanding a person’s body language as well; I know when I am being lied to. You need to understand that… I will know if and when you are lying.
“The other, more personal side of my business, is among the more surprising and.. rewarding. You would expect the criminal element to feature in this area but, on the whole, they are motivated by money as well. There are others that have revenge in mind, but they tend to use hitmen rather than connoisseurs as myself.
“This is a burgeoning industry; I find that more and more people are heavily into revenge, whether this be as the result of rape or murder of their loved ones. There are others that simply enjoy seeing people tortured but lack the will or understanding to do it themselves. I offer a safe avenue for them to explore for I am a professional and thus completely untraceable in my activities. Some people will have a victim already marked, some will already have them ‘gift-wrapped’ prior to our meeting. I have known some people to select their victims purely at random –often in crowded, busy streets (similar to the one I caught you in).” Simeon paused at the irony. Job just looked at him. He was under no illusion what was going to happen. “The most interesting ‘engagement’ was of a man who wanted to die by my hands, would you believe? He said he was already dying and paid me twice my normal fee to convince me to take him on –as if I needed convincing. He wanted his death to be a work of art, but there were three conditions: The suffering should be as intense as humanly possible, as protracted as possible and under no circumstances should I stop, regardless of how much he begged.
“This was my opportunity to finally indulge in my art. I used him to refine my techniques. His suffering lasted three months and every second he spent in exquisite agony. I was never bothered by his protestations, having severed his vocal chords at the start of the experience. Suffice to say..  the look in his eyes told me that he had not thought through his request and by the end he was truly begging for death. So much for atonement…”
“Some people feel they have a lot to atone for.” Job replied.
“Atonement has never been something that interests me. I have nothing to atone for. But I am interested in Karma. I consider myself an agent of Karma. I am not a simple murderer; people seek me out. I am hired only if people deserve it –or I am paid enough… but even then ‘good’ people are rarely my victim…”
“What of those random people you have picked off the streets?”
“It is not always my choice; but you have asked a relevant question and can only answer it with one word: karma.  Now that does offer an unpleasant truth to ponder, hmm?”
The witness stood up and walked across the room and wheeled over a small table. On it were various surgical implements.
“Now…. you will tell me what I wish to know.”

Time passes. Minutes or hours, such terms had no meaning for Job could only measure it in pain; and yet at no time did he cry out. Simeon had never witness such control and was reminded of the Buddhist monks during the Vietnam War; immolating themselves, sitting calmly in place whilst the flames burnt their mortality away.
This was something Simeon was witness to. He was no sadist; he took no pleasure in what he did, but for the first time he felt…something. He sat down facing Job again.
“Let me tell you why I have brought you here. I have no capacity to feel on an emotional basis; I have never had this. I lack even the most basic empathy – I feel neither joy nor sadness in myself; I am myself, emotionally unencumbered… or so I thought.
“There is one other thing that is remarkable about myself: I have almost perfect recall over my past lives. I am aware of almost every life up until the present; and in one way or another I have always been a witness. This is remarkable, is it not? Am I not proof that Karma does not exist? For if it did would I not have paid dearly for all I have done?”
“You have…” Job tried to say through the pain, “you have no idea of the true nature of Karma.”
“And that is why you are here. Through the years I have heard of a man possessed of a gift that could help release an individual’s Karma. I have heard this through a hushed reverence, similar to my own reputation and not thought much of it… until last month when your presence was finally revealed to me. It is a strange circumstance indeed.
“You recall the man who hired my services for his own ends? His own torture? He had found you but a month before after almost a years search. He had been a businessman; unscrupulous, callous, viscous even; trampling on everyone until he reached the top and he had felt nothing but triumph until that fateful day when two towers crumbled and his empire with it. He lost his wife and daughter who had been his one saving grace; the light in his otherwise dark, soulless life. Somehow he survived but his guilt overcame him; he could not escape the darkness of his deeds and could not understand why his wife and daughter suffered whilst he escaped. In the years since he had travelled around the world trying to understand how he could atone for his past life, and it was during that time he found out about you.” Simeon smiled as if all had become clear.
“The rest you know, or have been able to piece together. I have sought you out to restore the missing piece of my puzzled memory –I can no longer live with this gaping maw at my centre; I must be whole. I am not doing it out of selfless means or atonement.. Therefore I knew that you would not willingly give me, for I have nothing to atone for. However, I have now taken the choice away from you. Only death awaits you now; you have shown great resolve up until this point but how much longer can you last? You must tell me what I need to know; give me my missing past.”
“It has always been thus,” Job replied after some time. “I can free you of your uncertainty and would always have done; but there will be a price. There is always a price. The gentleman you spoke of before? He understood. But do you?”
“I do. And I am willing to pay whatever the price.”
“Remember that I offered you the choice – the same choice we are all given.”
“I understand and accept.”
“Then you must kneel to me and I will kiss your forehead. By this alone I will restore your past to you.”
Simeon knelt before Job; something he had never done before in his life –he had no fear of reprisal but felt calm as he awaited his absolution. He felt compassion flow from Job.
“You are forgiven, my brother.” Job said. “But I fear that will not be enough. Now you will understand what Karma truly is. Until we meet again.” And Job breathed his last; his final task done.
Simeon knelt there as his mind reeled from the memories that were now finally revealed to him. He looked up at the serene lifeless eyes and realise that Job had called him by his true name, brother, as he had done at first meet.
He understood the truth behind the memories of who they really were; they had always been brothers, but Simeon and Job in this life only. Simeon had been the first witness to man’s inhumanity to himself; the first to kill, to murder his own; to sully the name of the one true creator. Job had become the first victim released from his Karma and the first to reincarnate and thus be able to free others. But freedom always came at a cost: repentance and understanding of the suffering inflicted on others.
And now Cain felt as no other, or would ever – the pain inflicted from all his previous lives felt as one. His whole life now, and from that life on, would be that as victim in atonement; part of him always knowing the reasons why.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Purely coincidental

The night was bitch cold and the little oil heater was barely making a difference to the flat, but Alex was happy enough –he’d just but his latest short story to bed. It had been written and published on his website and Facebook in three hours. Whether anyone actually read his stories afterwards wasn’t important to him; it was the writing itself that mattered.
He went to the kitchen and managed to find a clean(ish) glass and poured himself a generous measure of Teachers whiskey. It was then that the door buzzer rang. He looked at the clock –it was 10.20pm; it must be a mistake. No one rang at that hour for him; in fact, no one called round at any time –just the way he liked it. He went back to his desk to decide what story he was going to write next.
The buzzer interrupted his thoughts again. Prank calls; it was Friday night and the last thing he wanted to do was confront some irate drunken lout. Then there came a decisive knock on his door –somehow they’d gotten in past the main door. (Alex knew that many of his fellow residents had trouble understanding the shutting mechanism of the front door and just let it shut of its own accord –defeating the idea of having a secure area.)
Another knock on the door, Alex just wanted to ignore it but he had a feeling that this person would not be going away in a hurry. He walked over to the door and looked through the peephole; it took a couple of seconds to realise who it was. The last time he had seen Paul was… more than ten years ago, surely. He opened the door, unsure what the circumstances were for such a visit.
“About fucking time.” Paul snapped as he barged into the living room. “Anyone would think you didn’t want to see me.” He plonked himself down on the sofa and crossed his legs. “Can’t imagine why.”
“Come in… make yourself at home… what are you doing here, Paul?”
“Don’t play innocent. You must have realised that I’d be round after what you wrote about me.” Alex sat down opposite him behind his desk which had plenty of things to defend himself with should the need arise. “Don’t even bother trying to deny it; it’s obvious to even the most myopic that the whole story is based on our ‘friendship’ together… and I use that term loosely, motherfucker.”
Paul very rarely swore; Alex knew exactly what story he was referring to and smiled inside: any reaction was a good reaction. “Well – loosely based… but then most stories are, Paul. Truth is stranger than fiction, after all.”
“Don’t… don’t even go there.”
“So – what is it then? What’s got you so pissed? Why come over here at this time of night for something so trivial?”
“Trivial? Character defamation and he calls it trivial?”
“Start at the beginning, Paul… it should make things easier.”
“Of course –easier for you to make it into one of your short stories, you mean…”
“I’m beginning to lose patience, mate; say what you’ve got to say and then just piss off.”
“Mate? You’ve no right to call me that. I know how you treat your mates; and this could take all night, fucker. You owe me.”
“I owe you? Riiight.” Paul sat back, crossed his legs and just stared at Alex. The irony was, Paul was right regarding Paul’s feelings towards mates. They were just like condom’s –fit for one purpose only and then disposable. He could feel the contempt radiate from Paul and thought it best not to share that viewpoint…
“Every so often I get nostalgic and think about getting in contact with old friends.” Paul explained. “I must have felt charitable tonight as I thought about messaging you through Facebook. I saw your most recent post regarding your new short story: Soft Skills, and remembered how good your stories were.
“Well, I read it… initially it was really good; it seemed reminiscent of Stephen King’s ‘The Body’ and I remembered your fondness for it. But then I came across the character you called ‘Chub’.. which rankled –you knew that was my nickname in school… Then you went to great pains to describe the friendship that Chub had with the main character. Let me quote:
’Where once the frame was portly and good mannered; now both character and build were emaciated. Chub lacked the basic social skills but somehow found himself as the new Labor party candidate! He had sold out as an individual long ago but could now sell out an entire country!’
“Or how about this bit?
“’Graham looked at Chub and wondered how they had managed to remain friends for so long; now there was nothing but a festering contempt. The saccharine bonds of two faced children replaced by the hardened façade of a corrupt politician.’ “You never did like the fact that I became successful at something and you didn’t.”
“Define success.” Alex replied and laughed. “If this is it then you’re welcome to it.”
“So you don’t deny it then?”
“Deny what? That I used your enormous ego as a scaffold that I could hang a character on to? Why deny it? You dined out on my reputation often enough.”
“I’ve no idea what you’re on about.” Paul replied.
“Of course you don’t. You and your inbred family.”
“That fucking does it! I oughta..”
“You’ll do nothing and you know it.” Alex snapped back, interrupting him. “You deny that your mum and dad thought they’d play Pygmalion on me? Try and elevate me from the social slime?”
“Well…” Paul blushed. “You were a little different from my normal chums…”
“Chums? Oh please – we can’t all afford to live the Jeeves & Wooster lifestyle. Not all of us are born into privilege! I often wondered why your parents took such an interest in me. I couldn’t fathom it at the time –I guess I was a lot less cynical back then. I was just a social project… doing a bit for the local community, eh?”
“Now wait a minute..” Paul was on the defensive now and Alex pushed his point home.
“It also explains the times you got shitty with me. It was bad enough that you had an older brother who stole your limelight; but to then have an underprivileged ‘friend’ to be the centre of attention must have burnt like hot fat!”
“Hang on…”
“I’ve not finished… Nor did you like the fact that I was such a free thinker. I may not have had your education but I was at least as intelligent as you… and I wasn’t hampered by your familial blinkers. My family encouraged freedom of thought. PLUS I composed music and could write as good as you, if not better. You may have been classically trained but you lacked the creative spirit!”
Paul didn’t say anything. Alex knew that everything had hit home perfectly. Finally Paul replied: “So – are you going to take the story down?”
“I don’t see why I need to. Look at it this way; I can’t think of more than a handful of people that know of our ancient friendship, let alone make the connection between them.”
“But even so.. if you don’t take it down then I’m going to cause such a stir on Facebook that you’ll have to!”
“Seriously? You’d admit to such a thing? Admittedly, it’s not a flattering portrait of someone, but it’s not entirely based on you… You’d be making yourself as much of a target as you would me. I’m not sure you’ve thought this through properly. Are you willing to take that chance?”
“If it means you’ll be forced to take it down the damn story then yeah.”

That was that. Paul left, feathers still ruffled. Alex was bemused, wondering what the point of that confrontation was. In a way it had summed up their whole friendship and equally showed that Paul’s grasp of reality was just as tenuous as it had always been. Sure enough, Paul made a huge commotion on Facebook but, rather than have people rally behind him, exactly the opposite thing happened.
No one had made the connection between Paul and Chub, but now people could only agree with Alex’s observations. If anything, the controversy that Paul had tried to create had actually led to an influx of readers to his Story Blog. Alex was now fast becoming an the next big thing, leading him to agree with the old saying: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity!”

Friday, 20 September 2019

Kindred Spirits

And Joseph said: “Power only corrupts those who fear it or do not deserve it.”  I used to be so unsure.
I joined the Beacon because my life was at low ebb. I’d lost my way after a very misguided relationship with a lady, over twenty years my senior, had left my confidence shredded; alongside whatever masculinity I had previously laid claim to.
After a disastrous twelve months Elaine had dismissed me from her company for a younger buck and I was left cursing my naivety. All my so-called friends had called me a fool and I had fallen out with them over it; and it seemed as if they were right all along. I lacked the strength of character to go back to them; it would have meant admitting I was wrong; and I couldn’t have borne that. Admitting to myself was bad enough, but admitting it to others?

A new shop had opened up in town called Wishing Well; it was a ‘new age’ shop that sold your heart’s desire for twenty pieces of silver. The window was a textbook display of dragons and fairies and crystals and spirit guides and dream catchers and witches and angels and tarot and reiki and and and. It was the spiritual equivalent of a MacDonalds –lots on the menu but nothing to leave you fulfilled or sated.
What made me walk in? I have no idea; maybe it was simply the age old answer to any irrational decision: why not? What have I got to lose?
Inside it was like a cross between a hobbit hole and a supermarket –everything was for sale. Everything was monetized; forget karma and learning your path… buy yourself a healing badge and take part in a four week course. Want to become a druid or a tarot reader? There’s a course for that as well. I was both sickened and intrigued by it all.
I was anti-religious at the best of times and considered myself quite well read in philosophy. I believed that we were down here to find our own path and walk it; away from the temptations of other people… and this multi-coloured swap-shop was the complete antithesis of my beliefs… or so I first thought. But.. truth be told, I didn’t know what I wanted. Looking back on it I guess I just wanted to belong somewhere.
“Can I help you help yourself?” The sweet, melodic voice came from behind me. This was Rose, soon to be a massive influence on my life. I turned round and was face to face with a bundle of joyous beauty; all smiles and radiance. A gentle soul if ever I saw one.
“Both clever and cute.” I replied…  “I mean.. the play on words…it was very clever.. y’know, helping to help others.. ahem; please feel free to slap me in the face at any time… anything to stop me from making more of an arse out of myself.”
“I don’t think such a thing is possible.” I blushed.
“You mean, I can’t make any more of an arse out of myself?”
“Shush… What is it you’re looking for?” She said and every fibre in my body wanted to respond with ‘you’, but I managed to rein it in.
“I don’t know.” I sheepishly admitted. “Some enlightenment?” She laughed at this. “A chance to meet a kindred spirit?” At this she beamed.
“That’s a start and I’ve just the thing..” She turned and walked to the counter. Rose was dressed in long flowing robes of dark, figure hugging purple. She turned to face me again and I quickly looked elsewhere. She was short enough that looking her in the eye made it impossible not to take in the depth of her figure. I tried not to blush any deeper than her robes. “You’re interested in Celtic fertility rites as well, are you?” She said, matter-of-factly.
“Wha?” I coughed, knowing I’d been caught out.
“Don’t worry; we’re very understanding about the natural urges and going through them to the other side. You’re a truth seeker, I can tell.”
“How can you tell? I don’t even know myself…” She handed me a flyer: ‘The Beacon –For Kindred Spirits on their search for Enlightenment.’
I laughed: “You couldn’t make it up, could you?”

The Beacon was hosted once a week on a Saturday night, which was always open to the general public and new members; so I gave it a go. Why not?
I had no idea what to expect and, I admit, was feeling more than a little vulnerable and was actually regretting my decision right up until I opened the door to the hall and saw Rose.
Yes, I was attracted to Rose, but it was more than just a physical attraction. She seemed such a loving soul, very gentle and compassionate. She was of a short, voluptuousness with long dark hair and piercing green eyes. She also had a habit of wearing low cut, figure hugging, flowing gowns and that night was no exception.
Upon seeing me she rushed up and gave me such an all-encompassing hug that to anyone else it might have seemed we were long lost relatives or the best of friends.
“I’m so glad you came.” She whispered to me. I felt exactly the same. I was tremendously naïve, not very world weary and part of me thought that Rose had taken a particular shine to me; that maybe it was for more than just spiritual reasons she wanted me there.
“This is my partner, Joseph.” She said, motioning to the man standing behind her. The man that I’d absolutely failed to see, which was strange because Joseph was tall and actually towered over me (and I was six foot). He was of a slender build with a strength of presence that just emanated from him; he was also balding and at least ten years older than Rose.
I extricated myself from Rose’s warm embrace, slightly embarrassed to be caught as such and shook Joseph’s outstretched hand. His was a cold grip, but strong without being forceful. He clasped his other hand over mine and just held it. There was a sharp tang of patchouli and I guessed that it was from his aftershave.
“I’ve been told a lot about you. I’m pleased that you came too.” It was a warm smile but there was something of an almost predatory glint behind his eyes. He was a man of power and leverage and he knew it too.
“I’m intrigued to know how – I’ve only just met Rose.” I laughed, trying to figure him out. I was suddenly very wary of this man, and of this group I’d been invited to join. As a child I’d almost been indoctrinated into a cult masquerading as a Sunday school and was very aware of the various ways they used to manipulate others.
“Oh, we have ways of knowing.” He smiled back. “Hopefully you’ll be able to learn them for yourself if you choose to stay.”
“The evening is about to start.” Rose said in earnest, sensing the tension. “Rob and Judith will sit with you and show you the ropes. Don’t worry –it’s all a bit of fun. Take of it what you like; anything you don’t like just let it fall by the wayside. If there’s anything you don’t understand then just ask.”
Rob and Judith walked me to the front of the seating area, which consisted of eight rows of chairs with a walkway in the centre. At the front was a make-shift ‘stage’.
“Derek Jacobs is the medium tonight.” Judith said as we sat down. Judith was in her late fifties; greying, fraying hair with thick glasses and a slightly pronounced set of front teeth which made her seem more enthusiastic than perhaps she was.
“He’s a bit showy for my tastes, but some people rave over him…” Rob was retired and relaxed because of it. He was balding as well but exuded a peacefulness. He was a gentle giant of a man with an immediate charm about him. It would be fair to see that I liked him within minutes of meeting him.
 “A bit showy?” I asked, perplexed by this.
“Have you not been to a display of mediumship before?” Judith asked.
“No… In fact I didn’t even know that was what it was. A display of.. mediumship?”
“Don’t worry – we’ve moved on a lot since Victorian times. No more table tapping and ectoplasm.” She replied. Rob winked at me.
“What Judith means is that Derek’s… style, if you can call it that, is more theatrical than most. The more times you come to the Beacon then you’ll be able to see all the different styles of mediumship. I find it all quite fascinating, really. Some of the medium’s are quite humble; others are pompous… and that’s right where Derek sits!”
I was open to the experience, if a little sceptical (however that was something that Rob told me to cultivate. There was nothing wrong with being a little sceptical all the time it didn’t stop one from keeping an open mind.) At the end of the day I had nothing to lose; and the evening would be entertaining if nothing else.

Derek was extremely theatrical; full of the Grand Guignol and totally up his own arse. His opening address had been full of pomp and egotism and was the sort of man that could give mediumship a bad name. To my surprise he picked me first and I groaned inside; but what he actually told me shook me to the core.
Looking back on it now I can’t believe how green I really was.
“Now, young man… I know you probably won’t want to hear this from me, but it wasn’t your fault. You did everything you could in the relationship; you couldn’t have done any more. Every relationship is 50 / 50 and she should’ve known that.” I was shocked; no one knew of my breakup with Elaine; I’d told no one and yet what Derek was telling me was exactly what I had been telling myself these last couple of weeks. This was incredible! “Do what you can to focus on yourself now. The time will soon come when you can start again; who knows, maybe somewhere like here?”
I just nodded, dumbfounded but managed to say a muffled thank you to him, but Derek was still talking. “Now, I don’t know whether what I’ve said has meant anything to you; I only gave what I was told to say… All I know is that it was what you needed to hear.” I just nodded and Derek moved swiftly to the next person without missing a beat.
At the front I could see Rose and Joseph just watching me. Rose placed her hands together as if in thankfulness for what I’d been given and smiled. Joseph smiled slyly and winked.

After the mediumship display we all mingled and had coffee. Rose came up to me and gave me another all-encompassing hug.
“What did you think?”
“Couldn’t fault the message… wow!”
“Just the messenger?” She smiled at me kindly.
“Well..” I tried to find an excuse, anything than say how I really felt. I thought it would be churlish to be so negative; especially on my first visit.
“It’s ok.” Rose said, putting her hand on my arm, squeezing it. “I think he’s a pompous arse as well. Occasionally he comes up with the goods, but he puts on a good show.” I smiled back, careful not to allow myself to get too attracted to her; but I had a horrible suspicion it was far too late.
It was then that I felt a firm yet playful slap on the back. It was Joseph.
“What did you think? Want to join the Elite?”
“I think it’s a little too early to ask that question, don’t you think?” Rose interrupted. I was unsure of what they were talking about.
“Join the church and become a man, eh?” He laughed again and I was a little nervous now. What was the context behind the question? Was it linked to his wink earlier? Was there something else going on that I should be aware of?
“Joe!” Rose snapped. “I think you need a coffee”. Hearing his name spoken like that snapped him back to reality and he just guffawed and walked into the makeshift kitchen. Rose led me outside, her arm in mine. The night air was cold but I didn’t feel it. “I’m so sorry about that.” She explained, not looking at me. “He’s had a difficult week… His father died a few nights ago and he’s had a bit too much to drink these last couple of nights… he’s normally more reserved than that…”

I left with a peck on the cheek; dismissed into the night air; bemused and troubled. Even though I was the grand old age of 24 there were still times where I didn’t understand the world of adults. I felt that they played by a different set of rules or had a book of cheat codes that I didn’t possess.
I was attracted to Rose, maybe against my better judgement; but part of me felt that maybe she was indeed a kindred spirit; the attraction felt mutual. Of course, I felt threatened by Joseph; but whether that was down to my guilty conscience I wasn’t sure. It was a troubled sleep that night with no clear answers. One thing was sure: I had to go back to the Beacon centre but I wasn’t sure of the reasons why.

All through that week I resisted the temptation to visit the Wishing Well. I really wanted to see her again, but something told me that wouldn’t be a good idea. I just couldn’t understand why Rose was with someone like Joseph, who was so much older than her. She seemed to dote on him but he was almost dismissive of her.
Emotionally I was unprepared for this; I was still vulnerable from my relationship with Elaine. I was also unsure of how I felt about the Beacon centre itself. On the one hand everyone seemed very genuine, but on the other it seemed very happy-clappy.
I was a lapsed Christian and had gotten fed up with the hypocrisy behind the bible and the orthodoxy; and I thought that those visiting the Beacon might have been of the same view. However all I saw were those people substituting one set of beliefs for another –just a different pair of crutches. Sure, everyone seemed so much happier there. Christianity always sought to break the individual before accepting them into the fold –admitting that one lived in sin before one could be ‘redeemed’ was a bit too much for me. I believed that, if there was a God then we were all equals to it.

But that Saturday night I found myself outside the church hall and Joseph was there, smoking a mournful cigarette. He seemed a little dishevelled and I remembered what Rose had told me the week before. I felt uneasy towards him still but I also felt sorry for him.
Joseph saw me and brightened up, striding over to me with his hand held out for me to shake. “I’m so glad we… I didn’t put you off last week. I can only apologise if my comments were a little bit off… My father…” He paused, almost unable to continue.
“I know.. Rose told me.” I said. “And I can only give you my deepest sympathies.”
Joseph looked at me askew and I wondered if I’d said too much, but he quickly smiled and clasped me by the shoulder.
“I’m glad you came back. I think Rose was right –you are a kindred spirit. I’m not sure what you’re going to think of the medium tonight –she’s a bit… wet for my liking…. But if you haven’t got to rush off later I’d very much like to chat to you, if that’s ok.”
I nodded and said that I’d like that, unsure what he wanted to chat about.
“Excellent… well, until later then.” I walked into the hall feeling strangely pleased with myself. Maybe I’d misjudged Joseph, he seemed to have warmed towards me.
Rose greeted me enthusiastically again and remonstrated me as to why I hadn’t visited the Well recently.  I simply said that I needed time to think, to which she just nodded.
“I think we could all do with that from time to time.” She sighed and then looked at me again. “Don’t be too much of a stranger though.”
The medium, Sue Bland, was wetter than an octopus’s orifice and was just as bad as her namesake. She seemed to ‘mis-hear’ everything and many of the people received garbled messages, much to their chagrin. All this she put down to the energy of the group not being high enough for her work.
I found it all bizarre, bordering on absurd and it made it all the more difficult keeping a straight face through her ‘show’. (It didn’t help matters with Rob constantly digging me in the ribs with his elbow every time she made a mistake. Rob was a mischief maker just like me.)
Sue was a complete contrast to Derek’s performance. Never had a surname been more appropriate! She was limp of wrist and attitude; mincing meekly on stage, almost scared of her own shadow. If there was a lack of energy around the place then it was down to her!
Say what you like about Derek’s pomposity at least he knew how to work an audience; and his messages hit the mark more than hers did.

I actually felt deflated by her ‘display’ and really questioned my motives for coming back to the Beacon. Nobody else seemed too bothered by the non-event, which surprised me. I couldn’t help but query their motives for going week in, week out. Were these the type of people I really wanted to associate with?
I didn’t want to sound elitist but this seemed like just another excuse for a night out for these people. It was either this or bingo, it seemed; and from Sue’s performance tonight there was a striking similarity:
“Do we have a Mark here tonight? Mark? Mark? Wearing blue? I see a blue top… who has a cat?” BINGO!!
Was this how I wanted to spend my time? I didn’t need this constant reassurance that all was well in the other world. The same faces were here this week as last and I had to wonder why. Even those that had received messages last week were hungry for more. What more could they possibly be given? It was a selfishness over those others who might have a genuine need (if such a thing existed). It can’t have been comfort that they really needed, it was just another addiction.

I had forgotten that Joseph wanted to talk to me. Had I remembered then I probably would have found an excuse or just left early; then who knows how my life might have turned out?
It was the playful slap on the back from him that made me realise just how much he had been looking forward to our little chat.
However, before I was taken to one side Rose had an announcement to make. At the start of the evening I bought a raffle ticket; the first prize of which was an hours consultation with Rose in a Spirit Workshop. To my surprise I had won. This was unheard of for me as I had never won anything before in my life. Of course, I never saw anything untoward in any of this; the depths of my naivety were limitless, it seemed.
Joseph congratulated me and then led me into the small meeting room behind the main hall. It had been set out with two chairs and a table with some leaflets on it, and there was the scent of Turkish delight in the air; probably from an incense stick. I could sense that this had been well prepared and I wondered what I was being signed up for.
“You’ve got potential.” This was so much like Joseph; no pre-amble, getting-to-know-you chit-chat. He had only just motioned me to sit down before he started. “And you know it as well.”
“Haven’t we all though?” I was uncomfortable, wary of being indoctrinated by him. I didn’t like Joseph. (I also felt guilty over my feelings towards Rose).
“Don’t try to bullshit the bullshitter.” He replied matter-of-factly. He was having none of my normal evasion tactics. “Not only do you know it but you have done nothing to develop yourself. Now why is that, I wonder?”
I thought for a second, ready with one of my pat answers but knew then that he’d never stand for it –he’d see right through it.
“Because I don’t feel worthy of it?”
“Bingo. Well –at least you’re being more honest with me this time… thank you… but you must see that even that is a falsehood… especially when you see others who possess so much less than you.(Most of the people in the audience, for example)  Less knowledge, less awareness.. and yet they seem to accomplish so much more. Now why is that, do you wonder?”
I shrugged my shoulders non-committedly, unsure whether I liked the direction this was heading.
“Some people would probably say you lack confidence and would delight in telling you so; not realising that is part of the problem. Language is a powerful tool. The words we use define us and if you are defined by what you lack then you might never overcome that. Choose your script, change the language that you have framed yourself with. In fact… destroy the frame completely!”
This was the first time anyone had spoken to me like this and, despite myself and my initial reservations; I listened to what Joseph was saying. 
“You’ve been taught to fear power. You think that by living to your full potential you’ll abuse that power... But power only corrupts those that fear it or are not worthy of it. Now we can help you on the first part of that but you are the only one who can truly decide whether you are worthy of it. There is only one right answer, mind… but it takes true belief to become it… And, as luck would have it, we can help you with that as well, but only if you wish it. You must be the one to choose. The literature on the table is for you to take away and read.”
“I don’t need to read it; I know my answer already.” I answered despite myself. Joseph must have known I’d react like this but he played his part to perfection.
“Take them away with you; read them… This is not a decision to be taken lightly. Listen to what Rose has to say to you during your one-to-one session and then let me know your choice next week.”

I made sure that I booked up my one-to-one session with Rose before I left –Wednesday evening at 7.30, which gave me time to think things through and read the leaflets Joseph gave me.

As it was I couldn’t sleep when I got home and took out one of those leaflets and started reading:
Shaping your world – your way
“How do you define your world? Do you let the perception of others rule the way you see yourself? If the answer to these two questions is yes than you must place yourself in the same boat as 98% of the people around you. The only difference is that you have, at last, realised that this is the case.
“WELL DONE. Now we can start the process of shaping your world…. Your way!
“This 8 week course will give you the tools you need to take apart, analyse and put yourself back together again the way YOU want to be.
“At the forefront of this course will be the language that you use to define yourself. Who has given you this language? Is this how you truly feel?
Goal seeking – what goals are you trying to fulfil? Is this your life that you’re leading or is it someone else’s by proxy?
“Throughout this 8 week course we will be looking at the prods, the pushes and the pulls in your personality. These are the techniques you use to effect change in your life without realising it –these are the things that are affecting the way you see and do things.
          Prods – Extenuating circumstances that ‘force you’ to make a
          Pushes – Positive outcomes that encourage you to make a change;
          Justifications which can come from both internal and external
          influences.  Otherwise known as incentives.
          Pulls – Negative potential futures which influence your decision
          making Process. Fear or guilt become strong influencers and will
          distort your Reality. Otherwise known as ‘should’s’.
“Learn what your trigger words are and within 8 weeks learn how to shape your world – YOUR way.”

I put the leaflet down feeling energised. This was mirroring what Joseph had told me earlier. I understood what was meant by the prods, pushes and pulls and could see how I’d allowed them into my life. There were obvious concerns –nowhere was mentioned cost or what was expected out of the people going on the course. To be fair, I’d read this kind of literature before; it was a basic salesman’s patter… but there was something about hearing it from Joseph first. I wanted to know more so read the second leaflet: “Realise your potential – YOUR way.”
Are you making the most out of your gift? Do you dare stand with the chosen few?
“You are probably aware that we are all born equal, nevertheless with gifts that make us unique. Whilst this is certainly true there is one question to ask yourself: “Who wishes to be the same as everyone else?
“There is so much more that you could be; the gifts are so much more than a birth rite, they are a gateway to your full potential.
·         Have you ever had dreams that later have come true?
·         Have you ever thought of an old friend only to bump into them?
·         Are you incredibly lucky in life? (Do you want to be?)
“All these are symptoms of the ‘Gifts’ already trying to become manifest in your life; they are there waiting for you to realise them.
“Learn how to make these gifts a reality; learn the language to make them real. Turn your dreams into a reality.
“In this 7 week course you will:
·         Learn how to turn the ‘coulds’ into ‘wills’
·         Create a five step process of dream manifestation
·         Hone your powers of intuition.
Realise your potential – YOUR way!”
There was something almost elitist in some of the passages; almost as if Joseph saw himself above those in his… congregation (was that the right word?). In fact, he had had said as much during our chat earlier. Part of me felt repulsed by this feeling, but there was also part of me that agreed with it. There were times where I not only saw myself apart from the rest of the crowd but also above them. I was never one to follow the rest of the herd and now I was reading something that addressed those feelings. It was disconcerting to say the least. I picked up the third leaflet to take my mind off this.
“Harness the energies – YOUR way
“Do you wish to make a difference to other people’s lives? Do you feel yourself over flowing with love?
·         Learn how to become a conduit to the Universal Energy – become a SPIRITUAL HEALER.
·         Learn how to help people help themselves.
·         Learn the ancient mysteries associated with different healing energies and become a tool for a better world around you.
“In our extensive five week course you will learn many different approaches to healing, all designed to maximise your potential and harness the Universal Love that flows through you.
“Learn how to balance the mind, body and spirit of yourself and others. Become a channel for the healing and universal love – YOUR way.”
Having read all three leaflets in rapid succession I was now concerned with what I had gotten myself involved in. Joseph’s words, which had made so much sense at the time, now seemed twisted; tainted by what was in the leaflets.
The first seemed like a manifesto for change; the second elitist and the third a cheap knock off to make money. (What was strange was that money wasn’t actually mentioned at all. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was all on a ‘donation’ basis, preying on people’s sense of worth.)
This was exactly the sort of thing I wanted to avoid. It seemed to be about making money from people’s weaknesses, capitalising on their vulnerability.
I didn’t know much about psychology but what little I had experienced of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy had taught me that the last thing you should do is take the past apart! That way madness dwelt! Once you started there was no clear way to stop –a ever spiralling fractal that ended only in further neurosis (but so much easier to exploit). I was of two minds to just never go back to the Beacon centre; however there was one thing that still assuaged me: Rose.

Wednesday, just off the Hove seafront; the posh part; further adding to my growing sense of doubt over the Beacon. It was clear that Joseph and Rose were not short of money.
Alarm bells failed to stop me from walking in front of a cyclist; I was so immersed that I wasn’t paying any attention to my surroundings. I didn’t even remember the drive down to Hove, so lost was I in my concerns for the evening (and the prospect of seeing Rose again) that I had walked straight into the cycle lane; not taking into account the cyclist that was barrelling his way towards me –Hove cyclists not being the most forgiving at the best of times, this one barely stopped in time and ignored my feeble attempts at apologising.

I was nervous enough as it was and the lift being out of order made the situation so much worse –Rose lived on the 6th floor. By the time I reached her flat I must have looked like one of the undead!
She smiled as I tried to gasp my apologies and waited until I caught my breath before hugging me warmly. The flat was far larger than I could have imagined; very spacious, opulent even –further adding to my growing suspicions. There was a strong scent of incense in the air, beguiling and sweet. Rose led me into the lounge and bade me to sit. There was an artist’s easel set up ready and a folder on the table to the left of me.
“Do you know what Spirit Art is?” she asked.
“I can only hazard a guess that it’s where you paint with your eyes closed and let spirit guide your hands?” I wasn’t sure whether I was in the right frame of mind for this; it seemed at complete odds with what Joseph had been proselytizing.  Rose and her spirit art –it all sounded so naïve in comparison. She looked at me before answering, her expression was quizzical. Did she sense my unwillingness to participate?
“Almost – whilst talking I’ll be in direct contact with Spirit and will be directed to draw a portrait of someone. Now that might be someone who has passed over that you knew; someone you know on the Earth plane or it may even be your Spirit Guide. Have you ever been contacted by your Spirit Guide before?”
This was going into uncharted territory for me and I was almost embarrassed to answer. Bizarrely I found myself answering anyway.
“I’m not sure whether you’d call it my Guide necessarily, but I often get a told things by a voice that I know isn’t me… and there are times when I’m chatting to someone and suddenly my voice will drop in tone and I’ll say something quite profound to that person… yet it’s not me speaking per se. Is that what you mean? Does that sound strange?”
“Not as much as you would think… it could very well be your Guide… Shall we find out?”
Rose stood by her easel, sideways on to me and for the first time that evening I could really take in what she was wearing –the most feminine of dresses that flowed in the right places and yet accentuated all the right contours of her body. In short, she was breath-taking. She had a dark purple shawl on as well, which contrasted with the pale pink of her dress.
She saw me looking at her and broke the silence by asking whether I was a fan of ABBA. I didn’t know what to say –this was beginning to sound like a farce and yet she was actually quite serious.
“Not really… well, I mean.. I like what I’ve heard but I can’t say I’ve ever rushed out and bought an album…”
“Oh.. it’s just that I’ve got the song Chiquitita in my head and wondered if it meant anything to you ?”
“No.. now.. If it was Queen’s ‘Another one bites the dust’…” I couldn’t believe that I’d just said that! How rude it must have sounded.
“Or maybe ‘I want to break free’?” I blushed hard. “It’s ok – I know how odd all this sounds to you. All we ever ask is an open mind. If you’re told anything tonight that resonates with you then brilliant! If not, well.. Just park it for a while. A week, maybe a month later then someone might say something and it might finally click for you. Take what you can and leave the rest.”
“Sounds like the motto of my life…”
“But who’s in control of that life?”
“Well, it certainly hasn’t seemed like me for a long time.”
“Seemed? No, whose fault is that?” Rose was no longer looking at me; she seemed disconnected in herself and I wondered what was happening.
“Mine? I dunno…”
“I do.. You’re afraid of taking control, of being as strong as you could be; why?”
This was somewhere I didn’t want to go; part of the past I’d tried so hard to supress. I didn’t want to talk about it but somehow Rose had gotten right to the heart of it.
“My father… well, he used to… he was a born drunk; permanently fucked in the head and did his best to take it out on those who couldn’t fight back. I learnt not to get anywhere near him when he was drunk; which was pretty much all the time… but mum wasn’t so lucky. He would take it out on her regardless.
“When I was ten years old he started taking it out on me more and it became harder to hide. Something must have clicked in mum because she then actively baited him more and more; whether it was to draw the attention away from me I’m not sure… but the beatings became more violent. One day… she pushed too hard..”
“You.. what happened?” Rose asked quietly.
“… they were standing on the landing when it happened; them shouting, screaming at each other. I was in my bedroom and could hear it all so clearly; the sound of him slapping her and then a sickening thud and it was silent. I went out to see what had happened, saw mum just lying at his feet like a broken puppet; just discarded there.
“I don’t really remember what happened next… I must have picked up something heavy from my room and slammed it against his head. He fell over the bannister and just lie there sprawled against the stairs below.”
“Was he dead?”
“I don’t know how the sonofabitch survived, but he did… but he was never the same again…”
I could see Rose fighting the urge to come over to me. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted her to or not, or where it might lead if she did.
“Don’t you see what happened?” She asked, looking at me now; urging me to confront something that I had been fighting against my whole adult life. “Your father abused his power.. a father should be protective, nurturing; but you never had that. He beat you both, proving to you that power corrupts.. and the only time that you stood up to him you almost killed him. You’re afraid of letting that power out again.”  I nodded, not wanting to hear this… but she was right. “He was your only role model and you have done everything in your power not to be like him. It’s far better to supress it; supress your power, your strength than be like him… but it doesn’t need to be that way.”
“But I failed her though.”
“You can’t think like that… There was nothing you could have done…. But you can now. All the time you deny yourself; your true self, then he’s won. Your father will still have that hold over you.”
I had never seen it like that before. It was like having a veil lifted from my eyes. Rose was right –I had let my fear of what had happened that night colour everything I said or did afterwards. That bastard was still in control of me; but no longer!
For the first time in years, and despite myself, I cried; not out of pain or regret but tears of release. Rose came over to me and held me. My mind was a blur; one moment I saw things so clearly but the next it became a whirlpool. We held each other; Rose kissing my forehead, keeping me close; soothing me, giving me healing. It wasn’t long before the kiss melted into something deeper, far more intense and we became one; separated only by space. For the first time I knew one thing and one thing only; I wanted her.
She pushed me gently away, careful not to break the spell between us. “Are you sure you want this?” She whispered.
“Yes. More than anything.”
“Be sure… be very sure. There will be no turning back.”
“Whatever happens happens; I want this. I want you.”
“Whatever the cost?”
“Whatever the cost – It will be worth it.” She kissed me hard then; tongue flowing into mine, our energies mingling.

I never heard him walk into the room. It never occurred to me that he’d actually be there still. It was only when Joseph started clapping that we stopped. Rose just stood there, nonplussed by his dramatic entrance.
“Don’t let me stop you.” He said in an almost light-hearted tone.
“I’m sorry.” I started to excuse my way out of this; the naughty schoolboy… but it felt wrong to do so. Joseph interrupted me before I could say anything else.
“Are you? Think back over what Rose said to; what we spoke about earlier..”
“No… I’m not sorry.” I replied despite myself. “I’m just sorry you caught us…”
“Don’t be… How do you think Rosie and I met?”