Joe2stories

Stories from a Dublin Scientist

Month: June, 2012

Big Lies

There are three different types of lies that people tell from time to time. The first type is the little white lie that doesn’t really effect anyone in particular, lies like “I’ll get that for you as soon as I can” or “Yellow is so your colour”. People tell little lies like that all the time.  The second type is the more major lies such as “Of course I’m not cheating” or “I did not murder him” ,lies that are a bit more serious, where bad things will go down of you are caught out. The third type of lie, the type of which we are basing this story, are the most rare and the biggest. These are the type of lies that change the world.

Many, many years ago, on the edge of a vast empire, there was a small border garrison filled with very frightened young men.

They had every reason to be frightened. The part of the empire they guarded was far away from their homes and all they knew. But the place was far from empty. The plains to the north were filled with all kinds of monsters and wild men. They ignored the border and regularly swooped down onto whoever was foolish enough to live within their reach. Perhaps the worse of the wild men was a tribe called a Scarleh, savage brutes to a man and by far the most savage was their leader Jasook the terrible. This monster of a man was over seven feet tall with arms like tree trunks. There were stories that he would eat five grown men each day for his dinner, though that was probably an exaggeration, he probably couldn’t have fit more than two men in a single sitting.

Jasook made it a point of visiting the little garrison every few days and calling out a soldier to fight him. No one man could stand against him and it usually ended quickly and gruesomely. They couldn’t just lock themselves inside, Jasook would get angered by the affront and smash open the building, killing all inside. So whenever he appeared, the poor men huddled in the garrison would draw lots and whoever lost would be sent out to meet their fate.

It so happened that one day, when Jasook was making one his regular raids, that one of these young men called Jon lost the draw and was sent outside. He was a thin, reedy man about as far from suited to the rigours of the brutal frontier as any man could be. As he stumbled out of the garrison gates after being pushed by his colleagues his thin armour rattled with his terror. Peering from behind his shield, he could see Jasook waiting for him, mocking him with his eyes. “Is this the best that you can field against me?” The monster roared, “This puny thing is barely even worth my time. I expect something better next time” As closed his eyes and waited the inevitable he could hear the thud, thud of Jasook’s immense feet on the ground as he approached, closer and closer.

But then there was something else a heavy beating getting louder and louder. Willing himself to ignore the terror running through him, Jon pulled his head out from behind the shield and opened his eyes. Behind Jasook, its immense wings still outstretched, was a dragon, the biggest that Jon had ever seen. It was right behind Jasook and the warrior had turned to face it. Raising his sword and shouting a battle cry, he threw himself at the beast, but it was much faster. It snapped up the warrior in an instant, his blood curdling screams cut short by shaking its head violently. Dragons are notoriously messy eaters and bits and pieces of the Scarleh champion flew all around, some even hitting Jon on the shield and sword. Big as he was, Jasook did not last long as a meal and without so much as a whisper, the dragon was back in the air, soaring up into the clouds.

Jon just stood there for the longest time, shocked at what had just happened, and surprised to be alive. He was startled to hear a noise from behind him. He turned and saw the gate of the garrison open up, and one of the other men’s head stick out. His face turned from fear to amazement. There, standing in front of the door was Jon, his shield and sword splattered with blood and assorted pieces of Jasook splayed around the ground. The soldier was flabbergasted, he asked Jon “My God, did you do this?”

Jon probably should have gone and told the truth right there, but his head must still have been swimming from the adrenaline and instead he said “You damn right I did! That Scarleh thug will never be troubling us again.”

The gates were thrown and Jon was hailed as a hero by the rest of the soldiers. Extra rations of beer and wine were shared out and Jon told the epic (and completely fabricated) story of how he defeated Jasook. The officer in charge called out all of the riders and pigeons and every other method they had to send a message, to spread the word about this remarkable upset.

Within hours, men where appearing from other border posts asking to meet the man who defeated Jasook. Jon was given pride of place at every meal and each  time he would tell the story, adding a little more embellishment, all lapped up by his adoring audience.

Eventually the look outs spotted a trio of riders approach from the south, their flags flying long behind them. They were imperial messengers, summoning Jon to the court of the emperor. Jon travelled in style, stopping at every castle and town along the route, staying at the finest homes and inns, and telling his tale to rapt audiences.

Eventually Jon and his retinue reached the imperial capital on the warm shores of the southern sea. He was immediately rushed to the emperors throne-room where he told the most magnificent version of his story yet.

“As the I looked at the smashed pieces of my evil foe, the blood dripping off my sword, I knew that though he had fought well I was ultimately victorious. And that, your majesty, is my story” Jon then bowed in front of the emperor. He could hear clapping from the throne, quickly joined by all those around him. The emperor then bade him to stand “A hero such as you, should not bow before any other man, not even me!” As Jon nervously stood up the emperor sat up and stepped down from his throne. He grabbed Jon’s hands and embraced him “It is an honour to embrace the hero of the north. You have proven yourself a man of true worth. I have been waiting for such as you for many years, come come!”

Leading Jon by the arm. The emperor crossed the ornate throne-room, flunkies and courtesans jumping out of his way like the seas parting. He slowed at tables covered in jewels and gold, at robes of nobility and office and at his beautiful daughter each time bringing a lump to Jon’s throat. But the emperor came to a stop at a case, within which an elegant bejewelled helmet. “Do you have any idea what this is son?” asked the emperor. “Is that the Darik’s helmet?” Jon spoke in hushed tones about the great hero of imperial legend. “It is my boy, the very same and until now I have been unable to find a man worthy to wear it again. With this as your standard and my armies under your command the savages to the north will finally be stopped”

“Come again? Lead your army?” Jon was shocked “Of course my boy I can think of no man more deserving. My spies have told me that the Scarleh have already heard of your great deeds, they are quivering in their boots over the thought of facing you again. Your country needs you Jon, we are in a time of need, you cannot refuse”

That last line was filled with just enough menace to tell Jon not to say no and within a month Jon was marching back along the great northern plain with over a million men behind him. While all the officers and men fawned over Jon with his shiny new armour, the emperor and his generals issued most of the orders, Jon was expected to lead from the front “By example!” Word came from scouts that the whole Scarleh horde, hundreds of thousands of men were moving to intercept them. They would be there within the hour.

As the rest of the army formed up and prepared Jon found himself with very little to do, just to ride around in his horse and look good. “You’re inspiring the men brilliantly!” shouted the emperor over the noise of marching armour “Now get to the front of the army so that they can see you and know victory is at hand”

From the leading edge, on his massive warhorse, Jon could see the massive Scarleh force arraying before them. None of the men there were as big as Jasook had been, but they were still far larger than any man in his army. He wanted to just run and hide but that wasn’t possible. He looked at the men behind him, looking at him with hope in their eyes, he then turned to the imperial camp were a red flag was being waved, the signal. Jon raised his hand shouted “Advance!” and the great war machine started to move.

Jon’s experience of the ensuing battle was confusing to say the least. From ordering the charge his next memory was in the midst of the fighting with imperial soldiers and Scarleh all around him. Funnily enough, it seemed that a great deal of the Scarleh were already dead, while not as many of his men had fallen. Occasionally one of the fierce warriors would appear out of the nowhere and try to bring Jon down. As he would try to fend off the attack, dozens of his troops would gang up around the fighter and his battle cry would turn to a scream of terror as he was laid low by attacks from all sides. Within an hour all of the Scarleh that hadn’t died or fled had been captured. Jon’s army had won.

It was miraculous. With the Scarleh defeated, the armies turned their attention to the other wild men. With Jon leading the charge each battle was a rousing victory. Jon was getting braver and braver and by the end of the campaign he had many stories that he didn’t have to lie about. There was even an expedition to the northern mountains to destroy the roosts of the dragons. By the end of the season the entire northern plain was under imperial control and at peace.

When Jon returned to the Capital he was treated as a hero. Honours, riches and title were heaped upon him. In the end he married the emperors beautiful daughter and became his heir. With empire at peace and commerce able to flow again, prosperity returned to the world. Those were good years.

It was many years later that Jon figured it out. His father in law was no fool, he couldn’t have believed Jon’s story,  especially after he met him, but he also knew people. The empire at the time had been demoralised by constant harassing from the north. People saw no way out and even the emperor couldn’t change their minds. Then along came Jon and his beating Jasook. Here was a normal man, one of them who had beat a Scarleh champion, they weren’t unbeatable. The army could always have beaten the Scarleh and all the other threats from the north, they just had to realise that.

Jon may have lied that day, many years ago. But his words certainly changed the world.

 

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Picture it and write, The crossing

Hello, this is my weeks contribution to picture it and write on ermilias blog here. The picture isn’t mine I just use it for inspiration. Anyway enjoy.

The crossing

Janis went to the stern where Bill, her cousin, had staked out a spot to watch the wake of the ship. He had talked about how the propellers of the ship made all of the little algae and creatures light up as they are churned so that you could see a trail of ghostly light. The sun had yet to set but he was firmly placed content to wait. “You don’t see things like this every day Jan” He explained “You should have more patience”

Patience was one thing Janis had in short supply. She had used up all she had left and it had ended up on the night boat. It was hard to believe that Bill could be taking this so stoically, especially considering that she had just told him that morning. Still he didn’t quite act the same, hints that he was taking it harder than he let on. Acting coolly, for her sake.

Remembering all the times that her cousin had been there for her, Janis put her arm around Bills neck. He held her hand tenderly. “It’s going to be alright Jan. We’ll be there and back before anyone knows.” “I know!” Janis said back “I’m just a little nervous”

As if on cue a man burst out of the door behind them threw his head over the edge of the stern and started to throw up. Janis looked away from that display and into her cousins eyes. They sat there quietly as the man finished and green-faced staggered back in through the door. When the door slammed shut, they both started to laugh uncontrollably. The tension between them evaporating in a series of giggles. “He must have eaten one of those dodgy sandwiches from the canteen” said Bill, after he had caught his breath leading to them both convulsing in laughter again.

Their eyes were still glistening with laughter tears when Bill said to Janis “Jan, I’m glad you trusted me with this. I couldn’t bear the thought of you going through this alone.” Janis looked out over the increasingly dark water “I know Billy. But I have to do this. Thank you for understanding”

Bill grabbed Janis’ shoulder and turned her back to face him “You know Jan, I know some lads from the club, hard men. If you were just to give me that bastards name…” But Janis placed her hand over Bill’s mouth “I’ve told you already not to do anything like that. There will be enough hurt after this is done for you be adding to it.” She then turned back to face the sea “Besides what if they find out back home?” Bill nodded, sadly, in agreement “Still you know what that fucker is worth now, don’t you?” and then put his arm over Janis’ shoulder. Instinctively, she moved in closer to Bill, her arms lightly touching her belly, and together they stood, looking over the boiling water beneath them.

Not a game

Young Sam loved to play war with his friends along the dusty streets during the long summer days when they were off school. It was a serious affair, involved advanced planning and everything. The terrain had to be taken account of. Cars and hedges became cover for advances, trees and balconies could hold nests of snipers and the old shed of the club-house was an impenetrable fortress. Weapons were wide and varied, from the classics, toy guns and sticks for swords, to the favourite water balloons. Starting skirmishes began the second all the children left their homes in the morning, short-lived ceasefires were declared for lunch and snacks and as the sun fell at the end of the day an eventual surrender or armistice was declared and the massed combatants returned as friends to await the next war.

Most of the grown-ups didn’t mind to see Sam and his friends playing on the street, provided they didn’t break anything or cause a nuisance. Everyone except for Sams old Grandpa Geoff. When he would see Sam with his toy gun or marching with the rest of the boys, he would get very upset. He would shout and roar at them and chase them with his stick. But they could always outrun him. He was slow on account of his limp. Got wounded in the great war they said, never was the same again they said. It never mattered what some old loon thought about what they were doing. They were having fun.

Sam and his friends got older and they stopped playing at war and fighting. They never stopped their interest though. Sam had found an old gun in his house, it used to belong to his uncle Bob, who didn’t come back from Africa. Sam used to ride up to the old saw mill and shoot cans and such with his friends. He learned how to aim properly and how to take your time before you fire, he got really good. Until Grandpa found out. He was livid, talking about, the proper time and taking responsibility. Sam didn’t really understand what all of the fuss was about, they were safe, took all of the precautions, never caused major damage. Grandpa wasn’t hearing any of it though. He put the gun in his vice and bent it out of shape with a hammer, then he buried the remains in the backyard, real deep.

Time went on and when Sam was of the age to call himself a man some old men came on the television and said that they needed young men to fight for their country. Sam and his friends knew that it was their time, and that they were going to jump before they were pushed.

The day they were set to leave, Grandpa Geoff didn’t say very much to Sam, he seemed sad, not angry or anything, just sad. He gave Sam a hug before he left, seemed like he was going to cry, but didn’t too much of a man for that. Sam wondered what had gotten over the old man, he figured that it was because his Grandpa was so old that he may not be still around when he comes back.

They trained Sam, taught him all you needed to know to be a soldier and more. He found that he did it well, was a natural. Following orders, drilling, training, he was made for this, it was what he had been preparing for his whole life. Then they sent him off to fight.

People had said it, many times, but war is hard, far harder than he had ever imagined. Many of the friends that he had came with are not there any more. The last time he saw many of them what remained of them was lying in the middle of some fetid swamp, staining the mud red. The games of his youth a distant memory, he thinks only of one thing, getting out alive, getting back home. He might even do it too. He’s lasted this long. If some general decides not to sacrifice is life and those of the people he fights with he may make it through. But he is under no illusions.

He knows one thing though. He knows why his grandfather had tried to stop them when he was a boy. He knew he was only trying to tell them what every soldier knew. That war is not a game, it is not fun, there are no rules or do overs. War is real, war is deadly, war is hell. He knew these things now. And he also knew that if he survived, if by some miracle he made it, then he would do exactly what his grandfather had done before him. Try and stop children from playing war. Because war is not a game and it never will be. And the sooner they realise that perhaps the better things will be.

Picture it and write: The Eye

Hello! This is my offering for this weeks picture it & write competition from Ermilia’s blog, here. Once again the picture is not mine, but it is used as inspiration. Anyway enjoy.

The Eye

“Oh, why had they gone!” I grumbled to myself as I threw another log onto the fire, the explosion of sparks on the grate filling the room with a dull red glow. My mother, father and younger brother had only intended to be gone for the afternoon, to gather shopping for the week, but the snow had hit harder than expected. They had called as the sun was setting to say that the roads were blocked to our great aunt’s mountain cottage we were staying in. They were ok they said, they were going to stay in a B&B for the night, they didn’t ask if I was ok with it. I knew I shouldn’t be a baby about it, I am nearly fifteen, old enough to cope with being on my own. Sure, I had the television to keep me company, until the power went, probably from some line breaking under the weight of the snow. It was eerily quick, one second the room was ablaze with light, the next the place was dark, and quiet, so quiet. With no electricity the heating wasn’t working any more, so I stayed close to the fire, for heat and light. I had a book to read by the flicker of the fire, something daft of no consequence. So there I sat, a blanket over my shoulder, hefting in logs to keep the light alive.

Time travelled slower than I was used to. Checking my watch it said half ten. Outside the window was complete black. Checking, I could see that the snow had stopped, but there was still a heavy layer of cloud overhead, blocking the moon and stars. The icy cold seeped in through the window caused me to shiver, I sat back on my chair, added more logs to the fire and resumed my vigil.

Eventually I found that my eyes started to close on their own accord. The watch said a quarter past twelve, time for bed. I was reluctant to leave the warmth and light of the fire but I knew that a bed would keep the heat longer than that light blanket would. I raised myself from the chair, placed the fire-guard over the already dying flames and made my way to the sitting room door. I had a small torch to guide my way, its feeble light casting long shadows over the furniture. I opened the door and peered down the hall.

It was only supposed to be a few short steps from that door to my room, but in the dark everything seemed more distant.  I carefully stepped my way over the soft carpet, my steps following the spot of the torchlight. As I reached for the door, almost on a whim, I sweeped the light around the hall. From the window on the far side came something that left my blood cold.

Hanging there, surrounded by black, staring right at me, was an eye. Huge it was, at least as big as a saucer, emerald-green with a slit iris that you would expect on any decent monster. In my shock I nearly threw myself against the sitting room door. Scrabbling with the handle I burst into the sitting room and practically jumped behind the chair by the fire. There I stayed waiting for the window glass to break, for the door to open, for something to come and get me.

But nothing did. Allowing myself to breath, I noted the time, just past one o’clock. The fire behind me was nearly completely out. The chill now in the air adding to that in my bones. I decided to check again. Slowly, carefully I entered the hall. I inched my way along the hall slowly, eventually coming to the window. Gingerly I turned the torch to the window. There was nothing there, except for a layer of snow. But then, something came against the glass, two green eyes, staring back in the torchlight. I jumped back in my fear ready to run but I was stopped by a rush of familiarity, these eyes  were a lot smaller and there was a noise coming through the glass, a soft mewing.

It was a cat. My aunt’s black cat, that tended to come and go as it pleased. It was pacing on the still, pawing the glass and looking at me to get in out of the cold. I both relieved and ashamed at myself to have been so readily taken in by my own fears. I must have imagined the whole thing, expanded the cat’s eye through the lens of my own terror.

The poor thing must have been out there for hours. It wouldn’t do to let it freeze. At least it would keep me company in the night. I went to the door and opened it. Under the beam of my torch the yard seemed covered in white. I felt something pass under my legs and turned to see a black, cat-sized shape passing through the door of the sitting room towards the still glowing grate.

About to close the door and head to bed. I was stopped by a noise from outside. It was the deep crunch of something heavy moving through the snow. Passing my torch in an arc through the yard. I first saw a set of footprints, then something large, and hairy. Then finally a face, with a set of giant, green eyes, and a mouth, a horrible mouth filled with white teeth. It was then I realised that it wasn’t the cat that I had seen that first time, it was something else, something terrible, that had come to that door, that had come for me.

Picture it and write: Cleansing

He everybody! This is my contribution for this weeks Picture it and write from Ermilias blog, here. The picture is not mine, I use it for inspiration. Anyway, Enjoy

Cleanse

Julia had read that book over and over again so many times the ink was starting to come off on her fingers. She had thrown herself into that old, cheap bible weeks ago but the answers seemed infuriatingly out of reach. Sin was rife in the world it told her and none was more sinful it seemed than her. It was a horrific conclusion to reach, she knew that, but each reading enforced the view. The many nights she spent studying were starting to take their toll, slipping school work, errors in the chores. Not enough to cause trouble yet, but it was only a matter of time. She had could only think of one way to act and she had to act soon.

She picked a clear morning just after sunrise to sneak away from the house, with only a frail nightshirt to protect her. Crossing the abandoned train tracks and the still deserted road, she came to the muddy bank of the river. It wasn’t too deep and certainly far too sluggish to be dangerous, it was perfect.

She waded out until the water was waist-height. It was still chilly this early in the year and the sharp pangs from when the water touched her made her jolt. That was all right though, the pain reminded her why she was here.

Opening the dog-eared bible to the part she wanted, she asked God for forgiveness. She asked him to forgive her young years, to forgive her ignorance, to forgive her sinful body, to forgive her failings as a daughter. She pledged herself to him, as a daughter, as a servant, as a believer. She then placed the book carefully on the surface of the water, it’s cheap, light weight kept it from sinking but she couldn’t let it stay there long. That didn’t matter, she would only be a moment.

Lifting her hands into the air he tripped her self backward into the water. The cold water covered her whole body, its icy fingers shocking her. Her splashed to re-right herself, grinning from ear-to-ear. Finally standing again in the shallow water. She located the bible, still floating on the water. Taking it up and cradling it she inspected the old volume. It was a little damp, but was still legible.

Coming back out of the water gave her little difficulty, she was so buoyed by what she had done. Her nightdress was ruined, it was covered in muddy water. From between her legs, there was a small speckle of red, perhaps the thrashing in the water had reopened some of the damage from last night?

She didn’t care about that any more, Julia had been cleansed. She had made her peace with God and had gotten his forgiveness. He was her father now and she had nothing to worry about. He would never do that kind of thing to her, not a chance, not ever.

Listen and write: Be Brave

Hello there! In view of the phenomenally successful Picture it and write Ermilia’s blog have decided to try a listen and write contest this week. Today’s song is Big Girls don’t cry by Fergie which I have used as inspiration for this. Enjoy!

Be Brave

“Big boys don’t cry” That is what Billy’s Papa had always told him “You have to be brave to be a man” So there he was, the world now on his shoulders, his mind filled with the shock of what had just happened. Somehow he kept the tears back. His Papa wouldn’t have wanted him to show weakness, not now.

The house was filled with people, all in black. Some looked at him, sad expressions on their faces yet unwilling to engage him in conversation as if they couldn’t. His uncle John, placed a hand on Billy’s shoulder, asked him “how are you holding up, sport?” But before Billy could reply he asked “Have you seen your mother?” Billy hadn’t, but he could guess where she would be.

Billy shuffled from the kitchen, past the quietly speaking people, past the delicately laid out food, his small size, and the awkwardness of the visitors making him invisible. He went upstairs, pausing at his parent’s room. He could hear mild sobs coming from behind the door. Quietly opening the door, he could see Momma, lying on the bed, a pile of Papa’s old clothes strewn over the bed, crumpled up by her hands, wet patches from the tears. She lifted her head to look at Billy, her eyes puffy and red. “Sweetie” she asked “What are you doing up here?”

Billy ran to his mother, was taken up into her arms “It’s ok! Momma!” he said “You just have to be brave. Like Papa  said” Momma pulled back a little to look into Billy’s eyes “He used to always say that, didn’t he?” She pulled him even tighter, he was almost going to cry, but he held it in, he had to be Brave, his Momma needed him to be, from here on in, he was the man of the h0use.

Picture it and write: Pressure

Hello, this is my contribution for picture it and write for this week from Ermilia blog here. Once again the picture is not mine it is just for inspiration. Anyway, Enjoy

Pressure

Sandra had always wanted to be a dancer. She saw its as the most pure form of art, the most beautiful method of expression. She knew it was going to be a lot of work but she wasn’t scared of a little hard graft. From the age of five, in a tutu she was learning fast, astounding her teachers with her dedication. Little sessions after school became weekend marathons to summer camps. Every waking opportunity she had, school was only an irrelevance she did the bare minimum in, she was practising, improving form, toning her body, getting everything she could out of herself. And it was working. The semi professional after-school teacher, gave way to a professional coach who in turn recommended her to the Academy.

The Academy was where she wanted to be. There they got even more out of her than she thought was possible. Perfection wasn’t just aspired to, it was demanded and if there was any issue at all with her form or technique, then it was demanded that she would work harder, for as long as it took to rectify the problem.

But it was all worth it. She got ever better, started to perform in small roles and was eventually chosen for a lead. A beautiful, emotional role that though hard to pull off, was stunning when it was. Sandra knew that a first leading role could either make or break a career, so she worked harder than ever. She ate, drank and slept rehearsals. It was a lot of pressure, but she was no stranger to a little hard work, it would be worth it in the end, she would be a dancer.

The first night was a sell out. Sandra’s family and friends must have taken at least half of the seats, they wouldn’t miss this for the world. Sandra knew she wouldn’t let them down. Roughly a quarter-way through the performance was Sandra’s cue. She came from behind the curtain and danced. She danced better than she had ever done before. It was poetry in motion, positively dripping in feeling. What looks she got into the audience, showed a few tears in their eyes. It was going perfectly.

To end the act, she had to run at the male lead and leap into his arms. From the other side of the stage she got a good run in, she was positively bounding,  when her legs collapsed out from under her. She tried to get up but things started to get dark, the last thing she saw was her partner being pushed out-of-the-way by the director shouting for her attention.

The doctors said it was a vessel in her brain that burst, that the strain she had put it under had become too much, that it could have gone at any time and she was lucky there was so many people there to help her.

She still loves dancing. The form, the music, she loves to watch sometimes. Often it is a piece she knows and in her mind she runs through the choreography herself, making the moves in her mind. Not that anyone else could tell as she sits, silently, confined to her wheelchair, knowing all too well the terrible cost, the ultimate price, of perfection.