Town vs country, old vs young: eternal tensions swirl in the leaves of the lane and the torpid eyes of the old man on the hill.
Echoes | Wishes
The old man sat quietly on the hill, his eyes closed, a floppy hat protecting his forehead and cheeks, he sucked at a long grass straw. He was surrounded by spring flowers and a beautiful blue sky stretched wide into the distance. For many years he had trudged up the lane, with his rough sandwiches in his satchel, a flagon of water, and, seasons’ permitting, an apple from his own garden.
“A simple life, that’s what’s best for us all.” He would declare sagely to his neighbours, as he passed their big cars stuffed with the spoils of elaborate shopping trips. “Just me, and the fairies, and the mischievous wood folk.” He would laugh at the expressions on their credulous faces.
He’d lived in the village, just as his father, and his grandfather had, stretching back many generations, since childhood. The product of a home birth, he’d been schooled, and worked, in this one place for his entire live. Close to ninety years old, he smiled at the thought of the next ten years: he would survive all the newcomers, and their brief habitation of the countryside. The locals had moved away to find jobs, but city-folk came to populate their idyllic dreams, but would eventually surrender to the watchful silence of the ancient village, and retreat to a local town which had more of modern life to offer. Only a few of these people really stayed and put down roots, as had his own family some hundreds of years before.
This day, he noticed a little girl dawdling up the lane he had navigated himself only a couple of hours before. Idly she picked at flowers along the edges, and soon gathered an impressive collection of broken stems and colourful petals. The sun bore down on the dirt of the road, teasing at the polished stones and burnished fences, creating a series of reflections that seemed to surround the little girl with a gentle halo.
The old man’s left eye was lifted from its dark comforts by the scuffing and shuffling of the girl. He watched her progress, noting that she seemed unaffected by the hot sun, the murmuring insects, the brush of a weed against her soft city skin. He had seen her from afar, from one of the new families, he thought, in the estate built just outside the village, the people who seemed to be tireless in their support of the local community, without understanding what it actually was. He snorted quietly to himself.
“Uh, looks like she’s coming this way.” He muttered, opening the other eye, shifting his hat down a little, keen to avoid any contact, wary of the unfair caution he’d received once from an officious new policeman, a warning not to talk to young children, because “it might give you a reputation.” He mouthed the words contemptuously. As far as he could tell it was the police themselves, and the judges and the priests who were most likely to corrupt their own good name.
He closed his eyes again.
The little girl came closer, now kicking stones and humming quietly.
In the sky, a crow circled. The trees at the bottom of the hill shook their leaves noisily, and the old man could hear the horses in the meadow next to the hill, quietly munching at the grass, by the fence.
“Hello.” The voice penetrated the old man’s careful disguise.
The old man sighed, and pretended to be asleep.
“My name is Amy.” The little girl sat down. “What’s your name?”
Not receiving a reply she resumed humming, flicking at the motley collection of flowers in her hand.
“Ooh fairies.” She found some dandelions in the middle of the bunch, and swopped them to the edge. Looking very closely she separated the fluffy heads and placed the others onto the ground beside her, then made exaggerated blowing sounds at the flowers in her hand. She made several attempts but very few of the little spores flew off.
“Oh bother.” If she had been standing up, she would have stamped her foot. “Why don’t they fly away?” She blew again, spitting and rasping at the air.
And so she sneezed. “Achooo!” It was very loud, and would have been very irritating to anyone who did not love her.
“You’re doing it all wrong.” The old man mumbled grumpily under his breath.
“Oh, you are awake!”
The old man grunted.
“You do it then. I can’t make these stupid flowers fly. I thought they were supposed to be fairies. Who’s ever heard of a fairy who can’t fly? It’s like they’re ‘clinging on for dear life’.”
The old man smiled. He could hear the voice of the little girl’s mother in the unconscious mimicry. “You know you shouldn’t talk to strangers.”
“Oh yes, I know, but I’ve seen you around, so it’s alright.”
“But I could be a murderer, or a thief?”
The little girl giggled, “But you’re an old man, you wouldn’t do that.”
“As it happens, I wouldn’t but who’s to say old men are any different to young men, in that respect?”
“Well, it stands to reason, doesn’t it.”
“I don’t see why. If I was the murdering kind, doesn’t matter how old I would be.”
“No, I suppose not.” They were both silent for a moment. “You’re not going to murder me, are you?”
“No, of course not.” He smiled and pushed his hat slightly off his his head and sat up a little straighter. “Here, let me show you how to blow those dandelions.
He reached out, and his hand touched the flesh of the little girl’s finger. A frisson shivered through them both.
“Oh, what was that?!” They both looked at each other.
“I don’t know. No matter.” The old man shrugged, raised the dandelions to his lips and took a deep breath. He began to blow gently, watching the first of the fairy stems flick up and float away.
But suddenly he was startled by a pair of boney hands and a row of sharp teeth that thrust out of the nearest dandelion. The gnashing fangs grew wide, opening up a cavernous, fetid mouth. The air around the old man’s head was sucked dry of sound, and a roaring shape sprang ravenously from the dandelion, then fell upon the old man, whose voice, strangled with shock, gurgled and rattled, until it too was silenced by a sickening crunch.
The flower heads, the fairy, and the clumsy remnants of the old man fell swiftly into the grasses.
The little girl, a sneer of amusement playing daintily across her face, stood up and dusted down her skirt.
“There, that’ll teach you to talk to strangers, mister.”
She set off down the little hill, to the lane, skipping and humming back the way she came.[Ends]
Text, image, audio © 2014 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam (who read the podcast this week), Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook for Mac app.
Part of a new series of micro-fiction stories, published on Wattpad, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes and elsewhere, and on this blog.
More next week…
There are a few more stories in this series:
Here’s a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts