Issue #60 - December 12th - 18th

A Week Without Janice
She smiled, and said 'you never told me you were a wizard'. 'I'm not, get me out of here...' But she laughed and said 'You and your jokes' and then, for a moment, she looked very serious, and put her finger on my lips: 'They hear everything. EVERYTHING.'
By Roger

In so many words
No, of course, one night is just enough, really, for this town. In fact, most of our customers stay for one night only, did you know that? Learn something new everyday, doesnít one though?
By JohaN Hugo

Ward 5
That night I remember. I remember the sweets he kept in the cupboard behind his chair. I remember helping him plant seeds in the greenhouse. When they grow up they will go into the garden, he has the most beautiful garden. I remember everything.
By Gayle E. Anderson

Some Taxing Questions- Our countries become wealthier every day - so why is life getting harder for the majority?
Of course both camps are talking bollocks. The public, as usual, are far more perceptive and progressive than smug newspaper columnists.
By Duncan McFarlane

The Journeyman
He shuddered involuntarily, not for the first time that afternoon, as he felt, more than saw, the great airy chasm with the sharp, jagged rocks far below.
By Jack De Vries



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A Week Without Janice

Sister Janice is Friends Of The Heroes' Cosmic-Adventuring Advice-Dispenser. We used to call her an agony aunt, but these days she's too grand for that sort of thing.. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career.

These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed. Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer...

Hello there, readers

Janice is taking a rest right now. She needs one.

She asked me to tell you what has happened over the last couple of weeks, since we left the planet Pluto where my..marriage...took place, and since Janice found out she was pregnant.

Yes, pregnant. Although, technically, she hadn't enjoyed intercourse with another being.

There were moments, dear readers, when I wish I could have said the same. The last time I wrote to you, I had left Janice, to go exploring. A nice little planet, in the belt of Orion, where the girls danced all night and the men, well, they just smiled.
Not as seedy as it sounds. Really. There are other planets for THAT sort of thing.

So, when one of the dancing girls came up to me, put her hand in mine, and pulled me up to the dance-floor I didn't feel threatened. I felt a little intimidated, to be sure. I don't dance in public, as a rule, but this wasn't that old me, this was the New Me, the man who had been through Janice's 'Redemption Through Retrospective Dance' classes, and who wasn't going to be afraid any more, and who was just going
So, I went up to the dance floor, and she pulled me towards her, and I felt myself flowing. With her, around her...into her... and everything blurred

And the next morning, we woke, to the first rays of the planet's second sun. The wind rushed through tree-like structures all around us, and I touched her, and she touched me, and she laughed....

'You'll stay, now?'

Less of an inquiry, more of a statement.

And, she was right, I stayed.

For a week, we danced every night and, at the end, she told me we would marry. I said 'yes, we'll marry'. And, at that moment, everything faded away.

I was alone, in an office, somewhere.... somewhere that felt familiar. A woman with sensible hair sat before me, and two men in suits.

'You're running this place now' They said 'Do it well, and you'll get to marry her alive'.

And I told them they shouldn't threaten me, that I came from an ancient line of wizards and sages, and that I could move call on powers that could move the sun, if I wanted to.

For a minute, I thought it had worked. They leaned in together, huddled in discussion, and then they turned back to me, and smiled.

'Fine, that can be your wedding gift. Next week, if you run this place well'.

The 'place' turned out to be a thinly-disguised smuggling operation, run by the Orionion mafia. My task was to keep the police away which, as they'd all been bribed to stay away in the first place, wasn't really all that difficult. I managed to spend more and more of my time working on electronic devices, trying to make something that could call The Space Shed to me, and facilitate an escape from what was to come.

Nothing worked, of course. Not until I shut my eyes, and wished really hard.

When she arrived, I had to play it cool. Janice looked pretty shocked, but I pretended to those that were watching that calling her there was the result of another one of my many powers. I thought it might intimidate them into letting me go. Unfortunately, I went a little too far.

'This is the woman.' I told them 'This is the woman, that can re-configure space'.

'Fine' they said 'Tell her to do it well, and we'll leave your brains in your head'.

I hoped she'd sneak me out, help me escape, but I knew there was little chance of that when the people in suits came to get me, for the ceremony. They had a power. Quiet, unspoken, never manifested, and yet despite, or perhaps because of, that, all the more apparent.

In all this time, I saw xffrxrovvv, my bride to be, once. She smiled, and said 'you never told me you were a wizard'.

'I'm not, get me out of here...'

But she laughed and said 'You and your jokes' and then, for a moment, she looked very serious, and put her finger on my lips:

'They hear everything. EVERYTHING.'

So, from then on, I practised my incantations when I thought they were listening. I used whatever came to mind, that might put me at ease. I thought, 'what would Janice do?'...and, so, I used the lyrics from old disco tracks. I would chant them out loud in my office, several times a day, to keep my mind from what was to come.

When they came to get me, I thought the game was up. Janice arrived late, and the ceremony had already started. She seemed a little...unfocussed, and I was aware that she wasn't entirely here with us. When she started the ceremony, I hoped she'd thought of something, some trick, some way out. It soon became apparent that she had not.

xffrxrovvv stood to one side of me, her family all around. They gave me an egg to hold. I held it, and chanted some more, wondering what to do next, when....


Janice was lying on the ground, looking up above all our heads, an expression of awe on her features.
What the hell was she trying to pull?

The family all looked at xffrxrovvv. They started to bow too, facing my bride-to-be...

'virgin, the virgin...'

And she stood there, smiling serenely down at them.
And I don't know what came over me. Hysteria, perhaps. I burst out laughing....



It was THEN that it errupted. At first, it seemed like a mistake. Now, I'm glad of this uncharacteristic act of ungallantry. It may have saved my life.

As it turned out she had told them she was working in a church, playing the organ (the pun is too obvious, complete it for yourself). She told them I was a visiting traveller, and that I had made advances to her, and that she wanted to marry me to preserve her dignity.

At the time, I was a little angry with her for saying that. Now, I understand why.

Suddenly, the words came tumbling out: where we'd met, how we'd met, how we had danced, what we'd done afterwards. I should have stopped, I suppose, but I didn't want to. I wanted all the words out. I wanted the silence to follow, and I continued, under the assumption that it would.

It didn't, of course. Suddenly, it wasn't me they wanted dead, it was her. As the fights broke out all around us, I felt a pull on my hand. With my free hand, I grabbed my bride, and we ran, as fast as we could and...

Well, I guess we managed to make some magic happen after all. We made it to the Space Shed. We made it off the planet. We -

We found out Janice was pregnant.

She wanted me to tell you about that.... but I feel as if this part of the story ends here.

More about that next week. Hopefully, we'll have managed to do something about then. Until then, I must look after the patient.

And I suppose I should talk to my bride. Since the dancing stopped, I haven't known what to say.





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In so many words

Here it is, your room.

This is the main light switch... of course, you saw me switching it on as we came in. Ha-ha, silly old me! This switch next to it is for the ceiling-fan - but again, I suppose you would have guessed that from the way it looks. 1 is slow, 5 is very fast - if I may be so bold, 2 is not only normally quite suitable for this time of year, but it also uses fairly little electricity than... no, I guess you donít have to pay for the electricity. Please excuse me, an old man sometimes likes to prattle. As my mother always used to say... but there I go again.

The reason I mention the fan though, is that the windows here are sometimes a little tight. We keep meaning to have the edges sanded down, but... but thatís really none of your business, is it? Oops, I guess that came out all wrong, hee-hee - what I meant to say is that you could not possibly have any interest in that, could you? Just a paying guest, looking for a cozy place to rest your head for one night, or might you be staying a little.... No, of course, one night is just enough, really, for this town. In fact, most of our customers stay for one night only, did you know that? Learn something new everyday, doesnít one though?

The window should open if you really want to, but... well, let me just say, if you had booked perhaps a little earlier, we might have found you a room with a slightly better view of the alley. Not that itís any business of mine when you should choose to make a reservation - Iím quite aware of that. Just glad we could still help, thatís all. Things being what they are at present, however, Iím afraid the best we can offer is this quaint outlook on the washing-lines, though one has to admit theyíre rather cheerfully colourful, doesnít one rather?

Moving right along - on the bedside-table you should find a remote for the television. In-house channels only, Iím afraid, but we do offer three of them, and if I may offer a little hint - if you wait until 10 p.m. and switch to channel 11 you might find something to... shall we say, lift the spirits a little, ha-ha... but of course, no, I did not really think a fine businessman like yourself would know what I mean, nudge-nudge, wink-wink eh? Still, if you should happen to have the opportunity for entertaining a lady-friend - an opportunity that could easily be arranged in this town, mind you, if you know the right people - all you have to do is... No, I quite understand. A business-trip. We provide classy lodgings for businessmen like yourself all the time. Our speciality, you might almost say. No need to breathe another word.

In the corner you will find the kettle. Please feel free to use it to make coffee or tea - compliments of the house! No, Iím afraid you will have to have the actual coffee sent up, but donít worry about payment, weíll just slip it onto your bill in the morning. Speaking of which, I regret to inform you that this roomís alarm-clock is at this very moment in for repairs - no need to worry though, no major damage, just a dent here and there. A little domestic upset, you understand. Could have been much worse, so youíre kindof lucky, I suppose.

The point? Oh yes, the point is, a wake-up call can however be arranged. Normally the procedure would be to phone it through to the desk, but between you and me, Iíd rather take care of it myself. Our Rosa is a little... forgetful nowadays. Still, couldnít very well get rid of the poor soul - been here almost fifty years, you know. Life and soul of the place. Tradition and all that.... Ah, you understand? Quite, quite. Iím really almost done. No wake-up call then? Excellent! A man who can take responsibility for himself is a man of consequence, a man to be relied upon - thatís another thing my mother...

Erm, yes. Through here is the bathroom. Bath only, Iím afraid, though there is a handy hand-nozzle. See? Handy hand-shower. Ho-ho. No doubt you would like nothing better than a nice relaxing hot bath after a hard day of closing deals, plotting mergers and what not. Excellent, excellent. Did I not tell you we got your sort here all the time? Know just what you probably want. Oh, and donít give a second thought to the rattling in the pipes. Weíre all quite used to it around here. Old plumbing and all that. Helps to give the place a certain je ne sais qua, I always like to think.

Well, that appears to be that. Iííll leave you to some well-deserved peace and quiet then, shall I? Of course! Not at all, not at all. Weíll settle up in the morning, I assume? Normally I would insist on money up-front, but you seem to have an honest face.

Oh yes, perhaps I should... there is one more thing. You will have... you might have heard the stories. Well, just to set your mind completely at rest and prevent unnecessary panic - while it most certainly is true that thereís a thing living in the closet, I really can assure you that it is mostly harmless. At least, weíve had no mishaps - yet, ho-ho. Just joking. About the ďyetĒ I mean - there really is a thing in the closet. Should you happen to happen upon it - see what I did there? - just remember that itís quite probably much more scared of you, than you are of it.

Well, Iíve said my piece. Goodnight and sweet dreams. Itís a true pleasure having you here!

JohaN Hugo

(More by this author)





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Ward 5

Glasgow Royal Infirmary, for those who haven't seen it, is a massive building. Probably, although not certainly, 200 years old. 200 years seems a reasonable estimate as their is not much of a car park, so perhaps it was built when horses and carts brought sick people in.

The front of the building, where the entrance is, faces Glasgow City Centre. Glasgow City Of Architecture. Next to the building is the Cathedral. Another very old building.

At this time of year if you should happen to be facing the building, look upwards and see the only ward that has Christmas trees. That is Ward 5.

The walls in Ward 5 are mint green. Outside the ward is an uncomfortable padded bench.

In bed one of Ward 5 there is an elderly gentlman named Mr Hay. Mr Hay is clearly bored as he sits in his bed with a unlit cigarette in his mouth. Earlier in the day Mr Hay took and hid a bottle of wine from the raffle hamper. The nurses have their work cut out for them when Mr Hay gets bored.

There is quite alot of activity in Ward 5. Nurses rushing about doing what nurses do. Doctors coming and going. But not all of Ward 5 is so active. At the very entrance to Ward 5, on the right hand side there are 2 rooms. On one room the door is open and a man is sitting eating and talking to a younger woman, perhaps his daughter. That is bed 21. The room next to that is the last bed on the ward. Bed 22. The door on that room is not open, and the curtains are closed over.

In bed 22 lies the shadow of a man.Too weak to move, too weak to talk, only just enough strength to open his tired blue eyes and look for not even a minute. I take his hand in mine. We sit for a time. I want to talk to him, but I cannot get the words. He holds my hand. In such a whisper that he is almost not heard he says my hands are cold, do I want gloves. I smile. After a time, we leave, I kiss him on the cheek.

That was wednesday.

A late night at work on thursday prevented me from going through that night.

I am told he is much better, he was talking about the football and wanted to watch bowls on the tv. On friday afternoon, he is the same as wednesday. For a while I go into Glasgow City Centre, I want to buy him a Christmas Card. I spend some time looking but I cannot choose one. I return. We sit with him. Before we leave I kiss him on the cheek and whisper in his ear 'I will see you soon'.

On friday evening my mum goes back through, I choose not to as I feel very tired and have an early start the next day. I will however go through straight from work.

That night I remember. I remember the sweets he kept in the cupboard behind his chair. I remember helping him plant seeds in the greenhouse. When they grow up they will go into the garden, he has the most beautiful garden. I remember everything. I write a letter for him, but maybe not to him, about how much I love him, and how all my memories of him are so special.

The next morning, Saturday morning, this morning, I get a bus ticket to get me from home to work, and from work to Glasgow.

The bus ticket is never used.

Bed 22 on Ward 5 lies empty now.

Gayle E. Anderson





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Some Taxing Questions-
Our countries become wealthier every day - so why is life getting harder for the majority ?

The latest polls and research from YouGov , ICM and the British Social Attitudes Survey's 20th Report reveal that the British public have a very cynical attitude towards taxation and public spending. Newspaper columnists have taken one of two attitudes to this. The Tory Press - including the Telegraph - see it as evidence that the public are just begging for a return to Thatcherism - tax cuts and 'reform' (read cuts in and privatisation of) public services. The 'liberal' press - The Herald, the Guardian and the Independent - take it as evidence that the public are a bunch of mean-spirited rich-kids with too much money in their pockets who need taxed more and are standing in the way of Blair and Gordon Brown in their high-minded crusade for egalitarian redistribution of wealth from the smug middle classes to the poor.

Of course both camps are talking bollocks. The public, as usual, are far more perceptive and progressive than smug newspaper columnists.

There is no groundswell of support for further privatisation or a return to Thatcherism. Blair , like Major before him , has out-Thatchered Thatcher. With the rail network privatised the public already pay the third highest rail fares in Europe with fares set to rise again at 4 times the rate of inflation . Accident rates and late trains have skyrocketed while subsidies to private firms which were meant to 'bring investment into the rail network' are now higher than those given to British Rail . Private Finance Initiatives(PFIs) in the National Health Service have similarly resulted in a cut of around one third in numbers of full-time staff and beds - and massively increased costs to the taxpayer. No wonder every poll shows massive opposition to further privatisation. So Conservatives and New Labour you can forget either a return to the 'good old days' of the 1980s or 'reform' of the public services as a euphemism for privatising them further.

The British public are not selfish - they're perceptive. 70% of the them believe the taxation system is unfair. It is. Plutocrats and multinational firms are allowed to avoid taxes through offshore tax havens , tax loopholes and cuts in corporation tax. Meanwhile the majority pays increases in the basic rate of income tax and indirect taxes and pay twice for services - for instance through tuition fees. Overall taxation and public spending has been cut to under 40% of GDP(national income) but the wealthiest avoid tax forcing the majority to pay more for less. It wasn't the public that responded to a parliamentary question suggesting a rise in the top rate of income tax by saying that it would be 'wrong in principle'. It was the Prime Minister. It wasn't the public but Gordon Brown who said that 'Equality of opportunity is now more important than equality of outcomes'(1). Not that anyone ever asked for 'equality of outcomes' or perfect equality. That's just a straw man. However what the publics don't want is massive and ever increasing inequality to the point that despite Britain being immensely wealthier than it was in 1950 we now have 22% of our population living in poverty and the highest child poverty rate in Europe .

The majority of economists and liberal hacks claim the majority should be paying more tax. Wrong. Britain and the world as a whole may be getting wealthier but the majority are not. The income gap between rich and poor is wider than at any time in history whether you look at the UK, the US, or the world as whole.. In the UK the poorest 10% of the population earn 3% of the country's total income, while the richest 10% earn over 25% of it. That doesn't even begin to show how less than 1% of the global population are hoovering up almost all the increased wealth from economic growth plus eating into what others earned already. The ony real redistribution of wealth is from the vast majority to the wealthiest 1% - the Murdochs , Mittals , Bransons and Berlusconis . That's why 79% want increased taxes to be restricted to individuals earning over £100,000 a year - Blair thinks that would be 'wrong in principle'. Which principle ? The 'My election campaigns are funded by Lord Sainsbury ' principle ?

82% of Britons believe increased taxes aren't leading to improved public services. They're right. The additional taxes are being swallowed up PFI consortia which are handed money which should be going straight to the NHS and other services , and by public subsidies to privatised services like the rail firms , as well as to firms like BAE systems exporting arms to countries including Syria(2) - which is arming the Iraqi guerrillas who are attacking British and American forces in Iraq. Our taxes are also going to subsidise the building of an oil and gas pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to Ceyjhan in Turkey - which will principally benefit the executives and share-holders of Shell-Texaco and BP-Amoco among others. Then there's military aid to the dictators and torturers of countries like Kazakhstan(3) and Uzbekistan - both of which have oil and gas reserves which British and American oil executives are keen to develop - and repressive militaries which our arms executives are keen to sell to. And of course there's occupying Afghanistan and Iraq - £6.3bn price tag for UK taxpayers so far, over $87bn for those in the US.

So socialists can agree with the majority that they shouldn't have to pay higher taxes. The implication is not that they believe taxes shouldn't be 'spent on the disadvantaged' but that redistribution of wealth should be to the poor not the obscenely wealthy. Instead we should strengthen the OECD's crack down on tax havens to force multinational firms and plutocrats to pay their share. Then raise company tax on large firms and create a new top rate of income tax for plutocrats. Then stop handing them subsidies through PFI sinecures and the subsidy of private firms. Then pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The public funding 'crisis' will end overnight.

As for economic growth through free trade as a means of eradicating poverty and the idea that inequality 'doesn't matter' as long as the country as a whole is becoming wealthier this idea has been dsicredited by reality over and over again yet even people claiming to be socialists - Tony Blair , Gordon Brown and Clare Short for instance - keep repeating it. Blair and Brown are keen to copy the 'success' of the US economic model. Certainly the US has high growth rates but are the majority of people benefiting in any way from them ? While growth has rocketed to 8% under Bush unemployment has grown just as fast from 57million at the end of 2000 to 90 million now . The proportion of Americans in poverty has simultaneously risen from 11.2% in 1998 to 12.7% now according to the US Census Bureau - who say these official figures are probably underestimates. The 400 richest men in America did increase their personal fortunes by 10% though. Unemployment, homelessness and poverty keep rising in the middle of economic booms - just as they did at the height of Clinton's economic boom in the 90s. We are richer than ever before and have had over 50 years of what has been, overall, massive economic growth since the end of World War Two. Yet poverty has not been eradicated by that growth. Why? It's simple. Ever growing inequality. If you allow a small minority to keep getting a larger and larger share of existing wealth and of new wealth generated by economic growth you will never end poverty through any amount of growth in the economy. Time for the 'realists' making the 'hard choices' to face up to reality and see that they can't ally themselves with grasping billionaires and simultaneously pretend they're acting in the interests of the poor or the majority. No it's not the 'smug middle classes' who are to blame. It's the smug government ministers, the smug plutocrats at the top of the multinational firms - including the smug media moghuls who hire the smug editors who hire the smug columnists who write about the smug middle classes .

Offline sources -
(1) = Tribune magazine 17 July 1998 , Brown Urges Redefinition of Equality , Amanda Day
(2) = New Statesman Magazine 8 Sep 2003 We sell arms to Saddam's friends
(3) = Sunday Mail (Scotland) 10 Aug 2003 Scots Guards train Evil tyrant's army

Duncan McFarlane

(More by this author)




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The Journeyman

The sturdy little pony picked its perilous way along the narrow track. The man perched on itís back tried hard not to look down. He shuddered involuntarily, not for the first time that afternoon, as he felt, more than saw, the great airy chasm with the sharp, jagged rocks far below. He didnít know how far down it was but earlier he had counted how long it took for one of the many clods of earth that were dislodged by the ponyís hooves to reach the floor of the chasm. He counted to nine the first time. Then later, only a few minutes before we joined him on his journey in fact, he had repeated the count and this time got to six before the clod exploded in a shower of earth and stones. He couldnít help imagining his frail body hitting those rocks. Only this time the shower would be of an altogether more bloody and personal nature. He patted the old pony on its neck, tried to relax in the rough wooden saddle and thought other, happier thoughts. This second count had told him that he was descending again.

The journey through the barren, wild pass had started pleasantly enough many hours and miles behind him. The countryside had been soft and green with many tall trees to shade him and his mount from the rising sun. A few hours into the day the terrain had almost imperceptibly changed. There were still odd trees here and there struggling to retain a hold on the ever-steepening sides of the mountain pass. The green had given way to more greys and browns as the mountainís hard inner core erupted from itís soft covering of grass and flowers. Soon, he thought, even the bare rock would no longer be visible as the first winter snows, already threatening to fall, descended on the mountain. He had, he hoped, timed his journey to arrive at his destination before the snows fell. If he should be unlucky enough to be caught up here during a heavy snow, he would never arrive. The spring thaw would slowly reveal his frozen corpse, huddling with his pony in whatever shelter he had managed to find. He shivered as he shrugged of the thought and looked on along the track.

Here, it widened slightly. A patch of purple heather stood out, lit by a sunbeam bursting through the leaden clouds and spreading its brief light against the hard, grey rock. His heart cheered. This was the first colour he had seen for hours. He would have liked to stop. To rest a while here beside the little patch of life but he knew to linger was folly. To risk his life for a brief rest here would be foolhardy and one thing Tarmil was not was foolhardy. In this land, the foolish man did not live long.

In his time, now thirty-three years, he had seen many lives come and go. Some went quickly. Struck down in childhood by one of the many enchantments that could befall a child. Some departed this life later in adolescence. Usually as a result of feuding, over zealous battle training or fights over a woman. But by far the majority of those souls who moved on in Tarmilís clan did so on the mountain. The reason for this was simple. The mountain ruled their lives from birth to death. The clan needed the mountain. It brought their water, in its forests lived the beasts they relied on for meat, on the lower, gentler slopes lay dark, rich soil that produced grain and vegetables. The mountain, however, did not give up its gifts easily. It demanded a price for this bounty. A price the clan gladly paid for their continued prosperity. For a young man to attain adulthood, he had to survive the mountain for a full winter. Those who walked back down the pass in the springtime were treated as conquering heroes. They had conquered the mountain, the weather, the wild beasts and the far more dangerous spirits that lived there, and survived. To do this a man had to be strong. Many a Mother wailed long and hard as their Son disappeared over the first rise never to be seen again.

Tarmil had survived his time on the mountain at the age of twelve. He had survived, yes. But only just. In a state of delirium brought on by the cold, hunger and, in sheer desperation, eating poisonous berries and roots in an effort to survive, he had become hopelessly lost and instead of heading back South to his home as the snows melted, he blindly headed North over the pass and as the spring sunshine warmed the land and brought it to life, he stumbled through an unfamiliar landscape thoroughly convinced he would be dead before morning. He lay down on the wet grass next to a stream and gave his tired battered body up to sleep. The long sleep he expected however did not come. Through his delirium he became dimly aware of voices he could not understand. Faces glimpsed he did not recognize. The next few hours, or days, he was never sure of the passage of time, were punctuated by intervals of sleep and wakefulness. Not full consciousness but fleeting memories, memories that seemed like dreams, or perhaps nightmares. The dreams then started to become clearer and he found them merging with real life as he recognized familiar sensations. Cold was the first he remembered. Then light, then food. The food was the best.

As he regained his conscious mind, he became aware of a raging thirst and a gnawing hunger. But the clearest memory of that time was a face, the face of a spirit, was what he thought at the time. He assumed he had died and been taken to the other side. That, in part, was true. He had been taken to the other side but he hadnít died to get there. In his delirium and wanderings he had gone into a land that none of his ancestors had gone to. At least, if they had, no one had returned to tell about it. The face of the spirit slowly, over a number of days, took the form of a young girl. The most beautiful young girl he had ever seen. Then, as he felt well enough to rise and start to walk shakily around, he saw her no more. Instead, the ministrations were carried out by an older woman, still with tenderness, but definitely not as gentle on the eyes or his wounded spirit. He began to believe that the face had been a dream.

In all this time, no one spoke to him. Then, one day, as he lay watching the light of early dawn outside the tent, he was interrupted by two men who uttered the first words he had heard since coming to this place. The trouble was, he didnít understand them. The tongue was as strange to him as the song of birds or the utterance of goats. The two men sat with him and spoke to him. They became more and more frustrated at his inability to understand them. Their voices rising as they resorted to shouting to make themselves understood. He began to fear for his safety, and his continued existence among these people when the tent flap opened and the older woman came in. She exchanged harsh words with the men and they left. The older and, Tarmil guessed, more senior of the two men looked back at him as he left. Tarmil did not understand the words he uttered but he clearly understood the look. The menace in those eyes was as clear as any words. The woman shooed him abruptly from the tent and turned back towards Tarmil.

She spoke to him a few words in the same language as she produced a bag of herbs from the sack she carried. She placed a few in the pot of water boiling in the corner and came over closer to Tarmil. He couldnít believe his ears as she, after looking around to see they were alone, whispered, ďStay quiet young lad. I know your tongue. Though it be many years since I heard or spoke it.Ē
Tarmil found his voice. He croaked as he answered the old woman. ďHow do you know this tongue woman?Ē
She poured some of the brown liquid from the pot on the fire and brought it over to him. ďI was once with your people, on the other side of the mountain, a lifetime ago. A long lifetime ago. I was taken one day as I tended goats in the foothills. Young I was then. Yes just a lass. I found myself brought here and here I have remained.Ē
Tarmil drank his infusion. It tasted foul but he recognized the taste as that which had sustained him since he arrived. ďOur people have no knowledge of this place. They are completely ignorant of the other side of the mountain.Ē
The old woman smiled. ďYes. And they shall remain ignorant. Thatís how the elders want it to be. And if thatís what they want. Thatís what shall be. Now young lad, if you know whatís good for you, you will keep quiet about our conversation and do not stir trouble. Some of the elders are spoiling for war. We will speak again.Ē
With these words, the old woman left him.

Jack De Vries



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