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Thursday, 2016-12-08, 3:04 AM
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CLEAR UNDERSTANDING

Life Factory

Short Sci-Fi Stories

    Here comes one. I wonder what he’s thinking about. He’s got to be around twenty-seven I suppose and the smart casual dress gives a hint of lower clerical day duties. As he approached I got ready to merge with him and soon I’d begin to experience his mind.
    As he passed my seated position on the garden wall, I rose and at once was part of him, as he walked on oblivious to my arrival. He would not have seen me sitting there and would have no idea of my invasion of his inner most feelings.
    As one now, we continued along the road and towards his work place. God, was this a reluctant worker. His head was full of resentment and he truly hated the need to slave every day to support himself. Every step on the pavement reflected an intense displeasure at both the shock of having risen so early, and the agonies awaiting him at the office.
    In an effort to find solace in his enforced predicament, he was trying to find highlights that would or might occur during the day. One such tool was the clock at five that would signal his release, and another was the new girl Sharon, whose legs were an oasis in the desert of despair.
    "What the hell am I doing with my life", he said almost out loud. "I’ve got loads of interests and I’m full of life, yet every day I’ve got to suffer that dump".
     His mind was wandering off to his passion for astronomy, and I felt his yearning to be employed at an observatory. He knew that such posts were only for the chosen few. He also knew that his poor school grades had never stood him a chance of ever being an astronomer; but his love of the stars was real, and would remain so forever.
     Slowly his thoughts turned to music, and to the chances of success likely to favour the endeavours of the band he played in. For years he’d worked in his own time to try and make it in the music business. Some success had been tasted and there would be more no doubt in the future.
     This guy though was a realist. He understood that he’d never be able to earn a living doing anything interesting, that was the way of the world. He would continue however to try with his music, it was the dream that kept him sane every day.
     A speeding heavy goods vehicle trundled by and invaded our thoughts. How he hated the rat race. "Everybody charging around all bloody day doing sod all worth doing". Maybe I’ll finish that novel I’m writing; he thought. There must be something I can do.
     Coming towards us was a middle-aged businesswoman. Time to swap minds again I thought, the contrast would be fascinating. No need to waste any more time inside this mans head. The only thing wrong with him was the world in which he lived.
     Here she was now. As the man and woman passed each other, I moved from his mind to hers. Instantly I was walking back up the street I’d just walked down. Moments ago I was a piece of twenty seven year old debris. Now I was a forty nine year old high-flying business moron.
     Her skirt flapped loosely about in the breeze. I felt quite undressed to be honest. Also her thoughts were far from honourable, and to endure the fantasy connected to my previous host, albeit from such a brief encounter, taxed even my endurance.
     Her head was full of the day ahead. All aspects of the city and its business traumas enthralled her. Even the journey to and from the office was to be enjoyed as an opportunity to outshine ones piers with superior clothing afforded by superior intellect and superior wages.
     This lady had no interests outside of work and therefore relied solely on its input for stimulus. Taking home work was not a conscientious trait; it was an essential method of getting through the evening or weekend.
     Getting on at work for this type of person was easy. They had no distracting interests to divide their time or concentration. Strange how the less intellectual business achiever, is viewed as an intellectual by virtue of their position within a company, when that position is attained by courtesy of their ignorance.
     Although no longer young, she was still a striking woman. The daily walk to the station always boosted her self-esteem as passing truck drivers visibly dribbled at the very sight of her.
     Once at the station, her constantly ringing mobile phone gave additional chances for her too further enhance the key role she played in the universe, as she perceived it. Always talking in an overloud voice, each call was a pantomime of pretence.
     Few people knew her world. The majority of folk at the station were still half asleep and could barely see, let alone eavesdrop on her self painted personality profile. Undaunted though, and oblivious to the indifference of her audience, I, that is we, continued to pace up and down the platform, looking at her watch, answering the phone and looking at her watch again.
     Inside her head I knew we were not late, yet the very action of constantly checking her watch served three most important purposes. Firstly it gave a chance to those lesser mortals about her, to view the great financial worth of the actual timepiece. Secondly it added an aire of urgency about her presence being desired elsewhere by others. This would be seen she thought, as a strong indication of her irreplaceable value to this planets well being. Lastly, the very elaborated motor functions employed during the repetitive viewing of the watch scene, gave her mind something to do between phone calls.
     She began to think. It was so rare and so sudden, that it made me jump. The phone hadn’t gone now for about three minutes, and since then we’d checked our watch eight times. There was nothing else to do; she had to think.
     Her eyes fell upon a semi conscious drunk on the opposite platform. Through one half opened eye, burned a passion of one in dire need of sexual gratification. Unconsciously she began to enjoy her own sexuality. No thoughts directed her now, but the desire to be desired was an animal reaction of the instinctive kind.
     Slowly she lowered her posterior to the platform bench. Then in an eternal moment of bliss, as she very distastefully crossed her legs, the secrets of her woman hood and the delights of her white silk panties were revealed to the drunk opposite her.
     In a flash now, his other eye opened in search of greater resolution. Another thought, the second one today, entered her mind. "Why that dirty old sods ogling my legs", she thought, and abruptly stood up and walked to the other end of the platform.
      Half way through checking her watch again, the phone rang and then the train arrived; her life was complete. Stepping on to the train, I left her mind and joined with a disembarking schoolgirl, who then ran with me inside, all the way to the bus stop.
     This young girl was always late and always running everywhere. I could sense that she loved school and in particular the subjects of art and mathematics. We stared down the road in an effort to will the arrival of the bus.
     Suddenly she thought aloud and said to me, "And who the hell are you". I was more than a little taken aback and wasn’t sure how to respond. "Well", she said, "Who are you?" I knew that silence would no longer fool her and so replied, "I’m Eric; how come you can sense me". There was a long pause before she said, "I’d be much more comfortable if you’d go away".
     Over the hill in the distance we could see the bus approaching. "O.K", I said, still shocked from my sudden exposure, "I’ll leave as soon as we are on the bus". For a second I felt her satisfied with the proposal, but then she added, "I’d rather you left immediately please".
     Touched by her politeness, I withdrew, and now stood disembodied along side of her at the bus stop. As the bus approached and came to a halt, she turned to look at the space where she alone knew I was. Loud and haunting came the words "Thank you", though her lips never moved, except to smile.
     Ten minutes or so later another bus came along. Three people got off, as unseen, I got on. Taking the first occupied seat on my left, I joined with an elderly gentleman with an interesting face. Straight away a dull pain filled my senses. Arthritis was indeed a most excruciating disability.
     As the bus moved off, the old man was remembering his youth. Through the windows of the bus he saw where his old school used to stand, a space now occupied by five hundred forty year old dwellings. He wondered if the ghostly sounds of children were ever heard by those now residing there.
     He could picture the old layout of the school and saw that some houses stood where the playground was, whilst others were built on spaces previously occupied by classrooms. Some of the teachers there had worked at the school for forty years before he’d been a pupil; surely some of their spirit must remain.
     It was all too sad to remember days when he’d the rest of his life to live. He saw clearly the images of his first adolescent love. She was so pretty that just to see her took his breath away. Last week he saw her again for the first time in fifty years and was again breathless, though this time at the sadness of her great age and ill-health.
     She hadn’t seen him as they’d passed in a crowd. He didn’t want to say hello for fear of staining any memories she may have of him. He was of course equally ancient and ugly. How she used to run and laugh in her shyness and youth. Now she could barely walk, and a smile could no longer be expected.
     Further along the road now and away from the school, we came upon another place. The bus had stopped in the traffic and as always it had stopped here. Why the random stop and start of the rush hour should always present him with this vista, god only knows.
     At a distance of one hundred metres stood his first place of work. As an extremely old and therefore preserved building, this factory had remained completely unchanged for three hundred years. Whilst the exterior easily re-kindled memories of his sentence here, the interior would have changed with time and technology, though the aire of forced labour had not.
     It was not actually a prison. Nor was the labour truly forced, it just felt that way. The premises, with its low wages, had always attracted dreamers, down and outs, and the handicapped. Why this should be so was probably connected to the buildings maintenance costs along with its limited size, access and locational virtues.
     Upon leaving school, my host had endured two years here. The time was intended to enable him to gain night-school qualifications that would secure a job of his liking. The days here were so long and arduous though, with the nights so full of beer and dreams, that the night-school dream faded.
     Life after school had presented this old, young man with problems he couldn’t solve. At school he’d shown promise but had always been a dreamer. Away from school and from the caring of professional tutors, he was naked.
     The bus moved on, as had he from this place, on an endless and unchanging route to old age and obsolescence. Two minutes down the road brought still more memories. There on the right, once stood the old school playing field. This area also once contained the cricket field and school canteen. So many images here left us powerless to focus on any one of a thousand summer days.
     Across the bus from us sat a young man. His face was permanently twisted into an ugly and aggressive expression that had me wondering why. Leaving the mental and physical torture that was the world of the old man, I approached the youth and joined with him.
     "Just look at that old bastard", he was saying to himself, obviously referring to my previous host. "No work to do; what’s he doing out of bed this early for; needs his bloody head tested." Turning his head around to find some other source to vent his hate, he saw some kids of his own age further down the bus.
     Immediately I felt his resentment at their tidy appearance and perceived wealth. We began to grit our teeth and stare at the others hoping for a chance to confront them. Long minutes of hatred passed without incident, when suddenly without thinking, one of the well behaved youngsters inadvertently caught the burning gaze of my host.
     "What are you looking at", he growled. I could feel his body spoiling for the fight. "Well come on", he continued, "Do ya wanna make something of it or what?"
     I’d never felt so embarrassed, but my host felt completely justified in his argument. He believed that the other kids thought themselves superior, and needed sorting out. It never occurred to him that perhaps they were superior of course.
     "Come on, calm down", said the old man with the arthritis, hoping to diffuse the situation. "Shut it granddad, what’s it got to do with you anyway?" I found myself saying. "I’ve had a belly full of people like you", we added.
      Clearly granddad wasn’t amused. With supernatural speed and unexpected agility, his walking stick leapt into action. The youth could only watch as the blur of the approaching stick, and the shear surprise of it all left him rooted to the spot.
     First came the sound of the impact. Next was the fuzzy head from the weight of the blow, and then the pain. The stick had caught him clean in the mouth and we could both now taste the blood on our swelling lips.
     Automatically our hands sought to verify the injury and touched our lips. I could feel the lips with my hands but couldn’t feel the hands with my lips; they felt cold, almost anaesthetised.
     The bus had stopped now. Everybody on board was silent and again I felt an enormous embarrassment. All the hate I’d felt had gone, and as an insider, I now understood the motives of the youth.
     To access his drug, the created confrontation had satisfied his adrenalin buzz so that now he felt calm and euphoric. The whole episode was designed sub-consciously to get his fix. He’d learnt the simple rules of supply years ago, and knew that to be relaxed, he must first be frightened out of his wits.
     Like so many humans, the youth was following a hidden agenda. It was hidden even from himself. He believed that the old man and the kids on the bus were worthy of contempt. In reality he needed the fear that open hostility might afford him.
     In answer to the unspoken request of all the passengers; we left the bus. Stepping onto the pavement I saw a teenage girl running out of her house towards us. As she rushed past I swapped hosts and continued with her to an awaiting car.
     We slammed the door shut and our father launched us up the road forcing us back into the seat like fighter pilots on scramble. Her head was full of nothing. Her life and all she did was driven by hormones and basic animal needs and chemistry. Intellect and individuality were qualities absent in her parents and were never required or encouraged in their child.
     She thought she was looking forward to a dance tomorrow night. In reality she was trying to lure a particular young man into asking her out. If she thought deeply she might discover the true reasons for looking forward to the dance. She might realize that it was his presence that made the evening look so attractive. 
     If she looked deeper still she might connect the perceived attraction to this young man as being affiliated to her desire for motherhood. In reality I could see that her self confessed love of dancing, when decoded, meant that she simply wanted babies.
     She also loved to go shopping. Every Saturday with thousands of other childless adolescents, she would purchase items of self- adornment. None of them knew why they loved shopping so much, and if asked why they would say that they just like nice clothes.
     Every Saturday night, the girls that thought they liked dancing and the girls that thought they just liked nice clothes; went dancing. If there were no boys there they wouldn’t be there either, yet none of them could connect shopping and provocative dancing, with boys and having babies.
     You could substitute the word boy with scrotum. That after all was the active ingredient, and the fact that it walked and talked was of secondary and almost negligible importance. Of course the way it walked and talked could indicate its worth as a breadwinner and supplier of food to the babies when born. So one had to take notice of the noise and so on associated with the boys.
     In response of course the boys would think they also liked to buy clothes. And by inflating ones achievements in the presence of girls, the afore mentioned could be impressed enough to find your body irresistibly sexually attractive.
     What an alien world this girl lived in. It was a multi coloured fantasy world of add–ons to the basic human drives of sex and food. Even the friends she had were subconsciously selected to fit her ugly and primitive agenda.
    If a potential friend was too ugly, then the effort, reward and self-esteem cycle would have no momentum. All of the latent intellect of this creature was geared up to child rearing. The size of her brain over the animal kingdom warranted a greater diversity of endeavours, yet without parental stimulus, her objectives remained prehistoric.
     She had no choice but to devote all of her brains abilities to "Hunter Gatherer" type activities. To gain stimulus therefore within this limited "mate getting" ritual, she found herself choosing attractive female companions. This raised the stakes in the courtship race, thus creating puzzles and problems to busy the vacant mind whilst in pursuit of her objectives.
    The winning of the game, that is, the getting of a boyfriend, was infinitely more satisfying if the competition was of a higher standard. It’s a common sight to see friends that are all fat or all spotty. Like attracts like in the one-upmanship game where equal competitors make for greater sport.
     On and on down the road we raced. Not a word between father and daughter was spoken, and not a waking thought invaded the conscious mind of my host. We kept glancing at ourself in the rear view mirror to check our impact on the scrotums we’d encounter today. Occasionally we’d check the streets racing past for talent or for insight into any budding partnerships our piers might be forming.
     Nothing of any value invaded our one-dimensional mind. It was as if the whole world pivoted around ourself as the centre of the universe. Another glance in the mirror, then a look at the passing streets and a thought of the coming dance; it was pitiful.
     A sudden violent braking of the car caught me by surprise. I felt myself leaving her body, and for a second I was outside of her looking back. More than a little bored now, and slightly irritated by her blinkered self-centred outlook, I took the opportunity of merging with her father.
     Inside his head was like the inside of a cement mixer. He gripped the steering wheel as if he were strangling an arch enemy of some kind, and his teeth were so tightly clenched as to risk complete dental reconstruction.
     He was staring at the car in front. More precisely he was glaring into the eyes of the driver in her rear view mirror. Waves of hate were pouring from his head directly into the eyes of the driver in front. "What’s she doing in a car like that", he thought aloud. "It must be worth twice as much as this old wreck I’ve got".
     He was jealous of course, but jealousy was a failure and therefore beyond his capacity to acknowledge. "Probably some rich kids wife", he continued, "Just a little run around vehicle for her; makes me sick ". The traffic lights ahead turned red.
     Pulling alongside the hate victims car instead of behind, gave us a chance. This would prove our superiority and show what a waste that car is on her. As the seconds passed, so the tension mounted. His foot hung eagerly above the throttle. When the lights changed he would push his foot clear through the floor pan; such was his need to justify his life.
     So absorbed with victory was he, that his normally automatic driving skills had begun to malfunction. Unnoticed and to his left, the gearshift sat firmly in reverse instead of first gear; nothing was now going to change the outcome of this race.
     Half a millisecond after green and his foot was on the floor. Half a millisecond after that and we were engulfed in the steam of the car behind as the screams of tortured metal sang harmonies with the sounds in our own head.
     There we sat motionless. To say there were no personnel injuries would not have been true. Every drive to work and every day at the office left its scar on this man. And in the back seat his daughter was frantically re-doing her dishevelled hair; it was a disaster zone.
     Unseen, I left as the driver behind began his appreciation speech. I glided into an adjacent and stationary long distance bus and joined with a smartly dressed lady in the front. At once I felt her inwardly smiling at the scene I’d just left.
     Here was relief at last. Her entire mind was calm, knowledgeable and inquisitive. I felt massively uplifted within her complete world. Her interests were many and varied and her acceptance of her own human shortfalls, were viewed honestly and without distortion.
     The bus was en-route to a seaport on the south coast. She was on a trip to learn about the similarities between northern Spanish cultures, and that of the Celtic roots of her native England. Every distant hill or village we passed through, filled her with imaginings of peoples past and events since forgotten.
     In amongst her passion for history, her mind wandered through the delights of genetics, higher computer languages and a multitude of other seemingly diverse subjects. As the journey progressed I could see her logic unfolding to reveal a distinct connection between her wide-ranging interests, and felt her to be aimed towards an ultimate and singular truth.
     I knew from her thoughts that the man alongside her was her husband. Although they had not yet spoken, I understood their closeness. Their childhoods had encouraged self-containment and had also nurtured a keen interest in the world about them.
     We turned to look around at our husband who smiled and continued to read his book. The page currently being read was discussing the scientist called Tesla, and posed the question of his being a genius or whether his theories were in fact heresy.
     I could feel the couple’s fascination with the unorthodox and knew their interests in such were well founded. To attach a psuedo-religeous word like heresy to new science was typical of this world, and had fuelled many an unjustified and often fatal witch-hunt.
     Tesla had indeed been a genius. His approach was un-hindered by hitherto fixed scientific rules. He sought new and exciting answers to the mysteries of electricity, but in doing so had to suffer both personal rejection and the frustration of his theories being systematically dismembered by the so called scientific community.
     A sudden outburst of stifled laughter rocked through her husband. He peered at us over the top of his spectacles and his face transmitted the source of his amusement with telepathic clarity. Still without words, our reply further broadened his grin as he resumed reading.
     The interchange had set my host on a different tack now. We found ourselves reviewing our own encounters with inflexible science. One such event occurred during discussions about a U.F.O that had been seen in Spain some years before.
     A high-ranking military man had seen an unknown craft travel from one point in the sky to another. Calculations revealed that its speed would have been around twelve thousand miles per hour, and the flight duration was some two seconds.
     Because this planet had no means of killing inertia, the report was viewed as flawed on the grounds that the crew would have been squashed by the forces of acceleration. Also the fact that nobody heard a sonic boom, added to the sceptics argument.
     That the general had sworn to the sighting and would gain nothing from the account was never discussed. By known scientific laws, the event was impossible and therefore it didn’t happen.
     To my host the event most definitely happened. The craft clearly had the ability to drop out of normal space-time and to change its coordinates within that medium to reappear at any point or time it so desired. Inertia was not in the equation and nor was a sonic boom.
     Already scientists of this world were speculating on such possibilities. That other civilisations would have already mastered the art was of no surprise. How could it be that time and time again mainstream science was allowed, and even encouraged to prevent discovery.
     To become a scientist, you have to be able to absorb masses of other peoples discovered laws and information. To be able to absorb such a wealth of facts, first of all you will require an empty and uninquisitive mind. By having the necessary personal traits to be able to become a scientist, you will then have to accept that you are also the type of person incapable of original thought.
     Inwardly my host enjoyed the blindness of science. Its widespread and blinkered view had left many a stone unturned and finding some real answers to the puzzles held the promise of some very exciting discoveries indeed.
     This trip we were now on, held an immense fascination for them both. The old European pagan beliefs prior to their Christian overhaul, were linked very closely with a vastly different perception of reality. Later the beliefs of these peoples were discredited as fantasy and the ramblings of a primitive and barbaric race.
     Followers of the old ways were subjected to genocide. Their beliefs were labelled as heresy and distorted to alter the truth and therefore generate public condemnation. This was not the first time that humans had changed history in the pursuit of politics and power.
     The tragedy lay in the loss of such knowledge. The pre-Christian understanding of the Celts and others were in many ways closer to the truths of the gods than were the Christian teachings. It was an ignorance and even incredulity or perhaps jealousy, that led to the hostilities resulting in the demise of paganism.
     In the countryside of England the magic remained. It also remained in northern Spain to where we were bound on this trip. There was an energy in the forgotten stone circles and tantalising clues in the remnants of earlier languages. The very fact that passing millennia could not erase the memory, even with human assistance, bore witness to the strength of its fabric.
     How quickly time travelled within the depths of this ladies thoughts. The coach had long since left the suburbs and so all consuming was her mind, that forty or so miles must have passed without my even noticing them.
     As much as I felt enlightened, primarily as a divergence junky, I now sought my "Contrast Fix" and became increasingly keen to swap hosts. Looking around the bus, nothing looked particularly interesting. There was a scatty looking adolescent just opposite, and the driver may have a tale or two perhaps.
     We were temporarily halted in the traffic at the centre of a small village. Outside the window and slowly edging along side us was a tractor with a driver having the most curious face. His expression was that of amusement and impatience at the same time. He also looked both nervous and calm simultaneously; I couldn’t resist it.
     Drifting out through the side of the coach I moved towards him. I felt a slight resistance of the coachwork over the less dense air and human tissue as I moved from one to the other. The electrical systems of both coach and tractor being fractionally different left a tingling sensation throughout my body.
     Another change in density signalled my arrival within the tractor driver. He was a farmer, philosopher and alcoholic. A most tangible individual I thought. He was singing a song in his head that I recognised as an old ballad about whistling and singing with the punch line being "All for the love of a lady".
      Five cars up ahead and the traffic lights changed to red. The song in our head changed abruptly to a heavy metal rendering of the famous Motorhead lyric. "It’s all the same to me", followed by the next eight bars of mind splitting lead break with gut wrenching bass and drums in support. Three encores later with the lights changing back to green, the song reverted to "The love of a lady" again.
     At the lights we turned left. After the turn, we left the road and proceeded along a farm track and into the open fields. Away from the traffic, the day took on a surreal quality as the countryside replaced the less permanent vista afforded by human involvement.
     The songs in our head were silenced now as we became enveloped in our natural habitat. Compared to the bus, the ride on the tractor was outrageous. Every second provided contact with either the roof of the cab or the seat below. Most of the time was indeed spent between the two.
     Today my new host had finished his chores early. As a farmer his days could be short or long dependent to a large degree on the weather. The last ten days or so being fine had enabled him to get ahead a little and so despite tomorrows early start he’d decided to give himself the afternoon and evening off.
     Up ahead the fields lay bathed in the sunlight of a clear sky. Woodland stretched away to the north and at its edge stood the farm to which we travelled. At the sight of our home I felt my throttle foot press harder towards the floor.
     With greater speed, and somehow remaining intact, our vehicle charged across the meadow like a rampant bull. How my foot maintained contact with the throttle was a mystery, and how he could steer the tractor from a position somewhere between the seat and the roof, was a feat approaching the super-natural.
     At last we drew up at the farm. Through the dust I could just make out the main house, which stood as it had done for eternity. The dust, when settled, revealed a well-organised homestead and the scanning eye of my host confirmed his concern that it should be so.
     This man loved his home and the countryside as one. As a young man he’d sought employment in a nearby town but had never settled. When his father retired, the farm where he’d grown up, whilst it could never provide great wealth, could supply a comfortable home and stable income.
     His brief excursion into suburbia had exposed its delights as a shallow and self-fuelling madness. To say that he enjoyed farming would be a lie. That anybody should enjoy the chores of survival was a self-deception technique developed by the educated and well to do. He knew that they used it to justify their years and expense in education. To otherwise have to admit displeasure in ones endeavours, having had the choice of pursuits, would be a contradiction in terms.
     Life on the farm was the only way for him. Time for interesting activities was short but was not non-existent. His need for isolation yet occasional needs for company, and his needs for a stable income with at least some free time; were all to a degree satisfied here.
     Inside the house I found us resuming today’s song. "All for the love of a lady", rang through the stonework with the resonance of a church hall. We visited the bathroom for a face splash and shot back into the yard then bounded off into the woods. In our minds eye was a picture of our destination.
     Minutes later, and from the top of a small rise, we could see the pub. How picturesque it looked in the early afternoon sun. A multitude of wild flowers and un-doctored trees surrounded the building giving it an aire of total peace and solitude.
     Our pace slowed to a gentle stroll as we approached and savoured our arrival. Passing over the brook from which the pub, called "The Babbling Brook"", took its name, we now entered the yard in which stood just two cars.
     My host took pleasure when referring to this area as "The Yard", and was always corrected by the landlord’s insistence on it being referred to as the car park. I felt a smile on our face at recognising one of the cars as the landlords, and the other as belonging to a brewery representative.
     Very few people came to this place. It was for this very reason that the few who did, continued to do so. It was an independently run house and its position on the centuries old main road, had long since lost its value with the construction of the by-pass.
     It was hard to visualise the narrow lane as once the main route to London, but so it was. Trade now comprised primarily of local farmers with a hand full of rich country loving commuters and their offspring. The mix worked well. Those farmers who remained, done so not because of the prosperity of their land, but more so, and in common with the rich newcomers, for their love of the countryside itself.
     Inside, the silence of the saloon bar was complete. For my host, the experience was akin to holy worship. The very sound of ale spilling into an awaiting pint glass was an almost sexual stimulant, falling only just short of actual physical arousal.
     In the other bar, we could see the back of a lady we recognised as our wife. She was serving in the public bar and hadn’t noticed our arrival. Turning to operate the till we caught her eye and with a smile she came over. "Hello my love" she said, "Finished for today are we?"
    "Yes, thank god", was my reply in a voice infinitely deeper than used during our earlier singing attempts. "You’re done at three are you?" I inquired. She nodded and was about to continue when another customer called from the public bar. "Bit of a rush on today", she said dryly, and left to attend the influx.
     "Can’t move in the yard", we said to the landlord who’d arrived on the scene. "Car-park, arse-hole", he replied in a manor unusually coarse for him, but smiling he turned to resume battle plans with the brewery man next to him. We felt a little naughty at exposing his business failings in front of the boss, and decide to apologise later.
     Beside himself, there were just two others in the saloon bar. Having never seen them before, they were obviously just passers by having left the main route in search of such peace as they’d found. From their dress and manner it was one of those distasteful business encounters that often polluted this place at lunchtimes.
     Their conversation, although low in volume, was very loud indeed in content. It contained such words as cash flow, business potential and bottom line. How could they bring such blasphemy into this inner sanctum of peace and tranquillity? All the centuries and characters that have survived within this building without having to pay attention to such details. Could they really be so absorbed with such trivia?
     It became more intense. So nauseating in fact that we were forced to relocate to the beer garden, which although occupied by similar personnel, luckily provided a deeper and more fulfilling background noise.
     The beer garden was an enchanted place. Even in the wintertime it was somehow still full of the magic and promise of summer. It was a place of dreams, perched somewhere between untouched nature and the softer side of human intervention.
     The woods beyond the garden were ancient. The density of vegetation prevented any visual knowledge of its interior, although sound and other senses did provide some insight.
     In the shadows, a fox jumped as the weight of my gaze fell upon him and for a moment we shared our curiosity. From the pub, the sounds of an empty and disguarded bottle broke the silence, and the fox was gone. I blinked and he re-appeared; blinked again and he was gone.
     On the grass nearby were two blackbirds. They were closer than they would be if they were frightened of me, but certain folklore had it that these creatures were not really birds at all. Among a few sects, the blackbird was a guardian spirit whose presence afforded guidance and reassurance.
     My host held such beliefs with high regard. He would always acknowledge the arrival of the birds and felt that they were the same individuals that were in attendance as he ploughed the fields; they were his companions.
     From behind us I knew the fox had returned. His curiosity had motivated him to come closer and to expand on our earlier communication. Maintaining his unseen advantage, he’d skirted the edge of the beer garden from the cover of the woods, and now stood behind us.
     The loudness of his approach indicated a level of confidence in keeping with our earlier, albeit brief encounter. It was an exciting thought that a wild creature should have time for such diversions in amongst his daily survival chores.
     I’d often contemplated merging with a so-called wild animal. Reflecting back on some of today’s encounters led me to believe that perhaps I already had. Some reports have hinted that such excursions may lead to an un-willingness to leave the animal host; to a kind of dropping out of society.
     The fundamental difference in an "Ani-merge" as it had become known, was the absence of any structured language within the host. When all thoughts and experiences are logged and dealt with in pictures and instincts alone, the trip and its insight, becomes addictive.
     Perhaps it was my current hosts oneness with nature that made me decide to risk it. Perhaps it was my own curiosity or the assurance from at least some of the veterans that I should give it a go; I don’t know.
     I knew getting hooked on "Ani-merging" was socially un-acceptable, yet I felt compelled to do so. I would not have to admit to it, but what if the experience altered my outlook to the extent that I couldn’t conceal it.
     At length I was able to convince myself that just one short test was the compromise between knowing and not knowing. Relaxing my grip on what had been today’s best character, I drifted effortlessly into the space between him and the fox.
     Merging with an animal was no different to that of joining with a human. When outside of a body, one had only to imagine being inside of another, and it would happen. Very slowly I moved backwards into the undergrowth where the fox stood. Seconds later and I was the fox.
     Christ, this was a strange place to be. I didn’t recognize any of it. The welcoming garden now felt intimidating and alien whereas the woods around me felt familiar and welcoming; everything was reversed.
     The garden itself was full of people. Some appeared solid whilst others took on a ghostlike transparent quality. On the bench where the farmer sat, was another image of himself talking to his wife. The stronger image of the farmer, that is the version not talking to his wife, was not at all aware of their sharing his table.
    Other newly revealed occupants of the garden, judging by their dress, spanned several centuries of customers to visit this eastablishment. Some, even amongst the most distant in time, would appear very solid and real, but then would fade.
    Wedding parties, funeral groups and all manner of individuals came and went. It was as if the strength of the visual imprint was connected to the strength of their joy or sorrow at being here. A single character would appear and would be laughing so intensely that the memory of his amusement for that moment, would haunt this garden forever.
     Smitten and sorrowful lovers also came and went. Children and families from many eras drifted in and out of focus, all oblivious to the coexistence of others from different times around them. The whole garden was ablaze with the memories it contained.
     Just then, a particularly flamboyant individual appeared. A wig so false yet acceptable as the dress code of his time, flowed in bleached white ringlets over his scarlet tunic. He was drunk and surrounded by people invisible to me.
     He listened and responded to his absent friends with constant laughter and joviality. It was a very odd sight being able to see only one side of the conversation, but in some ways that enhanced the size of his personality. Closer and closer he staggered until at last he tripped and fell.
     So fast was his demise that the fox was gone before I’d had a chance to go with him. Alone in the undergrowth, and occupying the same space as the fallen gent, found me inside his spinning head, and inside his seventeenth century world.
     At once his friends appeared to me. At once also, the ghosts of other times faded and I was completely encapsulated in another century. My new host regained his composure and we spent the next four hours in a world vastly different and infinitely more entertaining than I’d known hitherto.
    Sadly, this most enlightening session had come to an end. My flamboyance had decayed into drunken stupor, and my few remaining motor functions were ably assisted by the landlord into guiding me to bed.
     Sometime around noon the next day we awoke. A hearty breakfast was followed by an instant resumption of last nights session, which as before was conducted in the garden. Strangely my host displayed a total recollection of the previous nights conversation, and so our topic of the moment, that was advances in astronomical observations; continued.
     The next few days added much-needed colour to my education. I swapped hosts a number of times, and discovered that by merging with foxes and other creatures of the wood, that I could travel anywhere at any time in history…….If "Ani-merging" was an addiction as was claimed, then I was hooked.
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