Friday, 26 November 2010

Her Self-made Man

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WARNING : SOME ADULT CONTENT
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The automatic system rang out and announced that the train was due to arrive at her station. Angela swung her legs around and out from under the table and stood up. Initially, she’d wondered whether the four inch heels were a good idea to travel in; the old guy sitting on the other side of the aisle seemed to appreciate them: she could tell that from his glance alone, and as she lifted her case effortlessly from the overhead luggage rack she silently thanked her shoes for her augmented height.

She didn’t bother to check her hair or her makeup: she knew instinctively that it would be perfect. Everything today would be perfect. She was finally going to meet him: her Tom, her ‘self-made man.’ She smiled to herself as she walked down the aisle of the train toward the door at the end of the carriage. That had been her joke name for him for a long time now. To her, he was her ‘self-made man’ and to him she would always be his ‘working-girl’.

Angela wasn’t at all nervous to be finally meeting Tom. She was absolutely confident that everything would be fine. She noticed some of the men on the train, and even a few of the women giving her admiring glances as she passed. She smiled. She had never had so much confidence in herself before. Today would be perfect.

The train slowed as it drew alongside the station platform, and then rumbled to a halt. A man on the platform opened the door and then held it for her while she left the train. He smiled. She smiled back. He was very attractive, but she turned away quickly as her eyes scanned the people on the platform. She searched for Tom.

The only picture she’d ever seen of him was one from the cover of one of his books, taken over ten years ago, but she had an image in her own mind of how he’d look. She looked along the platform toward the exit and there he was, facing directly toward her and smiling; looking exactly like the image she had in her mind. He was a lot older than her, but that wasn’t too obvious. She wasn’t really into the pretty boy look, and Tom’s appearance could best be described as ruggedly handsome; to her eyes though, he was beautiful too.

She walked briskly toward him, and he toward her; he began to run in her direction. She ran too and when they met, each of them wrapped their arms around each other: his arms around her lower back, hers around his neck. Despite her heels she had to arch her back to look upward as he smiled and gazed down into her eyes. He kissed her: the kiss she had dreamed of for so long, gentle but also passionate. She closed her eyes and melted for a moment. When they broke away, he kissed her again, on her forehead and said: “Hello Angela. I’ve waited for this moment for so long darling.” In that moment, her entire being was overwhelmed; love and passion flooded over her. It wasn’t the words, it was his voice. The voice she had heard so many times, the voice that had always made her entire body tingle, now given substance as her Tom, her gorgeous Tom, her self-made man, stood before her with his arms around her. In her heart she’d been his for months; in her own mind he’d always been hers, but now at this very moment, with his body so close to her, he truly was hers. She reached up, placing the palm of her hand on the side of his face, and closed her eyes as he kissed her once again...

“Tickets Please.” The words roused her from her dream. She opened her eyes and realised she was lying uncomfortably across two seats on the train. She sat up, trying to gather her composure, wondering if she’d been talking in her sleep. The railway guard was grinning at her as though something had amused him. As she passed him her ticket, she realised that she had no idea if she ever spoke in her sleep. What on Earth could she have said to amuse him so much? 

“Change at Oxenholme,” He said as he glanced at the open timetable book in his hand, “But you’ll have nearly an hour to wait for your connection.”

“That can’t be right,” she said, “I thought this was a direct train. My boyfriend is meeting me at the station at Staveley.” She surprised herself. She’d never referred to Tom as her boyfriend before. It sounded a little juvenile, considering how old they both were.

“You must have got on the wrong train love,” he replied. “The nearest this one goes to Staveley is Oxenholme, then we’re off up to Scotland. Your boyfriend might have a bit of a wait for you. But then you’ll have a little time to yourself on Oxenholme station which might not be a bad thing at all.” It seemed as though he sniggered under his breath.

“What do you mean,” she asked.

“It’ll give you a little time to fix yourself up,” he chuckled, “You won’t want him to see you with that bed-hair.”

He wandered along to the other end of the carriage. She reached into her bag and pulled out her mirror. Her sleep had left her hair in such a state that she looked as though she’d been dragged this far, rather than she’d ridden on a train; but that wasn’t the worst of it. Her make-up was in a hell of a mess. She took her hair brush and make-up from her bag and started to make the necessary repairs.

A thought struck her, and she decided to contact Tom. She couldn’t get a signal strong enough to call him though. She soon became frustrated, watching as the little signal strength indicator on her phone would occasionally creep from zero to one or two before falling back; every now and then it would soar up to five: full strength, but by the time she’d pressed the call button, it would have plummeted down to zero again.

She decided instead to send him a text message; she considered that the better idea, since she had no idea whether he’d set off yet, so he might be driving. She informed him what time her train got into Oxenholme and said she expected to be an hour later than she’d thought at Staveley. After what seemed like a hundred attempts to send it, the message finally seemed to go through.

She went back to fixing her makeup. She thought about how she could have got on the wrong train and remembered that when she’d changed earlier at Preston, she’d been cutting it really fine: She’d raced across the railway bridge in these bloody heels, just to be disappointed on arriving at a deserted platform. Just as she’d resigned herself to having missed her connection, a train had pulled in. She’d thought her connecting train had been even later than she had, and had jumped onto it. It seemed now though, that she had missed her connection after all. At least the train she’d hopped onto had been going in the right direction; that was something at least.

She was still reapplying her make-up when her phone rang, almost causing her to poke her eye with her mascara brush. She picked it up from the table and answered it: “Hello.”

“Angela sweetheart; I got your text.” It was Tom. She smiled as she heard the rich tones of his voice. Hearing him speak never failed to get to her. “Don’t worry about being late. I’m at Staveley now, but I’m just going back to the car to drive to Oxenholme. I should be there before you are. If not, wait for me on the platform. Don’t think about walking out to the car park. It’ll be dark soon and I don’t want you taking any risks.”

“How long will it take for you to drive there darling?” she asked, “I can wait for the Windermere train instead if you’d prefer.”

“Certainly not,” he said. “It won’t take me much more than fifteen or twenty minutes, and it’ll be worth it. I’m all geared up to meeting my working girl. I don’t want to have to wait another hour, do I?”

She giggled; he laughed, and then she told him that she loved him before hanging up. It still felt strange saying that to him; not that she had any doubts, but to be in love with someone she’d never met still seemed a little silly even now.

~o~O~o~

They’d actually met on the phone. She’d been temping for a publishing house in London and had been instructed to contact him with details of a meeting he needed to have with her boss. She hadn’t been able to get hold of him and had ended up leaving five or six messages on his answer machine. When he’d eventually called back, he’d recognised her voice and had insisted on apologising for putting her to so much trouble. She’d been attracted to him instantly, and had been looking forward to meeting him on the day of the meeting. It seemed he was quite well known, though she’d never heard of him. She researched his work on the internet, and even read a couple of his books. After that she’d had a number of conversations with him and had been able to honestly tell him that she was a fan; she told him how thrilled she’d be to finally meet him. He’d promised he’d come to see her when he was in the office and suggested that they could maybe even have lunch together.

He never did come though. Her boss had gone up north on other business a day or two before the meeting was due, so it was re-scheduled to take place at Tom’s home. The new arrangements had only been confirmed the day before the meeting, and when she’d called Tom, she’d had to leave details on his answering machine again because he wasn’t at home. She had only a couple of weeks left of her temp assignment and felt disappointed and almost upset that she wouldn’t have a chance to meet him after all. She added a little personal bit of her own to the end of the phone message telling Tom how disappointed she was that they hadn’t had the opportunity to meet after all, and telling him that her work was taking her elsewhere so they probably wouldn’t get a chance to speak again.

The day of the meeting, she came into work to find flowers had been delivered. She knew at once who they were from. She picked up the card and read it. “To my working girl. Never say never. Our paths may yet cross again, T.

Their paths did cross again, quite soon. About three weeks later, she was sitting at home on Sunday evening when her phone rang. She answered it, and a voice said: “Angela?”

“Yes?” she answered, smiling because she recognised his voice right away.

“It’s Tom,” he said. “Now I know this is a little presumptuous of me, and I’ll go away now if you think it’s a bit creepy, me calling you like this....”

“No Tom,” she interrupted him, “not at all.”

“I’ve just been sitting here this last few days, thinking of how well we got on, and it seemed just a bit silly for us to lose touch so soon,” he said, “It may be that you’ll be sick to death of me quite soon, but I don’t think you are just yet, and to be honest, I think you’re bloody lovely. I’d like us to keep in touch, providing that’s ok with you.” 

“Oh Tom,” she laughed, “Stop waffling on. I’m pleased you called, so very pleased. How did you get my number?” 

“I’m afraid I persuaded Frank to give it to me,” he said.  She wondered what her ex-boss would have thought about that. “I told him I needed to call you because I’d promised to sign one of my books for you, and I wanted to know who you wanted the dedication to.”

“Clever,” she replied, “So he’s no idea why you really wanted to call me then?”

“If you mean that I’ve become infatuated with you, No,” he said. She was taken aback a little by that: ‘infatuated?’ She didn’t realise he felt that way, she thought he was just being friendly. 

She wasn’t sure if it was relief or disappointment she felt, when he said: “No, not infatuated, that’s the wrong word.” She realised she’d been holding her breath since he’d said it. She breathed out now. “Not infatuated,” he said, “that sounds so casual and impersonal. Enamoured is a better word.” 

A couple of seconds had passed before she realised she’d been sitting in silence. He was waiting for her to reply but she’d been too surprised to say anything. Eventually she replied: “Tom, I’m really flattered, but what interest could you possibly have in me? You’re a famous writer; I’m just an ordinary secretary. You’re successful; I’m not. I’m just a temp. You’re a self-made man.”

“Yes I know,” he laughed, “You’re a working girl. So what of it?” 

She giggled. “That’s what you called me on the card with the flowers,” she said, “your working girl.”

“Well if you’ll be my working girl, I’ll be your self-made man.” He laughed.

Angela sat back in her seat on the train as she remembered how their relationship had developed from that point on. For months they’d been friends, getting closer and closer with each contact, but the hundreds of miles between them made it difficult for them to meet. So many times she’d hoped he’d suggest a liaison, but he didn’t. Whether it was because he was shy or because he wasn’t quite as interested in her as she was in him, she couldn’t decide.

As the weeks went on, they spoke as though they’d known each other all their lives; they felt fine sharing personal details and even told each other of their secret fears and dreams. 

They’d often chat about their work, mostly about his; she didn’t feel that hers was interesting enough, though he did seem to listen intently to every mundane little detail that she came out with. His work however, fascinated her. She’d ask him about what he was currently working on and he’d tell her about it in detail. She wasn’t afraid to give her opinion on his ideas, and he seemed interested in what she had to say. He asked her if she’d help to review some of his work. He didn’t want a proof reader: his editor had people to do that. He wanted the honest opinion of an interested reader. He said he trusted her as a friend. He didn’t want any of his unpublished work to be seen by a stranger, and he knew that unlike many of his friends, Angela would give him an honest, objective opinion of what he’d been writing.

She eagerly agreed and he insisted on paying her, but she insisted just as strongly that she wouldn’t accept any payment and would do it only as a friendly gesture. He finally gave in, but said that he’d make it up to her in some other way.

He did. A couple of months later, her mother died and she was devastated. She’d lost her father when she was still a teenager, and she was an only child. Her mother’s death put paid to the last reason she had to stay in London. None of her friends could console her: none that was, apart from Tom. He was always there whenever she called him, day or night, and even seemed to ring her at the very moments that she was most in need of someone to talk to. He gave her the resolve to carry on. When she needed strength, he was there for her to lean upon, and when even his strength wasn’t enough, he was there to just listen to her cry, and even to cry with her.

It was around then that she told him that she loved him. When she said it, she wasn’t even certain herself if it was true. How could she love someone she’d only known for a few months and who she’d never even met? As soon as she said it though, she knew it was true. He didn’t say anything in response though, and she wondered if she’d made a mistake by telling him.

She avoided mentioning it again for a couple of days, and then she received a letter from him. In it he explained how he found making his feelings known very difficult. He told her how he had no problem flirting on the phone, but that he found it much easier to express himself properly in written words. 

Then he went on to tell her how she’d been on his mind ever since they’d first spoken, and how he’d called her at home that first night because he couldn’t bear to face the idea of never having contact with her again. He explained how she was the last thing he thought of before he slept at night, and how the thought of her in the morning was the main thing that made it worthwhile waking up. He said that he’d loved her for so long that he couldn’t imagine a time when he hadn’t. His entire life before her had blurred into irrelevance; to him, his whole existence had been merely preparing him to be a part of her life and for her to be a part of his. He wrote that he’d wrestled with himself for so long, wondering whether he should tell her about the way he felt, but that he’d always backed away from it, for fear of rejection.

He said that now he knew she really did love him, he’d like to meet her. He suggested that he could come down to London, or that maybe she’d like to visit him in Cumbria. He lived in a large lakeside house, quite close to where she’d spent holidays as a girl, so it didn’t take much time for her to decide she’d visit him.  

~o~O~o~

The train was pulling into Oxenholme. Angela had been daydreaming and was caught by surprise. She quickly stuffed everything back into her bag as she rose to her feet; then she realised she’d had her shoes off, and that they were still under the table. She sat down and struggled back into them. She stood again and reached up to drag her case from the overhead rack.

She got off the train and found herself on a darkened platform. Tom didn’t appear to be anywhere in sight, but as he’d requested, she waited there for him. She was sure he wouldn’t be long. There was a bench close by, so she sat down. A plump middle aged man with a beard was walking along the platform toward her. He smiled as he approached her. She smiled back and then realisation hit her. She’d been so convinced of her own mental image of Tom that she hadn’t been prepared for how he might really look.

The picture she’d seen of him from his book cover was more than ten years old, and looked nothing like he looked now, but the eyes convinced her that it was him; she recognised his deep blue eyes. He was ten years older than her, so she’d realised that he probably wouldn’t look much like the way she’d imagined him. He seemed a lot plumper than his book picture, and the extra weight he was carrying seemed to add another five years onto his age. He was sporting a beard too: only a short one, but a full-face beard nonetheless. He’d never mentioned he had a beard, and that seemed to add a good few years onto his appearance too.

At first she felt a little ashamed inside as she half hoped that she’d made a mistake, and it wasn’t really him, but then he spoke to her: “Angela darling,” he said, “At last. Did you have a reasonable journey?”

The voice was still his: the deep tones that reminded her of strong rich after dinner coffee, the accent that she’d always imagined as coming straight from a D H Lawrence character; every aspect of his voice combined as it always had done, to make her almost physically shake. Hell it shouldn’t matter what he looked like. It was a shock, but this was the man she was in love with. That she was sure of.

He stood before her, looking a little awkward, his hands kind of half extended in front of him, as if to hold her had she been standing. She realised then that she hadn’t even thought to stand up as he approached. She took each of his hands in hers and felt an almost electric jolt pass through her body as she did. She stood and moved closer to him. He looked a little nervous, as though his shyness at meeting her had got the better of him. He smiled again, and then said: “Darling.” That was it, just one word, but that was enough, seeing him say it as well as hearing him say it, caused her to smile lovingly at him. She drew him toward her and he nervously leaned forward to kiss her, gently on the cheek. It wasn’t what she’d expected, and something seemed a little out of place. Then she realised what it was. She’d never considered Tom’s height before, and it was only now that she realised that he only stood about five feet nine. She cursed herself for wearing those bloody four inch heels. She stood facing him, their eyes level. She moved a little closer, hoping to disguise the fact that she was trying to squat down a little. He saw what she was doing and actually laughed. “I love you,” he said as he chuckled, and then at last, he put his arms around her and kissed her deeply and lovingly. 

As they walked to his car, she mentioned his beard. “I grew it in the last three or four weeks,” he said. “Don’t you like it?”

“Perhaps I’ll get used to it,” she answered, “I just had no idea you had a beard or had even considered growing one.”

He opened the passenger door of a very expensive looking Volvo and she got inside. He walked around to the driver’s door and once inside himself said: “Shall I be honest with you? About the beard, I mean?”

“You’ve always been honest with me in the past,” she said, “I’m sure you will be this time.”

“It makes me look older doesn’t it?” he asked. “Beards tend to do that: make a guy look older. I’m ten years older than you Angela and I know I don’t carry my extra years too well. I was frightened that looking that much older would put you off.”

“Don’t be silly,” she replied, “and anyway, in that case why would you want to make yourself look older still?”

“I know it sounds stupid,” he said, “But I thought you might think ‘well he looks a lot older than I expected, but that could be down to the beard.’ I needed the beard to blame things on.” 

She laughed. “Oh you silly sod,” she said, and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. “I’m not keen on it if I’m honest,” she said, “It’s not very nice to kiss.”

“In that case,” he said, “I’ll shave it off, first thing in the morning.”

They drove out of the station car park and began their journey to his home.

About an hour later she stood in his sitting room. There was an enormous picture window that looked out over the lake; it was dark outside by now, but the features of the lake could easily be made out in the moonlight; even some buildings on the opposite lake shore could still be seen.

He walked in from the kitchen and told her that dinner would be ready soon. He saw her looking out of the window. “Wait until morning when it’s light,” he said, “It’s a beautiful view in the daylight.”

She turned to him as he passed her a glass of wine. “It’s pretty impressive in the moonlight too,” she said, “I’m sure this is very close to where we used to holiday when I was a girl.”

Though she’d told him about it before, she told him again of how during her childhood, her family had lived in numerous places all over the country, never long enough in one place to class any of them as ‘home’ but that the one constant in her life, had been her annual two weeks in the lakes, so that every time she returned, it felt like she was coming home.

“We rented the same cottage every year,” she said, “an ugly scruffy little white one with wisteria around the front door. I loved it.”

“Well we’re not short of those in these parts,” he said. “Can you remember exactly where it was?”

She gazed out of the window again, as if lost in thought. “The view here is pretty much as I remember the view from the garden there,” she said, “only closer to the lake. I think it was just a short distance south of here, and set back from the lake a little.”

He opened the drawer of his desk and took out an envelope. He handed her a photograph he took from inside it as he said: “Does this look familiar?”

She took the picture from him and found herself looking at the old cottage she’d spent her childhood holidays in. It was there in the photograph, with a beardless Tom standing in front of it, with his arm around an attractive blonde in her thirties. Tom certainly looked more presentable without the beard. She found herself wondering who the woman was, and actually feeling a little jealous. “That’s the place,” she said, “That’s my ugly little cottage. It was old and broken down, but I still loved it.”

“A bit like me then,” he offered a tentative smile.

“Stupid!” she said. “Do you mind me asking, who’s the lady? Is she a friend of yours, or an old girlfriend?”

“Take a look at this,” he said, and handed her another photograph from the envelope. This one was also taken in front of her old cottage, but this time it pictured Tom standing with a man of about forty, who had his arm around Tom’s shoulder and was sporting a big beaming smile. “That’s her husband,” he said. “They rented that cottage the year before last. I was having a drink at my local and they recognised me. It seems her husband is a big fan of my books. We chatted and I had a couple of drinks with them. They invited me for lunch the next day and I had my picture taken with them. They sent me copies of the prints after they’d gone home.

“The cottage is only about half a mile up the road, then up the hill a little,” he said. It’s still up for rent these days. There seems to be a lot of families who love it as much as you do. The same people return year after year.”

“It brings back so many good memories,” she said as she looked again at the two photographs in her hand. “It makes me almost tearful to think of it. But I think I prefer your place.”

After dinner they sat on the sofa chatting, occasionally touching, and even more occasionally kissing. After a few moments Tom said: “I didn’t want to make any assumptions, so I’ve put you in one of the guest rooms.” It wasn’t until then that Angela realised that she hadn’t seen where she was going to sleep tonight, and it hadn’t even worried her enough to consider it. Now Tom had brought the subject up though, it made her feel a little awkward.

“Tom,” she said, almost apologetically, “I think it might be for the best, at least for tonight. I’m here for the week. We can rethink the sleeping arrangements later.”

“Yes,” Tom replied, “Don’t worry about it: whatever makes you feel more comfortable. It’s enough that you’re here.” She raised her eyebrows a little at that, and thought she saw him notice. “Don’t get me wrong darling,” he said, “I want you; I want you more than I’ve wanted anyone in my life. I just don’t want you to feel persuaded to go along with anything you’re not comfortable with, especially since I suspect you don’t want me quite as much as you thought you might do.”

She wanted to call him out on that one. She’d wanted him for ages; she’d looked forward to the time they could spend their nights together, the prospect of them finally making love had been on her mind for days. But the Tom she’d had in mind was the tall, muscular, athletic Tom she’d imagined, not this shorter, plumper, older version. She loved him; that hadn’t changed. She just wasn’t sure she wanted him just yet. She put her arm on his shoulder and kissed him on his cheek, and found herself saying. “Thank you Tom. I do love you darling. Surely that’s enough for now.”

As soon as she said it, she felt bad about it. He smiled at her and nodded and returned her gentle kiss, but she could see in those deep blue eyes that he was hurt, that he was almost resigned to her decision, as though he’d half expected it.


~o~O~o~

Angela stood in her room. She looked around her. This wasn’t the room in Tom’s house that she’d retired to, what seemed like about an hour earlier. She remembered getting into bed there, but now she stood naked next to a different bed altogether, in a different room. 

Although she didn’t recognise her surroundings, somehow she knew that this room was in the old cottage she remembered from her childhood. The moonlight seemed to stream in from somewhere, though she wasn’t aware of any windows.

Suddenly a door she hadn’t noticed before creaked open and Tom stood there; not the real Tom, but the Tom she’d imagined, the Tom from her mind, here in her dreams once again as he often had been before.

He approached her silently and put his arms around her. He said nothing, which she found unsettling: Tom’s voice had always played a big part in all her dreams of him in the past. Of course she knew she was dreaming, because her imaginary Tom was here, but in this dream Tom was silent, for the first time ever.

He kissed her: the kiss was as frantic and as passionate as she remembered it ever being in her dreams but that’s all there was; there seemed to be something missing. There was no tenderness, no sense of love, nothing of the substance she’d experienced and enjoyed earlier that evening. The passion with which he kissed her seemed familiar and almost practiced: planned passion rather than impulsive passion, and therefore not really passion at all.

They were on the bed now, both naked; his hands ran across her body. It was what she expected, what she needed; she wanted his fingertips to be stroking her skin, wanted to feel the palms of his hands as he grasped her breasts, but though he did all of that, she realised that she felt hardly anything. 

She was on her hands and knees now; he knelt behind her and entered her. She felt it as he thrust into her. She enjoyed it: that she couldn’t deny. She groaned as he pushed deep inside her, again and again, faster and faster. The pleasure overcame her, but it didn’t quite overwhelm her as it always had done in the past. He took her, but he didn’t seem to be taking her anywhere. He was having her, there was no doubt about that, but as much as she tried, she realised that she wasn’t actually having him. Though she did her best to give herself to this gorgeous man, He didn’t seem to respond; he was giving nothing of himself in return. She knew in her heart that she couldn’t surrender to him entirely because he wasn’t giving himself to her, because he wasn’t real.

In the blink of an eye, she was lying on her back now, with Tom kneeling over her looking down upon her. Her eyes scanned his body. His physique was perfect as she observed it in the imaginary moonlight of her dream; he was everything she’d ever wanted in a man, physically. She looked up into his eyes, and realised for the first time that this Tom, the one she’d always had in her mind’s eye had never possessed the deep blue eyes that the real Tom had. The beautiful eyes that she’d first seen in the only picture of Tom that she had were absent, and dull grey eyes looked down upon her.

She couldn’t help but think of the real Tom now, her Tom. She was dreaming; perhaps she could control her dream: change it so that the Tom bending over her and kissing her now, could be the Tom she’d met tonight. She tried, but still she felt nothing.

Tom stopped kissing her, and raised himself back onto his knees. Within her dream she closed her eyes tight shut, then opened them again to an awful surprise.

The man bending over her now was more like the real Tom than her imaginary figure of her dreams, but he was a caricature of all the things she’d disliked and found unattractive. He was excessively large and vastly overweight; his beard had become long and straggly and almost tramp-like. He leaned over her with a leering grin, but still those blue eyes were missing, and still he was silent. This wasn’t her Tom: This dream had become a nightmare. She screamed.

She awoke, screaming and sobbing.

There was a knock at her bedroom door. Tom’s voice asked: “Angela, are you ok darling?”

She didn’t answer right away; she was still panting. The door opened and Tom stood there in silhouette from the light on the landing. “Angela, are you all right?” he repeated.

“Sorry Tom,” she answered, “Just a bad dream.” She realised now that she was sitting on the edge of the bed. 

“It must have been a bloody awful one,” he said, as he walked into the room. “Can I get you a drink of water or something?”

“No thanks love,” she answered, “I’ll be fine in a moment.” She found herself feeling very much at ease with him, here in the dark, with just his voice for comfort. It reminded her of the times he’d made her feel better with his phone calls. “It’d be nice if you’d just stay with me for a little while though.”

He sat down on the bed beside her; she felt the softness of his velour dressing gown against her leg and remembered being naked in her dream. She soon assured herself that she was still wearing her nightdress though.

“So what was this dream about, to upset you so much?” he asked. “Your screams woke me up, and when I came across the landing to your door, it sounded like you were crying.”

She couldn’t tell him what she’d dreamed; for the first time ever, she found herself lying to him as she said: “Ever since mum died, I have these occasional dreams that turn into night panics. This was an especially bad one.”

“Oh darling,” he said and put his arm around her shoulder. He kissed her on the cheek. “Tears,” he said, “You have been crying.”

He lifted his hand to wipe the tears from her face, and her hand came up and held his arm and rubbed it. She paused a little and then leaned back to look at him. There was enough moonlight coming through the window now for her to make out the blue of his eyes. It reassured her. “I love you Tom,” she said. He leaned over her and kissed her.

This kiss began gently, his mouth softly brushing hers. Her lips parted as he kissed her. She knew that he felt the moistness of her lips as she tasted his, and his mouth parted too. The tip of his tongue brushed over the inside of her lips, and her tongue met his as they both pressed a little harder together and began to kiss more passionately.

While they kissed, her hands had opened his dressing gown and now they ran over his naked skin beneath. She pushed his robe from his shoulders and then pulled away from him momentarily while she lifted her nightdress up and over her head, dropping it on the floor beside the bed.

They kissed again, she leaned back and he followed, never once moving his face too far from hers, until they lay on the bed together. Tom leaned over her, now moving his attention from her mouth to her neck, his lips and his tongue tracing her throat, his teeth nibbling at the side of her neck. She lay back and closed her eyes as his head moved downward; she felt his touch against her skin: his lips, his tongue, and his teeth, even his beard as his face travelled across her body in a zigzag motion, side to side, but always downwards.

She gasped as his lips touched her breasts, his tongue circled each of her nipples, his teeth nibbling them gently as they became erect, and then his whole mouth sucking on one, then the other; all this time, his hands traced her sides, fingertips stroking, all but brushing over her skin, down over her ribs and toward her hips, once there his hands gripped her as his mouth continued its journey.

She felt the tip of his tongue as it traced across her belly, his mouth giving her his fullest attention: now licking, now kissing but always moving toward where she knew he was headed. She thrust her hips toward him to encourage him, but his hands held them firmly.

After a time, his face hovered over her abdomen; he looked down on her and she heard him say “Oh darling, I’ve waited so long for this. I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember.” The very sound of his voice made her melt within; she knew what he would soon be doing, what he must do, what she needed him to do; she gasped as she felt his lips on her most private of places.

His tongue skipped across her, flicking from side to side, sliding up and down the full length of her. He alternated his lips with his tongue at times, but always returned to using his tongue and occasionally going lower and lower until she gasped as his tongue pushed into her.

She thrashed from side to side for a moment, then relaxed momentarily as he removed his tongue and put it back to work licking at her sensitive bud.

He’d been grasping her hips firmly until now, but as she heard him groaning, almost as much as she groaned, he released her and she felt one of his fingers enter her, pushing in and out of her as his tongue worked away to bring her to orgasm.

It wasn’t long before she climaxed. She reached down with both hands and grasped the back of his head as she did. Holding him there almost as if to ensure he didn’t prematurely finish what he’d started.

She needn’t have worried. He kept up his attentions until the last remnants of her orgasm had died away. Even then, he continued; she had to ask him to stop: she’d become so sensitive. “Enough darling,” she begged, “I’m too sensitive; it’s too much for me to take.”

He moved up her body and kissed her. Then he raised himself up a little and she realised he was supporting his weight on one arm. His other hand was guiding his manhood as he stroked it up and down and around the area he’d made so moist and sensitive.

She opened her legs a little further, raising her knees and lifting herself off the bed a little. She wrapped her legs around his, resting her heels on the area at the back of his knees. The end of his member found her and nestled a little just inside her moistness; he circled around, and pushed just inside, then pulled out again and continued with his circling motions.

The intensity of it was too much for her; she waited until the next time he pushed inside her a little, then lifted her feet; she pressed her heels into the back of his thighs, as her hands grasped his buttocks and pulled him into her. He looked down at her smiling. He was resting on both hands now. She smiled and nodded to him and he began to push into her.

At last, he was in her, his thrusting started slowly and gradually built up speed; she felt him inside her, pushing faster and faster as the pair of them gasped and panted, moaned and groaned. She lifted her legs higher, wrapping them around him even more.

Suddenly he was pushing even deeper than he had been before, and she realised that she was nearing climax again. She looked up at him, and from the look on his face she knew he was struggling to contain himself.

“Are you holding back darling?” she asked. He nodded, his face contorted as he strained to keep control. “Don’t,” she said, “Not any more. Let go now, let’s come together.”

He cried out loud. It was a sound she loved, his voice in the throes of passion. The sound of him coming: a climax she knew that she had brought him to. It was just the trigger she needed to bring herself to orgasm. She almost screamed with the intensity of it, she clawed his back and he almost screamed out himself. Still they were thrusting against each other and with each other. She looked up at him and she saw him smiling down upon her, his blue eyes filled with tears. It touched her that he was actually crying, and she cried too. “Why not?” she thought. This was what they had wanted for each other for so long. This was where they’d always wanted to be, where they deserved to be: together as one, sharing each other as much as they’d ever hoped to do.

His movement slowed and he leaned downward and began to kiss her mouth again. She returned his kiss. She wrapped her arms tightly around his upper body as the grip of her legs around him, loosened. Suddenly they were covering each other’s faces with kisses. Tears were still streaming from her eyes and from his, but now they were also laughing, not with amusement, but with relief. They were together, and without a single word being spoken, they both realised that they never needed to be apart again.

They lay next to each other in her bed. He raised himself up on one elbow, and looked down upon her naked form, a broad smile on his face, as a single finger traced the line of her side from shoulder to hip.

She was tired. She told him so. “I know,” he said, “You go to sleep darling.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked. “Please stay here for the rest of the night. Don’t go back to your own room.”

“I won’t,” he assured her, “but I’m not really tired. I’m going to watch you sleep, if that’s ok.”

She just smiled and nodded and then closed her eyes, knowing that he was there beside her, knowing that he’d still be there beside her in the morning and being glad and grateful for that fact alone.

As she lay there with her eyes closed, she heard him whisper. “I wasn’t what you were expecting, was I?” he asked, “I was worried that I wouldn’t be good enough for you.”

She heard what he said, though she didn’t open her eyes and didn't respond at first. After a few seconds she feared that he might have thought she'd fallen asleep, so she answered him. “I’ll admit I had a different image of you,” she said, “and I was a little surprised when I first saw you, but you’ll do for me.” She giggled.

“You can always try to change me to be more like you want me to be,” he whispered as he kissed her softly on her forehead.

She knew that she could. She’d considered that, but she didn’t want to make him like any imaginary Tom she might have had in mind before today. This was the Tom she’d fallen in love with. Anything else wouldn’t really be him: it would be someone she’d made herself. And that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted the man that he was. He was her self-made man.

“I don’t want you to change,” she said, and then after a pause she added: “But get rid of the beard in the morning. Ok?”

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Pumpkins Are Never Scary

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Ever since their mother and I had split up, I'd understood the necessity to play as big a part as possible in my kids' lives. Yes, I had them on alternate weekends, and I'd often take them out in the evening during the week in the school holidays, but the only contact I normally had with them on 'school nights' was at school organised events.

So it had seemed a good idea to get involved in the PTA, and I made an effort to attend all of the meetings and to play a part in all the events that they, or should I say ‘we’ organized.

Unfortunately, due to pressures of work, I’d been away from home for the last two meetings, so I’d missed most of the arrangements for the Halloween party. I knew it was happening, but hadn’t been involved in the planning, so when I turned up for the PTA meeting two days before the event, I was determined to do what I could to contribute.

As it turned out, just about everything had been organized, except for a few finer points concerning the decorations for the school hall. Someone suggested carving traditional Halloween lanterns from pumpkins, to hang around the hall. The health and safety aspect of having naked flames in the same room as hordes of screaming children, almost put an end to it, until one of the mums volunteered that her husband’s business could donate a large number of fluorescent battery operated night lights, that would fit inside a pumpkin lantern perfectly.

I think it was my urge to contribute something that made me speak up: “Surely we can do better than pumpkin lanterns,” I said, “Couldn’t we produce some other kind of decoration that the kids would actually find scary?”

“What do you suggest then?” asked the deputy head teacher, who was chairing the meeting.

“I’m sure we could produce something scary and realistic, using materials like plaster, styrene foam, all kinds of things,” I said, “Careful application of paint could make that kind of thing look realistically gory.”

“John does wood carving in his spare time,” proffered the mother of my son’s best friend as she nodded toward me, “Some of the stuff he does is incredibly realistic; he’s very talented.”

“That sounds most promising,” said the chairman, “Can you carve us something to use at the party?”

She'd put me on the spot. There was only two days before the event, for goodness sake. I had visions of turning up with something I’d rushed, something that wasn’t up to scratch, something the parents, the teachers, even the kids wouldn’t be impressed by. My wood carving was pretty much a private hobby, my pieces were seen by very few people, mostly close friends, and they were usually shared only with family and very good friends.

“I don’t think I have time in two days to produce anything of merit,” I said, “not of the quality I’d like to, at least.”

“So what about the other stuff you suggested then?” someone else piped up, “How many of those things could you do before the day after tomorrow?”

“Well,” I said, “I was hoping that everyone else would pitch in too. I can point you toward some books that’ll show you all how to do it. If most of us could produce one or two pieces each, we’d have plenty to decorate the hall with.”

“But would they be lit up?” Someone else asked, “I like the idea of Halloween lanterns.”

There were various mutterings from people who had set their hearts on pumpkin lanterns, and grumblings from others who didn’t want to get involved at all. In the end the deputy head held up his hand and said “I sense that a lot of you don’t feel too confident about creating something from scratch,” (nods from various areas of the room,) “and we have already bought some of the pumpkins. Perhaps we should stick with our original idea, of carving pumpkin lanterns. Let's put it to the vote.”

So it was that I left the meeting that night, clutching a Tesco carrier bag weighed down by a bright orange pumpkin. Once the vote had gone the way of the pumpkin fans, I knew that I couldn’t get out of it, not with everyone knowing about my carving hobby. I made certain to get one of the pumpkins that were already available. I could have popped around the day after to collect one when they’d bought some more, but I decided that if I was going to make something of this project, I’d rather have two evenings to do it, rather than only one.

I got home and tipped the pumpkin out onto the kitchen worktop. How the hell could a big round orange vegetable ever be frightening? I just couldn’t see it, even carving the most frightening face into it, it was still a pumpkin lantern. I took a vegetable knife from the cutlery drawer, then wondered if I should use my carving tools from the garage instead. It then occurred to me that rather than just carve a face into it, I could carve a scary scene into the pumpkin itself; I’d seen stuff like that on the internet, and even if it wasn’t much scarier than a face, it was certainly more impressive.

I started to walk toward the garage door and something stopped me in my tracks. I could have sworn I heard a muffled grumbling. It was definitely human in origin, though suppressed as though made by someone wearing a gag, or with something else stuffed in their mouth. I turned. It seemed to be coming from the worktop. I walked back toward the pumpkin, but by the time I got there, the sound had stopped.

It crossed my mind that I’d probably make a better job of this if I worked in my garage, my makeshift studio, rather than in the kitchen, and since I had to go there for my tools, I may as well take the pumpkin with me. I picked it up from the worktop and was surprised by the texture and temperature of the skin. I don’t think I’d ever touched a pumpkin before, but I certainly didn’t expect it to feel warm and clammy. I’d never known a fruit or vegetable to feel that way. I picked it up and thought I felt a slight vibration, coming from it.

The vibration became more noticeable by the time I’d entered the garage. I put the pumpkin down on my workbench, then reached up to switch on the spotlight installed above it. As I did, the muffled grumbling started again. This time, there was no doubt that it came from the pumpkin. Under the illumination of the spotlight, with the relative darkness of the garage around it, the pumpkin seemed to glow orange. The vibration coming from it was visible now. It shook and almost shuffled around on the worktop, and all the time there was that muffled sound struggling against something, as if trying to find its voice and be heard. The mumbling sounded almost like someone pleading for help, like someone struggling to escape from somewhere.

I suspected that someone was having a joke with me, that someone had placed something inside the pumpkin to make this noise and these vibrations. I hadn’t noticed any holes in it, but I hadn’t properly examined it yet.

Suddenly the sound coming from the pumpkin stopped, as did the vibrations; this seemed to coincide with my phone ringing, but probably just meant the battery in the device that had been inserted into it had run down. I switched off my work light and left the garage to answer the phone.

It was my wife. I’d expected her to call. She asked me about the PTA meeting, and I told her how I’d been pressed into carving a pumpkin lantern. She was concerned about the prospect of using candles, so I told her about the offer of the night lights.

“That’s a good idea,” she said, “Who’s providing those?”

I described the lady to her.

“Oh, Kirsty’s mum,” she said, “Her husband runs a mail-order novelty warehouse. We went to Kirsty’s birthday party, and the whole family are practical jokers.”

I told her what had happened with the pumpkin, about the vibration and the mumbling.

“That sounds like Mike and Olivia’s type of humour,” she said. “She probably stuffed one of those laughing bags in there somewhere. Serves you right for telling everyone that pumpkins don’t scare you.

She asked me what I was thinking of doing with the pumpkin, and I told her that I’d considered a special carving, but under the circumstances, I’d probably just carve the standard scary face into it instead.

She mentioned that it was well past the kids’ bedtime; they came on the phone for a moment to say goodnight to me, then my wife said goodbye. I returned to my workshop, and as soon as I’d switched the worklight on, the mumbling started again.

This time it was louder and more intense, like someone straining against something. I opened my tool drawer and took out my carving tools. The mumbling got louder. The pumpkin began to seriously vibrate on the worktop, so much so, that I had to hold it still with one hand. This was getting beyond a joke.

The mumbling was even louder now, more urgent, as I placed the blade of my best cutting knife on the warm clammy skin of the pumpkin. As the blade touched the skin, the vibration became almost violent. I pressed the edge of the knife against the pumpkin skin, and as it broke, the mumbling suddenly stopped. After a fraction of a second, the skin seemed to split: the incision I’d made spread, not just in the direction of the cut, but outward from it too. As it did, the vibration became so violent that I couldn’t hold onto the pumpkin; it was almost jumping off the bench.

Then, as the pumpkin skin split further, there came a sound like someone gasping for breath, as if they’d just come up from being underwater, and then a blood curdling scream issued from the hole that spread in the pumpkin’s skin.

I’m not ashamed to say that I was frightened. Whatever those idiots had set up here, had been a really professional job. They seemed to have achieved something that I hadn’t thought possible: they’d managed to scare me with a bloody pumpkin.

As I heard the scream, I stood without thinking, and then jumped backward, knocking over my stool. I looked at the pumpkin under the spotlight. The skin continued to split, the vibration causing it to jump around on my workbench now. It was almost as if something was trying to escape from within.

I’d been certain that this was a practical joke, but I now had doubts enough to prevent me going back to the pumpkin, to deter me from the idea of taking hold of it again.

Suddenly there was another scream, but this one was more a scream of relief, but still tinged with terror. As I heard it, the entire skin on the side of the pumpkin nearest me, seemed to erupt, pieces of skin and of pumpkin flesh exploded everywhere, as something emerged from within.

What burst forth convinced me that this was no practical joke. For what I saw was a face; not an inanimate face, but a real human face, with real features that moved as it screamed. Its entire visage was contorted into the most terrifying expression. The face itself seemed to toss from side to side for a while, as though free at last from his imprisonment. It didn’t look at all relieved though: it seemed to look angry at whoever it thought had imprisoned it there, and it was looking directly at me!

Without warning, the screaming stopped, and a cruel smile appeared on the face; its mouth curled into a wicked grin as its eyes bore into my soul. Even though it was only a face, and had no way of attacking me, I knew that it would destroy me if I did nothing about it. I looked around. At the other end of the workbench was a hammer. I jumped sideways and reached out to grab it. The pumpkin spun as the face actually turned toward where I now was, and moved along the workbench, as though trying to get to the hammer before I did.

I was too quick for it. I lifted the hammer high above my head; the eyes on the face looked upward toward it, and then the expression changed to one of fear, coupled with intense hatred. I brought the hammer down and the screaming began again. This time though the screaming was that of someone being beaten, someone who had no defence against his assailant except to call out. The last I heard from the pumpkin was a single pathetic cry of “Help Me!”

I’ve no idea how many times I brought that hammer down; I know I’d broken into a sweat by the time I stopped. I looked at the workbench: There was a lot of pulp there that was clearly of vegetable origin, but absolutely nothing that resembled a pumpkin or even part of one. I cleaned it all up and made sure that every part of it was out of the house and in the dustbin. I didn’t go to bed that night. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t dare to.

I told friends about what had happened, but none of them believed me. They thought it was just my attempts to frighten them, and told me that they were disappointed at how feeble those attempts were: after all, pumpkins are never scary.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Father's Day

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Scott was a genius; that was beyond doubt. He had been the prodigy of his day: the most promising intellect in generations. His education had been swift and successful: A Levels at 12 years old, his first degree of several at age 14; he had been famous the world over, but now by the age of 19, it was as though he’d disappeared, or at least he had as far as the media were concerned.

That was ironic, because back in the days when the newspapers had delved into his life, his history and his parentage, they’d made a point of emphasising that his own father, a famous and renowned physicist of the 1990s, had physically disappeared a couple of months before Scott was born. His father had never been seen again, so Scott had never met him. It seemed that Scott’s own intelligence had provided an answer to the ‘nature or nurture’ question once and for all. His mother was in no doubt about where Scott got his genius from, though she herself was an academic in other fields, Scott’s particular talents were in theoretical and applied physics, just like his father.

Nowadays, Scott was kept away from the public eye. The work he did was so innovative, so ground-breaking, that the organisation he worked for thought it best to keep Scott and his labours secret. They were exceptionally good at that kind of thing; their own existence was hidden away from society, and their own purposes were known to very few, so providing a life of secrecy for their most promising scientist was well within their abilities.

Scott sat in his lab feeling melancholy. His work was progressing nicely. He had no doubt that he’d soon solve the latest of the minor problems he’d encountered: he always did; he was more than capable of thinking himself through any dilemma. He knew that his theories were sound, that he was working to known principles and concepts, (as well as some that he’d developed and theorised himself, that he was equally as sure of.)

Scott’s problem was that he was lonely. He’d always been somewhat solitary; he’d had to be: nobody throughout his school or even his university life had been on an intellectual level that came close to his. Since his mother had died six months ago, he’d realised just how alone he really was. Even here, with countless members of staff at his disposal, he found it difficult to relate to people on a personal level and impossible to form any kind of proper relationship other than a working one.

He had to admit to himself that he missed his father. No, that wasn’t right: he couldn’t miss his father, because he’d never actually met him, though he’d read all of his papers and knew every part of the work his father had completed; he felt that he probably knew him as well as anyone ever had. What he missed was not ever having a father. He knew they would have worked well together, but that wasn’t it. There were people he worked with here, but they all looked up to him and deep inside what Scott really wanted was someone he could look up to. Of all the people Scott knew, nobody really deserved that kind of respect from him. In Scott’s mind, only his father could ever have commanded that kind of reverence.

There was a quiet tap on the door to the lab that roused Scott from his thoughts. “Enter,” he said quietly without turning away from the touch screen visual display on the lab wall.

The door opened and in walked Geoff. Geoff was Scott’s assistant; he was in his early thirties but treated Scott with such esteem that people would have thought that it was Scott who was the elder of the two by more than ten years. Scott was pleased to see Geoff, not because they were friends, though Geoff was the nearest thing Scott had to a friend. He was pleased to see him because he was eager to tell him of his latest breakthrough.

“Ah Geoff: good news. I’ve finally cracked that problem with the temporal reset stability. I’m almost certain that we can determine duration before or even during use now, instead of being restricted to fixed length trips.”

“Before or during?” Geoff replied, “You mean the subject will be able to adjust durations while the trip is active?”

Scott nodded. He smiled. Geoff smiled. Scott’s smile was one of satisfaction, whereas Geoff’s was more one of admiration, almost one of hero worship.

“That’s right,” Scott said, “But you can take some of the credit, for the concept at least. I was all for regulating and controlling everything at base, but it was you who suggested making the controls portable and taking them on the trips; then once we’d managed to get them miniaturised sufficiently, we were halfway there.”

“I’ll admit I helped,” said Geoff, “but the physical principles were the real sticking point. I didn’t even know if it was possible to control the device remotely, but you never lost faith. You were so confident.”

“Geoff, do you know how close we are to our final breakthrough?” asked Scott, “I still have a couple of problems to work through, but do you realise that it’s only a matter of days now before we could well have a device to transport ourselves through time?”

He looked at Geoff, who looked pleased, but not as overwhelmed as Scott had hoped he’d be.

“We’re going to be the first people to experience time travel. That’s pretty damned amazing, don’t you think?”

Experience time travel?” Geoff looked concerned, “It’s your invention Scott; it’s always been your project, but surely you’re not thinking of testing it yourself?”

Scott walked over to his assistant and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s have a drink Geoff,” he said, “We need to talk about a couple of things.”

~o~O~o~

“What I’m really worried about is causality,” Scott said over his drink. “The possibility that what I do in the past may influence things here and now, that I could actually change the present.”

“Those are only theories though Scott,” Geoff replied, “Current thinking runs along the lines that the present is a result of anything and everything that happened in the past, and that includes any other actions you may provide by travelling back there.”

Current thinking?” Scott raised an eyebrow, “Don’t tell me that you’ve read more papers on the subject than I have Geoff.”

Geoff looked a little taken aback; Scott laughed. “It’s ok,” he said, “I’ve heard the theories and I can appreciate the concept. I can see that the present is affected by all the causes that went before, and that if we were able to travel back in time, we may yet be about to contribute some of those causes ourselves.”

“Yes,” replied Geoff, “And those causes we may contribute have already had their effect on the situation as it exists now; they may be in the future from our perspective, but they’re actually in the past. In short, anything that might happen in the past has already happened in the past, and nothing we do can change that.”

“But the old paradox of travelling back to prevent your own conception,” said Scott, “How is that dealt with?”

Geoff laughed. “It just is,” he replied. “You can’t go back to prevent your own conception, because if you did, you wouldn’t be here. The paradox appears to refute the pre-determination theory, but it’s the fact that the theory declares that a paradox can’t happen that actually supports and simplifies the theory.”

“But what if I did?” Scott said, “Went back and killed my father before I was conceived, I mean?”

“You won’t” Geoff replied.

“But if I did?” Scott insisted.

“Something else that happened at that time would prevent you from being successful, has already prevented you from succeeding. Nothing you could do deliberately in the past can have any effect on the present, other than the effect it has already had.”

“So what if it happened accidentally? What if I had no control over my conception being prevented?”

“Nothing could happen accidentally,” Geoff replied, “and before you ask, I know nothing could, because nothing has – you’re here aren’t you?”

Geoff got up to refill their drinks.

“Scott,” he said when he returned, “You’ve made time travel possible. OK, so we haven’t tested it yet, but you and I both know that it will work. And one day, it will more than likely be commonplace. By then there’ll be people travelling back and forth in time regularly. If there was a problem with causality and with paradoxes being formed all over the place, don’t you think we’d know about it by now?”

“So you’re saying that I can’t change the past then?” Scott asked.

“I think you know that you can’t Scott,” Geoff replied, “Why would you want to?”

“My Father,” said Scott. “I know that he was working in a similar field to us when he disappeared back in the ‘90s. I suspect that it was a fault in his work, or maybe an error in his calculations that made him disappear when he did.”

“So you want to go back in time and do what? Help him out? Correct his work? Give your work to him?”

“I won’t give him my papers of course,” said Scott, “because there are aspects of our work, theories of mine and others that weren’t even conceived of back then. His contemporaries wouldn’t understand or accept what we’ve done. But look at this.”

Scott went into his jacket pocket and took out a black and silver bracelet, almost like a manacle, with a clasp on one side.

“This was the casing for the prototype of the device before we thought about adding the controls,” Scott said “The components are all there inside it. It isn’t operational, and couldn’t possibly function properly in its present form. It would just look like a piece of electronic junk to anyone who examined it.”

“Anyone but your dad, you mean?” said Geoff.

“Exactly,” Scott’s eyes were almost aglow with enthusiasm by now, “but if my father found it, I know he’d dismantle it; I’m certain that he’d know exactly what it was, and that he’d learn enough from it for it to give him a nudge in the right direction with his own work. Access to this piece of ‘junk’ may be all my father would need to ensure he didn’t make the mistakes that led to his failure...” He let his words trail off for a moment, and then added: “...and to his disappearance.”

“Nothing can come of this Scott,” Geoff insisted. Geoff was being noticeably more forceful and direct tonight. They were closer than ever to having a conversation on similar intellectual levels. It seemed that Geoff had found an area where he had confidence in his ability to match wits with Scott.

“I know what you’re going to say Geoff,” Scott interrupted. “My father did disappear back in 1998, so nothing I do can prevent that. Well I don’t intend to attempt to prevent it. That’s why I’m going to leave this note together with the device.”

He passed a piece of paper to Geoff, who looked puzzled as he opened it and read:

My Dear Father, 
That salutation will sound odd to you, since from your current perspective you have no children, certainly none who would be writing to you, but I assure you that I am, or at least I will be, your son.
You may be pleased to learn that I will have some measure of success in my own work which will be in the same field as yours. I say some measure of success, because I have to inform you that without my assistance, your own endeavours are destined to fail, and to fail tragically.
It is my aim to prevent such tragedy and with that aim in mind, I’m leaving you the device you have found, together with these instructions.
The components within it are designed and manufactured according to both common and lesser known scientific principles, some of which you have theorised yourself, some of which came as a result of the work and research I and my own team have accomplished.
The device is non-operational as you will discover. You will also soon become aware that the resources required to repair it don’t exist as yet in your time, which should help to convince you that this communiqué is indeed from the future. 
I have delivered both the device and this note from the year 2018 to be precise; this is a task I have undertaken because your life, your very existence depends upon it.
It is my hope that you will follow these instructions accurately, as this is most important if you are to survive past the year 1998.
You have a little less than two years. You must dismantle the device, learn the principles and concepts you’ll discover from examination of the components within, and incorporate these principles into your own research. Do not share your findings with anyone else. The existence of this device and of these instructions must not be known to anyone, not to your closest colleagues, not even to your wife, my mother.
I’m confident that you will have enough information and enough time to complete your research by spring 1998. By then you should have built your own device and be ready to test it. You should be able to determine the control mechanism employed in this device. You must incorporate a similar mechanism into your version, as it’s imperative that you select a destination time when you eventually use it. Also, remember to destroy the device I have given you as soon as you’re certain that you have your own working version.
You must follow these next instructions TO THE LETTER:
  1. On the evening of the 6th October 1998, you must ensure that all of your staff have been sent home. You MUST be alone in your lab.
  2. Set the destination time and date on your device to 8pm on Sunday 17th June 2018
  3. Activate your device. You will be transported to the selected date and time.
Not only does your work depend on this, father: your survival and even your very existence are at stake here. 
I look forward to meeting you on June 17th 2018.
Your son.

Geoff found Scott's handwriting a little difficult to decipher; he was used to reading online documents in an easily readable font, but he struggled on. He eventually finishing reading the letter and looked up into the eyes of Scott, who was eagerly anticipating his reaction. “June 17th,” he said, “Fathers’ Day, a nice touch.”

“You see: It doesn’t matter which theory of cause and effect is valid,” Scott said, “I’m not actually changing anything in the past so I can’t possibly cause a change here, and my father will still disappear on October 6th 1998, just as we know he did. OK, so he’ll reappear here in about four weeks time, but who’s to say that wasn’t what was meant to happen? Who’s to say that isn’t why he disappeared in the first place?”

“But what if your dad ignores the instructions?” asked Geoff. “What if he decides instead to go public with his research and with yours too?”

“But he won’t, will he?” replied Scott, “If he had done, we’d know about it by now.”

~o~O~o~

“You know what day it is, don’t you?” said Scott.

“Of course I do; it’s June 17th, Fathers’ Day.” Geoff replied, “We still haven’t had a successful test run, and today’s a significant day if you still intend to carry out your plan.”

“It’s a big day for me, but not really that significant in the way you mean Geoff,” Scott said, “Nothing will prevent my father arriving here tonight at 8pm, providing I set events in motion, but we have no deadline. I can deliver the device and the instructions at any time today, or even in the next few days.”

“You’re still determined to play around with cause and effect, aren’t you?” said Geoff, “You still want to tempt yourself with paradox?”

“What do you mean?”

“What happens if your father does indeed arrive here at 8pm tonight, and from your perception, it’s before you’ve actually travelled back in time yourself? Then what’s going to be your motivation to actually go back to initiate the whole thing?”

“Well, I’ll need to,” replied Scott, “Of course I’ll still go back and do it.”

“But you’ll have experienced the effect already, won’t you? So there’ll be no perceived necessity to initiate the cause. So what if you don’t initiate the cause?”

“Well, if my dad was already here, then that would be a paradox.”

“But paradoxes can’t exist Scott,” explained Geoff, “So the only way for that paradox to be avoided is if your dad doesn’t turn up tonight at all. If your plan is going to be successful then it follows that you have to initiate the cause before the effect, from your own perspective.”

Scott smiled. “It’s a good thing that I’m all ready to go then,” he said, “It’s OK Geoff. I was just winding you up. Everything is ready for my trip this afternoon.”

“There are a couple of things I’d like to check before you go,” Geoff said, “Just a few loose ends I’d be happier about if we could clarify them.”

“There’s nothing fundamentally important we’ve left out Geoff,” Scott assured him, “We’ve sent the device back in time on automatic for fixed periods and it’s returned OK; we’ve tried it with living subjects, with no adverse effects. We’re all ready to go.”

~o~O~o~

Later that day, Scott was alone in the lab. He picked up the prototype device and the letter for his father and put them into his jacket pocket. He fastened the working device around his arm and keyed in his destination date: 25th December 1996, nearly two years before his father’s disappearance and just about the only day of the year that he could be certain that his father’s laboratory, this same lab he now worked in himself, was guaranteed to be deserted.

He activated the device and the lights seemed to become more intense; at first, he thought that nothing else had changed. Then he noticed that the decor in the lab had subtly altered. Looking around he noticed the touch screen display unit on the wall was replaced by a large A0 size whiteboard, covered in calculations and diagrams drawn in red and black marker pen.

Overall, the lab was a lot less tidy than he was used to. The walls behind the benches seem to be just walls, with no computer displays embedded in them; instead they had diagrams and notes pinned to them. There were computers at one end of the room, but most of them had heavy ancient looking CRT style displays and each of them actually had an old fashioned keyboard; it looked like tablet PCs hadn’t been thought of in 1996 or at least they hadn’t caught on by then.

Scott knew by instinct, which area of the lab bench his father used as his own. It was the nearest to the whiteboard and also the most untidy. Scott moved over to it; he piled up the assortment of papers on the bench feeling almost as if he were violating his father’s privacy by doing so, but it had to be done. He had to make sure that his father was certain to see the gift he was about to leave for him.

He placed the now tidy pile of papers in the middle of his father’s bench and put his own note on top of it. He’d written it out on bright yellow paper, knowing that would catch his father’s eye as soon as he saw it. He placed the prototype bracelet on top of the whole thing like a kind of high tech paperweight.

Scott looked at the device on his wrist. He’d been there only three minutes: not a very significant period for man’s first journey through time. He walked over to the window and looked out of it. He toyed with the idea of strolling outside to experience the world as it was two years before his birth, but then he realised that the building would be locked today, with him trapped inside; not only that, but it was Christmas day: nowhere would be open for him to explore anyway. He sighed: there was no reason to remain here any longer. He walked back to the centre of the lab and pressed a button on his wrist. The layout of his surroundings changed again; the harsh light changed back to the softer fluorescent lighting he was used to. He had returned to his own time successfully. He sat down to wait until 8pm.

~o~O~o~

It was just before seven o’ clock when Geoff came bursting into the lab. He looked concerned. “Scott,” he said, “I have bad news.”

“What is it Geoff?” Scott asked, “It can’t be that serious. I told you nothing would go wrong. Everything went according to plan. I’ve travelled to the past and back” He looked at the clock. “My father will be joining us in just over an hour.”

Geoff walked over and sat in the chair beside him. “I’m afraid I don’t think he’ll be coming Scott,” he said solemnly.

Scott suddenly went silent as he noticed the look of concern on Geoff’s face. “What do you mean?” he said. “What’s happened?”

“There was something bothering me about the control mechanism,” Geoff explained, “something that I felt wasn’t quite right, though all our tests seemed to prove that it worked OK.”

“So what was it?” asked Scott, “I made my trip and it worked ok for me.”

“That’s because you went into the past,” Geoff said. “The device can lock accurately onto a time and date in the past; we know that, we’ve done it so many times in testing; returning doesn’t present any difficulties either, because it’s travelling back to somewhere it’s already been. Travelling to the future though presents major problems.”

“In what way,” asked Scott quietly, though he was almost certain that he already knew what the answer would be.

“It just doesn’t work Scott,” Geoff confirmed Scott’s worst fears, “It doesn’t lock onto a specific date at all; regardless of what date and time you program it with, the device just travels forward to some random time: it could be a couple of days in the future or even millions of years. There’s no way of telling.”

“So my father....” Scott began, and then tailed off as he seemed to choke on his own words. After a moment of silence he continued: “He could be anywhere, or at any time I should say. Can’t we fix it Geoff? Yes, I’m sure we can fix it.”

“Even if we could it wouldn’t save your father,” Geoff said as he put a comforting hand on Scott’s shoulder, “It can be corrected; it will be corrected, but I know that won’t make you feel any better.”

Scott sat back in his chair. His feelings were mixed, he felt anger, he felt guilt but most of all he felt grief for the loss of his father; it was a loss he thought he’d managed to put right, but he hadn’t. He thought about what Geoff had told him about effect and predetermined cause, and he realised that the predetermination theory was correct and that he had been totally and solely responsible for his father’s disappearance all those years ago, that his plans had led to his father’s demise without him even knowing it. If he hadn’t gone back in time to interfere, then his father would never have disappeared, but then again if his father hadn’t disappeared, he would never have felt the need to go back in time anyway; it seemed that paradoxes did actually exist after all.

“How did you know?” he asked Geoff, “What made you realise?”

Geoff sat in silence for a while before saying: “The control mechanism we came up with seemed ok, but something about it didn’t ring true.”

Scott raised an eyebrow, “What do you mean?”

“It wasn’t like the one I was used to; the one in standard usage where I come from.”

“What the hell are you talking about Geoff?”

“Let me explain,” said Geoff. “My childhood was much like yours Scott. I achieved a lot more than anyone expected me to, even though I came from a line of gifted physicists. Even as a child I threw myself into my studies for pretty much the same reasons that you did. Oh, I had a father, but he was always so tied up with his work that I rarely got to see him at all, and almost never spent any time with him. When I reached my twenties, I realised that I knew more of my father from books than I knew of him from my own experiences. I regretted never having known him when I'd been a child, but I knew that he would never have had time for me back then. Of course I got to know him a little more when I grew up, but somehow I always wished I had known the younger him, the energetic, pioneer that he once was, rather than the scholarly old man he’d become.

“That’s why I decided to travel back in time to be with him. To work alongside him, to bask in the glow of his genius and perhaps to help him along with all the things I already knew he would achieve. So I used my father’s own invention to travel back forty five years to be here, to work alongside him.”

Scott stared wide eyed at Geoff as the older man squeezed the younger’s shoulder.

“There was never anything I could do to help you bring your own father back, no matter how much I wanted to,” Geoff continued, “All I could do was guide you, but I knew that nothing you did would have any effect in bringing him back. I must admit, that when I heard your plan, you almost convinced me that it would work, but I knew in my heart that it never could, because my father never met my grandfather, so I knew that you had to fail somehow. I must admit, it never occurred to me that it was your plan that had actually led to your father’s disappearance.”

“You could have stopped me,” Scott heard himself speak the words, though he knew how inaccurate they were as soon as he’d said them.

“Predetermined cause, remember?” said Geoff, “there was nothing either you or I could do to prevent your father’s disappearance.”

Scott nodded his head: “Yes, I know; it was destined to happen. It was events that happened prior to 1998 that caused it. The fact that those events originated here and now, and originated with me made no difference.”

Geoff continued: “My own father suffered from never knowing my grandfather, and I know I suffered, though perhaps to a lesser extent for never really knowing him. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to be a part of my father’s life. What I’ve done, I’ve done because I had to do it, for myself, and now that you understand, I hope you’ll agree, for you as well.”

Scott lifted his hand and placed it on Geoff’s where it rested on his shoulder. He squeezed Geoff’s hand; he half smiled at the older man. “Perhaps,” he said, “Perhaps.”

Geoff smiled back: “Happy Father’s Day dad,” he said.