A group of writers in Chichester coming together once a month for inspiration, collaboration and sensation
As the light flowed into the room of the nursing room Charlotte adjusted the blind to keep the sun out of her mother’s eyes. Charlotte looked over to Amber, her mother, who was falling asleep. A bouquet of lilies stood in a glass vase on the tableside. In hindsight Charlotte regretted buying the lilies because the smell was quite pungent, especially in mother’s small room. They were together in the room for half an hour but not many words were exchanged between mother and daughter. Charlotte knew her mother would never leave this room, she had to say something to dispel the despair, but she regretted it immediately: “I miss Dad.”
“I do too darling,” said Amber. “I loved him so much. But this isn’t about him. It’s about you now. You should think about your life and what you want.”
Charlotte’s father Brian sat slumped in the corner. He had been dead for a long time but he observed the lives of the two women he had loved the most. As a pale-skinned ghost with shrunken eyes he raised his gaze to see his dying wife; he mouthed out slow long words but he could not be heard no more. Neither of the room’s occupants knew he was watching.
Sitting down on the chair beside her mother Charlotte knew that she had reached an impasse. The smell of lilies, the low light, her mother’s white hair that fell on the pillow, Charlotte was aware of these passing feelings and sensations. Looking at her dying mother she realised that this was the start of the end.
“I know everything mum,” said Charlotte. “I have seen things that other people cannot see, been places where no one has gone. But you already knew that didn’t you? Any thoughts on what happens in the end? It’s the only thing that remains unknown to me.”
“In time…in time,” said Amber who was falling asleep again. “You will learn things…over time…not now Charlotte darling,” Amber closed her eyes.
As Charlotte got out of her chair and made her way to the door Amber called out: “We’ll meet again some time.”
They were the last words she said to her daughter.
Opening the door Charlotte found herself in the front room of a stranger’s home. Currently the only occupant was a writer who sat lazily in his chair, his name was Clay. Clay was busy tapping at his laptop as the TV blared on in the background. Even though it was nearing December he still wore shorts whilst he had pulled up his thermal socks to counter the winter chill. Clay knew that he looked ridiculous. Whilst he typed away at his laptop Clay asked Charlotte a question as she took her seat on the settee: “You’re lost aren’t you?”
“I guess that makes two of us,” replied Charlotte.
Clay stopped typing and leaned back in his chair. After looking at the ceiling he puffed out his cheeks and turned to his guest. Charlotte had his attention.
Stepping out onto the deck Charlotte saw how the crew on the Black Duchess were busying themselves on the ship. Charlotte walked over to two figures, one human one not, who stood portside and stared at the lone island in the distance. On the left stood Dave the Dilophosaurus and to the right was Mr Clapp, mum’s first officer. Being the first officer Mr Clapp was well turned out; his clothes were full of colour and tidily kept compared to the rest of the crew. Mr Clapp was more of a sailor than a pirate. Looking over to the other observer Charlotte noticed that Dave was suspiciously subdued, by now he probably would have said something that was offensive. The three saw the island, which had a small sandy shoreline bordered by a dense wall of trees and overlooked by a large slumbering volcano.
“What’s on the island?” Asked Charlotte.
“We’re not sure,” said Mr Clapp who turned his attention to the sky. “The Gods are with us today gentlemen—apologies, young Miss Charlotte. The sun is out and not a cloud in the sky. We should find no trouble on landing the boats. Although what could happen on island remains unknown.”
Dave was distracted and was not paying any attention to Mr Clapp’s brief; he kept on glancing at some far corner of the deck. Following Dave’s gaze Charlotte did see something. In the corner by some barrels was her father Brian who looked on the verge of death. Brian was in a bad way with his belly ripped open with and his blood which stained the floor. Charlotte knew he was alive. Deciding that he had had enough of Charlotte and Clapp’s company Dave walked over and started eating Brian’s exposed belly. Dave was always eating away at Brian. Over and over again…eating away.
Ignoring what Dave was doing to her father Charlotte discussed the matter in hand: “I think I should go on the landing.”
“Well I must advise you young miss that your mother is already there on the island with some of her men.” Mr Clapp assured her, “your presence is not necessary.”
“I want to be sure Mr Clapp.” Charlotte was thinking. “If I remember correctly mum said you were something of a soothsayer. I just want to be sure that my time here is spent wisely.”
“I will do as you wish young Miss. You are the Captain’s daughter after all.”
Mr Clapp knelt down and pulled out six gold doubloons that shone as brightly as the sun that hung in the cloudless sky. Examining each in turn he closed his eyes and tossed them onto the deck floor. Taking his time he stared at them intensely like he was composing a painting in his mind.
Before speaking a passing Oriental pirate stopped Mr Clapp; “that is hexagram twenty six Sir: Great Build Up. Its virtues place strength on top, with esteem for the wise. To be powerful yet controlled is great rectitude.” His voice was concise and clear. “It is worthwhile crossing great rivers, in response to nature.”
Mr Clapp nodded his gratitude to his comrade who promptly picked up the rope and returned to his duties.
“I don’t think this is the crossing you want young miss,” said Mr Clapp turning back to Charlotte. “You’re mother has already taken this crossing.”
“Do you think I should be with her?”
“No,” came Mr Clapp’s immediate response.
Dave reappeared next to Charlotte, it seemed that he had had his fill of Brian for now. Dave’s muzzle was covered with Brian’s blood. “Always fun you’re mum isn’t she?” chipped in Dave. “A lot more dynamic than some members of the family I admit.” Dave was staring down at Charlotte. Ignoring him Charlotte continued to stare at the distant island. Knowing that her mother was already exploring the island had helped make her mind up; she was not needed here.
“You’re the kind of person who sits in the corner and masturbates whilst the orgy carries on regardless,” quipped in Dave.
“There’s nothing for you here young Miss.” Mr Clapp seemed to sense Charlotte’s thoughts.
“I concur,” Dave added. “Maybe you should fuck off.”
Charlotte turned and brought her face close to Dave’s: “You always were a complete bloody twat Dave.”
Dave finally raised a grin over his scaly face: “Bitch.”
“I’m done here.” Charlotte backed off.
Mr Clapp nodded and turned his attention back to the island. Dave snorted before joining him. Charlotte looked at the island one last time before walking over towards starboard at which point she climbed up to a point where the only thing stopping her from the sea was herself. Looking over Charlotte saw the sea; it was so blue and deep that Charlotte was mesmerized by the water.
Clay wiped the blob of salad cream that sat on his chin. Sucking his fingers clean he placed the turkey sandwich on the unoccupied arm of his chair and turned his attention back to his laptop and started typing again.
“Do you know that thing about Kafka?” Clay asked Charlotte.
“No,” said Charlotte.
“You know.” Clay was still engrossed in his laptop. “When he read his stories to his friends he was disappointed that they weren’t laughing.”
“Yeah,” said Clay wearily. “My life…Ha bloody ha.”
The typing continued.
Charlotte felt the light touch on her shoulder that woke her from the trance. The student crowd had burst out in riotous laughter. Looking at the male participant sat next to her she noticed that he was stripped down to his underwear, a pair of tight black briefs.
“Thank you ladies and gentleman, let’s thank the participants,” concluded the hypnotist who sweated quite heavily, which was quite funny to Charlotte because he looked like a lizard, albeit with a goatee and a receded hairline. The pale bony youth who sat next to Charlotte was now scrambling over the floor trying to pick up his discarded clothes. The University bar was packed as the lights came back on; the audience were clapping as the hypnotist took a bow. Getting down from the stage Charlotte made her way through the audience who were still pointing and laughing at the guy who eventually grabbed his clothes and ran off to the men’s toilets. No one seemed to pay Charlotte any attention as she carried on through the crowd. Observing the crowd Charlotte noticed that their clothes were from a different time, for some reason she thought of her Dad.
There was a table and chair in a secluded corner that Charlotte knew was for her; it had a White Russian (one of Charlotte’s guiltiest pleasures) on it. She sat down and took a sip, the White Russian was made with fresh cream, but Charlotte already knew that. The thumping background music returned as the crowd dispersed. Looking up from her drink Charlotte saw someone in the crowd that she recognised. Charlotte got up and quickly chased after them. Placing her hand on the stranger’s shoulder she pulled him round. The stranger waved a hand as if swatting an annoying fly and moved on. Instantly Charlotte knew why he was familiar. During her childhood her Mother had shown a picture of her Father in his early University days wearing the exact same clothes as the stranger. On the back of the photo Charlotte remembered the words her Father had written: You’re never really here. Feeling a sense of contentment Charlotte quickly returned to her table and drained the remainingWhite Russian. Charlotte made her way through the crowd and stepped through the exit door.
Charlotte was in conversation with Clay: “Sometimes I feel like the elephant in the room. Not physically there but looming over everyone as they walk underneath me.”
“Isn’t that a bit egotistical? To think you even matter? You’re not even there. Maybe you’re not mentioned or even thought of at all,” suggested Clay.
“I think we’re saying each other’s words.”
“Perhaps.” Clay stroked the stubble on his chin.
The husband of Charlotte was close to his wife but hardly seen. Charlotte had met him as young man but he already looked aged. He was tall, with sharp cheekbones and prematurely greyed hair that was always neatly arranged. His most prominent feature was his smoke grey eyes in which Charlotte saw herself when they held each other close. He was a shadow mostly; Charlotte remembered his embrace as he wrapped his arms around her waist whilst his head rested on her shoulder.
And just like that he was gone again.
In another life Charlotte’s husband had fallen in love with another woman. As Charlotte waited on a stationary train she glanced out and saw him in the home he had set up with a woman who Charlotte did not recognise. The train hadn’t moved and wasn’t going to. Through the glass Charlotte observed her husband in the arms of the other of woman. Just like that she thought, me with my husband, me without my husband.
Might as well flip a coin.
“End of,” said Clay.
“End of what?” asked Charlotte.
Clay shrugged his young shoulders.
Charlotte awoke one night to find herself in the bed of the first flat she rented when she moved to the City. It was almost Christmas but she didn’t make the effort with decorations. If anyone observed her flat the only indication of Christmas was the solitary Christmas card sent from her parents. I’ll make up for it when I get back home, thought Charlotte. Mum puts a lot of effort into Christmas. It was another sleepless night for Charlotte. When she got out of bed she saw a brief view of the City, she stared into the distant City lights. As she entered the kitchen Charlotte saw the ghost of her Dad, Brian. The ghost seemed to move slow, to Charlotte it seemed that he moved as if trapped underwater. His mouth moved slowly but as he turned to face his daughter he dissolved into nothing. Charlotte picked up the phone and started dialling home.
Got to make sure.
Awakening Charlotte found she was still on the settee in Clay’s front room. Time had accelerated; the room was covered in heavy dust with cobwebs in all of the room’s corners. Still dazed she faced Clay’s chair, which was occupied by an ancient skeleton. The laptop was perched on the arm of the chair, just as Clay left it before. A light flickered on the screen showing it was still on. There was no point in reading what was on the screen; the story had been written, rewritten, edited, deleted and written again. It was unfinished and yet finished.
Better move on.
The basement was braced for the upcoming storm, which threatened to destroy a considerable part of Town. In the basement were Charlotte and her mother Amber, dressed in her full pirate regalia and sat on a wooden chest. An uncovered light bulb dangled from the ceiling illuminating the grey walls of the basement room. On the wall hung a portrait of a horse; a white horse that stood against an autumnal forest background. It was the only decoration in the room. There were two sets of stairs, one that led to the house and one that opened out into back garden. The garden door was now braced for the storm.
“Here we are then,” said Amber. “Come a long way did you?”
“You could say that,” replied Charlotte.
“Have you seen much of Dad?”
“Here and there.”
“How was—is he?”
“Not so good.”
“I would ask you how I am but I think I can hazard a guess,” Amber said wearily.
“So you know what happens?”
“I do Charlotte because you told me.”
Getting off of the chest Amber opened the lid. Charlotte couldn’t see what was in the chest. Amber pulled out a heavy leather pouch that she placed on the closed chest lid with a dull thud. Unfastening the pouch she brought out six gold doubloons that burned a bright gold as they were placed in Charlotte’s hand.
“You will find these useful. It will show you the way to the place you want to go. And now the final piece of the puzzle.” Captain Amber stood tall and took off her tricorne hat. She then placed the hat on her daughter’s head.
It was then that Charlotte became aware of her many fates: her many lives and deaths. Throughout time Charlotte would die many times, peacefully, violently, in instant accidents to long slow declines. Alone or with the ones she loved, it would come for her regardless. Yet it did not make her sad.
“It’s time Charlotte.” Amber woke her daughter up with a touch on her shoulder.
Getting up from her chair Charlotte went to the doors that led outside. Looking behind she saw her mother the feared pirate captain who nodded her approval at her departing daughter.
Charlotte opened the door.
Charlotte sat on the beach in the dark of night as the waves lazily rolled onto the shore. To the romantic, they might think that she had stayed to watch the sun rise. But the sun wasn’t going to rise. This was the end of the world. Charlotte was of the privileged few who witnessed the end. In those last moments she looked at the sky, which seemed devoid of anything.
Charlotte thought of those she loved.
Then the world ended…
That was that…