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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by David A Donovan

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The house sat squarely in the morning light, its grey walls honeyed in sunshine, the green shuttered windows locked tight, the font door firmly shut. Michael remembered the place was called Aisling, which means a dream. Beside him the garden was mad with nettles and bindweed and roses sick from no attention while butterflies flitted and birds chirped in the seed-bursting sunlight.

'Is there nobody here to welcome a traveller?' he said aloud, resting on his stick a moment longer, and then he walked up the garden path and pushed the front door open. 'Anybody home?' he called, and laughed aloud at the foolishness of the notion, and then stepped back an instant to escape the fetid air shifting like invisible fog within.

When Michael pushed on into the dusty hallway his hand touched the walls, green and cold, holding memories of other hands resting there while shoes were removed and scarves pulled from hooks and heavy coats lifted down in wintertime. He opened another door and stepped into the familiar living room - a large room no longer alive with the gurgling laughter of daily habitation and the greetings of his loved one whenever he visited.

'Hannah,' he said, whispering her precious name into the haunting silence and, for an instant, he was tempted to flee the cobwebbed quietness and the great weight of time settling like dust in the shadows.

'Is there nobody here to welcome me?' Michael called but nobody replied. 'There's surely been nobody at home for a long, long time.'

He climbed the bare, wooden stairs that led above, paused on the silent landing and listened as the sun rose through the dusty, curtainless window and slid silently along the corridor that separated one bare and empty room from another. He cautiously stepped into the back bedroom to the window overlooking the apple orchard. All had gone to seed. As he paced the room like a prisoner his boots echoed in the great emptiness and finally he stopped and stared ceilingward and wept.

The traveller remembered Hannah in springtime waving to her mother at the garden gate, and then hurrying along the budding country road to where neighbour Michael was waiting.

'Mornin' Hannah, darlin' - let me carry your bag - what do you say you skip school, and I won't bother boring myself with work, and we go to the river instead?'

'I'd get into too much trouble. You too, Michael.'

'You've already got the shape of a grown woman - time you stopped being so childish and so easy to fret, Hannah. '

'And who are you calling childish with you not barely eighteen yourself? Having a job doesn't make you a man.'

He missed her when they parted, and didn't see her again until the school-weary girl trailed her evening shadow home. After work they'd meet and hurry to the apple orchard and kiss where the April moon sat amongst the blossoming trees, watching them.

In time Michael grew restless. All summer he talked of getting away, as though he was her prisoner.

'I need to travel, he said. 'I must leave here and make something of myself. I have to!'

Hannah swung on a branch while Michael stared at her; she was pretty as petals in a pink dress, her lips luscious and full as the August moon, her warm breath sweeter than cider, her dark eyes bright as stars, her familiar voice gentle as apple blossoms falling.

'If you leave me Michael I shall die.'

'Hush girl don't be so childish! Look, I'm cutting words into the apple tree. Michael Loves Hannah. And a heart around our names. There's proof of love for all to see. We're always together now.'

'Forever?' Hannah asked

'Forever is a long time,' Michael said. 'I must go away, Hannah. I have ambitions beyond this place. Try to understand.'

She rested against him, nested herself in his arms, her cotton warmth flooding him, the smell of her freshly washed hair intoxicating.

'I want what's best for you but you promise you'll come back?' she said, wondering if indeed it would be best if he got travelling out of his system. She touched his face with her warm lips while his broad hands rested over her back, his fingers feeling her spine, sliding down and then underneath to the soft undulations of her fleshier, silksoft woman parts.

'Of course I'll come back,' he assured her. 'I couldn't live without you either.'

Hannah put a hand over his mouth.

'Seriously,' she said, as they loved. 'I really would die without you, Michael. I adore you.'

An owl hooted in a distant oak mocking her, a lame mouse scurried through the undergrowth and a spider failed to mend a broken web.

'I never meant to abandon you, Hannah. It just happened.'

Michael sat in the numbing summer heat, oblivious to the anxious chatter of birds, the angry buzzing of bees, the uncertain flights of the butterflies.

'If only I could find forgiveness,' he sighed.

He went inside to the deserted kitchen and filled a cracked cup with drips of tap water. Then he climbed the stairs to Hannah's room where he sat on the wooden floor, his back to the cold, stone wall, watching the shadows moving across the low ceiling, slowly and inevitably, like the lonely hours of his life passing.

'My existence has been wasted without her! How could I have been such a fool! O Hannah!'

Michael closed his eyes, his heart stopped with longing and he drifted into the deepest and most peaceful sleep he had ever known.

When the birds had fallen silent and the moon was in the windows Michael looked down at the apple orchard and saw Hannah standing there. She waved to him and whispered his name so he hurried outside to the orchard, which was bathed in a moonglow and hushed in a ghostly quietness.

'Hannah? Is it really you?'

She appeared from behind an apple tree, smiling shyly and took his hand, her fingers hot, her grip steady.

'I've been waiting ages,' she sighed. 'Ages!'

'I'm sorry, my love,' Michael said. 'You were gone when I finally wrote home. Why did you leave me, Hannah? Why did you die?'

'I couldn't help it,' her familiar voice whispered into his listening ear, intimately, knowing his heart like he knew her soul. 'It just happened.'

'I've been searching for you for such a long time.'

'You should have known where you'd find me.'

Michael looked at the moonlight streaming through Hannah and seeping into every part of his heart and his soul.

'Am I dead too, Hannah?'

'Hush Michael. There's really no such thing. Just a little sleep and a little dreaming and then the journey home.'

'What now?' he asked holding her in his arms, enfolding her, feeling Hannah's soul melting and merging into his own until they breathed with a single breath.

'We begin again,' Hannah said, laughing.

She pulled him upwards and they climbed over the golden moon and raced beyond the silvery stars, and even further as they journeyed back to where they finally belonged. Journeyed back home to another beginning.

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