Archive for June, 2011

The Seeds of Ammon — short story by G B Hobson

June 20, 2011

The Seeds of Ammon came in the night from the deserts of Egypt, borne on air currents to fall on the meadows of the Vale of Eden. Even as the spores of a Lycoperdales-type plant — secretly grown in the Oracle Temple of Ammon at Siwah — were breathed in, so the people of the Vale began to prophesy.

Martha Langton, watched her neighbouring farmer, Jake Wood, mount the few crumbling steps of the ancient monument set in the centre of Eden’s Market Square. She noted an unnatural brightness to his pale blue eyes, which went well with his long silver hair flowing from both scalp and chin. He may be old and bent, his clothes old and shabby, but to her he would always be a giant among men. She felt, as much as saw, Jake unbend his painful arthritic joints to stand his full six feet of height. Trembling with an inner urge to join him, Martha waited in awed silence as Jake began to speak.

“Listen, all you blessed with hearing.”

A few people nearby glanced up but the pull of the market with its offerings of fruit and vegetables, bread and cakes, local cheeses, fresh fish, bags and trinkets, shoes and socks, women’s clothes, scarves and hats, sweets and books, had too great a hold. Stallholders continued to shout out their wares above a cacophony of voices. Martha knew that money burned in pockets as beckoning aromas wafted under noses, and paint-box colours caught the eye. Shoppers had come to shop and gossip, and they had no time to listen to a croaking old man. Something had to be done to make them listen.

Martha drew in her breath then let forth an unholy wail that reverberated on nearby pots and pans. A shocked silence fell over the area as though a banshee had suddenly arrived to presage doom on all present. Even Jake straightened his back and became more alert.

“Listen, all you blessed with hearing.” No croaking now. Jake’s voice demanded attention. “Hear me and be warned. On the morning of Monday next, a mighty storm will blow through Eden. Did you hear that? A storm like no other witnessed in these parts. Crops ravaged… buildings shattered. A great swell will sweep the river into the town… homes flooded… lives lost.” Seemingly exhausted, Jake sat down on the steps.

The Saturday shoppers now appeared compelled to stand and wait for more. Then someone shouted, “He’s off his bloody rocker.” The ensuing laughter broke the tension.

Fools! When will people learn to listen to ancient wisdom? Martha said to herself. Science thinks it knows it all. Compared to Wisdom springing from the Other, science is fragile and incomplete. The Oracle of Ammon has spoken, and all things shall come to pass. Her skinny body may be no more than a coat-hanger displaying a faded flowered dress, but she was not prepared to listen to the raucous remarks and be silent. Feeling a sudden surge of strength, she pushed aside shoppers and made her way to the centre of the deriding crowd surrounding the ancient Celtic monument. Standing at the top of the steps, the whole of her senses became acutely alive, overpowering her in an aura of contrasting smells and incandescent colours. Suddenly, she felt overflowing with an energy never before experienced. She could see and feel what lay ahead. Above all she could smell fear and death. Surely nothing could stop her from speaking what must be said. That morning, when she left her cottage to catch the hourly bus to town, she knew the Seeds of Ammon had penetrated her mind imbuing her with a sixth sense. If they had not, how would she know about the seeds and from whence they had come? Yes, knowing and her acceptance, gave her power beyond earthly reasoning. She had no doubt whatsoever that the words about to leave her mouth were those of the Oracle of Ammon. But first must be silence. She repeated the mournful wail.

The laughter ceased. She was aware of how she looked to others: a mere five feet tall bag of bones with hardly any hair to blow in the soft breeze. Wrinkles, like a contour map, greeted her every morning in the mirror. The curious eyes of bystanders may silently stare at her, but she could see lips ready to crack into laughter at any moment.

“You are foolish — everyone of you — not to heed Jake’s warning,” she began. “The believers at the far end of our valley are at this moment moving their sheep and cattle to safety. They know and understand. That is why they are not here today. I warn you all… those with houses by streams and rivers return to your homes and prepare for the flood. You with animals in rotting buildings, move them to stone barns or to the south side of hills. The wind will come from the north but it will whirl and move in funnels… the sky will open and streams will become torrents… rivers will break their banks. Protect your children. Take what you can and drive many miles away. Hear me… nothing is safe…. The Oracle of Ammon has spoken.” She closed her eyes as a deep sigh put an end to her message.

Opening her eyes again Martha saw the faces in front of her had turned rigid with fear. Then, breaking the silence, a stallholder started to laugh. The shocked moment now shattered, men, women and children howled with mirth.

“Oracle of Ammon? Who’s ’e when ’e’s at ’ome?” yelled a customer at the fish stall, holding up a piece of haddock. “Sounds a bit fishy to me.” More bellowing laughter.

“Aye, a right load of codswallop,” said the red-cheeked fishmonger, as he wrapped up his customer’s purchase.

Soon shouts and whoops accompanied puns and laughter. Angrily, Martha grabbed the arm of a small, thin girl and dragged her up the few steps. “If will not listen to either me or Jake, then hear the words of an innocent child,” Martha yelled, her lightning shriek now rolling with thunder.

Silence fell over the whole area. To Martha’s satisfaction, more people approached the Celtic cross as though drawn by a compelling force. Dressed in a plain pink dress, the slim girl — a little over four feet in height, huge vacant violet eyes, long straight blonde hair surrounding a thin pale face with small nose — stood with statue stillness. When she opened her small mouth, out came a flutelike voice:

“Look to the sky. What do you see?” She pointed a slim finger upwards and the eyes of all those present followed her gaze. “Clouds, soft and puffy in a perfect blue sky. But a mighty wind will come… darkness will cover this land. The sky will be ripped open… a child of death will be born. Rain will fall in mighty sheets… streams become rivers. Rivers burst their banks… the land will be as the sea.” Her expressionless face turned as her eyes swept the crowd. “The Oracle of Ammon has spoken.” The girl collapsed. Martha caught her in her arms.

“Be warned. Go home and prepare,” Martha called to the crowd. Sitting on the steps she cradled the child’s head and shoulders, whispering, “Blessed of Ammon, rest and be strong.”

Martha watched as people gradually recovered from their mesmerised state. Some were moving towards the car park, others towards the bus stop. A few stood looking at the stalls as though wondering what to do next.

“Go home,” she yelled at them, waving an arm, but they still walked around like zombies. Most of the stallholders were packing up. Others, who had travelled some distance from their stores in major towns, were shaking their heads in disbelief.

Monday morning dawned as previous days, but no bird sang. By eight o’clock a chill wind had sprung up from the north and dark clouds loomed overhead. Within an hour, darkness had fallen over the Vale of Eden. The wind grew stronger and soon tornados were moving down the valleys carrying upwards anything that lay in their paths. Lightning flashed in crooked forks of brilliance against the blackening sky. Suddenly a jagged knife split apart the darkened heavens and released rain such as never before experienced in that part of the country.

Martha stood at the top of a hill, half-sheltered by a cave. Jake, the child, and the child’s family were with her. Rain joined the tears streaming down her face. “We warned them, but the truth lay at their doors begging to enter. They heard the message but they preferred the false security of weather forecasts. We are not to blame. We played our part. Those who received the Seeds of Ammon are safe, the others… ah… if only… if only….”

Hardly able to see through the rain, she could only imagine what was happening in Eden. It would be as the Oracle warned. Uprooting and flooding, death and destruction. Over the years it had happened in other places, now it had come to Eden.

Anger followed the death of Eden. Who was to blame for the terrible destruction? Forty-five dead, over two hundred injured, few houses left intact, Farm outbuildings shattered and blown away, with only stone barns left standing and even those damaged. Animals killed, crops destroyed, fields and homes under water. Never before had Eden been so ravaged by nature. But the blocking of the spillway of the old Eden Mill’s earth dam had made the situation even worse. The subsequent bursting of the overfilled dam caused an even greater surge of water — thick with mud — through the streets of Eden. Only Upper Eden had been spared the carnage experienced by the lower regions and the town.

Martha heard the mutterings and saw the looks that came her way. Many years ago, a scapegoat would be found to resolve anger over failed crops, plagues and other community disasters. The pain and anger felt by Eden’s inhabitants could not be denied. She had warned them. They had not heeded. Unable to accept responsibility for their lack of action, Martha knew who would be accused. As for the blockage, it was surely obvious what had caused that. But the people wanted someone to blame for their own lack of foresight in dealing with potential disasters. The dam would not have stopped the massive surge of water racing down the hills to the valleys and on to the town, but it would have prevented the tons of water stored there from increasing the swell. Who had benefited? Clearly, no one, But fingers were being pointed and the hatred became only too tangible.

All those gifted with the Seeds of Ammon sensed danger ahead. But their powers appeared to be fading. They were far from the oasis at Siwah, far from where the Oracle’s temple kept alive the cult and nurtured the soothsayers. Fear made them vulnerable. Martha knew it but was powerless to do anything about it. Only the child appeared to be fully under the Oracle’s influence. Her eyes still staring, her body still.

Ronald Pickman had lost everything but his wife, family, car and caravan, in the flood. His shop had been utterly destroyed, and with it his business. His insurance had run out and, instead of renewing it straight away, he’d taken his wife and family to the Costa del Sol. He knew all about the Oracle business and saw it as some sort of hocus pocus to hide what was really going on.

“That damn woman’s been against my store ever since it opened. She petitioned against late hours to sell alcohol. And supported the Olde Tearoom against us taking over their premises. This is a personal vendetta.”

“Don’t you think you’re taking this too personally?” said his wife Hilda. “We’re not the only ones suffering.” She looked around the caravan they had just returned from Spain. “We’re lucky to still have this, and our lives.”

“Yes, and just the clothes we stand up in! Okay, she may not be responsible for the rain, but she lives near enough to the dam to see it was blocked. Maybe she and her buddies blocked it. Oracle of Ammon? Huh, anything to get in the papers. She’ll be on TV next… warning everyone of the end of the world. She’s a menace to society. She wants stopping.”

“I’m going out,” said Hilda. “Our store may be a write-off but Lily’s tearoom can be salvaged. I’ll give her a hand.”

“What? Over my dead body!”

“If necessary,” Hilda said, and, slipping on muddy wellingtons and a plastic cape, she walked out.

In the stone barn of her smallholding, Martha gathered together those who had been blessed with the Seeds of Ammon. She sensed something terrible was about to happen. “In the town there is much agitation, we must be on our guard.”

“Why don’t we go to the police?” asked Jake, looking even frailer.

“And say what? That people in the town are planning to harm us? Actually, the vibes come from one man in particular. Watch out for Ronald Pickman. His hatred flows in an aura so strong it is visible to my eyes.”

“And mine,” said a small piping voice.

Martha looked at the thin child who’d stood with her at the Celtic cross. “Anna, you must keep out of that man’s sight. He is dangerous.”

“Yes, I know. He’s a bad man. But he doesn’t frighten me.”

“Nor me,” said Jake. “What can he do to an old man who is ready for death? But Anna must be protected. People are afraid of her.”

“I don’t need protecting,” Anna said vehemently. “Ammon will shield me.”

“Faith is a fine thing, but we must be cautious.” Martha did not want to subdue a child’s faith, nor an old man’s certainty, but neither did she want to see harm come to those who had spoken at the cross. The Oracle had faded within her but maybe in the child, Ammon was still strong. “I have said enough. You have all been warned.”

Rain had ceased, when darkness fell over the drowned town of Eden, Ronald Pickman slipped on his black Burberry coat that always travelled with him, and crept out of his caravan. He rummaged inside the boot of his car, grinning at his thoughts. At least he’d driven his Jaguar away before the flood arrived. What’s more it looked like he would be getting a new one to replace it. Anger overpowering all sense of moral restraint, Pickman carefully made his way to Martha’s place. He unscrewed the cap of a can and poured petrol through the letterbox and over both front and back doors. He then smashed a window by the front door and threw the half-empty can inside, the contents spilling over furniture and carpet. He stood well back and took out his lighter.

The voice of Hilda sounded just behind him. “What on earth are you doing, Ron?”

Shocked, he turned around, dropping the lighter. A line of flame ran to the house and licked its way through the window. The can blew up. Ron staggered backwards. Hilda screamed — burning debris had set her hair alight.

From nowhere, the child appeared before them. She pointed to Hilda. Mesmerised, Pickman stood back as the flames on his wife’s hair vanished. The child then pointed to a sandbag by the front door. The bag split open, Sand poured out and followed the line of the child’s pointing finger to inside the cottage. As flames disappeared, Martha and Jake arrived with buckets. Neither showed signs of surprise.

Pickman grabbed his wife’s hand and they disappeared into the night.

Martha wrote down the bizarre happenings that had taken place in the Vale of Eden. The evening of the fire, she had been consulting with Jake when they each received a premonition of events at her cottage. Pickman had been arrested and lost his wife as well as his freedom. Hilda had been more than willing to testify. The part Anna played was kept out of it. Who would believe it anyway? Few newspapers mentioned the prophetic warnings. They had enough of horrors and dramatic rescues to report than to dabble in speculative events. The two pensioners could well be senile, even if they did assist in putting out the fire. They did not seem able to predict the time of the next bus, never mind a storm. As for the child, sure she looked odd with those big eyes, thin body and pale skin, but, saying nothing, she seemed as dim as she looked.

Wisdom came to Anna as her psychokinetic powers strengthened. Prophesying could wait. In her mind she could see the dawn of Armageddon. Her powers would be needed. In ten years she intended to travel to Egypt and draw on the power of the Oracle of Siwah. For now, she would be the quiet schoolgirl. Even so, Anna could not resist an occasional use of her psychokinetic powers. But those are stories to be told later.

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Returning again to a time gone by…

June 11, 2011

Returning again to a time gone by…
Highfields Park at Nottingham University June 2011

Many nests around

Lovely views through the trees. Years ago we could not walk that side of the lake

Heron standing in the stream where I took my first photograph 65 years ago

We stood where only students were once allowed.

Through the trees, over the lawns to the white University building.

Years agom we used to see students strolling and sitting on the lawns in front of the stately white building. My brother was one of the early students there — rare for a working class boy who left school at fourteen!

Highfields Park Lake. It was here that my brother fell from a boat and lost his glasses. His suit shrank and he arrived home dripping wet! So much for celebrating the end of term!

As we (my husband and I) entered the café at Nottingham University’s Highfields Park, the theme of the music being played was about ‘going home’. How appropriate! I was visiting once more the ‘playground’ of our youth where so many memories come flooding back.
The only time I met any of our cousins was when they visited our home in Beeston during the war, and we all went to that particular park. The adults talked while we rolled on the sloping grass.

As a teenager I walked there with my brother and youths laughed at the red spot I had on the tip of my nose. (When I reached home, against all advice, I squeezed it until its contents flowed with blood).

At fourteen, on the lake I turned into a Boadicea by fighting boys off with an oar when rowing on the lake. On the little island, under the Wishing Tree, I wished for a first kiss. Under the willow trees I met with a friend who drew boys like bees to nectar (hoping some of it would rub onto me but never did!)

As a family we occasionally walked there on Sundays — my dad was stung on his lip — his lips and face swelled and turned purple. (I was scared stiff!)

It was in the park lake that my brother, celebrating the end of term with his student friends, fell from a boat and lost his glasses. He arrived home dripping water from a suit sodden and quickly shrinking to several sizes smaller.

I saw the little stream where I took my first photo with a box camera. I took a photo of a heron in that very stream — but now with a digital camera.

I looked up at the elegant University building and recalled my brother taking me to a ‘going down hop’ — he’d pressed his trousers with a damp cloth and spent much time scratching at his buttocks!

It was in this park that I walked with my husband to be, and now after 58 years of marriage little had changed, except for growth of trees and loss of paddling pool. Less flowers and more weeds. More students in more university buildings but not affecting the park. One important change, it is now possible to walk ALL the way round the lake AND there is a cultural centre (complete with café) replacing the pavilion.
The huge Nottingham Queen’s hospital has appeared over the years. My mother had an operation there in 1987 to remove a cancer from her stomach.
It so happened to coincide with a conference for Apple computer users. I was able to share a two-bedroomed apartment with my son in the residential buildings within University park. From there I was able to freely visit my mum for the whole weekend. To me, staying amongst the Apple enthusiasts was like going to a ‘Revivalist’ conference — enthusiasm and excitement combined with a friendly welcome and warmth of spirit. In fact I have been to religious conferences far less friendly! Here I was invited to join in with the talks and demonstrations etc but I declined and visited a sister a few miles away. The walk, part of it through the park, did me good. Apart from eating and sleeping, the rest of the time I was with my mother.
Close to (or within?) the Park there used to be Highfields Lido. Alas no more, it went years ago. I never did learn to swim at the Lido but memories of Eric the cad still linger!