Here's another short story. I had a bad headache the other day. It got me thinking about how the world seemed different while I was struggling to function. Then, this story started to form...
Viewing the world through squinted eyes definitely worked best. John Spencer worked that out some time ago.
it was around the time that his doctor also told him his brain scan was clear, and he didn't suffer from migraines. That was ironic, since he used the squinted eyes technique every time he got hit with a monster headache - like the one he had now.
John noticed that people seemed to be avoiding him as he walked. That came as no surprise. He realised that he must have looked a bit scary shuffling along, head down, eyes half closed. The walk back home from Whitlock town centre was going to be long and painful. It wasn't helped by the warm spring sunshine that bounced off the Cotswold-brick walls of the buildings on the High Street.
Without the headache monster, the walk back to his little two up, two down town house would take around 20 minutes. Today, with the headache monster alive and roaring, he had no idea how long it would take. Maybe he wouldn't make it at all.
John's stomach lurched uneasily, and a fresh wave of nausea passed over him like entering a darkened room from a brightly lit one. He gritted his teeth, and turned his head slightly. He was shuffling his way past Ma's, the bakery store half way up the High Street. On a different day, he'd go in and buy a couple of delicious sausage rolls. Today, the thought made him retch.
For the umpteenth time that morning he regretted the decision to go and see Dr Maynard. He'd strongly suspected that Maynard would tell him the same thing. No, he didn't have a brain tumour, and no, there wasn't any indication that he was a migraine sufferer. Apparently, it was just down to the fact that he suffered headaches from time to time - like many others.
"Hey! Watch it! Look where you're going..."
John stumbled, and nearly fell as a passerby dodged him at the last moment before collision. John hadn't even seem them.
He mumbled a reply, and tried to straighten up to his full 6' 2" height. Bad idea. The pounding in his head suddenly got much louder. Bile surged up his throat in search of an exit, and a stabbing pain raced through his whole head. It was like someone had jabbed a massive stake through his frontal lobe.
He knew he was going to have to widen his field of view soon. He needed to turn left at the end of the High Street onto Oak Road. That would allow him to cross the river Whit via Field's Bridge. The thought made him stop shuffling.
The bridge on a normal day, was wide enough to have vehicles pass on both sides of the road. There was also a footpath, a wide footpath. But what if he couldn't see it properly? What someone pushed him? He'd fall to a certain death over the ancient stone wall of the bridge. He'd be swept away by the racing river as it surged upstream towards the mill pool.
"Hey, look at that drunken fool! Haha, what a waster! Its not even lunchtime..."
"Disgusting. Being that drunk at this time of day? Obviously an alcoholic..."
John tried to ignore the snide comments of the passers-by. He wanted to scream that he wasn't drunk, it was because he had a monster headache. But it made more sense to focus on his bridge problem.
Well, that and the fact that as the bridge came into his blurred vision, there were two oddly dressed people on the other side. And both were grinning fiendishly as they allowed the sun to glint off the blades of the long knives they both held.
John blinked to try and clear his vision. They were still there though. A woman dressed in a long black coat, black boots and trousers. The man was dressed the same, except he also had an evil looking axe strapped to his back.
The woman tilted her head to one side, allowing her long black hair to fall over one shoulder. John was vaguely aware that she was a good looking woman. But he couldn't take his eyes off the blade she twirled in the sunlight.
She beckoned him to cross the bridge.
John was aware of other people (ordinary people) still walking past him and tutting in disgust. He glanced across the bridge again, and the woman was still indicating that he should cross.
John decided against it. He knew that what he was seeing wasn't real. But he still didn't fancy trying to cross the bridge.
He shook his head and stood still, squinting and head throbbing.
The woman frowned, glanced at her male colleague and stepped forward. She waited until a passer-by was within a few feet of her. Then she swung her blade in a sweeping arch at around shoulder height.
Her blade caught and slashed open the throat of the passer-by. There was a sudden arterial crimson spray. It glistened in the sunlight before disappearing over the side of the bridge. Dark patches began to appear on the young man’s denim jacket as blood poured from his throat. He staggered and began to fall. But not before the woman slashed again, this time slicing downwards. Half of her victims face turned red immediately.
The young man toppled over the wall of the bridge and disappeared into the river below. The woman wiped her blade on a rag she produced from her pocket. Then she lifted her arms in a gesture that suggested what she had just done was John’s fault.
John blinked and tried to focus. He couldn’t quite take in what he had just seen. Part of him knew it couldn’t be real. Other people in the vicinity of the bridge should be running away, or screaming, maybe grabbing phones out their pockets. But instead, people just carried on about their business as if nothing had happened.
The dark-haired woman gestured again. She still wanted him to cross the bridge. John still didn’t think it was a good idea. He was finding it difficult to move. The woman frowned and stepped aside. This time her male colleague stepped forward. He looked at John with a malevolent glare. Then he reached over his shoulder and pulled the axe free.
John knew what was going to happen. He tried to shout a warning, but nothing but a gargled noise left his throat. The axe swung in a giant arc and connected with an elderly lady who was just stepping off the bridge. She tottered forward a few more steps before collapsing to the floor. Axe man bent down and picked up her severed head. Her eyes bulging in horror, her face frozen in a hideous death mask.
Axeman threw the head over the side of the bridge with utter contempt. He then kicked the body of the old lady down the slope until it rolled into the river, immediately staining the water crimson.
Still the citizens of Whitlock continued about their business.
The knife woman beckoned John across the bridge once more.
His head still pounded furiously.
John decided he’d seen enough slaughter. He held up his hands.
“I’m crossing the bridge. Please leave people alone. I’m crossing…”
He stepped forward keeping his head down to limit the pain across his eyes. Then knife lady spoke. Her voice had a deep timbre but was also quite soothing.
“We have no wish to take any more lives John. However, rest assured we will, unless you cross the bridge.”
John looked around and winced in pain. No-one else seemed to have heard her voice. He continued to shuffle forward and he stepped onto the bridge. He glanced up. Knife lady was holding out one hand, in the way that a mother patiently waiting for a child would.
John continued to shuffle forward. He still couldn’t quite believe what he’d witnessed. Who were they? What did they want with him? He stopped walking and raised his head as far as he dared.
“What do you want?”
Knife lady stepped to one side, swung her knife in a lazy arc and it sliced into the neck of a business-suited lady crossing the bridge.
“NO! I said I was crossing…”
John watched in horror as the business lady collapsed to the floor, her neck pumping a crimson fountain. Blood pooled under her head staining the footpath.
John tried to walk quicker. As he approached knife lady he noticed that her skin was glossy and marble like. She smiled, and shook a finger at him.
“Now John, you should know not to disbelieve us. We are always true to our word.”
“Who the fuck are you? And what do you want with me?”
The axeman strode over and grabbed hold of John. He forced his head up up causing explosions of pain to run across his forehead.
“You WILL show respect when addressing the lady. Do you understand?”
John just held up a hand in compliance. He was in too much pain to speak. Axemans’ voice was deep and gravelly. Like his vocal chords were too powerful for normal speech.
Knife lady rested a hand on John’s arm. He felt a surge of ice cold fluid run through his body.
“Your time is upon you John. And you must not resist. We are the keepers of the bridge between our worlds. We cannot allow your diseased body to enter our realm.”
John tried to decipher what he’s just heard. None of it made sense.
It was all he could manage.
“Your medical man has it wrong. You are dying John. You have a large tumour inside your head.”
“Ah, okay. So now you’re a doctor as well as a knife-wielding lunatic?”
Axeman just grunted, stepped away from them and swung his axe in a vicious overhead arc. It ploughed down straight into the head of Reverend Lacy the vicar of St Johns church just up the road from the bridge. The axe ploughed deep into head causing grey matter and blood to ooze down his face. He collapsed in a heap. Axeman grabbed him by his jacket collar and physically lifted him and tipped him over the bridge.
Axeman turned to John.
“I said show RESPECT. And anyway, that pedlar of fairy stories needed to be shown the true light.”
He laughed, but it was like no laugher John had ever heard before. John was in a state of shock the likes of which he had never experienced before. His brain was scrambled with pain and with the images of what he had witnessed in the last few minutes.
“So what do you want from me?”
Knife lady smiled and patted hims arm again. “You must not go back over the bridge John. You must do as we tell you. That is all.”
John thought about a reply but then stopped himself. He didn’t want to give axeman any other reason to go to work.
“I’m sorry for our shocking behaviour. But those people we fixed can’t be allowed to cross over either. They were all carrying sickness.”
She smiled, and then took his head in her hands. John felt the cold. An icy deep cold. He shut his eyes and tried to block the pain. But he felt himself falling…
A loud noise penetrated his mind. It sounded like a siren. He tried to open his eyes. He saw that he was in an ambulance. The concerned look of a paramedic swam into view.
“He’s convulsing badly. We’re losing him…”
John closed his eyes. The prophecy of his dream (nightmare?) began to unfold.