Fading Light


We stopped because we could.

The night was still young, and this open expanse of freshly mown grass seemed irresistible.

Our end of year exams were over and within twelve short months, we would all be fully fledged teachers. The thought terrified all of us but no-one said it out loud.

My car was jammed full of young, slightly inebriated student teachers. In our year the girls outnumbered the boys two to one. I was the only sober person in my vehicle, which was okay with me. I like a drink, but my meagre allowance only stretched as far as owning a car and taking girls to the movies. So booze was a luxury I could ill afford.

The girls preferred clothes and public transport so we were struggling for enough vehicles to get us around in a large group. Fortunately, Laurie’s father decided not to be a dick on that night and loaned him his car. Even so, we were all wedged in pretty tightly.

“Pull over Spider!” the girls in the back seat shouted. I’d had that nickname since I was a kid, but never told anyone how I got it.

“Okay. No need to split my eardrum,” I said.

There was an absolute absence of moon, and we were far enough away from the city lights for the sky to be full of bright stars.

The other four cars pulled in behind me, and when the headlights went out, we were in total darkness. Tipsy girls tumbled out of cars squealing with delight. I heard someone trip and fall — then laughter. Not my girlfriend, not my worry.

Then the phones came out, and shafts of light crisscrossed the vast open space. I could sense that the open field, possible a football field of some sort, was bordered by tall trees. There was moisture in the air and if the squealing mass of humanity had not been a bit drunk they would have been complaining about the cold.

The light from torches on our phones was riding on the mist and created a light show without music.

It didn’t take long before the selfie photos started to light up the field.

More squealing.

Each time a flash went off I saw an after image off to my left, but when a torch beam hit that spot, there was no-one there.

I dismissed the image as part of the dance that goes on with one’s vision in such low light situations. I remember thinking that I had damaged my vision when I was a boy because I could not see if I looked directly at something in very low light. In year eight we discovered the wonders of the human optic system, and I worked out why my vision was so much better in low light if I looked to the side. Rods and cones — cool.

This wasn’t that.

Every time a flash went off I caught sight of someone for just a second then the image would fade. This someone was moving around, and it was starting to freak me out. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up.

“Did anyone else see that?” I said.

“See what,” said Colin, who was the only other student in our group who owned a car, but he left it at home and borrowed his father’s sedan so that we could all make it to the celebrations.

“Over there, not far from the trees, wait for a flash to go off.”

“Holy shit! What was that?”

“Keep watching and tell me if you think it’s moving.”

Another flash.

“Yes, it is, and it’s big,” said Colin.

By this time I’m scared, but I cannot take my eyes off the spot where we last saw the person.

“It’s hard to tell in this light, but this bloke must be close to seven foot tall,” I said.

“What should we do?”

We rounded up our rowdy crew and got them to turn off their phone torches.

“Girls, you point your phones in that direction and take a flash photo,” They all turned and fired off all at once before I had a chance to finish, “one after the other.”

It seemed to me that the after image from the flashes was visible for only a second or two, then they faded away.

“It’s almost as if this bloke absorbs the light for a second before it fades away.” Now I wasn’t the only one who was scared. Our crew were now huddled together in the middle of this vast field. We could smell the cut grass under our feet, and the girls were beginning to shiver.

I rallied the boys together. “We are not going to just stand here and let this bozo intimidate us. When we get the girls organised with the flashes, we are going to tackle this bloke and get him to tell us what he’s up to.”

I didn’t wait for confirmation of my plan because I knew that there was a chance that someone would start to argue about the efficacy of my idea.

“Keep the flashes coming girls. Paul, you stay here with the girls in case there are more of them. Ready? Then let’s get him.”

We ran at the figure who kept glowing momentarily after each flash, and as we got closer, it became apparent that he was huge — over seven foot tall. I’m not the fastest runner in the group so my tackle was late. This bloke was icy to the touch, and he was wearing some sort of leathery coat.

He didn’t struggle when we hit him at full pelt, and he didn’t say a word.

We all lay on the grass holding on to this huge person, but as the flashes continued I had time to gather myself and got a look at him.

This bloke didn’t look like any man I had ever seen before. His eyes were big and sad, and his skin was shiny and wrinkled.

“I think this bloke is really old,” I said.

“This ain’t no bloke,” I heard Colin say.

“There’s another one over there,” I heard one of the girls say. “It’s a lot smaller.”

The little one made a strange noise, and the big one that we had tackled looked at me. It didn’t say anything, and I know it sounds weird, but I knew what it wanted.

“Let her go,” I heard myself say. “Just let her go.”

Amazingly, the boys did as I asked. The creature stood up gracefully and moved towards the little one. When they met they embraced, all in the glare of flashing light.

Together, they walked back towards the tree line and disappeared from view.

I was hoping that they would look back in our direction, but they didn’t.

I could still feel the cold sensation of having my arms wrapped around this enigmatic creature.

She was enormous and powerful, but she did not fight back.

“So, what do we tell everyone about this?” said Patricia, who was always the first girl to ask a question in lectures.

“Check your phones,” I said. “See if you captured any images of one or both of them.”

The girls didn’t have to answer; I could see it on their faces.

“Tell, don’t tell. I don’t think it makes any difference. Some will believe us, and others will say we’re nuts. Either way, we helped a mother and her child reunite. That’s enough of a story for me. So, are we going to this party or not?”

It took a few minutes for us to squeeze back into the cars and the journey through the darkness, on the way to our destination, was undertaken in relative silence.

Minds were racing, but mouths were silent.

Hold My Hand


Maybe it happened because I jerked off too much when I was a teenager — no, that’s crazy talk — there is no such thing as too much — except for that one occasion, but there isn’t enough time to tell you that story now — it’ll have to wait.

Fortunately for me, my wife remembers lots of little details. She’s good like that — good in other ways as well — a good person all round. Details are important. Very important. If I don’t make contact for a long time, details are all that matter.

I’m getting ahead of myself, I’m sorry. I didn’t want this to be confusing. Let’s go back to what the doctor said, “It’s a bit of a nuisance, but you’ll get used to it.”

“I’ve never fucking heard of it before now. How the fuck did this happen?” Apologies for the colourful language, but that was what I said, and in my defence, I was justifiably upset.

“Just because you haven’t heard of it Mr Jenkins doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.” He was right, but he was also an opinionated arsehole, and it occurred to me that he had worked quite hard to perfect his arseholedness — probably picked it up in high school.

“Seriously Doc, this is insane. Am I the only person in the world with this disease?” I asked.

“It’s a syndrome, Mr Jenkins, not a disease.”

“Thanks for the correction Doc, that makes me feel a whole lot better.” Doctor Numbnuts was trying to be helpful, at least he thought he was. He’d even chosen his most helpful tie that morning. “The blue one or the green one with the spots?” he said to his wife. “The blue one says helpful, dear, the green one says I can get you a good deal on a used car.” She was right of course, so he wore the helpful blue one, but just at this moment, its magic did not seem to be working on Mr Jenkins.

“Your syndrome is progressive, so you will notice that you need to recharge more often as time goes by and the duration of the recharge will get longer as well, but on the bright side, you will probably have passed away from some serious disease by the time this gets really inconvenient. You are getting on a bit Mr Jenkins. Pretty soon you will enter that age group when men of your generation start to succumb to all sorts of fatal illnesses. So, buck up, you may not live long enough for this to bother you unduly.”

“How rare is this syndrome Doc?”

“Not very. It’s just that there is such a stigma attached to it that people tend not to discuss it. For decades, the media has been under a self-imposed ban on reporting about the effects. It’s felt that reporting about it will encourage men to imitate the symptoms and take advantage of their wives.”

“What a load of bollocks!” My head was spinning from what seemed like a huge pile of horse manure masquerading as medical evidence.

“I see it all the time. Men holding their partners hand in public, unnecessarily.”

“Define unnecessarily.”

“I know you are angry Mr Jenkins, but this is getting us nowhere.”

“Humour me.”

“Okay, it’s Wednesday night, and I’m walking past McDonalds, and I see an older couple walking towards me. They are taking their cute little dogs for a walk, and they are holding hands — on a Wednesday night! I ask you, do you need any more proof than that — a Wednesday night. Now, if it had been a Saturday night, I might have bought it, but a Wednesday night? I don’t think so. Obviously, the man had read about this syndrome, probably on the dark net, and had convinced his poor innocent wife that he needed to hold her hand — disgusting. Nothing but male violence in its basest form.”

“He’s holding her hand for fuck sake. Maybe she asked him to hold her hand. Did you ever think of that?”

“Ridiculous. Decent women don’t behave like that in public. You don’t have to believe me, Mr Jenkins, simply read the research.”

“I’d love to. But as you so clearly pointed out, there isn’t any published research.”

“Not released for the likes of you Mr Jenkins, but for the medical profession there are reams of the stuff. I’ll have my secretary copy some of the simpler case studies for you, but you must return them when you are finished. We can’t have this information falling into the wrong hands.”

“Men’s hands.”

“Precisely Mr Jenkins. You’re getting the hang of this, well done.”

“So what is it that I’m supposed to do in all of this?” 

My wife had been quietly listening to us talking, but she couldn’t hold her peace any longer.

“Your role is very straight forward Mrs Jenkins. You hold his hand until his memories return.”

“That’s it. That’s all I have to do?”

“That, and not die. If you died suddenly, he would be stranded. His memories would leak away like a bath with the plug pulled out. He would have no past. Ultimately he would forget the basics, like the need to eat and drink, brush his hair and take the rubbish out. As it got more tragic, he would forget why he loved watching reality television. When that happens, the end is not far away. Eventually, he would forget to put his lottery ticket in and, probably while abusing a politician on the television, he would forget to breathe, and his life would come to an end.”

“So, hold his hand and don’t die — that’s your advice. That’s what we are paying a small fortune to hear?”

“I studied for seven years at university Mrs Jenkins; I know what I’m talking about.”

My wife gave the doctor one of those stares. She didn’t spend seven years at university, but she certainly had perfected that stare. He knew exactly what she meant  — his wife had perfected a similar look.

My wife reached over and took me by the hand, and I remembered where I’d put my spare keys. As she held tightly and squeezed my fingers, I remembered why my son no longer talks to me, and it made me sad.

“Come my darling; we’re going home,” she said.

I didn’t argue. I let her lead me out of the room, past the pretty secretary with the red hair and the green eyes and out to where the elevators stood silently waiting. As we rode down to the ground floor, still clutching each others hand, I remembered the time I sat in the hospital waiting room praying that my wife would not bleed to death. I remembered the young doctor smiling at me as he strode towards my seat. The look on his face said ‘I’m the brightest young doctor in this hospital, and I saved your wife from dying. Sure, a bunch of other people helped out a bit, but in the end, I saved her.’

We caught the number twelve tram and my wife did not let go of my hand. We sat quietly and looked at the world go by. A small boy was sitting next to his mother absentmindedly playing with a battered toy car. It was a lovely autumn afternoon, and the leaves were swirly across the footpaths and into the path of oncoming traffic — the leaves did not seem to care about their fate, and neither did I — not anymore.

It’s only a short walk from the tram stop to our house, and my wife held my hand the whole way.

“Let’s get into bed and snuggle up and try and forget this awful day,” said my wife.

“It’s only half past four. Are you sure? You know you will be wide awake in the middle of the night?”

“Get into bed Michael. Hold me tight.”

“I did as I was told. It was not a difficult chore. We had been holding each other in this way for many a long year. When my father died, she held me until there were no more tears left to shed.

“I’m not going to die, Michael. I’ll always be here, and you can hold my hand every night when you get home from work, and the memories will all come flooding back. We will be okay. I’ll keep you whole. I love you very much. You are everything to me.”

She meant it, and I knew she did.

“I love you too Mary, and as long as I can hold your hand, everything will be fine. I always loved holding your hand. I remember the first time you let me. We were just kids, and I was nervous as hell. I remember thinking how tiny your hand was, and how warm. You have always had warm hands. There are other parts of you I like better, but your hands are definitely on my best bits list.”

“You are a devil Michael, but I love you.”

“Mary, if you do die before me, I promise that I will forget almost everything else before I forget you. You will be the second last thing I forget — I promise.”

“Let’s not think about that now. Hold me tight.”

I fell asleep in her arms, and I remember thinking, just before I drifted off, this must be what it feels like to let go of Mary’s hand. 

Cryptic Message

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