The Straight Road / A serialised tale by Johny Brown, Chapter 6

God is alive  but winter has come howling in, so very cold and chilling to the bone bringing with it the devastating death of one infant child. David decides to take his sister Susan out for a drive …
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JANUARY

Evening came and the hymns of sadness passed one by one. At midnight David knocked on his sister’s door and before she could reply he opened it and entered. He sat on the edge of her bed and put his arm on her shoulder where she lay distraught, head screwed into the pillow, bitter tears staining pale grey cotton, head weighed down by dark clouds.

He spoke softly to Susan, he confided in her that things had gone too far and he had to put a stop to this now, to everything, and that he had a plan to alleviate this mess that had happened upon them, he told her to dry her tears, put down her prayer book, go clean her teeth and put a coat on, they were going to church. ‘Church?’

Yes, church, they would see the priest, talk to him, pray with him, that sort of thing, it would absolve them all of this recent run of sin. Susan looked at her brother in disbelief, he was the most atheist and pragmatic man she had ever known and had vowed never to set foot in a church. Had this drama turned his head so, of course, his infant child dead, it must have.

But then, even if he had of had a change of heart, no church would possibly see them, not now, not at this time of night, after midnight, and them having never been christened in any consecrated venue before and certainly never been parish people in any sense. David softly told Susan he had a financial understanding with the priest, they would be seen.

Susan was filled with new excitement. She put her plainest smock on and some sensible shoes, some rosary beads for the journey, and went and got in the car outside. It seemed good that her brother was taking this course of action. She had read of confession: that would be a chance to talk about recent events. She knew a priest would listen and offer wise counsel.

They drove north and passed through a Turkish area, a Hassidic borough and down a lane that could have been Polish and all the streets too busy for Susan to believe, even at this time of night, and her all excited about the different religions these people would adhere to, but more than that the fact that David, let’s stop calling him Dave, had regained some sense again.

Susan imagined David in the sensible clerical garb of a protestant priest, he would be thinner than he was now, but look solid and worthy as he greeted parishioners on the steps of his church. It was a vocation she thought he had always been cut out for. How he had managed to stray from the path and end up in such a desert of atheism mystified her greatly.

Thoughts of sand and spirit turned her mind to the Essenes and Susan had a sudden fantasy of David leading a group of apostles through the dunes in bare garments healing the sick and needy with nothing but clean water and pure thought channelled into healing energy. He could still do a great job in this city she thought as she looked out the car. This city was a dirty mess.

 

There was rubbish spilling out of an overturned industrial bin. A vagrant was lying comatose amongst the mess. The car stopped at a red light and two young women, all bare legs bloated midriff and wobbling breasts staggered out in front of the vehicle. One of the women turned and vomited over the windscreen and Susan recoiled. David barely seemed to notice.

In fact he smiled as the light turned green and the car brushed the two women aside. The smile turned to a hollow kind of laugh as they passed a huge billboard with an advert for David’s business, one that had gone up in towns and cities all over the country recently. It was a photo of David, belly extended, with the word DAVE in bold, nothing more.

It was a gross and crass image and Susan studied her brother’s reaction. She was sure the hollow laugh had turned to a twisting grimace as he realised the sheer ugly foolishness of his way. This was something David had, had to go through, something he had to endure and suffer, in order to learn, to become the better person, better even than when they first set out.

 

Dalle tenabre alla luce; from the darkness to the light. Things were going to be OK. Susan truly believed that. They drove for a while, street to street borough to borough, all the way to the outer skirts. Soon there were breaks in the dirty brick and glimpses of rural space and presently night black fields. They pulled out onto the motorway and presently they joined the M25.

There was a sign for Waltham Abbey and maybe that was where they were heading but Waltham Abbey was soon replaced with other signs for other places and only the pylons and garages and the new build retail warehouses remained constant. Sometimes Dave overtook another vehicle at other times disparate vehicles over took their own car.

They seemed to stay on this sodium drenched netherworld for an eternity. Susan voiced the opinion that they may have missed their appointment with the priest. No we have not and I tell you why Susan. We will never miss an appointment with any priest because God never sleeps. God is awake to us now. He is alive in these wheels and his very breath blesses the road in front of us.

God is alive to every sigh of every engine in every car around us. God is alive to every motorway sign, every exit and diversion. God is alive to all inanimate things but more so those that breathe. The poor people of the world, is that what you’re thinking? God is alive to ordinary people taking charge and changing forever the political scene of the 21st century Susan.

Do you understand that? Would you, oh could you want to understand it? Can you comprehend the vastness of the world we live in with so many myriad avenues and choices to take and consequences to soak up, consequences good and bad, that the wrong decision could change a life forever and who are we but blood and vein and fist and fiery thought, a little soul…

God is alive to this Adele tune playing on the radio now and the big money her songs make but he is also alive to all the little artists who strive and play for little pay. God is alive to possibilities Susan. God is alive to the aeroplanes in the sky above and the tube trains running through the earth below. And the great swathe of land that separates the two.

Think how far we have come on this planet, how much we have achieved, how rich we are. Not just in money, but in spirit and experience, in memory, in our potential to realise our dreams, in our capability to make manifest our wildest most far fetched visions, to connect with each other, to find common ground with the most disparate characters and that’s what makes us rich.

But yes of course how awake God must be to the poverty that grows and the escalating destruction we wreak even now but mercifully God has not shown that side of himself yet and who is God I hear you ask, what does he look like, how does he sound which way does he walk his walk and does he walk the walk like he talks his talk? God Susan let’s talk God!

God is alive to the unruly hegemony. God is alive to the new vision. God is alive to the brutality of terrorism but if I knew then what I know now I don’t believe I’d ever change somehow. God is alive to you and me and all the stupid beautiful things we’ll do. God is alive to the migrant mess and the final blossoming of mankind. God is alive to all forced changes in weather.

Of course God is alive to climate change, to the great floods and terrible droughts to tectonic shift and spewling volcano. God is alive to paranoia and fear but is aware of source code and quantum algorithims too. God is alive to technical singularity Susan the hypothetical state when computers become more important than human beings.

God is surveillance over all. He watches us, he knows us, he is there inside us. God is the holy chip, the sacred trip, the know all and be all, so humble he can come on as fuck all. He likes us to keep our gaze on his radiant self at all times, though ineffable as he is, we accept there is nothing to see.

And listen to this good old song now: Missy Ellliot singing I can’t stand the rain, do you think God could ever be dead to such sass and charm? God is supafly to it Susan. God is alive to our dreams and our drive, he is urging us on in a manner both singular and collective, oh joy the leaderless revolution that will be digitally achieved and televised in a manner unreal.

God is alive to wi fi and all communication systems. God is alive to treasure found in unlikely places. God is alive to the Bitter Springs and the Subway Sect, obscure perverse saints in the thorny media wilderness that they may be. God is alive to our scars our blemishes and our warts and waits to redeem us for our sins.

God loves a bit of turbulence in our respective flights, always has done always will. An earthquake knocking out a nuclear power station to cause meltdown for an age, a shifting of tectonic plates that takes out a city or two in the night, an aeroplane crashing into a tower, Oh God loves a bit of turbulence so he does, so he does.

God is alive to the big exposes of modern times and all its many splendoured hidden away conspiracies too. God is alive to our abuse of antibiotics and subsequent resistance. God is alive to the superbug in our bodies and dreams and machines all hail the holy glitch. God is alive to the daffodil in Autumn the snowflake in May and the scattering rain the carrying wind.

God is alive to crass tattoos on slender necks and fine jewellery on brutal arms. God is alive to our mistakes, is alive to all our victories. God is in this dashboard. God is in the headphones. God is in the headlines and subtitles. God is in the guided missile. God is in your unguarded smile. Do you think God smells? What does he smells of? Of me, of you, of course!

And all the great movements in time all those revolutions all the great ideas. The thoughts: our creativity, the novels written and the sculptures crafted. Think of the beauty and charm of our cathedrals, the power and truth of our sky scrapers, think of advertising Susan, just think of how we advertise and I say to you that God never sleeps he is awake to our every moment.

 

Susan began crying. Quiet tears of joy ran down her cheek to hear her brother speak so eloquently and so passionate too about this universe, its mysteries and its truths, and all the things just beyond her grasp. She knew that tonight was going to be a great night.

Tonight was going to be the start of something new, and they would both be changed people come the morning, she loved her brother immensely. They would go to church and they would atone, Kerene would be arrested, and afforded the proper treatment needed, the child would be given a decent burial. It all made sense. They were moving.

A sign announced they were approaching the slipway of Junction 9 and by taking that they could then proceed on to a place called Leatherhead and all hamlets surrounding. David drove swiftly and the roads turned into lanes and there was

 less sodium more general dark. They pulled up at a verge and David got out.

He came around Susan’s side and opened the door for her. Here is the church sister.

Susan could see no church and told her brother as much. David assured Susan that this was but the verdant hedge that worked its way around the old church, and look, a gap, if she would just pass through it and trot down the path of glade stepping forward with all her faith then that surely would be a righteous footing to the redemption of them both.

The sister stepped ahead and walked down the gladed path, full of anticipation now and really quite ready for the promised shot of serenity. The path suddenly opened out onto a dip, a kind of hollowed quarry. The Quarry looked deep and full of water. Up above a Red Backed Shrike, the Butcher Bird, a rare bird in these times, could be heard shrieking.

The loving sister turned her head to look questioningly at the knowing brother. He pushed hard into her back and she tumbled down the rocky slope. A few well-placed kicks helped her all the way to the bottom. Shocked and hurt she looked up imploringly at her brother. ‘David’ she gasped. He sneered at her. ‘It’s Dave you fucking muppet’.

Susan tried to get up. Dave pushed her down again. The pain of the kicks hurt immensely and she flailed about, her mind trying to make sense of the moment, whilst her hands grasped wildly for terra firma. Her body reeled under the vicious flurry of blows. She tried to stand but fell once more to her knees. She implored her brother to tell her why this was happening.

Dave pulled a can of Fosters out of his Stone Island duffle coat and cracked it open. A belch. A gulp. He spat on her. “Look at you’ he uttered with contempt. ‘Look at the state of you, those shoes the cardigan, that dress’. The sister looked up

 confused. ‘Why can’t you dress like a woman, like my good wife for instance, I mean, what kind of freak are you?’

A normal woman, a woman who was normal… someone who cared about their femininity, would not disgrace him the way… ‘Hold on a second’… a phone sounded from within the brother’s Stone Island. He retrieved the thing and talked into it for a few moments, figures, times, locations were discussed. The conversation stopped and Dave looked up at the stars.

He took a hard breath then closed the phone with a snap before returning to the conversation he was having with Susan, his sister. ‘You’ve really let me down’. Dave pulled out a tin of industrial strength glue. Susan looked at him like he was crazy. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, for sure he was thinking straighter and more keenly than he’d ever thought before.

Keisha was disposing of the child. It would take her a while but she would get there. When the only witness was drowned they could relocate abroad awhile. Malaga sounded good enough for now. Maybe even try for a child again. Keisha had got a bit stressed over the last one and he had his suspicions whose fault that was: his interfering God bothering sister.

Dave prised the can open and stuck his nose to the brim, he reared back in distaste as the toxin filtered down into his chest. His eyes rolled slightly and the stars lost their shine a moment. He recomposed himself then ordered his sister to take off her plain clothes. When she was down to a shift he bade her put her arms behind her back.

Dave poured the entire contents of the tin in the space between forearm and back and then sat on Susan for twenty minutes. He was very heavy and Susan gasped under his obscene weight. Job eventually done he tutted scornfully then stepped back a pace or two to take a good look at the sibling who had let him down. What a waste of a family relationship.

 

The glue had stained his Stone Island duffle coat, not good, not good at all. Dave pushed Susan into the lake and held her down awhile. A drizzle was coming down. Dave had never liked rain. He drained the rest of the Fosters. It was lukewarm and slightly flat, another fucking disappointment! Shaking his head he returned to the car and drove off.

Susan blacked out. She was unconscious even before Dave had held her head hard under the water. The fume of glue had assailed her nostrils and her brothers kicks had produced sheer shock. She had fainted and now her body drifted in the dirty weed choked pond part submerged and waiting only to weight with drench and sink to the unfathomable depth.

It never quite works that way does it though? The ice chill of the water somehow brought Susan back to her senses. The quarry wasn’t really that deep, not in this part anyway, and spluttering and kicking Susan was able to find her bearings and right herself and slide back to the slime ridden safety of the bank and relative safety.

But now the little sister was alone on the shore of the quarry in a night seemingly so vast and dark. Whispers of dread and failure echoed around her. Susan burst into tears feeling all the more useless knowing tears wouldn’t help. Eventually the tears ran dry and she set off into the wood, arms glued behind her back, stumbling as she went.

Dense air above and cracked soil below fear in the mind and God now testing her heart with visions of the father, the brother; the mother she never knew. Had she got life wrong? In choosing to follow faith had she made the wrong decision, a bad decision? Should she have walked a different path and not the trail to good?

Oh and how strange the track that she stumbled down now.

This was her God testing her and no mistake. She breathed in deep and steadied her mind the best she could. Her heart was racing and the sheer exhilaration pushed her forwards. To walk down a path and not know where the end is nor even what direction you were taking made it a queer road though indeed.

Hawthorn and rose leant forward to scratch, toads, snakes and other things hissed moaned and slithered at her feet. Night in a forest that had never known day, Susan stumbled on. Soaked and rambling, wandering and bitten, round and round the same wooded path, stuck on a wheel of wilderness, nailed to the leafy circuit, this dark circle of her new fate.

And always in close proximity the water of the quarry, dark and foreboding yet inviting her to enter, waiting to drag her down to its depths, to claim her for itself, to put her to rest on its bed, for the pike to strip her flesh to the bone, for the pond weed to grow through her skeletal frame, and maybe that the better option? But no, no, never, life is everything, is all, she knew.

The pain of David’s kicking and scratching and thumping and gouging throbbed through her body. There were bruises everywhere and her hip felt dislocated or broken even, it served up searing pain with every step she took, and this physical pain was nothing to the emotional injury she was suffering, namely the betrayal of all she held good, by her own brother.

Time went its own way and under the canopy of trees and through the distortions of her pain she lost all track of what was night or day through light and dark and found it hard to tell an hour from a minute and the space between the shrieks of the shrike quicker than the measured drops of rain from heavy burdened leaves she was gone she was now she was here.

She was hungry, and grew hungrier still, until the bones pushed through her ribs and her breath became ever more shallow, until she could feel the very life pulse slipping away, slipping away. She lunged at leaves with her mouth and when it rained she stood still with head tilted back and waited for drops of rain to fall into her breathlessly parched and wanting mouth.

 

The cuts on her body festered but with her arms glued behind her back she couldn’t tend these abrasions and could only look on helpless as flies descended to lick the crust of the itching wounds and all manner of tic and flea attached themselves. It was a heavy cross to bear and the distraction made her legs so weak she could barely stagger. She had to eat.

Susan came across a bush all berried red and gratefully lunged into a cluster, managing a good mouthful of scarlet pellets. But these berries were quite the wrong kind of berries. Susan started to feel dizzy and her already thumping heartbeat increased dramatically, the dizziness begat a kind of shiver. She shook her head violently as if to shift the shivering away.

The tree in front of her started to move, to dance almost, and she thought of Keisha and her robot moves, the sheer preposterousness of her stance. Susan began to laugh. It wasn’t a cruel or mocking laugh as such, just a warm awesome chuckle at the absolute uselessness and stupidity inherent within ourselves, all of us, with our pretensions and constructs of being.

How we perceive things, the choices we make, the value judgements we call, our propensity for good so often ignored and our willingness to do bad as an easy option, to take the short cut, the easy route so many times had, the way we deceive ourselves so readily, the lies we tell to ourselves and to others, and our blind and trusting belief in the nature of the machine.

The machine? What was the machine and why did this thought occur to her at this moment, now it had appeared she couldn’t shake it from her mind, and the forest as a factory, and everything she ever was and had done, and all the people she knew, damn, all those she didn’t know, were fools and fuel for the machine, stuck, they, she, couldn’t escape from the machine.

And here now in front of her eyes were endless repetitions of Keisha wrapped in the fabric of deceit and warped in the fantasy of greed, dancing to the rhythm of factory time, mass replicas, glamorous replicants, spinning around her Sufi Dervish like, keeping the machine driving further, further away from real life, further away from humanity, further from her.

This was stupid! Her thought processes all of a sudden seemed so silly, so frivolous though somehow crucial. Susan didn’t quite know what was happening or how she should respond? There seemed to be some sort of serious message or philosophy flirting in her mind here, but both words and senses were proving to be slippery and elusive, she concentrated…

‘We, are, so, fake, and here, is, nature, the answer, right, in, front, of, our, eyes, but, the joke being, it now hides its essential being from us, like it, is, something, we’ve lost’. Was this the message? Susan laughed again and the shivering laughter became lustful shakes, and the shakes turned into a state of pure revulsion and the revulsion turning to something else again.

A collision of blue heat and light in the mind before Susan vomits across the forest floor. The benevolent visions replaced by something more urgent and sinister and Susan begins to panic in the rush like she does not, want, to lose control of her senses, as leaves become birds that rise up chattering, become a swarm of flies that may well be deadly missiles trained on her.

 

The missiles in turn shape shift into dark soldiers grinning betrayal and injury upon her, like now all of a sudden, she is facing her own personal army from hell, and everything is going so fast, she tries to control herself, these feelings, these visions, and the fear is just too much, moments pass of no physical harm, Susan allows it, not knowing what else she can do.

She gives in to the experience as her subconscious rises up and makes it’s presence felt and key moments in her life are suddenly condensed to advertising hoarding with snappy slogans and soundbites, and her instinct now is to make sense of all this, that it is important, profound even, that she must hold on to it, grasp it, that this is happening for a purpose.

The tribes of mankind present themselves in bewildering array. Lawyers and judges in rusting armour spit alien verse that make her nerves jangle. Politicians in boilersuits, faces blackened from the mines, lips smudged with gloss, mince freely and make her laugh despite herself, she panics again, another wave of fear, she is swimming in a dangerous sea now.

Then all of a switch Susan feels brave and ready for the world, an ecstatic foolish feeling of hopeless hope running through her veins as suffragettes chained to gossiping trees, screaming for freedom kicks and liberation now, hoping to work magic for her heart assail her mind blurring all boundaries between vision and reality, inspiration and delusion.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, try to shift arms from back to reach up to heavens, no good, kick feet instead and dance on spot and all suppurating sores now glowing on skin, breathe in, breathe out, concentrate, don’t concentrate, just let go, ride on the flow, I like myself, no, love myself, not too much, never too much, breathe in, laugh, choke, cry.

 

She feels like she is being used and played by some force much greater than herself, tuned, switched, dialled, thee psychic TV, thou holy stage, tharn worded virus, thou’n orchestra of silent radio emitting waves of telepathic revolutionary intent, the secrets of the Siberian shaman now unmasked unfettered and raging through the forest, she feels all this in shivers.

And what could possibly trigger the vision of pagan underworld skinhead progenitors to rampage through the trees, spreading peace not violence, Alsation dogs unleashed baring teeth of truth, but then a sudden turn to a snarl as reminder of the fear that exists, before a feeling of unutterable sadness and compassion takes hold. Susan shakes, is this beyond her?

And then she is plunged into a state of pure dark: the end of the world this time. She feels the incremental thumps of her own heartbeat as the life force of the planet gives out around her. It is a vision of prophecy she knows that for sure, that this will come to pass, and then the sky lightens to ash grey and sight and hearing returns to bear witness to earth’s ghosts.

The march of marble statues through the woods and giant goddesses grow locks of auburn snake hair that tumble around skin that shines as it perishes into decay of ruin, as in universal ruin, as in pale dusting of stars ruin, to become tall African women of the village carrying the death of the world in bowls of real time and all of it so then, now, then, now…

All of this! It had to mean something. This hallucination had to be of some use. There had to be some truth amongst this deluge of the senses, a purpose to the shift in reality, some reward for this madness, was it her subconscious, had it been stored there, all these years, this wild excursion into strange lands had to have been visited upon her for a reason?

 

The light in the forest changed as the cycle turned towards dawn and Susan felt a bit more at peace within herself and slightly more comfortable in her surroundings. She was scared still, but resented the visions slipping away, she wanted to hold on, to go over, make sense of, a Magpie stared at her from a branch and barked out a harsh empathic, Why? Why? Why?

And then there they were, the vision to beat all visions, salvation itself, a brotherhood of Essene travellers, all dressed in shining fabric and come with water pure, and herbs so good, to heal her. Eleven good disciples all told. Susan stumbled forwards and dropped down on her knees amongst them, begging these good souls to deliver her from this vile predicament.

The eleven emissary men stood around scratching their heads. It was their first day on the job and the last thing they needed was a squatter on the land they were about to start working. Was this young woman going to start trouble? They conferred and decided she looked pretty harmless. The foreman of the gang declared it was Good Fortune they’d found her.

Good fortune indeed for Susan would have carried on wandering beyond forever if a development consortium with links to government ministers had not seen potential in this prime piece of green land and began incursions into the wood, with planners courting architects who then contracted builders with scaffolding and glass and machines and concrete

Here to make the world a better place. A better stretch of land for some one very important person to build a little bit of gated paradise on earth that no heathen could ever breach. So, Essene travellers not they, not coming to heal at all, but rather to build, with hangovers ajar and papers stuck out of back pockets and banter so coarse, but good and honest men for all that.

 

The builders looked at Susan in disbelief. She had lost the power of speech. One kindly construction man offered her his donkey jacket to cover modesty. One problem though, what to do with the arms? No matter what they did and all of them with a lifetime in the trade of solving such tricky problems none of them could un-stick the arms from her back.

They thought about taking her to a hospital but the government had closed the two hospitals in the area. The nearest A+E was fifty miles away. They discussed visiting the GP but that cost money since the local council had privatised them all. They drove down to the bus stop thinking they could put her on a bus back to the city, but the bus stop had recently vanished.

So they fed her the remains of a sandwich and a bag of crisps, draped the donkey jacket over her shoulders, and sat her up front in the dirty white van of finger scrawled obscenities, then drove her into the town where they bought their building materials. Dropped her off in the car park of a public house that being as good a place as any to bid a lost girl goodbye.

These builders had also made a dress of sorts out of cement sacks and bin liners stapled together. With great difficulty but extreme care they placed this over her body and then draped the donkey jacket once more, put a Millwall bobble hat on her head and with the crisps and bit of sandwich in her gut for nourishment sent her out into the world once more.

They went back to the land they were to develop and Susan stood there afraid and a little panicked. She was still under the influence of the berry halucination and mild waves coursed through her body. The world seemed bigger to her than it had ever been before and she wasn’t sure if she was fit to traverse it’s land, but push on she must, she knew that.

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