Emerald Swathes, Part 2

Christopher crashed through the long grass and low branches, determined to look at this mysterious new cap more closely. They were unlikely to find anything in it aside from a label bearing a first name, but it would nevertheless be a useful clue as to the whereabouts of its owner. They reached it and froze, extending a somewhat hesitant arm towards it as though it were a venomous snake. Their fingers curled around its discoloured edge and they slowly plucked it from the ground. Bringing it nearer to their face, they shook it to ensure it was straightened. They narrowed their right eye while expanding their left like a fleshy magnifying glass – and just as they had suspected, the cap did bear a label on its inner stitching. The writing was very faint, but scribbled in what Christopher believed to be permanent marker was undoubtedly a name: “JIM”.

What Christopher initially failed to notice as they turned the cap over to look at this was a single playing card – the queen of hearts, to be precise – fluttering gently out of it, all the way down to their feet. They eventually caught sight of it just as it settled on the edge of one of their battered shoes, and it was the card – not the cap – that convinced them they’d definitely stumbled upon something fishy. Finding a piece of headgear on its own in a forest was feasible, but someone practising their magic tricks there, in total solitude, seemed much less likely. Christopher peered down their nose at the card in a way that was almost cautious, as though they expected it to come to life like a mysterious new species of insect. They bent down to retrieve it, and made sure to examine both sides for any further clues. Finding none, they pocketed it, and feeling more than a little disturbed by their initially soothing location they moved out – only to be confronted by yet another surprise.

Christopher was taking one gradual step after another, travelling deeper and deeper into the forest that lay on the other side of the idyllic opening. Just as before, very little light was let in by the tree canopies, but Christopher’s eyes had adjusted to such an extent that they could identify certain small details on the path ahead – if you could even call it a path. Christopher was the one forging a trail here, as twigs snapped and dry leaves rustled beneath their feet. Every so often they would kick away a discarded sweet wrapper or crisp packet, perhaps left by the last poor soul to find themselves lost here, with no clear view of any sort of horizon. These would roll away, carried gently by a soft Spring breeze of which Christopher could never quite trace the source. They would watch each piece of debris vanish into the shadows – everything really was deserting them, and seeing this happen reminded Christopher of exactly how isolated they were around here. They kept trying not to think about it, but seeing all of these things dance gracefully in mid-air proved to be more captivating than they had expected. For what seemed like mile after mile, they saw the same twig-leaf-wrapper cycle of objects, and the pattern became predictable and monotonous. Christopher was glazing over, and came to the point of switching off entirely before another playing card floated in front of their eyes – much to their sudden, spontaneous bewilderment.

If Christopher had been in any kind of doubt that the first card in the cap was a random countryside find, this definitely proved it wasn’t. Neither, when Christopher came across it, was the third. Or the fourth. Or the fifth. By the time the sixth appeared, it occurred to them that there was a trail – and not a lazy, wildly scattered one either. This was unmistakably neat, and it followed the exact path of Christopher’s journey, one that whoever left these cards could not possibly have known was going to be made. As the trail went by, it occurred to Christopher that there were far more than 52 cards here, and that this person must have had a rather large deck. Or just several industrial decks. Whatever the case, they were definitely leading to somewhere, and sure enough, the last card soon hoved into view, marking the end of the trail.

Christopher couldn’t believe what they were seeing. In a much darker opening was another tree stump, but here it was being used almost as a makeshift poker table. Next to it sat a wheelchair-bound boy of around seventeen, with a mass of dishevelled curly hair on his head and yet another pack of cards in his hands. As Christopher looked on – open-mouthed in disbelief – the boy tried frantically to shuffle them, cursing to himself whenever he lost his grip and they tumbled into his lap. He kept on trying again, completely oblivious to Christopher’s presence, and he dropped and gathered his cards several times before noticing he was no longer alone. At last, his eyes darted up to meet Christopher’s. He froze, loosening his grip on his cards slightly as he surveyed his new companion from head to toe suspiciously. There was silence as he did so, since Christopher knew they were far too baffled to speak. It was down to the boy to break the ice, which he did after a few minutes, when he had completed his checks and a smile was gradually appearing on his face:

“My name is Jim,” he said calmly, before fanning the cards out with his fingers and leaning forward in Christopher’s direction. “Pick a card. Any card…”

To be continued…


A Message For The Masses

On Friday night, just after I had published the first part of Christopher’s story here for you to read, I opened Facebook to find a message from a friend with a brief but very important request. As you will see, I explicitly referred to Christopher as being male in his narrative, but they wondered if I would consider using gender-neutral pronouns (“they” and/or “them”) there or in future Third Time Enabled posts. This is a brilliant idea – a no-brainer, in fact – and I expressed such an opinion in response to the request, as well as an apology for not having thought of it sooner.

As I had been writing and showing them a piece of fiction, my friend suggested that I should perhaps only use said pronouns if I deemed it suitable for any given character, but I am yet to decide how and when they will manifest themselves. All I know is that they will appear as often as possible, and I am writing this post so that it can serve as a commitment to this fact, as well as to equality. I assured my friend that I was beyond keen to accept and act on their suggestion, since it is important for representation that these things happen in as many places as possible. Consider this my word, then – sooner or later, things are going to change around here!


Emerald Swathes

The following is the full first part of the story I began in my Winchester taster session, detailed in “The Pull, Part 4”

The protests gradually faded away as Christopher ran further and further into the forest, and all sound disappeared along with the daylight. There was only silence, darkness and accompanying danger within these trees, and the only reassurance came when rays of distant sunshine leaked through the web of branches for a split second every few metres. Not that Christopher cared much at this moment. What coursed through his veins as his feet pounded along the rough terrain was not fear – he’d had more than his fair share of that in recent years – but determination and strength that overrode the burning in his lungs as he gasped for air, or the fatigue rapidly spreading through his limbs. He was on autopilot, with his eyes firmly on the ultimate prize that lay ahead – his freedom.

The more Christopher thought about this, the faster he went. He sprinted and sprinted, trying to ignore the searing pain from the gash on his knee as each new bramble and thorn pricked at him. He knew that he had to focus only on escape, and that meant running and never looking back. Christopher would never have a better chance than this, and he was actually quite glad to have realised that – he’d forgotten what true hope felt like, and to feel it again reminded him of the man he used to be. Five years ago, at 16, he’d had the ambition and the confidence of someone twice his age. As a matter of fact, what he demonstrated was borderline arrogance, always swaggering around like he had to be seen and heard. When he was lost in his own importance, he thought nothing of it. He saw himself as a character, someone fun whose energy would be irresistible to those around him. He eventually gained the benefit of hindsight; in odd moments he would remember all the times people rolled their eyes or moved away, always when they thought he wasn’t looking. He believed that he was loved by all, but he had only succeeded in alienating every potential new friend.

Following this, Christopher realised that his life was meaningless without real companionship from others. He had plenty of money and affluence, and assumed they would set him up for the rest of his days, but he was mistaken. When he realised this, he turned to rebellion, making the wrong choices and falling into the wrong crowds. They all seemed like groups of kind strangers at first, people who related to what he was feeling and were quick to offer a shoulder to cry on. They did, initially. There was warmth and understanding aplenty, and the more Christopher was shown, the more ensnared he was by his new friends. They had him under their spell – he just didn’t know it yet. He was so blinded by a façade of concern that it was all too easy for them to introduce the drink and drugs. He was led to believe that they would block things out, or make his constant state of misery more bearable. The moment he was under the influence, though, he was a marionette, completely controlled by his new puppet masters. It made him a highly dependable modern-day slave.

At this point, Christopher temporarily removed himself from his train of thought, and was awakened once more to his dingy and unforgiving surroundings. There was little point in trying to recall anything more about the past few years, since they all passed – quite literally – in a hazy blur. Christopher knew that his captors preferred it that way, and that the only time he ever spoke a word was when he was begging them for his next dose. When lucidity finally did come, it only did so in a fleeting moment, when he decided that enough was enough and that he had to get away. He was kept in such isolation that he didn’t know how many other slaves, if any, he might have left behind – but he had chosen to cast any guilt about who he could have saved aside for the time being. He’d cross that bridge when he came to it.

Christopher was definitely getting somewhere in the dense woodland. A new spot of sunlight, which had appeared at the size of the eye of a needle at first, was gradually enlarging and welcoming him into its embrace ahead. It was brighter and warmer in colour than any of the light he’d already seen on his travels, and he took this as a welcome sign of positivity and encouragement, even though he didn’t know how long it would last or what it actually signified. He just knew that whatever lay ahead couldn’t possibly be any worse than what he had already endured. He was more than ready to persevere through some minor sunburn if it meant he’d be out in the open and free from claustrophobia. The patch of light was now big enough to hurt his eyes, causing him to squint, and he tentatively raised a hand to his forehead to shield them from it. The brightness continued to increase until there were no more trees to block it out, and Christopher was faced with a near-whiteout, unable to see a thing…

When it faded, and shapes began to form once again all around him, he found that he was in the midst of a breathtaking and lush green opening, with space aplenty. The undergrowth was thick, but rather than appearing dilapidated it was full of vitality, with small flowers blossoming on various bushes. Only a lone tree stump and faraway bursts of birdsong interrupted the swathes of soothing emerald vegetation. It would have taken a man more hardened than Christopher not to be overcome with calmness, and he duly stopped to savour this new pocket utopia while he could, exploring its perimeter and crouching down to examine some of the plant life. He was distracted by the beauty and serenity of this hidden gem for some time, but his focus on every one of its details was suddenly broken when he spotted a faded blue denim cap lying inside out and unclaimed in the undergrowth. Whilst he was surprised by its presence, he thought little of the object itself – people tended to lose things in the countryside all the time, after all – but could it mean that he wasn’t the first escapee to find this spot?

To be continued…