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       Displaced, p.6

           Gena D. Lutz
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  Chapter 8 – Life’s end

  Ian was cold and miserable when he awoke. It had started raining and a few drops of water were dropping on his face and neck bringing him back to the world from a deep sleep. Shivering he sat up again and looked around. His cheek was stinging and felt stiff but otherwise he was fine, just cold and miserable. The rain came down harder and he crawled out from under the bush. He was now wondering if he should go back to the hut, assuming he could find it. It would be dangerous if the two filthy men were still there but dry but he was supposed to meet someone from the Displacement Community down the road somewhere. What if those pigs were from the community? The first thing to do would be to find the road. Ian walked back the way he thought he had come in his frantic run to escape the skinny man. He was getting soaked in the rain and wished for the jacket that was in the bag. He became aware of rhythmic sound, heavy footfalls not too far off. He rushed under the nearest bush, sure for a minute that the filthy men were looking for him. The footfalls sounded more like those associated with a cartoon giant rather than two thin men. There were voices too, one was a woman, he thought. Ian suddenly realised that he was already walking toward the sounds when he came to the road. Stepping around the nearest bush he jumped back in shock and almost ran for his life when he came face to face with the snorting nostrils of a horse. There in the road was a horse drawn wagon and two people sitting in the front seat smiling at him. ‘Mister Wilson, is that you?’ said the woman. Ian stood transfixed, still shocked at the scene in front of him. The man in the front seat of the wagon handed the reigns to the woman and jumped down to the road. He removed his wide brimmed hat but his smile never left his face. Looking back at the woman Ian saw that she was still smiling at him. ’We’ve come to take you home, to Meadowfield Acres. ‘To the Displacement Community?’ asked Ian. They both laughed at this, a friendly amused laugh unlike that of the two filthy men. These people seemed genuinely friendly. The man held out his hand to Ian and said ‘I’m Chris and this is my wife Melinda, we were told to expect you today.’ ‘I’m Ian, Ian Wilson.’ Ian shook Chris’ hand ‘Pleased to meet you.’ Chris helped Ian up onto the cart and he introduced himself to Melinda. ‘My God you guys are so welcome right now; you won't believe what happened to me this morning. ‘I think I can guess, sorry we couldn’t get there in time,’ said Chris. ‘The main thing is you’re safe, the worst is over for you now.’ Melinda handed Ian a clean cloth to wipe his face with. The cart turned around and headed off back the way it came. Ian sat in the back and looked over his shoulder at the road and thought again about how far he’d come. From his life of relative luxury and excess to the Work Camp and the nastiness with Waldo, Rachel and Douglas to being punched, cut and almost raped, here he was on his way to yet another new experience. This one, he hoped would be less stressful at least. Ian was relieved to be alive, safe and moving away from the filthy men. During the trip Ian asked about the Displacement Community. Chris and Melinda laughed again at this description. ‘”Displacement Community” that's a laugh Ian. It’s a town, a community certainly but nothing about it has anything to do with ‘Displacement.’’ ‘I think you will be pleasantly surprised,’ said Melinda. In what seemed like only a few minutes they crested a small hill and the village came into view. It was like a picture postcard of any pre-industrial European village with a tall church spire and around this a cluster of thatched roof, white painted houses. People could be seen in the fields around the village and there was smoke rising here and there from a chimney. ‘Here we are,’ said Chris, ‘Almost home.’ 'Home’ thought Ian, Home is in my flat in the city. Home is where my things are, where Bickie is, there with me to talk to, to remind me about what I need to do and to help me find things on the catalogue to buy. This is not home. This may have to be home until I can find a way back to the city but this is not home for me.

  In the first few days in the village Ian was introduced to the committee that ran things and was given a room in a house near the town centre. The town centre consisted of the church and an office used by the committee and also as a school and an open area used as a market on weekends. The house Ian was living in was occupied by a couple of about his own age who had been sent here from the Work Camp some ten years ago, Elton and Barbara. They had a daughter Jenny who was eight and already an expert on all the birds and animals that lived near the village. She pestered Ian about life in the city and the Work Camp. Ian was given relatively light work to do in the store to begin with which left him free in the late afternoons and weekends. This gave Jenny plenty of opportunity to enlighten him on village life and the local flora and fauna. Ian couldn't understand why Jenny could be so happy having none of the normal possessions of a city child and no opportunity to buy things or even connect to the catalogue. There were no communications devices of any kind in the village and no-one seemed to care. It seemed that his chances of ever going back to the city were gone.

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  Chapter 9 - Perspective

  Ian struggled to get used to life in the village and often thought about the city and his flat. His work and his life in the village were fairly mundane with plenty of time to think. Beyond his contact with jenny, Ian mostly kept to himself and didn't take much part in the social life of the village. Slowly he withdrew further still, only really talking to jenny and even this was becoming infrequent. Winter had been setting in and the gloomy weather only exacerbated his mood. It was on a particularly cold and wet afternoon when he decided that he’d had enough. This was. Less of a planned and contemplated decision than it was a spur of the moment act made in an almost unconscious state. At first he held the knife in his hand and turned it this way and that before testing its edge on his thumb. A few drops of blood dropped into the straw on the floor and Ian watched them, mesmerised. He began to run through his recent life experiences in his head leading up to this moment in this store room in a gloomy winters afternoon when a shout from outside brought him back to reality. Looking up from the floor he saw shadows moving back and forth through the streaked and grimy glass of the window. ‘Have you seen her?’ asked someone. ’You mean Jenny?’ ‘Not since this afternoon,’ came the answer. Ian realised that something had happened to Jenny. A face briefly appeared at the grimy window as if to look into the store room and then it was gone. He was perhaps the only one who knew of her secret, about the old mine she visited on occasion. He had been particularly dismissive of her the last few days and knew that she often went to the mine when upset. Feelings of guilt overcame him and all thoughts of himself were set aside with the knife that he dropped onto the table. ‘Wait, wait!’ Shouted Ian through the door, I think I know where she may have gone’. He burst through the door and was confronted by several puzzled faces, Jenny’s mother among them. ‘What are you talking about?’ She asked of Ian. ‘She has a secret place she goes to, a cave or an old mine or something. I haven’t been there but I think I know where it is’. A young man stepped forward and handed Ian a torch. ‘Come on then, what are you waiting for? Show us this cave before it’s too late. Ian took the torch and led off in the direction he knew was the way Jenny would go when she went to her “magic cave”. The light rain on his head and shoulders seemed almost shockingly real, the sights and sounds around him were all so clear and strong that he felt more alive than he had in months. Here was a purpose for his life that a few minutes ago could have ended in misery.

  It was almost full dark when they came to the old mine. The timber fence that had once restricted access had fallen down and was covered in weeds. Jenny’s father Elton pushed through the small search party and went through the gap and into the mine. Ian followed without hesitation and was soon engulfed in darkness. The disused mine was strangely warm inside, certainly much warmer than the outside. This was perhaps why Jenny liked to come here. Elton was calling frantically as he stumbled forward. When they reached the side tunnel footprints and scuff marks on the ground made it obvious
which way Jenny had gone. Hurrying forward Elton gave out a grunt and there was a crash followed by a huge cloud of dust as he all but disappeared from view. Ian went to his knees and held out his hand, holding onto a wooden upright with the other. His torch was half buried in dust and pebbles and the two men could hardly see each other for the dust and dim light. Elton had lost his torch in the fall. ‘Take my hand before you drop further,’ said Ian. Elton reached out blindly missing in the first attempt before finally gripping his wrist. Ian pulled and Elton pushed himself up on a wooden beam bellow his knee, his other leg dangling in the air until he was level with the floor. Elton sat on the edge of the hole as they gasped for breath. ‘Shit, that was close. I hope Jenny’s not gone down one of these pits,’ said Elton as he handed back Ian his torch. Ian dropped the torch into a pile of dust and for a moment they were in complete darkness. That’s when Ian thought he saw a faint light ahead. Elton was sweeping his hand over the dust for the torch when Ian said ‘Stop....don’t move, I think I see a light ahead, behind you.’ They both sat in silence and stared ahead, there certainly seemed to be a faint glow in the distance. Ian recovered the torch and manoeuvring carefully around the hole they crept forward slowly, aware of the danger of more plank covered holes in the floor of the passage. ’That must be Jenny’s light up ahead’, said Ian ‘Call out to her again’. Elton called out again no again as they got closer to the source of the light. No answer came. As they drew near to the source of the light they came across a jumbled pile of wooded beams and soil. The tunnel was blocked by a partial collapse of the roof. Jenny’s torch was on the floor behind a plank. Realising what this could mean, Elton fell to his knees in despair, crying out ‘No, no, how could this happen?’ He looked up at Ian with his hands mostly covering his face nod said ‘This is your fault, you did this, and my Jenny is dead because of you!’ Ian could only stare at him. Perhaps Elton was right, maybe if he’d made a bit more of an effort to talk to her she may not have run off on her own. Getting up from his knees Elton shoved Ian backwards. Connecting with the jumble of timber, Ian dislodged a beam which slammed to the floor in a welter of choking dust. A small landslide followed more soil and broken pieces of wood cascaded around their feet. More dust choked them. Elton seemed to be getting ready to launch himself at Ian when there was the sound of more debris clattering to the floor, this time the sound was muffled and seemed to be coming from the other side of the fall. Fearful of another collapse, both men stood still, almost afraid to breathe. The noise stopped and was replaced with a faint human voice. It was jenny, no doubt of it. She was alive and not too far away. ‘Jenny, Jenny. Its dad, hold on we’re going to get you out. As one they tore at the obstruction, flinging wood and dust back along the passage. They were filthy and exhausted when they broke through a small opening near the top of the debris. In the light of the torches Jenny’s face could be seen. Her face was black with dust with the exception of two white lines down her cheeks where her tears had washed off the soil. ‘Dad, you found me, please get me out, I’m so scared’. ‘Are you hurt?’ said Elton. ‘Only a little, but I want to get out of here, please!’ Jenny replied. ‘Just hang on few minutes longer baby, we’re almost through.’ Said Elton. Jenny was crying and clawing at the debris while the two men fought to enlarge the opening from the opposite side. At the very end of their physical endurance they managed to create a small passage that Jenny could squeeze through. Diving into the space with arms outstretched jenny was pulled through by Ian and Elton each gripping one of her hands. Jenny had no sooner flopped to the floor than she leaped up and into the arms of her dad. The three of them collapsed exhausted on the floor for some time while Jenny laid her head on Elton’s chest and sobbed with relief. He in turn stroked her filthy hair and tried to soothe her fear away. Ian could hear the muffled voices of other people from the village coming into the mine. They were soon able to see light as they got closer. Elton slowly got to his feet, lifting Jenny up with him. In the near darkness Ian thought he caught a look of gratitude just as he turned to lead Jenny towards the voices. Ian followed a few paces behind and saw the villagers arrive at the junction. They were all shouting at once and glad to see Jenny safe and sound. Elton and Jenny followed them around the corner into the main tunnel and they were making their way to the tunnel mouth when Ian paused to wipe his eyes. Looking up he realised they’d moved on and left him without a light. Elton had their torch with him. Thinking nothing of it Ian started off to catch up forgetting in his exhaustion about the hole in the floor that Elton had fallen through and skirted around on the way out. With a crash he disappeared through the hole and hit his head on a wooden beam as he fell. He lay on his back at the bottom of the pit and as consciousness left him he had time to realise that he had been about to end it all anyway. At least I did something useful with my life, he thought as the darkness closed in around him.

  Ian woke up in bed with a blistering headache and, lifting his hand to his face realised that his right wrist was bandaged and aching quite badly. No one was in the room and he lay there for a few minutes as he realised that he was indeed alive. A quick check of his body revealed that the headache and sore wrist were the worst of his injuries although he felt that he probably had bruises all over. He was not in his own room and realised that he was grateful for this, perhaps he was not alone. He called out ‘Hello is anyone there?’ There was no immediate answer although he thought he could hear sounds from outside the room. He turned to the bedside table and the jug of water and a glass that was there for him. This he gulped down directly from the jug, ignoring the glass. Next to this was a piece of cardboard folded in half like a greeting card. On the front was written “Get well soon”, below this was a drawing of a parrot in a light brown and below that again was written “From Jenny”. Ian picked up the card and looked inside. There was a short message from Jenny wishing him well and thanking him for his part in her rescue. Ian held the card to his chest with his good hand and realised that tears were welling up in his eyes. He was trying to sit up when there was the thunder of feet and the room door flew open. Jenny raced in and jumped up on the edge of the bed. She gave him a hug and sat back to look at him. ‘Did you like my card, Ian? I drew a golden parrot for you. I know you wanted one, now here it is!’ ‘It’s very nice Jenny, it’s the best golden parrot in the world, thank you.’

  Ian had many visitors that day and found himself feeling happier than he had done for a very long time. All thoughts of suicide were gone, replaced with a strong desire to truly take his place in this village, among these “real” people. Lying in bed staring across the room at Jenny’s card with the golden parrot drawing he saw a symbol of a wasted life. This was a life based on things and not on people, based on accumulation of meaningless rubbish with no intrinsic value and avoiding relationships with real people. Now in this little room, in this village he had more human contact than he had ever had in his life before and it felt good. He drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face, something he’d never done in his flat in the Metro.

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