To defame to devour the.., p.6
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       To Defame, To Devour: The Prequel to a Time-Travel Adventure, p.6

           Lewis J Jones
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  Alex was often woken by the eerie silence that settled into his bedroom around the midnight hour. The symphony of the rushing sea seemed so turbulent during the day, but when the cool night poured over the town, it brought with it a definitive stillness to all things. And this night in early July was no exception.

  It had been a long time since ‘that night’, as Alex and his uncle called it. The night when everything changed. Alex, now nineteen years old, often spent the hours between twilight and dawn in an unbreakable limbo, with thoughts about what had happened and how little his life had changed since then swimming slowly through his head.

  Right on time, things became too much to think about, and so, pushing the hungry questions into the corners of his mind, he turned over.

  A sliver of moonlight broke through the curtains, like a thief in the night. It caught the edge of the photo frame on Alex’s bedside table and spread down over the faces of his parents, sealed within it. Like beacons they shone, captured in a moment they could never depart from. Accepting that sleep was a world away, Alex pushed to his feet, slipped on his dressing gown and stepped out onto the balcony.

  The sweeping beacon atop the lighthouse in which Alex now lived illuminated the tip of the tall, chapel-like building to his right. Perched on the rising cliff edge at the end of town, the Clockhaus stood with strong white walls, long stretching windows and a steeple so tall it often touched the clouds. Try as he might, Alex couldn’t help but wince whenever he looked at the place; in this building he had spent almost all of his years. Those long, long years, Alex thought.

  He turned back to the vast, open sea, watching its black mirrored body breaking over the rocks far below. The protracted quietness, so loud and so prevalent, had not left him since that night. It summed up all that he now was: empty, muted . . . nothingness. Being in such a small, quintessential seaside town, where the only event of mild interest was the high street market every Tuesday morning, the absence of anything remotely unexpected let the solitude of his existence prosper without discontent.


  The foghorn blasted out far away. Its violent echo swept through the town and into the shroud of the woodlands surrounding it. Piercing the curtains of night far in the distance, the bow of what grew to be a magnificent ship was revealed. Each sweep of the beacon above revealed a greater shadow; it was the length of a skyscraper and slicing through the water at frightening speed, heading right for the shore.

  The horn bellowed again, like a long lick to Alex’s quivering eardrums. The hull of the ship suddenly loomed over him, and he dived under his bed just as the sound of metal striking the shallow shores screeched beneath him. As if a bomb had been detonated, everything in his room was blasted from its place. Books flew from shelves, his wardrobe sailed across the room as if snapped from a slingshot and even the bed above him leapt as though flames had been ignited beneath its four feet. Alex threw his arms over his head as the foghorn blew one final time and the earth rumbled to a standstill.

  He carefully slid himself out from his hiding place. Is it them? Are they back? Navigating the smothered floor, he raced downstairs. He threw on his coat as he fought with the lock, but before the air beyond could tempt or tease him, the front door flew open and a pair of bony hands plunged in.

  ‘Are you all right? Are you hurt?’ Abraham stammered, swiftly closing the door behind him.

  ‘I’m fine . . . I wasn’t hurt—’

  ‘What if it’s them? Do you think it could be?’ Abraham asked, a crash of fear and madness in his expression.

  ‘I don’t know, it’s probably just an accident, Abe,’ Alex said. ‘Just calm down for a minute.’

  Watching his uncle rush to the small window overlooking the sea, Alex couldn’t help but feel once again the almighty weight of the secret he had kept from him. Whilst Abraham had come to fear a night such as this, when those who had torn apart Alex's house could have returned, Alex had come to dream of it—a night when the three people he had met so briefly might make their way back into his life, and he might just be found again.

  The words of truth about the three visitors that night again lined up on his tongue, always ready but always unspoken. He went to speak, but before he could utter a single syllable Abraham had opened the back door and was guiding him out onto the wet stone platform.

  ‘Watch your footing, be careful now,’ Abraham instructed, forcing Alex along the thin edge of the cliff face. With their backs to the jagged rocks and the spraying sea before them, they progressed along the pathway and up into the Clockhaus’ small garden. ‘Have to get you safe, keep you hidden,’ Abraham mumbled under his breath. He unlocked the back door and ushered Alex inside. ‘Can’t have people seeing, now can we?’

  ‘No, couldn’t have that,’ Alex muttered sarcastically.

  The overpowering stuffiness of the Clockhaus was immediate, but Alex didn’t feel its true strength until he had moved through the narrow kitchen and up into the lounge. It was so intense that it knocked him back a step. Abraham often set the temperature so high that the big-leafed plant by the window wilted and drooped, the black sofas were difficult to remove oneself from and the crisp pages of the books lining the bookcases wrinkled and curled.

  ‘Stay here, OK?’ Abraham moved to peel open the front door only far enough for his thin frame to squeeze through. Receiving no response, he looked back to Alex.

  ‘Yes, I won’t go outside!’ Alex said with a huff. After a lingering glance at his nephew, Abraham left.

  Moving to his usual spot by the window, Alex sat down and prised open only the smallest gap in the curtains to watch the world beyond. One after another, people wandered sleepily into the cobbled street and made their way down to see the magnificent vessel. Having lost sight of his uncle amongst the growing throng of people, all still dressed in their nightclothes, Alex thought about just what someone would make of him if he was spotted. His hair had grown slightly longer and his freckles had at long last faded. His height now surpassed his uncle’s, but he was far less weedy-looking. In many ways, without realising it, he had morphed into the image of his father in his younger years. His sea-blue eyes shone just like his mother’s and father’s in the few cherished photos he had of them.

  And then, like a feather tickling some feeble part of his insides, a voice teased him. It’s night-time, no one would see you. No one would notice you in light of what has just arrived—who would even spot you joining them? The voice was soothing, speaking in the same persuasive tongue that it had employed since ‘that night’. However this time there was an opportunity for change. The three visitors could be out there; the events unfolding on the other side of the window could be because of them . . .

  The idea possessed Alex so fully that before he could contemplate his actions, and more importantly their consequences, he left the safety of the Clockhaus and hurried down to join the stirring crowd. Suddenly, and most successfully, he had broken his old, withering promise to his uncle. Alex’s heart was a sledgehammer thrashing in his chest—it had not acted in such a way for over seven years, lacking any worthy excitement or almighty fear.

  Abraham’s white wisps of hair became visible at the front of the group, and instantly Alex felt a sharp twist of doubt. He was about to turn back, but before he could move an onslaught of blinding flashes shot out into the crowd. Alex flinched, throwing his hands up over his face. Expecting devastation and destruction, the muscles in his body clenched. But nothing more than the grumbles and cursing of those around him filled the air. Lowering his hands to discover the local press responsible, taking photographs of the growing crowds, he turned back to the Clockhaus feeling somewhat foolish.

  ‘What are you doing here?’

  With a swift yank, Alex was immediately marched back to the Clockhaus by Abraham. Once inside, his uncle sealed each and every single lock upon the front door—at least half a dozen—and flipped around to face him.

  In the seconds before his uncle’s impending rele
ase, Alex was struck by just how haggard his uncle appeared. His face was shadowed, and his skin hung loosely upon his softening bones, giving him an air of sadness and regret beneath his rising anger. Despite the layers of clothing that padded his uncle, Alex knew that underneath was a walking skeleton with little apparent strength.

  ‘WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING?’ Abraham howled, now safe within their walls. ‘What if that ship out there is them!’

  ‘I wanted to see if . . . I wanted . . .’ Alex sighed. ‘I had to know if someone would—’

  Abraham’s scolding sigh cut through his words.

  ‘You know, I try, I have tried for all this time to keep you here, to keep you safe. But . . .’ Abraham screwed up his face and raised a fist before swinging it like a club back against the door. ‘I can only do so much, Alex. What if someone saw you? All of this would have been for nothing! You can’t do this, Alex. You can’t!’

  ‘I know, I am sorry, it’s just, I never—’

  ‘You know it’s because I love you? Because I love you so damn much that I do this, that we do all of this?’ Abraham looked at him with urgency. ‘I understand, you’ve been kept away for all this time. I know—’

  ‘But you don’t know!’ Alex roared as he marched forward. ‘You don’t know! You never “knew”—it’s what you believed that led to all of this, but what if you were wrong? You already believe that ship is them, coming back again. And no other truth will persuade you otherwise!’

  ‘I-I thought you believed the same!’ What “other truth” could it possibly be, Alex?’

  Alex shook the pictures of Evie, Irwin and Winton out of his mind before speaking again. ‘I feel like I don’t know what to believe now,’ he grumbled. ‘And I’ve had enough. I’ve had’—Alex caught his breath and expelled it gradually—‘I just want to be a part of this world. I want to meet people, and have a friend again, a friend!’ Alex gave an empty laugh. ‘I mean, could you imagine such a thing? Can you imagine what that must feel like? Because I can’t. I can’t even begin to fathom it.’

  Alex latched onto the back of one of the armchairs for support. Abraham wore a sympathetic expression; in the few feet between them was a great gulf of misunderstanding and secrets.

  ‘I know we don’t talk about what we have each been through over the years,’ Abraham replied in a steady voice. ‘All I know is what we, together, as a family, have been through, with . . . everything.’

  ‘It’s OK, I don’t expect you to understand,’ Alex mumbled as he moved directly towards the stairs.

  ‘Alex please, please don’t think I’m being cold.’

  Impossible in this place, Alex thought, using the banister to hoist himself up. He knew his uncle would never truly understand what he felt, and at the moment, he was just too tired to care. ‘It’s OK,’ he repeated unconvincingly. ‘I’ll see you in the morning.’

  Crossing the landing, Alex walked into the bedroom he occasionally called his own, closed the door and fell onto the crisp bed sheets to escape.

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