In every Life there is a Sea

This story is pure fiction, but it is inspired by an old Norse myth.

In every life there is a sea, if not without, then within, roaring serenely and pulling quiet into chaos, until there is a pause, and you can hear sea urchins singing like porcupines, and then when you are far out in the darkness, you will come to believe that the truth is in the sting, yet the poison…the poison is in the almost invisible threads straying after slow-moving ships with too beautiful eyes…

In the distance, the little islands outside Brandywine Bay are shining emeralds strung on an invisible garland against a soft blue horizon, irresistibly glamorous in its overlapping of white sails and wedding-caked sea fairies, whooping deliciously against red – and black painted prows, adorning exotic names like “Estrella Del Mare” and “Blackbeard’s Pipedream”. Little blue-black dolphins skip across the surface, their metallic fins gleam glossily as they pierce through the paler surface, shining like octavian stars bobbing in the summer sun. The air is thick and hot, laced with salt and flowers and fermenting mangoes, stealing across from the islands and bridging the gap between coasts.

“You are going too fast,” says Cohen, “slow down, you are scaring the fish away!” I am tempted to go even faster, I can’t stand the sight of fish wriggling and kicking and fighting for their lives with a huge hook in their mouth. But I slow down, just to please Cohen. I do a lot just to please Cohen. He is two years older than me and gorgeous, too gorgeous to be stuck in a small dinghy with me on a hot summer day. But our mothers have been friends forever, so he is just that, stuck with me, the girl with muddy gypsy eyes and the lanky body of an overgrown ten year old boy. “There, I’ve got one!” A tiny fish gleam silver and green just below the surface, Cohen reels it in a bit too fast and it slips the hook and skits away into the deep. “Damn fish!” complains Cohen, but I release a deep content sigh. “What’s with you?” Cohen glares at me, “you’re acting weird. Don’t you want me to catch any fish?” I lower my eyes and bite my lip nervously, “sure,” I stammer, but I can’t quite look into those marvelous blue eyes of his. I just sit there, staring at my brown sandals, acting like a typical girl. Cohen snorts and throws the hook back into the sea. “Lucky for you this bloody pond is full of fish,” he says and laughs, thinking perhaps I didn’t get the double meaning, but I did. I silently curse myself for being in love with such a jerk. That is the truth though, me, awkward nerdy Lucy is in love with the Norse god that is Cohen Leery. I have a whole drawer full of poetry to prove it. Oh, yeah, you heard me right: poetry. Another proof of my hopeless nerdiness.

Something is pulling on the line again, and Cohen tightens his grip on the fishing rod and starts reeling in the line. He is sweating in the midday heat, and all I can do is stare. “A little help, please,” he hands the rod over to me, and I obediently hold on to it while he battles the line. It is something big, something heavy. Oh no! Shit. But suddenly the line goes slack and still. “Damn it!” swears Cohen, “that was a big one!” He lights a cigarette and lets go of the line, I jump as the rod almost slips out of my hand when the hook at the end of the line again plunges into the deep blue. Cohen laughs. He studies me behind clouds of smoke as I struggle to get the right grip on the fishing rod. I haven’t held a fishing rod since I was a little girl, but even then I couldn’t look at the death sentenced fish. It was my father who had to pull the victims out of the ocean and hit them on the head with a rock. I always stayed in the background. “Do you want me to show you?” he asks and flares a smug grin. I shake my head and position my hands on the rod. But the line has gone slack again, and I can catch my breath.

Cohen smokes while we both gaze into the liquid blue. The sea is a cool shade of turquoise, the sun has started its descent, and glazed skinny threads ripple across the surface. Rays of light tunnel towards a cluster of corals, barely visible behind the tell-tale scattered shadow of our dinghy, a handful of bright apricot and pink tentacles swirl meditatively in the light, a seductive dance to lure its prey into a beautiful, but deadly trap. Cohen finishes his cigarette in one last long drag and plucks the fishing rod out of my hand. “It seems you are bad luck,” he says and gives me a pat on the back. His hand is warm against my soft skin, and it leaves a burning mark inflaming my entire body. I quickly look down, not wanting him to see the redness voyaging across my face.

We are drifting further from the shore as the wind is shifting and increasing its pace. But Cohen still wants me to take us even further out. “Use the oars,” he demands, “the motor will only scare away the fish.” I dip the oars into the surface and turn the boat out towards the deep. I know I am not supposed to go this far out, there are sharks, tiger sharks and even great whites. The inflatable dinghy seems pathetic as it steadily makes its way to the ocean, away from the bay. The corals disappear from sight, and under us; there is only inky black silence. “Wait,” Cohen reaches for the line, it makes small dips against his hand, “I think I’ve got something.” I lift the oars and let the dinghy bob quietly on the small waves. It really is a fish this time, a tiny white and red one with beady silver eyes. Cohen laughs and holds it up against my face. I cringe. The tiny fish is gaping, the oxygen slowly choking it, and it wriggles its tail desperately, as though it could get back into the sea by pretending it is already there. “Please,” I whisper, “can you at least give it a merciful death?” Cohen looks at me and chuckles, “I didn’t know you were such a softy, Lu.” I shrug and lift my head to look at him. But apparently my discomfort has no effect on him. “Nope, this little guy is perfect bait if I am to catch us a proper dinner.” He throws the hook back into the sea with the tiny fish still on. I can’t take my eyes off it as it plunges, with the hook still in its mouth, as fast as it can into the sea, desperate to get as far away from us as possible. I feel like crying.

Cohen lights another cigarette, but keeps his left hand on the fishing rod. He squints his eyes as he pulls the nicotine into his lungs. I look away. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Cohen drops the cigarette and grabs the rod with both hands; something is pulling the line, something big. I can see his biceps and arm veins bulging as the pliant fishing rod bends so much that it almost curls in on itself. Cohen is struggling, fighting whatever is down there with all his strength. He breaks into a sweat, but the fish only pulls harder. I start to panic. “Cohen, “I beg, “let it go, it’s too big.” “No way in hell!” Cohen’s voice has an edge to it. I can see that his black pupils are dilated, and he has a wild look in his eyes. He laughs and swears as he fights the giant fish. Cohen is strong, stronger than I had imagined, all the muscles in his body are tensing and popping out, and I can’t stop staring at him. But this is a dangerous game. And when it comes to crossing the sea, the sea always wins, all islanders know that. But Cohen is not ready to let this one go. “Cohen, please,” I touch his arm, he is only wearing a t-shirt and I have to put my hand on his hot sweaty naked skin. Cohen shrugs it off. I look into the deep, trying to follow the line as far down as I can, and there, in that black infinite pool I see an even blacker shadow rising up towards us. I scream. But Cohen doesn’t even register my scream. He is fixed on the battle, like a warrior fighting his own destiny. He is starting to scare me.

“Cohen! Cohen!” I scream into his ear, but he doesn’t even flinch. I try to wrestle the rod out of his grip, but it is useless, he doesn’t even stir. I stare back into the water, the shadow is bigger than our boat, it surrounds us on all sides, and that is when I know, it must be a great white, there is nothing else as big as this in these waters. And just as the revelation hits me I can clearly see a fin, and aren’t those white things teeth? “Cohen!” I plead “It’s a shark! It will tear us to bits! Cohen we’re gonna die! Let go! Please!” But Cohen doesn’t hear me. I have no idea where his strength is coming from, the shark must be more than fifteen feet long, how can any human battle something like that? Then suddenly it is over, or I think it is over. The fishing rod stretches out again and for a second it looks like the tension on the line is gone, but I am wrong, so wrong. The dinghy starts moving, so fast that I fall over. Cohen stands at the bow holding on to the rod pulling us further and further to sea.

I can no longer tell where the shadow underneath us starts and where it is ending, it all seems like one big black blur pulling us away from home, from everything that is safe. I start screaming again, but there is no sound coming out of my mouth, I have lost my voice. Cohen is laughing now. “Is that all you’ve got you old bastard!” he shouts into the sea. Behind me, the islands are disappearing, and I realize that if I don’t do anything now we will both be dragged so far away from the shore there will be no turning back, we will die, either by the teeth of this shark or we will drown. I need to cut the line, but how? I don’t have a knife or anything sharp. Oh, yes, but I do! I’ve got my teeth. I hurl myself at Cohen, gnawing the salty, almost invisible line through my teeth. I am desperate, so desperate I almost forget to breathe. Spit and tears trail across my chin, all salty. There is too much salt! Cohen tries to fight me, but even he cannot fight two opponents at the same time; his hands are locked around the fishing rod. Then finally I hear a sharp snap and the boat jolts to a stop, we are free. The black shadow disappears instantly and Cohen blinks as if coming out of a trance. His hands are bleeding. He sits down, panting. I don’t say anything. I can’t, I can’t even look at him. He stares at his bleeding hands then out into the sea. The tide is still pulling us outwards so I quickly start the outboard motor and turn the dinghy back towards land. I speed up as much as I can, forgetting about the dangerous reefs and the underwater rocks. I just stare through my tears at the growing islands, willing the boat to go faster, faster. When we finally reach shore Cohen says nothing, he just sits there. I tether the dinghy to our pier, not bothering about pulling up the outboard, and run, away from Cohen, up to the house, crying harder and harder. Some of the tears fall into my mouth and I am surprised by the absence of salt. I leave Cohen there. I really leave him.

The wind has settled for the night. And quiet seems to slip in with the darkness, only the melancholy sound of tree frogs makes up the soundtrack of the night. Cohen has pulled the dinghy up on the beach and tied it to a swaying palm tree, or maybe it wasn’t Cohen at all. There is a glassy jellyfish stranded on the beach, it is covered in a pattern of red eyes. I want to toss it back into the sea, but it has a train of poisonous threads, all entangled, around its body. “I’m sorry,” I say, even though I know it can’t understand me. The flamboyant tree shakes its head at me. With the silver-streaked onyx sea to my left and the garland of haint blue island houses to my right, I walk through lanes, scattered with magenta bougainvillea, towards home. In the corner of my eye I can see a tall darkly handsome boy standing by one of the many cliffs on the island, staring forlornly towards the blue-black horizon, his bloody hands are open, reaching out, as to a lover lost and drowned at sea.

East of the Sun, and West of the Moon

The old Norse people believed there was a fine balance between chaos and harmony, and that sometimes chaos had to erupt in order to bring about change and reclaim a new harmony. In such chaotic times, the “Jotne” (the giants) and the gods would fight, some gods would expire, but new heroes would arise, and those heroes would bring about the new harmony. The ultimate chaos was called “Ragnarok”. This was the time when the snake that kept the world in place would die, and all borders would fall.

I think we all go through such battles in our lives, be it an interior battle within ourselves, where chaos threatens to bring down our old beliefs and habits, or an exterior battle; chaos and unrest in the world, when humanity itself is plunged into chaos, and have to find new ways of life to cope with the disrupting changes, and to eventually restore harmony again.

Running with Wolves

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This story is pure fiction, but it is inspired by Finnish creation myths.

If ordinary people were interested in the problems of philosophy, wise men would be found wandering up and down the runways of modern culture eager to debate. But despite popular belief, in the beginning it was not the word, it was desire. And desire split the universe in half. And the air had a daughter. She was beautiful, of course, but lonely. So she drowned herself in the mighty ocean and had a child with him. But a bird came and stole her child away and made it into earth. The child stretched his hands towards the sky and made a bridge for his mother to cross. But from the bridge came darkness and sank its teeth into the child’s chest, and so a lake rose from the newly formed cavity, and now the child could be embraced by his father, and his mother went back to the air and kissed the child’s little cheek. But the darkness was still there, so soldiers were born from it, and tried desperately to fight it, but failed of course, and the different elements had to learn to live with each other. Not in harmony, no, that would have been impossible, but in quiet acceptance and defeat.

Mr. Lawrence folded his books away, lowered his glasses and stared directly into Gylfie’s eyes. Gylfie looked down, embarrassed. She was perhaps the most eager student, but far from the boldest. Mr. Lawrence cleared his throat and said unceremoniously, “Well, children, that’s all for today. You may read Chapter 16 about Finnish myths for next lecture.” He heaved his book bag unto his shoulder and trotted out of the lecture hall. Some of the other students got up quickly and followed him, but Gylfie remained in her fold-up seat. She had heard the story before of course (her grandmother was Finnish), but she couldn’t remember any darkness or soldiers or piercing of hearts in any of her granny’s stories. But Mr. Lawrence was a decorated professor of ancient myths and paganism, and there was no way she would ever question his knowledge or authority on the subject.

Gylfie waited until she was the only one left in the lecture hall, then slowly she got up, chucked her tablet in her backpack and left. It was a rainy day. Huge whitish droplets had settled on the Fiat’s windscreen, and the blackened concrete road was bordered with brown puddles. Gylfie unlocked her car and attempted to wipe off the rain, but as soon as the window was clear, a new shower scattered its discharge on the dry surface. It was impossible. Gylfie sighed. She hated driving in such low visibility. The roads were thankfully pretty empty of people. It was gray and gloomy outside and the few cars braving the weather were moving slowly and carefully. Gylfie followed behind a black Citroen, her tires splashing rainwater left and right. Then suddenly she heard a loud yelp! She looked to both sides to see where the sound was coming from, and there on the sidewalk stood a boy, or rather a young man, covered in muddy brown water. She had obviously splashed him. He looked so forlorn that Gylfie pulled over and got out of her car to apologize. The young man had a strange look about him. His hair was bluish black and shoulder length, his eyes were icy blue and almost fluorescent, and his skin was pallid, but with a soft glow that made Gylfie stare at it, mesmerized. “You didn’t have to do that,” said the man, in a surprisingly deep voice, “get out of the car, I mean,” he shrugged apologetically, “these things happen. It’s the rain.” Gylfie didn’t answer right away; she was too caught up in his glowing skin. Then she pulled herself together, and said to her own surprise and astonishment: “Do you need a ride somewhere?”

The blue eyed boy lifted his eyebrows in surprise; he stared at her, as though he was examining her intentions, but then nodded and smiled. “Alright, yes, I’m on my way to work, perhaps a ride would be good.” Gylfie opened to door on the passenger side for him, and walked around the car to let herself in. “I’m Ylv by the way,” said the young man and held out his hand for her to shake. “Gylfie,” replied Gylfie and they shook hands. His was wet and cold, hers warm and dry. Gylfie switched on the heating and pulled on to the road. “So, where is it you work?” Ylv smiled. “The circus,” he replied, “it’s just off Macon Street, by the old library.” Gylfie nodded, she knew the place well. “What is it that you do at the circus?” She asked. “I’m the Gorilla man!” Ylv threw back his head and laughed. Gylfie stared at him. His face changed when he laughed, it opened up more and she could see tiny wrinkles around his eyes. When he noticed her serious face he calmed down and studied her. “I’m a skin changer……a shape shifter…” He lifted his eyebrows and made a grimace, then he chuckled, “I’m joking, Gylfie, relax.” Gylfie smiled and nodded. Of course she knew that. They drove a while in silence. ” Heeeey,” said Ylv suddenly, “have you noticed that the weather has changed?” Gylfie looked outside the windows of the little Fiat. He was right; the heavy rain had turned to snow! Snow! It was only October, a bit early for snow, thought Gylfie to herself. “Well, at least it’s not settling,” responded Ylv, as though he had heard her thoughts. Macon Street was coming up, and Gylfie made a right turn towards the library. Then suddenly Ylv cried out: “Watch out!” Gylfie stared horrified into the snowy damp windshield and spotted a shadow crossing the road just in front of the car, she hit the brakes hard. The car skidded off the road and stopped abruptly before it landed in the ditch. Ylv struggled to open the door, finally got himself out and ran to see what it was that they had almost hit. Gylfie stayed frozen in her seat, shaking. What had just happened? Ylv came back to the car and opened the door on the driver’s side. “I think it was just some kind of animal.” He looked at Gylfie and added with concern in his voice: “Are you okay?” Gylfie nodded weakly. “You know, I can walk from here, if you’d rather just go home, I mean.” Gylfie nodded again. She seemed to have lost the ability to speak. Ylv shrugged. “Okay, thanks for the ride anyway, perhaps I’ll see you around.” And with that he shut the door and walked away.

Gylfie remained in her car seat for a while, staring out the darkened windshield. What had just happened? The snow had stopped and the coldness of the oncoming night had solidified the water on the windows into patterns of white shiny ice. The roads would freeze too, thought Gylfie to herself, and she started the Fiat. Better get off this increasingly slippery track before she had another almost accident.

That night Gylfie repeated the incident over and over again in her sleep, only this time it was a child on the road, and she didn’t almost hit it, she ran right over it. Ylv was there too, but he just sat passively in his seat, giving a hint of a smile each time she hit the child, then vanishing into thin air as soon as she stopped the car. When morning finally came, Gylfie was exhausted. She went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of coffee. The weather had changed again; the sun was now piercing through a clouded sky, breaking apart the ice from yesterday’s chill. Gylfie shoved her tablet and books into her backpack and headed for the car, but as soon as she saw the battered Fiat, she knew she couldn’t drive. It would have to be the bus.

The central heating in the bus was turned uncomfortably high. The bus driver sat happily in his seat in a worn out t-shirt and sunnies, while the passengers struggled to keep from sweating in their winter coats and woolly hats. Gylfie started to feel a bit queasy. The heat was suffocating. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing to keep the nausea at bay. The bus was making a hopeless amount of stops. There were bus stands at every corner and the bus seemed to take every turn and sidetrack possible to look for new passengers to fill the empty seats. After ten more minutes Gylfie could not take it anymore, she pushed the stop button and waited for the next bus stand to appear. When she was finally back outside in the fresh cold air she realized that she had no idea where she was. She looked around for any clues, like a street name or a sign with a name on, but there was nothing. She just had to pick a direction and start walking. At least the fresh air cured her of the annoying nausea.
After walking for about twenty minutes Gylfie came to an abrupt halt. There was something familiar about this place. On intuition she made a right turn, and yes, she had been right, she was back, back on the scene of yesterday’s almost accident. Gylfie could feel her arm hair stand up. Why had she come here? Was it her subconscious mind telling her something? Maybe she actually had hit that animal and now it lay somewhere wounded and dying. And it was all her fault. Where would a wounded animal go? Gylfie examined the landscape. The road had dried up and was now back to the gray color of faded asphalt, on each side of the road there was a ditch, and on the other side of the ditch there was a scattering of trees. Gylfie recognized birch in their white barrenness and even dark green spruce and other evergreens she was not familiar with. Stillness emanated from the forest, as though there was a boundary of quiet between that green natural world and this gray asphalted nudity. Of course, thought Gylfie to herself, a wounded animal would have run into the sanctuary of the forest.

The trees were tall, hardly letting in the sunshine, and the path became a zigzag of shadows and withered leaves gleaming in rays of faded light. But at least there was a path. Gylfie stepped carefully over little rocks and puddles covered in black ice. It was so quiet she could hear herself breathe, only a couple of birds chanted wistfully in the trees. Soon the forest opened into a clearing and there was a lake. It was a small lake with still dark water, little flakes of sun-flecked ice floated on the surface. The banks were bordered with lean reaching grass indicating perhaps a swamp-like interior. Gylfie jumped as she suddenly heard a faint sound of water being moved sideways, not exactly a splashing, more of a quiet gliding. And then she spotted him, a man swimming gracefully in the lake. His black long hair floated behind him on the water surface making him look ethereal and otherworldly. Gylfie gave a little cough; she had to somehow indicate that he had an audience. The man, obviously taken by surprise, splashed around a bit, then turned and swam towards her. When he was quite close, Gylfie saw to her astonishment that it was Ylv.

Ylv rose from the black water and waded towards her. Gylfie was embarrassed to see that he was stark naked. But Ylv didn’t seem to mind her seeing him naked. He just smiled and came over to her, wrapping himself in a towel. “Isn’t it cold?” Asked Gylfie. Ylv shrugged. “You get used to it.” “What are you doing here, Gylfie?” Gylfie was taken aback by his obvious lack of manners, she cleared her throat and said, a bit annoyed: ” I-I came back to….to see if that animal from yesterday was hurt.” Ylv’s eyes softened. “Gylfie, we didn’t hit it, it got away, remember…” “Yes, but….but….I thought.” To her astonishment Gylfie started crying. Warm tears ran down her cold cheeks and landed on the ground. Ylv came up next to her and put his arm around her. “I could have hit it,” said Gylfie, sobbing. “I could have killed it. It could have been a child. I never thought…..I could do something like that…” “But Gylfie,” said Ylv soothingly, “it wouldn’t have been your fault. It was dark and raining and,” “It wouldn’t have mattered,” interrupted Gylfie. “I….I….am capable of taking a life….it wouldn’t have meant anything to that life if I meant to or not….” Ylv put his other arm around her and held her. She sobbed into his shoulder. “Gylfie….let me take you to your car. You need to go home.” “I don’t have my car,” whispered Gylfie, “I took the bus.” “But why?” Began Ylv, but stopped himself with a sigh. “Oh, Gylfie…” Gylfie thought she detected frustration in his voice. Who could blame him, she was being hysterical.

“Come for a swim with me,” whispered Ylv in her ear. “It will clear your head.” Gylfie sniffed and swallowed a sob. “But, but it’s so cold, Ylv, I’ll get sick.” “Nonsense!” Exclaimed Ylv loudly and smiled. “It’s just cold in the beginning, then you get used to it. It’s good for health, really. Come on! Give it a try!” Ylv looked so enthusiastic; Gylfie had to smile through her tears. These last two days had been pretty crazy, maybe she should add a little more madness to the already boiling over mishmash of temporary insanity. Ylv saw the change in her eyes, and his smile broadened. He discarded his towel and ran towards the lake, pulling her with him. He was like a naughty child let off the leash. “But I don’t have a swimsuit,” protested Gylfie. “Well, neither have I.” Ylv threw back his head and his laughter hit Gylfie right in the face. It was infectious. She hesitated. She could just wear her clothes, but then she would have to sit on the bus back home in soaking wet clothes. That did it, the thought of wet clothes gave her the audacity she needed to strip down, she had not planned to undress entirely, but when she started removing garment after garment, there was a freedom in it, an abandon that made her bold, and she followed the already splashing Ylv into the lake without a single piece of cover-up on her body. Ylv didn’t stare or make any sign of desiring her. He was more like a child, enticing her to wade deeper and deeper into the black water.

The water was cold. Colder than anything Gylfie had ever felt against her body. Little silver needles pierced her skin all over, and penetrated deep into her. She had a hard time breathing. Her breath came in heaves, desperately being sucked in in an attempt to fill her lungs with something else than cold. Ylv seemed unaffected. He swam calmly around her, smiling and teasing. His skin was still white and pale. Gylfie watched her own skin turn from an irritated pink to a bluish red. “Come on!” Laughed Ylv, “Just do it. Just let go!” Gylfie released her body into the water, and the world disappeared. She could hear noises, water surging, closing in on her, a small ringing sound and something else….perhaps breaking of ice flakes. The ground under her feet was no longer there and she sank. But no, she couldn’t! She had to swim! Gylfie kicked off and rose to the surface, desperately battling the treacherous water. As her head broke free she managed to take one big breath and fill herself with air. She struggled to keep herself from drowning. Her eyes searched for Ylv. But when her gaze met the bank her eyes widened in disbelief. Someone was standing there, next to the pile of clothes she had left behind! Something small. Was it a child? Or….no….it was a cub, a wolf of some kind or maybe a husky. Gylfie went under again. The darkness of the lake swallowed her, and this time it would not let go. It was quiet now, almost peaceful. Gylfie relaxed her limbs and let herself sink. Then suddenly, a pole of light struck the water and travelled fast towards Gylfie. It spread like a bolt of lightning and shaded her face with soft yellow. It must be a ray of sun, or perhaps starlight or a torch. In her delirium Gylfie could not tell. But she had to follow it. She was drowning! She didn’t want to die! Gylfie forced her body to listen to her and slowly she ascended towards the source of the light.

The surface broke with a slow slurping sound. Gylfie gulped for breath. Her hair was pasted to her scalp and her nose was smarting from too much water intake. Rays of warm sun basked in her frozen face, and the water reluctantly released her to earth’s waiting embrace. Gylfie waded towards the bank and her pile of dry clothes. There was nobody there. No child, no cub. Only too much silence, a complete absence of life. Gylfie shivered. She no longer cared about the child; it must have been a figment of her delirious frost-shocked mind. She used her t-shirt as a towel and hurriedly dressed herself. There was not a single bird chanting now. But where was Ylv? Gylfie looked around. She let her eyes slowly fly over the water, but there was nobody. Only silence. The water didn’t even move and neither did the shadows nor the wind. Frankly, Gylfie was glad. She was tired of this strange blue eyed boy and his teasing and tricks. He was probably hiding somewhere in the forest, laughing at her. Then suddenly Gylfie detected a sound, it was an engine, the engine of a vehicle. The bus! Gylfie leaped to her feet and started running towards the road she had come from. She was not going to miss that bus! She paid no attention to the broken branches, the busy ants or the faint prints of paws under her feet. She just ran frantically, to catch up with the oncoming bus.

The Island of Seals

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The island of Inish Mor lies in a pool of brilliant blue ocean, a few miles from the mainland and the Galway Bay. To the left of where the little ferry docks, a small country road bordered with tall stones twines and twirls up towards a pink farmhouse and a white hotel with a picket fence. If you follow that road you will eventually find the remains of an old monastery and a burial ground looking towards the sea. After that there is nothing more than green fields and rock. But if you instead make a left turn and head towards the horizon where the sun sets, you will find the lagoon. My lagoon. And a house, a white washed house with a red door and a grassy roof. Carts and horses will pass you by, perhaps a small van, but nothing else. You can circle the island on foot in perhaps an hour if you walk briskly. I did once. And I never tire of listening to the sea, roaring, gushing, singing. Sometimes I believe it is all for me. The wind sings too. But it is for the rocks. Those eroded passages between cliffs, tall and steep, love that song so much they bend and shape to its every demand. The old folk call it the mermaid song . There is a lighthouse too, not far from the bay. And a beach with yellow sand, and it was in that sand I wrote: “I’ll be back. “But I was just a little girl.

The Island of Insih Mor was an ideal retreat for me. Isolated as it is, it is safe, but exciting, offering solitude, but not loneliness. I had always wanted to go back. And now, I craved it, to lick my smarting wounds and renew my vows to myself and my craft. But I found myself in a position of doubt, hesitant, unsure. Then one day after aimlessly browsing the World Wide Web for images of exotic locations and retreats, my eyes caught an image of her, my island lover, she shone in all her photoshopped glory, enticing me, calling me. I clicked the image and found myself stranded on a website of a band. A musical band offering drumming classes on the island. I had never felt interested in drumming, but this was an opportunity, maybe even a sign. I clicked on the email address given on the site and a new window opened. I typed the mail quickly and hit send. Ten minutes later the reply came. It was a man. He announced that there were no new classes starting at the moment, but that he could give me private lessons if I wanted. I hesiated. This was exactly the kind of situations the media warned you about. The Internet was a scary place full of predators. But I ignored the warnings, and replied the mail, making further inquiries. The man, whose name was Angus, lived on the island from spring to autumn, giving drumming lessons to groups of tourists, the rest of the year was spent touring Europe with his band.
The next few days, or rather nights as he seemed to be quite the nocturnal kind, Angus and I mailed back and forth. He was sweet and courteous, and I found myself drawn to him. The first mails were all about drumming and practical details, but after a while we ventured into discussions about music, creativity and eventually discovered our mutual interest in folklore and mythology. I started looking forward to his mails with a surprised enthusiasm. I had already booked the tickets. My flight was in just two weeks and I was bursting with excitement. Not just to see my beloved Inish Mor again, but to finally meet the mysterious Angus. A couple of days before my departure was due Angus surprised me with an invitation to stay in his cottage for the duration of my drumming class. Of course, he added, I was to sleep in his guest room. Again I hesitated. I had never even met the man! He was a total stranger! But he didn’t feel like a stranger. Ignoring all common sense and media warnings I accepted the invitation with a racing heart. I hit send. It was done. I was going to stay with him. With Angus! Was I in love? How could I be? I had never even seen Angus; I didn’t know how he looked like! What if he was an old balding man? I shrugged. My thoughts had taken me too far; I was after all just going to learn how to drum.

The day arrived eventually. I was going to Inish Mor. It was a gray rainy day. October days often are in this desolate part of the world. I carried nothing but a backpack and an umbrella. But I had to leave the umbrella with the security at the airport. It was too sharp, too pointed, too metallic, it could be used as a weapon. The flight was long and tedious with two stopovers. I didn’t eat much, but had a fair share of expensive red wine to steady my nerves. Or maybe it was just because it was free. Dublin was as grey and rainy as where I had come from. But the friendly smiling people made up for it. The bus driver greeted me cheerfully and turned up the volume of his radio tuned in to a folk music channel. I recognized the familiar sound of the flute and the violin. The music was skipping and keening in intervals, as if it was not sure whether it was a lament or a drinking song. I caught my foot bobbing silently along to the beat of the haunting music. “So you’re going to Galway, are you?” asked the friendly bus driver. I nodded, then added: “Yes, but I am travelling on to Insih Mor from there.” The bus driver looked up at me with a mischievous look in his eyes. “Ooooo, the island of the seals, is it? Well, you know what the legends say. Better be careful, you’re a pretty young thing.” He chuckled. I wanted to ask him exactly what the legend said, and why it was called the island of seals, but just then a new passenger boarded the bus. It was middle aged man with a bald head and a round red face wet from the rain. It looked as though he knew the bus driver for they commenced an animated discussion with peals of laughter and grunts of disagreement or perhaps disgust in something. The language they spoke was the old Irish, the Celtic language, so I sat back reluctantly and gave up my attempt to get the bus driver’s attention. I fished my iPhone out of my backpack and popped the small pink head phones into my ears, and to the sound of Enya’s soothing voice I fell asleep.

I woke up to the sound of the exhausted engine exhaling noisily. I looked out of the window and discovered to my surprise that I was looking at a rather familiar sight. It was the Galway Market! I got up quickly and climbed down the steps onto the sidewalk. The bus driver was busy helping a woman with a pram disembark the bus. I hurried away, half running through the busy shopping street of the little town; afraid I was going to miss my next bus and the ferry to Inish Mor. I stopped at a little Spar kiosk to buy a sandwich and some crisps.

The next bus ride was a short one. The landscape outside the window was that of Galway bay and the majestic Atlantic Ocean hurling itself with full force unto the rocky coves and little sandy piers. As the bus left the urban coastal landscape behind forests rose to block the view of the bay. Tall evergreens reaching for a graying sky gave way to grassy knolls and little rivers heading for unknown destinations. Small scattered cottages in pale colors bore witness to human habitat, but without the need to tame the outlawed wilderness. Soon the sea came back into view and I spotted the little ferry waiting for the bus. All the passengers were headed for the same destination and the ferry filled up fast. There was a drizzle outside and the seats inside the shelter of the ferry’s belly were soon occupied. I didn’t mind, I wanted to, I needed to sit outside feeling the rain and wind beating my face into submission. There was nothing to see but the sea. White peaked waves, like wild cantering horses, broke against the side of the boat, making it rock uncontrollably. I rocked with it and smiled. Gulls alerted me to the expanding dot on the horizon. Inish Mor. My Inish Mor. I was back.

There was no one waiting for me as I disembarked the ferry. I scanned the dock, but everyone seemed to know what they were doing or where they were going. Then I remembered, I had given Angus the arrival time of my flight, but not the ferry. I hadn’t known. But Angus had given me direction to his cottage, and I decided to see if I could find my way on foot. The early October day was descending into the soft amber glow of afternoon, the rain had stopped and the roads were drying in the dying sun’s surprise visit. The sea was keeping an evening tryst with the little beloved island, and she seemed to be whispering lovers’ secrets to him coaxing his mighty manhood into calm surrender. I felt like a ghost revisiting an old childhood world. These roads were made of a girl’s homespun dreams. I had walked them before, and today those dreams had given me a map to the familiar geography of a rediscovered home. The sea, whose murmur was never out of my ears, was my companion as I climbed the sloping hills heading for a cottage and a man I was not yet sure were real.

The cottage was easily spotted, situated on top of a green grassy hill, individualized by the oddity of its small shape and red inviting door. There was a gate marking the beginning of a path leading up to the cottage. I hoped it was not locked. But just as I was about to find out I heard a noise. Or a cry of sorts, I turned around to see who or what had made the sound and found my eyes staring into the eyes of the sea. But this was not the wild unkempt sea, this was a tamer friendlier version of the same entity. It was a lagoon. A silvery body trapped inside a rocky embrace, holding it fast, forcing it to stay still, and on the rocks seals were lazing about. I had never seen seals like that before. They were big and almost black glistening with salty sunbathed droplets. One of the seals made the cry again. He had lifted his head and was looking straight at me. I did not remember ever seeing seals on the island before. But then it occurred to me that I had never before been here this time of year. It had been early November that time, when I wrote my promise in the sand. Maybe the seals went elsewhere for the harsh winter season. I stood for a while admiring the beautiful creatures basking in the sun, now resting low on the horizon. I smiled at their magnificence. But it was time to face the music; it was time to meet Angus. I turned around and tried the handle of the gate. It opened with a high pitched moan. My legs shook as I slowly climbed the hill. I approached the red door and knocked. Nothing. I knocked again. Again there was no response. Maybe he was outside. I walked around the eaves towards the back of the cottage, but there was no one there either. The light was fading fast now and I needed to find somewhere to spend the night. Should I head back and look for the hotel? Perhaps that was best. But something in me was reluctant, hesitating, holding me back…Maybe Angus would be back soon from wherever he was. He knew I was coming today, just not exactly when. If I didn’t show up he would be disappointed. Maybe I could at least check whether or not the door was locked. I had heard that many people living in the countryside never locked their doors. I made up my mind quickly and went back around to the front of the house. I tried the handle. It yielded and the door opened.

The inside of the cottage was dark in the dimming light. The windows were small and few, too small to let in the light. But there were candles and matches on the table. I struck a match and lit one of the candles. The cottage was small and primitive. The floor was nothing but earth tucked densely together, and there was a hearth, a wooden chair and a table. That was it. There was driftwood piled up together in readiness of a fire, and I lit another match and touched the flame to the dry wood, it flared up immediately, helped by a scattering of torn and crumpled newspapers. He was expecting me after all! The glow from the hearth gave the cottage a cozy and welcoming homeliness. I smiled and put my backpack on the floor. I soon found the two bedrooms. Both had iron beds made ready with clean sheets and thick blankets. Another sign that he was after all aware of my arrival. I found a bottle of red wine on a cardboard box fashioned into a little table and a covered plate of food. It smelled delicious! I opened the wine poured a glass and dug into the food. I was hungry after the long journey.

The sea stirred up again outside at the coming of twilight and the continuous roars and wild howls of the tide mixed with the gusts of the autumnal winds flying about the eaves made me feel as though I had gone back in time. To a simpler life, blessed or cursed by the moods of the mighty Mother Nature. I closed my eyes dreamily. The shadows created by the candle flickered before me and penetrated even the curtains of my eyelids, and I sighed in contentment.

After finishing half the bottle of wine I started to feel drowsy. Stars had climbed up on the bluish black sky and the wind had increased; wailing now, like a ghost looking for a way back home. I shivered. Where was Angus? Why had he not come home? Worried as I was I could stay up no longer. I climbed under the covers of the soft blankets and was immediately lulled to sleep by the keening wind songs. I don’t know how long I had slept when I suddenly sprung out of the bed wide awake. Someone or something had touched me! I had felt a caress, a hand or something that had felt like a hand, had slipped up my leg and caressed my bare thigh! I tore the blanket aside and shook it. I hurried to light a candle, but there was no one there. I lit up every darkened corner, ventured into the other bedroom and looked into the bed. But there was no one there. Perhaps it had been a mouse. It was quite likely that there were mice in a cottage like this. I looked under the beds, examined the sheets, but found nothing. But the thought of a mouse, however disconcerting it was to think of a mouse sharing my bed, eased me a little. A mouse wasn’t dangerous after all. And it was probably gone now. I went back to bed and tucked the blankets around me. I closed my eyes, but couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay awake listening to the sea outside the window. The tide was beating against the rocky lagoon; the rhythm was that of a pulse, steady and musical, almost like…..like the beat of a drum. My thoughts went back to Angus. Where was he? Why hadn’t he come? I closed my eyes tight trying to think of something else. Then suddenly I felt it again! The hand caressing my thigh, only this time it continued higher towards my stomach. I bolted out of bed, stifling a scream. The candle was still burning on the night stand and I flickered it around frantically. “Who is there?” I cried out. There was no answer. My heart was beating fast now; fear had finally taken me over. But I couldn’t see anyone. “Show yourself!” I tried to sound angry, demanding, self-assured, but I could hear the fear in my own voice. Again, the only answer I got was that of the sea. It sounded menacing now, threatening. Tears sprung to me eyes. All of a sudden I felt alone, foolish and frightened. Someone, or something was out there, or perhaps even inside the cottage, something that meant to…what? Harm me? Or…or…have its way with me? I shivered again and felt the hairs in the back of my neck stand. One thing was certain; I would not go back to that bed.

I lit the fire in the hearth and sat as close to it as I could, seeking shelter in its comforting light. Dawn came at last. It was slow and reluctant, took its time, but it came. I got my things together, beat the fire until it died and blew out the candles. I was not planning to stay here any longer than I had to. I didn’t care about Angus anymore; he was probably not even real.

Even the island had lost its charm. I just wanted to go home. I slammed the red door shot behind me and left the hill with a brisk walk. When I closed the gate, my eyes fell once more on the peaceful lagoon that had charmed me so utterly yesterday. But it was empty. The seals had gone. Maybe the night storm had encouraged them to look for warmer pasture. Maybe it was their time of year to leave. I wasn’t sure, but I frankly didn’t care anymore.

The little ferry was waiting for me at the dock. The morning was not a popular time to leave the island and very few people joined me on the overcrossing. I decided to sit outside again. I needed the fresh air. My nerves were still unsettled and the coldness of the wind soothed me. I kept my eyes on the horizon keenly awaiting the dark shadow of the mainland to be silhouetted against the endless blue. And it was then I saw it; the small black curve of a head bobbing in the waves. A seal. One solitary seal swimming gracefully ahead of the boat, occasionally turning around and staring with black liquid eyes directly into mine.

I was inspired to publish this story by this post:

https://toffeefee.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/seals-and-more/

Please check it out to see beautiful pictures of adorable seals!

Let there be no limits to the sky

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I got the idea for this story one day in Hajii Lane looking at a caged bird staring at the sky…

Those tall lean San Francisco houses look like rows of multicolored piano keys left unplayed, except for by an occasional shower or a gust of wind. The balconies are French with curled iron and picked tops. If somebody ever used them they would be able to hold hands from one end to the other. But this neighborhood is past its best. The only living things you see here are birds bickering on rooftops. I should know, I’m one myself. I live on second floor of a big white and olive back-to-back house. You may assume I’m a nuisance, you’re wrong, I’m just an outsider. That’s the odd thing about Julius Lawrence Street, it never became what it intended to be: cheap lodgings and noisy pubs. Instead it offers privacy and silence, solitary rooms and cold nights. It suits me. I rest my mind on flights of fancy. I can’t stay in those cages with iron bars. I enjoy my seclusion, and I only work on evenings. The others leave me in peace.

But then someone moved into the flat above me. At first I thought it was a ghost, but we met on the chimney landing one day, and I learned that his name was Harris. He told me that he was bred in captivity, which was odd because he was rather common looking. The others were curious about Harris of course, but he was like me: no audible comings and goings. He asked me a couple of times to borrow my bathroom, apparently his water was jammed or something. But mostly we met on the landing. He came back when I left. He never really spoke to me, just registered my presence with a nod of the head. On rainy days when I didn’t go to work, I heard him unlocking his door. Then there was a thump and raised voices. No one else seemed to care. But I had come here for the vacuum of silence, for the vacancy, the emptiness. At first I decided to talk to Harris about it, but then I thought better of it.

That morning was sweltering. It was summer, and the sun boiled the concrete from dawn to dusk. My flat was unusually stuffy, and I was relieved when I heard Harris leaving his flat, heading for the stairs. I waited until he was gone before I followed him. The wind was cool and refreshing, and I could move easily despite the caging heat.
Bare streets fuming with sultry cries tried to leap at me, but I was too fast. That’s the thing about piano keys, they provide excellent patches of shadows. I could almost hear the dark tone of the black shorter keys quivering melodically. Then Harris disappeared behind an abandoned flower shop and I quickened my pace. I rounded the corner and was taken aback by what I saw.

There he was, like a common thief broken into a house filled with withered roses and beheaded garden gnomes. He was standing on a carpet of black metallic dust, but he wasn’t alone. A crowd of about ten to fifteen cats stood about him tinkering with something laid on gray tables. You can imagine my shock, cats! Those selfish, lazy loners crowding my backyard! Harris was holding an iron rod that looked like something from his balcony. I leaned in for a better look. The buggers were making banners with slogans such as: ” Death to the feather-clippers” and ” Let there be no limits to the sky.” In a terracotta pot by the blackened window I could see several discarded collars, some with name tags and magnets on them. A steel bowl of water stood close by. Harris had a determined look in his eyes as he stood in the gloomed yellow sunlight thumping his iron rod rhythmically on the blinking floor.

I stepped out of my hiding place and moved back unto the deserted street. Unlit lamp posts and disengaged traffic lights were leaning conspicuously in on me. The tall San Fransisco houses seemed uncomfortable, abandoned without being remote. I felt diminished by them. My eyes fell on the rooftops, they were crowded, but not friendly. Like cakes frosted with flies. I let my eyes travel higher, and there it was. The sky. The blue was so inviting. It had no currency, no gossip. The sun cast silvery shadows on the clouds. The thin layer of city dust was carefully wiped away by yesterday’s rain. I recognized the night hiding in the future. It shed crumbled stars between my overweight stiff wings. I tried to recall exactly how Harris had done it, spreading them like fans. I felt as if I would release, open, startlingly fast, perhaps better than I had ever done before. The rising of me looked exactly like a flutter, and I kicked off and flew, into that faraway blue that had no limits.

The Night Watchers

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What is really luck? Perhaps it is all a good game of dice…

It’s Sunday on Port Quay. It is five in the morning and the crashing waves on the bay is the only sound audible to passers by, even though there aren’t any. Just a few minutes ago snow was falling softly against the dusty purple sky. But it is enough, enough to stir up a cackle. Night watchers have learned to use what they can to play a game of dice. There aren’t many left nowadays, but tonight they have all come here, to Port Quay.

They only have a couple of hours. That is the rule, a couple of hours between dawn and sunrise. Even if it snows. The Night Watchers hate snow. Their coats are too thin and torn to sustain the wet cold. And very few of them carry hats. They sleep on rooftops and chimneys, places warm enough to not need a hat. They only come out of their darkened doorways when nobody else is about.

There is a old Mr. Petwick now, he used to love Christmas, but that was before. He is smiling under the soft light of the street lamps, tossing a pair of dice up in the air and catching them with his left hand. Pretty Mrs. Winkle, in a black velvet dress, sneaks up behind him. She puts her thin arms around his waist, and he jumps and the pair of dice falls to the ground. “What are you doing you old hag!” he shouts and spins around to face his attacker. Mrs. Winkle’s face tightens and she glares at him angrily. “See what you made me do!! ” Old Mr. Petwick points to the ground, and Mrs. Winkle utters an alarming cry. She bends down and studies the dice, “oh thank heavens, double six!” she sighs in relief and picks up the pair of dice, and hands them over to old Mr. Petwick. “You old fool!” he spits the accusation at her and stamps away from the bridge they have been standing on. “Don’t worry, dear,” says Miss Margaret, “he is just a wee nervous, you frightened him, you see.” Mrs. Winkle blinks away angry tears and smiles at her friend. “Yes, it was silly of me, really.” Miss Maragret tries to tuck her shawl even closer around her shoulders, but the shawl is old with big holes in it. “Come on ladies!” Mr. Lang is waiting for them on the other side of the bridge. “It is time!”

Here comes the Night watchers and the wet pavements and black concrete walls begin to shine with a winter sun still a long way from awakening. You can only go so far with matches. Miss Margaret in her red stiletto pumps steps gingerly over a pile of yellow snow with a shovel pierced inside, Mr. Lang reaches for her hand, but she declines. There are fisher boats, and white yachts docked in the bay, slipping on black and white waves. Seagulls muck about with greasy white paper and riff-raff bags. The yellow street lamps pulse orange and silver on the noisy sea remaking the hour-old snow and doubling the absent stars. The light is coming on faster now, scattering shadows across the melted snow. This is when the game always begins.

They are seated on cold steel benches with little holes in them. Nobody makes anything out of wood anymore, and almost everything has less of itself, like with holes. A little air to fill the homeless blanks. A penny saved, a penny gained. “Shall we begin?” asks Mr. Petwick. Mr. Lang, a middle aged gentleman with a twenty year old tweed suit and grey spangles in his air nods enthusiastically. He loves the game. Ever since he lost his fortune on the stock exchange market, he has loved games. Mrs. Winkle ungloves her hand and offers it up in the made-up circle of blue-cold hands. “Let me play first,” she says. “Well, what is your wager?” asks Mr. Lang. “A writer’s dream.” she replies. “I challenge that!” Mr. Petwick is eager now. He doesn’t like writers. Mr. Lang raises his eyebrows, “well, what is your wager?” ” A pot of gold and a lifetime of youth.” “Good one!” says Miss Maragaret and laughs. The wager is set, and Mrs. Winkle rolls the dice. A 3 and a 5. Not bad. But still beatable. She shrugs. Now it’s Mr. Petwick’s turn. He puts a little more force in his release and the pair of dice shoot and fall on to the wet ground. They all bend down to see the outcome. A 4 and a 6! “Haha! Too bad!” Mr. Petwick is triumphant. He was never competitive before, but now…

It is Miss Maragret’s turn to challenge Mr. Petwick. Her wager is small. “A house by the sea and a puppy.” Mr. Petwick laughs . ” A puppy! Miss Margaret, this is no child’s game!” Miss Margaret shrugs. She had always wanted a puppy when she was small. It was a big deal then. ” True love!” exclaims Mr. Petwick, and stares at the crowd as though he is awaiting their admiration. Miss Margaret rolls the dice. Two 1’s. A little girl stirs wearily in her bed. It is almost sunrise. Mr. Petwick laughs. He bounces the dice down the concrete. A 5 and a 6. “That wasn’t even fun!” he looks pityingly at Miss Margaret. She has a resigned look in her pretty dirty face. “Well, mate, it comes down to the two of us.” Mr. Petwick slaps his hand on Mr. Lang’s back. Mr. Lang nods. “So, what’s your wager?” Mr. Lang smiles. “Happiness.” Mrs. Winkle sucks in her breath and reaches for Miss Margaret’s hand. “How did you…?” her voice is shaking. Mr. Lang doesn’t answer. Even Mr. Petwick has gone pale. Only Mr. Lang keeps smiling, as though…as though…it really just was a game of dice… “Well, go on, Mr. Petwick, let’s give it a go.” Mr. Petwick collects the dice in his hand, and tosses them. Two 5s! He smiles. But Mr. Lang does not seem bothered. He retrieves the dice cheerfully. “Good one, Mr. Petwick my old friend, let us see if I can beat you!” He rolls the dice. They all hold their breath. The sun blinks, and an alarm clock goes off. The world is stirring. Suddenly the street lamps wear off. The Night Watchers stare at the missing false light nervously. A cloud runs across the pink sky. A bird sighs melancholy.

Two 6’s. The sun has reached the horizon. The winner picks up the dice. The other Night Watchers are quiet, too stunned to speak. They search for the shadows and cross the bridge. Miss Marageret slips on the icy ground, Mr. Lang steadies her. Snow falls down on them and they huddle under Mrs. Winkle’s navy blue umbrella, hurrying back into the alleys, the empty garages, the dark corners where no one bothers to look. The only trace of them is a mark in the snow, two little hollows, a game of dice. But soon the sun and stamping feet will erase even that.

The cat who wasn’t Lucky

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Have you ever noticed how we seem to attract what we fear the most? Maybe it is for a reason…

I always hated cats. Everybody knew it, including the cats. But the only thing this piece of information would encourage in this detested feline species was a willingness, a keen willingness, to win me over to their side. If there was a cat in the room, it would only care about getting my attention, no matter how many other people were in the room, and it would do anything to get it, including serving me up half dead mice and squeaking baby birds.

So I was not surprised when it was a cat who greeted me first when I moved into my new townhouse in the long dreamed of Notting Hill. The cat was, yes even I could see it, a fine specimen, a credit to its race I would say, with its golden and white stripes, plump fur and intense green eyes. It reminded me of someone, but I could never really get who it was, it seemed to escape my attention every time I tried to figure it out. My first instinct was to shoosh the cat out the door, but the cat’s response to that was just a rather insulted lazy glare. I was too afraid to touch it, and even tried to coax it with various food items, but the cat refused to go anywhere. It stretched out its long hairy body to its full length on my beautiful newly acquired sofa, and there it remained, staring at me. The sofa was positioned in front of the TV, and it ended with me watching the news seated on the floor while that good-for-nothing prince of a cat occupied the sofa. I kept glancing at it nervously over my shoulder.

The thing I hated the most about cats was how unpredictable they were. I had experienced first hand how they all of a sudden got it into their stupid heads that they wanted you to scratch their belly or decided that your fringed skirt was an interesting plaything, and suddenly, without any warning at all, they were all over you, paws, claws and teeth. You could never really trust a cat, and I certainly did not trust the cat sprawling itself all over my new sofa. And those eerie green eyes……god how they creeped me out, staring at me coolly without a hint of intent.

I decided to let the cat have the living room to itself and retire to my bedroom early, but when I got up to leave, that awful cat followed me! I sprinted over the floor and managed to sneak into the bathroom and shut the door swiftly with a bang before the cat could follow me in there too. I was so relieved to be alone and safe that I decided to just sleep on the central heated bathroom floor. I spread beach towels for a mattress and folded several hand towels to shape a pillow. But before I could really fall asleep the cat started meowing and whining in that horrible cat language outside the door. I opened the tap in the sink to maximum flow and covered my ears with more towels, and eventually I fell asleep.

When I woke up it was still barely dawn and the light was dim and lilac outside the little bathroom window. I got up, closed the tap, and there it was again, the warning wails of my jailer. What was wrong with that damn cat! I tried to go back to sleep, but after tossing and turning for two hours I gave up. I armed myself with a wet dripping toilet brush, unused of course, and slowly opened the door with my heart pounding madly in my chest. The cat stepped aside and gave a little startle when he saw the wet toilet brush, and I could walk freely into the kitchen, but with the cat following me from a safe distance (safe for him or me?).

I put the kettle on for tea and popped a few slices of bread into the toaster. The cat stared at me from his spot on the floor. “Well, all right,” I said to it, “here you go,” I tossed a piece of toast down on the floor, but to my surprise the cat didn’t even react, he just sat there staring dumbly at the discarded food, as though I had insulted him. I opened the fridge and tried with a piece of sausage, but even that seemed uninteresting to the cat. When I wolfed down my own breakfast, he just continued to stare at me with a rather curious expression in his eyes. He looked…..amused…as though I was doing something extraordinarily entertaining. “You’re a strange one, aren’t you,” I said, and the cat lifted his mouth and widened his eyes, and if I hadn’t known better I would have said he was…smiling!

“But what will I do with you? You’re a pretty thing, I mean, pretty for a cat that is. You must surely belong to someone.” I switched on my ipad and typed “missing cat in Notting Hill” into the google search bar. Hundreds of hits popped up. I started browsing through them and after about an hour I came across an ad with a picture that looked just like my feline guest. “Lucky,” I said, “is your name Lucky?” The cat meowed and stretched out his paws positioning himself close to my feet. Well, there was no telling if this was Lucky or not, I’d better call the number listed under the picture of the missing cat. I tapped my phone and dialed the number. The minute the beep tone started a phone inside my own house rang. ” I never brought a landline phone,” I said startled. “What’s going on?” I disconnected the call on my mobile phone and the ringing inside the house stopped. This was getting too spooky! I called the number again and the ringing started again. This time I let it ring and traced the sound to an old stationary phone with a ring dial and a grey receiver, I picked up the receiver. “Hello? Helllo?” I heard my own voice echo in the speaker on my mobile.

“The old owners must have forgotten to disconnect the phone,” I said and looked at the cat who had followed me on my search around the house. ” But that means…..oh you poor thing, did they leave you here?” Lucky, if it really was him, meowed and licked my leg on the spot between my sock and my trousers where it was bare. I typed in “Phone company Notting Hill” on my ipad and found a number I could call. When the automated welcome message connected me to the right adviser I explained my problem, and he assured me that I was right, the old owners had forgotten to disconnect their phone. I asked if he had a new phone number to where they were staying now, but that he could not help me with. I decided to call the real estate agent who had sold me the house instead, he must know something. “I’m sorry Miss, all I know is that they moved to Paris in a hurry, something about a job offer. But hold on, I can at least give you their last name. One minute…let me see…..yes here it is….Carlson….their last name was Carlson, and the name on the contract here is Michael, Michael Carlson. ” I thanked him and disconnected the call.

“Michael Carlson” I typed into the search bar. But there were too many hits. “Michael Carlson Notting Hill, England” I tried. This time I was in luck, only a few hits popped up on the screen, one also listed a mobile number. I dialed it and waited. After five rings someone picked up. “Is this Michael Carlson?” “Yes, yes it is,” said a deep man’s voice. “Oh, good. I am the new owner of your old house in Notting Hill, and I wondered….did you forget your cat here?” The line went quiet. “Hello? Hello, sir? are you there?” “Yes, yes I am here. Our cat Lucky is dead.” “What!? But I just found an online ad saying that he is missing.” “Well, yes, he was. I must have forgotten to take down that damn ad. A few weeks later, after he had gone missing someone found him. He had been hit by a car. They took him to the vet, but there was nothing to be done. His injuries were too substantial, we had to put him down. My daughter loved that cat.” I didn’t know what to say. “Oh, I am so sorry sir, it must be another cat I’m talking about. I am so sorry. Please forgive me for bothering you.” “No problem, I hope your cat finds his way back home,” said Michael Carlson, and we hung up.

I sat down in my chair and stared at Lucky, or the cat that wasn’t Lucky. “Who are you?” I said. I thought maybe if I could just managed to get him outside, he would go home on his own, so I opened the front door and called him (I still called him Lucky). Lucky took a few steps towards me, but stopped before he reached the door. He looked at me with such sorrow in his eyes I just couldn’t get myself to shoosh him. “Don’t you need to go pee or something,” I asked desperately. But Lucky just turned around and went back inside.

Lucky stayed with me a couple of weeks. I could never tempt him with any food, and he refused to go outside. At night he slept on the floor next to me in my bedroom, I eventually had to let him in otherwise he would spend the night crying and wailing and keep me up until I passed out of sheer exhaustion. Then one day he was gone. Just like that. I never saw him leave and I never saw him again. But some days, I caught myself staring at the empty sofa, missing him.