Saturday, March 21, 2020

As We Know It - Chapters 11, 12 and 13

Chapter 11

“Go then!” projected Sarah, tears streaming down her face. They snaked chinwards over her blotchy, sob-ruined skin and patchy make up. Her right hand flew up wildly to brush them away but the wine dulled her precision and she clattered her fingers into her teeth and lips. It stung and she blinked the pain away, trying to maintain her furious eye contact with Hamish.

Hamish stood stock still in the darkness, watching her outline against the pale wall of the house. His feet felt too heavy to move but his mind was racing. She was shaking, beaming her anger across at him through two dilated pupils and a quivering lip. There was a dull ache behind his own eyes as he fought the pressure of possible tears of his own.

“I don’t want to go!” Was all he managed back in a half shout which petered out towards the end.

“What do you want then?” She flung her arms about her sides. “Do you just want to stick around making me feel like shit for the rest of my life?”

“Stop making out like I have any kind of plan for any of this! I didn’t engineer anything, here, Sarah - I’m trying to deal with whatever this is exactly like you are.” The beer was slurring his words but he tried desperately to hold on to the vague point he thought he could make. “I’m just trying to get through it. With you.”

“Except that you’re not, are you? You’re trying to make me feel bad every step of the way…”


“And if you’re not trying to then you’re pretty good at achieving it with very little effort on your part. You’ve made your point tonight can I please just go to bed now? I’m tired.” Her crying had escalated  to swift, panicked sobs with inelegant spluttering between them. Snot covered the back of her sleeve and there was mascara pooling in her collar bone.

“Alright Sarah, what have I done? What have I done other than try and make this work in the circumstances? Have you forgotten that I PROPOSED TO YOU? I wanted to marry you, Sarah, I asked you to marry me… have you conveniently forgotten that in this version where I’m just trying to upset you? I’m not the one who didn’t want to get married.”

“I do want to get married!” she screamed.

“Then why didn’t you just say yes? Like all the other girls who get proposed to by the guy they want to marry? Why didn’t you throw your arms around me and say yes and start laughing and crying like I thought you would?”

“You didn’t give me enough time!”

“How much time did you need? I thought it would be instant!”

“Well the candles went out…”

“I didn’t blow them out!” the heat behind his answers was well established now, the coals hot through and whitening around the edges.

“I know! But, it happened, didn’t it? And then the moment had passed. You’ve seemed so angry since… what do you want me to do, ask you to do it again? Come on Hamish! Back inside the house, I’ll set up all the candles straight out onto the bare wood and you…”

“Stop going on about the damned coasters you psychopath!” He boomed at her. She fell silent instantly. “I honestly don’t think I know you at all sometimes. I used to think you were romantic but now I guess you must have been that kid who watches a Disney princess fall in love and just flinches at the health and safety issues of the groom fighting a dragon in improper footwear.”

“Go to hell.” she snapped.

“I just might… Guess that depends on what your mate Jesus thinks when we find him, doesn’t it? I’ll ask him to check his naughty/nice list when we stumble across him in a Little Chef.”

“I don’t think we are going to find Jesus, is that what you want? Is that better, Hamish?”

“What?” he stopped in his tracks, glaring scrutinously at her.

“Are you happy now? I don’t think we’re going to stroll out of Norton and come back arm in arm with Jesus Christ, son of God. Does that reinstate your faith in me? I’m not quite as stark raving lunatic as you have condemned me to be. I’m going to look for help, or to look for clues or to look for something. I couldn’t give a shit if it’s Jesus or Allah or Ronald McDonald - I just want to find some help before the food runs out and people get into trouble.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you felt like that?”

“Because, ironically, you’re so preachy. I don’t want to listen to you mocking them anymore - mocking me and things that are important to me. I am part of this village, part of this parish and part of a team at the moment and I am not going to let them down. If they want to call this expedition a hunt for Jesus, then fine; make me a t-shirt, I’ll do it. Come or don’t come; do what you like Hamish.”

She turned over her left shoulder and sloped up the steps and into the house, pushing the unlocked front door open with her whole body weight and practically falling into the house. She felt sick from the emotional exertion and warm Sauvignon Blanc.

Hamish was left standing in the front garden. It was one thing to have an alcohol infused row on the way home from a huge night out, quite another to feel this destroyed after a few hours in a Village Hall.

They should have left before it all got so out of hand, before Mr Frinton recited the Jabberwocky and Beryl downed 8 blue Panda Pops just to prove to Nigel that she could. They should almost certainly have left before the piggy back races around the room, and if not then, they should definitely have left before The Vicar convinced them to sing Islands in the Stream together. Hamish was no Kenny Rogers and the pint of wine Sarah had devoured to give her the confidence to become Dolly was currently being returned to the circle of life via the porcelain receptacle upstairs.

Hamish trudged towards the front door, ready to lay his spinning head down. Tomorrow was going to be interesting.

Chapter 12

“It really was a wonderful speech, vicar.” said Mrs Shoe kindly to the sagging Vicar. “Everyone thought so.”

The Vicar winced at her in the violent sunshine and prayed for salvation from the internal beating that was hounding his senses. At some point during his night’s sleep his body had been overrun with homicidal creatures that were hell bent on eating him alive from the inside out. Either that or this was his first hangover in 24 years. Second in his lifetime.

The Vicar had not been hungover since the day following his initiation to his University rowing team. Despite having drunk far more river water than alcohol during the various initiating ceremonial challenges, he had awoken the next morning to find himself paralysed by both alcohol consumption and actual paralysis.

The 22 year old not-yet-vicar had roused himself in his dormitory bed and gone to swing his legs over the side in search of bacon. Finding his legs unresponsive he’d tried to sit up and found that his entire lower body seemed to have fallen out with his brain.

Being somewhat panicked at his lack of mobility, the young lad had called his biggest, strongest friend over and been fireman lifted to the University medical centre. The paralysis was caused by a stray disc from his spinal column which had been ejected somewhere between the 8th and 14th beer funnel of the evening.

Already a pious man, and heavily sedated on various muscle relaxants, the vicar-to-be decided that this was a sign from someone much smarter than him that perhaps he should never drink himself into rigor mortis again. It seemed somewhat prophetic, therefore, that this second hang over and the apocalypse had so neatly coincided. He briefly wondered if any rowing had occurred in the interim period between waltzing with Mrs Hemell and waking up in this fresh, dehydrated hell.

“Although,” continued Mrs Shoe in a voice that brought The Vicar’s focus crashing back into the room, “It did make me rather pleased that you have not chosen to put a musical portion into your sermons throughout the year. That bit I could have done without. Although perhaps it would have seemed better if I knew who Wham are? Certainly some folks were loving it. Personally, I had to make do with the dance moves. Now, that’s where your talent lies Vicar. That’s where you’ve got grace. I never knew you were so light on your feet... and back. I’d really always assumed break dancing was for the much younger man. I think it might even be the first time I’ve seen a white man give it a go...”

The Vicar decided to intervene. If not for the sake of UK race relations then certainly to save his own dwindling dignity stores from the torrent of revelation erupting from an ever eloquent Mrs Shoe.

“Yes, well, the Lord has blessed me with many passions and, er, talents.”

“I don’t know if blessed is the right word, dear.” countered Mrs Shoe, “You looked fairly tormented at times. I meant to ask you if it was possible to dance in tongues?”

“Yes.” said The Vicar swiftly, “Yes, it is. But it’s a very personal experience and not something it is well thought of to discuss after the event. I should imagine it is an omen that this search for Jesus will go well. A divine omen.”

The Vicar was fairly sure that if he didn’t get a cold glass of water and a sun hat soon he’d be spouting blessings to Jupiter and Mars. He felt dangerously close to inventing-an-extra-god-to-explain-away-his-own-shortcomings territory. If he lived through this hangover, and apocalypse, The Vicar made a promise to himself to be more understanding towards those Gods who’d likely been called in to being to protect some historical spiritual leader from a previous incarnation of Mrs Shoe. Paganistic polytheism had never looked so good.

He smiled at Mrs Shoe and walked briskly over to the largest clump of gathered villagers. Sarah and Hamish were stood in the middle, both had backpacks at their feet and nervous smiles on their faces. Every year The Vicar waved off a group of very similarly dressed teens... but this trip was no Duke of Edinburgh Award. This was the Prince of Men Award. The Vicar prayed inwardly to his recently birthed God Of Sherry Induced Misdemeanours that he hadn’t used that rather embarrassing “Prince of Men Award” bit in his speech at the Line Dance.

“You two look fresh as daisies!” said The Vicar brightly.

“Thanks Vicar, how are you feeling yourself?” replied Hamish.

“Excruciatingly glad I’m not joining you,” said The Vicar in a low voice designed for Hamish’s ears only. Hamish grinned and patted The Vicar gently on the back.

“Quite the party last night - wasn’t it?”

The two men smiled at each other and The Vicar pondered for a moment whether it mattered that they were sending such a staunch atheist on the hunt for Jesus. Would it matter? Certainly in his heart The Vicar felt Jesus would have as much time for those still doubting as those who filled his pews every Sunday. Perhaps agreeing to go in the first place would be enough of an affirmation of good willing to avoid eternal damnation?

Which begged the question - why was Hamish going? Purely for the love of Sarah, The Vicar supposed. Was Hamish really expecting to find Jesus?

Was anyone really expecting Hamish and Sarah to find a living, breathing human Jesus? Were they looking for a sign? Or a message? Commandments 2.0? The Vicar didn’t know. But there was no harm in looking.

“Are you all set then?”

“Yes, I think so,” said Sarah, “I suppose there’s nothing really left to do but go?”

“I suppose so.” The Vicar smiled, placed a hand kindly on Sarah’s shoulder for a moment and then began a round of applause as Hamish took Sarah’s hand and they headed out of the village towards the hills. It was a perfect scene, The Vicar thought.

“Onwards! For the Prince of Men Expedition!” Bellowed Hamish into the distance.

The Vicar’s insides quietly passed away.

Chapter 13

Lightning flashed across the turbulent, purpling sky. Rain was whipping across the grass, fleeing the four corners of the earth and tumbling sideways across the faces of our intrepid explorers. They were soaked; water seeping in through cuffs and collars, running down every crevice of skin and sliding off soaked hair, down frowning faces. They were hunched over, battling through the relentless torrent of cold water that drove into them from all directions.

Hamish watched Sarah fervently for signs of fatigue, he was worried. Back in the village it had all seemed like a merry adventure; like Lord of the Rings, but with a significantly less attractive cast. Now they were out and the weather had only got worse as the light failed, he felt like an idiot. He wanted to say useful things, like: "Lets just get to that bend in the path and then we can bed down for the night." But there was no bend in the path because there was no path. Where were they going?

If they had bumped into his own mother right at that point and she'd asked where they were going, he didn't think he'd have been able to reply without wincing. "We're looking for Jesus, we think he might be lost." It was a fools errand. After a lifetime of pitying people who were blindly fumbling after an invisible God, he suddenly found himself in wellington boots and a wax jacket eagerly hunting down the fairly elusive heir to the throne of heaven. Wasn't Jesus supposed to be seeking them out? How hard could that be when you have an all powerful Dad? If he couldn't even navigate Exmoor then what hope was he going to be in getting them all safely across the Styx?

He tried to shake the scorn from his mind and ended up doing an excellent impression of an enthusiastic soggy dog. He’d promised himself to keep his mouth shut. Sarah was right; even if he was still too proud to say it to her. There was no harm in going out to see what lay further afield from the village - no one was actually looking for Jesus. They were looking for help and it just so happened that whatever help they found would be attributed to Jesus regardless of his lack of actual intervention.

They had decided to head East, largely because they already lived in the South West and the Welcoming Committee had agreed that realistically Jesus was unlikely to be in Cornwall. Nowhere in the Bible did it say he was partial to a pasty and some surfing. Hamish privately thought that Cornwall was likely to be exactly where Jesus was - wasn't that where all posh kids go on their holidays while they're saving up for the all important gap year in India? For some reason he was fairly sure he wouldn't like a modern Jesus even if they could find him. Jesus would have casual hours with good money working for his Dad. Jesus would shop at Superdry and have hair with natural highlights. The sort of boy that was born already knowing the intricate details of a rugby match and who had an Uncle with a steady supply of tickets to events where girls with impossibly straight hair would fawn all over him.

There wasn't much of an argument not to head East. It was as good a place to look as any. The oddest thing about the trip so far was the complete lack of seeing anything, Hamish hadn't seen evidence of a single other person since they had left Norton Fitzwarren. For the first few miles he'd been incredibly glad of it, he felt he might strangle in cold blood if he were to hear the word vol au vent again. If his navigating was right, they should be nearing a town he had briefly lived in when looking for a house to move into with Sarah, it should be just on the other side of the hill they were currently crossing. There were no signs of life yet, no lights in the distance. Hamish assured himself it was either just the smothering density of the rain, or the apocalypse induced blackout, that meant he couldn't see it. A whole town couldn't just have been wiped off the map could it? They’d only passed a few buildings so far and all three had been abandoned. Empty shells were better than corpses, though, and Hamish was choosing to believe they’d left their homes voluntarily to find company. It was hard enough knowing what to do when you were part of a village; let alone if you lived this isolated. The world was different without human lights and human sounds. Hamish hoped it wouldn’t be disorientating enough to stop him finding his way back.

“I’m getting tired.” Sarah called back to him.

"What? Sarah? I didn’t hear you?"

"I’m getting tired; I’d like to stop for a bit" Sarah's voice came back through the river of air between them.

"Of course, of course… we’ll stop now." Sarah looked very small in the chaos of the weather. He scanned around them for somewhere a little more sheltered. There was an old oak bowing to the might of the storm a hundred yards or so away, looking as though it regretted not backing Thor back when it had the chance. “Over there - we’ll go for that tree.”

“Aren’t you meant to avoid trees in a storm?” shouted Sarah.

“I can’t remember.” He yelled, “It’s either there or… well, anywhere.” He waved vaguely across the bare meadow.

“Ok, tree it is then… I haven’t seen any lightning anyway.”

They trudged through the soggy earth towards the lonely oak.

“What is that under it?” She was pointing ahead of them, signalling for him to look too.

"What's that?" He followed the direction of her arm to a dim lump ahead of them on the ground. He took a few steps closer to her.

"Looks like a rock." He struggled over the noise of the wind.

"Yeah. A rock. Is it a rock?" Sarah sounded nervous.

"Yeah, I guess so." he said lamely, wondering why, after all the Brad Pitt films he had watched over the years, he couldn't seem to conjure an ounce of testosterone when the moment asked for it. "What else could it be?"

“Shall we keep going?” She wanted to stop walking towards the rock if she could engineer it but didn’t quite know how to tell Hamish she was frightened of a rock.

“Why wouldn’t we?” Hamish channelled Brad and put his head down toward the rock.

Personally, Sarah thought there were a lot of reasons why they wouldn't. But she didn't want to sound stupid and the only question she wanted to ask was whether they were absolutely certain there were no bears in England. If the Apocalypse ever ended she was going to make sure she never took the instant information age for granted again. What she wouldn't give for iPhone access to Wikipedia's list of British flora and fauna right now.

Hamish took Sarah's hand, grateful to be able to appear manly whilst also finding the solace of her skin that he so rarely forgot to marvel at. She had perfect skin. They hadn't been naked together since the apocalypse. He missed it, missed the way she hooked one leg across him and he could feel the warmth of her on him. He forced himself to stop thinking about it, there was no way he could fight anything well enough to protect them without an erection, let alone with one. Perhaps if the rock turned out to be a marauding bear or wolf it would be frightened enough at the sight of a protective, erect male human to just think it wasn't worth the fight? Did bears carry rape alarms?

"There are no bears in England." he muttered to himself and felt Sarah squeeze his hand.

"Thank you." She said, smiling at him quizzically. He was about to ask what for but then realised she was pleased with him and he had no desire to change that. He felt like she was on his side, and he hadn't truly felt like that since before the clocks stopped ticking.

They edged closer to the lump on the ground, it wasn't moving but the closer they got the less certain Hamish felt that it could possibly be a rock. It just didn't look solid enough, it looked like it was rippling slightly in the wind. Some kind of blanket?

They were just over two metres away when the lump on the ground stirred and a man appeared from under a blanket. He sat up and looked straight at them.

Sarah and Hamish froze solid.

"Hamish and Sarah?" said the stranger. His face seemed very distinctive to look at, but you also felt like you wanted to always be looking in case you forgot what it looked like after you turned away.

"Yes." Sarah found her voice first. "Jesus?"

The word hung in the air, Hamish knew instantly that she was right. Sarah was always right. The three figures stood in the storm and looked at one another. Despite the wind and the rain and the thunder it felt like the silence might break Hamish's ear drums. Millennia passed between them as they stood in their tiny triangle. Finally, Jesus spoke.

"Well thank home you found me I was worried sick! I'm not really cut out for mountaineering. This weather is worse than crucifixion - yes, I'm allowed to make that joke. What is this weather? No wonder we never started with England last time, this is lousy. I don't know how you get anything done."

Hamish's jaw dropped. Any tiny part of his mind that might have been forming a plan, immediately ceased. He had not expected this.

Jesus looked from Sarah to Hamish and back again. He had an awful feeling he’d just failed spectacularly to make a good first impression.

“Sorry, let me start again...” He smiled broadly, “Hi, I’m Jesus, Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus Christ” Said Hamish.

“Got it in one!” Said Jesus, chirpily. “Shall we head off?”

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