Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Girls Gone Away

Twenty years ago the first girl became lost
Somewhere between O’Neils fields and the frost
Her footsteps could be seen so clear in the snow
Away from the village to where no one would go
Beyond the farm house, and far past the fence line
Beyond all that O’Neil swore “is all mine”
Into the woods where nothing ever was found
With nothing to see but bare trees and cold ground

The village searched, sobbed and accused
As rage bought them nothing and hearts slowly bruised
And days became weeks and weeks became longer
And the memory of the girl grew fainter not stronger
Silently they agreed to let no feelings show
But hold their pain deep and there let it fester and grow
Until one frosty morning it just came to be
That the image of the girl no villager could see

Her parents were workers and by working each day
They forgot the pure joy of the girl gone away
And life carried on as life always will
With no remnant remaining, just long winter chill
Then seventeen years ago the second girl became lost
Somewhere between O’Neils fields and the frost
Footsteps were clear and easily traced
She’d walked from the town with no soul giving chase

She’d walked away in the depths of the night
Out of their homes and out of their sight
And as the villagers searched, sobbed and accused
They felt familiar pain in their hearts once more bruised
And this time as they searched a boy aged just six
Saw the old scarecrow of torn cloth and sticks
Saw its head tiled now on one side
Saw it turn just so slightly with a smile open wide

He saw one stick arm raise one branch to its lips
And he saw old decay blow just one kiss
The girl not found remained unreturned
And the children were berated, why could they not learn?
Stay in your homes, don’t leave don’t take risks
They were tucked warm and whole, warned and then kissed
And time did its march and inched forward once more
And feelings were locked up for certain and sure

Had her name been Suzanne? Or Airdrie? Or Jane?
No matter, no mention, it would not happen again
Then fourteen years ago the third girl became lost
Somewhere between O’Neils fields and the frost
Footprints again marching out in the snow
While people slept at home with coal fires aglow
While people slept deeply eyes closed on the world
The village of Reigns End lost its third girl

The villagers were furious and afraid and irate
Hammering new fences with and a barricade gate
They defended instead of searching afresh
They defended the north, then the south and the west
They built walls from rocks and dirt and wood
And declared the village sealed closed now for good
Then the boy, now aged a strong wiser nine
Crept to the field beyond the fence line

He skulked to the scarecrow frozen and still
And felt afraid and uncertain and bitterly ill
The scarecrow in moonlight was a shadow and form
Unmoving, uncaring and tattered from storms
“Where is she?” the boy asked and the scarecrow remained
Not speaking or winking, completely unchanged
“Where is she?” he asked and kicked at the figure
Who whipped up its head, as its smile grew bigger

Its eyes blinked wide open and his mouth was a leer
“The girls are all gone long ‘way from here”
Its voice was a hiss of hoar’s frost and death
And the boy smelt sewerage and death on its breath
The boy ran screaming and collapsed to his bed
Where memories became nightmares and nothing was said
For a week he was feverish and pale and near departed
More stress on a village so oft’ broken hearted

Then temperature dropped and appetite returned
But of what he’d seen no parent or friend would learn
For as with the grief that the town rushed to subdue
The boy submerged his encounter and believed it not true
Seven years passed this time before a new girl was lost
Somewhere between O’Neils fields and the frost
O’Neil was long dead and his son moved away
But the fields were O’Neils so the town’s folk would say

A new church had risen and farming had changed
And people had moved and homes rearranged
Old fears were superstitions neither founded nor real
And light and base fact left all things revealed
The girl simply vanished just as with the others
Walking away from her family and her two baby brothers
No traces, no signs, no hope, and no sight
Just there during the day and then gone to the night

The villagers were solemn and sombre and stoic
With no act undertaken be they cowardly or heroic
They mumbled and trod and gave heed to a search
But they never mentioned loss or acknowledged hurt
And the boy now sixteen huddled deep in his home
Afraid to go out and face things alone
He knew the scarecrow was in O’Neils field yet still
Turning its head with its slashed mouth and ill will

He knew it was waiting and abiding aware
But he just could not move, just would not dare
So the year passed and stained the boy in shame
And he hung his head silently absorbed all the blame
And the village continued and never spoke of the loss
And the village returned to winter and frost

Then just three years past, the boy now a man
Turned to the fields able now to understand

The woods were no danger, just the thing in the field
The thing that one winter had malice revealed
The boy now a man with girls of his own
Who he watches each night and never lets alone
The boy now a man with a mans pain and remorse
And a mans intent to alter an ill fates course
And the boy now a man married to a wife he adores
Who he loves as he can despite his hearts flaws

And the woman his wife sees the shadows in his eyes
And waits each night for him to speak ‘ere sunrise
But each night he is stoic and silent once more
And she loves him as is but hopes for yet more
And the man he wakes in darkness at one
With the earth hard and icy and far from the sun
And he hears a creak on the stair and see’s a child of his own
Stepping in her sleep to go away from his home

He leaps from the bed and snatches his axe
As his girl steps out side leaving bare footed tracks
He shouts her name but she yet does not hear
Just walks away surefooted and into his fear
He pressed into the wind that she does not feel
And slips and trips on the ice at his heal
She draws away as he screams for her to wake
Past the boundary and the farm and the old rusted gate

He staggers and weaves and screams to the night
Please let his girl be alive and alright
And in a shaft of the moonlight he sees now revealed
The scarecrow there waiting no longer concealed.
Colossal, eight legged, with its body hunched low
Its many eyes all ablaze with hatred to sow
Under its body are gathered webbed sack like pearls
Each sack containing bodies of the gone away girls

The scarecrow was hunched like a predator hunting
Straw mouth and straw throat growling and grunting
The boy now a man now a father stood resolved
And called to the daughter his heart longed to hold
And the village behind him finally awoke
Lit torches as remorse and denial finally broke
They surged to the field and the man with the axe
And the girl walking closer to the loss and the black

And with his village now with him the mans bravery grew
And he stepped to the creature as a bitter wind blew
The eyes of insanity and night and despair
Met the eyes of a father filled only with care
The man raised his axe and the scarecrow raised limbs
And the axe swung wide as the creature roared at him
And the daughter she stopped and turned to her Dad
Seeing him enraged and frightened and screaming and mad

And she looked to the sacks so close now to hand
She blinked her eyes clear and could now understand
It was on the town’s grief that this the creature it fed
Not on the girls gone away and long believed dead
She could see through the webbing to the girls inside
Breathing so slowly these white webbing dressed brides
And she turned to her father and hoped that he knew
That though her action was reckless it was meant pure and true

And screaming he saw her dive to the sacks down beneath
And he screamed out her name to the girl out of reach
“No” he screamed louder as she vanished from sight
And the creatures foul snapped wildly to bite
He screamed out again now pinned where he lay
Seeing the night darken to black from cold gray
And the creature it turned and sought the girl beneath
Howling and roaring in pained disbelief

As sack after sack was swift torn away
The girl rolled and stood and turned then to say:

“No more”

And the villagers surged forward with flame and with might
And clove and slashed and burnt this creature from night
And the scarecrow, the spider, it howled and it hissed
Surging and stamping and slashing to resist
The girl saw her father and took up his axe
And charged at the scarecrow with relentless attack

The scarecrow was shrinking and bleeding and afraid
Its stature diminished as the girls were dragged away
It was hissing and stamping with fear in its poise
And the man now a father became once more just a boy
Only this time fear would be routed and the nights would be shorter
The boy stood and took the axe the axe from his daughter
And the blows rained and splintered and severed
And the scarecrow crumpled and bled into forever

And the daughter saw her father the brave hearted man
Saw his leg pulsing blood and he unable to stand
And the girls gone away now returned found arms
As their parents ran screaming from their houses and farms
Each girl had not aged and looked just as they’d been
Each blinked and stretched now delivered from dreams
Each held to sobbing parents and received kisses and tears
As each was returned from their families worst fears

And the father, the man, the boy collapsed dead away
With a bite in his leg scorching flesh grey
His daughter she kissed him and felt skin turn ice
And she turned to her mother and sister that night
They wept together over their now dying man
Holding his loved head and both of his coarse hands
And he blinked one and saw his wife and his girls
And he coughed and he whispered “You are my world”

Then breath ceased and life flickered still
And the sun rose unknowing as always it will
And the night frost abated and melted to water
And the wife walked back home with both of her daughters
And their husband and father they never forgot
They never buried his memories or let thoughts of him stop
And often remembered the night he had fought
And the days he had toiled and all that he’d taught

And the grief they kept and turned into more
As they spoke of him with love ever perfect and pure
The scarecrow the spider was gone into the flame
The grass burnt beneath was never the same
It stayed grey and diseased where nothing now grew
So the villagers encircled it with fencing as each of them knew
That grief has a home that must be respected
And that grief, though painful, must stay connected

Grief and loss so easily swallow us whole
Tear at our world and leave punctures and holes
Grief chews and it gnaws and it bruises and pains
Takes everything clean and leaves it bitter and stained
But grief is a product of love and of joy
Of childish wonder that nothing ever can destroy
The memories of all things are with us still
As always they have been and always they will

And those that we’ve lost who we’ve loved and adored
Should never be closed off and sealed behind doors
But spoken of and shared whenever the times right
Appreciated and venerated and kept in plain sight
Turning from lost love only feeds savage beast
And talking and loving are the souls own release
So if to anyone “I love you” you have said
Then that person’s memory will never be dead

So the boy now a man now a father now dead
Was held to the light with his name often said
And the children of the village were told of this tale
That love and not fear should always prevail
And the daughter she grew and had children of her own
All loved and held close until she lay under stone
But her children and grandchildren held her memory plain

Because even in death loves purity remains

Saturday, 1 August 2015

O'Toole Tells Tales

The house lay forgotten at the end of the road
Where no children, no pets or postman would go
The windows were broken and the doors creaked on rust
And the carpets were carpeted in layers of dust
Whoever had lived there was long lost today
Whoever had lived there, well no one could say

Then one morning a van trundled by
Stopping beneath a perfect blue sky
And movers moved swiftly with boxes and chairs
Each shivering faintly at forgotten nightmares
They worked as quickly as working men could
And unloaded the truck onto bare boards of wood

The neighbourly people wondered and frowned
As word spread through every café in town
Someone had bought that house long forgotten
Where dust coughed and spluttered and all things lay rotten
Someone was coming quite soon to move in
Who could it be? Was it a her? Or a him?

The answer came shortly as a red car arrived
With its owner slow stretching from his long lonely drive
A man it was, a man named O’Toole
Who up until recently had head-mastered a school
O’Toole was a man with no child or wife
Who’d worked every day and called it a life

O’Toole was a barrel chested man of age sixty-four
Who had woken one morning and decided “no more”
He abandoned his one bedroom house in the city
And decided to move somewhere both quiet and pretty
And after two weeks of searching he knew what to do
He’d buy an old house and make it brand new

And now here he stood on this perfect blue day
Looking at abandonment, loss and decay
He rolled up his sleeves and picked up his tools
And unloaded planks and wire in spools
Inside the yard where the grass grew dry and thin
He gazed at the house and eyes gazed back at him

That first day he threw open all of the doors
And with a new broom he swept the old floors
Explosions of dust burst in clouds from the house
Triggering sneezes from a rat, cat and mouse
He swept and he swept ‘til the dust was all gone
“I’ll have this house new” he thought “before long”

That night he slept on the bed that he’d bought
Dreaming of classes that he’d recently taught
Around him the old house creaked and adjusted
To being clean swept and so thoroughly dusted
And up in the attic deep in the night
Six pairs of eyes blinked and turned left to right

The eyes belonged to children unknown and unfed
As these were children who were sadly long dead
These were children who’d had short lives of no care
And who one cold bitter winter had been abandoned right there
They’d died early that winter with the saddest belief
That the saddest of lives garner no ounce of relief

The six children, half girls and half boys
Remained in the house and spun dust into toys
As the windows cracked and the garden overgrew
The children continued and the world never knew
They stayed at their ages, from two up to twelve
The youngest the boys and the oldest the girls

The next morning O’Toole awoke and exclaimed
“Today that garden will bloom once again”
He breakfasted on coffee and sausage and eggs
Chewing each mouthful and drinking to dregs
And as he was about to take a shovel and set to his work
He saw that his home again sunken in dirt

He frowned and he pondered and picked up his broom
And chased away dust again from each buried room
Had it blown in at midnight from the garden outside?
Swirling and whirling as he dreamed safe inside?
He swept and he swept and then placed glass in frames
Of the windows so to stop this occurring again

That night he dreamed of classes once more
Reading stories to children sat on the floor
And as he slept three boys age two, four and six
Whipped up a perfect dust and dirt mix
And three girls age twelve, eight and ten
Spread candy floss clouds of dust out again

So the next day was filled with dusty disdain
O’Toole swept and swept and swept yet again
And later that afternoon he repaired every door
And sealed them all fast and firm to be sure
With everything closed and the dust chased away
O’Toole, with satisfaction, called it a day

But that night instead of retreating to sleep
O’Toole read his book and heard the house creak
And for reasons, if asked, he could never explain
O’Toole cleared his throat and strongly exclaimed
“Marley was dead, to begin with”
and heard the house gasp
As six long dead children heard someone reading at last

O’Toole read A Christmas Carol from commencement to end
Then yawned and sighed and slumbered again
And the children from the attic thrilled and imagined
The ghosts and the characters Charles Dickens had fashioned
And the dust that each night regathered
No longer came in and no longer mattered

O’Toole the next day sandpapered the floors
Sandpapered the walls and sandpapered the doors
He prepared the surfaces and started to paint
In shades blue and of yellow he felt were quaint
That night he lit a fire in the main room downstairs
And settled himself in an old leather chair

He opened a new book and once more read
To his invisible audience of children long dead
He read of Hobbits and a dragon named Smaug
Reading each page luxuriantly loud
And as the tale ended and he fell to his ease
The children stayed with him, unable to leave

O’Toole dreamt that night of the wife he’d not found
Since his only true love had been placed underground
She’d died aged just twenty in a lake in the spring
A lake where O’Toole was to propose with a ring
He’d come back to the world broken and shattered
As without his one love whatever else mattered?

He lay in his torpor bereft and unclaimed
Hating himself and gathering blame
He thought of her dreams and made them his own
And he realised a future his true love had shown
A teacher and wife she had hoped to be
“So a wifeless teacher is what comes for me”

The house was painted when he woke from his pain
Softly crying Pippa, that long cherished name
He blinked away tears as he wandered his home
Heart broken and lonely but yet not alone
For right before him at the foot of the stair
A two-year-old boy picked his nose there

O’Toole crouched down and looked at the boy
Who smiled right back with unrestrained joy
He ran to the books piled up on the floor
Clapped with his hands and waved to the door
Shortly thereafter he threw one to O’Toole
Who sat on the floor and knew what to do

The two year old listened enrapt at the tale
Of a beautiful white uncatchable whale
And his sisters and brothers unseen at the door
Listened to each word still starving for more
The house was ignored as the day turned to dusk
And the boy fell to sleep as two year olds must

And now O’Toole’s thoughts turned to the Police
To those in authority to whom he must speak
And he rose and went for his phone now to find
When something occurred that altered his mind
Outside the room five children all stared
Nervous and hopeful and spikey of hair

The eldest girl related their sad sorry tale
And hearing O’Toole turned uncomfortably pale
As she spoke of starvation and a cold desperate death
O’Toole saw a puff of his own frozen breath
“And then you came and our home wasn’t dark”
And O’Toole found warmth spread in his heart

The next day the children were eagerly waiting
To see where a new day may take them
Where they had been fleshless and boneless and gone
Now they were vibrant and laughing in song
Their memories of death fast faded from mind
Until memories of this morning were all they could find

O’Toole as well found his memories were hazed
And it never occurred to him that life may be crazed
He worked on the house with his family of six
Painting and plastering and gathering sticks
Till the house was perfect but yet not complete
The walls all a glow with the rooms warm and neat

One evening O’Toole sat in front of the flames
Reading The Iron Man to the children again
None of them flinched as the front door swung wide
And Pippa softly stepped from the out to inside
She kissed O’Toole as his story he paused
And the children, delighted, burst into applause

Pippa smiled and whispered “I do”
And O’Toole gazed and said “I love you”
Pippa sat on the arm of the chair
As the fire crackled and the children all stared
“Read” she whispered and O’Toole softly started

Feeling warm and alive and not broken hearted

There is no greater love than love that’s well read
With each night “story time” being words that are said
Children grow fast and soon read alone
In the forest of tales their parents have grown
O’Toole never knew he had long passed away
He just read to his children, and his wife, every day

The house was forgotten by all still alive
And no one ever sought to peer deep inside
No one that was but children long lost
Who’d been too much a burden or too much a cost
They gazed through the windows and came through the doors
And found safety, found warmth and stories…..evermore