Thursday 5 April 2012


By Charlie Britten
Sarah stood on a platform of nothingness, an empty stage rolling into the horizon.  As mortals do, she likened it to something she had seen before.  The floor, glowing in the bright sunlight, she supposed was marble and she knew without looking that blue and brown veins strafed the white stone.  She conjured up unending white corridors, in hospitals, at airports, in hotels, but the intense beauty before her bore no comparison.
She was no longer in pain. 
Or frightened.
A few minutes ago, she had been driving, tearing along familiar country lanes close to her home.  A black Ferrari had nudged up behind her, edging into the centre of the road.  ‘You can't overtake here, you stupid man,’ she’d muttered.  ‘Nothing like enough room.’
Sarah had presumed the driver to be a man, even though she couldn't see him through his blackened windows.  He’d powered into the right hand lane, gathering speed and pushing past her, forcing her into the hedge, then cut in front of her and stopped. 
Her car had squashed into his like a sponge.  For a moment, she’d sat motionless in her seat, her hands still gripping the steering wheel.  She was okay, just a bit shaken, but then she’d seen smoke rising from the engine and smelt burning rubber.  She’d reached for the door-handle.  She’d supposed they would have to go through the usual exchanging-names-and-addresses thing, and she didn’t have time.  She had to catch the nine forty-five to London. 
As she’d reached for her handbag on the back seat, doors slammed and rapid footsteps had approached.  A man in a leather jacket had run towards her.  All manner of words denoting ‘dangerous driving’ had risen to her lips, and a younger, more impetuous Sarah would have said them all.  She had been about to utter something reasonable and civilised, when he’d produced the revolver.
She’d drawn in her breath and held it, her lungs bursting with unspent air.  She’d recognised him, of course, despite not having set eyes on him for three decades.  She had been expecting him for about for about three weeks.  She’d even parted her lips to say, ‘Hello, Bogdan,’ but the words hadn’t come.  She would have despised herself for showing fear, for jumping at the loud retort of his gun.  Something had touched her forehead, a tap, a sharp gush of pain which had swelled through her body.  Her hand had stretched out to the doorframe, but her fingers had slid down the window.
Her body had spiralled upwards and inwards, irresistibly drawn towards a narrow point of light, the same light that now shone through the nothingness, dispersing the mists which she hadn’t noticed before.  On her left, a wide staircase led downwards, shallow, concrete steps, worn down in the centre. On the right, what looked like aircraft steps rose up and up forever and ever, with little lights glowing on the treads, or were they tiny jewels, possibly pearls?
She could see through the floor, which was transparent, not marble at all.  Below it lay the English countryside, the greens of the hedges and spinneys deepening as they did when it was about to rain.  The blue shape, wedged into white hawthorn, was the wreck of her car.  The Ferrari had disappeared. 
She’d have to leave her car and call the police later, after she’d seen Dave in London.  She must catch the nine forty-five.  She reached under her sleeve for her watch but her wrist was bare.  She reached down the side of her trousers for her phone, but it wasn't there, nor was her pocket.
‘Are you going to stay there all day?’ a voice boomed from above.
She looked up.  The speaker was a bearded, middle-aged man, wearing a thick, crewneck sweater and workman’s trousers, his silhouette framed by an archway studded with pinpoints of white light.  ‘Oh, hello.’  When she looked up, she needed to shield her eyes from his brightness.  ‘Do you have a phone? I need to call a taxi.  I've had an accident with my car.’
‘Come on, Sarah.’
‘Do I know you?’
‘I knew you when you were far off,’ he said.
She frowned.  ‘Have you got a phone?’
‘Can't hear.’
Sighing, she clambered up the staircase with its pretty lights.  ‘People think they know me because they see me on telly,’ she panted, as she reached the top.  ‘I'm sorry but I don't recognise you.’
He stretched out his hand.  ‘I’m Peter.  I'm a fisherman.’
‘Really nice to meet you, Peter.’  She shook his hand.  ‘But I really must get to London, to show Dave, my producer, the DVD of ‘Visions’.  That’s the working title of my latest programme.  I’ve been working on it for six months.’
Peter shook his head.  ‘Sarah, slow down.  None of this matters.’
‘Actually, it does.  I’ve got to get my programme on the air.  This... disgusting... Bogdan, this Polish man, is getting Polish girls, his own people.... to England, promising them that they’ll get good jobs and earn lots of money, then locking them in a basement and making them work as prostitutes.’
‘We know.’
‘And my DVD contained recorded interviews with girls who’ve escaped.’ 
‘Sarah, I said we know.  My colleague, Mary, is on the case.  She had similar experiences in the past, I'm afraid.’
‘Re-ally?’  Her eyes sprung wide open.  ‘Look, Peter, is there any chance I could meet Mary?  Later on, perhaps?’  Again she turned her wrist to consult the watch that wasn’t there.  ‘Oh no.  I've just thought.  The DVD’s in my car.  I’ll have to go and get it.’  She turned, putting one foot back on the stair, but Peter shook his head.  ‘I must. Look, you can see my car through the floor.  The blue one.’ 
Taking her hand, he led her away.  ‘No, Sarah.  You’re here now.’
‘Where am I exactly?’ she demanded.
‘You don’t know?’
‘No.  I'm completely lost.  How far are we from the station?  You know, I'm starting to think that what happened wasn’t an accident at all.  I mean, he had a gun.’
‘No, Sarah, it wasn’t.’
‘Oh God.’
Peter frowned.  ‘A friendly word, Sarah.  You don’t say ‘Oh God’ round here, unless you mean it.  Blasphemy is not liked, on high.’
‘Sorry.  It just slipped out.  As you can understand, I'm a bit stressed at the moment.’
‘No need, Sarah.  We don’t do stress here.’
‘Where am I?’
‘I think you know.’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘You will.  Another thing.  You mentioned that this Bogdan... the person you had an issue with... was Polish.  I’d just mention that I used to be Polski myself, for twenty-seven years, in fact.’
‘Sorry again.  I've nothing against Poland and Polish people.  I was a reporter there in the 1980s.  Lovely scenery, especially the Tatra Mountains.’
‘Oh yes.  I used to go skiing in the Tatra Mountains.  But I'm German now.  And before that I was Italian, for a long time.’
‘Oh.  Right.  You must’ve led an, er, interesting life.  I was in Germany, in Berlin, when the Wall came down in 1989, by the way.’
‘With your camcorder.’
‘It was absolutely amazing.  People taking down the bricks with their bare hands.  I never reckoned on people like Bogdan coming along afterwards.  I mean, back in the 1980s, we journos used to go drinking with him.  Wodkas, lined up on the table, down in one, all of them.  He was this really funny guy.  Polish humour.  About Commies, Russians, Solidarnosc.  Never about the Pope though.’
‘I should think not.’
‘The Poles worship the ground Pope John Paul II walked on.  They rank him higher than God himself.’
Peter pursed his lips as he shook his head.  ‘No.  Peter is Christ’s vicar on earth.’
‘Yes.  Okay.  But Bogdan’s got to be stopped.’ 
‘He will be.’
She stabbed at the transparent marble floor with her toe.  ‘Hang on.  I can't see his Ferrari down there now.’
‘He left the scene of your ‘accident’ several minutes ago.’
‘Oh no.’  She groaned, a deep, throaty groan.  ‘My DVD.  Tell me he hasn't got my DVD.’
His bushy eyebrows rose into the furrows of his frown.  ‘As a matter of fact, he’s destroyed it.’
She stared at him, her eyes fixed upon a wayward strand of his shaggy brown hair.  ‘Oh-’
He held up his hand.  ‘No swearing, please.’
‘How?  How did he destroy it?’
‘Well, he cut it in two with secateurs.  Does it matter?  Can’t we stop talking about Bogdan and your programme?’ 
‘He could’ve killed me.’
Peter drummed the pearly gates with his fingers.
‘He did kill me, didn’t he?  Oh God, oh God, oh God.’
‘Sarah, please-’
‘I'm sorry.  I really am sorry, but you’ve got to understand that this is a bit of a... blow.  I wasn't expecting it.  Oh...’  She blinked several times.  ‘So you must be...?’
‘And this is...?’
‘I don’t deserve to be here.’
‘None of us do, except one.  Certainly not me. Even now, I cannot bear the sound of a cock crowing.’ 
‘I was very bad at attending church, you know,’ she said in an almost inaudible voice.  ‘I always believed but I'm afraid I only prayed when things went wrong.  It isn’t easy when you work in the media.  Everybody’s too cool to be religious.’
‘Pride, the worst sin of all.  God forgives. Fortunately.’
‘Yes.  Yes.’  For a moment, she stared ahead, unseeing.  ‘I did a lot of investigative journalism, you know, campaigning stuff.  You see, I did love my neighbour.’ 
‘If he – or she - happened to be newsworthy.’ 
‘I so wanted to get ‘Visions’ on air.  For the girls’ sake.’
‘You have to leave it with us now.’  He nodded at the wide staircase leading downwards, with shallow treads, worn at the centre.  ‘Bogdan, he’ll go down there.’
Peter shuddered.  ‘Yes.’
‘And the girls?’
‘Relax, Sarah.  You can't do anymore’
‘But I can't rest-’
‘Yes, you can.  Forever.’  He waved her through the big, pearly archway and into a garden which extended as far as she could see.  She walked a few paces along a path lined with luscious green leaves and vivid blooms; in the distance, she could hear gentle trickle of living water.
Peter was no longer with her.  He remained by the pearly gate.
She ran back to him.  ‘What about the girls in the brothels?’
‘It’ll be sorted out, Sarah.  Through Him all things are possible, as my mate, Matthew, says.’
She didn’t move.
‘Sarah, please.’  He turned, as if about to go, but he jabbed at the transparent marble floor with his toe.  ‘Look at earth below, if you must.  Can you see your computer?’
‘Yes, in the study, at home.’
‘The ‘Visions’ programme file is backed up on your hard drive, isn't it?’
‘I didn’t suppose you’d be so IT literate up here.’
‘Of course we know about computers, and many other machines the mortals on earth won't, er, invent, for a long time.  Trust Him to get your file to the police.’
‘To the police?  So it’ll never get on air?’
‘So vain, Sarah.  Pride again.  It’s good thing we get here by grace, isn't it?  Now get yourself into Heaven.  Before I change my mind.’

Charlie Britten has contributed to ‘FictionAtWork’, ‘The Short Humour Site’, ‘Mslexia’, ‘Linnet’s Wings’, ‘Radgepacket’ and also previously had a book review published in the ‘Copperfield Review’.  She writes because she loves doing it and belongs to two British online writing communities.
All Charlie’s work is based in reality, with a strong human interest element.  Although much of her work is humorous, she has also written serious fiction, about the 7/7 Bombings in London and attitudes to education before the Second World War. 
Charlie Britten lives in southern England with her husband and cat.  In real life, she is an IT lecturer at a college of further education.

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