Tuesday 31 January 2023

The Afterdeath Room by Mandy Mahan chai tea latte with caramel syrup

A flash of white, and I’m awake. I look down, and my hands are soft. They’re soft and all one color. No sun-spots like there were before. I want to look in a mirror, but there’s nothing around me. Nothing but the chair I’m sitting in and a silver side table with a thick book atop it. I reach for it and as soon as I feel the slick cover, it all comes back. I’m dead. I’m dead, and I’ve been dead before, been here before. Lot’s of times. The familiar sadness that I feel every time I’m here washes over me. I think about Shannon. I know how she feels too. I've been where she is now. Losing the person that means the most to you and being left back there, to live in a world that is suddenly duller and more cruel.

I open the book and there we are, on the first page. Our wedding picture. This was a good life. Longer than some, shorter than some.

I know I’ll see her again, she’ll get here and we’ll be off again. I just wonder how long I’ll wait this time. I’m happy to wait, happy to look through this book as long as I'm here, knowing that when she does get here, we’ll add another chapter to this book, but I miss her. Miss them. Our souls can take any form, but whatever form we take, our souls are connected, made of the same thing, and we can’t enter our next lives without each other. So, in each life, when death comes for one of us, we wait here, in this chair, with this book, reading and remembering all of the lives we have lived together until the other one comes, and off we go, back to life, not always at the same time, but we find each other regardless.

I look down at the first page, and see us in our most recent forms, me as a 78 year old man, thin and worn, and Shannon, 72, although she looks more like 60. As beautiful as ever, her hair piled atop her head with the insane amount of bobby pins that I was always so annoyed to find around the house, dressed in her favorite floral mumu. Only she could make that hideous thing look fashionable.

On the next page begins the written story of our life, but I don’t really need to read about this one. All of the memories are fresh and as I close my eyes, I can see them. I can see Shannon. I can see our first date, and our wedding, and the births of each of our four kids. I can see the fights and the vacations, and everything in between.

I begin to read anyway, to reminisce on the life I left. I’ll read about it until I can no longer bear the grief that I feel for leaving Shannon, and then I’ll explore lives and lives that I’ve spent with her, in all the different forms we have taken. I’ll read and feel the waves of memories crash into me, until she is with me again. Until it’s time to leave Grant and Shannon behind and become what awaits us next.


Grant was born to a teen mom, scared and poor and living with her aunt, who seemed to be the only person in her family that didn’t disown her upon hearing the news that she had gotten knocked up at the ripe age of 16.

Her parents screamed at her, declaring that she would now be going to hell for the sin she had committed. How was she so stupid? So careless? They promptly, seemingly without much thought, decided to send her to a school for girls in her ‘situation.’

When her aunt, who seemed to love her more fiercely than her parents, heard the news, she offered for her niece to come live with her. Her parents didn’t bat an eyelid as they pulled suitcases from the hall closet so their disappointment of a daughter could pack up and head North.

When she arrived at her aunt’s house in Illinois, she was embraced, and in that moment she knew she would be okay. She was still terrified but she knew she was no longer alone and somehow, that made the fear of the unknown seem bearable.

Five months later, she gave birth to a little boy in the back of her aunt’s Taho on the way to the hospital. She named him Grant David Mills.

Although a plan of adoption had already been conceived, when she saw his cherub face and smelled the top of his head, she and her aunt made eye contact and tacitly agreed to keep him. Grant was raised by his mom and her aunt until the day before his twelfth birthday. His great aunt passed away of old age, leaving her house and all of her money to Grant’s mother.

Grant grew up knowing he was loved without end, although only by the two women that raised him. He was encouraged to be creative and clever and was aware of his mother’s strength and resilience and respected her and loved her more than anyone else. He heard the story of his mother creating him at such a young age, and being disowned, and then, with her aunt’s help, coming out of all of that as a loving and successful mother.

Although his mother was never able to go to college or pursue her dream of being an art curator, she rose to the top of a local diner and by the time Grant was 14, she owned the diner, buying it with her inheritance from her aunt. Every month, she held an art show for local creatives.

One Tuesday night, as Grant’s mother was closing the diner, and walking in the dark to her car, she was mugged and left to die in the parking lot, bloodied and wet from the late afternoon rainfall.

Luckily, a police officer was cruising the neighborhood, and noticed her car, seemingly abandoned, in the parking lot. As he pulled in, he saw her body on the pavement. He gathered her barely breathing body into his arms, deposited her into the back of his cruiser and rushed her to the hospital.

Once she was being treated, the officer called Grant, now 18 and a freshman at Northwestern University, and he rushed to the hospital, tears spilling from his eyes the entire drive.

The doctors called it a miracle that she survived. She left the hospital with a limp and the phone number of the police officer that saved her life. She called him to say thank you and extended an invitation to dinner with her and her son. A year later, they were married, and at the age of 19, Grant had a father for the first time.

The day that Grant’s mother married the officer, Shannon was three states away, burying her father, who had loved her unconditionally for the entirety of her 17 years on the earth. She felt hollow and full at the same time. Hollow because her father wouldn’t be around to watch her graduate that year, or walk her down the aisle or become a grandfather to her children. Full, because she knew she was lucky to be loved by her father at all.

Shannon was born to her mother, with her father there to watch her come into the world. She grew up supported and rich, vacationing for every summer, winter, spring, and fall break. She was smart, not naturally, but because she had a tutor in every subject. It was important to her parents that she attend college and continue the family legacy of education and success. 

When her father got sick, he told Shannon that he was sorry for all the pressure that he and her mother had placed on her to be a success. Do what makes you happy, he told her.

A few months later, her mother applauded with tears escaping her eyes as she watched her only child move her tassel from one side of her graduation cap to the other.

In the fall, Shannon arrived at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she would eventually graduate with a journalism degree, following her father’s advice to do what she loved.

The evening Shannon arrived, she wandered into her first party, where she met a sophomore Econ student, Grant Mills.

From across the room, she could see that he was tall and confident, two things that Shannon was not. Opposites attract, she thought to herself as she found herself walking towards him.

When Shannon arrived next to Grant that night at the Pi Kappa Alpha school year kickoff party, he was taken aback. He smiled at her expecting her to ask him where the bathroom was, but instead she said “I’m Shannon.”

Eventually, Grant and Shannon found themselves alone on the couch, realizing that they hadn’t even noticed the party had died. They weren’t ready to say goodbye that night, so they walked to the diner right off campus and Shannon learned of his mother, the previous owner and they bonded over their losses while sharing a stack of chocolate chip pancakes.

For two years Shannon and Grant became one, going to the same parties, coordinating their class schedules together, and every Saturday morning, they went to the diner and shared a stack of chocolate chip pancakes.

They rarely fought, and when they did, it was short lived. The sex was good. Not mind-blowing, but sweet and sensual and simple, with the occasional kink. Everything was easy and to each other, they felt like home.

They discussed marriage and their future as if it was a given. Of course they would get married and have successful careers and kids and retire to travel the world together.

When Grant graduated and moved South to start his first job, Shannon was left behind to finish her degree. They said they would keep in touch, but every call was a reminder of the distance that was complicating things. They feared that the stress of long distance would turn their sweet love bitter, so things ended, leaving Shannon to end her college career lonely and never fully recovered from the shatter of her broken heart.

4.5 years later, Shannon arrived at a Thai restaurant to pick up her takeout order. She had just finished the first day at her new job, where she was writing obituaries for a small paper in St. Augustine, Florida. As she was about to look down at her phone to busy her eyes and mind while she waited for her Pad See Ew, she saw a familiar face in her new town that up until then had been filled to the brim with strangers. She felt relief and panic all at once. She hadn’t seen him in years, but for some reason, after spotting him, this lonely and unfamiliar town felt like home. She stood in that feeling for a few seconds, and then reminded herself that he was her past, and she had come to Florida for her future, so she adjusted herself so he wouldn’t see her.

She was handed her food and headed to the exit, away from her past, right as she heard Grant’s familiar voice, smooth and sweet like cinnamon butter, call out her name.

They were married within the year and pregnant shortly after.

Shannon gave birth to their first child, a son, and they named him after her father, George David Mills.


I close my eyes and my mind becomes a screen, playing out scenes of the life I just left. It’s too painful to continue to dwell on this story.

I turn to the next chapter. I smile. This one will be good. In this life, we were a mother and daughter. I was Annie and she was Ophelia. 

About the author 

Mandy Mahan works as a study hall teacher in North Manchester, Indiana. She resides with her husband. She studied English and Professional Writing at Ball State University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts. Although unpublished, Mandy is excited to share her writing. 


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Monday 30 January 2023

The Manor House by Gill James, strong black coffee

 "So what is this?" Tony looked at the photo Dave had given him. Sure, he recognised the hall. It was the Old Manor House, now turned into a five-star restaurant. "Some sort of re-enactment?"

"Look closer. Can't you see who's sitting at the table?"

Tony looked a bit more carefully at the picture. Now he could see Gina in that lovely floaty blue dress. At Brendon's leaving do. "It's us." 

"That's right." 

"So who are all these other guys? I don't remember them being there." He pointed to the rather robust man who looked just like Henry VIII. Next to him was a woman in a long flowing gown. Only she looked more medieval. "Is it some sort of costume party? And why are they crashing our do? Is it a double exposure?" He remembered something similar happening last year when he'd taken holiday snaps on his father's old analogue camera. Only that didn't happen with digital cameras, did it?

Dave shook his head. "It's not the first time this has happened." 

"What do you mean?" 

"Well, you see, Maggie said she felt funny when we were there. She said she could feel a presence."

"She could feel a presence?"

Dave nodded. "She's got a bit of a gift."

"What do you mean, she's got a bit of a gift?"

"Clairvoyance. You know. She's a kind of medium."

Tony couldn't believe what he was hearing. This was Dave talking. Dave the scientist, who didn't believe in God or fairies, let alone presences or ghosts or whatever you wanted to call them.

"You say this has happened before?"

Dave nodded. "Quite a lot actually. Look, I'll send you the link so you can show Gina."

"Have you got any pictures without our extra friends on?"

"Yes I have. You’ll be able to see them all and you can make up your own mind about them."  


"That's a nice one." Gina was pointing at the photo of the two of them sitting at the bar before they were shown to their table. 

"Of course it is. You're in it."

"Now now. Flattery will get you everywhere."

"Look at this though." There was Brendon, Dave and Maggie. Next to Brendon was a lady in a crinoline dress. Maggie seemed to be staring at her.

"Did she say she could see them?" Gina asked.

"Maggie wasn't there and Dave didn't say."

"Well she's always been a bit weird."

"Do you think so?"

"Yes, that time we went to auction rooms at Sibley she wouldn't stay in the room. She said she thought something dreadful had happened there."         

"It's a strange place, that's for sure." Tony frowned. There was something chipping away at the corner of his mind. Yes that was it. "Something bad did happen there. Do you remember? They found the bodies of those twin girls who’d been missing. Stuffed in an old cupboard."

Gina nodded. "Yes that's right. They did, didn't they?" She flicked through a few more of the photos. "That's funny though."

"What is?"

"Well Maggie's in all of the photos where we have our extra friends."

"So what would that mean?"

"No idea. Except I suppose it might all be part of the plan. Do you know what I reckon?"


"She's just attention-seeking. And she's got clever with Photoshop."    


The following week was busy for Tony and he didn't have any more time to dwell on the strange photos. At last Friday came around and he had just one more story to cover. This would be easy. It was about the opening of the new extension to the library. He would go over there just after lunch, do the interview with the chief librarian and then he could go home, write up his report, whizz it across to Harry and he would be done for the week. He could then look forward to a nice relaxing weekend with Gina.

"So what's going to be housed in the extension?" he asked the librarian.

"All the local history archives. They've made a start. There will also be some exhibitions of interesting places. There's one up and running now. Take a look."

"I just might do that." Perhaps he’d be able to find something there to add a bit of colour to his report.

"Help yourself."

"Is it all right to take photos?"

The librarian nodded. "Everything's a copy so it will do no harm."

He wandered through the double doors and was amazed to see a display all about the Manor House. So, that building had been there since about 1300. The oldest part at least and they knew that there had been a building there since 1200. It was a favourite venue for ghost-hunters. There were reports of ghosts who had haunted later occupants. Including a Henry VIII lookalike and a medieval lady. When the place was first turned into a restaurant the manager had reported seeing a lady in a crinoline dress.

That must be where Maggie had got her ideas from. Pity she wasn't on duty today. He would have been able to confront her about it.

He went back to the main part of the library.

"Will Maggie Sutton be in tomorrow?" he asked the librarian.

"I think so." She consulted her tablet. "Yes, she's here from 9.30 until 12.00. Why do you ask?"

"Oh she's a friend of the family. I'm sure if I've overlooked something she'll be able to set me straight."

The librarian nodded.

"Thank you for your time and your help."           


He was later getting home that he'd intended. He'd stayed longer at the library than he'd meant to, then there was an accident on the by-pass and he'd had to queue for an hour. Gina was already home when he got in but she was clearly still working. She was hunched over her laptop. 

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm putting together an article about faking photos with Photoshop. There's a lot of it about."

Why hadn't he thought of that? Mind you his editor wanted him to stick to local news.

"So, have you found out a lot?"

"Oh yes.  And of course it isn't just Photoshop. Ordinary photographers used to do it. It wasn't as easy then though. Do you remember the Cottingley fairies?"

It rang a bell but he couldn't remember the details.

"Look." She showed him the image on her screen. It was convincing. "I actually think they did a better job than 21st century people do with the resources they have. It's too easy. One sister admitted that it was fake but the other didn't. She insisted that they really saw and photographed fairies."

"Why do you say they made a better job than modern photographers?"

"Well look at this. The girl in the cornfield and the boxer are from different pictures. Can you see how flat the background is?"

"So what about Maggie's pictures?"

"They're convincing. You haven't got that flatness there."

She was right. "But hasn't Maggie studied photography? Perhaps she's pretty skilled at that."

"I thought it was fine art she had a degree in." Gina snapped the laptop shut. "You know what? We should go to the Manor House again and take some photos."

He nodded. "And I'll pop along to the library tomorrow and confront her."              


Maggie was sitting at the main desk when he arrived at the library the next day. Things hadn't quite gone according to plan. They'd not managed to get a table at the Manor. They did have one for this evening. But it would have been better if they'd been there and taken some photos- ones without ghosts or whatever they were.

Maggie beamed at him. She was wearing a bright pink sparkly top. There were wings attached to the back. He had to suppress the urge to chuckle.

"Oh don't mind me," she said. "Its story time in twenty minutes and it's all about fairies. I have to look the part."

He suspected that wasn't the only reason. She loved dressing up. And she never minded making a fool of herself.

"So, how did the article go?"

"The article?"

"Gwen said you were in yesterday about the new extension."

"Yes, yes. All done and dusted." Why was he here actually? Then he spotted her laptop. Could he get her out of the way and have a look?

"So, how can I help you?"

Think. Think. "Well, my boss has commissioned another article now. All about the Manor House and the people who lived there. I wondered if I could access some of the archive material?"

"No problem. I've just got time to go down there and find a few bits and pieces before the kids arrive. You saw my photos? Here, take another look."

Even better.

She opened the file with them on. 

He sat down at the desk. Yes, they were convincing. But she must have cheated. Quickly he started looking through some of the other folders on the device. Ah yes. There you had it. Photos of historical figures.  Henry's double. The two women. He'd got her.

"What on earth are you doing?" said Maggie when she came back with half a dozen dusty-looking folders.

"Proving that you're an absolute fraud. You Photoshopped it all didn't you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You pasted those images into the photos you took the other evening?"

"I most certainly did not." Her face was bright red now and her eyes were flashing. "Because if you look...." She clicked a couple of times on the keyboard. "My ghosts are dressed in completely different clothes."

"Well they're Photoshopped as well."

"No they're not."

"Would you mind keeping the noise down? This is a library you know." It was a rather stuffy-looking older man Tony had never seen before.

At that moment a group of giggling little girls and their parents wondered in.

"So, do you want these documents or not?"

"I don't think so. I've got my new story now."                    


The meal at the Manor House was superb as usual.

"Are you going to have a dessert?" Tony asked.

"I can't. I'm stuffed. But I will take a couple more photos or maybe we can get the waiter to?"

The young man obliged.

"So, what are you going to do? How are you going to frame your article?"

"Well, I'll include these photos and then I'll Photoshop some ghosts in and explain how easy it all was."

"Sounds like a plan. At least we haven't seen any real ones yet."


It was after midnight when they got back. They were late getting up the next morning as well and had only just finished breakfast when the doorbell rang. It was Maggie and Dave.

"Hi guys. Yes, I'm here to confess," said Maggie. "You were right. It was all a trick. Anyway I thought I might help you with your article. Show you how I did it."

"It's Gina's article actually. I should apologise as well. It was rude of me to go looking at your laptop. And I shouldn't have shouted at you."

Maggie grinned. "You know it was almost worth it to see old Jeffers get all agitated.”


"Jeffrey Smythe-Brown. He's a real dinosaur. Thinks libraries aren't for youngsters and that you should be silent all the time in them. He can be a pain at times."

"Coffee?" asked Gina.

"That would be great," said Dave.

"We took some photos you know," said Tony. "Would you like to have a look?"

"Yes please."

"I'll put them on the big screen so we can all see them at once." He plugged his phone into the computer and started opening the photo files. What he saw made his mouth go dry. There was a thudding noise in his ears.

“What’s the matter?” asked Dave.

“Look. Oh my God. They weren't there when we took them. Nor when we looked at them on the phone."

The first one was of him and Gina in the bar. Standing behind them was the Henry VIII lookalike. The second one was of them eating the first course and the medieval lady was sitting with them. Another one had the lady in the crinoline dress standing at the side of the table. The final one that the waiter had taken for them showed all three standing behind them and behind those were some more rather indistinct figures.

“Where did you get those photos, Maggie? Have you been messing about again?” Dave was frowning. 

"I got them from the archives. They were from portraits that used to hang on the walls at the Manor." Maggie had gone quite white. “It’s unbelievable.” 

"What's unbelievable?" Gina came in with the coffee.

Tony turned to her. "I think your article has just been scuppered but I think I've got one now: all about the Manor House ghosts."           

About the author

Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown. She edits CafeLit and writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing





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Sunday 29 January 2023

Sunday Serial: The House of Clmentine, Chapters 13 & 14 by Gill james, orange juice




Despite the freezing temperature Kaleem decided to jog home. It was the middle of the night and he was returning from his tenth session with Take Down Clementine. This way he had time to think. What he'd found out this evening had totally shocked him. He'd spent a couple of hours talking it through with Clem and some of the others.

It had all been disturbing enough. The House of Clementine had operated on Terrestra, Zandra and Zenoto for centuries. It had controlled the banks and of course, whoever controlled the money pretty well controlled everything else. It hadn't been the politicians in the end. All they could do was work with what was in front of them and pretend they were achieving something so that they could massage their own egos. The House of Clementine was directed by just a small group of determined individuals in the beginning. Not all descendants were admitted to the House. They had to prove they had the right attitude first.

Now Clem's group wanted to find all of the people involved and take them out. Not kill them but keep them imprisoned.  Take Down Clementine would also need to prove themselves to all the other people and those in charge. And some of those in charge might well be members of the House.

Then tonight he'd had the greatest shock of all: the One World Community bureaucrats were entirely controlled by the House of Clementine.

Kaleem paused for breath. He had a slight stitch. He stretched his side to relieve it. The cold now bit in sharply. He would have to get going again or he might just freeze to death. The One World Community, though. It was actually corrupt as well.  His idea had been to find out what people didn't like and rectify it. Now it looked as if the whole organisation needed to be dismantled and something new must take its place.

He longed to talk to Rozia. She would have something sensible to say, he was sure. He'd have to be careful exactly how much he told her and it was much too late to call round now. Perhaps he could offer her and Petri breakfast tomorrow. Yes, that's what he would do. He jogged on. He'd get up early despite getting to bed so late.

The thought of seeing Rozia lifted his spirits somewhat. He found some more energy and doubled his pace.                


The Cherry Bowl on the fifth urban ring was quiet today. It had been a good choice. The cherry-coloured furnishings and the large veriglass windows made it pretty and light. The food was good, he knew. This was a place used more in the holidays and today was a normal working day. Life was settling down again on Zandra.

Kaleem toyed with his napkin nervously. Would they come? He hadn't actually spoken to Rozia. He'd left a message in the middle of the night. She hadn't replied.

The waiting droid hovered near his table. "Would sir like some coffee whilst he's waiting for his guests?" said the machine.

Kaleem waved the droid away. He was much too nervous to eat or drink yet.

The doors swished open at last and in they came. My, they both looked so well. Kaleem stood up as they made their way over to the table.

"Can we have pancakes, Kaleem? I want pancakes." Petri jogged his hand up and down.

"You can have whatever you like. Of course you can."

Petri beamed.

"So what's this all in aid of?" asked Rozia as she studied her menu screen.

"Oh just celebrating the fact that we're making some breakthroughs."

"Really?" She looked away from the screen. "Can you tell me anything?"

"Not a lot. But I just wanted your opinion; just how important is it that we keep the One World Community intact?"

Rozia frowned and her eyes grew round. "Really important. Naturally. How can we not have the One World Community?"

"But suppose we found out that it was corrupt?"

"Is it?"

Kaleem shrugged.

"Well, if we had to get rid of it because it was corrupt, we'd better replace it with something else similar but without the corruption. Pretty quickly."

So ordinary people were still mainly in favour of the One World Community. He decided to change the subject. At that precise moment the droid arrived. 

"Just toast with honey and tea for me," said Rozia.

"Have more, if you want."

"Pancakes," cried Petri.

Rozia shook her head. "We can't stay all that long.  I'm doing some work for Nazaret today."

"No news about your credits?"

"No. And your parents are being so kind. It's only fair that I should do something to pay them back. I'm editing one of your father's reports."

Kaleem turned to the droid. "Yes pancakes for the young lady and toast and honey for me as well. With coffee."

The droid trundled back to the kitchen and just a few moments later reappeared with the order. They talked as they ate mainly about Petri's progress. She was steaming ahead on her dataserve course.

"No more problems with her drugs?"

"No, that was a complete mystery. Everything's fine."  Her communicator bleeped. "Look, I'm sorry. We must go. Is it okay if I leave you to settle the bill?"

Petri pulled a face.

"Of course. Let Petri stay and finish her pancakes. I'll bring her along later."

Petri clapped her hands. "Thank you, Kaleem."

Rozia smiled and nodded then got up from the table. "See you later."          

Kaleem waved to the serving droid which then trundled over to him. It took just seconds for him to align his iris to the scanner. He held his breath as he waited for his payment to go through. He was now slightly nervous every time he accessed his credits because of what had happened to Rozia.

He needn't have worried. The transaction went through smoothly. 

They were just about to stand up and leave when a couple came in. Goodness what a nice surprise. He hadn't seen them from months. Petro and Tulla. He hadn't even realised they were back on Zandra.    

"Don't rush off, mate," said Petro. "Stay for a catch up?"

Kaleem quickly introduced Petri. She stared at Tulla with her mouth open. Hardly surprising: Tulla looked so much like Rozia. He hoped she wouldn't say anything.

Fortunately Petro rescued them. He grinned at Petri.  "My name's like yours a bit, isn't it?"

She giggled and nodded her head. "Oh yes, it is."  

Kaleem nodded and soon they were enjoying some good Zandrian hazelnut chofas. It almost felt like the old days when he had first come to Zandra in disguise.  

"But why have you come back? I thought you really liked your work out there." 

Tulla sighed. "We do. Of course we do. But there's obviously something going awry here and we thought we might be able to help. We're also not sure how much longer we'd be welcome there, anyway, given Zandra's current attitude to the One World Community. We decided to quit while we're ahead." She looked down into her lap. 

Kaleem noticed she had gone very pale.

Petro rubbed her arm. "It'll be fine," he murmured. He turned to Kaleem. "We've put ourselves forward for special home intelligence and we've been accepted. We might even be working with you."

Kaleem smiled. "That would be cool." Though actually he doubted whether they would be allowed into the Take Down Clementine project. "Talking of work, I'd better get going." He stood up.

Tulla and Petro also got out of their seats. Petro grinned. "No good asking you what you're up to, I suppose?"

Kaleem smiled and shook his head.

Petri was now wobbling his arm.

"I know," he said. "Grown-up talk. And yes. It's high time I got you back. Rozia will wonder where we've got to."   


It had been good seeing Tulla and Petro again. It was always the same problem, though, wasn't it? He always knew too much and couldn't tell. Oh well. Best not to dwell on it.  He had another meeting with Clem again in less than an hour. He dropped off Petri and started to make his way to where he'd arranged to meet Clem. 

A huge crowd had gathered around one of the public information screens. Kaleem recognised at once the face of one of the most loved Zandrian actors, Karlo Dunston.  Of course he knew him well: Karlo had played Kaleem in the film they'd made about his first trip to Zandra.

"I do this with a good deal of sadness," said Karlo. "But I feel I can't risk losing contact with the One World Community.  For me, it's bigger than Zandra.  Therefore, I have applied for Terrestran citizenship. My mother is half Terrestran and I think I'm in with a very good chance. That way I can continue to be a citizen of the One World Community."

This was intriguing. How did the actor come to have a mother who was half Terrestran? Even before the poison cloud, Terrestra had been a lone planet, barely connecting with others. It was rather ironic as well that Terrestra of all planets was now one of the most enthusiastic members of the One World Community.

He looked at Karlo's face. Did he look Terrestran? Maybe a little. Of course, they'd done an excellent job of making him look just like Kaleem for the film but he'd always put that down to clever use of make-up and CGI. Maybe there was a Terrestran element to him after all.

"You can't be persuaded to change your mind?" asked the droid presenter.

Karlo shook his head. "Zandra no longer feels like home. I'll be leaving as soon as possible."

"Even though Zandra has no plans to leave the One World Community?"

"It's too risky. I have to be where I can feel at home." 

The screen went black. The crowd dispersed. No one said a word.
















Clem had not turned up for the meeting they'd arranged. This wasn't the first time and Kaleem was sure it wouldn't be the last. It would now just be a matter of waiting until Clem contacted him again. He most surely would.

He was quite pleased to relax in front of the dataserve. He contemplated calling Rozia but decided against it. It was always a delicate balance between letting her know that he cared, that he would always be available if she needed some help, and smothering her. He hoped, though, that she would contact him.

He could find out nothing about Karlo Dunston. This was only the actor's pseudonym and strict protocols prevented his real name being revealed. In fact it had been quite brave of the actor to admit that he was one quarter Terrestran. Given enough time, Kaleem would be able to hack into the systems. In fact, he could probably quite easily access Hidden Information or even Golden Knowledge if he went on to the Terrestran servers but even he might get into quite a bit of trouble for this: he didn’t actually need to find out about Karlo. He had been tasked with something bigger. Hacking into systems to which he sometimes had access anyway was a bit of waste of time although it helped to keep his skills fine-tuned. 

But even the Executives, even Tyler herself, had no idea about the House of Clementine. He would have to find out more before he could disclose anything and anyway his role wasn't to disclose but to reconcile or find a third way.

Would finding out more about the poison cloud and the cave system help? Would his parents know more? His father had come secretly to Terrestra, hadn't he? 

Nazaret apparently was in a meeting. That too was a puzzle. What was so urgent about crop control that they had to meet in the evening?

"He didn't say why it was so important," said Marijam. "But he is worried. Can I help?"

"I was just wondering what it was like in the caves on Terrestra – and before. And if any other Zandrians had ever been to Terrestra."

"Goodness. What do you want to know about all of that for? Best forgotten isn't it?"

"Perhaps. But why was Terrestra so reluctant to communicate with others? They might have got more help with the poison cloud."

"Well, they did eventually, didn't they?  Hence: your father."

"Okay, but why be so secretive?"

There was a brief silence, then Marijam sighed. "We were so proud of our disease-free society. We wanted to keep it that way." There was another pause. "Then you came along."

"Sorry about that." He never had quite got over being the one to bring disease back to Terrestra. "What was it like, living in the caves all of the time?" He knew a little about it; he had lived in a cave when he was younger and then again when he'd lived in the Z Zone with Rozia, but he had been able to go out of the cave into the fresh air. He couldn't imagine what it was like never leaving the cave system.

"Well, we didn't know any other way. The caves were all we knew. Your grandparents spent half of their lives down there. Why don't you talk to them?"

That would be a good idea. He could make a long-distance call.  

"Thanks. I might just do that."

"Just one more thing before you go. I have heard that some Terrestrans went to Zandra just before the poison cloud became so bad that we all had to go underground.  So, there may be some more Terrestran blood on Zandra apart from ours. Were you thinking of Karlo Dunston?"


"Well, let me know if you find out. I'm curious too."  


The caves felt familiar and yet they were not how he remembered them. The dampness and gloom that contrasted with the fresh air and the light. The long way down to the apartment from the surface. And the even poorer caves in the Z Zone where he and Rozia had been so happy. He didn't remember this though. This was somebody else's story.

There was no way out. One cave just led into another. There were mirror systems that allowed light from the surface into the caves. It was a dull light though. The sky when you looked up at it here was overcast by a greyish-green cloud. Terrestran light, he remembered had always been bright. Zandrian, too. Where was this place?

The air was stale and a little musty. The back of his throat was choking. He was walking with the others. He didn't know these people but they seemed to know him. They smiled and nodded. He smiled politely back. Nobody spoke and they were all hurrying. Their pupils were huge. They seemed to look right into you, as if they could read your very thoughts.  

He had to get out. He knew that. He didn't know how or why.

"This way," said a voice.  It sounded as if the speaker was standing right behind him and was whispering into his left ear. He turned, but there was no one there. A hand grabbed his arm. "Come on. Follow me," said the same voice.

He found himself in a darkened passage. The ground was rougher underfoot. "The shuttle is almost ready. Just keep on following. Don't say anything."

His adjusted to the dark and he could make out the outline of his companion who kept his back to him.

"We'll soon be there," said the man. He sounded older, maybe like an Elder. It wasn't one he recognised though and he certainly wasn't dressed like an Elder.  In fact, Kaleem had never seen such an extraordinary costume. Yes it was still a tunic and trousers but the tunic was longer than normal and the trousers much baggier.

The passage opened in to a flood-lit area. A rush of fresh air greeted Kaleem.  He realised that he was now outside of the cave system. The man turned to him. Now he recognised him but still he couldn't think where from.

"You're ready?" the man asked.

He wasn't sure. He didn't know what this was all about. He had the feeling though that he ought to. He nodded.

"No regrets?"

Kaleem shook his head.

"Right then. We'll proceed to the interplanetary craft."

A shuttle craft with a droid driver stopped in front of them. They both stepped in.

The shuttle sped off across the concourse, rounded a corner, crossed another huge open space and then slowed so that it could make its way through a narrow archway. A new space opened in front of them and there she was: a rather old-fashioned looking space craft but nevertheless gleaming white and looking full of hope. 

"She's all programmed ready for your crossing to Zandra. They're all waiting for you and your expertise." The man bowed slightly and invited Kaleem to walk towards the entrance of the space craft.

About the Peace Child Series:

Book 1 The Prophecy
Kaleem Malkendy is different – and on Terrestra, different is no way to be.
Everything about Kaleem marks him out form the rest: the blond hair and dark skin, the uncomfortable cave where he lives and the fact that he doesn’t know his father. He’s used to unwelcome attention, but even so he’d feel better if some strange old man didn’t keep following him around.
That man introduces himself and begins to explain the Babel Prophecy – and everything in Kaleem’s life changes forever.    
Book 2 Babel
Babel is the second part of the Peace Child trilogy. Kaleem has found his father and soon finds the love of his life, Rozia Laurence, but he is still not comfortable with his role as Peace Child. He also has to face some of the less palatable truths about his home planet: it is blighted by the existence of the Z Zone, a place where poorer people live outside of society, and by switch-off, compulsory euthanasia for a healthy but aging population, including his mentor, Razjosh. The Babel Tower still haunts him, but it begins to make sense as he uncovers more of the truth about his past and how it is connected with the problems in the Z Zone. Kaleem knows he can and must make a difference, but at what personal cost?
Book 3 The Tower 

Kaleem has given up the love of his life in order to protect her. He now lives and works on Zandra. A sudden landquake, not known on the planet for many years, destroys many of the forests his father has planted to bring life back to the planet. The new relationship Kaleem has helped to establish between the Terrestrans and the Zandrians is also under threat. A third party gets involved and Kaleem has to use all of his diplomatic skills to keep everything on track. Mistakes cost him dearly and he looks set to lose Rozia for a second time. The Babel Tower mystery, others mysteries and sadness plague him. Can he find a way through to fulfil his role as the Peace Child?
Find out more here.  

Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown.  

She edits CafeLit.

She writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation

She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing    




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