A.J. Walker


Always Red Wellingtons

#MidWeekFlash 200 - 19 May 2021

Always Red Wellingtons

I remember the wooden frame steps by the woods at the back of Aunt Tina’s from the long summers of childhood. Some of the steps seemed large to me then–but standing here now I can see they were nothing. I used to enjoy running up them trying to beat mum and dad; but mostly my sister. I’m sure now mum and dad just enjoyed watching us playing together. The steps were muddy sometimes after a few days of rain. If it was wet I’d run up in my oversize bright red wellies. Once one of my boots stuck in the mud as I continued onwards with just my white socked foot: not white for long. They all laughed as I comically struggled to get back to my boot. I’d beaten my sister to the top of the steps, but the victory didn’t include the prize of someone rescuing the boot for me. This seems a lifetime ago. I suppose most people’s childhood does. Time can be flexible but sometimes it breaks.

Now back at the house all these years later I am at loss to know why the steps are there at all. There’s hardly a footpath there along the raggedy fence and more puzzlingly there’s no clear destination along this part of the property. Someone though had invested decent time in constructing the steps, even as a homemade civil engineering operation. But to what purpose? The effort suggested the path was important once. But for who and why? Was there something here I never saw here?

I aimed to wander over the area for the day and see if I could find something of note. I felt the path probably simply led to a field once used for horses, or perhaps for sheep–maybe when the people before Aunt Tina lived there. I had no recollection of her having a horse or any livestock other than some chickens by the house. The terrain just a few metres the other side of the fence didn’t suggest steps were required. Perhaps there were issues with adjoining landowners preventing them using the smooth slope on that side of the fence. There was likely to be a perfectly simple explanation to it. Now Aunt Tina was gone it seemed likely I’d never find out. Why is it we don’t ask these questions when are relatives and friends are with us? It seemed like such an obvious question. But back in my youth the steps just brought me joy–without questions. I can’t remember coming here when I was older–in fact in my head I was always in the same red wellies. I know I came here when I was older; with bigger feet and different footwear. But in my memory I was always that same child. Time can be flexible but sometimes it breaks: memory though always seems broken.

Ghosts of a Past Forcibly Forgotten

#MidWeekFlash - 12 May 2021

Ghosts of a Past Forcibly Forgotten

There had been a semblance of normality for years. It could be simply traced back to when I left home. Now here I was back in the old haunts–quite literally. The shop on the corner of Main Street was still selling–or more precisely–not selling the same bizarre tat it used to have. People went in for milk, bread and tobacco every day, not out of date children’s toys, fishing nets and postcards of places not even that nearby. The old store was a family affair, Mr & Mrs Daker, who seemed nice and friendly. It was still run by the Dakers now but I assume it was a son or cousin. It made me laugh when I was younger, but now it seemed beyond quaint: indicative that nothing in this small town would ever change.

Coming back here was becoming harder by the minute. I’d left the town and moved on after that troubled childhood. The Sawyer’s Children’s Home for kids like me was on the outskirts of town. Seemingly so the town could pretend we not a part of them. Most of the town did a masterly impression of finding its occupants invisible under most circumstances; and yet all too visible if something was amiss.

I struggle to call it a ‘Home’ without it crunching like broken glass against my sensibilties. Homes should not be fearful places yet Sawyer’s managed to put the fear of God into me for years. It was only in recent times I’d seemed to have beaten it out of my head. Being there now and seeing that nothing had changed it seemed to me that the place was set to bulldoze itself back. I should never have returned.

Yet here I am. I’d absently moved on to the home as if that was always the plan. It wasn’t. The gate was open in so much as it was hanging on to its rusted hinges with thin intentions. I walked in, up the scraggy garden path to the door and found it slightly ajar. It was hard to imagine anyone would come to this imposing miserable place. But then again here I was. Perhaps it had the power to draw people in. Even though it had driven me away all that time ago.

As I pushed open the door it rasped against the collected dry leaves that had blown into the hallway. I half expected to see the damnable Mrs Hall and Dr Rogers stood there with their evil faces and leather straps waiting for me. But there was no one there. Closing my eyes I tried to picture any good times. There were moments of course. We all made friends with the other children as they passed through the place. Looking back it seemed not so much kids making friends as inmates making alliances and support groups. It was them and us: Us against the world.

We were fractured by our experiences; many before they got to the home. It was like a training camp run by psychopaths for people made from broken porcelain. Then there was that summer of ‘76. Estella. She’d been the ultimate china doll. Dropped and shattered too many times to reconstruct. She’d chosen to cling to me. Not physically, but she was always around me. We’d done some things together. I’d read books to her in the old orchard. That was our place. She didn’t talk much. She wasn’t exactly mute but she obviously felt more comfortable keeping herself to herself. Rogers and Hall liked to take their sadistic pleasures around the group and when it was her turn she didn’t complain. Somehow she got quieter. I remember that antagonised them a great deal. When they locked her in the top room of the house to teach her a lesson the long quiet didn’t seem unusual. But when they’d opened the door the next day they found her frail dead body curled up beneath a window. Cuts on her wrists from a rusted box hinge.

It was the first time I saw a dead body. I hoped I wouldn’t see any more. A friend dead and alone, blood spilled across the timber. It didn’t look real. I could see it now as clear as the day I was there. I shivered. Someone stepping on my grave perhaps. Estella. I felt she was still in the room A ghost. Quiet as she was when she was alive, but maybe she was happier. She couldn’t be hurt again.


#MidWeekFlash - 05 May 2021


It was more than a bit of a surprise that the planet was dead. But we’d surveyed it for days from orbit and with the advance gauntlet of probes. There was no sign of any life: sentient or even single cell.

As we’d approached CygnusX-B12 the atmosphere had screamed life at me: at all of us. No one would even take bets on it. That’s how sure we all were. And yet here we were landing on a dead planet with an oxygen atmosphere. Where was the oxygen from and how was it not disappearing through geological interactions? Sometimes mysteries weren’t fun.

Clarr, Yip and I had argued for hours about it long after the rest of the crew had given up with the circular arguments. Our databases showed us what we had found on this planet had not been found elsewhere. It was an impossible place. Dead planets didn’t have atmospheres like this.

Just the three of us landed there leaving the rest of the crew to watch from afar. The fewer people on the surface the quicker and easier it was to deal with decontamination on our return to the Excelsis. It was always a concern what pathogens might be on a planet. But we’d found not a single cell here. There could be nothing.

Clarr had chosen the landing spot after studying much of the probe data. Yip and I had no reason not to agree with her choice. We’d set up camp for a few days and travel in a 10-15 mile radius and take in the geological features. There may not be life but the rocks and soils could hold valuable resources for us or for those that followed. The rocks could also reveal whether there had been life here once; whether there had been oceans. There was no water here now.

The landing was uneventful. The flat topography in the middle of what looked like an ancient crater made for a perfect spot. I hoped the rocks on the closest exposures were not to affected by any cataclysmic event as it might give us less information that we wanted, but there were plenty to investigate.

‘Can you see this?’ Clarr asked, as she pointed at her display. ‘The rocks over there. They’re reflecting rainbows.’

‘Where is that?’ Yip asked, straining to look around the horizon. Clarr pointed in the direction of the cliffs to the right of our position. We’d decided to designate that area North before we landed, though there was no discernible magnetic field on the planet.

‘It’s about 20 miles over there. That’s a bloody good image on the camera, isn’t it?’

‘It’s a strange view. I mean there’s no water here. No rainbows. It’s just the rocks. I’m thinking metals. I’m thinking we need to go there.’ I said, knowing that 20 miles was further than we’d intended to go.

Clarr nodded. ‘I think we need to look. But I’ll set the cameras to do a detailed search across the whole 360 here for a few hours. It may be there are similar exposures closer to home, yeah?’

We agreed. There was no need to rush.

Yip and Clarr had already decided when we were in orbit that the first place we should go was to a magnetic anomaly in the centre of the plain. Clarr had thought it may be something to do with whatever had formed the crater. Perhaps the remnant of a great meteorite. But Yip said it didn’t look right for that. “Unusual” seemed to be the watchword for many things on Cygnus. It was so different it warranted investigation.

Half an hour later the three astronauts were approaching the anomaly in silence. They could all see the same thing but none were prepared to say it out loud in case they were hallucinating: dead centre of what they thought had been a meteor crater was a giant rock formation. Each hoped that it had been natural and maybe an optical illusion, but as they got closer there could be no doubt. This was not a rock formation. This was made by someone or something. It was the sculpture of a hand—over forty metres tall.

On an empty planet millions of miles from earth, with no life at all across its face (and with an oxygen rich atmosphere) was a hand which to all intents was similar to a human hand. Was it a warning or a welcome?

The rainbows were forgotten.