Fran Simpson sat in her favourite armchair, staring fondly at the pictures of her deceased beloved husband, John Simpson. The picture, her favourite of John, was of him in his army attire with slicked back hair and defiant eyes staring back at her.
It seemed obscene that this wonderful man was no longer here with her.
He had been her life and the void he'd left behind after his death was unbearable.
When the Prophets came knocking nine years ago, she threw her mind into their safe warm faith. Promises of life after death, of the resurrection, the enchanting dream they had to offer, a dream that according to them was not just a hope or whim but a certainty. A fact.
Fran would see her beloved John again, restored to his former glories while she would be forever young. Who wouldn't take up such an offer?
Within a year of studying the Prophet's ways, Fran was baptised and quickly cherished as a member of the congregation. Fran, as she sat here today looking deep into her former lover’s eyes, still harboured doubts and when those fears crept in late at night, it kept her awake and restless.
What if she was on the wrong path? What if she had chosen the wrong group to follow? After all, when it came down to it, she wanted John back and pride or wrong choices would not stand in her way of pursuing her need and love for her husband.
John himself had been a Christian of the more traditional persuasion, albeit in a modest sense, and she often wondered what he would have made of all this Prophet's business. John believed in God, but Fran never forgot his fear when his life was fading, when the end was nigh.
All that he had suffered during the second war, the lives lost and taken, the sheer fear and destruction the war had wrought yet John had stayed strong and silent on the matter. He survived the war in spite of the frontline action he was party to and remained stoic and typically British thereafter.
John was second in command of an infantry company and had graduated from the Royal Military Academy in 1926. He had fought in the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940 and again did battle in 1943 when he was posted on a mission to the former Yugoslavia, where he formed an integral part of planned raids on the German forces. John Simpson was later captured and held in an Austrian concentration camp, by which time he was a senior ranked officer and viewed as a prisoner of some standing. John had survived interrogation and eventually escaped under the cover of darkness when the camps lighting system failed.
When he eventually returned home to Fran his experiences had left him changed, naturally, but he was far more loving and softer towards Fran and life in general. He came to love life and together they felt as if they could live forever. In amidst the serenity he had nightmares and flashbacks and she'd catch him reminiscing grimly over terrible long hidden memories, but he never chose to share them, and they only seemed to spur him on in relishing life. She merely offered her silent support during his more uncomfortable times and that was all John ever wanted.
The night he passed was different. That night John told her how scared he was of dying, of losing her, of leaving her behind. He sobbed deeply, desperately, and in his last moments she saw his fear project youth one last time before he slipped away, scared and begging for more time.
Fran put the photo back on the mantle-piece after kissing his image and saying a short prayer. Her doubts over the Prophets beliefs and her own faith continued to whisper, but the voices had been dulled somewhat by the arrival of sweet brother Clint Holmes.
He was so much like John at times it scared her. That defiant glimmer in his eyes, the way he held himself, the manner in which he was always on hand to help her without a thought for himself. Brother Clint had fought his own wars it seemed to Fran and while John never spoke about his experiences, Brother Clint shared his freely, which Fran interpreted as a different type of bravery.
Perhaps if John had been able to release himself from his past bonds of terror and share all that befell him, then death may not have been so terrifying for him at the end and in turn Fran herself may have coped better with the loss.
Fran glanced at the clock. Clint was running a little late which was unusual for him. He was a man for precise time keeping and the day before yesterday he’d informed Fran he'd pop around after the preaching work, which should be finished by now. She so looked forward to his visits.
Fran inwardly admonished herself for counting time. This was still a young man with his own life who was spreading God's word. Who was she to place such demands on the diligent brother?
Her thought was greeted by a knock on the door and she smiled as she lifted herself up on her stick, recognising Clint's calling sound, and made her way slowly to the door. Normally Fran would panic at her lack of speed in answering the door or even the phone, but Fran never needed to worry with Clint.
Fran opened the front door and was met by a rather dour looking Clint Holmes. He looked pale and to be missing his usual zest and spark as he walked straight through to her kitchen. He poured himself a water and drank greedily in big clumsy gulps before refilling and repeating the process.
“My dear Brother, are you feeling unwell?” enquired Fran.
Clint wiped his mouth before replying, “I'm just a little hot, perhaps over done it these last few days. I'll be fine Sister just let me take a moment and then how about I get us a nice cuppa on?”
Fran nodded and smiled but couldn't help but notice the anxious tone in his response, something was amiss and old she maybe but stupid she was most certainly not. Fran also noted he smelt a little bad. Sick was the first word that entered her mind, but she rejected that nasty little jack in the box. Fran didn't like to think of anyone she knew being sick, not sick like John was at the end and he had led a decent life. Clint was still young, and it would be awful if anything were to...
“Sister I'm ok honestly. I can hear worry gears grinding from here woman and none of it sounds healthy,” he said in his most charming authoritative voice. The water had perked him up a little and he meant to get himself back into the game, namely the fleecing of Fran Simpson.
Fran smiled at Clint with such warmth and dare one say it, love. Or at least a shade of love. He always seemed to sense or know what she was thinking, what scared or worried her. He had a great sensitivity and intuitive understanding of some of what made Fran tick. He always reminded her so much of John in fleeting moments.
“The sun has re-emerged I see Brother and it would be such a waste to let that sunshine pass over us. I've, now, please don't admonish me, but I have set up the garden furniture for us to have our tea outside. Oh, and I have had some lovely little cakes delivered from the pretty girl at the cake shop, your personal favourite... cream doughnuts!”
Clint beamed back a smile that a neutral would doubtless find slightly nauseating but to Fran it was as good as a sunset. “Ok well the garden it is my dear...though you really shouldn't have gone out there on your own lugging...,” Fran cut him off with a loud cough and shake of her head. Clint held his hands up in an 'I surrender' gesture before they both laughed while Clint supported Fran and led her out into the garden and got her seated.
With the tea and cake readied and neatly placed on the garden table there was a moments silence to take in the day. Clint was more than familiar with the garden as he'd tended it himself in recent times and now it had turned into a fine summer’s day, the garden looked stunning. The lawn was impeccably cut and cared for, flanked by rich flower beds stuffed with busy colour and insect life.
At the bottom of the garden stood a large shabby chic style cage which contained a few more specialist flowers and a bird feeder hanging from the top which was currently being used by a fat little robin who had been a regular visitor this last month or so. Clint was a cruel man but even he couldn't fail to feel the tranquillity and peace out here and had to admit even to himself that he relished tending this fine garden and space that was subtly fenced off from the rest of the world.
Fran gave a little laugh as she watched the red robin skip around on its tiny legs before skittering its way over to the blossom tree that stood in the far corner of the garden.
Clint breathed in the summer air and was feeling much better. Whatever madness had occurred earlier seemed distant now, as if it wasn't real but rather some nightmare that had taken over his senses before he finally woke up.
He knew he would avoid the Brew's household from now on just in case and perhaps, maybe just maybe, he had over done it the night before last.
He'd had a lot to drink at home, half a bottle of whiskey not to mention a cheeky smoke of some strong bud, 'grade A bud' as the little prick he'd bought it off had promised. The kid perhaps wasn't exaggerating after all. Either way, chemical induced or some force of nature or evil, he was ok now and back in control.
Just where he liked to be. Always in control. I am the composer. He afforded himself a little giggle at the thought of him caning the booze while projecting all the traits of righteousness and cleanliness.
Fran turned to look at him, “You are laughing at that sweet little robin too. What a simple tiny gift from God those gorgeous little creatures are Brother.” Clint nodded his agreement and gave Fran's hand a little squeeze. He did that a lot. He recalled her saying that she and John in times of happiness or sadness didn't have to say much, just his comforting hand delicately squeezing hers covered all that needed to be said. Clint had honed his skills in impersonating her precious dead husband and while her stories to some would seem futile or filled with unnecessary detail, to him they were essential breadcrumbs.
Clint leant forward and turned on the cassette tape player that he'd brought out with them. He had recently purchased her a compilation tape which was entitled Sounds of the 40's and had a picture of V- Day celebrations on the album cover.
Glenn Miller's 'Tuxedo Junction' kicked in and provided a lively soundtrack to the afternoon. Clint wasn't averse to listening music from various eras and particularly enjoyed the jazzier sounds of the 40's along with swing and big band tunes.
Fran tapped her foot gently to Glenn and co before grabbing the cassette case and donning her glasses to spy a better look of the song list. “Oh, my word, they have our silly little song on here. Put it on Clint, this one look,” said Fran as she hurriedly pointed out the track. Clint read it aloud, “You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis, I know this one Sister. Sweet little song. Yours and John's summer of love song by any chance?” teased Clint.
Fran gave an exaggerated gasp shaking her head in mock offence, “It was no such thing young man! Well, maybe just a little but not the type of love your innuendo suggests, you, cheeky devil,” flashed Fran. Clint thought in that moment she looked altogether younger, as if he'd seen a ghost of her youth.
Clint wound the tape forward and after some playing and stopping, finally found the track. The song drifted gently into the air as Clint stood up and held his hand out to Fran, “Care to dance my dear?”
Fran went a shade of red in response, “Dance? Me? No, I couldn't, I mean I can't. Clint you are silly!”
“Nonsense,” replied Clint. “You can dance. Come on, up, I'll support you.”
Fran took his hand, still blushing as he gently pulled her close to him and moved her slowly to the music. “There we go, you see. Relax, I'll do all the work....as always around this place Mrs S,” he added with playful smirk, Fran returned a gentle jab in response as the music continued to float up and around them.
Fran closed her eyes and lost herself both in the sound and in Clint's arms as they rocked gently to a song she'd long forgotten.
The setting was so perfectly engineered by Clint, so peaceful that he'd also shut his eyes lost in his own thoughts. The garden admittedly had been her idea and was an unexpected bonus to the stage show, but he knew what the music would invoke in her.
Loss and nostalgia were two powerful sensations Clint could exploit and he wanted to take Fran back to the peak of her life and love, to a time forever lost. He wanted her to sample it in his arms, be the closest thing possible to a true happiness she'd never have again. She would love him only more for it, need him for it. Wish to help him for it when money was tight, leave him something for all that he did for her before her life was done. Unless I can end things sooner of course. Clint held her a little tighter and wondered if he could squeeze the life out of her right now and get away with it.
Clint opened his eyes to take in his garden view.
Only it was no longer there.
Instead he was stood in a large Ballroom surrounded by other dancing duo's embracing and swaying softly. The music had an ethereal quality like it was echoing through time, here but somewhere distant.
Clint looked down and heard the gentle swishing of Fran's dress as they moved then caught their reflection in the immaculately polished dress shoes he was now wearing. He looked to Fran to say something, shout something even to break this hallucination.
Looking back at him was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Her face so soft and coloured with life, her cheeks sharp and defined and her lips so inviting as they mimed the words with her staring intently into his eyes, “You are my sunshine my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey, you'll never know dear, how much I love you, please don't take that sunshine away.”
She leant into him and kissed him gently as he embraced her, a kiss that seemed to last a lifetime as his senses drowned in this old lost time he found himself in. The feeling was overwhelming, a love he had never experienced before, the joy in his heart was too much to bare as he felt it hammering and whining under the strain. She cupped his chin and drew his gaze. Her eyes were the same now as they would be in forty years’ time but instead of carrying loss and faded will, they shone bright with vibrant possibilities and desire. “I love you John,” she whispered.
Clint caught his reflection in her pupils and groaned. Looking back at him was a young handsome John Simpson, hair slicked back and a strong smiling jawline. Clint knew he himself wasn't smiling and clenched his teeth in an attempt to force his reflection to obey logic and do the same.
But John Simpson just kept on smiling.
Clint yelped and pushed Fran away from him, she shouted, “John, what on earth are you doing? Are you alright? John!? John? Answer me John!?”
Her voice seemed ridiculously loud to Clint, high and jaunty. It made him want to grab her and crush her throat just to make it stop. The music burst into a Glenn Miller number, it was too fast that music, too fast and too loud.
Fran started to shout louder to be heard over the din as all the strangers that surrounded him stopped and stared, grinning at him and pointing. “John!? What are you doing John?! Answer me man! Are you stupid?? Are you?! ARE YOU!!!”
Clint sank to his knees and covered his ears at her inhuman shrieks, every syllable felt like it was a shard of glass being jammed into his ear as the music somersaulted into impossible speeds, looping over and over and twisting its ghastly rhythm around the ballroom. Clint screamed while the onlookers laughed and the music swooned while Fran's screeching now resided in his head, “JOHN, JOHHNNNNN!!! YOU'VE GONE MAD JOHN. ARE YOU STUPID JOHN?! ARE YOU!!!!??”
Silence. The room was empty.
Except for a strange echoing from the corner.
Clint looked across the empty ballroom and there he saw a brush, not just any brush but the brush he'd used at the Brew's house to clean up the boy's mess. He knew it was the same one because it made that horrible clicking noise over and over as it fell to the floor then raised itself and continued the cycle, CLICKCLICK CLICK CLICKCLICK CLICK in a nondescript impossible rhythm. He'd heard it when he'd entered the coal-shed...
Clint got to his feet and hoped he'd wake up, any moment now. Or that he was lying in the garden having some sort of seizure and that silly old bitch would splash him with water to wake him up.
Something shot across his eye line as the ballroom slowly dimmed until it was shrouded in darkness. Clint tried to shout but no words came. He stumbled along the slippery ballroom floor towards the sound of the brush and realised he was stepping in rhythm to it, his whole body jerked frantically in time as he worked his way unwillingly towards it.
He didn't know why but he just needed to stop that noise like it was a conduit for what was happening. He got there and felt for it, felt the air move around it as it raised itself and fell, always beyond his grasp.
“Fucking make it STOP!!” cried Clint.
Something his shoulder and spun him around. Clint cringed but there was nothing there.
Then it was there.
It was everywhere.
Clint felt his bladder go and started to weep. “What is this, what do you want with me?”
Silence before Clint felt a presence circle him like prey. He saw only shifting darkness forming then unfurl to nothing again.
Life without end at last.
“I'll leave, I'll...I'll go and leave the Prophets, I'm done with that old bitch I promise. I won't get in your way, please, whatever you are.” pleaded Clint.
I don't want you to go. I am the composer and you are in my band. Your tune, your little jig with Fran has changed. I would have you dead but where is the fun in that?
“I'll do anything you want, please, please,” moaned Clint.
You don't have a choice. Nobody controls Clint Holmes...except??
“Except you,” wept Clint.
Good…but I know you. You peeled back the curtains and stepped inside my world. You swam with me into the black sprawl. I will shape you, bend you and then when I'm done, you will pray for death before the end.
You have a job to do.
And you start it...
Clint screamed as he was finally embraced by the predator. It absorbed him, and he it, before his body was spat out of the darkness and back into the real world.
In the garden of Fran Simpson's house, a red robin frolicked in a blossom tree and Vera Lynn sang a song about meeting again though who knew when.
Lying on the grass looking up at Fran Simpson was her husband, John.