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An Unexpected Guest (horror/mystery)

An old man, days short of his one hundredth birthday, decides the time is right to finally divulge his lifelong secret to his young grandson.

This secret has enabled him to live a life beyond imagination, and he wishes for his grandson to experience the same.

If his grandson is willing to pay the price.

The secret is amazing.

The secret is also horrific.

And the only way to achieve it is….

Well, you’ll just have to find out, won’t you.

(part of the short story collection “Flotsam”)

Written so far… (unedited, will be removed as soon as the writing is completed and before editing commences)

An Unexpected Guest

“I’ve lived more lives than you can imagine,” the old man raised a trembling and liver spotted hand to his face, fingers rasping against the white stubble coating his chin. “And now I’m tired, so terribly, terribly tired.”

“Don’t be too tired, Gramps. It’s your birthday party next week, you’ll need plenty of energy for the dance floor,” the young boy’s eyes shone with good humour as he spoke. “And just imagine all the pretty girls you’ll be able to chat up!”

Hal chuckled. “I hardly think my hundredth birthday party would be the ideal place to try romancing anything, let alone a pretty girl. Don’t forget, young man, it’s also your party, to celebrate your sixteenth year. You may have the honours with all the young ladies.”

Chris glanced at his great-grandfather, his eyes–eyes that matched the old man’s perfectly–filled with love. Despite the eighty-four year age gap Chris considered his Gramps to be one of his best friends. As well as being full of good advice, Hal was also brimming with exciting tales. Tall tales Chris’ dad often said, invented with the sole intention of impressing anyone who would listen. True or not, Chris loved to sit and listen to the old man spin another yarn as the day drew to a close.

The log fire, in front of which sat the old man and young boy, crackled as another log crumbled to ash. Chris rose, intending to feed more wood into the flames, when a thought occurred to him.

“Gramps, what did you mean when you said you’d lived more lives than I can imagine?”

Hal smiled. “The time has come, Christopher, my dearest great-grandson, to tell all. Build up yon fire well, we may be here for some time.”

Log followed log as Chris did as his great-grandfather bid. Flames licked the new fuel greedily and before long the fire roared in the grate. Satisfied all was well, Chris settled down on the floor in front of Hal and prepared to hear another long tale.

“Hear me well, youngster,” Hal began. “For this is the tale to end all tales.”

Chris grinned, eyes sparkling in the firelight. Old Hal began each and every one of his stories with the same words and they never failed to send a shiver of anticipation down his spine. What would it be this time? The tale of Hal the soldier? Hal the modern day pirate? Hal the adventurer?

The old man paused, gathering his thoughts. He raised a hand, which trembled more than usual now the time of the telling was here, and smoothed his long white hair. He usually fashioned it into a ponytail, fastened with a strip of supple leather–an old habit from his pirate days he often said–but today his hair was loose, flowing over his shoulders in a white cascade. Eventually he began to talk, his voice quiet but full of power.

“For many a year you’ve listened to me relate my tales, and I can tell that you’ve enjoyed them.”

Chris nodded with enthusiasm. He did indeed enjoy them, he enjoyed them immensely.

Hal nodded his own head in approval. This young boy was definitely the one. “Your father, and your father’s father had no appreciation for the stories I told them.”

Chris opened his mouth, about to voice his defence for the two men but Hal’s raised hand stilled his tongue. Mouth closing slowly Chris watched his Gramps with eager anticipation.

“Defend them not, young Christopher. Believe or believe not, like or like not, the choice has always been theirs to make and I bear them no ill feeling. Tall tales they call them,” Hal laughed quietly as expressions of shock and guilt passed over the boy’s face in tandem. “Yes, yes, I know what they say about me, young man. Fear not, I can hardly blame them. But heed me now, heed me very well.”

The old man paused and shifted his gaze to the fire, as if he saw in the flames images of many a past life. Chris waited patiently, almost reverently, for him to continue.

“Those tales, all those tales I have told though the years, they are all true. Each and every one. I have lived those lives I weave into my tales. All those lives, and many, many more. You once asked me, I think when I was aiding you with a school subject, how I knew so many things. To my shame I was untruthful to you then but now the truth will out. I know so much about so many things because I have lived, and lived, and lived.”

Hal’s voice tailed off as a coughing fit wracked his frail body. Eventually silence fell, even the fire seemed to be holding its breath. Hal waited, tense, for Chris’ response. He has been raised well, he thought, thinking before speaking is a rare trait these days.

Chris contemplated his great-grandfather’s words but try as he might he felt unable to accept them as the truth. The old man might believe he’d lived those lives but it was more likely, in his old age, that he had simply come to consider his own tall tales as the truth. A mind that was a few days short of a hundred years old must get confused from time to time, surely?

At last the boy raised his gaze to meet the old man’s. “I’m sorry, Gramps, but I really can’t believe in what you’re saying. Yes, you’re old–no offence!–but there’s no way you could have experienced all those lifetimes in just one hundred years. No way at all!”

Hal sighed. But had he really expected anything else, had he really? No, he supposed not. Even a young, inquisitive, adventurous mind could only believe so much before it entered denial. He took a deep breath. Time was short, the facts needed to be told. “Christopher, you are familiar, are you not, with the term time-machine and the concepts of time travel?”

Chris’ blue eyes opened wide, his mouth formed a wide ‘O’ of surprise. “Time… time-machine and time travel? Don’t be daft, Gramps! Of course I’ve heard of them, know about them. I also know it’s all science fiction and not possible. Are you making fun of me? You are, aren’t you.”

Shock now showed on Hal’s lined and worn features. “Making fun of you? Never, dear boy, I would never do such a thing. You are too precious to me.” He reached out his hand and ruffled the boy’s fair hair. Chris gave a tentative smile in return, unsure what was to come next. “Believe in me, Christopher. Hear my story and believe in me.”

Chris’ smile broadened and he took Hal’s hand in his. “I’ll believe in you, Gramps, I’ve always believed in you. But this… this is kinda immense, a lot to take in. And… well, I still don’t understand. And if you are making fun of me I swear to God I’ll be mad at you!”

Hal laughed as relief flowed through him. Bless his great-grandson, bless the boy. “See yon writing desk?” he inclined his head, indicating the cluttered and worn desk in a far corner. “In the bottom drawer there is a leather folder, and in the folder are some papers. Please, bring them to me.”

Chris rose to his feet, his lithe form moving effortlessly across the room. He rummaged in the lower drawer, failed to find what he was looking for, and so moved to the next one up. A moment later, leather folder clutched in his hand, he was once more settled on the soft rug in front of his Gramps.

“Wasn’t in the bottom one, old man. Your memory is failing you,” he teased.

Hal smiled and gazed fondly at the boy. “close was close enough. Now hush your mouth, youngster.” Chris burst out laughing and Hal joined him, both at ease in each other’s company, both enjoying their friendship. The laughter tailed off and Hal became serious once again.

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