In readiness for Daylight Savings Time, or to give it it's proper name, British Summer Time, here's a short story I wrote just yesterday.

I'm planning a series of these stories, and if you'd like to collect them and read them as ebooks, which is, as we all know, a much nicer experience, they will available to patreon subscribers which is just a couple of dollars a month and helps me to keep writing. Full details are after the story.

I hope you enjoy the story.

A Question of Time

By

Michael Campling

Afterwards, no one would quite be able to agree on what happened during that Saturday night in spring.

Collective hysteria, they said. Shared delusions. And most experts, who were, it must be said, all over the age of twenty-four, blamed social media. An involuntary hallucination, they said. An online viral phenomenon. Social contagion.

And at this, admittedly medical sounding diagnosis, the population of the United Kingdom breathed a collective sigh, nodded wisely and withdrew to the comfort of the nearest pub or to the welcoming arms of their overstuffed sofas, where they huddled together with their overstuffed spouses and overstuffed children to watch programmes detailing the fauna of the Serengeti.

But Roger Blakelock knew exactly what had happened.

Here he is now, walking along Fore Street in the small town of Bovey Tracey on the edge of Dartmoor. He appears ordinary enough. His stooped shoulders and crumpled jacket mark him out as a working man, on his way home from an office of some kind. The shiny seat of his suit trousers tells us that Roger’s occupation is largely a sedentary one. And it also tells us that he can only afford polyester.

Roger, we may think, has not done as well in life as some.

But move closer, meet his gaze if you can, and look deep into his eyes. And then you’ll see that Roger is no ordinary man. Indeed, you may suffer from the unsettling impression that Roger is not a man at all.

And yet, a glance through the yellowing pages of Roger’s photograph album will show us the usual set of awkward smiles and almost focused snapshots. His childhood is filled with sandcastles, bicycles, bare knees and dubious haircuts. There are school ties and bashful grins. A pimple or two.

His early life appears to have been normal.

So how then did he come to this? When did that haggard, haunted look creep across his expression? How did the eyes that had twinkled so readily at the simple pleasure of an ice cream with chocolate sprinkles fill with such frenzied despair?

Watching him pause in front of a PVC door to fumble in his trouser pocket, we may decide that Roger has known a deep loss. A loved one, perhaps. But as he pulls the heavy bunch of keys from his threadbare pocket, we are unlikely to guess at the real reason for the strangeness of Roger Blakelock.

You, too, would wear a coat of disconnection, be surrounded by a miasma of otherness, if you had lived as he has done.

Because when the clocks went forward in the early hours of that Sunday morning in spring, some lost minute or two: a blank gap in their minds where their memories should be. Others lost an hour, waking suddenly as though having fallen from a great height, their palms sweaty, their eyes round with fear.

But Roger lost more than he can explain.

Let us follow him a little longer. He won’t notice if we peer in at his kitchen window as he switches on the kettle and pulls a teabag from the yellow jar on the counter.

Something whirs, turning weary circles in the microwave. The ripped cardboard sleeve promises an authentic lasagne; the black plastic tub does not.

But we did not come here to study Roger’s dinner. Look at the man himself. Look closely. Notice the silver ring on his finger. It’s broad, heavy, bold to the point of ostentation: flashy, even. Certainly, it is out of character for a man of Roger’s age and demeanour.

While his tea brews, Roger rubs his thumb along the ring absentmindedly, never taking his eyes from the blue mug with the white spots: his favourite.

The ring catches the light, flaring in the beam from the bright LED spotlights he had fitted before Christmas, and just for a moment, strange shadows seem to dance before our eyes. Outlandish shapes flit across the window pane, blurring, melting together. Colours shift and whirl in the air, carving vivid paths, oscillating wildly like laser beams on dry ice.

But while we stare open-mouthed, Roger is turning around to fetch the milk from his fridge, and we must make ourselves scarce.

Is Roger a wizard? A warlock?

No. Such things are the fanciful notions of children’s bedtime stories.

Roger is a god.

But, the polyester, you protest. The photographs. Gods do not dine on microwaved lasagne for one.

True, he was once a boy, a teenager, a man. But Roger’s life, and his destiny, changed when first he dabbled in the dark world of the occult. Always fascinated by history and genealogy, his curiosity reached new heights when he uncovered a murky chapter in the distant past of his own family.

The old oak bureau had been in his possession for as long as he could remember, but it was only when he was considering getting rid of it, that he decided to clean it thoroughly from top to bottom. It had never been an elegant piece of furniture. Its legs were ungainly, its lines brutish, and all the drawers were stiff to the point of being unusable. Especially the bottom one.

It took Roger a good quarter of an hour to wrestle the drawer free, but by the time he claimed victory, he was determined to fix the problem once and for all. Removing the drawer and reaching deep into the cavity, his scrabbling fingers found a square of smooth metal. Cold to the touch, the small square of solid brass clearly had a purpose, and Roger did not rest until he had uncovered it.

Kneeling beside the bureau and struggling valiantly with a small torch and a set of precision screwdrivers, he probed, prodded and poked until, finally, he was rewarded with a metallic click.

Smoothly, as if it had been carefully sealed just minutes earlier, the bottom panel of the bureau swung upward, and Roger gasped in delight.

In the dusty halo of his torch, he stared at the neatly bound books and stacks of documents. And of course, nestling in a small wooden box, its surface unsullied by the centuries, was the silver ring.

Fed by this wealth of material, Roger’s hunger for history knew no bounds. His hobby turned into a passion, became a fully-fledged obsession, and soon his evenings were spent alone in his study, the curtains tightly closed, his shoulders hunched as he pored over his prized collection.

The diaries and journals, the work of an ancestor named Herbert Percival Blakelock, were consumed at speed. Roger could get through a decade in a single night. Sleep was for other people. Strong coffee, laced liberally with brandy, kept his eyes alight as he read, trembling fingers turning the pages carefully, his studious mind absorbing every sentence. And while he worked, he made copious notes in a growing stack of dog-eared exercise books.

Sleepwalking through his days, skimping on his efforts at work, he narrowly avoided being sacked from the small accountancy firm that had employed him for over twenty years. He didn’t care. He resented every moment spent away from his precious journals. Only in their inky company could he feel his heart beating, his breath growing hot, his limbs alive. Nothing else mattered.

And as he read, it became his habit to wear the ring. He’d never cared for jewellery, but it fitted him so perfectly, as if it had been made for his thick fingers, and he could not resist it.

Each night, he polished its surface with a white cotton handkerchief, marvelling at the metal’s warm lustre, and each morning he was loathe to take it off. But he could not face the risk of taking it outside. He could not bear the thought of losing his latest possession. He’d always been a possessive man, a hoarder, a keeper of trinkets, and that acquisitive nature, as you may imagine, was to become his undoing.

The vernal equinox had no special place in Roger’s heart. In fact, it barely registered on his consciousness. But it was at around that time of year that the journal he was reading took on a darker tone.

Herbert Percival Blakelock’s writings had always been absorbing, gripping even, filled with fanciful ideas and intriguing details, often hinting at a salacious interest in the fairer sex. But now, the content became wilder, more lurid. The handwriting changed as if each line had been written at an increasingly frenetic pace, and frustratingly, Roger found it harder and harder to decipher. The writer clearly believed himself to be on the edge of some great discovery, but what its nature might be, Roger could not guess.

Over the following days, Roger grew fretful. The journals were almost impossible to read, and what words he could pick out appeared to be thrown down at random. This, surely, was nothing more than the wild ramblings of a madman.

Perhaps Roger had wasted his time. Yes, his passion had run its course.

One night, he steered clear of his study, spending an evening in front of the television. He watched a wildlife documentary on the subject of migratory birds. The following night, there was a police drama, and he quite enjoyed the sense of a mystery unfolding: the clues, the red herrings, the inevitable conclusion.

Within a week, he was sleeping well, smiling at the office, holding doors open for colleagues.

But then the weekend came. And on Saturday, the television schedule seemed calculated to bore him. Cookery. Reality TV. Celebrity panel shows.

And somehow, he found himself in his study. He switched on the desk lamp, sat down and opened the bureau, extending the wooden arms that held the writing surface in place. The journal he’d last opened was secured in a cubby hole, and his fingers plucked it from its home. Idly, he began turning the pages. And lost himself in time. Suddenly, it was midnight. Just a little longer, he told himself. Just another half an hour. But it was almost two o’clock in the morning when he chanced upon the poem.

He’d grown accustomed to the scrawled handwriting, learning to recognise its bizarre flourishes, but this page was written neatly, ever line clear, every word distinct.

Roger slipped the silver ring onto his finger, and he began to read, murmuring the strange words to the empty room. And as he read, his voice grew stronger, his tone more strident, as if the words had taken on a life of their own. He could no longer hear what he was saying, could no longer understand it. He only knew that he must keep reading.

On and on he droned, the poem’s rhythm calling out to him, his heart beating in time to each line’s seductive cadence. The blood rushed to his head, tears prickled his eyes, his mind spun, his nostrils filled with the stench of scorched steel. He could bear no more.

But then, his words ringing out in a booming crescendo, Roger reached the final line, and something ripped through his body like a surge of electricity.

A blinding light flooded through his mind, and then it was gone, plunging him into an impenetrable darkness. He lost all sensation, as though some fundamental thread that had bound him to the Earth had finally ruptured, leaving him floating in an indescribable void.

Fear. Pure, undiluted fear.

There was nothing else, and no way to know how long it lasted. But slowly, it faded. Warmth seeped into his limbs. Light glimmered in the distance, grew stronger. He could see. But what vision was this?

The beings that surrounded him had no form, no substance. They crooned over him, stroked his unresisting limbs, touched his brow. Roger could only gaze in wonder, his breath trapped in his chest, his tongue struck dumb. Looking down at his hands, he saw that like the ghostly creatures, his body glowed, flowed through space unhindered by mortal flesh.

The idea formed in his mind that these gentle beings had saved him. Coming to his rescue, they had plucked him from the void, and now, they were lending him their strength, their power to survive in this unearthly dimension. They were taking him in, and he was forming a deep connection, a meeting of spirits. He was becoming one of them.

But though he was filled with happiness, troubling doubts gathered in the dark corners of his mind. This was not for him, not for any man. This was not right. He belonged at home, on solid ground. He was a man, a hunter-gatherer, a citizen of the Earth. His place was on solid ground, with tarmac beneath his leather-soled shoes, and carbon monoxide tainting his breath. His blood needed sugar, fat, caffeine. He needed taste, touch, smell. And more than anything, right at that moment, he needed a stiff brandy.

I do not belong in this ephemeral realm, he thought. I need substance, permanence, possessions. And as if they understood, the beings shrank back from him. Slowly, reluctantly, they drifted away, fading into the darkness. Roger watched them go, his gaze fixed on their receding forms for as long as he could still glimpse their outlines. And though he shed a tear, a faint hope grew in his heart. He could feel the Earth tugging at his body, his limbs growing heavy. And when his room materialized around him, its walls wreathed in darkness, he breathed deep, the stale air sweet as wine.

He took a moment to collect himself, patting down his body, brushing the dust from his clothes. And it was only when he stood, his legs shaking, that he discovered the truth.

His house had been on a prosperous street, his neighbours all respected families in the town. But now, his house was a ruin, the glass gone from the windows, the floorboards sagging beneath his feet.

Even his beloved documents had gone, reduced to a damp confetti of mouldering fragments. The oak bureau was worm-eaten, the wood stained and wet to the touch.

And Roger knew that he’d made a terrible mistake.

He’d thought that he had not belonged in the world of pure light, the dimension of the stars, but the truth was, that he no longer belonged to the Earth.

Something had been broken, something lost, and whatever else may happen to him, Roger knew that he would never get it back.

Of his former life on Earth, only the silver ring remained, and though he rebuilt a comfortable enough existence, Roger treads a lonely path.

And so, we must leave him. The gods once reached out to embrace him, but now, he has only the chime of his microwave oven to measure out his evenings. And, if he’s really lucky, there’ll be something good on television.

So at this time of year, spare a thought for Roger.

Some may celebrate the onset of daylight saving time, others may complain bitterly of the inconvenience. Roger does neither. He simply remembers. And every now and then, when he feels like it, he takes out a white cotton handkerchief, and he polishes the silver ring.

I hope you enjoyed that story – I really enjoyed writing it.

It was so good to have fun with a short piece, playing with the form and the language, and completing a piece in one go. It's' a very different experience to writing a novel, and very freeing.

If you'd like more stories, sharing this post online will help to encourage me (there are buttons below), and your comments are very welcome too. But I want to take things further. I'm going the extra mile, collecting the stories into monthly anthologies and formatting them as ebooks. The ebooks will only be available to my patrons on patreon who, for two dollars a month, will have instant access to all the ebooks as soon as I compile them. Also, the support of patrons will help me to keep writing and providing content for you all.

The best way  to learn more is to head on over to patreon and check it out

All the best, and as we hurtle into spring, have a great weekend:)

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