NOTE: “The Story Of The Month” changes every month OR bi-monthly and might also have been featured in my collection DOWN INDEPENDENCE BOULEVARD published by MiddleRoad Publishers in 2017 and available on Amazon, or might be an Extract from my two novels RACING WITH THE RAIN and JUNTA.
FOR MORE WRITING LIKE THIS CHECK OUT
Down Independence Boulevard: and other stories
by Ken Puddicombe
December –The Touch Of Peace
Jan – The Interview
Feb – The Underground [2nd Prize Polaris Magazine]
Mar –Welcome To Punta Canada
APR – Return Of The Prodigal [from Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories]
MAY- No Thank You
JUNE – The Shoplifter
JULY/ AUGUST: The Last Straw [from Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories]
SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER: Relics In The Attic [from Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories]
NOVEMBER: The Day Queen Victoria Lost Her head [Published in The Caribbean Writer]
DECEMBER— The Touch Of Peace
JANUARY/ FEBRUARY –The Effect Of Light Rays On The Milky Way and Minor Constellations
APRIL/MAY: The Other Side
THE OTHER SIDE ©
“Can we go back, dad? Can we?”
“I keep telling you, son, we’re here to stay. We cannot go back.”
“But why dad? I wantto go back. I miss mum and the baby so much.”
He is like any other little boy of his own age, with the same faith in the power and invincibility of his father. He seems to be around four or five. His father is balancing him on his right leg and shuffling along the edge of The Forest.
“We can only go on short visits, that’s all we’re allowed,” the father says, as he looks at the Other Side.
I can see the frustration on the father’s face. It’s like trying to explain why the sun rises in the east and sinks in the west, all part of a greater scheme of things fathers feel impotent to explain to their offspring. I know what he’s going through—I have seen it many times.
It does not help that we’re directly at the edge of The Forest, where just on the Other Side, the little boy can see what’s transpiring. It’s rush hour on the highway—people scurrying to and fro, heading home to family and friends through ramps leading to everywhere and nowhere. There’s an accident. Flashing lights, sirens, police cars, an ambulance, fire trucks. Someone’s heading soon to The Forest?
I stand not too far away, facing the father and son, but trying hard not to appear too interested or to get involved in the father’s predicament. I know if he sees me he will surely appeal to me for help, and I have no answers. I have long since given up trying to rationalize the reasons why things happen to some people while others go through their entire existence without ever falling victim to the quirks of an unpredictable world.
The father and son have been coming here every day. They are newcomers—new arrivals always come to the edge of The Forest, filled with expectation, hoping they can travel back to their habitat. Sooner or later the futility of it hits home and they come to the realization, like I did after a while—there is no going back.
It’s true, every now and then I cannot help myself and I steal away and come to the edge, to look at the Other Side. It’s bright over there, compared to The Forest, so vastly different, like night and day. Even as the heavy approach of dusk softens the edges of the landscape and blurs the horizon, it beckons, like the face of a beautiful woman you’ve caught sight of in a passing train. The longing is there, but you know the chances of seeing her again are almost non-existent.
On the other hand, The Forest is dark. The trees are tall, reaching upwards, forming a thick, impenetrable canopy. It is difficult to see the branches on top—they are all one dense mass, almost as if they belong to the same tree, making it impossible to see where one tree ends and the other starts. And the Other Side, that elusive, shadowy Eden, that glorious Pre-After, is the place we have all come from and yearn to go back.
The inhabitants of the Forest are always milling around in small pockets, not really doing anything, just waiting for an opportunity for a visitation to the Other Side. Visitations are mainly for evening trips, and rarely for daytime. I suppose that is why father and son keep coming here watching the sunset, hoping they might be issued a night summons.
The conversations among the residents revolve around one subject—how to find a way to go to the Other Side. It’s almost like a full-time conspiracy of finding the ways and means of doing it. Not that it ever amounts to anything, and this is the reason why there seems to be a general air of apathy. No one ever attempts to do anything about it because everything has already been undertaken. Think of a way of escaping and someone will shrug and tell you its been tried before. Talk about appealing your case and another will tell you the judgment that got you here is irrevocable. Ask what it is that holds us here, why is it we can’t just keep going on and on until we reach the Other Side, and those around you will laugh and tell you the dividing line between the Other Side and the Forest is as untenable and immutable as the horizon—you can keep travelling but you will never reach it.
All the inhabitants here remember clearly when they arrived, and what caused it. In our zone, too, everyone seems to have something in common, something to talk about, like how fate dealt a cruel blow, leading to a premature demise. Take Mister Kim, for example. He was a businessman who owned a convenience store, worked seven days a week with no break for many years and had provided well for his family. He was murdered in a holdup one night. Or Ram Pertab, the one with the little boy who keeps asking about going back to the Other Side. After work one night he stopped off for a few drinks before he picked up his son at the sitter. His car was a total write-off. Then there’s Gloria Cole, she was driving home one day during rush hour when a wheel flew off a truck and smashed into her windshield.
We all have something else in common. We all share the same thought:What wouldn’t I give for another chance on the Other Side!
Most of the inhabitants here can recall the number of times they have gone back on visitations. But there is no official record of anyone ever returning permanently, although there are always rumours about people who were booked to arrive and had a last minute reprieve. Who made the decision to keep them there and why it was done, is unknown.
I can still remember my own crossing over. It was a trip from Toronto to New York City one holiday weekend, starting out after work and driving overnight to pick up my family from relatives they were visiting. It was a long and tedious journey. Somewhere past the town of Marathon, on the I-81, I was sure I had pulled myself out of the almost overpowering urge to close my eyes for just one brief moment. I guess I hadn’t.
It took some getting used to my predicament when I first arrived. I went through the usual freshman symptoms of alienation, feeling I was unjustly banished to the Forest. Why me? What did I do wrong to deserve this God forsaken place where time was endless and space limitless? I would drift from one group to another and listen, with some alarm, to the conversations. Even when I finally accepted there was no escaping my destiny, I grew concerned when they openly discussed plans for escape. I did not participate, scared that someone would report me and I would end up losing my visitation privileges.
Something else overwhelmed me when I first arrived. It was the Tunnel. Every region of the Forest has one. It’s how you get from the Other Side to the Hereafter, a one-way trip defying gravity and time and space and simply propelling you forward and outward into the Forest. Entities pass through the Tunnel, through the top of the canopy, with no evidence of their arrival. There is no rustling sound of leaves, no crackling report from broken branches, no thunderous echo as they arrive. It’s almost as if they have materialized from nothing.
I have heard old timers talk of cases where entities are sometimes returned to the Other Side. I’m not sure why these particular ones are marked Rejectedand restored, why they are granted this special privilege above all others.
I can still remember my last visitation two nights ago. The summons was from my wife. She was calling for me in her sleep as she tossed and turned in bed, the same bed we’d shared for over twenty years. She was wearing an old shirt, one of those I can recall leaving in the laundry basket shortly before I started out on my trip.
“Do you think we’ll get to visit mum and the baby again, dad?” The little boy asks his father, once more.
This time, the boy is picking up stones and pelting them over to the Other Side although it is clear he is not making an impact anywhere.
They’re still lucky, these two. They were both fortunate enough to leave the Other Side at the same time. At least, the boy has his father for company. I have seen children alone in the Forest, wandering aimlessly to see if they recognize anyone. And, I have seen adults too, grieving over someone they left on the Other Side, compelled by a memory that will never let them go, haunted by a sad refrain summoning them time and again.
As I listen to the boy and his father, I look over my shoulder. It’s fast getting dark on the Other Side, almost as dark as the Forest. But no, now that I have seen both sides, I don’t think anyplace could be as dark as the Forest. And, there is no doubt about which side I would rather be.
The father says: “I don’t know, son. We’ll just have to wait for the next summons. Anyhow…some day they will be all like us, and then, it won’t really matter.”