Fiona and Donald Watson wandered hand in hand through the summer countryside; a sea of grass and wildflower spread beneath their feet whilst seeds on gossamer wings blew on the warm breeze. In the distance, snow-capped mountains rose from behind a forest overlaid with clouds of verdant green, hosts of leaves in varying hues shimmered against the grey background. High overhead, a flock of white plumed birds beat a synchronised path toward a future known only to themselves and to fate. No clouds hung in the crystal clear sky nor, strangely, was the sun in evidence, it was as if the very ether of the panorama were its own source of warmth and light. From somewhere they could hear the sound of running water as it journeyed from whence to who knew where, maybe they should seek it out, but neither of them was particularly thirsty, which was hardly surprising considering the amount they had recently drunk at the pub quiz night, although for the moment neither of them remembered that small detail as they marvelled at their surroundings.
‘Are we dreaming?’ Fiona asked the question out loud yet more to herself, after all if this were a dream she could hardly expect a response. Although she and Don shared most things, dreams weren’t one of them.
‘Haven’t got a clue. Weird, isn’t it?’ Don replied, feeling his wife physically pull away from him.
‘How did we get here? If it’s not a dream then what is it? Some sort of hallucination?’ She had stopped and was regarding her husband with growing anxiety.
‘Now don’t get all het up Fiona, there’s probably a perfectly reasonable explanation, maybe some sort of shared dream or maybe we’re on the astral plane, you know like in that movie we saw. You know, the horror one.’ He wasn’t even convincing himself, he was beginning to guess exactly where they were and he didn’t like the idea very much. Still, best to not frighten Fiona with his suspicions till he was sure.
‘We’re bloody dead that’s where we are. What do you consider perfectly reasonable about that?’ She was quicker on the uptake than Donald usually gave her credit for.
‘Or aren’t, dead that is, depending on your point of view,’ he said. ‘ I thought there was a tunnel involved with a light at the end of it, or a heavenly stairway with angels accompanied by celestial choirs. Instead we’re on our own. You’d expect the place to be crowded what with one thing and another.’ He lapsed into troubled silence.
‘How did it happen? I’m having trouble remembering, aren’t you?’ She took his hand again and they recommenced their walk.
‘Horatio Nelson, I keep thinking of him, what’s that about?’ Heaven, if that’s what this place was, was pretty. Pretty but dull. It felt like a walk-on part in Countryfile, Donald thought.
‘Pickled. He was pickled. It was your question in the individual round.’ She stopped again pulling Don to her. ‘We were at the quiz-night, and we drove home. We gave Rachel and Steve a lift. They were in the back of the car. I told you we should have taken a taxi but oh no, you knew best, only had a couple you said, I wondered why you kept going to the Gent’s, you had that hip flask didn’t you? Nelson wasn’t the only one flippin’ pickled. No wonder that’s what you remembered, now you’ve got something else in common with dear Horatio.’ She let go of her husband’s hand and regarded him with one of her looks, the one that said, Go on, I dare you to contradict me.
‘What? What else have I got in common with Nelson?’ Donald really didn’t want to ask but Fiona had that affect.
‘You’re dead Don, just like him, who knows, you might even bump into him, swap ideas on the benefits of excessive alcohol mixed with methods of transportation. Come on. Let’s walk on.’ With deep rooted exasperation she grabbed his hand.
‘Hello you two, any idea what’s going on?’ Rachel and Steve had stepped out from a nearby hedgerow, both sporting puzzled frowns. Nothing new there, thought Fiona on seeing them. Hardly the sharpest tacks in the box were Rachel and Steve
Donald had physically jumped at the sound of Rachel’s voice. He wondered how they reacted to bad news and realised he was about to find out as Fiona gave them both her theory; not mentioning the flask, for which he was grateful.
‘It was that hip flask wasn’t it?’ Steve said in a rare moment of perspicacity. He was giving Donald one of his looks, the one that said, You blithering idiot. ‘I saw you putting it back in your jacket pocket when I visited the Gent’s at the end of the quiz, what was it, that heavy duty vodka you brought back from that last booze cruise? Yes of course it was.’
Rachel was crying. ‘We can’t be dead surely? What about the tunnel and the angels everyone goes on about? What about the fish supper waiting for us at home? Where’s my Granddad? I thought he’d be here to greet me, at least if this is where you say it is, Fiona.’
‘Hang on a minute, what about the sign we saw back there?’ Steve indicated the hedgerow they had recently stepped from.
‘Yes, that Pub Sign.’ Rachel sniffed, ‘The Very End’ Free house. Apparently it’s up ahead by those woods.’ She pointed toward the tree line whilst sniffing harder.
Fiona and Donald regarded the other two with mixed emotions, Fiona thought they were delusional. Donald fancied a pint.
‘Look, smoke.’ Steve was pointing toward the distant tree line as well, where sure enough a thin wisp of smoke was just discernible.
‘We might as well give it a look. What have we got to lose?’ Donald started to walk toward the distant promise of more booze.
‘What do you mean ‘What have we got to lose?’ We’ve lost everything if you haven’t noticed Don, including the chance of an old age pension with benefits thanks to you, Mr Hipflask.’ Fiona hurried to catch up with her husband followed by Steve.
‘Wait a minute, Rachel’s disappeared. What’s going on?’ Steve gasped.
As he turned to see what was wrong, Donald heard Fiona gasp as well, glancing from left to right he found himself to be utterly alone. Three hundred and sixty degrees, nothing, no-one. He stood completely still, waiting. Maybe he would also vanish, just as they had.
Minutes passed and nothing happened. He was still here, wherever here was. He decided to press on toward the smoke; maybe he was sleeping more soundly than usual? Dreams were weird at the best of times, he thought.
The smoke was issuing from the chimney of an ancient thatched cottage. Every pace brought into focus more details, like the four upper storied windows with their leaded glass; open like the front door, open to the warmth of the day, a door flanked by two large ground floor bay windows. He noticed the pub sign swinging from its gallows and imagined the squeak as it moved sluggishly back and forth in a faint breeze. Two wooden tables with benches either side were shaded by vibrantly coloured parasols emblazoned with an advert for what appeared to be ‘Nectar’. It wasn’t clear to Donald whether Nectar was beer or spirits. Donald chuckled to himself, his first light moment since all this began. Spirits for spirits. He was getting the idea.
Walking into the pub, which was called ‘The Very End’ as Rachel had said, and seeing the place was empty, he approached the bar and shouted ‘Hello.’ Nothing, not a peep, so he shouted again. It was certainly odd but then what wasn’t lately? Stepping behind the bar he took a clean glass and pulled himself a pint from the pump advertising Nectar. It was certainly a nice coloured beer he thought as he held it up to the light, golden with a creamy head of foam. He drank and believed he had never tasted anything as good in his life. The irony didn’t escape him and he laughed out loud. Looking around, he saw a chalkboard advertising that quizzes were held seven days a week. A bit excessive, he thought. Quizzes were fun; but, seven nights a week smacked of purgatory. Walking over, he noticed that you were encouraged to enter your name on a register pegged below if you wished to participate. It was well subscribed apparently, because there were several sheets of paper full of columns of names. Taking another gulp of Nectar, he placed his glass on a nearby table then lifted the sheets to see who he might be up against. He didn’t recognise any of the names, except for the last four. Fiona, Rachel and Steve’s names were followed by his own, Donald Watson. As he watched, Fiona, Rachel and Steve’s names disappeared, leaving his own name prominently printed at the bottom of the list. Bloody hipflask!
Kryspin Parys asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work