short tales of other worlds
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Short tales of Other worlds

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“Crack in the wall: Split in the sky



Trevor Gisborne slept like the proverbial log, his wife Julie always said, except of course that logs don't snore. She would wake as the sun rose but he found it hard to shake of the night's sleep. He would grump out of bed and make his way to the shower. A few minutes hot water, however, usually managed to revive him enough to face breakfast.


He would make it to the kitchen and boil water for tea, place bread in the toaster and pour two bowls of cornflakes, all while his wife would be downstairs putting yesterday's dirty clothes in the washing machine. When she came back up the tea was usually made and they would sit down together before he left for work.


Both children had long since left home and he was only three years away from mandatory retirement at the Office. He usually made his way there on his bicycle. Five days a week you could see him pedalling down the street to work, unless it was far too hot (which happened sometimes) or - more likely - it was raining heavily when his wife would drop him in the little Toyota.


Of an evening he could be seen riding back to a prepared meal, television and the occasional good book. It was a comfortable life which had developed over years of habits and he liked his life. It was quiet and safe and here, in his late fifties, quiet and safe was a lot. There was money enough to retire on when it happened and plans to visit the children and grandchildren on occasion. A good life. Calm and serene.


Till today.


His wife called him away from the breakfast table, her voice floating up from downstairs.


"Come and have a look at this, dear"


He rose, placed the newspaper carefully on the table, took a piece of buttered toast and went out to the back door. Looking down the stairs from the landing he saw his wife bending over and staring at the wall, just near where the stairs met the ground.


"What is it?" He asked


Julie straightened up with difficulty. Her back had never quite recovered from a fall taken several years previously while camping with the boys some years before. She brushed aside a loose strand of hair.


"There's a crack in the bricks, Trevor"


He walked down and looked. Sure enough. Between two bricks there was a line where the cement had disappeared. It wasn't very wide. Just a crack, like Julie had said. He picked a pen out of his shirt pocket and pushed it into the gap. A little powdery cement came away and he straightened up.



"I'll pick up something to fix it at lunchtime and do it tonight" He said. His wife nodded and he went back upstairs to finish his breakfast. A few minutes before eight he had washed the dishes and heard his wife coming up the stairs. She had a pale look about her, today, he thought.


"How's the back?" He asked, concerned.


"Sore. I think some rain might be coming" The only side benefit of a bad back, Julie had said on several occasions, was the ability to predict the weather with any accuracy.


"Take care, today, then." He said gently, "Have a lie down if it gets bad"


"I will, dear" She pecked his cheek. After thirty years of marriage there was still affection and they smiled at each other. He went downstairs, past the crack, and put his lunch into the saddlebag of the bicycle. He wheeled away into the day and Julie sat down for a while, reading the newspaper.


The split in the air became noticeable not long after the world woke to the new day. Unlike usual, when the sky was steel blue and the heat was blistering, a cool wind blew through the split and chilled the plants around it. Animals used to the intense power of the primary star shied away from the split in the air as the artic chill began to kill the ground. People began to ask what the leadership was going to do about it.


Nine O'clock and Julie had cleaned the house. Her back still hurt but not as bad. She went downstairs, past the tiny crack, and noticed a few cobwebs on the window. A whisk with a broom and they were gone. She changed into a slightly better dress and walked up the street to the small supermarket.


The dog at number ten barked at her but couldn't get out past the high fence. It had once, and had menaced the postman, so she was never too sure of it, but a quick look convinced her that all was well and the dog was locked up.


It did look like rain was coming so she bought the few things she needed and quickly hiked back home. Climbing the back stairs past the crack she heard the first splattering of rain on the roof and windows and got through the door just in time.


The leadership, of course, was most upset with the split in the air but the Old One knew of such things happening before. But not for Millennia. She counselled that the area around the split should be evacuated. Hopefully the split would heal itself and the evil airs from the other place would dissipate before terminal damage was done.


Although there was some grumbling at this, especially among the younger ones, it was done with efficiency and speed. The ground around the split in the air had turned white and scientific researchers in heavy clothing had determined that every living thing within a twelve square that had not left had died.

The people grew more angry.


Julie made a cup of tea and decided to watch a little television but it was a choice between a children's show and a soap opera she had never been able to get into, so she went and lay down on the spare bed. It had been Mark and Johnny's room, but since they had married and moved away it was spare, but she still felt like her boys were there at times. It gave her a comfortable feeling like the presence of an old friend. She nodded gently off.


The rain pattered down for several hours and filled the little dips in the ground. The crack in the bricks watched the day go by until Gisborne came home again. He dropped the bike against the wall in the garage and shook out his hair. Even at his age he still had a thick mop of unruly hair, the despair of his wife and subject to no comb or brush. He took off his soaking shirt and threw it on top of the washing machine. Then he went upstairs.


Now water in it's liquid form, not usually seen in nature, was pouring in through the split in the air and the people began to talk of armed rebellion. The leadership sent special shock  troops in to quell a dangerous mob and moved the rest of the population back another fifteen squares.


Stopping for a moment Trevor looked at the crack. It was definitely wider. He had left the small bag of ready mix cement downstairs in the saddle bag, so he turned around and went down past the crack and collected it.


He took an old, dull knife in one hand and scissors in the other. With the scissors he cut open the bag and with the knife he stirred the mixture, adding a little water from the tap.


The Old One was talking about a punitive expedition, clothed in full leather armour and with protective clothing going through the split to stop the devils of the other world from destroying them, but this was howled down in council as no one knew if the air of the other world could even be breathed. The population started to panic and the ground around the split began to turn to mud and slime as the water seeped into it and poisoned the environment.


Going back up to the crack Trevor cleaned out the old dust, trowelled the new cement into it and smoothed it over with a deft, methodical touch. Satisfied with his work he cleaned up and put everything away neatly into it's place. He went upstairs, past where the crack used to be and through to the lounge where the television was showing the news.  And never knew any better.


His wife came through behind him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.  “Finished?” She asked.  He nodded and she leaned over and kissed him on the top of his head.


“My hero” she smiled.


The split in the air vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared and the people rejoiced. The area around it was cordoned off and it was determined in council to let it lie fallow forever, even if it should, at some time in the future, regain it's normal composure.


"For" As the Old One said in a speech to the assembled population, "We have no way of knowing what the purpose of the attack was. But we will remain vigilant against other incursions into our world."





Moira came running into the room, all pigtails and seven year old energy, tears running down her face. "Daddy, come look"


Mark Harvey sighed and placed the consol on hold. He rose from his seat, stretched and placed his hand on his daughter's head.


"What is it, honey?" He asked. She grabbed his hand and began to pull him towards the door. "All the cats are dead, daddy!"


Mark started. Then he rushed past the little girl and looked through the door. Sure enough, lying on the ground just outside the main entrance of the habitat lay three tiny forms. His wife, June, came up behind him, heavy and into the eighth month of her pregnancy.


"Oh dear" She said, "I hoped these would survive"


"I'll take care of it," He said and ran down the outside stairs. Touching the nearest with the toe of his boot, a ginger and grey tom called Flug for some reason, he pushed it over. Dead all right. He groaned to himself.


"Why did Flug have to die, Daddy?" Moira asked. "Was he a bad cat?"


"No, of course not" Mark lifted his daughter into his arms, feeling the warmth of her tiny body against his, "Of course not darling. It's just that Flug and Poopsie and... uh, Cuddles, couldn't live here any more."


"Why not, Daddy? Why did they have to die?"


"I'll tell you what," Mark said, placing both his arms under his daughter and looking her straight in the face, "Why don't you and I go down to the lab in the morning and see if we can get another cat from Dr Van Meecham? Would you like that?"


Moira pursed her lips and thought about it for a moment.


"I guess so" She said slowly, "but I want one that looks just like Flug"


"We'll see what we can do, darling" Mark said, "You go back inside with Mummy and I'll take care of Flug and the others"


"Will you give them a real burial, Daddy? Under the apple tree like the other time?"


"Sure, honey. You just run on inside"


 The little girl jumped down and hopped up the stairs. Mark watched her and wondered at the resilience of children. He looked back at the dead cats and sighed. From the store under the habitat he brought out a spade and dug a large hole near the apple tree into which he threw the bodies, covering them with the light, rust coloured dirt.


Then he stood back and looked at the garden.


It was still small and a lot of the plants were sickly from lack of sunlight, but he had managed to raise small, sweet tomatoes, which was where he had buried the four dogs that had died during the first months after arrival. And of course the apple tree near where the cats (ten altogether) were entombed. The flowers on the tree were very small but he saw the promise of fruit in them. He had begun to cross pollinate by hand because the bees had not survived, but Van Meecham promised a new supply within a few months, hopefully stronger and more able to survive.


He suddenly realised how dark it had become and looked up at the black sky to see the two tiny and bright planetoids low on the horizon. He walked across to the power box in the middle of the garden and switched on the outside light. From inside the house he heard the laughter of his daughter and his wife as they talked about the coming child. Mark stood by himself and a wave of melancholy swept over him.


All the dogs had died. The cats continued to die. No birds, he thought, and no bees. The sky is too dark and the soil too heavy with oxides. But for Moira it was the only home she knew. Of the other fifty colonists living under the sheltering domes of the first Martian city, there were nine children, all born here, who could never return to an Earth they didn't know except through Television and Videodisks. Even the colonists, after ten years, would find Terran gravity a great strain. It would kill the children.


"Were we right to come?" He thought, "Should we be here?"


The colony held on by a thread. A lifeline from Earth with food suppliments once every few months. Then he heard his daughter laugh, a rich, high peal of joy.


Suddenly his mood shifted and he looked at the apple tree. Even death helps. The animals we bury fertilise the soil and the bacteria we placed there thrive. We will succeed. This will be a real home for our children and our grandchildren, and in the morning we will go down to the laboratory where Dr Van Meechem keeps the frozen embryos of every tame animal known to humanity and we will clone and breed cats that can survive on Mars and I can put up mirrors made of polished metal in parts of the garden to increase the amount of sunlight and we will find ways to increase the water and decrease the oxidisation of the soild. We will make this planet ours. We will leave polluted Earth behind us forever.


He went inside and shut out the Martian cold.