The Crystalline Web

Five Far Fetched Fables Of Life’s Entanglements

Patricia Helen Robins

The Crystalline Web
Five Far Fetched Fables of Life’s Entanglements © Patricia Helen Robins 2009

For all who travel life’s journey in search of the gems of enlightenment. If you choose to read these living fables you are, without doubt, a dedicated traveller. “Welcome!”


Whispers come on a soft Breeze From distant times and foreign climes With tales to tell of ancient stories Myths, legends and heroic glories And though there may be yarns to spin Yet the threads of truth run deep within For what at first seems purely fantastical Speaks of wisdoms that are truly magical
© Kathryn Sumitra


Page Number

Letter To My Readers


The Wondrous Web of Learning The Life Line



The Crooked Lane The Beachcombers

95 113

The Crystal Tower Aftermath



Post Script Word Magic / Glossary



The Story behind the Stories About The Author


Cover Art: Original artwork by Patricia Helen Robins Artwork Copyright © Patricia Helen Robins 2009 – 2010 Published by : The DOOR (Publications) 2010 :


Long Road of Hope Land of Mysteries Far Horizons Universal Tides Dated this First Day of Acquaintanceship In the Year of Mutual Discovery

Dear Reader, Five far-fetched fables In order to bring these stories into being I have used my artist’s creative power and delved far into the depths of my imagination. I would like you to see this as a magical place where imagery blossoms and feeds the mind. I have gone forth on a journey into a wonderful place from which I have fetched from afar words and images spoken into mind.

ineffable ‘Lands of Mysteries’ and I have brought back a few of the gems I found there. Enjoy these. May they sparkle for you as they have for me. I wish you adventurous reading. Your Scribe and Fabulist

I am an explorer of life. I have found my way to the




(For to wonder is to question, to search, and so – to find.) Greetings my friends! And welcome to The Brink of Discovery. You have arrived at just the right moment – a tour is just about to start. But first, I must congratulate you on finding your way here, for only those with enquiring minds travel this far. It is no easy matter to leave the complacency of set ideas and seek to travel further. I hope I will not disappoint you! I presume you found my questionnaire? I know you did not receive anything in the post. Nor was it lying around on a desk of some travel agency waiting to be spotted. That is not how things work round here. Whenever I plan a new tour I send it out, and the discerning few find it when the time is right for them to do so. Supposing I just run through the questions again, so that you can see how many of them touched you. At the time you may have thought they were just passing thoughts, or what you might have considered ‘strange notions’. I can assure you they were not! They are as real as any man-made brochure! To recap for a moment - this is what it looked like to me when I sent it. How it arrived will have been different for all of you, but the essence is the same, whatever the format.


INSPIRATIONAL EDUCATIONAL TOURS If you could burst through the limitations of life and look behind the scenes – would that interest you? Supposing you could unravel the mysteries – poke around in dark corners – look beyond distant horizons – see round the next bend Would you be tempted to look? Send your thoughts directly to ‘Unveiling the Mysteries’ Guided Tours to secure a place Convene at ‘The Brink of Discovery’ at exactly the right time for the expansion of understanding


I see you have already met each other. Good! Good! Now I had better introduce myself too. Like yourselves, I am a curious person: a dabbler in mystery, imagery, wondering, seeking, journeying… I have discovered many answers, which I hope to share with you, but every new discovery unveils new mysteries. So life is never dull, is it? Our tour today is a great enlightener, as I hope you will discover. It may answer some of your personal queries. Inevitably it will engender new ones. But that’s the adventure of it all, don’t you think? I don’t say it will all be fun, or even entertaining, but interesting and enlightening I am confident it will be. For we are about to embark on a series of visits to Life’s Great Educational Establishments. Oh, you are surprised to hear that there are such places? But of course! How else did you think we have passed through the eons of our development? There is, I assure you, a highly organised system to deal with all needs. You must, surely, have asked yourselves what it is all about, this existence of ours? And in your search for life’s purpose, did you pick up the pieces that attracted you? And did you find them useful? Many people, you see, put them on a shelf to moulder away to dust. They miss the gems of opportunity nestling among the stepping-stones of life. But you, my friends, are among life’s seekers. Keep your answers safe inside you, wrapped in your caring, nestling in your honesty, for they are very precious. May you find a few more today! Enough waffle! It is time we were off. How do we travel? We all have our own means of transport. How you conceive yours is up to you. Perhaps a romantic sleigh racing across the heavens? Or a space ship programmed to respond to your whims? A magic carpet soaring over new vistas? Would a time machine answer your call to greater understanding? Or will you use the gentle wings of thought, fuelled by inspiration and longing? Have you decided? Then push the start button. You will find it about three centimetres behind the centre of your forehead, and you can activate it by your intention. Ready? Gather round, then, and we will be on our way…


There came a wind clearing away the stale cobwebs of events a cleansing, warm, healing wind with the song of hope on its breath light and encouragement in its arms beckoning loving

Here we are then, at our first port of call. Everybody all right? Take a few deep breaths and relax while your senses adjust. We have arrived, you may have noticed in a place without boundaries. It is a land that will give us what we ask for, and respond very specifically to our thoughts, so let us be careful how we phrase our requests! It may look to you like empty space, but do not be deceived. We find ourselves in the hanging, brooding vastness of Informed Waiting. Hope is poised for action. Blessings seek to find a home. Enthusiasm waits to be harnessed. Multi-faceted gems of knowledge hang in the ether around us, longing to be called into being – wanting to crystallise into our minds. Imagine what this might mean! Oh! A word of warning. Do not confuse ‘imagination’ with ‘makebelieve’. Understand it, rather, as the window to discovery.


It will not take long for you to draw to yourself what you are seeking. At the moment in which we have chosen to journey, our quest is a greater understanding of the wondrous learning processes of life. Do you agree? We must be clear and specific. There is no point in landing ourselves in a confusion of mental meanderings! Oh yes – I can assure you that the vast ‘Quagmires of Confused Thinking’ really do exist. Falling into one of these is no joke! It takes a whole army of dedicated clear thinkers to extricate the hapless victims, and many layers of structured education to clear away the muddled concepts that find links and footholds to cling to. Let us then formulate our request. Consider its wording as being an etheric post code: a magnetic thought-link which will vibrate in harmony with the information we seek. And do not for one moment think that the response is a forgone conclusion! Such information is not available simply on demand. That is to say, it may be available – indeed is certain to be available – but our intentions can subtly alter the ‘post code’. Without sincerity, for example, we are likely to examine carelessly and then discard the information, in which case the request will find its way to an area where in-sincerity reigns, and our answer will be tainted or incomplete. Nor will results be forthcoming when, behind the request, there is a desire for power or personal gain. Are you beginning to get the picture? So I hope you have embarked on this unique adventure with a genuine desire to understand the unfoldment of the Spirit of Mankind on its journey to the Fount of All Knowledge? Ah – you had no idea we were aiming so high! You can aim as high as you like, my friends. Always keep an eye on the ultimate goal. But you will find yourself unable to go beyond the limits of your own powers of perception and understanding. That’s the beauty of it, you see. You can’t get hurt! But you can do damage. Which is why your clarity of intent and purity of heart are so closely monitored. The system is completely foolproof – so do not be tempted to try and fool it. Those who find this concept boring can opt out of our venture at will. No penalty. No hard feeling. But the time is NOW. Just decide to leave this place. The link is broken. You will simply return the way you came, and not come to any harm. We will meet again, another day, somewhere else. I’ll look out


for you. Meanwhile, I wish you happy journeying wherever you choose to go. Now who is left? Ah, there you are! So where were we? Oh yes – formulating our request. Have you come to any conclusions? Myself, I always ask to be shown the Great Educational Systems of life. The response has so far been a most satisfying and enlightening experience. Are you in agreement with that? Remember, please, that curiosity is healthy. It is the ticket to our travelling. But idle curiosity will get us nowhere. So let our quest be:

To equip ourselves with the necessary understanding to plan our own journey through life wisely.
Everybody happy with that? Should we be blessed, on that journey, with fellow travellers, or injured companions, we may then be able to help them through the insight we are about to gain. I think that covers all the introductory preamble. I see you fidgeting to be off! Don’t worry. The time chatting has not delayed us. It has given your vision time to clear. You may be aware of vague structures beginning to form around us. This phenomenon is a direct result of your agreement to the conditions I have just outlined. It is hard to know where to begin – on which embryonic manifestation to concentrate so as to bring it into range of your consciousness. I hope you will rely on my experience and expertise to guide you. Have you noticed that your feet have found firm ground? There’s not a lot of it, I grant you, but always enough to accommodate all travellers who pass this way. It is the first place to materialise from the requests we project, and it is known affectionately as The Moment of Truth. You are on the threshold of your adventure, and stand at the gateway to knowledge. Is that not a splendid concept? Of course, I can but introduce you to a few of the milestones along the way. The system itself is 12

vaster than any of us can imagine, and caters for all conceivable needs. You think I can show you the development of scientific discoveries? Of wonders yet to come? Alas no. The development is in ourselves: our journey through Life, Space and Time. To these there are no limits. I see some of you are rubbing your eyes. Is the light a problem for you? A bit too bright for comfort? I thought it might be. There is no need to be concerned. It is in the very nature of this place to make all comers welcome, and their comfort is paramount. See – the light is already becoming more mellow; kinder to our human senses. You may also notice melodious sounds –gentle, kindly, relaxing melodies sent out to welcome us. Oh yes – we are expected! I come here often. All my tours start here. It is essential, you see, to show you the highest possible standards so that you carry the memory of them in your heart as we travel to some of the less salubrious places on our itinerary. Ah good! I notice you are feeling more comfortable now. The gentle air has soothed and refreshed you, your ears are attuned to the subtle cadences, and your eyes are at ease with the golden light. Now that you are more acclimatised, I would ask you to look there, where the light shines brightest. You will notice the spires of a great and noble building solidifying in the mists. These are the highest points of the land we are approaching, and our eventual destination. But it is necessary, for our personal well being, to approach it gently. Its vibrational rate is much higher than we are used to, so we need to prepare ourselves. To facilitate this, tell me what you imagine such a place might look like. Remember that imagination is not make-believe. It is your pathway to insight! Do you see factories, industrial estates, roads, railways, airports? I think not. Bricks and mortar, steel and tarmac are not necessary here. In much the same way as on earth. Inhabitants travel, as we have done, on wings of thought. Intention guides them to their destination. How? Supposing you intend to meet a friend in a certain café. First of all you have the idea. Then the intention. Next you simply develop that intention with all the means at your disposal. On our Earth Plane the process is arduous: consult diary for possible date – telephone - rendezvous in time


and space (3pm at ‘Anne’s Pantry’) - acquire transport - anticipate success. There are, of course, many variables to dodge around, as for those who dwell here, but the principle is the same. Our way is just slower and more cumbersome. Here, thought and intention alone initiate the process, which simply flows into being. Sounds easy? Oh, if you only knew! The long eons of practice to eliminate all sidetracking of thought! The discipline of concise thinking. The attention to detail. The understanding of the variants involved. Results follow thought so quickly here that there is scarcely space or time for error! I shall shortly be showing you a supreme example of this process, but we must proceed step by step. Perhaps you have already noticed evidence of an orderly system of living? You can see, I am sure, many buildings manifesting to your field of vision. Compared with what we are accustomed to, most people find these unusually beautiful and vibrant with energy. Every one of them fulfils a special need, from the humble dwelling, through community facilities, conference halls, and creative workrooms to the placid stillness of contemplative temples. Nothing is cramped. Large, open spaces of Gentle pathways, lush exquisite beauty and tranquillity separate them.

with flowers, bushes, trees and wildlife wind from place to place. Too good to be true? I’ve let my own imagination run riot? Not necessarily. You must be aware that what we see with our eyes is not necessarily what we ‘see’ in our hearts. This is how I see it. This is the answer to my search. How was yours? You’re not sure of your capabilities? But of course you can do this! Did you not find your way to ‘The Brink of Discovery’ – our starting point? I would ask you, now, to use your inner vision, my friends. What do you sense? Your perceptions may vary – we all have our own talents and degrees of expertise. Come now – tell me what you are beginning to discover.

‘A smooth, velvety feeling?’ What a wonderful start! No, it’s not at all insignificant. That is a reality of these realms. ‘The colours are vivid. Almost living!’ Indeed they are! Everything here is alive with energy and wellbeing.


‘Profound peace.’ How very true. They almost manufacture it here. Next? ‘A high degree of organisation.’ Well spotted! ‘A sort of busyness in the peace?’ rushed. You must understand that this place, as with all places I shall show you, is created from the materials provided by the inhabitants. All who settle at this level provide the most beautiful building blocks. Are they quarried? In a manner of speaking – yes! Perhaps ‘harvested’ would be more accurate, for they are the virtues of the people themselves. Look carefully and you will see the great foundation stones of wisdom, the neatly carved blocks of harmony, creative intent, dedication… Oh, I could on and on. Judge for yourself. What’s that? What do they use for mortar? Why, their own special blend of fellowship and caring, of course. It’s very enduring. Never seen a crack appearing yet! I mean, any sort of rot or decay would require some deceit, jealousy or ill will – and there simply isn’t any here. ‘Life’s journey is not like that!’ I hear you cry. Nor is it, where we come from. And indeed, I will be showing you places that are infinitely worse than our own. I chose to bring you here first so that you can hold its image in your mind when the going becomes disheartening. For the moment, though, can you not sense upliftment? Are you not expanding to an awareness outside the confines of your daily existence? Let the pure, invigorating air fill you with its joy. Float on the waves of hope. Move with the swelling tides of new life. Travel the route you have discovered for yourself, for all searches at this level lead inevitably to their goal. Ah – that’s brought us more in range! Now, take a moment to digest what is before you. I know it is not easy for you to focus. Your eyes will adapt once your mind has done so, for we are in a place which you may perceive as being situated high in the heavens. But you are only experiencing the degree to which it is elevated above our own, Earthling I am glad someone noticed that. The workers here are always alert and responsive, but never agitated or



We are in a land whose proportions it is difficult to

determine, for there is nowhere nearby with which to compare it. It has its own place in the annals of celestial history. We are drawing closer now. Can you see more noble buildings taking shape, and the inhabitants going about their business in their bright, flowing robes? You will notice they are heading towards a great towering edifice rising into the skies, its pinnacles lost in light. Yes, you are right. These are the pinnacles we saw on our approach. Our first impression of what was to come. And now we are here! Let your heart sing. Fling wide the doorways to greater understanding. We are approaching the great and dazzling

Just look at those massive walls! Well, what else can one call them? Though, as you can see, their construction is not of stone, but of giant crystals dancing with multi-coloured light. What we are looking at is the solidification of constructive thought. Impressive, isn’t it? See how they are in constant movement, yet robustly stable? Observe the coloured swathes of light rising in disciplined columns up, up, into the pinnacles we first observed – and then ever upward, beyond our range of vision. Don’t gaze any more, I implore you. You will hurt your eyes. You are standing, my friends, in the courtyard of the mother/father of education. Here, before our very eyes, is the answer to our request. The start of our journey. Let us follow some of these elegantly-robed sages, for they hold the key to much of our future. atmosphere of purpose and dedication? Come along in, through the imposing doors that welcome us to the lofty interior. Do you not sense the I suppose you were expecting classrooms, boards, books, computers and such? Not here, I’m afraid. Such things speak of the education necessary to live our lives on Earth. Here plans are made to help us find our way through the tangled maze of Life itself.


It is possible that this revered seat of learning began as a teaching zone to guide mortals in the awareness of each other’s rights and needs, and to further the advancement of civilization. For here dwell the Sages of Life, and the Wisdom of the Ages. And from here flow the Great Rivers of Learning. From their lofty position in the hierarchy of this noble system Higher Beings keep an eye on our progress. Yes – every one of us! They gather in the shadowy threads of purpose, monitoring changes, lapses, progress. There are tweekings, consultations, planning… education are planned and organized. Every student is free to use these, or to ignore them as he pleases. Here chaos is embraced by calm. The masters, great and powerful though they are, cannot stop the flow of chaos, but their calm can buffer its effects, reflect it back. This may, of course, result in resentment and other undesirable effects, until the pupil tires of his predicament and seeks change. Many such rise through the system to achieve great things, as you shall see. When one such arrives here, having earned a place in these great halls, there develops a vast stillness – a holding of the Universal Breath. What you see here are the origins, goals and climaxes of people’s long journeys through the many educational establishments of Life. It is no wonder, is it, that we perceive it as seated in a high place and alive with light? Not that it is unattainable. It is near enough to make it enticingly desirable. For here our problems would dissolve and we could participate in creation itself. Journey. There is, however, the GREAT DIVIDE to cross - and that is Life’s From this place new opportunities and possibilities are opened up and all lesser forms of our

We are, unfortunately, allowed no further. And it is time to move on. Yes, I know you would rather stay here! Who wouldn’t! But this is an educational tour, and you have elected to complete it. I always start here because it gives us all uplift. Energy for the journey if you like. We leave 17

with hope in our hearts and the certainty that truth, beauty and higher standards do, indeed, exist – and will prevail! For there may be times on our travels when you doubt this. Some of the places on our way will exasperate you. Others may make you sad. A few might shock you. It will be good to have the knowledge of this place locked in our hearts. As we leave, take a backward glance. Can you can see the golden rays stretching forth, like fingers in the night, seeking to bring comfort to suffering? They unite ignorance with learning, and give hope to despair. These living filaments seek out life’s hurts. They offer solutions for our problems, open gateways to progress and whisper encouragement in unwilling ears. You must have made use of them yourselves in times of distress? I often smile when people exclaim: ‘What a stroke of luck!’ What do they think ‘luck’ is if not the natural fulfilment of a yearning they have sent forth on Life’s Pathway? But of course, not everyone takes notice. Not all are willing to listen. Does that surprise you? Oh yes – unwilling ears there are in plenty. Would you like to know more? Are you ready to continue the grand tour? In order for you to understand how the system works we will need to start almost at its beginning. Sadly, there exist many dark and sombre places where light is not welcomed. Without illumination, real education cannot proceed. Come, I will show you one such place I know of. I’m not saying it will be a pleasant experience, but it will serve as a backdrop for what is to come. You may not like what you are about to see, but you won’t come to any harm. Besides, you would not have embarked on this adventure if you had been faint-hearted, would you? All ready then? We are gathered once more at that very important little platform of matter – a launching pad, if you like – the Moment of Truth. Every time we set off for pastures new we need to launch ourselves afresh – new thoughts, new goals – new experiences… And besides, it gives us the precious time we need to adapt. You may not realise quite how elevated your field of perception has become in these refined regions. We


need time to adjust our perspective. For where we are going next will be a vast contrast on all levels. We must make haste slowly, as they say. Are you feeling a little queasy? A sensation as of going down in a lift? Perfectly natural, I assure you. The inspirational silence of the Great Halls is fading and you are probably noticing an unpleasant emptiness developing. It is empty of the uplifting light, that is true. But it is, in its own field, far from empty! Can you not already hear the arguing of angry voices? Can you sense dark rivers of resentment? I see many of you are already feeling uneasy. You have noticed, then, the distinct impression that we are not welcome! Don’t take it personally. Nobody is welcomed here! All dwellers in this region have gatecrashed their way in, and taken as their ‘rights’ whatever they want. Having trouble seeing clearly? I thought so. Don’t worry. There is nothing wrong with your eyes. They will adapt to the dismal atmosphere of this place. Why so gloomy? Have you not guessed? The light of all the places we shall see are, like the one we have just left, comes from the people themselves. It is the very light of their Being that we see. And yes, you’ve guessed it – there’s not much being emitted by the inhabitants of the place just coming into view. We are approaching very gently now. It is a cheerless area peopled by shadowy figures scurrying from one dilapidated building to another. What is their hurry? You may well ask. The only possible explanation is that everyone is intent on seizing any available opportunity before anyone else. There appears to be no concept of sharing or caring. No longing to improve. Nature herself does not thrive in such an environment. You will have noted the lack of trees, shrubs, flowers, animals or birds. Most of the buildings are in a deplorable state of disrepair. No one dresses joyfully. A crumbling community, wouldn’t you agree? But, you see, it lingers on, and people keep coming! Something obviously attracts them. Surprisingly there is, here, a place provided for learning. It’s not a very grand affair, but attracts daily gatherings nevertheless. Those who turn up have not the slightest notion of listening, or tolerating, much less learning. How could anyone learn? No one takes any notice of what anyone


else has to say! All are convinced of the power behind their own opinions. All leave, at the end of the day, smug with satisfaction that they have hammered home their point of view. I see some of you would like to sit in on one of these gatherings. Be a fly on the wall! It would be educational, certainly, in a negative sense. In no time at all you would want to come off the wall and argue your point of view. You would be incensed at the bigotry; appalled by the lack of respect for the opinions of others, by the over-shouting and the threatening gestures. Should you manage to follow any of the many points of view being flung so aggressively into the arena, you would find yourselves shouting as loudly as anyone else. Such an atmosphere is infectious. The temptation is to fall into it, just as we fell into the peace of the Great Halls. Of course there will come a time when we are able to hold our calm and unfold it in the midst of chaos. However, that is quite an advanced stage of selfdevelopment, and I would advise erring on the side of caution! In any case, nobody will listen to you. What a waste of energy, then, to try! It’s a tough lesson to learn – but that’s education for you. I would say we have learned more in five minutes than they have managed in their entire stay here. Well, here we are! As you can see, nobody is taking the slightest bit of notice of us. They are all far too intent on heading for that dilapidated building over there. Heads down. Muttering to themselves. Clutching sheaves of untidy notes. Nobody even looks up at the name over the door lintel. Not that it makes any sense – all those letters hanging drunkenly by bent, rusty nails: N T O B G Y AN B D M

Rest assured it is not the educationalists who provide such a setting. It is the pupils who find it suits their needs. I use the term ‘pupils’ loosely, for, as we have seen, nobody here wants to learn. That they will, inevitably and eventually, do so, is another matter. Largely the inhabitants of such regions are interested only in what will benefit Self – an attitude which leads either to strife or utter indifference. When all the letters were in place they spelled out a name which indicated to passing travellers exactly 20

what to expect. It was not a designated name, but arose from the only materials available. A very long time ago the sign had read:

You may be wondering why anyone would come to such a place in the first place. It is, I am afraid, a sad fact of life that people of like temperament are simply attracted to one another. Knowing nothing better, they learn to live with the communal unpleasantness. Most are insensitive to other people’s feelings, and have never had the privilege of knowing anything better. All are dissatisfied with their lot. Few do anything about it except complain, rant and rage. What, you may ask, can such a place have to teach? Oh, I can assure you that Bigotry and Boredom are great teachers! When those whose point of view is set in concrete encounter others with equally closed minds, choices have to be made: stay to be crushed, outwitted, suffer outrage and anger – or become bored with the futility of it all and decide to move away. It has been observed that those in the early stages of their education tend to remain longest in their place of learning. Probably this is because they are seeking neither to serve their community nor attain higher qualifications for their onward journey. Until they are, it is hard for the kindly lights from the Halls of Learning to gain admittance. Often the best they can achieve is to brush the atmosphere with gossamer wings, ever hopeful that someone will be touched by their strokes. The wonder is that people continue to be attracted by the place, but it is surprisingly popular. Nobody here is very pleasant to know, but there is one you should beware of. He is, they say, the oldest inhabitant. Very set in his ways. To a large extent he is responsible for the deterioration, both materially and morally, of the place. He is gloomy, obstinate and malicious. Some say he had a name once, but over the years he has simply become known by the first letters of his outstanding characteristics. Everyone simply calls him GOM. Look out for him on your travels, and be very wary.


Not all, of course, are so rigidly entrenched. It is the boredom that finally works its magic. Eventually, drawn by the hope that life must have more to offer, many decide to journey on. The moment the thought enters their minds, gentle fingers of light, barely noticed, nudge them onwards. For it is a well-known fact that for every desire to learn a teacher will appear, and establishments come into being to provide the means. Well that’s enough lecturing for the time being. I do not think we should linger here. It is not a healthy place to be. A short glimpse is more than enough to give you the flavour. It is time to move on. You are wondering if this place is the worst that exists? Not by any means. In the swampy lowlands, known as ‘Life’s Lowest Ebb’ exist the

It is hard for the light to find the denizens of such a region, for they cut themselves off from help. I do not propose to take you anywhere near it. Long before we could reach our destination we would be choked by foul vapours of seething resentment and other vileness that are outside our present field of study. I am assured that all who dwell there will eventually seek relief from the endless violence. Disgust and disillusionment are their best friends. I see you are shivering at the very thought. So let us follow one of the signpostsyou may have noticed as we travel. Here’s one that reads, BETTERMENT. Shall we try it? I am sorry the route is a bit monotonous. Still not much in the way of pleasant scenery, I’m afraid. unpleasant though, which is a blessing I suppose. As we have been chatting you may have noticed we have been on the move again. That awful, clamouring noise has abated, thank goodness, and the air is sweeter now – and somewhat brighter. Just round the next corner I think. Nothing particularly


Well, this is certainly an improvement! At least the place is clean and tidy. Looks cared for, doesn’t it? It hasn’t changed much since my last visit, I have to say. What a difference from our last port of call! This place is almost pernickety in its neatness. But it is so monotonous isn’t it? So totally lacking in imagination. You would think somebody would have painted a house a different colour, planted a new shrub, changed their curtains… And just look at the streets – regular, monotonous, straight rows of identical dwellings. Every time I come here the place takes me by surprise. It’s as if nobody wants to put a foot wrong. Either that, or no one is capable of having an original idea! Would you agree? And yet, they do have an educational establishment, suited, as is always the case, to their needs. It won’t have changed, that’s for sure. Ah, here we are! It’s that small, rectangular, cream building with the blue front door placed so symmetrically between the two identical windows. When we go inside you will find the chairs in neat, straight rows, tucked uniformly behind clean, polished tables. No pictures or posters. No original ideas – paintings, courses, timetables… How they maintain the students’ interest has always puzzled me. Do you see the sign over the door? Neatly and newly painted, as you would expect.

Surprised? So was I the first time I came across it. I assumed they ran courses in second hand goods! Perhaps, in a way, I was right, for there is a form of interchange amongst the inhabitants. They tend, you see, to use the same materials – ideas, theories, dogmas, superstitions and so on, over and over again. When they tire of one, or find it has outgrown its usefulness, they simply trade it in for another. The building blocks of their lives change hands. you see. lives. They are remodelled, given a new slant and then passed on as something new and exciting. The people feel safe that way There is always someone who needs what they have got, and someone to borrow from when they feel something is missing from their Theirs is a tranquil existence, somewhat lacking in any real


imagination or progress. They do no harm. The problem, of course, is that they become so secure in their little world that most have lost the power of wondering. Once a seed of doubt creeps in, once monotony starts its wearisome work, then the great educationalists can find a foothold! You remember how vigilant they are? There are those who specialise in persuading people to have the courage of their convictions. You would not recognise them, of course. They work very discretely, often immersing themselves into the situation where they can act more directly. In fact I know of one young man who can be very persuasive and helpful – but only once he sees the cracks in people’s armour. He deals with all sorts. Works on a railway, would you believe! I hope you meet him one day. Such people never interfere, of course. They wait to be invited. However, it is very seldom that anyone realises just what counts as an invitation. It may be dissatisfaction with life, weariness with repetition, or even the faintest trace of wondering what if it is not like this? Thoughts, you see, take wing and, like tiny, ethereal magnets, attract what is needed to create balance once more. You are wondering whether you would have the patience to work in such minute shifts of focus? I agree. And that, my friend, is why you and I are on this journey, and not yet ready for the Great Halls. At least we are searching, are we not? Time to move on! Come.

How do you fancy something to brighten our spirits after these wearisome places? Here’s another signpost – BIZARRE it reads. Now is that not intriguing? Want to take a look? The path is rather narrow, I’m afraid. Remember that – it may well be symbolic of the people we are about to meet. Sorry about all these weird twists and turns. Isn’t it ridiculous how some of them lead back on themselves and then take a hairpin bend to set us off in the right direction once more? Somebody’s idea of a joke, I suppose. At least we are out of the gloom, though I can’t say I


approve of all the plastic flowers and windmills. How do you feel about them? It must be a foretaste of what is to come. I am sorry about the music. Well, it may be to your taste. It’s not my cup of tea. Too raucous and discordant! Makes me feel restless. Round another ridiculous bend – and look – you can see the first building! It looks uncommonly like something out of a fairy tale, doesn’t it? All those silly little pointed roofs and bow windows. The crooked walls and lop-sided doorways. How does it strike you? Complete lack of discipline is my first reaction! All right. So I’m just an old killjoy! I’ll concede it’s fun, different. But such things taken too far become unstable. One day it will fall down! It feels as though these people have a lot to learn about balancing their lives. Let’s try and find out more, shall we? We’ll try round the other side. And there it is, just as you might expect, a large sign over that mock baronial studded doorway:

I can’t help feeling the ‘bedazzlement’ is not going to be what we witnessed in the Great Halls! Oh look! The townsfolk are coming out to greet us! Well that makes a nice change. How amazing are those costumes? Anyone would think they have raided every ragbag in the neighbourhood, dyed everything in vivid, garish tones, and created their own variety of gypsycum-clown outfits! They seem totally unconcerned that a group of strangers have just wandered onto their property. It’s a rather careless acceptance, I should say. I mean, we might be up to no good, but does anyone care? Rather too happy-go-lucky for my taste. I’m all for a bit of fun, but they do seem to be attracted only by the tawdry, glittering, false qualities of life. Surely this will leave them blind to true beauty? What do you think? I’m asking you. I value your opinion. Of course, I have been here before. It is always like this. They never recognise me. It’s all very jolly, but I’ve never found real friendship. What would you like to do now? You can join in the dancing if you like. No? Very well then, come with me and I’ll show you an amazing gift shop. Everything in it is made by the people themselves. They have vivid imaginations! Really, I can’t fault them for creativity, though what the Life 25

Creators, who built the Great Halls of living light would make of it all, I dread to think! I see you are intrigued. It’s not very far away. Shall we go? Here we are. You can’t miss it, can you? More bow windows, frosted and decked in hanging baubles, ribbons, garish coloured lumps of luminous glass dangling on cheap chains. I know it is childish of me, but I do love browsing round. I can’t get over all the ridiculous gimmicks they have. Look here – ‘Pink and blue plastic angels’ wings. Sizes to fit from small child to large adult. Glitter and feathers extra.’ Then there’s this guitar music – ‘Songs for Saints and Sinners’. And how’s this for a novel idea – a ‘Cupid in a Cube’ puzzle. Look over here - has anyone got a little girl who would like a ‘Halogen Halo’? Or a granny who wants one of these ‘Mugs for Martyrs’ for her afternoon tea? Oh, do come and look at these paperweights! This one is ‘Temple of Temptation’ – isn’t that crazy? And here’s another, ‘Weather Witch’ it says. And then there’s ‘Snowstorm in Hades’. What have you found over there? Seeds? Let me look. ‘Grow your own angels’. Why, they’re tiny balloons! See – you fix them onto this Ingenious! I don’t baseboard fitted with miniature pumps? Obviously you press that button and the seeds get blown up into miniature ‘angels’. imagine anyone here is remotely interested in investigating the possibility of real angels. Look, I’ve found some fireworks, labelled ‘Christmas Crackers’. See the pictures on the box? That one looks nice – a spray of golden stars when it’s set off. It is called, apparently ‘Lead Kindly Light’. Now there’s a nice thought. Oh – but look at this one – ‘Hallelujah Rockets’. Now I’ve seen it all! These people are just running away from reality. I mean, how long can anyone live such a life of make-believe? What do you say we move on? Stay if you like, but I’ve had enough! Ready? I’m afraid we need to negotiate this ridiculous winding path again. There is only so much life can take of garishness and senseless frivolity. Perhaps these people, too, will allow the tedium of it all to move them on. As things are at the moment, it seems to me, they are so absorbed in their quest for distraction that not even the most well-meaning helper can attract their attention. I deliberately chose to show you this place because our


next stop is quite the opposite. If you will just follow me down this hill, it won’t take long. In fact it is quite difficult not to slide headlong to the bottom out of control, so try to place your feet carefully and walk steadily. While we travel you may like to expand your awareness to reach ahead of you. We are going to have to make quite a shift in our consciousness and it might be as well to make the transition in silence.

Pause a moment to look ahead. Can you see water gleaming in the valley? We are approaching a very beautiful place, much revered for the opportunities offered. There, below us, lie

I am sorry if you find that daunting. Do not be sad, for sadness is not the essence of this place. As an educational seat it has a great deal to offer, so I hope you will not balk at the opportunity I am offering you. As we approach I would ask you to proceed with great respect and tread softly. This is not difficult, given the lush green slopes leading down to the lakes. These hold themselves in marbled tranquillity, the only disturbance to their waters coming as ripples of light through the shady trees. You will note that there are several lakes, fed by the deep-flowing River of Balm. How does bereavement have a place in education, you ask? I can assure you it serves many useful purposes. We are just approaching the first lake, and I hope your question will be answered. This is Lake Lachryma, the place of tears. Many who come to its shores are ashamed of tears, or have been too proud to accept help. Here they find themselves able to weep their hurts away, knowing that the lake understands the rivers of released emotion. Do you not find yourself moved, comforted, as you stand by its shores? Of course, the lake understands, too, tears of rage and frustration. These it encourages, as their release can only make a space for joy. Many come here to express a deep pain or sorrow, for in the lake’s waters they find understanding. A few, who have used tears to gain pity or attract


attention, find themselves unable to cry in this place, until another’s grief moves them to tears of compassion. That is their graduation. I see some of you are moved to tears of your own. That is good. But come now, we need to move on. Just a little way along this grassy path and we come to the Great Lake Tristesse, where folk gather to drown their sorrow. Their learning is more subtle. Here they are surrounded by so Their learning is Nothing is much space that their personal horizons are dwarfed. about balance and perspective. forever.

Nothing is all-consuming.

Those who have clung to the habit of sorrow, and all the

paraphernalia attached to it come to understand that they have resisted moving on and fulfilling themselves. Usually they graduate with diplomas in dignity, compassion and patience. There is nothing here, I think, to make us linger. Let us move on through that little copse of trees. And here we are, beside the strangest of all the lakes. Its waters are deep with the wisdom of the ages. Everybody who comes to Lake Sapiens does so because a death is necessary. What needs to die may be their pride or anger or hypocrisy – in fact anything that stands in the way of progress. This is the most sombre of the lakes, light only dancing on its surface when such negativity is released into its waters. These are hungry for such food. It is their lifeblood. It was for this they were created. That they may thrive, they encourage the demise of that which blights the human spark. Such energy is transformed – transmuted into life-giving power, and released to serve a better cause. The Educational System’s great re-cycling plant! We do not belong here, and we should leave the waters to their yearning anticipation and move on. Leave behind you, if you will, a blessing for those who need this place, for their task is not an easy one. Lastly I want to show you Lake Luminos – the lake of light. This is the place of graduation for those who have travelled their paths thus far successfully. Perhaps they simply learned to accept help. Not everybody has that ability. Or it may be that the silent, uncritical waters have calmed rebellion and resistance, and caressed troubled hearts. Many, whose personal tides have been dammed by shock or grief, are able to let these kindly depths talk to them, inviting the flow of healing tears. A precious


gift! Others can here relinquish the prop of neediness. Inspired by the profound, unmoving mass of stillness, they find the strength to stand on their own feet. It is here, by the Great Lakes of Bereavement, that people complete their education quickest, for the death of an obstacle opens the doors to opportunity. Such an event gladdens the hearts of the educationalists, for these wise souls realise that this precious place releases much untapped potential into the ether - potential which is a source of light and hope. It shines like a beacon, illuminating the way for others. wasted. welcomed. You all look a little sombre after that experience! I hope you are moved, too. Sadness, you know, is not the purpose of the lakes. Release is. And if people are sad to lose their burdens or their sorrows there is little anyone else can do about it, is there? Much time and patience are devoted to the process. It has its own beauty and is considered very precious. What happens to all the pain and anguish that is released? But did you not understand? It is transmuted into new energies. There are those whose lives are devoted to turning the baser elements of life into living gems. I hope you will ponder that as we continue our tour. No effort is ever It is the great stepping-stone to forward movement, and much

Now, a question for your consideration. What does the word, ‘Wonderment’ mean to you? It is considered, by those in authority, to be a useful tool, closely linked to curiosity. It is the act of wondering ‘What if…’ How can I explain? Let’s ask a stupid question, just to illustrate the point: What if the moon were made of green cheese? I suppose it would crumble away, or the smell, as it ripened, would kill off life on Earth with noxious fumes. Does that lead you anywhere? No! So abandon that line of questioning. But ‘What if life’s problems have a purpose?’ Now there’s an intriguing thought! After our last port of call it should come as no surprise! And yes – you’ve guessed it – it leads us to our next destination.


We are well on the way now, though the path is getting quite steep. Had you noticed? That is because those who take this journey are prepared to make the effort. The signpost reads BREATH OF LIFE. Quite intriguing, isn’t it? A most hopeful prospect, you might think. You would, of course, be right. Many of those who come this way are filled with hope when they read these words. They are, it is true, seeking new knowledge and understanding. Most are aware of the city’s university, which stands proudly on a hill surrounded by lush woodlands and filled with birdsong. It is a happy place and offers encouragement at every turn of the broad, tree-lined drive. We are approaching the last bend now. You may like to rest awhile and get your breath back - here, where there are benches at a break in the trees. Sit or stand, you will get a fine view of the city below. Everything you would expect to find in a flourishing neighbourhood. Down in the valley you can see the railway station. Trains are few, only running as and when there is need. It is a good system and has never been known to fail those who wish to find their way here. Shall we proceed? I hope you are not expecting the next step to be too easy! We have just one more twist in the driveway to negotiate. I am sure your expectations are high. And there it is! The remarkable

Oh dear! I can see you are not favourably impressed. The name does, I admit, come as a bit of a shock to most new arrivals. Though being so high up over the impressive gateway most people are too intent on finding the main building to notice it. Impressive, isn’t it? Would you like to look around inside? They The huge atrium, dining hall, administrative won’t mind you coming in. Come along then. offices, kitchens, communal rooms, halls of residence – and all so tastefully appointed. Who could not feel instantly welcomed and at home here? You must realise, of course, that it is not a hotel! hospitality is provided, but the students have come to learn. Courteous Many are

surprised to find there is no set syllabus or timetable. Pupils have individual


schedules according to their needs. This is a very individualised education. Tasks are set, opportunities offered, challenges arranged as necessary. Much will depend on the student’s past behaviour: opportunities missed, unhelpful attitudes entrenched, natural talents left undeveloped, careless actions not properly understood, old debts left unpaid. The tally is endless and ruthless - but not unkind. Unless the tasks set are achieved, their reason understood, and new attitudes adopted there can be no graduation. However, just as there is no set programme of events for the entrants as a group, so there is no limit to the length of time available for their training. Students are at liberty to leave and go back whence they came, or to stay until they have achieved what they set out to learn. Very rarely is anyone asked to leave, though it is not entirely unknown for someone to wish to stay rather than move on into the unknown! This takes courage, but ample preparation is given. Advice and understanding are always on hand. It is a fair and liberal system. I see you are still wondering where the idea of Bumps and Bruises comes in. But that is life, my friend! Where there is no movement, there is no progress. You have already witnessed that. Movement requires new skills, falling by the wayside, disliking what you find, experiencing hurts you had not anticipated. All are life’s lessons. Many come as a jolt, which make us sit up and consider. Some leave us battered and bruised, but wiser and stronger. There are no injuries other than those we inflict on ourselves. Perhaps there has been a lack of consideration for others. Possibly a stubborn blindness to the effects of past actions. Laziness. Selfishness. Occasionally, cruelty. The causes are many, as are the lessons. You may wonder how I know so much about this place. Ah well, you should have guessed. I have been a student here for a very long time! You get used to the knocks and bumps, learning to look into their causes and appreciate their lessons. The bruises heal, leaving us wiser and surer. Here people grow within themselves. It is a very special place! Graduation? you ask. No great passing out ceremony en masse, but all students who complete the course have their personal magic moment when they realise they have mastered what was required of them. They are


then offered the chance to move on, prepared for the event, and given an impressive send-off. Nobody is banished. All are at liberty to return – for a visit to old friends, for a refresher course, to study some new aspect of themselves that has become necessary in their new life. It is a flexible service the University offers. We must leave now, I’m afraid. There is much to tell, but only so much that can be absorbed at any one time. As we step outside once more, can I point out to you a signpost you may not have observed earlier? There – hidden by the statue of the university’s great founder, Leornian, the Bestower of Betterment and Balm. A revered figure, now moved onwards of course. Ah, the signpost! Here it is. Its message is very simple, don’t you agree? ‘BECKONING’. It leaves much to the imagination, I always feel, but is immensely intriguing. It immediately sets you thinking – What more can I achieve? What else is out there, waiting to be discovered? It is, I suppose, meant to provoke enquiry, to tempt and lure us forward. Of course we are not allowed down the path from here without permission. And don’t think you can sneak off unnoticed! I can assure you, you won’t get far, and will meet with the most almighty bump and bruise! Not inflicted by anyone else, I hasten to add. It is just that you would run into your own ignorance, and it would be a shock and humiliation. Once the time is right, you will simply glide through, and recognise your way instantly. system when you come to think about it. Do I know where the sign is directing us? Oh yes! Did I not say? Our journey, when the time is ripe, will take us to the glorious It’s a foolproof

I am sure you are curious about that – as are we all. You can voyage in your dreams. Imagine the journeys to take. The people to be met. Edifices to be erected. New frontiers to be conquered. Jewels to be found. For is not life a wondrous web in which to catch the many glowing Crystals of Knowledge? Many of us are already part-time students here, as I am sure you are aware. A sort of spiritual ‘Day Release’, even though we have yet to 32

complete our course at the Academy. There is no great jolting transition. Most moves are expertly supervised, and take place smoothly and efficiently. Some balk at the system and try to rush things. Run before they can walk. Think they know better than their superiors. It never works, of course. They only have to start all over again. It takes longer in the end. Delays, however, once the time is ripe, are frowned upon. But jumping the queue, gate crashing where one is not entitled to be, are sternly dealt with! By whom? Why, by ourselves, of course! The shame we feel at our arrogance. The self-chastisement. These are very painful punishments. Such self-scourging is, in itself, a school of learning. Some remain in it for a very long time. Their only healing may be found by the shores of Lake Sapiens.

Overseeing all the systems of education we have witnessed is the

Did you not realise that even those working in the Halls of Beauty, Benevolence and Bounty will also gain enough experience to move on? Why else did you think they are given such endurance tests of patience and perseverance? They, too, are ever learning. You want to know what is above that? Don’t dazzle your eyes and imagination too much. For the moment the voyage of discovery is over. Come gently back to your homeland. Sit quietly a moment and reflect.


Treasure what you have learned Gather in the jewels you have found in LIFE’S WONDROUS WEB OF LEARNING





It was obvious that a train was due. Early in the day as it was, the little station had already begun to zing with the usual concoction of vibrant emotions. Anxiety was at fever pitch, shooting lightening jags into the foetid air. Grumbles and obscenities rumbled through the station in thunderous rolls. Headaches screamed. Tempers burst apart. A sign, in urgent need of restoration, announced to new arrivals that they had reached ‘Utter Chaos’. The door of the ticket office shook and rattled as arguments and confrontation built up behind. Finally the door flew open, wrenched from its hinges by a venomous cascade of rage. A spiteful, stinging jet of this flew out, narrowly missing a tall young man who ducked expertly and maintained his calm admirably. Aphrolane had not yet revealed himself. from years of bad language. place smelled of discontent. This morning he had arrived in the cold, grey light of dawn, hoping to see some improvement since his last visit. But, the familiar limpid grey mist hovered round the place. Tucked away in dark corners and crevices, huddles of depression lay moaning, never willing to face a new day. Indignation gathered into a discordant mass, inflating itself into an explosion of foul-smelling hot air. Grumbles mumbled quietly to themselves, or sought each other out in an orgy of mutual support. An occasional shaft of fury shrieked through the air in a blinding flash, before splitting into a shower of lethal sparks that burned and wounded anything in their path. But it was the minor irritations that contributed so relentlessly to the drab surroundings: the overall blanket of discontent - the heavy miasma of despair and self-pity - the dirty smears of disillusionment. Aphrolane could 36 Every time he came he hoped to find some improvement. But no. As usual, the walls were grimy Seats were smeared with impatience. The Thousands of complaints – nasty, sticky things – caked the ground.

read all the signs now. He wrapped his cloak more tightly round him. It was not made of fabric, though it took on that guise in this heavy atmosphere. Its true substance was his own cheerful spirit, with its intractable conviction that things could, and would change. But not without some help! And that was where he came in. Usually he could find a chink in the armour, a weakness in the argument, or a crack in the defences through which to inject a little alternative insight. He hoped today would prove rewarding. Looking up he saw a stout man with flabby cheeks, untidy, dingy clothes and an enormous amount of luggage, struggle from the crowded ticket office. So he was here again! The one thing that could be said in his favour, Aphrolane thought wryly, was his persistence. believed! Most of these were embossed with the initials G.O.M. Aphrolane had often wondered what they stood for. For years G.O.M. had been turning up, flinging his jagged bursts of wrath right and left, never looking to see where they landed. And caring even less, Aphrolane suspected. In his mind he’d named the passenger ‘Grumpy Old Man’. In fact the initials stood for ‘Gregory Obadiah Merryman’, but he wasn’t going to tell anyone that. What had he got to be merry about? He could still hear the shrill voice of his mother calling, “Gregoreeeee?”. Well he soon gave her the slip, didn’t he? And the others: George Oswald and Gertrude Olga. Where did she get such a set of names, for goodness sake! He hadn’t seen George and Gerty for years – and with a bit of luck never would again. They could be rotting in a swamp for all he cared. What had they ever done for him, he’d like to know? His sour features twisted into an expression of pure hate as he lugged the largest case of all past the tall young man standing silently on the platform. The confounded fellow was always here, poking his nose into other people’s business. If he thought he was going to strike up one of his idiotic conversations again, he had another think coming. Nobody told Gregory Obadiah Merryman what to do! The volume of suitcases, brief cases, carrier bags and parcels had to be seen to be


Aphrolane was surprised the man had made it this far. Most people in his state got off at the previous stop, ‘Foul Play’. Where this was, even Aphrolane, with all his experience, couldn’t be sure. The line, he knew, began somewhere in the Darklands, with stations such as ‘Total Lethargy’, ‘Grim Indifference’ and ‘Desolation’, but none of them appeared on any timetable he had ever seen. He’d even heard rumours of a branch line that led to ‘Total Destruction’, but he had never felt it wise to investigate the matter. From what he’d heard people got trapped there. Anyone choosing to leave the place was hot news – a matter for jubilation. He’d believe it when he saw it! His work started here, at ‘Utter Chaos’, where he met every train destined for ‘New Horizons’. Those who boarded a train stood at least some chance of freeing themselves from their self-imposed burdens. The very fact that they chose to travel gave him hope. But in truth, most only went the one stop, getting off at ‘Just Deserts’. The only people he’d ever seen go all the way to the terminus were people like himself who lived there. Aphrolane, a skilled and seasoned traveller, had lowered his personal note a whole octave, so that he might mingle with the crowd. Despite his earlier experiences, he turned to greet his attacker and offer his services, hoping that kindness and courtesy would win the day. It sometimes did. Most people here were so unused to good manners that curiosity drew them to investigate why anyone should want to be so helpful. But not G.O.M.! He turned his back aggressively, gathering in his battered luggage like a mother hen marshalling her brood. There was stuff in those bags that he’d worked hard to get hold of: position and power – and his rights, to name but a few. And he wasn’t about to let that young upstart get his grubby little hands on any of it! With a shrug of resignation Aphrolane turned away. Perhaps next time. He was ever the optimist. Soon a group of giggling young women turned up. Many were quite well dressed. Some might even be described as smart as they strutted round and round their impressive sets of matching luggage. But while their outfits were made of expensive materials the colours their wearers had


chosen were muddy and gave out no joy. Back in his homeland Aphrolane’s garments were regal, flowing and vibrant with colour. He had tried to bring the colours when he came, but they never survived as far as this. All that remained of his beautiful robes was a dull grey cloak reaching to the ground, where it trailed in the dusty rubbish dropped there by careless travellers. He sighed. It wasn’t much fun coming here, but he was used to it. He was on a mission. His job was to try and spot those who were getting tired of this noisy, burdensome journey and persuade them to travel further up the line with him. Somehow he simply had to help them find a way out of this grim state of affairs. If only they knew what was ahead of them! If only they would pay the price of the fare! And what was the price? Well, it wasn’t money. It was more a question of what you didn’t have than what you did. Aphrolane hoped to persuade them to travel lighter - to discard some of the ridiculous mountains of baggage. When he had first volunteered for this job the Great Controller of the Upward-Bound Life Line had given him permission to use his special vision. This was a talent he had developed over the years. If he concentrated he could shift his vision to see beyond the normal range of eyesight. He did this now and it enabled him to see what was inside all this baggage. The Smart Set, for example, for all their impressive, obviously expensive cases, carried round little other than the desire to impress. Half the cases were actually empty, apart, that is, from a vast quantity of hot air! Even so, their owners appeared to take enormous pleasure from keeping them close at hand. When Aphrolane looked into the cases of a tall, willowy blonde with high heels and cascades of jewellery, he discovered an assortment of hair extensions, beauty tips, pictures of film stars and the like. Nothing else. Not a ray of hope, or an ounce of effort. Just quick fixes and frittering. man! Insubstantial assets on which to be expending so much energy, Aphrolane thought. But then, he was a mere


The other women appeared to understand perfectly. Not that they engaged in any friendly banter, he observed. Giving off clouds of disdain, they held themselves aloof, noses in the air as if to prove that they were unused to such distasteful surroundings. Yet they were here every time he came! He shook his head sadly. It was something of a mystery. Elsewhere on the platform he spotted a group whose many cases were battered from long and constant use. Inside them resentments, bitterness and self-pity vied for attention. The owners, drooping with the weight of their burdens, stood close beside their bulging bags, as if terrified someone would make off with them in an unguarded moment. Shoulders were hunched. Mouths drooped for lack of practice in the art of smiling. Eyes, untrained in the recognition of joy, were dull and listless. Already sensing it was a lost cause, Aphrolane nevertheless wandered across to speak to them. “Would you care to leave some of your cases at the left luggage office?” he suggested tactfully. “You could collect them on the return journey.” Secretly he hoped some of these people would enjoy what lay ahead and choose not to return. By not holding out much hope, he at least saved himself from disappointment. “But we need them!” exclaimed a well made-up young thing incredulously. She had perfected an air of need and helplessness. “I mean – well – I couldn’t do without them, could I?” “What – all of them?” Aphrolane feigned incredulity. “Well of course all of them!” a lanky, pimply youth cut in, dejection hanging from his frail shoulders. His cheap, insubstantial cases were crammed with juvenile magazines, entrance tickets to sleazy night clubs, programmes for second-rate festivals, chewing-gum wrappers, a stained and tattered rent book… Over his shoulder drooped a bag of failures, covering just about everything he had ever attempted. Moving closer to the others he continued: “I couldn’t do without mine. I mean to say - they are my proof of who I am, aren’t they?” He looked round his fellow travellers for support. “You all understand, don’t you?” They understood perfectly. The older travellers had packed the proverbial chip on the shoulder. The


younger ones carried around a variety of trivialities such as ‘unfairness’ and ‘being misunderstood’. There was a sizeable smattering of ‘sulks’. ‘Petty tantrums’ featured in most of their cases. One though, on the edge of the group, was oblivious to what was going on. Elderly and bent, she was intent on stacking her numerous cases in order of size. It was an unwieldy process. Puffing and groaning she heaved and strained. “Perhaps I could help you with that,” Aphrolane suggested hopefully. Her response caused him to take a hasty step back. “Leave it alone!” she snapped. “Nobody’s never helped me – not all me born days they haven’t.” The statement was spat out with a mixture of pride and resentment. “Perhaps if you would just permit me?” in front of the pile of luggage. “You keep yer thieving ’ands orf of them bags,” she screamed. “Them’s MY sufferings – and nobody’s going to take them away.” Her eyes filled with tears. “That’s all I got ter show fer all me years of ‘ardship. Awful wot they done to me, it were…” She was in a world of her own now, struggling to perch a bulging Gladstone bag on top of the pile. It was no use trying to speak to the others; they had moved closer to their own carefully packed bags. An air of distrust pervaded their little corner of the station; all of them intent on guarding against someone else getting hold of their personal grievances. Not one of them cared a jot about the distressed old woman in their midst. Sadly, Aphrolane turned away and left them to it. Without warning, uproar exploded behind him. Once more the door of the ticket office burst open. With a roar, the bad-tempered man who had arrived earlier on the scene erupted onto the platform, dragging a heavy trunk towards his already sizeable pile of luggage. A few people murmured greetings, but he ignored them. His only thought was to get what he felt life owed him, namely the most advantageous place available. When that *!!* train arrived he wanted a good seat, facing the engine and with plenty of leg and luggage room. He Aphrolane pursued the matter tentatively. With surprising agility the old woman leapt defensively


had a reservation for a seat in one of the rear carriages.

These were

reserved exclusively for passengers destined for ‘Just Deserts’. In these you got more space for your baggage. He’d heard there was hardly any up at the front. Call that planning? He snorted as he continued his thoughts and his efforts. If his grumblings gained him the best available, he wasn’t going to give them up! They were part of him now. They showed in his scowl, in his stooping posture, in his shuffling steps and in the glare in his eyes. These looked from right to left, checking that nobody was trying to push him out of his rightful place – the best place. Aphrolane sighed – ‘G.O.M.’ was back on the scene! Quite frankly he expected to see this man here for a long time to come. From past experience he knew that to reason with him would be useless. as normal. Now who else was here? Had he missed any new arrivals? It was not long before he spotted another gathering of quite well dressed folk with more stylish suitcases piled up beside them. At least this lot were talking to one another! Quite animatedly, too! He wandered over to them, smiling his warm greeting as he studied the contents of their luggage. Here was something he had not seen before - nothing unpleasant at all! Everything good quality, neatly and carefully packed. And then he had it! ‘Treasured Memories’! That was what he was seeing! A few, like the birth of a child, its first words, early steps, booties, rattles and other infantile memorabilia were beautiful and worth taking on life’s journey. Pity, though, that such memories were tied to the mother with so much pink ribbon! Although she had left no room in her case for new developments, he didn’t think it would be hard to encourage her to take an onward journey. Other memories, however, would only cause trouble. and ailments. Take, for example, that lady who was carrying round her child’s failures, tantrums An older woman had all her husband’s certificates, gold trophies and fat bank statements wrapped in layers of foolish pride. One of He was always surprised how other travellers accepted this behaviour without retaliation. He could only suppose many of them saw it


the men clutched a very impressive case filled with high position, eulogies, medals and handshakes. All were carefully polished, wrapped in egotism, and packed with reverence. Old clutter that had served its purpose. It was time to move on. Could Aphrolane persuade them? He wandered over and, smiling congenially, congratulated them on their achievements. They were so thrilled with his praise that none questioned how he knew about their possessions. But when he suggested moving on to something else, something more adventurous, all declined. There were lots of excuses. They could not be sure of further success. What if people stopped being impressed? Supposing they had to think for themselves! They patted their shining cases fondly and muttered amongst themselves about this stranger with the peculiar ideas. Only one looked doubtful, for her treasured memory was of a deep grief. Gwendolyn was tired of the feeling. Tired of trying to remember the person she had lost so long ago. Tired of not having a life of her own. Nobody noticed when she detached herself from the group, left her case on the platform and went over to speak to Aphrolane. Gently he listened to her story, allowed her tears to fall, and then led her to a seat further up the platform. From one of his many pockets he pulled out a square of clean cloth which he spread on the seat to cover the smears of impatience that were hard to remove. She smiled her tearful thanks and sat down, grateful to be left alone. Understanding perfectly, Aphrolane turned away. He would return for her when the train was due. Turning his gaze once more to the now busy platform he spotted another group of travellers, huddled together as though for comfort. They obviously weren’t getting any, because everyone wanted some, but nobody was willing to give it. shapes. Each clutched a rucksack bulging with awkward The Aphrolane gazed into them and his heart nearly broke.

rucksacks were stuffed with a haphazard collection of fears, worries, doubts, rejection, worthlessness. There was more, but it was difficult to make out. It cowered in dark corners and folds, robbed of the energy to seek relief.


Aphrolane wandered over to the group hoping to talk to them. The adults backed away, distrusting his motives. They snatched up their bags, clutching them protectively. It would take many journeys before they chose to put down what had taken them so long to acquire. Some of their sad burdens, he noticed, had taken on the dark spectre of ‘revenge’. That was a particularly difficult one to let go! The children, however, might be more easily helped. Slowly he continued to approach, smiling and chatting amicably. Had they travelled this line before? Where were they heading? If he could be of service, they only had to ask – he was, as it were, one of the station staff and available for help and enquiries. The adults recoiled; the children merely registered incomprehension. He smiled again at them. “Might these help to pass the time while you wait?” he suggested, pulling from another of his capacious pockets a handful of coloured pebbles. “Wot they for?” a small boy with a rucksack full of parental abuse asked warily. “Anything you like to make of them, really,” Aphrolane replied cautiously. “See, - if I think – now what should I think? I know! If I think it would be nice to make some new friends, and that makes me happy, look what happens to the stones.” The children crowded round his cupped hands where the little pebbles began to radiate warm waves of affection. Gently these spread out to enfold everyone in the group. Again the adults backed away. Their life experience had taught them to distrust friendship. wanted none of it. But some of the children, led by curiosity, reached out and tentatively touched one or two of the stones. The effect was magical! Huge grins spread across their faces. Their eyes danced. It was as if a great tide of energy had lifted their spirits and made them grow taller. “Here – take a few,” said Aphrolane, sinking to his hunkers. He loved working with children. They were so responsive! Not so much back-log of Offers of help were usually traps. As for those stones! Trickery – that’s what it was – and they


clutter. Two small hands reached out, curiosity overcoming doubt. At the touch of their fingers the stones came to life. Undulating coloured lights pulsed gently until one by one, the recipients responded in happy synchronisation. “Ooh!” came a chorus of childish voices. “Are they magic? Are you a magician?” “Indeed no,” laughed Aphrolane. “I always carry a few of these His rucksack was around. They’re Reflection Stones. It’s you who work the magic.” “I can’t see myself in mine,” complained Tom. filled with abandonment and loneliness. His body drooped and his clothes hung lank on his small frame. Aphrolane could see he needed more than physical nourishment. “Nor can I.” A pretty little girl, immaculately dressed down to her patent leather shoes, was gazing at the stones in her palms. Her pale blue satin dress was matched by a little designer bag, with the name ‘Amy’ embroidered on it, dangling from her wrist. This, Aphrolane could see, was stuffed full of injunctions never to get dirty, to act like a young lady, to enunciate carefully, to mind her manners and to speak only when spoken to. He approached the doll-like figure, determined to break the spell of impossible standards that held her captive. “You won’t see your face reflected,” he explained, “but if you hold the stones snug and warm in your hands they will reflect the secret wishes you hold deep inside you - whatever it is you really, truly want to do. And if you listen to what the stones are telling you, they will help you find it. Go on - have a go!” Amy shut her eyes, clutched her stones and concentrated hard. Suddenly her eyes popped open in surprise. “I want to turn cartwheels!” she said happily. “So why not?” Aphrolane smiled indulgently. She looked doubtful. “I might get dirty – or tear my dress – or scuff my shoes,” she explained primly. “So?” chorused the whole group, agog for some action.


“Bet you can’t,” said Shereef, whose skin was as black as Amy’s was fair. For him to speak at all was an achievement, for he had been adopted and later rejected. His rucksack sagged woefully on his bony shoulders. He was, Aphrolane thought ruefully, one of the few people who could do with carrying a little more! For the lad was capable of very little emotion, and most of that was bleak and hopeless. But Amy rose to his challenge. As though given permission to open a forbidden box of chocolates, she dropped the offending bag on the grimy platform, tore off her shoes and executed a series of expert cartwheels through the litter. In fact, she cleared a path with her exuberance, leaving a swathe of clean, pleasant platform in her wake. She came up flushed and happy. The bag, when she reclaimed it, was deflated and empty. Her once immaculately groomed hair was but a golden, tangled haze round her beaming face. Nobody was more surprised than Shereef when a small blonde bundle of frills threw her arms round his neck and hugged him. A big white smile spread across his shiny black face. Well, that was easy, Aphrolane muttered to himself. Would that it could always be so. Aloud he said, “There you are then. You can go looking for all sorts of treasures now, can’t you?” A wave of excited chatter broke out amongst the previously morose and silent children. Strange things started to happen. As each one ‘read’ his pebble new ideas and possibilities sprouted like daffodils in spring. Tom, who had been friendless, found himself being clapped on the back, called by name and invited to share the pebbles’ secrets. Shereef, who had been so neglected he had never learned to communicate, found hugs, enthusiasm, happiness - and noise! “That’ll do now,” said Aphrolane, attempting to calm the exuberance he had let loose. “I’ve got another surprise for you. Do you see that lady over there?” and he pointed to where Gwendolyn was still sitting on the bench. “She’s a friend of mine, and she is going on the train. Perhaps you would like to travel with her and keep her company? She’s a little sad just now, and she needs some friends.”


For a while nobody spoke. Not much friendship had come into their lives and few had any idea how to give it. At that moment, Gwendolyn looked up, her eyes dry now and a weak smile on her lips. beckoned her over. From that moment on it was all plain sailing. Aphrolane experienced one of his rare moments of satisfaction. Two problems solved in one go and, it would seem, everyone happy! He would need to reallocate their seating arrangements now; move them further up the train; amend their tickets – destination ‘Golden Opportunities’. Yes, he felt they were all ready for the experience. How he loved a great leap forward like this! It was time to usher them further up the platform, away from the rear coaches reserved for less adventurous travellers. He beckoned to Gwendolyn. With an answering smile, she gathered the children round her. One last look at her late adult companions showed her their indifference to her fate, or that of the children. responded. She waved them good-bye. None Without a backwards glance she shepherded the children Aphrolane

further up the platform. Their rucksacks now light with hope, they flung them carelessly over their shoulders and followed her. Aphrolane, too, cast a hopeful glance at the rest of the group, but it was no use. They had clung to their hurts too long. He started to turn away. But wait a minute! An elderly man had elbowed his way forward. He was gazing wistfully after Gwendolyn and the receding band of excited children. As thoughts of following her example exerted their pull, one of the cases beside him began to lose substance. Aphrolane made to go over to him, but the man hesitated and the case, likewise, delayed its transformation. Aphrolane held his breath. Time waited. Gripped suddenly by resolve, the man again took a step away. Then another, and another, his gaze still intent on Gwendolyn and her charges, his luggage becoming increasingly indistinct as the contents lost weight and form. Another pause. Another change. Both man and case suspended by indecision. Aphrolane, watching, had a vision of wavelets running up the beach on an in-coming tide but, having insufficient energy to complete the task, slipping back out to sea. That case held this man’s whole life. He had


nursed the final hurt for so long it had become his only comfort. Suddenly he made his decision. No, he could not yet bring himself to let go of the contents. Not this time. He turned away to rejoin his group. But Aphrolane could see that what the case held would never be as solid and real again. The seed was sown. It would niggle in the recesses of this man’s mind until it reached equality with his fears. man’s next journey! There was not much time left. Aphrolane took one last glance around him. A smartly dressed group of business people had just arrived and were conferring together in a huddle. Beside every one was a briefcase, which, Aphrolane could see, was packed with carefully formulated plans for power, position, superiority and suchlike commodities. Bright and eager, with the gift of figures and a flare for achievement, they had yet to discover the value of honesty, courtesy and mutual benefit. Some of them were clutching folders possessively. These bulged with the heaving energies of greed, self-aggrandisement and domination. Their owners made a great show of partnership, but this was built on shady deals and mutual distrust. The dark, slimy contents of their pockets showed that none of them would think twice about stabbing another in the back if it served his own ends. Aphrolane felt there was nothing he could do here. Maybe someone had to get hurt first. He could only act when he saw a willingness to change. He turned his back on the group. None of them, he felt sure, had even noticed his presence. But in this he was wrong. He walked away, unaware of a stirring, as if from a profound sleep, in the breast of one. A distant whistle announced the imminent arrival of the train. The sound precipitated a flurry of anxiety and activity as travellers set about gathering their possessions and moving closer to the platform’s edge. Suddenly, through the press of agitated travellers, G.O.M. emerged once more. Yelling for a station employee to get up off his backside and do some honest work for a change, he proceeded to charge through the crowd, using several of his lesser cases as a battering ram. The hapless man who Quietly, imperceptibly, Aphrolane applied a little encouragement to the brew. He had great hopes for this


had answered his command, followed, sweating and swearing, with G.O.M.’s enormous trunk and other belongings. Carving a swathe through legs and luggage they reached their destination ahead of everyone else, taking up position exactly where they knew the door to the most advantageous carriage would be. Aphrolane shook his head in despair. Distracted, he didn’t notice a young man, slightly apart from the main group, looking uneasily in his direction.

The train, when it arrived, was a long one. It was here, at ‘Utter Chaos’, more than anywhere else on the entire line, that movement was the greatest. Such was the clamour to board the train that those wishing to alight had to fight their way off. Many of these had spent long years in ‘Total Lethargy’ and had been persuaded by colleagues of Aphrolane to make some sort of effort. This largely went against the grain and the Anything more struggle that greeted them here did nothing to ease the situation. On the contrary, it resulted in much arguing and complaining. positive took more energy than most of them could muster. On the rare occasions when someone from ‘Desolation’ made it this far, the lights dimmed and gloom hung about the place. Of those waiting on the platform, the few who had shown signs of motivation often gave up the struggle. Only the most determined – and these were usually the most aggressive – undertook the journey. It was a mixed blessing. Saddest of all were those times when hopes were high for someone about to travel onward. The arrival of one from the Darklands could snuff out their resolve. One such person had actually travelled back down the line at the first available opportunity. He had never returned, though Aphrolane always made a point of keeping a hopeful eye open for him. Today however was, yet again, not the longed-for occasion. The few passengers to alight were looking for hotels or boarding houses. The list of these was short, the choice lying between the ‘Righteous Indignation Hotel’, ‘Bide Your Time’ Guest House and a Youth Hostel aptly named, ‘What’s the 49

Point’. All were within walking distance of the station, which was just as well, there being neither transport nor willing hands to assist. Aphrolane watched them dragging trunks, cases, bags and packages across the littered platform and out into the street. He wondered when he might see them back for an onward journey. decision to move onward. The foremost carriages were reserved for those travelling furthest, to destinations such as ‘Mutual Benefit’. This was a popular stop for passengers who had put down most of the baggage that had previously hindered them: people who acknowledged their potential and sought opportunities to improve themselves. Here they would learn the value of sharing and caring; learn new skills and share their own. He sighed. Nobody from ‘Utter Chaos’ would be travelling that far today! A little further back a few carriages were available for anyone Aphrolane might have persuaded to travel some distance towards this goal. In one of these he settled Gwendolyn and the children, assuring them that refreshments would be served soon. A few latecomers who had not travelled before were nervous. They were drawn to the tall stranger who directed them to the seats indicated on their tickets and helped them with their luggage. Wherever he sensed a ray of hope he suggested leaving some of this behind. Mostly his advice was ignored. At times it earned him an angry tirade. There was a lot of jostling and aggression, but always Aphrolane remained polite, patient and smiling. At the back of the train, taking up almost half of its entire length, were a number of scruffy carriages, smeared, like the station itself, with the overuse of irritations, squabbles, deceits and all manner of unpleasant residues. The windows were grimy and the seats uncomfortable from years of abuse. The carriages themselves, however, were roomy. This did not make for extra leg space for the travellers, but was necessary to accommodate the enormous amount of luggage. People tripped over each other’s bags, and grumbled about sharp corners sticking out. Some claimed more than their fair share. Others took up far too much seating space due Not until they get tired of the chaos, he thought ruefully. He turned his attention to those who had finally made the


to the fact that they insisted on having everything they possessed right beside them. It was a selfish, noisy, jostling environment that pleased nobody and only served to swell the tide of complaints. First to climb aboard was, of course, Aphrolane’s bête noir, the ‘Grumpy Old Man’. Shoving everyone out of his way, and followed by the puffing, complaining luggage-bearer, he managed somehow to get all his accoutrements on board. By rights he should have paid extra for the three seats it all occupied, but he was too much for even the most ardent grumbler to tackle. The rest of the dazed, and sometimes bruised, passengers followed him. Eventually all found enough space for themselves and their multifarious belongings. Last to join the train were the businessfolk, still engrossed in plans for personal gain. They pushed their way to the few remaining seats, blind to anything except their own needs. One amongst them, however, had spent quite some time watching Aphrolane talking to an attractive lady with a lot of noisy children. There was something about them that had had a strange, yet not entirely uncomfortable effect on him. He was about to board when, by some new quirk of his vision, he could see that the carriages ahead were brighter. Like a moth drawn to a flame he longed to join the travellers there. He could hear laughter. Happy laughter. Not the laughter of triumph. As the longing increased his luggage began to disintegrate and the contents to leak out and decompose. What was there to stop him? He wandered further up the platform. Aphrolane was quick to spot the changes, and lost no time in helping the traveller move on up the train. There was no time left to assess the situation adequately. It was already a minute past departure time, and the Controller was a stickler for punctuality! With a scribbled adjustment to the man’s ticket he opened a carriage door at random and ushered him in. A quick check of the platform and he boarded the train himself. His next task was to make sure everyone was as comfortably settled as was possible under such trying circumstances. He regarded the sight dispassionately, his only emotion being that of relief.


Meanwhile, the new arrival found himself hailed with enthusiasm. Introductions were made. experience for him! Everyone seemed anxious to help – a new As he took his seat a huge weight fell from his

shoulders. He sat taller in his seat. For the first time in his life he took the trouble to look about him. Most obvious was the lack of clutter. Far fewer bags and cases! Here there was room to move, space to stretch the legs. For some reason he could think more clearly. His mind did not have to pursue endless deals and try to outdo everyone else. He liked it! And then he spotted her! The lady that interesting chap at the station had been talking to! And weren’t those the same children he’d seen following her to the train? He watched as her attractive smile lit up her face. He watched her pretty hazel eyes darting from child to child, helping and encouraging. He watched her auburn curls bouncing on her forehead as she bent to help first this child and then another. They were building things out of brightly coloured stones – castles and roads and houses… He rubbed his eyes. It must be his imagination, of course, but he could have sworn those stones were made of light! The more the children laughed over their He supposed he was tired. After creations, the more the pebbles shone!

all, it wasn’t every day he made such a momentous decision, was it? Should he, perhaps have given the matter more consideration? Calculated the pros and cons? Weighed the matter up? A pleasant haze settled over his usually restless mind. Suddenly it did not seem necessary to answer these questions. For the first time in his life there was no hurry. He closed his eyes and let the sounds and rhythms of travel sweep over him. With groans of effort the great giant strained at its couplings, took up the slack and forced itself into action. It lumbered through the grey clouds of a gloomy day, past sad-looking housing estates, and factories belching out dirty yellow effluent. The sun could barely filter through the murk. In some ways it echoed the effort of his life. The early years when his father –


a man totally lacking in imagination – had been satisfied with nothing short of a hundred per cent success. Always expecting one more step from the toddler. Higher marks in an exam. An extra spurt of energy in a race. Bigger – better – faster - further… The mind-set had driven him on relentlessly. The goals of ambition had led to success, contracts, The train, now at full throttle, glided ownership, position and wealth.

smoothly over the rails. It had done struggling and straining and was now running smoothly. His journey too, from the anxious world of commerce to Aphrolane’s tranquil domain, felt effortless. The word lingered in his mind. It had a soothing rhythm of its own. Effortless – effortless – effortless the wheels told him. Let it all go – let it all go – let it all go – all go – all go… He came to with a jolt. They were slowing down already. Looking out of the window he could see that the clouds had lifted a little and a few rays of sunshine peeped through. Here the house owners had made small gardens with straggly trees and bushes, but it was obvious that nobody took much pride in them. Slowly the lumbering giant eased to a halt. They had arrived at ‘Just Deserts’. As usual, Aphrolane got out, on the off chance a new opportunity should arise to persuade someone to travel further. Sadly he only found himself buffeted by a concerted rush to the exit. What was the hurry? It exhausted him just to witness the eternal struggle with those mountains of luggage. Needless to say, G.O.M. was in the lead manoeuvring a station trolley, piled high with his belongings, through the gates. Still looking sour and disgruntled, he had a lot to say about the way the railway was run. None of it was good. Whatever his plans, Aphrolane felt sure the man would only end up more burdened than he had set off. No doubt, he reflected, most of these travellers felt that they ‘justly deserved’ more recognition for their worth, more sympathy for their woes, or more respect for their acumen. What G.O.M. expected was an enigma. He appeared to be in a mindless battle against the world at large and Aphrolane in particular. The rest of the passengers from the rear coaches hauled their possessions onto the platform. As before, they pushed and shoved,


complained and argued. Nobody helped anyone else. Everyone expected special attention. A fog of dissatisfaction rolled round the platform. The travellers with the flashy luggage made a great show of their possessions. Swirls of selfish rubbish followed them on their way and impressed nobody. Out tumbled the folk with the bulging briefcases, marching purposefully towards the exit. Each one was trying to get to his destination before the others, hoping to get the best deal going. As Aphrolane well knew, here they could only reap what they had sown, and that, apparently, consisted largely of competition and dishonesty. But they were bright people. No doubt they would soon work this out and set off on a more profitable course - in more ways than one, Aphrolane hoped. He was about to re-board the train when he caught sight of the Grumpy Old Lady with her precious load of troubles. The last bag was now so bulky she could not pull it through the door. Aphrolane went to lend a hand. “Gerroff!” she screamed, shoving a bony elbow in his ribs. He looked on helplessly as, with one supreme effort, she yanked at the bag. It burst open, scattering her precious suffering all over the platform. prescriptions, endeavours… mishaps, misunderstanding, broken promises, All rolled aimlessly around in the grime. Pains, failed

Aphrolane’s last

impression was of a demented witch trying to get her life together again and stuff it into a torn and broken Gladstone bag. It was clearly a losing battle, and one she fought on her own, in the lonely space she had created for herself. The last few carriages had been uncoupled, to be left in a siding until the return journey. There was no point in the train itself lugging along There being unnecessary rolling stock just because its passengers did.

nobody joining the train here today, Aphrolane climbed aboard again, choosing the carriage in which Gwendolyn and the children were travelling. It was time he checked on how they were faring. Now considerably lighter, the train moved off with greater ease. Without its burden of discontent it sped through the countryside. This grew


increasingly pleasant. Houses were attractive, their gardens blooming with joyful anticipation. Colours were brighter. Birds sang in the trees. Streets were cleaner and people smiled at each other. And so it was inside the train. Without all the fulminating debris from the rear coaches the air was sweeter and the passengers a great deal more cheerful. The children soon forgot any remaining fears or shyness, and were playing together noisily. The young businessman, however, with his quick appreciation of profit and loss, had noticed that while their rucksacks had had quite a bit of space in them when they got on, now one or two were filling up again. “Squabbles!” explained Aphrolane, laughing. He sat down beside the young man and introduced himself. “Am I glad to have met you!” said the young man. “I’m Andy, by the way,” and the two shook hands. somewhat shame-faced. “Sharp-shooter?” Aphrolane raised an eyebrow. “Yes – well, that was my nickname because I always wanted to make a sharp deal. You know – quick and slick – in and out with the money in my pocket.” Aphrolane said nothing. He sensed this likeable young man was about to find something out about himself. That tended to happen once people had the courage to take the journey. “But I don’t know,” Andy mused. “Lately it all began to seem a bit futile. I mean, what’s the point? It wasn’t the money so much. It was the thrill. It was being first. Beating the others to it. And then, when I saw you on that platform today…” His voice trailed away. Aphrolane waited. “Well, there was something about you that I’d never seen before. You didn’t seem to expect anything from us. Just wanted to be friendly. And I saw the way some of them treated you. You didn’t deserve that. I wanted to come over and talk to you, but people don’t do that where I come from. They keep their ideas to themselves so that nobody knows what they’re up to. You didn’t look like you were doing that. And it felt good. Clean and good. And as soon as I thought about it looking clean, I noticed how filthy “Andy the sharp-shooter,” he added,


the platform was, and how every time someone moaned or swaggered about it got worse. And then I just didn’t want to be part of that any more. I can’t explain it.” “I noticed,” said Aphrolane simply. “You did? How?” “Your clothes were brighter and your luggage had started to fade away. That meant that your old standards had gone misty and would soon disintegrate. They’ll change now, you’ll see. You’ve made room for new ideas.” “So you weren’t surprised when I came over to you?” “Not a bit!” Again Aphrolane sat silent while Andy worked this out. After so many years on the Life Line he was very skilled at rescuing people from their own stupid mistakes! “The thing is, what do I do with myself now? Chasing profit, clinching the deal, getting in first - is all I know how to do.” “I don’t think so.” Aphrolane looked steadily into Andy’s eyes. I’ve been watching you react to those children. What have you learned from them?” “Well, I guess it is great to see them so happy. people laugh before. Not like that – more a sort of sneer.” “They weren’t happy until Gwendolyn took them on. Every one had been hurt by somebody. Mostly it was their feelings that had been hurt. They didn’t trust anyone any more.” “Trust? Aphrolane. “You’re different. I think you mean what you say, and I don’t think you will go behind my back. Is that trust?” “That’s trust, my friend, and that is the price you have paid for your ticket today. That’s how it works on this line. Now I have a suggestion to make. Seeing you are so interested in those children, why don’t you help that lady regain their trust? Get them to trust you. How about that?” “You really think I can? Nobody’s ever trusted me before!” I don’t trust people either. Except…” Andy looked at I’ve never seen


“I think so. Just be honest with them. Don’t hide your feelings. Share your thoughts. Try it!” Before he knew it Andy was part of the group chatting to Gwendolyn and getting to know Tom and Shereef and little Amy, and the others. He pulled faces and made them laugh. He showed them tricks with coins. And then he told them stories about silly people who thought they had hidden their secrets in suitcases and bags. There was a wonderful, magic man, he explained, who could see into the cases and tell whether their secrets were good ones or bad. “What’s a bad secret?” Tom wanted to know. “A bad secret is when you want to be richer, or cleverer than anybody else and you plan to trick them. So you don’t tell them what you plan to do.” “That’s not a very nice thing to do,” Amy said primly. “I wouldn’t be friends with someone like that! So what’s a good secret like?” she asked, moving closer to Andy whom she patently considered a worthy friend. Trying hard to keep his voice steady Andy explained: “Ah well now, a good secret is like when you know something nice is going to happen and you don’t tell because it will spoil the surprise. I guess with a good secret you want the person to be happy, and with a bad one you don’t care if they get hurt.” Gwendolyn smiled at him. wonderful stories from,” she said. Andy did, and he exchanged a knowing look with Aphrolane. “It just seemed to come to me,” he murmured, suddenly feeling the need to blow his nose. Aphrolane decided the time had come to slip away. It was obvious that Andy and the children had found out how to trust and whom to trust. As for Gwendolyn, the grief for the person she had lost had completely evaporated now that she was able to give her love to those who needed it. Her case was already filling up with caring and loving - lighter commodities than grief and pain, and not nearly so space-consuming. Light-hearted “I don’t know where you get such


teasing and story telling took up very little room. She looked up at Andy gratefully. Aphrolane moved on up the train, calling in at every carriage. In one the occupants were sharing their food and drink, swapping news of their travels and achievements, giving good advice. The nearer the front he got the more peaceful the atmosphere became. The wearisome jostling for position was conspicuous by its absence. There was no more aggression. Pleasantness and consideration filled the spaces where suspicion and self-importance vied for attention in the rear compartments. pity. Active interest in another’s achievements prevailed, rather than lethargy or selfCreative ideas bounced back and forth between travellers, like a rejuvenating game of tennis on a summer’s evening – warm, happy, invigorating, and immensely satisfying. He was tempted to linger, but he could already feel the train slowing down for the next station. Aphrolane liked ‘Fresh Breezes’. It lived up to its name. A cool, clean wind blew gently across the rolling plains and dislodged the cobwebs of old habits. It was here that he always noticed the drabness of his coat begin to brighten and take on more of its normal, pristine colouring. Of course, as he well knew, the new arrivals did not refresh themselves automatically. They had to be ready to face such a ‘spring clean’! He considered those harbouring their treasured memories to be at this point in their journey. For all their concerns and fears Aphrolane felt that, for many, these were more habit than fact. Perhaps, he hoped, the wide open spaces and refreshing breezes here would cleanse the last sticky bits of doubt and set these people free. He made his way to the carriage, where they sat nursing their treasures. These, it seemed, had to be handled extremely carefully for fear they might shatter and be no more. Their owners wore worried expressions and kept their distance from other travellers who might, inadvertently, damage a memory or two. Aphrolane slipped off the train to help down those who found their luggage difficult to handle. He watched their expressions of surprise as cumbersome bags and awkward packages melted in their arms. In this place


of refreshment and release, these were becoming increasingly fragile and unstable. It required considerably more effort to hold on to them than to let them go. Nevertheless, he could already pick out those travellers who were likely to find this place too much of a challenge, and would be catching the next available train back to ‘Utter Chaos’. He could only suppose they felt safer there, clinging to their past. Only one person was waiting here to board the train. Yolanda was a promising young girl in the first flush of womanhood, whom Aphrolane had brought this far on his last trip. He had noticed her wandering alone amongst the clutter at Utter Chaos, and it had not taken him long to realise that only her confusion had brought her to such an unsuitable place. Like a suffocating cloak it wrapped her in uncertainty and a strange embarrassment. She was different, she had explained to Aphrolane when he befriended her. Not like everyone else. Perhaps there was something wrong with her? Was that why nobody liked her? She had been clutching a folder, bulging with certificates of merit and distinction. No mere ‘treasured memories’, these! They were her life. Her essence. For in the musical world she had natural talent and shone at everything she tackled. Fellow students, their teachers and parents felt intimidated. How was she to know that what she was running away from was other people’s jealousy? And so he had issued her a ticket to ‘Fresh Breezes’, and a chance to blow away her fears and unveil her confidence. And look at her now! Before him stood a young woman free of the opinions of others, confident of her abilities and raring to go! Wherever that was, he was here to help her. With a broad smile of welcome he ushered her into the carriage with Gwendolyn and the others. They were destined for the next stop on the Life Line. As yet Aphrolane had not quite decided the best outcome for Yolanda, but for the moment his young ward would at least feel part of a family. A happy outcome indeed! He left them making introductions and watched the energies of friendship flow from one to the other. The noise, the chatter, the laughter


and the screams of delight from the children rose to a crescendo. Aphrolane was quite glad to shut the door on it all! The train rolled comfortably on through increasingly pleasant countryside. The very wheels sounded more at ease as they rumbled contentedly over the rails. The buffet trolley came round and served the promised refreshments. It was a good time, now that the troublemakers had all left. At this point in the journey there was a long stretch of line without stops. Ample time for drinks and snacks. When signs of civilisation began to appear once more passengers could see, over the tops of the trees, the graceful rooftops, towers and chimneys of a sizeable township. Quietly the shining engine slowed to an imperceptible halt as it delivered those on board to ‘Golden Opportunities’. Aphrolane had already helped his charges to clear up their rubbish: food wrappers, drink cartons, discarded fears, unhappy memories and so on. The children hoisted their rucksacks onto their backs. friendships and a few precious, glowing pebbles. The little party jumped eagerly from the train that had been their haven of new friendships throughout the journey. Aphrolane smiled. Little did they know that further education awaited them here. After serious consideration, he had decided Yolanda would be better placed even further up the line. It was sad to watch her saying goodbye to her new ‘family’. He could see how much their friendship meant to her and it had not been an easy decision to make. But overall, he had decided, she was ready for the next step and should be encouraged to take it. After a short discussion she had agreed. After all, he assured her, there was no reason why she should not visit them whenever she wanted. The trains were frequent enough and she did not need him to escort her! And so the decision was made. Into Gwendolyn’s and Andy’s hands he pressed a town map and pointed out a building labelled simply ‘Academy’. His advice was to make for that. There, he assured them, they would be given accommodation and opportunities to learn all manner of things. They would meet lots of people These no longer bowed down their frail shoulders, but held a wealth of jokes, stories,


who, like themselves, were anxious to open new doors in their lives and make new discoveries. Not one of them wavered in their enthusiasm to take this new step. With hugs and waves, smiles and happy shouts he watched the little band set off in the right direction, Andy and Gwendolyn holding the hands of the youngest, the rest hopping and skipping alongside. In the distance, he could see the impressive towers and turrets of their destination. Just visible was the huge arch over the entrance. The letters on it were not legible from this distance, but Aphrolane knew what they said: this was the ‘Academy of Bumps and Bruises’. As he climbed aboard the train once more, he wondered what they would make of that. It was, he had always thought, a little daunting. But actually, few people noticed the wording when they first arrived. Their gaze was fixed more on what lay through the archway, rather than what was written above it. He turned into the carriage where Yolanda had already settled herself. He had intended to talk to her and help ease her loneliness, but she seemed enthralled by the scenery, already gliding past the window with increasing speed. Her eyes were aglow with anticipation and, he could see, she was already sensing what lay ahead and savouring it. Well, he would not interrupt. He would just sit quietly where he could keep an eye on her. It suited him to have a few moments to himself to reflect on his busy day. He settled himself into one of the comfortable seats and let his mind wander over the events of the journey. When his ruminations reached the stage where Andy and Gwendolyn had left his care he tried to envisage what might be happening to them now. It was easy for him to picture this, for had he not come via the same route himself? reminisce. The first thing that struck those who rolled up at the iron gates and long drive was the incredible ordinariness of the place. Some had anticipated a forbidding medieval manor; others expected grey prison walls, bars and locks; many thought the name was a joke, hiding bouncy castles, distorting mirrors and trick furnishings. He closed his eyes to


Nobody was ever prepared for easily opening gates and doors, welltended grounds, pleasant rooms, courteous staff and an altogether excellently run establishment. All relaxed into the agreeable surroundings and atmosphere. Any doubts or forebodings melted away as snow carelessly fallen on a desert. New arrivals felt at home before the first delicious meal was served up in the great hall. The situation was conducive to friendly conversation. been forged. Aphrolane smiled to himself as he imagined his charges doing just this. He hoped that, with his laid-back manner, they would have It wasn’t as if there was any set timetable. Pupils were free to While such approached the Academy without any concerns. wander about the town amusing themselves in whatever way they fancied. If they thought this meant an idyllic life they were wrong. freedom gave them the right to roam, it was in the very nature of this place that their footsteps would lead them to the lessons life most needed them to learn. Those whose baggage still contained false pride might find themselves in circumstances, which they found humiliating - perhaps in the company of someone infinitely brighter or more self-confident, better looking or more successful than themselves. Anyone who harboured even the merest trace of cruelty or indifference often suffered unexpected misfortune, and found themselves forced to accept the very kindness and support they so scorned. Thus lessons were tailored to the students’ individual needs. Some found this humiliating, considering themselves singled out for criticism and insult. They usually returned whence they had come on the first available train, supporting each other with mutual grumbles. Most, however, whilst suffering the inevitable pricks of conscience, bowed to the wisdom of their mentors. They went on their voyages of selfdiscovery, and discussed their findings with those wiser than themselves. Some, he reflected, had arrived at the Academy afraid of everything and everybody. Their education had been to learn self-worth. Others, on the By the time coffee was served many new friendships had


other hand, needed to be knocked off their self-created pedestal. These poor souls had to recognise their right to be worthy of one! There was always help and support on hand for the sincere, however slow they may be at learning their lessons. It was a joy to witness those who threw away their prejudices and their pride sufficiently to earn, eventually, a place on an onward journey. Aphrolane felt that his friends who had followed his directions today would soon be in this category. Not immediately, of course. They needed time to adjust and learn the necessary lessons. He hoped they would weather the bumps of unexpected obstacles well, and not feel too bruised by the shocks that were the only way to propel many out of their set patterns. Looking back at his own reactions he wondered at how he could have ever have thought such lessons painful. From his present, more advanced perspective it was plainly obvious that all were designed for the good of the recipient. Aphrolane had learned, in those far off days, that each of us has a place in the scheme of things. Not only a right, but also a duty to fill that place fully and radiantly. Such thinking turned his mind once more to the little group he had grown so fond of. It might have been supposed that those who had already suffered damage and neglect, as had most of the children in Gwendolyn’s care, would hardly need further bruising. But for them, he realised, the bumps of life would now consist of the many challenges needed to grow their confidence and to rekindle trust in themselves. It would be hard to watch their growing pains, but he had every confidence that Gwendolyn would do so with loving patience. For her this would also be a period of growth. She had needed to let go of her own sorrow in order to help them heal theirs. Andy’s support now. She realised, he knew, that without her own pain she could not have understood theirs. And she had Aphrolane had no doubt but that their ‘chance’ meeting was no coincidence at all! As the train drew into ‘Mutual Benefit’ Aphrolane tapped Yolanda gently on the shoulder. “Time to get off now,” he told her, but she seemed to know. She slung her small bag lightly over one shoulder and jumped


down onto the platform.

Following her, he bent to give her a parting hug.

“You know what this is about, don’t you?” he asked. “Oh yes!” She laughed up at him. “I’m going to meet people like myself and we’re going to share what we’ve got. I want to make music in a big orchestra. I want to sing in a choir. I want to discover the secrets of the universe. I want…” “Hey, hold on a minute!” Aphrolane laughed. I’m sure you’ll do all that, but one thing at a time. Now do you know where to go?” The first sign of doubt crept across her face. “All right, I’ll introduce you to a good friend of mine – happens to be the station master here. He takes care of all my protégés. You’ll be in safe hands with him. Stephan?” Out of a cheerful office lit by a welcoming fire stepped a bewhiskered, fatherly man. There was no more for Aphrolane to do. In Stephan’s care he had no fears for the young lady. She was going to find people with whom she could share what she had to offer to the mutual benefit of all. Personally, he looked forward to the first concert! For the last time on this journey he climbed back onto the train. He felt clean and wholesome again. Looking down at his cloak he could see it had regained its normal elegance. He breathed a long sigh of satisfaction. He could have gone into the first carriage and joined his colleagues: others who, like himself, had been working at various places down the line and were now all on the homeward stretch. Instead he chose to stay in the carriage that had nurtured the laughter of children and the healing of shattered lives. He closed his eyes and was not disturbed until the slowing of the train as it drew into ‘New Horizons’. For himself and the other members of ‘The Travelling Brotherhood’ there was not another assignment scheduled. They would be notified in ample time to make arrangements when the next one was due. meantime he had plenty to occupy him. He made regular visits to the Academy and was delighted to find all his charges had settled in and were enjoying their new lives. It was not long before Gwendolyn and Andy had completed their transition, leaving behind In the


the old values of their earlier lives. ideals.

Both learned fast and had similar

These they polished and practiced till the time came for their Some might choose to call their estate a marriage. A union of goals

graduation. That completed, they elected to stay on as members of staff. and vision there certainly was. Together they set up a small community. At first it was a modest house, but in time a thriving complex of homes where children and young people could recover from a traumatic journey. Not all their charges responded as easily as had the early few. company, and so successful in their work. He attended Yolanda’s first concert. fruit. He’d made enquiries from time to time about others he had tried to help, but little news leaked out of the lower regions. There were one or two, he’d heard, whom he last saw alighting at ‘Fresh Breezes’, who might be considering an onward journey. He looked forward to a reunion with them. It was, as it turned out, not Aphrolane who would have this pleasure. Of late a vague restlessness had come over him: not exactly dissatisfaction, more a question of a shift, a change of emphasis. He found himself gazing often to the distant hills. The countryside there was referred to locally as ‘The Land Beyond the Far Horizon’. To Aphrolane, whose clear vision could often detect more than others, it was ‘The Land of Light’. Daily, now, this awareness of light was increasing. It tingled with a new energy and wider vision. It drew him like a magnet. On a still, barmy evening, when such feelings were strong in his mind, his footsteps led him down a path, which bordered a little stream. The water, he mused, had no doubts as to its destination. Like himself, it didn’t know where that was, yet it had the courage of its convictions and flowed on…and on…and on, relentlessly seeking its goal. It would go round any obstacles, never losing its impetus or vision. Aphrolane looked up at the deepening sky. The moon was rising above the dark clouds. The evening was turning silver and purple. And She, too, was happy and thriving. He was pleased to see his judgement had been right and bearing Nevertheless it always did Aphrolane’s heart good to see them so happy in each other’s


very, very still. It was as though the land all around him was holding its breath. As though a birth was imminent. Far, far away he heard a faint whistle. A train’s whistle! He began to walk towards the station, curiosity quickening his paces. direction. It had come from the hills. By the time he reached the station his mind was recalling strange tales of local folklore. It was said that when the traveller was ready, out of the mist a train would come and that it would be heralded with a far-away, ghostly whistle. Nobody he knew had ever known such an event. All trains ran on time according to a pre-arranged schedule. A slight haze hung over the empty platform. It did not strike as damp or clammy, but was more in the nature of shrouding the area in a private mystery. Unhesitatingly Aphrolane walked into its sheltering embrace. The strange fancy took him that it welcomed and nurtured him. The whistle again! Closer now. Aphrolane looked down and saw that his cloak had taken on the rich purple and silver tones of the night and its moon. In his pocket his fingers curled round the few remaining pebbles. He took them out. One or two were dull and lifeless. Without hesitation he discarded ‘self-satisfaction’ and ‘discouragement’. transparent, crystalline gems. As the beautiful silver engine emerged from the mist and rounded the bend, Aphrolane stepped forward to meet it. He did not doubt for one The rest became To his knowledge no train was due. Besides, the whistle had come from the wrong

minute that it would take him onwards to the Land of Opportunities.




Joseph was three years old, and he had a ‘Knowing’. It wasn’t a dream, and certainly it was not something anyone had told him. Nor was it in any of the bedtime stories his Mummy read to him. He knew what he knew deep inside himself; in a place he could find whenever he wanted to. He called it the ‘The Secret Place’, partly because having a secret made him feel special, but also because the place itself did not seem to be in any particular part of his body. Like the ‘Knowing’, it was just there, in its own world of feelings and understanding. By the time he was six he understood it better. When he went into his Secret Place he got a feeling of warmth, as if the sun and stars shone their light inside him. It was a happy place, and he tried to share it with his friends. But they only put their fingers to their heads as they looked at one another and laughed. He tried asking his parents and teachers, for adults know everything and would surely be able to show him how to find the ‘sparkly thing’ he did his best to describe. But he couldn‘t make them understand. Perhaps he did not yet know the right words? When he was bigger he would be able to explain better. As his vocabulary improved and his ‘Knowing’ grew he was able to convey his sense of a quest – a search he had to make for a bright jewel that sparkled and twinkled just out of reach. He described it as a light inside him that guided him. He told them of its wisdom and of how he knew he could trust it till the end of time.


At first they thought the notion was ‘cute’ and that he would grow out of it. When he didn’t they explained it away as ‘a vivid imagination’. All children have their special friends, they said, but they have to learn to live in the real world – to study and take responsibility. He should give up this silly nonsense and apply himself to his education. And so, as the years went by, Joseph passed through the educational system and spoke no more of special places and lights inside him. Clearly they were right. He was an oddity. His adult perception joined that of his peers and he tried to stamp out these strange childhood fantasies. When those who had known him as a child reminded him of his ‘wacky daydreams’ he roared with laughter, anxious to prove that he was as normal as they were. Thus he enjoyed his popularity and his scholarship, acquitting himself well. With other eighteen-year-olds he entered university where he applied himself diligently to the study of the earth’s crust. Where no courses were available he enlarged his understanding with private reading. There was something about natural phenomena that never ceased to intrigue him: volcanic activity, ocean currents, weather patterns, the balance between rain forests and deserts, polar ice caps and global warming. The list was endless. But the area that most intrigued him was mineralogy. captured his imagination. Something about the formation of clear crystalline deposits inside dull, rough stones The way the light caught their shiny facets, showering the world with rainbow sparkles rang a distant bell in his mind. Occasionally, he would try and trace the thread to its origins, but this always led him to an uncomfortable feeling he never could name. There were elements of ridicule and disgrace. Of being misunderstood and lonely. Of something beautiful being trampled on and desecrated. He didn’t go there very often. There was enough in his life now to keep his mind fully occupied and happy. He graduated with a first class honours degree, delighting his family who had at one time doubted his normality. When he came to seek employment, doors opened easily for him and he was soon engaged in work


he loved. By the time he was twenty-three he had his own flat, a generous circle of friends, and a fulfilling social life. In his work he travelled widely, and within a few years had reached consultancy level. Wherever he went he took advantage of every Everything held its own allure and opportunity to study the local landscape, whether it was ancient barrows in Wales, or the pyramids of Egypt. mystery. Had he stopped to think about it, he might have realised that he was inevitably drawn to something which had a mystery to solve. locked out of reach. The old feeling of life’s quest tugged at his subconscious, but was always kept safely Joseph did occasionally wonder why his thirst for discovery was never satisfied. He put it down to the fact that life was, after all, an adventure, and every aspect should be explored At the age of twenty-five he discovered love in the guise of a young lady he met on one of his field courses. She belonged to a team excavating an ancient burial ground in the hot Egyptian sands. He could not help but notice stray strands of blonde hair glinting in the blazing sun. Long, tanned legs clothed in the briefest of shorts. The curve of her shoulders, barely covered by the straps of her sun-top. All these created turmoil is his solar plexus. Watching her at work was ‘poetry in motion’. The exquisite care The with which she brushed away the sand tugged at his heartstrings.

passion she put into her work and her enthusiasm at every new discovery fired his veins. But the moment when her little trowel worked loose the last remnant of sand from a jewel-encrusted dagger, releasing a piercing shaft of twinkling light from the darkness, was the moment that set his world aflame. She glanced up and their eyes met in mutual excitement, though whether at the find or because of their own unspoken bond remained unclear, and neither of them cared to address the question. As luck would have it, she lived not far from his place of work in England, and they fell into the habit, when both were in the country, of meeting at the corner café for a quick lunch. When their leisure times


coincided they went to theatres, clubs, cinemas, on picnics, horse riding… In short, they were inseparable companions with not a few moments of secret passion stolen when the world at large was not looking. Life was, it seemed, complete. Overflowing even. The seriousness of the situation began to dawn on Joseph, and he wondered if he – if they – were ready to commit themselves to one another in a declared partnership. The time appeared right for a serious talk. He was due to go abroad again in a few days time. What could be more natural than a romantic evening before his departure? They had a lunch date at their little café the very next day. He would invite her then. With a spring in his step, Joseph entered the café. He had, unusually, booked a table, because he particularly wanted the one in the recess out of the main body of the place. He was, naturally, early, and gave the little bunch of flowers he had bought to a waitress, asking her please to put them in a vase for him. Middle of the day or not, this was to be a romantic meeting – prelude to the special evening he planned. Though ostensibly studying the menu – a fairly useless occupation, as he knew every item on it – he glanced, every few minutes, towards the door. The atmosphere seemed warmer than usual. He loosened his tie and took a sip of water. The place was filling up. The waitress came up and asked if she could get him anything. In order to justify taking up a table, he asked for a lager and some crisps. Should he order a meal? He could pretty well guess what his blonde goddess would want. the last thing he intended! The lager was drunk and the crisps eaten when his mobile rang. Damn! He had meant to switch it off. Good job it had rung now, though, then he would be sure to switch it off after taking the call. He was not planning on any interruptions once she finally arrived. could she be? “Hello – Joseph here.” Her happy voice flowed down the line. “Joseph, darling, I know you won’t mind, but Andrew has just asked me to make up a foursome at the Where on earth No, best wait till she arrived, or it would look as if he were trying to rush the meal, and that was


tennis club this afternoon.

I’m phoning from there now.

There’s a

tournament in the offing and he wants me to be his partner, so I’ll be a bit taken up for the next couple of weeks. See you when you get back from – where is it you’re going this time?” “Mexico. But listen…” “You don’t mind, do you? You’ll like Andrew. He’s great fun. Got to dash now. ‘Bye.” The line went dead. It was a moment when time stood still and the earth stopped turning on its axis. Day ceased to follow night and it was evident the stars would never shine again. “….if it wouldn’t inconvenience you?” Joseph looked up. The old lady was looking at him with enquiry in her deep grey eyes. In one hand she held a cup of tea, and in the other a plate with a cheese sandwich on it. Over her left arm hung a weathered leather handbag and a walking stick. “I was saying,” she repeated, “that there isn’t a seat to be had, and I wondered if I might take the spare chair at your table – if it wouldn’t inconvenience you?” Making a supreme effort to come back to everyday reality, Joseph managed to blurt out that he didn’t mind at all. The seat was not taken, and please to feel free to sit there. The elderly lady put down her cup and saucer carefully and methodically, followed by the plate with the sandwich. Then she hung the walking stick over the back of the chair, unbuttoned her coat and arranged herself on the chair opposite him. Nothing about her was remarkable, but she exuded a kindly aura and Joseph felt that if anyone had to join him at this particular moment he was glad it was her. Anyway, he wasn’t staying, was he? He’d just linger long enough so that it didn’t look as if she had driven him away. An hour later the café had virtually emptied. Only the young man in the recess and the old lady remained in earnest conversation, though, thank goodness, they seemed to be making a move to go. The other tables were


cleared and set for afternoon tea, and the waitresses were used to an hour’s break at this time of day.

A strange lethargy settled over Joseph during the following weeks. Once again time lost its impetus, only this time it settled into a prolonged, slow drag with no apparent desire to move forward into tomorrow. Joseph completed the trip to Mexico. prove satisfactory. He hoped his report would Somehow he could not inject into it his usual

enthusiasm. The facts were there, but the sparkle was not. Would they notice? Did it even matter? He tried to phone ‘She of the Blonde Locks’, but her mobile was never switched on. He had a couple of lunches, alone, at the little corner café, but suddenly it seemed dowdy. The food, though the same as ever, was less than exciting. He found himself another venue. A few weeks later she contacted him, full of apologies for the delay. She launched straight into the story of how she had met Howard at the tennis tournament. Howard was a fellow archaeologist. He’d actually been on the same dig in Egypt, but as it was so big they hadn’t bumped into each other. Wasn’t that amazing? Anyhow, they had never stopped talking since – you just wouldn’t believe it! He’d invited her to join him in a private trip he was making into the Amazon rain forest. What an opportunity! Not to be missed, was it? She was sure Joseph would want her to go. Oh, and by the way, how had the Mexico trip gone? Joseph put the phone down and consulted the pace time had adopted now. To his surprise, it seemed to have perked up a bit. It was a pleasant evening and a stroll might be in order. The weather had been mild of late but tonight there was a coolness in the air. shrugged the coat over his shoulders. Best put on a jacket. He He Don’t forget the door key.

dropped it into his pocket and pulled the door shut behind him. An hour later, having wandered pleasantly but aimlessly round back streets he never knew existed, he put his hand in his pocket to retrieve the


key. Something else in there! He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. What on earth? Once inside he switched on the light, sat at a table and smoothed out the little note. In an old-fashioned, spidery writing it read:

Follow the Crooked Lane. Where the light strikes you will find the man who makes light out of darkness. He will give you a priceless jewel. Tell him Henrietta sent you. P.S. In case you have forgotten – we met at Life’s Turning Point.
Henrietta? Who the hell was Henrietta? And how had she, or anyone else, managed to slip the note into his pocket? Why, he hadn’t even worn the jacket since… Since when? Probably not since he had visited the little café full of plans to propose. The weather had been exceptionally mild since then. He started to screw the screw the note up when he caught sight of the reverse side of the scrap of paper: 1 x lager 1 x bacon crisps 1 x tea (white) 1 x cheese sandwich (no tomato) Obviously the waitress had assumed they were together and put everything on the one bill. He vaguely remembered paying the bill. “Oh, you’re too kind. Too kind. Thank you so much,” she had said the little old lady. Was she Henrietta? His hands came to rest on the table, 74

still clasping the bill. A quietness filled the room, and his mind. The same thing had happened while they talked. that. She had muttered on about her He friend who – what was it? – worked in a jeweller’s shop? Something like His heart had been too busy breaking to take much notice. seemed to remember trying to give polite and, hopefully, sensible answers as she rambled on. Most of the time he hadn’t actually looked her in the eyes, in case she saw the pain in his own. He had just kept them riveted on the crook of her walking stick where it hung over the back of her chair. Actually, it had intrigued him despite his distress, for it was no ordinary cane. The hooked handle was carved out of a rich, dark wood, highly polished and intricately carved. Amongst the vine leaves and twisting stems the letter ‘H’ was cleverly woven. Henrietta! So when had she written the note? He cast his mind back over the events of their brief meeting. She had done all the talking as she sipped her tea and nibbled her sandwich. He remembered being grateful she had not bombarded him with questions. In fact he had told her nothing about himself. Had barely uttered more than a polite: “Oh really?” or “Is that so?” It had seemed to keep her happy until her small meal was finished. He had paid the bill, and she had thanked him. Then he had excused himself and popped to the gents. When he came back she was gone. And, yes, that’s right, he had picked up his jacket from the chair back and left, his life in ruins and the future without purpose. He had never given the old dear another thought. Privately he had thought her a little batty, and he was none too sure that this note didn’t prove it! Why, she’d even got the name of the café wrong. It was called ‘Lily’s Trading Post.’ eyesight was fading. How could anyone turn that into ‘Life’s Turning Her glasses looked antiquated! He shook his head Point’? Getting past it, he supposed. Poor old dear! Either that or her sadly and let a wry smile creep round his lips. Well, at least he was smiling! Life moved on in its own, uninspiring way. They sent him to Greece to monitor an archaeological dig there and report on anything interesting. It had not proved very exciting, and he had kept his eyes off any attractive


female on the site. A year later he had completely forgotten his broken heart, and very nearly who caused it. She sent him a post card from time to time, but eventually those stopped and he was in charge of himself once more. It felt good! Somehow he was his own person once more. And there was something else, now he came to think about it. Having put down all ties with the past a new space had opened up in front of him. He felt different – as if he had shed a huge burden and was free. Some familiar feeling from way back in his childhood began to surface. There was a sort of ‘Knowing’ inside him that he couldn’t explain. This time, however, there was nobody to laugh at him, or to worry that he was in some way abnormal. He let the feeling flourish and followed anywhere it led him. At the moment it told him to keep his mind open. That something was just round the corner. Not just yet, the feeling said, but quite soon. Wait and watch! He tried searching with his eyes, with his mind, with his reason, but nothing lit up the secret place inside him. He waited. And he watched. How long was ‘soon’? Time in this inner realm seemed to move differently, and during the few weeks since he had first had the feeling, the expected revelation had not happened. Mulling this over, one autumn evening, he pulled the curtains against the gathering darkness, switched on the light and seated himself at the table where he had earlier been making notes on the Greek trip. A piece of blank paper lay in front of him. Without much thought he picked up a pen and began to doodle the drift his mind was taking. So what had his life amounted to? Had it been a success or a failure. Probably somewhere in between. He started at the beginning and jotted down, Start Of Life’s Journey. He wondered vaguely why he had started every word with capital letters – as if it were the title of a book. It had just seemed right at the time. He shrugged and continued to scribble.


Primary school. Secondary school. Prize for science. University – first class honours degree. First job. Promotion. Consultancy posts. Moved to London – own flat. Travelled all over the place. Interesting! Egypt – met love of my life. Back to base. Lost love of life. Depressed. Met Old Lady – Henrietta.
Now what on earth had made him put her on the list? The now

familiar quietness entered the room, and in his secret place he was aware of an amused smile. What was so funny? He looked down at the paper and found he had not actually made a list. It was more a meandering doodle. Picking up his pen once more he added a few goals for the future, including ‘meet soul mate’. Then he let his pen wander to the bottom of the page. Here he wrote ‘Journey’s End’ How odd! He needed a bit of space to think about this. He wandered through to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. Normally it might have been a glass of red wine, but somehow tonight he understood he needed his head crystal clear. Coming back to the table and seeing the wandering journey of his life through fresh eyes, a thought struck him. It was rather like a meandering pathway. Hastily he put down the mug of coffee and retrieved the café bill from behind the clock on the mantelpiece, where he had wedged it in case it should ever make sense to him. He turned it over and re-read the opening words: Follow the crooked lane… 77

So that was it! His life was the crooked lane! Well he didn’t have much choice but to follow it, so what had her message meant? So far, if his silly doodle was anything to go by, his life had wandered aimlessly all over the place. He scanned her note again.

Where the light strikes, you will find the man who makes light out of darkness.
Joseph sipped his coffee and sighed. All his life he had been solving riddles – the riddles of nature. Surely this one should not be so difficult to crack? For a split second it surprised him that he should take the Henrietta’s note seriously. But that was his brain talking. Of late he had been rekindling his childhood ‘Knowing’, and that was what made him trust this riddle. Quite simply, he knew it was important. He had finished his coffee and was contemplating something stronger when fragments of the conversation in the café surfaced from the depths of his mind. If only he had listened properly! What had she told him about this jeweller friend of hers? He did something special with stones and crystals. But what? Did he polish them? Set them in gorgeous surrounds? Did he work for a diamond company? Joseph knew quite a bit about those from his career. He had the impression of a shop somewhere. Where? But nothing more came from the confused muddle of phone call, shock, lager and crisps, tea and sandwich, polished walking stick, the background clatter of plates and chatter, and the odd phrase from the old lady, which he had tried to answer politely. It was no use. Enough for tonight. Over the next few months Joseph, now heartened and with a mission in life, put new energy into his archaeological work and was gratifyingly recompensed. This, naturally, was cause for great satisfaction. Less satisfactory was his quest to find the man with the shop. Hours of

painstaking effort went into searching the Internet under any heading his mind would come up with: Jewellers (naturally), Gems, Crystals, Diamonds… He worked his way through those who mined them, those who polished, cut or set them… Large enterprises, private businesses, wholesale stockists… 78

There were thousands to choose from. It was an impossible task. And what about this light that was supposed to strike? A new thought struck him. No light would be detectable by Internet contact. It would need to be a personal search. In which case he needed to get himself out there and look! What could possibly shine light on things? Traffic lights? Headlights? Street lights? Neon signs? Moonlight? A torch? A cigarette lighter? Whenever he was in the country, when his work was done, he drove round the city streets, his list of jeweller’s shops and his map on the seat beside him. For months he worked at the problem until he knew more about the local topography, and the jewellery and gem trades than probably any other living being. Lights had glared into shop windows from without, and out of shop windows from within. Warehouses, where they admitted him, shimmered with flickering neon lights. Craftsmen worked under strong artificial lights, eyeglasses screwed into their eyes. But nothing actually ‘struck’ either the gems or his mind significantly. There came an evening in early spring when, with failing heart, he was making one last tour of the streets he had come to know so well. Without the need to concentrate on where he was, his mind began to wander over the task he had undertaken. Obviously he had misunderstood the whole thing, and Henrietta was as eccentric as he had at first thought her. He’d been make a fool of, hadn’t he? What a waste of time and energy. That was it! He would go home now and put the whole stupid thing out of his mind. His mind clicked back into the present and he realised he was driving on automatic pilot and was utterly lost. Where had he taken the wrong turning? And how far back? He was in a maze of tiny, cobbled back streets that were certainly never made with cars in mind. It was getting late and soon he would not be able to see to read his map. Better pull over, consult it and try to work out were the hell he was. He swung the car round a left hand bend and came to a dead halt in front of a row of black bollards. Well that was it, wasn’t it? Complete dead end. Very symbolic of the end of the fiasco. He smiled wryly. Damn, he


really could not see to read the map. Best get out and see if he could find someone to ask. Slamming and locking the door, he set off down the road behind the bollards. It was unreal! Didn’t seem to have moved into the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first. Quite apart from the cobbles, the buildings were old, tiny and twisted. Captivated, he forgot he was in a hurry to get home, and wandered along its quaint twists and turns. There was nobody to ask, so he kept going. The light was softening into evening’s gentle balm, and the familiar feeling of peace wrapped round him. hadn’t felt that for ages. Not since he had begun this ridiculous caper. In his secret place he felt the smile of amusement. Henrietta was laughing at him! But it was not unkind laughter. More the amusement of a mother when her child takes its first step, wobbles and falls over. There was a satisfaction and pride behind it. Joseph let his feet carry him onward, round yet another bend. One of the little shops was still open. From the deep recesses of its interior a yellow light glowed in the gathering darkness. It could hardly be described as a light that would strike anything significantly. Yet the shop drew him closer. electric, holding a sense of impending wonder. The sun was making its final flight across the sky, illuminating the clouds as it travelled behind the tall, rambling old buildings opposite. From a gap between two of them a golden ray burst forth, striking something in the shop window. Joseph gasped as a brilliant shaft of light shot from behind the glass. In that split second he recognised the crystal formation inside a dull, round stone that had been split open – obviously by a craftsman who knew his job. He gazed into the window. Hard to make out what was in there. He peered closer. The stillness was He

‘Where the light strikes, you will find the man who makes light out f darkness.
Joseph pressed the old-fashioned catch on the shop’s door and let himself in. Walking quietly, hardly breathing, he made his way slowly through the shop, past a set of winding stairs, towards the source of the yellow glow. It came from a room at the back of the building. At the open 80

door he paused, his knuckles curled against the flaking paintwork, ready to knock. Cautiously he let his gaze wander round the crowded room, taking in the old-fashioned wooden chairs (two), the sink in the corner with rusting taps (one dripping), a stained draining board hosting an array of dirty plates and cups (most badly chipped), and a rickety work surface on which stood a battered kettle and the crumbling remains of a packet of biscuits. Scattered randomly on the bare wooden floor were sacks of what looked like stones and pebbles, graded according to size, or possibly type and quality. At the far side of the room another door led, perhaps, to the living quarters or a back yard. Beside the door, hanging on a hook, was some sort of garment. It appeared at first glance to be a long cape, patchworked in what had once been brilliant colours, but which were now dulled with time and dust. In what light entered through the multiple panes of a dirty window, he could see an old man in a leather apron seated at a workbench. On it were the tools of his trade which he used with obvious skill and loving care. Tentatively, Joseph knocked. The old man looked up from his work, pulled his round, wire-framed spectacles down to the end of his nose and looked over them to where Joseph stood, framed in the doorway. “Welcome, my friend,” he said pleasantly. “Henrietta sent me.” Joseph felt he must explain the intrusion. “So she did. So she did, indeed. I’ve been expecting you. By the way, my name’s Joelmaegester. I don’t suppose she told you.” “Er, no,” Joseph admitted. “It means ‘Jewel Master’ in the old language, but of course nobody but me can remember that. You can call me Joel if it makes it any easier for you. Joseph nodded vaguely. Why would he want to call the old man anything? “Come along in, my boy,” the old man continued, beckoning and fussing as he tried ineffectively to clear a space. “Now, I understand from Henrietta you are searching for the rare jewels of life?”


Joseph felt a response was in order, but as he had not really understood the question, got no further than opening his mouth. “You’ve come to the right place,” Joel went on. “Here we train people to become master craftsmen and then to pass their skill on to others. My last apprentice has just left. Your timing is immaculate.” “But…” Joseph wanted to explain he only needed directions to find his way home. That he wasn’t really stopping. That… “Now take a look over here and tell me what you think.” The man led him to an open sack from which a variety of coloured stones had spilled onto the dusty floor. Joseph picked up a rough, angular green one. “Peridot,” he observed. “Saw some of this in its natural habitat when I was in Brazil and Egypt. Should polish up a treat. Or – we could cut it into facets.” Why, he wondered, had he said ‘we’. It was nothing to do with him what became of the stone. No sooner had the thought flitted across his mind than he felt, deep inside him, the familiar ‘Knowing’ of his childhood. He brushed it to one side and picked up another. Green again, only this time a deep bluish green with emerald pieces inset. “Malachite,” he mumbled to himself. “Got the makings of some stunning jewellery. Oh, and look at this piece of Tiger’s Eye!” and he added a piece of stone striped with ambers, ochres and russets. “Imagine a pendant in that!” Soon his hands held a selection of rough stones, some unspectacular to all outward appearances, but in which he could see an inherent finished product of great beauty and worth. murmured. He did not see Joel’s smile and the nodding of his head, for something else on the cluttered floor had caught his attention. Replacing the handful of stones in the sack he bent down to examine what looked like an uninteresting, rough-hewn lump of whitish rock. It was roughly circular and perhaps a foot in diameter. “You going to open it soon?” he asked. Again the little smile on Joel’s lips. “Glad you spotted that, my boy. Yes, I want to do something with it soon, but it’s a bit heavy for me to lift, d’you see.” “Just like people, really,” he


“Wonderful, isn’t it?” Joseph grunted as he heaved the heavy stone onto the workbench. travels. The space Joel had cleared was just enough to accommodate it. “What a beauty! Mind you I’ve seen enormous ones on my I always think that, just like us, you can’t tell from external appearances what lies inside. Just under the surface sometimes. It only needs a little help to crack it open and reveal the precious bit inside.” “Well said, my friend. Well said indeed.” Joel was all but dancing a jig. “Oh my, but Henrietta can pick ‘em!” Joseph completely forgot about finding his way home. By the time they had toured the cluttered workroom and examined samples of topaz, garnet, adventurine, tourmaline, moonstone and a whole galaxy of others, he was hooked. It wasn’t just the stones, or the craftsman’s tools, or the tumbler in the corner painstakingly churning dull stones into shining wonders. Nor was it the joy of finding a fellow enthusiast. Underneath all this he sensed something more profound. Something he was searching for, though he couldn’t put his finger on it for the moment. Only that it had something to do with his ‘Knowing’ and that the situation had at that moment turned full circle. Here, he sensed, he would not be ridiculed. Here, as perhaps nowhere else, he could fully be himself. He looked up and his gaze fell upon the dusty cloak on its hook by the door. Suddenly it felt familiar, important, treasured. But it was just an old, worn garment that appeared not to have been touched for years! He heard Joel muttering to himself. It sounded something like: “All in good time. No hurry.” It was to be a long time before Joseph understood the meaning of those words. For many years to come the cloak hung on its peg until he ceased to notice it. Applying his ‘Knowing’ more deliberately than he had since childhood, Joseph understood that beside this man, in this shop in the crooked lane, his future lay. It was as if a door had opened right in front of him. A door he had been looking for all his life. It meant some sacrifices, of course. A change of life-style. Moving out of the flat that had become so familiar to him as to be a sort of refuge. There were doubts, and not a few fears as he reorganised his life and moved into the small room above the


shop. But never once did he doubt his conviction that this was his true destiny. Once surrounded by his personal possessions he felt better, and any misgivings he may have had on the way were soon allayed when his apprenticeship began. It started with learning more than he had ever thought possible about his favourite subject, mineralogy. He already knew, of course, about the chemistry, countries of origin, crystalline formation and its variations. He could already recognise every one of Earth’s treasures by name, colour and form. Now he learned to polish some to great brightness, to cut others so that their facets shone. Often clusters of the shining colours released from the unpromising lumps of rock were placed in the shop window where the sun’s rays made them twinkle with life. Sometimes these jewels of life were crafted by the two men into exquisite jewellery. “An excellent pupil!” Joel found himself muttering one day. “Henrietta is a wise woman. She can always tell when someone is ready.” “Ready?” Joseph looked up from his work, surprised. “Yes - ready for the journey. Usually happens at one of life’s turning points.” Joseph stopped what he was doing, dumbfounded.

P.S. In case you have forgotten – we met at Life’s Turning Point.
Suddenly he felt ashamed of himself. Not only had Henrietta not been a ‘poor old thing’ mistaking the name of the café, she had been the essence of wisdom. She had known exactly who he was and the point at which his life stood. If only he had listened to her properly! Joel read his thoughts. “Don’t worry,” he said kindly, “Nobody ever does. She’s quite used to it. But she always gets results. Isn’t she a marvel?” Joseph had to agree that she was, and only wished he could be half as wonderful. “One day. We’ll see. Shaping up nicely.” Joseph heard the muttered words and the old, familiar peace wrapped itself round him. He could feel Henrietta, as always, smiling indulgently wherever she was. Dear old thing! And he, too, smiled inwardly over his changed perception of her. 84

Weeks passed into months, and months into years. Through his work, and the teaching Joel subtly wove into it, Joseph absorbed a hidden meaning behind what was going on in the little back-street shop. As he applied what he learned to life itself, and to people, a whole new world opened up. Woven into his tasks was a magical thread, taught by Joel little by little as his pupil was able to understand. The coloured stones, he explained, were Earth’s children – gifts born of its travail. Each had passed through the stresses and strains, pressures and upheavals of the developing earth to attain its present beauty and to sing with its own ‘note’. In a flash of comprehension Joseph recognised this note as his ‘secret place’! This place was not unique to him. Everyone, and perhaps everything, had one - a centre where things just felt ‘right’ - where you held yourself still and just ‘knew’. And in that stillness, it followed, we could commune with one another, as the old man obviously did with him, and with his precious stones. And yet this was odd, because, every stone and every person was different! He discussed this with his mentor. “Oh we’re different all right,” Joel laughed. “No two stones the same, are there? Same with us. But, d’you see, it’s the internal structure, not the external part that is all one. That’s where we store our common bonds. We started from a single thought, but then we followed different paths, didn’t we?” agreed that we did. “Well then, stands to reason – some folks develop fast. Some are slower. Just like our gems here.” Joel picked up a handful of the glowing gems and caressed them in his palm. “You see this one here?” and he singled out one. “It’s been through huge trials and tribulations. Violent changes. Whereas this little fella,” and he selected another, “developed through long, slow, patient growth. Imperceptible changes, but it got there just the same, didn’t it?” Not knowing quite where this was leading, Joseph


“So we should never be impatient with someone who doesn’t seem to be moving?” Joseph observed. “Well reasoned, my friend. I can see you are going to be a master craftsman at all levels. Oh my socks and suspenders - Henrietta does know how to pick ‘em!” He was still chuckling to himself when he spotted something that took his fancy. “Now this one here, look. See, you would never know to look at it, but it has come to this stage by a very devious path. Been a gas, then a liquid dripping inside a cave, and finally a deposit. But they can all be worked on – shaped and polished into something beautiful, can’t they?” “All they need is a Henrietta to discover them, I suppose.” Joseph was thinking out loud, and jumped when the old man leaped up and shouted: “By golly, you’ve got it! Henrietta?” “Pardon?” What was the old fellow talking about? “Well, d’you see, before we can work on the raw material, somebody has to find it and gather it in, haven’t they?” Joseph looked at him from under his eyelashes. “And that’s what you think I should do?” “I’d say you’re about ready.” “And how am I supposed to know who these people are, for goodness sake?” “Oh yes – and who’s been talking about secret places, and knowing things deep inside, and everybody being ‘one’? You seek ‘em out, my boy! You sound the ‘note’ and wait for an answer. When they’re ready you’ll hear it. Not with your ears, of course. You’ll just ‘know’.” How d’you fancy being a

The time came when Joseph himself became a master craftsman and began to teach others his skills - the working of the stones from their crude form into creations of light and colour, and the application of these skills to the lives of people. He was able to work on the world’s most precious stones: diamonds, rubies, emeralds and so on, patiently setting them in silver, gold, and platinum. Such gems were treasured because of their purity and 86

because they were to be found less frequently. Their light shone brighter and their beauty was the greater for it. “Just like people,” Joseph would tell his pupils. And from his seat by the fireside Joel, huddled and bent now as he plied his trade, would smile his quiet, knowing smile. The little shop became increasingly patronised as more and more people found it. Most, like Joseph, had sought answers to their questions among the busy streets and highways of life: noisy, disturbing thoroughfares that only bred excitement, turmoil and in the end, disillusionment. He came to understand that it was at the point when the chaos of it all overwhelmed people (they described it as their lives being ‘in a mess’) that most came upon the Crooked Lane and the little shop. Gradually they discovered that answers to the great journey of life were to be found in quiet backwaters, and that these, it would seem, were often stumbled upon by chance. But of course Joseph knew by now that it was their own ‘note’, searching in the darkness that found the way. When Joel told him he was ready to work with people, there had been a great deal more discussion about the matter. Joseph had trained himself to be alert and listen. It was a habit he got into whether he was working, talking or walking. He well remembered the first time he had heard the call. The ‘note’ had come to him as a mixture of searching, frustration, and something he could only describe as ‘being out of joint’. “Off you go then!” Joel had said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. “How do I find him?” “Oh, so you know it’s a ‘him’? That’s a good start. You’re right, of course. And if you follow this feeling you will find yourself at ‘Life’s Turning Point’. Or, if there is despair present, at ‘The End of the Road’. In this case, though, it is more likely to be at ‘New Beginnings’. There are lots of meeting places, but those will do for a start. Just keep them in mind.” And so he had set off.


He was not Henrietta, and needed to be himself. He listened in to the ‘note’. He did not find despair in it. It was too early in this person’s life for despair. Interesting! Accordingly, Joseph dressed in jeans and a bright, trendy T-shirt. Just as he had the night he found the shop, he drove round the streets, letting himself be drawn to his goal, until he found himself near a pub situated on the corner of Hope Street and Brownways Road. Amazingly, despite the congestion in such a popular area, a parking space presented itself. No longer questioning such things, he slipped into it and fed the meter. A couple of hours should be enough. The door was wide open, for it was a warm, July day, and a noise fit to raise the roof off Hades issued from within. And this was where he was supposed to work? Incredible! He sauntered in just as a huge roar went up. Joseph glanced at the television screen high up in the corner. A couple of sweaty footballers were hugging each other and jumping up and down. Others were running wild round the field, arms raised and clenched fists punching the air. Joseph ordered himself a half of beer and learned that England had just won against Portugal in the World Cup match. The atmosphere was electric! No place for a quiet chat. Besides, there wasn’t a seat, or even standing room, to be had. What had the old man always told him? ‘Patience, my son – wait and watch!’ So Joseph propped himself up against the bar and did just that. His attention was drawn to a table in the far corner, where a rowdy group of youngsters were laughing uproariously – to the obvious discomfort of a redheaded youth who sat clutching his glass as though it were his only friend. As if of one mind, the group got up to leave, clapping the young man on the back and telling him not to worry, he would grow out of it when his beard grew. This struck them as uproariously funny, half drunk as they were. To the obvious annoyance of many, they made a noisy, ungainly exit into the streets to join the roar of the traffic. Nobody seemed disposed to take their seats, so Joseph strolled over. In fact, bells began to ring in his memory of his own So this was a child? Or perhaps a young adult? childhood struggle.


“Anybody sitting here?” he asked rather unnecessarily. “No – er no. Help yourself.” The young man took a sip from his glass. “What’re you drinking?” Joseph asked, more to keep a contact than from curiosity. “Only cider,” came the reply. He nodded towards the door. “They think I’m a cissy, but honestly, I just don’t like beer.” This was Joseph’s lead in. “Nor do I really. Only bought it to cool down. Now I don’t need to drink it to feel one of the men, do I?” They smiled at one another. The ice was broken. “So what were your pals laughing at?” Joseph asked. “Well – promise you won’t laugh too?” Joseph gazed into the deep, blue, troubled eyes and promised. Of course he wouldn’t. He knew this young man’s pain only too well. “Well, I sort of know things, and I told Mark that he needed to spend less time watching football and more studying for his degree, and he said what did I know about it, and I said…” He looked into the depths of his glass. “Yes, go on. What did you say? I’ve promised not to laugh, haven’t I?” The young man looked up and knew it would be all right to tell his story. “Well, I just said that I could ‘see’ him sitting on a fence. On one side was a field full of ripe corn, and on the other a muddy field with nothing growing in it. Well, I like Mark, and I wanted him to, you know, pull his finger out and get on with it. Not spend so much time drinking and looking for birds. You know?” Joseph knew. Oh how he knew! This is what he had felt in the hum of the ‘note’. Here was the frustration. The feeling of being out of joint – of not fitting in with those he considered his pals. searching he had noticed? “Well, I guess that’s Jason’s choice. You did your best. And you were true to yourself. That’s the most important thing.” He paused. “So what do you want to do with your life?” So what about the


“You know, I kind of feel I’m on a journey, but I don’t know where to. Does that sound silly?” No, it hadn’t sounded silly. In the course of their conversation Joseph had been able to boost his companion’s confidence, help him to trust his intuition, and advise him to choose wisely what he passed on, and what he should keep to himself. Being laughed at, he had said, did not matter as long as you knew your message had gone home. Together they had pondered this last thought, and together had felt that, though Jason had joined in the ribald laughter, he had, in fact taken the words to heart. It was just that he didn’t want to lose face in front of his friends and be thought weird. “He will take heed of what you said,” Joseph had assured the young man. “Now you must grow that beard, polish the stone of your inner wisdom and let its jewel shine forth for all to see. Good luck. Call me if you need me. Any time.” The young man thought his way of speaking had turned mighty funny. Nevertheless, he fumbled in his pocket for pen and paper to take the stranger’s mobile number. He felt he might perhaps call him. He’d see how things went. looked up. But there was nobody in the seat beside him. Instead a new group of rather too merry football fans were descending on the free seats. He didn’t know any of them, and anyway, he felt a strange need to be alone and think. Joel was full of praise for Joseph when he returned. There was much slapping on the back and a bottle of wine was opened. Then a second. “Tradish’nal, my boy. An old tradish’n. Can’t let a chap’s firsht mish’n go by without a shuitable shelebrash’n.” Joel had declared, waving the second bottle expansively to the world in general. At last he found what he was looking for. Pen poised he


And so Joseph’s real work had begun. As time went by he left the physical craftsmanship more to the apprentices while he answered the calls from those searching for answers, for encouragement and, at times, for approval. He would meet those who called for help in whatever place and guise best suited their needs. A bewildered person might find himself in what appeared to be chance conversation with a travelling companion on bus, train or aeroplane. Others would meet up with a sympathetic fellow guest in hotel lounges, Youth Hostels, doctor’s surgeries, garden centres or simply while out walking the dog. With very young children he would visit them in their dreams as a playmate, or furry animal. He didn’t work alone now, but with his companion, Alicia. interested in tennis. She wasn’t blonde, didn’t know anything about archaeology, and wasn’t He had met her at ‘Crisis Point’ where a deep depression had led her to attempt suicide. It wasn’t that she wanted to run away from her life; more a desperate need to find out where it had gone wrong. At the time she felt herself to be utterly worthless. She had failed dismally to meet her parents’ expectations that she become a solicitor, in keeping with family tradition. They saw her ‘little schemes’ of helping in soup kitchens, visiting the homeless and consorting with down and outs (the dregs of society, they called them) as a sign that she could not face up to reality and responsibility. Joseph had answered her call – made in the lonely silence of the night – in the guise of a hospital visitor. They recognised and understood one another instantly, without need for introductions. “I knew you’d come,” she said. “I knew you would call me – one day,” he answered, knowing that the last piece of his jigsaw had fallen into place. What was it he had written all those years ago? ‘Find soul mate’, wasn’t it? Now it had happened. From that moment her inner jewel, which had been dull and lifeless, began to glow. Within the week she was discharged from hospital and installed in the hastily cleared box room at the back of the shop in Crooked Lane. Her family disowned her, but where they left off Joseph stepped in, claiming her for his own. They worked separately and in tandem as the


need arose. Alicia’s inner spark grew in strength to a point where it could feed and fire up the dying embers of all those whose light was flickering dangerously low. She had a quiet understanding that people instinctively trusted, and led many from ‘The Brink of Despair’ to a safer place. At the end of their busy days Alicia and Joseph would compare notes on their achievements and disappointments. For there were disappointments. Not everyone who sent out the call recognised the response. Some did not expect one, and so were not looking. Others were afraid to make the necessary move. It was easier to stay in the familiar place, which had caused them such despair. “Perhaps another time,” either Alicia or Joseph would say wistfully, and Joel, from his seat near the fire, would nod his head sadly. He had seen it all before.

Joseph was an old man. The shop was his now. Many years ago he and Alicia had converted the upper story into a flat and made themselves a happy, contented home. Henrietta had called one day, told Joel to pack his things and come with her. He knew it was time and had done as she had said. Not, however, without a string of instructions and advice for Joseph. It was not that he thought his protégé needed any of it; more that he was loath to leave, and wished to linger over the process. He had seen this man blossom from apprentice into fully-fledged craftsman. He had watched him polish the dull jewels of life, find promise in the flawed ones, crack open the rough stones to reveal the treasure within, and bring mature specimens to the height of their glory. He had apprentices of his own he was training up too. One man was coming along exceptionally well. If memory served him right Thomas had found his way here as a result of Joseph’s very first call. Met him in a pub, or something. Very odd! Anyway, he must have handled it well. Joel hadn’t met him personally until the day the lad rang the shop bell. He’d walked in, Joel remembered, with that shock of red hair and those piercing


blue eyes, and simply asked for the man he’d been talking to in his mind. Apparently, Thomas had learned to send out his ‘note’ as a call signal, and to ‘listen’ to Joseph’s replies. Well, well – he was proud of them both. That’s what this place was all about really: finding and understanding wavelengths: notes, thoughts, colours, gems… form they took? And look at the place now? Changes had been made so that it appealed to modern trends, whatever they might be. He’d trusted Joseph and it had worked well enough, hadn’t it? And that young Alicia was a real boon to the place. He had often wondered what would happen when Henrietta could no longer do her work. The place needed a woman’s touch. And she was training others like her. Marvellous! “Come along, my dear.” Henrietta’s voice recalled him from his meanderings. He clasped Joseph’s hand and they hugged as brothers, rather than master and worker. One last task remained to Joel before he left. With some effort he hobbled over to the far door and took the old cloak from its peg, where it had hung as long as Joseph could remember. Rather than accumulate dust, the garment appeared to be rejuvenated. Its colours were bright and fresh in keeping with the renewed enthusiasm, which pervaded the place. Joel placed it reverently round Joseph’s shoulders, passing on the cloak of office to a trusted successor. The garment was not burdensome, but light with the buoyancy of achievement. It sat well, Joel felt, on the shoulders of a worthy successor. Henrietta had come forward to hug him too. ‘Age’ hung on her now, no longer with the burden of the elderly, but with the wisdom and experience of maturity. She glowed with an energy that was eager to take her on her way. As her travelling companion joined her, he, too began to lose his ancient appearance. His back straightened and there was a new spring in his step. Joseph had watched them walk hand in hand to the very end of the Crooked Lane. The years had dropped away until they merged imperceptibly into an area he had never noticed before. A shaft of light struck the name on the wall. What did it matter what


‘JOURNEY’S END’ it read.




Life was in one of its troublesome modes when I embarked on my first adventure. I could not work out a solution to my problems. Rather than sit in the house and dwell on the worries that beset me at the time, I took myself out into the fresh air and countryside. With no fixed destination in mind I let the car wander down country lanes and vaguely seawards. I’ve always liked the sea. Somehow its vastness dwarfs my troubles, and the fury of its storms helps me reach inside myself to my own turbulent feelings and blow them away. I parked the car, that day, at the top of the cliff and walked along the coastal path, where I could gaze out to sea and count the passing ships on the horizon. Then I saw them! A flight of stone steps cut into the rock face, leading to the beach below. In all the times I’d come here I had never noticed them before. And the odd thing is, that in all the times I have been since, I can only ever find them when I have a problem to solve. It is a place I often visit in times of quandary, wondering where life is taking me, or what it is asking of me An old lady now, I descended the worn steps once more and walked along the familiar beach. No one else was there. It was my private time, and mine alone. The sun was sinking low in the sky, putting another day to rest. Always I came at this hour, when nothing disturbed the silence except the questions in my mind. Like the ripples on the shoreline, these would run ahead of me to disturb the ether. The evening was warm and still. Wavelets ran in to kiss the warm sand, frothed with delight and withdrew. From time to time one of them


would throw up happy armfuls of spray for illumination by the sun’s rays, as if inviting me to do the same with my problems. Why, I asked the universe at large, did my way ahead seem blocked? Why could I not step into the space before me and bring my hopes and plans to fruition? There may not be much time left to me, yet I felt sure there was something still to achieve. My thoughts went seeking their answers, dancing, despite their weight, on the crest of a light breeze. And then she was there beside me – a little girl of about three years old. She was angry. My word, she was angry! A full-blown tantrum was in progress. She stamped her foot as hard as she could with the puny muscles at her disposal. I sat down on a large, flat rock, baked warm by the afternoon sun, and I drew her to me. “Darling, why?” I asked her. She did not have words to explain. tuning in to her turbulent emotion. They don’t listen to me, she screamed inside herself, so loud it broke my heart. Yet no sound reached my ears save her sobs and the pounding of her legs on the hard sand. What was it she wanted ‘them’ to know? And who were ‘they’? “I’ll listen,” I said. words.” It is hard enough for an adult to express feelings, let alone one so young, but I will try to speak for her the words she could not find. “The grown-ups – they don’t know who I am. They’ve given me a name, and they think I’m only a baby, but they don’t know me! I need their help because this body is only three years old, and it doesn’t know much yet. But don’t they understand I’m big inside? I have a sense of the vastness of Earth’s purpose and I need to reach out and touch it. I want to ask them how to do this, but they’re not looking where I look. I can’t understand some of the things they tell me. Their ideas confuse me because they don’t match what I know inside. I so want to grow up and find out what all this is about, and I can’t find the way. It’s so lonely “I’ll know what you want to say without the With my adult mind I found myself


without anyone to share it with, so I try to explain, but they won’t listen. They only hear my baby words. They don’t listen to ME!” I had held her close to my heart while I listened. By the time she was quiet I had understood. The young body relaxed against mine. The anger died away and a soft bond of understanding flowed between us. “I feel safe with you,” she fed into the silence. “You know what I’m saying, don’t you?” Oh yes, I knew what she was saying all right. Suddenly I knew who she was. And I knew what we must do. I lifted her gently to the ground and stood up. “Come with me,” I said, taking her hand in mine. “We’re going on an adventure!” With the trust of innocence she grasped my fingers and beamed me a happy smile and the afterthought: “I know you, don’t I?” “You most certainly do,” I smiled down at her upturned face. “I am the grown-up You. I wasn’t around when you needed help, but I am now. Ready?” “Ready!” she shouted to the space around us. So there we were, the two of us, making our way across the damp sand, our journey just begun. She pranced along beside me, hopping and jumping from boulder to seaweed strand and back to me, happy knowing that someone understood her. And I? I was happy too. Happy to have released a deeply buried anger and found my inner innocence. We rounded the curve of the beach till we could make out the orange glow of what looked like a large campfire. It was always burning there when I came this way and I had come to know its secret. “We might meet someone interesting there!” I told her. “Who? Who?” she cried excitedly. “Oh, someone we need to talk to, or who needs to talk to us. Perhaps the people we were so angry with? Maybe we need to tell them how much they hurt us?” She looked a little doubtful. “Frightened of them,” she imparted, her eyes downcast.


“Not with me here, surely?” And I laughed to make her feel it would be no big deal. But nobody was waiting for us. Little One was clearly disappointed, but I knew, and trusted the wisdom of this place. I sensed that the people who had not understood would still not understand, and that therefore there would be nothing to discuss. Not yet. Perhaps on a future visit? Or perhaps, our mutual hurt healed, it no longer mattered? not get. Something nagged at my imagination, but I could not grasp it. There was a sense of a missing link, but further than that I could Drawing nearer, we could see the flames leaping and dancing, their living energies throwing themselves high into the air. “Don’t worry,” I assured her. “This is just the beginning. Round the other side we will meet somebody who understands what we have to do next. Only you have to be absolutely sure that this person will be there, otherwise nothing will happen. Just know.” She closed her eyes, screwed her face into a mask of concentration and then relaxed, a private smile curling round her lips. “Ready,” she said. “I know now.” And I knew that she did. Hand in hand we began to walk round the base of the huge fire. And there she was! The lady in the flowing robes of midnight blue, though when I looked closer, I could see they were shot through with the whole spectrum of the rainbow. Tall and serene, she came to welcome us. I had not seen her for some time, and we were pleased to meet once more. A warm flow of intimacy passed between us – old friends who knew each other well. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet,” I smiled, ushering the child forward. I should have known! The little one’s face lit up and she flung herself into the Older One’s embrace. “You’re here all the time, aren’t you? I was sure I’d find you one day. Only they wouldn’t listen.” Tears began to fall through the smiles, for she had found the source of her inner convictions. “I’ve always been with you sweetheart,” said the Lady in Blue gently. “All you had to do was know me and trust me – and listen.”


“I did listen!” The little one stamped her foot in frustration. “You sent me pretty pictures into my head. But they said I made it up.” A cross pout clouded her pretty face for a second, before she turned back to me. “And you! You called me – and here I am,” and she came back to my embrace. I looked over the top of her head at the Wiser Self of both of us, and to her I whispered: “And when you called, I came too.” For suddenly I knew that when we have a problem and ask for help, it is not we who bring that help to us, but our older, wiser Self whose call opens a way. Well, there we were, the three of us. I cannot give us names, for we are parts of the same person. All we had to do was learn to communicate with one another. I waited for our Over Self to speak some words of Was there something we were wisdom, but she remained silent, waiting. us. Little One could feel it too. We both spotted him at once – a little Manikin, hopping about busily, a cheeky grin on his tiny face. I don’t know what else to call him except Manikin. About a metre tall, he wore breeches and a belted jacket. When he saw us he hunched himself sideways in a lop-sided bow, mischievous, teasing. Beneath his bushy eyebrows his dark eyes twinkled his own sort of greeting. Obviously he loved his work, for he was gathering from the crevices in the rocks what appeared to be large, oval pebbles. They were uniform in shape and size. Each one needed two of his miniature hands to carry it. about it. Of course! Last time I had visited he had been here. He was not so conspicuous then. Just a busy little presence in the background hiding coloured stones away from prying eyes, as if guarding them safely till such time as they would be claimed. I had not understood what he was about! “They’ll be here when you come back,” he conveyed to me in a ripple of musical thought. I wasn’t the only one to catch his meaning. “Back from where?” asked Young Self, excited at some further adventure. All were highly polished and of different colours. He seemed inordinately proud of his harvest, winking at me as if we shared a secret

meant to understand? Certainly there was an air of expectancy enfolding


“Come along then,” said Over Self, holding out a hand. “It’s time to go on a treasure hunt.” “Where, where?” cried the child in delight. “Just a little further on.” Manikin touched his cap to me deferentially, grinning from ear to ear and winking knowingly. What did he know that I didn’t? He was up to something, but he wasn’t going to tell. Leaping from one foot to another he waved us off. I only looked back once, to see him scurrying hither and thither about his task. We did not have far to go. In the side of the cliff was the opening to a tunnel, and this was our destination. While it seemed a little formidable from the outside, I knew from experience that it held a wonderful secret. I squeezed my little companion’s hand as we went in to give her confidence. Far from being dark inside, it appeared lit from some inner source. Perhaps a vent to the sky. colour. “Ooh!” the child exclaimed. “Can I touch?” “Touch what you like,” our friend smiled. “It’s all yours. where we keep everything you have learned to do.” “It’s beautiful!” she gasped. “Can I really do all those lovely things?” “If you let your friend here help you, yes.” The child looked at me doubtfully. “We’ll find a way,” I said. I squeezed her hand again. “I expect that’s why we’re here today.” This is Perhaps some other magic. The walls had outcrops of crystalline formations that glinted and threw off shafts of living

Glancing at our Wiser Self, I saw her smile compassionately, as though she knew something we didn’t. Something, I felt, we were not going to like. I kept the feeling to myself. A little further on the tunnel gave way to a round cave, very obviously, this time, lit from an opening above. The air was fresh and smelled of sand and seaweed. On the sandy floor stood an old chest with brass bands round it – the standard storybook treasure chest. And why not? It wanted to be recognised for what it was, for whenever I had come I had


found in it something that I could personally treasure, something that had helped me solve the problem of the moment. The child’s eyes widened in delight. What secrets did it hold? Our friend explained: “In there is whatever you most need to complete your journey of discovery.” The youngster could hardly conceal her excitement. “Is it a crown – and a gold dress – and a cloak? Will I be a princess?” The trusting eyes glowed. Over Self looked sad, I thought. “What you will find,” she explained quietly, “is what you are both looking for. As you did earlier, just know that you will find what you need.” She had spoken to the child as though she were an adult. Somewhere inside her she understood as an adult, and accepted the responsibility. My eyes filled with tears both at her inner wisdom and at the fact that it had taken me so long to find her. “Now," our wiser Self continued, “who’s going to open it?” Something – a warning note of apprehension? – made me step forward. What could be in there that would apply equally to an old woman and a child of three? Slowly I raised the lid. Nothing! The box was empty! Never before had I failed to find something necessary to Life’s Journey: some symbol or jewel that I had neglected to claim, perhaps a stepping-stone towards fulfilling my destiny, or a garment I should learn to wear with dignity… Had we, possibly, had insufficient faith in finding our answer? Had we not given enough energy to the ‘knowing’ that it would be there? Our doubts and disappointments filled the place and dimmed its light. Of a sudden it felt chilly and gloomy. The bottom of the chest was grey with dust. appear cavernous and foreboding. young companion and drew her close to me. Together we gazed for some time, transfixed by the unexpected, until, slowly, there was a shift in focus and we were no longer looking for what we hoped to see, but at some forgotten echo from the past. Out of the gloom we began to make out a flight of old, worn stone steps. With one More, it began to Instinctively, I put my arm round my


accord we stepped into the chest and descended them. There were about ten in all, leading down to a cellar. It was not frightening. Nothing sinister lurked in the shadows. But the air here was stale, difficult to breathe, and the old walls were crumbling. Cobwebs festooned the place; neglect filled every corner. It felt unused and unloved. No one had been here for a very long time. It was as if it had died, and the sorrow hung heavy. “Shall we clean it up?” a small voice asked. “It’s ours, isn’t it?” With her uncluttered young mind she had understood before I had. Together we did the job. Not with dusters and brooms, but with decisions and resolutions. We cleared a window to the daylight so that we could once more communicate with the world outside. Communicating had been one of the main issues at three years old, and the fears and frustrations clung still in later years, blocking and inhibiting. We got rid of the cobwebs – nasty, clinging things, dust-heavy with the ages of hurts and worries that had long outgrown their energy. ‘Fear of criticism’ hung in great festoons, barring our way forward. With gusto we swept the space clear! ‘Niggling resentments’ wriggled uncomfortably on the floor. We stamped on them until they were lifeless. With great whoops of laughter we swept away the ‘fear of failure’ that caked the windows and kept out the light of inspiration. There were not a few ‘sulks’ hiding truculently in the shadows. We winkled them out, told a few jokes, the butt of which was ourselves, and they vanished into thin air. But the dust and grime of ages thus removed, had been hiding something else. Beneath the petty hurts and frustrations were revealed undeveloped areas of promise. Here and there lay bits of furniture that were structurally unsound - unbalanced, ungainly, unfinished… Promising projects not pursued to their completion when the going got difficult. Or perhaps something of greater interest had claimed our attention? Attached to them were flimsy wraiths: echoes of our intent, thought forms of what might have been had we persevered. Were these lost to the world forever? The implication struck both of us at once. shame in our eyes, looking for comfort. disappointed in us. We glanced at one another, Our Newly-Completed-Self was


But we weren’t complete! Over Self had not joined us. She had no need, for she had kept our aspirations in sight. Had we consulted her, we might have found some inner conviction to keep striving. But no. We had wandered off on some course which had seemed, at the time, to hold more glamour, more excitement, less travail. Now here we were, witnessing the pathetic half-life of our endeavours. Neither completed nor dismantled, these had become merely unusable clutter, which littered our space. Why should we need to confront it now? I asked myself. Little One knew! She did not engage in words, lacking the vocabulary. She didn’t need to. I could read her like a book. “We need to get rid of this rubbish,” she conveyed. ideas. We need to make a clean sweep!” And so we began. What should we salvage? Some projects had held promise, but we needed to readdress them from our present perspective. Let go of the old, primitive thinking. Those that had been near completion before boredom or lack of expertise had forced us to abandon them, we put to one side. Being reunited we had new skills at our disposal. There was work to be done now that we had found one another! The ugly, the dilapidated and the structurally unsound we piled into a corner. What was to be done with them? My companion flashed me a picture of the campfire. It hardly needed fuelling, but we would be pleased to watch it consume our failures, our shame, our weaknesses. It would be the ultimate act of surrender. Our delight and laughter blew away the last remnants of confusion. With fresh resolve, we brought in new life, furnishing the place with warm carpets of welcome and relaxing furniture. Where old habits had clung to the walls, there now hung cheerful, optimistic pictures. By the time we were done the lifeless cellar had become a sanctuary fit to receive a weary traveller. We gave ourselves one last hug before I led the way out, back up the stairs to the cave where the Wise One waited. “Well done,” she smiled. “We still remember these things as failures. They are getting in the way of new


“Oh, it wasn’t all me,” I said hastily, “my little friend here was a great help,” and I turned to usher her forward. But behind me was no small child. In her place stood a grown person on the brink of womanhood. Tall, self-assured and very beautiful, she had claimed herself. Together we had cleared the grime and cobwebs of the past that had bound and hindered us. The confident young lady stepped forward and embraced me, no longer needing my support or protection, but giving me access to her vitality, curiosity and enthusiasm. Far from being stuck in the angry threeyear-old frustrations, she had emerged as a mature, serene young woman. Now I could let her light shine out and I could be young inside without feeling insecure or foolish. “Yes,” she said, reading my thoughts, “I’m not going to trap you any more in my fear of inadequacy, am I?” Inadequacy? Now there’s a word not found in a three-year-old’s vocabulary, I thought. We giggled and squeezed one another affectionately. “I’ll do the growing up,” she whispered in my ear, “if you will promise never to grow too old to find me.” I promised, as much to myself as to her. Except, I thought, which one is really me - I know her so well. She is my lightness of spirit, my sense of fun, my hope, my vision. While I grow old and wise in the ways of the world, while I move into a slower rhythm and learn the skills of patience, stillness and tolerance, she will always be on hand, bubbling with youth and vigour. We were out of the tunnel now, and eager to burn our discredited creations in Life’s fire. It consumed them with an avid wisdom. It was not an act of destruction at all, for every object held within its failure a ray of hope, a moment of enthusiasm, a lop-sided attempt at creation. While the negatives were consumed by the flames and rendered harmless, the positives leapt skywards, forming a great Deva of Light-Energy and Hope. She hovered momentarily, shooting limbs of joy into the gathering darkness, before detaching herself and vaporising into the reds and golds of the setting sun.


Slowly our eyes and senses readjusted, and we became aware of a busyness beside us. It was Manikin. He was still there, polishing the last of the shining stones and placing it on top of the mound he had built. He stood back to admire his work, obviously satisfied with his achievement. He rubbed his little hands together in glee, dancing a little jig of satisfaction. Suddenly he stopped, pensive, finger on chin. Then he struck the air with his forefinger, to mark the arrival of an intriguing thought. Quick as a flash he whipped round, darted among the rocks where the pebbles had been hidden, and nipped back, holding in his hand a strand of dried seaweed. This he threaded into a gap in the cairn of shining With a grand gesture, as pebbles, where it swayed gently like a pennant in the breeze. He looked up and saw us approaching. though doffing a hat with sweeping bow, he indicated his work of art. We exclaimed in delight and approval. Whereupon he took one of the coloured stones in his tiny hands and placed it in mine. The next he gave to my young counterpart. Hardly had we registered our astonishment when he repeated the process, over and over, until he had shared them all between us. Had they been ordinary beach pebbles their weight would have been too much for us. But their essence was of colour and light so that, to us, they seemed weightless. To the younger one he had given the paler shades, of sky blue, turquoise, lemon yellow, apple green, rosy pink, peach and lavender. In my hands lay more mature hues: sea green, amber, indigo, rich umber, terracotta, purple… There were more, but I cannot put names to them. Hers radiated joy, enthusiasm, creativity, grace, elegance. Mine held the virtues of understanding, caring, patience, contemplation and so on. One colour, I noticed, we shared. Both of us held a white, opalescent stone, whose light shone with a special quality. It appeared to illumine all the others and bring them to their full potential. It was as if they were all its children, and none could exist without it. The last colour Manikin bestowed on me was a deep ruby red. It spoke to me of maturity, of the union of compassion and deep understanding. Like a matured wine, it derived body and depths from its



As he positioned it his eyes met mine.

The mischief had

momentarily gone. It was replaced by profound vision such as I had never seen before. The nearest I can describe of what he wished to convey is: “You hold in your hands the true meaning of life.” The moment I understood, the twinkle came back into his eyes, and the mischievous grin to his mouth. From behind his back he whipped the branch of dried seaweed and tucked it among the stones in my hands. It felt like the crowning glory – his personal trademark of excellence – the finishing touch. And then he was gone. I imagined I saw him scamper, in that lopsided style of his, across the sand towards the sea, but it may have been a stirring of the evening breeze. The sun was settling lower now. Time to return to daily life. The Wise One embraced us both. “Have you found what you came for?” she asked. We looked at one another inquiringly. I, for one, felt amply blessed, yet I could tell my younger self felt let down in some way. I was puzzled. Older Self simply said: “You know I am always with you.” It was more a statement than a question. We both nodded. How could we not know? She was our Inner Wisdom, our Higher Aspirations. We set off, leaving her in that magical place with the fire’s living energy and the evening stillness. I was sure we would come again. “Have we really made all these ourselves?” The young lady at my side looked at the jewels in her hands as we walked round to the other side of the living flames of the Fire of Life. It seemed we had. Manikin had known our worth. He had come to help us see ourselves in our true colours. Deep in our reverie, we became suddenly aware that we were not alone. No lady in midnight blue this time. No jolly little Manikin prancing about. Huddled together, and warming their cold hands at the fire, was a small group of people. They had about them an air of bewilderment, as though they were unsure how they came to be there. No one had seen us yet. We stopped, looked at the scene before us and then at one another.


The truth dawned on both of us as if a bolt of lightening had shot out of the gentle evening sky. We were looking at the shadows from our past! What had brought them here? Suddenly we knew! In our eagerness to clear away the dust and cobwebs that had clung to our life, we had brushed aside what no longer served us, without thought of where it might go. In effect, however, we had disturbed what was comfortable resting there in our subterranean cellar. We had tossed it gleefully but carelessly into the ether, free to wander aimlessly without a resting place. And here it all was, personified before us. With the uninhibited spontaneity of youth, Younger Self stepped forward confidently. “Can we help you?” she began. “You seem lost?” “What is this place?” one of them asked. I came forward now. “It is the place of understanding," I explained. “I think we need to sit down and talk.” Younger Self and I sat on the dry, sun-warmed sand. Some of the group followed suit, staying near the fire for warmth. Others sat on boulders. All looked apprehensive. It was hard to know how to begin. “We,” I began, clearing my throat, “we would like to ask you a few questions, if that is all right?” Most of them nodded their assent. the confident young lady. longer angry, the child spoke. “ Why did you do that to me?” she asked. “Why did you make me so cross? I tried to tell you.” “Tell us what?” “That I could see things. Feel things. I didn’t understand. I wanted you to explain them to me!” “What did you expect me to do about it?” “I’m sure I did my best.” “You never said!” “I tried, but you wouldn’t listen.” I continued: “I think you all recognise my young companion here?” And I turned towards her. Gone was In her place sat the chubby three-year-old, clutching a handful of small, pretty, coloured pebbles. No longer timid, no


“Listen?” one cried. “I listened when you were hungry, and fed you, didn’t I?” Another spoke. “And I listened when you fell over and cried, and I kissed the place better.” The figure looked aggrieved, as though feeling that nothing more could have been expected. “Well, I’m sure I listened when you tried to sing your nursery rhymes – and pretty awful it was, I can tell you!” cut in a harsh voice laced with long-suffering. I glanced at Little One. She seemed to be older now, better able to communicate. “But I wanted to know about life!” she exclaimed. A man spoke from the shadows. “I taught you botany – that’s ‘life’. You weren’t very attentive, you know. It’s not my fault if you didn’t learn all you hoped to, I’m sure.” Even in the gathering gloom we could see the offended hunch of his shoulders. “Yes – you told me how to recognise an oak tree from a sycamore, but I was asking if they feel things differently. How do the flowers talk to each other? How do the birds know one another?” “Stupid questions!” he muttered into his moustache. “Good heavens, girl,” spoke up a rather gaunt, angular lady, “no wonder you never learned any cookery – always asking what the plants were feeling. Drove me potty.” One by one the members of the sad little gathering revealed their ignorance, their prejudices and their own hurts and fears. By the time Younger Self had regained the status of young womanhood she had understood. And so had I. We had, in our ignorance, absorbed the flotsam that had come our way, stored it, suffered from it for far longer than was necessary and, worst of all, entombed it in perpetuity. Now, released, it could wander forever, settling here and there at random. We had to put a stop to this state of affairs! With one accord we stepped into their midst. “I’m sorry,” said Young One contritely, “I thought you were shutting me out; having secrets you wouldn’t share with me.” “What secrets?” someone murmured. “Stupid girl! What sort of secrets would we be having? We did our best. How ungrateful can you be?”


Younger Self and I glanced at one another. Neither of us had thought to be grateful for what we had received from these people. But we had nursed the hurts, suffered from the anger and perpetuated the grudge. As one we glanced at the jewels in our hands, and then at the drawn, shadowy figures we had blamed for the wasted years when we had failed to claim what was naturally ours. Surely they, too, had some glowing stones to claim? After so many years of holding them responsible for what they had failed to give us, could it be that we now had something to give them? We looked at the glowing pebbles still nestling, weightlessly, in our hands. One of every colour. Except … of course! Slowly, gently, Younger Self placed her collection on the now darkening sand. Picking up the only stone that was duplicated, the white, translucent one, she walked across to the nearest figure. “For you all to share.” She spoke the words gently, and then added: “With our love.” The jewel inside the stone began to pulsate, sending shafts of colours in different directions. These found their way to the desired recipient. Some, it seemed, were due more than one. None had ever claimed the beauty that was rightfully theirs. I was happy to let younger Self do the teaching. “If you walk round to other side of the fire,” she explained, “you will meet someone who can help you. But you must truly want to understand what is keeping you in the shadows, and…” she paused and looked around the group, making sure she had everyone’s attention, “you must be willing to claim your own beauty.” Then she stepped back and picked up from the darkening sand what was hers by right. A warm glow embraced her audience. It did not come from the sun, which was now but a golden haze on the far horizon. Nor was it the firelight’s gift. Gentle waves of pale light emanated from within the group, bringing them slowly to life. First one, then another made the decision to see what lay the other side of life’s flames. Only one, hunched and mumbling under his breath, turned away and was lost in the gathering darkness.


“Perhaps we’ll meet again one day?” I called after the others as their courage and confidence grew. Several turned, smiled and nodded. Then they disappeared from our sight, round the far side of the campfire, where a small figure darted about in the shadows. And then we were alone once more. We continued to make our way back along the beach, our shadows falling long and purple in front of us, each wrapped in her own inner contemplation. The companionship spoke louder than words. Once back at the steps I shook myself out of my reverie and turned to speak. But only one shadow now stretched away towards the far horizon, and it came from my own feet. Until that moment I had not noticed that my arms no longer cradled the glowing colours, but had relaxed and were now hanging by my sides. Had it all been my imagination? Something brushed against my leg. I looked down. My left hand was clutching a strand of dried seaweed. Instinctively I held it to my nose. It smelled of wood smoke and fresh air, of red wine and lavender… To this day I keep the seaweed in a little vase on my mantelpiece. People think I’m a sentimental old lady, hoarding useless rubbish from a past they don’t share. Yet they come to me with their problems, their pains and their worries. ‘Because you understand’, some say. Or perhaps, ‘…well, you seem to have been there too.’ Have I been back to the campfire and the cave? Of course I have! Many times! The three of us meet up, Over Self, Young Self and me - and Manikin, of course. As the guardian of our attributes he’s always around, polishing them up and never letting us forget what we own and what is ours to give. For in giving our treasures we lose nothing – only add to their brightness. He sees to that. Of course, I don’t go clambering down steps any more, or even walking along the beach. I sit in my chair and shut my eyes – and there I am, no longer alone but among those with whom I have made my peace. Where is she now, this happy child? She roams free, I think, somewhere in my consciousness where I can reach her whenever I want.


She feels wise beyond her years and I feel quite humble in her presence. But that’s all right. She is my inner light. I had but to set her free, so that this child could walk with me.




They might have won the battle had they not stood out so starkly black against the white. Like an army of ants they came: rivers of dark, menacing, pre-programmed invaders flowing upwards through crevices in the rock face, searching relentlessly for weak points in the Tower’s defences. The manoeuvre was breathtaking in its efficiency. Only one thing they had overlooked, and that was the crystalline content of the great rock on which the Tower was built. Even in the shadows of the night it glinted, revealing any dark object against its surface.

The horrific event took place when the little township of Plainsville was in its infancy. Lying peacefully in a flat plain, hidden amongst high hills, it had begun life as a refuge for those seeking sanctuary. The area had about it a timeless quality that attracted those who had tired of competition, upheaval and the hurly burly of their old lives. For many years now they had lived in contentment. Harmony prevailed and quarrels were few. They had, of course, their hardships and sorrows, but on the whole did not view these as life’s impositions. They shared the sorrows and supported one another, seeing hard times as experiences to be overcome rather than stoically endured. People came from far and wide to learn the secrets of this peaceful community, but they found it hard to explain. Perhaps it was the equitable climate or the fertile soil? Nestling in a cradle of encircling hills, the ground was flat, which made, on the whole, for an effortless existence. 114 Great

trees lent their shade in summer, and rivers fed the land. Many claimed that the ambiance came from the Great Rock which rose majestically on the northern side of the valley. hope. For many a long year after peace was restored the citizens of Plainsville regaled their children and grandchildren with the events of that time until, eventually, the story became one of life’s eternal legends. But I tell it now as it actually happened. The plain dwellers were a peace loving, trusting people, not given to looking on the dark side. It had never occurred to anyone to post sentries or keep a look out. The community of Plainsville was run democratically by a council of elected elders, and for many years this proved highly satisfactory. Of late, however, certain doubts had begun to creep in amongst some of these worthy people. Were they not becoming too complacent? Where were they actually heading as a community? In short, they decided, they were in need of some kind of direction. They recognised, in themselves and in the rest of the populace, a yearning for greater understanding beyond their present parameters. Not that they felt dissatisfied with their lot. It was more that they were aware of having reached the ultimate in their present development and were ready to move on. But where? How? No one felt capable of taking on the task, and so the matter hung, like a hazy cloud, over the land. Little groups of citizens took to gazing wistfully at ‘The Great Rock’. It was their only claim to undulating scenery. Rising majestically out of the flat ground, it towered some thirty feet into the clear air. Nobody quite understood its allure, but all were agreed that it was very special. It held in its noble bearing an air of mystery that invited one to muse over its purpose. Groups of people took to standing beneath its imposing mass to commune with some inherent wisdom it exuded. Had they but known it, the yearning of the ‘Rock-Gazers’, as they became known, was already eliciting a response. Subtle changes were noticed at the summit. Something new was taking shape! Shafts of light would shoot out from the numerous facets of quartz crystals in its surface: it became a symbol of


Quietly it grew, a little every night, when people were sleeping. First the sturdy foundations, then the walls began to rise, pearly white in the morning sunshine, glistening in the early dew. It rose silently and magnificently, capturing their interest and imagination. It never occurred to anyone to object. Such was the equanimity of their lives that subterfuge, greed or desecration did not even enter their minds. And indeed they were right to be complacent, for they were reaping the reward of their yearning. Such was their childlike faith that this seemed completely natural. The rising edifice was much talked about in the cafés and bars, in drawing rooms and in shops. As it grew it took on a certain grandeur of which they were inordinately proud. Many said it enhanced the scenery as it rose above the top of the tallest tree. Some proclaimed it ‘exceedingly handsome’ and yet others agreed that it made for a much more interesting skyline. The more interest they took, the faster it appeared to grow. The more they anticipated that its purpose was benign, the brighter it glinted in the sun. Winter that year was a harsh one. The plain dwellers retreated into their homes and their problems. The Rock-Gazers neglected their daily vigil. Interest in the new construction waned as the novelty wore off. Little by little activity on the great rock slowed down until, eventually, it ceased altogether. Rising into the bleak sky was the skeleton of a tired idea that nobody seemed to want. They couldn’t get rid of it. It would stand for all time as a reminder. In spring, as new growth burgeoned, someone actually made such a comment. ‘It is as if it stands there as a reminder’ she said. Her words rang true, and the local gossip was now about how it had all begun, and could anyone think of what they should be reminded? A restless air settled over the community. Many people did not feel well that spring. A strange malaise had settled over them. Clearly something had to be done. The elders called a meeting. Could anyone remember what had started it all? Slowly they recalled their overall feeling that something was lacking in their lives. Had not many of them felt the need of more leadership? Oh yes, it was agreed, they had


indeed voiced a desire for someone to give them greater understanding. Someone with greater knowledge than themselves. Knowledge of the purpose of life. Someone to turn to in times of trouble. Yes – and who could heal their hurts. And had they not expressed a desire for a meeting place of some sort, where they could air their problems and doubts and perhaps find a greater sense of direction? With the rising of the sap and the carpets of spring flowers, life flowed back into the hearts of the citizens of Plainsville. It truly seemed they had remembered their life’s quest. They bustled about their daily lives once more. Something was probably going to turn up, they agreed. But mostly they forgot to look up – up at the Great Rock where, with the renewal of their interest, the building had started to grow again. It was the Rock Gazers who noticed the connection. In a sense, it was the people themselves who were building this amazing monument! Meetings were hastily called. If they wanted this to be a thing of beauty, worthy of their land, they must surely apply themselves! Could there be a show of hands to show how many were in favour? Only the very young, who did not understand, desisted from agreeing to play their part. From then on a morning ritual took place. All who were free to do so gathered at the foot of the Great Rock and its half-finished edifice. They hoped fervently that this would prove to be the answer to their needs. Like the rock itself, the burgeoning construction had, for them, an aura with which they could commune. It became, in a sense, their friend. Many would refer, proudly, to ‘Our Building on the Great Rock’. Thus it received from them a sense of ownership and appreciation. Comforting warmth flowed back to them, rich in gratitude and, dare they say it, promise? As if in response, the next morning would show another spurt of growth. They could see now that it was to be a round building, and took to speaking of ‘The Tower’. No one doubted that this was destined to rise to a considerable height! It did not go unnoticed, either, that it blended perfectly with the rock from which it grew as naturally as the trees flowed upwards from their roots. The glinting quartz of the Great Rock was echoed in the white fabric of the rising tower. The higher it rose, however, the


more other gemstones shone their light from its walls. It was already a truly captivating sight! As the year wore on, and spring flowed into summer, doorways and windows appeared. In every direction new growth appeared. The more it did so, the more they fed the project with their hopes until it towered into the crisp, clean air, its battlements, the most exciting and radiant of all, proud against the clear sky. They cheered when they saw the last stone had been put in place. In some strange way, they felt that they had taken part in its construction. It was a happy partnership. With the shortening of the days, and the approach of the season of fruiting, they continued their daily offerings of hope and encouragement. Clearly developments were taking shape inside. The Rock Gazers hoped against hope that these would reflect the needs of the community as they perceived them and even, the more adventurous suggested, perhaps provide a few they had lacked the wisdom to envisage! As the first frosts bit, it was noticed that lights were travelling around inside the tower. A pennant was now flying proudly from the battlements. Someone, evidently, had moved in! Chief among the elders was a man with an enquiring and open mind. He it was who bravely elected to approach the newcomer and, in their name, formerly welcome him in their midst. entrance round the other side? Such was their contentment with the land they inhabited that no one had ever ventured round to the shadow side of the rock. It was rumoured that there were clefts and gullies in the ‘Other Land’, and that these were dark and mysterious. None was keen to investigate! They barely had time to consider the possibility before it became clear that work had been started on an approach path. As with the tower itself, the more intense their desire to meet and greet the newcomer, the faster grew the elegant, winding path. Frost lay on the ground and the day was crisp and bright when an elected party, led by the Chief of the Elders, slowly wound its way up the But how to approach the place? How, indeed, had he, or they, got there? Was there, perhaps, an


new road to the imposing portal. This stood wide open, a welcoming log fire blazing in the grate to greet them. Tentatively they stepped inside the circular reception area and looked around them. For a long time not a soul broke the silence that enfolded them in a bubble of scintillating peace. Eventually, first one, and then another let out a sigh of deep relaxation. Slowly they began to explore their new surroundings, opening doors, gazing out of windows, wandering down passageways… There appeared to be a room for everything they had discussed during their years of longing: a library, a music room, comfortably furnished rooms of various sizes: ‘suitable for meetings’, some commented, ‘perfect for a cosy chat’ decided others, ‘the ideal sanctuary if you are feeling stressed’ someone remarked. And so it went on. They discovered a flight of steps down to the basement, but felt it an impertinence to descend. Comforting aromas of coffee and baking wafted up encouragingly. cranny. A good half hour had passed before their curiosity was satisfied and they somehow found themselves massed at the foot of the central staircase. This gave the impression of having been poured from the top of the tower in a serious of sinuous spirals linking every floor, and spreading its skirts gracefully at their feet. Like a great waterfall it was, cascading down in crystalline folds. Everyone saw him at once. On the landing of the first floor, where the flowing steps began their final descent, stood a beautiful young man. That is how they described him later to the folks back home. Was he beautiful? Physically he was tall and elegant. It wasn’t so much his looks, though his features were pleasant enough. No, it was more to do with his bearing. Later, when asked what they meant by this, everyone had a different explanation. ‘He looked so kind’. ‘Seemed to know what he was doing’. ‘You felt you could trust him.’ ‘I wanted to tell him all my troubles!’. ‘It felt as if he wouldn’t stand any nonsense!’. ‘No, but I got the impression he would Warmth and hospitality oozed from every nook and


listen to you for hours’. ‘He cares about us, doesn’t he?’. And that about summed it up. But in those first few minutes there was a collective holding of breath, released only when he spoke. “Welcome!” he began. “Welcome to the Crystal Tower – your tower. Please feel free to continue your exploration. Sit and relax wherever you feel comfortable. Refreshments will be available soon. I want you all to feel at home here. This is your home. It is your tower, built with your hopes and dreams. I have known you for a long time now. It is time that I introduced myself. My name is Leukos. If I feel familiar to you it is because we have met before at another time, in another place. If not, then our paths were destined to cross now. I look forward to a long and happy association. Now I’ll let you make yourselves at home and then I’ll circulate amongst you. Here’s to a long and happy association. We have a great future to explore!” And then he was gone! Some were aware of movement. Others thought he must have disappeared as they turned to get their neighbour’s reaction. Whatever the reason, he was no longer looking down on them, but his presence lingered on, enfolding them all in its warmth. The visitors did as he had invited them to do, drifting, as though by some magnetic attraction, to rooms that satisfied their immediate questions or needs. Some found their way to a large, airy room. From its windows they could see right across the plain, and pick out various landmarks. Chairs were stacked up against the walls. What wonderful discussions, debates, and councils they could hold here; just what they were wanting! They found themselves planning events. Wouldn’t it make a splendid art gallery? Might they not stage plays here? Hold a music festival? And they could invite speakers, widen their horizons. Without so much as a by-your-leave plans were discussed, subjects and speakers suggested, dates proposed and diaries filled. Then there were simple, quiet rooms, decorated in subdued colours; diaphanous curtains shading the occupants from over-bright light. Soft


music emanated from the walls. Interior lighting was discreet. Such rooms attracted those who were weary, either with physical toil or with emotional burdens. They sank onto the inviting sofas and drew strength and comfort from their surroundings. A group of the senior citizens of the community gathered spontaneously in a rather small, intimate room lined with books. Each sank, gratefully, into one of the large leather armchairs and awaited the promised hospitality. day. These men and women had been the principle Rock-Gazers. Since their arrival on the plain they had been aware of a strange charm exuding from the impressive outcrop. Hadn’t they always said it must be destined for something special? Had its purpose now been realised, or was this just the beginning? Time would tell. It occurred to nobody to be surprised at the outcome of all the recent events. Since the first signs of activity not one of them had felt anxiety; only curiosity. What was it about this whole venture that made you feel you could trust it? Why did it, even though new, feel so familiar? The debate rumbled on until they subsided into an amicable silence, some to sleep, others to bury their noses in one of the intriguing books. Strangely, they found that these addressed matters that had been puzzling them for some time, as if they, themselves, had invited answers to their questions. As the day wore to a close people began to take their leave. They were impressed. They were encouraged. They were excited. The intellectuals, along with the young enthusiasts and the weary, faint and downhearted returned to their homes re-energised and uplifted. With one voice they pronounced it a magical place. Most certainly they would come again. It was not long arriving. Over tea, coffee and cakes the conversation turned inevitably to the events leading up to this extraordinary


Alone once more, Leukos relaxed into one of the comfortable armchairs. The day had gone well and the response from the townspeople could not have been better. What a journey it had been! What a long way he had travelled since his days working on the Life Line, struggling with people who simply did not want to move on! Those had been challenging times when, under the cloak of Aphrolane, he had coaxed, cajoled and argued with some very determined characters. Where, he wondered idly, was that cantankerous old man with all the baggage now? What was his name? Oh yes, GOM. ‘Grumpy Old Man’ he had called him. That was an understatement, if anything was! Nothing he said had made any difference. Quite the reverse. In the end the old boy had actually threatened him! In GOM’s eyes, he was the enemy, to be beaten off at all costs. To avoid a feud, Leukos remembered, he had backed down, leaving the man to struggle with trunks and cases full of resentments and rebellion. He had always believed there was good in everyone, but that man had yet to prove him right. It was a hard lesson, even for a senior member of the Life Line, but he had finally understood that however well intentioned, you can’t win them all. Neither could he, even to ease the man’s burdens, impose his own will upon the situation. He sighed. Well, he was older and wiser now. And there had been happier moments. Although he now no longer worked on the Life Line, news filtered through to him from time to time. He remembered how pleased he’d been to learn, some time after his departure, that Gwendolyn had sent a group of graduates up the line to ‘Golden Opportunities’ - among them several of the original children, now grown into happy, confident young men and women. There had been talk at the time of them eventually moving on to a new township that was attracting a lot of people with open, questioning minds. contentedly. He smiled He’d They had accounted for a few familiar faces today!

noticed one of them looking hard at him, her mind worrying at a riddle she could not solve. Amy and her friends had been amongst the most enthusiastic in the functions room, buzzing with creative ideas and plans.


On that last journey, though, he had waved them off, torn between hopes for their future and sadness for his own loss. Then he had completed his own journey, back to the end of the line. He hadn’t realised at the time that it was to be his last trip. Nostalgically his memory served him up images of a deserted station, misty in the moonlight, and a distant whistle carried on the ghost of a breeze. His mind, he remembered, had flown to stories of folk disappearing as if bewitched. The fable went that rather than the traveller turning up in time to catch the train, the train that arrived when the traveller was ready. He recalled straining his eyes to look into the velvety dusk. There was no doubt about it; a silver, streamlined train was gliding silently towards him. It was stopping! Looking up he had seen, arching gracefully over the cab front, its name emblazoned in silver letters: CRYSTAL EXPRESS they read. Enchanted, he had found himself climbing aboard. The carriage was empty and he sat down. Silently the gentle giant picked up speed, carrying him he knew not where. He only knew that an overwhelming feeling of trust enveloped him. An inner knowing that this was meant to be. For a brief moment he wondered if he had not been too hasty. Had he been foolish to leave the life and people he knew so well? But his eyelids grew heavy. The motion of the train was soothing. It went over some points and the sound changed. No need to worry, no need to worry, the wheels said. Relax and enjoy, relax and enjoy. Be free, free, freeeee… And the smooth, gliding motion took over once more. “Would you like your ticket sir?” The words broke into his reverie. Before him stood a man unlike any he had seen before: he gave the impression of being tall, though in truth this was more a question of dignity than height. Not young, but neither could he be described as old. Authoritative yet kindly, he wore a dark uniform, which only served to enhance the twinkle in his eyes and the tiny sparkling crystals on his lapels. On his cap elegant silver letters spelled out ‘Crystal Line’. The effect was discreet,


not flashy.

Across his chest was strapped a strange little machine that

pulsated gently. “Oh, a ticket?” stuttered the new passenger. “Er, I don’t know what the fare is. I’m afraid I’ve only got these,” and he proffered a handful of colourful stones, leftovers from the pebbles he used to carry for the children. Nobody had chosen these last few, and they had remained, forgotten, at the bottom of a pocket, growing and maturing. Now they emitted a radiance he had never noticed before. “That’s fine,” the man said. “You keep those. They prove you merit a ticket.” “Thank you, Inspector.” “Oh, I’m not an inspector! My official title is ‘Regulator’. My job is to keep a keen watch for people ready to take this journey. All a question of timing, don’t you know? Folks can’t go too soon. Not till they’re ready. And it’s not something they can always judge for themselves. Haven’t you noticed of late a certain weariness - staleness if you like - a longing for a new twist?” “Why yes. Now you come to mention it, I’ve been feeling as if I’ve been cooped up indoors for too long and need some fresh air. Silly, really, when my job takes me out and about all the time.” “Not at all! It’s a common symptom of timing. We all get this need for freedom! For new experience! To stretch our inner muscles! Flex our wings! Take off! Oh, by the way, your ticket is ready now.” From the little machine strapped round his chest the Regulator took the long, decorative strip that had issued from it. Computer.” “Programming itself?” “Yes indeed! All the information was in the pebbles and the different energies they emitted. The machine tracked their wavelengths, did all the necessary calculations and, I’m glad to say, has verified my own impression that you were ready for us to call and collect you. I’ll just sign it, to make it official. Here you are.” “It’s been programming itself in the Life


He looked at the words on the strip of card placed in his hand. ‘Certified

Light Traveller’ it read, in letters that breathed with their

own luminosity. It was at that moment that the ‘Cloak of Aphrolane’ fell from his shoulders and began to fade away. “You won’t be needing that any more,” said the Regulator. “That’s all we ask –that you to shed the past. future. Leukos.” “Leukos?” “Yes. He’d looked at his ticket and there was the name in beautifully scripted silver letters. It means ‘white’: the embodiment of all colours and the essence of light. You’ve earned it. From now on that is who you are.” “A change of name? That’s interesting!” “Not so much a change of name, as a change in you that merits the new title.” “I’ll try to be worthy of it.” Leukos spoke earnestly. “No need – you have already proved yourself worthy. I could tell the moment you showed me your credentials.” “I did?” Leukos’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Oh yes, the colours emitted by your gems said it all. They are all part of you. We all glow with our own light. Surely you understand that?” “Yes, of course, but…” Leukos didn’t finish the sentence. It was, after all, what he had been teaching on the Life Line for a very long time. It was just strange to find it applied to himself. He changed tack. “Have you worked on this line for long?” “I only work when necessary. Indeed the train doesn’t run all the time. There’s no set timetable. We only operate when there is a need.” “The whole train just for me?” “On this occasion, yes. Not always.” “But the cost!” “Is covered by the fare you’ve paid. intentions and commitment, not diesel!” This train runs on good Let it go and have faith in your Have a happy journey We’ll get you there safely, never fear.


Suddenly the sound of the wheels gliding over the rails grew muffled and the light from the moon went out. “We’ve just entered the Tunnel of Transition,” explained the Regulator. “It’s quite a long one. Why don’t you have a rest? I’ll tell you when we reach our destination.” “And where is that?” “The next stop is ‘New Dimensions’. That’s where you will be getting off. I wish you a comfortable journey. I’ll let you know when we are about to arrive.” As they pulled out of the tunnel, Leukos leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes once more and succumbed to the rhythm of the train and the reassurance of the encircling night.

On the platform a lone figure had heard the distant whistle of the train as it came round the great curve of the hill. Over its crest dawn was breaking in pink folds. In the trees birds were singing their hymn to the new day. At last, into ‘New Dimensions’ glided the sleek silver engine with its precious passenger. Having been warned in good time, Leukos was ready to disembark the moment the train stopped. A small, bustling, motherly lady, who gave the strange impression of being both young and old at the same time, came forward to meet him. Smiling warmly, she held out her hand. “I trust Joel has looked after you well?” “How d’you do? Er, Joel?” “My husband. You will have met him on the train. Here he is now.” Leukos looked up to see a gentleman, also of indeterminate years, approaching. He looked strangely familiar. “We meet again, my friend,” he said with outstretched hand and broad smile. “The Regulator!” gasped Leukos. “Not now,” he laughed. “I’m back on Civvy Street. My name, as my wife has already told you, is Joel. Before my work on the Crystal Line I was, by trade, a master jeweller, dealing in the gems of life and trying to get


people to recognise what belonged rightfully to them. That’s how I knew your worth when you offered me your fare.” A little embarrassed, Leukos smiled. “And your wife?” he queried. “Ah, Henrietta? Why she has the knack of directing people towards their destiny. She’s certainly had a hand in your arrival here. Between us we spot potential. We’re old hands at it now. But you must be tired after your journey. Come, we’ll take you home with us and explain what all this is about.” In their quiet, peaceful home he was shown to a neat, comfortable bedroom. After a freshen up he joined them in their kitchen for a welcome bowl of soup and homemade bread. Evidently, thought Leukos, they were as expert in hospitality as they were with gems! By the end of the evening he had a clearer idea of the purpose of this change in his circumstances, though his mind reeled with the proposition they had put before him. Their ability to detect potential obviously operated, when necessary, on a very large scale! There was a town they knew of that had been sending out interesting messages over the ether: pleas for help, a need for wider horizons. Apparently the citizens exuded enthusiasm and happiness, but felt they lacked direction and leadership. Quite obviously they were seekers. Little tendrils of longing reached out, like tender shoots searching for the light. From the community at large Henrietta and Joel had detected flowers of friendship, cheery greetings, cascades of children’s laughter, little pockets of fair play, shared sorrows and mutual support. There were ripples of loyalties, showers of promises, leaps of joy… All these living gems were piling up in what Joel called ‘the repository’. He invited Leukos to take a look. In a warm, sturdy outhouse behind their home Joel had his workshop where he still crafted objects of beauty from the precious gems of life he found on his travels. Leading off the workshop was the repository. Sure enough, the large, airy chamber was filling up fast with stones of every size and shape. Some were as yet rough-hewn, their inner life still to


be released. But many were already liberated and taking on exciting hues. They were all shapes and sizes, and of every colour under the sun, some yet to be polished, others already shining like miniature beacons. “With our help,” Joel explained, “these people will build a beautiful tower with their aspirations.” Leukos was intrigued, enthusiasm welling in his breast. “And when do you plan to start?” he asked, all agog. “Work has, in fact, already begun,” Joel explained, “and should not take very much longer to complete. We work during their sleep time, and receive further supplies of material from them during their waking hours. It is working very well. They are, naturally, puzzled by the phenomenon, but they’ve cottoned on to the fact that it’s built with the energies they themselves have sent out. It’s causing quite a stir, I can tell you. The interest and excitement, the speculation and anticipation all produce their own gems. We shall use those as we go higher. It’s going to be quite splendid, you know! All made from the Crystals of Life.” Leukos began to get a feel for the project. the whole collection. “But isn’t it all a bit light-weight?” “Well spotted!” Joel exclaimed, delighted at the young man’s grasp of things so early on. Henrietta really was superb at spotting a winner! “This is not all of it,” he went on. “Much of the more sturdy, practical stuff has already gone to build the foundations. Suitable material came from people who were extremely balanced: solid, unwavering, firm intent. You know the type.” “Didn’t meet many of those where I was working!” Leukos laughed. But he understood anyway. Such rock-solid gems of a stable personality would hold any development firm and steady. Joel caught the drift of his thinking. “Yes, I’ve made a fair study of architecture. It marries well with a career in minerals, gemstones and so on – you get to understand stresses and strains, tensile strength, flexibility. They all appertain to life itself, “These are very beautiful,” he said, his arm sweeping in a magnificent gesture that took in



And that is what we are dealing with, is it not?”

It was a

rhetorical question. Leukos smiled his understanding. “Are you building this – er – construction in the town itself?” “Well no. This is very interesting. You see the original settlers were drawn to the only high place on an otherwise flat plane. It has strangely magnetic qualities for those who wish to widen their horizons. Many of the elders in the community have made a daily practice of gathering at the base of the rock and communing with it, as it were. Of course, it doesn’t actually tell them anything, but its inherent vibratory rate helps them raise their own, so that they gain a heightened awareness. This, in turn, enables them to find solutions they could not find before. We’ve nicknamed them ‘the Rock Gazers’! They’ve been our inspiration really.” “And the rock itself – does it have a name?” “Oh yes, indeed. They have wisely, and I may add, correctly, named it ‘The Rock of Destiny’. And, of course, when all this is finished, it will, indeed, shape their destiny – if they use it wisely.” “I’m sure they will.” Leukos already had faith in these unknown people. He warmed to their enthusiasm and tenacity. It was what he had been trying to inspire in people for so long, but with depressingly limited success. Momentarily lost in his ruminations, Joel’s words punctured his thoughts like an arrow busting a balloon. “And that’s where you come in.” “Me? Come in? What do you mean?” Leukos snapped back to reality with a start. “The time has come, that is, Henrietta and I, er...” Suddenly Joel was lost for words. It was Henrietta, who had followed them into the repository, who took up the thread. “I’ve been keeping my eye on you for quite some time, young man,” she began. “This place is going to need an overseer, an indweller, someone who can regulate activities, keep the balance, spot potential development and so on. And we think you are just the man for the job. What do you say?"


“Well, it’s all a bit sudden! I don’t know what to say. I, er…”


thought struck him! How could he not have realised earlier? He’d been so wrapped up in his own dream world that nothing else had mattered. “I can’t accept!” he spluttered as he watched the dazzling prospect collapse before his eyes. “I’m needed on the Life Line. We’re due for another trip soon. I’ve sworn allegiance, you see, and I…” His excuses were cut short. “Nothing to worry about my dear fellow!” Joel broke in. “All taken care of. You don’t think Henrietta and I would entice you away from your commitments, do you?” “Well no. I just thought… er… so what’s been arranged then?” “Glad you asked, m’boy! Ever heard of the Crooked Lane?” “Crooked Lane?” Leukos wrinkled his brow. “Why – now you come to mention it – that was the address on the invoices from the shop that supplied me with those little pebbles I always carried around. Gems’ they were called. Kids loved them!” Henrietta and Joel exchanged knowing glances. “I used to pack those for you,” Henrietta confided. “You did!” Joel was bursting to explain further. “It was our shop, d’you see? Then, when it was time for us to move on I found a very worthy successor – name of Joseph. He’s been training people up in the art of crystal work – can spot potential development a mile off. Well, Joseph’s ready to move on now. He’s an expert at understanding what motivates people. More important, as you well know, he can see what is holding them back, and he can handle the jewels of life expertly. I’ve offered him your old job and he’s accepted.” Leukos was confused. “So who’s going to run the shop?” “Well that’s the beauty of it, you see. Joseph has this absolutely marvellous protégé – what’s his name?” He glanced at Henrietta. ‘Thomas’ she mouthed. “Yes, Thomas. He knows the business inside out. He’s very intuitive – understands people – has a knack with them, if you know what I mean?” ‘Glowing


Henrietta tapped her watch. “Well, mustn’t ramble on. In short - he’s going to do it.” Leukos laughed. “Sounds too good to be true!” he said. “So that’s settled then!” Joel’s ever-expressive brows shot up above his penetrating eyes. “Settled!” agreed Leukos. He might have known. Hadn’t he always been taught: When the time is right, everything falls into place. “I accept the post,” he continued, “but on one condition.” The thought had crept in through a tiny crack caused by his doubts. “This is new territory for me. Have I your assurance that I can call on you for advice when I feel the need?” “A foregone conclusion, my dear man!” Joel exclaimed as he stepped forward to clasp Leukos vigorously by the hand. Henrietta, although considerably shorter than Leukos, managed to envelop him in her warm embrace. “You know you can. Any time,” she whispered in his ear. “It is not very far. As you are well aware, distance in these circumstances is not a question of miles, but of accessibility through compatibility. So actually, you are closer than you might think!” “And what is the name of this town where I am to spend the rest of my life?” There was an uncomfortable pause. “Plainsville,” murmured Joel almost apologetically. “Built on a plain, d’you see.” “Not very imaginative, is it?” commented Leukos, somewhat taken aback. The conversation was interrupted by a stirring in the repository. New energies swirled round the walls, kissed the gems already awaiting placement in the new construction, and tumbled down in gentle cascades. As they landed they crystallised into glittering jewels that outshone any of the others. Henrietta, Joel and Leukos watched as the living essences of Vitality, Humour, Gentleness, Patience, Humility and other mature attainments distilled into the finest of precious stones. Henrietta gasped at their radiance, while Joel fell into a deep reverie of new planning. Another


energy shift, and more gems, slightly flawed, but still incredibly beautiful, joined the first. They were tinged with Sorrow, Regret and Disappointment. This was what he was waiting for! Now he knew what to do! Now he could complete the edifice. Henrietta knew what he was thinking. The wrinkles in her kind face folded into a wide smile of approval. Only Leukos was left non-plussed. “Where did these come from?” he gasped. His host turned to him, giving him a thundering clap on the back. “From you! Now you have accepted the post, everything you have to offer has fallen into place – this place, in fact! Even your sorrows and regrets, and disappointments at what you perceive as failure have arrived. That is good. You will have understanding for others going through the same transition. As for that stone there, the rather beautiful, misty amethyst that is Alone-ness. Again, just a transition. There are two varieties. One is rather dull – comes from the loners who don’t share. But the other sort, like these, come from people who have learned the art of self-containment. So they are not leechers of other people’s energies. “Oh, but you should see ‘Oneness with Self’! It is the most beautiful gem imaginable. Very rare. But what you have provided is exactly what we needed to complete work on the Crystal Tower! Now I can finish it with a gleaming pinnacle that will be seen by towns and villages for miles around and draw the people to the understanding they are seeking. It will shine as a beacon in the darkness! Well done the citizens of Plainsville!” Stunned as he was, Leukos found himself fuelled by new inspiration and enthusiasm: making plans and examining possibilities. For the people of Plainsville would soon be his people and he would be a citizen. He paused in his ruminations: “That’s a terrible name!” he cried. “Couldn’t we raise the status of the town to honour their input into this project? What about having an opening ceremony and renaming the town? If their tower is to shine like a beacon, why not ‘Beaconsville’?” And so Beaconsville it became. The finished edifice rose tall and stately with its thousands, nay millions of jewels sparkling in the sunshine a light for those searching in their darkness. At night, the gems glowed gently from their own inherent energy: ‘Enough to attract the seeker, but


not disturb the sleeper’ became a light-hearted slogan among the delighted citizens of Beaconsville.

The project was a huge success. All that was hoped for blossomed: the lectures, the music and art festivals, teaching, learning, growing, developing… In the early days Leukos oversaw every event, checking that all was in order. The speaker welcomed. Food, drink and, if needed, accommodation available. Publicity notices sent out. Newcomers made to feel at home. Books ordered. All academic, domestic and social needs catered for. Healers trained. Lighting and background music at appropriate levels.

Philosophical talks arranged as required. Problems discussed. Grievances dealt with… The list was endless and Leukos untiring in his efforts. He was not left entirely on his own with such responsibility. Joel was ever ready to give a talk on ‘Gems of Life’, or show people round his workshop. He even gave training to one or two of the more promising. Invariably he called in when adaptations to the tower were suggested. He was always researching and examining any new gems that found their way into his workshop. In short, his finger was always on the button! Henrietta’s small, bustling figure was also usually in evidence. Officially she was ‘Keeper of the Records’, charting the progress of the building from its conception and thereafter documenting every decision, development, appointment and all expenditure. Nobody ever saw her at this precise and painstaking work. knack of making them feel needed. She was a good talker, and an even Something about her always called better listener. Always cheerful, she put people at their ease, and had the forth their good nature. Although she would chatter inconsequentially, once she was gone people realised that she had understood them through and through and managed to give them some priceless gem of advice. A wise woman indeed who, in truth, placed her words carefully. On rare occasions she could give a meaningful look that, without the spoken


word, could prick a guilty conscience. Her methods worked and she was generally loved by all. These were, one might say, the ‘regulars’, part of the team and always available. But from time to time, as the need arose, others began to find the Tower and offer their services. First to arrive was a serene, rather elderly lady. Her name was Martha but as she worked mostly with the younger members of the community, she soon became known affectionately as ‘Grandmother Martha’. The title held a certain dignity while making her charges feel cherished. The little ones simply called her ‘Grandma’. Her essence was warm and comforting, and her great strength lay in understanding their needs. It was her custom to take people on long walks where they could find a way to air their grievances, confront their hurts, and soothe their wounds. Later, when asked where they had been, all were invariably rather vague. It was as though they were in a dream state where they hugged precious secrets to their hearts. Many would reply: “Oh, just out and about,” with a secret smile on their lips. Or perhaps they would claim to have been taken to the seaside. Some talked of leaping flames, others of a mysterious cave. There was even occasional mention of a treasure chest. the trip! Often, when a very young child was troubled, a pretty young woman would take charge. Martha introduced her simply as ‘my granddaughter, Lucy’. There appeared to be some mystery about this relationship, but nobody could ever quite interpret the joyous, knowing looks that passed between them. They seemed to share an inner joke that felt warm and safe. It soon became noticeable that, after nearly all of these outings, a strange little Manikin would appear. Nobody ever saw him enter or leave, but they accepted his presence without question. His garb changed from time to time, reflecting the countryside he had passed through. But always he wore what they came to call ‘the mystery cloak’. Slightly bent, he appeared to be clutching something hidden under its folds. He would nod Those who had not been on a ‘Martha outing’ wondered privately what their friends had been drinking on


and grin at everyone, his sharp eyes flitting from face to face, and his little feet dancing a merry jig as he hopped hither and thither searching for the one person he needed to find. His strange, impish features would break into a broad, toothless grin whenever he passed someone, and sinewy fingers would tug deferentially at his forelock before he flitted away again, his bulging eyes searching, searching, searching… It was rumoured that under his short cloak he carried pretty coloured pebbles; and it was noticed that, after every visit, the recipient of these walked taller, radiated more confidence and appeared infinitely happier. At such times the private looks between Martha and Lucy became even more knowing. They never actually said so, but many thought that the strange little Manikin was a personal friend of theirs. The domestic side was not neglected. Townspeople were happy to help out with cooking, cleaning, ordering and so on. became a hub of activity and enticing aromas. The kitchen soon Everyone was welcome

there, and before long it had a social life of its own! Sheba, a large, white, shaggy dog of indeterminate lineage, was particularly appreciative of the many advantages offered by a warm kitchen. Leukos had acquired her very early on, assuming that every establishment should have its own guard dog. Sheba soon proved to be fiercely protective of every nook and cranny of ‘her’ property. Unknown to him, she was equally dedicated to Leukos, having vowed allegiance to him the moment they met. Fixing his eyes with her own hypnotic gaze, she had generously let him believe it was he who was choosing her. Now every newcomer had to be thoroughly vetted and approved! Nobody ever failed the test, and Sheba was welcomed In lectures she would lie quietly, nuzzling the everywhere she went.

nearest foot. At a concert, her ears would prick up and her soulful eyes roll, but apart from one or two initial attempts to ‘sing along’ she could be persuaded to lie quietly and enjoy the performance along with everyone else. As time passed, and everything began to fall into place, Leukos relaxed his vigilance. He could safely leave the basement and ground floor


activities to his trusted friends and colleagues. The many activities that became regular features of the Tower ran smoothly and were well attended. The reception rooms, library, reading rooms, lecture hall, were all in regular use. Upper floors were developing into sanctuaries, meditation rooms, healing rooms, and there was a panoramic viewing room from which people could simply look down across the spreading valley to the distant hills. From here defects in the town layout could be seen and plans made spotted and a welcome prepared. It became known to rectify them, insight on possible new development gained, approaching travellers affectionately as the Room of Reflections. This name had nothing to do with mirrors, but grew from the opportunity to be still and reflect on old patterns and new possibilities. There were, of course, living quarters for Leukos and anyone who needed shelter. And then there was the top of the beautiful tower. Few ventured into these upper reaches. They were more than satisfied with Most felt vaguely what they had and all their needs were covered. that unnerved many.

uncomfortable if they ventured too far up. There was a profound stillness They preferred the bustle and companionship, the opportunities and activities of the lower floors. Up on the castellated summit Leukos stood alone. He was drawn to its stillness, which called forth an equal response in himself. Joel had sculpted the area from the last jewels to arrive in the repository: those of steadfastness, radiance and a deep, probing search. They were unique to Leukos, drawing him into their power with a wondrous strength. Here, in his eerie, he could see over the hilltops into distant valleys. To the west, south and east the whole majestic panoply lay before him. He seldom turned due north, for here a strip of land lay in perpetual darkness, hidden as it was in a deep ravine where the sun scarcely strayed. It had a dank, gloomy air about it. Quite deliberately no windows had been made towards such a bleak outlook. Leukos looked westwards and breathed a sigh of satisfaction. As time went on it became his practice to come up here and commune with what he termed ‘The Light Beyond’. It was a vague term,


but he knew what he meant. It described the opening in the clouds, which became apparent whenever he was mulling over anything he did not fully understand: it may be someone’s hurt, a tragedy, perhaps a deep sorrow, or even an unresolved conflict. He cared deeply about these people: his people as he now considered them. Increasingly enchanted with this work, Leukos devoted himself to it completely. He must, he felt sure, understand it fully before attempting to train up anyone else. Time was when he would spend a couple of hours wondering at this place and its potential, then return to his duties below. Little by little, however, the time spent on what others referred to as ‘his daily devotions’ grew. There was no denying he had developed an awed respect for the golden light. A fast learner, he was soon participating in, rather that merely observing, the exchanges between his elevated position in the tower and the great mysteries held within this Other Kingdom he had discovered. Nobody, not even Henrietta or Joel, knew of the new friend who had arrived from these Lands of Light. ‘The Traveller’ as he introduced himself, (for he would divulge no other name) moved not so much through time and space, as through the stages of Mankind’s Development. He appeared to have an extraordinary interest in education, taking parties on guided tours of the Universal Educational systems of Life. When invited, Leukos had jumped at the chance, returning with his mind bursting with enthusiasm and plans. He had found himself particularly drawn to one of the higher establishments. he governed. The great Halls of Beauty, Benevolence and Bounty symbolised everything wished for the community If he could apply some of their principles in the Crystal Tower, he would be able to make his own contribution to the expansion of inner knowledge and development. The Tower could become a prototype for future establishments. After all, the place ran like clockwork now, and everyone was happy with the way things were going. In this last assumption he was wrong. There were those who were far from complacent that all was as it should be. Warning bells were ringing.


Concerned as they were with the gems of life, they all knew that many are badly flawed. Others are difficult to prize from their bedrock. Some shatter before polishing can even be attempted. A few have to be pared down to a tiny core of crystalline beauty before being fit for a place in one of life’s creations. perfection. “The problem,” Martha was saying at a routine monthly meeting of the Elders, “is that he sees only the good in people.” “It’s a matter of balance,” Joel decided. “He has to get things in perspective. See all sides at once. The lad’s got his sites on the highest goals. He means well, of course.” It was Henrietta who eventually put her finger on the problem. “He’s a marvel at winkling people out of their doldrums, or helping them overcome their doubts – at setting them on a new pathway - but…” She looked at the others over the top of her spectacles. “But he thinks that’s all he needs to do. He thinks he only needs to build light.” “It’s that little word, ‘only’,” Joel put in. He could see where his wife’s reasoning was leading. “What the lad’s overlooked is that the more he succeeds, the more he angers the enemies of the light. He has closed his eyes to the Dark Ones.” Martha looked worried. really think there’s any danger?” Joel’s gaze was serious now, and penetrating. “Indeed I do!” Have you not noticed a dulling of the crystals towards the Tower’s north face? Something is affecting them. Robbing them of their lustre. And I think I know who might be responsible.” The silence was almost audible as Henrietta and Martha waited for him to explain. “I knew the Controller on the Life Line,” he began. “We used to swap stories a bit – you know how it is. Well, he told me about the work our Leukos was doing in those days. He’d met most of the people Leukos had rescued. And a few he couldn’t. There was one man in particular, apparently – a nasty bit of goods he was – but Leukos persisted in his efforts to turn the fellow around. patient. Always courteous.” Always “The Dark Ones?” she queried. “Do you Leukos seemed to be overlooking all of this in his search for


“That’s our Leukos!” Henrietta sighed, fondly. But Martha was curious. “So what’s happened to this man?” Joel scratched his head. “I don’t know! Apparently he stopped turning up. But the last time my colleague saw him he was hurling threats and curses at Leukos. Said he’d ‘get him in the end’.” Martha was shocked. “So you think this man could be a threat?” she asked. “I do indeed! We need to be prepared.” “What do you advise? Had we better warn Leukos?” Henrietta asked now. “We don’t know for sure it’s him,” Joel continued. “Best not to create problems where none exist. But we do need to prepare ourselves. If anything should happen, it will be Leukos’s battle, not ours. He’ll have to find the way. We can stand by – and that’s not easy! But we can’t do it for him. It’s going to be tough for us all, I’m afraid.” And so they had searched their hearts for the means to weather the crisis, should one come. Their combined efforts resulted in a watching presence: silent, observing, assessing and planning. They were constantly monitoring the situation and keeping a concerned eye on their ward. Only Martha remained unconvinced that they were right not to tell Leukos of their concerns.

Had they but realised it, high up in the tower, the stranger they had yet to meet was, at that very moment, attempting to get the same message across. His job was not to give orders. It was to enlighten, encourage and guide. He could not dictate. “You understand, of course,” he was saying to Leukos, “the multilayered educational system through which people pass before coming to a place like this?” He cut short Leukos’s obviously enthusiastic response, and continued: “But we, too, need further education! Learning is the constant opening of new doors. The enquiring mind addresses all aspects of a



He emphasise the word ‘all’, hoping to stimulate further

enquiry. A puzzled expression flitted across his friend’s face. “I thought I’d been pretty thorough,” Leukos was saying, mildly stung by the implied criticism, and cross with himself for feeling that way. “If there’s anything I’ve overlooked, do please tell me and I’ll…” “Nothing has been overlooked in the development of this place. Your devotion and tireless endeavour have been admirable. No – it’s more to do with your dog, actually.” “My dog! Why – is she ill? Is anyone treating her badly?” “No, no – nothing like that. She’s very content. ‘Spoilt rotten’ is a phrase that seems to be much in use here! Doesn’t even miss you, she’s got so many people to fuss over her.” “Well then?” “It’s not the dog’s well-being I’m driving at. Tell me why did you get her?” It took Leukos a moment to remember. A variety of perfectly valid reasons rose to his lips, all true. Companionship in the early days when he’d been alone in the echoing emptiness of new construction. To make the place feel like home. A welcome for newcomers. (Sheba had proved to be a very friendly animal – partly by nature, and partly because it was to her advantage to curry favour. obviously expecting more. “Oh yes,” Leukos finished lamely, “I suppose at the time I thought a watchdog would be a good idea. It could vet new arrivals.” He was about to laugh at such a foolish notion – given the friendly and trustworthy nature of the inhabitants of Beaconsville, when his mentor replied, with considerable gravity: “Precisely. A watchdog. Organised by you. To guard the lower reaches of your establishment. To let you know if anything is amiss. If you take my advice, you’ll give the idea some serious thought.” With that the new friend vanished. Leukos had not yet got used to the fact that the man had his own method of thought travel, which could transfer him from one destination to another at the flick of a mental switch. He was very keen to master the She was no fool!) The Traveller waited,


technique himself, having so far only travelled under his friend’s guidance. It had been a huge privilege to travel in this way to the various educational establishments of life. Such experiences had greatly widened his understanding, and provided inspiration for the future of the Tower. His imagination once more chasing these cherished new ideals, all thoughts of the dog receded into the backwaters of his mind for later consideration – a mistake Leukos was to regret bitterly.

In a deep ravine, hardly penetrated by the sun, another, very different community was also nearing the zenith of its plans. These were equally ambitious, and quite as much patient planning, attention to detail and valuable time had gone into their completion. Had the dedication of these workers been weighed in the great Scales of Intention, it would have ranked favourably with that of the Tower Workers. Both workforces had pursued their goals with an ardent sense of purpose and devotion to duty. They had never met, but all that was about to change. For a very long time the ravine dwellers had been preparing for the great day. Everyone knew his role and was single-mindedly dedicated to the cause. They were united under their revered leader, a strange personage of sinister, hypnotic charisma. He never divulged his full name, or any other personal details. They knew him only by his initials: G.O.M. When asked, he would waive his hand airily and declare that these were the initials of his title, and they were welcome to address him as such. The gesture had the desired effect. To a man they felt immensely privileged and used the ‘title’ with due reverence. He did not disillusion them when he found they had interpreted the letters as ‘Great Omnipotent Master’. His energies radiated in massive clouds that enfolded his clan in dark folds, holding the faithful followers virtual prisoners. Dressed identically in lifeless black, each wore on his chest the insignia G.O.M encircled with razor-sharp jags of anger and hatred. GOM was, in every respect, a symbol of power. He craved it, sought it and used it mercilessly. Often, when alone in the dark hours he so


enjoyed, he would indulge in his favourite pastime. This was to recall the days when, like a fool, he had travelled the Life Line. Much good it had done him! Nothing but struggle, anguish and abuse! It was the constant interference from that fool, Aphrolane, that had finally decided him to go further back down the line and see whether things in that direction might be more to his taste. He wasn’t prepared to go back as far as ‘Deep Despair’. The place actually frightened him. And fear was not an emotion he was prepared to let into his life! He’d heard of business enterprises there named ‘Knotty Problems’ and ‘Anguish Unlimited’. He’d no intention of getting tangled up in that lot! The previous station, ‘Gloom and Doom’ quite appealed to him. It occurred to him that a powerful, determined person like himself might be able to inflict these, rather than suffer from them. But then again, a workforce of such people would hardly be any use to him. He had a plan, and he needed to find the right people to help him carry it through to a successful conclusion. Nothing else would be good enough. In the end, he settled on ‘Desolation’, a tiny place hardly discernable on the very old map he had managed to find. Too small to have a station of its own, the nearest stop was ‘The Moaning Mirror’. Here, he understood, people gazed endlessly into mirrors which reflected, to their eternal satisfaction, all the injustices, dissatisfactions, abuses and crises that life had bestowed on them. It was a featureless place whose inhabitants could see clearly how unfairly they had been treated and wallow contentedly in their misery. Looking again at the map, he realised the place was a very short distance from his chosen destination, and he was quick to turn decision into action. On arrival at ‘Desolation’ he was delighted, as he had anticipated, to find the place deserted. Its founder had, it would appear, been the sole inhabitant. He might even have been a victim of his own philosophy! The lone traveller smiled wryly and took the warning to heart.


Isolation was ideal for his plans. From the look of his surroundings it would seem that no one else had ever chanced this way – until now. A great deal of debris lay around the place and he started to pick through it. Sarcasm, Aggression, Revenge, Blame, Accusations and so on he put carefully to one side. All of these might come in handy. Things such as Inertia, Doubt, Pity, and Indifference he threw into a heap and set on fire. Most of his team he recruited from ‘Moaning Mirrors’. These were people who, tired of just looking at the rotten deals life had dealt them, were keen to take action. Such was their sense of injustice they were ready to fight under any leader. Others he found by subtle advertising and word of mouth. One or two guarded conversations on train journeys he undertook - solely for recruiting purposes - soon swelled the ranks. Before long he was ready for action. There were a few trial runs – always to settle someone else’s grievances. He had no intention of failure on his own behalf! Some of these went disastrously wrong. Such mishaps to potential followers worried their leader not one jot. The victims returned to their mirror land to regale the populace with inflated tales of duping and deception. GOM considered himself well shot of them and was able to convince the growing band of loyal ‘volunteers’ of their late colleagues’ stupidity and infidelity. The remaining fighting force was loyal to a man. Subterfuge, lies and deceit became their weapons and their idols. It was time to move on; to pursue his goal - his consuming passion. For had he not sworn revenge on that conniving bastard, that persecutor of decent folk, that destroyer of dreams - his arch enemy, Aphrolane? He spat the name out with such venom that it triggered comradely emotions of hate and revenge in his army. ‘Down with Aphrolane’ became its slogan. His philosophy was simple enough: to take from others whatever they had that he had not. As he saw it, they had been favoured above him, and this he bitterly resented. It was his right to steal it back! Those now attracted to him were people with the same angers and sense of injustice. As victims of an unjust system it was surely not only their right, but their duty! In no time at all GOM wielded immense power over them. Those who showed the


least sign of weakening were beaten mercilessly with what was referred to in the ranks as the legendary ‘cat o’ nine tails’. In its day this had consisted of a nine-thonged whip. For GOM it consisted of the flailing energies of hate, spite, malice, rage, bitterness, ruthlessness, domination, malevolence and virulence. It was not something to be experienced twice, and was spoken of in hushed tones. And so the nasty, spiteful, insidious army grew. Its members may have been united in their cause, but each was diminished in size and light by his single-minded, heartless mission. The ‘fighters’ were soon reduced to robotic automatons, fit only to serve the will of their master. Once sure of their loyalty, GOM set about channelling their ardour to his own purposes: the finding and destruction of Aphrolane! His first move was to send out spies across the land. Some travelled the Life Line, feigning repentance and a desire to improve. Breezes’. A few made it as far as ‘Fresh Yes, they On their return GOM questioned them closely.

reported, there was a controller: a young man in a long greyish cloak who bossed everyone about – name of Joseph. No longer Aphrolane then? GOM took a risk and sent his most The spy innovative and reliable recruit to try and get even further on the journey, enquiring as he went about his ‘long-lost friend’ Aphrolane. several years previously. Not easily thwarted, GOM scoured his maps avidly. Modern ones revealed a station he had never heard of: ‘New Dimensions’. If his hunch was right it was just the sort of senseless, airy-fairy sort of place Aphrolane would make for! It took the search party quite some time to find, but they returned to their illustrious leader to report strange building activity in the vicinity. Also, they asserted, a young man of the right description seemed to be in charge. He was, they said, under the thumbs of an eccentric old man and a batty old woman. His name was Leukos. returned with the information that this person had mysteriously disappeared


GOM was about to boot them out for wasting his precious time when they produced their masterpiece: the counterfoil of a train ticket they had stolen from the station office files. It read:

Traveller – one, Aphrolane formerly of the Life Line hereby certified ‘Registered Light Traveller’ bound for Golden Opportunities via New Dimensions

now travelling under the name of Leukos. Signed: Joelmaegester, Regulator Dated: moment of personal transition.
“Got him!” yelled GOM, enveloping his followers in a stinging shower of vitriolic satisfaction, which only served to whip them into a frenzy of loyal fervour. The party moved by night, stealthily and secretly, along their wellplanned route. It was a journey of several weeks, but previous reconnoitre and careful planning made them confident of success. By day they lay up in woods, amongst boulders or in derelict buildings. They were all used to crafty manoeuvres, and this sort of life posed no problems. The going was slow, encumbered as they were with utensils, equipment and an odd assortment of building materials and tools they had salvaged from the derelict hamlet. On a night unblessed with moonlight, when clouds hung low and muffled any sounds, the clan reached their destination. They saw well in the dark. It was the light that caused them pain. Now, senses alert, wordlessly, they descended into the deep, rocky ravine that was to become their headquarters and their home until this Leukos fellow was destroyed. For a few weeks they settled themselves in, building shelters and repositories for their equipment, and familiarising themselves with the lie of


the land. Daily ceremonies were enacted to reinforce their solidarity. To a man they swore allegiance to their Great Omnipotent Master, GOM. The sorties began insidiously. On the darkest nights scouts went forth to reconnoitre. They reported a huge rocky outcrop rising from otherwise level ground. It was on top of this that the strange, ominous building work reported by the first observer was growing at an alarming pace! A most unusual structure was taking form. It had all the appearance of being built of light. LIGHT! The thing they most abhorred! It ate up their darkness. It threatened them with its probing fingers. It blinded them so that they lost their way. And it sapped their energy. Already united in loyalty to their illustrious leader, every man now had a singularity of purpose that welded him to his fellows into a formidable machine of destructive intent. Their great virtue was patience: a brooding, threatening, fearsome asset. It took many years, but when the time was ripe they knew everything they needed to know about the completed tower, its inhabitants and its activities. They had maps, plans, timetables of comings and goings, Every The time was ripe. The moment was now. specialist teams and equipment for every planned manoeuvre. contingency was covered. into their calculations.

Nobody had thought to take the dog – a spoiled, soft wimp of an animal –

Life on the plains and within the Tower had been running smoothly for quite some time. Peace reigned, as it always had, and a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction pervaded the land. Its citizens were united in their approval of the beautiful edifice that graced their rock. And of their leader and mentor, Leukos. part of the community, but also members of an extended family. Even the strange little Manikin, who continued to pop up unexpectedly from time to time, was now greeted with affection. As for the others: Henrietta, Joel, Martha and Lucy, they were considered not only


Sheba, too, had settled herself into everyone’s affections. The more Leukos retreated into the upper regions of the Tower, the less contact she had with him. Her home became the warm, wonderfully odour-filled kitchen and its cellars. Here she was fed and petted more than was good for her. She had no complaints! One day, however, after her habitual morning tour of the stately hall and its rooms, and having satisfied herself that all was as it should be, she strolled quietly back to the kitchen. About now, she reckoned, a few titbits should be falling from the lunch cookery. Nobody noticed her retreat into her basket and settle, apparently to sleep. Sheba could sleep with one eye half open so as not to miss any falling scraps. What was not generally recognised was her ability also to have one ear half open – a lifelong habit bred into her from some distant ancestry. She had not been settled long before the ear in question began to twitch. Without any sign of movement, every muscle in her body became alert. Her nose waffled. Eyes rolled in a frenzy of curiosity. Something was different this morning! A low, menacing growl rolled from the basket. Laughing at her, the cooks threw her a tasty morsel. “My, she must be off colour this morning!” one of them remarked as Sheba, ignoring the offering, got out of her basket and began an agitated roaming and sniffing round their feet. This spread to the walls, the ovens, the pantry, the sink: in fact to every nook and cranny. Her anxiety became fixed on the doorway to the cellars. Exasperated, the kitchen staff led her into the hall, where a wealth of patting, and a small army of admiring friends completely took her mind off kitchen affairs. It was several days later when Sheba refused all approaches and bribes, held her ground close to the cellar door, and let out an unearthly howl. For this she was soundly scolded and misguided attempts were made to tie her up. For the first time in her life Sheba showed signs of violence. Was it something they had given her to eat? Was she sickening for something? One last attempt to bring her under control resulted in a display of fangs, a tail that doubled its proportions and an absolute cacophony of


wailing and howling that terrified everyone. There was only one person who could pacify her. They sent a messenger to find Leukos. Had they thought that the problem lay with the dog, they were soon to find how mistaken they were. Little by little the temperature began to drop and a gloom to settle over the usually vibrant community. started to flicker. Some went out altogether. Outside, to the north of the Tower where the rays of the sun made little impact, and no windows looked out over the bleak countryside beyond, the army pressed ever onwards. Driven by the need to destroy the power behind this place they were tireless. They might have won the battle had they not stood out so starkly black against the white. Like a swarm of ants they came: rivers of dark, menacing, pre-programmed invaders flowing upwards through crevices in the rock face, searching relentlessly for weak points in the Tower’s defences. Townspeople arriving early for their various appointments raised the alarm. They reported unusual activity taking place on the great rock. Could there be new building development in progress? Or was some form of maintenance being carried out through the service doors at the rear? It was all very strange and unusual, and they felt ill at ease. Their observations confirmed Sheba’s disturbed behaviour. such an organisational lapse? Unused as they were to deceit or corruption, it is possible the Tower’s inhabitants might have accepted one of these hypotheses, despite their unease, had not worse followed. Outside the sun shone warmly and brilliantly, yet within the tower walls, the gloom intensified until it weighed heavily on the spirits. A pall of impending disaster settled about the place. Strange noises echoed round the walls, which developed an ominous, listening dread. Everyone joined forces to track down the cause of such weird and disturbing phenomena. A few brave souls followed the deepening gloom. This led them deeper into the basement area from whence floated an Why had no one been told of contractors being called in? Surely those in charge could not be guilty of Lights


invasive odour of damp concrete and rotting ordure. Behind the vast door to the basement itself they could hear faint rustling sounds. Mice? Cockroaches? They tried to laugh it off. Wouldn’t they look silly if that was all they had panicked over? But what about the lights, and the depression that was gripping them all? There had to be some other explanation. Up in his eerie, at the very top of the Tower, Leukos was engaged in his usual communion with the ‘Light Beyond’. Now that he had this down to a fine art, might not the time be ripe to teach a wider philosophy to the more advanced amongst the Tower’s visitors? For quite a while now he had felt that some big shift was on the horizon. Instinct told him it would be concerned with a change in the energy balance of his domain. He looked up. The gap in the clouds had brightened. Perhaps his friend had read his thoughts and was about to pay him a visit? His heart leapt in anticipation. He felt as though a beneficent force were smiling down on him. He did not want to disappoint it when the time came. The time came more dramatically than even he had anticipated! His reverie was broken by a breathless trio, all trying to talk at once. There were snatches of ‘the lights keep going out’, ‘… an awful smell – something’s decaying down there’, ‘… and rustlings behind the door’, ‘someone’s in there, for sure – it’s evil!’ They would have dragged him away there and then, but he needed to get the feel of this crisis, whatever it was. Some innate sense told him that to rush in unprepared was ill advised. The fear of the party who had come to fetch him was palpable, and more of the same was now floating in swirling streams up the stairwell. Choking and acrid it curled itself round them as if to bind them and take them prisoner. “Go back and tell them I’ll be down directly,” he urged. Something in his demeanour told them not to argue. “He’s coming… he’s coming!” receding into the distance. Leukos glanced once more towards the break in the clouds; felt again the promise in the light behind them. The feeling of impending change intensified; a mixture of hope and warning; the excitement of impending He could hear the frantic cries


battle. He paused in his interpretation of the signs. Battle? But he was not a fighting man! “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.” Leukos spun round. He was here! Relaxed and smiling, the Traveller continued: “You’ve been fighting all your life. All those years on the Life Line – weren’t you fighting other people’s greed, inertia, pride, hurts? How did you do that?” “Well – I suppose I stood aloof from their negative energies. Wore the cloak that protected me from them. Held my own calm…” “Fine. You’ve mastered that. Call on these things now. You’re going to need them. And more. Did you not realise something was seriously amiss in your domain?” “Amiss? No! I – er – well, I was busy…” “Too busy to follow my advice? What did Sheba have to tell you?” “Sheba? This is no time to be talking about a dog!” “This is precisely the time to consult the dog! The one you appointed to keep guard in the lower regions of your establishment. It is never wise, my friend, to have our heads so high in the clouds of contemplation that we cease to be aware of our vulnerability. The higher we reach, the harder our enemies will try to oppose us.” “Enemies? I don’t make enemies! I try to love and honour everybody. Why, I…” “Yes, yes. Full marks for that. No problems there. But you failed to watch out for those who oppose your principles. Who see you as a threat. Who would stop at nothing to see you destroyed.” For a second Leukos bristled with indignation. “Then they’ll have to destroy me! Aggression and hate are not in my nature. I will not fight back.” A long-suffering sigh escaped from the patient Traveller. “Too late, I’m afraid. They are attacking at this very moment. Your entire establishment is about to crumble. A principle is at stake. You owe it to your loyal followers to defend what they have trusted you to build.” “But – why did nobody warn me?”


“Sheba has been trying to tell everyone! Nobody has listened. And you, too, have failed to listen to the voice of the ‘Watcher in the Basement’ – the watcher you yourself, quite rightly, appointed.” Leukos hung his head, but the moment was brief. Much was at stake. He could see that now. He had one last question: “But who hates me enough to want to destroy all that I have worked for?” “One you antagonised long ago. You stood by principles that he did not wish to honour. You have held your ground, and he has held his. Now both of you want to win – you for honourable reasons; he for entirely malignant reasons. The two energies are about to clash – and I would say they are pretty evenly matched! Through domination and threats, he has amassed a whole army. You have a loyal following, based on love and trust. Do not let these people down! Now – one last time – will you fight for your truth? We are not talking of bloodshed, but we are talking about standing firm. Firmer than you have ever stood before. And to some extent, you stand alone.” The passage of Eternity stopped in its tracks. Time, suspended, floated through the briefest of Earth moments. The problem, the choice, was offered to a Student of Life as he stood on the brink of a new graduation. Decisions matured. Plans blossomed as flowers springing from their buds. Universal tides held their breath. The decision was made and its elements crystallised into earth currency. The great mechanism of Time engaged its cogs and moved once more. A new warrior in Life’s armoury was born. “…and you’ll find it very easy to handle.” Leukos looked at his friend. “Find what easy to handle?” He felt as if he had been absent for a thousand years, and that the whole tenor of life had changed in his absence. “The sword, of course!” “Sword?” His question was answered not in words, but in the awareness of an object moulded perfectly to the contours of his hand. He felt it had always been a part of him, waiting to materialise. Lifting his arm, he found the sword light and easily wielded, despite its size. Set into


the ornately worked silver framework were several gems of exquisite clarity. Nestling in the centre, where hilt merged with blade, a large ruby pulsated gently. “Wonderful!” exclaimed the Traveller. “The Heart of Love! A rare jewel these days. You’ve certainly claimed your own. You should be all right now. Use your weapon wisely and with dignity. No force is more powerful that Love. But, I must warn you, he’ll hate you even more when he sees it. Be on your guard!” And then he was gone. “Leukos! Hurry! It’s getting worse!” The call was frantic. Grasping his sword firmly, he dashed down the four flights of crystalline stairs, through the magnificent hallway, through the kitchens, down the steps to the cellar – and stopped. The crowd had parted to let him through. Everyone was relying on him! If only he understood what it was all about! Deciding there could be no action without assessing the situation, he listened carefully. Sure enough there were rustlings and murmurings the other side of the great wooden door. matter was atrocious! As he had been warned, the smell of decaying But worst of all were the venomous vibrations.

Whatever was in there, he sensed, was bent on destruction. Would they have weapons? Did they want to take over the place, or to kill? Or both? And why? How many? Quite a lot by the sound of the scurrying which was getting more frantic by the moment. sword? violence? knew. Those gathered round him – house staff, kitchen staff, visitors - were holding their breath and backing into the shadows. Many had armed themselves with spades, forks, rolling pins – anything they could lay their hands on. Their fear was palpable. It would seem there was a battle to win this side of the door before going any further. He turned to face them, the And what should he do with the But the He had never, to his knowledge, ever handled one.

Traveller had assured him he was a fighter! Could one fight without using He threw the question into the void where it automatically The synchronisation echoed in his mind – and he attracted its answer.


sword grasped firmly but his face and body relaxed and calm. seemed no need for words.


Everyone, Leukos included, could feel the

vibrant energies of the sword. It emanated what he could only describe later as an aura of nobility – a mixture of dignity and power: something that was as old as time itself and stood to brook no argument. It certainly had its effect on the present assembly. For a long moment he let his gaze wander from one to the other, enfolding every person is his caring, letting the essence of his sword do the speaking. “Put down your weapons,” he said at last. “There will be no strife. We have visitors, but I do not propose to react on their level. You are free to leave now. I will deal with this.” And he turned once more to face the cellar door. Behind him he could hear the sounds of implements clattering to the floor. Yet he was aware that not a single person walked away. “Come into the light,” he suggested gently. “It is not your place to skulk in shadows.” With that he drew a deep breath and contemplated the stalwart bulk of the huge door – all that now stood between him and the greatest challenge of his life. Tuning in to what lay behind it, he could feel the jagged shards of ill wishing. He understood that the Tower and its inhabitants were under no trivial attack. For a split second Leukos was overwhelmed with a warm wave of compassion for those he was about to meet. Like so many he knew, they must be in turmoil, unsure of their path, ill at ease with themselves. He longed to free them from the dreadful bondage they had trapped themselves in. It was the kindly, gentle warmth that usually accompanied him wherever he went. The moment passed. Suddenly, it was overlaid by a fierce determination. In that moment he understood that to allow them victory was to bind them even tighter in their self-created prisons. would not waver! Whatever lay behind that door was not of the same ilk as the travellers on the Life Line. Never had he felt such bare hatred; such unfettered antagonism. Here was something he could not leave unchecked. He felt the tensile strength of the sword’s metallic core, the majesty of its He


design and the balance of its lines. Every jewel glowed with new intensity. His sense of justice sharpened and he held this before him like a mighty shield. He took a step forward, turned the hefty key, and flung open the door, bursting in on the unsuspecting invaders. The effect was dramatic! For what seemed like a moment suspended in time, the frantic scurrying continued on its own momentum. The micro second came to an end. Like a lot of startled rabbits caught in a car’s headlights, the entire army froze. The light from the scintillating jewels in the sword and the dynamic personality of the new arrival filled the basement. It was hard, later, for Leukos to put a name to the emotion he felt at that moment. Anger was not a good description, though it came pretty His response was immediate. He close. He was, he had to admit, outraged at the sheer audacity and sense of aggression that confronted him. planted his feet squarely on the ground. Between them he placed, carefully and deliberately, the point of the sword, holding its hilt firmly in both hands. Mentally, he forged a link between the heights of the Tower and its connection to the Lands of Light, and the foundations welded to the solid rock of Mother Earth. His eyes swept over the scene before him. They saw in his look a reflection of themselves. Others aggression. For every one of the Thus some saw fear. invaders on whom his gaze fell, the message in his eyes appeared different. A very few had a strange sensation that, had they

understood the word, they would have recognised as compassion. Most turned away, shielding their eyes, as shafts of laser-sharp light shot from the sword. They were not to know these were powered by the personality of its owner. All saw it as a weapon of advanced sophistication beyond their wildest imaginings. In this they were, perhaps, correct. The effect was to break their cohesion as a group, and undermined their concentration. In a split second the united front fragmented. By the time they had regrouped, changes had also taken place on the kitchen side of the door. The Tower-dwellers had gently fallen into line behind Leukos, fortified by the strengthening atmosphere. Many now wore


insignia of gently glowing jewels. To those watching, the display could only have been magnetic – or blinding! It was certainly not the sort of battle for which they had been preparing. Their responses varied dramatically. Those few who had witnessed compassion in the eyes of their enemy, were strangely drawn to the display of colours, and did not shy away as much as the others. It seemed to be no coincidence that they now found themselves in the front line. They looked intently at Leukos as the sword’s energy quietened, allowing their eyes to adjust. It was as though they were not strangers! Fleeting memories stirred – of a train and a journey they had once refused to take. Several wilted under his gaze, fell to their knees and begged for mercy – help – forgiveness… They were scarcely aware of what they were saying. For them the brightness of the glowing gems became more bearable giving them the courage to come towards Leukos and lay their tools and weapons at his feet. “Gather those up and report to my friend here,” he ordered, suddenly aware that Joel had appeared at his shoulder. It gave him no pleasure to watch them grovel before him, whimpering and simpering. He felt a strange and unexpected kinship with them, but there was no time now to examine its provenance. As they gathered up their discarded weapons, he barely had time to notice that these were now altering shape and transmuting into jagged stones, some of which had begun to emit the feeblest of glows. Joel, however, had! He recognised the transition from dark mindlessness to the first stirrings of light. they were waking, bemused, from a long, deep sleep. Leukos turned his attention to the centre of the room. From the way the cringing forms shaded their eyes and turned away their faces, he gathered that the sword’s light shone too brightly for their comfort. They appeared angry, confused and rebellious. Shuffling closer together they muttered amongst themselves in subdued tones, shifting and regrouping. It was clear a united attack was being organised. Taking charge of the situation, he led the men away looking, he thought, for all the world as if


Without hesitation Leukos stepped towards them, the mighty sword raised in front of him. A piercing shaft of light shot forth into the seething mass of dark shapes. To the Tower dwellers it appeared as a stream of the most beautiful energy, with which all forms of darkness must surely be incompatible. The dark ones, however, reacted as though struck by a strong electric current. Those in the heart of it cried out in pain. They collapsed, writhing on the cellar floor. Those immediately behind pulled them to one side, at the same time screaming at them to pull themselves together and fight. They closed in to fill the gap, only to meet the same, overwhelming current of an energy so foreign to them that they were unable to stand. Rank after rank of the invaders followed the same pattern till their resolve faltered and the frantic activity abated. Shattered, disillusioned groups began to sneak out stealthily the way they had entered. Leukos, lowering the sword, watched the invading army retreat, limping silently, sullenly away. He did not, however, relax his vigil, or his grip on the sword. This he planted firmly before him once more. Nevertheless, a few of the boldest stepped towards him. Having had time to gather their wits they had hatched an alternative plan of their own. If the venture under their illustrious master had failed, despite his confident assurances that he was unbeatable, then they would join the other side! It appeared to them a more favourable proposition than staying with a beaten army. With a loud, defiant clatter they flung their weapons to the ground. The gesture was the same as that of their surrendering comrades, but the effect on their arms was not. As weapons intended to harm, they retained their initial energy, remaining hard, metallic and cold. Not a glimmer of light was kindled. Not an incipient gem born. “We’ll join up,” they shouted in unison. It was almost as if they were pre-programmed, Leukos thought with a shudder. having to revise his code of ethics. Until now he had happily embraced all comers into his new domain. ‘Everyone welcome’ had been his motto. Here, though, he found himself A chill passed through him, but he shook it off as new resolve took over. Yet again he was


face to face with slyness, disrespect and scheming. These were not things he was willing to condone. In fact he was determined, to stand against them! As his jaw set more firmly and his grip on the sword tightened a jewel, hitherto lacking in lustre, began to burn with an intensity that matched Leukos’s sense of outrage. “To whom do you owe allegiance?” he challenged them. “To you, my lord,” declared the ringleader. A chorus of “to you my lord” echoed his words. Leukos turned on the speaker his sternest look yet, his face an unreadable mask. “Does such allegiance entitle you to force an entry into private property? To arrive with arms, prepared to fight? To desecrate that which is not yours?” For answer he received an insolent shrug. “I just wanted to see what was in here,” the shadowy figure retorted. “I’m willing to stay and fight for you.” “We’re all willing to fight for you,” chorused the others. “We won’t let you down.” For a mere nano-second Leukos hesitated. chance. The ringleader noticed the hesitation and stepped forward, sure of his victory, a sly grin twisting his lips, a heavy bludgeon clasped behind his back. “Not so fast, my friend!” Leukos’s raised hand interrupted the other’s progress. Another searing beam shot out from a jewel in the sword. Where the first to surrender their arms had been illuminated, this man and his cronies were blinded. clutching their heads. When, eventually, they were able to look up the spokesman spat out: “We’ll be back. Don’t think you’ve seen the last of us!” Struggling to his feet he turned on his heel and led his followers out via the breach in the wall through which they had entered. Letting out a sigh of relief that the matter had ended without anyone getting hurt, Leukos began to relax. What was that? A faint rustling in the darkest recess had all his muscles back on red alert. In a shower of With cries of pain they fell to the ground, Everybody deserved a


multicoloured light he resumed his stance, and his connection with the Lands of Light and the Earthly Kingdom. “Show your face!” he commanded. Slowly an ungainly shape extricated itself from the shadows. With a shock that momentarily lowered his guard, Leukos recognised that the misshapen, bent, grovelling figure was, in fact a man. Another nano-second held time in suspense. This was no stranger! The old sadness that had always accompanied any meeting with the Grumpy Old Man swept over him. seemed to be in trouble. He began to soften. In an instant the Traveller was at his side. “Don’t trust him,” he whispered. “Stand firm.” “Cowards!” yelled GOM, emerging from the depths of darkness. It was not clear whether he was addressing Leukos and his companion, or the remains of his own army. He addressed these now: “Kill them, you fools!” But their weapons lay at Leukos’s feet where they were rapidly disintegrating in the searing rays from the sword. It had not escaped the notice of those whose weapons were no longer of use that their illustrious leader had chosen to lead from behind. As one they turned to see him cowering, snarling and spitting with rage. His face contorted, he was obviously no longer in control of himself or the situation. His hatred of Leukos had robbed him of all dignity or credibility. None wished to stay in this place. The lights in the basement were getting brighter and they had no defence. Those nearest the gap began to sneak out. GOM, beside himself with the loathing that burned in his breast, did not notice until he found himself facing, alone, the barrage of dancing lights. Shaking his fist and screaming obscenities, he shrank back into the shadows and followed his retreating army. The cellar exploded into light and cheers! There were whoops of delight and claps on the shoulder for Leukos. He, however, was locked in a world of his own. He had been in a place inside himself that was new to him. He needed time to make the return journey, and to anchor the new This time the fellow really


knowledge into his very being so that he could find it again. That there would be other occasions when he would need to do so he was quite sure. With a lingering sigh he loosened his grip on the sword and turned to thank the companion who had answered his call for help. But he stood alone. When he looked down his hands were empty. Like his friend, the sword had disappeared when it was no longer needed. He was confident both would return if the call went out. Slowly he turned on his heel and left. He needed to be alone.

Talking about it afterwards Martha had to admit that, despite her doubts, the mission had been a success. “I just couldn’t believe you did not warn him!” she exclaimed. “How could you have let him face such an attack alone? It could have ended in disaster!” The spectacles slid a little further down Henrietta’s nose. “Ah, but he wasn’t alone, was he? You saw how he steadied himself and asked for understanding. You saw the experienced helper who responded to his call. And you saw the Sword of Justice in his hands. I can assure you, he was far from alone!” “And who do you think has been making sure the jewels for the sword were polished to perfection?” Joel’s eyes twinkled as brightly as Henrietta’s as they exchanged knowing looks. Martha realised they had been far from complacent during the time of waiting and wondering. She might have known!

Back in the Tower the moment of jubilation had passed. Now that Leukos had left there was an atmosphere of stunned shock. Quietly those who had witnessed the attack set about clearing up the mess they themselves had caused in their panic: chairs overturned, cooking pots dropped, crockery broken, papers scattered … But the state of the cellar! Polluted and desecrated as it was, none could face it for the moment. The breach in the wall was barricaded up as best they could, using anything that came to hand. A heavy chest was dragged painfully across the 159

lower part of the opening, and anything heavy but liftable they could find, piled on top. Sadly, they shut the great, sturdy cellar door on the makeshift reinforcements, and drew the bolts. Boards were nailed across for extra security, but many wept at the crude, if necessary, treatment of the noble lintels. People spoke in whispers, as if someone had died. Eventually order was restored within the walls. Normal conversation was resumed, orders given, teams formed and comfort administered. Externally, extensive repairs would be needed to the beautiful, crystalline walls. The very next day a team of skilled volunteers wasted no time in shoring up weak points. It would take months for Joel to repair the damage to the crystals. Meanwhile, what was to be done with those who had asked for asylum? It was for Leukos to decide, but where was he? Whilst waiting for his return the ‘prisoners’ had been put in the library under guard. Here they were deprived of their uniforms and any remaining weapons. Names were taken and clothes donated. They were fed and watered. A strange, uneasy state of half-trust developed between the two groups. Everyone was relieved when Leukos, looking much more his normal self, returned, a broad smile on his face. He thanked them all and praised their presence of mind, made enquiries about the repairs and checked the security of the cellar before returning to the question of those to whom he referred as ‘our guests in the library’. Tired and disillusioned, they did not seem to be giving any trouble. The kind reception they had received was not something they were used to! They sat, bemused, wondering where the catch might be. In the end it was decided to put them into one of the big bedrooms on the fourth floor. They would be locked in and a guard mounted, though there was little chance of escape from that height. Lookouts were positioned at all possible exit points. Bright lights were left on all night. As an extra precaution, Sheba was posted outside the room with instructions to ‘Guard!’. Her ears and tail pricked up. At last they understood why she was here! With a large, juicy bone and a good deal of satisfaction she settled herself outside the door. Any sound from within was met with a menacing


growl. Any approach from without elicited a doleful expression that clearly portrayed the extent to which she was feeling neglected. Thus both sides of her nature were satisfied and she spent the night a wakeful, watchful and very happy dog! Next morning the prisoners were interviewed and assessed. The general opinion was that they would benefit from a long stay in the ‘Academy of Bumps and Bruises’. Joel volunteered to order the train and escort them in person. Needless to say, Leukos would not let him go alone. Before they left, the Manikin appeared out of nowhere with a little gift for each of the ‘guests’. With a broad grin and the usual touch to his forelock he placed a tiny, rough stone in the hands of every one of them. With another tug at the forelock he vanished. A present? Nobody had ever given them anything for nothing – not as long as any could remember. Leukos read their thoughts. nothing,” he explained. “It’s not a present, and its not for You made them “These are yours by rights.

somewhere in your life. You can reflect, as you take your journey, where and when you did something praiseworthy in your lives. Then the precious gem inside will start to grow. Joel here will explain more as we travel. One day, when the time is right, you need to find your way to a little jeweller’s shop in Crooked Lane. Someone there will open the rough stone you are holding at the moment, and show you what is inside. I would advise you to keep it safe until that time comes. Ask for Thomas. Say Leukos sent you.” They were dubious. Trusting people was not one of their strengths. So far it hadn’t paid off! But he noticed that none threw away his gift. In fact most were obviously fingering the precious stones as near to ‘lovingly’ as they were capable. Leukos smiled to himself. Perhaps Gwendolyn and Andy would find a way to move these lost souls along life’s pathway. They might succeed where he had failed, so many years earlier. His moment of sorrow was interrupted by Henrietta bustling up beside him. “Now don’t go blaming yourself, my dear,” she soothed, understanding his thinking. “It wasn’t the time then. But it is now. It doesn’t matter whose is the success as long as there is some. Now come


along. It’s time to go. I’ve packed them all some sandwiches. Look. Do you think they’ll like ham and tomato? Oh dear, I wonder if I should have put some mayonnaise in? Or mustard, perhaps? It’s so difficult when we haven’t known them very long!” Leukos lead her away. Fuss, fuss, fuss! Anyone who didn’t know her would think it was all she was capable of. If only they knew! There was no time for further debate on the matter. for the station. A distant whistle announced the imminent arrival of a train and the little party set off Escape was the thing furthest from the minds of the prisoners as a magnificent silver engine glided past them, stopping so that a carriage door opened right beside them. Urged by Joel and Leukos they climbed aboard and settled themselves in the comfortable seats. Comfort! That was something that had not reared its graceful head in their lives before! Comfort - and the strange attitude of their captors. Not knowing the word ‘courtesy’, they were unable to discuss the phenomenon. When Leukos and Joel returned next day they were able to report a trouble-free journey. overwhelming. Their welcome at the Academy had been They It was so good seeing Gwendolyn and Andy again!

were able to place the newcomers into a special unit where they could begin their academic career in an environment that dealt exclusively with ‘beginners’. Leukos had noticed several of his charges looking at him quizzically. He could see the light of a dawning memory stirring in their minds. No doubt its unveiling would be lesson one on their new timetable! Others, sadly, were already showing signs of rebelling at the perceived enforced discipline. Strange, Leukos thought, when they had been slaves to it for so long. With mixed feelings he shook the hands of all his charges before accompanying Joel back to the train. They spoke little on the return journey, both being absorbed in their private thoughts. Leukos would have given anything to be able to see into the future. “Not always wise, my friend!” Joel responded to the thought. “You don’t take disappointments well. Tend to see them as failures, don’t



His eyebrows raised in a question mark, he shot his companion a

meaningful look. “Maybe now you could consider a little patience in your equation?” Leukos smiled at the gentle chiding. Relaxing into his seat, he closed his eyes the better to consider Joel’s comment. reflected, his efforts had met with success. On the whole, he He supposed his greatest

disappointments had been the Grumpy Old Lady whom he had last seen trying desperately to stuff her life’s sufferings back into her cases, and, of course, the Grumpy Old Man. Where, he wondered as the rhythm of the train lulled him into sleep, would they end up? His dreams were not of his two most spectacular failures, but of blue skies, golden light and a beautiful white dove that carried hope in its breast.


To all events there is an aftermath. Our word stems from the Old English word, ‘maeth’, meaning ‘a mowing’. It came, therefore, to describe what came after the mowing: the reaping of the consequences of the action. What follows, therefore, are the consequences in the lives of those whose stories we have been following.


After the attack Leukos took to spending some time everyday making sure everything in his beloved Tower was as it should be. He made it his business to check that all departments were running smoothly. A hiccup in one could affect the health of the entire establishment. He commissioned a window to be made, high in the north wall, from whence any untoward activity could be seen. Once information had been gathered from GOM’s ex-followers, regular sorties were organised to chart this unknown territory. Sensible precautions were always in place: no one ever went alone, nor was anyone sent who was not considered strong enough or stable enough for such a journey. Little by little they explored the territory, charting it as they went and cataloguing any interesting finds. As their understanding and confidence grew, they were able to explore ever deeper into the darkness, though in places its depths were fathomless. Side by side with these sorties into the unlit world were the classes Leukos had long planned. Before anyone could be expected to deal with these Netherlands, he felt, they must be firmly anchored in their ability to scale the heights. He met regularly with Henrietta, Joel and Martha to discuss who was ready for the training. Inevitably those selected had recently taken some major stride forward in their personal development and the occasion would become something of a celebration, akin in many respects to a prize giving. Usually it was Joel who presented the candidate with the most recent highly-polished gem for which they themselves had provided the energy. There were, however, occasions when there was a special guest. The little Manikin joined them whenever he was able to excavate those special jewels of the soul: old friends which had lain unused and buried in secret places, and which their owners were now ready to claim. celebratory bottle of wine! When not teaching, conferring with the team or checking the running of all departments Leukos still found time to be alone in the Tower’s 165 Such moments were especially joyous and tempted Joel to revive his custom of opening a

highermost reaches. He had made a practice of asking to know the sword better, understand its strength and know its weight. At all such practice sessions his friend, the Traveller appeared, full of wise advice and encouragement. But throughout he remained nameless. It was, he explained, a form of personal penance: an atonement for once having sought fame and position. Most of the time, though, Leukos spent alone. That is to say he had no human company. There came a time, however, when a new companion came into his life. It happened on a day when he was gazing up at the golden light high above him, expanding his thinking further than usual and wondering what lay beyond. He longed to commune with it, but whenever he tried the light dazzled and blinded him. And that was when it happened. From the Land of Light beyond the clouds that marked the boundary of his vision, a white dove flew down and settled on the castellated wall near him. It appeared quite tame as it preened its shining plumage. The feeling was strong that it held the key to his problem. How, he kept wondering, did one find a way to help GOM and others like him? He did not feel himself ready to take on single-handed GOM’s underworld of deceit, power-lust and revenge. Such hatred and cruelty were beyond his understanding and he was asking for answers. If he could not reach the light with his questions, and there learn the answers, what was the alternative? He was sure this beautiful creature could understand his thoughts. It seemed sacrilege to speak. Silently, therefore, he greeted and welcomed it. The dove fluttered its wings, rose momentarily into the air and landed on his shoulder. Here it coo-ed gently into his ear. Scarcely daring to breathe, Leukos held himself very still, his thoughts balanced between blending with the dove’s vast, benign energy and his concern about the GOMs of this world. Without warning, the dove took to the air again, its wings brushing his cheek with downy grace. Looking up, he watched as it flew high into the gap in the clouds. In its beak was a large, creamy envelope. It was sealed


with an impressive blob of red wax. Impressed on this was an ornate letter ‘L’. So – he had his own personal messenger and seal! Now he could send his hopes and prayers into higher realms than he himself could, as yet, attain. The thought pleased him immensely! Shielding his eyes, he watched the dove’s progress, hoping that the heavy thoughts contained in his letter were not too weighty for the dove to manage. In response, two streamers trailed from it, fluttering care-free in the breeze. He watched as his request was relayed up into the golden light and beyond. In his bones he felt confident that, though he may never know the outcome, all problems would be dealt with. He was content.

To this day the Life Line continues to operate, and will do so as long as there are people willing to take the journey; for it does, after all, lead them out of chaos towards life’s golden opportunities. What happens to all that baggage? It is very simple. When the traveller no longer holds on to it, it’s life is over. It is a reality only in his eyes. When he no longer needs to carry around the triple energies of fear, needing and possessing, they simply disintegrate. Thus space is created for the beautiful, creative energies that crystallise into the wonderful gems of life.


You may wonder what became of the master jeweller and his life’s companion - that deceptively ordinary, elderly lady whose shrewd assessment of people knows when they are ready for the rough stone to be opened and the jewel revealed in all its glory. This indomitable pair is always with us, spotting our potential and polishing the gems we have to offer. They never grow older, for they are the champions of our talents and virtues. They work always towards helping us to claim what is ours and make it shine.

As you know, Joseph inherited Aphrolane’s position on the Life Line. He ‘retired’ from the shop in the same way as had Joel before him, except that when his turn came, Alicia watched both Joel and Henrietta meet him at Journey’s End. She stayed on just long enough to ensure that Joseph’s enthusiastic, red haired successor, Thomas, was sure of himself. It did not take long. Joseph, in turn, met her and together they continued to help those struggling with their luggage on the frequent train service of the Life Line. There came a day when there was need of an indweller for the latest tower to have been constructed. Over time it had become traditional to instate the retiring Life Line controller, and so Joseph accepted the position – on condition Alicia was part of the team. In turn, Thomas moved on to the task of overseeing of the Life-Line’s many travellers and all their luggage. This did not leave the little jeweller’s shop unmanned. It still flourishes; is always there for you and me. There is always someone to take over – when the time is right.


And the old lady who had harboured so many grievances? Well it took a very long time, but, like everyone else, she did eventually tire of the burdens she was carrying and shed them. What she had treasured and hoarded as grievances turned to experience and understanding. As light dawned in her heart, her These she crafted into possessions turned inevitably to glowing gems.

beautiful jewellery, which she exhibited widely, offering to create items for those who were ready to display their own inner wealth. At times she would recognise among them people she had met long ago – people who had at one time clung to their treasured memories, but were now willing to share their gifts. Eventually this became quite a business venture! After much search, she managed to rent a little room at the top of a quaint little shop in a funny, crooked back street of a bustling town. The shop attracted people from all walks of life. Most, it seemed, hoped to have lumps of unpromising rock polished into quite presentable gemstones. The proprietor was a striking-looking man with graying red hair and a pair of lively, blue eyes. The lady who had rented the room puzzled him. Always polite and pleasant, she kept herself to herself. one of her creations. She was a marvel, for she could fashion something spectacular out of next to nothing. From even two or three tiny stones she would produce a beautiful brooch or a pair of earrings for the ladies; perhaps a ring or a tiepin for the men. And what she could achieve with really spectacular gems left him gaping in admiration! But what puzzled him most, was where she got her supplies, for she never came to him for any of his wares. He suspected it might have something to do with a frequent visitor, who used to turn up not long after the arrival of some her customers. A quaint little fellow who dashed in 169 He would hear voices and laughter, and some time later her customers would emerge with

touching his forelock, and galloped up the stairs. He never spoke – just grinned a happy greeting. The strange thing was, on the rare occasions when a customer left dissatisfied, the Manikin had failed to turn up. There must be some connection, but for the life of him the proprietor could not make it out. He would shake his head and go about his own business. There was always plenty to do.

Life was never again the same for Gregory Obadiah Merryman. His once loyal followers had no qualms about deserting him and going their separate ways. Some found other ‘masters’ before whom to sublimate themselves. They felt, if not stronger, then at least less vulnerable that way. harboured their illusions till old age and infirmity claimed them. G.O.M. dragged his battered, initialled luggage to pastures new. A faint memory flickered of a station by the name of ‘POWER’ – something. The timetable he consulted was dog-eared and torn. Faintly he could make out one more letter. It was an ‘F’. The rest was missing. Assuming it must stand for ‘POWERFUL’ it would appear to answer his needs. He bought a ticket. It was not until he reached his destination that the awful truth was revealed to him. As soon as he alighted at ‘POWER FAILURE’ his energy began to seep away. A tired and broken man, he found himself back at the start of his journey. The now disintegrating cases held large amounts of disillusionment, defeat, despair, anguish and so on. These were more volatile than his previous possessions and somewhat easier to handle. Somehow he didn’t seem to have the will to hang on to them. With an effort he moved on, finding himself one day, a tired wreck of a man, at ‘Utter Chaos’. They


The place looked vaguely familiar. He couldn’t say he like it. The passengers were rude and noisy. What he craved was a bit of peace. And a bit of respect wouldn’t come amiss, for a man of his years! A wave of relief swept over him when a polite young man, with attractive red hair and startlingly blue eyes introduced himself as Thomas, and offered to help with the luggage. Gladly he accepted, and was even better pleased when most of the tired old trunks and cases fell apart in front of his eyes. Thomas showed him to a very pleasant carriage half way up the train. The journey soothed and relaxed him. When he alighted at a charming little station called ‘Fresh Breezes’ he felt unaccountably rejuvenated. And then a quite extraordinary thing happened! A white dove flew out of the heavens and landed like a puff of wind on his shoulder. Quietly preening its feathers it called softly in his ear: proo-proo it crooned. For the first time in his life Gregory felt at peace with another living creature. An unusual need to dab his eyes caused him to feel in his pocket for a handkerchief. His fingers met something hard. Pulling it out he found he was clutching a rather beautiful, glowing gemstone. Out of the corner of his eye he had a fleeting impression of a strange little Manikin tugging at his forelock as he scampered away. It had been the strangest of days, yet he had the most satisfying feeling of coming home.

Martha walks quietly along side us. Never critical, she waits patiently for that moment when we are ready to face our fears and solve our problems. She will take us to those magical places of our inner being where truth and knowledge lie. When it is necessary for us to understand the damaged child within, and to face and forgive those who caused us hurt, Lucy will join her. Lucy, with her effervescent spirit of youth. Whatever, whoever may have been 171

the cause of our pain, remember Lucy and let her bubbling energy lead you into the dark cellars to clear up the mess. You may be sure she will be with you to celebrate your freedom!

This cheerful, hard-working little fellow works ceaselessly for us, guarding the jewels we have forged somewhere along the way but left carelessly in the crevices of our being. He keeps watch over them, tending them, like a precious harvest, keeping them from harm until we are ready to claim them. His work, you will have noticed, is behind the scenes, unobtrusive. Whatever he may think of our carelessness in leaving such treasures unused and unguarded, he lives only for the pleasure of returning them to us undamaged. Remember, also, his cheerful smile. Never repay his labours with the dull, weighty and ugly stones of guilt. He understands our frailties only too well, yet, despite these, serves us only with his infectious, joyful greeting. The least we can do is reclaim, gratefully, what is ours, and use it humbly.

This radiant Being never leaves us. Walk quietly along the beach when the day’s activities are done. Sit silently by the living flames of life. Listen to what she has to say. She loves you dearly, for she is the very heart of you. Together you have travelled the broad highways of Time. Together you will reach your destiny.


This now stands as a sentinel guarding the countryside around, and as a beacon to attract those whose sense of wonderment has begun to sharpen. Other towers were built, of course, created from the gems provided by the true Seekers of Life. Lessons were learned, and advice freely given by Leukos, Joel, Henrietta and Martha. The goal of such constructions was to shine with beauty and reach ever higher. Much emphasis was placed on two fundamental requisites. The first was to ensure the edifice was built on firm foundations. A flimsy desire to ‘do good’, or idle curiosity as to the purpose of life were not enough. Such a project had to be rooted in inner yearning and firm intention. This had, of course, been provided by the Rock Gazers who had recognised the magical place in their midst and fed it the energies of their longing. The second was to ensure there were no blind spots. Every tower, from that time onwards, has been built with windows facing in all directions, even towards the dark and dubious areas. Future tower dwellers were encouraged to keep a balance between their search for higher knowledge, and an awareness of those who might seek to undermine their venture. No tower, therefore, is now without its faithful guard dog. Regular checks are made at vulnerable points. Education is given to raise awareness and understanding of those ever wishing to undermine the noble structures of life. Meanwhile hope streams out from the growing crystalline web of towers that has grown across the land. sight. On clear days white doves can sometimes be seen soaring to impossible heights and disappearing from


After the attack Sheba found herself in a doggy seventh heaven where pats and cuddles, new exciting tit-bits, words of praise or a new toy would fall on her from above. She was not so besotted, however, as to relinquish her vigilance and her guard. Nor were her human companions ever again so careless as to ignore her warnings. These were never to be needed on such a scale again, but she could sniff out undesirable influences long before anyone else had inkling. Nor was she, from that moment on, regarded as simply ‘a dog’. Her position in the workforce was highly respected, and she became adept at teaching newcomers her ways. Nobody ever again challenged her authority. Henceforth Leukos paid great attention to Sheba’s moods. messages of her ever-mobile tail. Her status was elevated from household pet to Number One Guard Dog. With pride she wore a new collar on which were inscribed, in tiny jewels, the words: ‘SHEBA – Canine Light Worker’. He came to recognise warning postures, interpret her whines and growls, and trust the

This was vouchsafed to Leukos in his hour of need. There is a sword for every one of us when we claim our strengths. Our personal sword will not so much be tailored to suit our needs, as fashioned from the strengths we have provided. You may be sure that when the sword is ready, a need for it will arrive to test and strengthen us!


The Crystal Line became ever busier as more and more travellers were attracted to the Land of Opportunities. In time – a great, long fullness of time – when Joel and various successors had moved on - a new regulator was appointed. His name was Gretna, chosen because in the Old Language it denoted the act of greeting and welcoming. His official title, in the records, was ‘Greeter of Mankind’. It may appear rather grand to us, but we must remember that such terms hold universal energies and it is not for us to criticise. Such was Gretna’s pleasant manner and encouraging demeanour that this seemed entirely appropriate. He was highly thought of by all who travelled on the silver train. Many admired his smart uniform, on the lapel of which, created out of minute, glittering crystals, were the initials of his official role: G.O.M. He was immensely proud of them.



Dear Readers, I have done my best to record events, as I understand them. Are these stories true? To a certain extent they are.

They are the truths that lie in all of us, and which unfold from time to time in our various destinies. You must understand that ‘time’, in the sense of

universal tides, is not as we know it. I have recorded these events for you, but cannot give you a scale by which to measure them.

and be grateful for what I have been able to unfold. I remain,

I trust you will forgive this lapse in my abilities Be assured, dear friends, of my devotion to duty.

Your Humble Scribe.



Except for:


TERMS USED IN ‘LETTER TO MY READERS’ FABLE FABULOUS A legend; a myth; the plot of a drama or epic poem. From Latin ‘fabula’, whish is from ‘fari’ – to speak. a) feigned, fictitious, invented. b) (colloquial) wonderful, very good, very enjoyable FABULIST FETCH a writer, or inventor of fables to go forth and bring; to cause to come (Old English: ‘feccan, fetian’ – probably related to ‘foet’: step, journey) IMAGINATION the faculty of forming images in the mind; the artist’s creative power


JOELMAEGESTER – from a) JOEL Jewel (old French) and b) MAEGESTER master (Old English) LEUKOS white (Greek)

APHROLANE’s name invented itself. He is very real to me!




It was over a quiet cup of tea one summer afternoon, that a friend announced: “I’m ‘getting’ that you have to write five short stories”. I knew what she meant by ‘getting’. It was her way of stating that the understanding had come to her inutitively. “What about?” I asked. We weren’t talking about stories, or writing, or what I might or might not do. “I don’t know,” came the unhelpful answer. No problem, I thought. I’d been writing short stories for years. My cupboards were bulging with finished and half-finished ideas. Nothing could be simpler! “There you are then.” She seemed to think that clinched the matter. “What age-group are these stories meant to be for?” it occurred to me to ask. She paused to reflect. “Young people - of all ages,” came the reply. It sounded a bit Harry Potterish to me! So I littered the floor with a host of never-submitted manuscripts. They were mostly children’s stories, but there were, perhaps five I could rake up suitable for an older age group. But there seemed no rhyme or reason to put any of the stories together. I shelved the problem, awaiting inspiration – which was slow coming. It crept in unexpectedly on a train journey. I never travel without the means to allay boredom. Not being a great magazine person, I always keep a pad and pen to hand. As I gazed at the scenery sliding by in a I fascinating blur of shapes and colours, there were interesting stirrings in my imagination – of a mystical traveller, and a train on Life’s journey. 180

finished the story before arrival at my destination. It was six pages long. Only four more stories to do! When I realised these stories were supposed to form a book the matter became more serious. As I re-read my efforts, a railway station materialised in my mind. It did not appear to be a very pleasant place, and the description I started to write resulted in an equally unpleasant passenger erupting from the ticket office. When the mystical traveller from the original account called him ‘the Grumpy Old Man’, I had no idea they were to become so inextricably intertwined, or in so many guises. Gradually the station became populated with more and more passengers, and the number of stations along the route multiplied to accommodate their various needs. captured my enthusiasm. I have a chair, near a patio door – lots of light, paper and pens always to hand, so that when wisps of an ideas begin to form I can capture them. They are very elusive. It’s no use waiting till next day, or until I’ve had a cup of tea. They are so insistent - Write me down – NOW! Thus it was that Joseph suddenly arrived on a clean page and took over the rest of my day – and many more to come. I had no idea where he was going, except that his eventual destination was something I had seen in a dream. I think it was actually someone else’s dream, for I remember her describing to me that she was walking down a busy high street, full of traffic, with a headlight tucked under each arm. When I ‘tuned in’ I understood that her dream symbolised her search, but that she was looking in the wrong place. Life’s treasures, I was shown in my own mind, are often to be found in tiny, unobtrusive back streets. And so Joseph’s quest became clear. He seemed to want to start in childhood, and explain his dilemma, so I let him. I recognised his problem! When it looked like being a forlorn love story, I was disappointed. But I was thrilled to bits when Henrietta turned up. I called her Henrietta, because it was my grandmother’s name, and Granny had the It was a fascinating journey! The finished story finally assumed more realistic proportions and had quite


same build and rather fussy demeanour, if not the fancy walking stick and perspicacity. (She was probably a dab hand with the ham sandwiches, though.) I needed a very special name for the old man who ran the shop in the crooked lane, so I started to look in my dictionary for the origins of words. It was fascinating! There was something about ‘Joelmaegester’ – the jewel master – that seemed just right. My late husband used He turned out a bit of a fusspot like to collect crystals, and was quite Henrietta, but then, they suited each other. knowledgeable about their formation in the long travail of their earthly development. I would tease him, saying we should have lived in a quarry, not a house. He used to polish the samples he found – bits of tiger eye or tourmaline perhaps - in a tumbler, and made me one or two pieces of jewellery which I treasure. Why not do likewise in the little shop? And so the crystal theme was born, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was getting the hang of this now, and looked in the recesses of my mind for more material. Years earlier I had been led through a guided I had a meditation where I walked along a beach to a huge campfire.

problem, and was told that when I walked round the other side I would meet the person or object I most needed . And there she was – this lovely, tall, serene being who embraced me. “She loves me!” I cried to my helper. “Of course she does, she’s your higher self,” came the reply. We also used the treasure chest in the cave, but I cannot now remember what I found. Later I discovered I could take myself on such trips. The answers I found were always very helpful. I never met the young child – well not that way, anyhow. But I am an old lady now, and I do make such trips from my armchair when the need arises. And yes – I did even meet the little Manikin who had my treasures safe in the cracks of a groyne running down to the sea. I have so enjoyed following his antics as the stories developed. Next to nibble at my mind was a tall white tower, which I had also received in meditation as my personal edifice in which I should teach myself to reside. And so I started on ‘The Ivory Tower’. I wasn’t too happy with


this title. According to my dictionary, an ivory tower is ‘a shelter from realities’. Not at all what I wanted to say! Describing the drift of the stories to a friend, she cottoned on to the way crystals were creeping into the narratives. “Why not call it a ‘Crystal Tower’?” she suggested. Why not, indeed! I spoke to one of my daughters about the idea, telling her I wanted to give my tower an ‘indweller’, someone very wise, as our higher self invariably is, who would work from the top of the tower, but that I was becoming aware of problems at the back, service area of my edifice. “Oh!” she said, “It’s a well-known fact that people can become too spiritual and forget to take notice of what is going on at a lower level.” Ah! So I was not imagining this? Her approval gave me the courage to develop the theme. It also gave me a reason to use a paragraph that had, as it were, tumbled out of my pen earlier: ‘They might have won the battle had they not stood out so starkly black against the white. Like an army of ants they came …’ I felt it would make a wonderful beginning to a story, but it didn’t seem to be my sort of theme. And then I remembered GOM – and he was on his way to fame! It was about this time that a light went on in my mind. Although all the stories were different, why not draw elements from all of them together in the final story? Why not have crystals playing a central, linking theme? This led to much brainstorming on a huge sheet of paper, arrows crisscrossing, names scribbled down, crossed out, re-routed. It was a nightmare! It was at this point that I started to ask seriously for help from what I call ‘Upstairs’! Armed with the inevitable pen and notebook, I would ask my questions. Something like: ‘I’ve got this character stuck here, at a) and I want to get him to point b) where he is supposed to meet up with ‘x’. What do they do?’ My method is never to stew over an answer, but to keep writing in the certain knowledge that an answer will arrive. I am seldom disappointed, for the act of writing uses up my thinking capacity, and leaves my mind free to ‘listen in’. How does this work? I


wrote it down once. As always, the language that arrives is more beautiful that anything I can write: ‘I get these ideas, and they chase each other around, and expand. One leads to another, like an explosion of thought, a burst of fireworks. And then, like fireworks, they die out and the moment is gone. So I have to write frantically to capture them. They can be so elusive! I find myself being the observer; watching them float by, multiply, form new patterns – beautiful patterns, which spread, merge, fade, recede, reassemble… I can’t write them down fast enough. I’m afraid I’ll lose them if I don’t get it down quickly. It is easier not to write. But then, I suppose, something in me begins to die. I lose the light of inspiration. What happens if I follow the light? The dancing begins: the patterns, the kaleidoscope – beautiful, graceful, full of energy – Life itself.’ Thus it was that characters made their way into the final story, that the attack became inevitable, as also did Leukos’s personal progression. The dove with the letter has its own story. At one time I ran a little healing group and we would think of people we had heard about, either personally or in the news. Then we would compare what we had ‘seen’ or ‘felt’ during the quiet times. It was fascinating, in that my son-in-law, who is rather mechanically minded, would get imagery in, say, nuts and bolts, while my daughter and I ‘saw’ flowers. But the interpretation we understood was the same. Thus we understood that our helpers knew us very well! On one occasion, I asked if we could think of a man whose story I had heard on the news. He lived, I understood, in some Eastern country where punishments are more barbaric than those we use. I don’t remember what crime he had committed, but the sentence was, I think, one hundred lashes once a week for a year.


How could anyone, however much of a criminal, survive not only the physical effects, but the anticipation of a repetition in a week’s time? As we sat quietly and sent out thoughts I fell to wondering whatever sort of sadist could agree to carry out such a task. Immediately a brick wall came up in my inner vision, blotting out what I was trying to ‘see’.. It was actually quite stern! ‘Don’t even go there’ it said. I understood I was not ready to deal with this. But my thoughts were honoured, for they were sealed in an envelope, and taken up by a white dove into a beautiful light. I knew that the dove would carry our prayers over to the other side of the wall where people more advanced than ourselves would deal with the problem. From the envelope two beautiful, happy streamers fluttered in the breeze. There is no need, however grave the situation, to burden it with our own shock and horror! And so the Crystal Tower began to take shape nicely, all elements finally falling into place. The fifth story had, by this time, been completed. It, too, had arrived

unexpectedly one day as I sat in my chair by the window. The urge to write overcame me and I wrote solidly most of the day. I do this by hand, as it is easier to ‘listen’ to my inner inspiration than when I’m on the computer. I thought the story had a lot to offer, and as it grew it got more magical. I won’t tell you what it was about, because it never made it into the final five! The reason was that my dear friend, Myffanwy, without whose encouragement, proofreading and technical know-how I might never have persevered, kept putting a spoke in the wheel! Every version of that story I sent her always met with some doubt or other. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something just wasn’t right. So I sat in my chair and asked what the problem was. Suddenly all became clear. It wasn’t the story itself – it just was never meant for this set! (And I have just the idea for its companion!)


It took quite some courage to start on an entirely new story, now that so much was marrying together so perfectly. What, I asked myself, and the universe at large, was the core message of the stories? It seemed to be a journey through Life’s educational systems. And so ‘The Life Line’, which was originally the first story, got demoted to second. It didn’t seem to mind. A general reshuffle was needed all the way through, as new elements in ‘The Wondrous Web of Learning’ did not tally with some already established events. So there was a brain-teasing period of tweaking. One character from the abandoned story had to be cut out of the final one, and his counterpart from the new one inserted. In the end, I think it was better! And that would appear to be the end of the matter, but another bit of magic had happened half way through. Two of the stories were finished, a third well on the way, the fourth in its infancy, and the fifth still but a haze in my mind, when I had a dream. In the dream I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, and the friend who had originally told me she was ‘getting’ I should write the stories, was also sitting on the floor, to my left. To my right there was a strange mist. Suddenly out of it leapt two beautiful young adult cats. They made straight for me and landed in my lap. I was amazed. My friend is a healer and all animals make straight for her! Why me? Then a smaller cat, half grown, ran over to me. And then a tiny kitten emerged, staggering across the floor. I looked up, and there, in the mist, was the ghostly form of a kitten-yet-to-be. Very recently I asked to see how the animals were doing. One large, mature, very healthy cat walked confidently up to me. I take it that I have achieved unity, health and, I hope, beauty by my efforts. May you be visited in your dreams – waking or sleeping – by understanding, inspiration and peace. God bless you, fellow traveller.




About The Author
Patricia Helen Robins

About Patricia’s Work
Patricia is a prolific producer of high quality paintings and other artwork, as well as a very gifted author of inspiring and enlightening writings and books.

Patricia on Patricia
Hello! I arrived, some seventy-eight years ago, on the cusp of Cancer and Leo. Thus it has been my life’s task to find the balance between gentleness and strength, and to marry the mystical with the practical. I have had to overcome Cancer’s desire to run back into my shell at the first sign of challenge, with Leo’s ability to exercise an inner strength.


It is now over forty years since a very advanced psychic told me, “You know you are an artist, don’t you?” Having failed every art exam at school, I didn’t know! But I trusted her, and I tried. I kept trying till I could produce a creditable painting and began to sell my work. About ten years ago this lady told me there was a new kind of art coming into the world. I hoped I might one day be a part of it. Mostly, however, I write, trying to capture in words the essence of thoughts flowing into my mind. These stories, poems and insights are always beautiful and rewarding. Many have found their way into spiritually-inspired stories and poems. A lot more are circulating in my consciousness, waiting to be born.

Patricia Helen


“It is unusual these days to find oneself in the hands of a genius” Lyz Harvey

“Inspired & inspiring stories. A helping hand along life’s unpredictable path” Myfanwy Cook

“Patricia illustrates beautifully the spiritual dimensions of the human condition” Susan Humphrey


Special Thanks:
My grateful thanks to: Lorraine Wright for her original insight in “Knowing” that I should write five stories (see “The Story Behind The Stories” at the end of this book), without her none of this would ever have happened. Gahan Oliver, a gifted artist and teacher, who guided me through painting the original web of crystals. Gahan is, herself, no stranger to the descriptive phrase and elegant expression in both art and words. Lyz Harvey, Author of: ‘The Ripples and The Tapestries’, a spiritual mystery novel [ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4389 – 7901 – 4 ]. My grateful thanks for her totally unexpected and unsolicited comment. Susan Humphrey, friend, seeker and fellow traveller. Myfanwy Cook, to whom I am eternally grateful for her editing, frank comments, encouragement and loyal friendship. Ray Murray who kindly offered to promote this book and my work by creating my website. I am grateful to his patience and support, as new ideas flowed, necessitating numerous alterations. And to you, dear reader, for making the effort to join me on this journey. I truly hope you have enjoyed it. Patricia Helen Robins


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