SHORT STORY: Water-meadow Memories, by Chris Campbell

A water-meadow  Picture by Nicky Richards
A water-meadow Picture by Nicky Richards
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Chris is a retired driver and has been writing short stories, books and more recently poetry, for around three years.

The old gentleman was sitting in his favourite armchair in front of a blazing log fire.

Chris Campbell, the author of Water-meadow Memories

Chris Campbell, the author of Water-meadow Memories

Outside, it was mid-winter and there was a thick covering of snow on the ground, and on the branches of the pine trees bending some almost to the ground.

The inside of the cottage was warm thanks to the fire; luckily there was a ready supply of wood from the copse outside.

A glance at the mantelpiece revealed a series of photographs in frames. One sepia photograph depicted a strikingly good-looking Indonesian woman and a man in military uniform, both staring straight ahead at the camera. His parents.

Looking at the image bought back memories of an incident that had taken place over half a century ago in the city in southern England that he and his family had lived.

His parents bought their first house there when his father left the army after many years of service and it was where he had grown up.

When he was a young lad the old gentleman had often gone on walks with his father, in the days when they were reasonably close.

They would explore and ramble through the local countryside where they lived then, sometimes on bikes but often on foot.

That had changed as he grew up and towards the end of his father`s life they had ceased speaking or having any contact with each other.

On that particular day, when times were good between them, he and his father had gone out for a walk through one of the nearby villages, first taking the road and then returning along the river bank, after stopping in the village for a drink in the small public house there, squash for him and a beer for his father.

On the return leg they were walking along a small path beside the river. The path wound around growths of bushes and trees and skirted an area where the river bank had collapsed at some time in the distant past.

There was a bend in the path ahead, just a small turn before the path ended in the expanse of the water-meadows.

As they approached the bend they heard shuffling footsteps behind them. They looked round to see a figure shambling along with his head down and his hands in his pockets.

The old gentleman`s father seemed suspicious of the figure for some unexplained reason and bade them stop for a moment to allow the figure to pass. The figure shambled past them looking neither to left or right. His father said ‘good day’ to him but there was no response.

The figure didn’t look round or even acknowledge the old gentleman and his father, which to his father seemed strange as he said it was human nature to glance over your shoulder when you walked past someone.

This was probably an ages old habit passed down through the generations from times wilder and more lawless than they were now, to ensure that the person wasn`t suddenly going to attack you.

Once the figure had passed, the old gentleman and his father continued walking, reaching the final bend in the path only a matter of seconds behind the figure.

Once round the bend the path ended in the broad open expanse of the water-meadows, and playing fields used by several local schools.

There was no one there. The old gentleman and his father exchanged puzzled glances and continued on their way across the meadows.

About a hundred yards away a young family was playing with a small dog, throwing sticks for it to chase.

The old gentleman`s father was fond of dogs and as they grew closer to the family group he whistled to see if the dog would come to him.

The dog pricked up its ears at the sound and came pelting across the grass towards them.

Suddenly the dog dug its front paws into the ground and came to a shuddering stop about 20 yards away. It went down flat on its belly, with its hair stood on end, tail swishing wildly and emitting a low growling noise.

The young family came running towards them to see what had happened. The old gentleman and his father stood still in sheer amazement, wondering what on earth had spooked the dog so, as nothing was visible or appeared to be amiss.

After 30 seconds the dog relaxed a bit and ventured slowly towards them, still wary though, as if it expected something to happen.

Once it reached them it, it rolled over for its belly to be tickled and seemed like it was back to normal.

The young family reached them and everyone was wondering what the dog had sensed to cause its unusual behaviour.

The old gentleman`s father explained about the figure that had just passed them on the path but despite them and the family looking all around, there was no one there.

The family said that they had been playing with the dog for the past ten minutes or so and had seen no one emerge from the path until the old gentleman and his father had appeared.

Who the mystery figure was, they had no idea. And despite enquiries with the nearby allotment-holders and the residents of the houses that bordered the playing fields and water-meadow, no one was able to shed any light on the strange occurrence.

Where did he go and who or what was he?