IN SEARCH OF LILIA
Able sat on a local bus and looked around him.
Since leaving the hospital where he'd been treated for exhaustion and exposure, he'd walked a mile or so and started to feel rotten almost straight away. They'd warned him, of course, don't try to do too much, you'll suffer if you do, remember you've been quite ill and need time to recuperate, and you're not as young as you were...
Not as young as he was! Of course he wasn't! He didn't need that rubbing it! He felt bad enough as it was without being reminded of his proximity to the realm of the Grim Reaper.
The good news, so far as he was concerned, was that he had his bus pass with him, so he could travel locally without having to bear the cost out of his frugal funds – and he had totally forgotten to bring identification or a bank card with him, so he would be unable to add to them until he got back home.
The bus, it suggested on the destination plate at the front, was going to Fulsome Sands. Fulsome Sands, and he was hoping to find a big desert where Lilia was waiting for him.
That sounds like a desert to me, he'd thought, and he'd climbed on the bus, grateful not to have to use his legs for the time being. The trouble with me is I don't know my own age, he grumbled inside his head, probably because the nurse had told him exactly that before he'd left her world and disappeared into the chaos of normal life. And it was chaos. He had no idea where he was. They'd offered him an ambulance to take him home, but he wasn't going home. He knew that.
The trouble was, he only had the vaguest idea where he might be going and now it had been defined at Fulsome Sands.
He stared out of the window. The small town (he assumed that's what it had been – a small town) gave way to fields and hedgerows and they, in their turn, gave way to sandy scrubland.
This looks like the beginnings of a desert, he told himself, and winced because his own silent voice inside his head sounded loud, almost deafening.
Slowly the bus passed a sign that welcomed him and everyone else on the bus to Fulsome Sands and a handful of children sitting behind him started chattering excitedly.
Bloody kids, his head said. Then: I wonder if they gave me stuff to make me so miserable when I was in hospital? he asked himself and decided that they probably had.
After all, he wasn't normally so bad-tempered.
When the bus arrived at its terminus it turned out that Fulsome Sands was a seaside resort, and despite the lateness of the year it was home to hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors, all of whom were trying to find some kind of artificial pleasure in side-shows, candy-floss and sticks of rock with the words “Fulsmoe Sands” misspelt through their sugary length.
This is the last sort of place I wanted to go to, his head rumbled to him. All these people pretending to be having a good time whilst they're nothing more than fodder for the wallets of seaside con-men with nothing to offer in return but false hopes and dreams and tacky plastic rubbish...
Grumpy Able was starting to feel grumpier. He was seventy and felt it, and his recent spell in hospital had barely done anything to cheer him up.
He sauntered down the main street, the promenade that ran parallel to the sea, all open shop fronts, tacky souvenirs and sweet-smelling sugars with the odd barbed whiff of cheap burgers and cheaper onions, and scowled at anyone who dared look at him. He was out of his comfort zone, and knew it.
Once, when he'd been a boy living with his parents, he'd loved the seaside, the digging of channels in the sand of a damp beach, the making of castles out of sand with little national flags and water bombs, the sheer joy of imagining an alien sandy world, but those days were long in the past and now, when he looked around hi, he merely felt grumpy.
He wandered into an amusement arcade with clattering machines, coins tinkling into rather than out of slots, screens whistling and howling as avatar creatures were bustled through desperate lives by shrieking kids holding joysticks, and he didn't know why. It seemed, maybe, that some force he knew nothing about had guided him to where he normally wouldn't go.
He paused to watch a boy at a fruit machine. Coin in, press buttons, money lost. Then again: coin in, press buttons, money lost.
The coin in, press buttons, chink-chink-chink! Money won! Lots of money won, followed by more coin in, button pressed, money lost.
Easy come, easy go, he grumbled in his head.
He moved on.
A child, a girl in her pretty young years, maybe ten,, was trying to guide a small and remarkably feeble crane in a perspex cabinet to pick up a petite and virtually worthless teddy bear.
Easy come, easy go, he grumbled again.
The teddy bear slipped from the crane's grasp and the girl giggled.
Then he saw a curtained entrance with pseudo-Victorian glass panels in a cubicle wall. The door behind the curtain clearly led somewhere. It had to.
“Cross my palm with silver, young man,” croaked a voice, and a woman, old enough to be dead, poked her head through the gap in the curtain. “I come from the Romany,” the woman continued, her small and beady eyes glinting. “I can tell your future, mister. I can open your eyes and make you see what is to come! I have the Gypsy spirit in me, the special foresight, and all you have to do is cross my palm with silver...”
He was about to tell her that would do nothing of the kind, he didn't have enough silver to waste even the smallest coin on a con-trickster like she was, sod her, when his eyes caught the sign above her curtained doorway.
PRINCESS LILIA it read, and underneath, faded with too many years of being there, the message Lilia's eyes on the future will tell your fortune...
He looked at the haggard old Romany woman and recognised the eyes. They were dark. They penetrated. He knew those eyes.
“Show me,” whispered, suddenly feeling faint.
© Peter Rogerson 10.11.13
This is the thirteenth part of a silly story. If you like what you have read here and fancy some links to the earlier parts, here are links. Heaven only knows how many parts there will eventually be! Click whatsoever part you require.