We were shunned by our culture. We faced discrimination and abuse. We were different. That is why nobody trusted us.
They called us “creatures” – less than human beings. We were more than human, able to sense the world, to taste and feel the air about us. We could look into people and see the good in them and the bad. We could feel their sadness and cry tears with them. We could offer hope.
This my story. My name is John. I am a creature.
It began for me in 1980 when, one rainy Saturday, I was involved in a road traffic accident. My injuries were many: broken legs, broken pelvis, broken wrist and a fractured skull. I don’t remember the accident. Nor do I recall events leading up to it, and I certainly have only a sketchy memory of the ensuing weeks.
I was taken to hospital and, in the operating theatre, surgeons attempted to patch up the broken parts of me. Apparently, I overheated, and began to fit. During that moment, my heart stopped, and I died.
It took them two and a half minutes to revive me and when I came back. Something else came back with me. It wasn’t a demon or other entity. Nothing as dramatic as that.
It was a sensitivity.
My memories of that time are fragmented. I remember the hallucinations; squads of soldiers filing at my bedside. Strangers sat by my bed without speaking. Friends and relatives visited, but I was subdued and reticent. They visited less and eventually they stopped altogether.
When I told the doctors and nurses of the hallucinations, they explained it was common and due to the drugs that I was being administered. I accepted their explanation: it was the drugs, nothing to worry about.
The layout of the beds on the ward and colours of the linen. These were like ripples to me.
The most shocking experience was being touched by a stranger. Say, if a new nurse or doctor touched me, perhaps to gain my attention or to examine me, it was as if a light appeared behind them shining distinctly over their shoulder, as if an angel had arrived, and the person was cast into silhouette. I could see inside their heart, the goodness, the kindness and the compassion within them. Information came to me, as if I could divine their name and their thoughts. I saw images from their past. Their childhood. Their graduation day. The happiness of those memories.
Frankly, this terrified me. Was I insane? How was it possible? If I mentioned this, the nurse would smile and explain that it was the drugs.
I had suffered a severe head injury and things might seem topsy-turvy for a while. Ok, it was the topsy-turviness of the drugs, I wasn’t insane after all. As the nurse walked away, I could hear her whispering, saw images of notes she had not yet written
“John is very unwell. His behaviour is abnormal”.
I could hear whispering of people around my bed: people who weren’t there at all, talking to each other in whispers. It was like listening to a radio that was not quite tuned in to any frequency. Polyglots talked to each-other in languages I could not understand.
Gradually, I healed, physically at least. I was walking again. My bones were healed. I was discharged from hospital and returned to my parents’ home.
Mum and Dad watched me all the time. They discussed me when I wasn’t in the room. It didn’t matter, I could still hear them.
“Maybe he’ll improve with time. We owe him that, he’s our son”.
I watched TV, but I could see mum and dad from the corner of my eye, watching me. I’d turn to face them.
“Hello mum, dad” I’d say.
They would shy away. That hurt. It wasn’t just my parents. Friends avoided me. If I went out, people nudged each other and whispered, “He’s the one I told you about”.
I was isolated from everyone. Why? Because I was different? Well, yes, I was different to the person that I had been before. I heard whispers. I read thoughts. I could close my eyes and whatever I thought about, I suddenly knew all about it. People. Places. Events. If a stranger touched me, I’d see the flashy angel light and I’d see inside them – the good, the happiness.
I didn’t deserve this “gift”. This dead weight that I carried around with me.
Then the dreams began.
The main rampart and external ditch ran parallel to the coast. The ridge had risen, and the cliffs were high. At one end of the hill, an incomplete series of ramparts curved back to the cliffs and an opposite rampart reached the cliffs on the side of the bay. This wasn’t the main structure of the fort. That stood half a day’s walk along the coast. Instead, we used it as an enclosed pasture for the animals. Beyond that, it was of no strategic value.
We were farmers, breeding and raising livestock. Life had continued this way since earlier days were mists. We were also Dora warriors. Even the women. Children in our care were the future legacy.
Ianna appeared at my side. Clutched at my arm. “Augustan horns are closing” she said urgently. “We must hurry!”
I gave her a swift and admiring glance. Ianna, my wife, flaxen red hair, red lips, trinkets and charms adorned her clothes and hung braided in her hair and across her forehead. She was the healer. Like myself, a creature. She had special gifts; an ability to foretell events, to feel the joys and miseries of others. I had these abilities, too, but to a lesser extent. My role was to protect the tribe and to kill Romans.
Vespasian’s second Augustan legion had repeatedly charged the fortress, decimating the tribe. The situation was worse than poor; so dire that creatures controlled the tribe. This is how bad things were for us.
I barked commands and animals were led into carts.
From the peak of the hill I could see carts wending their way across the heath towards Corf Molin further inland. Some hoped the legion would feast on the animals, then leave us alone. Ianna and I knew all hope was lost. We had to return to the defensive fort.
When the last cart departed, I and others fled along the cliff path. A strong sea breeze buffeted against me and I could taste salt in the air. Across the cliff tops we passed the bay and then the cove. A corf had been cut in the rock leading us down to the foot of the defensive structure: huge rampart curtains and steep access to the hill.
We could hear the thunder of Roman feet across the heath. The sound of horns. I turned to Ianna and said, “Let the flame rekindle between us.” Ianna nodded, then she and other women took the hands of the children and led them away through the fortress.
Our aim was to hold the legion back. To engage them, giving the women and children time to scramble down the cliff path and escape across the beach. They were the only Dora hope. I and the rest of the men would die that day.
Romans were armed with metal swords, helmets and shields. We had nothing but sharpened sticks, agility, guile and the generosity of our Gods.
A horn sounded, and Romans began their advance. I cried out commands and began running down the hill into battle.
The last thing I saw was blood in my eyes, red like Ianna’s hair. I tried to call her name, but the darkness took me.
Enjoying my lunch in the Barista’s café, Port Talbot, I watched as an old man who’d been sitting at the next table picked up his cup and moved to sit opposite me at mine. He offered his hand for me to shake, which I did.
In that moment, I saw the angel light. Like a dream, I could see him in a bearskin, wielding an axe. I saw him in a Norman Hauberk, storming the Housecarl shield wall. I saw him in the shadow of a majestic castle, his expression torn with pain at the arrow buried in his chest. I saw him burning alive at the stake. The images desisted.
“Ieuan”, the old man said in his lilting West Glamorgan accent. “Like you, I am John. Like you, I am a creature”.
“How did you know?” I asked, my words stumbling out.
“I saw the loneliness in your eyes. We live in isolation”
“You and I, and the others”
“Are there many?”
Ieuan shook his head sadly “Not any more, we are few”.
Silence for a few moments, as we both consulted our thoughts. Then Ieuan said, “I’ve seen everything. You know I have. She is waiting for you”
“Ianna?” Suddenly my spirits lifted. I had lived too many lives. Each time searching for her. There had been women, but none were my Ianna.
“Or whatever name she uses now,” Ieuan persisted.
“Do you know where she is?” I asked. I could almost feel her slipping away.
“It’s the connection” Ieuan explained. “That first touch. I shook your hand, now I know your thoughts, as you know mine”
I nodded “Yes” I said. I knew he wasn’t lying to me.
“I realise how difficult it is for you to touch, but touch many. Their thoughts may lead you to her”
I drained my coffee, “Thanks” I said, shaking Ieuan’s hand again. There was no light this time. It happens only on the first touch, when I make the connection.
Then I asked, “How did it start for you?”
Ieuan gave a shrug of nonchalance, “I was but a child. Fell in a river and drowned. Someone fished me out and revived me”
“It came back with you?”
“Oh, yes”, he said “It always begins with trauma”
“But not for everyone. Why not?”
“For most, this has been conditioned out of them. Ignore the figures in the shadows, the faces at the window. But for us, it is stronger”
“I understand” I said. I had seen the shadows the faces. I had heard the whispering and saw the ripple in colours. I knew exactly what he meant.
“Now, go touch people” Ieuan said. “Find her, and don’t get arrested”
Nottingham castle’s garrison and constables were in disarray. An army had camped beyond the city walls and it expected to lay siege. The army’s commander had taken lodgings close to the castle where he could easily be seen. Our liege Lord Count John of Mortain and, soon to be crowned, king following King Richard’s incarceration and subsequent demise at Runstein, had sent word that we must defend his castle against whichever traitorous baron was besieging and pretending to be king. Almost immediately, archers of the castle had shot the commander’s men before his feet. It was not Richard besieging us. Of that everyone was certain.
Immediately an assault was made on the Castle. There was a great conflict, and many on either side were wounded and killed. The army’s commander was seen to kill a knight with an arrow. Thus, prevailing and having forced us back into the castle, certain preparations were made before the gates and the outer gates were burned. On the taking of the gates and the outer enclosure, the besieging army brought with them strong, thick and broad shields. Many men carried these in front until they came up to the gateway. When the commander arrived with them, all those who were with him and who loved him the most, wanting to fulfil his purpose, raced to arm themselves. They advanced boldly until they took the first bailey. The traitorous barons entered the bailey and brought shields with them, with which they protected themselves extremely well so that the crossbowmen could not hurt them. In front of the commander, crossbowmen began to shoot, to do the best they could and held their task until they took the barbican. There were many injured and wounded amongst those of us from the castle, which greatly pleased those outside. They did extremely well in this attack, but they withdrew at nightfall and, when the assailants had all withdrawn, those of us inside, under the cover of darkness, set fire to the gate and burned and destroyed by fire the final barbican.
Thus, at the end of the first day, besiegers had gained entrance into the first bailey and were in possession of it We were penned in the rest of the castle. Then ordered to stand firm as the besieging army now had a real problem as they were confronted by the stone walls of the middle and upper baileys which stood on higher ground than the first bailey.
On the second day of the siege, the besieging army caused to be made their war machines, their siege engines. These petraries and mangonels were constructed upon the higher ground, on the north overlooking the castle from where they could directly fire into the inner bailey. Whilst these devastating war machines were assembled and positioned, we, the besieged, were intimidated by the construction outside the now derelict gate of gallows, upon which were hung several captured sergeants of Count John.
Then the bombardment began. The walls of the inner bailey were destroyed, and many more men were killed, but not I. For though I had blooded my sword during the first assault at the gate, I had by then been commanded to fall back to within the defensive walls of the motte, the keep, where I and other knights were to protect the castle’s constables, Ralph Murdac and William de Wenneval, should besiegers break into the inner bailey.
The following day, having watched the hanging of Count John’s sergeants, the bombardment of the castle by the siege machines, and the sight of the arrival of the Bishop of Durham with his reinforcements from Yorkshire and Northumberland, it became apparent that the commander of the besieging army was very likely the king.
Murdac ordered that I visit the besieging commander’s lodging to ascertain his identity. I walked through the inner and outer baileys without my sword or iron hat, offering myself as no threat to the enemy expecting that at any moment, I would be stuck by a lethal crossbow bolt. They allowed me to reach and enter the lodging. The commander sat in his chair dressed n a suit of light chain mail. He wore his iron hat and, above that, his crown. I recognised him immediately. I had fought with King Richard at Acre and had watched as thousands of Saladin’s captured people were slain. I looked at him closely and knew him from his bearing and from his face. The man before me was unmistakably King Richard.
“Am I him?” asked the King “What do you think?”
I said “Yes” then I fell to my knees and kissed the sovereign ring on his finger, offering myself to his benign mercy.
“Who are you?” the King asked
I told him truthfully.
“You may go back freely”, he said, “That is right, do the best that you can”
So, I’d been touching people a lot. Brushing by them, my arm would brush theirs and there’d be a connection made.
A lot of thoughts were bouncing about in the ether, or whatever it is. Shopping lists. Car’s going in for a service on Wednesday. Kids need new school uniforms. Meandering thoughts of those people were wandering through the mall or walking home or nowhere in particular. There was the angel light, too. I’d seen them. Goodness, kindness. It has helped me reappraise my view of people in general. So much love.
It was then I encountered Graham Bryce.
He was standing in a bus shelter, smoking a cigarette. I turned to him, offering my hand. “Hi” I greeted. “I’m John. When is the bus due?”
Bryce ignored me, so I touched his arm, meaning to say something but then I saw it. Evil.
I saw a young child, Katie, sitting on her bed crying. He was there, standing beside her, whipping her violently with his belt.
I knew in an instant that I must do something, but what? I could go to the police but what would I say?
“Hi, I’m a creature. I see inside people and there’s this guy who….”
No, I had to handle this personally.
I caught the same bus that he did and followed him, when he left the bus. I traced his steps to his home and, making a note of the number, carried on walking by.
I gave the matter some thought. I couldn’t kill him, obviously. Nor could I make a citizen’s arrest. Instead, I chose to draw attention to him.
I returned to his home that night. My intention to confront him. I wasn’t sure exactly what I meant to do. An argument. Draw him out. Neighbours would complain and the police would be called. I wasn’t sure how I’d get out of that, but as Burke said, “Evil will persist when good men do nothing”.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to do anything. I saw the flashing blue lights of police cars. I watched Bryce being led out of his home and ushered into a car. I saw Katie being carried by a paramedic into an ambulance. A woman stood in the doorway of the house, sobbing uncontrollably. Her arms outstretched and pleading. I walked towards her at first to comfort her, but a police officer blocked my path.
“Friend of the family, sir?”
I shook my head.
“Best go home then” he said. He put his hand on my shoulder to reassure me. An angel light flashed and I saw Ianna. She was standing barefoot on wet grass and before her hung the unmistakable arc of a rainbow.
The policeman’s grip on my arm tightened, drawing me back from my reverie.
“John?” he enquired
“Yes” I replied, suddenly startled.
He interrupted, “I’m like you”
“A creature?” I knew them answer already; the angel light had shown him to me. Obviously, he knew me too.
He leaned closer, conspiratorially, “I can’t talk now. Meet me tomorrow” he said “Bear Inn on Alfred Street and we’ll talk”.
He released my arm and began walking back to his duties at the house.
I stood alone. Images passed behind my eyes. Her name was Anne. The policeman, David, was her brother. Once a connection with someone has been made, I see it all. Almost all. I knew she was closer now, but where? If I knew, I’d go to her immediately. Frustration gnawed at me. I resigned to meet David the following day at the Bear Inn.
12,000 men had been arrayed at Nottingham market square by King Richard III and his two commanders, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Northumberland. We were marched south beyond Leicester, making our stand upon a hilltop and ridge called Ambion. On the lower ground lay a marshland and beyond that the army of Henry Tudor.
We were separated into three groups, or what we called battles; van, vanguard and rear guard. John Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, commanded the vanguard, William Stanley, the Earl of Northumberland was commander of the rear-guard. I stood among the King’s infantry of the van, dressed in my poor man’s armour of breast plate, gauntlets and cabasset protecting my skull. I carried no sword but a misericord at my belt; a dagger for close quarter fighting. I was armed with a halberd; a two-handed pole with and axe blade and hook and a metal spike.
I fought with the Yorkist army at Towton, Wakefield and Stoke. Nobody truly believed in the cause we fought for. It was a disagreement between cousins and Henry Tudor had no real claim to the crown, being of Margaret Beaufort’s bastard line of Lancaster. The King, although fighting for his crown, was more intent on teaching Tudor manners; killing a holy anointed King was not a good deed as Bolynbroke had discovered when he died in shame and abandoned by God following his murder of Richard II.
Tudor was a coward, sitting upon his horse to the rear of his forces and circled by his bodyguards. The Lancastrians kept most of their force together, placing them under the command of the battle-hardened Earl of Oxford.
Clarions sounded from beyond the marsh and Oxford’s infantrymen advanced. Unwilling to have us bogged down in the mud, the king held us back. When Oxford’s men had cleared the marsh, horns sounded and Norfolk took his battle forward, engaging the pike men who forced them back. Horns sounded again, urging Northumberland to advance to Norfolk’s aid. Urgent whispers spread amongst our ranks. The king had sent message to Northumberland commanding him to engage, threatening to execute his son if he did not. The whisperers told of Northumberland’s reply; that he had other sons.
I felt my heart sinking. William Stanley, the Duke of Northumberland, was the husband of Margaret Beaufort. The mother of Henry Tudor. This day would not be good for us.
Numbers of Norfolk’s battle then fled the field. Sensing an impending victory, groups broke away from Oxford’s army and pursued them and, in doing so, left Henry Tudor’s position exposed. The king must have seen this, for the horns sounded again and he charged his horse forward flanked by his lieutenants. We, the infantry, spurred ahead, engaging Oxford’s men before and in the marsh.
I saw Norfolk being dragged from his horse. Not the easiest way to die. The enemy would force open his visor and cut out his eyes. They would geld him and leave him dying in agony, his privates in his mouth. If he was lucky, someone would lift his head and drive their misericord into his neck forcing it up into his brain. I’d done that many times myself, despatching the wounded at Towton and Wakefield.
I swung my halberd, chopping and cutting. I caught a mounted man with the hook and dragged him from his horse, chopping him as he writhed below me; but I lost my weapon. Taking my misericord from my belt, I began slashing and stabbing but felt a huge blow to my head drive the senses from me.
It was then that Northumberland engaged the enemy. Us.
In that final moment I saw the king toppled from his horse and standing in the muddy waters, crying above the din of the battle
Then an axe struck the king on his head and he went down.
I tasted blood in my mouth and the darkness took me.
The Bear Inn, Oxford, was an old pub; 13th century, the plaque said. It was a tall building, white on the exterior, like the Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham. Inside, in the main bar, the walls were decorated with oak panels. Above these and on the ceiling were fixed thousands of cut off neck ties. Some tradition I wasn’t familiar with. I decided against asking. I was there to meet David, the policeman, not subject my curiosity to a lesson in the pub’s history.
I purchased a pint of their best and sat down.
Other men were in the bar room, sitting around low tables. They leaned over their drinks and spoke in hushed voices. I stopped watching them and instead studied the neck ties on the ceiling. So many nights spent at the bar were recorded on the walls and ceiling.
David arrived ten minutes later. He saw me and gave a smile and a wave, before buying himself a drink and coming to sit opposite me.
“I don’t have long” he said. “Let’s get down to business”
I had so many question. Then, “You’re looking for Ann” he continued.
“It’s ok” he said “I know”
“Of course you do” I said impatiently, “Where is she?”
“She’s chasing rainbows in Saskachewan” he replied, raising his eyes.
I laughed, “That sounds like Ianna”
“Ann” Dave corrected me.
“Okay” I said “At least I know where I’m going now”
I, a simple farmer, had been recruited by Royalist forces to join Prince Rupert’s infantry. We marched across the north of England, recruiting many more, and then turned south to relieve York, that was besieged by Parliament’s men.
At Marston Moor, we were routed by Cromwell’s roundheads. Our infantry were annihilated. I was one of the lucky ones, escaping from the field.
I ran for days, finally finding myself at the river Nidd. I used the river for cover. Clinging to a floating wooden log, I allowed the current to take me.
I thought I might escape, but on my second day in the river I was dragged from my wooden saviour and taken to Knaresborough castle, where I was chained to the wall of the dungeon.
There were other men shackled to the walls; each of them ravaged by hunger and stricken by fear. For in the morning, when the sun rose and cast a square of light from the only window, a light that illuminated the wooden block, the man at the head of the chain was unshackled from the wall, literally dragged to the block and decapitated.
We knew what end awaited us. Men would urinate and defecate where they stood. The nights were full of cries and wails; I did not deserve to die like this. I was but a poor farmer. My only crime had been to join an army. Parliament or Royal, neither mattered to me. A few pennies more was all the difference, and now, facing my end, I wished I was tending my strip of land or milking the cow. I wished I was being held by my wife, but that life was behind me and ahead of me was certain death.
I was moved to the head of the chain. Hanging from my shackles, everything ached; my arms, my shoulders and my neck. My legs lacked the strength to lift me against my chains.
In the morning, I was taken from my chains and dragged to the block.
“Let it be over” I thought.
They pushed my head down abruptly. From the corner of my vision, I watched the axe rise, then the darkness took me.
I knew where I was going but had no idea how to get there. I booked my flight, London Heathrow to Minneapolis, four and a half hours layover, then my connecting flight to Saskatoon.
What? Is that, Saskachewan? Okay, so I could get there, but as for finding Ianna, I was no better off.
What do I do, arrive at Saskatoon, ask a cab driver to take me to a rainbow? I had no memory or knowledge of these places. I’d have to freewheel. That’s all there was to it.
Arriving after what felt like an eternity, I asked a cab driver if he knew where the rainbow was. I felt stupid asking, expecting him to demand that I got the hell out of his cab, but instead he turned to me.
“Rainbow’s End?” he asked.
Relaxing, I grinned. “That’ll be it!”
The further we travelled, the stronger Ianna’s presence felt. It was like a warmth inside me.
The cab stopped at a stretch of grassy parkland.
“Rainbow’s End” the cab driver announced.
Once out of the cab, I looked at the grass and there she was; Ianna was dressed in a one-piece robe cut to just above her knees. She was turned away from me. Barefoot in the grass, her arms outstretched and her hands open. As if welcoming. Beckoning.
I stepped onto the grass and walked towards her. As I approached, the grass seemed to change. Now it flashed and flickered like the colours from a million prisms.
“Remove your shoes and socks” she said.
I hopped awkwardly, removing socks and shoes. The grass was cold and wet and sent a shock through my body.
Ianna took my hand and said “Look”
I followed her gaze; the rainbow was there; just like the grass, it flashed like a million prisms.
Ianna stepped into the rainbow, I followed her. Inside it was not cold and wet, but warm and there was a hum like from a cello string beneath the bow. We left the rainbow. Ianna was soaked, her hair was wet as was her gown. I looked down and saw that I too was wet.
Ianna turned and said “Come”
I followed her again into the rainbow, but this time there was no hum, instead, it was like all the love in the world was pooled inside the rainbow.
Beyond the rainbow, Ianna turned to me
“You found me.”
“Did you think I wouldn’t?”
“No” she replied, “I knew that one day you would.”
“We need dry clothes” she said “Replace your socks and shoes”
My socks were soaking wet, so I placed them in my pocket and put only my shoes on.
Ianna laughed “I have dry clothes for you”
“Because you were expecting me, right?”
Ianna kissed me, then she took my hand and led me to her apartment. We had a lot of catching up to do.
I have been a writer for some years, independently publish poetry and short stories including the genres: children's fiction, action, romance, paranormal, history and fantasy. Following discharge from the RAF, I trained as a computer programmer and spent the rest of my career in computer software development and engineering, until retiring due to ill-health.