As Andrea turned off the motorway onto the road to Brockbourne, the small village in which she lived, it was four o’clock in the afternoon, but already the sun was falling behind the hills. At this time in December, it would be completely dark by five o’clock.
Andrea shivered. The interior of the car was not cold, but the trees bending in the harsh wind and the patches of yesterday’s snow still heaped in the fields made her feel chilly inside. It was another ten miles to the cottage where she lived with her husband Michael, and the dim light and wintry weather made her feel a little lonely.
She was just coming out of the little village of Mickley when she saw an old lady, standing by the road, with a crude hand-written sign saying ‘Brockbourne’ in her hand.
Andrea was surprised. She had never seen an old lady hitchhiking before. However, the weather and the coming darkness made her feel sorry for the lady, waiting hopefully on a country road like this with little traffic. Normally, Andrea would never pick up a hitchhiker when she was alone, thinking it was too dangerous, but what was the harm in doing a favor for a little old lady like this? Andrea pulled up a little way down the road, and the lady, holding a big shopping bag, hurried over to climb in the door which Andrea had opened for her.
When she did get in, Andrea could see that she was not, in fact, so little. Broad and fat, the old lady had some difficulty climbing in through the car door, with her big bag, and when she had got in, she more than filled the seat next to Andrea. She wore a long, shabby old dress, and she had a yellow hat pulled down low over her eyes. Panting noisily from her effort, she pushed her big brown canvas shopping bag down onto the floor under her feet, and said in a voice which was almost a whisper, ‘Thank you dearie. I’m just going to Brockbourne.’
‘Do you live there?’ asked Andrea, thinking that she had never seen the old lady in the village in the four years she had lived there herself. ‘No, dearie, ’ answered the passenger, in her soft voice, ‘I’m just going to visit a friend. He was supposed to meet me back there at Mickley, but his car won’t start, so I decided to hitchhike. I knew some kind soul would give me a lift.’
Something in the way the lady spoke, and the way she never turned her head, but stared continuously into the darkness ahead from under her old yellow hat, made Andrea uneasy about this strange hitchhiker. She didn’t know why, but she felt instinctively that there was something wrong, something odd, something ... dangerous. But how could an old lady be dangerous? It was absurd. Careful not to turn her head, Andrea looked sideways at her passenger. She studied the hat, the dirty collar of the dress, the shapeless body, the arms with their thick black hairs... Thick black hairs? Hairy arms? Andrea’s blood froze. This wasn’t a woman. It was a man.
At first, she didn’t know what to do. Then suddenly, an idea came into her terrified brain. Swinging the wheel suddenly, she threw the car into a skid, and brought it toa halt. ‘My God!’ she shouted, ‘A child! Did you see the child? I think I hit her!’ The ‘old lady’ was clearly shaken by the sudden skid. ‘I didn’t see anything dearie, ’ she said. ‘I don’t think you hit anything.’ ‘I’m sure it was a child!’ insisted Andrea. ‘Could you just get out and have a look? Just see if there’s anything on the road?’ She held her breath. Would her plan work?
It did. The passenger slowly opened the car door, leaving her bag inside, and climbed out to investigate. As soon as she was out of the vehicle, Andrea gunned the engine and soon she had put a good three miles between herself and the awful hitchhiker.
It was only then that she thought about the bag lying on the floor in front of her.Maybe the bag would provide some information about the real identity of the old woman who was actually not an old woman. Pulling into the side of the road, Andrea lifted the heavy bag onto her lap and opened it curiously. It contained only one item - a small hand axe, with a razor-sharp blade. The axe, and the inside of the bag, were covered with the dark red stains of dried blood. Andrea began to scream.
(Adapted from ‘The Hitchhiker’, a common urban legend)
It’s best to be here early, especially on Saturdays. The rising pitch of the kettle is whistle joined with the faint hiss from the little blue camping stove. Twenty years old, that stove, found the receipt in a drawer just the other day - a bargain at four pounds fifty - but it always pays to hang onto the receipts. It’s Saturday today. By eight-thirty the staff have all arrived, I can’t hear them directly, but the soft, distant voices of the lifts rising and falling give them away.
Of course there is routine that measures time doesn’t it? Even the period before Christmas and during the sales that follow, routine is still there, although the time stretches and contracts as the public ebb and flow through the building like an unpredictable tide - routine will still be there, disguised, beneath the surface, an undertow. As the management ritually pull out their hair, thicken their arteries, bark at their coworkers and re-prioritise their priorities - behind it all routine will be waiting. Everyone here is a slave to it ... even if they move on, get married, die ... there will always be others to master, to enslave. I too am a slave to routine ... but I don’t mind.
I look at the long white envelope with my name printed neatly in the centre, its edges slightly curled as though to fend off the surrounding army of clutter on the desk. An intruder. A foreign object.
I go down the stairs and open the main doors. Can’t keep the public waiting. Today is much like any other day. In amongst the structure of routine women drift like ghosts amid the lingerie, touching here, feeling there while husbands linger on the periphery of their erratic orbits, faces masked with bored indifference; in the homeware section, tweed-skirted ladies lift the lids on teapots; sniff, like careful poodles at bowls of Pot Porri, turn everything upside down to check the price and replace it quickly at the approach of an eager assistant. The sun streams through the plate glass windows in great broad beams, igniting every chrome fitting, while tired and wayward children are narrowly missed by my trolley’s wheels.
At 11 o’clock I go to the meeting with Mr. Radcliffe, the manager. He is a fat man, and the smallest motion on his part induces him to break into a sweat. He sits across the desk from me with the air of a man who has never dared to look a day in the eye. He speaks quickly and a little pompously, his eyes drifting toward the clock on the wall more often than my face. He says his words carefully, as though trying to pull each one down with the gravity of his tone. He endeavours to grant some words such as ‘free time’, ‘benefit package’, ‘pension fund’, ‘hobbies’ and ‘exemplary service’ an even greater weight of importance, but succeeds only in sweating some more as he glances to the clock.
In the staff canteen at lunchtime I see Mr. Radcliffe again as he orders a main course and two sweets, but this is not an unusual occurrence as far as I am aware. I don’t often come here, preferring to eat in my room upstairs, where I can read uninterrupted. But today I choose the canteen, although even here I am isolated to an island table set for six that’s fine. Iam not so naive to be unaware that I have a certain reputation here - a kind of gruff aloofness. I don’t actually believe this is part of my nature ... or at least it never used to be. I like to be my own man, that’s all. I’ve little time for idle gossip. Years ago, when the new, young starters would arrive in June or July, I was more sociable. They would plague me for tips on the horses, or pop up to my ‘office’ for a skive or a cup of tea. But it all got a little out of hand. I no longer had any peace. So I became a little testy with them, and my annoyance soon became more organised. I became unpredictable and aggressive, this became a bit of a game, then a habit, and in the end ... finally ... me.
It’s dusk now and the store is quiet again. The kettle rocks gently on the metal frame of the stove. I glance around my room; the rows of books and piles of magazines, the ancient portable television, the radio. I have very few real possessions. What, really, does one man need? I’ve brought the things little by little from the flat. Now I think I have all that is required. I suppose, on occasion, they have suspected I stay here through the night, but that doesn’t bother me. It was a relief to let the flat go completely, I never felt at home there.
I have taken the retirement letter from its envelope and dropped it onto the worn lino. Now it lies there like a broken kite. I will sit here; wait until the mice come out from their hidden places to nibble at its corners and eat its words.
(Adapted from ‘Harry’s World’ by Steve Atkinson)
Since he was a boy, Sean Ireton has been an ardent hiker, climbing mountain trails all over the world. Even on family trips, it was typical for him to take a day by himself to knock off a tempting peak. In January 2009, he and his wife, Megan, planned a two-week backpacking adventure in Spain with their son, Aidan. They took off in December and spent their days touring and hiking in the southern mountains, making time to sample the regional cuisine and enjoy the country’s robust red wines along the way. Sean was looking forward especially to a solo hike on El Mulhacén, a rocky knob in Spain’s Sierra Nevada and, at 3478m, the highest peak on the Spanish mainland. From Mulhacén on a clear day you could see all the way across the Mediterranean to Morocco.
When they got near Pradollano, a ski village near Mulhacén, the family pitched their tent in the woods. At this time of year, the mountain’s snowy trails were well packed and straightforward, requiring a hiker to travel at only a moderate clip to reach Mulhacén’s broad summit in about four hours. Early the next morning, Sean put on several layers of warm clothes and set out under a purple and golden sunrise.
Now it was dark, and Sean’s wife and son lay in their tent and worried. ‘When is Dad coming back?’ Aidan asked Megan over and over. ‘Why isn’t he back yet?’
“He’ll be back soon, sweetie, ’ his mother reassured him. In the past her husband had returned late from excursions. But this was pushing it, so sometime after midnight, Megan got up and took Aidan into town to look for help. The ordinarily lively village was deserted, the motionless chairlifts hanging eerily in the dark. Megan didn’t speak Spanish, and a hotel clerk’s directions just sent them in circles. They had to wait till morning. ‘Aidan was so upset, ’ Megan recalls. ‘He sensed something was wrong. He had that child’s intuition.’
Sean had neared Mulhacén’s summit by mid-afternoon but turned around a few hundred metres from the top when the trail became dangerously steep and icy. Clouds blew in as he descended, and he veered off track. By the time he realised his mistake, daylight was fading, and it had begun to drizzle. ‘I was getting wet, and it was growing dark fast, ’ he recalls. Luckily, he spied a crude stone shelter nearby. ‘I didn’t want to get lost and end up on the other side of the mountain, so I decided to spend the night in the hut.’
Inside, it was dark and clammy, but there was a table, wooden bunks, and even some foam padding for a bed. Sean ate a chocolate bar from his backpack, and settled in. It would be an easy hike back to camp in the morning, and he imagined his family’s relief when he returned unharmed.
Sean was on foot again by 6 a.m., tracking his way across a broad bow! and up a steep, snowy slope. On the other side of the ridge there was the ski area, and from there he could practically jog down the slopes. He made good progress until a storm suddenly swept over the ridge and nearly blew him off his feet. In minutes, he was caught in a white-out. ‘If I can just make the ridge, I’m home free, ’ Sean thought, as he powered forward, bending against the gale.
But the ridge never appeared, and Sean knew it was crazy to stay on the exposed slope. He’d have to find an alternative route. He had no idea where he was but thought he could make out a trail still farther below.
Sean studied the snow in front of him. It looked hard and slick. He regretted that he hadn’t brought his crampons - sharp spikes that attach to hiking boots - or an ice axe, which would have helped ensure safe passage. All he had was a pair of trekking poles. He reached out a foot to test the frozen surface and gradually brought his weight down. Fora moment, he balanced but then his feet shot out from under him, and he began tumbling down the steep slope. He accelerated as he fell, rolling wildly over rocks and snow. When he came to rest, far below from where he had stood, he was in a seated position as if he’d just plopped down to have a snack. It would have been comical if he hadn’t been so stunned. He sat for a while and gathered his wits. He was wearing only a ski hat but his head seemed OK. Then Sean looked down at his legs. The long underwear covering his left leg was shredded, and bright red blood soaked the abraded flesh around his kneecap.
He gingerly inspected the wound. With effort, he got back on his feet, but his injured leg buckled beneath him, and he fell face-first into the snow. He felt a hot surge of alarm. He was kilometres away from help, and certainly no one would come through this area for days, maybe weeks. He sat in the snow, on the verge of despair.
(Adapted from ‘Missing’ by Nick Heil)
The risk of catastrophic climate change is getting worse, according to a new study from scientists involved with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Threats - ranging from the destruction of coral reefs to more extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts and floods - are becoming more likely at the temperature change already underway: as little as 1.8 degree Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) of warming in global average temperatures.
‘Most people thought that the risks were going to be for certain species and poor people. But all of a sudden the European heatwave of 2003 comes along and kills 50,000 people; [Hurricane] Katrina comes along and there’s a lot of data about the increased intensity of droughts and floods. Plus, the dramatic melting of Greenland that nobody can explain certainly has to increase your concern, ’ says climatologist Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, who co-authored the research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as well as in several IPCC reports. ‘Everywhere we looked, there was evidence that what was believed to be likely has happened. Nature has been cooperating with climate change theory unfortunately.’
Schneider and his colleagues updated a graph, dubbed the ‘burning embers, ’ that is designed to map the risks of damage from global warming. The initial version of the graph drawn in 2001 had the risks of climate change beginning to appear after 3.6 or 5.4 degrees F (2 to 3 degrees C) of warming, but the years since have shown that climate risks kick in with less warming.
According to the new graph, risks to ‘unique and threatened systems’ such as coral reefs and risks of extreme weather events become likely when temperatures rise by as little as 1.8 degrees F from 1990 levels, which is on course to occur by mid-century given the current concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases. In addition, risks of negative consequences such as increased droughts and the complete melting of ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica definitively outweigh any potential positives, such as longer growing seasons in countries such as Canada and Russia.
‘We’re definitely going to overshoot some of these temperatures where we see these very large vulnerabilities manifest, ’ says economist Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., another co-author. ‘We’re going to have to learn how to adapt.’Adaptation notwithstanding, Yohe and Schneider say that scientists must also figure out a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reverse the heating trend to prevent further damage.
Several bills pending in Congress would set a so-called cap-and-trade policy under which an overall limit on pollution would be set - and companies with low output could sell their allowances to those that fail to cut emissions as long as the total stays within the total pollution cap. Any such federal policy would put a price on carbon dioxide pollution, which is currently free to vent into the atmosphere, Yohe note. He, however, favours a so-called carbon tax that would set a fixed price for such climate-changing pollution rather than the cap-and-trade proposals favoured by the Obama administration. ‘It’s a predictable price, not a thing that bounces around.’
But even with such policies in place-not only in the U.S. but across the globe-climate change is a foregone conclusion. Global average temperatures have already risen by at least 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6 degree C) and further warming of at least 0.7 degree F (0.4 degree C) is virtually certain, according to the IPCC. And a host of studies, including a recent one from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have shown that global warming is already worse than predicted even a few years ago. The question is: ‘Will it be catastrophic or not?’ ‘We’ve dawdled, and if we dawdle more, it will get even worse, ’Schneider says. ‘It’s time to move.’
(Adapted from ‘Risks of Global Warming Rising“ by David Biello)
Arriving home after her part-time job at Burger King, Lykesia Lilly planned to shoot some hoops. It was late afternoon on a Sunday. Maybe she’d even play some one-on-one with her little nephew Adrian before supper. But when Lilly asked her sister where the boy was, her casual question was met with concern. ‘I was outside looking for him because his dad and I realized we hadn’t seen him in a while, ’ recalls Adrian’s mother, Stephanie Crump. ‘He was supposed to be playing at a house down the street, but when we called, he wasn’t there.’
In their tiny, rural community of Burnsville, North Carolina, kids still run freely from yard to yard, popping in and out of single-story brick houses with tree-lined lawns. Even traffic poses little threat. The hamlet’s centre consists of a single blinking caution light and two stores. But on that sunny May afternoon, six-year-old Adrian Clark seemed to have simply vanished. Much of his close and extended family joined in a frantic search, combing the neighbourhood and the energetic first grader’s usual play spots.
Finally, they heard faint cries coming from below a mound of rocks piled on his grandmother’s lawn. ‘We could hear him, but we couldn’t see him, ’ recalls Lilly. ‘It was like he was invisible.’ Following his voice, they stumbled on an abandoned well covered with landscaping shale that had been forgotten for years. Somehow Adrian had pushed the slabs aside and slipped into the ragged hole in the ground. There, down the dark, narrow shaft, they saw him - a small figure 15 feet below, suspended over water. Exhausted and shivering, he’d been clinging to pieces of craggy rock and concrete for nearly an hour.
From the lip of the well, the family tried to reassure the child. But they had no idea how to get him out. The well was only 14 inches wide at the top, ‘the size of a five-gallon bucket, ’ says Crump. ‘We realized none of the adults could fit through it.’ They lowered a long orange extension cord, but Adrian - who’d slipped into the murky, freezing water three times by now - was too afraid to let go of the wall to wrap the lifeline around himself.
Fighting hysteria, Crump made two calls to 911. One reached the local volunteer fire department, and the other, the Anson County EMS dispatcher, 13 miles away. But Crump still worried that Adrian would lose his grip before they got there. That’s when Lilly decided she had to go down - despite her inability to swim. ‘Everyone was panicking and crying, and I knew I couldn’t wait any longer, ’ she recalls. ‘I just had to get my nephew.’
Crump and Adrian’s father, Dale Clark, lowered Lilly down the shaft as far as they could, then let go. The well got wider part of the way down, and she slid past her nephew and into the water below. Fortunately, Lilly instinctively pushed off the bottom, 12 feet underwater, and surfaced just under Adrian. ‘I got focused, ’ she says. With the water level just under her nose, Lilly then bolstered her 100-pound nephew, who was shaking in his soaking clothes. With one arm, she grabbed the cord that Adrian’s father was dangling from above and tied it around Adrian’s waist. ‘I was pushing him and holding on with my legs while they were pulling, ’ Lilly says. ‘Somehow they got him out.’
Lilly herself was pulled out just as the rescue squad arrived. Both Adrian and Lilly were taken to the hospital, where he was blanketed with heat packs to ward off hypothermia and she was treated for bruises and lacerations. County workers sealed the well for good a few days later.
The next week, Crump threw a surprise party to honour the gentle-natured teen, who in the past had expressed fear of even the tamer rides at a nearby amusement park. ‘I think if my baby had drowned, if he hadn’t been able to hold on ...’ Crump says. ‘I can’t thank Lykesia enough.’ Now working in a day-care centre, Lilly is hoping for a scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina, where she wants to study forensics. ‘She’s more serious and responsible now, ’ observes Crump. ‘I don’t think she knew she had it in her.’
Lilly and Adrian have been uniquely close since the rescue. ‘He reminds me all the time, ’ she says fondly. ‘He’ll say, ‘Thank you, Auntie, for saving me.’ And he’ll hug me. Just out of the blue.
(Adapted from ‘Leaps of Faith’ by Joanna Powell)
There were three of them. There were four of us, and April lay on the campsite and on the river. This was Deer Lodge on the Pine River in New Hampshire. Brother Bentley’s father had found this place sometime after the First World War, a foreign affair that had seriously done him no good but he found solitude abounding here. Now we were here, post World War II, post Korean War, Vietnam War on the brink. Peace was everywhere about us, in the riot of young leaves, in the spree of bird confusion and chatter, in the struggle of pre-dawn animals for the start of a new day.
We had pitched our camp in the near darkness, Ed LeBlanc, Brother Bentley, Walter Ruszkowski and myself. A dozen or more years we had been here and seen no one. Now, into our campsite deep in the forest came an old van. Two elderly men sat in the front seat, felt hats at the slouch and decorated with an assortment of tied flies. ‘Morning, been yet?’ one of them said as he pulled his boots up from the folds at his knees. His hands were large, the fingers long and I could picture them in a shop barn working a primal plane across the face of a maple board.
‘Barely had coffee, ’ Ed LeBlanc said, the most vocal of the four of us, quickest at friendship, at shaking hands. ‘We’ve got a whole pot almost. Have what you want.’ The pot was pointed out sitting on a hunk of grill across the stones of our fire, flames licking lightly at its sides. When we fished the Pine River, coffee was the glue, the morning glue, the late evening glue, even though we’d often unearth our beer from a natural cooler in early evening. Camp coffee has a ritual. It is thick, it is potboiled over a squaw-pine fire, it is strong enough to wake the demon in you. But into that pot has to go fresh eggshells to hold the grounds down, give coffee a taste of history, a sense of place. That means at least one egg must be cracked open for its shells. I suspect that’s where ‘scrambled eggs’ originated, from some camp like ours.
‘You’re early enough for eggs and bacon if you need a start.’ Eddie added, his invitation tossed kindly into the morning air. ‘We have hot cakes and home fries, if you want.’ ‘Been there already, ’ the other man said, his weaponry also noted by us, a little more orderly in its presentation, including an old Boy Scout sash across his chest and the galaxy of flies in supreme positioning. They were old Yankees, in the face and frame, the pair of them undoubtedly brothers. They were taller than we were, no fat on their frames, wideshouldered, big-handed, barely coming out of their reserve, but fishermen. That fact alone would win any of us over.
Then the pounding came from inside the truck and the voice of authority from some place in space, some regal spot in the universe. ‘I’m not sitting here the livelong day whilst you boys gab away.’ ‘Coming, pa, ’ one of them said, the most orderly one. They pulled open the back doors of the van, swung them wide, to show His Venerable Self, ageless, white-bearded, felt hat too loaded with an arsenal of flies, sitting on a white wicker rocker. Across his lap he held three delicate fly rods, old as him, thin, bamboo in colour, probably too slight for a lake’s three-pounder.
Rods were taken from the caring hands and His Venerable Self was lifted from the truck and set by our campfire. The old one looked about the campsite, noted clothes drying from a previous day’s rain, order of equipment and supplies aligned the way we always kept them, the canvas of our tent taut and true in its expanse, our fishing rods off the ground and placed atop the flyleaf so as not to tempt raccoons with smelly cork handles, no garbage in sight. He nodded. We had passed muster.
“You the ones leave it cleaner than you find it every year. We knew something about you. Never disturbed you before. But we share the good spots.’ He looked closely at Brother Bentley, nodded a kind of recognition. ‘Your daddy ever fish here, son?’ Brother must have passed through the years in a hurry, remembering his father bringing him here as a boy. ‘A ways back, ’ Brother said in his clipped North Saugus fashion, outlander, specific, no waste in his words.
(Adapted from ‘The Three Fishermen’ by Tom Sheehan)
Lisa Donath was running late. Heading down the sidewalk towards her subway stop, she decided to skip her usual espresso. Donath had a lot to do at work, plus visitors on the way. But as she hustled down the stairs and through the long tunnel, she started to feel uncomfortably warm. By the time she got to the platform, Donath felt faint. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to give blood the night before, she thought. She leaned heavily against a post close to the tracks.
Several yards away, Ismael Feneque and his girlfriend, Melina Gonzalez, found a spot close to where the front of the train would stop. Feneque and Gonzalez were deep in dis- cussion about a house they were thinking of buying. But when he heard the scream, fol- lowed by someone yelling, ‘Oh, my God, she fell in!’, Feneque didn’t hesitate. He jumped down to the tracks and ran some 40 feet towards the body sprawled facedown on the rails.
‘No! Not you!’ his girlfriend screamed after him. She was right to be alarmed. By the time Feneque reached Donath, he could ‘feel the vibration on the tracks and see the light coming into the tunnel, ’ he remembers. ‘The train was maybe 20 seconds from the station.’ In that instant, Feneque gave himself a mission, ‘I’m going to get her out, and then I’m going to get myself out, as soon as possible. I’m not going to let myself get killed here.’
Feneque, a former high school wrestler who trains at a gym to stay in shape, grabbed Donath under her armpits. She was deadweight. But he managed to raise her the four feet to the platform so that bystanders could grab her arms and drag her away from the edge. That’s where Donath briefly regained consciousness, felt herself being pulled along the ground, and saw someone else holding her purse. ‘I thought I’d been mugged, ’ she says. She remembers the woman who held her hand and a man who gave his shirt to help stop the blood pouring from her head. The impact of her fall had been absorbed by her face - she’d lost teeth and suffered a broken eye socket, a broken jaw, and cuts all over her head.
But as the train closed in, Feneque wasn’t finished. He still had to grab and hoist up a man and a teenager who’d hopped down to the tracks and then use all the strength he had left to lift himself onto the platform. He did so just seconds before the train bar- relled past him and came to a stop. Police and fire officials soon arrived, and Feneque gave his name to an officer and told him the story. Gonzalez says her unassuming boy- friend was calm on their 40-minute train ride downtown - just as he had been seconds after the rescue, which, she says, made her think about her reaction at the time. ‘I saw the train coming and I was thinking he was going to die, ’ she explains.
Donath’s parents joined her at her hospital bedside by the next morning and stayed in town to see her through the series of surgeries she’d need to reconstruct her face. Donath was determined to find the man who had saved her life - the man the police had listed, incorrectly, as Feneque Ismael. ‘I was never really into going on TV or getting my picture put in the New York Times, ’ says Donath. ‘But I did so to know that I tried everything I could to contact him.’
Feneque, for his part, couldn’t stop wondering what had happened to the woman on the tracks. He went on his own hunt, posting a message on a newspaper website asking if anyone knew whether the woman who had fallen in the subway had survived. No one responded. Several weeks later, while surfing the Internet for any new clues... bingo! A television station had posted an update on its website, detailing Donath’s recovery and her search for her rescuer. Feneque e-mailed the address provided to say that he was that man.
When the two first met, Donath threw her arms around Feneque and wept. It was overwhelming, she says, to try to convey her feelings. When they met again several months later, it felt a lot easier. ‘I finally had the chance to hear his side of the story in detail, ’ she says.
Feneque says there’s no point in wondering why he was on the platform - at a different time from when he usually rides and at a station a considerable distance from his apartment - at the moment Donath needed help. ‘Whether it was pure coincidence or sent from above, who’s to say? All I know is I was there and I’d do it again, ’ he says.
(Adapted from ‘Subway Rescue’ by Mitch Lipka)
Ill a first-class carriage of a train speeding Balkanward two Britons sat in friendly, fitful converse. They had first foregathered in the cold grey dawn at the frontier line, where the presiding eagle takes on an extra head and Teuton lands pass from Hohenzollern to Habsburg. After a day’s break of their journey at Vienna the travellers had again foregathered at the train side and paid one another the compliment of settling instinctively into the same carriage. The elder of the two was a wine businessman. The other was certainly a journalist. Neither man was talkative and each was grateful to the other for not being talkative. That is why from time to time they talked.
One topic of conversation naturally thrust itself forward in front of all others. In Vienna the previous day they had learned of the mysterious vanishing of a world-famous picture from the Louvre.
‘A dramatic disappearance of that sort is sure to produce a crop of imitations, ’ said the Journalist.
‘I was thinking of the spiriting away of human beings rather than pictures. In particular I was thinking of the case of my aunt, Crispina Umberleigh.’
‘I remember hearing something of the affair, ’ said the Journalist, ‘but I was away from England at the time. I never quite knew what was supposed to have happened.’
‘You may hear what really happened if you respect it as a confidence, ’ said the Wine Merchant. ‘In the first place I may say that the disappearance of Mrs. Umberleigh was not regarded by the family entirely as bereavement. My uncle, Edward Umberleigh, was not by any means a weak-kneed individual, in fact in the world of politics he had to be reckoned as a strong man, but he was unmistakably dominated by Crispina. Some people are born to command. Mrs. Umberleigh was born to legislate, codify, administrate, censor, license, ban, execute, and sit in judgement generally. From the kitchen regions upwards everyone in the household came under her despotic sway and stayed there with the submissiveness of molluscs involved in a glacial epoch. Her sons and daughters stood in mortal awe of her. Their studies, friendships, diet, amusements, religious observances, and way of doing their hair were all regulated and ordained according to the august lady’s will and pleasure.
This will help you to understand the sensation of stupefaction which was caused in the family when she unobtrusively and inexplicably vanished. It was as though St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Piccadilly Hotel had disappeared in the night, leaving nothing but an open space to mark where it had stood.
As far as it was known, nothing was troubling her; in fact there was much before her to make life particularly well worth living. The youngest boy had come back from school with an unsatisfactory report, and she was to have sat in judgement on him the very afternoon of the day she disappeared. Then she was in the middle of a newspaper correspondence with a rural dean in which she had already proved him guilty of heresy, inconsistency, and unworthy quibbling, and no ordinary consideration would have induced her to discontinue the controversy. Of course the matter was put in the hands of the police, but as far as possible it was kept out of the papers, and the generally accepted explanation of her withdrawal from her social circle was that she had gone into a nursing home.’
‘Couldn’t your uncle get hold of the least clue?’
‘As a matter of fact, he had received some information, though of course I did not know of it at the time. He got a message one day telling him that his wife had been kidnapped and smuggled out of the country; she was said to be hidden away, on one of the islands off the coast of Norway I think she was in comfortable surroundings and well cared for. And with the information came a demand for money; a lump sum of 2000 pounds was to be paid yearly. Failing this she would be immediately restored to her family.’
The Journalist was silent for a moment, and then began to laugh quietly.
‘It was certainly an inverted form of holding to ransom, ’ he said. ‘Did your uncle succumb to it?’
‘Well, you see, for the family to have gone back into the Crispina thraldom after having tasted the delights of liberty would have been a tragedy, and there were even wider considerations to be taken into account. Since his bereavement he had unconsciously taken up a far bolder and more initiatory line in public affairs, and his popularity and influence had increased correspondingly. All this he knew would be jeopardised if he once more dropped into the social position of the husband of Mrs. Umberleigh. Of course, he had severe qualms of conscience about the arrangement. Later on, when he took me into his confidence, he told me that in paying the ransom he was partly influenced by the fear that if he refused it, the kidnappers might have vented their rage and disappointment on their captive. It was better, he said, to think of her being well cared for as a highly-valued payingguest on one of the Lofoden Islands than to have her struggling miserably home in a maimed and mutilated condition. Anyway he paid the yearly instalment as punctually as one pays fire insurance. And then, after a disappearance of more than eight years, Crispina returned with dramatic suddenness to the home she had left so mysteriously.’
‘She had given her captors the slip?’
‘She had never been captured. Her wandering away had been caused by a sudden and complete loss of memory. She usually dressed rather in the style of a superior kind of charwoman, and it was not so very surprising that she should have imagined that she was one. She had wandered as far afield as Birmingham, and found fairly steady employment there, her energy and enthusiasm in putting people’s rooms in order counterbalancing her obstinate and domineering characteristics. It was the shock of being patronisingly addressed as ‘my good woman’ by a curate who was disputing with her where the stove should be placed in a parish concert hall that led to the sudden restoration of her memory.’
‘But, ’ exclaimed the Journalist, ‘the Lofoden Island people! Who had they got hold of?’
‘A purely mythical prisoner. It was an attempt in the first place by someone who knew something of the domestic situation to bluff a lump sum out of Edward Umberleigh before the missing woman turned up. Here is Belgrad and another custom house.’
(Adapted from ‘The Disappearance Of Crispina Umberleigh’ by H. H. Munro)
Restless, shifting, fugacious as time itself is a certain vast bulk of the population of the red brick district of the lower West Side. Homeless, they have a hundred homes. They flit from furnished room to furnished room, transients forever - transients in abode, transients in heart and mind. Hence the houses of this district, having had a thousand dwellers, should have a thousand tales to tell, mostly dull ones, no doubt; but it would be strange if there could not be found a ghost or two in the wake of all these vagrant guests.
One evening after dark a young man prowled among these crumbling red mansions, ringing their bells. At the twelfth he rested his lean hand baggage upon the step and wiped the dust from his hatband and forehead. The bell sounded faint and far away in some remote, hollow depths. To the door of the twelfth house, whose bell he had rung, came a housekeeper, who made him think of an unwholesome, surfeited worm that had eaten its nut to a hollow shell and now sought to fill the vacancy with edible lodgers. He asked if there was a room to let. ‘Come in, ’ said the housekeeper. Her voice came from her throat; her throat seemed lined with fur. ‘I have the third-floor-back, vacant since a week back. Should you wish to look at it?’
The young man followed her up the stairs. A faint light from no particular source mitigated the shadows of the halls. They trod noiselessly upon a carpeted starcase that seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase. At each turn of the stairs were vacant niches in the wall. Perhaps plants had once been set within them. If so, they had died in that foul and tainted air. It may be that statues of the saints had stood there, but it was not difficult to conceive that imps and devils had dragged them forth in the darkness and down to the unholy depths of some furnished pit below.
‘This is the room, ’ said the housekeeper, from her furry throat. ‘It’s a nice room. I had some of the most elegant people in it last summer - no trouble at all, and paid in advance to the minute. The water’s at the end of the hall. Sprowls and Mooney kept it for three months. They did a vaudeville sketch. Miss Bretta Sprowls - you may have heard of her - right there over the dresser is where the marriage certificate hung, framed. The gas is here, and you see there is plenty of closet room. It’s a room everybody likes. It never stays idle long.’
‘Do you have many theatrical people rooming here?’ asked the young man. ‘They come and go. A good proportion of my lodgers are connected with theatres. Yes, sir, this is the theatrical district. Actor people never stay long anywhere. I get my share. Yes, they come and they go.’
He engaged the room, paying for a week in advance. He was tired, he said, and would take possession at once. The room had been made ready, she said. As the housekeeper moved away he put, for the thousandth time, the question that he carried at the end of his tongue.
‘A young girl - Miss Eloise Vashner - do you remember such a name among your lodgers? She would be singing on the stage, most likely. A fair girl, of medium height and slender, with reddish gold hair and a dark mole near her left eyebrow.’
‘No, I don’t remember the name. These stage people have names they change as often as their rooms. No, I don’t call that one to mind.’
No. Always no. Five months of ceaseless interrogation and the inevitable negative. So much time spent by day in questioning managers, agents, schools and choruses; by night among the audiences of theaters from all-star casts down to music halls so low that he dreaded to find what he most hoped for. He who had loved her best had tried to find her.
He was sure that since her disappearance from home this great, water-girt city held her somewhere, but it was like a monstrous quicksand, shifting its particles constantly, with no foundation, its upper granules of today buried tomorrow in ooze and slime.
(Adapted from ‘The Furnished Room’ by O. Henry)
The new teacher arrived in the town with a belief in the educational benefits of paper folding: she had written a pamphlet for other educators entitled ‘The Place of Origami in the Classroom.’ One afternoon a week she taught her pupils basic designs and demonstrated more complex constructions. What really added fuel to their spark of interest was her collection of animals, birds and abstract shapes, built up over many years and kept ina specially constructed display cabinet mounted beside the coat hangers. Once the children had mastered the fundamental models and folds, inspired by the treasures from Japan, India and an unpronounceable place, they began to evolve designs and styles of their own.
In no time an origami craze engulfed the town. Extra supplies of multi-coloured and textured sheets of square papers were ordered through the local shop. The children also used paper they found in their own homes - shopping lists, music sheets, bills, receipts, old calendars, love letters, cigarette cards, seed catalogues. The fad seeped out into other aspects of town life. Just one example: the forge fashioned square frames that could sit inside a frying pan or on a griddle. This created a perfect receptacle for pouring batter. Skilled children would then fold the square pancake into a variety of shapes to be filled with fruit and cream.
Mrs. Deere, mother of Daniel, the most talented of the children in this speciality, introduced the origami pancake onto the local fountain card circuit. Fountain cards was a game requiring steady hands, a sense of proportion and three decks of cards with the sevens and jacks stripped. This game had all but completely died out, perhaps due to the arrival of a knife factory in the town and its detrimental impact on the manual dexterity of the population. Mrs. Deere was not a skilled fountain card player but Daniel’s creations, shaped like flowers and towers with sweet and savoury centres added an extra dimension to her Thursday night game. As Mrs. Peyton said, washing down a pancake swan with some mint tea, ‘God spent a long day dreaming up talents of an inconsequential and frivolous nature to distribute to those who missed the main go-around.’
All this would have passed, perhaps not even lasted as a memory, all these frivolous and inconsequential goings-on, but for an incident involving a boy named Bishop who lived some distance outside the town, formerly a miniaturist and now the only known paper vanisher.
Constructionists and miniaturists: a split in the ranks of origami makers. For the miniaturist the challenge existed in the realm of creating something tiny and perfect, a design fit for a pencil, a match or a knitting needle. Apparently an eight-year-old girl was on the edge of a breakthrough, folding a bee’s wing into her signature frog to fit on the head of a pin. For the constructionists a different challenge existed - designing larger and more complex structures and in some cases using non-paper materials. It was acknowledged that the Peytons’ daughter, Casen, was head and shoulders above all others. She was perhaps the only one with the vision and skills to reunite the two schools, but was blighted by her parents’ ambition for her in the realm of tapestry weaving, a proud family tradition.
Left to his own devices on a Saturday afternoon, Bishop had run out of craft paper and wished to practise a sleeping cat design. Having exhausted all other supplies in the house, he picked out an old letter that was on top of photographs and documents kept in a shoebox in his mother’s wardrobe, took it to his room and began folding. If all had gone to plan, he would have replaced the paper and his mother would be none the wiser. Absently, whilst warming up his fingers he folded the paper in half eight times, the maximum number of folds a square of paper could take, irrespective of size. He squeezed the tiny paper one more time, willing it to halve again and the impossible happened. The paper completely disappeared from between his thumb and first finger. It folded into nothing.
(Adapted from ‘A Paper Heart Is Beating, a Paper Boat Sets Sail’ by Kathleen Murray)