I thought I’d try a new way of presenting my short stories: As regular posts rather than pages. This is mainly owing to the fact that I’ll be able to tag them (pages don’t allow tagging) and thus potentially reach a wider audience. They’ll all still be linked to on the SHORT STORIES page so if you miss one or want to read more you can easily find what you want. So for my first post-short story I’ve got the latest of my James Joyce inspired ‘Bangor‘ series- The tale of Henry Goch, a man at the end of a long relationship, who discovers something impossible…
By James Churchill
The fact that their argument had caused the neighbours to complain to the police had convinced Henry that this time it really was over between himself and Astrid. It had only been an argument over whose turn it was to do the washing up but as is often the case when two people are falling out of love with each other the argument quickly escalated into an all out hurricane. It didn’t quite get as far as the crockery being thrown at the wall but they came awfully close. Henry was sure that it would indeed have come to that had it not been for the knock on the door and the intervention of the police officers who had been called by the neighbours. Their screams of anger had sounded, to the neighbours, so violent and so volatile that they became worried that something horrible would happen to one of the pair. Being kindly souls (two pensioners who had been together for almost fifty years) they called the police in the hope that it would prevent any sort of tragedy from occurring. The intervention had cooled the argument alright, how could such a thing not? And after twenty minutes of questions and the eventual departure of the officers Henry decided that he needed some fresh air and some time to think. He left the house without saying a word to Astrid and walked off down Ffordd Y Traeth, deep in contemplation.
He reached the top of Ffordd Y Traeth and began to cross the perpendicular Glan Y Mor on the side opposite to The Nelson, not bothering to look in either direction, and was jerked from his thoughts by the force of being pulled back to the pavement by a tall man in a long brown trench coat and a fedora masking his face. Henry was only thankful to the man for if he had not been pulled back in time he would have found himself struck down by a speeding sports car. Henry thanked the man, shivered and then crossed the road for real, wondering what the result might have been had he really been struck by the vehicle. Would Astrid have mourned him considering the argument that had brought him to cross that road? Would she have blamed herself for driving him towards his doom or would she have claimed it was all his own fault? Henry would never know but he thought of all these things as he crossed the road and made a beeline for the car park and the broken wall with the rubble that created a stony ramp down to the beach.
It was not so much a beach as a horrid, stony strip running alongside the edge harbour. You couldn’t swim because beneath the water were treacherous, deep mud flats and you couldn’t sunbathe because the ground was all broken up with rubble, stones and bits of old bottles that had either been discarded by louts or washed in on the tide. Still, Henry often liked to come here and he liked to stand at the point where the strip met the mud flats and stare out into Conwy Bay. In the daylight you could look across the harbour to Porth Penrhyn or even over to Mon where on a clear day you could see Beaumaris and sometimes even Ynys Seiriol beyond. At night there was none of this besides a few stagnant, yellow lights from across the harbour.
That night Henry did not stand and stare at the nothing of the dark or the lights of the harbour but rather walked along the beach and returned to his thoughts. He knew it was definitely over between himself and Astrid. He knew that he didn’t love her anymore. She was still beautiful, gorgeous and charming but he just didn’t love her. Or maybe he never had loved her in the first place. Perhaps what had existed between them was only lust rather than love and when that lust had faded things had quite naturally fallen apart. Reflecting on their relationship Henry realized that he and Astrid never did have much in common. She was a loud, socialite party girl with no particular talents whereas he was a quiet, bookish type with a gift for creating provocative artwork. They had always wanted to watch different films or television programmes and she always wanted to go out whereas he would have rather stayed in and read or reflectively recline against the windowsill. Worse, and what should have been the biggest danger sign of all, had been their disagreements over grooming. Right from their first date Astrid had been attempting to dictate Henry’s style to him, recommending he wear more plain and trendy clothes and change his hairstyle to something shorter. And then there was her disgust over facial hair. When they had met Henry had been in a rare period of being completely clean shaven but after a few weeks of dating his desire to let his beard out overtook him and he ceased for a while. But after only a day had passed Astrid was already ordering to him shave, decrying that beards and stubble were unnatural and disgusting and that she wouldn’t have one anywhere near her vicinity. Thinking he loved her and only wanting to please, Henry shaved again. When the desire to grow a beard once more overcame him the same result occurred and this repeated in a cycle until Henry grew tired of the charade and was forced to put his beardly desires to bed.
He had always wanted a beard, even when he was a toddler he would stick things to his face and pretend he had a beard. He had only ever kept each beard for a month at the most, any longer and it became unflattering, and he didn’t mind being clean shaven every once in a while, but shaving every day was just too much of a chore. Now it was all over Henry could finally grow his beard again and this pleased him. He was tired of his chin being bare and snobbishly staring at him every time he looked in the mirror. He could return to wearing clothes he liked and he wouldn’t have to be dictated into wearing whatever happened to be stylish that season. He could finally watch the films he liked without hindrance and he could truly live again. He hadn’t realize before now how much being with Astrid had stifled him but now he was free it was if the world was opening up again…
And then, in the darkness, he stopped dead, noticing that there was a large and unusual shape spread across the beach in front of him. All thoughts of Astrid fled for the moment and Henry became solely focused on this mysterious object before him. He scrambled in his pocket for his phone and then shone the light from the screen onto the thing. It only revealed a small patch of the object but it was enough to deepen the mystery. Whatever the thing was it was red and scaly, looking a little like the skin of a crocodile or an alligator. Henry reached out and to touch it and the thing was rough and stiff. It was also warm but appeared to be cooling. Whatever it was didn’t move, even when Henry nudged it with his foot. He moved his phone around the object and soon realized that the thing had legs and feet that ended with great curved talons, though the legs looked to be broken as the nearest one was splayed out at an odd, twisted angle. On the basis that if the thing had legs there was bound to be some sort of head Henry moved the phone forwards towards where such a thing should be and his breath was taken away.
It was clearly a dragon’s head, there was little doubt. Henry had seen plenty of them in books to know one when he saw it before him. It was thin and tapered along a huge snout that resolved itself with a pair of great black nostrils for breathing and billowing out great plumes of smoke. Its mouth hung open revealing huge, incredibly huge, pointy teeth whilst along the crest of its had it had a series of scarlet spines. Most alarmingly of all was the great big yellow eye that unflinchingly glared at him in the light of the phone. Without caution or fear Henry advanced towards it and prodded the eye with his foot. The dragon neither moved nor gave any indication of life. It was, considered Henry, certifiably dead. His mind raced with amazement, thinking that it were not only astonishing that such a creature existed but that it was here in Bangor and that he was the one to find it.
He took a step backwards and used his phone’s inbuilt camera to take at least seven or eight pictures of the beast before pausing and then running all the way back to his house on Ffordd Y Traeth. Crossing Glan Y Mor, opposite The Nelson, Henry was nearly crushed by a large and violent looking lorry which hooted its horn and showered him with dirt as it narrowly missed him. He was too wrapped up in the thrill of his discovery and telling the whole world about it to care though.
Reaching his house he burst through the front door screaming ‘Astrid! Astrid! There’s a dragon on the beach… There’s a dragon on the beach…” Astrid, who was on the couch, nursing her favourite bear and a box of tissues with tear soaked eyes looked up at him with disgust.
“What are you talking about Henry?” she spat.
“There’s a dragon… On the beach… A dragon on the beach…” Astrid continued to stare at him as though he was mad so he took her by the hand and pulled her towards the door. She protested and screamed and pulled away from him but Henry held firm.
“No Henry… What are you doing?” Astrid attempted to hold onto something to prevent herself from being carried off but Henry was stronger and very soon had her in the street, coatless and without shoes.
Astrid continued to protest but Henry ignored her pleas and excitedly dragged her by the arm down Ffordd Y Traeth at an alarming pace.
“Henry stop… My feet hurt,” Astrid yelled. Henry responded by unceremoniously slinging her across his shoulder before carrying her across Glan Y Mor and down to the beach. This only led to more protests and some vicious biting and slapping before Henry dropped her on the spot where he had discovered the dragon not five minutes before.
“See… Look there… A dragon!” Henry pointed proudly, taking out his phone and shining it onto the beach ahead. Astrid shook her head in disbelief.
“Henry… It’s just a patch of scrubby beach!”
Henry stared, dumbstruck, hardly believing the sight before his eyes. Five minutes earlier there had been a dragon there but now the beach lay deserted with not a stone out of place to show that any huge, mythical creature had lain there.
“But it was there…” Henry gasped. “A dragon… A dead dragon…” He floundered, flabbergasted. “It was there…” he gasped again. Astrid rudely snorted and began to hobble her way back along the beach to the ramp. Henry ran after her.
“It was there I tell you… I took pictures… Look!” He thrust his phone towards her and she snatched it from him. With some lingering sense of hope he waited for her to finish cycling through his recent photos. As she finished she rudely threw the phone down onto the ground and marched away.
“You’re an idiot Henry…” she spat. “You’re a liar and an idiot!”
Henry watched her go, confused, before he finally picked up the phone. But the photos he had open were not the same photos he had earlier taken. They were of the exact same spot on the exact same beach, most definitely, but they were not his photos. His photos had almost certainly contained a dragon. It had been there when he took the photographs. The photographs even showed the right time and date… But there was no dragon. Why wasn’t it there anymore? Henry didn’t know… He just didn’t know…