Billy Part 9 - Choices

January 1946

Billy fiddled with the card in his overcoat pocket. He turned it over and over, his eyes never leaving the building opposite. He had no idea why he was waiting. The stranger had said he had a choice. The fact was, there was no choice at all, not if they were to keep their heads above water anyway. Anne had been insistent. Today was the day. He couldn’t delay any longer.

Billy didn’t know what to expect. He could prepare for most things, anything life could throw at him in fact, but not this. He knew that any minute he would flick into autopilot mode. Instinct would kick in and he would go with the flow. He surmised that dealing with the dead was just that little bit edgier than dealing with the Living. On second thoughts, perhaps not.

He hardly hesitated when he reached the main entrance and searched for the doorbell or knocker. When there were none to be found, he knocked firmly on the solid oak door with the heel of his hand, the hackles on the back of his neck raised and ready. It was opened immediately by a small, slightly balding man who reminded him vaguely of the barber who had made a poor job of cutting his hair whilst he was in prison.

“Good afternoon, Mr Lawrence. My name is Wilfred. Welcome to RoYds.”

So, they were expecting him. He laughed nervously; he’d suspected they would be. It would have been naive of him to have underestimated them in any way.

“May I take your coat, sir?”

Why not? He may as well be as comfortable as possible. He unbuttoned his overcoat while making a note of the number of doorways, staircases and windows. Observing at the same time that there were no locks or bolts on the door he had just entered, he looked at Wilfred.


Your move, pal


“Mr Birch is waiting for you in the red reception room, Mr Lawrence. Down the corridor and first door on the right.”

Billy made his way to the red reception room counting each step along the way as he did so, and as expected the door was open. Stanley Birch walked towards him, right arm extended and hand ready to greet. “Ah Billy, nice to see you again! Much pleasanter circumstances than last time. Please do come in.”

As they shook hands Billy took in the details of the room itself. One doorway to his left and no other visible exits.

The barber entered carrying a tray containing a tea pot, crockery, cutlery and what appeared to be a plate of rich tea biscuits.

“Please do take a seat and join me in a brew of tea.”


Not likely


“I appreciate your caution; it would not be in your nature to be anything but. There is no need, however. No harm can or will come to you here. We are on the same side,” Stanley said reassuringly.


I’m on the side of me


Billy was a good judge of character, at least when it came to the Living. If the same set of rules applied to the dead then he had the impression that Stanley was actually a decent sort and that they would get along just fine. Relaxing his hackles a bit, he reached for the cup of tea poured for him and took a good mouthful. It was lovely and sweet, just the way he liked it.


No rationing here then


“How are Anne and the children?” Stanley asked. “Settling into their new surroundings?”

“They're the reason why I am here.”

Stanley nodded.

“What's the score?” Billy asked before taking a further mouthful of tea.

“It's a long story,” Stanley replied, offering Billy a cigarette before lighting it and then his own.

“I have all the time in the world.” Billy smiled.

“Come to that, so do I,” laughed Stanley.

***

Billy relaxed further into the leather armchair; it was warm and comforting like the crimson eiderdown his mother would wrap him in when he was a child. He had always enjoyed a coal fire and Stanley’s voice was quite hypnotic.

“The living have a lot of bizarre ideas concerning death,” Stanley remarked. “It's assumed that after death we have no choice at all as to what happens to us. Why should that be? Throughout our lives we have choices, so why not in death?”

“I've never given it much thought, to be honest,” said Billy, helping himself to a biscuit.

“Well, I can tell you this,” continued Stanley. “Although we may have no choice about how or when we die, we do have a choice about what happens to us after the fact.”

“Go on,” said a preoccupied Billy, now suspiciously trying to figure out why his mug or Stanley’s glass never emptied. He’d definitely drunk as much as a normal mug this size would hold. He peered into the steaming mug of tea and Stanley continued.

“What I am trying to tell you is that some souls choose to remain close to the Living and each of us will have our own reasons for delaying.”

"Why did you...delay, Mr Birch?”

Stanley paused briefly, “It was love that delayed me at first,” Stanley said, seeming to struggle to find a beginning to his tale. “I was always an adventurous child; I loved playing on the moors, swimming in the reservoirs and exploring the quarries. It was a wonder I did not meet an even earlier death!” He started to chuckle, a loud contagious joy of laughter, and Billy found it hard to resist smiling and laughing with him.

“I met my wife when we were children. She was such a fey creature I fell in love at first sight, there was never anyone else for me. We were married in April 1914, five months before war broke out.

“I was one of the first to volunteer. Edwardina was furious with me and seemed to think that I had chosen the war over our life together. I remember she declared that I would be killed and lost to her forever. I thought she was just being hysterical, that the pregnancy was making her behave so, as she was carrying our son at the time.”

Stanley put his glass down for a moment and ran a hand through his thick wavy brown hair. He lifted his head and his glass before turning again to face Billy.

"What happened?" asked Billy with genuine concern.

"There was nothing I could do to reassure her. In my letters home I told her how much I loved her and how wonderful our life would be once the war was over. I was certain that this world would be a better place because of the war we were fighting. Isn’t that why all men go to war, Billy? To make their world a better place?”

Billy shrugged, uncertain how to answer.

“I was such a bloody fool! Our son was born on Christmas Eve 1914 while I was in France huddled in a trench and surrounded by death. It wasn't until weeks later that I received Edwardina’s letter informing me of his birth. I was overjoyed at becoming a father and even managed a celebratory drink with my dear friend Archie.

“On 1st July 1916 Archie and I faced a blood bath. Forty thousand men died that day. Four days later, the two of us were still fighting in what later became known as the Battle of the Somme. And then on the evening of the fifth day, Archie was declared insane by his commanding officer.”

“Damn,” Billy commiserated. “It must have been a bloody nightmare!”

“It certainly was,” answered Stanley solemnly. “I think it was far worse for him, though, because he was as sane as you or I at the time.”

Curiosity got the better of Billy, “Why did they think he was mad then?” he asked.

“I think the clincher was when he recommended me for the Victoria Cross due to the part I had played in that day's actions,” proclaimed Stanley.

Billy frowned, “What was so strange about that? I’m sure you must have deserved the recommendation,” he declared.

“Perhaps,” whispered Stanley. “The problem was I had been one of the ones killed in the massacre on the afternoon of July 1st, four days earlier!

***

Billy took a drag on his cigar and held the smoke in his mouth for a few seconds before exhaling. The quality was superb, he could get used to this. He suspected that being dead could hold some previously unforeseen advantages. This Stanley bloke was growing on him.

Stanley followed Billy’s leave and took a drag of his own cigar before continuing their conversation, his words darting in between the clouds of cigar smoke.

“Your mother-in-law, Peg, had the ability to see the very best of a person -– alive or dead.” Stanley paused, giving the information time to gel in Billy’s mind.

Billy took another sip of tea and pondered what Peg had seen in him. If in fact, she had ever seen any good in him. He found himself again questioning how Anne could still love him knowing that he had killed her own mother. He eventually regained eye contact with Stanley, “Go on.”

“Peg loved you, Billy, and I know that she will never stop loving you. Peg thought you were worth saving; do you?”

Billy fought with his thoughts again on this statement. “Depends what you mean by ‘saving.’”

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5 Comments:
  • At 15 January 2010 at 17:14, Blogger Miladysa said…

    Posted early on a Friday instead of Wednesday because Refuge of Delayed Souls reached the NO 1 Spot on http://topwebfiction.com

    Thank you for voting :)

     
  • At 17 January 2010 at 21:36, Anonymous Melissa said…

    Hooray for a big chunk to read! So many things to love about this one, too -- starting with "He surmised that dealing with the dead was just that little bit edgier than dealing with the Living. On second thoughts, perhaps not." :) Love Stanley reading Billy's mind ... the cups that never are empty ... the lack of knobs or locks ... the bit that fills in so much about Stanley and Edwardina ... and the last part gave me the chills (again!) when Archie is committed because he sees Stanley! Thank you for this!

     
  • At 19 January 2010 at 21:46, Anonymous Miladysa said…

    Very pleased you enjoyed it Melissa :) Someone who once reviewed RoYds disliked these scenes between Stanley & a n other but I like them, I know you do too & Jessica did not see a problem with them so they are here to stay LOL

     
  • At 1 June 2010 at 10:17, Anonymous @HowieHippobum said…

    I don't care what anyone else thinks,but I think this is a very well constructed masterful scene.

     
  • At 1 June 2010 at 11:41, Anonymous Miladysa said…

    Thank you, Howie :)

     

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Whituth's living can't see the dead but psychic Elizabeth Whyte can see everyone: living humans, delayed souls, fallen angels, vampires and fae. She helps maintain the fragile peace between light and darkness in her work with RoYds, an unworldly refuge. But that peace has suddenly become fragile. Whituth's carefully maintained balance is tipping toward darkness. Now Elizabeth and her angelic allies must discover who or what is threatening both town and refuge before balance is lost forever

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