January 25, 2009

Ross Eldridge


HIS FATHER WAS A REINSURANCE ACCOUNTANT: The memory file said so. His mother worked in a second-hand bookstore. His Family. In the file. Photographs and film. There's Dad boarding the morning train to go into the City. Mum drives home from the station. She collects her husband at 5.45pm.

At his fingertips.

Christopher Heap took a breath. A deep breath. There was a rush of cold air onto his face. His eyes watered briefly.

Christopher depressed a switch, and his chair back moved more upright and he was able to look ahead. He could see a clear night sky, facing north. Always the north. Ursa Major, forty-five degrees above the horizon, and Polaris. Always. A comforting feeling. Familiarity breeds contentment.

He'd been lying in a field for five years, his back against a bale of loose hay, and the air was cold. He appreciated his warm clothes. Cold air on his face. He pressed his switch. And it was morning.

The sky was lavender and gold, dark trees grew paler green. The switch. In the conservatory now, toast in a rack on a tray. He pressed his switch and became more upright. On a ridgeline a row of houses. Just like the house he knew he was in. The sunlight struck panes of glass here and there. Stars in the daytime sky.

Christopher reached for his toast. A small white plate, a blue line around the outer edge, and five pats of butter, all perfectly formed. Always. A small silver knife. "H" engraved in the handle of the knife near the top. He buttered one of the five slices of whole-wheat toast. The jar of Ruby Grapefruit Marmalade was there too, a silver spoon with the "H" cut into it. Christopher spooned a little of the fruity mix onto his first piece of toast.

He finished his last slice of toast and wiped his sticky fingers on the linen napkin on the tray. Then he pressed the switch and the chair back relaxed and he gently assumed the position that he would sleep in. Sudden night. Pinpoint stars became elongated strings of light, flowing past and behind the young man. He became comet-like in the darkness.

Warm air flowed over Christopher's naked body. It seemed to relax him even more than he had been, and his was a life of total relaxation. He closed his eyes. Depressed his switch.

The sphere hurtled across space with Christopher asleep at the switch. He'd wake again in five years.

The new version man. Physically fit. Skin that cleans itself. Hair that grows just a little then rests. The years pass and the young man remains young. There is no degeneration, no need for regeneration. Not at this speed.

Christopher is not alone out here. Many young men have been pulsed at speeds approaching that of light energy, in spheres, in every direction, aimed anywhere away from the Earth. Young men bound for distant stars, distant planets spinning around stars, distant lands on distant planets.

Christopher Heap took a breath. A deep breath. Cold air. Another five years had passed. While he was eating his toast, he wondered what in the world reinsurance is, and what books might be.

What he was, exactly, didn't concern him at all.


Ross Eldridge lives in a tiny North Sea town on the coast of England near the Scottish border. He reads a good deal, has a go at photography, and researches family history. Ross has written a weekly newspaper column, but is now content to blog. His blog is called Barking Mad in Amble by the Sea, and it is dedicated primarily to his little dog, Cailean.

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