Mark Rookyard

Mark Rookyard lives in England. He likes writing short stories and running long distances.

Mark Rookyard lives in England. He likes writing short stories and running long distances.

For Whom the Voice Speaks

“I love you, Jonathon,” Voice said.

“I know you do, Voice.” The sun was golden and the air was pleasantly warm in the vineyard.

“Are you well, Jonathon? Don’t you want to make wine today?”

“No Voice, not today,” Jonathon said.

“What about climbing?” Voice wondered. “You do love the mountains.”

Jonathon did love to climb and the winds there were always cool and the snow always white and soft. But no, he was just so tired lately.

“Not today, I don’t think, Voice,” he said. He tossed a grape and caught it in his mouth. He sat down. The grass was dew-wet and green.

“What about riding?” Voice said. The world shifted, tilted before him, and Jonathon could see a field in the distance. The horses there were sleek and well fed. Jonathon did love to ride.

“Not today, Voice. Perhaps tomorrow.” He got to his feet and began to walk.

Voice was silent for a time until Jonathon reached the ocean. The waves were white-tipped and the breeze brisk. The beach was golden with white pebbles and swaying palm trees.

“What about sailing?” Voice said. “You do love to sail.”

Jonathon threw a pebble and turned away. He walked through a desert where the sand was warm and the sun red.

“Is something bothering you, Jonathon?” Voice said.

Jonathon stopped. He could see a well that would contain cooling water less than a mile away. “Bothering me, Voice?”

“You seem restless today.”

“Am I?” Jonathon was thirsty, he realized. He walked on to the well. It was closer now. He wound the bucket up. The water was clear and fresh.

“Yes,” Voice said. “Is there anything I can do, Jonathon?”

Jonathon wound the bucket back down. “I don’t think so, Voice. I just sometimes wonder about the others.”

“The others?”

“Yes, Voice. The others like me. Why am I the last one? Why me?” He walked on again. The water had been refreshing.

“Why not, Jonathon? You’re no worse or better than any other. Why not you?”

Jonathon smiled. “You knew them all, Voice. Am I really no better or worse than any of them?” He came to a cool babbling brook in a green and pleasant land.

“There were many people here,” Voice finally said. The sun was bright once more, but not too warm. “But none I loved so well as you.”

“Do you ever get lonely, Voice?” he asked.

“Lonely? I have you, Jonathon.”

Jonathon nodded. “And I you, Voice. You truly are a wonder. But sometimes I want to share your wonder with another. You show me true beauty in the world, but who can I share it with?” There was a silence in the blue sky. “I think it must be a failing in me.”

A further silence in which the sky fell dark. Stars lit the night and the moon was yellow.

“No, not a failing in you,” Voice said. “Perhaps I have been selfish in thinking I could be enough for you.”

“Selfish? You, Voice? You gave me life!” Jonathon smiled, but there was a sadness in it, too. He remembered the Great Library with its books speaking of love and wonder, and wonder and love. What was beauty, the books had said, if there was nobody to share it with?

The world turned and the moon fell and the sun rose and a bridge of ancient stone spanned a rippling river.

“There was another,” Voice said. “Another who survived the plague. I kept her from you because I was afraid she would displease you.”

Jonathon saw her on the bridge. She was tall and slender with golden shoulders. “Or I would displease her,” he breathed.

“That too,” Voice said in an inflectionless voice.

She was named Helen, and Jonathon showed her the Great Library and the Barrier Reef and Victoria Falls. Helen hung upon his every word.

When he touched her skin, she was pliant and when he made love to her, she murmured appreciative words in his ear under vines that whispered in a warm breeze.

“Voice!” Jonathon called out one morning, a tiger cub nuzzling his palm.

“Yes, Jonathon?” Voice had been quiet a long while.

“I am old, Voice. My beard is white and Helen is still young and golden and appreciative.” He had read books in the Great Library, books where men had to fight for a woman’s love, where women were challenging and opinionated. Why wasn’t Helen like that? She laughed at his jokes and was quiet when he was restless.

“Have you thought of children?” Voice said, after a long pause.

“Children?” Jonathon thought of the children he would have. They would be perfect and studious and handsome. Their family would be happy beyond measure.

The very thought of it made Jonathon sink to his knees in exhaustion.

“I am done, Voice. I am an old man and I am done. All I ask of you now, for any love you have for me, is to show me the Truth of things.”

“The Truth?” asked the voice from the sky.

“The Truth,” Jonathon said.

The world turned, then. The grass beneath his feet fell away and the golden sun vanished from the sky, taking the white clouds with it.

Jonathon knelt upon a grilled walkway, the steel above him black and bolted. The window at his shoulder was small and round and showed a planet where the clouds were white and the seas blue.

“It took longer than your species could have ever imagined to get here,” Voice said. “You are the last survivor of tens of thousands.”

Jonathon pressed his hands to the window. The clouds on the planet coiled. “Take me there,” he said.

“It wasn’t the haven your kind had prayed for,” Voice said.

Jonathon fingered his white beard. “Tell me, Voice. Are there others like me there? Others of my kind?” He thought of the thousands upon thousands of silent chambers all around him and he gripped a cold steel pole as something shifted beneath his feet and distant engines began to rumble.

A long silence.

“I love you, Jonathon.” Voice finally said, cold and sterile.

Jonathon swallowed as he watched the planet draw near. “I know you do, Voice.”

Incorporeal

I was there in the room when the policeman told my wife I was dead.

“A terrible accident,” he said. “An explosion. There couldn’t have been much warning, the particle collider…” he trailed away. “He wouldn’t have felt a thing.”

I wanted to shout, to scream. Instead I held my hands before me and saw nothing but the crimson carpet. I wept and wondered that even my tears were invisible.

I was there when Hannah told Lisa that her daddy wouldn’t be coming home. They held each other until they both fell asleep, their eyes red and their faces pale.

“I’m here, Hannah,” I could have said. “I’m here with you.” But instead I held my silence, ashamed and afraid of my condition.

I attended my own funeral and wept as the empty coffin was carried away.

“Such a terrible thing,” Uncle Joseph had consoled Hannah. “So terrible.”

But, as is the wont of terrible things, time passed and they became less terrible. Hannah began to smile more and Lisa didn’t cry herself to sleep so often. The trees in the garden turned a burnished orange and then powdered white and then a flushing green and occasional laughter could be heard through the house and it made my heart cold to hear it.

I should have felt joy in their happiness, but a man can turn melancholy, drifting quiet and alone in his own house, unnoticed and unseen.

Was I a ghost? Was I truly dead? Was this some kind of hell I had brought upon myself?

But I couldn’t be dead, could I? Did the dead eat? Did they drink? I had to do both, and then hide in the basement, shivering against the cold until I had digested the food.

“Lisa, you’re sleeping at your Nan’s tonight.” Hannah stood in front of the mirror putting on her earrings. She was wearing makeup and a red dress. The trees in the garden were heavy with snow.

I roused myself in the corner. What day was it? Every day merged into one when there was nothing to do but wander disconsolately around the house.

“Lisa?” Hannah shouted. “You going to get ready?” Hannah sighed and checked herself in the mirror, turning sideways to look at her figure.


His name was Steven and he smiled a lot.

Lisa would look at him with serious eyes and Steven would smile and tell jokes and help around the house.

Nobody smiled that much. Had I ever smiled that much? When they were out, I would go through the photographs and see myself smiling. I stood in front of mirrors and saw nothing.

“When’s Steven coming?” Lisa called out. “He should be here by now.”

I started in my corner. Had I fallen asleep? My head hurt. Lisa sounded excited.

“He’ll be here in a minute.” Hannah smiled as she washed the pots.

I clasped a hand to my head. Lisa liked this guy. She was only six. Or was she seven now? The birds chattered on budding trees and sunlight streamed through the kitchen window. The brightness hurt my eyes and my head.

My family. I had to protect my family.

Lisa was asleep when they returned and Steven carried her from the car and into the house. The sight made me weep and clench my fists.

I sneaked into the car and it seemed a long time before he came from the house.

He was evil, this man. An intruder. I wanted to kill him as he drove. No, first I wanted proof of his evil intentions. I wanted to know what it was I was saving my family from.

I lay on the back seat and watched the ghastly glow of the streetlights smear the darkness of the night.

Steven’s lair was a fashionable apartment overlooking a fashionable canal. I imagined pornography parading on walls and handcuffs hanging from bedposts. Instead I got an apartment that was neat and fashionably sparse.

He checked his messages when he got in. Five calls to his mother. He would ignore them and chat to women on dating sites. But instead he called his mum on his mobile.

He sat in a reclining chair, loosening his tie. “I do have a mobile, Mum.” He took off his shoes and placed them next to his chair. “Well, if you used the one I bought you.”

I looked at a bookshelf. He liked history and sports biographies.

“I’ve been out. Yeah, with a woman.”

The kitchen was tidy. The fridge had lots of meals for one.

“I’ve had women before, just never wanted to tell you about them. This one’s different.”

I could tell he was smiling as he spoke.

“No, just different. A widow. Poor guy died in an accident.”

I looked in the bedroom. Flowers on the table.

“One. She’s sweet. Misses her dad, course she does.” He laughed. “She’s great. Hannah. No, I don’t want to rush it, but I think we could make a go of it. Listen, are you going to be in on Sunday? I’d like you to meet her.”

My head hurt and my heart hurt. I slipped out through the door, closing it quietly behind me.

It was a long way home under dark skies and glaring streetlights.

I slipped into the bed as quietly as I could. Hannah rested her head on my shoulder, snuggling in and breathing deep. “Dan,” she whispered, half smiling. “Dan.” She draped an arm across my chest.

I smelled her hair and held her close.

When the first breath of sunlight touched the window, I went to see Lisa. She was fast asleep clutching a toy bear. I stroked her hair. “I love you,” I whispered. She clutched the bear tighter and smiled.

My hand shook as I opened the door. The morning sun was shining, and as I took one last look back at the house, I saw my footprints were already fading in the dew-wet grass.