A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times





As the sun set over the snow-capped peaks of the Pennine mountains, its fading light gave the panorama of the moors to the east an eerie, supernatural glow. Even after being born and raised near here, 30 miles north in Marton, West Yorkshire and having travelled this stretch of the M62 countless times since moving back to England, Martin Cooper was still awe stricken by the powerful raw beauty of this country.


As a nationally respected independent security consultant now, Martin spent more time on the road than anywhere else, which was just fine with him, even on this Christmas Eve. He had never married, and his parents had passed on years ago. He had no real roots or family, and therefore no real commitments. Despite the nationwide nature of his profession, he rarely travelled in aeroplanes. Sure, planes are much faster, but someone else had control over his fate, something he could never be comfortable with. Besides, he enjoyed driving and relished seeing everything England had to offer, from ground level so to speak.

Martin glanced at his watch, “Almost five, should be home by nine or so, plenty early enough for a quick one at the Grizzly Rose and a good night’s sleep.”

Tomorrow it would be Christmas Day, not that it really mattered. Other than dressing up as Santa, and doing some time at the shelter for homeless families, Christmas day held little else that was special to him.

Martin always became a bit melancholy as he drove through this area. Brighouse reminded him of his childhood, his parents, and most of all, his high school sweetheart. Angela was his first and only love. Whenever he passed through, he thought about Angela.

“I wonder where she is, what she’s doing, or if she’s even still alive,” he thought to himself. “Is she married? Dumb question, of course she is, probably has grandkids by now. Wonder if she stayed in Brighouse, or went off to Leeds, like we’d always dreamed we would…”

Throughout high school, Martin Cooper and Angela Gillespie had been together, going steady they called it then. They loved each other, and were certain they’d be married someday.

But life, and fate, is sometimes cruel to young lovers. Soon after his graduation, Martin was drafted for The Falklands. Angela begged and pleaded with Martin not to go.

“I’d rather live as a fugitive in Ireland, with you at my side, than lose you to some damn war nobody believes in.” Angela would sob, tears rolling down her young face, “If you go, I can’t wait for you, I couldn’t bear the pain.”

Martin was torn between his love for Angela, and his duty to his country, but in the end Martin knew what he had to do. “I have to go, Angie. I couldn’t live with myself if I ran away from this, and you couldn’t either. Don’t worry, I’ll get back O.K.”

Angela wasn’t convinced, and being young and hurt, she threw a tantrum and told Martin sharply, “It’s obvious you don’t love me as much as you love the thought of war and adventure in some sheep station half a world away. Go on and go. I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again.”

She didn’t mean it, but she couldn’t bring herself to take it back. She knew in her heart that Martin was the only man she could ever love.

Martin wasn’t too worried about Angela, and he told his friends, “She’ll get over it, and she’ll love me even more when I come home with a shirt full of medals.”

He still wasn’t worried when, the next evening, he saw Angela at the local football ground, parked with the striker of the football team. Martin and Mike Pullen had been rivals since nursery school, and Martin figured, “She’s just trying to make me jealous.”

When Angela didn’t even show up to see him off to boot camp, Martin began to wonder if he might have really lost her. When she wouldn’t return his letters, or take his phone calls, he was convinced she no longer cared. He had a leave coming after boot camp, but heartbroken, he went straight to the Falklands instead.

In the Falklands, survival was his top priority, though he thought of nothing but Angela in his rare moments of peace and solitude. Martin found that war really was hell, especially this one. He did what he could to survive, and mourned the loss of many friends. One especially cold and snowy night his platoon was overrun by Argentine forces and the heroism Martin displayed, by carrying his badly wounded platoon sergeant through enemy infested fields to the safety of Goose Green, earned him a Medal of Honour.

Martin’s parents were absent on the day that the Army General draped the Medal around his neck. His Commanding Officer had assured him that passage to the ceremony had been approved for his folks, and soon after the affair Martin found out the reason for their absence: While driving from Manchester airport, his parents were involved in a car accident. There were no survivors.

After losing his parents, the military became his only family. He never went back to Brighouse, even for his parent’s funeral. He made a career out of the Marine Corps, then started his own security business in Birmingham after he retired. He never even stopped in Brighouse for gasoline, if he could help it. The memory of his parents and the love he left behind was just too painful for him.

As the miles continued to roll by, taking him closer to the hometown of his childhood, Martin wished to himself that he could somehow change the past. How grand his life would have been, if he’d only had Angela and his parents there to share it with him. With that thought, he willed Angela, his folks, and Brighouse out of his mind.

“They’re all gone, and you can’t change the past, dummy.”

As Martin continued to guide his Cavalier northward through the crisp Saddleworth Moors’ winter dusk, he noticed the peak called “Marsden Rise” just to the east. “Used to be some good hare hunting up there,” he remembered, “got a nice ten point kill there my first time.”

As he gazed up at the peak, now littered with radio towers, he saw an object flying just above the mountain’s base, in his direction.

“Kind of small for a passenger jet.” he thought. Airlines from Manchester and Leeds often flew at relatively low altitudes in this area. But as the object grew nearer, he was sure that it wasn’t a jet, or any other kind of airplane for that matter.

“What the…” he exclaimed out loud, as the craft neared. “It can’t be… nah…”

He quickly rubbed his eyes and set them back onto the highway. The object seemed to be a sleigh, pulled by nine tiny reindeer. The white beard and red suit of the driver were plainly visible, as well as the bright red nose of the lead reindeer.

“I’ve gotta be imagining things now,” Martin muttered as he turned his head for another look. As quickly as he turned his head, Martin instinctively ducked as the sleigh bore down, on a collision course. As the sleigh buzzed Martin’s Cavalier, he lost control, crashed through a barbed wire fence and travelled several metres, until he ended up under the bridge spanning the Diggle Reservoir, swamped. As the car lurched to a sudden stop in the reservoir, Martin’s head bounced off of the steering wheel, knocking him out cold.

It took Martin a few minutes to orient himself once he regained his senses. The winter sun had disappeared behind the mountains to the west and the air had gotten much colder. The cold reservoir water, now up to his neck, didn’t help matters much either. Martin couldn’t force the car door open, but he was able to escape through the driver’s side window.

Cold, wet and near hypothermia, Martin rescued his now wet jacket from the sinking car, climbed up the riverbank and started walking as quickly as possible northward on the hard shoulder of the motorway toward the lights of Brighouse. Martin soon lost all feeling in his outstretched thumb, as he flagged passing vehicles down but the exercise generated enough body heat to keep him going. And despite his predicament, his mind began racing.

“Am I going nuts? Everybody knows that Santa Claus is just a myth, but that Santa piloted sleigh was sure real enough. Was it my imagination? Was I hallucinating? Did I really get buzzed by flying reindeer?”

As Martin continued to plod up the highway, questioning his sanity and the events that led to his crash, he didn’t notice the passenger car that had slowed and pulled to the shoulder behind him. The car’s horn caught his attention and he turned towards it, startled.

“What happened, mister. You need a lift to town?”

“What happened, yea, that’s a good question?” Martin retorted sarcastically.

Martin thought to himself, “I can’t tell these people what really happened, or at least what I THINK happened. I’d be sent to the cracker factory pretty darn quick, though a nice cosy padded room does sound kind of good right now.”

Martin walked over to the driver of the car. “I swerved to miss a deer. Ended up in the reservoir. I would sure appreciate a lift into Brighouse.”

The driver, a young, good-looking chap, smiled and opened the rear door. “Climb on in. The wife brought along a thermos of hot coffee, you’re welcome to have some.”

After Martin settled into the rear seat, he saw that the young man was not alone. A pretty, twenty-something girl, with dark hair, doe-like brown eyes, and golden skin, occupied the passenger seat. In the middle was a child seat, filled with the bundled up form of a young boy. There was something about the girl; like he had seen her before, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“I appreciate the ride, young man, and this coffee, sure hits the spot, miss. My name is Martin. I used to live around here, a long time ago. You can just drop me off at the nearest telephone.”

“No trouble, Martin. My name is Dave Clifford. This is my wife, Sarah, and this little fella here is our son, Billy. We live in Stockport, but Sarah’s family lives in Brighouse and luckily for you her Uncle Dan owns a towing company. Don’t you worry about a single thing. Nothing’s gonna be open tomorrow, it being Christmas and all. You just spend the night with us, at Sarah’s mum’s place. She’s a great cook, and you can use the telephone to call your family. Uncle Dan will tend to your car after Christmas dinner, but I don’t think that you’ll be driving it again anytime soon. Day after Christmas we should be able to hook you up with a rental. Or maybe your wife could drive down and fetch you?”

“I’m not married. In fact I’ve really got no place that I need to be, or anyone who will worry about me. I’ve been alone for quite a long time.”

“Then it’s settled then. You’ll spend Christmas with us.”

“I wouldn’t want to trouble you any…”

“No trouble,” Dave’s wife chimed in, “Mommy would love the company of a fine looking gentleman like you… once you dry out that is.”

Martin took an immediate liking to the young couple. “What the heck, a good home-cooked meal and a warm bed sure beats a miserable half empty hotel. I accept your invitation, and I sure appreciate the hospitality. Merry Christmas, to you both.”

Sarah’s eyes brightened as she exclaimed, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Martin. People caring for other people.”

Martin winked, as young Billy peered over the car seat eyeing him curiously. As they drove into Brighouse Martin noticed that the names of most of the stores had changed, but that Brighouse still looked much as it had twenty-five years earlier. As the car cruised slowly up the high-street, Martin’s throat tightened at the sight of all the Christmas decorations, and the large Christmas tree right smack in the Main street roundabout. The buildings, the tree, and the decorations, combined with the backdrop of imposing snow covered trees leading up to Brighouse Bypass made Brighouse look like Christmas heaven. He immediately regretted ever leaving his hometown.

As the car continued up the high-street, through the railroad underpass and eastward onto Squiresgate, Martin’s senses were filled with memories of many of the places he saw. Much of the town had changed, but some places were still the same as he remembered them. The Cliffords left him to his silence, until they pulled into the driveway of a small, well-kept house on Gartside Street. The twinkling lights of a Christmas tree escaped through the drapes of the front picture window.

“Look Billy, we’re here. Let’s go in and give Grandma a great big hug,” Sarah cooed as she bundled the child into his coat.

Dave Clifford turned to Martin. “I’d appreciate some help with the packages in the boot, Martin.”

“No problem, Dave. Glad to help out.”

As Martin and the young family entered the house Sarah called out, “Mommy, we’re here and we brought some company.”

A female voice answered from a hallway, “I’ll be out in a second, Sarah. Who have you brought with you?”

Martin’s ears homed in on the voice from the hallway; there was something very familiar about it. And when the woman then entered the room, the packages in Martin’s arms, as well as his jaw, dropped to the floor and his body stiffened with surprise and emotion.

“Momma, this is…”

“Martin…” the woman squeaked, as tears welled up in her big brown eyes.

“Momma, you know this man?”

For what seemed to be an eternity, Martin couldn’t make a sound come from his mouth. Finally he was able to choke out, “Angela. My God.”

Angela rushed to Martin’s arms, and as he embraced her it seemed that all the years they had been apart just disappeared. Dave and Sarah could only stare, dumbfounded, as the two childhood sweethearts hugged and wept. Little Billy wasn’t in the least concerned.

“Grandma, I want some candy.”

Over the dinner table, Martin and Angela caught up on the events of their lives over the last twenty-five years. Dave and Sarah tried to remain politely silent, but could not help asking Martin about wartime experiences. Billy, of course, was another matter. He demanded constant attention, as children often do, until finally Angela convinced him that it was bedtime.

“The faster you get to sleep, the sooner Santa can deliver your presents Billy.”

Dave and Sarah excused themselves to put little Billy to bed, and Martin could hear their excited whispers, when they thought they were out of earshot. For a time, he could only gaze at Angela, drinking in her every feature, amazed at the way time had made her even more beautiful. Angela gazed back at him, looking directly into his eyes, thanking the Lord for bringing him back to her. Martin broke the silence.

“So who did you finally marry?”

He noticed her eyes widen, as if she had forgotten something, and she did not answer immediately. Martin could just imagine an angry husband storming into the room at just that moment. The tears that began clouding her eyes made him fear the worst. Angela’s voice was little more than a whisper when she answered.

“I never married, Martin. You’re the only man I’ve ever loved.”

Martin’s heart nearly melted, “And I still love you, Angie…” Then a sudden thought crossed his mind. His voice was strained with emotion when he finally continued, “…then who is Sarah’s father?”

“You are, my darling, I’m so sorry that I never…”

Before she could finish, there was a sharp crack as the back of Martin’s chair met the floor, after he fainted for the first ever time in his life.

The next day, as Martin and Dave followed Dan Gillespie’s recovery truck down the M62 to retrieve Martin’s car, both men were silent, lost in deep thought. Both thought about how strange and wonderful the twists and turns of life can be, and wondered just how independent from fate they really were. Martin knew that he would never leave Angela again.

He would marry her, as he always knew he would as a teen. After so many years apart, every moment together would be treasured and from now on, every Christmas would be even more magical. Of course, no Christmas would ever be as special as this one had.

As they approached the reservoir bridge, Martin was surprised to see that his car had been removed from the water, and sat sparkling clean on the shoulder, the sun glistening off the brightly polished chrome.

“Did the Police already send a recovery vehicle?”

“Could be”, Dave replied, “looks like you got a ticket on the windshield.”

Martin got out of Dave’s car, and walked over to his own. There was no evidence of the Christmas Eve accident. In fact, the car hadn’t looked this good since it was brand new. Martin reached out and took the slip of paper from beneath the wiper blade. It wasn’t a ticket, but just a plain piece of white paper, with a short hand written note. As Martin read the note, he broke out in hysterical laughter.

Confused, Dave asked, “What is it, Martin?”

“Nothing,” he laughed, “just a note from a very old, good friend.”

Despite the confused look on Dave’s face, Martin stuffed the note into his pocket. He’d read it to Angela later.


Dear Martin, sorry about your car, Rudolph is getting quite old and his eyesight isn’t too good these days, but I think that you’ll forgive me. After all, you and Angela can tell your grandson how grandpa got run over by a reindeer. Merry Christmas.

Santa



A CHRISTMAS TALESocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

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