What is real?

Week four, and I found myself on a path in woodland near an old castle. It was late afternoon, there was an unseasonable chill in the air and the sky above me looked as far from friendly as a sky can without depositing its cargo of rain or worse on my head. I heard a rustling noise close behind me and turned towards it. An elderly man looked up at me, touched the peak of his flat cap and said hi. Dressed in an old and dirty greatcoat, trousers that, if new would be called distressed but were, in fact, badly worn, and boots that had clearly covered a lot of miles since they were new. Under his cap with wisps of silver hair attempting to escape into the breeze he had the wizened expression of someone who had lived a lot, seen a lot, done a lot.

“Sorry, do I know you?” I asked.

“You surely do, Sir,” the man replied, “I am Desmond.”

“Desmond? I can see a vague similarity, but aren’t you… that is weren’t you African?”

“I was when I needed to be. Now I need to be English, like you.”

“What makes you so sure I’m English? I could be – I don’t know – Scottish, Welsh, Irish, American, Australian…”

“What was your first word to me?”

“Sorry, Desmond. I wasn’t keeping notes.”

“I’ll tell you, Barry. Your first word to me was sorry. As far as I’m concerned that tells me you’re English. No other group of people routinely start a conversation with a stranger by apologising when they’ve done nothing to apologise for.”

“Sorry. We do a bit, don’t we?” I said with a chuckle, “So, if you are who you say you are, what’s the story this week?”

“This week, young Master, you are going to visit what is said to be the most haunted chateau in the area — maybe even in the country.”

“But I don’t believe in any of that rubbish.”

“Have you ever seen a ghost?”

“Of course I haven’t.”

“Of course you haven’t. That’s why you don’t believe in them. It’s a well-known fact that the only people who don’t believe in ghosts are those who have never seen one. Do you think you’d believe in them if you saw one?”

“No, I wouldn’t. Read my lips: There. is. no. such. thing. as. ghosts.”

“Do you know that or do you believe that?”

“Okay, I’ll play along for a while. I believe ghosts to be a myth. How’s that?”

“Better. And you are sure you’ve never seen one?”


“What if you’re wrong?”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not saying anything. I’m just asking whether you are certain you have never seen a spectre, a phantom, a wraith, a spirit, a wandering soul, an inexplicable presence or apparition; you have never experienced a sudden chill for no apparent reason or anything else that you can’t explain rationally.”

“I think I’d know if I had!”

Desmond looked at me with an intensity I’d not seen in him before. It was a look that I imagine people like hypnotists and other charlatans use to trap their victims. Or that some snakes use to mesmerise their prey. A look I was not about to fall for.

“Would you?” he asked, “Would you know for sure if you were face-to-face with someone who was not solid, not corporeal, not physical?”

“Are you saying…?”

“I told you, I’m not saying, Barry. I’m asking, is all.”

“Look. We spent last week together. I think I’d know if you weren’t what you appear to be.”

“And what do I appear to be?”

This was beginning to try my patience to breaking point and I felt the need to take control.

“Enough of this nonsense,” I said sharply, “You are solid, living, human flesh and blood. I can see you; I can hear you; I can feel your breath on me. If I choose, I can reach out and touch you.”

“Can you?” he asked from behind me…

This was written in response to Kreative Kue 281 published on this site.

Kreative Kue 281

Kreative Kue 280 asked for submissions based on this photograph:

Rhino saw us!

John W Howell is a multiple nominated and award-winning author who blogs at Fiction Favorites. Details of John’s books can be found on his Amazon author page

Rhino Saw Us by John W. Howell © 2020

“Don’t make a sound.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not nuts you know.”

“I wonder what he wants?”

“See that horn. You can take a guess.”

“Aren’t Rhino’s grass eaters?”

“Yeah, but tell him that.”

“I think he is lost.”

“Oh, come on. He wants to run us through and then stomp us into molecules.”

“Why do you suppose he picked us?”

“How do I know. I’m guessing he saw us and decided we needed to be taught a lesson.”

“Boy, that breath is something else.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to stand here and wait for him to make the decision. I’m taking action.”

“The last words said by a brave one and recorded by the steadfast and cowardly sidekick.”

“You gonna just wait for him to make a move?”

“Maybe he’ll forget.”

“Ha. He’s a cousin to the Elephant. Those brutes never forget.”

“Okay, then. You go, and I’ll be right behind you.”

“Wait. I just had a thought.”

“What is it.”

“We are tick birds, right.”

“Last time I checked.”

“I think he needs a going over.”

“Why didn’t he just say so?”

“You speak, Rhino?”

“No, of course not. You?”

“No. Just jump up on top of him, and let’s see what happens.”

“Look, he likes us.”

“Man, look at all the goodies.”

“This is heaven for sure. Look at him when I scratch right here.”

“It doesn’t get any better than this. Look up synergy in the dictionary, and you’ll see our picture.”

“You are just using hyperbole, right?”

“Most definitely. There’s no picture.”

“You had me concerned.”

“Eat your ticks, and enjoy yourself.”

“I could say the same.”

“So noted.”

Na’ama Yehuda, who blogs at https://naamayehuda.com, offered this tale:

Barry’s Safari by Na’ama Yehuda

“Don’t look!”

Melanie’s voice was low and urgent.

Naturally, I tried to look.

“No!” she hissed. “Stay still, Bethany! Don’t move!”

Naturally, I disobeyed. No way I was letting Melanie see something interesting and miss out on it! Bad enough she was born thirty minutes before me, and had to constantly remind me how she “was normally positioned” and I was “the butt-instead-of-head” one.

I looked … and almost had a heart attack! Not that I was gonna let her see it. I molded my almost-shriek into a grin. “Cool!”

“Bee!” she hissed.

She rarely used her baby name for me. Perhaps she was genuinely terrified.

“It’s fine, Meh-Meh,” I returned. The syllables felt simultaneously odd and soothing in my mouth. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used my baby name for her. Being the younger twin, and always the smaller, I’d been self-conscious about not appearing babyish.

“It’s a rhino!” she mouthed.

“A baby rhino,” I tried hopefully. “I mean, I think it is.”

“Babies have mamas and even that so-called baby has a horn,” she shuddered. Her voice shook.

Suddenly suspicious, I chanced a look around to seek Gary. A moment earlier, our safari guide had ‘conveniently’ needed to go get something from the truck.

Even his silhouette appeared smug.

“So, Gary!” I called out, eliciting a gasp and a fetal position from Melanie. “Who’s that little one?”

The khaki-clad man stepped into the light of the fire he’d lit earlier. More for ambiance than for warmth. His grin was someplace between satisfied and embarrassed.

“It’s Barry,” he chuckled, clicked his fingers, and pulled a carrot out of his back pocket. “Our resident rhino.”

The gray beast sauntered closer. If Melanie could have drilled herself into the ground, she would.

“You terrified my sister,” I glowered at the guide.

I wasn’t really worried about her. I could see that she was trying to regain her composure (if not her self-respect). In fact, I was definitely going to get a lot of mileage out of this. But … she was my sister to torment. No one else had the right!

“Sorry,” his voice was only marginally contrite. “Barry is an unofficial part of the tour.”

“For those who survive,” Melanie muttered under her breath. She was still shaking.

The rhino lipped the carrot and chewed it noisily, then took a step in our direction. Melanie squeaked.

Well, those who come out butt-first apparently have stronger constitutions. I stood up. “Got more carrots?”

My effort was


“Where are we and what in the name of all that’s sacred is that?” I asked my driver.

It was the beginning of the third week of the four-week grand tour my folks had given me as my coming-of-age gift. The first week was spent in the Mars settlement known throughout the world as Trump’s folly. It wasn’t named after the one who briefly and disastrously held the office of President of what was the United States of America, but after one of his grandsons, who had the brilliant idea of seeding Mars with wildlife, genetically engineered to survive on the red planet and to be targets for wealthy idiots who derive pleasure from killing defenceless animals in the name of ‘sport’.  The settlement was designed in the form of a luxury hotel (what else?) whose only purpose was to pander to its fiscally rich but morally worthless guests. Why folly? Not as a nod to the ornamental but worthless buildings so beloved of the rich Victorians – although that does work – but in recognition of the sheer stupidity of the project. You see, although the animals could survive the rigours of life on Mars, they were, every one of them, infertile. Given the losses to the high-powered laser weapons used by the clients and the ancient virus that was unearthed, or should I say unmarsed when five ‘hunters’ simultaneously fired their weapons at a single animal. That ‘animal’ turned out to be a rock (such was the skillset of the participants) and its destruction allowed a long-dormant pathogen to become less so, dormant, that is. My sojourn there was in the early part of the twenty-second century.

For my second week, I was the house-guest of an ageing Charles Darwin. What a fascinating week that was! We spent our evenings together relaxing in front of the fire in his lounge – it was the winter season at the time – where he explained to me everything he had learned during his voyages and subsequent studies. For my part, I passed on to him some of the results of more recent research which should have led him to modify some of his theory. Quite rightly, in my view, he chose to keep to himself what I had told him, reasoning that if he were to modify his writings, then the research of which I had spoken to him might never happen. He seemed to have a grasp of the concept of time paradox even then, in the middle of the nineteenth century – a full thirty years before HG Wells’ Time Machine was published.

The driver of the vehicle in which I just found myself handed me an envelope and sat in silence whilst I opened it and read its contents.

Headed ‘Week Three‘, it simply said ‘Location: East Africa, Earth. Time period: Third quarter, twentieth century. Enjoy.

“East Africa?” I asked.

“Yes, Sir. Tanzania, Serengeti,” the driver replied, “I am Desmond.”

“Desmond? That doesn’t sound African.”

“No, Sir. When I became Christian, I was able to leave my tribal name behind and choose my own name to reflect my new faith. I chose Desmond.”

“Why did you choose Desmond?”

“I thought to myself that if it is good enough for Archbishop Tutu, then it is good enough for me.”

“Fair enough, Desmond. You can call me—”

“Barry. Yes, I know. It is written on my instruction sheet.”

“What is the animal? I don’t recall seeing anything like that before.”

“It is a Black Rhinoceros.”

“A black rhino? Wow. I thought they were extinct.”

“No, Sir, Mr Barry. The whites are in severe decline everywhere, but the blacks are doing okay so far.”

“Should I be worried?”

“Not with me here. I know this one. He has charged many times, but always turns away before hitting anything.”

“So far.”

“That is true. But I think I would see in his eyes if he was about to attack.”

“You sure?”


“Okay, I’ll trust you, Desmond. But how dangerous is it? Do they ever kill? I mean, it’s big – and that front horn looks serious.”

“It is, but this one is okay. I wouldn’t try to upset him, though. If he’s annoyed, he can turn very quickly and, even though he weighs about a ton and a quarter, he can run at up to thirty miles an hour for a short time.”

“And how fast can this thing go?” I asked, referring to the vehicle around us.

“This old bus? Faster than that,” he said with a chuckle as he started the engine and pulled gently away.

On to this week’s challenge: Using this photo as inspiration, write a short story, flash fiction, scene, poem; anything, really; even just a caption for the photograph. Either put it (or a link to it) in a comment or email it to me at keithchanning@gmail.com before 6pm next Sunday (if you aren’t sure what the time is where I live, this link will tell you). If you post it on your own blog or site, a link to this page would be appreciated, but please do also mention it in a comment here.

Go on. You know you want to. Let your creativity and imagination soar. I shall display the entries next Monday.

Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 7.2

Rory Rogerson is 67; an overweight, unfit, retired ‘protection officer’ (that’s PC for hired muscle). He is also a prolific and, by his own reckoning, successful author of crime fiction.

Penny (60) is his headmistress wife and Charlie Watkiss is the bloke next door.

Together, they make a formidable team!


Rory (ret’d). Chapter seven, part two.

On the way to the police station car park, we picked up a couple of pay-as-you-go SIMs with plenty of data allowance. We parked in a corner of the car park that was close enough to the police station for 4G triangulation to assume that we were actually in the building, but not close enough to arouse suspicion. This was important. We wanted to use the apparent location to convince Mr E – assuming he was monitoring these phones – that it was the police and they had a way to restore the phones and attempt to trace the owners. Of course, that was likely to be the last thing he wanted. Our hunch was that there would be something on the phones that could point someone who was up to speed with the technology directly to him. The other thing, of course, was that we did not want to tap into the police WiFi. It’s almost a given that the police will be monitoring the use of their network and we didn’t want to show up on their radar. Not yet, anyway.

Restoring the phones wasn’t a quick affair. About half an hour into the job a policeman came up to us and knocked on the car window. I opened it.

“Anything I can help you with, gentlemen?” the officer asked.

“We’re just waiting for my son, Officer. He’s on work experience here this week.”

“Give me his name, Sir, and I’ll see if I can find him for you.”

“No need, Officer. He’s due to end his shift in about…” I looked at my watch – eleven fifty, “…ten minutes. We came early ‘cos we’d finished what we were doing in town and didn’t want to go home and come all the way back again for him.”

“Very well, Sir. If he doesn’t come when you expect him, feel free to pop in and ask.”

“Thank you, Officer, we will.”

“Have a good day, gentlemen,” he said as he walked away whistling a merry tune. I closed the window again.

“Nicely done,” Charlie said, “that could have been awkward. How did you think up that story so quickly?”

“It’s what Christopher would have done.”


“Christopher Connor.”

“Of Christopher and Samantha?”


“I gotta get hold of one of your books,” he said.

I smiled and carried on with Billy’s phone.

Just before noon, the job finished. Both phones were restored and we had access to social media history as well as calls and texts. Alan’s phone didn’t reveal very much – no surprise there, but Billy’s contained a number of calls from hidden numbers, including two that were unanswered but had left messages. We listened to the messages. They were short – only a few seconds each – but clear enough, Charlie said, for him to extract a voice-print.

“Is that a thing?” I asked, “I’ve seen it in some of the American forensic programmes but thought it was just a device the programme-makers used to beef up the story.”

“It’s real, alright,” Charlie said, “I’ve even—”

“Don’t tell me. You wrote some software and you have a copy on your PC.”

“I do, and—”

“And access codes to be able to run a comparison against the Home Office database?”

“You see? You’re beginning to catch on. Give me Billy’s phone. I’ll forward the voicemails to my secure cloud.”

“Won’t Mr E be able to get your details from that?”

“Puh-lease, Rory. Just accept and believe that I have ways of making sure he can’t. Trust me.”

I gave him Billy’s phone. He fiddled with it for a while then said, “Okay. We can disconnect them both from the web now. I’ve copied all the useful history to my cloud. We’ll be able to get at it as soon as we get back to my place.”

We switched both mobiles off and removed their SIM cards, replacing them with the pay-as-you-go ones we’d bought but leaving the phones turned off.