Rain beat against the bus window, its vibrations drowned by the bump and rattle of travelling on
English roads. The day was grey. But for one passenger on that solemn bus, a light shone. The passenger’s name was Joseph Redmond, a man who had travelled further than most men had ever dreamed.
His home wasn’t far, and the journey had been smooth, but as he sat staring into the rain and cloud at the vertical line of light that was his destination, his departure seemed a lifetime ago. Joseph had moved to Holland in order to escape his fame in the U.S. He had written books on space travel and theory of mind, for which he had received plenty of acclaim, and an invitation to the dinner party of every pug nosed educated name in the country. At first he had enjoyed the celebrity. But America wears you down. He now lived on a houseboat in the heart of Amsterdam, where his money meant less and his stories meant much more. He spent most of his days stoned and either reading, cycling or planning holidays. He did not actually take many, but had recently climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and was intending soon to visit china. Since ending his career as a space borne astrophysicist, his life had been lacking in stimulation and challenge. He had felt glutted and sallow.
In his life he had flown four missions into space, and worked on the ground for a further fourteen, both manned and unmanned flights. He was an expert in survival and technically a qualified doctor, though he had never practiced. He occasionally considered developing his training in the medical field, but always felt as though it wasn’t his place. This feeling remained unexplained until around five months ago, when he had been walking home and had seen a bright light shining in the sky.
He hadn’t taken anything hallucinogenic for a few days and was pretty damn sure he wasn’t dreaming. The apparition took the form of a thin white pillar reaching from behind the buildings on the horizon up into the depths of the night sky. He had stood and stared at it. It was very thin, and he could tell it was distant.
Later, after checking a compass among his maps, he saw that the light lay roughly to the southwest. In the sky it appeared thin but clear. He could see the main shaft had interplay of flowing light in both directions up and down. He could also see clearly the way wisps of light shaved off it, looking very much like the surface of the sun, whipping away from the main column and crackling back again like brilliant white electricity.
On that first encounter he had stared with his mouth agape and walked toward it, enraptured, almost falling into a canal. Looking back now, it had made him feel very humble. Not because of almost falling in a canal, that had happened before. His humility came from knowing in his heart that the thing he was viewing wasn’t going to be explained away, like so much of the rest of his world. This was a new thing, and it told him so openly that it was going to get bigger.
Joseph was nearing fifty, but people still described him as strong and intimidating. Those were words that, if he had felt compelled to explain to anyone, he would have used to describe the pillar of light. He didn’t realise immediately, but the humbling part of his encounter did not lie in the strength he felt radiating from the thing, but from its frailty and gentility; the feeling he had that it could be blown away with the wind, like a spider’s thread. As each day went by and the light grew stronger, its own apparent weakness inspired him. A light, possibly from space, possibly from heaven, was asking for his attention.
He contemplated that he may be mad. It didn’t take him long to philosophise past that idea. He hadn’t felt mad, he had felt useful, for the first time in years. Today he was feeling useful still, though nervous. In this strange place, doubt crept in easily. The rain beat at his resolve. The light shone in the sky bigger and brighter. No-one he had seen in England seemed to have noticed the beam of light either. If only they did, he thought. All it took was one quick look at it shimmering through the grey clouds to wash all his doubts away.
He had taken the decision to leave two days before, and landed at Gatwick airport this morning. He was hazy in memory of packing his bags or passing through Schipol at all. His flight was chartered and only by looking at the ticket stub would he remember the airline name. The shine forged a link with his mind and memory both forwards and backwards in time, from the point where he had first noticed it. The light had actually come into being about eight months ago, three months before he had originally seen it. He was passive to it at first, with the cold February days and bitter nights. But it had always been there, a twinkle in the corner of his eye as he turned his head, a glint tapping into his brain after a particularly drowsy night, all the time twisting and writhing with his mind’s natural order, trying to get him to notice. Amsterdam was well lit, and there were many explanations for a glint in your eye. He didn’t understand the reason he saw the light on that night, and didn’t bother to ask himself. He just accepted it. Over the months it became as stable a part of his day as tying his shoelaces or brushing his teeth. Like all staple parts of life, its functions and its effects changed according to Joseph’s mood. Sometimes he had been comforted by its presence, other times he had worried about it. Some times he had taken it for granted, other times he had feared to look too closely in case it were to suddenly disappear, leaving him alone. He was both attracted and repelled by what it meant.
One day his inquisitiveness and paranoia combined with a healthy dose of marijuana drove him on a mission late at night to try to find the light’s source. He had boarded the train at Centraal without packing anything, arrived at Schipol and wandered around the closing stalls and glossy lights in a keen stupor. He tried to head for Gate nine, which had led him to London in the past, but there was no flight at that time and he had forgotten his passport anyway.
He had last been to England two years previously, to attend some lectures. He had definitely been down this route. It had stuck in his mind despite his condition. He had sat at a melamine covered table and slid around on an arm mounted plastic chair. When he had sobered enough to know to go home, the errant memory of the trip nestled in his unconscious mind. It would later compel him to leave. For the rest of that evening, however, he had just felt very stupid, very old and very slow. He did not want to go near the airport again. The feelings nestled in his heart from his impromptu journey would prevent him from going astray until he was called. Two days ago, that call came, pulling him away from Holland toward the unknown.
The time was now right; he watched the light pillar for as long as he could. It drove him. It gave off a force like an excited child itching to speak. He could feel his mind charging and pulsating with the light’s movements, as though it were both aware of him and somehow masked, like his own reflection pushing back through glass. It was as if there were events within that he was not yet ready to see. His mind had changed, and his memories were now blurred. Somewhere deep inside him were images he had never seen, riding on his mind in a cocoon. The light pillar was helping him focus on them, but for now they remained out of reach. As always, he was both comforted and nervous by these strange thoughts. So, with his hands locked gently in his lap and his eyes half closed, he rode the psychic rhythms of this new life, as a counterpoint to the rattle and jostle of the bus. He slipped into a trance in the heightening glow of the column of light, with it in turn sleeping quietly in his head, incubated. In some way, he felt as though the light spoke to him of birth, and it was unmistakeable.
This feeling inside him, the second mind, the new images. Something inside his brain was making room and padding out a nest, waiting for a chance to be born.
- - - -
He was half asleep when the rain stopped. The mad drumming had been lulling him into a dream. It stopped suddenly, yanking him out into the cold world of the moving vehicle. He was wearing a light brown sheepskin coat, which wrapped him up like a baby. A pair of thick jeans, a woolly hat and a pair of ski gloves complemented it. He thought he must look peculiar but he was sat at the front near the driver’s open window so he didn’t care. The chill was still cutting through the clothes, and he felt very exposed.
The bus was pulling up. He looked around and could see they were entering large depot that had a raised platform at one end. The sky was still overcast and there were no immediately obvious indications of his location.
He cleared his throat.
‘Excuse me?’ he asked the couple sat on the other side of the aisle, ‘where are we?’ His accent had begun to sound a little alien, so long surrounded by multilingual voices. The man seemed to pick up on it.
‘We’re in Plymouth at the moment,’ he answered, ‘I think the bus is waiting for a couple of hours though’ he was quite young, and spoke in a particular English accent that Joseph had never heard.
‘Thanks.’ Replied Joseph, and fished around in his bag for his book.
- - - -
Joseph’s was not the only mind focused on the pillar of light that day. High above him, clouds joined together and grated on each other, forming a dark and rumbling storm. It was large and angry, and had been harrowing Joseph’s journey all day. If Joseph had flown down from London, the storm would have soaked his aeroplane in lightning and smashed it into the ground. The storm was surrounding the light pillar at a distance of miles, forcing in as close as possible. It had only noticed Joseph an hour or so ago, his peculiar affinity to the light shining painfully through the storm’s mind. That bond was making the storm itch and rage.
Contending with this rage, deep inside the storm, was an intrinsic and ancient intelligence that was coming alive with the speed of Joseph’s progress. It was a force of slow malice that had developed very quickly, having to wrestle with its own power in an effort to guide it.
That power needed guidance at this time. The mind dwelling in the storm understood better than anything the significance of the shaft of light in the sky, and it was not pleased. In fact, if it had the capacity for fear, then fear would be the feeling it had. For now it only had anger.
Its anger gave it fuel, but not much. Not yet. Its power had limits, and it could not afford a wild rage. It had to conserve its energy.
It had work to do.
- - - -
Joseph read quietly for the two hours, and finished the coffee in his flask. It usually served to settle him. He was still quite nervous though as the bus started up and pulled out of the depot. The kick rumble of the engine rolled like a drum across his heart. They were heading out of the city and over a large suspension bridge that crossed a wide river. He had a feeling that his journey’s end lay over the river. He consulted his map. Plymouth was located at the border between two English counties, which was formed by the river he was now crossing.
The county he was entering lay at the very toe of the country, and the bus ticket was purchased from London Victoria to a town called ‘Penzance’. Joseph had heard the name Penzance somewhere before, so that name was slightly comforting. The route passed through quite a lot of places, so Joseph made ready to disembark. His mind woke up a bit as he left the wide river behind. The light pillar was now crystal clear, and so was the sky, with dark clouds ringing the horizons in every direction, but keeping their distance. That was a relief, at least. No more rain.
It was now about three in the afternoon. It was November, so it would soon be dark. The sky was so clear and the air so warm that he felt he should be smiling. With this came the thought that he didn’t really know what he was heading into. What did he expect to find at the end of this journey? A person? An animal? A building? What? He peered through the window at the brilliant light, thinking on the various explanations the scientific community would have to offer. He asked the light itself, in his mind, what it was going to show him…
It didn’t answer; it just continued to pulse gently.
The thought came back to him again that no-one else could see the light. This had not seemed relevant for a long time. But now it was becoming important. The bus driver was driving directly into the glare and it wasn’t affecting him at all. The sun was off to the right of the light, and partially obscured by cloud, so it didn’t shine fully onto the vehicle. Why was he noticing this now? Was he supposed to find someone who would also be able to see? He looked around. The couple dozing across the aisle didn’t seem to notice either. No one else on the bus was obviously looking at it. Nobody had seen it in Holland and he never wanted to bring it up. Now he felt he did want to bring it up and he had no familiar faces to turn to. The light was his only companion. If anything happened to him, it would be the only thing that cared.
That was a sobering thought, and it made him look at his behaviour from an outside perspective. Why was he here on this bus? Was it because he wanted this? He wanted something special and crazy? Yes, that had been true for a long time now. He wanted something unexpected and unexplained, and this was his new unknown. This was his bright shining destiny. He hoped the bus journey would be over soon.
The welcome eye in the storm of his life had come. His mind and heart felt again the now familiar promise of revelation and it moulded a fresh smile on to his face. The bus window was clear of rainwater now and the grey road was dry. He watched it speed past, the white lines and other vehicles blurring across his vision. His excitement built. His adventure was gathering pace with the brightening sunshine.
It wasn’t long, about an hour later, that he knew it was time to leave the bus. They were pulling into a bay in a small bus station. It was in the centre of a rural looking town named ‘Truro’. He had noticed a blue sign on the way in with the town’s name on it. The town lay at the bottom of a basin in the landscape; a landscape that Joseph thought very beautiful. It was presided over by a large Cathedral with three spires that drew the eye like a mountain. One of the high pointed roofs was bright green in colour. Joseph felt like this was the place. As the bus pulled up and the pressurised doors hissed open, he felt like a piece in a jigsaw falling into place.
The cold swept in like a snake tongue and made his neck hair prick up. It was calling him out. He hurriedly gathered up his things and stumbled down the step into the crisp air. He had no other luggage than his backpack, so he swung it over his shoulder and started to walk. He moved away from the small bus station onto a brick paved piazza. It was long, and had curved wooden benches placed at either side. It stretched away like a boulevard, and the buildings on its edge hid the Cathedral from view. The bricks in the ground were two tone, forming concentric circles that encouraged you to stand in their centre. On a whim, he picked one and did so, seeking out the shining light that had momentarily been forgotten.
He found his friend quickly enough and the fear subsided. There it was, bright as ever, shining beyond the path that the piazza formed. Behind him, obscured by a small wall was a medium sized paddleboat that had been converted into a floating flower shop. It looking pretty bizarre with it’s blue and white paintwork covered with ribbons and hanging baskets. Flowers were all over it. He peered over the wall. He couldn’t tell if it was a pool or a small river, because the boat seemed to be encased on all sides by the man made walls. The pointed directly toward the pillar of light and made Joseph smile with its quaint and somewhat stringy appearance. He took this as an omen. After a moment spent stuffing his winter clothes into his bag, he set off in the direction of the pillar of light.