by Michael Forester
In the half-light of early dawn we had stumbled, stumbled many times upon the strewn boulders and the rocky twists of the path led upward, ever upward. We wanted to stop. We wanted to turn back. It was too hard, too demanding. Surely this road was not meant for us. Unquestionably this path had been chosen for others. But us? Surely not. We were meant for easier roads, paved, level, flat. Who in their right mind would take a path such as this, when smoother, gentler options stood open and inviting?
Yet inside ourselves, we knew. We did not want to know. We would have much preferred never to have known. But each time we made as if to turn, the voice of the guide called us onward, upward, encouraging us to map the path, that others might follow where we had travelled and their journey thus be faster, more fulfilling than our own.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the heat of the day set in. It was easier to see now, and our past mistakes, our mis-turns, our trip-ups and falls became lamentably laughable to us. We had been such novices when we started. We wondered how we had ever progressed at all.
But in the illumination of the midday sun, with understanding comes also the heat of challenge. The climb has become harder, not because the path is steeper (though who can say it is not?), but because we understand now that the journey demanded focus, determination, commitment.
Many had been our companions at the start; our band of travellers, joyful at the prospect of new countries, new experiences, new pleasures. But with each turn in the road, each jagged boulder to be negotiated, companions fell away. Some turned back, the demands of the climb beyond them. Some fell from the path, tumbling into the ravines and caverns that stretched out below us. And all of these we never saw or heard from again, until at last there were just we two. Bonded in the fellowship of travel we journey on, oblivious to the difficulty of the road, the soreness of our feet, the weariness of our limbs.
We are climbers by nature and we have always climbed. Climbing is all we know. We climb, because we cannot not climb. We map because it is our vocation to map. We have not always known it so, we cartographers of heart, we road-mappers of soul.
But now the heat of the day is passed, and we see the nature and purpose of the journey. With the lengthening of the shadows in the afternoon sun, we have come to realise that time is growing short. We see now the destination that must be reached, reached before the day is done and the darkness falls. We climb on to the summit, setting our roadmaps down carefully at selected points on the path, that others might know the route and take heart that this road has been trodden by before.
Will you journey on with me? The summit is summoning. Do not abandon me now, when we are so close. As evening falls, light my lamp for me and I will light yours for you. See, we have become lamplighters.
The Inspiration Behind My Stories
I was a painter back then. I sought to splash colour on canvass as God paints the summer meadows with the cornflowers and the poppies. I craved reputation; to be ranked among the greatest artists of my generation. In my daydreams the elders of my town would fall back in amazement at the power of my images. Invitations would be issued to city mayors and burghers who would come to congratulate me, then humbly plead that I accept their commissions. Nonchalantly I would add them to the end of my growing waiting list, while the prettiest girls of the Canton vied to become my muses.
But my nights, my nights were not so happy. Alone in my chamber I feared to extinguish my candle, for in the darkness the terrors would come. And always, the dream was the same. Standing in my studio, with my canvasses stacked around me, I laboured with a burning intensity to create my masterpiece, a Madonna and child, the signature work of my life by which all the world and the generations of time would know my towering greatness. Then I would smell the smoke. The fire always started behind me. But so oblivious was I to all but my work, that by the time I recognised it for what it was, it had taken hold. Above me the ancient oak beams smouldered and cracked, then burst into incandescent flame that rained the fire of heaven down upon my paintings. Too late I would see my predicament and the impending destruction of my most precious creations. I would grab at the canvass on the easel and the one or two nearest to my feet, only to come to a terrified realisation that I did not know the way out. The roof beams would crash down around me destroying everything I valued as I sat in the middle of the floor, weeping. And just as the heat began to sear the flesh of my hands, I would finally awaken, sweat-soaked, upon my bed.
Last night the dream was different. Still I laboured at my canvass, still the fire started behind me. But as once again the roof beams crackled above my head, I took a different course. Without hesitation I grabbed my largest brush and into the centre of the canvass I painted a door; an oak framed door so large it covered the face of the Madonna and all of the child in her arms. And once the door was completed to my satisfaction, oblivious to the smoke and the flames, I seized upon the handle like a madman and turned it, pulling back upon the door with all my strength. It flung itself open with such force that I was thrown back to the floor as a mighty rushing wind blew in, a hurricane so powerful that it extinguished the flames that threatened me. As the wind finally died down I looked about me, the smoke curling up from my eviscerated canvasses.
This morning I took all my paintings out behind the studio and made a bonfire of them. My life’s work has finally begun.
Michael is a Winchester Writer’s Festival prizewinner and has been long/shortlisted three times in the Fish Writing Contest. His work has appeared several international journals and competitions.
His children look on aghast as he squanders their inheritance on such profligacies as A4 printing paper. They need have no concern. He plans to leave them the pen.
Michael divides his time between Hampshire and Somerset, and is regularly to be found at book signings and events across the country talking about storytelling or his beloved hearing dog Matt. He attended Oxford University.
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Michael's Spellbinding Release: The Goblin Child
• A man who remembers his birth in terrifying detail
• A woman who is certain she has given birth to a goblin child
• A child who takes his god to school for show and tell
• A youth who prefers his revenge served cold
• A teenage girl who, due to her love of nature, falls under the spell of a sexual predator
• A priest confronted by a man who believes he is Santa
• A worker in a care home who is never permitted to leave
• A man who sees the purpose of his life only after he dies
• A dying poet who searches desperately for the interracial love of his youth
In this apparently unconnected and eclectic group of tales, Michael Forester explores the circularity of our lives. The collection culminates unexpectedly in the story of a dying poet who finds, then loses, interracial love in a racist age, and discovers with TS Eliot that he ‘arrives where he began, to know the place for the first time.’ In so doing Forester reveals to us the circularity of our lives and that the events in them, so independent, so seemingly random, are truly interdependent, connected, planned.
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