Chris R-0772.jpg Image by Christine Renney

‘If, in the First Act, you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there’ – Anton Chekhov

Since the disappearance Carter hadn’t ventured into his son’s room, not properly. He had stepped across the threshold, yes, but mostly when he opened the door he simply peered in at the son’s things, at all he had left behind.
His son had outgrown the room, both he and it had been at odds for years. He hadn’t even bothered to take down or replace the posters on the wall and Carter realised he was sick of the sight of them. Tired of looking up at them, at the outdated Superheroes and forgotten pop stars.
Turning, Carter closed the door, shutting himself in – the first time he had done this. He began to rip them down, scrunching the posters into unruly balls. He threw them to the floor where they promptly began to unravel and Carter kicked at them angrily.
There wasn’t anything in this room that was representative of the man who had deserted it; the one who had deserted it, the one who had turned his back on Carter and who had walked away. And because of this Carter wanted to dismantle it, to pull this room apart and he wanted to do this methodically and calmly. But already he was lashing out, sweeping the boyish things from the shelves, the old Airfix models and dog-eared paperbacks.
Opening the closet he began taking the clothes from the hangers, flinging them out into the room. His intention it seemed was to make a mess. To pile everything up in the centre and later he would bag it all up and get rid of it.
And then he spotted the sports holdall on the top shelf. Reaching for it Carter knew instinctively that there was something hidden inside. That it would be another question at least but possibly, just possibly, it would also be an answer.
He dropped the holdall onto the bed and, without hesitating, he unzipped it. It held a gun – nothing else just the gun, gleaming and immaculate. Carter was shocked and also surprised that it hadn’t been wrapped in something. An old sweatshirt perhaps or a towel. It seemed incomprehensible to him that anyone would place a gun in a bag without sufficient packing, without some sort of insulation, a bed sheet at least, better still a heavy blanket.
Carter tipped the holdall onto its side and, using his index finger, he coaxed the gun out and onto the bed. He lifted the bag, looking inside again, but it was empty. There were no bullets or a clip and no holster. Casting the bag aside, Carter knelt down beside the bed and studied it. It was the first time he had seen a gun other than in films or on television. In photographs and comics and such. Of course, it could be a replica but how would he know? Was his son the type of person who would purchase a fake gun, who would stand in front of the mirror and pretend?
Carter was wary of touching it, because he didn’t know it, didn’t understand it. He wasn’t able to take it apart and put it together again. He and the gun weren’t intimate.
But when he did lift the gun it slipped easily into his hand and it felt comfortable, natural even. And gripping it his finger found the trigger and was readying to squeeze as he pointed it at the wall. And beyond the wall was his own room, the room where he slept.



Sign of the Times-0250

Image by Christine Renney

There it is on the mirror
Pursed, she leans in close
But doesn’t touch
Doesn’t smudge it

A little mist
A tiny pool
No blood or sweat or spit
Just it

Her breath on the mirror


Sign of the Times-2096 Image by Mark Renney

He hadn’t been struck immediately by the uncanny resemblance with that other place. Not as they pulled into the driveway nor as they climbed from the car and the old man ushered them into the chalet at the far end of the row, the one closest to the house, his office.
As they waited for their key, and the old man busied himself behind the counter, he had turned, leaving her to deal with the formalities and amiable small talk. He crossed to the window and gazing out he noticed the warning signs, staked at random amid the reeds. Squinting, he managed to read their hand painted messages; DANGER, KEEP OUT, DO NOT VENTURE, QUICKSAND.
He then glanced up at the house, had to crouch in order to see it all and with its imposing gothic façade it peered from its vantage point, causing him to shudder. He stepped back to the counter and, standing at her shoulder, watched as she signed the register using her name – Mr and Mrs.
Theirs was the next chalet along. She let herself in and he moved to fetch their bags from the car but, pausing, he watched the old man making his way up the slope and toward the house.
He worked then on findings ways in which this place differed from that other. It wasn’t difficult. Firstly, the house was solid, bricks and mortar not the bleached clapboard house from the old black and white film. There were fuchsias in the garden and flower boxes at the windows. It wasn’t run down and dilapidated here. Yes it was deserted but not because they had moved the highway. This was Scotland and late in the season and it was what they wanted – to be alone and not care if it rained.
He dropped their bags in the bedroom and next he brought in the boxes. Beer and wine and all they needed for that evening’s meal and breakfast the next morning. She began unpacking, finding her way around the tiny kitchen. It was already nearly dusk and he could see a path disappearing into the woods at the back but, no matter how he ducked and craned before the window, he couldn’t find the sky.
He wasn’t ready for nightfall, not yet, and so he deserted her. In fact she encouraged him out the door. Telling him yes, to go and explore, she needed time to prepare and wanted to take a shower.
The sky now was everywhere, there was too much of it. Draining all colour from the scene, turning lush green to ice blue. He wanted to back up and view this from afar. The house at a distance, grand if austere’ and the holiday chalets nestled below, an idyllic retreat.
But this wouldn’t be possible, not tonight. Still he stepped from the tarmac. Moving out toward the warning signs, reaching the first of them he leaned against it and when it didn’t give he ventured a little further.
The ground beneath his feet was springy but it seemed unlikely he could sink. Nevertheless, it was darkening and he decided instead to try the path behind their chalet.
He reached the tarmac’s edge and was about to step from the grass when he heard the voice. Not the words, just the intonation. A scolding sentence, clearly intended for him and close, very close.
Spinning around, he saw the light at the upstairs window. It could have been the old man or somebody else from up at the house. He wouldn’t have heard the sash opening and closing, not from here, not with the wind rustling in the reeds. He stood watching, waiting for something. A silhouette perhaps? But no-one appeared.

He stands on the raised bank, directly opposite the bathroom window. He can hear her in the shower or at least he can hear the water gushing in the stall. She has left the window ajar and, from where he has positioned himself, he can see her through the glass sliding doors, moving underneath the tiny torrent. He is mesmerised but, forcing himself to move away, he then lunges without hesitating into the tangle of trees.
It isn’t until he stops and turns to make his way back that he realises just how far he has climbed. Breathless and groping in the dark he stumbles. He has strayed from the path and the only way out of this now is down.
Cautiously he begins but, slipping on the slick moss, he lands in the damp leaves and, when he tries to move, brambles claw at his clothes, dragging him deeper into the undergrowth.