Welcome to another guest post for my feature Dreaming of Another World. This feature was inspired by a post I wrote here a few months back, where I considered whether another world was possible and could just be glimpsed when lockdown forced us to stay still. I was interested in how other creatives reacted to lockdown and the changes it pushed upon us and opened up my blog to their responses and experiences. I’ve had a great response and here is guest post no.10 from fantasy author Rick Haynes, where he reminisces about leaving the house for the first time after a prolonged spell of isolation.
A TRIP INTO THE UNKNOWN by Rick Haynes
My wife and I thought hard. Due to the impact of Covid-19, we had spent many months cooped up in our nice comfortable prison, but dare we venture outside? But the rays from the sky were sending warmth, giving the prospect of new life to old bones. And after much discussion about the safety aspects, we agreed to depart our sanctuary. For an hour or so, we would take our first trip back to reality, whatever that was.
Now for the checklist. Face masks? Check. Sanitiser? Check. Gloves? Check, but did we need gloves? Medical kit? Check. Blanket? Check. Jackets? In case we felt cold, check.
Taking a drive through the roads of our virus-ridden country was never on any previous menu, but times change for boredom had been our permanent friend for months.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at our destination. The car park at the local garden centre was more than half full, but – in for a penny – as the saying goes. Yet, we hesitated. I could see my wife shaking as we approached the doors of no return.
Inside, the carefully designed twisty routes – to make you see, and hopefully buy, more of the things you don’t want – are like a one-way street. Once in, you cannot reverse and have to travel forward.
With her hand firmly in mine and a nod of her head, we adjusted our masks of fear and entered a world of all things gardening. Much to our surprise, the visitors were few. Wondering about the car numbers in the parking area was over in a flash. Maybe this visit would be less hazardous than we thought?
We placed one foot in front of the other and began the long walk along the meandering trail, eventually emerging into bright sunlight. We inhaled deeply as a world of fragrance, freshness, and clean air instantly hit us. It was good to feel the heat, even better to view the rows and rows of plants and take in the intoxicating scent from the multitude of flowers. With large smiles on our faces, this was our first step into the future but a giant step towards normality.
Our good neighbours – shielding like us – had visited the centre in the last week and advised us to try the coffee shop. They said it was run with military precision, big spaces between seats – inside and out – and you order from the table. Everything was sanitised. Visitors only leave their table to pay and that is to a lass sitting behind a large screen. It worked. We enjoyed our coffee as we felt safe.
And when we left the café behind us, it wasn’t time to go home, as the number of visitors had declined, the walkways almost empty now. My mind wandered back to the decision to shake our fists at the virus, and, without thinking, I was grinning like an idiot.
My wife was looking at the vast array of small shrubs on display. With some being heavily reduced, she thought about buying two small Hebes, one purple and one pinky red. They would do nicely in our new garden, she said. Covered in bees could be the clincher but when the rare Humming Bird Hawk Moth arrived, it was game set and match. The moniker for that stunning moth is long and for that reason, we have always called them, Mobys. Rare in England? Yes, but we have seen many in Greece.
With my wife entranced, I wandered lonely, as if? This garden centre had an aquarium and I sauntered over. It was lovely to see so many highly coloured fish behind glass but I’d rather see them in a large pond. With that in mind, I saw a massive tank to the rear of the aquarium. I climbed the few steps and peered into the murky waters.
At first, I saw little in the gloom. A flash, the tail smacked the water and, like a great magician, the fish vanished. I stared until my eyes were bulging but could see nothing for the tank was murky and at least eight or nine feet deep. The far side was a mystery as I could barely see it.
I turned to go, heard a slap of a tail once more, and felt water hitting my shoulders. I peered into the deep, and like the greatest aqua performers, the Koi Carp made an impressive arrival. With shades of black and hues of gold, orange, and red, the large fish shoaled around the area nearest to me, their eyes seeking something. Eventually, my brain engaged and I realised the fish were awaiting food. Alas, I didn’t have any but the stones at the bottom of the steps looked promising. The first one I lifted was swarming with woodlice. Grabbing a handful, I lowered my hand into the water, released the insects and the fun started. Koi madness took over as the water erupted with fish jumping high, slapping the water with their tails, and lunging into each other. The picture of demons from the deep sucking me under came into my head, but I couldn’t stop now, even though my shirt was damp. I picked up more woodlice and two large spiders and returned to their feeding spot.
The water was unmoving; the fish had vanished. I could see nothing through the murk, not a flash of colour, nor a fin breaking the water.
With my hand full of fishy treats, I slowly opened my palm. And as I began to ease it from the water a huge mouth appeared. It touched my fingers, sucked hard, and gently pulled. Without thinking, instinct took over. I pulled back, and the toothless grin of the largest Koi Carp I had ever seen emerged from the dark waters.
My panic quickly turned to stupidity and then to rational thought. The remaining insects were learning how to swim for their lives, and the black and red giant monster sucked them up quicker than our carpet cleaner could. Within a minute all was once more serene in the tank of amazement.
Sitting on the lowest step leading up to the massive tank, I sat and pondered. Why did such a huge fish like that hide and then propel its self forward to take a meal from my hand? It couldn’t be that hungry, could it? In my world, fish either bite you or leave you alone, not try and suck you to death. Nevertheless, I checked all my fingers for any bites, sighed with relief, and knew it was time to go. I pulled myself slowly upright and waved to my wife some distance away. Within seconds, I slammed on the brakes for my eyes had homed in on a small and faded notice.
Feed the fish here. Only £1 a bag.
Stupid? I felt like a man with no brain as I walked away.
“I’ve been looking for you, love. Where have you been?”
All I could manage was the grin of a brainless idiot.
A huge thank you to Rick for sharing this post with us! If you would like to find out more about Rick and his books his author bio and links are below.
My passion is epic fantasy and my first two novels, Evil Never Dies and Heroes Never Fade, have received excellent reviews. As one reviewer posted – ‘Fans of Games of Thrones must read this book!’
My new novel, Outcast, a tale of love, betrayal and giants, has recently been published.
I also write short stories. Several have been published in Scribble, the Portsmouth News and The Chania Post.
I love writing.Rick Haynes