No Conscious Way Out by Dan Keeble

 ‘Granddad, where are we?’

Ralph made a panoramic sweep of the field and bit his bottom lip. The setting was alien to the town dweller.

‘I, er..’

They were in a meadow of warm calf-high grasses that swayed in a feathery breeze. Poppies, buttercups, clovers, dandelions, ox-eye daisies and cowslips peppered the field as though from Monet’s brush. To the east, a wood of uniform oaks and elms sported a palette of summer greens that stretched up into a cornflower blue cloak. 

Ralph did not want to alarm his grandson, yet had no idea how they had ended up there. His narrowing grey-green eyes squinted at the sea a few hundred yards away down a marram grass incline. The bay had a rocky western flank. Turquoise water crept up the sugar-golden sand, taking its time to recede silently into the folding waves. In other directions, fields of cereal crops were met on the horizon by sun-bathed, purple-topped mountains.

Ralph listened for bird sounds. There were none, nor crickets chirping. He scanned the area for animals. No insects buzzed about them, and he could see no one else. Even the beach was empty. They were the only figures in the landscape, and it seemed the only life.

Alfie grabbed Ralph’s rough hand.

‘I’m frightened, Granddad.’

The evening had been warm and cloudless when Ralph picked up eleven-year-old Alfie from his Judo class. Turning back from a brief word to him, he saw a truck on his right hurtling across the junction towards them. An image of a clown filled his mind. Then nothing.

Ralph made light of their situation.

‘No need to be scared, Alfie. We’re safe, aren’t we? I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Perhaps it’s like your science fiction comics. Maybe we have experienced a time shift.’

Alfie attempted a smiled, though neither believed that was their reality. Ralph concluded that if they were facing what he assumed, then what was to happen next would not be up to them. So, he reasoned that staying put was perhaps the best choice.

Alfie was still in his judo outfit. His all white appearance and cropped blonde hair blended into their surroundings.

‘What should we do Granddad?’

‘I think we best wait here for now until I can figure it out.’

They felt neither hungry nor thirsty, and after a while, they relaxed and settled into the idyllic surroundings. Alfie lay back in the grass and plucked a straw to push and hold between two large front teeth. Ralph clasped his arms around his knees and stared at the soundless waves. They waited.

After an imagined hour had passed, Ralph reasoned he might after all have to work out what to do next. Alfie was looking for answers that he couldn’t give. He reasoned that waiting for some sort of answer wasn’t what they should do. Maybe it was another sort of existence that you just had to get on with. 

‘C’mon Alfie, let’s go exploring,’ he said, and took hold of his shoulder as they walked to the beach. 

They searched for shells and sea creatures among the rocks for a while. But they found none. Alfie took off his shoes and paddled in the surf along the shoreline.

After skimming a few stones over the water, they sat on a rock. Ralph was hammering his shoe against it.

‘Why don’t you walk in your bare feet, Granddad?’ asked Alfie.

‘Never could stand the sensation of sand between my toes, lad.’ Ralph smiled. ‘It gives me a creepy feeling.’

Alfie smiled half-heartedly.

‘This place is creepy, don’t you think, Granddad? It seems great, but does it mean we are dead or something?’

Ralph choked.

‘Lad, I wish I knew. I just don’t know how to answer you. But it looks like we are alone.’

Alfie’s bottom lip quivered.

‘Granddad, I want to go home.’

Ralph put his arm around Alfie when a female voice broke into the silence.

‘You are not alone.’

Ralph and Alfie turned sharply as they heard nobody approach. A white-cloaked, hooded figure had her back to them. Ralph jumped up and questions sprinted from his lips.

‘Who are you? Where are we? How did we get here?’

The woman’s voice softened.

‘My name is Lia, and I am sorry. You shouldn’t be here. You weren’t meant to arrive for many years. There has been a dreadful mistake.’

The tone of her words was calming. Ralph pulled Alfie to his side before he posed the next question, immediately regretting it.

‘Are we.. dead?’

‘Please,’ she said, ’we don’t use that expression.’

‘Then where are we?’

‘We are all sorry. Unfortunately, you are nowhere. We had to create this illusion rather quickly. We have never made an error like this before.’

‘So this isn’t heaven?’

‘I’m afraid I haven’t heard of that place,’ she said.

Ralph was not sure if he was hearing a voice or if it was in his mind, as the responses immediately followed his words.

He resisted the temptation to ask, then where the hell are we?

Alfie’s voice trembled.

‘Are we not alive, then?’

‘Unfortunately I cannot answer your questions because you have arrived before your time.’

Lia explained she could reveal nothing until the proper time, all the while apologising.

‘So what do we do until then?’ Ralph asked.

‘We have to return you to your last day of life experience.’

Alfie smiled and looked up at Ralph.

‘Does this mean we can go home, Granddad?’

Lia said it was not that simple, and that a special meeting had been convened to discuss the dilemma. They had concluded that for Ralph and Alfie to return to a day after the one they left was impossible. For them, it had not existed. They could only be given back the last day they had already experienced.

Ralph gripped Alfie’s hand.

‘So does that mean we can return and make a change to our routine so we don’t end up back here?’

Lia’s voice dropped to a sympathetic whisper.

‘You could if that were possible. But unfortunately, you cannot leave with any conscious memory of your time here.’

‘No!’ Ralph yelled. ‘So that means we won’t know that we need to change anything, and simply repeat yesterday exactly as before.’

Alfie began to cry.

‘Does that mean we will end up back here again then, Granddad?’

‘I am desperately sorry, Alfie,’ said Mia, ‘But we can find no other solution.’

Ralph snapped, ‘So we are to remain in a time loop for eternity?’

And as the words of so, so sorry filled their heads, Ralph and Alfie hugged each other tightly on the rock.

Ralph sat in his car, watching the door of the martial arts club. It burst open and first out was Alfie, hot-faced and in his judo gi. He jumped into the passenger seat and chatted excitedly about his session. They drove off, and Ralph’s eyes darted between the road and his only grandson as Alfie taked about his upcoming holiday to the coast.

As they approached the junction at Marsett Heights, the car became a little jerky. Ralph pulled over.

‘Sorry,’ he said.

‘What’s up, Granddad?’ Alfie asked.

Ralph took his shoe off his right foot and banged it against the door, his eyes searching the floor.

Alfie knitted his brow.

‘What you doing, Granddad?’

Ralph shook his head.

‘Strange that, lad. Itchy foot. It must have been you talking about going to the beach. Could have sworn I felt grit in my shoe. Did I ever tell you I can’t stand sand between my toes? Must be something in my subconscious.’

As Ralph restarted the engine, a large circus truck crossed the junction up ahead.

‘Granddad, the circus has come to town! Let’s go home and tell mom.’

Dan Keeble hails from the furthest point East in the UK, and has enjoyed many successes with online and print publications of poetry, short stories, humour, and more serious articles. He has appeared in Fiction on the Web, Everyday Fiction, Turnpike Magazine, Scribble, Flash Fiction Magazine, Agape Review, and many others on a long journey to a stubby pencil.