Dixie Elliot ✒  continues in short story form.


Newly-weds Peter and Marie O’Hagan were travelling north from Dublin airport on the M1 motorway. The couple had just returned from a two week honeymoon in Florida. It was six o’clock in the morning and a grey light was creeping up on the dark sky. There was very little traffic on the motorway at that early hour and only the occasional lorry or delivery van passed them.

They were tired after the long journey and when they saw the flashing lights, cones and roadwork signs they both swore. A diversion sign directed them off the motorway and onto a secondary road. This road was dark and winding and it took all of Peter’s concentration to stay awake and out of the ditch. He noticed Marie had dozed off but was glad that at least one of them had the luxury of sleep, hopefully they would be back on the motorway before very long. Now and again his headlights caught a diversion sign so he knew that he was travelling in the right direction. He turned yet another bend and the road became very straight.
 
The early light of dawn was sweeping across the sky when Marie woke. She looked at Peter in surprise.
“Are we not back on the motorway yet?”
 
“Clearly not,” he answered.

“There’s no need to be sarcastic,” she replied. “How long have I been asleep?”
 
Peter looked at the clock, it was fifteen minutes past six, which meant he had only been driving along that road for little more than ten minutes, but it seemed to have been a lot longer. He hadn’t bothered to watch the time because he had been on the alert for other diversion signs. 

“About ten minutes,” he said.

“Did you take a wrong turn?” asked Marie.

“No I did not, there were no other side roads and I haven’t seen another diversion sign in a while.”

“Then you must have gotten us lost.”

“Didn’t you hear what I said? There were no other side roads.”

“No need to shout I’m sitting right here.”

“I didn’t shout.”

“It was your tone of voice. It sounded like shouting from where I’m sitting.”

“Give me patience.”

“And what is that supposed to mean, eh?”

“Try the sat nav.”

“You’re driving, you try it.”

Peter sighed and leaned across to turn on the sat nav. “It’s not working.”

“Let me try. Keep your eyes on the road in case you crash the car and get us killed as well.”

“As well as what?”
 
“Getting us lost.”
 
She tried the sat nav. “It’s not working.”

“I suppose that’s my fault as well?”

“You insisted on buying this bloody car.”

“You liked it as much as I did. Anyway it’s only six months old, the sat nav should be working.”

“Well it’s not working now, is it?”

The rising sun was soaking the clouds in hues of red by the time they came to the brow of a hill. Peter stopped the car, the road ahead went straight down the hill and disappeared into the distance in a perfect straight line. There was an expansive raised bog on both sides of the road, which stretched away into the early morning mist.

“Turn this car around and go back the way we came Peter.”

“Go back to where… to those roadworks? And what do we do then Marie? Do we simply drive towards Dublin on the wrong side of the motorway?”

“There you go again.”

“What?”

You’re shouting at me.”

“I’m not shouting Marie.”

“Raising your voice then, that’s the same thing.”

“I’m only trying to explain that we have to keep going in the hope that we’ll find a turn off soon, or someone who’ll give us directions.”

Peter eased the car into gear and moved off down the hill gradually picking up speed.
 
“This is our first argument as a married couple dear,” he said after a moment or two.

Marie turned her head to look at him in disbelief. “It is not. Have you forgotten about that argument you started in Disney World… when you wanted to take a selfie with Micky Mouse?”

“You said we were too old to take a selfie with Micky Mouse.”

“Little kids have selfies with Micky Mouse.”

“It was you who wanted to go to Disney World in the first place.”

“You can’t go to Orlando and not go to see Disney World.”

“You can, if you want.”

“There you go again, it’s all about you isn’t it?”

“What?”

“Oh, and what about Universal Studios . . . the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? You just had to start telling the guy directing the queue things he might not know about Harry Potter. You might not know this about Harry Potter. You might not know that about Harry Potter.”

“I was simply being informative.”

“It’s his job to know everything about Harry Potter. People in the queue started staring and talking about us.”

“Because you kept shushing me out loud.”

Marie turned her attention to her phone. “Be quiet I’m going to phone Mum.”

“It’s about half past six in the morning.”

“She’ll be awake, she always gets up early… there’s no signal.” Marie looked at her phone in horror. “And there’s no wi-fi connection.”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” said Peter. “I haven’t seen a house since we turned onto this stretch of road.”

Marie was still checking her phone. “What happened to my photos?”
 
“Huh.”

“Most of my photos have been deleted, except for the ones of me and you. Do you think that’s funny Peter? Some of them were taken at our wedding.”

“Why would I want to delete your photos?”

“Well someone did.”

“Let’s listen to some music,” said Peter. He turned on the radio.

‘Well, we know where we’re goin’
 
But we don’t know where we’ve been.

And we know what we’re knowin’
 
But we can’t say what we’ve seen…’

“Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads,” said Peter. “And of all places too. Anytime we hear this song in the future we’ll laugh about it.”

“Do I actually look like I am laughing… do I? Most of my photos have been deleted, there’s no phone signal or wi-fi, but you can get tuned into some stupid radio station.”

“That is strange,” said Peter.
 
They sat in silence and listened to the song. At least it was a distraction. Then it ended. There was a brief pause and…

‘Well, we know where we’re goin’- But we don’t know where we’ve been...’

“It’s started again,” said Marie in annoyance.
 
‘And we know what we’re knowin’- But we can’t say what we’ve seen…’
“Maybe it got stuck and the guy’s trying to fix it,” said Peter.
 
It had turned into a bright sunny morning, but there was still no sign of life or a house of any sort along the road.
 
The song ended, but it began again.
 
‘Well, we know where we’re goin’- But we don’t know where we’ve been…’

“It must be stuck on a loop,” said Peter.
 
“Then turn it bloody off before I go crazy!” Marie was beginning to lose control of herself.

Peter switched the radio off. Then he spotted something up ahead. “Look there’s a town,” he said. “We’ll get directions back onto the motorway.”

“The sooner the better,” said Marie.
 
They drove straight into the middle of the town and the first thing they noticed was that vintage cars were parked along both sides of the road. They passed a green Morris Minor, a red Ford Capri and a silver Volkswagen Beetle which were clearly well looked after.
 
“There must be a vintage car rally on in the town,” said Peter. He was relieved to see that Marie’s spirits were beginning to lift again. It was a picturesque town, the houses were all stone built and of varying sizes. As they neared the centre of the town they came to a T-junction where another road went westward in a straight line for as far as they could see. Other stone houses and a church built from sandstone blocks went the length of this road for a distance. There was a stained glass window on the gable-end of the church and on the side which fronted onto the roadway there were sandstone images of two figures holding hands surrounded by lacework, much like the design one would see on a Celtic cross, these were set in relief within a circular frame. There was a pub in the middle of the row of stone houses on the opposite side of the road, it wasn’t yet open to the public.
 
They pulled in behind a 1960s black Ford Zephyr, which was parked on the left hand side of the main street and got out of the car. There were some people who appeared to be couples out for an early morning stroll, they looked at Peter and Marie in the way one would at the appearance of strangers. At the end of the row of stone houses on that side of the street there was another sandstone building with similar images in relief of figures holding hands on the wall facing the road. There were numerous oak, Scots pine and ash trees growing in and around this town, which seemed to be an oasis in the middle of a vast raised bog.
 
“There’s a supermarket,” said Marie clearly excited at the find. “And it’s open.”

The supermarket was at the foot of three stone steps which went down off the main street and there were two windows above it, clearly where the owners themselves lived.
 
A bell tingled above the door as they entered the supermarket. It looked just like any other supermarket in any town or city.
 
“I need to get some drinks and something to eat,” said Marie as she disappeared among the rows of shelves.
 
Peter went straight to the man who had appeared behind the counter from a doorway. He didn’t seem pleased to see them in his shop. The man looked to be in his seventies, he was unkempt and clearly hadn’t shaved in days.
 
“Can you tell me where we are, I didn’t see a sign with the name of this town on it when we drove in?” said Peter.

“Because there is none.”

“OK then, perhaps you can give me directions? We need to get back onto the motorway.”

The man snatched what appeared to be a road map from a rack on the counter and opened it out. He took a pair of spectacles from the pocket of the grimy shirt he wore to look at it. Peter was shocked to see that it was a map of Ireland but there were no cities, towns nor villages marked on it. One straight line went down the centre, from the north coast to the south coast and halfway down another straight line went towards the west coast. In each of the three sections there was a single word, ‘Bog’. The man poked his finger on the line near the top and then he poked it on the line near the bottom.

“You’re neither here nor there,” he said looking Peter in the eye.

“Then where are we?” asked Peter.
 
The man poked his finger on a dot in the centre where the two lines met. “You’re right here… in the middle of nowhere.”

Peter snatched another road map from the rack and opened it out. It was the same as the one on the counter.
 
“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.

“There’s no brand names.” Marie had arrived at his side with two cans of cheap cola and several bars of chocolate in a wire basket. “Is what some kind of joke?”
 
A lady appeared at the doorway behind the counter. She was around the same age as the man and she also clearly cared very little about her personal hygiene. “What’s the matter Sean?”

“It’s a couple of lost souls, Mollie Kate.”

“Tell them to go to the reverend then, that’s his line of work.”

“What’s happening Peter?” Marie looked pale.
 
“Nothing dear, nothing at all.” Peter took the basket from her and turned to Sean. “How much do we owe you for these?”

The man looked at him as though he were joking. “There’s no prices on anything here, everything’s free, always has been.”
 
“Free?” said Peter.

“That’s what I said, didn’t I? If it’s free then people won’t go stealing it.” He grunted twice which appeared to be some kind of mocking laugh. “I expect I’ll be seeing you in here a lot,” he added.
 
“We’ll be gone as soon as I get the car started,” said Peter.
 
“Gone where?” replied Sean. “There isn’t anywhere to go. Drive down that road as far as it goes and you’ll come to the ocean, nothing else. Wait for as long as you want and you’ll not see as much as a fishing boat, never mind a ship of any sorts. There’s nothing out there except seagulls and whatever’s under the waves.” He leaned closer to Peter. “It’s the same if you go back up the road north or take that road across to the west coast. Everyone here has tried it more times than enough and found nothing. That’s the reason they’re still here.”

“Lets go Peter, these people are making fun of us,” said Marie.
 
Peter gathered up the drinks and the bars of chocolate and put them into a plastic shopping bag. He reached the door, then a thought hit him. “Who delivers your stock?”

“We never run out of anything,” replied Sean. “The shelves are always full… ask me how and I don’t rightly know… but the reverend tells us that the lord provides so I expect that’s where it comes from.” He grunted twice again.

“You’re crazy,” said Peter.
 
“You’ll be crazy yourselves before long,” said Sean. “Isn’t that so Mollie Kate?”

Peter and Marie were taken aback at the look of pure hatred the woman gave Sean before she stormed off in a rage.

When they got to the top of the steps outside the supermarket they were met by two men who were clearly waiting on them. They also saw that people were milling around on the main street obviously curious as to who they were. One of the men was well over six foot tall and of stout build. He wore a blue three piece tweed suit with a high-necked waistcoat. This man was dark skinned with thick black greying hair and a beard. They noticed he was wearing a clerical collar. His companion was medium height and thin with fair-hair and he had pale skin. He also wore a tweed suit which was brown.
 
“Good morning to you both,” said the taller man. “May I introduce myself and my companion? I am Reverend Howard and this is my life partner Bartholemew.”
 
He reached out a huge hand and Peter hesitated before he accepted the handshake. The reverend had a firm grip, but he took Marie’s hand as though worried that he might break it. Then it was the turn of his partner Bartholemew to shake their hands.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said, before stepping back to Reverend Howard’s side.

Peter and Marie stood silent for a moment, then Reverend Howard gave them an inquiring look.
 
“Oh right, I apologise,” said Peter. “This is my wife Marie and my name is Peter... Peter O’Hagan.”

“Surnames,” said Reverend Howard. “Best forgotten. The quicker you forget yours the better.”

“Why would that be?” asked Marie. Peter was also shocked by the remark.
 
“After being here a while you will gradually forget everything from your past except your love for each other. You will no longer remember your families, friends or relatives. Your fondest and worst memories will no longer be memories, all will be forgotten, including whatever religion you might have practised.”

Peter was about to say something but Reverend Howard held up a hand to silence him. “As you see, I am a man of the church myself, that church over there. Given that the people in this town have forgotten whatever religion they once practised, I keep it simple and stick to the one god. That way there is no religious intolerance and we don’t fall out with each other.”
 
Bartholemew looked at Reverend Howard in awe, then turned to Peter and Marie nodding in agreement. They looked at each other in utter disbelief.

“I know what you are both thinking. You are thinking that this is a man of god and he is wearing a blue tweed suit. Black is so obvious don’t you think?”
 
“Well no actually, we weren’t thinking that at all,” said Peter. “We are wondering…”

“How we pass the time in this town?” said Reverend Howard. “A good question. Come walk with me while I explain.” 

He held a hand in the direction he wanted them to go in. They hesitated but the look they received from Bartholemew told them they needed to do as they were told, so they began to walk.
 
“That is our local pub,” said Reverend Howard pointing towards it. “It only opens once a week on Friday nights. Can’t have people sitting in a pub every day drinking themselves to death. Down here is our community hall.” 

He nodded towards the sandstone building at the end of the row of houses. “We have a weekly dance there every Saturday night. On the other nights it passes as a cinema showing old movies. Romantic movies of course, it helps in keeping the love for each other burning within our hearts. Doctor Zhivago is the most popular movie, it is shown every Wednesday night.”

Peter and Marie noticed a middle-edged man, who appeared to be in his mid-sixties and a pretty young woman, who looked to be no more than thirty years of age, standing on the opposite side of the road.
 
“That is Samuel and his wife Rosie,” said Reverend Howard.
 
“There’s a big age difference between the pair of them, how did they come to meet each other?” asked Marie.

“They can’t remember anything before coming here, like the rest of us,” said Reverend Howard. “But they arrived in that car.” He pointed to a Rolls Royce.
 
Seeing that they had become the centre of conversation, Rosie stomped off and Samuel scurried after her.
 
“The couples here tend to live a long life and for reasons unknown they die within a very short time of each other,” said Reverend Howard. “Isn’t that so, Bartholemew?”

“It is indeed Howard. Poor Rosie will depart this life long before her time just because she loved an older man. How sad.”

“Unfortunately that is true,” replied Reverend Howard. He seemed to notice the plastic shopping bag Peter was carrying for the first time. “You must be hungry, you need to eat a proper meal not that garbage,” he said and took the bag from Peter before handing it to Bartholemew. He directed their attention across the street to a cafe where two ladies in their fifties were standing at the door watching them. “Jia Li and Fiona will cook you an exceptional meal.”
 
The two ladies looked at each other, nodded their heads sadly and went inside the cafe.
 
“I don’t see any children about,” said Marie. “Why is that... are they not up yet?”

Reverend Howard studied her face for a moment, he seemed to be annoyed at the question. Then he broke into a forced smile. “This is no place to bring up children,” he replied. “Children can be a burden on a relationship so maybe it’s a good thing that our couples can’t have them.”

“Can’t have them… can’t have children?” Marie was shocked by his attitude. “Why can no one in this town have children?”
 
“There must be something in the water,” said Bartholemew smiling.
 
The look the reverend gave him quickly wiped the smile from his face. Then Reverend Howard smiled again. It was the smile of a shifty salesman. He spread his arms wide. “All you need is love.”
Peter and Marie looked at him incredulously. Peter seemed to snap out of it first. “The Beatles,” he said.

“What?” demanded Reverend Howard.

“That’s the name of a Beatles’ song,” said Peter.
 
“It’s the motto of our town,” replied the reverend, he was clearly aggrieved. “I came up with it myself.”
Peter was about to argue the point but caught the look Marie gave him.
 
“I’m certain that Sean has already informed you that you cannot leave this place,” said Reverend Howard. “He gets a sick satisfaction in doing that. He is correct and you will both eventually come to accept and to live with it when you no longer have any memories of a past life. The one thing we do not tolerate in this town is infidelity. The punishment for infidelity is banishment. Thankfully it has only occurred on one occasion which we know of and that was about fifty years ago. The victims of this infidelity were Sean and Mollie Kate. Their spouses were having an affair behind their backs. The adulterers were found guilty and banished from the town. They were told to drive away and to never return.”

“My god,” said Marie. “But that’s like a death sentence. Where did they go?”

“Unfortunately it is,” replied Reverend Howard. “I didn’t make that law, it was written down long before we both remember arriving here.” He looked at Bartholemew, who smiled back at him and nodded in agreement. “It is also the reason that crime is here is non-existent, especially murder. More importantly, no one has had an affair from that day to this. As for the banished couple, they did not return nor was their car ever found. We believe that they reached the coast and drove over the cliffs into the sea.”

“We can’t stay here Peter,” said Marie.
 
Peter looked resigned to the fact that there was nowhere else to go. “Where can we go Marie?”

“Exactly. There is no where else to go,” said Reverend Howard. “Now if you will forgive us we shall be off, as we have other matters to attend to.”

Reverend Howard and Bartholemew walked across the main street in the direction of the church leaving Peter and Marie staring at each other in disbelief. Marie’s eyes were filling with tears. “We can’t stay here. Do you hear me Peter? We can’t stay in this place.”

Everyone else simply dispersed, as though a public meeting had just ended. Peter and Marie noticed that one couple remained, they stood just a few yards away on the footpath. The couple weren’t much older than they were. The male was about five foot eight, solidly built, with a ruddy skin tone and he had a head of unruly thick red hair. The female was stunningly beautiful. She was black and slightly taller than her partner.
 
“She’s Afro-Caribbean,” whispered Peter, without taking his eyes from the girl.”

“What?” said Marie.

“The girl is Afro-Caribbean.”

“We got the same welcome to this town with no name speech, as did everyone else here,” said the red-haired man as the couple came towards Peter and Marie. “My name is Liam and this is my wife Roisin.” He held his hand out. He spoke with a Dublin accent.

Marie and Peter shook their hands. “I’m Peter and this is my wife Marie. Is it true that we will remember nothing?”

“You will remember nothing about your past life when you wake tomorrow,” said Roisin, she also had a Dublin accent, much to the surprise of Peter and Marie. “You will only remember coming down that road and your arrival here.”

“I’m certain that we will become good friends,” said Liam. He smiled at Marie which made her uneasy.
“Indeed, we will,” said Roisin. “But I must tell you one thing… one very important thing about the two in the supermarket, Sean and Mollie Kate. Something the Reverend Howard deliberately failed to tell you. It is believed that they set their spouses up, by accusing them of having an affair, so that they could be together. They were the guilty ones.”

“But how can anyone be certain they did that?” asked Marie.
 
“Sean came to this town in that car with his wife,” said Liam pointing to a 1940s Ford Perfect. “So they would have arrived here in the 1940s or the 1950s. Him and Mollie Kate might appear to be in their early seventies but in actual fact they have be in their nineties. The people in this town believe that they have been cursed to live together forever for their terrible crime. They believe that the town itself cursed them. Reverend Howard refuses to admit that a grave injustice actually occurred but the longer they live without getting a day older is proof that it did.”

Roisin noticed that Peter was staring at her intently and she quickly turned her head away in fear. Marie saw this as well.
 
“Peter, get in the car, we are not staying in this place one second longer.”
 
“And go where Marie?”

“Anywhere but here.”

“There is no where else,” said Richard.

“Let’s go Peter. Right now,” demanded Marie.
 
Peter knew that there was no where else to go to but he decided to let Marie see that for herself, so he got into the car and started it up. She got in and looked at him, then the road ahead. Peter shook his head in frustration before they moved off.
 
After a minute or two of silence, Peter spoke. “You heard them Marie, there is no where to go to except to the end of this road and nothing.
 
“You seen those people Peter, they might be together as couples but they are still not happy. They want more in life, not for each other, but for themselves.”
 
“Whether you want to admit it or not Marie, we are stuck here with them.”

“I’m damn sure we are.”

“Where will we go to then?”

“We’ll drive straight over those cliffs if we have to.”

“Jaysus but you’re thran when you want to be Marie,” said Peter.

“You’re one to be…”

Peter hit the brakes hard.
 
“What did you do that for?” asked Marie.
 
Peter was looking in the rear-view mirror. “How did I miss that?”

“Miss what?”

Peter quickly reversed the car back up the road and stopped at a side road with a diversion sign. “It wasn’t there a second ago.”

“It bloody well is now Peter O’Hagan, don’t sit there looking at it, lets get the…”

Peter didn’t need to be told, he hit the accelerator and with wheels spinning they roared off down the side road. Marie looked behind. There were rolling hills, hedgerows and fields instead of that road and the bog. They passed a house and then another one on the opposite side of the road.
 
“Slow down Peter before you get us killed.”

“I got us out of there, didn’t I?” he said, easing up on the accelerator.

“You wanted to stay, didn’t you? I got us out of there.”

Peter knew that he had to change the subject. “Do you think that’s what happened to the couple who were banished?”

“They found that road?”

“Yes. Maybe it opened up for them because they were innocent.”

“You could be right.”

Marie took her phone out and checked it. “All my photos are back.”

They could see the motorway just up ahead. “Thank god to see that,” said Peter.

The early light of dawn was sweeping across the sky when Marie woke. She looked at Peter in surprise then out at the motorway. There was a steady flow of traffic.

“Ah you’re awake,” said Peter. “That road was an absolute nightmare.”

“How long have I been asleep?”

“About fifteen minutes or so.”

“I’ve just had the weirdest of dreams Peter.”

“Is that so Marie? You must tell me about it when we get back home.”

Marie fell silent and stared out the windscreen at the motorway.
 
“Is everything OK Marie?”

“Don’t think I didn’t notice how you looked at that girl.”

“What girl?”

“Don’t try and deny it. The Afro-Caribbean girl from Dublin, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”

Peter looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a couple sitting in the back seat."

"Hi Peter, my name is Liam and this is my wife Roisin. We met in Marie's dream."

The car radio came back on. ‘We’re on a road to nowhere, Come on inside. Takin’ that ride to nowhere,
We’ll take that ride...’

Thomas Dixie Elliot is a Derry artist and a former H Block Blanketman.
Follow Dixie Elliot on Twitter @IsMise_Dixie


Road To Nowhere

Dixie Elliot ✒  continues in short story form.


Newly-weds Peter and Marie O’Hagan were travelling north from Dublin airport on the M1 motorway. The couple had just returned from a two week honeymoon in Florida. It was six o’clock in the morning and a grey light was creeping up on the dark sky. There was very little traffic on the motorway at that early hour and only the occasional lorry or delivery van passed them.

They were tired after the long journey and when they saw the flashing lights, cones and roadwork signs they both swore. A diversion sign directed them off the motorway and onto a secondary road. This road was dark and winding and it took all of Peter’s concentration to stay awake and out of the ditch. He noticed Marie had dozed off but was glad that at least one of them had the luxury of sleep, hopefully they would be back on the motorway before very long. Now and again his headlights caught a diversion sign so he knew that he was travelling in the right direction. He turned yet another bend and the road became very straight.
 
The early light of dawn was sweeping across the sky when Marie woke. She looked at Peter in surprise.
“Are we not back on the motorway yet?”
 
“Clearly not,” he answered.

“There’s no need to be sarcastic,” she replied. “How long have I been asleep?”
 
Peter looked at the clock, it was fifteen minutes past six, which meant he had only been driving along that road for little more than ten minutes, but it seemed to have been a lot longer. He hadn’t bothered to watch the time because he had been on the alert for other diversion signs. 

“About ten minutes,” he said.

“Did you take a wrong turn?” asked Marie.

“No I did not, there were no other side roads and I haven’t seen another diversion sign in a while.”

“Then you must have gotten us lost.”

“Didn’t you hear what I said? There were no other side roads.”

“No need to shout I’m sitting right here.”

“I didn’t shout.”

“It was your tone of voice. It sounded like shouting from where I’m sitting.”

“Give me patience.”

“And what is that supposed to mean, eh?”

“Try the sat nav.”

“You’re driving, you try it.”

Peter sighed and leaned across to turn on the sat nav. “It’s not working.”

“Let me try. Keep your eyes on the road in case you crash the car and get us killed as well.”

“As well as what?”
 
“Getting us lost.”
 
She tried the sat nav. “It’s not working.”

“I suppose that’s my fault as well?”

“You insisted on buying this bloody car.”

“You liked it as much as I did. Anyway it’s only six months old, the sat nav should be working.”

“Well it’s not working now, is it?”

The rising sun was soaking the clouds in hues of red by the time they came to the brow of a hill. Peter stopped the car, the road ahead went straight down the hill and disappeared into the distance in a perfect straight line. There was an expansive raised bog on both sides of the road, which stretched away into the early morning mist.

“Turn this car around and go back the way we came Peter.”

“Go back to where… to those roadworks? And what do we do then Marie? Do we simply drive towards Dublin on the wrong side of the motorway?”

“There you go again.”

“What?”

You’re shouting at me.”

“I’m not shouting Marie.”

“Raising your voice then, that’s the same thing.”

“I’m only trying to explain that we have to keep going in the hope that we’ll find a turn off soon, or someone who’ll give us directions.”

Peter eased the car into gear and moved off down the hill gradually picking up speed.
 
“This is our first argument as a married couple dear,” he said after a moment or two.

Marie turned her head to look at him in disbelief. “It is not. Have you forgotten about that argument you started in Disney World… when you wanted to take a selfie with Micky Mouse?”

“You said we were too old to take a selfie with Micky Mouse.”

“Little kids have selfies with Micky Mouse.”

“It was you who wanted to go to Disney World in the first place.”

“You can’t go to Orlando and not go to see Disney World.”

“You can, if you want.”

“There you go again, it’s all about you isn’t it?”

“What?”

“Oh, and what about Universal Studios . . . the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? You just had to start telling the guy directing the queue things he might not know about Harry Potter. You might not know this about Harry Potter. You might not know that about Harry Potter.”

“I was simply being informative.”

“It’s his job to know everything about Harry Potter. People in the queue started staring and talking about us.”

“Because you kept shushing me out loud.”

Marie turned her attention to her phone. “Be quiet I’m going to phone Mum.”

“It’s about half past six in the morning.”

“She’ll be awake, she always gets up early… there’s no signal.” Marie looked at her phone in horror. “And there’s no wi-fi connection.”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” said Peter. “I haven’t seen a house since we turned onto this stretch of road.”

Marie was still checking her phone. “What happened to my photos?”
 
“Huh.”

“Most of my photos have been deleted, except for the ones of me and you. Do you think that’s funny Peter? Some of them were taken at our wedding.”

“Why would I want to delete your photos?”

“Well someone did.”

“Let’s listen to some music,” said Peter. He turned on the radio.

‘Well, we know where we’re goin’
 
But we don’t know where we’ve been.

And we know what we’re knowin’
 
But we can’t say what we’ve seen…’

“Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads,” said Peter. “And of all places too. Anytime we hear this song in the future we’ll laugh about it.”

“Do I actually look like I am laughing… do I? Most of my photos have been deleted, there’s no phone signal or wi-fi, but you can get tuned into some stupid radio station.”

“That is strange,” said Peter.
 
They sat in silence and listened to the song. At least it was a distraction. Then it ended. There was a brief pause and…

‘Well, we know where we’re goin’- But we don’t know where we’ve been...’

“It’s started again,” said Marie in annoyance.
 
‘And we know what we’re knowin’- But we can’t say what we’ve seen…’
“Maybe it got stuck and the guy’s trying to fix it,” said Peter.
 
It had turned into a bright sunny morning, but there was still no sign of life or a house of any sort along the road.
 
The song ended, but it began again.
 
‘Well, we know where we’re goin’- But we don’t know where we’ve been…’

“It must be stuck on a loop,” said Peter.
 
“Then turn it bloody off before I go crazy!” Marie was beginning to lose control of herself.

Peter switched the radio off. Then he spotted something up ahead. “Look there’s a town,” he said. “We’ll get directions back onto the motorway.”

“The sooner the better,” said Marie.
 
They drove straight into the middle of the town and the first thing they noticed was that vintage cars were parked along both sides of the road. They passed a green Morris Minor, a red Ford Capri and a silver Volkswagen Beetle which were clearly well looked after.
 
“There must be a vintage car rally on in the town,” said Peter. He was relieved to see that Marie’s spirits were beginning to lift again. It was a picturesque town, the houses were all stone built and of varying sizes. As they neared the centre of the town they came to a T-junction where another road went westward in a straight line for as far as they could see. Other stone houses and a church built from sandstone blocks went the length of this road for a distance. There was a stained glass window on the gable-end of the church and on the side which fronted onto the roadway there were sandstone images of two figures holding hands surrounded by lacework, much like the design one would see on a Celtic cross, these were set in relief within a circular frame. There was a pub in the middle of the row of stone houses on the opposite side of the road, it wasn’t yet open to the public.
 
They pulled in behind a 1960s black Ford Zephyr, which was parked on the left hand side of the main street and got out of the car. There were some people who appeared to be couples out for an early morning stroll, they looked at Peter and Marie in the way one would at the appearance of strangers. At the end of the row of stone houses on that side of the street there was another sandstone building with similar images in relief of figures holding hands on the wall facing the road. There were numerous oak, Scots pine and ash trees growing in and around this town, which seemed to be an oasis in the middle of a vast raised bog.
 
“There’s a supermarket,” said Marie clearly excited at the find. “And it’s open.”

The supermarket was at the foot of three stone steps which went down off the main street and there were two windows above it, clearly where the owners themselves lived.
 
A bell tingled above the door as they entered the supermarket. It looked just like any other supermarket in any town or city.
 
“I need to get some drinks and something to eat,” said Marie as she disappeared among the rows of shelves.
 
Peter went straight to the man who had appeared behind the counter from a doorway. He didn’t seem pleased to see them in his shop. The man looked to be in his seventies, he was unkempt and clearly hadn’t shaved in days.
 
“Can you tell me where we are, I didn’t see a sign with the name of this town on it when we drove in?” said Peter.

“Because there is none.”

“OK then, perhaps you can give me directions? We need to get back onto the motorway.”

The man snatched what appeared to be a road map from a rack on the counter and opened it out. He took a pair of spectacles from the pocket of the grimy shirt he wore to look at it. Peter was shocked to see that it was a map of Ireland but there were no cities, towns nor villages marked on it. One straight line went down the centre, from the north coast to the south coast and halfway down another straight line went towards the west coast. In each of the three sections there was a single word, ‘Bog’. The man poked his finger on the line near the top and then he poked it on the line near the bottom.

“You’re neither here nor there,” he said looking Peter in the eye.

“Then where are we?” asked Peter.
 
The man poked his finger on a dot in the centre where the two lines met. “You’re right here… in the middle of nowhere.”

Peter snatched another road map from the rack and opened it out. It was the same as the one on the counter.
 
“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.

“There’s no brand names.” Marie had arrived at his side with two cans of cheap cola and several bars of chocolate in a wire basket. “Is what some kind of joke?”
 
A lady appeared at the doorway behind the counter. She was around the same age as the man and she also clearly cared very little about her personal hygiene. “What’s the matter Sean?”

“It’s a couple of lost souls, Mollie Kate.”

“Tell them to go to the reverend then, that’s his line of work.”

“What’s happening Peter?” Marie looked pale.
 
“Nothing dear, nothing at all.” Peter took the basket from her and turned to Sean. “How much do we owe you for these?”

The man looked at him as though he were joking. “There’s no prices on anything here, everything’s free, always has been.”
 
“Free?” said Peter.

“That’s what I said, didn’t I? If it’s free then people won’t go stealing it.” He grunted twice which appeared to be some kind of mocking laugh. “I expect I’ll be seeing you in here a lot,” he added.
 
“We’ll be gone as soon as I get the car started,” said Peter.
 
“Gone where?” replied Sean. “There isn’t anywhere to go. Drive down that road as far as it goes and you’ll come to the ocean, nothing else. Wait for as long as you want and you’ll not see as much as a fishing boat, never mind a ship of any sorts. There’s nothing out there except seagulls and whatever’s under the waves.” He leaned closer to Peter. “It’s the same if you go back up the road north or take that road across to the west coast. Everyone here has tried it more times than enough and found nothing. That’s the reason they’re still here.”

“Lets go Peter, these people are making fun of us,” said Marie.
 
Peter gathered up the drinks and the bars of chocolate and put them into a plastic shopping bag. He reached the door, then a thought hit him. “Who delivers your stock?”

“We never run out of anything,” replied Sean. “The shelves are always full… ask me how and I don’t rightly know… but the reverend tells us that the lord provides so I expect that’s where it comes from.” He grunted twice again.

“You’re crazy,” said Peter.
 
“You’ll be crazy yourselves before long,” said Sean. “Isn’t that so Mollie Kate?”

Peter and Marie were taken aback at the look of pure hatred the woman gave Sean before she stormed off in a rage.

When they got to the top of the steps outside the supermarket they were met by two men who were clearly waiting on them. They also saw that people were milling around on the main street obviously curious as to who they were. One of the men was well over six foot tall and of stout build. He wore a blue three piece tweed suit with a high-necked waistcoat. This man was dark skinned with thick black greying hair and a beard. They noticed he was wearing a clerical collar. His companion was medium height and thin with fair-hair and he had pale skin. He also wore a tweed suit which was brown.
 
“Good morning to you both,” said the taller man. “May I introduce myself and my companion? I am Reverend Howard and this is my life partner Bartholemew.”
 
He reached out a huge hand and Peter hesitated before he accepted the handshake. The reverend had a firm grip, but he took Marie’s hand as though worried that he might break it. Then it was the turn of his partner Bartholemew to shake their hands.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said, before stepping back to Reverend Howard’s side.

Peter and Marie stood silent for a moment, then Reverend Howard gave them an inquiring look.
 
“Oh right, I apologise,” said Peter. “This is my wife Marie and my name is Peter... Peter O’Hagan.”

“Surnames,” said Reverend Howard. “Best forgotten. The quicker you forget yours the better.”

“Why would that be?” asked Marie. Peter was also shocked by the remark.
 
“After being here a while you will gradually forget everything from your past except your love for each other. You will no longer remember your families, friends or relatives. Your fondest and worst memories will no longer be memories, all will be forgotten, including whatever religion you might have practised.”

Peter was about to say something but Reverend Howard held up a hand to silence him. “As you see, I am a man of the church myself, that church over there. Given that the people in this town have forgotten whatever religion they once practised, I keep it simple and stick to the one god. That way there is no religious intolerance and we don’t fall out with each other.”
 
Bartholemew looked at Reverend Howard in awe, then turned to Peter and Marie nodding in agreement. They looked at each other in utter disbelief.

“I know what you are both thinking. You are thinking that this is a man of god and he is wearing a blue tweed suit. Black is so obvious don’t you think?”
 
“Well no actually, we weren’t thinking that at all,” said Peter. “We are wondering…”

“How we pass the time in this town?” said Reverend Howard. “A good question. Come walk with me while I explain.” 

He held a hand in the direction he wanted them to go in. They hesitated but the look they received from Bartholemew told them they needed to do as they were told, so they began to walk.
 
“That is our local pub,” said Reverend Howard pointing towards it. “It only opens once a week on Friday nights. Can’t have people sitting in a pub every day drinking themselves to death. Down here is our community hall.” 

He nodded towards the sandstone building at the end of the row of houses. “We have a weekly dance there every Saturday night. On the other nights it passes as a cinema showing old movies. Romantic movies of course, it helps in keeping the love for each other burning within our hearts. Doctor Zhivago is the most popular movie, it is shown every Wednesday night.”

Peter and Marie noticed a middle-edged man, who appeared to be in his mid-sixties and a pretty young woman, who looked to be no more than thirty years of age, standing on the opposite side of the road.
 
“That is Samuel and his wife Rosie,” said Reverend Howard.
 
“There’s a big age difference between the pair of them, how did they come to meet each other?” asked Marie.

“They can’t remember anything before coming here, like the rest of us,” said Reverend Howard. “But they arrived in that car.” He pointed to a Rolls Royce.
 
Seeing that they had become the centre of conversation, Rosie stomped off and Samuel scurried after her.
 
“The couples here tend to live a long life and for reasons unknown they die within a very short time of each other,” said Reverend Howard. “Isn’t that so, Bartholemew?”

“It is indeed Howard. Poor Rosie will depart this life long before her time just because she loved an older man. How sad.”

“Unfortunately that is true,” replied Reverend Howard. He seemed to notice the plastic shopping bag Peter was carrying for the first time. “You must be hungry, you need to eat a proper meal not that garbage,” he said and took the bag from Peter before handing it to Bartholemew. He directed their attention across the street to a cafe where two ladies in their fifties were standing at the door watching them. “Jia Li and Fiona will cook you an exceptional meal.”
 
The two ladies looked at each other, nodded their heads sadly and went inside the cafe.
 
“I don’t see any children about,” said Marie. “Why is that... are they not up yet?”

Reverend Howard studied her face for a moment, he seemed to be annoyed at the question. Then he broke into a forced smile. “This is no place to bring up children,” he replied. “Children can be a burden on a relationship so maybe it’s a good thing that our couples can’t have them.”

“Can’t have them… can’t have children?” Marie was shocked by his attitude. “Why can no one in this town have children?”
 
“There must be something in the water,” said Bartholemew smiling.
 
The look the reverend gave him quickly wiped the smile from his face. Then Reverend Howard smiled again. It was the smile of a shifty salesman. He spread his arms wide. “All you need is love.”
Peter and Marie looked at him incredulously. Peter seemed to snap out of it first. “The Beatles,” he said.

“What?” demanded Reverend Howard.

“That’s the name of a Beatles’ song,” said Peter.
 
“It’s the motto of our town,” replied the reverend, he was clearly aggrieved. “I came up with it myself.”
Peter was about to argue the point but caught the look Marie gave him.
 
“I’m certain that Sean has already informed you that you cannot leave this place,” said Reverend Howard. “He gets a sick satisfaction in doing that. He is correct and you will both eventually come to accept and to live with it when you no longer have any memories of a past life. The one thing we do not tolerate in this town is infidelity. The punishment for infidelity is banishment. Thankfully it has only occurred on one occasion which we know of and that was about fifty years ago. The victims of this infidelity were Sean and Mollie Kate. Their spouses were having an affair behind their backs. The adulterers were found guilty and banished from the town. They were told to drive away and to never return.”

“My god,” said Marie. “But that’s like a death sentence. Where did they go?”

“Unfortunately it is,” replied Reverend Howard. “I didn’t make that law, it was written down long before we both remember arriving here.” He looked at Bartholemew, who smiled back at him and nodded in agreement. “It is also the reason that crime is here is non-existent, especially murder. More importantly, no one has had an affair from that day to this. As for the banished couple, they did not return nor was their car ever found. We believe that they reached the coast and drove over the cliffs into the sea.”

“We can’t stay here Peter,” said Marie.
 
Peter looked resigned to the fact that there was nowhere else to go. “Where can we go Marie?”

“Exactly. There is no where else to go,” said Reverend Howard. “Now if you will forgive us we shall be off, as we have other matters to attend to.”

Reverend Howard and Bartholemew walked across the main street in the direction of the church leaving Peter and Marie staring at each other in disbelief. Marie’s eyes were filling with tears. “We can’t stay here. Do you hear me Peter? We can’t stay in this place.”

Everyone else simply dispersed, as though a public meeting had just ended. Peter and Marie noticed that one couple remained, they stood just a few yards away on the footpath. The couple weren’t much older than they were. The male was about five foot eight, solidly built, with a ruddy skin tone and he had a head of unruly thick red hair. The female was stunningly beautiful. She was black and slightly taller than her partner.
 
“She’s Afro-Caribbean,” whispered Peter, without taking his eyes from the girl.”

“What?” said Marie.

“The girl is Afro-Caribbean.”

“We got the same welcome to this town with no name speech, as did everyone else here,” said the red-haired man as the couple came towards Peter and Marie. “My name is Liam and this is my wife Roisin.” He held his hand out. He spoke with a Dublin accent.

Marie and Peter shook their hands. “I’m Peter and this is my wife Marie. Is it true that we will remember nothing?”

“You will remember nothing about your past life when you wake tomorrow,” said Roisin, she also had a Dublin accent, much to the surprise of Peter and Marie. “You will only remember coming down that road and your arrival here.”

“I’m certain that we will become good friends,” said Liam. He smiled at Marie which made her uneasy.
“Indeed, we will,” said Roisin. “But I must tell you one thing… one very important thing about the two in the supermarket, Sean and Mollie Kate. Something the Reverend Howard deliberately failed to tell you. It is believed that they set their spouses up, by accusing them of having an affair, so that they could be together. They were the guilty ones.”

“But how can anyone be certain they did that?” asked Marie.
 
“Sean came to this town in that car with his wife,” said Liam pointing to a 1940s Ford Perfect. “So they would have arrived here in the 1940s or the 1950s. Him and Mollie Kate might appear to be in their early seventies but in actual fact they have be in their nineties. The people in this town believe that they have been cursed to live together forever for their terrible crime. They believe that the town itself cursed them. Reverend Howard refuses to admit that a grave injustice actually occurred but the longer they live without getting a day older is proof that it did.”

Roisin noticed that Peter was staring at her intently and she quickly turned her head away in fear. Marie saw this as well.
 
“Peter, get in the car, we are not staying in this place one second longer.”
 
“And go where Marie?”

“Anywhere but here.”

“There is no where else,” said Richard.

“Let’s go Peter. Right now,” demanded Marie.
 
Peter knew that there was no where else to go to but he decided to let Marie see that for herself, so he got into the car and started it up. She got in and looked at him, then the road ahead. Peter shook his head in frustration before they moved off.
 
After a minute or two of silence, Peter spoke. “You heard them Marie, there is no where to go to except to the end of this road and nothing.
 
“You seen those people Peter, they might be together as couples but they are still not happy. They want more in life, not for each other, but for themselves.”
 
“Whether you want to admit it or not Marie, we are stuck here with them.”

“I’m damn sure we are.”

“Where will we go to then?”

“We’ll drive straight over those cliffs if we have to.”

“Jaysus but you’re thran when you want to be Marie,” said Peter.

“You’re one to be…”

Peter hit the brakes hard.
 
“What did you do that for?” asked Marie.
 
Peter was looking in the rear-view mirror. “How did I miss that?”

“Miss what?”

Peter quickly reversed the car back up the road and stopped at a side road with a diversion sign. “It wasn’t there a second ago.”

“It bloody well is now Peter O’Hagan, don’t sit there looking at it, lets get the…”

Peter didn’t need to be told, he hit the accelerator and with wheels spinning they roared off down the side road. Marie looked behind. There were rolling hills, hedgerows and fields instead of that road and the bog. They passed a house and then another one on the opposite side of the road.
 
“Slow down Peter before you get us killed.”

“I got us out of there, didn’t I?” he said, easing up on the accelerator.

“You wanted to stay, didn’t you? I got us out of there.”

Peter knew that he had to change the subject. “Do you think that’s what happened to the couple who were banished?”

“They found that road?”

“Yes. Maybe it opened up for them because they were innocent.”

“You could be right.”

Marie took her phone out and checked it. “All my photos are back.”

They could see the motorway just up ahead. “Thank god to see that,” said Peter.

The early light of dawn was sweeping across the sky when Marie woke. She looked at Peter in surprise then out at the motorway. There was a steady flow of traffic.

“Ah you’re awake,” said Peter. “That road was an absolute nightmare.”

“How long have I been asleep?”

“About fifteen minutes or so.”

“I’ve just had the weirdest of dreams Peter.”

“Is that so Marie? You must tell me about it when we get back home.”

Marie fell silent and stared out the windscreen at the motorway.
 
“Is everything OK Marie?”

“Don’t think I didn’t notice how you looked at that girl.”

“What girl?”

“Don’t try and deny it. The Afro-Caribbean girl from Dublin, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”

Peter looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a couple sitting in the back seat."

"Hi Peter, my name is Liam and this is my wife Roisin. We met in Marie's dream."

The car radio came back on. ‘We’re on a road to nowhere, Come on inside. Takin’ that ride to nowhere,
We’ll take that ride...’

Thomas Dixie Elliot is a Derry artist and a former H Block Blanketman.
Follow Dixie Elliot on Twitter @IsMise_Dixie


1 comment:

  1. Great story Dixie. This has to be a contender for your best so far. But there is a lot of competition.

    ReplyDelete