This is what one might call a “rough-cut” – a dump of a totally unedited short story, on which I have been working for the last 24+ hours. At present, this text is pure ideas, and is un-everything, including spell-checked, continuity-checked, logical-fallacies-checked, and more. Please enjoy some raw fiction, if this is your bent.
Section headings are what I used when creating in Scrivener. I’ll probably dump these later.
I wish to acknowledge the input of my wife, for the original concept, plus the influence of Ray Bradbury, and Dr Arthur Conan Doyle. (I don’t do “Sirs,” I acknowledge genuine qualifications.)
Let this be my last testament, believe it if you will. My organs are failing, as is my mind, making the recounting of this story all the more difficult. I am told that I have little time to live, so hope that I can at least finish this, before I shuffle off this mortal coil.
I am dictating this from the Leonora Grossman nursing home, a thirty-seven year old inhabiting a body that has aged to that of the oldest of the inmates of this twilight resting place of the elderly, in a shockingly quick time. My doctors can’t offer answers, just obscure theories.
But I know, in my own mind, what has caused me to age so rapidly, and it such a shockingly short space of time. I have no doubt that what I set down will be attributed to dementia, but I will tell my story nevertheless, even if nobody ever believes it.
Introducing The Storyteller
The Storyteller has given rise to many stories over the years; he has a special magic that he can work on children – including those with behavioural problems, his stories can instil an uncanny – an permanent – maturity on his audience. The story is told, he shakes the hands of his audience, and moves on.
That his age seems to change, sometimes between close performances, has led to the opinion that “he” is actually a “they” – maybe different generations of a family, or that The Storyteller is actually the work of a theatre company. Always on the move, never visiting the same place twice, working through an agent, and always shunning any contact with the press, always preserving the secret of the Act.
I had never seen The Storyteller in action, but had read, and heard, the stories of parents – sometimes backed up by child psychologists – describing masterful acts of storytelling that, somehow, resulted in the mental ageing, or maturation, of some, but not always all, members of the audience.
With The Storyteller appearing to have been a phenomenon that had been going on for quite some years, and with my journalism tending increasingly towards reporting on the sciences, I started to get the feeling that here was a story that needed to be told or, at least, debunked.
Witnessing The Storyteller
One of the characteristics of The Storyteller’s performances is that performances are announced at short notice although, with his underground popularity, always booked out quickly.
Having decided that here was a story that I needed to cover, the opportunity came much quicker than I expected. A performance was announced at the _____ school library, and my editor, Val Richardson, asked if I would like to take her son, Daniel, along – knowing that I had an interest in the matter.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but there was far less theatre involved than anticipated. The fact that the Storyteller sat cross-legged on the floor in a fully-lit room, with a group of twenty, or so, children in front of him did not resemble the stagey performance of my imagination. Parents, and other adults, were welcome to attend, but were asked to maintain a good distance, so as not to spoil the “atmosphere.”
What happened next, of this, I am not entirely certain. The children shuffled their feet, as the Storyteller sat, hunched, staring at the ground. When he lifted his head, and began to talk – then silence fell. And I can quite honestly state that I have no idea what he said. All I knew was that he ended his story, and it took some minutes for the rapt silence to break. He stood, moved to his audience, and shook hands with some, but not all. Upon this, he left the room.
As much as I wanted to speak to The Storyteller, capturing impressions from the group – and fielding my charge, before he wondered off, as was his wont, came first.
Daniel seemed somewhat disgruntled that he hadn’t been singled out for hand-shaking – an odd reaction for a boy who normally shunned contact, but was disinclined to talk about his experience otherwise. Once I had seen him ensconced with his iPad, I turned to the others in the room to learn of their experiences. What I heard gave me pause for thought.
Pondering what I had heard, I took Daniel home to his parents, and, only when he was reunited with them, did I shed a nagging worry. I turned for home, and an early night, with much to think about, and, above all, a burning desire to confront The Storyteller in person.
So, what was it learnt after The Storyteller’s performance, and what were the observations I made that gave me increasing cause for concern? Just a wild hunch, but a list of names and phone numbers in my notebook would give me some confirmation of whether or not there was any substance to my hunch.
It took over a fortnight for me to talk all the people on my list who could be contacted – and were still interested in talking to me. The results were such as popular lore had to tell: a certain number of the children had undergone personality changes, seeming to have become more mature overnight. What gave me cause for concern was when I compared with my original notes: every child who had come away changed had shaken hands with The Storyteller.
I knew then that telling a story was no longer the thing of importance – I had to know what was going on, because I was now convinced that this wasn’t a harmless performance, with some clever psychology – there was something sinister behind the Storyteller’s performances.
It was another eighteen months before I tracked down The Storyteller, curiously, within mere miles of the performance that I witnessed. As usual, the event was announced at very short notice, but the search app I had set to the task turned up trumps. At this event, without a child in tow, I would surely have to be able to speak, if all but briefly, to this most elusive, and singular character (if, indeed, that it was the same person, each time.)
I slipped into the back of the room, behind the parents, and others accompanying the children. Any attempt at discretion was obviously wasted; the Storyteller, sat on the floor, head bowed, as before, raised his head briefly – looked directly at me, nodded, dropped his head again.
The performance was a repeat of that which I had witnessed previously, including my inability to recall any of it in detail; the end was different: another direct glance, a nod of the head towards a door.
I followed The Storyteller, although something screamed in my mind that I should not. In that dusty corridor, I met him.
“I know you. I know who you are, I know your reputation, and I know why you are here. You want answers. I have, for many years, survived by not giving answers, more years than you can imagine. I am not in a position to give answers, not if I am to carry on – to carry on as I have. But, after all this time, to keep this secret? No. You have questions, I have but one answer. But to give you my answer would condemn me, so I will give you more than an answer, I will give you a proof. But my proof will preserve my secret. In a way, I feel guilt from this, to do this to a grown man, so I will give you a choice: hear me, and face the consequences, or walk away, and never know.”
“I am always moving; I have to move, all the time, so forgive me if I can only do this as a walk-and-talk.”
It was a cool, drizzly, evening – not entirely unpleasant, and certainly lending an atmosphere to what I hoped was going to be some sort of major revelation.
“My name is Albert Jenkins, at least, that’s been my name for the last hundred or so years. I’m a good story-teller, and always have been, at least as far as I can remember. It’s the stories that I remember – can’t always remember about myself. I have no idea how old I am, but I can remember the War of Independence. Always telling stories. Everyone loves my stories, I have a sort of, magic.”
At this point I observed that I had been entranced by his performances, but had no real recollection about the story that had been told. At this, he looked happy, indeed, smug; tapping his nose
“Sort of magic, like I say.”
And, with a sigh
“But it wasn’t always like that; the Talent grows with time, and I have seen so much time.”
We were near the sea, out of the network of buildings and roads through which we had been walking. There was a bench, to which he indicated; we sat.
“This should do. I know your ultimate question; I will give you a simple answer, and then my proof. I am being toted as giving maturity, that I am a great therapist, but I am not giving, I am taking – and what I am taking is youth. When I touch a child, I can take a few unwanted years of useless immaturity, and instil the wisdom of greater age; as part of this process, that essence of youth is lost to the child, becomes part of me.
Yes, I can see your skepticism, and thus comes the need for proof. I would but ask you to shake me by the hand.”
In that one handshake, I have gone from a man, in the prime of life, to an elderly wreckage, at death’s door. I am dictating this, because it needs to be said, but I know will never be believed. Is The Storyteller a bad man, to take youth from children? I guess that, without their permission, I would say yes. But he touches the world lightly – taking a little, often, from those whom, he would doubtless say, can afford it. Me? Maybe I merely pay the price for my curiosity, after all, I was given a choice. And, I know, I have become very philosophical about it all, but am past regret – hours to go before I sleep, to mis-quote Frost.
And The Storyteller? Whilst my story is about to end, his looks like it will continue, forever.