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The Branch
by Ian Curtress

The old man put another log on the fire and pulled his chair closer.
Hated these wild nights.
It was fine living near the coast in the the summer but the winds are bitter in the winter.
He poked the fire and tried not to worry about that dream.
He knew in his heart he had been a pretty despicable person the whole of his life.
Cheating and lying. Was always disliked. Had prospered at the expense of the innocent and now he was old it was too late to make amends. Not that he wanted to.

It was just that dream that disturbed him. So clear he saw every detail.
First the tapping on the window. On and off. Persisting.
Turned sound up on the television but tapping on the glass seemed to become louder.
It became a sort of rhythm which made his head spin until the door burst open and standing there was the family he had evicted from their home in order to sell the property and make a handsome profit.
They didn’t speak. Slowly they turned to skeletons walking towards him.
At that point he had woken up in a pool of perspiration and shaking.
He poured himself a whisky but still couldn’t settle.
It wasn’t his fault they were homeless he gave them a month to find somewhere else
Had he at last found a conscience. Had never bothered him before. Started to find reasons for his repulsive behaviour. There were none. He made all his decisions of his own free will. Accepted that his life had been an unhappy one.
Could things have been better if he had married? No. He had no wish to share.

The logs were glowing and making amazing patterns in the embers. He concentrated on them, trying to overcome his anxiety.
Just after midnight the tapping on the window started. He felt cold in spite of the log fire.
The wind had turned to gale force. The tapping seemed to have a rhythm now and he was visibly shivering.
Putting another log on the glowing embers caused sudden flames, throwing shadows on the walls and increasing his unease.
Then a huge gust blew his door open causing smoke and fumes…….

A neighbour became aware of the damage around seven in the morning and making his way past the damaged door could see the old man in his chair covered in what he thought was ash.
Yes there was ash, but not on his head. His hair was white.
He was dead!
After reporting the situation he repaired and secured the door and cut back branches of a gale damaged tree in the front.
A small branch of which had been hitting the window.