“Lies are the devils way of tormenting the soul.”
That’s what my Gram used to say. “You keep spinning that web of lies and sooner or later it’ll wrap itself around your spirit and bleed you raw until you cry from the pain.”
When I was a lad I thought it was just an old wives tale, something to scare me into confessing that it was me who stole the sweeties from the school tuck-shop, not Katie Simmons, the wild red-haired girl from down the street.
I was the one who got caught.
I always got caught when I was a kid.
My Gram told me I had a guilty face, and I couldn’t hide the truth from her, not one bit.
But I learnt to mask my guilt and by the time I entered the crazy shit race of adulthood I was highly skilled in the art of Lie Weaving. I was the best because I’d been taught by the best in the bullshitting business, not that my Gram intended for that to happen. No doubt she’d be speechless if she was still alive to hear that.
I spread my web wherever I went, without a care for the consequences or who got hurt in the process. Nothing could touch me, no way José.
But it did.
My web began to unravel long before I saw it tangling around me. And by the time those sticky ropes of falsehoods began to trip me up it was too late. The damage was done. I had no one left to turn to and no chance of redemption. Every bridge was burnt to a crisp, friendships lay in tatters and my life was in ruins. I never did things by halves – if you’re going to screw things up then why not turn a spark into a full-blown crescendo of fireworks, you get me?
The same day the news went ape shit over this virus flu business I was far away from anything resembling civilisation. I’d filled my tank and got the hell out of dodge before my web trapped me completely. Don’t think of me as a coward, but a survivor. My car died on me in the middle of nowhere, miles from a gas station or motel. Proof I don’t plan ahead very far.
At the top of a hill out in the countryside I cruised to a stop and sat in silence. Vast green fields and valleys stretched out before me. I watched cloud shadows race across the landscape and thought of the tornado of chaos I’d left behind. The city was an oppressive place when I left, in more ways than one. Flat grey skies hunkered over the skyline like an angry boy staring at an ant hill. But out in the country the sun had got his hat on. Hip, hip, hip, hooray.
I wanted to feel refreshed but my mind was awash with angry lightning, pins and needles and shouting.
I knew I could keep running. I had money stashed in various bank accounts. I could start again only this time keep the lies to a minimum.
No. No lies this time.
I had to do it right.
A glimmer of hope sank its sweet teeth into my brain. It could all work out if I kept on the straight and narrow. No more dodgy stuff.
If only it was that easy.
Round and round I went, my brain racing ahead with plans for a clean start, only for the memories of my lies to be caught in that sticky web. Everything I was and everything I owned was gained through lies heaped on lies.
In fit of panic I threw open the door, burst from the car and strode away.
I needed distance from the lies.
Maybe that was the trick. Get away from everything bad and the good would return, if it had ever been there to begin with. I’m sure if Katie Simmons hadn’t talked me into stealing those sweeties, placing my feet on my track of lies, none of this would’ve happened. That was the first time I’d ever lied. If I had a time machine…well, life could have been so different.
And that was also bullshit. I had to stop blaming other people for my mistakes.
I stared at the deep valley below.
The bottom was filled with jagged rocks.
No. That wasn’t the answer. Being dead wouldn’t absolve me. Not that I hadn’t thought about it before. I’m sure everyone’s wondered about it at least once. But it’s not a solution. Being dead is nothing. You don’t get relief or peace or an escape because you’re dead and therefore you can’t enjoy any of those things.
Away. Far away. That was the answer. I could head for Spain. I had a friend who ran a bar on the Med. Costa something.
I walked along the road.
Anything to get away from my life, my old life of lies.
An hour later I rounded a bend and saw a farm-house tucked away against the side of the hill. I knew it was an hour because I checked my Tag. Then I ripped it from my wrist and threw it over the stone wall that lined the road. That prompted me to think of putting some distance between me and my old life. The money I’d used to buy my suit, shoes, jewellery…everything, none of it was mine.
I came close to losing it. I felt tainted by the smell of my cologne. My clothes itched and my feet hurt. My shoes cost £900 but they weren’t made for hiking. Those little webs wrapped around my feet and burned me to my bones.
That got me thinking. How could I ever distance myself from the lies and make a fresh start? I needed money to get out of the country. But it was tainted. Where did I draw the line? Did I hand over half my secret stash to charity and keep the rest? Would that be enough to help me feel better?
It reminded me of a joke an “import export” dealer told me: “What’s round and snarling? A vicious circle.”
I laughed at the time, till tears rolled down my face. I genuinely found it funny, but it was partly show for a deal I needed to make. The guy was a prick, all Armani, chunky gold bracelets and cigars that smelled of rotten cabbages. I bought my first Mercedes with that deal.
I decided the first chance I got I’d dump my clothes.
That first chance came sooner than I expected.
The sign said Cherry Blossom Farm – Honist Produse – Honist Pricis.
Gotta love country folk.
I walked the length of the flint wall to the entrance and gazed at the rocky road that led to the farm-house. For a fleeting moment it looked idyllic, miles from anywhere, bathed in warm sunshine, disconnected from the rest of the world. I spotted the satellite dish on the side of the house and scowled. Not far away enough for my needs.
“T’aint fe sale mister.”
I jumped at the unexpected sound.
“Savin ye the bother like.”
Lost in my thoughts I hadn’t noticed the old man leaning on the other side of the wall. Next to him was a small battered blue cool box. On the front a faded Coca-Cola sticker snapped in the breeze. His clothing was green, brown and shabby, perfect camouflage for blending in with the surroundings. With a skinny finger he nudged back his cap and fixed me with a questioning look.
“For sale?” I asked him.
“No. T’aint. I heard ye posh car coming a long ways away. Ye one of them propty agents?”
“Be that what they call em ye.”
“I’m not an estate agent,” I replied. “My car broke down.” I pointed at the road behind as if that would explain things. “I’m just trying to get…I’m just walking.”
“Everyone be headin some place.”
“Yeah. We all need to be somewhere.”
“Cept me. Here’s where I belong and ain’t no bugger gonna tell me otherwise.”
“Good for you.” I gazed at the farm house. “Wish I could find a place I was supposed to be.”
“No doubt ye’ll find it when ye stop movin.”
I smiled. “That’s pretty deep.”
“Dunno bout that, lad, but I say it be the truth.”
“Is there a petrol station near here?”
The farmer stroked the white whiskers on his face and gestured at the road. “Be a station along a ways, mebbe twelve mile. Won’t do ye no good wi’out a petrol can, lad.”
I never intended to return for my car. My precious Mercedes. So why did I lie? I hid my disgust.
“I can buy one when I get there.”
“Shrewd.” The farmed grunted and spat something against his side of the wall. “No point luggin burdens to a fro when fro be plenty.”
“My thoughts exactly,” I said. Oh the lies. They wouldn’t leave me alone.
“Can’t say I envy you, lad. Heard ye coming a mile off. Ye be clod in city shoes. Ain’t fit fe walkin no more’n a few yards. Ye feet got me sympthis.”
I looked down at my Tanino Crisci and saw the sign on the opposite wall for the first time. Honesty Box £1. An arrow pointed to a box that wasn’t there.
“What’s an Honesty Box for?”
The farmer gave me a look that said I was purposely asking a stupid question. “So folk can be honest.”
“Ye pays ye pound to show ye be honest,” said the farmer.
“But there’s no box.”
“Used to be one. Wind took it off three year past.”
“If there’s no box how can you expect people to be honest?”
“That’s why I got this,” said the farmer. He patted his cool box. “Ain’t got time to mess wi bits of box. I had cattle to feed, chickens to scrummage through an a hundred other things ye city folk care not a jot fe. When ye luck runs low in the city ye jus borrow to get by. Out here when life gets tough we does what we can do get through.”
He was mocking me and rightly so. No one really understands where food comes from. We drive to the mega-super-24-7-market, take stuff from shelves and eat it. No one cares how it gets there so long as it does. Maybe one day when it’s gone we’ll care a bit more.
“So what do I get for a pound?”
“Ye tells me what ye be looking to get,” said the farmer. “And be honest bout it.”
“Like what?” I asked. I felt like he was teasing me. With nothing to sell how could he expect anyone to pop a pound in his cool box?
“Ye think I’m out here for me jollies?” asked the farmer, a ravine creased into his forehead. “Farmin be a tough business, lad. Someone stops an I makes my way down here with me Honesty Box. They tells me what’s on their mind an I take their money. Don’t need no big city brain to work that out.”
I wasn’t sure what he was getting at. His reluctance to be specific bothered me and I decided it was probably better if I kept walking. I didn’t like the idea of walking through the hills at night.
“Thanks for the chat,” I said, moving away. “I’m going to walk on to the station.”
“Running away be more like it.”
I turned back. The farmer ignored my stare.
“City folk,” he said with a shake of his head. “So busy. So blind. Think us out in the country be dumb uneducated yokels. I know a runner, lad.”
“A runner?” I strolled back, trying to look nonchalant and hide my intrigue.
“Leavin it all behind, right?”
“I…no, like I said, my car broke down and I’m going to get some petrol.”
The farmer flipped the lid on his Honesty Box.
Curious, I fished out a pound coin from my pocket and dropped it into the box. It bounced on the bottom. I was his first customer of the day.
“Yes,” I said with a sigh. “I’m running. I’m not interested in petrol. I just want to get as far away from here as possible.”
“Honesty.” The farmed gave me a smile. He was missing two teeth. “I like honest folk.”
“You should hate me then.”
The farmer shrugged. “Don’t know ye, lad. So far ye paid a pound, that’s honesty enough.”
“One honest deal doesn’t make up for a life time of lies though,” I replied.
“Well no, be sure as day follows night,” said the farmer. “But do it feel refreshing to tell a truth?”
Actually it did. For once I had spoken words that weren’t lies. I disagreed with the farmer. My one truth didn’t even come close to bringing any sort of balance between the lies I had spread. It barely covered the lie about going to the petrol station.
“My car’s a Mercedes. Top of the line with all the extras.” I turned and looked along the road. “I didn’t pay for it. Not technically. Not through hard work anyway.” I fetched the keys out of my pocket and placed them on the wall. “Take them. Do what you want with the car. I won’t be needing it again.”
The farmer barely glanced at the keys as if they were worthless. “And what do ye need?”
“Something fresh. Something untainted.”
The lid of the box opened again. I dropped another pound coin inside.
“Ill gotten gains sap the spirit, lad,” said the farmer. “But ner so much as a life of sin.”
“Sin.” I tested the word. “That’s my life in a nutshell. Ever since Kate Simmons told me to steal those sweets.”
The farmer clicked his tongue and lifted the lid. “She told you to steal them?”
I sighed and dropped in another pound. “Yes and no. I didn’t have to steal them. I could have said no. But I didn’t and I lied to my Gram about it.”
“Lies be the enemy of honesty.”
“It’s taken all my life to learn that,” I said.
“A lesson learnt be a lesson ner forgot.”
“Wish I could forget all the lessons I’ve learnt.”
The farmer pushed back his cap and pointed at the fields. “See them sheep?”
There were sheep, hundreds of them, though not quite where he was pointing. They picked their way up the hillside. I wondered what life would be like as a sheep, carefree, nothing much to worry about except grass and the occasional grooming session.
“I oft wish I never traded me wheat fields fe em,” the farmer continued. “Naught but bother they be. I learnt how to care fe em, feed em, give em shelter and fe what? Bother. When I first saw em goin about their way I wish I had my beautiful wheat fields back instead.”
“So get your wheat fields back.”
The farmer spat on the wall. “Can’t. Won’t. I learnt me lesson. Sheep are good. I traded wheat for sheep an every year I got wool and lamb. I thought I were mistaken but no. Sheep brought me joy. I loved to watch them playing an eating, jumping around and living life. Wheat looks pretty but it ain’t sheep.”
“Do you think I can trade my lies for honesty by telling the truth?”
“Ye. Church types call it absolution or confession.” The farmer waved his hand. “I call it trading. Bad for good.”
I stared at the Honesty Box. I’d run out of coins. I pulled out my wallet. The farmer raised his eye brows but lifted the lid when I insisted I wasn’t joking. I dropped three fifties inside.
“It’s about bringing balance back isn’t it?” I asked him.
“If ye believe that.”
The lies came out. Slowly at first, the smaller ones making way for the whopper’s, the ones that stung my throat as the words scratched their way out of me. It wasn’t easy and looking back I wonder if my Gram was right, that lies are little devils that wrap themselves around your soul and don’t want to let go. Because that’s what it felt like – wrenching those little dark bastards out of my chest and into that Honesty Box.
The farmer stood in silence as my lies turned to truths. He never spoke when I told how I’d lied my in to bed with gorgeous women only to leave them penniless months later. Not a word was said when I explained how the deals I’d made caused untold hurt to friends and family and how I’d dodged my way around being beaten to death by placing the blame on someone else.
There were lies upon lies, each one hurt more than the last. I cried. I shouted. I slammed my hands against the flint wall and stamped back and forth as the lies poured out of me. At one point I thought I was going to have a heart attack from the stress. By the time I was finished the sun had dipped low over the hills and a deep blanket of red smothered the sky.
I wiped away my tears. I don’t know what I expected but somewhere deep inside I wanted the farmer to forgive me for leading a morally corrupt life without remorse until now.
The farmer said nothing for a long time.
Then he slowly bent down and after a muffled grunt and a couple of quiet curses he pulled a heavy brown sack up to the wall.
“What’s that?” I asked.
The farmer stuck a hand inside. “Finest carrots, broccoli, leaks an a handful of beets.”
That wasn’t what I expected. “Who’s it for?”
“I don’t want a load of vegetables,” I said, certain the farmer was again mocking me.
“Ye paid for em, lad.”
And then it dawned on me.
The Honesty Box was for his crops.
I noticed his clothes were rough and torn. His cap must have been decades old and his eyes…milky white and blue.
I stuck my tongue out at him but he didn’t respond.
He had sheep, cattle and chickens, once. He’d traded wheat for sheep and who knows what else until he had nothing left but a vegetable patch. I wouldn’t be surprised if some callous bastard had swiped almost everything he had from under him through an endless series of lies.
There was no Honesty Box under the sign because he couldn’t see to make a new one. The gate in the wall was in serious need of repair and when I looked again at the house I didn’t see the typical farm-house but a run down building that had seen better days.
To say I felt ashamed didn’t even come close.
All my life I’d preyed on vulnerable people just like the farmer. I’d poured my heart and soul out to him and he’d listened when all he hoped for was a few honest pounds. For a moment I considered taking the sack and walking away. I actually reached for it but stopped myself.
“You know there’s a saying about money,” I said.
“Ye? Be many a sayin bout money. Which one ye be fishin for?”
“A hard days work for a hard days pay.”
“Ah. A good sayin.”
“I don’t think I’ve earned all that’s in here,” I said. I know there’s a thing about other senses growing more acute when one is lost, but I hoped he didn’t know how much paper money I had dropped in his Honesty Box. “How about we come to a better arrangement?”
The farmer cocked his head. “An honest arrangement?”
“Based on the truth.”
“Speak ye truth, lad.”
I looked at the farm-house then out across the fields. It was peaceful and quiet.
“Let’s say I do some real work to pay for that food,” I said. “Good old-fashioned sweat and grind. It’s getting dark and I’ll need a place to stay. How about we start with me cooking us a meal and tomorrow we see what I can do to earn my keep?”
The farmer placed his hand on the sack and scratched the whiskers on his face. Unshaven not through desire.
“A fine offer ye put forward, lad,” he said. “How do I know I can trust ye?”
“In truth you don’t. But I’m through with lies. My Gram used to say ‘Lies are the devils way of tormenting the soul.’ I’m done with the devil’s ways. I don’t want my old life back. I was looking for a place I was supposed to be. I think now I can stop moving.”
“Ye be askin for a second chance?”
“Well, maybe a twentieth chance but yes, a chance to redeem myself.”
The farmer turned his face to the sky. “There’s a storm comin in.”
The sky was clear and as a beautiful as a painting. “I don’t see a storm.”
“City folk. Too busy to spare time for what be goin on outside their own little worlds.”
“I know what that’s like.”
“I ner said naught bout the weather,” said the farmer. He held out his hand. I shook it. “Come inside, lad. Shelter for the truth. That’s the deal.”
With a last look at the crimson sky I slung the sack over my shoulder and we walked up to the farm-house. When the storm came I was grateful for our isolation.
But more than that I was indebted to a farmer and his Honesty Box.
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write between 50 and 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 5 photos as a prompt. The twisteroo this week was to write a story with a twist, the idea being too lure the reader down one path then switch them to another one.
I was instantly drawn to the Honesty Box mainly because there wasn’t one! I started out with a guy who had nothing but lies in his life, running away, not sure where he was going. I had an idea, or a vague sense of direction, although the twist was a big surprise to me! I didn’t expect it to go that way, but then that’s the magic of writing, winging it and seeing what happens as those words dance across the screen.
Strangely this story sort of ties in with my novel, The Range, as it did with That Day. Only loosely this time with barely a mention of any virus or choas, a mere hint here and there. As I’m in editing mode I’m enjoying the idea of writing different pieces but tying them in with my novel. The man on the run from the city escaped just in time before the chaos struck, unlike the two guys in That Day who got stuck in the middle of it.
And then the farmer seemed to know there was a “storm” coming because he listened to the radio or TV. So whilst not directly related to The Range, it is another side story to the main plot.
NOTE: Indigo Spider has moved to a new domain – http://www.indigospider.org – If you were a previous subscriber to her blog you’ll need to re-subscribe.
This picture prompt is called Honestly by Michelle Orai – http://takingsnaps.wordpress.com
Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.