Stephen was born in Canada but grew up in Scotland and the Republic of South Africa.
He has had short stories published in various magazines, anthologies and broadcast on local radio. His stage/radio scripts have been performed at the New Venture Theatre, Brighton, the Alma Tavern Bristol, the Actors Guild in London and on the Bath, Salisbury and Stroud Fringes.
In 2014 Stephen completed an MA in Scriptwriting for Film, Theatre, Radio and TV at Bath Spa University. He is currently recording radio plays for local radio and writing a novel about Magic. His blog can be found here
I have included two short pieces, A Traveller’s Tale and News from the North.
A collection of my short stories, Remember My Name and Other Stories, is available as an eBook on Amazon and iTunes.
A Traveller’s Tale
Anton Göbler made his last voyage today, a distance of not quite two miles. Short compared to the journeys that made him famous and also slow, Anton weighing several tonnes, once you included the granite base. With the help of a dozen large men (plus van) from the city’s Parks Department, Anton left the dusty square in which he was placed a hundred years ago. By evening his bronze face, green with age, was gazing at our city’s main train station, surrounded by late commuters.
It was Anton’s wealthy family who made his adventuring life possible. Anton grew up reading tales of Stanley and Livingstone, Burton and Speke: red blooded men who discovered vast tracts of land while facing down recalcitrant natives. Young Anton dreamt of becoming an explorer himself and fixed on the goal of discovering the legendary Lake Alph, reputedly the source of all the waters of sub-Saharan Africa.
As soon as he came of age, Anton ignored the advice of his family and used his inheritance to finance an expedition. Six months later he disembarked from his ship on the East coast of Africa, instantly falling in love with his first sight of the country. Six weeks later a party of Sukuma porters deposited young Anton on the shores of what was probably Lake Victoria. Sadly, the light dancing on the water was the last thing Anton ever saw. For during the journey up country – having a delicate constitution – he had unfortunately succumbed to some of the most devastating vermin and virulent infections known to man. He was dead within the hour.
At first the porters did not know what to do with his body. It had been a long and tiring journey and there was now nobody to give them orders. Eventually, their headman had an idea.
Being all too familiar with the Lake (the reason he had been hired in the first place), the headman persuaded his fellows that they were now free to do some exploring of their own. After a day’s rest they picked up their burdens – including the late Anton – and set off to visit the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, which they had heard of but never seen. After a day or so exploring the ruins, they handed over the remains of young Anton to some local Matabele and headed home. These Matabele also felt a sudden desire for exploring. They picked up young Anton’s remains – now beginning to look the worse for wear – and set off for the mysterious Mapungubwe, on the banks of the distant Limpopo river, a place they had heard of but never visited. After spending some time there they handed over the body to some local Venda and turned for home. The Venda, intrigued in their turn, took charge of young Anton and began planning their own expedition.
And so it went on. As the months and years went by, Anton – his body undergoing a slow, natural mummification – criss-crossed the continent in fits and starts, passed from tribe to tribe, nation to nation.
What inspired each tribe, each clan to begin their journey? We can never know. But it remains a fact that no sooner had anyone set eyes on Anton’s body than they were seized with a desire to visit far away places. Perhaps his death provoked a sense of guilt, a reminder that he had given his life to do something they had never bothered about, driven by curiosity about a landscape they themselves took for granted.
Whatever the true reason the late Anton had soon visited more glorious and mysterious places than he could ever have imagined while alive. And while he never reached the legendary (and in fact non-existent) Lake Alph, the places he did visit more than made up for it: the lost pyramids of the Sudan, the rock paintings of the Amahaggar, the ruins of Kör, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the terrifying source of the Green Nile.
Over the years rumours of his wanderings reached Western ears and slowly the story was put together, for Anton’s remains have never been seen by a European since the day he left the coast all those years ago. And who knows? Perhaps even now Anton continues his eternal voyage, at the head of some band of cheerful explorers, inspiring everyone he meets with a thirst for travel.
So, Anton Göbler’s statue completed its last journey and now stands (appropriately enough) opposite the city’s fine new train station. A fine tribute to perhaps the greatest ever African explorer, although (so far) nobody who has seen it has been inspired to travel any further than the out of town supermarket, some 5 miles away.
News From the North
She stops exhausted at the top of the hill, the North Wind slapping her face as she clears the ridge. She has no breath left to continue: the ascent and the North Wind have taken it all.
She looks back down the sun-bleached hill at the two figures and realises they will reach her soon. Furious, tears running down her face, she stumbles on aching legs towards the final ridge, towards the sea itself; whose voice she can hear, whose voice blots out every other thing but the North Wind and the gulls wheeling above.
And when she gets there, when she looks down over the precipice, the sea leaps at the sight of her, tossing foam like lace.
A gull screams in her ear, shocking her into movement. She tears at her clothes with icy fingers, leaning into the North Wind. She tries to stay calm, to ignore the sounds behind her, the cries that do not come from the gulls. It is unbelievably cold. Already she is numb, the pale sun powerless to warm her. Naked, she stumbles towards the very edge of the cliff, the black rocks tearing her feet, making her bleed, making her gasp with pain.
There’s almost no time left: they will be there any moment.
She takes a deep breath, but the North Wind snatches the air from her lungs, slaps her face, screams in her ears.
But she is not deterred. The North wind is why she is here. Her goal, ever since hearing the news of his death, ever since the realisation that she was not going to see him again; that he was lost forever in some icy hell at the roof of the world.
To come to this place and seek out the North Wind, at as close a point to him as possible; the hope that after breathing enough of the North Wind, feeling it on her skin, tasting and smelling it, she will one day recognise some trace of him, some spark of his existence.
I’ll know, she tells herself. I’ll know!
They have almost reached her, but she carries on, laughing and crying and breathing in and out. Standing tall and proud, taking one deep breath after another, her aching arms spread wide in welcome, gazing into the North.
The North Wind stills, caresses her skin like a lover, sighs in her ear.
Her parents stand behind her, old and confused. Breathless from the climb, they clutch each other in their misery and incomprehension. Do they suppose that she means to kill herself, perched like a gull on this sheer face?
Kill herself, when there is so much news to listen to?
And the North Wind gives another shout, rubbing its words like salt into all their faces.