The Charter were on the move again: drifters on one lifelong trip some called them. Whether the ties that bound were injected straight into the blood, or washed in slowly through endless sessions of soporific doctrine the result was the same: join and your mind became theirs. The group’s leader, ‘The Great Helix’, used to push life insurance back east. These days he sells his malleable young followers on the promise of a true afterlife, ‘the only real salvation’ as he calls it. There aren’t any coloured robes, no mystical chanting, no outward signs of religious or spiritual zealousness – no free love. Just plain ordinary, means you never really see them coming. By then it can be too late.
Charlie had been with the Charter for the best part of his adult life. Like a lot of the flock he’d been a troubled kid; like all of the flock he’d learned to forget. Once within the all consuming grip of the Charter you didn’t have a previous life – you’d only had the path which led you to where you now stood. Families, crimes, pains – all forgotten, all left behind. From there on in your goals were shared, your problems borne by others. Charlie had quickly established himself as one of the Charter’s best recruiters – a combination of his boyish, if somewhat faded good looks, and a refusal to be discouraged by even the most disinterested of prospects made him one of the Helix’s favoured children.
This morning the cobbled central streets of Valeranna were busy with late winter shoppers. Just the faintest hint of frost tinged the air as the Charter pulled off the 78 and into town. As ever, the great one was not to be seen. Instead it was Charlie who once more reaffirmed to his fellow believers the value of persistence. Despite Charlie’s best efforts, numbers had been falling in recent years – Valeranna though had been fertile hunting ground for the Charter in the past: Charlie himself began his own path to salvation from this small, coastal commuter town. For years his heartbroken mother tried desperately to get in touch, to bring him home. However, Charlie like all true members of the Charter turned his back. He only had one family now.
His return to Valeranna was proving a tough pitch. While others flagged and angled to pack up for the day, Charlie remained hopeful. It was then he saw her: she looked like someone seeking an answer.
‘Excuse me lady, can I interest you in the true path to Salvation?’ he began.
The woman turned to face her assailant. Black, tightly bunched hair flecked with grey; the shadows under her eyes hinting at an unsought excess of cares and worry. She didn’t look an old woman by any means. However, she looked tired; she looked like she needed salvation. As Charlie readied himself to rescue another lost soul he paused – an unwelcome, slightly queasy feeling of vague familiarity momentarily flustering his normally equable delivery of Charter rhetoric.
‘Chucky? Chucky, is that you?’ asked the woman.
‘My name is Charles, and I implore you to seek Salvation in the arms of the Charter. Please, read this leaflet,’ he replied.
‘Chucky, is this where you’ve been hiding all this time?’
‘I think you must be confusing me with someone else, madam. My only family is the Charter. Why don’t you come and visit with us. We have a meeting here in town later this evening. You will be more than welcome.’
‘I don’t know what these people have done to you, but some things can’t be forgotten, Chucky – your mother, my sister, surely you remember her? Six years she looked for you, her only son. Blamed herself for your problems – it drove her into an early grave. Did you know that? Do you even care?’
‘You sound troubled – we can remove your burdens. Please, come and join us this evening,’ Charlie added.
‘No, Chucky. I can live with myself just fine. It’s you I worry about. I truly hope you do find peace son. I really do. Your poor mother certainly didn’t.’
With that the woman turned and left – Charlie’s empty stare watching as she gradually disappeared from view. Any fleeting, fugitive chill of uncomfortable, personal memory once more safely returned to the depths of the Charter’s forgiving, collective conscious.
‘Come on people. We have a meeting to get ready for. This town needs our help. Let’s get to it!’ he snapped, as flakes of snow began to fall gently on the now deserted street.
These words form my entry into the speakeasy writing challenge. I hope you like them!