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The 400 year old Fabrini Mystery

Space Ships 17

Fear took hold of Dargon’s mind as a laser was thrust hard into the back of his neck.

“It wouldn’t be in your best interests to kill me friend.”

“No, but if you give me no choice, I will,” replied the dark looking stranger.

“You know I am the only one who can pilot this ship!”

“I am well aware of the dedicated thought control technology used by this space-liner.”

“There’s nothing to be gained by hi-jacking this craft, we are only a humble space-liner.”

“By no means are your passengers humble, for I am well aware of your sensitive cargo, and destination.  It would be better for all concerned if they did not reach the peace talks on Rosario.  So we will be going to an alternative destination, until the peace talks are over.”

“You won’t get away with hi-jacking this ship, sensors will detect you, as the ship is scanned prior to take off.”

“Don’t worry about that, they won’t detect me, and my men, it has all been taken care of.  You just keep quiet, and don’t try any tricks, and you just might live to fight another day.”

A laser was smashed against the side of Dargon’s head, drawing blood, as he tried to activate the ship’s warning sensors, indicating there was trouble aboard.

“That’s just a gentle warning, next time I won’t be so gentle.”

Fear ran through every bone in Dargon’s body, fear of being shot.  He knew, that for the moment, he would have to bide his time.  Maybe, just maybe, the attempt of galactic seizure, might backfire, giving Dargon his chance to overpower his assailant.

The man was smiling.  “Quite impressive,” he said in a favourable voice.  “Your reputation goes before you; formerly a privateer, and navigator, made your name during the Intergalactic Wars, as one of ten, awarded the prestigious sapphire encrusted bar, for your part in the Pelican Battle, one which has gone down in history.”

“Your exploits across the galaxy have made you a legend, some say you are a hero of your time, while other’s still refer to you as a privateer.   On one attack, your fleet of twelve battle hardened cruisers, slipped through a wormhole, capturing three star-cruisers, destroying twelve battle ships, and capturing over 20,000 warriors,”

“Just rumours, and rumours have a tendency to be exaggerated, from one to another.”

“Maybe so!”

“I don’t even know your name, what do I call you?”

“You can refer to me by the name Bandrill.”

There was a moment’s silence as the significance of the name sunk in.  Dargon was convinced he had heard this name when he was a young boy, growing up on the mining colonies.  “Are…you an android?”

“I am an existential life form of a thirty-two year old male, strong and physically fit, and currently using industrial flesh to pose in this primitive state.”

“An explanation was not necessary,” replied Dargon.

“There be ten high ranking officials aboard this ship, from the Earth’s Alliance?”

“That is correct, with their personal advisers, due to attend the peace conference.”

“They were but now this ship and all on board are my prisoners,” said Bandrill, in a harsh and sadistic manner.  “ I am only interested in making sure they don’t reach the peace conference.”

“You will never get away with it, they will find us.  You can’t possibly hide a ship of this size!”

Bandrill smiled harshly for a moment.  “They will never find you, only I and my men will know your whereabouts.  Now enter these co-ordinates into the ship’s Automatic Navigational Systems,” thrusting the details into his hands.

The ship’s speed throttled down, after crossing the galaxy for three hours at Warp 5, crossing from the alpha to the omega system.

“We have reached our destination, so prepare for landing…I will guide the way,” stated Bandrill.

Dargon gazed out into the emptiness of space.  “But there are no planets out here.”

“It is not as empty as you think…bring us close into that star,” as Bandrill indicated, some three thousand kilometres off their port side.

Strangely enough, the star was an unpopulated chunk of ice, according to the ship’s sensors.

A buzzing sound, activated on the console, they had activated a security defence screen.  A few hundred metres in front of them, three Centurion space-crafts de-cloaked.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” stated Dargon.

Bandrill smirked.

“Enter your access code.  You have three minutes to comply, or be blown apart!”

“I was expecting this…a planetary defence system set up for our guests,” Bandrill spoke out loud, as he entered the code into the ship’s communication system…almost immediately access was granted, and the Centurion space-crafts re-cloaked, and landing lights lit up, directing their path.

“The star shielded a cloaked planet, that’s a first,” stated Dargon.

Dargon stood beside the hatch in the frigid morning air, wearing an insulated suit, which seemed useless against the harsh, sub’ degree weather of this planet.

As he studied their surroundings, two of his crew attempted to move away from the ship, when they were gunned down by laser blasts, from automated gun-posts some ten paces out from the ship.

Dargon cringed with fear, he couldn’t believe what had just happened.  “We are trapped good and proper,” he said lightly to himself, not wanting to alarm his passengers.

His eyes fell upon mounds in the ground, just a short distance from the nose of the ship.  Hurling a rock at one of these mounds, a nanosecond later, the ground erupted with an ear shattering explosion.  “Mines!  Mines!”

Will Bandrill keep his promise, and return, or have we been left to die on this planet?  We can only last a few months at best, for he has taken the ship’s Dilithium Matrix Power Converter, and Communications Array, without them we are doomed.

The winds were picking up, odd-shaped flurries began to fall.  A blizzard was heading their way.  The air was different, a damp deadening cold.  Forcing Dargon and his fellow prisoners to button down the hatches and wait out for Bandrill’s return.

Rumours spread across the galaxy, that the Rebel Alliance Battle Fleet was amassing on the neutral zone border, close to the dormant planet of Acturial.

In the space of eight days, fifty plus Battle Cruisers, ten Star-Ships had exited the warp gate.  They were waiting…

The much awaited news reached the Rebel Alliance, Bandrill and his men, were instrumental in the capture of the peace envoy…

This one single action, persuaded men and women from all walks of life to fight for what they belied in.

Bandrill was very tall, in appearance, and most terrifying.

The forces of the Rebel Alliance had won a victory.  Their cause was just, they would rather die than be slaves to the Earth’s Alliance.  They outranked Earth’s Alliance by twenty-five to one, but their opposition were skilled combat fighters.

At first glance, it didn’t look good for Earth’s Alliance.  With orbital fortresses and ion-gun emplacements, floating along the neutral-zone border, their numbers were no match against the Rebel Fleet.  But they had an ace up their sleeves.  What appeared to be a dormant planet, within sight of the border, was in fact a planetary defence screen that would vaporize any invading ship or missile.

By the end of the first battle, 70,000 troops had been slaughtered, thirty Battle Cruisers, and ninety short-range combat fighters destroyed.

 

Regor is the name, captain of the Eagle scout ship, working with my partner of eight years; Merton.   Our existence came about by the need for law and order in the galaxies, leading to the formation of the Inter-Galactic Federation, responsible for galaxy wide security.

Our current assignment would take us clean across to the other side of the galaxy.

Adrenaline pumps its way through my heart, as I prepare to launch my ship into the darkness of a worm hole, opening up before me.  I have done it so many times, but still my body fears each trip.  Could it be sheer terror?

My body tingles from head to foot, vision is impaired, and colours blurred, as my body races through time.  Crossing many galaxies, many timelines in a matter of minutes.

According to our history records, this worm hole is believed to be, as old as time itself.

At the far end, the worm hole opens into another dimension of space; a sun circled by a red atmosphere and a group of eight planets come into view as the ship is spewed out at high speed.  Seven appear to be lifeless, covered in a deep coating of ice; the remaining one indicates a living planet, standing apart from the others.

The single planet, is encircled within an asteroid field, even though most of the asteroids are barely more than the size of one’s fist, still large enough to do serious damage to one’s ship.

Curiosity got the better of Merton, as he fires a probe into the planets atmosphere.  “We want answers don’t we,” looking in the direction of his partner Regor, but he does not hear, for he is dozing away, unaware of the mystery unfolding before them.

The onboard collision alarm rings out through the flyer, as Regor is brought harshly to his senses.

Scrambling to the controls, just in time to see the flyer being drawn steadily closer and closer into the asteroid field…and danger.

“Hit the reverse thrusters,” he shouted.  “We are being dragged into that asteroid field,” gazing out of the flyer’s forward window.

Once out of range, Regor gazes at his partner, waiting for an explanation.  “So where are we, and what gives?” he blurts out in an authoritarian voice.”

“We have reached our destination, but the onboard  mapping system is wrong, for there are eight planets in this sector of space, not seven.”

“So a new planet has evolved, just mark it up, and let’s move on.”

“Not so quick my friend, this new planet is encircled by an asteroid field; and I have sent a probe into its atmosphere,”  Merton stated.  “The probes data, informs us the planet is capable of sustaining life…and that’s part of our brief, to find new habitable planets.”

“Are there any signs of life down there?”

“None, but our sensors and data probe, have detected a space craft on the surface.”

Regor’s eyes lit up at the mention of a space craft on the surface.

“We had better check this planet out, now we have discovered it.  The neutral zone border is only an hour away at warp 2.0, and many battles have been fought and lost there.  Centuries have come and gone.  This part of space holds many memories of a colourful and bloody history.  There’s even unsubstantial rumours that the rebels once had a base along the neutral zone,” quoted Regor.  Giving his young partner a history lesson of events that once affected this quadrant of space.

Regor, followed by Merton clambered down into the two man shuttle; she was sleek and black, like a long rocket, with finely sculptured fins and wings, accessed from the rear of their ship. Merton closed the shuttle’s hatch whilst Regor activated the bay’s decompression chamber, then dimmed the lights, as the doors slowly hinged open.

Mechanical supports lowered the shuttle, some two metres clear of the doors, the engines were activated, and the clamps securing the shuttle disengaged, releasing the shuttle into space.

The sight that greeted them was a planet surrounded by an asteroid field, and a sea of yellow and green gasses.  For a split second in time, Regor turned and looked at his partner, then activated the thrust controls, hurtling them into space, on a direct path towards the asteroid field and the planet beyond.

Thoughts wandered through their minds, at what might lay down there…a mystery centuries old awaited them!

Regor did not start to get nervous until Merton’s face turned a sickly greenish colour, upon approach to the dreaded asteroid field.  The look upon his face was enough to freeze one’s blood.

“Could we not give this planet a miss,” suggested Merton, through his chattering teeth.  “Today is not a good day to die.”

“If you hadn’t sent a probe, we wouldn’t even be attempting it,” replied Regor, ignoring the suggestion, and accelerated as they entered the asteroid field, surrounding the planet.  By now, Merton was gripping onto the seat tightly, as his knuckles turned white.

Merton glanced out the port window, only to see cluster’s of asteroids, skim past with only metres between them and the shuttlecraft, whilst the collision alarm was blaring away in the background.

The shuttle began to veer rapidly as it evaded a thick population of asteroids.  Rolling from one side to another, they flew up and over one, then buzzed below another, flew within a metre of one to the left.  The shuttle was flying, rolling, and swerving at such unbelievable high speeds; that one mistake, and they would be sent reeling, into the path of an incoming asteroid.

“We are through, we are through,” shouted Regor.  “The planet is just ahead of us now.”

“We live to fight another day!” Quoted a relieved Merton.

Merton scanned the planets surface, and indicated a suitable landing area some 2,000 metres to the north, of their current position, as a suitable landing area.

“Okay!  Okay!  I see it,” replied Regor tense as always when preparing to land.  They dropped down over the tree line, and with a mighty thud hit the ground, and bounced along the surface a further 3,000 metres or so, before coming to an abrupt halt, as the shuttle vibrated, and they plunged deep into the undergrowth at the far end of the clearing.

“That sure was a rough landing,” commented Merton, whilst holding on tightly to his seat.

There was no reply, Regor’s facial fur turned a deep shade of red, a sign of anger.

Merton just sat in his seat, glad to be down in one piece.  His heavily furred face, turned deep pink, as he blushed for a few moments.

They were greeted by a wondrous sea of yellow and green sky, and a never ending forest, with an array of coloured flowers, as they exited the shuttle.

It was Merton, first out with his scanner who detected something.  “Regor, over here,” he indicated.  “Looks like the remains of an ingrained channel, could be the result of landing a spacecraft. It is in the right area according to our probe.”

Regor looks down at the old tracks gouged into the ground…smiles to himself, but says nothing.  Without a second thought, both officer’s started hacking their way through the semi-undergrowth as they follow the tracks, heading ever closer to their target; the space-craft.

“Merton! Merton!” Regor shouts out in distress.  “My head is swimming, and I am having difficulty breathing. What is wrong with me?” as he stumbles to the ground?

Merton rushes over to Regor.  “Slow down, and take some shallow breaths, the planet’s got a rich oxygen atmosphere.”

According to the computer, they had landed in the planets winter time zone, and the temperature for this time of day, was well below zero; the wind chill factor was biting through their space-suits, they had to reach their intended target, before they froze.

They finally emerged from the undergrowth, in a little under two hours, to see the space-craft standing before them.

“So why was she here?” asked Regor.  “She looks in structurally good condition.  She was not war-bird, but an ancient space-liner.”

A scattering of old bones, and weapons were detected by Merton, some fifteen metres to the north of the spacecraft.

Walking around the perimeter, a number of ancient gun emplacements, were found in the vegetation.

“Was it a battle?” asked Merton.

Regor, couldn’t think, his body was cold, frost-bite was getting to him.  “The simple question we have to ask ourselves, was it in protection of the space-craft, or its occupants?”

The ghostly ship appeared to be of an ancient design, some 400 metres in length, 35 metres wide, with at least four levels visible as they walked around it.  The lower level windows were obscured by branches, leaves, and mud; the result of gouging a path through the forest as it landed.

“I wonder what mysteries await us within?” asked Merton.  “More likely a ship full of ghosts!”

“Do you believe in ghosts? Asked Regor.

“I sure do,” replied Merton.

“Then let’s go and meet them, and get out of this cold,” replied a cautious Regor.

Snow, ice, and earth had built up forming a small mound around the ships access door.

Using their lasers they blasted away the earth and ice, and with sheer brute force, the door yielded to them, revealing majestic  styled corridors covered with years of cobwebs.

Merton and Regor found the Captain’s cabin, located off the flight deck.  They forced the sliding door open.  The sight that beheld them was a young woman sitting opposite the captain, who sat at his desk, clutching a pen in one hand.  Sadly, what he had been writing had faded away with time.  What memories they had, died with them in their frozen tomb.

Found on an adjoining table, in a metal box, was the space-crafts logbook, covered in a thick layer of dust.  Regor picked it up, and brushed away the surface dust, with the back of his hand.  The Space-Liner Fabrini commissioned into service 2945.  “That’s over four hundred years ago,” blurted out Regor.

“So where’s the crew,” Merton blurted out.

“Some of the bones outside are more likely to be members of the crew,” suggested Regor.

They and went from cabin to cabin, desperately searching for answers.  The Fabrini must have been one of the most luxurious space-liners of her time, the main lounge had been decorated like a palace.  The staterooms were sumptuously furnished.  Only twenty out of the seventy, appear to have been used; for these contained corpses still dressed in fine clothing.

“What we appear to have here, is a ship containing high ranking officials, based on their fine clothing.  Could they be delegates on a special mission?” suggested Regor, airing an idea.

Merton, shrugged his shoulders.  “One things for certain, they didn’t die a violent death.  They must have died from starvation, and cold.”

“The answer’s as to why they be on this planet in the first place, are more likely to be found within the pages of this logbook,” Regor stated, waving it in his hand.

Merton glanced at the logbook, “it should make for interesting reading.”

“These people must have died hundreds of years ago, and the passing world has forgotten them, for I can not remember anything in our history books relating to the Fabrini and her disappearance,” Regor quoted.  “A great tragedy had beheld these passengers.  Somebody must have mourned the passing of those who died here?”

A loud cracking sound broke the silence, spreading  through the length of the ship; compartment by compartment, bulkhead by bulkhead, then she started sinking very slightly towards her aft end.  At that moment fear ran through their bodies, of being trapped onboard, as the elements destroyed her.

“We had better get out of here fast,” shouted Regor.

“You don’t have to say it twice, I am right behind you,” replied Merton following in his partners footsteps.

Once out of this old space-ship, they were horrified to see that the ground was opening up, and she was slipping deeper and deeper into the ground, as it must have been doing these past four hundred years or more.

“Had our intervention, been the reason she was being swallowed up by the planet?” asked Merton.

“Anything’s possible, movement – disturbance.  The planet doesn’t want to share its secrets,” suggested Regor.

Returning to their shuttlecraft was made more exhausting, as a bitter wind of sub zero temperature had blown up, and  their feet sank deeper into the ship’s original landing tracks.

Some three hours later an exhausted Regor and Merton were back on board the Eagle Scout Ship, reminiscing of the past events on the planet and how easily they could have been buried alive down there, as they warmed themselves up with Tarludian Cognac.

“This is the Eagle Scout Ship, calling Central Command,” Regor spoke with firmness in his voice.  “This is the Eagle Scout Ship, come in please.”

“The time lag between sending the call and receiving an answer, was as much as three minutes, caused by the distance.  Their message was relayed by beacons, spread across space.”

“We read you loud and clear,” replied the Central Command controller.

“We have discovered a planet protected by an asteroid field, and went down to investigate,” stated Regor.  “The planet appears to be uninhabited, but sitting there large as life is an ancient Galaxy Class Space Liner, called Fabrini.”

There was silence from the other end, just static.  Regor thought the connection had been broken, just as quick as it disappeared, it burst into life once again.  “You did say the Fabrini, did you not?”

“That is correct.  She is over four hundred years old, according to the log book, I have before me.  She’s a real piece of history, and classy.”  Regor stated.  “We found twenty staterooms, with corpses all dressed in fine clothing.”

The line returned to static as they waited, the minutes passed by, turning into hours, then the line burst into life once again.

Well officer’s it seems you have stumbled upon a mystery, a forgotten one, surrounding the American built Galaxy Class Space-Liner Fabrini of 2945 out of New York, who disappeared without trace, some four hundred years ago.

According to our history files, it was March 2950, when the Fabrini was on route to peace talks, with the peace envoy, when she was hijacked by a mercenary group under the leadership of Bandrill, and that was the last anyone heard of them.

Bandrill openly acknowledged they were his prisoners, and demanded five million gold bars in return for their whereabouts.

We would never negotiate back then, as we wouldn’t now with terrorists…so the money was never paid, and the secret of their whereabouts died with Bandrill and his men.

Time has passed by, the Fabrini, has all but been forgotten.

This relic of the past, lies in frigid isolation.  The planet has been listed off limits to all craft, her co-ordinates have been omitted on all databases, it has become a memorial to those who died on board the Fabrini.

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Missing… Without Trace

Taxi

The ring at the door came at 6.30am.  I usually don’t rise before 10.00am, and then only with the help of my morning mug of black coffee or two.  My mouth was dry, and my brain could barely comprehend what he was saying, as I opened my front door, standing in nothing but my shorts.

“There can be no doubt in our minds that a crime has been committed, whether by you or someone else has not been determined at this point.  Circumstantial evidence exists, suggesting you may have had something to do with the mysterious disappearance of Mathew Jarvis, who has been missing these past two months.  Answer’s are required, as to how deep be your connection to Mr Jarvis?” quoted the police officer standing in the porch of Andrew Cairn’s house, waving a search warrant in his face.

Other officer’s systematically searched, or should I say trashed my home, then my taxi, standing in the drive-way.

They hauled me back to Ipswich Police Station, where they continually questioned me about Mathew Jarvis.

As I repeated to them time and time again … I am a self-employed taxi-driver, based in Norwich, but if the price is right, distance is no object.  That’s where I remember Jarvis, he climbed from my cab, and disappeared into East Lane Southwold, on the Suffolk Coastline … Each time my statement falling on deaf ears.

What had apparently started out as the mysterious disappearance of one customer had now reached three, all customers who had the misfortune to travel in my taxi?

Last week, I dropped off a short blonde woman, dressed head to toe in black, in East Lane, Southwold; two days later she was reported missing by her employers … The Chronicle.  But that’s not how the cops put it; they just kept asking me, over and over.  “What did you do with her?”

Another of my customer’s to vaporize into thin air was an estate agent, but for the life of me, I had no recollection of where I had taken him, or what he looked like.  Why should I?  My cab happens to be a convenient mode of transportation, for tourists and business people alike, hundred’s go through my cab on a weekly basis.

I remembered the reporter, for she did not look like one of those seedy individuals, digging up the dirt.  There was something different about her; you expected to see her modelling, as a page three girl.

Still they dragged me down to the police station for questioning, and I had become their number one suspect.  So far, the cops had not manufactured any evidence they could stick me in jail with, but that was not for lack of trying, so I remained free, but for how long?

The way I figured it, if I could find another connection between these three people, the cops would be forced to investigate my claim, and quit sticking to me.  I was getting a stiff neck, constantly looking over my shoulder, to check if my police tail was still there.

In my mind, thoughts rushed back to every place I had been, cross referencing it with my weekly records, in a desperate search for answers.  Until it came to me, I had picked him up, when he had flagged me down, some fifteen miles outside of Southwold, standing beside a white BMW … he had run out of petrol, and would be late for an appointment, he said.  I had taken him to 21 East Lane, Southwold, and that was the last I saw of him.

While I was searching for answers, the police were attempting to build a case against me, and as yet, hadn’t enough to charge me; but they believed foul play, was involved.

According to neighbours of Daniel Ford, the owner of 21 East Lane, Southwold, had not been seen in person for some considerable time.

An Estate Agent, Reporter, and Mathew Jarvis, have all mysteriously disappeared; and the only connection, be the house, and my taxi cab…I am doomed!

Detective Sergeant Marcus Dowelling pulled his car off the main road, and into the drive-way adjoining the home of Daniel Ford.  He stepped from his car, into the overgrown garden.  His legs became immersed up to his knees in the long swaying grasses, as they blew in the gentle breeze.

Dowelling an officer with a long experienced service in the force, sensed things were not right here, long before he reached the door.  In his fifteen years, this was the first case of disappearance of people in this manner.

Three people missing, and their only connections; the house and the taxi cab they travelled in.

As he walked towards the small white house barely visible above the lawn leading to the front door, thoughts rushed into his mind.  “People don’t just disappear without trace.  There has to be a logical reason?”

He gazed at the old white door, with peeling white paint for a moment; then turned the handle, and it swung open with a gentle push.  Dowelling reached under his jacket, and pulled out his trusty truncheon, ready for anything as the door became fully open, coming to a stop at the wall.  Since the occupant Daniel Ford had disappeared, he didn’t expect to find anyone inside, as he moved into the property, but you never know.  The front door remained open; it always pays to be cautious in my line of work – a quick escape if needed.

According to the neighbours of 21 East Lane, little was known of him, other than his name was Daniel Ford, and that he kept to himself.  He had regular habits said one; of going out each day at 10.30am and returning around 16.30pm.  Did he have a job? No one knew.  He never caused any trouble, and now he had simply vanished.

Dowelling figured that the man must have been gone for a long time to have the neighbours call in the police.  The house displayed this; it was drab and colourless, with a faint musty odour.  The lights were out; they did not work as he attempted to switch on the lights, presumably because the electric bill had not been paid in a while.  Close by laid a large box of candles with matches on top.  A fine coating of dust lay across everything.

Out of curiosity, Dowelling lifted the phone receiver on the wall; there was no tone, but that did not surprise him.  “Looks like I won’t be able to call in from the house.”

Looking around this quaint old house, Dowelling discovered a bathroom down a short narrow corridor off to the left, with a kitchen directly opposite.

vintage_typewriter

In the far corner to the rear of the property, stood a small oak desk on which stood a well worn manual typewriter.  Laid out on the table, was the missing reporter’s notebook, and identity card, also the estate agent’s paperwork.  “They had both been here,” Dowelling spoke out loud, fingering his way through the notebooks.

Whatever happened to them, the answers must lay within the confines of these four walls.

On the floor, piled up between the desk and the wall, were two-inch binders, rising from the floor like a tower towards the ceiling.  He ran his fingers across the spines of the binders.  Each one was labelled from volume one to forty, and stuffed full of printed paper.  Our Mr Ford was a writer, and a prolific one at that.

Dowelling removed the binder marked volume one, from off the top of the pile.  He walked over to the opposite side of the room, put his truncheon on the table, and sat down on a cosy looking sofa, underneath the window.  He opened the dark-blue-cover, page one was titled: Introduction.

He turned to the next page, and started to read:  “As of today, March 21, 1988, I begin my life’s work.  This and the ensuing volumes is a saga, the product of my soul and mind.  I hope that this has been worth the effort, but if it was not, I cannot tell.  This is my life, embodied in ink and paper.

“Daniel Ford.”

Dowelling turned the page and began to read the novel, for which Daniel Ford had apparently worked so hard on.  Dowelling figured that if he read the work, he may gain some clue as to what had happened to the author – reporter and estate agent.  “I will read a little bit, and see where it takes me,” he thought.

It began simply, as the words formed a vivid picture of events that had taken place:  As I walked from my office, along the crowded sidewalk at a fairly brisk pace, on my way to a working lunch in the city.

Little did I know that I was due to be assassinated that day: 21st March 2001?  A smallish guy dressed in a dark grey suit, thin faced, with swept back blonde hair, bumped straight into me.  I yelled, staggering back from the unexpected force.  “Sorry,” he muttered, as he disappeared into the crowded streets.

My forearm tingled, as my left leg started to go numb, anxiously I rubbed it, but by now it was useless.

Daniel Howard, young entrepreneur, died from drug overdose, according to the papers.  What a way to go – injected with a drug in a busy road, dead in a matter of minutes.

As I died my last thoughts were – if only I had listened to those around me – warning me that our competitors would not stand by, watching our profits grow and theirs diminish.

Dowelling reached the end of the first paragraph, stopped for a moment, sighing heavily.  Inside he could sense the story pulling him back to the words on the page, with a feeling of wonder and amazement passing through his body.  He just could not understand, why he was able to read this with ease, he mostly read police reports and the paper.  This was different from any other novel he had tried … unsuccessfully … to read.

As Dowelling plunged forth into the next paragraph, it was as though he became part of the story, and the characters came alive, laid bare before him; to explore.

Time passed by quickly, as each page was turned over, from afternoon to evening, until night darkened the room.  He lit candles, placing them on the window sill above his head, as other’s had done before him.

Time continued on, he became so engrossed in the story, as morning dawned he had nearly completed two binders.  Hunger took him out to his car, where he always carried packets of biscuits and canned drinks for stake outs, and returned to the story with them.

Munching slowly away and taking the odd drink, he blazed through the binder with renewed strength, and set it down on a new pile forming on the floor.  He started the third without breaking for a rest.  By dusk, he had progressed through binder’s three to seven, when a knocking sound echoed through the house.

Dowelling, swore at the interruption, as he gathered his thoughts and staggered to the door.  There standing before him, a young uniformed officer, no more than twenty, his right hand resting on his truncheon.

“Sergeant Dowelling, the station was worried when they had not heard from you,” as the officer relaxed his pose.

“I am conducting my own personal investigation into this case,” replied a husky voiced Dowelling.

“What shall I tell them back at the station?”

“Tell them what you like,” replied Dowelling.

As the officer turned to leave, Dowelling slammed the door and hurried back to the story.  Through the night, volumes eight through to fourteen joined the new pile.

The next day was free from interruption, so he managed to progress through to volume twenty one, before he was forced to light up some more candles.

Even with bloodshot eyes, unshaven, crumpled clothing, and his body suffering from lack of sleep, he just couldn’t put the novel down – he just had to read it cover to cover.  He had become completely oblivious to the outside world.  Dowelling found the plot was thicker and more realistic than anything he could ever have imagined, but as his body showed signs of weariness, it took longer for events to register.  As dawn shone through the windows, he gazed at the pile, nine more volumes had been read that past night.

Another day and a half passed by without incidence.  As he came to the end of the final volume, a constant repeating knocking came from the door.

Dowelling looked from the book to the door, and ignored the knocking – hoping they would go away and leave him in peace to finish the last few pages.

It seemed like ages had passed by, when the knocking had been replaced by the hollow thudding sound of a police door ram, a sound he knew well.

As Dowelling read the last paragraph, the last sentence, then the last word … the police burst through the door…

Dowelling was before their eyes one minute, then gone the next, but it was no illusion, he had vanished.  Just as Mathew Jarvis, the estate agent, and the reporter, vanished without trace.

Officer’s looked over the house thoroughly, leaving two on guard, standing watch over the near empty room, whilst other’s returned to the station.

Curiosity got the better of these young officers’s.

“What is so important about these binders?” asked one.

“I only know one way to find out,” said the other.  He pulled out the binder labelled Volume One.  Holding it between them, they began to read the introduction.

“As of today, March 21, 1988, I begin my life’s work.  This and the ensuing volumes is a saga, the product of my soul and mind.”

The two young officers’ gazed at each other, as they returned to the binder, drawn by something inexplicable.  A force of some kind!

Are two more unlikely participants being drawn into this story – only to vanish without trace as other’s have before them!

A Planet’s Hopes… Dashed by Disaster!

Space08
Planet of Cirinius

Mathew Sanderson, Captain of the HMS Bounty space ship looked out the window at the golden covered surface of the planet Cirinius, some fifty thousand kilometres below them in the Pegasus system.  After ten years of planning, and some six long months in space, stored in cryogenic chambers, we humans had finally arrived at our chosen planet.

Astronauts: Marcus, the expedition leader, along with Caroline, Phil and Ralph had been launched in their shuttle, our short-range space craft, to orbit the planet, waiting for the signal, that it was safe to land.

“Looks like the relay satellite is working,” commented Phil, seeing the lights on the control panel light up.  Their first major task had been to deploy a communications satellite into the planet’s orbit.

Cirinius was almost twice the size of Earth; the long horizon, mountains and rocks dotted across the snow covered landscape.  With the satellite in orbit, surface communications had been enhanced to cover a larger area, and was able to communicate with Earth, instead of piggy backing its way back using radio waves.

“Good to know everything appears to be working,” Ralph spoke to himself as he uploaded the video feed with NASA, as they came online.

“HMS Bounty,” she spoke without any emotion in her voice, “you are cleared for landing, proceed at your discretion.”

“You would expect more from Earth, this is a momentous achievement after six months in space,” suggested Ralph.

The shuttle’s computers are designed to automate everything, from minor approach adjustments to the final landing.  In the event of computer failure, Ralph the pilot would land it manually.

The entire landing, start to finish was being recorded; sure to be heard millions of times over the next few weeks by space enthusiasts, the world over.  “HMS Bounty, beginning landing sequence.”

The world-wide co-operation in extra terrestrial matters was no longer political sustainable, when thousands upon thousands couldn’t afford to put food on their table.  The planet was in desperate need of space and food, to house and feed Earth’s growing population increase.

America’s suggestion of a new home in space was considered no more than a pipe dream – forcing them to go it alone, with the eyes of the world upon them.

“I see one of the supply ships,” exclaimed Marcus.  “There’s another down by the trees,” he pointed out to his fellow astronauts.

A total of five unmanned cargo ships stocked with food, equipment, water, oxygen and seed stock had been sent ahead of the mission.  All had landed safely on the surface, where they waited the astronaut’s arrival.

“That’s precision flying,” Phil spoke out loud to anyone who would listen.  “Those boys on Earth are good!”

Marcus nodded in agreement.

Planting the flag in the surface of Cirinius was the moment everyone would remember, but in fact the first humans on the planet had but one simple task: to survive.  The hopes of their home world rested firmly on their shoulders.

The crew of HMS Bounty was methodically preparing to take their first steps onto this newly discovered planet.  The main video camera was extended from the underside of the shuttle, where it would film their first steps, and send back the live feed to Earth.

Caroline Joined Phil near the airlock.  “Where’s Marcus?”

“Already in the airlock suiting up, he’s so excited to get out there.”

Inside the airlock, Marcus climbed into his pressure suit and helmet, under the watchful gaze of the empty suits and helmets lined along the wall.  The suits were white in colour with gold visors.  Average temperature on Cirinius, ranged from 25 degrees Fahrenheit during daytime hours to -40 degrees Fahrenheit at night.  Thankfully, the climate controlled suits would compensate, for the changes in temperature.

The order of exit had been predetermined by mission control.  Marcus the expedition leader would be first to step onto the planet’s surface, followed by Caroline, and finally Phil.  Ralph was to remain on board to maintain the link with Earth and monitor the vitals of the astronauts from a safe distance.

That was the way mission control wanted it to happen.

Marcus drew a few deep breaths to test the suits air valves were working, and checked the gauges on his over-sized wrist watch control panel.

Not waiting for Phil and Caroline to join him, he pressed the outer airlock door controls.  He watched and waited for the light to turn from red to green.

Marcus poked his head out, lifts up his gold sun-visor, and gazes in wonder at the deep ice plains which lay before him.  He finally steps down onto the surface.

The suit keeps him warm, as he walks away from the craft.  He surmises to himself, this must be their wintertime.

Some twenty paces later, he comes to a halt, as the indicator alarm on his wrist starts bleeping – a warning, as he crunches the snow beneath his feet to keep them warm.

He hears the hum of pumps and fans of his portable life support backpack get louder and louder, as they strain to supply him with oxygen.

“Marcus,” shouted Phil through the helmet’s radio, “we three are supposed to step down together for the entire world to witness our steps!”

Marcus debated whether to respond, but he turned faced the craft and smiled.  “I just wanted to be the first to step on this planet.”

An angry silence followed.  “We are coming out,” replied Phil.  “You are not hogging all the glory for yourself.”

Marcus could only imagine the furious face that lay hidden behind the sun-visor.  “Don’t come out here, the snow is eating through my space-suit.  Save yourselves.”

Phil gasped in awe.  “Marcus get back inside.”

“I only have minutes before it eats through my air tank pipes.  Shut the door, and save yourselves.”

Phil and Caroline looked in the direction of Marcus, the expedition leader and geologist.  His choice to go out alone had saved them all from certain death.

As their leader, Marcus knew his primary duty was the safety of his team.  “You must leave the surface immediately, and return to the space-craft, there is nothing you can do for me.”

As the sunlight was fading, Marcus watched as Phil and Caroline, closed the door on him and the new planet – once thought of as a new beginning.

We had hoped to transform the surface of the planet Cirinius, melt its ice, plant seeds, and build houses for a new generation of people.  Instead we found a deadly planet, which would kill all those who set foot upon it.  Our mission leader Marcus Clarkson, gave his life, and will always be remembered for his bravery!

Space Wallpaper Image

No Witness!

scales-of-justiceThere was much tension in the air, many people fearing to venture from their homes at night, in these dangerous times, ever since the news of a murder in the village of Watton in Norfolk.

Local man, James Watson, who worked at the Horse and Hound Public House as a barman, alongside his other job as a truck driver, was found murdered on the common, in the early hours of Sunday morning 5th July 1954.  According to the police there were no witnesses to the crime, and his truck was discovered a few hours later, empty and abandoned.

Why he was killed has the police baffled, and the greatest fear in the village, is one of their residents could be a killer, but who?

At about eleven o’clock the same morning, a man out walking his dog on the lower cage lane in Stratton, noticed a truck, parked on the verge, doors wide open and unattended, and no one in sight.  The circumstances were strange enough to merit the man calling the police, as there were signs of blood on the door.

Sergeant Maxwell, stationed locally, drove to the spot and discovered a bloodstained jacket and coat.  At the police headquarters in Norwich, Detective Inspector Miles received the information and set out at once, with Detective Constable Helen Lomax, realising they had a brutal murder on their hands.

With the assistance of the local officer on the scene, the two officers examined the area of the dumped truck, where bloodstained garments and a driving licence were found.  Obviously their next stop was to call at the Horse and Hound, where he lived and worked.  The Landlady readily recognised the bloodstained garments, but was overcome at the sight of them.  When she had got over the initial shock, she informed the officers what she knew about James Watson, who worked part time for them, along with part time truck driver at a local haulage contractors, and resided in the flat over the garages.  He was single, 41, not given to heavy drinking or any other excesses as far as she could tell, her husband standing close by, nodded in agreement.

The officers thanked them, for their assistance and left, returning to the site of the abandoned truck.  The cab revealed a scene of violence, with Watson’s personal possessions strewn across the ground, papers and documents abandoned in the desperate physical struggle that must have taken place.  There was no wallet and no money.  It was a case of robbery certainly, but robbery compounded with murder.

It seemed clear to the detectives that Watson had been attacked at some other location, and the truck driven by one of his attackers.  His body had been discovered in the early hours of Sunday morning, dumped in the bushes on the far side of the common, close to the pub.

Forensic experts carried out close examination of the interior, but the only fingerprints found within belonged to Watson.  The vehicle was taken to Norwich, and subjected to all kinds of tests.

News reached me that James had been killed when I called in the pub the next day.  Over the past few years we had eluded the grasp of the law, using the truck as a legitimate business.  For the past few years we had dealt in alcohol and cigarettes in small quantity, but had moved up a league.  James had a customer, but did want me there, as we never saw eye to eye, it should have been sweet as a nut, and he went with armed backup! So what went wrong?

Somebody double-crossed him.  I will find out whom?

My name is Barney; my last name does not matter.  James and I have made a small living and never done any bird for our crimes.

I have a flat in Stratton, a decent car a few smart clothes.  What’s more I have a gun, so no one going to argue with me!  Not if they know what is good for them.

The police had not looked over the flat yet, I slipped in the back way, headed straight for our secret hideaway behind the toilet cistern.  A small hole existed behind some loose tiles; carefully I prised it loose.  Inside were five hundred pounds, and a small revolver.

I had a quick look around the flat but there was nothing here of any use, except for his address book tucked away out of sight with a list of customers behind the picture frame.  I could not let the police discover these, slipped them into my pocket and disappeared.  Left the place as I’d found it and headed out looking for his cousin, who was supposed to be taking my place as back up?

If James was going to pay a minder, it would have been his cousin Michael, he would do anything to earn a few quid.

I found him in his Council Flat, on the Lavengro Estate in Norwich.  When he answered the door, to my pounding my fist upon his door, he did not look too pleased to see me.

“How’s it going Michael?”  I asked pushing my way into his place without much resistance.

“I can’t complain,” he replied.

“So what’s new?”

He just gazed across the room at me, “nothing,”  as he shrugged his shoulders.

“Seen James?”

“Not today.”

“Let’s not waste anymore time, we both know why I’m here.”  I replied as I pulled out my Smith & Weston revolver.

I don’t believe you,” pointing the gun at his head.

“You were with him as back up weren’t you?”

“I didn’t mean anything to happen to him, he is family you know,” the fear was visible on his face as he spoke.

“What happened?”  I demanded shaking the gun at him.

“It wasn’t my idea.”

“Whose was it then?”

“The Old Bill.”

“So what have they got to do with it?”

“I was in trouble with the law.  We had a chat.  I told him about the deal James had going down.”

“I suppose you put me in the frame as well?”

“No.”

“Michael.”

“No, I swear I didn’t.”

“He said he’d just bust him,” Michael stated.  He was shaking with fear.

“The deal went through as it should have, and we were driving back to Watton, where I was to pick up my old banger.  Along the country lane between Watton and Stratton, the car in front of us suddenly pulled out across the road, blocking the way, and another at the rear,” Michael quoted.

“What were they driving.”

“The one in front, drove a light coloured Ford, whilst the other drove an old jeep, I don’t know the colour but it had lights fitted on top, that glared straight into our faces,”  Michael stated.

“What happened next?”  As Barney prodded him with the gun in his ribs.

“They came up to the truck, and started talking to James, and one of them told me to get lost, and that’s the last time I saw James, until you turned up.”

“Who are they?”

“That new DI at Norwich, the bent one.”

“They’re all bent as far as I am concerned.”

“McCormack.”

“I haven’t heard of him.”

“He’s fairly new, recently transferred from the Met, he’s evil.”

“No please, it wasn’t my fault.”

“You little traitor.”

“I never hurt James,” Michael shouted.

“But you let McCormack do it.  So where’s the money now?”

“They more likely have it down the cop shop.”

“Are you joking.”

“Where safer to hide it?”

I realised my future was tied up at Longbridge Road, Police Station, and that meant big trouble.  They have my money, and now James is dead, no one to split it with.  Not that I wouldn’t rather have James here, than this grass of a cousin Michael.

“So what’s shift is he on?” I demanded.

“What?”

“McCormack.  When’s he working?  You’re his informer, you’ve got to know.”

“Nights.  This week he’s working nights.”

“Thanks.”  I said, pushing the gun into his face, pulling off two shots, moving out of the way to avoid any blowback.

I worked out a plan on my way home.  I needed access to the Police Station, on legitimate business.

The next morning just to be on the safe side, I phoned Longbridge Road Police Station, from a public phone.

“C.I.D.”  I said when I got through.

“C.I.D. – Miles,” said the soft voice on the line.

“DI McCormack,” I said.

“Wait.”  The voice disappeared for a few minutes, then came back.  “He’s on after ten tonight.  Any message?”

“No thanks.  I’ll call back later,” and I disconnected the call before his next question.

I hung around the flat all day, and close to ten I drove over to Longbridge Road.  I took my Smith & Weston, and my holdall with me.  I wore my black overcoat over jeans and a jumper, with black driving gloves on my hands.

I went through the front door of the Police Station, up to the desk and said to the constable on duty.

“Excuse me, I was out walking my dog the other night and saw an altercation taking place on the Watton to Stratton road, involving a truck.  I read the driver had been killed in the paper.  I wonder if what I saw can be of any use?”

“Can I have your name sir?”

“Crane, Mathew Crane” I said.

“Would you wait a minute please, sir.”

He went into the back, and I stood studying the wanted posters covering up the cracks in the walls.

“Mr Crane?” an officer spoke as he entered the reception.

“I’m Sergeant Stephens.  Would you please come this way, D I McCormack will see you now.”  I couldn’t have planned it better.  Two rotten apples at the same time, McCormack and Stephen’s, both bent as each other.

I followed him through, carrying my holdall, and up three flights of stairs to a door marked C.I.D. Longbridge Road is only a small station, and at that time of night it seemed pretty well deserted, which suited me. The C.I.D. main office was dimly lit and empty, as I was led through to an adjoining office where a large man was sitting behind a desk, and said.  “This is DI McCormack.”

Sweet as a nut I thought to myself.

McCormack was well built maybe of the same age as myself.  He looked like the type of officer you could trust with your darkest secrets, but I knew better.

“Inspector,” I said.

“Take a seat Mr Crane,” said McCormack.

“Tea?”

“Yes please,” I said as I sat in front of his desk.

“Sergeant.”  With that Stephen’s went off to get the tea.

“So you saw someone having an altercation on the Watton Stratton road, whilst you were out walking your dog.”

“That’s right.”

“Could you identify him.”

“There were two of them, they had blocked the vehicle front and back.  I didn’t get a good look at their faces, but one walked with a slight limp.

McCormack looked at Crane for a moment, but there were slight signs of sweating upon his face.

I quickly unzipped my holdall, and pulled out a revolver, pointing it straight at McCormack.

“What’s this?” he gasped.

“Your worst nightmare.”

“Payback time.”

“For what?” he asked.

“You killed my mate James,” I said.  “And stole my money.”

“I see.”  He was regaining his cool.  “And what gives you that idea.”

“Your little grass Michael told me.”

“So I imagine it was you who shot him.”

“Correct.”

“That wasn’t a very nice thing you did.”

“No more than he deserved, he was your grass and a thief.”

“Did it occur to you he could have been lying.”

“No.  I’d stake my life on it, he was telling the truth.”

“Which is exactly what you’re doing.  You must be a very stupid man to come here after me, and then admit to murder.”

I didn’t bother informing him, he wouldn’t be around to tell anyone.

“Don’t waste my time,” I said.  The longer he kept talking the more chance he had of Stephen’s returning or someone else coming in.

“Just give me the money,” I demanded.

“You don’t really think I’d keep it here do you?”

“Where better and safer,” I said, and I shot him in the arm.  You could barely hear the recoil above the sound of the air conditioning.

He gazed at the wound.

“I’ll keep blowing bits off you until you hand over, what belongs to me,” I said.  “I’ve got plenty more bullets.”

“Alright, alright,” he said.  “Keep calm, it’s over here in the locker.”

“Get it.”  I ordered.  No tricks or you’ll end up like Michael.”

He got up to do as he was told.

“The keys are in my pocket,” he said.

“Pull them out slowly, I’m watching every move you make.”

He did as he was instructed, then inserted the key in the locker keyhole and turned it anti-clockwise.  As he opened the door, Stephen’s entered the room with a tray of tea’s.

“Put them down gently,” pointing the pistol in his direction.

“What goes here?” whilst looking at the gun.

McCormack saw his chance and turned from the open locker with revolver in hand.  He fired and the bullet missed me by inches smashing into the wall.  I fired back twice in quick succession, and he went down, then Stephens got into the act, lobbing the tea in my direction whilst heading for the door.  I shot him twice in the back, he skidded face forward across the carpet and lay still.  When I went over he was dead.

I went to the locker, checked McCormack pulse.  Nothing.  I pushed his lifeless body to one side, and saw the bag sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and stuffed it into my bag, which I had bought with me.

That’s what you get for greed looking down at the two dead officers sprawled across the floor.

On the way out I met the desk constable coming up the stairs.  “Did you hear that crashing noise?” he asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Are the DI and the Sergeant in their office?”

“Yes.”

“One of them should have shown you down.”  He suddenly looked at me in a curious way, that policeman’s look.

He left me no option, so I killed him too. They shouldn’t have killed by lifelong friend and partner James, see.  It wasn’t necessary.

When I was sure he was dead too, I let myself out into the night air of Longbridge Road, and drove home.

 

San-Sebastian’s Secret (2/2)

2538

“No I won’t allow it,” shouted Tengu

Tengu lept from his stool and plunged between Brother Espiris and the desk, scooping up the heavy scalding thing in his robe.  Espiris, caught off balance, grabbed at the boy’s clothing and missed.  Tengu pulled the door open with his free hand, dived through it, and raced away at top speed through the cloisters.

“Brother Espiris,” Father Menem stepped in front of Espiris and put out a hand to restrain him.  The heavier man jerked him aside, and Menem was flung against the wall of the cell like a piece of straw.

Espiris stumbled through the door and shouted, “Tengu! Come back, boy, it’s dangerous!”

Startled monks and novices stopped and stared.  Espiris turned to them savagely.  “Don’t stand there gawping, you lot – follow him!  He’s got something-a dangerous thing.”  He glared at their puzzled faces. “Run, you idiots, catch him!”

The novices reacted first.  Glad of any novelty or excitement, they raced after Tengu, uttering boyish yells.  The monks followed more slowly.  Espiris turned back into the room.

“Father, I’m sorry – we must find him I’m sorry I pushed you – Father.”

He stopped staring.

Father Menem lay at the foot of the wall behind the desk.  He looked like a broken puppet.  His bald head, so like an egg itself, sagged to one side.  There was blood on his temple where it had struck the wall.

“Father!”  Espiris knelt down and lifted the old man gently.  Menem’s head fell back, his unseeing eyes glazing placidly at the ceiling.

“Father!”  Espiris groaned.  “Oh Father, I am sorry! So very sorry!”

He bent his head, until it lay beside the old man’s dropping hand.  It looked almost as if Menem were giving him a blessing.

Father Menem, however, would never bless anyone again.

Tengu raced through the dim, cool cloisters and corridors.  He could hear the pursuit behind him, a chorus of excited voices echoing through the stone building.

The egg in his hand had not knocked again.  It felt heavy and scalding hot, but he didn’t mind that.

He emerged abruptly into the open brightness of the north cloister.  The far side of the cloister had collapsed with age and disuse, and was little more than a pile of rubble.  Beyond the rubble was a short stretch of grass, and then a deep, chasm-like valley, in the depths of which bubbled the south-flowing River Isel.

Tengu clambered over the rubble and crouched on the ground beyond, hidden for the moment by the fallen stones.

It was windier here, and the air was cold and clean.  Across the valley, the mountains of the Zolan soared to heaven.  They looked almost within reach, though the nearest peak must be miles away.

Tengu stared wistfully at the cruel pinnacles of the Zolan.  Among those mountains, dragons had once roamed.  The best thing would be to go there, so the egg could hatch out in the dragon’s home, away from people.  People could not be trusted.  They would try to destroy the egg and what came out of it, through fear.

Tengu doubted if he could reach the mountains.  Climbing hundreds of feet down the sheer cliff, and then up the steep rocky slopes on the far side, seemed impossible.  But he had thought of somewhere closer to hide the egg.

He crawled to the edge of the cliff and looked

There was a series of rungs cut into the cliff-face, a long dis-used route down to the valley floor.  It was narrow and dangerous, and after descending a hundred feet it suddenly ended in mid-air: a rock fall must have carried the rest away.  The novices were forbidden to use it; a few years since, a boy clambering on the lower steps had fallen to his death.  Nevertheless, the more reckless boys still occasionally dared each other to climb down.  Tengu had been dared once, and though he hated heights, he had climbed down for fear of seeming weak.  On the bottom step he had slipped and clung on, facing the cliff, until his nerve returned enough foe he had noticed what a few others had seen: in the rock-face, below the last step, was a narrowly shadowy hole – the entrance to a small cave.

A shout behind him made him turn.  The pursuers had entered the north cloister.  Any moment now, one of them would climb the rubble and see him.

Carefully, he tucked the egg into the hood of his robe behind his neck, leaving both hands free for descent.  Then, gingerly, he started down the vertiginous staircase.

He tried not to look down at the valley, but it seemed to draw his glance.  His eyes played unpleasant tricks on him.  The valley floor seemed to move, to oscillate in a horribly unsettling way.  One moment it seemed as far away as the surface of the moon, the next it looked near enough to touch.  The worn rungs sloped out and downwards, threatening to thrust him out into the abyss.  The wind blew stronger than ever, swirling down the Isel valley, trying to pluck him off the cliff.

He finally came to the last rung.  He could see the black hole some distance below and to one side.  He was disconcerted to see that it was farther away than he had remembered – not just a few feet, but a good nine or ten.

How was he to get down to it?  Peer as he might at the cliff face, he could see no footholds to help him cross that vertical stretch of blank wall.

He crouched there, not knowing what to do, almost weeping with frustration.  His plan was a failure.  He would have to climb back up, surrender the egg to Brother Espiris, and watch him smash it to pulp.

He had lost.  The dragon-haters had one.

He turned his face away from the enticing and unreachable cave, and wiped his damp eyes with his sleeve.  Sniffling, he glanced aside at the cliff face, looking for the best handholds to use in re-ascending the stairs.

It was then he saw it.  Beside him at about waist height, embedded in the cliff face, was an iron spike, of which about six inches was showing.

Tengu stared at the spike, wondering what an earth it was doing there, in the middle of a sheer rock wall.  Then it dawned on him it must be intended as a handhold.  He looked further along the wall, and saw there were five more.  The six spikes formed a downward sloping rectangle, three for hands and three for feet, spanning the gap between the bottom stair and the cave.

Another staircase, he thought.  But what a staircase!  The spikes were half an inch wide at most, with several feet between them, driven into vertical rock above a chasm of empty air.  But if he could follow them, they would bring him to the mouth of the cave.

Tengu examined the spikes.  There was a suspicious brown tinge to them, which might just be dirt, but probably was rust.  They might have rusted all the way through, in which case they would snap like dry twig as soon as he put his weight on them.

There was only one way to find out.

Very slowly, he moved his right foot over onto the nearest spike.

He felt something crumble under his foot, and his toes slipped.  For a few moments he dared not move.

After a while, he summoned up enough courage to test the spike again.  This time it seemed firm enough.  Evidently he had merely disturbed a top coating of rust, which had flaked off.

By slow stages he moved along the spikes, conscious that at any moment they might give way and plunge him to his death.  Thankfully, they seemed firm.  He was about to make the final move, from the spikes to the cave, when some instinct made him look up.

A hundred feet above him, a dark shape in a monk’s hood was silhouetted against the sky.  Tengu could not see its face, but he had a feeling that it was the figure of a man, not a boy.  Espiris, perhaps?

For a moment the cowled figure remained motionless.  Then it picked something up and lifted it above his head.  Fron the object’s size and obvious heaviness, Tengu guessed that it was one of the larger stones from the north cloister’s collection of rubble.

The figure held the stone out over the cliff, directly above Tengu’s head.

Then let it go.

To the end of his days, Tengu never knew how he managed to fling himself from his precarious position on the spikes, into the mouth of the cave.  Somehow he did it, and the rock plunged past him haplessly.  He felt the wind of it as it went by, and moments later hear a smashing sound from somewhere farther down the cliff.

He rolled on the cave-floor a foot from the edge, and lay still.

Softly, but with increasing violence, he began to cry.  It was the shock that made him cry-shock that someone he had known and trusted for years had tried to kill him.

He grew still after a while, lying on the cave floor, his cheeks wet with salt.

Finally he sat up, and dragged himself over to the wall.  He leaned with his back against it and gazed out of the jagged round cave-mouth at the unreachable white peaks of Zolan.

A solid lump digging into his back reminded him why he had come to the cave.  He pulled the dragon’s out of his hood, and cradled it in his lap.  The scalding heat through his clothes was strangely comforting.  He looked round at the interior of the cave.

It was dry, narrow hole, like one end of a tunnel.  It seemed to be completely empty, but in the shadows at the back, he could make out a dark square shape which was as familiar as it was unexpected.

A door.

What an earth was a door doing here, deep in the heart of the cliff?

He got up, leaving the egg by the wall, and went to examine the door.  It was carved of age-blackened oak, iron studded and criss crossed with iron bars and plates.  The iron was coated with rust that crackled under its touch.

On one side was a huge iron ring – evidently the handle.  Eagerly, Tengu siezed it and tried to turn it, thinking as he did so that it was probably rusted fast.

To his surprise, it moved.  A crackling of falling rust accompanied the movement.  After a quarter-turn it stopped, and all his efforts would make it go no further.

Holding the ring steady, Tengu pushed at the door.  There was a feeling of resistance, no doubt from the rusty hinges, but slowly it yielded to his pressure.  When it was half-open, he slipped inside, and stood staring round at the place in which he found himself.

It was some kind of storeroom.  There were empty boxes piled against the walls, dusty and covered with cobwebs.  The room was long and narrow, and dwindled into gloom and shadows at the far end.  To one side, lit by a shaft of sun through the half-open doorway, stood a long table, its surface so thick with white dust that it looked as though it were laid with a tablecloth.

In the middle of the table, under the dust, was a square hammock.  He went over to it and swept away the dust with his fingers, revealing a large book.  The light in the store room was not quite enough to read by, so he picked up the heavy volume and carried it through the open doorway to the mouth of the cave.  Sitting down cross-legged near the windy cave-mouth, with the egg beside him, he gazed in wonder at the open

It was like the illuminated manuscripts produced by the monks.  But this was more richly illustrated than any of the devotional texts in the monastery library.  The creamy vellum pages were vibrant with reds, blues, greens and golds.  In the margins were pictures of long-winged beasts, and figures in rich robes and black, intricate armour.  The men and beasts were fighting each other.  In places their combat sprawled over the text itself.  Crimson blood flowed from the wounds of the dying men, and golden ichor from the bodies of the stricken beasts where the men had driven in their spears.

Tengu stared at the pages in awe.  He had always loved books, especially illuminated ones, and this was the most beautiful he had ever seen.  He ran his fingers caressingly over the painted shapes, smoothing away the last remnants of white dust.

Between the coloured margins were rows of marching letters, black script of the monks since time immemorial.  With some difficulty, the spelling being somewhat archaic, Tengu read from the left-hand page.

In the five hundredth year of the Grace of Eda Emet King of Hosts lead the men of Argour against the dragons of the north.  Fearful, was the battle, raging by day and by night for seven days.  Yet at the end, praise Ecla, the men of Argunor were victorious.  Not one dragon remained alive, and the fields were stained golden with the blood of the slaughtered worms.  So passed the terror of the dragons, and peace came to the lands of men.

Tengu sighed, and gazed hungrily at the beasts in the margin, studying their long, little bodies, the fantastical wings rising out of their backs, the curled serpentine tails, the craggy heads whose high arched nostrils spurted like gouts of flame.  There was a loving care in the draughtsmanship that suggested that the unknown artist had secretly admired the great beasts.  Tengu understood how the artist felt.  If that was what dragons looked like, then he would have admired them too.  They were beautiful, glorious, terrible.

But what was this book.

He turned to the very first page.  There he read,

in a golden and flowing script that was quite unlike the severe black characters of the monkish writing, the following:

The Book of Dragons

A history of the dragonish race of the North, its power and pride, and its final destruction.  Penned in the year 630 of the Grace of Ecla, by Brother Seltus of the Order of the Black Robe.

All praise to Ecla!

Tengu frowned.  The book had been written in 630, and the year was now v1481.  That meant the book was well over eight hundred years old!  And even in those far-off days, the dragons had been thought of as evil.

He had been so sure that Brother Espiris had been wrong, and Father Menem right.  Now it seemed he had been mistaken.  He had gone to all this trouble to save a creature which, if hatched out, would prove to be a monster.

Heavy-hearted, he turned again to the page he had looked at, and reads again the description of the dragon’s final defeat.  Then, idly curious, he turned over the page and saw further words had been added.  They were in golden ink, similar to the script on the title page, but the hand was shakier and more uneven.

I Brother Seltus add these words in the year 671.  For too long I have kept silent, cowed by the threat of  excommunication and burning.  Now I am old, and I fear little that may be done to this withered body.  Nor do I believe the boasts of the priests, that their blessing is the only road to the Mansions of Ecla in the hereafter.

Here the truth, it was not Ecla that cursed the dragons and named them wicked and souless creatures, but bloody-handed kings and the corrupted priests who served them.  First they tried to tame the dragons.  When the dragons would not be tamed, they hunted them for sport.  At last, outnumbered and persecuted, the dragons rose up in war, and were destroyed.

If there be dragons left in the world, may they forgive us.  As it is written in the Tribulations of Ecla: “He that kills without understanding is the darknees, and he that follows him walks in deep shadow.”

Tengu sat back and stared out of the cave-mouth at the distant peaks.

If there be dragons left in the world.  Well, there was one dragon at least.  Maybe it was not too late to partly redress the ancient wrong

A sudden sound made him jump.  It was a hollow knocking, echoing faintly in the half-encloded space.

He looked down at the egg, and gasped.  A crack had opened in the black uneven surface, revealing the eggs golden surface.  Out of the crack streamed a pale golden light, within which a darker shape was stirring.

At that moment there was a scraping noise from outside the cave, and a shadow blotted out the sunlight.  Tengu looked up, startled, and saw a black robe flapping across the cave-mouth, and protruding from the robe, a man’s outstretched hand.

Grunting with effort, Brother Espiris stepped into the cave.

Tengu panicked.  All he could think of was protecting the egg, and he reached out unthinkingly to sieze it.  But he had forgotten to cover his hands with his robe.  His finger’s touched the egg’s surface, and he cried out with pain and snatched them away.

That gave Espiris the moment he needed.  The big man stepped forward, shrugging his loose sleeves forward over his hands, and scooped up the egg.  He blinked at the shaft of golden light from the crack dazzled histhat the gleam shone away from him.

“Now we shall end this business,” he murmured.  Turning, he stepped to the edge of the cave, raising his arms to throw the egg into the abyss.

With a choking scream, Tengu sprang to his feet and flung himself at the monk.  There was a confused moment of threshing arms, legs and tangled robes, and both of them fell in a heap on the floor.  The egg rolled away towards the rear of the cave, bumping along the bottom of the wall, its thin ray of gold rotating like a beam of a lighthouse.

Brother Espiris got up, pulled Tengu to his feet and shook him by his shoulders until his teeth rattled.

“Wretched child!” he said savagely.  “Can’t you see that I am trying to save us all from this thing?  Father Menem is dead.  Brother Angelo is crippled.  How much more evil must it work before it is destroyed?”

Tengu stared up into Espiis’s eyes.  They were bleak and piless as the Zolan itself.

“You tried to kill me with a stone,” he whispered.

The monk’s face twitched a little.  I had to stop you.  When you are older, you will understand that sometimes evil must be done that good may come.

Something inside Tengu seemed to grow dry, like Brother Angelo’s withered vines.  “Where in the Books of Ecla does it say that?” he asked sullenly.

Espiris looked down at his pupil a moment longer.  Then he let go of his shoulders, and pushed him roughly against the wall.  “Stay ther, Tengu, and don’t move.  If you interfere again, I will break your arms.”

Tengu sank to the floor, feeling tears well up inside him.  He fought them down.  At least he would not let Espiris see him cry.

The monk crossed the cave and picked up the egg in his robe.  Then for a moment he stood arrested, looking at the half-open door through which lay the storeroom.

“Interesting,” he murmured.  “There’s an old passageway that starts by the monastery’s outer wall and runs down into the foundations.  It was always thought to lead to a dis-used wine cellar, but perhaps it leads down here.  It’s partly blocked by rubble, but one may be able to force a way through.  When we’ve finished here, we’ll go back that way.  It’ll be safer than those precarious spikes and steps.”

He turned and smiled at Tengu.  Then he walked to the front of the cave and stood looking out.  The afternoon light was fading.  Away to their left, at the head of the Isel valley, the sun would be low in the sky.  A blood red stain was beginning to creep down the snow-covered slopes of the mountains.

Espiris raised the egg infront of him in both robed hands.

“Goodbye, dragon,” he murmured.

Tengu closed his eyes in despair.

There was a cracking noise, and his eyelids flooded with gold.  Brother Espiris screamed.

Wincing, Tengu opened his eyes a fraction.  The cave was blazed in dazzling gold light.  Brother Espiris stood hunched at the entrance, his arms flung across his face.

Slowly the light began to fade.  Tengu peered through the half closed lids, trying to make out what was happening.  Something vast, gold and red like the illuminated pictures in the Book of dragons, was unfolding and shimmering above and around him.After a minute or so, the light had died down enough for him to open his eyes fully.

He gasped at what he saw.

The cave was full of dragon.  No mewing kitten or squat lizzard-cub, but a gothic splendour of wing and body and head and tail, flecked and streaked with a thousand colours, among which red and gold were dominant.  Light poured from its translucent scales like water.

The dragon was standing on one taloned foot, in the act of stepping out from the broken shards of the egg.  Tengu realised with amazement that the huge creature must in some arcane way have been compressed inside the confines of the egg.

The dragon kicked the broken eggshell away, opened its wings as far as the cramped caved would permit, and roared.  The cave walls shook with the sound.  A whimper followed the roar.  Tengu saw Brother Espiris crawling towards the rear of the cave on all fours.  He was feeling his way with his hands, and Tengu realised that the golden light must have blinded him.

The dragon turned its craggy head and looked down at Tengu.

Thank you, little one.

The voice was only in Tengu’s mind, but there was no doubting its source.  He gazed up into the deep yellow eyes, seeing there a thousand years of inherited wisdom, and his throat husked as he voiced the one thing he wanted above all else.

“Please – Take me with you.

“Not yet little one.  Some day, but not yet.

Tengu hung his head.

The dragon bent down and, just for a moment, touched the boy’s forehead with a long hot tongue.  Then it moved away, and Tengu raising his head unwillingly, saw the serpent body poised in the cave-mouth.

dragon-in-flight

The dragon lept into the sinking afternoon light.  Its wings unfurled, so enormous that Tengu gasped in awe.  The gold light of its scales mingled with the red sun, turning the dragon to a bolt of fire.  The great creature circled once, uttered a clanging cry that resounded across the valley, and flapped gracefully away towards the distant peaks of the Zolan.

The voice came back to Tengu, fainter now.  Some day, little one.  Be patient.  Some day.The dragon dwindled to a grain of gold, and was gone.

For a long time Tengu sat and stared towards the mountains, his feelings a strange mixture of desolation, joy and hope.

Sounds from the back of the cave finally roused him.  With a long sigh, he tucked the Book of Dragons under his arm and stood up, and walked to the half-open door, where Brother Espiris was groping to find the way through.  He took the blind monk by the arm, and gently guided him through the doorway into the room beyond.

Wallpaper Dragon Image

San-Sebastian’s Secret (1/2)

 

2524

In a small cold, comfortless cell, a young novice monk lay awake and thinking of dragons.

There was no obvious reason why Brother Tengu should have been interested in dragons, or should even have heard of them.  Perhaps he had read something in one of the dusty manuscripts in the monastery library, or perhaps one of the older monks had unwisely filled his head with stories.  Looking at Tengu, you would not have associated him with dragons, or anything else out of our ancient hero-tales.  He was fifteen, tall and scrawny with a pigeon-chest and somewhat short sighted.  Not the stuff of which great dragon-slayers are made, as Brother Espiris frequently pointed out to him.

“Tengu, you lanky dolt!” he would roar in his loud, blustering voice that sent echoes cannonading round the cloisters, “turn away from that window and pay attention!  Recite the 32nd and 33rd verses of the Seventh Book of Tribulations of Ecla at once! What? Why don’t you know them? Then you can scrub the dormitory floors this afternoon, to teach you the value of education.”

Tengu had become something of an expert at scrubbing floors.  And scouring bowls, and wringing out clothes in the laundry-room, and a dozen other menial and exhausting tasks.  Brother Espiris’s treament was not a success, however.  Tengu continued to dream of dragons, and his short-sighted eyes often misted over as he glazed through the small window of his cell towards the higher mountain ranges that marched away to the north.  The Zolan Mountains, they were called – rank upon dizzying rank of snow -covered granite, like an impregnable fortress.  They were rumoured to be the haunt of dragons, though apparently none had been seen there for a thousand years.

Brother Espiris, naturally, poured scorn on the idea of dragons.

“Dragons my young friend,” he would say, as he tweaked Tengu by the ear, “are a myth, a falsehood, a snare created by the Dark One to distract impressionable minds from the learning of the sacred verses.  There are no dragons, there are no heroes, there are no wizards, there is no magic, and those are all lies, invented to seduce young and impressionable minds.  There is work, there is meditation, and there are sacred verses.  That is all.”

“But Brother Espiris,” Tengu sometimes asked, isn’t there a world outside the monastery, and beyond the mountains?

“Not for you boy,” was the invariable answer.  “Not for you.”

And Tengu sighed, and got on with his studies, learning verses, his scouring, or his wringing out.

There was no reason to speak of, in the mountains, or the relentless cold wind made it seem that way.

The monks made wine as monks usually do, though it was thin, sour stuff, and the vines were thin too, spidery growths that put pot a meagre crop of wrinkled grapes.  The vineyard lay south of the main monastery building, on a slope that was somewhat sheltered from the north wind.  Brother Angelo tended the vineyard, and he was a dour man, as thin and sour as the wine, which he regarded jealously as his own special province.

Tengu would have liked to help Angelo in the vineyard as a change from the floor-scrubbing and other tasks, but there was little enough to do, and Angelo was not a man to welcome help.

One day there was a commotion in the cloister, and when Tengu came along, loping on his thin shanks behind the other novices, he saw Brother Angelo and Brother Espiris confronting one another.  Angelo’s face was chalk-white and twisted with fury, and in his hand was a spindly, dried up vine, torn up by its roots.

“Which of you pimpled faced hooligans has done this, Espiris?” he almost screamed at the Master of Novices.  “This and two other of my vines withered away, as if a frost had been at them!  Oh, a fine game, no doubt!  Is this what you teach them when they should be learning the Tribulations?”

Espiris’s broad face was grim with anger.  Tengu felt a momentary fear, until he saw that the anger was directed at Angelo.  He had not realised until now that the two men detested each other.

“I care for young minds, Brother Angelo” said Espiris with slow, heavy emphasis, “and a bitter and burdensome responsibility it is.  Young minds are wilful and wayward, always turning away from the realities of life to seek vain excitements.  The care of plants he uttered the monosyllable with contempt is scarcely to be compared with such a task in difficulty and importance.  The fate of your vines is of little importance to me.”

“It will be of interest to you when I discover which of your good-for-nothings is responsible,” hissed Angelo.  “But then, it’s hardly surprising if they misbehave, considering you are barely competent at keeping them under control.”

Espiris’s face flushed a dull red.  “Indeed? If anyone’s competent is in doubt, it must surely be.  The most likely person to have killed these plants is you, by sheer ignorance and neglect.

Angelo’s face blazed like a white star, and he half-raised the arm that held the vine, as though he meant to strike Brother Espiris.  The watching novices held their breath, secretly and fiercely hoping that he would.  It was not so much they wanted to see Angelo soundly beaten, though that would have been very gratifying, it was simply that none of them had ever seen a fight between grown men.  That was the reality of which their own juvenile scuffling were mere shadows, and they were intensely curious to know what it would be like.

Angelo’s arm wavered momentarily in the air, and then slowly fell to his side, much to the boy’s disappointment.

“I shall go to Father Menem,” he hissed, his eyes staring out of his head as he peered venomously up at Espiris.  “I shall tell him what happened to my vines.

No doubt he will draw his own conclusions.”

“No doubt he will,” answered Espiris stolidly.  “I shall come with you, to present my side of this absurd dispute.”

What Father Menem concluded remained tantalisingly hidden for half an hour.  Monks and Novices passing the Father Superior’s room heard Angelo’s voice raised in whining rage, and Espiris’s heavy drone, and now and then the softer tones of old Menem, but it was hard to make out what was going on behind the thick old oak door.  Finally Espiris emerged, looked around, and saw Tengu and some other Novices lurking behind a pillar.

“Come here, Tengu,” he ordered.  “Father Menem wants to see you.

“Father Menem wants to see you!  The words made Tengu dizzy with fear.  Of course the old man was a saint.  Of course he had never been known to raise his voice, let alone strike anyone.  But he was Father Menem.  He was known to be fabulously old, possibly as much as seventy, and enormously wise.  It was like being summoned to see God.

His knees trembled as he entered Father Superior’s room.  It was almost a sacred place in itself, containing many things that the novices and ordinary monks did not have in their cells.  Apart from a real chair, the main item was a huge oak desk, on which were oiled inkwells, quills and parchments.  Tengu who loved books, could not help staring at the illuminated manuscript that lay half-finished on the desk in front of the old man.  Menem’s hands were shaky these days, but he still painted the gold and blue and red pictures down the edges of the squares of parchment more delicately and vividly than anyone else.

“Come in, Tengu,” said Father Menem.

Espiris closed the door with his back to it.  Tengu, hearing the thud of the oak behind him, looked up and saw Angelo glowering at him.  Were they going to accuse him of damaging the vines?  Unjust!  Tengu’s heart behind his narrow rib cage swelled with indignation.

“Father Menem.  I didn’t touch the vines!” he burst out.  “I’ve never been near them!”

“Peace, child” said Father Menem, raising a frail hand.  “You are not being accused.  No-one is being accused.  Brother Angelo has withdrawn his allegation.”

The sullen expression on Angelo’s face suggested that he had withdrawn it unwillingly.

“Our vines are an important part of our produce,” went on Father Menem.  “We do not want to see them damaged or destroyed.  Therefore I have decided that you, Tengu, will help Brother Angelo to look after them.  You will tend them accordingly to his instructions and make sure no harm comes to them.”

Tengu’s heart swelled again, but this time with pride.  Out of the whole monastery Father Menem had chosen him!

“Thank you, Father Menem,” he mumbled.  “I’ll do my  best.”

“I know you will,” said the old man with a smile.  “Go back to your cell now, and ask the saints to bless your work.  You start with Brother Angelo tomorrow.

Tengu was immediately envied by the rest of the novices.  True, he would have to take orders from Brother Angelo, which was not a pleasant prospect: it was generally agreed that any sensible person would prefer a box on the ear from Brother Espiris to a kind word from Brother Angelo, supposing him to be capable of uttering such a thing.

“This is Father Menem’s idea, not mine,” Brother Angelo said, glaring at Tengu.  “In my opinion, you boys are all bad as each other – you break things just by looking at them.  Your job is to stop other boys coming into the vineyard.  If I catch you touching the vines, you’ll be in trouble.  You can pull up a few weeds if you like, but that’s all.

Despite Brother Angelo’s attitude, Tengu felt a surge of happiness.  At last he was to be allowed to do some real work!  He squatted down and began searching the soil for weeds.  He found a few.  Angelo had deliberately put him to work in the stoniest part of the vineyard where little would grow, vines or anything else.  Still he scoured the earth diligently, and managed to find a few bits of coarse grass to uproot.

Straightening up after an hour, he noticed that one of the vines nearest to him had withered.  Tentatively, he called Brother Angelo’s attention to it.

Angelo came over and looked at the vine.  His cheeks and lips whitened with anger.  He seized the plant violently and dragged it from the soil.

“Again!” he hissed.  “Why? Why?” He pointed an accusing finger at Tengu.  “You! You did this!”

Tengu backed away.  “I didn’t touch it, Brother Angelo.  Look the roots have withered.  I couldn’t have done that.

Angelo stared at the roots as if memorised.  They were black, as if burnt.  He shook his head slowly.  “No you couldn’t have done that.  But then why?”  He stared at the place from which he had torn up the plant.  “The same corner of the vineyard!” he hissed.  “There must be something here!”  He flung the withered vine aside, dropped to his knees, and began scrabbling at the soil with his fingers.  “Come on boy, dig!  There’s an evil here and we must it and destroy it!

Reluctantly, Tenga knelt down and began half-heartedly to scrape at the soil.  Angelo, meanwhile, went at it frenziedly, like a dog unearthing a bone.  Earth and stones flew everywhere.  A conical pit began to develop.  Angelo’s face, bent close to the soil, became flushed to an unaccustomed redness.

A small group of curious novices began to gather, watching and whispering.

Suddenly Angelo let out a cry of triumph.  “Here’s something!”  He flung chunks of earth aside, and thrust his hands deep inside the hole.  Suddenly he let out a shriek of pain.  “Aaah! It burns! It burns!”

He got clumsily to his feet and staggered back, shaking his soiled hands.  “Fetch Father Menem! Let no-one-touch.”

Angelo’s eyes closed, and he collapsed on his face in a dead faint.

The novices stared at the recumbent body in shock.  Then one of them moved to the hole and bent to peer into it.  Tengu was suddenly impelled to take charge.

“Get back,” he ordered, seizing the inquisitive novice by the shoulder and thrusting him back among the others.  “You heard what he said, no-one is to touch.”

“But touch what?” one of the novices asked curiously.

“Anything,” said Tengu.  He looked from one puzzled face to another.  “Faruni,” he ordered, “go and get Father Menem.”  Faruni, one of the bigger boys, bridled.  He was not used to taking orders from another novice – none of them were.  “Why?”

“Because Brother Angelo told us to,” said Tengu, feeling angry with Faruni for being so slow and stupid.

“Why don’t you go then?” Faruni asked trucently.

“Because I am Brother Angelo’s chosen assistant,” Tengu said.  “I have to stay here, with Brother Angelo.  Go and get Father Menem.

Faruni stared at him a moment longer.  He was not really a stupid boy, only taken aback by the strange situation.  After a brief hesitation he accepted his role, and nodded.  “all right.”

While Faruni sprinted away towards the monastery building.  Tengu knelt beside Brother Angelo and examined the monk’s hands.they were burned black, as the vine had been.  When Angelo came to, he would be in agony.

“The rest of you,” said Tengu, “go ask Brother Espiris for bandages.”

The novices ran off.  Alone with the unconscious body of Brother Angelo, Tengu knelt down again and placed his ear close to the monk’s mouth.  Angelo’s breathing was shallow but regular.

He got to his feet and brushed the soil off his hands.  Now all he had to do was waut for Father Menem.  It would do no harm, though, just to look into the hole Angelo had dug.

He bent down and peered into the cone-shaped pit.  There was something down there, which Angelo’s scrabblings had half-exposed.  It looked like a large stone, black in colour.

Was that what had burned Brother Angelo?  It looked harmless enough.  Of course, it might not be an ordinary stone.  It might be a magic stone.  Though Brother Espiris said there was no such thing as magic.

If he picked it up in his robe, surely it wouldn’t burn him.

Carefully, he wrapped both his hands in the folds of his robe, reached into the hole, and lifted the object clear of the surrounding earth.

It was pitted and scarred, and very heavy.  It could easily have been mistaken for an ordinary stone.  But he could feel its heat even through the folds of his robe.  Yes, this is what had burned Father Angelo.  It felt like a piece of a black sun.

He looked up and saw Father Menem and Brother Espiris coming towards him.  Espiris was supporting the old man with his arm, matching his heavy stride with difficulty to Father Menem’s tottering gait.  A gaggle of novices accompanied them, several carrying clean white cloths.

While Brother Espiris supervised the bandaging of Angelo’s hands Father Menem gently drew Tengu away from the other.

“Now – tell me what happened.”

“Brother Angelo was digging to find out what killed the vines,” Tengu explained.  “He touched this.”  He held out the stone, nestling in the folds of his robe.  “Don’t touch it, Father, he said urgently.  “It’s very hot.

Father Menem looked at the stone, drew in his breath sharply, and let it out again in a long, wondering sigh.  “So,” he said softly.  “There are still such things in the world, even now.  And yet to find one in the monastery vineyard, of all places…”  He took Tengu’s arm.  “The others will look after Brother Angelo.  Let us walk back to the monastery.

They walked slowly across the vineyard.  Tengu held the stone in front of him.  Its weight made his arms ache.  Father Menem, leaning on his arm, was like a feather in comparison.

“Brother Angelo said the stone was evil,” Tengu

“Evil?”  Father Menem was silent for a while.  “No doubt Angelo would think that.  Still, it is quite true that long ago, when there were more such things in the world, great evils did sometimes come because of them.”

“But surely,” Tengu persisted, “a stone can’t be evil?  I mean, a stone is just a stone.”

They had almost reached the monastery.  Father Menem stopped and looked at Tengu with a smile.  “If what you are carrying were a stone, it would indeed be harmless.  But it is not a stone.

Tengu glanced apprehensively t the black object.  “What is it then, Father?

“Father Menem was silent for a moment.  When he spoke again, it was in such a quiet voice that his words were scarcely audible above the wind.

“What you are carrying, Tengu, is a dragon’s egg.”

dragon_egg_embryo_by_fracfx

Brother Espiris closed the door of Father Menem’s room behind him.  He nodded to Tengu, who was sitting on the stool by the window, and then approached Father Menem.

“Angelo is still unconscious,” he said.  “We carried him to the dormitory and put him to bed.  I told Faruni to sit by him and report to me if he wakes up.” He frowned.  “It is strange.  I don’t understand how a simple burn could affect him like this.”

“It was not a simple burn,” said Father Menem quietly.  “And this is not a simple matter.  See what Tengu found in the hole Brother Angelo dug.”

He pointed to his desk.  A space had been cleared among the quills, inkwells and parchments, and the black coloured stone lay by itself in the centre.  Espiris looked down at it blankly.  Then recognition dawned in his face, and he gasped

“Can it be?  After all these centuries?  But I thought…I thought all dragons were dead.”

“So most people believe,” Menem said drily.  “perhaps it was a little optimistic.  The incubation period for a dragon’s egg is said to be a thousand years.  And they are easy to overlook, especially among the black rocks of the mountains.”

“You there may be more?  In these mountains?  In our vineyard?”  Espiris appeared horrified at the thought.

Father Menem looked gravely at his subordinate.  “I have no idea.  This is not our immediate concern.  The question is what do we do with this one?”

Espiris looked startled.  “Surely there’s no need to debate that, Father.  We must destroy it, of course.”

“Must we?”  Father Menem gazed at the black object on the desk.  His eyes were wistful.  “It may be the only one left in the world.”

“I hope it is,” Espiris said grimly.  “Didn’t the dragons despoil good farmland in their time, and lay whole cities to waste?  Didn’t they plague humanity and make life a terror and a misery until they were destroyed in the battle on the plains of Argunor?”

Menem smiled wryly.  “So it says in official

“Well then!”  Espiris gestured with open hands, inviting his audience to draw an obvious conclusion.

“But Brother Espiris,” said Father Menem, and Tengu could have sworn he detected a mischievous twinkle in the old man’s eyes beneath his sparse white eyebrows, “the records of great wars are invariably written by the winners.  May it not be that the dragons were not really as black as they have been painted?”

“That object looks black enough to me,” Espiris growled with forced humour, pointing at the jet-couloured thing on the desk.

“Yes.” Father Menem sighed.  “So you have no doubts that the thing to do with this remarkable and possibly unique object is to destroy it?”

“Father Menem,” said Espiris, “the only question in my mind is why you have not already asked me to take this thing out on the mountain and crush it under the heaviest rock I can find.”  His voice rose in agitation.  “Father this egg is dangerous!”

“You think so?” said Father Menem mildly.

Espiris lifted hi clenched fists in violent gesture of impatience.  “Father Menem” he cried.  “Are you pretending to ignorance?  You know as well as I do what the old tales say – that a dragon’s egg is stone-cold when it is laid, and only grows warm when the egg is ready to hatch.  This egg is like a live coal!  It could hatch in the next five minutes.

“Tengu, from his small stool by the window, stared round-eyed at the mysterious object.  So the egg was alive!  Inside its opaque surface, there was a baby dragon!

What would it be like, the hatching of a dragon?  Would it be half made, helpless creature, blind andmewing like a kitten?  Or would it emerge perfectly formed, unfurling small wings and breathing tiny flames?

A baby dragon.  Perhaps the last dragon in the world.

And Brother Espiris wanted to kill it.

Terror and exultation swept through Tengu, making him tremble and clench his wiry fists.  It must not die!  What was there in this great monastery, on this empty mountain, to compare with this black enigma from the fabled past?  It was the only wonderful thing that had happened in his entire fifteen year old life.

Father Menem was smiling, the visionary smile of a very old man who sees thing that no one else sees.  “You’re right, Espiris, of course.  It will hatch very soon.  That it should happen in my monastery, in my own humble room!  That I should live to see it!  Surely I have not deserved so much!

Espiris glazed at him in astonishment.  Then he stepped closer to the desk.  “Father Menem, this thing is deadly.  I mean to kill it, and I will.”

Father Menem rose to his feet, trembling.  “No.  You shall not.”

The two men stared at each other.

At that moment a sound came from the egg.

It was a dull knock, like a hammer striking the wall of a distant cave.  After a short interval, the sound was repeated.  The egg rocked slightly.

“It is starting!” whispered Father Menem, his eyes shining.

“Then it must be stopped,” answered Espiris harshly.  Wrapping the cloth of his robe round his large hand to protect it, he stepped forward, reaching out to pick up the egg.

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To Read Part Two CLICK HERE

Short Fiction: Temptation

secretary

Mark Edwards knew his time had come, when the gun went off, and the burning feeling spread through his body.

The image, the last he would see, was of his wife Evelyn standing over him with a smoking pistol in hand, gradually becoming hazy and surrounded in a black mist.  He slipped in and out of consciousness, until his life was finally taken from him.

She kneeled down beside him, “sorry Mark, that it had come to this, I just couldn’t stand by and let you divorce me, and go off with your tart of a secretary.”

The last thing I remember; was reaching out and grabbing the pendant that hung around Evelyn’s neck.

Seconds later my body being dropped into the central foundation hole of the building, and cement being poured on top of me,

I had been tempted, and paid for it with my life.

Your thoughts… likes… shares most welcomed.

(Image) Secretary: DreamCatCheuse-Deviantart

Justice Served

justice-served

18th September 2016: “You said these investments were safe, Keith!  You said I can’t lose.  How come I have lost everything…all my money, and home because I was fool enough to listen to you,” stated Ian, feeling gullible for this moment in time.

“I didn’t actually say the investment was safe, now did I,” Keith replied.

Ian Hooper was finding this conversation with his investment broker, Keith Moon, exceedingly distasteful.  On top of other faults, Moon has suddenly developed a state of amnesia.

“Even if you didn’t say the word safe, you strongly implied it!”  Hooper’s voice was rising, verging on the state of Hysteria.

“Okay, okay, just calm down.  You know you should never trust a sure thing.  Didn’t you read the small print in the leaflet?  There’s always risks.”

“Screw the leaflet, I relied on what you said, not what’s printed in some leaflet, by lawyers and tax experts,” stated an irate Ian Hooper.  “You said the interest would pay my mortgage.”

“Yes, but the interest has paid your mortgage re-payments for years, but I can’t be held responsible if the market crashes, can I?”  Moon stressed firmly.

“You said investments were covered by insurance, so how come I walk away broke, homeless and in debt?”  asked Hooper trying to stay calm.

“When the market crashed, many companies went into liquidation, as is the case of this insurance company,” replied Moon trying to justify himself to his client.  “Look, I am sorry your investments did not work out this time, but it is the gamble we all take.”

“I want my money back,” stated Hooper.

“Well, naturally you want your money back.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get our money back after we made a bad investment?  But it is not going to happen,” Moon spoke firmly.

“It is simple, you indicated the investment was sound, so I invested every penny I had to buy my new house, now I have lost everything…that is not acceptable,” Hooper said in a firm deliberate voice.  “I will give you one week to refund my money.

“You will give me a week.”

“That is what I said.”

“What if I don’t do what you want?”

“You won’t like what happens, I can promise you that.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“Call it whatever you please, just make sure you have my money in a week.”

Moon hung up on Hooper.  “He’s got some nerve; threatening me like that.”

26th September 2016: A week had gone by and time for being polite was now over.  Ian Hooper rang Keith Moon’s investment office’s on the hour every hour for three solid days and was told each time he was unavailable, he just couldn’t get past the secretary, some cold hearted bitch.

28th September – 4th October 2016: Enough was enough in Hooper’s mind, he started a campaign of terror aimed at Keith Moon.  First he smashed the windows of his Ferrari, and then scratched it deeply with a screwdriver, where it stood outside his Hampstead home.  Night by night more damage was caused, windows broken, rubbish tipped in front garden, wall knocked down, gate torn from its hinges, and still he would not take my calls or pay the money he owed.  No amount of damage seemed to stir him.

Finally Hooper left a message on Moon’s answering machine.  “I have nothing to lose you have taken everything.  If I can’t have a home neither can you… 24hours to pay up, or you can join the ranks of the homeless!”

Moon treated the threat with the contempt it deserved; ignoring it.

5th October 2016:  Keith Moon awoke to a blackness so thick he feared he was blind, as if he was being buried alive.  His heart was hammering, his lungs burning.  His house was on fire.  A voice spoke, “I warned you.”  He recognised it straight away as that of Ian Hooper.

Holding out his hand, hoping to avoid a collision with the wall, making his way across the room.  The thick velvet curtain across the window was smouldering.

As Moon paused to gaze at the face of Hooper standing by the doorway, “Why?”

Hooper, looked on and smiled, for he had his justice on Moon.

Moon could see the moonlight shining through the glass door.  He had no alternative but to throw himself through the door, scrambling to his feet, turned and stood motionless still watching his house burn… A feeling of helplessness, washed over him.

Moon ran over the gravel driveway, to the road fully aware of the gravel pinching into his bare feet.

There he sat watching his dream house burn, amidst the sound of flashing lights and fire brigade vehicles, spraying water.

A shrill cry sounded out.  Moon’s brain kicked in, realising it was his mobile phone.

“Hello?”

“How does it feel to be homeless?” Ian Hooper spoke, those being his final words.  For he had his justice on the man who took everything from him!

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Reign of Terror

reign-of-terror

Within recent years, we have come to appreciate the astonishing feats achieved by our ancestors, and how their advances in science led to space age travel.

What they believed to be a new future for our world was to lead to a Great Invasion of planet Earth by an alien force.  Our great cities; destroyed.  Civilisation; forced underground.  Man; hunted like a wild animal.

space17

For thousands of years, man tore our planet apart with their great destructive wars.  With no more to fight for, they turned their heads upwards gazing into the solar system, “asking what lay beyond?”

Captain Jamie Straker: a rough and ready looking individual, more suited to the battlefield, commanded the Genesis: Excelsior.  His brief was to find out what lay on the planet of Uranus.

The ship glided quietly through space, and it was not long before they reached the planet of Uranus, encircled by a deep mist.  Lying under the mist that protected them from the sun, they observed low rolling plains and wide valleys, and marvelled at the great cities of gold that were in evidence to the north and south.

Intelligent looking creatures greeted us and made us welcome on their planet.  These spider looking creatures were called Ranush.

It was not until we understood the dialect of their language, could we communicate with them, telling whence we had travelled from.

Thinking they be friends, one of the crew stated, our home planet housed billions of people.

It was not long before the crew found themselves prisoners.  For it was here, they stumbled on the true nature of the Ranush; they were a race of Barbarians, who eat and kill each other to survive.

The Ranush demanded to know the location of planet Earth, but none would reveal it.

Thirty of us entered the dungeons, four weeks later; only eighteen of us were still alive, the guards had consumed twelve.

Time after time, we tried to escape, but it was futile.

One day, the twelve strongest attempted an escape.

Straker and his companions fought their way across the planet, heading closer and closer to their spacecraft.  By the time, they reached their craft only eight remained alive.

The great bullet-shaped craft sped across the vast emptiness of space and at last landed upon the Earth.  Straker, was the only survivor; some had died from their wounds, other’s from a strange disease that they had caught from the Ranush.

Straker, barely alive, lived long enough to tell his story.

Faced with this oncoming attack by an alien race, the world only had enough time for limited defensive measures.  Survival seemed the word of the day.

News Bulletins; were broadcast on every channel, every station, every country, warning of the incoming dangers.  It could be a week, a month, or more, but it is definitely coming our way.

Countries joined to retaliate with the might of their arsenals, against this intruder of planet Earth.  Every man, woman and child, would have to fight for their own existence.

I remember that night well, when creatures from outer space, landed at our town of Rushville, nothing more than a desert town, some 150 miles from Denver, with only 89 inhabitants.  Temperature was high in the eighties, your shirt sticking to your back, and the moon glowing over the desert, as far as the eye could see.

As far as I can remember, that was late evening on the last Sunday in July, in the year 2015.  I can remember those events, clear as though it was only yesterday.

Matt hollered out.  “What on earth was that?”  Glancing around the bar, expecting somebody to reply, as the ground hollered below them.

The barman, clambered to his feet, and gazed towards the window, ablaze in light.

“That must have been an earthquake, or something?” he ventured to suggest.

I slipped off my stool, and casually strolled across to the now illuminated windows.  The cause of the turbulence had caused a mini sandstorm, from the parking lot opposite heading down the main street.

“Whatever it was,” someone in the back of the bar announced, “we have no power now!”

Shielding my eyes from the bright light, I saw what had caused the power failure, not a matter of downed power lines; some sort of flying object.

The shaking stopped, and the lights shuddered back into action.

“Shouldn’t somebody go outside and see what caused it?” Jake suggested, but no reply came back.

Matt slipped out the door without a word.  The first we knew about it, was when he put his hand up in acknowledgement.

“Hope he keeps his heads down,” commented Sean.

Matt crossed the street, where an alien looking craft had landed.

Just as Matt reached the craft, a ramp towards the rear, crashed down on the dirt, making a large noise, and out popped a spider looking creature.

Matt turned, facing us, and waved us on.  “Come on out, it looks harmless, it looks more scared of us, than we are of it,” he yelled.

“You think it is safe then, Matt?” asked Sean.

Matt, just shrugged his shoulders, in reply.

These spider looking creatures, who have landed here from another planet, are supposed to be dangerous according to the daily News Bulletins.

Sean strode out of the door.  As he headed out and moved  towards the lot, two more spider like creatures appeared and moved across, to greet him.

“They must be able to read our minds or thoughts,” Sean thought to himself.

I could see the situation getting get out of control, and thought we should tell the law.

I tried the phones, nothing just static on the line, it was at this time, I realised we were isolated.

“I am going out the back, and through your storeroom, over to the sheriff’s office,” I said to Mac the Barman, who just nodded in agreement.

I slipped behind the counter, through the storeroom, and then out the back door, over the fence by the trashcans.

As I reached over the fence, three more of those creatures were in the rear alley, making a high-pitched whistling sound; it just went right through you, just like a howling wind.

These spider like creatures, with four tentacle styled arms, were about six to seven feet in height, and glided across the ground, in a floating motion.

Looking into the creatures head, you saw nothing, just blackness, an ever-ending effect, with holes for its eyes and mouth.  What they were made of, we never found out.

If you got too close, they flutter out their arms in defence, dropping a wing-like shield.

The confrontation with this alien form, lasted only moments, before it moved away, heading in the direction of the sheriff’s office, as Matt was heard sprinting down the alley towards them.

Sean, who had followed up behind Matt, slightly out of breath, confirmed Matt’s thoughts that they can indeed read our minds.

“Do you really believe that, why?” asked Danny.

“Well, for one thing, they knew you were coming out of the alleyway, heading to the sheriff’s office,” quoted Matt.

Sean gave one of his renowned shrugs.

“What do you think their intentions are?”  Danny asked.

They gazed at each other, no one speaking, as the rear door to the bar flung open.  “Are any of those creatures out here,” asked Jake.

“They were, but when they heard Matt and Sean coming down the alleyway, they moved off, heading in the direction of the sheriff’s office,” replied Danny.

“That will please Carl or the creatures,” suggested Jake.

The creatures did not do anything more that night, just moved around the town.

Three or four days had passed, and still these creatures hung around our town.

As Matt, Sean and myself, sat out on the sidewalk, beer in hand watching the aliens, it became obvious to us, their actions, and movement were slowing down.

“Danny, do you see what I see,” suggested Matt.

“Sure do, these creatures, are slowing down,” replied Danny.

“If you watch their actions, there is a cautious mannerism, coming through, but why now, something must be about to happen?” suggested Sean.

With all the telephones dead, and roads out of town closed, they had us where they wanted us.  We would never have found that out, if it had not been for the daily bus, unable to get into the town.  The perimeter of the town had an invisible barrier surrounding it.  Was it to keep us in, or something else out?

Wherever we turned, our exit out of the town was blocked.  This alien race had taken us prisoner in our hometown.

With nowhere to run, all answers to their purpose lay aboard their craft.  We backtracked to the alien craft, to find even more of them now standing guard by the ramp.  As we approached, they glided back up the ramp.

“Let’s get out of here,” shouted Matt.  “I have got a bad feeling about this.”

Come dark, the ship was silent, as the alien creatures paraded around the streets.  Matt and Sean crept up into the hold, while I stood lookout by the side of the ship.

Time stood still, my heart ever racing, waiting, and watching for my compatriots, when suddenly they raced out of the ship, their faces were stone white, with fear.

“Well, what did you find?” I asked, once we had retreated to the safety of the bar.

Sean’s hands were shaking, as he tried to take a drink.

“You are scaring me,” I replied.

“You would say, the town is devoid of people at the moment, compared with normal times?” asked Matt.

“Well, yeah.”

“That is because the hold of that ship contains hanging body bags of our people.”

“Are they alive?”

“I did not stay long enough to find out,” replied Sean.

“Remember those broadcasts, warning us of danger from alien invaders,” stated Jake.  “It looks as though their intention is abduction, but to what ends?”

Matt, gazed around the bar, looking into the eyes of those close by.  “We have no option but to kill them all, and destroy their ship.  Our aim, being the survival of our race.  It is either them or us.”

We waited for night to come.  There was me, Carl, Matt, Sean, and Mac; Carl was carrying a rifle along with Matt and Sean, while Mac and I carried shotguns.

Right on cue, they appeared and we started firing at them.  We moved forward as one mass, firing and clearing, firing and clearing.  These alien creatures never knew what hit them.  They just folded up and fell to the ground, some inside the ship, and some outside, others on the ramp.  When they were all down, Carl went up to each one and put a couple of bullets into its head from his handgun.

We checked over the ship, and removed any of the townsfolk discovered.   A further four were found in the hold, and we filled them full of lead like the rest.

When the sun rose the following morning, our act of destruction, was clear to see.  We placed all the alien creatures upon their ship, and doused the whole thing in gasoline.  Then we tossed a match into it.  It burned quietly, for three whole days and nights; a cloud of black smoke, rose 200 feet into the air.

Nobody spoke of the events again.  Who would believe us?  Where was the proof?

What happened those few days in our town of Rushville, was to haunt me for years to come.  Was our planet, facing extinction by an alien race?

The Ranush, entered Earth’s atmosphere by way of a black hole.  They arrived in their thousands spewing out ionized gasses into the blackness of space.  Battle cruisers roamed the perimeter of the fleet, housing short-range fighters; whilst the main fleet consisted of cargo vessels holding thousands of warriors.

After seven moons had passed, each side blasting away at each other; the Ranush dive bombed the planet by their thousands, one wave after another, with their short range fighters, destroying buildings until all that remained of the human race lay dead, dying or maimed.  Their losses were minimal, for Earth faced an enemy with firepower, far exceeding their own.

Within twenty moons, the Ranush warriors had fought hand to hand with the human race.  Capturing some three billion prisoners and executing as many.  Thousands had fled for safety in new cities being built below ground.

A central dome consisting of inter-locking pre-fabricated steel sections with an inner and outer wall with a common walkway between the two, along with thousands of additional walkways had been built, all leading to large groups of interlocking housing domes.  Each glazed in high-density aluminium sheeting.  A series of trusses supports the main dome, outlying domes and walkways, and power conduits running through the construction.  All in all, we had built our own city underground.

Whilst the Ranush had the planets surface, we humans laboured below, extending our city of life further and further; with millions of intricate honeycombed passages.

Food was in short supply, with limited underground food farms.  Warriors were selected to hunt on the surface for livestock.  This became a game of cat and mouse with the Ranush.

Our technology saved us from extinction itself; for we had the ability and scientific minds to create synthetic foods.

Man, lived like an animal, in their underground cities.  For it had been twenty years since many of us had seen daylight, and breathed fresh air.

The Barbarian spiders like creatures known as the Ranush, came from planet Uranus, and now rule planet Earth.  We are no more than animals surviving below ground, just as they were on their home planet.

What future remains for the human race, as we know it!

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The Hunted

Medieval man writing

Under a stormy Suffolk sky, she ran across the spongy marsh towards a dense copse of evergreen trees.  Above the whine of the wind coming off the sea she heard again the baying of the hounds, the shouts of the men pursuing them.

She glanced over her shoulder.  Her friend Karen was some distance behind her, having trouble negotiating the treacherous ground.  Christine thought of going back, urging her to hurry – but the sinister men chasing them were closing in.

“Head for the trees, Karen,” she shouted.

But her voice was carried away on the rising wind.  She ran on, ran all out, gasping for breath, with fear.  Then she was inside the shelter of the black firs.  Clad in denims and a dark green windcheater, she ran deeper inside the small wood.  The barking of the savage dogs was close.  There was no escape.

There had to be.  Hidden inside the firs she looked up at a giant spreading its branches like hands reaching out to grasp her.  Her denims were tucked in leather boots, with indented rubber soles.  She grabbed at a low branch, hauled herself up the huge trunk, forcing herself to move fast.  Her boots were wet from splashing through a creek a short distance back.  She continued her climb like an agile monkey; thanking God she was slim and fit.

Near the top of the fir, which rose above the surrounding trees, she perched herself; legs straddled over a branch, back leant against the trunk as she waited to get her breath.  Looking down, she saw she was concealed from the ground except for one small gap.  She stared out across the marsh towards the river as dusk descended.  To her horror, she saw Karen running in the open, heading for a small boat moored in a creek snaking in from the yacht basin.  Close behind her followed the hunters.  Christine heard a sound below, glanced down, stiffened with fright.

A large Alsatian, released by its handler, was sniffing round the base of the fir.  She waited for its head to lift, to stare up at her refuge.  Two of her pursuers appeared.  Tall men wearing Balaclava helmets with slits for vision, camouflage jackets tucked into military style boots.  Both men held rifles.

Christine reached quietly into her shoulder bag, took out her .32 Browning automatic.  Then she heard the sound of more men treading through the undergrowth.  She was out-numbered.  The Alsatian was moving in circles as though baffled.  It ran away out of sight, Christine remembered the creek she had splashed through by chance.  The beast had lost her scent.  The hunters moved away.  She let out a sigh of relief.

Still seated, she stretched up, gazing in the direction of Aldeburgh, the town by the sea.  Its huddle of rooftops had disappeared in the dark.  She had a brief glimpse of a belt of sea with whitecaps and then that, too, disappeared in the moonless night.

Where is Karen?  She asked herself.

As though in reply to her anxious question she heard a penetrating scream piercing the silence of the marshes.  It came from the direction where Karen had run for the boat.  The agonized scream choked off.  The return of silence sounded dreadful.  Good God!  Had they reached Karen!  What had they done to her?

Shivering with cold, she buttoned the windcheater up to her neck, checked the time by her illuminated hands of her watch.  5.30pm.  Experience warned her she must wait inside her refuge.  The hunters knew there had been two women.  And she still caught the distant sound of a dog barking.

Her legs were beginning to ache – reaction from the desperate run across the marshes, from the strain of keeping still, straddled over the branch.  The wind stirred the smaller branches, brushed her face with prickly twigs.  She waited until 11.00pm, by which time the barking had stopped and no sounds heard across the fields, except the sound of waves in the distance.

She was frozen stiff; her body ached with each move, as she lowered herself to the ground.  What happened to Karen she asked herself as she hobbled away, keeping close to the tree line… thankful to be still alive.

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