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An Unintended Break

I had previously intended to get at least one or two written pieces published on this site a month, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep to that.

It was a shame but I don’t think it’s a huge deal. I had previously enjoyed the writing but full time work can make it difficult, as well as writing projects away from this blog.

I’m going to aim to contribute on a somewhat more regular basis, but I suppose that’s part of the challenge for an amateur writer who does it as a hobby. Finding the time.

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The Life & Works of Captain Jerome Hegarty – Adventure In The Irish Sea

Dear Reader,

On Thursday 13th March 1997 at 4.43am, my Great-Uncle, a former British Army Officer by the name of Jerome Hegarty, passed away in a care home for the elderly and infirm in Coventry, England.

Among his material assets at time of death were an extensive collection of diaries, personal correspondence and official reports detailing a great number of episodes and events which he found reason to be involved in through his time on earth. It is a point of severe disappointment that some of the letters written by my Great-Uncle remained in the possession of their intended recipients and so only letters and postcards received by Captain Hegarty are amongst this collection. More happily I have discover that the ongoing correspondence with his wife, my sadly deceased Great-Aunt Emily Hegarty, is in a rather more complete state and seems to contain a far more clearly illustrated depiction of events.

After tiresome and unpleasantly drawn-out legal wrangling, I have been declared the sole heir to his assortment of self-produced literatures and have taken it upon myself to publish the most interesting of the old fellow’s work in the hopes it may inspire former colleagues, comrades or associated individuals to step forward and reveal more information about the man. Failing that, I hope a younger generation find the stories, no matter how wild and unverified, entertaining in some small degree or possibly even inlightening as to the former way of the world.

As such, please see attached for the first materials detailing a story of death, corruption and intrigue in the Irish Sea. I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of the below document’s claims as attempts to verify the accounts have not been warmly received by various authorities, but can say I believe the original author to have been a brave and honest gentleman with little reason to fabricate.

All spelling and grammar are the original authors own and any annotations will be marked as such. For any enquiries or to provide information you believe relevant, please contact me through the appropriate channels.

Dr. Roderick Clarkson-Hegarty, Fellow of Anthropology, St Andrews University

Monday 4th April, 1921.

My dearest Emily,

I trust this letter finds you well and that the weather is rather more pleasant than that which I have endured over these last few days. I am pleased to report my safe arrival on my latest job this evening.

Once again I wish to apologise for the poor timing of my being called away but we have spoken about the nature of my work and as such I do hope you will understand and trust we will rearrange our tour of the Southern coast for later in the summer.

Any frustrations you may hold in this regard are shared at this end. It has been a frightful bother trying to this far flung and most foresaken of isles. St. Domhnall’s, indeed. In all my travels I haven’t heard the name and the few hours I’ve been here have displayed little reason why I should have done.

Regrettably, there wasn’t much opportunity to explain why I was called away for this assignment so I will try to provide some details.

You may recall around Christmas there were a few articles buried away in The Times and The Daily Mail covering some rather heavy handed raids by Commissioner MacReady’s Mobile Patrol Experiment (n.b, these days more popularly known as The Flying Squad) in Hackney and East Ham. Recalling these articles, the journalists rather vaguely indicated it was in line with the units remit to crackdown on organised gangs of petty criminals, con artists and general law breaking rif-raf. Now I have no reason to suspect this new unit don’t have a fine new collection of pick-pockets and postage stamp forgers to boast of, but from the meagre slivers of information I was able to pry from the agent who collected me from Liverpool Lime Street station in Saturday, it seems the honourable Mr MacReady may have been answering to some form of higher entity. If this agency is from a political office or strictly within the confines of the domestic intelligence network (n.b, MI5?) with whom I am currently employed, I am not wholely clear.

At any rate, it is my current understanding that the breaking up of these East London criminal networks was in fact a rather convient cover for the investigation of more sinister goings on, Communist and Trade Unionist activity no less. Perhaps this explains the liberal indulgence of violent force on the part of the arresting officers.

My escort on the journey onwards from Liverpool seemed rather pleased with himself to reveal that the raid led to the discovery of a veritable treasure trove of documentation, plans, diaries and written communications, within which was gleaned some information connecting these urban cells with highly sought after individuals within the Irish Republican movement, with specific mention of St. Domhnall’s Island.

And so, I have been summoned into duty and dispatched, via train, motor-car and ferry, to the Irish Sea to follow up on these documented connections and investigate if there is any case to proceed with and, if there is, which organisation would be best suited to pursue it.

My travel from London to Liverpool was wholly uneventful. I have developed a rather fun game to play on these journeys, to watch those around me and see if I can identify any of them as carefully planted “minders” who have been carefully positioned to monitor me. I don’t believe I’ve spotted any so far, but it keeps a mind mildly entertained on long journeys.

As mentioned, there was one “minder” who was quite easy to spot. A humourless young man called Bellamy who had been attached to collect me from Liverpool Lime Street station and even accompanied me on the ferry trip.

The chap cannot have been more than 25 years old but my word was he the most begrudging of travel companions. It took a great deal of probing and needling around the topic to extract any useful information out of him. They must be training their new recruits to mighty high standard at Whitehall Court these days. It did strike me however that a man of his years and occupation may well have been in France or Belgium when he was but a youth, which could go someway to explain any dourness in his nature. he brightened up somewhat when we got onto the topic of the East London raids, suggesting that activity was a point of pride. Maybe Bellamy was the overseeing officer?

The ferry brought a welcome chance to separate myself from the pocket of Officer Bellamy, as well as to get a word with some locals, both from the mainland and the Island. I know it saddens you to hear but I copped a few odd comments and queer looks. Possibly they were drawn by the Saville Row overcoat you gifted me this past Christmas! Certainly it stood out against the fisherman’s overalls and weather beaten farmers coats. Although I do concede my colouring is a few shades darker than they are used to in these parts.

Despite their unwelcoming expressions and rather gruff tones, they seemed moderately open to discussion. I learned I had caught a very important ferry, as this was the journey back from having negoiated that years agreements with butchers, cheese producers and wool merchants on the mainland, securing the island’s financial well being for the rest of the year. As such there is to be a traditional annual festival held in the coming days to celebrate this fact, which I understand is to be a major event. I will have to see if I can make the time to attend!

Now, as I was “on the clock” I did make a note of the names and faces I spoke to. These will have to form my first points of reference as I make sense of whatever happenings I will encounter out here. I wasn’t able to get any sense of anyone who might have been out of place, or might fit the description of the supposed terrorists I have been sent to uncover.

It was a short journey to the island and upon landfall Bellamy bid me adieu, advised I make myself down to the village pub to find my lodgings for the next week and to be prepared to deliver a report by the same time next week.

Emily, St Domhnal’s is a most frightfully dreary isle, to a degree which surely goes above a mere case of April showers! It is almost unlike any climate I have experienced before. Naturally, I anticipated that a craggy island in the Irish Sea would be a far sight less temperate than our visit to the Caribbean last summer, but I had not banked it being even more turgid, damp and grey than Flanders! Skies were grey as our boat crossed the sea but as soon as we landed, the heavens opened and rain came down frightfully. Me and my fellow passengers hurriedly made our way off the modest pier and into the narrow streets of St Domhnall’s village. The others seemed to barely flinch from the rain, so presumably it’s a common experience for locals as they seemed to shrug it off and disappear into their houses.

I on the other hand, had the misfortune of having to locate The Bronze Bull public house, which was at the far end of the street. I was soaked through to the skin by the time made it up to the bar and spoke to the owner, a balding, gaunt chap called Owen McManus.

He had been expecting me, although of course under a fictitious name and occupation, but advised me that arriving so late in the evening, especially with such miserable weather, meant it would be prefable for him to show me the village in the light of morning. I readily agreed and asked to be taken to my room for supper. He was perfectly obliging, but I was dismayed when he told me my lodgings were to be a small, stone outbuilding, set some 200 metres up a hill away from the rest of the village!

It is from this very fixture that I currently write to you. It is a bitterly cold excuse for a house despite my valiant efforts to ignite a fire and feels as though it offers little protection against the winds, which howl and bite through the walls. Mercifully, it does keep the rain out and I was able to get some form of fire going, which is currently drying out my overcoat. It is largely bare aside from a wire cot and mattres, wooden table and small wardrobe. McManus provided a small hamper with food for tonight and tomorrow morning, as well as a bottle of locally brewed ale. Although i am grateful for these rations, I will be missing your cooking while on this trip.

It is disappointing to be so cut off from the rest of the village, especially as this island is so far from the mainland. I miss you terribly and will be thinking thinking you constantly. I will write to you tomorrow, provided I have news. The grim atmosphere of this island has damped my mood and confidence considerably. Tomorrow I will begin my investigations, although into what and of whom I am currently somewhat unsure of.

Regardless of what goings on I uncover on this cursed isle, my main hope is, as always, to return to your arms safe and well.

All my love, endlessly,

Jerome

Hitchhiker.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

The murmur came somewhere under pile of blankets on the passenger seat. The 2001 Ford Explorer was showing its age, displaying its habit of juddering to a standstill rather than smoothly gliding to a halt and the final lurch had roused Emma from her nap. Wisps of ginger hair  were brushed aside as she began to emerge from her cocoon.

“I’m just gonna see if this guy is ok” I replied absentmindedly, watching the shuffling heap of tattered clothes, grey facial hair and plastic shopping bags that had caught my attention. As the elderly man drew level with my door, I cracked the window down a few inches and called for the man’s attention.

“Bit early isn’t it buddy, how’re you doing there?”

The man suddenly sprung towards the car, as if my words had suddenly sparked him into life.

His fingers scrabbled at the window of my truck, his eyes bulged and his voice was a hoarse, sharp whisper.

“Cleveland! Cleveland!” The man babbled, never keeping his focus stop enough to make eye contact.

“Woah clam down, old man…” I began before he cut me off again.

“Ccccllleevvellandd” the man hissed through my window.

I glanced across at Emma in an attempt to reassure her.

“You’re a little far out from Cleveland, buddy. You lost yeah?”

The man just repeated himself, wrapping the tips of his fingers over the edge of my window as if to hold himself up right as he sagged backwards, muttering to himself in a gruff, low tone and taking deep huffs of breath. I felt Emma stiffen next to me as I eyed the man, trying to get a read on if he was high, drunk, deranged or a combination of all three. On one of his multiple layer of dirty, raggedy jackets I saw a flash of recognisable of orange, white and yellow. A combination of colours that was warmly and proudly engrained on my very inner being.

“23rd Signals? Good man.” I said, more relaxed now suspecting I was in the company of an older member of the same army brigade I had served for the last four years. As such, I had spent most of those four years in the Ohio city this old man been crying out for, in the sprawling military base of Fort Roberts. I made the assumption he was attending a vets reunion function of some type, maybe for guys who had been in Korea, judging from the man’s age. I wracked my brain to work out if I knew him, as his face was strikingly familiar if not placeable. It was entirely possible we’d crossed paths at some Christmas Veterans event or another…most likely in one of the Brigades visits to local V.A shelters, judging by his appearance and demeanour.

“Babe, he’s one of our old boys, I’m sure we can give him a ride?” I pitched to Emma, who’s face was a perfect picture of distrust and concern.

“We are not driving all the way back to fucking Ohio” my fiance said, as dry and unmoving as Ayers Rock.

“No…Not take him back to Cleveland. Just help him along a little. We can swing off to Knoxville and buy him a greyhound ticket.” Her expression didn’t soften but she looked on silently. After a few seconds looking for a reaction, I took the absence of such as consent for me to invite the old man along with us. I turned back to the old man, who had now staggered a few yards away from the car and was doubled over, clutching at his face.

“Hey…hey pal. You wanna hop in the back there? We’ll help you on your way.” 

The man said nothing, but twirled in a semi circle with his hands still on his temple and stomped toward the car as if he intended to accept my offer. He slumped against the door and let out a long, deep breath, before hauling it open and pulling himself inside.

“Thank you Sir, a real thanks to you, you just have to get to Cleveland…”

Emma turned in her seat to confront the man “No, not Cleveland. We’re taking you to Knoxville, ok?” she spoke clearly and firmly. I recognised the voice from times I had barrelled home for a bar and required some leadership in making it to bed. My eyes darted to the rear view mirror and I watched him in the reflection.

His face seemed to brighten up at her voice and he lent forward in his seat and he positively beamed at Emma. He nodded intently “Oh…of course. Knoxville, of course.” He sighed, much more soberly than he had spoken to me. Then he retreated to rest back into the seat, shaking his head. Through his bushy white beard, a suggestion of a knowing, longing grin seemed to snake across his lips.

I bullied the Explorer back into gear and, despite the vocal disagreement of the engine, began to negotiate the detoured journey towards Knoxville, conscious of Emma glaring daggers at me. But the new passenger in the back settled himself down, head propped against the window and the first part of the journey passed without comment.

As we began to eat up the miles and the vehicle settled into a moderately contented hum, my mind began to turn over the events of the morning and I ventured to learn more about the gentleman curled up behind me.

“So where you headed in Cleveland, you and the old boys gonna be raising hell at McMullen’s?” With a chuckle, hoping to be able to swap stories from different eras of the 23rd’s favourite watering hole. The man didn’t reply at first, but grunted and huffed to himself.

“Got to be back. Time’s running out. Lost them, so must go back to report, start over.” Looking again in the rear view, I saw that his gaze was fixed, furtively looking out the window. He had pulled one of his jacket up over his chest and the lower portion of his face.

“Right, you gotta get back in touch with the guys, I get that. Gets hard keeping tabs with people, you know. I’m still in but lost contact with a bunch of guys from basic or who have discharged. Not easy at all.

The old man’s eyes momentarily shot away from the side of the highway and locked onto my reflected gaze. He squinted, holding the gaze before darting his attention back towards the outside world.

“Not contact. Lost them.” He growled, bristling at my apparent misunderstanding. “Farringdon and Greening both got caught in Florida. Shot. Killed”

The two names he mentioned instantly cut through my attempts to make polite small talk and drew me into the old man’s bitter utterances. Farringdon and Greening, or rather Staff Sergeant Jace Farringdon and Corporal Alan Greening were my two closest comrades in the 23rd Signals and, as per their responses to our Whatsapp group a few hours ago, were both very much alive. I wasn’t even sure Greening could point Florida out on a map, let alone be there with this man. I glanced sideways and saw Emma had also noticed the…coincidental names.

The grumbling continued “Bullshit mission. Not what they said it would be. Back to Ohio. Start over, it’s the only way.” He was  becoming visibly more agitated as he spoke, clenching his fist around the wispy, greyed hairs around his temples  and chewing on his lower lip.

Emma sat up and swivelled in her seat to face the older man. “Who are Farringdon and Greening?”.

The vicious glare with which the man had been regarding the world soften again at Emma’s words. His eyes softened and became somewhat crestfallen.

“They were exactly who you think they”

Rather confused and perplexed by the strangeness of the few details we had prized out of the elderly stranger, it seemed as Emma and I silently agreed to settle into the drive and not needle the clearly disturbed and uncomfortable man much further.

Now out on the freeway, the Explorer had settled into a more healthy hum and we quickly rattled through towards Knoxville. My mind buzzed and fizzed with questions and concerns, but I had neither the inclination or stomach to ask or raise them with the man sat behind me.

Though the time felt as it was dragging, most probably due to the frantic nature of the thoughts rattling through my head, I was inwardly pleased to eventually find the exit ramp for Knoxville. Finding myself beginning to feel physically unnerved by the strangeness of the morning’s conversations, I desperately sought out a gas station or rest stop to deliver the man. Luckily one was to be found after the heavy, rusting SUV chomped up just a few more miles of tarmac and I gleefully pulled into the small parking area with even less grace than an observer might expect from my vehicle.

Well here we go pal. If you need a ride into Knoxville I’m sure you can ask in there” I said, trying to keep a calm and composed demeanour as I gestured towards the gas station kiosk.  The man stirred on the seat from under his mound of torn clothing, before quickly opening the passenger door and lurching out of the vehicle. Hesitantly, I also stepped out, with Emma wisely staying put.

I continued to try and engage the man “I’m sure some kind of bus will have to pass through to fill up, or you could try and flag someone down.” I fumbled into my jean pockets and fished out my wallet, producing a $20 note and offering it to the man “Hope this can help if you need to buy a ticket. For the 23rd, right?” I said, in what a hoped was a warm, comradely tone.

The man extended his hand towards mine and took the money. His hand lingered and he seemed unsure if he should dash off or thank me. He hummed and mumbled to himself, seemingly trying to decide.

Just…just look after yourself. And her.” He eventually grumbled with a nod back towards the car. I was surprised that he felt the need to warn  me but I tried to accept it in good faith. I half turned away to look back at Emma and couldn’t help but laugh slightly.

“Sure man, will do. You do the same”. However, as I turned back to the man I was met with his back, the same hunched over figure that had captured my attention earlier in the day shuffling towards the kiosk. I shook my head and stepped backwards to my truck.

“Hey, Matt. How did this get in the back here?” Emma was calling to me. She was turned around in her seat, examining the rear seats where the man had been. As I walked closed to the rear windows, she pointed to a small, intricate but rather beaten up metal crucifix on a silver chain on the seat. It looked strangely like a poorly cared for, time weathered copy of the item of jewellery my mother had given me when I joined the army. Looking closely through the glass, I could see the characters “M.L, 1991” had been engraved on the mysterious piece.

I look up and met Emma’s eyes. Without being able to find words, I reached into my jacket pocket and removed my own beloved, cleaner version of the same crucifix. As it spun on the chain, the sunlight glinted on the engraved letters. My initials and year of my birth…“M.L, 1991”

As The Land Wept Blood (Part II)

A weak smile broke out across Ambrose’s tired face. It had warmed him, to hear an indignant jab of humour in the face of such a desperate scenario. Tsang negotiated his way across the corridor and clambered over the doorframe through to the mess, moments later reappearing with two small, silver tubes in hand, one of which he casually tossed into the lap of the ship’s doctor. Ambrose recognised the tube as a pack of the nutrient gels the crew had largely come to rely on for sustenance.
“Keep yourself going.” Tsang quipped, snapping the lid of his tube and guzzling the contents. “We’re sitting on a good few years worth of grub in the back there”
The smile had dropped now and Ambrose’s face clouded.
“We just sit here at get fat on our dead comrade’s rations? Is that the plan? Nobody even knows we’re out here, let alone be able to get here soon enough to rescue us dammit!” He stood, bitterly flinging his tube to the corner of the steel corridor, hobbling to turn away from Tsang. “We could keep ourselves fed and watered for a hundred years, only to end up starving to death anyway. Would have been better to have died with the others.”

The sudden burst of anger caused Tsang’s face to cloud.

“Is that what you think? You think all I want to do is to sit here, in this metal tomb with your miserable hide and toast our good fortune?” His voice crackled with anger as he approached Ambrose’s back “You think you’re the only one with memories, who’s lost something? Funnily enough, Brian, Chicago or Seattle or whatever yankee town you’re from wasn’t the only one that had sunrises and green grass and rivers. We had them in Sichuan and they burn through my heart and my soul every time I close my eyes, the same way it burns through yours.  You aren’t the only person who has a spouse or children that they’ll never see again, who will never even know what happened to you. You don’t get a monopoly on how bad things are, funnily enough your situation is literally the same as every other human on this planet, remember?”

Ambrose dipped his head and looked back over his shoulder, having no response to fiery rebuke he had just endured. He meekly raised an open hand – point taken.

For a few seconds, the two men stood silently. One enraged, the other despairing. Both thought back to happy, peaceful, carefree days made of the most human and earthly pleasures. Of summer breezes and winter snows. Of the laughter of wives and former lovers. To cold beer and warm, homecooked meals. In their own ways, both men smouldered at the incomprehensible injustice of it all.

“We are both men of science. We are both men of Earth. And in both respects, we must uphold our duty, to refuse to surrender. To explore, to document our discoveries. And when we drop down dead, we leave something. Whoever, or whatever finds us tomorrow, next week or a thousand years from now will know we were here. Humanity…was here, dammit.”   

Turning to fully face his colleague, S.M.O Ambrose nodded, avoiding eye contact as he composed himself. He stepped past Tsang and began to shuffle around the body of the crashed spacecraft. He collected ration packs from the mess, along with a personal daypack that had been forgotten at a dinner table prior to the crash. He thought it had belonged to Dr. Shah, the ships engineering genius. Returning back to the corridor and facing up to Tsang, Ambrose placed the daysack on top of the cracked medical supply container and took in a long, unsteady breath. For the sake of clarity and not to allow the poor acoustics to infringe on the gravitas of their predicament, Ambrose elected to broadcast

“Senior Medical Officer Tsang. If you are able and would care to, may i invite you to visit your scientific quarters and gather whatever supplies you may be of use, before joining me on an expedition outside this ship, in pursuit of learning more about this alien world you and I have the pleasure of finding ourselves on?”

Tsang smiled, reached out and clapped Ambrose on the shoulder pad of his uniform. “Let us not go gentle, into this good night”

 

 

 

The Purpose of Writing

A confession to make, I suppose.

I don’t really know why I have this blog. It has no real design or end goal. I don’t plan to get wickedly rich or wonderfully famous. Nor is there much planning or fore-thought that goes into what I write. Rather just a glimmer of an idea that I try to run and run with until i reach some sort of end of the tale.

Endings certainly are a challenge. I tend to wander without neatly narrowing in on a conclusion. Or keep a tight word cap on my works. I do worry if that would put people off.

But perhaps therein lies the reason, hopefully I’ll improve as a writer.

Partly, i think it’s more just to release and vent. To give some daylight or air to dozens of half-baked, fleeting ideas or scenarios that flow across my mind day after day. I suppose that’s worth something, maybe.

Maybe not.

I feel rather muddled. Is “art” (using the phrase makes me rather uncomfortable…) only worth while if it enjoys a healthy audience share and gets critical reward? Or does it have a value in spending the time to make it, to spurt out the 1000+ words simply for the sake of being able to say you have done so?

As The Land Wept Blood (Part I)

Senior Medical Officer Brian Ambrose eyes burned from the lack of sleep. He looked aimlessly at his hands, his dark skin sore with grazing and bruising down the length of his forearms. The ringing sensation that had screamed through his head for the first day or two since the crash had subsided to a dull, aching wave which pulsed outwards from a point located somewhere just behind his left eyeball. The swelling around his previously dislocated knee stubbornly refused to go down, despite having forced the joint back to something like it’s natural position.

He was sat perched on a badly scuffed steamer trunk, the green plastic resin casing with deep cracks snaking around each corner of the lid. Each side of the cuboid container was marked with a blocky white cross, indicating to Ambrose that, in the unlikely event he would ever be required to file a report on the catastrophic failure of the Mani IIX, he would at least be able to write of his personal success in regard of retaining inventory of the ship’s medical supplies.

The prospect offered scant consolation. At any rate, S.M.O Ambrose was all too aware of monumental unlikeliness that such a report would ever be made, at least with his input.

At his feet stood three small crucifixes, made from slivers of plastic that he had collected, shattered remnants of some container that had no doubt had been of critical importance before the wicked hand of fate plucked his unit’s space craft out of the void and hurtled it directly into the surface of the desolate sphere he now found himself on. He had torn strips of fabric from the sleeves of his uniform and bound the plastic pieces together into  rudimentary . With a small screw, he had then carved initials into each cross. A pitiful but immensely human tribute to his comrades who had perished in the incident, a nearly incomprehensible distance from the arms of their loved ones. Ambrose reflected on each soul the crosses bore the memory of:

Command Pilot Richard Summers.

A renowned veteran of the South African Air Force before joining  the International Expeditionary Commission, Summers had severing peerlessly on half a dozen missions. Before boarding Mani IIX four years previously back in Texas, Summers had  enjoyed a mere three months with his first grandchild. Rightly so given his ranking and reputation, Summers had been in the cockpit until the very moment of impact.

Lead Engineer Dr. Vedika Shah

Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh’s finest intellectual product, Shah had spent much of her 20’s and 30’s touring most of Earth’s leading academic institutions attaining honours in the manner teenage boys might collect baseball cards. Vedika had designed Mani IIX’s nuclear engines and saw the craft more as a patient than a machine to be maintained. She had leapt into the engine bay when the first burst of radiation had assaulted the ship. Ambrose personally suspected the second, bigger blast had ruptured the engines and obliterated Shah as well, hopefully in an instantaneous and entirely painless flash.

Pilot Second Class Madeline D’Agostino

Having logged countless hours as part of an Italian contingent in NATO’s aerial force over North Africa and Central Asia during the first of a series of brutal and swift Resource Wars,  D’Agostino’s had been recruited to the IEC as a poster girl for the entire operation. A potent combination of fiery charm and smouldering looks had underpinned and sometimes overshadowed her aggressively and seemingly natural affinity for flying. Ambrose had heard D’Agostino’s radio feed cut dead a few minutes prior to impact, as the ship had began to disintegrate upon entering atmosphere. Presumably had been sucked through a jagged crack in the cockpit’s observation windows. He tried not to pondering too long on the specifics on how and where she may have ended up.

Ambrose eyed the small crosses. It was not lost on him that at least one of the deceased wasn’t Christian, but lacking any familiarity with Hindu burial ceremonies he hadn’t had any better ideas. Nor was he blind to futility of it all, as he was unable to recover the remains of Shah or Summers and had no idea as to the location of D’Agostino. Still, it seemed to him that, should he ever make it off of the planet he currently found himself on or any other landing parties ever discover him, it was only proper to have some memorial to the lost.

Inside his helmet, his radio earpiece buzzed and crackled into life. For a few moments it was static, before the line cleared.

Calling all signals, calling all signals. This is Chief Science Officer Tsang. Does anyone recieve me? All call signs for Mani IIX expedition please respond. Over.

Ambrose sighed before opening his line with a button inside the glove of his one piece, air tight uniform. Both comrades were communicating in Auxil-1, a Lingua Franca developed in the early days of IEC to allow multi-national crews to work together and avoid any politicised squabbles over which native language took preference.

Still just me, Tsang. Me and you are the only ones on this frequency. Have been for the last 3 days. Just bring it in, pal. Over.

Through the quiet white noise that fuzzed through the conversation, Ambrose heard the scientist sigh.

It’s worth trying, Brian. Give me a minute, I’ll be with you. Over.”

Ambrose waited for the line to drop from Tsang’s end. He admired the spirit of his colleague, but the Chinese bio-chemist’s stubborn refusal to admit the weight of the situation the two survivors were in had begun to grate.

Upon impact, the Mani IIX had broken into several sections and been scattered across the terrain like marbles during a child’s game. One of these sections had comprised of the mess, medical and experimental bays and a central, arterial corridor which had run the entire length of the ship. Due to their respective occupations and lack of skills to contribute once the emergency struck, both had stayed at their posts.

The disintegration of the craft had seen this section break away as a tube, open at both ends. However, as the tube had violently ricocheted across the planet’s surface, one end had been closed off as the metal walls buckled and folded in on themselves. The opposite end of the tube had eventually come to rest embedded into the soft, sandy ground.

Shaken and both carrying relatively minor injuries, the two doctors had emerged from their quarters. For what Ambrose had guessed was the first 24 hours, both had been able to do little more than try to sleep and make sense of what had happened. Neither task had been successful.

On the second day, Tsang had recovered enough to become anxious and twichy at being their metallic confinement. Ambrose had raised his concerns, but his knee injury had been too severe to allow him to physically prevent Tsang from forcing a small cavity in the wall of the mess and outer skin of the craft, through which he had taken to exploring the world outside. However, he wasn’t dismayed that the jury kept him from joining his more adventurous companion.

It was through this gap that Tsang suddenly appeared. His arm poked through, waggling like the tentacle of a mad blind squid before the hand made contact with the walls and he was able to pull himself through. S.M.O Ambrose watched, taking slightly comfort in the sight of Tsang’s mild struggle, as it allayed fears of larger, more predatory outsiders being able to enter their compound.

“What’s out there, Tsang?”

Tsang didn’t react to the query and was dusting his uniform down and attempting to finding his footing as the position their section of Mani IIX had come to rest in was a drunken angle. The floor was still the floor and could be traversed, but the severe angle meant walking in the traditional sense was not possible.

“Hey Tsang I sa-” Ambrose began repeated before realising his mistake and cursing to himself. He opened the radio line and asked the question for a third time. It was acknowledged with a dismissive wave of the hand as the bio-chemist clambered up the corridor, using the fittings and fixtures as rungs. Once Tsang had closed the distance, he replied.

“What’s out there, there’s nothing out there dammit.” Tsang was shouting now and not using the two way radio. Despite only being a metre or two away, his bellowing was made muffled by the helmets both men wore. “Nothing at all.” He saw and recognised Ambrose’s confused expression before continuing. “This way will save the batteries on the radio. Anyway,  Can’t see the rest of the ship. Hell, past 80 feet you can’t see nothing anything for the fog. Damn luck I made it back here, you could walk around in circles for hours and never go more than a mile from where you started, not that you’d know it.”

Ambrose remained grim-faced at the news, unsure of what answer he had really hoped for and allowing Tsang to continue.

“Gravity is stronger here. I think it’s only subtle, but it weighs on you after a time. You must be feeling it in here, right?”

“I guess so.” Ambrose conceded  “Hard to tell really, don’t remember much about before the crash to compare it to.  Certainly don’t feel like it’s too much of an immediate concern.”

Tsang chuckled lightly to himself

“Not a…pressing matter, huh?”

 

To Be Continued…

Around The World

Just a quick note to comment on how cool it is to see people from all over the planet stumbling across my blog. So amazing to think that even with only a couple of views per post I’ve already reached people from Canada, South Africa, Singapore and Romania. South America is the only continent I’ve not had a viewer from yet!

It’s really remarkable to be living in a time where communication and connections around the world are so easy and instantaneous. Technology really can be awe-inspiring.

So thank you to all the over-seas viewers who have taken the time to cast an eye over my posts. There has only been a handful of you but I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen, will check out the others and are looking forward to more!

Midnight At The Junction, Part III

His mind wasn’t able to articulate precisely what danger he felt he was in from the frail, limping woman behind him, but every instinct with him urged his legs to run and run and to put as much distance between them as possible.

The heaviness in his limbs swelled, as if trying to anchor him to the spot and prevent his escape. He drove forward, the air around him now feeling like thick treacle. With every ten yards ahead he forced himself, he felt as if the incorporeal grip on him was being loosened. Each step took him closer to the large, desolate main road. From there he could break either left or right, either direction offering greater chance of assistance and human contact than the prospect of staying put.

Once, this highway had acted as the primary east-west arterial between a booming city and a series of pleasant, working class costal towns. Public transport, small automobiles and large haulage trucks had battled for position in miles of sluggish traffic, racing each other to dash past traffic lights and risking the ever vigilant and vengeful eye of speed cameras.

These same traffic lights still kept time, dancing from red, to amber, to green in an unending, unerring rhythm. These same cameras watched apathetically as he ran past them, his lung busting sprint barely registering on their internal speed trackers.

Fifty miles away in a dusty, decrepit control room,  television monitors dutifully beamed out the feed from the speed cameras. As the man left the edge of the screen, the debilitated woman slowly shuffled into view behind him. Her unearthly emerald glow reporting as a dark, ill-defined haze on the monochrome monitor.

Having broken free of the camera’s eternal gaze, he ran headlong into the darkness, wind swirling around him and whipping the rain into his face. Lactic acid burned through his legs, lessening the distance covered with each stride, stumbling into the wall of darkness.

Heart thundering in his chest, he hauled his head around to looking behind him, hoping to have left the Green Woman in the distance. She tailed him, seemingly no closer or further in distance than when he had first spotted her despite having never changed her speed of movement noticeably.

With his eyes still on her, a warm bolt of pain shot upwards through his ankle as his foot landed and stuck into a crack in road. His weight went forward, knee buckling under him. Skin was torn as knee hit tarmac, hands instinctively pushed out in front, reaching into black to break his fall. He tumbled over, downwards and forwards into a stygian maw.

The fall was halted suddenly as his temple met solid, stony ground and his momentum rolled him over once more onto his back, a pang of soreness firing across his shoulders. Blood welled from his eyebrow and studs of gravel were embedded into his cheek and jaw.

For a few seconds his head was ringing. This sensation subsided and he eased open his eyes. Above him the stars seemed much closer than he had ever noticed, as if they were just metres away. He lay perfectly still, mind clear of the previous concern and fear, eyes fixed on a few twinkling dots. He watched as one of the stars hung in place and then dashed a few inches to the right, then zoomed in at his forehead!

The star splashed against skin. The droplet trickled down the bridge his nose into the corner of his mouth. The cool water was bitter and ferrous.

His eyes began to adjust to the subterranean darkness. The pale moonlight was enough to make out the craggy lip of tarmac above him, where the road had snapped and collapsed after years of disrepair. Those stars, he could now see, were blobs of water, dribbling from rusting pipes that had been shorn off and exposed during the highway’s collapse. Propped up on his elbows to a sitting position, he blinked and peered further into the cavern. He could see nothing which offered any source of either light or comfort. Flexed the ankle which had been snagged and propelled him down here, the tendons flaring aggressively to quell any heady designs he had of walking on the injured joint.

As he massaged the ankle, his other senses had become heightened to account for the lack of visibility. He gradually became aware of a quiet, irregular thudding emanating from the cavern’s depths. Each thud accompanied by a soft scrapping.

Sitting stock still in the pitch black, he realised the sounds were getting closer with each occurrence. His mouth, which had been dried from the exertion of running, was suddenly flooded with viscous bile. The arid air sparked with electricity.

Slowly, from the seemingly eternal cavern before him, the raggedy suited woman, shrouded by her wispy, caustic green cloud stepped into view.

Coffee Break

The wind howled around her, clawing at her cheeks, nose and lips. The yachts moored in the harbour through winter, clattered together like sodden barflies competing to get a last order in. Snow was being whipped into her eyes and face, ice daggers hurled from the water towards the shore, embedding into any inch of exposed skin it could find.

The woman brushed errant strands of ginger hair out of her face and pulled the hood of her parka coat up tight around her head, the ferocious snarl of the blizzard suddenly muted and left to ravage the world outside. Her gaze ran over the islands of Sirpalesaari and Liukasaari. They lay like giant beasts out in the freezing waters. A pang of envy shot through her gut, a longing to experience such peace and tranquillity as the islands boasted at this time of night.

She let her eyes stay with the islands and the water, drinking it in. Finally, she tore her eyes away towards the ground and turned from the water’s edge, walking northwards through the Meripuisto.

The snow hadn’t been allowed to settle through the daytime, the rush of pedestrian footsteps kicking the crisp white snow into a grey, sludgy mush at the side of the pathway that connected Merikatu street and the edge of the harbour. But now, in the late hours of the evening, nobody passed this way and the snow had not abated. The thin blanket crunched under her steady, measured footsteps. A small flash of colour caught the corner of her eye and wrenched her attention back to the world around her.

The colour was a small, frail fox. The fox stopped in its tracks, watching intently to see what the woman would do. She sighed to herself and smiled towards the animal. In a heartbeat, there was an orange blur streaking across the grass towards thick bushes and the fox was lost from view. Her smile fell and she trudged further along the path, hands plunged into her coat pockets.

As she crossed Merikatu and continued north along Kapteeninkatu, her hands fiddled absentmindedly with items in the pockets. In the left was a bulging, zip locked plastic bag and a metallic utility knife with the blade withdrawn and safety clasp locked. In the right was a bundle on Euro notes and a handful of loose coins. Forming loose fists, she collected the coinage and allowed the change to fall between her fingers.

Stopping at the junction of Kapteeninkatu and Pietarinkatu, she turned her eyes to the misty window of a Japanese restaurant. Inside, a waitress was wiping down a table and straightening chair arrangements, getting ready to shut up shop and get home. A young couple stepped out from the door, arms interlinked and heads bowed with wide, genuine smiles in the amusement of a shared joke. The woman’s hair bounced in tight black curls around her narrow, olive skinned faced. The man was tall, blonde hair swept to one side and gelled into place. Shielded by the large hood of the parka, the woman smiled at the idea of how much it looked as if the couple could have been stepping right out of an IKEA catalogue or Starbucks advert.

The couple ignored her, brushing straight past as they were wholly engrossed in their loving whispers. As they left, her ears pricked up at the sound of vehicle breaking system’s high pitched whine. The bus eased to a stand-still next to a Perspex and steel shelter, the doors unfurling and, after a few moments, an elderly man shunting a weathered, ancient looking shopping trolley ahead of her tottered down the vehicle steps on to the pavement.

She briskly crossed the road and hopped onto the bus steps and approached the driver.

Espa.” she muttered in a low tone, keeping the hood up and her face towards the floor.

The driver said nothing as he punched a button on the console next to his steering wheel and a ticket duly stuttered out from the chuntering printer. She snatched it away from the machine and handed over a few coins before making her way to the back of the near empty bus.

Slumping down into a seat three rows from the rear, she studied the other passengers. Two old, bearded men propping each other up, ones head lolling back at what should have been a brutally uncomfortable angle, the other snoring gently against his companions chest. Cans of cheap beer clanged against their feet, the liquid spilling from the cans and pooling under the seats.

Further up, closer to the driver’s position, a slender young looking man sat, fidgeting with his mobile phone nervously. He shot worried glances around the near deserted transport, as if he was anticipating all sorts of misfortune to befall him at any moment.

Satisfied neither the individual young man or pair of sleeping drunks would cause her any hassle, the woman with the ginger hair subtly pulled the utility knife from her pocket and placed it in her lap. Then she dug into the other pocket and unzipped the plastic bag within. From the plastic emerged a small, maroon coloured booklet. Gold lettering shimmered in the weak interior lighting, a lion and unicorn both rampant on the booklet’s front cover.

She hurriedly flicked through the pages, her eyes flicking upwards to see if anyone was paying her any attention. She stopped flicking at the thick plastic back page and dropped her eyes to the booklet. A younger, clean faced version of herself stared back at her, expression totally neutral and hair tied back away from her face. She thumbed the safety clasp of the utility knife and extended the blade. With a careful but firm hand, she scored two horizontal lines into the back page, making the words “Sandra” and “Jessop” illegible.

She felt a weight slip from her shoulders with that action. She breathed in, deep and this time more freely than before. She smiled warmly, not caring if the drunks were to wake up and see her grinning like a loon, knife blade in hand.

Placing the booklet flat against the soft empty seat next to her, she went back to work. Firstly, the date of birth was neatly scored through, then the 3.5cm X 4.5cm portrait of her was cut out and lifted from the booklet. The booklet was then closed and the blade punched through the middle. Whilst trying to remain somewhat discreet, the woman dragged the knife through, cutting the booklet in half. She repeated the action to each half and then once again to each new square, creating 16 roughly equal squares of confetti, which she stuffed into the pocket with the right hand pocket of her coat.

With this ritual successfully performed, she beamed out through the grubby window to the snow covered streets outside. She smirked at the pedestrians waging individual battles against the elements. She grinned mischievously into the dark alleyways and side streets that whipped past her.

Realising her destination was the next stop, she stood and walked awkwardly towards the doors, nearly tumbling over as the vehicle rattled and bounced along the roads. The creaky, metal behemoth lurched to a halt and the mechanisms called into action groaned as the doors eased open.

With a spring in her stepped, she casually pulled her fist from the right pocket and splayed her fingers out wide, allowing the confetti’d remnants of Sandra Jessop dance down and settled amongst the snow in the gutter of the road. Come morning, the inches thick layer of snow and ice would melt, and the last documented proof of Ms Jessop’s existence would be serenely washed away into the Helsinki sewer system.

Her gait was lighter and more jovial as she turned right past the row of shuttered eateries and shops towards the southern entrance of Esplandi. The moustachioed pensioner wearing a thick knitted jumper and flat cloth cap was manning a 24 hour coffee stall, the only other soul on this stretch of street. She sauntered towards the stall and the gruff looking older man nodded to take her order.

“Mustaa kahvia, kiitos!” she said proudly, no longer making much of an effort to hide her native south London accent. The man nodded and slowly waddled into the depths of the stall, returning shortly with a polystyrene cup of steaming black coffee. She nodded her thanks and handed over the entire bundle of Euro notes, backing away with a slight curtsy. The man eyed her warily, but said nothing. He watched her waltz away and grunted to himself, settling back into his vigil.

The woman formerly known as Sandra Jessop glided ace the cobbled streets and into the Esplandi. Sipping on the hot drink, she found a rickety wooden bench, brushed the settled snow from the seat and sat down, gazing out at the stillness of the city park.

Since her actions aboard the bus, she truly felt…free. It brought a warm glow of joy to know that not one person on the planet who could identify her by name knew where she was, and equally that none of the individuals she had seen that evening knew a single detail as to her identity. She hoped the actions taken would mean that those who knew her and those who knew her location would remain morally exclusive for ever more.

She laughed softly to herself and drained the coffee.

Once more fished into the coat pockets and unzipped the plastic bag she carried with her. This time, she withdrew a Beretta M9 pistol. Bought and paid for in cash a week ago behind a shipping container in Malmo. She checked the weapon was loaded, cocked it and jarred the muzzle under her chin. Closed her eyes, counted to three and yanked down on the trigger.

Sandra Jessop slowly open her eyes. Blinking, she took in the sights and sounds of her environment. The telephone on the desk behind her rang urgently and insistently yet went unansered. The Lenovo branded laptop in front of her was alerting her that closing this window would result in all unsaved work being lost. To her left stood Jason, her colleague in Accounts Payable, a novelty coffee mug depicting a cartoon cat who hated Mondays.

“Fancy a brew, Sandy?”

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