Friday Fictioneers – Seeking Inspiration

ff160414Detective Sosnowski slumped into his chair. It had been one impossible case after another for Jerry in recent months. Hopes of promotion seemed more distant than ever – he needed to catch a break, and soon.

As his office laptop whirred into life, the first email of the day flashed noisily up onto his screen. Attached was a photo: a terrified, screaming child, a man wearing an antique diver’s helmet. It appeared staged; something just didn’t look right. His mind went blank.

This wasn’t the start to the day he needed.

Jerry quickly closed the laptop in frustration: Friday Fictioneers would need to wait – he had murders to solve.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge.

Speakeasy #157 – Recollections

Miners-Cabin-Snow1

Winter seemed reluctant to release its hold of the forest that year – even more so than normal. All the paths up to Jepson Point had been blocked since the first heavy snows drifted in last fall. Even on that day, as the sun yawned across a blemish free, azure Alaskan sky, the chilled air remained stubbornly resistant to the approaching spring.

It was cold, it was – but at the same time, not as cold as it looked. It’s hard to explain. So I didn’t. It’s just the way I’ll remember it.

As the Rangers made their way into the trees, tiny drops of snowmelt splashed into freshly made paw prints: wary footsteps lightly trodden by the first animals to venture from the warmth of their dark, winter hiding places. Up in the canopy the opening bars of an embryonic spring song whispered through the pines. It took them all night, but finally the Point was in sight.

I’m not sure why we couldn’t have got there sooner. It might have ended differently. Maybe it wouldn’t. No, I don’t think it would.

Radio contact with the cabins nestled on the edge of Green Lake had stopped three weeks back – lines down were the explanation. Even in the days of mobile technology man seemingly remains in communication at the pleasure of nature; lines were down all over the forest.

The forest. Beautiful and terrifying. I never wanted to be anywhere else; I’ll never go back. How can I?

The cabins were quiet. The lake’s eerily green waters still frozen. Ribbons of smoky fog swirled amidst the early morning battle of sun and ice. Piles of chopped wood lay gathered in neat stacks at the gable end of the first cabin after the lake head.

Almost too neat.

The windows remained shuttered. The snow covered chimney said there was no fire burning in the grate. There was no answer as Chief Ranger McLennan rapped firmly on the door. Unlike in the movies the door didn’t then creak open: it was locked from inside and the key was in the door. It took the persistent boot of Assistant Ranger Jefferson to prize a way in. On the bed is where they found her – blood stains everywhere.

We should have waited for the others. We should have.

Nobody knew who she was or where she’d come from. The cord between frozen mother and child painted with ice-tipped crystals. The radio crackled in the corner of the cabin. Blood smeared the smashed controls; there was no sign of the hunter who had rented the cabin. Without thinking a shivering Assistant Ranger Jeffries set the hearth ablaze. Slowly the cabin’s single room began to defrost – to feel alive again.

From the bed there came a child’s cry; a mother screamed a scream of unimagined pain. Harry McLennan’s last words were ‘Run, for the love of God, run’. Assistant Ranger Jeffries remembered nothing more in the cabin – he has never been able to recall how he got back.

I  know you don’t believe me. But that’s the way it was. I know that’s the way it was. I just wanted to get warm. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Winter has returned to the forest. The cabins at Jepson Point now lie broken and abandoned – a mother’s screams still echo through the pines; her child now silent and still once more.

Yes, I admit this is weird, but it’s truly what came to mind when I read the prompt i.e it had to be written! I hope the crowd over at Yeahwrite find something in it they might enjoy.

The Anomaly – Part 2: The Visitors

City_in_the_desert_desktop_background1. Home

As darkness returned to the skies above Medax, Jeremiah Ward remained slumped across the back seat of Tamara’s speeding van. Through the open window a cooling night breeze gently buffeted his driver’s hair as they made for home. For a man who was preparing to meet his end only hours before he was suddenly feeling remarkably alive – tired, drained and relieved but alive. As the night stars continued to streak by a contented Jeremiah once more drifted into a welcoming sleep. It wasn’t until jarred awake by the ramps leading into his home’s underground car park that his eyes fully re-opened. As in the health club basement they once again stared up to see his saviour Tamara towering down over him.

Jeremiah’s stiff, sore and sunburnt body slowly uncoiled – Tamara’s offer of a hand gratefully accepted. Safe again in the comforts of his music Jeremiah started to relax. From his armchair at the window he could hear Tamara rattling cups through in the kitchen.

‘What happened,’ he shouted.

‘When your signal went I was close by. An hour earlier and I’d have been at the other end of the city and you would haven’t heard your music again,’ Tamara replied.

‘You are indeed my own guardian angel, Tamara. For that I will be forever grateful, truly’ he said wistfully. ‘Now I must ask again – please, what exactly happened? What did you give me?’

Tamara briefly looked concerned: unsure whether she should tell him what he didn’t yet know. However, he was looking better. Maybe she hadn’t simply replaced one slow acting poison with another.

‘You were barely breathing, Jeremiah. The sun was beginning to do its worst, a few minutes more and you would had more than a mild dose of sunburn to worry about. I dragged you into the basement – you were only feet away.’

‘How did you know there was a basement?’

‘Why else would you have been crawling in the sand? Why else do you go into the city? Anyway you were pointing straight at it, your fingers almost touching the cover. I could hardly miss it. As it happens for once your search seems to have been successful.’

‘Why? What was in there?’

‘Being honest Jeremiah I don’t know what it was. There was a box full of prepared syringes – it was a health club, thought they might be some form of vitamin boosters. Either way you were as good as done, I didn’t think there was anything to lose. So I picked one up and, well, you woke up. For that we should both be grateful.’

Jeremiah smiled. It did sound as if Tamara had no choice – she took what was to hand and made one last play to save her friend’s life. So far it had worked. As his body relaxed deeper into his chair he once more turned his gaze to the stars glistening through the window. For the last time today his eyes closed.

***

Over the days which followed his rescue Jeremiah continued to feel better. The coarse, acidic blood which had previously sludged through aching veins began to temper. He could hardly believe that the illness was in remission. From all but accepting his time was over he appeared to have been given the extension to life he craved. The only possible reason was the medication Tamara has given him in the dank surrounds of the health club basement. Could it really be that a desperation last throw, a path which was as likely to lead to death as life was the solution? If so what was it, and why was it in that basement? Jeremiah needed to know more. However, for the moment other thoughts were starting to dominate his waking moments. The pain of his illness was steadily being replaced by another pain: the pain of his memories.

Since the end of Medax only one thought had ever occupied Jeremiah’s mind – his illness and how to beat it. Now that he seemed on the mend, for the first time in three years he had time to think of other things, to allow other thoughts into his mind. However, those thoughts were just as painful, just as debilitating: the memories of what Medax once was, the people who lived there, its end. Each morning Jeremiah rose and sat in his chair. With the music continuing to resonate around his desert home his thoughts repeatedly ran back to Medax. The once shining crystal of the central deserts. A light that even D’Raza couldn’t truly match. There had been clues, on reflection people should have seen the signs.

Leaves once forever green going black at the edges, drops of sweat forming on brows previously kept cool by the ever present breaths of chilled, conditioned air. Small things. However, in Medax everything had routine. The trees stayed green, the people stayed comfortable. When this started to change there had been questions, queries, concerns. Those in control asked for calm. The people were reassured: minor issues in the cities environmental controls but they were being addressed. Our friends from D’Raza were aware and were monitoring the situation ready to assist if and when required. Jeremiah doesn’t remember anyone from D’Raza coming to their sister cities’ aid. More leaves turned black, sweat began to pour off even the most becalmed. The city was breaking.

Tamara briefly interrupted his thoughts.

‘Jeremiah, I’m going back to that basement. Whatever it was we found there seems to be working. I’m sure there was a full box. I’ll get it. You just stay here – I won’t be long.’

‘Do you want my glasses, Tamara’ he asked.

‘No, you keep them Jeremiah. I prefer to go on what I see, not what people used to see,’ she replied.

Jeremiah never really understood Tamara’s reluctance to accept help. She always appeared desperate to prove herself, to be independent: someone who could survive alone. She didn’t need to – they had each other, but Jeremiah knew better than to argue. As the conversation ended there was a nod between the two friends and with that Tamara was gone.

Where now the view from Jeremiah’s window was one of quiet those final days saw panic and chaos. The routes out of town were closed – people unable to leave. The recall went out to gather everybody in the centre – Jeremiah chose to stay as everybody else left. It wasn’t really clear what happened next. From his home in the outer suburbs he heard bangs as flashes of light rippled through the sky. It then stopped. Silence. For days Jeremiah was reluctant, afraid to venture out. Eventually as supplies were running low he had no choice. The memories of that first trip becoming sharper as the pain of illness subsided. The suburbs were deserted, the city in ruin. Explosions and fire had ripped through the centre of Medax. Bodies lay all around. One or two still clinging to life; one or two staggering around aimlessly in the swirling sands. They didn’t stagger for long. There was nothing Jeremiah could do. All he did was run; run back to the outer suburbs. He didn’t come back to the city, to revisit the scene for nearly three months. By then the bodies were gone, given up to the sun, heat and carrion birds. The city was now a grave.

2. Familiar Faces

Pausing to take a breath, Tamara began to hear the faint outline of voices, footsteps – the lock on the basement door rattled. Quickly she grabbed the familiar box of medication and rushed into the room’s furthest, darkest corner. One by one four men gingerly made their way down the loose, rusting ladder. For only the briefest of moments Tamara was sure she had seen these men before. Some fractured, fragmented pieces of her memories long lost flashed through her mind. But how? Why would she know these men?

Remaining hidden, breathing as silently as possible, Tamara continued to watch. The four men wandered around the room, seemingly disjointed and confused. Checking a notebook the oldest one of the group started a heated conversation with someone Tamara assumed to be very much his junior, in both age and position. From where she crouched Tamara was unable to pick-up everything said – just words, scraps of sentences.

‘It was here’

‘Are we sure?’

‘Where?’

Piecing together the clues Tamara soon realised what the men were here for – the medication. It must be. Time after time they searched other parts of the room only for a check of their notebooks to return them to the same point: the point where Tamara picked up the box she still clutched onto: the box which has given Jeremiah life.

As the men seemed set to leave the oldest of the group paused. With the other three collectively waiting on his instructions, his eyes scanned the room for one last time, one last sweep of its contents. His cold, steely glare then meet Tamara’s own. She was hidden, he couldn’t possibly see her. However, their eyes remain locked. His mouth opened slightly, as if to bark out orders to his underlings. Tamara hastily began to think of a way out, excuses, apologies, explanations. She braced for their approach. Instead his mouth only issued the command to leave – there was nothing more to see here. As they started to climb the ladder the group’s leader remained behind, last to leave. As he placed his left foot on the bottom rung he took one more lingering glance towards the space where Tamara hid. Soon he was gone.

Unsure, unnerved, Tamara remained in her hiding place. Only once the light that previously leaked through the gap between the basement hatch and the ceiling faded did she dare to move. It was now night and Jeremiah would be starting to worry. However, Tamara had always been an independent spirit. This wouldn’t have been the first time she had left her old friend wondering where she was, what she was doing. On the drive back to his home she would decide what to tell him. First though she needed to work out herself what had happened.

***

Jeremiah’s memory stained sleep was finally broken by the sound of his front door slamming shut. Yawning and stretching he watched as Tamara strode into the room. In her arms he could see she was carrying a large box, similar to one of those he’d briefly spotted in the health club basement a few days before.

‘You’re good to me Tamara. I don’t tell you that enough, but you know I’d be lost without your help.’

Tamara placed the box on the table before leaving the room to scrub off the dust which remained stuck to her skin. Leaning forward Jeremiah pulled the box towards his chair. As water trickled into the bathroom sink Jeremiah fully revealed the box’s contents. Inside were the syringes described by Tamara – syringes which contained an apparent cure to the ails which had troubled him since the demise of Medax. At the bottom Jeremiah caught sight of a white slip of paper. Pulling it free he found himself faced with what appeared to be a delivery note: a delivery note which specified the date of delivery to the Health Club as being two months before Medax fell into ruin.

Confused thoughts now raced through Jeremiah’s mind. Why would what seems to be a cure for something which hadn’t yet happened be delivered to a basement in the city? A basement belonging to the Bejan Corporation. It didn’t make sense. As he began to run possibilities through his head Tamara returned from the bathroom. She looked refreshed, but still worried. As if she too had seen the note. Either that or she had worries of her own.

‘Are you all right Tamara’ he enquired.

She sat down and began to relay the details of her encounter in the basement. The strange meeting of eyes with the leader; the knowledge that he had seen her yet did nothing; the fear that she was about to be parted from her old friend Jeremiah. As she finished she relaxed back into her chair. For a moment there was a shared silence. A silence between friends, both worried and confused by what each of them knew and had seen. Despite Tamara telling Jeremiah everything she had experienced he chose not to be so forthcoming. The mystery of the delivery note was something Jeremiah himself wanted to investigate first. He need answers before possibly adding more worries to an already burdened young mind.

3. Forgotten Faces

For the next few days life continued as normal – well, as normal as it could be in a city of millions now inhabited by two. Jeremiah stayed at home listening to his music while Tamara spent hours away searching for her own answers. She remained haunted by the man in the basement. She still had no knowledge of where she might have seen him, or how he would have known her. Jeremiah wasn’t sure where she went looking for an explanation. Like him she was now keeping things closer to her chest, waiting for more information before sharing with her friend. Jeremiah too had decided it was time for answers. Sitting at home wasn’t going to solve the questions raised by the delivery note. He did though know one place which might.

It was therefore to the industrial quarter where Jeremiah headed early one morning. Tamara had already left so no questions were either asked or answered. His now repaired glasses once again guided the way. He’d reloaded the city schematics, reconfigured the software – everything seemed to be working again: no blips, no dots – just the buildings of Medax appearing where they once stood in their prime. The one he was visiting was thankfully fairly much intact. However, inside was a different matter. His glasses would be needed to find the room he sought – a room he knew to contain records of some of the thousands of transactions the Bejan corporation actioned. It was this room he soon found.

Beyond a broken door, some filing cabinets lay on their sides, others remained almost upright. Drawers half open, exposed paper turning yellow – corners eaten away by the tiny biting bugs which buzzed around the hot sands. The syringes had been labelled ‘MX901′ so his first task was to find the cabinet containing the Ms. Soon he was flicking through a folder crammed full of officious looking documentation. Page after page of other verified deliveries. Deliveries of the same MX901 syringes to other health clubs – to other properties owned and run for the benefit of Bejan executives.

They knew! They knew!

What other explanation was there? Something had been badly wrong in Medax and those who could afford it were buying protection from what was to come. All the deliveries came from D’Raza. For the first time Jeremiah began to wonder if Medax’s sister city had suffered the same fate. Were they too lying in ruin? If so where did Tamara’s men come from? He’d come to this place to find answers yet all he’d compiled was a more confused list of questions.

Turning away to leave Jeremiah was suddenly face to face with a man – a small man, balding, pale, almost to the point of being washed out. He simply smiled at Jeremiah who removed his glasses and rubbed his tired, strained eyes. Looking up the man was gone. Shaking his head he replaced his glasses. As he did so the man once again stood staring straight at Jeremiah.

‘Keep the glasses on Mr Ward. They seem to help you see me,’ came a faint, croaky voice.

‘What? Who are you? How do you know about my glasses?’

‘We know everything about you Jeremiah, and your friend. We’ve been watching, but only now do you seem ready to see us.’

…the story continues in Part 3 of The Anomaly – ‘Whispers in the Sand’ (Coming soon)

[Story Index]

Friday Fictioneers – The Night Before

ff090414Moonlight-tipped ripples gently rise and fall as the Cassarina makes for port. In her wake the last trawl of the night nears its end. Ashore the village prepares for the spring festival: in homes throughout the narrow, twisting streets of San Quinzetta excited children struggle to sleep, while parents finish weeks of decorating, baking and brewing.

Aboard the Cassarina, clouds of cigar smoke drift skywards from within the glowing wheelhouse. Astern, tensioned lines twitch; the net begins to drag; the engine whines into reverse. Down below a single, luminescent blue tentacle slithers through an open galley porthole.

In the distance the welcoming lights of home twinkle.

friday-fictioneers

These words form my entry into this week’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt challenge.