Monthly Archives: April 2014

Friday Fictioneers – Uninvited Guests

ff300414The wedding suite at the Los Alamos Motel lay silent. Around the edges of the empty dance floor sat a dozen white-clothed tables. On each, lip gloss stained Champagne flutes fizzed gently amongst the gleaming silver cutlery and trembling phones. From the ceiling a net of blue and red balloons threatened to fall.

At the top table the wedding cake remained uncut. Tears of icing dripped in the baking heat. Sugar models of the bride and groom melted slowly into the sagging third tier.

In the distance, retreating sirens faded to an echo as the suite’s sun-bleached net curtains fluttered in the desert breeze.

friday-fictioneers

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

Advertisements

Friday Fictioneers – Perks of the Job

ff230414Outside in the cool, midnight breeze two pairs of eyes watched for a signal; closer to the door, a third pair listened.

It wasn’t yet time.

As the last chord was strummed, the final lyric floated off into the weed-filled air, the audience applauded as one.

The eyes now made their move.

There was no panic amongst the club regulars – there never was.

Hey man, shit happened.

For all that they were a pain in the ass, it had to be conceded that Sheriff Menzies’ boys were without doubt the most considerate drug cops in the Valley: never began a raid during a song – genuinely respectful music lovers to a man.

friday-fictioneers

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

Yeah Write #158 Gargleblaster – Self Defence

doubt

…because I have life still to live –

Stories to tell,

People to love.

Yet, sometimes it’s hard:

Hard to repel the doubt;

An exhausting struggle to let sanity prevail.

But then I see her smile and know:

Know we’re worth the fight.

These 42 words form my entry into this weeks Gargleblaster challenge over at Yeah Write. The words were prompted by the question ‘Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?I hope you enjoy where I went with it.

Sunday Photo Fiction – Escape

?????????????????????

As soon as he woke he noticed it: the door lay slightly ajar – a yellow shaft of freedom spilling into the bedroom. He needed to hurry: she would wake soon, and the moment would be lost. He knew he’d never be able to leave her when those deep, controlling, blue eyes looked upon his soul.

Even though he understood the urgency of the moment he still paused – he couldn’t help it: her beauty required one last look. Shimmering, blond tresses spilled from silken pillows over the side of the bed; long, slender fingers rested gently on the pure, white sheets. Briefly she stirred, her eyes flickered open only to gracefully glide closed. He had to go, otherwise he would remain trapped – forever under her spell.

The light from the hallway became brighter. The single shard of early morning sun now all but covering his hushed footsteps. He was nearly there. Behind him he heard movement, a silken pillow falling to the floor. From above the light from the hall suddenly dulled.

Looking upwards, her deep blue eyes narrowed as they once more watched her prey. Her long pale fingers firmly held the stem of the upturned wine glass. She hadn’t finished with him just yet.

spf

These words form my entry into this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge. 

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.

A Trip To The Sun – Part 2

IMG_0250Day 5

On our fifth day it was finally time to see where all the beautiful people lived, and no I don’t mean we were heading home to Larbert! The destination was none other than the Dubai Marina. Another name you might recognise is Jumeriah Lake, which is basically the same thing. This area of town is crammed full of gleaming glass towers with little white boats chugging up and down the marina between the high risers. It simply smells of money and if you have £200,000+ to spare you just might be able to purchase a shoebox sized apartment in it.

Taking a step back. This trip required another saunter down the red line. As we do we like to see everywhere, so instead of getting off at either Dubai Marina or Jumeriah Lake Towers we kept going till the end of the line. Always like to see the end of lines, usually they aren’t that interesting and today was no exception. The terminus at Jebel Ali was in a developing industrial area which is actually not in the city of Dubai, but a few miles out on the border with Abu Dhabi. We liked this station so much we went back for a second trip 20 minutes later when we arrived at Jumeriah Lake Towers without Deena’s hat. Cue much laughter, or maybe I was crying. Either way, back we went…and yes, we found her hat!

Dubai-70D- 25-03-2014 13-24-37Eventually we got off (with hats) at Jumeriah Lake Towers and wandered through the tower blocks to the beach. Weather wise it was very warm, probably the hottest day we had and lazing on the beach wasn’t an option unless we wished to be roasted alive. Therefore we headed for some lunch in a shady cafe before a stroll along the retail section of the Marina. Some ice-cream accompanied us on our walk which ended up with as rejoining the red line at Dubai Marina station.

Dubai-70D- 25-03-2014 16-50-36Much to our surprise, on the way back to the hotel it began to rain – not much, just a few drops. Little did we know! Our enjoyable nightly swim/spa session was followed by our first trip to IZ. All I will say is if you ever go the Dubai Grand Hyatt, which we would both thoroughly recommend, then you must have at least one meal in IZ. The food was delicious, and the complimentary pickle tray & poppadoms were a filling starter in themselves. As was common in Dubai the meal was also very reasonably priced at around £15 each.

Day 6

Dubai-70D- 26-03-2014 08-58-23The rain which had started the previous night as we walked from the metro station kept on coming, and by morning there was a relative torrent flowing through the streets. Something like 1100 traffic incidents were reported due to conditions alien to most of the city’s boy racers. Wondering what to do we decided as we’d been to the end of the red line we might as well go to the end of the green one, and so we did. Like the red’s terminus, the end of the green line at Etisalat was equally uninteresting. Had the feel of a commuter station which was probably busy morning and night but quiet in between. We did see some more typical Dubai housing in a pleasant change from the towers. However, there wasn’t really much to walk to so we simply hopped back on the next train back towards town.

With postcards to post we needed stamps and so stopped at ‘Stadium’ which was as the name suggests next to a, you guessed it, stadium. The venue in question was the Rashid Stadium, home of Arabian League champions Al Ahli. Across the road from the ground was a supermarket called Lulu’s. In here we bought some stamps before having a bite to eat at the adjoining food court.

Back at the hotel our nightly swim/spa session was followed by our second tasty trip to IZ.

Day 7

This was our last full day in Dubai. As the rain had moved away it was another warm and sunny morning so we decided to begin by having a couple of hours by the pool. Has to be said the grounds of the hotel were fantastic. Because the hotel was in a developing part of town it clearly had its choice of land and chose a huge plot with great views of the creek. This meant large, landscaped grounds with a pool snaking between lounging areas. There was also the expected tennis courts, kids areas etc. In short a better hotel set-up you’d be struggling to find anywhere in Dubai.

Dubai-SX50- 27-03-2014 15-32-32After a cuppa, some packing and a breather in our room we got smartened up and ventured out on our last trip. The destination was once again the Dubai Mall. Not only did we want to get some presents for those at home, but we also wanted to witness the ‘Festival of Lights’ which was happening in and around Dubai Fountain each night that week. Dubai Mall meant one last return trip down the red line. Please note if you ever get the metro to Dubai Mall the walkway between the station and the mall is huge i.e. at least half a mile long. Thankfully a succession of moving escalators makes the journey less tiring but it’s yet another example of the cities attempt to keep you inside if at all possible. To make people walk in the sun for this distance in the height of summer would be crazy. Therefore if they want shoppers they need to make themselves accessible – hence covered walkways where possible. After a brief wander we headed for some tea at TGI Friday’s. Luckily for us they had a balcony which overlooked the Dubai Fountain so it was a perfect place for our last meal out. As ever the food was well priced at the almost daft price of about £16 for our two meals with drinks.

Dubai-SX50- 27-03-2014 15-00-56Just as we were finishing our food the clock struck six and this cued an explosion of music, water and light from the fountain below. Was almost like a Dubai version of the one o’clock gun from the ramparts of Edinburgh castle. We soon realised it was only the start. All around the Fountain at the base of the Burj Khalifa were installations and statues decked in lights of all shades and colour. The Khalifa itself sparkled like a 900m Christmas tree with spotlights searching into the darkening night skies. At seven and again 30 minutes later the fountain once more exploded to life. Really was a spectacular sight.

It was soon time to head back to our hotel. There was still time for one last bit of fun as the trains rolling into the metro station were packed like sardines. We let one go before deciding to ‘go native’ and just squash our way in!

Day 8

Dubai-70D- 24-03-2014 12-23-28Unfortunately we had to be up and out of the hotel by 3:30am to meet our arranged pick-up back to the airport. This meant getting up at 2:45 – Deena didn’t even go to sleep! Our lift finally arrived and raced through the still busy streets to the airport. After checking in we had some food and waited for the plane to take us home. As with the flight out it was an enjoyable, if tiring, seven hours. Between eating I filled in time by watching seven episodes of ‘Broadchurch’ on the in-flight TV service. There are actually eight episodes to watch but I only had 20 minutes left after watching the seventh so I’m still none the wiser to what happens at the end – I will need to find and watch the last episode somewhere soon!

Back home it was of course grey and freezing. However, it was home and for all that a small part of you is always glad to return to it.

The Anomaly – Part 1: Dream World

City_in_the_desert_desktop_background

1. A New Day

Through the window Jeremiah watched as yet another night disappeared amidst the shimmering glare of an approaching dawn. Condensation formed and dripped down the three inch thick panes: it was already getting warm outside. On the cooled side of the glass his home reverberated to a crescendo of music – pulsing, deafening cascades of sound. There was nobody else around to hear; nobody to complain. His neighbours had moved away years ago. Everybody had moved into the city – even his Emma. Jeremiah had ignored the recall – he’d always preferred it out here, alone. He didn’t know where the music came from. All radio stations ceased broadcasting when the troubles started, but this music remained there in the middle of the dial. There were never any interruptions – certainly no human interruptions.

Jeremiah quickly dressed, there was no time to stop and eat. He hurried to gather up his bag for the day ahead. In it everything he needed to stay alive – his glasses, above all his glasses. Without them he would be utterly lost. One road, one street, one turning would be the same as the next. Without his glasses he’d never find his way to the city; he’d never find whatever it was he was looking for; he’d never find his way home – his glasses were in the bag, he was ready to go. As the apartment door slid shut the stirring strains of triumphant piano and soaring violin faded into nothing.

The rattling lift took him down the five flights to the parking units. In the few hours since it was last used his car had already gathered a fresh, thick layer of dust. Underground or in the open air the dust got everywhere in Medax. Since the troubles the city air had become noxious – throats would be ripped to shreds in minutes: the airways filling with miniscule particles of sand and glass. ‘Drowning on dry land’ was the best way Jeremiah could describe it. He’d seen it happen when the dead were still dying. Jeremiah though had access to an endless supply of dust masks. They’d probably been destined for the crews who used to spend countless hours in the baking sun keeping the city roads free of sand. Not a job Jeremiah or anyone with a choice had ever envied. Like many of his scavenged possessions the masks were stored in one of the apartments next to his. Since everybody else had left he had got into the habit of storing his things in what were once other people’s homes. They didn’t seem likely to be coming back.; he knew they weren’t.

Sparking his dust coated car into gear the shuddering engine was no more worrying than normal. On one of his next trips into the city Jeremiah would have to look into procuring new transport – this one was closer to its end than him. However, he had faith it would keep going for a short while at least – he prayed it would. The vibrations slowly subsided as Jeremiah reached for his glasses. As his car rolled towards the exit ramp, the scarred metal doors crunched and ground their way open. More daylight had invaded the sky since he’d disappeared into the garage. Even in his air conditioned car he could feel the heat rising: he needed to hurry. A firm press of the accelerator pedal saw the car lurch forward and out into the waiting sun.

Out on the main roads it was as ever deserted. Deathly quiet. Back before it all happened these roads would crackle with life, day and night. Even from inside the sterile metal box he called home the drone of engines and glare of speeding headlights would be a constant companion to his music. This time of day would have been one of the busiest: people rushing to reach the city before dawn, before the real heat of the day took hold. Some wondered why they’d ever built a city in lands so hostile and barren. Like all such questions the answer was rooted in man’s greed for money, resources and power. Jeremiah had never been one to complain or question. This sun splintered dust bowl had given him a job – one which he’d enjoyed; one which he wished he still had. Instead, his only occupation these days was to find something to extend his life. He suspected cancer, but Jeremiah had always been one to think the worst. Whatever it was he wasn’t for giving up just yet. Living out here in the baking desert had been one long swim against the tide of nature. After a while its inhabitants became the same: they wanted life even when it didn’t seem to belong.

Framing the dozen lanes of abandoned road were homes, factories, and schools – all long emptied of life. Most of these places had already been searched. A few books, photos, ornaments – items once precious to those who owned them, but of no use to Jeremiah. Vast, echo filled industrial units lay idle as once thundering machinery rusted away. It was just past the main intersection that he’d found the building with the masks. Sometimes he just liked to wander, but since his health had deteriorated there wasn’t any more time. What he had left needed to be spent where he still had mile upon mile to search: in the city. As dawn continued to creep over the horizon the first outlines appeared. Buildings thrusting into the lightening sky – spreading across his line of sight for miles in either direction. The once bustling, imperious city of Medax was approaching.

2. The City

Despite the savage conditions: the incinerating rays of the sun, the fierce warm winds, the biting cold nights – sprawling, low-rise swathes of the cities suburbs remained almost intact, choking in dust, but intact. Behind security guarded entrances sat white, flat roofed homes, still cowering beyond their razor tipped walls. Security camera’s which once whirred and zoomed at every passerby now trembled in the breeze. The inner suburbs was where the real money of Medax lay. Crime was rare in a city of its size; however, those with were paranoid about losing anything to those without. To their horror the rich found that their money bought them no extra privileges when the day came. Weak or wealthy, all suffered the same fate. Now the cameras are idle – only lizards and scavengers, like Jeremiah, daring to disturb the silence.

The suburbs gave way to the outer sections of the business quarter. Skyscrapers blended into the sun, shards of glass refracting light for miles around. The city still dazzled. Thankfully Jeremiah’s glasses protected his eyes from the worst. They made it clear exactly where he was going, where he needed to be. They soon guided him past the previously neon illuminated headquarters of the Bejan Corporation – whom Jeremiah served diligently for 23 years. Optometry had been his trade: eye tests, making spectacles and contact lenses for the corporation’s employees. It wasn’t the most exciting of careers, but one Jeremiah was exceptionally good at it. All the high ranking Bejan officials would seek him out – some executives even travelled the 1000 miles from D’Raza just to see him. Those D’Raza visitors had always appeared particularly confident, almost over bearing to Jeremiah. It was no secret that the real power behind Bejan lay across the central desert in Medax’s sister city. Jeremiah though suspected everything in Medax, not just Bejan, was controlled from D’Raza. It had made him and many others uneasy.

While Jeremiah’s countless trips to Medax had often uncovered pills and potions to help ease his pain, he now needed more – much more. He hoped he’d found somewhere: a thousandth review of the city schematics uncovered a building once used by the Bejan Corporation. It was described as a ‘Private Health Club’. A trawl through the invoices logged by this ‘health club’ revealed much more than vitamins trading hands. Jeremiah soon figured out that this club was nothing less than a front for high ranking Bejan officials to get their medical supplies at well below the going rate. Another example of the rich and influential trying to buy life. It didn’t work: they’re all dead. There was bound to be supplies, something, the best that money could have once bought sitting in a now unprotected basement. This had to be it.

Turning into Avenue 235 the previously hidden health club took form in the brightening morning sun. It sat squat in amongst a skyline of infinitely more intimidating, domineering structures. However, with his body struggling ever more each day this insignificant little building could be his last hope. Before leaving the safety of his car he prepared himself: a fresh mask, cream rubbed into every exposed pore, hat, gloves, spare masks, water. Switching off the engine he opened the door. Instantly he was assaulted by the brutal heat. For a few moments it left him gasping for breath. Staying in the car though just wasn’t an option. He had to get looking; he had to hurry.

Walking through the open doors Jeremiah’s heart sank: there was nothing to see. Inside and outside the view was the same: desert. The doors had been no defence against the swirling sands. Medax, like the other great cities of the desert, spent trillions of credits on protecting themselves from their own environment, from the heat. In its prime the city boasted lush, covered walkways of flowers, trees and exotic flora of all shapes and colour. Each second of the day, water once drained the roots of organic life which otherwise would have died within minutes. Huge desalination plants existed for the sole purpose of creating the water to keep the flowers alive, to keep Medax green. As the people disappeared so did the cities need to sustain artificiality. Flowers and trees withered to nothing. Where black tarmac roads once penetrated the tower blocks there was only sand. It was a miracle that Jeremiah could actually find anywhere he wanted to go. Maps were almost useless as streets became buried. However, he had his glasses and his memories. This was enough.

3. Rescue

He knew that these places always had basements. All the buildings in Medax had underground storage areas: somewhere to keep their most important stock out of the heat. As he continued to suck in the filtered desert air, sweat began to flow over his body. Soon his back, hair, hands – everything, was dripping in his salted perspiration. This wasn’t unusual. The air in his lungs though was uncomfortably warm. The masks normally gave him more protection than this. Reaching for his bag he fumbled for his water. Panic soon overtook desperation as he couldn’t find either the water or a fresh mask. He’d only packed them moments before, they had to be there – they had to.

The entrance to the basement was close by: the schematics told him as much. However, as he continued to fumble through his bag he began to fear that he would never reach the dark, cooling shelter the club’s basement would provide. After all his battles for life, after surviving alone in this desert for three years, after all that, this: to get stuck in the sun like a dying lizard – his skin crisping, blood boiling, eyes popping. Within a day his body would be picked clean by the carrion birds that swooped from building to building, watching and waiting. Soon all that would be left would be a pile of clean bones, before they too were buried and lost in the sands. Jeremiah forgotten like the two million others who once called Medax home.

Jeremiah’s brain was scrambled at the best of times. He now had no idea whether he had or hadn’t packed the water and spare masks. The illness was taking a firmer grip. His blood felt thin, weak. Every day his thoughts became more easily confused; each morning more of a struggle to get up and out into the city. The car was only half a block away, but it might as well have been back in the underground garage at home. He was done for – he’d never find the basement. This was it. Whether it was death encroaching or the heat muddling his thoughts Jeremiah began to see blips, dots, traces of light flitting across the lens of his glasses. Voices, faces and even music. Jeremiah assumed the welcoming party was assembling. His entrance to the afterlife being prepared.

“No!” he shouted. Nobody was out here to hear his cries. “No, not yet. It’s not time,” he insisted as the wind whistled through the empty streets. It was then he remembered. For a moment his mind was clear; his thoughts decisive. He had one last play. One last shot at survival. Feeling his upper arm he searched for the bump. He found it and squeezed. Squeezed with all the strength he had left in his weakening body.

As the signal pulsed through his arm the hallucinations faded. Suddenly it was quiet. The last thing his eyes saw was a leaf fluttering to the sandy surface. A glistening, leaf sparkling with droplets of water. An impossible vision, a last wicked twist on the reality of a death in the desert. Jeremiah closed his eyes.

***

“Jeremiah, Jeremiah, wake up, wake up!”

Opening his eyes Jeremiah Ward thought this was the next place. It seemed fitting that after life in a desert his next world would be a cold, dark, damp basement. Above him stood a woman. Her close cropped black hair, glinting green eyes, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t.

“Emma, is that you?” asked a groggy, barely coherent Jeremiah.

“No, Mr Ward. It’s not Emma. Emma’s gone you know that. It’s me. You pressed the alarm. It’s Tamara.”

“Tamara, where, what…” he stumbled.

“You were in the city. Frying in the sun like an egg ready to blow. Lucky I was close by Jeremiah. How many times have I said you need to tell me when you’re in Medax. It’s not safe. Especially not for someone of your age. I can look for your things. You know that. You shouldn’t be out here. Not anymore.” Tamara continued.

“…but, my glasses. I can see. I have my masks. I’m only out for a few minutes. I don’t know what happened today. I…”

Tamara shook her head. “What happened today was that you nearly died you old fool. That’s what happened. Come on let’s get you home. I’ll stay with you tonight, keep my eye on you.”

Gingerly Jeremiah attempted to get to his feet. “Thank you, Tamara” he said, as she put an arm round the aging man. Slowly they crept towards the stairs.

As they emerged from the basement Jeremiah saw a city in ruin. Everywhere there was destruction. Desolation. Despair. There was no door on the health club. Jeremiah couldn’t even see where the door would have been. All around lay crumbling, twisted iron stumps: all that remained of a glass encased tower which once proudly pierced the clear desert skies. Craters overflowed with the charred wreckage of office blocks, homes and shopping malls. Here and there buildings still stood, defiant. However, Jeremiah knew that Madax was quickly disappearing into the dust. There was no stopping the sands.

“My glasses, Tamara, do you have them?” he asked.

“I have them Jeremiah. However, for once see things as they are – not how your glasses want you to see them. This is what is left. This is reality. There is no city, only ruins, death decay. Stop pretending, even just for a moment,” Tamara said.

As they reached her van Jeremiah slumped into the back seat. His glasses were the only reason he had hope. However, they were clearly faulty. They were glasses once used by workers who had traced leaks within the hundreds of miles of water pipes which crisscrossed beneath the city streets. Jeremiah had simply updated the schematics and library images from underground to overground. They now presented an occasionally error riddled, but in the main reliable reimaging of what was once there. They allowed him to get around, to find his way in what is now all but desert. Without them he is truly lost, no matter what Tamara says.

Jeremiah would be back: once his glasses were fixed, he would be back. Medax hadn’t given up all she had to offer just yet. There was still hope; there was still a battle for life to be won.

…the story continues in Part 2 of The Anomaly – ‘The Visitors

[Story Index]

Yeah Write #156 Gargleblaster – The Morning After

toothfairy2‘Daddy, she’s been!’ yelped an excited voice.

Through the hangover fogs he just about recognised the approaching tooth-gapped grin. In between her stubby little fingers a coin, gleaming with golden crystals.

‘I said she would, honey’.

Maybe he hadn’t forgotten after all.

These 42 words form my entry into this weeks Gargleblaster challenge over at Yeah Write. The words were prompted by the question ‘Who Dunnit?I hope you enjoy where I went with it.

Sunday Photo Fiction – Closure

54-04-april-6th-2014

The cemetery was all but empty: Kenny Foster’s only company the tall, respectfully imposing figure of Father Delaney. In the background two gravediggers waited, one fiddling with a phone while the other yawned after what must have been a long, successful night before. It now appeared that the Father expected Kenny to say something, something prophetic, something deep and meaningful – just Something. Kenny though was out of words.

His knew his wife had deserved better than this. Better than an cold empty graveside. She had been the most beautiful girl in the village. All the boys came calling. Kenny didn’t think he stood a chance so didn’t even try. She though had spotted him and her mind was set. Other’s mocked as her flaming red curls and jade green eyes were soon keeping Kenny Foster company. At times he looked as if he’d won a lottery, a lottery he hadn’t even bought a ticket for.

She gave him everything. Four kids, a picture postcard home, unquestioned love. What had he given her? A cemetery with nothing but the chill spring breeze for company.

As the Father closed his wrinkled, leather book the two young gravediggers slowly shuffled their way across. Shovels in hand it was time to seal his love away. Walking out through the churchyard the apple blossom began to drift from the trees. Within that shower of fragrant petals his thoughts once more turned to the one he was leaving behind:

She deserved better than this – she deserved better than me.

spf

These words form my entry into this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge. 

Friday Fictioneers – Making Monsters

ff020414From his seat Henry squirmed as ruby red droplets of blood fell from the beast’s razor-tipped beak; winced as the demented, demonic creature sharpened it’s enormous talons on fragments of scarred, human bone. All the while those dead, green eyes piercing straight through his feckless soul.

‘Focus, Henry, focus!’ demanded Mrs Ollerenshaw, oblivious to her young charge’s terror.

When the clock finally struck twelve, Henry bolted for the door. Behind him fine net curtains flapped in the breeze, as the soft, snowy white feathers of Mrs Ollernshaw’s cockatoo shone in the mild, midday sun.

Relieved, Henry had once again survived the living nightmare of his weekly cello lesson.

friday-fictioneers

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