A thin trail of blood trickled down his ring finger. At first the tiny wound had barely even stung – he couldn’t even remember how, or when, it had happened. Now there was a stiffness in lower arm. Slowly that sickening stiffness cascaded up towards his shoulders and then out and around the rest of his failing body. His legs suddenly gave way as he collapsed to the ground struggling for breath. These distant, hidden rainforests had been the photographer’s life; today they might prove his death.
His whole body and mind were now shutting down. Yet, it would surely pass. This was just a temporary shock: the primitive defence of some ancient flora defending its hard won territory. But as daylight began to ebb he remained on the sodden spot where he’d fallen. Drips of warm, sticky sweat covering his now fevered brow. In the distance desperate hopes were raised by shouts. Yet unable to respond, unable to cry for help the shouts soon faded – the piercing white searchlight of torches extinguished as his lonely vigil once more returned to clawing, suffocating darkness. In the near undergrowth something slithered in his direction.
A bikini-clad girl waved as her white leisure cruiser sped past the end of the pier.
Brad wiped bubbling froth from his top lip. ‘Jeesh, don’t you just wish you were 20 again?’
I hadn’t see 20 for nigh on 30 years. A lot had happened in that time – plenty of it good, and yeh, some not so good. But through most of it I’d been with the one person I truly loved – the one person who was there when I needed someone the most. I’d never risk losing her, not even for another life.
I didn’t need to be told. I already knew whose battered, broken body they’d found in the apartment above the Laundromat.
A month ago a painting had been sent to Police HQ. It was a childish mess of colours and shapes, but in amongst the confusion were faces – four faces. As of tonight, three of those faces were dead. They’d all been watched, but they all still died.
Now only one, seemingly unidentified face remained breathing.
‘We’ll get him,’ I said to my lieutenant.
I double-checked my service revolver was loaded. When the coward finally came for me, I’d be waiting.
Bob Fogarty had run his crabber out of St. Verlaine for as long as anyone living there could remember. Everybody liked Bob. He always had a story, and when the whisky was flowing good, most likely a song or two.
Then there was May Fogarty, like chalk to Bob’s cheese she was. Always rubbed folks up the wrong way. Never had a good word to say about anyone or anything – most especially not her Bob. But it didn’t stop them having their ten kids, didn’t stop them staying together while other families drifted apart. Deep down they just loved each other I suppose.
Maggie gently squeezed my hand as the ceremony came an end. It had been our first September back in New York since I’d left the service.
‘How did it feel that day?’ the young woman next to me asked.
How did it feel, lady? It felt absolutely fricking terrifying. Instinct was screaming at me to turn and run, to flee to safety with everybody else, to escape from the undreamt of horrors unfolding a few blocks up ahead. But I didn’t turn, I didn’t run, none of us did.
Freshly whitewashed walls sparkled under a warm, early-morning sun. Down by the small harbour, tables and chairs, stored over winter in his uncle’s goat shed, had been wiped down and placed outside Nik’s Taverna. Even the normally unhurried and unfussed Madame Soranis had replanted her window box in readiness. Back up the hill, Mr Konaros too was almost ready for the summer season. Not many visitors to the picturesque village of Arxalas would likely remember Mr Konaros. A few though would have reason to regret crossing his path as they fumbled around in unexpectedly empty pockets on the journey home.
With the evening sun setting over Milwaukee, Cathy buckled up tight for her final paid landing. The former homecoming queen had pushed her cart up and down the aisles of Deltas for the last 30 years. Her ankles now ached most shifts, but she never once stopped smiling.
“I bet you won’t miss the three-day trips and 5am starts,” the Captain had said.
Thing is she would. Life at home had become almost unbearable since Frank had begun to forget. Last weekend he didn’t recognise their oldest daughter. Cathy feared she would be next, and that scared her.
I started piano lessons at Miss Shawbridge’s place when I was eight. I always hated them, even though I never disliked her. It was the house which creeped me out, it smelled of death, everything just looked old. They stopped me going to see Miss Shawbridge when I was 13.
I saw her the other week, Alice Shawbridge. I hadn’t seen her in almost eleven years. Despite what I did to her that afternoon she still bears no malice. She’s forgiven me and wishes me no ill, she says. The thing is, I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive myself.
Three red lights shimmered in the summer haze. The cars on the start line continued to rev, golden licks of flame shooting from the silver and black exhausts. One by one the lights went dark. Both cars screeched from the start, flame and smoke trails in their wake. Before you could wipe the heat and dust from your eyes it was over. Dad had won again.
‘Well, he’s only gone and done it, Brad.’ I turned towards my little brother, but he himself was already turned away – lost in his own world. Brad had never really shown much interest in racing; he’d never really shown much interest in most of the things our family was known for in the county. I though loved all of it: the cars, the competition, the noise, the excitement. But I was a girl and girl’s don’t race.
The fans in the stands cheered as this year’s champion made his way back towards the pits. In a few years Brad would be expected to take over the family concern – expected to become the next champion to raise the family name high. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Dad would be heartbroken, but in time I hoped he’d understand.
We always knew when Daddy had been drinking. His key would rattle around in the lock until it almost broke – his dinner lying cold and uneaten on the table. We’d hear him cursing; we’d see our mother frowning.
‘Off to bed, children, now,’ she would tell us.
I always went without hesitating. I hated it when Daddy drunk. I’d stay hidden underneath the covers until the house went quiet.
Our mother couldn’t hide from him. She had to put up with Daddy through all of his moods. Yet, her smile remained just as bright the next morning, no matter the bruises.
Joel was a conspiracy theorist. He wasn’t the only one in his freshman year at St. McKenzies. In fact they had their own club. ‘Theories Unlimited‘ it was called, and they met once a week in each other’s rooms at the dorm house. So far this semester they had covered all the old favourites: JFK, Area 51, the Moon Landings. Tonight Joel was hosting the group. There would be plenty of room, there was only six of them.
‘That’s clearly not true,’ cried Emily. ‘Elvis isn’t dead, he has a ranch in North Dakota – I’ve seen the pictures.’
Joel nodded in agreement. As the discussion around the continued existence of ‘The King’ raged on, Joel got up and wandered across to the fridge. Having pulled together a pastrami sandwich he tipped the milk carton up to pour himself a glass, only to find the carton almost empty.
‘Hey, has anyone been at my milk?’ he asked the group.
The room fell silent, almost. At the far end of the settee Jimmy slurped from a plastic beaker. Looking up, the white foam ring around his lips was clear for all the theorists to see. Sheepishly he shrugged his shoulders and said ‘Err, the CIA drunk it? Aliens?’
A ewe and her lamb huddled together for warmth in the darkness of the crumbling cottage. Last night the rest of the flock had followed each other into the temporary pen readied behind the farmyard, but at least one wary mother appeared to know what this meant.
As sunlight crept over the hills a red quad bike approached the cottage. A young collie crept inside and chased the two shivering occupants out into the open field. The farmer looked at his watch. Over his shoulder he could hear the lorry approaching: the spring lambs would soon be on their way.
The original ‘Flab Battle‘, which commenced in March 2012, saw me go from an outrageous 18’6″ (116kg) to a low of 12’7″ (79.1Kg). In truth, I had lost too much, too quickly. There was very little fat/cushioning left on certain parts of my body i.e. base of spine. To this day I remain convinced that I somehow screwed up my metabolism and as a result even when it’s hot I can still feel cold.
For the best part of three years my weight remained in my defined comfort zone which capped off at 13’7″. However, we then decided to move house. This involved stress. This also involved dismantling our treadmill. These two things allied to me just getting lazy and into some bad eating habits saw my weight begin to rise again. Now that we’ve moved and are settled it’s time to get back on track. The stress is easing and of course the treadmill is now back up and running in the garage. A starting weigh-in last week shocked me to the core. The scales flashed 14’8″ (92.6Kg). This was all the motivation I needed to get back into action.
A combination of treadmill sessions, every other day, and calorie counting (with my trusted app/website MyFitnessPal) has borne some early fruit. Not only do I feel physically and mentally better, but I weigh less. Today’s weigh-in showed I had dropped down to 14’4″ (90.7Kg). Yes, I know a good percentage of this will be water weight as my body starts to flush out the sludge, but it still an encouraging first week or so.
Plan is to lose at a slow, steady and sustainable rate until I reach my target of around 13’3″ (84Kg). Hopefully I can achieve that before autumn turns to winter. Regular updates to follow.