Triple Treat – Ten-minute thriller time! Story Two   

A Time Traveller’s Trilogy of Torment continues.

Can life’s sequence of unfolding events be true?

Readers: It is essential that you read the previous story before you continue here…

 

 

“Dare to Dream the Truth?”

by Stephen James

 

Here is the second instalment of this intriguing trilogy. Just one more to follow. Remember to read all three stories in their correct order for the continuous storyline of this adventure. The third story is only a few more days away.  If you “follow” my posts you will receive an email alert so you can enjoy reading more of my short stories. 

William Steed Cosgrove stood beside his lathe watching it rotate at blinding speed. He was a master-craftsman who took his trade very seriously. With the advent of sophisticated computer programmed tools forcing his kind into extinction, Will felt privileged and proud that his bare hands could fabricate any timber or synthetic into any shape, large or small — any style, any finish, or into any class of joinery. It was nearly knock-off time at the factory. As the powerful machine whirred to a halt, he was recalling his life’s rear-end journey — since the travelling began. His wife Angelica was a data streamliner/radar operator at Odiham, the RAF base at Hampshire. A woman of high intellect and he was more than grateful that she saw more than just a pretty face in him. She was a considerate and understanding woman who knew that what was happening to her husband, was a far cry from a joke. Angelica also had her master’s degree in IT. Often bamboozled by her conversational pieces, at times he would simply nod and agree. The charming couple were very much in love…

A number of months had passed since Cosgrove’s last disappearing act peppered the pages of the Illustrated London News, following his altercation with the law back in 1867. He had known all along that the degree of pressure which he had applied on his forefather’s throat was way too insufficient to terminate him. For some strange reason, he had avoided erroneous justice. It was a close call and the harrowing feeling had never left him; therefore, he’d decided to seek professional help. Weekly visits to Southampton began.

Doctor Evan Vladminsky, the author of no less than seven published manuscripts, on the topics of lucid dreaming and astral projection, was the mind-specialist instated to explore his subconscious. William had endured lengthy consultations with the top-end psychoanalyst, in an attempt to discover the reason for his incredible time-cheating experiences. When he had tried to explain the truth to the medic, his improbable exposé was naturally scoffed at.

In return, the psychotherapist forced his insistence upon Cosgrove, with lengthy clarifications about the disorder. Vladminsky’s criticism to accept it as reality was harsh and doctrinaire. The man’s autocratic personality always left William with a feeling of inadequacy. The final explanation summary went like this: ‘Simply put Mr Cosgrove, this phenomenon called lucid dreaming, is merely a person’s ability, when in the midst of a dream, to be aware that one is, in fact, dreaming. The clarity can be overwhelming… even false pragmatisms can occur. So much so, that the individual shall attempt to control how the dream unfolds. In certain patients such as yourself, the condition transpires because you have a larger brain structure in the anterior prefrontal cortex. This condition basically causes you to have a higher state of thinking and self-awareness. You proved this to me with your test success rate. Now…would you like another consultation?’

Frustrated yet again, Cosgrove returned home after another expensive albeit fruitless session. Nobody believed his stories, but it was far worse than that. Although the time-leaping experiences could be quite mind-expanding, they could also be quite traumatic. The prescribed sedation tablets were not making any difference, and his textbooks were complicated to read. Will knew he was a lucid dreamer — having discovered at a young age how to control their course. He also knew the obvious difference between a nightmare and reality. What was happening to him in recent years, he was unable to alter the course of. He just wanted someone aside of Angelica to know about it. As per usual they discussed the matter over dinner. The empathetic long-haired brunette, whose girl-next-door looks did everything right, except flatter her astute business acumen, began clearing their plates.

“Are you going to read tonight, darling?” she asked. “I have some study to catch up on, if I am going to be the successful applicant for that position I’ve told you about. I reckon it is between Phyllis and myself. But it’s a toss-up. She is more experienced than I.”

“No, Angie… my head is still swimming with encyclopaedic terminology, after Dr Vladminsky’s dictatorial extraction of my hard-earned cash! Think I’ll catch a Yankee sit-com or movie instead. You go ahead, dear. I know how much your career means to you. Phyllis Buttigieg might well be more experienced, but you are far better looking!” He kissed her. “I’ll clean this lot up.”

Angelica laughed, then trundled into the bathroom to freshen herself up.

The mild-mannered gentleman from Brockenhurst donned his favourite Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas and curled up on the couch with his remote control. As he watched the old black-and-white film ‘Casablanca’ for the umpteenth time, his mind was hopeful that the momentousness of that last journey may have marked the end to it all. He missed the film’s end — whereby Humphrey Bogart pulls out his revolver and threatens Police Chief, Claude Rains, to let Ingrid Bergman and her husband fly to freedom. William had quickly slipped into a deep restful slumber on his couch. He could probably have hit the mute button and have them lip-syncing to his own dialogue anyway. Angelica sat at her laptop, in the office, at the opposite end of their southern Hampshire bungalow. By 10.30 pm his form had vanished into the night once more — she never noticed his peaceful body evaporating, like tiny particles of matter, into the realms of space-time. As this occurred, the cushion and couch he’d lay upon slowly resumed back to their original shapes…

Within seconds, William arrives in the future to the night they go out to celebrate her job success. It is exactly four weeks to the day. Angelica is now a grade five computer analyst and the head of her department at RAF Odiham, as it is colloquially known. Co-worker Phyllis had been the first to congratulate her. Upon Phyllis’ suggestion, her and her husband Raymond were paying for and accompanying the Cosgrove’s to The Whistle Loudly Theatre Restaurant, to see a comedy version of ‘Les Misérables’ with bubbly etc included. The invitation had also been extended to Will’s spinster identical-twin-sister, Janet. They were all very close — with Janet having twice dated Phyllis’ brother Stan. The only proviso was that William drove, because he was the only teetotaller amongst the five of them. As a sweetener, Ray had offered forward the keys to his new Jaguar XF, if he was prepared to chauffeur the celebrators to the show and back. Naturally William approved…

The show was a marvellous success — they laughed till their sides ached. Everything was going beautifully. They enjoyed late-night café lattes and cappuccinos after the play’s conclusion. By 11.00 pm the happy group were buckled into the sleek silver Jag saloon. The car was filled with chattering mirth as it cruised down the M5. William listened to his wife’s joking comparisons with the play’s characters and some of her work colleagues. Perched in the back of his mind was the thought of how wonderful it was, knowing that this night would soon to be happening for real, and how much Angelica was going to enjoy it. She couldn’t stop thanking Ray and Phyllis for their generosity — especially considering the fact that she had beaten her friend to the high-paying departmental head position.

“Not a problem. It was a pleasure to laugh so much together,” replied Ray. “I tell you what, Cosgrove, why don’t you simply drop us off first and take the Jag home. I can pick it up tomorrow.”

‘Are you sure about that, Ray?” asked Will, smiling at the thought and looking at his reflection in the driver side’s tinted window. “She purrs like a cat, hey mate?”

“Don’t forget to drop me off first, Willy,” added Janet to the conversation. “It is a bit foggy out there and I’m getting tired now. Oh, do get a wiggle on Willy, I need to go to the ladies too!”

The sleek cosy car had stopped at a stop sign, after peeling off the major highway. A broken-down bus was parked on the left, where the road swept gradually around a bend, making visibility awkward. William sat with the engine idling for quite some time, to be certain it was safe — eyes darting from side-to-side.

“Of course, I’m sure, Cosgrove,” enforced Ray Buttigieg, patting his hand on William’s shoulder. “I’d trust you with my life old man! What on Earth is a silly old motor car compared to that, hey what?” The beautiful car was in fact practically brand new. “All clear on my side—”

As the car gradually lurches forward across the lane, a warning voice from outside the car calls out. “Stop! Don’t go yet!”

Cosgrove glances right for a second — distracted by the loud call. Inopportunely, he begins falling asleep for a nanosecond, but during that nanosecond, he commences dematerializing. The helpless William is watching as his body begins evaporating. Its atomised foot, no longer able to switch to the brake pedal, allows the heavy car’s automatic transmission to continue rolling it forwards. Through the mist, a speeding semi-trailer is on a collision course. The truck-driver stands on his brake pedal locking-up all twenty-two wheels. Simultaneously, as its huge stainless-steel bulbar ploughs into their car with a perfect T-bone strike, burning black rubber engulfs the Jaguar. The multitude of airbags inflate instantly, resembling a car filled with oversized frogspawn. The force is so immense that the luxury sedan is swept down the road like gutter debris. It stops like the crushed meat in a metallic sandwich, at the rear of a parked FWD, roughly one-hundred metres up the road. A petrol-fuelled fireball erupts. The whole process, only taking seconds, is observed through two despairing ghostly eyes by a disappearing William Cosgrove. Three of the occupants die within several seconds of the enormous impact — identical-twin-sister Janet, somehow survives. A minute later, the pill-filled and half-intoxicated semi-trailer driver is spotted fleeing the scene, by the calling-out bystander…

In a change from the norm, William returns instantly to the couch from four weeks prior. The usual week-or-so away has become modified. His breathing is rapid. His face is white. His hands are shaking. His shock-filled bloodstream is gushing like Niagara. He now knows the horrible future that awaits. He looks down at Winnie-the-Pooh’s innocent little white face, on his pyjama shirt, staring back at him — but cannot smile. It is midnight. Angelica has gone to bed. She must have noticed the TV still on, broadcasting the second Bogart feature in-a-row, but him not there and realized he was timing-out (as they flippantly called it). She has left him a note saying, ‘See you when you return darling’. But… William cannot work out whether to go and wake her, to inform Angelica about the car crash.  He is tormented by the ugliness of the truth. It was the future — only a matter of weeks away!

William switches off his TV set to regain some composure. He can hear Angelica’s gentle snore emanating from down the hallway and rubs his perspiring face, thinking hard of a way to alter the future. He remembers that he is a lucid dreamer and decides to fall back to sleep — to perhaps steer his body into another time-travel. However, he did not know whether he would return to the actual crash and die with her or what? This option was a gamble he would also be prepared to take. Somewhere else perhaps? A good era he was hoping to retravel back to, would be the past, to be reunited with her. Perhaps at a time when they first met or when they first got married, anything but where he was currently at. It seemed worth a try. Unfortunately, he had never experienced a double-travel, like the one required, before. With difficulty, Cosgrove slowly drifts into unconsciousness…

Unlike before, during portal transference, he manages to steer the plot through its roller-coaster, and relives the horrifying accident — but overshoots the runway, unable to awaken where he’d prefer it to be. Cosgrove rematerializes behind the trunk of a giant oak at the graveyard site of St Catherine’s Church, several days after the accident. He is dressed in black. He glances past the tree — watching Angelica’s coffin being lowered in. Their neighbourhood priest is speaking kindly of her. Two other graves with awaiting coffins are there. William hears people, also clad in full black attire, whispering behind their hands. “His wife and best friends too. And what about his poor sister? He and the truck-driver both fled the scene somehow, you know—”

At this moment, he would gladly have opted for that hangman’s noose! This is by far the saddest moment of his life. He holds back his tears, observing with discontentment, whilst staying clear of the massive sobbing crowd. Afterwards, he makes the long lonely walk home.

Days of gloomy solitude and grief-stricken moping at home follow. The man is crushed by feeling the guillotine of guilt, on his conscience, for killing them. Cosgrove’s torment and stress levels are unbearable. He is not eating, shaving, or even washing himself. His mind is exploding — he doesn’t know how to cope with this circumstance. William wishes he was a drinker. Having decided that he cannot continue without her, he sees no reason for his existence and decides to take his own life. One evening William contemplates; ‘Yep, suicide is the only option. How shall I do it though? What is a plain and simple way to do it? What is a painless and fast method?’

He speaks out loud to the hallway mirror. “Death by gunshot is the only way. It’s fast, painless, and above all, reliable. Do it in one hit. Over and done with quickly, just like she was.”

Will knew that his friend, Ray Buttigieg, was a grouse and deer hunter who owned several shotguns and rifles. He’d seen them enough times.  One weapon in his pride collection’s armoury was a large-bore pistol. That night he goes to their home to steal it. Their house is dark and still — he’s inside within minutes, wrapping the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum Revolver up in a towel, then, placing it in a travel bag. A handful of cartridges follow. He returns home and sits down to begin writing a mournful suicide letter. Why — how — where — when — etc, so that nobody else is responsible for his death. He places the letter in an envelope and puts it on the dining room table, in plain view. At the stroke of midnight, Will sits down and picks up the revolver and points it towards his face. His eyes stare eagerly down the big hollow black barrel. He braces himself. He must get it right the first time. His eyes flick across to the wall clock, then, focus back on the gun. ‘Open or shut? Does it matter?’

Will’s interlocked thumbs begin easing back on the trigger. Deep breaths… waiting… waiting… waiting… His sensitive ears can hear the mechanism clicking. Hands begin trembling. He knows he is a fraction of a second away from that projectile terminating his life, and very soon he should be joining his beloved Angelica. Just as the trigger nears the point of no return, his body dematerialises. The undischarged revolver slides right through his pepper-sprinkled hands and drops to the dining table. Cosgrove is yet once more, vanishing off in time…

This time, he re-emerges two-hundred years way into the future, same age — same man, who is seeing the planet for what it has become. Violence is rife. The unbreathable air is locust-thick with airborne miscellanea.  Fires burn and smoulder all around him. He can clearly see the skeletal remains of Big Ben’s clocktower — looming over the Thames River like some ancient relic of the past. The river’s water is polluted with toxic flotsam and jetsam. It is England, this much he knows but it is unrecognizable. The suicide letter is in his pocket — somehow it came with him. He is confused but still wishes to end it all. People all around him are groaning in pain, some bear ugly scars as if their flesh had been scorched and blistered by mustard gas. Nearby, a hooded denizen figure sits in a wheelchair staring at the flames of a raging hellfire, at close range. William steps toward the lost soul and steers the incapacitated victim fifty metres away, to safety. He knows he’s not supposed to alter history, but this poor creature seemed unable to manoeuvre their mode of transport. He steps into the burning building but the moment some flames touch his body he begins to vanish, yet again…

Is he learning anything about what this irregular anomaly is? As he diminishes, William contemplates the possibility of travelling all the way back to when he was a child, to find out what it was that made him so different from every other human being. Why does he have this horrible ability?

Watching the remnants of his hands fade away, Cosgrove now realizes, that this gift which he has been given is; that he is a man who can never die. At any point he is about to die, his body and soul miraculously dissipates to safety.

With all the grotesque memories that have plagued his recent life… is it really a gift?

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Triple Treat – Ten-minute thriller time! Story One

Have you ever wished you could travel through time?

Meet someone who can do just that…

A Time Traveller’s Trilogy of Torment!

 

 

“…Beyond Dreaming”

by Stephen James

 

Here is the inaugural instalment of this intriguing trilogy. There are two more to follow. So, be sure to devour all three stories in their correct order for the continuous storyline to be interpreted correctly. I shall post the second a few days later — and the third a few more days after that. Click on “follow” and you will receive an email alert to let you know as soon as the next story appears. 

 

As William Steed Cosgrove, a forty-two-year-old wood-machinist stepped down from the Hansom cab, its soft suspension sagged under his powerful frame’s weight. His buckled shoe hit the ground in a shallow puddle. The glistening sheen of the pavement flagstones, under the morning’s mist of rain, made their charcoal tones look like billion-year-old volcanic rocks. Several horse-drawn carriages skittered across them leaving tiny rooster-tails of water. This was the year 1867. It was Baker Street, in the heart of London, England. Exactly 9.42 am, on a Thursday, was the time. William had folded-shut the back cover of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ scarcely nine hours previously. Being a Sherlock Holmes junky, he had stayed up late to finish it — riveted to the word-maestro’s incomparable text. After which, the whodunnit’s challenging plot had drawn circles on the walls of his mind, suffice to give him a rough night’s rest. Everything was fine, except Will Cosgrove lived in Brockenhurst in South Hampshire, over seventy miles away, in 2015…

“Don’t remember seein’ you get in, kind sir,” remarked the driver, leaning down from his platform at the back of the cab — hand cupped. “Let’s call it twopence-halfpenny, my good man.”

He paid the cab driver, noticing the stout image of Queen Victoria engraved on the pennies as they dropped. Will raised his top hat and planted his gentleman’s cane between the flagstone joints, politely asking, “what year would this be, driver?”

“That’s a strange question. Why, it’s 1867 of course! What… ‘ave you been sick or somethin’?”

“In a way, yes. Thank you, friend. And a very good morning to you.”

The blinkered horse — tail held high, clip-clopped off with a gentle trot. Fine-looking William strolled off as if he knew exactly what was going on. The truth; he didn’t know but couldn’t let the public determine it. He’d never owned a suit with tails in his life. He was married to a woman but couldn’t for the life of him remember her name. And… this was not the first time he had fallen through time; however, this was the furthermost in years that he had gone. The bleak weather forced him quickly to the undercover awning of a cake shop, where a well-dressed woman stood fidgeting with her bonnet’s dampish flowers. Her parasol rested against the shop’s window beside her string bag. Cosgrove glanced past her pretty-featured face, in order to catch a glimpse of his own image in the glass. His mortal form had materialized, inside the stationary Hansom cab, several blocks away, therefore, he had no idea of how old he was. The face staring back looked barely old enough to shave. Each time in the past during his time-leap journeys, he’d always felt the same mentally — in fact, his knowledge of modern-day life remained entirely up to speed. But there were no cellphones here and no credit cards to flash around. The era he was currently in seemed to be moving at a sloth’s pace. At this second, he was a man in his twenties comprising the wisdom of forty-two years’ experience. An onlooker could be forgiven for believing this to be a Godsend, but Cosgrove was mindful not to intervene with history’s line of chronology. He knew that he was not really supposed to be there. It all felt like a very realistic dream, however, it wasn’t. And that sloth pace was about to change…

“Good day madam,” he offered to the attractive brunette, their eyes meeting in the rain. “Let us stand clear of that breeze. I see your shopping is a trifle damp.” William’s devour-rate of historical novels had put him in good stead of the required language. He removed a handkerchief from his coat’s pocket and offered it to her. Their hands shook twice as she grasped the white cloth.

“Very kind of you sir,” her polite cockney accent replied. “I have just fetched a present for my father. He’ll be fifty tomorrow, you know. I bought him a charming new fob watch from Harrington’s. Solid gold it is… took my last savings, but you only get one proper father, don’t you?” She glanced her chestnut coloured eyes towards the string bag. “You from around ’ere then, are you?”

“Not entirely,” he nodded in reply. “William Steed Cosgrove… at your service miss!”

“Bassingthwaite. Miss Emily Bassingthwaite to be precise. Interesting middle name, that is!” The striking girl’s cheekbones raised with the radiance of her smile. “Where’re you from then?”

At that very moment, before he could answer, a carriage pulled by four groomed Appaloosa stallions drew up beside them. It distracted their focus. On its blind side, a scruffy hooded man skulked in the mist — keeping low behind the horses’ withers. In an opportunistic blur, the nimble thief snatched Emily’s bag and ran a nine-inch knife blade across her stomach. She slumped against the shopfront — tiny hands clasping her blood-soaked dress. In a flash, he was gone…

A stern voice shouted from the carriage window. “Get the scoundrel! Go on son!”

In two minds, Cosgrove swung his eyes to the voice. His strong hands were supporting her hips, but his conscience knew this was meant to be, and his presence wasn’t. There were no policemen in sight. He considered the blade and his own belly but saw little choice.

“I am a doctor!” blurted the voice. “You chase him, boy and I shall look after the girl!”

William had been a good-quality soccer player all through school and represented his local Hampshire Hurricanes at club level, right up until he turned forty. He tossed his top hat and cane aside and took off like a cheetah. From the corner of his eye, he saw the thief vanish around a brick wall leading into a narrow laneway. Scores of people were funnelling-out from its entrance, many being cannoned aside. As they parted, it forged a path for his pursuit. Out the other end and down the street, across between horse-drawn traffic he chased. Ducking, weaving, skidding on cobbles, and side-stepping pedestrians he pursued. Will Cosgrove’s buckled shoe sounds echoed off the grimy brick walls. The adroit thief’s head spun around over his shoulder. Only a few yards away now. A sudden change of direction found them entering another very narrow lane. The walls towered high on both sides. In this alley, there was nothing but darkness. He caught a glimpse of the blade in the villain’s right hand. They were in a dead-end laneway.  It was now or never…

“Back-off or die!” screamed the filthy unshaven individual, turning to face Cosgrove. The look in his yellowy eyes glared as mean as a snake. Knife in one hand — his booty in the other. The threat was real.

William said nothing as he leapt at the man’s waist in a rugby-style crash-tackle. His strong, angry, wood-machinist hands wrapping around the thief like a resolute anaconda. Their combined weight hit the slippery flagstones with an almighty crunch. The knife spun out of his hand. The bag’s contents, strewn around the grappling men, soon revealed the magnificent gold watch and chain. It spilt free from its leather case. The two men rolled on the ground scratching and thumping one another, their faces only inches apart. A small crowd of facial expressions began to appear through the hazy moist light at the lane’s open end. Still no police. Cosgrove, although slightly lighter in stature occupying this younger body, had adrenaline and determination as his allies. He quickly subdued the criminal by applying a choke-hold from behind. But what next?

William couldn’t help thinking about how important it was not to alter the course of history. Between each of his heavy gasps for breath, he wished his mortal form would dematerialize and send him back home to his bungalow at 14 Beaglehunt Street in South Hampshire, where he knew his wife was at present occupying their queen-size ensemble by herself. Alas, something he had learned about with the previous travels, was that he was always away for a period in excess of at least one week. So, that option was not about to happen.

An elderly gentleman and his wife began to wander towards them. He called out. “Who’s down there? Show yourself at once!”

“No!” shouted William. “It is not safe for you! Call for the police at once, please. I have a criminal in my keeping… an attempted murderer, in fact!”

The old man scurried off nodding, in his funny little dottery way. Then something extremely strange occurred. The apprehended man, who was tugging with his own wiry arms, spluttered a sentence past William’s forearm. “You’re a Cosgrove, aren’t you? I can tell—” he coughed.

Confused by the utterance, William gritted his teeth. “You disgraceful contemptable lowlife! What did you just say?”

The man coughed, “I said you are a Cosgrove. I could tell the moment I saw your eyes—”

“Shut your mouth… you damned criminal scum, or I’ll see an end to you!”

“Look at me,” gasped the choking individual. “Stare at your own eyes!” he wheezed.

Impossible; thought William to himself. Then, suddenly remembering his twin sister Janet’s self-compiled genealogy book which she had pestered him to read, he remembered her documentation about a nineteenth-century vagrant from the capital, named Arthur Cosgrove. Time felt like it was standing still. It rained no more. Will’s warm breath’s vapour gathered in a cloud before his eyes. The vagabond had stopped breathing. Cosgrove’s immediate thought was; But I have hardly got any pressure on you — there’s not a chance in hell you could die from just this?

William let his flaccid body settle on the cobblestones. He leaned over the corpse to look. There was no mistake. The now-visible eyes and face, having had the hood fall away during their fight, was a doppelgänger for his own. What wasn’t apparent, was the fact that he had died of a heart attack, brought upon by his efforts to overcome his suppressor. This homeless individual was riddled with Vibrio-cholerae, by virtue of London’s barely-existent sewerage system. His poor respiratory tract and weakened heart had simply given in. Within minutes, two constables appeared from the shadows above them. The tall one’s truncheon rested on William’s shoulder…

The weeks of hell dragged slowly by for incarcerated William. The cold crudely-painted walls of Newgate Prison were his new home. Emily Bassingthwaite, who had survived the cowardice attack, came to visit Cosgrove on many occasions. She grew very close to him and he remained moderately hopeful.  However, way back in this harsh period of history — the law was still the law and scruples were somewhat unscrupulous. Unfortunately for Will, life was decidedly cheap. No medical autopsy had been performed on Arthur. It was still regarded as manslaughter.

On her most recent visit, she opened-up her jar of truth. “This is preposterous, Steed,” she vented sympathetically through the bars. “I have explained the circumstances thoroughly to the authorities, but—”

He frowned back. “Why do you call me by my middle name, Emily?”

“Because I like it! and… I like you, very much!” she qualified.

“Accepted my dear. However, as far as they are concerned, I killed a man and for that, they will hang me. Let’s not forget, that this is 1867 and the laws were quite rudimentary back then—”

“What in Heaven’s name does that mean, Steed?” she interjected, pouting her puzzling smile which was as beautiful as her contented one.

“It means… it means… it means that I am as confused as you. But, if I had answered your very first question when we originally met — when you asked; ‘Are you from around here then?’ The truth, well… the truth you simply wouldn’t have believed.”

Her eyelashes flew apart. “Try me?”

“Guard!” he called out in a loud firm voice.

“Yes, what is it, prisoner Cosgrove?” answered a uniformed gentleman, whose dark whiskers and sideburns, all joined in one, stuck out like a woolly daffodil around his face.

“Pray, let this good lady into the confines of my cell, sergeant. We have much to discuss.”

“Okay. But be mindful, I’ll be watching you very closely, sir!”

“Oh… open the blasted door!” yelled Emily. “Can’t you see that I love him, and—” She hesitated, knowing it wasn’t quite that simple, before possibly making a fool of herself.

William Steed Cosgrove, figuring that he had nothing to lose by telling this charming young lady everything about where he came from, started from the beginning. He had attempted to explain it to the authorities. They merely laughed at his pathetic attempts to be committed into a lunatic asylum. Over two hours later, Emily reassured, “I do believe you, Steed.” Her smile was priceless.

He finished… “Even though I cannot remember her name — let alone who she is, I do have an unborn wife, somewhere out there… So, that is why I cannot permit myself to fall in love with you.  The worst part is; now that Arthur Cosgrove has died prematurely, I don’t even know if I’ll ever even be born. How dreadful is that? In a way, the longer I stay in prison — is the longer I stay alive!”

“As I have told you before, my father is one of the best criminal barristers in London, Steed. You recovered his watch. That meant a lot. At least let him try to get a pardon for you.”

“Greatly appreciated, my dearest Emily, but lawyers definitely do not work for free. I have no money whatsoever! Believe me, from past experience and where I come from, this I know to be one of life’s coldest and hardest facts.”

Emily burst into tears. “He’ll work hard for you — for me, Steed darling. If you tell me that you love me, of course, that is.” Her cute, cockney, Eliza Doolittle accent melted his stubborn armour.

“Time to leave miss!” roared the guard, grabbing her by the upper arm. The door swung shut.

“Go ahead then, I am very fond.” He guiltily kissed her through the cast-iron bars. “Let’s see what he can do.” William could not bring himself to say what Emily was so desperate to hear. She parted ways, blowing him a kiss, which he returned.

Within ten days the Assize judge’s gavel had crashed firmly against its block…

Will lost his speedy trial, despite Bassingthwaite’s legal prowess and strong pleading appeals for leniency. Judgement was passed. Cosgrove’s hanging date was set for November 23rd at precisely 10.00am sharp. The day arrived quicker than a liar’s promise. Heartbroken Emily could not bring herself to attend. The daunting walk played havoc with his mind. William had read a great deal about the punitive penal system before the lead-up years to his folklore hero, Sherlock Holmes’ emergence on to the literary scene. He knew that these gallows were going to be the short-drop strangulation type. The type held in public areas outside the prison walls, as an exhibition for the public’s enjoyment. The passing of The Prisons Act of 1868, whereby, far more humane methods of capital punishment (the long-drop neck-breaking type) were introduced, was not until next year.

He stood at the Newgate Prison gallows — thick hairy noose of rope around his neck — coils resting behind his ear — entire body trembling. His feet were perched on a stool which was about to be kicked out from under him. A large crowd of festive onlookers began cheering. A juggler stopped his balls practically mid-flight to observe the hanging. William’s heart was pounding so hard that it hurt; This was not what time-travel was all about, surely?

“Proceed!” shouted a dark featureless voice.

Suddenly, his body atomised into microscopic particles, then, vanished completely into thin air leaving an empty swinging noose…

His amazing escape caused quite a commotion amongst the Londoners. Over several weeks, dramatic articles sprawled the front pages of the Illustrated London News. Exaggerated versions of the truth surfaced — the unsuccessful manhunt, eventually brought to an end. Emily, however, always knew the truth.

William Cosgrove rematerialized in his own bed to the accompaniment of his wife Angelica’s gentle purring sleep. Conan Doyle’s book sat on the bedside table with a bookmark at the beginning of the penultimate chapter. He glanced at the glowing digits of his radio alarm clock, they read; 10.53 pm. He thought; still two chapters to go? Strangely, he had not returned to the exact time as he’d left — but William now knew the unpredictable ending to ’The Hound of the Baskervilles’.

The following day at his sister Janet’s house, the siblings sat staring at the self-published genealogy book, open at page 191. “What is it, Willy? And, why are you so eager to find out?”

“Shhh,” he said, thumbing down the page. “Oh my gosh… listen. Walter Henry Cosgrove who was our bootmaker ancestor, married a woman by the name of Emily Bassingthwaite, in 1869. The family tree shows they had seven children. It says Walter had a brother come-gaolbird named Arthur. This old census document you photocopied, states that he died at the hands of a mysterious killer, way back in 1867!”

Janet frowned back. “So, exactly why is that so important to us right now?”

Be sure to catch story two soon…

More stories at “Readers of the Lost Arkives!”

Who is a murderer?

Can you guess which event was murder… and whodunnit?

 Follow the trail of accidents and deceptions…

  of this latest twisted edition, in the ten-minute thriller series!

   Discover the past at “Readers of the Lost Arkives!”

 

 

“Wicked Woman… Truthful Thief… Lawyer Liar”

By Stephen James

 

                Oh, what a tangled web we weave — when first we practise to relieve? Well, that is what mushroomed, from this fellow’s necessity to visit the toilet — one brisk Argentine night. For an unlikely young hero, in this mini super-drama, the fusion of fact, fiction, fundamentality, and freedom, forms a very thick soup…

 

It was a busy night at 125 Oakmont Drive, on 23rd March. The inviting aroma of Latin cooking filled the night air. Outside, a thief was removing the pane of glass for his entry. Inside, Stephanie Summers had a knife at her rich husband’s throat. He was completely at her mercy. She had tolerated his womanising. She had enjoyed his money. She was basically over him! Stephanie watched him squirm with fear as she toyed with his life. This blade was nine-inches long. Within seconds, petty house burglar Carrington Warren is through the window and into their lounge room. He cannot help but see what is going on. Surprise keeps the silence. Carrington makes full eye-contact with Stephanie. Her return glare spoke of a woman who had reason to end her woes, and nothing would stop her. She flicked her nod at him, to say; just steal and leave swiftly mister. Carrington at first hesitates, then opens his mouth to speak. “I need to use the bathroom first, Mrs Whoever-you-are.” He started moving gingerly toward the restroom door offering, “I wasn’t quite expecting this!”

“Just go!” Her voice cut his eye-line free. Her head returned to its focus.

Carrington Warren flushed and lowered the lid. He returned to thank her — then leave quietly. Stephanie stood over the body. Its throat was cut. The nine-inch blade, stuck in the table beside the corpse, gave her a look of condemning guilt which she avoided. “I didn’t do it!”

An acidic smell of death hung in the air.

He summed-up the evidence instantly, knew she couldn’t possibly be trusted and forced an answer. “Sounds unlikely… but it could be likely. Either way, what’s next?”

“Rufus and I would often play it… a little rough. But never to this extent.”

“Your husband. Your murder. I didn’t even see you do it. So, I’m outta here!”

“I’m telling you. You fool. Don’t you see? While you were in the bathroom, I reconsidered and let him go. I didn’t want you to turn me in!” her solemnity begging… “I went into the kitchen to cry. I heard a man’s voice and a scuffle. When I returned… well, you can see what I saw!”

He had no idea who she was. “Look, lady. I don’t want to get mixed up in any of your personal problems. I got enough of my own to worry about already, without this crazy kind of business.” Like an inexperienced and pressurized victim of; wrong time – wrong place mania, he grabbed the knife to try to withdraw it from the table. It stayed put, the handle now wobbling.

“Oh, but you are mixed up. For all I know, you may have been the one who planned to come here and kill him. My letter opener just so happened to be quite handy at the time. There is NO WAY a woman could ram that knife blade in quite that firmly.” A tongue of rasp intention spat back.

At this point, Carrington understood one thing. She was right. He noticed this as her fingers peeled a pair of sheer, silken, arm-length, gloves away from each hand and threw them into the burning log fire. The only fingerprints on the handle were his, and whoever it was, who she reckons killed her husband. Stephanie had a wicked look in more than just her eye — she personified the meaning; Usually true when once she had a lover and seldom a strayer. But, when it came to financially fleecing them, she had no clones and no disciples. He knew one other thing; If the pair of them were going to make this one stick, he had to believe her flimsy story. What if there was another real murderer, whose prints are under his? It would be proof, right? They needed each other…

“I swear to you lady, I was in there the whole time. I did not kill your husband,” said Carrington, pointing at the bathroom door. “My brother-in-law, Danny, is a criminal lawyer. You don’t seem too upset?”

“The wealthy bastard won’t leave too many unhappy lamenting people behind.”

Warren’s eyebrows perched to a sharp incline. “You sound bitter.”

“It’s a long story. You wouldn’t be interested. What’s his name?”

Carrington squared her off. “What’s who’s name?”

“Your brother-in-law, Dumbo. You said he could help us.” She seemed nice when she needed something. “Don’t you think the cops will want to talk to us both?”

“It’s Danial Torres.” They both collaborated and dialled the two numbers…

By the time the police arrived, Danny was already at the scene. His Italian suit cheated the room for intricate detail. Calm and poised — the lawyer’s strut was of an alley cat’s. He instructed them never to speak unless he was there. The police were systematic, and a thorough forensic investigation followed. Every microscopic detail was taken into account by both parties. Danny was brilliant. He knitted the beholden-to-evidence couple’s alibis together so tightly, they couldn’t close the case. Even Carrington’s fingerprints were plainly smudged from a pulling-up motion, not a thrusting-down one — as would have been required at that angle, to kill him. There was also a mysteriously untraceable set of prints under his. They celebrated his courtroom work with dinners at the Ritz. ‘The Three Musky Tears’ they called themselves, and they lived it up. Stephanie was the heiress, so she provided the money. Carrington was simply washed along with the whole situation. He only paid a fine for breaking-in because he didn’t actually steal anything. He became the fortunate piggy-in-the-middle-playboy, by accident. Summers and Warren shared the house. On the flip side, there was Danny ‘The Wizard’ Torres, the wayward people of Buenos Aires’ crooked lawyer, who did all their bookwork and legalese, plus kept their noses clean. Stephanie Summers’ inherited Oakmont Drive mansion was located in Downtown El Puerto, not a place noted for its frothy coffee shops nor its Sunday school picnics. Here, the law hovered like dragonflies. At times, the pair were hounded by the police, about the unsolved murder case. The enforcement agency had smelled a rat. It was a matter of which one and how big. Always watching their tails was the sharp-witted lawyer. His underhanded brilliance kept the Argentine law at an arm’s length away.

After waking up one morning with a splitting headache, then, sending some outlandish olive-skinned man home, Stephanie met Carrington by the thirty-metre lap pool. A high-cut yellow bikini was exaggerating her curves. Her face began grinning like a successful used car salesman. Even behind the mask of her blurry, booze-filled, cheeky eyes, it did not prove too difficult to read. He knew she had been putting out. He hated it. Because, ever since the whirlwind started to spin, he had fallen steeply for her. He had become wound up in a story which narrated like a Mills & Boon novel. It had murder. It had conspiracy. They had money to burn. They lived life on the edge. She was evil. And her attractive wickedness had performed open heart surgery on him — he loved her. But he was not her hero in this book. He felt like a minor character. All he wanted was the girl, never mind the rest. She sat next to him — feet submerged on the top step. Contriving Stephanie, of course, knew everything that was going through his naïve mind. She even decided to sunbake topless just to tease him. Her Cheshire Cat smile forcing him to speak:

“Stephie, I have always wondered,” he struggled. “Who actually did kill Rufus on that night?”

“That much, I do know…” she laughed like he was silly or something. “I’ve always known.”

“Why have you not ever admitted this before?”

“Not important to us right now. Is it?” She splashed water on him.

“Stephanie, I’ve not been totally honest with you. When… when we first met, I had no idea it would have developed into this… this… this merry-go-round. The parties and the err, kafuffle are a lot of fun.” His words stumbled — gulping throat dehydrating. “But I want you, Stephanie. You’re all I ever wanted.” It was out there.

The big house sprawled around their privacy. Stephanie kept the silence alive by not verbally replying. She slid into the water, totally undressing at the same time, quiet as a melting ice cube. Her lips begging him in. She was not expecting what happened next…

Within two hours, Carrington Warren had turned the jezebel reprobate inside out. The unsung wanna-be burglar made the wildcat’s boat rock so much, that she promised him everything — except marriage, that was taboo. He naturally complied. His circle was complete, and he could now become the hero of their crazy unfinished story. They put it on public display, but the police didn’t like this. An item, quite this soon? The case still not closed? A body but no conviction? A reinvigorated haze of suspicion fell on them like the shadow from a plague of locusts. They were lucky to have his sister’s husband, Danny, to sweep up the locust carcasses. Danny Torres could make poison taste and sound like honey. In court, his lies sounded better than any truth. Charisma blazed a trail — he merely followed its path. At first connection, Stephanie had immediately gravitated to him when he’d looked her square in the eye and told her, he knew she was innocent; ‘Put your faith in my hands and I’ll get you both off’, he had lied straight at her. To Stephanie, anyone that good could be of use. It wasn’t rocket science. In Latin America, boldness goes a hell of a lot further than manners. She rolled with everything the lawyer promised, as though it were laced with gold.

A mobile phone call broke the chatter one evening. They were out dining. A party of six were halfway through their main courses, when Stephanie sprang up in her seat saying, “I must take this!” Her finger was pointing up to alert the guests. She wheeled away from the table speaking softly into her device. Five annoying minutes elapsed. Back at the table. “Unbelievable!” She regained their full attention. “I’m going to France… Tomorrow!”

“Ye-gads, this is great. I can’t wait to pack,” Carrington thrust his wine glass high.

“Not you, ah, Carrington dear. This is business. You know; boring meetings, endless signings of doctrines, decision-making. That kind of stuff. I’ll be about eight days.”

It hit him like a windmill blade. “What the heck do you do in France, Stephanie?”

“It appears that I now own a vineyard near… the bridge.” She looked at them blankly, forgetting the name of the Millau Viaduct. “Rufus apparently had it as a tax dodge. Some people are making it difficult to claim full ownership. Danny will be coming with me, to sort it all out.”

The windmill blade just became a whole lot bigger: The middle of romantic France. A vineyard. Eight long days. She will not be able to keep her legs together. His name felt like it had just slipped from top-billing in the novel. “This is great news!” He lied, but not too convincingly.

Later that evening, at 125 Oakmont Drive, Stephanie spoke as the outfits jockeyed for position in her suitcase. Her organizational skills were shameless. She could have left that night. Angst, as thick as a railway sleeper, hung between them. They retired to bed at ten. She lay on the bed with wide eyes but without speaking. In her heart, she knew she had hit another jackpot. His night was sleepless.

He waved goodbye at the airport. Danny and Stephanie trudged away laughing. Two days later, a call lets Carrington know that all is going well. Lots and lots of signature work. Not too many vinos. Five days into it, and this time, the call lets him know that they are having a well-earned break tomorrow. Sightseeing and hang-gliding at the iconic, world’s highest cable-stayed bridge and finally, some wine tasting. Don’t worry, Danny will always be there for us. He has a wonderful insurance policy for me to sign. Carrington Warren feels happier, relieved that she’s safe now and hangs up.

The next day, on the other side of the world, a gloating Stephanie Summers is soaring high above the valley. Below them is the Gorges du Tarn, a beautiful river which hosts the Millau Viaduct. The view is breathtaking. The uplifting feeling of flying is exhilarating and she has won again. Danny had worked his magical tongue-twists yet again. The warm updrafts were strong but predictable. They landed nearby the helicopter which had been leased to take them back to the summit of the cliffs, and then later, to a gala dinner at the winery.

“It is still early. Let’s do one more run!” She grabbed Danny’s groin. “You got the balls for it, Danny boy?”

“Pack these back up please, Janêne,” he said, to the French female chopper pilot, his hand pointing to the kites. “We are going back to the skies!”

This was their third run. Getting up there is one thing. Staying up there is another. At the top of the thousand-foot cliff, visible was a fog which had drifted across, partially blocking the huge bridge’s spans. It looked like a massive steel dinosaur skeleton looming in the mist. They leapt together and began circling skyward, crisscrossing past each other, sometimes within audio range. At one such occasion Danny yells across to her:

“We should have been an item, you and me!”

“What?” she shouted back. “Are you mad? You are already married, Danny. What are you saying? Things are great, just the way they are!”

His glider wandered off momentarily, then reapproached hers. “Yes, they are Stephanie. It’s just that… I think you and I have outgrown the others. Don’t you? Look at our strength together.”

Her face, even filled with buffeting airstream, was smiling. Stephanie knew Danny, in a way, was right. Carrington’s sister Kay was even more timorous than he was. No wonder Danny was bored. Her mind calculated… Stephanie had only really agreed to be with Carrington for convenience. She soared in the whistle of the wind, contemplating the debonair lawyer’s semi-proposition. He wheeled away on a gust. Suddenly, everything altered. Stephanie began to spiral out of control. Her hang-glider vanished into the Gorges du Tarn fog. The body took two days to find…

The news hit Carrington hard. He was against it in the first place. But her loss crippled him into desolation. He moped it out, at 125 Oakmont. Eight days later Danny shows up. Two heavies wearing suits are beside him. He pours himself a neat single malt scotch on-the-rocks. Face wearing a broad grin. “Well, old boy. Time to chuff-off!”

“What do you mean?” fired Carrington, surprised at the remark.

“What I mean is… Everything has been signed over to me. Silly bitch was too busy being greedy to read the fine print! That so-called ‘wonderful insurance policy’ she scribbled on, was the rights to both of her entire estates — as the chief beneficiary!” He was so matter-of-fact. “Ta-ta!”

“You killed her! Didn’t you?” Carrington stepped at him, but the two suits blocked his path. “You cut her wretched kite’s strings!”

“She was a wicked woman, Carrington. You knew that. Killed her husband, too. Oh, but you both knew the real truth. Didn’t you? You are such a truthful thief. You always were.” He laughed.

“I say she didn’t! And I also say that you are a lawyer liar! But either way, you have just killed her — for the money!”

“Yes, my boy. If you insist! A wicked woman, a truthful thief, and a lawyer liar… what a bunch of misfits we were. All in the line of business. You know how things are? Well, she’s my second really big fish. You should have gone to school, Carrington, instead of becoming a two-bit-burglar! Here’s ten-thousand US, arsehole! Take him away boys!” He wasn’t beaten – just relocated.

Three months later, it appeared that Carrington was back at his trade. The rooftops didn’t nag him, and the odd house yielded enough for a living. It was a far cry from his heyday — back at 125 Oakmont Drive with the other Two Musky Tears. Life moves on… He removed the window from a stylish Cape Cod house. He was on the roof, meaning, it was most likely a bedroom. The humble thief rolled through, onto the carpet. A man holding a semi-automatic pistol poised at a short woman met his stare. He was about to pull the trigger. This is not possible; his timing is really getting bad — or is it? The man drops the gun and dashes to the kitchen. Calmly, Carrington picks up the gun, goes into the kitchen and shoots the man. Next, he dashes off to the restroom, through his mind goes the words; No, Danny, she didn’t kill Rufus. I did. Didn’t you ever hear of gloves etched with false fingerprints? And… You deserved this Danny, my sister Kay would never hurt a fly, and this is payback time!

He had just calmly but calculatingly broken into Torres’ house, to square the ledger. The truth in fact was, that Carrington was a truthful thief. However, unassuming Mr Warren also quietly ran a small-time contract killing business on the side — not so pleasant.

There’s no love lost between business partners, I suppose…

Polar Uproar…

A ‘must read’ inspirational short story…

Be swept away under the guise of wild exploration,

to a remote place with cruel & inconceivable consequences!

The latest in the ten-minute thriller series.

Explore further at “Readers of the Lost Arkives!”

 

“The Winning Way”

Saving the Big White Teddy

By Stephen James

                Confronted odds before, have you? Success can come at an extreme price, but the right state of mind can overcome the hefty bill. Or are there some things in life which are simply too pricy? This piece of writing is an enhanced extract from my latest, however, yet to be published novel. I hope and trust this snippet makes you cringe with emotional excitement…

 

When he left the backstreets of Oslo some thirty-plus years ago, Lars Smirkesdrom had no idea of the turnaround his life would be taking. The orphaned child, raised by a widowed Swedish émigré who drove taxis for a living, also gave him her name — calling him Lars after her late husband. Due to low income, they existed in squalor in rented accommodation, as Norway is and always has been, a very expensive country to reside in. He clawed his way through school, only to discover himself back on the streets when poor results left him shy of further tertiary education. Only his English marks were reasonable. The brilliant education system of Norway assists wherever possible, but his flagging results severely thwarted his chances. His mind seemed to be filled with a strange dream dispiriting the boy’s ability to concentrate. However, determined Lars refused to become a failure. After his step-mother’s passing, when at the tender age of sixteen, he made his way across to Bergen, the second largest city, with her dowry of just under five-hundred Kroner. Here on the western coast, Lars eventually took a lowly job at the Fish Me Fishmarket, to commence scrounging his way through night school where he blossomed. Smirkesdrom slept with the stench of fish on a mattress in his boss’s garage. This manual work made him physically strong to match his Nordic box-jaw features. He stood tall and proud, knowing now what his confused child’s mind was all about. With the small amount of leftover Kroner, he purchased books about the North Pole, Antarctica, Greenland, Canada and Alaska. His burning desire to visit these frozen wildernesses accelerated with each book. Smirkesdrom devoured them at the hasty rate that a regular child devours cookies. The man had a steel-trap memory which seemed to remember every word he read. This all occurred during the early 1990’s.

Within six years, Lars had received his master’s degrees in fluvial hydrology, cryosphere modelling, geomorphology, and glaciology at the University of Bergen. In his limited spare time, he had not only climbed all seven mountains surrounding the city of Bergen but also travelled all the way to Skarsvåg, one of the northernmost villages of Norway. It was here where Lars met his future wife, Imogen Aundörsen. She was a Danish solicitor holidaying with her brother — they were married within four months. Here also at Skarsvåg, was where the dogged Norwegian fell in love with his first polar bear. So taken by these massive mammals was he, that animal conservation became yet another string in his multi-talented bow. He also visited the three main Islands of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, roughly centred on 78.4° north latitude and 20.7° east longitude, to study the Great Northern Lights. Another trip saw him visit the Kodiak Archipelago, to indulge in the huge brown Kodiak Bears there.

As global warming became taken a bit more seriously, Lars Smirkesdrom’s work took him to the far north of many countries; those being the ones he had read about when unloading multiple catches at the Fish Me Fishmarket in Bergen as a youth. By 2008 he had documented and predicted the shrinkage of many Alaskan, Canadian and Greenland glaciers as well as many in his home of Norway. The selfless scientist also had extensive knowledge about ice shelf shift and the icebergs that are produced. After spending countless years, pursuing his passion for saving endangered species of wildlife, particularly the very threatened polar bear, Lars’ work took him deep inside the Arctic Circle. These gargantuan sheets of ice are the homes and livelihoods to all of these vanishing creatures. As a fully-trained glaciologist and geologist, tracking the movement of Arctic ice-flows, huge rogue ’bergs, centuries-old glaciers, and monster ice shelf shifts with minimal regard for his own forthcoming, this dangerous profession had reinforced his character. It strengthened and matured this humble orphaned boy from the backstreets of Oslo. It is during a savage winter in 2009 on the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, part of the Ellesmere Island Ice Shelf at Nunavut, Canada, when our story ignites…

After millenniums of frozen solidarity, Ellesmere Island has now fractured into numerous smaller shelves, with Ward Hunt being the largest. This four-hundred-square-kilometre shelf is also on the move, and the icebergs released by the breakup now pose a potential danger to shipping and offshore development in the region. However, the danger is far greater than that, because the massive loss of microbial ecosystems caused by the release of the freshwater, may also have far-ranging ecological impacts. The breakup of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is tied to steady and dramatic increases in the average temperature of the region over the past decades — in correlation with volcanic activity as well as human intervention. Smirkesdrom was out surveying the episodic (variable) travel speed of Ellesmere’s Mittie Glacier with his trusted sled-hauling team made up of five Alaskan Malamutes and four Northern Inuit Dogs. The faithful hard-working animals were his extended family. Lars loved them all. He slept with them. He ate with them. He spoke to them. The sensitive scientific instruments, along with all their survival equipment and rations weighing many tons were bundled snugly aboard. He preferred to work for weeks at a time, alone. Then, he would return home to visit Imogen where they now lived at Churchill, on Manitoba’s Hudson Bay. Lars guided his dogsled team down a steep slope, in his back, the unrelenting one-hundred kilometre-per-hour Katabatic wind was biting like a shark-infested sea. Katabatic is the name given to a drainage wind; a powerful wind that carries high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope under the force of gravity. They do not always travel at high speed, but today’s bitter chill had the inertial force of a freight train. His dogs were having trouble holding their footing in the snow. Visibility was poor. They had been mushing for seven hours — a respite was overdue. Lars looked for a sheltering wall of ice and called to his lead dog;

“Whoop Genghis Khan! Wooh boy!” he shouted through the blizzard. They pulled up beside the partial shelter, but the wind still whistled in an angular fashion, albeit with far less velocity. “We shall take some time to re-energise. I bet you are all rather hungry — as I am!” They woofed and howled in doggy excitement, as he patted the tops of their heads between each pair of eager ears.

Lars began unpacking their dry food as well as the packages of frozen chicken. He fired-up the multi-gas-burner-stove to heat some snow in a large metal pan. Once warm, he dropped the packs in, to thaw, creating their favourite — chicken soup, after which they drank the soup-water. The team feasted ravenously, while Lars set up his radio to give a routine check-in call to the base, located over four-hundred kilometres away at Eureka on Ellesmere Island. He ate whilst speaking…

“Roger that, Alphonse… I’d say I require about, oh another forty-eight hours, to complete the cross-referencing factors. And yes, the boys and I are doing just fine. A bit chilly right now, so we are having supper. I can’t wait to see you guys, once more! I shall be heading off, in about eight hours, to the Loop Moraine’s crack zones for my final measurements, after this blessed Katabatic hopefully slows down. It is picking up a lot of loose snow — I can hardly see a thing.”

“Okay, Lars. We will organize the CH-47 (Chinook tandem-rotor heavy-lifting helicopter) to pick you up, immediately after you send the signal from LM. Over—”

Lars eventually signing off… “Excellent, Alphonse. Tell Erik that he was correct about the new doggy treats, the boys have got far more endurance now. Smirkesdrom over and out!” He shouted over the howling gale-force wind, then continued eating after hauling out a crumpled photograph of a starstruck Imogen under the Aurora Borealis. He was sitting on his sled. Although he couldn’t distinguish her face, his eyes smiled at the picture from behind his goggles.

In split-seconds it happened…

Genghis Khan was first to react, followed by the other eight. All at once a frenzy of yelping and barking stirred Lars’ concentration. The dogs were going ballistic — hanging off their harnesses, teeth exposed by folded-back gums. He glanced up. Smirkesdrom’s breath vanished from his lungs. A huge polar bear stood upright on his hind legs, only metres from them. Suddenly, he heard the full brunt of its chuffing roar. The massive brute started hissing and champing his teeth — Lars knew this to be the sounds made by an angry or hungry bear. He feared for his dog-team, knowing that the smell of their chicken must have drawn the bear in. It had to have emerged from the teeth of the downwind. In the whiteout, Smirkesdrom’s eyes could scarcely focus on the carnivore’s outline against the snow. Only its black nose was clear through his goggles. He could tell from the steep angle its growl was coming from, that this creature stood at least four metres tall. “Easy now, my Big White Teddy friend. (this was his pet-name for these splendid beasts) Take it easy. Nobody’s going to hurt you…” His Norwegian voice calm but directed. Lars was eye-to-eye with it — he knew that fear would only let him down.

Somehow, it seems the polar bear had the upper hand in this one. It dropped back down on all fours and Genghis Khan pounced at the bear’s throat. A terrible mistake…

“No! Get back Genghis! Get back!”

It was not the first time this team had been confronted by a hunting Polar. Now, after five years together, it was their sixth confrontation. But this one was particularly big. The lead dog’s natural territorial-zone instincts, coupled with the protection of his master took over, swamping his canine mind. The black and white Alaskan Malamute collected a front paw far larger and heavier than his own head. The powerful claws had torn clean through the harness. The hefty force swept the dog aside like a furry rag doll severing a bloody gash in his neck. He laid still and stunned. The Northern Inuits raced in, persuaded by wolf-like predispositions. The bear reared back up onto his hind legs. At right-angles to the sled, these dog’s still-tethered harnesses held them at bay — their combined strength nearly toppling the sled and precariously thrusting Lars onto the snow, at the immense white beast’s planted hind paws. His goggles flew aside. He was well within its striking range.

The helpless glaciologist stared up. “My God, look at the size of you, my boy!”

The bear let out a lung-crunching roar. The other eight dogs fell silent. Smirkesdrom’s mind, racing for a solution, knew that the blood-splattered Genghis was what the bear desired, and he lay in the way. His pulse-rate hammered. He glanced at his oldest dog, breathing feverishly, several metres to the left. His provisions did not carry a rifle, and besides, Lars would never use one on a wild animal if he had it anyway. Genghis’ head raised from the snow. He whined and struggled to stand but couldn’t. It looked like the end…

Lars felt the cold no more. “Easy teddy,” he said gently, using eye contact. “Take it easy and we’ll all be happy. I know what you want—”

The eight-hundred-kilogram white bear thundered an even louder growl. Lars, on his hands and knees, backed away slowly. It took a violent swipe. He felt the rush of wind, as five claw-tips ripped his parka. Then a second swipe nicked his face — he felt as if hit by a baseball bat and could have easily suffered a broken neck. The force spun him away landing face up near the sled. All ten lives balancing on a knife’s edge. Smirkesdrom seized an armful of spilt thawed chicken packages and hurled them at the starving creature. Then grabbed some more…

In an unusual standoff scene, the gigantic bear flicked his massive head from side-to-side, then flopped onto the snow to commence gorging on the raw meat. Lars had lost a Siberian Husky once before, about two years ago, under similar circumstances, but managed to spare Genghis’ life by some quick thinking. He gave the endangered bear over twenty kilograms of the dogs’ provisions, talking to it constantly, in awe of its magnificence, before watching it lumber off through the snow. Next, he picked up the Malamute’s injured body and wrapped him up in his spare parka. “You’ll be travelling back on the sled, old mate. There will be no more showing-off on this mission, for you!”

The bonded team rested — as per the original plan. Betrayed by emotion, Smirkesdrom struggled to sleep. There is no daytime/night-time up here. The weak sun merely moves in a circular orbit, up and down around the horizon showing itself, before bobbing down behind one of the vertical sheets of ice, about the height of The Empire State Building. It is something you get used to. Lars had taken a good long look at his dominant Malamute and decided that he would survive the rest of the assignment. They set off after another meal…

After travelling for five hours in the direction of the Loop Moraine’s crack zones, Lars pulled the entourage to a halt. “Whoop Buster! Wooh boy!” Second-in-line Buster had resumed lead dog duties. The Northern Inuit was really a wheel dog, but he knew how and when to stand up to the plate, having heard all the commands a thousand times before. “Goodness gracious me,” whispered the concerned scientist, from atop the crest of a colossal plateau. He knew where he was, but it had altered dramatically since his last visit. He raised his goggles, allowing his eyes a clearer scan for the safest route down the near-perpendicular icy face. The relentless and reinvigorated Katabatic wind vortexed its way over to his extreme right. A clear picture of the highly-condensed snow-filled air spoke to him. On the left, it was a lot less powerful but the face there was much steeper. He decided on the right using a traversing angle to reduce the slope. “Mush, Buster! Mush! Mush!”

An hour of freezing hell later, they neared the bottom, then suddenly, the world fell away from beneath them…

His expedition had survived a fearsome, Big White Teddy, near-death experience, only hours before. But this challenge was nothing, compared to the one he had to face, after tumbling into a deep crevasse with his dogsled team and landing precariously on a plateau of ice barely the size of his lounge room floor. Below that, the chasm’s bottom fell away — hundreds of metres in the darkness. This was every ice traveller’s nightmare; dark, silent, motionless, freezing, injured and alone. Lars unconscious. The only noise was the whining coming from his nine companions. Wounded Genghis had been tossed out on impact, but he was a tough dog — Lars’ parka helped to cushion his injuries. One by one they scrambled out of the tangled mess of harnesses and strewn provisions. It took Smirkesdrom over an hour to regain consciousness, then search and fumble for the radio. He stared up at the dim light streaming down from the narrow jaws of the ravine, hoping the transmitter was still working and praying that the signal would reach the rescue squad. His mind thinking; ‘I reckon… perhaps old Genghis would have drawn the sled to a halt.’

A faint signal reaching Eureka base commenced; “Hello, its Lars here, Alphonse. I never made it to the moraine loops. I have made a terrible error of judgement — must have had my damned eyes closed.” He calmly gave his situation and GPS coordinates to the scientific team. A discussion followed.

Before signing off — “Roger that location, Lars. It will be a few hours till we arrive. I meant to warn you yesterday, that Crevasse 835 LM had extended another fifteen kilometres east. But I figured you would be coming in further from the west— my humblest apologies, sir. Alphonse out…”

He envisioned; The steep route would’ve been the correct one!

To his enthrallment, miraculously, all nine dogs had survived the more than eighty-metre fall. Only two broken legs between them. They all huddled next to Lars to keep him warm and alive until the CH-47 Chinook helicopter arrived. After fourteen hours of motionless wait, finally, rescuers managed to airlift his freezing body back to civilization. The catastrophic fall had shattered his spine. Wheelchair-bound forever, Lars never complained, claiming the fall had been his own fault. A far greater fall for him, was the one from grace, with his wife Imogen walking out because of her inability to deal with the total paralysis. This shattered his heart…

The fear of confronting life alone, and a reconvened outlook, gave birth to Smirkesdrom still travelling the world, but this time not to save his beloved polar bears. Throughout recovery, he wrote a self-help book titled; ‘The Winning Way’. Lars Smirkesdrom now holds free lectures to the hopeless and underprivileged of this world, to motivate and inspire them on to achieve greater things. During these seminars, he refers way back to his childhood woes and lessons learned. He speaks highly of the ice wilderness’s beauty. He teaches kindness to animals. Then, he thanks the wonderful sled dogs for saving his life. Never does he grumble about the poor hands which he got fortuitously dealt thrice in life: Orphaned at four, a quadriplegic at forty-seven and thirdly abandonment. Donated royalties from the multi-million selling manuscript he wrote — along with five other great works to date, have funded a foster home for ill-fated children in Norway…

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“Faded Feathers”

By Stephen James

 Innocent feathers… pretty to look at, soft to touch, but hard to fathom. We all have said or done things we are probably not prepared to brag too much about. The strength of the human mind to retain explicit details of our high and our low points is truly amazing. Offloading the truth to others — as well as forgiving them when they reciprocate can be a rewarding redemption. Let us see what happens to this individual.

 

Beverly Martin sat in her front parlour; hot midday sun streaming through the threadbare curtains. There was nothing remarkable about her appearance, she just looked like any lady you might meet of her elderly years… but Beverly’s past holds a dark secret! She smiles through her wrinkled mouth, as she looks in the far corner where a hideous blue vase was sitting with some faded old feathers propped up, in no specific arrangement. Her mind began to wind back the clock…

A well-proportioned girl, just turning twenty years walks into the Grace with Lace Burlesque Nightclub, located in Sydney’s Rocks District. It was 9.30 pm. A clear view of the famous lit-up harbour bridge, from its old Sydney town surrounds, gave the popular watering-hole a romantic backdrop, extending into the early hours of each morning. It wasn’t sleazy, having a good honest reputation with a variety of local clientele, as well as a strong influx of once-a-year customers who came from all over Australia to feast on the scantily-clad high-quality dancers. The year was 1961. Leggy Beverly had learned to dance the new-vogue style of jazz-ballet — currently sweeping the nation on the heels of the movies and theatre productions about jazz-dancer Gwen Verdon, and the infamous Bob Fosse. After school dance lessons, paid for by her Auntie Molly, drilled her technique and flexibility into a master-class level. She was a natural and felt a shoo-in for the position she had read an ad for in the 17th October Sydney Morning Herald’s classifieds. Young Beverly had only had one previous boyfriend, whom, as was fitting for the era, she had refused to allow past second base — hand-holding and kissing. Aunt Molly had shown her some sexy manoeuvres, and besides, the advertisement had clearly said; performance training would be provided. She entered, paying the five-shilling cover charge.

“Do you know where I can find Wally Luciano?” the girl politely inquired of the stout barman, nervously twirling her sooty-black hair whilst speaking.

He looked her up and down, as if she was a prime cut of beef, stalling before he answered. “I may know where to find ‘im, lovie,” rolled out the side of his mouth. “Course, it’ll cost ya!”

Beverly eyeballed his facial stubble and clutched the top of her old-fashioned Charleston dress’s straps to force a better cleavage. The hand-me-down from her aunt was all she had outside of linen-factory clothes, which is where she’d spent her post-school years. “I don’t have any money. That is why I’m here,” she said, forcing an older-womanish pout.

He laughed. “Just kidding, toots, I know why you’re ‘ere—” then pointed with the white tea towel he was using to clean some glasses. “The boss is right through that door.”

Beverly’s plump full lips parted again, their preceding smile dazzling the barman. “Thank you very much indeed, my handsome friend.” She sashayed off like a Greek Goddess.

After an hour-long interview, apparently, Wally must have liked what he saw — she got the job. “Start on Friday night but be here for tuition tomorrow, at 8.00 am sharp. Clarise will help you to get started — she’s been my number one girl for seven years now. Do as she says, okay? Ten pounds fifteen shillings a week and you keep half of your tips. Split them equally with the bar staff. Is that clear?” The handsome Italian hotel owner winking at her to seal their salutation.

“As crystal,” she nodded back.

Beverly was an honest girl who knew what hard work was all about. The bawdy burlesque outfits did not faze her one iota. Her shapely body, enhanced by the colourful lacey negligees and suspender-belts sent the men wild. They screamed for topless — so, she obliged. The talented dancer utilised the glamorous showgirl feathers and boas cleverly, to tease the onlookers. It wasn’t long before she became the crowd favourite, soon having to accommodate encore after encore. She donned the stage-name of; Cleo the Temptress Jewel of Denial, often wearing Egyptian-flavoured outfits. With her stunning black hair cut in pageboy style, Beverly was at the doorstep of a huge career. Her kicks were high. Her tips were hefty. Her physique grew strong…

As the baton became passed on, then so was the sexual relationship between her and Wally Luciano, who had grieved for only one month after the sad passing of Clarise. Discovered in her dressing room only minutes prior to taking the stage, Clarise’s cold limp figure clutched desperately to his photograph. One grace-saving fact was that the forty-year-old mentor had absolutely no knowledge of Beverly and Wally’s six-month-old affair. The Sydney police suspected Luciano of foul play — but a thorough investigation yielded no abetting evidence, therefore, no charges were laid.

The parlour-sitting old lady had a vivid memory of those blossoming years, under the guiding hand of Clarise. She stared at the drooping feathers that had helped launch her career, their memory lurking boldly in the chronicles of her mind. They had been kept for nostalgic reasons. A tear wept from the sides of her wrinkly hazel eyes, upon recalling Clarise’s strong husky voice, still barking tuitional instructions to her the day before. She wiped the tears away to continue reminiscing…

As the years progressed, Beverly introduced singing to her shows. Blessed with a near-perfect soprano tone and a sharp memory for lyrics to match, the curvy twenty-five-year-old soon outgrew Wally’s Grace with Lace Burlesque Nightclub. He begged her not to leave.

“Please, Bev darling, I’ll pay you anything you ask… don’t quit the show. I don’t have anyone else like you to draw those crowds in. My club will go under without you. I beg of you, stay with me?” he was on his knees. “Don’t you remember who gave you your start?  Marry me, please?”

Her mind was made up. “Sure, you did Wally, and I’m grateful to you. But this is not about the money,” she lied. “This place is too small and I have a public who needs me… you wouldn’t want to hold me back, now. Would you?”

His voice quivered. “But what about us?”

“There is no US!” she laughed. “Show-biz is show-biz, and we are all simply pawns in the game. You of all people should know that!” Her eyes locked in an accusatory fashion with his.

“I didn’t kill her!” he bleated back.

“I believe you! But this is good-bye Wally and thanks for everything.” She took her Marseille woven clutch bag and her favourite feathers and left.

Beverly had already accepted an offer from The Majestic Theatre Company of Sydney. She was to commence in the chorus line, with an occasional support-singer/dancer role — knowing that it wouldn’t be very long before the cracks of opportunity would open for her. And, they did…

The scanty underwear gave way to grand costumes. The expert stage productions were highly professional, with a full orchestra and state-of-the-art lighting. The months leapt by in Springbok-like fashion and along with them, her talents did not cease there. Oh no, her promiscuous prowess percolated through the years, delivering a string of co-starring roles, in the wake of a dozen broken-hearted producers and leading men. Beverly never quite achieved the top-billing, which her ego truly believed she so richly deserved. Until she began an affair with Hugo Michaelson. This multi-talented musical arranger had sat in the audience of one of her shows during the cold winter of 1972. He was awed by her looks and melodious capacity and flabbergasted at the fact that she was yet to score a showcasing role. Fifty-one-year-old Hugo met her in her dressing room after the performance.

After formal introductions, he eagerly said, “Miss Martin, I have written, produced and choreographed a brand new major musical called ‘De la Peña… Genius of the Floor’.” Michaelson grinned with pride, before continuing. “It is about the life and times of the legendary South American performer George De la Peña and I would like you to play the leading role of his ballerina wife, Rebecca Wright. You would be perfect for the role.”

“I’m significantly more than just interested, Hugo,” she replied with a single nod, uncrossing her legs to sit forward. “Who is starring as Mr De la Peña?”

“That will be Lincoln Kirov. You will both have an understudy to work with, naturally.” Kirov was a titan of the theatre and needed no explanation. The man’s credentials were more impeccable than his Giorgio Amani suits.

“Naturally!” Beverly agreed, with spark in her voice, having been an understudy on numerous occasions, but having never had one herself. “And whom might they be?”

“Lincoln’s is Jeffery Abercrombie. Always has been. He knows Kirov’s work like a shadow. And yours will be Juliet Thallon… she was originally going to co-star.” Hugo’s eyebrows shot up. “That is until I saw you.”

“Is it being performed in the Majestic?”

“Certainly, Miss Martin. We are opening here in six weeks, then travelling the entire country for two years. The best theatres in every city. Last show is at Bennelong Point.” He folded his arms and smiled. “So, will you sign a contract if I bring it here tomorrow night?”

Her hand shot out. “Let’s do it over a late dinner, after the show!”

He shook it. “Done!” His smile grew broader. “I’ll watch you again — just to make sure I have the right girl for the part… if so, I’ll join you here at the same time, okay?”

Beverly restrained her excitement, offering a bashful solitary nodding smile. Then, showed him the back of her door for the last time. A happy-dance followed. The subsequent day, after the contract was signed, their secret but full-blown love affair commenced in supersonic flight. Their secret, kept tighter than a movie-star’s complexion, saw them move around from hotel room to hotel room like a couple of spies. Hugo Michaelson was the musical genius in his family, however, his wife Margot was his wallet. She had the family money of her late father, which had been responsible for putting him there. She was also his accountant. If she ever found out, he would be finished. The production became a box-office success, mainly due to Lincoln Kirov’s billing, which bolstered beautifully with Beverly Martin’s encouraging recitals. Her beautiful black tresses returned to the middle of her back and were on full display. Now comfortably in her thirties, party-animal Beverly spent her money like it flowed from the perpetual fountain of youth. She was travelling the country in style but as a concubine, and it did bother her…

One night after making love she offered… “Why don’t you leave Margot? You and I could really become something. Why, with your talent and my panache, we are practically unstoppable!”

“You have mentioned this proposal many times before, Beverly dear. But it isn’t quite that simple. She has me over a barrel. Things are complicated between us—”

Now kneeling on the bed, she barked. “For Christ’s sakes, Hugo! You told me yourself, that you don’t love her anymore!” Her hands found her hips. A scowl found her face. Anger filled her brain.

“Beverly honey, it is difficult—”

“Difficulties are made to be overcome! This is bull-shit! What am I? Your wife-to-be! Your convenience! Your lover… or your prostitute!” Fire blazed in the songstress’s teary hazel eyes.

He hadn’t seen her like this before. “Shhh dear, it’s nothing of the sort. Go to sleep. I’ll see myself out.”

“You bastard! I shall quit the show!” she seethed.

“If that’s the way you feel… Juliet can always do it!”

Beverly’s own words to Wally Luciano of; “Show-biz is show-biz, and we are all simply pawns in the game. You of all people should know that!” rang like a proverbial gong inside her head. She watched him quietly leave. The hotel door thudded, as a champagne bottle crashed against it.

In the weeks to follow, Juliet Thallon filled the role of Rebecca Wright admirably with five months on the road left, covering Brisbane and finally Canberra, before returning for one Grand Finale day of three sessions at The Sydney Opera House. On the eve of that day, a mysterious letter arrived at Margot Michaelson’s Sydney residence. It was not mysterious to Beverly because she wrote it. The letter was neither signed nor bore her name:

Dear Mrs Michaelson
     It pains me to write this. For the past few years, I have been conducting an illicit love   affair with your husband, Hugo. I realise this news will extremely distress you, however,     I believe you should know the truth. This is no fault of yours. It is with regret that I am writing to inform you as I now feel the need to clear my own conscience of what has been going on.
   He has told me on several occasions that he no longer loves you but does not have the courage to tell you, let alone leave you. The man is a mouse, although I do still love him and can’t help myself doing so. You don’t know who I am, but I have heard all about you.   I hope you can find a way to forgive me and try to understand. I am sure his own conscience is making him pay.
          A remorseful friend.

This nasty spiteful letter was simply to provoke a hornet’s nest into a frenzy.

After the Opera House curtain calls were accepted, on Saturday 23rd November 1974, Hugo returned to his dressing room for the final time. He had previously participated in a celebratory toast. His dead body was discovered by the security guards at 11.58 pm. They had been knocking for some time. Known as a man who required space to himself, they’d been slow to react. Once again, the investigation came up empty-handed. Unable to cope with the loss, Beverly disappeared into seclusion for forty-five years. Until now…

The fallen-from-grace entertainer, now nearing her eighties, leaned back against her favourite cushion, allowing the sun to bathe her face. Her re-cycled from old-bed-sheet curtains doing precious little to block out its rays. The thick layer of dust on the welfare accommodation’s window ledge resonating her soiled integrity. Beverly thought about the delicious drink made from Atropa Belladonna, that lethal but untraceable poison she had twice used for vengeance. How she’d drank a toast of wine with both victims, only hers contained added blackcurrant juice not the lethal toxic berries of Deadly Nightshade. With Clarise and Hugo’s murders weighing on her conscience, she was encouraging the grim reaper to take her to wherever it was that multi-murderers, such as herself, ended up. These two ugly heinous secrets, she would take with her. Beverly had been quite famous, even performing in front of Lady Isaac Isaacson and Sir Garfield Cuthbert-Allington. The wry smile on her face was a fake one, as she lifted the wineglass of Deadly Nightshade to her lips to draw the final sip. Beverly now realising her faded feathers merely represented lost love and a lonely life… instead of fame and fortune…