If it’s to be, it’s up to me!

Sometimes you just have to make your own happiness!

 One such time is the subject of this ten-minute thriller…

     If you enjoyed this story, become one

        of the “Readers of the Lost Arkives!”

 

 

“Only Ten Hours Till Happiness”

by Stephen James

 

What a fantastic but sometimes elusive word happiness is. I’m sure you would all agree. I have written this gripping little narrative around the very meaning of this most powerful of words. Many people wait all their lives for it — others watch it come and leave and come yet again. Some are engulfed with an oversupply, to which they mistreat its value, perhaps losing it forever. Either way, whichever one you are; never think it is too long, or too far away, or simply not worth the wait…

 

In the early part of December, here in the small town of Rigolet on the St Lawrence Seaway side of Canada, your breath practically freezes before it leaves your mouth. Rigolet is in the province of Labrador, which lies to the east of Quebec — a mere handful of kilometres below 55° latitude.  Daylight hours are short. Unquestionably a beautiful setting and nestled in a sheltered cove, on the banks of Hamilton Inlet — gateway to gorgeous Lake Melville, the once fur-trader outpost of Rigolet is the most southerly Inuit community in the world. The modern era’s population hovers around the three-hundred to three-hundred and forty mark, depending upon how many visitors stay after the magnetism of its beauty is replaced by the repulsion of unbearable chill. There are no main roads leading into this tiny town, in fact, the only land-based accessibility is via a web of snowmobile trails. By sea, it is connected seasonally via a coastal ferry from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. A tiny airport sits just out of town. Although there are still coniferous trees surrounding the village, a few kilometres northeast into Hamilton Inlet, the terrain changes drastically to a sub-arctic tundra. The fifty-fifth parallel has few sympathies for the timorous…

First established in the year 1735 by a French-Canadian maritime merchant, explorer, and seigneur around the fur seal industry, Rigolet’s remoteness was its own Achilles heel for preventing rapid development. These early times were hard, and the indigenous people of the land were meek but protective. As a result, many of today’s families in Rigolet are descendants of European settlers and the Labrador Inuit. In this town, everybody knows your name.

One such person was thirty-eight-year-old Marjorie Vitello-St Claire. This woman may not have been the most beautiful woman in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but her heart certainly could have been. She was well proportioned and kept her jet-black hair long. Her accent had a French flavour — her looks had an Italian one. Marjorie always hated her first name and had even considered changing it to something far more exotic, like Marjella or Marjonique; to keep in tone with her stand-out surname. But out here in the snow-lands, it didn’t really matter all that much. Being one of only five per cent of the population who wasn’t an Inuk — I guess she felt fairly diverse or exotic anyway. From birth, Marjorie had lived here in this outpost of the Canadian wilderness with her mother and father who had forged an alternative lifestyle since the early 70s. He’d taught in the primary school where young Maj had learned to read, write and become multi-lingual in French, English, and several of the native Eskimo tongues known as Inuktitut, used by the locals. Her mother once worked at the local co-op store — both parents died in an avalanche five years ago. It took over a week and a party of sixty-two townspeople to locate their frozen remains and buried snowmobiles. Always having been a hard worker, a trait she adopted from her father, Maj had not taken a sick-leave day from work for eighteen years. The two weeks she was absent, when she had to find and lay to rest her parents, was naturally considered as bereavement leave. Her boss, Gerald Struper had often told her to take a break now and then, perhaps go to visit one of the big cities like Toronto or Montreal. Marjorie would always answer; “Big cities are for people to hide in! Gerry, I have nothing to hide. You knew my father and you also knew his motto. ‘If you can still walk… you can still work!’  My evenings and weekends are for quiet pleasure.”

The stalwart stood by what she said. She’d worshipped her father and lived by his code of ethics. She had retained his name and sported it proudly, as a badge of honour. Marjorie’s world had come apart on that cold January day when their fractured distress message came through, then faded out completely. Time, as always, moves quietly on…

The tough intelligent woman had only ever travelled as far away as Happy Valley-Goose Bay, roughly one-hundred kilometres due west. This journey took several hours by winding snowmobile trail, or five to six on the once-a-week MV Northern Ranger ice-breaking coastal ferry, season and weather permitting. Marjorie had a younger cousin, Emily Kutak-St Claire, who lived in this nearby Canadian military airbase township. At eight-thousand people, to Marjorie, this was a huge bustling town. Four times every year she would visit for a day, by catching the ferry, then, drive her Ski-Doo back home via the wilderness trails. She even knew her way in the poor sub-Arctic light. Many are the times, dissident Maj would overextend her return snowmobile trip, to stop and observe The Great Northern Lights — arriving late, but invigorated, by their magnificence. She would only do this if the climate was placid and kind. In contrary, Emily showed no interest in Rigolet. After her uncle and aunt passed away, the tiny hidden hamlet held very little interest for her; a senior flight instructor at 5 Wing Goose Bay for the Royal Canadian Air Force. She had married into the forces and lived by its motto “Working Together” thus, gave it her everything. Emily often commented about meeting Maj’s husband, John and why he avoided her. Marjorie’s reply was always, “If you wish to know him, you’ll have to come to Rigolet, cousin, he’s as stubborn as you are.” Faithful Marjorie held little hope for this to ever eventuate — but did not mind.

On the most recent visit to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in September 2018, Marjorie had to make the roundtrip completely by snowmobile. The thirty-year-old-plus MV Northern Ranger, which was due for decommissioning at season’s end, had been stranded by mechanical problems at Makkovik, on Newfoundland’s northern coast. Season upon freezing season, she had hauled her passengers and cargo with tireless esteem, in workhorse fashion, where lesser ships would fail miserably. Like a grand old lady, she lay proudly with a broken gearbox, in the subzero water, still commanding the full respect of her faithful twenty-one-strong crew. They stayed aboard for three days, till she once again groaned into action. This inconvenience to the community cost valuable time and money, in this highly susceptible municipality.  In the same vein as the old ice-breaker, dogged mainstay Marjorie, navigated her snow scooter towards her cousin Emily’s house unaccompanied. Highly unrecommended is the practice of solo travel of any kind, especially when some of the surrounding slopes are reaching that critical 40° angle, which is what causes these icy landslides. A warning had sounded on the radio for all travellers to be careful. But this was one stubborn Arctic mule who had made it clear to all that she owed her cousin a visit. This particular Saturday morning fell on 15th September, which was Emily’s birthday — and simply couldn’t be missed. After saying goodbye to John, next, she crouched in front of her pure white miniature Samoyed dog, to pat him good-bye. “Now listen here to me, Igloo. Take care of everything whilst I’m away, and don’t you go chewing on any of the furniture, okay!” He was curled up in a ball on his mat with his black nose extended — resembling exactly his namesake.

The four-year-old ball of fluff did not like early starts to his day. He accepted his pat, poked out his pink tongue, whined his acceptance of her instructions, and went back to sleep.

“Be like that if you must,” she said, smiling, “there are some treats in your bowl for later. And I have filled three water dishes. I love you.” Igloo reopened his eyes and blinked away some dust. He huffed through his nostrils — because the affectionate dog did not enjoy being without her.

She started off at daybreak and headed for the trails. Hours later, Emily and her husband Phillipe, met her at the Birch Brook Nordic Ski Club at nearby Gosling Lake. After hearing that she would have to do the marathon effort, for what was now the sixth time, this was considerably closer geographically, therefore gave them more time together. The other five occasions were due to it being mid-winter, which is non-seasonal for the ferryboat. By the time Marjorie had arrived, her cousin and Phillipe had finished seven ski-runs each and were ready for lunch. It had just finished snowing and the sun had materialized. They enjoyed a feast in the mist at Trapper’s Cabin Bar & Grill, catching up on all the local Goose-Valley gossip. The group spoke for several hours but Marjorie’s frown seemed to linger between discussions. Her eyes continuously glancing down towards her smartphone at the photograph of her handsome Samoyed dog. He was the screensaver…

“You don’t seem to look very happy Marjorie. Is everything alright?” asked Emily, her hand cupped on top of her cousin’s. “You appear as if you’re waiting on a call or something. No problems at work or anything? How is the old crew from school going these days?”

“No, no, thank you for asking, Em’—” Their eyes reconnected. “Everyone in Rigolet is doing just fine. I am just a little concerned for Igloo. He frets whenever I leave him.”

“John is there for him,” interrupted Phillipe. “Why don’t you simply give him a call? You could ask how the little fella is doing!”

Maj grinned. “I might do just that. Do you mind?” Both sets of shoulders shrugged, and both heads nodded, as they finished off their lunch.

At that moment a newsflash interrupted the music which was accompanying their meal. It mentioned that a severe snowstorm coming from the west was about to strike the vicinity. The announcer began alerting all cross-country skiers to stay close by for at least six hours.

“Maybe you should stay overnight with us, Marjorie,” Phillipe offered. “You can always return in the morning… after it settles down. Why don’t you let him know right now?”

Marjorie stood up and wheeled away from the table — her fingers slipped out of her gloves then swiped her phone into life. She paced around muttering into the device for a few minutes. The other two finished their meals and prepared to escort her back to their Four-wheel-drive. There would be just enough room to fit Maj’s ageing Ski-Doo in its rear, if they stored their skis on the roof rack. She pressed the logoed end call button and turned to face their smiles.

“See you in March, kiddo! Unless of course… you come to Rigolet for Christmas this year, that is!” said Marjorie, giving her young cousin a hug. “Got to head back I’m afraid. Haven’t got time for a lengthy explanation.” Her eyes flicked at the outdoor speaker.

“Are you crazy?” answered Emily.

“No, I mean it. Come for Christmas this time.”

“That is not what I meant, Maj. I was referring to the snowstorm, you silly thing!”

“Old Bess will outrun it. I’ve had Hiern Kuitkon from the local service garage tweak her up a bit.” She walked over to her 2001 model MXZ 700. Its battle-scarred black faring and bodywork proudly highlighting as the backdrop for the caricature white wolf her father had painted on it. “I’ve had this reliable dog up to over 200 kph. On the flat of course!”

“Even more crazy!” spiked Emily. “Okay, okay, we might come to Rigolet this year… if you stay alive! But no promises though. You do understand, cus’ — work and everything.”

“Of course,” she replied, but had little faith. “See ya!” She strapped-up her helmet.

Marjorie wasted no time, the Ski-Doo fired into action. It disappeared from sight in seconds. She had no intention of doing that speed, but it was nice to know her machine was capable. After two hours she had forgotten all about the newsflash — preferring to enjoy nature’s pictorial gifts.

Suddenly it all changed…

The thundering roar came down the slope faster than a speeding freight train. It resembled a bleached pyroclastic flow. Marjorie twisted the grip off the MXZ’s throttle to extract maximum power, then realized that in her hast to leave, she had not refuelled. More speed meant a thirstier engine, but the dice had to be rolled. Marjorie’s heart was bursting from her chest, as she glanced over her shoulder, at the metres-deep avalanche chasing her tail. Above her engine’s roar, her ears clearly heard the sound of giant conifer trees popping like matchsticks. The strong memory of her parents’ tragedy began hammering her mind. Bess quickly reached 190 kph — but the gaining wall of snow was not far away. It was coming from her left at an angle and she could see a steep uphill ridge in front of her. On its slanting face, the trees were more plentiful, meaning a slower pathway for the Ski-Doo but possibly less momentum for the charging snow-slide. Her emotions were in tatters. Her body was perspiring despite the cold. Her brain raced: Do I head for higher ground like mum and dad tried — or do I risk turning right to go around where the gradient is steeper?

She knew, if the snowmobile ran out of fuel on that downslope, it would mean Christmas for her this year would be spent with her mum and dad. “Gotta go for the higher ground!” she shouted inside her helmet. Marjorie weaved upward through the trees with needle-threading precision. The vehicle was on fumes. It began to splutter. “C’mon Old Bess, don’t die on me now!” she pleaded, rocking it from side-to-side to milk the last few drops from her. “Just a few more hundred metres, please!” Bess conked out and Marjorie turned to face the terror. She now knew she’d made the correct decision, but just how correct was it?

Within three minutes of the earth-quaking racket catching her, the snow had covered her neck-deep but swooshed on down to her right taking the steeper route. Black Bess was completely covered. Marjorie hauled herself free and swiped her cellphone to life. She gasped, “Help me please!”

A thick Eskimo accent replied, “Hiern Kuitkon speaking. Is that you Marj Vitello-St Claire?”

“It is, Hiern. I’m afraid I’ve had a very close call. The old girl saved me… but she’s buried in the ice, and I am a bit lost. Can you get a GPS bearing off my phone? I think I am somewhere near Silver Horse Pass. A fair way up the mountain. I’ll try to dig her out, but I’ll need fuel or a tow or…”

“I heard about the avalanche. You’re damned lucky. Be there in less than thirty minutes, Maj. Hold on!”

Hiern Kuitkon kept his word. He arrived with three others and some fuel, to bring her back to town. Although she wasn’t badly hurt, the ordeal had shaken her to the very core. As if nothing had happened, the strong-minded woman fronted for work on the following Monday morning. She played down the trauma to her boss, never even mentioning what had been so important that it had made her leave Trapper’s Cabin Bar & Grill in such a hurry and risk the blizzard.

Once again as it always does, the days moved on…

Gerald Struper had nothing but praise for her but knew little else about the woman — her private life was almost an undisclosed story. He and the townsfolk knew her husband’s name, but few could describe his nature or what he did to earn a living. Whenever their noses poked in her direction, Marjorie would always deflect them answering; ‘John is a very quiet man who needs very little attention. He is productive on the inside and hates crowds. We are kindred spirits. You know — twin flames. Soul mates. In it for life, like the beavers and the whales!’

At night she would often snuggle in front of the warm fireplace clutching a glass of red wine, beside her would always be Igloo, panting gently. A smile would adorn her character-filled face. Her husband’s love letters sitting in a shoebox beside her. He was in the office at the converted fisherman’s shed, which was attached to the far end of the property. From here, in summer, a clear unobstructed view brought the fabulous Hamilton Inlet’s pristine water into perspective. It is a hypnotic vista. Many were the hours that she had spent sitting in the office doing her own form of literature. Her weekend leisure time was usually spent hiking or visiting the Net Loft Museum. Marjorie loved being able to stroll the eight kilometres along one of the longest Boardwalks in North America. All the way to Double Mer Point. She would walk hand-in-hand with her hubby, observing the Humpback and Minke whales breaching in the nearby inlets of these waters.

Each Monday to Friday morning, following breakfast, Marjorie sees herself peeping through the double-glazed glass front window of her ancient fisherman-style home in Wolfrey’s Lakeview Drive. She meets her reflection with a smile before letting go of the curtains, made for her by her mother. Next, she kisses her loving husband goodbye, before venturing out, to face another lengthy day’s work at the Strathcona House Interpretation Centre. He works from home. Her commencement time is 7.00 am sharp and she finishes at 4.00 pm. With a thirty-minute stroll each way for exercise, it means her daily ten-hour routine begins and ends in the dark for the most part of each year. The attractive woman says every time after kissing him goodbye. “It’s only ten hours till happiness—” then adds. “I’ll be home soon, darling.”

She has gone through this mid-week routine, for the entire five years, ever since she became involved with John, subsequently meeting him at the wake after her parent’s funeral back in 2013. He and Igloo had become her saviours, in what was the gloomiest period of her life.

Today was no different. It was 16th December 2018. A hearty breakfast was followed by her favourite brand of coffee — sipped from her favourite mug. The one with a cartoon of a patient at his doctor’s surgery. Beneath it the caption reads; “I’m not that worried, Dr Jingleberry… X-rays always look so negative!”

Marjorie always grins at the joke — as her coffee brightens up her morning. Lunch is prepared and placed inside the snap-seal box which fits so neatly inside her knapsack. She quickly wipes the benchtops and washes the breakfast dishes by hand. The local radio station is barking out a weather report, suggesting an extra layer of clothing because a cold front has moved in overnight and dropped it to minus 20° Celsius, with a wind-chill factor, which by 9.00 am is most likely to push that to minus 35°. Marjorie crinkles her nose through the steam, rising from the sink’s hot water thinking; it is nothing I haven’t endured before — but I may skip my exercise this morning. Perhaps even leave a little later than usual!

Sadly though, the truth remains that this extremely honest and devout woman holds a dark secret, after all… Marjorie Vitello-St Claire is living a lie. She’s a victim of extreme loneliness. There is no loving husband standing beside her — there never has been. Marjorie has been dreaming the same dream almost every night throughout her entire adult life. She carries the façade into her everyday life. She even talks to the fresh air filling that void beside her. Maj’s love letters are written in her own hand. The name John is simply her favourite. Her mother’s hand-me-down bed pillows suffer from the constant crush of her pleading embrace. She even lays the breakfast table for two…

Twenty minutes later, after patting Igloo, Marjorie shouts, “Goodbye sweetheart!” and blows a fake kiss. She walks out her front door — getting bitten by the arctic wind. It slams behind her. “Not another Christmas alone…” she whispers out loud to herself.

A fur-circled face greets her from across the street. It’s a man standing by his front gate. It squeaks shut. The stranger is tall and straight. She has never seen him before. He smiles and waves then says… “It’s only ten hours till happiness.”

Stunned by his echoing words, Marjorie stops in her tracks, then, rushes over to say hello. Her fawn-like eyes welded to his. “Where on Earth did you hear that term?”

“I just made it up, moments ago,” he replied, with a deep Saskatoon timbre. “My name is Johnathan Liberator. I’m a novelist — from near the South Saskatchewan River.” His mitten grasps hold of hers. “Only moved in two weeks ago. I’m looking for a bohemian life. I was considering using it as a title for my latest book. Who are you?”

This man had a warm friendly persona. It matched his deep rich voice.

“Well,” she said, with a grin that could charm a rattlesnake, “I guess you could call me Miss Bohemian!”

He pulled away his fur-lined hood. His jawline was masculine. His eyes were perfect and sincere. “So, is this Miss Bohemian married?”

“Oh no…” she answered, then, reinforced. “Not anymore!”

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Can they hear you scream if they don’t know where you are?

An accident at sea… no-one knows where you are!

  What happens next in this tumultuous ten-minute thriller?

     To discover more adventures,

         check out “Readers of the Lost Arkives!”

 

 

“Tell Me This Isn’t Really Happening”

By Stephen James

 

                When confronted with life’s most challenging proposition of all: “Am I ready to die yet?” Is the answer yes or no? A rhetorical question, perhaps? But… what if I do have a choice about my decision here? Try to imagine a circumstance so dreadful — that it is simply the most unbearable place on Earth right now, and… “I’d rather be dead, than living right here, right now!” This would really test a person’s resolve, would it not? The following story is based on a true one and it tolled on my imagination bell. In it, the hero, a certain Mister X was exactly that. The characters are friends of mine, but I have rattled the plot and changed a few details, including their names. Their privacy is important.
The gusto of the drama still remains the same…

 

The pair had originally met in obscure circumstances. A young spirited couple, thrust together like two world’s colliding, as quoted in INXS’s famous song; ‘Never tear us apart’. A hard worker, Ronauld was never shy of contacts. At home in Brisbane he knew what to get, and where to get it. He was the go-to man. Liara, on the other hand, was from another universe to most westerners. The wild heartland of enormous Borneo island — home to the Dayak race, has been well documented over the decades. Pretty-faced Liara was born of Dayak parentage and she was proud to be one. Here, thousands of tiny islands strewn their way around its extensive coastline. Now in the new millennium, it still remains somewhat untamed. Kalimantan, as it is officially called by its inhabitants, can be as dangerous as it is beautiful. They had first met here, some time ago, and were returning for an even greater and more widespread tour of her homeland for him to experience — open his eyes.

In no time, they had a six-week tour of Indonesia booked. Two people, two rucksacks, two strong personalities, two searching hungry minds. Ronauld and Liara couldn’t wait for the flight’s day to arrive. Finally, the day came… they boarded. From the aircraft’s window, a thousand islands scattered like blotches of forest growing from the ocean, sprawled out, littering the blueness as far as the eye could see. They were close… then, at last, the tarmac…

With her prehistoric escarpments rising from the unstable sea floor, Indonesia lay her forests and small-town marketplaces down as a gauntlet of challenges to be met. The first two weeks went so swiftly by, Ronauld and Liara could barely catch their shadows and Liara showed him a much greater depth of her homeland. The young couple’s budget was not on limits anymore. In this country, your money is worth ten times more. But they were not so foolish as to waste. Their souls grew closer. The arguments, well, practically non-existent. The pair openly confessed their love for each other in front of all who joined in on their merriment. Their reliance upon each other became solidarity. Each called the other a pillar of stone, facing back, so strong and dependent.

This would very soon be put to the ultimate test. A boat trip was planned…

Liara and Ronauld, who seemed to make friends with everybody that they came in contact with, boarded the first stage of their island-hopping five-day tour. A ferryboat to cross the span of water from Lambo Laoosutre to Papo Djkartrahn Island. The mid-sized vessel’s name was The Lady Senwiggi. This ferry was old, rusty, and very basic, with extensive passenger overcrowding.

From down near the water’s level, the island’s perspective is distinctly different than the view from the air. Needless to say, once filled to beyond her maximum capacity, the rudimentary relic-of-a-ship steamed off towards the horizon. It was mid-afternoon, the sunset’s colours would be majestic soon. The excited crowd were soon overlapping one another’s privacy. As the port disappeared out of view for the passengers, a dozen different dialects crisscrossed the fundamental ferryboat’s decks and covered seating areas. Several hours into the voyage saw a change in weather conditions, which raised some concern. Like an unwelcome sea witch, a hot north-easterly began to pitch the waves to an uncomfortable level. They collided in episodic fashion. Her tonnage was not high, and her keel sat rather shallow in the water. The Lady’s stability was not cooperating with the unpredictable cross-current wind very well. The vessel began tossing and turning, which caused some passengers to stumble and fall. Women grabbed their children from anywhere near the railings. Some had already fallen overboard. Nature had thrown them a curve ball, with everything she had. In a heartbeat, the sunset cruise across a seemingly tranquil passage of water had turned into a nautical nightmare…

The Lady Senwiggi started to falter, the constant listing eked the ocean into her hull. Every portal to the daylight was a potential drain into her empty belly. The bilge pumps were suffering under the strain. She sat dangerously low in the water. A freak wave surged below her troubled hull. It hoisted the rusting vessel up like a paper cup and pounded her spine into the blackness of the depths. She groaned like a tortured metallic sea creature, fighting in deep water. The majority of passengers became dislodged from their seats. They lay across tables and on the floor. Many sustained heavy bruising. Again and again, the swell lifted the old steel ferry, as passengers, bracing for the impact, glared into each other’s faces with the raw gasp of drowning filling their eyes. That eerie weightlessness point at the very apex of the wave, then, the freefall to instantly come to a stop at the bottom. Any person who had been managing to hold on to something, now wasn’t. Screaming figures careered down the alleyway between the seats, their heads crashing into one another, their bodies ravaged by on-board debris. With such aggression did the ocean pound the humble ship, it broke the spine of her, then, flipped her onto her back like a drowning cockroach. In a moment of luck, perhaps good, perhaps bad, Liara and Ronauld had decided to have a restroom break several minutes before the weather had angered. In this particular vessel’s restrooms, one single large room branches off to both separate sets of cubicles. Ronauld was waiting in the larger room for Liara when the largest wave had struck. The Brisbane boy stood clasping a stairwell pole attached to the deck above. After the ship was thrown back into the catcher’s mitt, he felt his entire body rotate around. It had saved him on impact. He scanned some horror-filled faces. But where the hell is Liara?

Ronauld felt the gushing surges of water rising up past his knees. Most streams were pouring from above, emptying from her lower hull. He could feel the suction of air rushing past to displace it. In an instant, he knew the ship had been inverted. To him, the burning question was; how long did they have? He made his way to the ladies’ cubicles, continually calling out loudly, “Liara! Liara!”

The sickening screams of terrified injured passengers scrambling along on the ceiling surrounded them. Like panic-stricken human-sized drowning rats, kicking, scratching and fighting, they squeezed through every available crevice. After a minute’s delay — her distressed voice called back, “Ronauld, is that you? I’m in here!” The water continued to rise.

He grappled toward her voice, in the near-blackness, past bedraggled furniture and scurrying people. Many were children. A half-full drink bottle bobbed in the water. He grabbed it. Again, he shouted. “Liara! I’m coming in to get you! Are you hurt?”

Another enduring minute lapsed before her voice became clearer. He fought against the swirling obstacles and rushing water, the doorway was still a metre-or-two away. He heard her. “I’m okay. Just shaken! Hit my damned head on the door!”

At last, they saw each other — but the light was nearly all gone. He helped her to her feet and showed her the way out. The water was above waist-high, soon they would be swimming. Now in the larger room, it became apparent that the exits were completely blocked by the twisted remains of furniture and cargo. It was jammed in like a beaver’s lodge. An explosion of loud calls for help had returned nothing. Liara and Ronauld also now realised that they were the last remaining two inside. They could not hear any voices in the water outside either. Suddenly, a haunting silence fell. All the demonic weather had calmed, and the sea also began to settle. With salty water now deeper than they could stand up in, forcing them to tread water — nothing felt settled where they were. The distressed pair began looking for a weakness in the lodge. The sea-level was ominously close to the deck above their heads. The pair hustled about in heavy wet clothes, to exhaustion, eventually finding a couple of large floating wooden boxes. They climbed aboard one each and reached out to link the other’s finger’s — preparing to die. It felt cold and was now pitch-dark. Each could hear their own breathing. Trapped like this, when she did sink, they had nowhere to go. Hours drifted past. They fell asleep. Both minds hopefully questioning; Perhaps the fatigue will act like anaesthetic?

But it didn’t go down…

Morning brought with it her joy of sunlight— and with that light, an observer from the air could now identify the situation. Their entombed rear section of The Lady Senwiggi had come adrift, leaving behind the ship’s sunken main structure. This self-contained pod of air and buoyant debris had carried on a current. It was miles from anything. Liara’s eyes opened and initially, her mind remained in confused disbelief. Why am I not dead? Was that a horrible dream? The external sun was so bright that it managed to illuminate the water and allow a glow, just bright enough to see by. She saw his silhouette and paddled over. “Ronauld. Wake up, Ronauld!”

Her companion shook his mind into consciousness. “Amazing… Liara my love, we made it! We made it!” He passed her the drink bottle and they surveyed their wounds. If he could just find a way out, they could spend time on the flat section of the hull above them – perhaps flag down a vessel or plane. But his celebrations were short-lived…

A complete underwater search of their portion of the ship revealed precisely; four more full drink bottles, some unlabelled tins of food, a large knife to pierce the tins, several backpacks — none of which were theirs, and some wet cigarettes. As for managing to force their way out, Ronauld could see through the murky depths that large segments of the debris were the very thing keeping them afloat. Masses of it were wedged under the decking between the railings, like outriggers. Besides being impossible to remove without a tool of some kind, if too much was removed, they could go down without knowing what was outside. A good guess would be a huge expanse of seawater — somewhere in the middle of the Celebes Sea. Another important thing about the hull’s current integrity, was that air was finding its way in from somewhere and he daren’t disturb its entry. Hope was the only thing they had. They sensed help wasn’t too far away now. The pair saved their strength and took care of each other until the darkness took everything away.

The next day unfolded in much the same way. The tins of food had been ravioli soup, braised steak and vegetables, peaches, and peas. They conserved water and discussed plans about what they would do when rescued. Swept along with the current, their entombing life raft began to slip further and further off the map. The sound of a light plane roared overhead but it was miles away.

Four more days dragged by, but with no more passing planes. That constant drip, drip, dripping sound that had been with them since the start. The mental side of things – a serious challenge for both. Although shielded from the blazing Indonesian sun, the interior elements were beginning to break down. The stale air was hard to breathe. Their salt-infused skin was dry. They were trapped like a pair of chrysalids waiting to pupate, slowly beginning to dehydrate, but had to keep positive and believing. Don’t worry, we’ll be all right, once we are saved.

Days turned into nights, into days and into nights and back again…

By the eighth day, to Liara, it felt almost prejudicial that she could actually see, because, vision is hope — but she no longer had any. “Tell me this isn’t really happening…” she pleaded, astounded to still be alive. She paddled over to him. “I no longer want to go on. I’ve had it… I’m losing touch with reality. There is no way out—” her words faded into tears.

Ronauld also felt the pressure-cooker situation. The food rations had finished yesterday, and they were down to the last two-litre water bottle. Both had become terrified from loneliness and the fact that they most likely will not get rescued. Neither wanted to confess to the other. The harrowing ordeal had garnished more tax than it deserved. He took her hand. “Now is not the time to quit on me, Liara. And besides, where are you going to go without me?” She forced a fake laugh.

The non-stop sound of dripping water was incessant. As was the monotonous ocean lapping around the walls. This was a living hell, in constantly damp clothes that were now rotten and threadbare. Their limit was surely not far away.

Three days of thirst and hunger later, and, like the water — her laughter was well-and-truly all used up. “I cannot go on any longer. I mean it! Like this, it could take weeks to die. Ron, should we commit suicide? Is that an option?” They held each other’s faces. She’d never seen him cry before.

He hated hearing her words. It was bad enough that his own mind kept rolling the same headline, Ronauld did not want her to help him make the same decision. “No. Don’t even suggest such a thing!” His voice sharp, almost unsupportive.

She couldn’t help it. “I have heard of people who knew it was the end… They… they hugged each other so tightly that the other couldn’t breathe. In a way, it would be a beautiful way to go… embraced together.” She wept. “I am hating every minute of this. It is like waiting to go slowly.”

“Do not speak of death!” He knew that voluntary simultaneous drowning would also be a very difficult one to pull off.

Her eyes met the knife. “Let’s cut our wrists then!”

“I know someone will come. Hold on darling. Just hold on for me.” Earlier, he had caught a fish which was one of several that had found its way inside. He’d killed it with the knife. “Here honey,” he gave it to her to eat raw. “The nutrients will work wonders—” She ignored the food – death now her only friend.

“Please, Ronauld, die with me now, quickly. Or watch me do it in front of you…”

“Don’t make me have to make that choice, Liara!” He watched her wrap somebody’s leather belt from the knapsack tightly around her chest. He sobbed. “I’ll only do it — if I absolutely have to.”

“Then, I shall choose for you! I can’t even feel the sea’s motion anymore,” she said, weak from the elements. She expelled her air, buckled the belt, and jumped in, near the deep stairwell area.

“No way!” He followed but with lungs full of air. Grabbing her tightly as they bottomed out. She began to crush him in bear hug style. He was not prepared and blew the lot out in a festoon of bubbles. Her grip was determined. It was as if she had saved just enough strength to do this and kept them under. Ronauld stared up at the last three minutes of his life, disappearing above his head, in a wobble of silvery bubbles. He hugged back, beginning to think about death and stopped kicking. His mind kept waiting for that moment when you could no longer hold nature back. That moment when your lungs give in to the fight and instinctively inhale. All that liquid rushes in and shuts the whole system down. It’s the wrong thing but it’s too late now…

Then, he thought about the last thing she’d said. There was no movement of the sea. They were no longer drifting. Their personal lagoon had been a spirit level for the entire eleven days, but he detected a distinct angle. He wrestled her free and burst to the surface, took a huge gulp of musty air and dove back for her. Ronauld unbuckled the belt despite her resistance and hauled her to some oxygen. Liara sucked it in so hard, it sounded dreadful. She’d been seconds away from inhaling the sea. He pushed her back on her box and ordered, “Wait!” Ron manoeuvred over to a spot where you could now climb down and stand up with your head just above the water. It was the most illuminated area. “I think we’re run aground.” She watched his elation grow.

He dove down into the water, trying to peer through the maze of debris. Turtles caught his eye. The murky water was too difficult to discern much else. Then Ronauld saw what he’d hoped for. He surfaced for another valuable breath. “If I’m right…” He dove during her answer.

He peered through the weakest debris, noting which pieces would need to be removed and observed sand washing into the superstructure. They were in fact, ashore. He could take the risk of digging them out. If they lost the ship now, it didn’t matter. He surfaced holding a steel bar. Her question was ready:

“Ronauld! Tell me what the hell is going on?” It took all her strength to be angry.

“I can see silty sand coming in through that side section. I’m going to keep diving until there is a clear hole, big enough for you to try and swim through. Now eat your fish!”

He dove with robot-like precision. Carefully retrieving articles one by one. Explaining to her between rests. Ron persisted for hours without fear, ignoring the fatigue. A turtle swam in through his passage. It surfaced near Liara. She knew he must be close. In the end, he’d carved a twenty-metre underwater swim through the debris. The weight transference inadvertently caused a huge list sideways, which suddenly triggered a heavy cupboard to fall. It landed in the escape route’s way, on an angle. Beyond it lay seaweed, sand, and safety. Ronauld wrestled with it. The steel bar was positioned as a prop which held the item at bay. The gap seemed just wide enough to fit through, if you expelled everything your lungs had got left. Your next breath would have to be freedom. If you ran out before then — it would be voluntary suicide. She’d get her way…

He went back for her. “Let’s go, Hon!” he barked from the water. “You’ll only get one chance, okay? If you fit through the hole without expelling, I would suggest you do it. She’s narrow — but it’s all I’ve got to offer.”

Liara rolled in and he guided her through the underwater maze. She kicked gently. The seconds ticked. Liara trusted Ronauld, she had to. However, the petite Dayak could hardly believe that a few hours ago, she was ready to give in — her threshold had been crushed, and now she must do the swim of her life — in order to save it. When they got to the cupboard, she squeezed through first without expiring her air. She turned to help pull his substantially larger frame through. She watched his bubbles vanish and hoped to God he would fit. Liara pulled on Ronauld’s hands so tightly that he felt her true inner strength and resolve. He squirmed, wrestled, and fought. With a badly lacerated chest, and lungs already bursting, he made it and swam on to the next section, with nothing on board. Ron had reached the same oxygen-void point, as she had before — when he had ripped the belt off in order to save her. He now knew what it felt like to be that close. His mind had gone blank and his vision faulty. They kept going. Two entangled decaying corpses, that didn’t make it, stared emptily back at them. He fell hopelessly, coughing and spluttering from inhaled water. The exit finally appeared. Liara helped him to his feet. The lovers staggered onto the gravelly beach. All around was perfect. It was nature in the raw. Not a soul in sight. But where? A jaded walk to higher ground showed the desolation of their tiny island. Merely a slightly larger prison…

What will happen? Will their fate be predetermined? Or, will the fist of temptation, once more, knock loudly on their door of doom — inducing them, in order that they may they succumb to the easy way out again?

Triple Treat – Ten-minute thriller time! Story Three

A Time Traveller’s Trilogy of Torment. The finale.

What does it really mean? … to have a “Gift”

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

Link to Story One; Link to Story Two

 

 

 “Falling Back to Harsh Reality”

by Stephen James

 

                Time-traveller William Steed Cosgrove gets his wish: However, the secret he seeks to unveil has a nasty twist in its unearthing…

Dispelling two centuries in his wake and tumbling backwards through time, he feels a slightly different sensation to the usual numbness — as though his cells were shrinking even smaller than an atom. As materialization occurs, his eyes are no more — nor his ears. His awareness is as always but this milieu is far from familiar. He is not even breathing. His heart feels like it is pumping. It would have to be for him to even be alive, but not in a way he has ever experienced during previous travels, nor even while he was a normal human being. A strange continuous movement is discernible in this obscure environment; a sensation of being bound, gagged, blindfolded and virtually deaf, in the middle of the ocean. Is it suspended animation? Darkness is everywhere. No water. No food. No air. Why am I not suffocating? Is it because I am already dead?

At first, he feels petrified — followed by calming helplessness, and then, an odd alien security. Is this what death actually feels like?

There is no sense of time in this place. He never falls asleep. He is never actually awake. The gentle rocking motion seems to calm his emotions. It is not so bad after all but where is everyone?

In the outside world of reality, which surrounds William, the cosmos’ clock continues to tick. Hours turn into days — turn into weeks — turn into months…

Its novelty soon began to wear tissue thin. Cosgrove’s mind was still carrying the dreadful thoughts of the future, or was it the past? He had no notion of time or anything for that matter. This latest confined space felt lonelier than the cold bleak walls of Newgate prison, where he’d waited to be sentenced for murder. He somehow knew that his existence would be for all eternity — he never expected it to be like this though. His mind, alert as always and still forty-two years old, senses a conjoining with something very familiar. More time scurries past. Suddenly, through his eyelids and ears, Will senses an invasion of privacy, because there is someone else beside him. Noises become louder and the cramped confines of his ‘Heaven’ are no longer what they used to be. He realizes that he can actually manoeuvre his odd form about but still has no sense of touch available. He hears a faint heartbeat alongside his own.

“Angelica! Is that you beside me?” he calls out in a peculiar gurgle — his voice resembling the devil. He reiterates, “Angelica, is that you darling, can you hear me? I am so sorry…” he felt himself sobbing. No reply was forthcoming — he couldn’t blame whoever it was for shunning him. More time in obscure solitude, teased by a person who refused to communicate, passed consistently by.

Then, after nearly three-hundred sunrises, the implausible day came…

The light was so bright that William’s eyes, which somehow were able to almost focus, caused him to scream in fear. He could hear another scream similar to his own. A dreadful smell now entered his nostrils which he somehow was able to smell. He felt tiny, helpless, and insignificant and could for the first time in ages, see his own body — it was covered with blood! He recognized his mother’s sighing voice. She was a few metres away. He could see her sweat-covered face. Beside him, a gigantic human being had hold of his sister Janet. To William, it felt as if ‘Heaven’ was replaying a video of his birth. When he attempted to speak it came out as a high-pitched scream. It abruptly dawned on him that he had in fact just been born.

He heard a man’s warm voice say, “Mrs Cosgrove, you have a boy and a girl, and they are both simply beautiful!”

Next, he heard her reply. “Oh, I am so happy. Thank you so very much, Doctor Steed. You know how much an expectant mother worries, don’t you?” Her tears of joy were obvious. “How can I ever thank you for what you have done?”

“Oh, you don’t have to,” he reinforced. “It was midwife Janet Thompson here who did most of the hard work! I simply supervised the whole process.”

“Then my mind is made up,” his mother replied, forming an enormous smile — directed at his dad. “We shall do them an honour then, shan’t we, Bill?”

His father nodded. “Yes, of course dear.” He kissed her forehead.

This euphoric occurrence quickly removed all of the dismay of unknowingness he had been enduring for the past nine months. In his heart, William knew that the second chance he had prayed so desperately for, was about to be granted. He knew also that in forty-two-years from now, when Raymond Buttigieg’s Jaguar is approaching that stop sign, there could be a fortuitous opportunity to wait a lot longer. Yes, it was wrong, but this little piece of history he definitely would alter. Why else had he been granted a second roll of the dice?

As the years toppled by, the young William enjoyed reliving his birthdays with his sister. He went to school in his stupid shorts and long socks. He had a newfound respect for all those tiny little things our lives offer, the likes of which so many of us discount as mundane. William Steed Cosgrove went through puberty all over again. He met Angelica for the first time, just as before, at their High school formal, after the conclusion of their final year. He couldn’t wait to get out and start a wood-machinist apprenticeship, but pretty young Angelica had her sights set on University. It was around this stage of his life when he began to control his lucid dreams.

At twenty-two, the qualified tradesman landed a job and a wife — he couldn’t have been any happier. Although she had forewarned him of her inability to bear him any children, Cosgrove was so much in love with her, that he brushed the topic aside like a pesky mosquito. Besides, he already knew. Up until now, the British born time-traveller has yet to experience the incredible metamorphosis of his ‘gift’. He is just an ordinary young man in an ordinary vocation in life, who is perhaps about to find out what changed it all…

When William is twenty-seven, he is diagnosed with a small carcinogenic tumour at the base of his brainstem. Three specialists consulted and calmed his uneasiness by telling him that; although it is not a common disorder, many such cases have been cured by several sessions of radiation treatment. It was far simpler than attempting surgery and results in the past have proven it to have a higher success-rate as well. William remembers what he went through, however, during the treatment he was sedated to relax his muscles, consequently, was not privy to what happened. He also is aware that the treatment was successful, in his case, therefore, for the second time around he naturally agrees to it. On both occasions — he was not aware of the electrical thunderstorm which developed whilst his brainstem was being subjected to radiation. The synchronization was a million-to-one chance of coinciding, however, it did. Although it went unnoticed, during his stint in the radiology room, a freakish bolt of lightning struck the radiotherapy centre’s transformer room, just outside its communications department. A few seconds of flickering lights followed by a micro-blackout occurred, but it had all returned to normal immediately afterwards. The centre’s in-built generators instantly kicked in. The bolt had knocked out the digital timing system by those few seconds. The highly-focused staff had their hands filled with his care and never even noticed the clock’s difference made by the surge. William became subjected to an abnormal highly-magnified bout of radiation. Nobody was aware of what had happened to him. Once again, history repeated itself and his recovery was a success — just as before. He also missed the discovery.

It was eighteen months later when the maturing Cosgrove endured his inaugural anti-matter trip. Brief encounters of the past, lasting a week or so, became palatable stimulation, and, just as it was the first time, William shared his stories — only to become the topic of mockery. He soon learned to shut his mouth. The decades go by in an exact duplicate of how they did when he first experienced them. Now a seasoned time-traveller with the predetermined end in mind, William confronts each issue with a newfound flair. He is almost cocky, when on that night, he closes the final few pages of Sir Arthur’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ before falling asleep — knowing what is awaiting. He even grins at the hangman as the noose is draped around his neck…

Then, comes the night he watches “Casablanca” for the umpteenth and one time. It felt now like the time-traveller was simply going through the motions. He laughs even louder than before at ‘Les Misérables’. When the Jaguar is approaching the stop sign, however, Will begins to become very nervous. He knows that this is the most important moment of his entire life. Janet makes her comment about the ladies — just as before. It is a foggy night — just as before. The broken-down bus is parked there — just as before. He hesitates — just as he did before, but something is different. There is no bystander calling out to him. Had he gotten something wrong? Then the bystander’s voice cries out.

Filled with euphoria William shuts his eyes to celebrate. And falls asleep but just for a nanosecond, but during that nanosecond, he starts to dematerialize — just as before.

He believes he knows what is going to happen next…

His gift of eternal life should whisk him off to the future, then, just keep sending him back to his conception, inside the safety of his mother’s womb. But he is very wrong. This time he materializes on a Saturday morning, just as the sun is filtering its way through a cauliflower-filled sky. William is sitting down by the sea. He is observing the waves as they tumble towards the gentle sandy slope of the beach. The water splits its way around a cluster of large stones. He feels abnormally fatigued as he sees the odd seagull drop from the sky into the blue-grey water. There are very few people around him, just the odd sandcastle builder here and there, and four swimmers. William does not recall this particular event, and so, believes it must be in the future. He knows it is the south of England because, on the horizon, he can clearly identify the iconic Isle of Wight’s offshore rocky disciples, inclusive of the lighthouse, commonly known as ‘The Needles’. There is a nip in the sea air — he can just feel it on his face and thinks; ‘I guess that’s why I am sitting under this blanket.’

Cosgrove’s attention is stolen by a woman’s silhouetted figure approaching from his left. She had just parted ways with a man, who was making his way back to the wooden stairs leading up to the esplanade. William’s heart-rate increases with anticipation. He squints with hopeful intention, to discern whether or not it is his beloved Angelica but does not distinguish the walk. She waves to him. He goes to wave back but cannot raise his arm. He thinks; ‘Blessed time-travelling is far more tiring than I ever remember.’

After several minutes, the kind-faced woman stops right in front of him. Her hands remove from her pockets, as she crouches quietly in front of him. They rest on his blanketed knees…

“That was Stan. He came to see how you were doing. You remember Stan, don’t you?”

William begins to reply — with speech croaky and fragile. “The only Stan who I remember was Phyllis Buttigieg’s brother.” He hardly recognizes his own voice.

The woman looked back. “Stanley is still a little embarrassed… now that he is my fiancé. I told him not to be but at least he came. Now, are you ready to go back, or would you rather spend a little more time here at the seaside?” The softly-spoken lady was applying some pink lipstick — a small compact mirror was keeping her well within the lines.

Cosgrove stared at the woman in an extremely confused manner. “Go where?” his husky tone asked, attempting to get up, but failing miserably.

“Why, back to the convalescent home, of course, where you live!”

He rasped back. “Can you show me the mirror please?”

She spun it around. “Here you go miss—”

A pair of shrivelled lips lets out a grievous shriek. “My God!”

The scorched reflection was almost disfigured beyond recognition, but Will could still discern who he’d become. The truth struck William with the equivalent force that the semi-trailer had hit Ray’s Jaguar. He was propped in a wheelchair, entombed inside his twin sister’s quadriplegic body. He writhed with self-hatred at what his ‘gift’ was responsible for. The complexion’s pitted and furrowed skin resembled a pinkish creased plastic. Beneath a polka-dot scarf, clods of greyish unkempt hair sprouted in hotchpotch fashion like spinifex grass. William couldn’t release his eyes. His abhorrence intensified. Because suddenly, it also had dawned on him, that he was the hooded denizen figure, whom, in two-hundred years from now, he’d met and wheeled away to safety. The one who was sitting in front of the hellfire burning building, near the crumbling Big Ben and polluted Thames River! Worst of all, at this moment, Cosgrove realized that who he was now, was for all eternity…