A prisoner in my own country!

What mysterious scandals unfold, when hidden deep within the pages of privacy from a loved one’s own handwriting, after lying dormant for decades. The things we do for love! This amazing story will be sure to tug on your heartstrings, but don’t let your coffee go cold…

 

Several years ago, Susan Lyons was rummaging through an old metal trunk in the attic of her grandmother’s two-storey house in Melbourne. The home, one of three owned by the wonderful old lady, had been left to Susan in the will. The other two houses went to her parents and brother William, respectively. Unfortunately, Grandma Riedesel, as she was always referred to, had passed away at the ripe old age of ninety-four, of natural causes. Susan and her mother, Eve, had been given the unpleasant task of sorting through the deceased’s worldly possessions. Childhood memories flooded back to the thirty-eight-year-old bank teller, at the turn of every treasured item, which bore pertinence to her relationship with her mother’s mother. The fading photographs, all neatly stacked and tied with a piece of string, of herself and little William sitting proudly on the handsome woman’s knee at Christmas. The crumbly-cornered, black-and-white ones of her granny as a woman far younger than she. Several others brought tears to both women when stared at and fondled. These were of Eve’s father who had been taken by a sniper bullet during the Vietnam War in 1967. In the frame of one print he was cuddling his beloved. On the reverse side, written in his hand was the inscription: Us at the entrance to Royal Melbourne Zoo, 1963… together for life! Naturally, Susan had never met him because her mother was only a teen when he’d failed to return from service. His posthumous medals of honour brought further tears when they were unwrapped from the cushioned cloth inside an old shoebox.

“My he was a striking figure of a man, wasn’t he Mum?” said Susan, staring hard at the image, her fingers carefully gripping its broad white border.

“What I remember of him, yes. And a kinder gentleman you couldn’t wish to meet, either. Curse that wretched Asian war for taking him away. It wasn’t even our show!”

Around them the dust sat heavy, and a plethora of cobwebs spanned most corners of the ceiling and joined floor to walls. Tea chests and suitcases were stacked in precarious fashion, and shadows attempted to withhold their secrets. The bulb, hanging from its twisted-cloth wiring cable, was a dim one. Her clothes, many in plastic bags, others just folded in piles, had the smell of memory about them. They didn’t care — in these small confines lay the remanence of nearly a century of historic connection. In no hurry, Susan and Eve continued sorting through the tired objects that had meant so much at one point, casting comments between “ooohs” and “ahhhs”. An elbow out of place caused a large box to falter from its position atop four larger ones. When the lid fell away, a pair of crooked deep-brown eyes stared back at them. These eyes of love were set in a worn furry face with a piece of one ear missing and several stitches coming adrift from the black triangular nose. The fur used to be yellow but now appeared a more darkish ochre with splodges of brown.

Eve immediately reached in to raise the teddy in the dullish light. “It’s Ruxpin Cuddlesworth, oh-my-gosh!” she chirped, thrusting the dusty old bear to her cheek.

“Careful Mum, you don’t know where it’s been!” said Susan with concern.

“Not an ‘it’, dear. This was my first friend in the whole world. He used to belong to your Grandmother, and she passed him down to me. He is a 1920s model. I’d wondered what had become of him.” Smelly old Ruxpin’s weathered little face appeared to be smiling. “Oh, thank you Mum, for saving him all these years.” She eased him away and manipulated his paws and legs on their swivels, to sit him down in the typical teddy bear pose.

Susan looked at her mother’s excitement — remembering her own first serious teddy bear, received when she was four. Her name was Drop-stitch Gertie, because, even from new there was a loop in her nose triangle. She wondered about the coincidence between both soft toys and also thought how ironical it was that people never forget their names. She began opening boxes, in the hope of finding Gertie’s thick, shaggy, brown, mohair form amongst the paraphernalia. She stopped looking when an opened cardboard box revealed something of greater interest. Inside, was a mahogany jewellery box alongside a fawn leather-bound blank-page-style diary. Stuck to the diary by two rubber bands was a folded piece of paper. On the outside of the folds were the words:

Susan passed it to her mother and opened the drawers of the jewellery box which were stuffed with photographs. The wrinkly images were of Grandma Riedesel at a P.O.W. Camp. It was obvious to her because the figures were all lined up with slouch-hat-wearing soldiers patrolling, and in the background, she could plainly see the barbed wire fence. Susan leafed her way through, placing one behind the other, as her mother started reading the diary. “I never knew this about Grandma Gracie. Why was she locked up Mum?”

Eve’s fingers had parted the tardy-looking secret-holder near its centre. It separated there because of a photograph, fading into sepia, of four teenage girls dressed in Charleston-style flapper regalia, inclusive with hats and fake cigarette holders, lay quietly. “Shhh, listen to this,” she said, gradually turning the pages. “That I did know about. It was because of her surname, even though she was a third-generation Aussie, it is of German heritage. They arrested thousands of people at the start of World War Two — if they suspected them of anything whatsoever. Men, women and children of many nationalities were sent to camps just like those ones you are looking at. Not really prisoners of war — more detainees, at least, that’s what Mum always called it… Yes, I knew all about it, but I most certainly did not know about this!”

Eve went back through the pages — to begin at the paragraph below 17th December 1940. “After the outbreak of war last year, Australia fell into absolute chaos. Troops had been enlisted and sent to the far-reaching corners of the globe. Women now did the work of men and many enlisted to begin training as nurses. I do not properly understand and neither do my friends. We had learned about World War One at school, although, still could not grasp the idea of it reoccurring.”

Susan, Eve and Ruxpin sat in a small circle facing each other as the story came to life…

She cleared her throat to commence reading the dossier, which had the dates at the top of each page, but they were in random daily, weekly and monthly accounts. “We had been rounded up at an ungodly hour of the night and sent to an internment camp at Rushworth, Tatura. A lost little town in the Goulbourn Valley. It is a date that I shall never forget. The weather was stinking hot and I cried. It took ages to get there and we were all made to feel like criminals. Men and women are segregated. I am located in Camp 3 along with my Mother, older sister Hilda, and two of our friends, Anne-Maree Schmidt and Gwenaël Ludendorff who is a very pretty girl, although sadly, she has a slight mental disorder. It is some sort of autistic syndrome and she loves everybody but can’t stand being touched by anyone except me. Gwen is terrified. We, along with all of the other women, and I presume the men in the other camps, have been interrogated. The Australian authorities are extremely suspicious of spies. This is not what a respectable sixteen-year-old expects to have happen in her own country of birth, but in some strange way, I understand it all. We each have an area about the size of a bathroom to exist in, with three communal washrooms. The food is very basic, and many of the vegetables are grown in the farm section.

25th December 1940. Well, what can I say… I have just experienced the saddest Christmas of my whole life. The entire camp tried their hardest to make it a joyous occasion, but nobody wanted to be here. We all wanted to be at home celebrating with dinner and cake. Mother is wonderful and I think right now I would be shattered without her love and support. Perhaps New Year’s will be a little more enticing. Apparently, there is a bit of a bash being put on at the main hall. We have been told we can attend but have to return to the barracks immediately after midnight. Never mind, I will be able to bury my nose back into the last few chapters of Huckleberry Finn. I have fallen in love with novel reading recently and find Mark Twain to be particularly good.”

Eve continued reading aloud. Each page was filled with the emotional turmoil which all these unfortunate victims of the war effort were experiencing in their cloistered environment. It was a dirty and unpleasant habitat. Susan listened intently feeling the grip of the conflict around her. After thirty minutes, Eve was nearing the flapper photograph. She continued…

“12th July 1942. Still no sign to the end of the war, which we all thought might be over by now. The crude tin sheds are very hot in summer and very cold in winter. I have written about this a number of times, but it can’t be expressed how miserable it makes us all. All the girls are pitching in to help, whether it is cleaning or cooking, washing clothes or mending them. A routine has been enforced to simplify our work. A few close friendships have developed for me and I am slowly growing accustomed to internment lifestyle. The boredom and loneliness of stolen freedom feels unbearable. To ease this, the Australian Army holds monthly dances with live swing bands playing, but our dance partners are always garrison soldiers. We are treated fairly respectfully.

Sue interrupted her mother. “Sounds dreadful to me. What on earth was the government of the time thinking? Obviously, these innocent women had no secrets. They would have been far better off allowing them to continue with their productive civilian lives! Don’t you think, Mum?”

“Easy for us to think so, Susan… but these were desperate times, my dear. Now, let me proceed.” Eve knew she was reaching the section which had caught her attention. “14th August 1942. During the middle of a bitterly cold winter, word came through to the detainees that a new detachment of soldiers would be taking over part of Camp 3. This was not important to us because although some half-decent friendships with the troops had been established, they were often rotated for various reasons. Some of the women managed to acquire a few extra rations on occasion, as well as the odd weekly bar of chocolate from two or three of the more-manipulatable Quartermasters. They were always careful to keep space between us though. Fraternisation with detainees was not permitted for the boys in uniform by their superior officers, and as I’m led to believe, punishable by court-martial. As I lay awake at night on so many occasions with only Ruxpin Cuddlesworth to keep me warm, my mind races with worry about our foreseeable future. My mother has been taken ill with Pneumonia and been transferred to an army hospital but neither Hilda nor I have been able to visit her. I have grave concerns for her wellbeing. Hilda has taken over the role as our main guardian. I am now eighteen and playing nursemaid to my dear friend Gwen who is struggling with the claustrophobic feeling of living behind the wire. She is a very poor reader, so I read out loud to her every afternoon. 21st August 1942. It was freezing last Wednesday night. An officer entered our quarters around six o’clock. We had never seen him before. This man is unattractive to look at, however, he seems gentle and kind. He arrived with two other soldiers wearing Red Cross armbands, announcing himself as Medical Corps Officer, Major Rivan Janus PsyD. He said he was doing ground-breaking research in the field of psychiatry and was going to help Gwen. She was very unhappy about the discussion which occurred. The psychiatrist major said he needed to work closely with her at the makeshift hospital for about one week each month. I mentioned to him that my mother was there and he said he would see what he could do for us. I am hoping to tie a visit with her and my mother in a few days. They took Gwen away.”

“That should cheer her up a bit,” remarked Susan, shuffling her bottom about. She was getting pins-and-needles from sitting cross-legged on the floor. “This Major Janus seems to be quite a reasonable fellow!”

“Stop interrupting Susan, or I shall save it for later. We have a lot to do here and haven’t got all day. Would you rather hear the story afterwards, downstairs?”

“Gosh no! This is far more in the genre of things… cooped up here in the attic. Golly, I almost feel like I’m right with her!”

“Good. The next section is dated 29th August 1942. They would not let me visit the hospital last week, and when Gwen finally did arrive back at the camp last night, something was clearly wrong. Major Janus told us she was responding well to the therapy and said he needed to see her again in early September. She refused to communicate with anyone. Instead, no matter what I asked her, she just shook her head and cried into her pillow. Hilda and Anne-Marie are going to talk to her tomorrow. All else is managing fine in our barracks. I have just finished reading The Prince and the Pauper, another classic historical fiction book by Twain. 12th September 1942. It is very late at night and I am writing secretly under candlelight. Our curfew has long since removed the lighting. Several hours ago, Major Janus brought Gwenaël back to the camp. She is worse than ever. The therapy isn’t working at all. Gwen has some bruising, which Major Janus reported to his superior officer as attempted self-harm. She has never done anything like that before. When he removed her five days ago, the poor girl fought like a cat to prevent him. The other two soldiers, who were always the same two, held her down to receive a needle. This pacified her. He is very aloof towards the other women in our barracks and tells us nothing of her progress, other than; ‘It’s going well’. Again, he refused to help me get to see my mother. I do not like him anymore.”

Eve fell silent, running her fingers down the pages until she reached the page just before the dress-up photograph.

The stoutly built bank teller appeared concerned. “What’s wrong Mum?”

“Sorry Susan, but that section only spoke of the remainder of September. It was just elaborating about the mundane chores and camp discipline, plus a few more books she has read. We’ll get back to that when we show it to William and your father. Here’s the bit that caught my attention. 3rd October 1942. Gwen has finally opened up about her treatment to me. She has made me swear not to talk to the others. I am entering it in this manuscript, just in case anything ever happens to me. I am appalled by what is going on. Gwen said she is being ordered to wash, then she’s taken to a small padded room and locked inside. There are no windows and only a hard mattress on the floor with a wooden chair beside it. She does not know whether it is day or night. She told me that Doctor or Major Janus, whatever he is supposed to be, enters several times a day to have his way repeatedly with her under mild sedation. He forces her to perform all kinds of dastardly sexual acts at scalpel point. She said he calls her insulting sluttish names and says she is stupid. He warned her that if she ever spoke of his behaviour to anyone, he would take her somewhere in the night and cut out her tongue, then cut her to pieces. He told her that he would file a report saying she escaped, and that it was of her own doing. He told her his up-to-date examination report mentions irrational and aggressive behaviour. I know Gwen is not lying because we have been friends since we were three years of age. She has always told me everything, including the fact that right up until now she was a virgin, just as Anne-Marie and myself are. I hate what he is doing to her, but I feel quite helpless. I don’t think the authorities would believe her story. Doctor Janus has made it clear to all that the poor girl is delusional. Talk about an appropriate name. I cannot even tell the others in case they do something which puts her at risk of serious harm or perhaps even being killed. I shall never forget his face as long as I live. 21st October 1942. They came for Gwenaël, an hour ago. When I opened my mouth to confront the major, Gwen’s eyes begged me to shut up. She knew how angry I was, but she is terrified about the consequences of it being revealed. We hugged and she whispered; ‘I’ll be alright my friend — take care’. I feel more than just trapped behind the fence. I desperately need to see my poor mother before I go mad.”

Susan was gripping the other pictures of the P.O.W. Camp tightly. Connecting with it visually added to the horror of where her granny was. She saw the barbed wire even more clearly now and felt very sad for this ugly secret which had never been disclosed. “Mum, I could not go through what Granma Riedesel went through. I am so soft.”

Eve lifted out the eight-by-ten image, placing it between the rear of the diary’s cover and the last page. “You might be surprised, dear. 29th October 1942. This was the worst we have seen her. I think her spirit has been broken forever. All I can do is comfort her on her bed. She hardly speaks and will not eat. She is not interested in listening to me reading to her either. I thought it might help. It is very difficult for me to put pen to paper because Gwen’s circumstance is presiding over my every thought. Some good news is that my mother has recovered, according to Janus, and will be returning shortly. 5th November 1942. Last night it was raining very heavily. So heavily, in fact, that you could hardly see outside but I went for a walk regardless, to clear my mind. The campgrounds were deserted. I strolled amongst the crude gardens out at the front of the tin sheds. Suddenly, I saw that slight figure, whom I have grown to despise, just up ahead. He was approaching and wearing a raincoat, but I knew exactly who it was. We were both alone out there. He stopped in my path and I became scared. I looked around but saw no sign of life, except for the dull lights near the guard tower in the distance. He asked if Gwen was okay, and I don’t know what made me say it, but I accused him of raping my friend. He produced a scalpel and grinned right at me, calling her a foolish girl. I became very angry and reached down into the garden and picked up a large jagged rock. I rammed it hard as I could at the side of his head again and again. Before I knew what I was doing, Major Janus had fallen to the ground without a sound. I stared at him dead and bleeding, then turned and ran back to our hut without being seen. I was ashamed at what I had just done, and never told any of the other girls, but somehow, when we were all interviewed the following day, I think they knew. We all denied knowing anything.”

Susan Lyons sat with her mouth wide open. Was her beloved favourite grandmother a murderer? She couldn’t speak…

Eve did not read the account any further. She reopened the cover which was marked by the sepia-coloured print of the four girls. Opposite it, on the last page, she read out loud, “This is the only diary I have ever kept.” The emotionally moved woman looked at the photograph of her mother and Aunt Hilda, with Anne-Maree Schmidt and Gwen Ludendorff, pretending to attend a Great Gatsby party several years before the war’s outbreak. She hugged the diary tightly to her breast and stared down at the teddy bear’s long-since-hidden misty eyes. “You have known about this all along… haven’t you Ruxpin Cuddlesworth?”

Susan said, “At least she has closure, now that we know. Well, I for one forgive her. How brave she was. This diary is a symbol of real courage!”

Eve instantly replied, “Absolutely, I agree dear! Come to think of it now… I do recall Mum telling me about Gwen Ludendorff being properly diagnosed several decades after the war. Asperger’s Syndrome was not appropriately identified and named until 1981, I believe it was. Gwen never married and lived with us under Mum’s care until she passed away in the 1990s. Susan, do you think we should show this to the boys?”

Before Eve received her answer, the feeble bulb, dangling at the end of its twisted-cloth insulation wire, flickered several times then fizzled into blackness. The only glow shone like an eerie omen from the manhole entrance, hidden behind Gracie Riedesel’s hand-painted portrait…

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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!”

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?

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…

Gold or Gone… in ten-minutes!

You never know where your next life-long

      friend will emerge from!

            So never lose faith and never give up…

 

“A Second Chance at Success”

By Stephen James

Adversity, as it would appear, unquestionably extracts the very best from most champions, regardless of their inclination. In this short, fictional, life-and-death story, I certainly hope you barrack for the hero with the equivalent level of passionate enthusiasm as I did when contriving it.

 

When ace Spitfire pilot Tyrone McAllister pressed the firing button to discharge the final few seconds’ worth of machine-gun rounds at the BF 109 Messerschmitt in his sights, he wasn’t prepared for the next thing that happened. It was 1941 and his fighter-plane was over the English Channel. A dogfight between twenty-two, brave but heavily-outnumbered, RAF pilots was drawing to a close. Fuel was low on both parties, as was ammunition. The battle against thirty-seven of Germany’s finest warbirds had worn-on for over an hour, and had only come to fruition when the bomber-guarding planes had long-since left their duties to engage with one another. All deployed planes had diverted to a separate airspace to avoid collision with the slower heavier returning bombers — thus rendering them with minimal protection, but it was identical for the Germans too. Unbelievably, the allies had squared the ledger number-wise, to eleven apiece, with Squadron Leader McAllister personally responsible for six of the kills. The Australian-born gifted pilot had number seven in a merciless position, diving for an escape route toward the water, in an inverted barrel-roll. The G-forces became unbearable as Tyrone closed in close enough to be positive of a successful airstrike. With only a few spurts left in his four Browning machine-guns, the courageous flight-officer knew he would have to return to base immediately, and did not wish to leave his portion of the squadron outnumbered. He had previously emptied his twin 20 mm Hispano cannons during the assault on the Luftwaffe bombers. He also knew that his foe, with superior dive-speed, would be gone if he waited any longer before squeezing the Dunlop gun-firing button located on his spade grip handle.

Sqn Ldr McAllister waited for the precise moment, then let him have it…

The BF 109 Messerschmitt took the full brunt of the Browning .303 bullets which drained his every last round. Tyrone, as per usual, said a prayer for his much-respected adversary. “God rest your soul if you don’t jump out pal… C’mon bailout for me now, please. Bail out now!”

But this was just the beginning of his tale. He heaved the Mk VI Spitfire’s joystick against the almost disobedient moan of her straining Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The man’s blurring mind pleading a second prayer, with centrifugal forces nearly stalling the savage V12 brute mid-dive. Her wings were screaming under the strain. Moments after the ace pulled out of the nine-hundred kilometre-per-hour dive, he shook himself back into a reality check. The exhausting hour-long ordeal had left him with a lather of sweat which adhered to his flying suit like watery glue. Fear had saturated his veins with an intoxicating degree of adrenalin. The continuous bombardment of G-forces rendered his vision blurry and had stolen his usual clarity of thinking. He climbed to 26,000 feet. McAllister’s teal-blue eyes searched for his loyal and every airman’s best friend, the horizon line — and finally found it. The sun was low in the sky. The green fields of England loomed in the distance. The command to retreat was given. The pilot took a brief minute to reflect upon his two life-loves. His mind cast its way back to 1936, two years before he had even considered becoming a combat pilot. His first love, a beautiful, young, budding, British actress, Annabelle Strike, had been watching in the crowd, cheering him on to the finish line at the Berlin Olympic Games. His second love — that of being a world-class 5,000 metre runner had blossomed to reality, on the big stage. Although he did not win a medal, this eighteen-year-old athlete had proved himself a worthy contender by making the semi-finals. The look on his beloved Annabelle’s face was all the wiry young man had needed to empower him onto the next scheduled summer games in 1940, where London had won the right to host them. Needless to say, he never competed in those games — as history tells us they were cancelled due to the Second World War. He did, however, marry Annabelle whose face filled his mind at this precise moment in front of his Spitfire’s acrylic bubble canopy. His fatigued mind forged a wry grin onto his battle-wearied face. The brave squadron leader’s memory held a clear-cut vision of that day when the world had yet to be at loggerheads, and the only combat for him was on that running track in Berlin. He had been comprehensively beaten by Hans Frocklemüller, the elite German middle-distance runner. Hans eventually went on to claim the gold medal the following day in the final. He’d never forgotten the kind words of encouragement offered by Frocklemüller when he offered his big hand to haul Tyrone off the track. McAllister had engineered his personal best by just under four seconds, to try to reel in the leading pack. The Herculean effort had shredded his body to utter exhaustion, causing an ungainly staggering collapse, just metres past the finish line. The, then skinny, young up-and-comer had merely stared in awe of the maestro-of-the-track and just moments before they embraced, had replied; “You just wait Hans, in the next games in London, I will leave you in my dust!”

Frocklemüller’s reply of; “I certainly hope so my young comrade… your spirit deserves it. I certainly hope so!” was exemplified by several solid pats on his back. The two bonding athletes had no notion whatsoever of the war which was to follow three years later, and how they would never meet again to compete.

The powerful memory was rich in his heart. But it was short-lived…

In this battle-retreating daydream of less than two minutes, his life changed forever. A burst of cannon-fire tore through his Mk VI Spitfire’s fuselage.  He had been caught by a rogue bandit coming out of the setting sun. The large calibre shells tore through the hydraulic tubing, gauges, levers, switches and vital operational mechanisms of his aircraft. It all happened so quickly that he never even felt the two that had buried themselves into his right leg. One in the thigh and one in his calf. He checked his gauges — some were working but not the altimeter. The P8 compass was fine. He checked his rear-vision mirror — a small stream of smoke, perhaps burning oil. He increased the throttle — the V12 Merlin was still responsive but for how long? He scanned the skies for the enemy BF 109 — a dot was vanishing triumphantly in the distance. He tried the radio — it was dead. Altitude was his friend now because Tyrone knew he may have to glide home. He knew his plane was nearly empty, plus, the distinct smell of fuel was filling his cockpit. He put her into a steady climb and began counting to estimate his ceiling, but realized his cabin pressure was non-existent. The spray of cannon shells had put pay to that. The icy air was freezing through his gloves. He said out loud behind his oxygen mask. “I reckon that’s about 30,000 feet Annabelle. Should just be enough to limp ‘er home by, when the prop gives up. See you soon Darling.” His voice shivering. His right leg now burning with pain. So this was it.

When the Spitfire levelled out, Tyrone had a clear view of both the British and French coastlines. The dogfight had drifted all combatants due-west and his final engagement had happened over the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey — these distinctive outlines he also well-recognized. Occupied by the Nazis, neither of these were a desirable landing option. The distinctive silhouette of an approaching Spitfire would be shot out of the sky in minutes. His target was Exeter RAF Base in Devon, over a hundred and twenty miles or two-hundred kilometres away, with little fuel left. Thirty or so minutes he’d estimated. A risk he had no option but to take. He turned her nose north-west to home but his elite warbird did not respond. Again and again, Sqn Ldr McAllister nudged the joystick towards the left to tilt her home. The controls were suddenly not responding and to make matters worse, the tailplane elevators and rudder movements were locked into position now. She was airborne but severely wounded. The compass showed him a gentle drift to the right and there was nothing but the English Channel below. Bailing-out was not a viable option…

Next, the Rolls-Royce spluttered to a halt. The three tips of his propeller rocked to a standstill. Tyrone was on a course for Nazi-occupied France. The quick-thinking ace attempted to straighten her out using the main wing flaps and it worked, however, he knew full well that this delicate adjustment was costing him altitude. Altitude he could ill afford. The flaps were retracted. He wondered how much blood he was losing and laid his head back, expecting to first faint and then slowly die. The wind whistled through the gaping holes in the aluminium fuselage skin. He was not scared but felt very alone. Annabelle’s face once again filled his mind — he convinced himself not to give up because he owed it to her to stay alive. The dark blue water beneath him transformed into dark green fields. The sun now disappeared. The undercarriage fortunately lowered and a flattish field was searched for. With visibility at dusk level and surrounded by silence, he felt like he was gliding in on the back of a wounded bat. He estimated it must be about five minutes from touchdown. Beauvais was the name of the closest city he was approaching, although Tyrone had no knowledge of this. He merely wanted the surrounding paddocks. He stalled her using the main flaps to wash-off airspeed and raise her nose. Minutes ticked by. Closer… closer… closer, she dipped and yawed, eventually ploughing into the fields of Montreuil-sur-Brêche without being shot at. The fighter-plane skewed around like a rum-sodden sailor, before tipping onto her bent propeller.

The tiny French hamlet with its stone walls, fourteenth-century buildings, gravel roads and clustered haystacks must have seemed like a dream-come-true to the very lucky pilot, who unclipped his Sutton harness and took an enormous sigh. His gloved hands cupped a pair of weary eyes. Having spotted several enemy military vehicles, when coasting in, the Australian-born ace knew he had to attempt the fastest exit possible. Or worse… the remnants of fuel vapour left in her tanks could erupt and blow them to kingdom come! Two fumbling hands managed to force back the acrylic canopy in its sliding tracks, but he had lost all feeling in his right leg. Tyrone failed to haul himself free from the cramped cockpit. Suddenly, he heard a clambering sound, which was joined by the fearsome barrel of a German Luger pistol at his temple, seconds before Tyrone uttered what he thought were his last few words… “I’m going to die in here, aren’t I?”

“Englander… out now! Oder sie sterben!” shouted the chiselled-featured enemy officer. “Schnell! Schnell!” The pistol forced his head back against the firewall.

Tyrone screamed back — hands raised — fingers pointing frantically to his legs. “Beine! Beine sind gebrochen!” It meant broken legs and was enough to convey the message.

The officer waved his Luger in the air, shouting to two uniformed men carrying Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles. “Unteroffizier, holen die bahre mit — schnell!”

It was the last thing Tyrone heard before he blacked-out and slumped against the joystick. The two under-officers returned promptly with the stretcher. The three Germans hauled his flaccid body from the wreckage and carried him to a nearby tavern. He was barely alive…

Squadron Leader McAllister woke up several days later, in a gloomy room at that same country tavern. He was considerably cleaner now — free of the filth of battle but riddled with the remnants of morphine. A woman was sitting on the bed applying a wet cloth to his burning forehead. She had a French look about her. She smiled. He smiled back. He was under some bed-linen. His eyes flashed down to where he thought his right leg used to be. The pretty woman’s eyes glanced away. Tyrone shut his. She had merely cast her eye-line towards the door where the German officer had just arrived, its heavy oak panels blocking his uniform from the bed. All she said was…

“Monsieur Kapitän, he’s awake now.”

McAllister’s eyelids flashed swiftly apart, like separating lovers.

“Danke dir, Michelle,” he replied, still out of view. “You may leave us now.”

Michelle got up, nodded at Tyrone and slowly backed away to the door, without breaking any eye-contact. He swallowed hard contemplating the facts. Still, the Nazi officer did not enter the make-shift ward. Instead, seemingly eschewing the patient, he spoke with calm across the room in a strong accent. “So, my Spitfire pilot. It would appear that you have probably flown your last mission, yar?”

Tyrone envisioned the bleak harshness of a P.O.W. Camp. His face broke into a nervous sweat. He gritted his teeth. “Why didn’t you just shoot me there and then, Captain? Why this? I would have probably preferred to die — instead of failure.” He’d yielded his plane to the enemy.

The Hauptmann laughed from behind the door. “Still have that same spirit I see—”

An uncomfortable silence filled the next three minutes, as the confused Sqn Ldr tried to piece the odd statement with the semi-recognizable tone. He had already used up his first two strikes, shot down and crash-landing — thus, daren’t say anything to further jeopardize his circumstances.

“Your legs let you down, yet again!” sparked the stern voice, breaking the silence as it emerged from behind the inn’s bedroom door. “But do not worry, 5,000 metre runner, Tyrone McAllister, I have had them saved for you!” He stared his enemy right in the eyes — face unyielding but smiling. “By my own Bavarian hands, plus much help from her.”

“Hans Frocklemüller! It is you. I can’t believe it. After all these years, we meet again!”

“You were extraordinarily lucky on many counts,” Hauptmann Frocklemüller replied, offering his hand to shake. “I am the surgeon-general for our battalion. Hauptmann is my true rank but she calls me Kapitän. I am only here for a short time… and you arrive at my doorstep. I have saved your legs and you may well even walk once more. Tyrone, we are enemies for the moment, but somehow, I feel we shall be friends for life.” He called Michelle back in and whispered to her at the end of the room. She nodded obediently.

“What is going on?” asked the bewildered Sqn Ldr.

“I have made some arrangements and she will take care of you,” he winked. “But not a murmur to anyone. Do I have your word on that?” Their hands locked like a vice.

Tyrone’s eyes stared with determination. “Of course, Hans… but?”

“Say no more on it. Look me up when once this disgraceful war is over. Is that a promise?”

“This is as good as any gold medal I could have taken from you,” said Tyrone, with a hint of a tear in his striking blue eyes.

Hauptmann Frocklemüller laughed. “I think that I always had your measure, airman!”

“Perhaps you are right. Good luck and thank you. I’ll definitely look you up!”

Several months later, after spending time with the French underground, by virtue of Michelle dú jeu Bois, the near-rehabilitated RAF officer made his way to Switzerland and eventually, back to England. His now-accomplished actress wife Annabelle was patiently waiting. Tyrone went on to fly a further sixteen assignments, claiming five Luftwaffe bombers and nine more fighters, before reaching the rank of Wing Commander — then switching to become a land-based fighter attack strategist.

After the conclusion of The Second World War, three years on during the Christmas of 1948, Mr and Mrs McAllister along with their five-year-old son, Hans, flew to Geneva to link-up with Dr and Michelle Frocklemüller. With him, in a beautiful velvet case tucked tightly under his arm were his two latest loves. One was the Distinguished Flying Cross he had received for bravery — the other was a gleaming gold medal for winning the men’s 5,000 metre, in the rescheduled 1948 London Olympic Games. In the years that followed, his autobiography became a global bestseller and later, a feature film. It co-starred Annabelle as herself…