Waiting in Vain

This is my return to the plume and another competition winner.

Harry heard the alarm clock inform him that the morning was once again upon him. Recent downturns in his health had meant that he now set the thing for eleven minutes earlier than when the old days, as his aching hips and less than functional left knee meant that the idea of springing out of bed and into the shower was now committed to memory.

After eleven minutes and twenty-six seconds of huffing and puffing, he was in the bathroom and trying to force his similarly suffering bladder into life. It burnt as it exited his system and he looked up to find the frame that once housed a mirror that he recently removed as he had no desire to see the remains of his once-treasured good looks first thing in the morning.

Lost in thought, he forgot to get the temperature right before entering the shower. This meant his body jerked back violently in reaction to the scalding water, as he lunged forward to rectify the situation, he banged his bad hip on the very handle that was installed to make his life easier. With this, he gave it too much cold and was forced back again. Three minutes of fiddling were required to get the temperature to a level within human tolerance, then just as he felt the bubbles soothe his body and provide some relief to the aged frame, the doorbell went.

The chances of it being anyone important were slim. It may even be for someone else. It would more likely be that neighbour of his ordering stuff from Amazon that Harry would be forced to collect. Irrespective of his accumulated wisdom, he initiated the precarious process of descending to open the door. He slipped getting out of bath, he slipped opening the door, he still had soap in his eyes as he struggled on the first step and collided with the bannister again on the same hip. There had been a thirty-seven second gap between the last ring and now, which meant that he was probably going to reach the door when the caller had already left. Resolved for this not to be the case, he increased the pace on the last two steps and lunged for the door, the towel falling from his hips (could they not even be trusted to perform this simple task?) which meant that he was as the lord brought him to this life (in terms of attire, not shape) when he finally opened the door. The caller had gone, but a selection of mothers taking their children to the local primary school were treated to a glimpse of something that could never be unseen. Harry closed the door and laughed.

“Sixty-three.” He continued laughing to himself as he hobbled on his walking stick to the bus stop. Another process that required an extra twelve minutes compared to his prime. He was sixty-three years old. He remembered fearing forty-three and being surprised when he was in better shape than at twenty-three. In his twenties he had been the bassist in a punk band, and after his fortieth birthday he completed the London Marathon in under four hours on the back of three months’ training. He glanced at his E-Type Jag accumulating dust in the driveway, his medical certificate had been revoked and he was no longer allowed to drive. He hired a driver for a while but deemed that being driven around in that vehicle was akin to those porn videos where men watch their wives be deflowered by young studs, or a Big Mac meal, it might seem pleasurable beforehand, but inevitably you end up feeling soiled and detesting yourself.

This meant he was resigned to the bus. He could work from home but liked the idea of taking an office so it would force him into a routine. His business ran itself mainly, he was shrewd and enjoyed a brain that mocked his hip and other bones. At first there was no seat for him on the bus. He was at that tricky age, polite children, (remember them?) would give up their seats without question, but people in their thirties and forties doubted as to whether Harry would actually take offence at the suggestion he be infirm or something. Normally by the time they had made their minds up, it was their stop and someone else dived in without even noticing Harry.

Occasionally, someone would recognise him and joyously show him digital proof of devotion. He would say that that was a long time ago and wait for their expressions to change to disappointment as they realised he was just an old man who was in a band once. The headphones would go back in, and at best there would be a smile as the youth alighted the vehicle.

Harry continued to laugh to himself without realising that this was the best way of assuring nobody ever approached him again on public transport. “It’s not so bad.” He thought to himself again and smiled as he saw his favourite Green Park pass by.

“Or is it that bad?” A man said. Harry had not seen the man take the seat next to him.

“I beg your pardon?” Harry asked politely.

“Your situation. You mean you accept it because other people are worse than you? Or because you believe that it is the right thing to do?” The man asked.

“I’m afraid I do not have the foggiest notion of what you are talking about.” Harry was now thinking about getting off the bus three stops early.

“What if I told you I could send you back to when you were forty-three and you would remain like that forever? Would you like that? Eternal life, Harry? Health and wealth. You would never get ill and would always be at your wealthiest period in your life as a minimum. Guaranteed. Fancy it?” The man asked.

“Of course, who wouldn’t?” Harry said as he gestured he was getting off.

“Not your stop, Harry. Sit down for a moment.” The man barked. “Actually, I don’t care whether you fancy it or not. I would like to perform an experiment and have chosen you. Thus, in eighteen seconds from when I stop speaking your body will be reverted to its state when you did that marathon. You won’t need this.” He said, opening the window and throwing the walking stick out.

“What in the name of…” By the time Harry got to the preposition, he felt like he had not felt in years. It was a trick, he was sure.

“Let’s both get off at this stop. I’d like to see you jog round the park.” The man said.

Harry stood up with his usual caution and almost cracked his skull on the roof, such was the force with which his body moved. Harry did not know what to say but found himself following the man as he got off the number 326B.

Once in the park, Harry moved like he had not moved in years. The air entered his lungs, filling him with power, he could touch his toes, skip and leap like he never did when he could. Despite being in a three-piece Savile Row suit and A Testoni brogues, he managed to do a seven-minute kilometre. He wanted to go again, but the man stopped him.

“This is amazing.” Harry said. “What’s the catch?”

“As far as I can see there are none. Just look after your body. It has to last a long time.” The man said and was gone.

Harry took the day off and walked the four miles back home. He also had a place in the country, and so was looking forward to enjoying the rolling hills. His daughter lived in California and even first class was too painful for him on the plane, but before even checking with her, he booked a flight and made arrangements for the office to run without him.

He put on the same running attire that he had used for the Marathon, carefully stored away in the hope that one day it may be useful to someone and took great pleasure in meticulously lacing his shoes. He hobbled together a playlist specially for this moment and took to the streets, genuinely convinced that nobody was presently enjoying their body more than him.

He took the first kilometre steady but soon decided to push his new limits. Seeing on his phone that he was averaging four-twenty per K, he tried to push it down below four. As he got close, the 326B turned the corner and knocked him out cold.

[b]London Senior Hospital, two days later[/b]

Harry’s daughter rushed in a taxi from Heathrow. Her father was in a coma and could not even manage speech. The prognosis was not good. The chances of him walking again were almost nil, the same expectation was given regarding his capacity to think and speak. His daughter was informed of the situation and told the best thing would be to switch the machines off. She refused and left.

The man from the bus had been waiting in the corridor for a moment to be alone with Harry. “I told you to look after that body. You didn’t even last a day. Thing is, I cannot reverse the process and you’ll just have to wait this one out.”

Harry tried to say something, but his body prevented the action taking place.

“I know, Harry, I know.” The man said and left.

[b]London Senior Hospital, two years later[/b]

“Ok then. Here are the consent forms.” Harry’s daughter gave them permission to turn of the machines and said goodbye to her father.

[b]London Senior Hospital, three days later[/b]

.

Harry’s daughter was on her way to the funeral parlour when she received a call from the hospital. “Normally, it would take very little time for someone to pass once the machines are disconnected. But your father is still alive.”

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Untitled

This story is dedicated to everyone who has selflessly given their time to make institutions like the NHS work and offer hope to people in their darkest hours. Soon it will be all too missed. The story doesn’t have a title so if anyone wants to think of one, that would be spiffing.

 

London 2032.

 

            Ed’s communicatorlobe gave off a high-pitched shrill to inform him that one of his three trusted contactors on his list urgently needed to speak to him. Wife, son and work. He only had those three. His son, Tim was just fourteen and only recently been fitted with his, he was touched that he had included him on his list so felt duty-bound to do the same.  This time it was work. He had only got in off the night shift three hours before and was hoping for a day in the sack before trusted contactors two and three returned home around five.

 

It had been a quiet shift. And yet those were the ones that caused him greater difficulty when he made it to his bed. As if doing nothing was more tiring than fighting fires. Not that Ed was about to complain. Long gone were the days of risk after risk, night after night. Now, the drones could be sent in to do most of the dangerous stuff. The downside of this was cutbacks, Ed was continually having to justify his own worth as to avoid the ongoing staff culls that were becoming an endemic in the industry. Sometimes, mechanical failures were almost greeted with cheers (as long as no harm came to anyone) as it proved that real firefighters were still needed.

 

He connected the device via his glasses and greeted the Station Master.

 

“Hey, Chief.” Ed managed to say, still half asleep. He was waiting for the request that would inevitably accompany this call. The Chief is not big on social calls.

 

“I hate to do this, Ed. But there has been a bomb in a primary school. Ward 13, did you hear the explosion?” The Chief asked.

 

“I was dead to the world.” Ed replied.

 

“Well sadly, so are a number of children. I’ve called everyone in. You know you don’t have to, but… Well.” The Chief pleaded.

 

“Chief! For the love of God, you think I am going to tell you I need my sleep when a bomb has gone off in a school. Locatialise me via the lobe and give me ten minutes. Will I need clearance?” Ed responded.

 

“You’re a good man, Ed.” The Chief said.

 

“I’m a father. Once you’re in that club the rules change.” Ed quipped.

 

“I know.” Replied the Chief. “I’m on my way, too. Mark is waiting at your door.”

 

“Sounds almost planned!” Ed made his last joke of the morning.

 

Ed put the uniform he had only just taken off back on went to the door via the kitchen. Grabbing a shift meal, he expelled the contents into his mouth. The equivalent of a three-course meal without any effort or pleasure. Sea bass with broccoli, chicken soup and pineapple for dessert. He activated his internal sleep debilitator and made his way outside. Mark beeped to attract Ed’s attention despite the fact that he knew he was there, and he was in a regulation fire service vehicle blocking the entire street.

 

“Have you heard?” Mark asked as Ed entered the vehicle. Careering off before he could even put his seat belt on.

 

“Bits.” Ed replied. “Terrorists?”

 

“You would not believe it. Former pupil. Captain of the cricket team. Home-made bomb on family sports day. What is going on with the world?” Mark answered.

 

“Casualties?” Ed asked.

 

“Unknown so far. Went off in a class full of seven-year olds though, they were getting changed with their parents for the sack race or something. Looks pretty bad. Main crew has arrived, all the back-up, including us should get there in about, well, now.” Ed smiled and brought the vehicle to a halt.

 

The area were the emergency services entered had been cordoned off, meaning that the streams of people fleeing the scene blocked by the hordes of idiots trying to a catch a glimpse of it were sent the other way. Their kits were laid out waiting for them as the Deputy called them over.

 

“Chief should be here in a bit. In the meantime, well, you know the drill. Unfortunately, we always thought it would only ever be a drill, but this is real. Too real. You’re gonna see things in there that might stay with you forever. Be strong. We’re all going in. No excuses and no ranks. Let’s get those kids out.” Deputy Andy said.

 

It was hard not to get caught up in the emotion of it all, but Ed knew this was a time for heroes with heads, foolhardy actions could cause more damage than good. Firstly, they needed to get the drones in to survey the situation.

 

The drones merely confirmed the gravity of the scenario before them. All the technology in the world was not going to be much use now. The drones relayed images of charred bodies on the floor. Heart-breaking scenes that caused more than one firefighter to rush in without the proper equipment. Seconds later, one of them returned, empty-handed and as a result of the lack of vision inside the building, after crashing into a wall that hitherto had threatened to collapse, and now went through with the threat. The falling wall was accompanied by screams. Screams that became silent as the intense heat stifled them.

 

Andy was somewhat direct in his appraisal of the unprofessional nature of the first reconnaissance mission and made it patently clear that everybody would follow his orders. Four seconds later, the actual Chief arrived and made it patently clear that everybody would follow his orders.

 

The drones were capable of locating movement and determining were the survivors could be found. Once they were located, it was down to the firefighters to extract them safely. Their suits could withstand the temperatures inside, but all knew that the clock was ticking as those inside, could not.

 

Ed followed the drone and received the information on the airscreen that it provided him with. The scene inside was not a pretty sight. The drone’s progress stopped by bumping into charred bodies that littered the floor. Ed knew that an application of dousefoam would have this under control in no time, but that had never been tested when there were potential casualties still inside. This would have to be an old-school rescue in a new-school that was supposedly fireproof. Ed had been in so many fireproof buildings that he wondered just who was in charge of the racket selling the stickers. The temperature in the room was well over 200ºc, the drone indicated two people moving to his right and was informed that their estimated survival duration would be less than one minute.

 

The drone found them and told him they were kids, youngsters caught up in the midst of something they could not comprehend and might prevent them from ageing a day more. Ed was the second, as far as he knew, to break protocol. He got to them in twenty seconds, giving him forty to extract them, maximum. Forty-five total would be better.

 

The kids were too scared to move and there was no time for explanations. Ed grabbed them in a manner that would lead to social services’ intervention under normal circumstances and dragged them the best he could towards the door way were dronestrechers were in position to remove them to intensive care. He had to shake one of them who was so panic-stricken that he could not move, just to assure himself that he was still alive. His eyes seemed to have left the building before he did, as if he had accepted his fate. On the second shake he stirred and lashed out unwillingly at Ed. With the same action, the boy disconnected the oxygen strap that was protecting Ed from the fumes.

 

“The dosage will be negligible.” He thought to himself as he made his way out, ensuring that the kids were on their way to care, he checked the drone one final time. Then he heard a sound. He was not protected, but he was much more protected then the child whose sounds were uttered. Half-holding his breath, he rushed in, sensing that his equipment was decomposing as he worked, desperately, perhaps even dangerously, he searched for the body that was making the noise. He found him, pulled on his cindered leg and shuddered as chunks of skin and bone came away in his hand. The screams loudened, he managed to get hold of an unburnt part and load the kid onto the drone crudely, there was no time for etiquette. His mask was now burning and would melt his skin. He had no choice but to remove it and make for the door the best he could.

 

Once outside, he was hosed down and taken into an ambulance. Removing the rest of his equipment, how many times? He tried to utter. How many times had he told them that the equipment was not up to the job. Our trading partner for fire products now was Bolivia. Hardly a nation at the forefront of cutting-edge technology. But since the changes in the trading regulation and the ban imposed by the EU on sales to the UK, we have had to look elsewhere for our suppliers. Gone is the state-of-the-art German equipment and we can’t afford the American or the Japanese equivalents. So, Bolivia it is, and the name of the firm is Quemachungo, which basically translates as something like shitty burns.

 

The kids were incapable of speech, gazing at the burning building with a mixture of fear and longing to return. Ed knew something was wrong. Ed knew the drones had missed something.

 

The girl managed to utter, at a reading that troubled the decibel meter, “Baby Gary”.

 

“Fucking second-rate machinery.” Ed screamed. “There is a baby still in there.”

 

“Leave it. It’s too dangerous.” Another said.

 

“Don’t ever refer to a baby as it in my presence.” Ed barked, and before anyone could respond, he was inside and unprotected. Without the drone’s assistance, he was unable to locate any lifeforms, but assumed that the baby would be close to the place where he had rescued the others. He began to feel light-headed but remained steadfast in his quest, until he saw a tiny hand jutting out. The creature was still alive, barely, as he rushed to the exit that used to be an entrance with him in his arms. As if his miniscule frame had adapted itself to survival in such harsh conditions, the relatively clean air of London seemed to trigger a reaction that caused liquid to seep from his mouth, liquid that soon became blood as baby Gary turned lifeless.

 

Ed looked at the two he had saved with a face that said he had failed them and fell to the floor, his body finally informing him that that was quite enough for one day.

 

Ed was taken to the nearest hospital that had activated the emergency protocol which meant that it could take patients irrespective of their insurance status for a period of seventy-two hours to perform services on ‘near-death cases’. Once their NDS (near-death-status) was below 50%, these patients would be sent to the billing department to view whether their stay could be extended, those with sufficient health insurance allowed to stay and complete their treatment, those without it, left to the acquiescence of what remains of the public health system.

 

The health system was just one of the aspects of British life that had taken a battering in the decade of the twenties. A decade most people hoped would soon be forgotten as the bright future they were sold nearly twenty years ago finally took shape. In the meantime, a series of draconian measures, initially put forward as necessary means to curb the tide of economic disaster, were put into place that in the long-term had the effect of curbing civil liberties, even more, and making people willingly surrender their remaining freedoms into the hands of the government through the agreement to terms and conditions hastily scrolled down to the bottom of in order to sign them and gain access to voting rights on the next singing sensation.

 

But it was not all bad news. Progress had been made in many spheres of life saw vast improvements that made life in the thirties much more comfortable. Great strides were made in the area of retro-active criminal proceedings on the breach of civil liberties in the past. The Department of Post Intentionality Denouncement made it possible for any work of fiction, piece of music or film to be tried in accordance with the standards of the day and sent for re-editing. This process meant that any mistreatment on the grounds of gender, sexuality, race or belief could be redressed and have the work updated to be more in line with the reality of modern Britain. Highlights of their work included the addition of a true ethnic picture of Paris and London into Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, the removal of any reference to homosexuality being a no-go area in the bible, and the inclusion of a representative number of toads in the ‘Frog Song’ by Paul McCartney.

 

Technology in this area had seen major investment, far more than any other item on the Government’s budget, which meant that leisure consumers were able to highlight violations deemed serious via Twitter and the Department would set to work on adapting it accordingly. The idea was that by 2040 nobody would be able to be offended ever again by anything in the Arts, but that was too good an idea to overlook and so all the rewrites and tweaks featured the new ‘third-level adverts’ which meant that a company was able to purchase a word and once the reader or listener came into contact with it, an image of the brand would be flashed into their consciousness. The more the companies invested, the common the word they could purchase. Coca-Cola owned the world ‘health’, McDonalds owned ‘walk’ and Apple, who refused to participate initially, were allotted ‘Android’ as a punishment. Google, the official cyber-partner of the Government, controlled every preposition in the English language and alternated their subliminal adverts in accordance with logarithms based on user habits.

 

At first, many people considered that the quality of entertainment suffered, but in the end the 2031 version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ featuring a black lawyer defending a white civil servant for cultural misappropriation of the standard blues time signature was eventually considered an improvement. Manuel was promoted to the post of hotel manager in the re-edition of Fawlty Towers, and the members of the 1966 England world cup winning side were ‘proportionally re-coloured’ to represent the current demographic of the nation.

 

Despite Europe being essentially taboo, a flourishing black market meant that those with enough financial power could enjoy their brie and Rioja still, while those who were forced to make their purchases at official ‘Britmarkets’, which only sold UK and Commonwealth products, made do with the consolation of doing their bit. Following the departure of the nation from the Union, the effects on agriculture were felt immediately, yield fell and with it quality standards. By 2028, the percentage of actual dairy product in milk, cheese or yoghurt had fallen by sixty-three percent. In real terms, skimmed milk in 2016 now seemed like gold-top in comparison.

 

Yet Europe and one of its success stories, IKEA, was responsible for Britain’s favourite gameshow. ‘IKEAWANG’ was a show in which contestants fought to put a product to the trade name of items for sale in the popular store, popular in the sense of technically contraband. Fierce battles took place as regular members of the public locked horns to compete for bookcases and dining sets that they could show off in their modest homes. If you wanted to win the star prize of a fully-furnished interior for a 42m2 flat, you really had to know your Färgrik from your Råskog unless you wanted to go home with just a Kallax.

 

Back on Ed’s ward, what he thought was the worst day of his life up to now, was about to get more than a trifle worse. The children that he had saved, and the one he failed to save, lost their parents in the tragedy. Under the terms of the Last Contact During Tragedy Act (2027), all three became the responsibility of Ed. This meant that he was responsible for organising (by that we mean paying for), first off, the funeral of baby Gary. Given the circumstances of his death, a full investigation and autopsy would need to be performed and these things do not come cheap. Ed was still in an induced coma, so it was his wife who was informed of this new state of affairs.

 

Any equity owned by the children’s parents may be liable for seizure should they be posthumously be deemed as having put their children at risk by entering a zone declared on the potential incident list. This list was far from exclusive and places as innocuous as primary schools regularly entered the list due to their location within the proximity of two kilometres of a known suspect. A known suspect did not actually have to have committed a crime, whistle-blowers were paid ten pounds for a positive denouncement,  with this figure rising as high as twenty for suspects of an Islamic background.

 

In all likelihood, the children’s parents would be found guilty of misadventure and their remaining family members would have to nominate a person to serve the sentence on their behalf or pay the corresponding fine. As the school was in a Band C income bracket catchment zone, the maximum salary that they could earn would mean it would take eleven years to pay off the most lenient scenario. Unless they had a surprise millionaire sister (not that a million pounds was a big deal any more), this tragedy would have a long-lasting effect on those left behind.

 

Ed’s wife, Kate, looked on anxiously as the situation was explained to her. They would have to take charge of the surviving children in the scenario that there was a posthumous misadventure ruling, as this would mean the next of kin would be deemed unfit to care for the infants. The government official simply told her that the best scenario would be to hope the other two died as well, as three funerals would be vastly cheaper. At first, it felt like the words had not registered in her head, then they did, and she smashed a stool over the official’s head. Another charge to add to the list.

 

Kate was arrested and had the right to updates to her husband’s status removed. The kids, Paul and Sarah, got better, as did Ed, this meant that all three would be discharged at the same time. Having to house two more people in their dwelling meant that they would also be liable for an overcrowding fine under the terms of the 2030 Urban Dwelling Act. When Kate’s mobile infostation was reactivated, her first notification was the bank signing on their behalf the credit for costs of disposal for baby Gary, the repayment terms being eight-hundred pounds per month.

 

And so, Ed returned home. His actual son, Tim, having to share with Paul, his new state-assigned brother, and Emily on the sofa in the meantime. The loan covering baby Gary meant the idea of finding anywhere bigger was wholly unfeasible, as was the possibility of extra income while Ed continued to recuperate. His pay in the meantime was reduced by twenty-five percent still they struggled to make ends meet.

 

The Chief came to visit him two days later to assure him that the fire service would give him its full backing and that he needn’t worry. The only possible downside could be a police investigation into any negligence on the part of the fire service in response to the incident. The Chief, once again, gave him his utmost assurances that this was not even a possibility and bade him farewell, despite having sent a list to the newly-founded government inquiry of members of his team whose actions could be considered questionable, if not negligent, and with Ed’s name being top of the list.

 

The children never recovered. Asthma was the least of their health problems, and the unclassifiable psychological scars preventing them from sleeping and relating with other children. The loan was doubled as costs soared. Both Ed and Kate went to see the Borough Infant Office but were told time and time again that the children were their responsibility and that if they abandoned them they would be sent to prison. The children’s maternal grandparents tried to take them, or at least help financially, but now Ed and Kate’s bank account was monitored and any unauthorised payment would be diverted to the government and added to the total owing on the loan. The grandfather devised a plan to escape to France with the children but was detained at the border. Anyone over sixty-five could now be myocardically deactivated and the cost of the old guy’s deadly heart attack was now added to the bill.

 

It had been a tough six months when Ed was deemed fit to return to work by the medical commission. He looked forward to having a normal life once again. There had been the rigmarole of his public service award, a medal for bravery and recommendation for promotion in a Band B district. But that was just noise. Upon his return, he was told that he would have to perform office duties pending the findings of the commission, and that this meant his pay would be reduced. For the first time, their combined income would be less than the repayments of the loan. It was hard to put on a brave face.

 

The kids were young, but not too young to see what was going on. Tim rebelled and Paul and Sarah knew their presence was the reason for all this misery. Paul, still not even eight, decided to escape on his own during the night and made it one hundred metres before a tram ran him over. Once again, Kate and Ed were told that they had been lucky as only Sarah remained.

 

Tim’s rebellion culminated in an obsession with fire. Ed had never had to practice his trade at home but was awoken by a tell-tale aroma during the night as Tim set fire to all of Sarah’s possessions. They were forced into temporary accommodation in Band E.

 

By the time they got into Band E housing, the inquiry had found Ed to be negligent and dismissed him from the fire service. Forcing him to return his medal and with the Wikipedia entry on the event updated to enhance his culpability and that of his colleagues.

 

Dismissal meant that he was not eligible for employment for a period of six months and would then only be able to opt for menial Band E employment. The only thing Tim ever said to Sarah was that he hoped she would die soon too, and Sarah never spoke again.

 

She chose not to speak at first, then this decision was vindicated as her continually frail health took a tumble. Now there was no option to extend the loan, which was facing foreclosure on the next defaulted payment. First she sneezed, then she coughed, then she shook. Within minutes she was in a coma from which she would never exit. The doctors claimed on the medical certificate that the coma had been caused by insufficient parenting, which meant Ed and Kate were liable for the outcome of the scenario.

 

“Let’s run.” Kate said to Ed. The year was 2034 yet the Band E hospital would have made Florence shudder. Sarah had irreparable lung damage as a result of the explosion, along with inadequate care in the meantime. The latter was also the basis for charges against the couple. “Let’s take Tim and make it to France.” Kate begged.

 

“We’ll never make it past the border controls.” He responded with a tone of resignation.

 

“I’d rather die trying than continue living here.” She told him.

 

They said their goodbyes to Sarah and drove into the night. They had no money to pay the clandestine groups operating to remove British citizens to places like Syria and Libya, where they could live in peace. They would have to appeal to the benevolence of one of the few resistance groups still in operation that took it upon themselves to rescue people from the curse of Britain.  The resistance had a panoply of scalps to its name, helping many liberals and intellectuals flee to continue their work in far-flung corners of the globe.

 

Following a series of fortunate circumstances that meant making contact was by far the easiest part of this story, they were taken to its headquarters just outside Dover from where it ran voyages across the Post Disattachment Straits.

 

There was not a dry eye in the house as the tale was told, Ed having to stop to cough little globules of blood into his last remaining handkerchief as his body continued not to allow him to forget that fateful afternoon. There was no doubt that they would be taken away from the United Kingdom, well, there was one doubt.

 

“Are you on the default list?” The Head of Operations asked Ed.

 

“What does that mean?” Ed responded.

 

“If you have suffered a foreclosure of a loan issued as part of a Last Contact During Tragedy Act event, then you will have been treated with a substance that potentially makes you allergic to salt water, a clever means of preventing people from escaping by sea. Once you come into contact with salt water, it is basically as if sulphuric acid had been thrown over you. Even minor doses in the air can be fatal and incredibly painful as it burns through your lungs and outwards. We have to get you back inland so we can arrange an airlift. Be patient, in France we can have the treatment reversed. The weather is on the turn, so we have to head back quick.” Came the explanation.

 

Kate and Ed looked at each other and tried to muster the energy to be disappointed once more. As they were taken outside for transportation (the good sort), the waves began to climb higher and higher. They were told to run for it. Ed took Tim in his arms and rushed towards the hill at the top of the road, but the wave was faster than them and knocked them off their feet.

 

The three of them lay on the ground as Ed lost his grip on Tim. The child turned around to look at his parents as he caught them writhing in agony. The Head of the Resistance asked Tim if he felt any pain and he said he didn’t. That meant Tim had not been treated. “Don’t look at them!” He was told as his parents screams were muffled by the acid eating away at their tongues and throats. Tim was shielded from the ghastly sight unfurling and taken towards the boat. “You will be looked after. There is nothing left for you here now. Don’t make their deaths worthless. Things will get better.” He was told. In the distance he could see them covering the smoking bodies of his parents as the rope was untied to set the boat to sail. All he could see was the black distance as he was informed he was sailing towards some semblance of freedom in Syria.

 

 

 

 

Non-Album single and B-Side: It’s coming

Soon, proofing done on the new book ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’ and once the cover is finished, come on Richard!, we will be ready to go live in digital and hard copy formats.

In the meantime, two things that didn’t make it onto the book, but like Charlotte Sometimes or We Can Work It Out (jaja delusions of grandeur!!), there is still a place for them here.

Neither should be taken overly seriously.

The lead track is A Life in the Day and it’s B-side is an alternative history Wikipedia entry of the life of a Mr A. Hitler.

 

    A Life in the Day

Alternative Universe Wikipedia I – Adolf Hitler

Alternative Universe Wikipedia I – Adolf Hitler

 

 

Adolf Hitler (Brannau Am Inn, April 20th, 1889-June 8th, 1971) was an Austrian painter, soldier, author, humanitarian and founder of the United Nations and later the European Union. His literary works include “Unser Kampf” in which he detailed his plans for a united and prosperous Europe free from the tyranny of dictatorships, and “An Ideal for Living” in collaboration with Robert Schuman and seen by many as a blueprint for the European Economic Area following the end Second World War (1939 to 1941).

Early Life.

Hitler was born to a comfortable, landed class family and enjoyed a privileged childhood, attending boarding school in Linz. Towards the end of his schooling he showed in an interest in the military and painting, though his masters were often quite direct in their disparaging appraisal of his talents with regard to the latter.

At the age of eleven, he suffered a bizarre accident involving some farm machinery that led to both his hands being trapped in a press. For a while, the family was worried that he might even lose the right hand, but in the end the doctors acted quickly and repaired most of the damage, though leaving his movements hindered. Historians would later suggest that this incident was what severely limited his progress as an artist.

Undeterred, at the age of seventeen, he relocated to Vienna where he would study Fine Arts. After a difficult start to his tenure, he soon became more adept at the simpler painting techniques whilst not showing anything that could be clearly described as a talent, he enjoyed his painting and was a popular figure in the city.

With resources posing an issue and his family unwilling to support him unless he joined the army, Hitler turned to his classmates, and particularly a group of Jewish painters with whom he aimed to exhibit his work in order to raise funds. Hitler’s persuasiveness made up for his lack of talent and a deal was soon reached whereby proceeds from the exhibitions would be split. Hitler used his skills to find new places for their works to be shown, and the Jews opened their doors to him so that he would be left in the ignominy of the poorhouses.

Hope Communes and Mayorship of Vienna.

At this time Hitler wrote back to his parents claiming that he had found a new family in Vienna, and if they were not prepared to support him, he would manage full well on his own. With the exhibitions going so well, Hitler and the Jews were able to use the excess for other disadvantaged groups in society, thus opening his first ‘Hope Commune’.

These were institutions founded with the aim of providing shelter and nutrition for the city’s most destitute, following Hitler’s rationale that ‘that could have been me’ after he hit rock-bottom on the streets of the capital and never forgot how the Jews, rather than turning their back on him as his father had said they would, made him a space in their homes and put food in his belly.

At the age of 22, he was made Mayor of Vienna for his services to the city. These were precarious times, with war around the corner, the Viennese Council decided that some fresh blood was required to drag the institution into the twentieth century, noting that ‘that Hitler chap certainly has some interesting ideas’.

His work was indeed halted by the outbreak of WWI, yet he was found a new role acting as a diplomat between the warring factions after he was stationed in Geneva to form an organisation to try to broker peace. Hitler travelled to fronts to observe soldiers’ conditions and even made a journey to Russia to meet with Bolshevik leaders to discuss their plans for the country in the post-war period.

The Treaty of Freiburg.

When the end of the war came in 1918, Hitler was appointed by the Swiss Government to chair peace negotiations despite him being around half the age of anyone else at the table. That said, his skilful oratory and heart wrenching expositions of life at the front and the cruelty of war, had the effect of invoking a change of heart in Wilson and Clemenceau, the latter particularly keen at the outset to make the Germans pay, and even sway Lloyd-George away from the idea of the hefty reparations.

With little progress being made in the French capital, the signatories decided to move the negotiations away from Versailles and to Freiburg, hoping that the treaty would mark a new beginning for Germany.

The Treaty of Freiburg was the catalyst for Hitler’s political career that would see him change the League of Nations into the United Nations just before the Wall Street Crash in 1929. The recovery of the German economy and the distribution of its agricultural and industrial wealth to rebuild Europe, also meant that the American economy could be bolstered by the Deutschmark and thus a catastrophic recession was avoided.

Inter-War Period.

The hitherto unexpected period of peace enjoyed in the thirties led to an almost multilateral demilitarisation of Europe, even Britain was prepared to relinquish its naval power to use the fleet for more peaceful purposes.

That said, there were elements that still threatened the idea of continued peace on the old continent. The Americans still had an innate mistrust of the Russians, and especially the doctrine of Communism. As part of his work expanding the League of Nations (later the United Nations), all member countries were required to openly outline their policies and take on board suggestions from other members to improve these.

This policy meant that rather than meddling in other countries’ affairs, member states were encouraged to identify and solve in tandem issues affecting their nations in order to put together a trial and error-based solution package for the future.

In Southern Europe, the sceptre of fascism was also proving to be a hindrance to the progress of Hitler’s United Europe. Revolutionary movements in Spain and Italy were detracting from the good work being undertaken in the north. Hitler sent the Condor Legion of Negotiators to sit with Republicans and Franquistas with a view to preventing the escalation of the conflict. Despite the efforts by Hitler and his team being in vain, the level of suffering was drastically reduced as the new United Nations Über Police were given mandate to act in Madrid and Barcelona.

World War II (September 1939-February 1941) .

In Italy, fascist rumblings took an even greater force when Benito Mussolini suggested an alliance with Italy to attack the now demilitarised France and Germany, with the aim of forming a fascist empire with its capital in Paris.

Despite both nations possessing armies vastly inferior to those with which they fought in 1914, the demilitarisation of Western Europe as a result of the period of peace meant the attack went without response. People assumed that the desire to repeat a worldwide conflict had wholly diminished after the lessons learnt from Freiburg, yet the fascists’ attack caught many by surprise and it took almost six months before the Allied Powers of Germany, Britain and Russia were able to train enough soldiers to oust the invaders. The Spanish retreated to the area around the Pyrenees where they continued to hold territories in mountainous areas, yet their captors’ commitment was far from steadfast, and when Franco was removed from power in Spain in 1942 to be replaced by the Nueva Democracia, most returned keen to leave their fascist past behind. The Italians were ordered to take Moscow as reprisal but most of its soldiers never made it past Warsaw as Winter of 1940 began to kick in.

Hitler saw this debacle as a failure in vowed to prevent anything similar happening again. His publication in 1944 of ‘An Ideal for Living’ set out the vision of the future Europe, a region that would lead the world, not with the iron fist, but with the helping hand. The peace treaty following WWII was signed in Manchester and guaranteed autonomy and freedom of movement within the continent.

Formation of the European Union (main article Hitler and the EU).

Hitler’s idea to join forces with Schumann took on extra importance as tensions escalated between the United States and Japan in 1947 with the latter threatening to use its new nuclear weapons on the cities of Osaka and Kyoto.

The European nations formed an alliance, led by Hitler, to conduct the negotiations that managed to achieve a peaceful outcome to the situation, and was finalised with the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1950 through which the production of atomic weapons was outlawed, and those already manufactured were to be dismantled and their power be harnessed to produce clean and free energy.

Once again championed as a bastion of peace, Hitler began work on a central European parliament that would create a powerful trading block, though not focused on world dominance, moreover as a means of providing the possibility to aid ailing states and nations both inside and outside of Europe.

Productivity and efficiency increased notably in all areas, meaning that there was a surplus in terms of agricultural and industrial output. This had the effect of eliminating famine from the poorer regions, whilst European scientist worked on the means of stabilising farming conditions to prevent future catastrophes.

1960s.

As Hitler reached retirement age, he began to delegate powers to his successors and concentrated on more of the cultural aspects of the European Union, particularly his fostering of the Eurovision Song Contest for which he penned the winning entry “Waterloo”.

His health began to decline towards the end of the decade and had to be taken to hospital when part of the team of EU delegates singing the backing vocals on the Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’. By 1969, he was confined to a wheelchair, yet still attended the sessions of the European parliament on a weekly basis. He died in his sleep following a minor stroke that left him with speech problems.

Artistic Output.

Despite his failings as an artist, two painting movements are credited to Hitler, the Crooked Bridge Reprisal and the Angered Smile, the latter being celebrated by artists incapable of drawing human features properly and allowing for a kind of artistic free-for-all.

He also became very interested in music in his later years, both as a patron of upcoming artists (he gave Kraftwerk a residency at the Reichstag Lounge and produced Can’s debut), as well as contributing one song per year to the Eurovision Song Contest.

His two main literary works continue to outsell the Bible to this day, and in most Muslim countries, the Quran has been updated to include elements of ‘An Ideal for Living’.

Personal Life.

Hitler married his childhood sweetheart Eva Weiss shortly after the First World War, they would remain together until her death in 1958 and would have nine children together.

In the 1930’s, a plot to remove Hitler was unearthed as detractors planned to have him fall in love with a Bavarian beauty, Eva Braun, who would eventually lead him into a joint suicide pact. Braun’s plan was scuppered by Hitler, who was able to see through it and rely on the fortitude of his convictions to survive his most difficult period in power.

Hitler said that “I never held power, I had been entrusted with guiding the will of the people away from the dark ages. My dream is to build a union that will last one-thousand years.” During his entire term in office, there was a policy of full openness that allowed any voter to access any aspect of European policy.

In his later years, he divided his time between his grandchildren, all 37 of them, and offering assistance to the EU, though claiming that his time was over, and that the moment had arrived for the younger generation to take Europe, and the world forward. He is interred at the Evere Cemetery in Brussels, alongside his wife and other notable figures of the twentieth century.

His son  Wolfgang (1931-) was captain of Rapid Vienna (1951-1954) and Bayern Munich from 1955 until his retirement. His daughter  Dora (1924-1990) was a renowned painter and sculptor who frequently exhibited in MOMA and other prestigious galleries. His youngest daughter,  Amalie won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1963, in-between Jean-Paul Sartre and John Steinbeck.

Another one of his daughters,  Anna, was a prolific scientist in the European Union and part of the time that worked on the cure for cancer developed finally in 1973.  (Read more) .

 

 

 

    A Life in the Day

 

The liquid felt smooth and not unpleasant on my tongue. Not wishing to do anything untoward, I smiled and settled into position. My eyes heavy, the warm sun lapped against my cheek inviting me to drift.

Is there a line where reality and the vagary of dreams cross? I awoke to find myself on the lawn of the house. Such comfort in simplicity. I was not aware of how long I had been asleep, but the transportation process had been a success.

A spring morning, can’t be more than eleven. That half-hazy feeling of a long-due lie-in mixed with almost a sensation of guilt at having allowed myself to forego the majesty of the morning. The smell of freshly ground coffee pervaded the air, intermingled with the sharp contrast of the burning toast coming from the kitchen.

Dropping my newspaper, I rushed into the kitchen to extract the bread before it was too late, scraping off the charred bits with a knife. My first instinct is to do this into the sink, then I panic as I realise if my wife catches me, this crime will be far more heinous than burning the toast. Hearing her footsteps come down the stairs, I hurriedly try to complete the task and guarantee my freedom. Washing down any rogue ashes with the jet, I survey the area and deem it to be clear.

Returning back to the toaster area, I pretend none of the above took place and finish preparing breakfast. Heating the milk just enough to create a delicious froth for the coffee, my daughter came in and insisted I make her cereals now. Make? She is seven but still demands that her input in this venture be limited to sitting at the table and eating them. I don’t mind, I really should take some time off work and spend more of it with her, before I know it, she will be a teenager who has next to no interest in spending any time with her decrepit, old parents.

As I tend to the flakes, the milk begins to boil over the pan’s side, just in time for my wife to turn it off and save the day, whilst also dispatching a cursory glance over to the sink and spotting the single ash not collected. Entering into CSI mode, she simply says “What have we discussed about scraping burnt toast into the sink?”

How do I answer that? She is right. Again. I simply tell her that it will not happen again, whilst making a mental note to be more thorough next time.

We take our wares out into the garden, moving the table slightly as the rare need for shade causes the morning to become even more special. Those first enchanting mornings once the misery of winter has subsided make the endurance of these bleak months worthwhile as we bask in the reward of the simplicity of the scene. The homemade marmalade seems even sweeter this morning as we glance over the Cotswolds, at our vision of what will always be England, the England so few Englanders will probably ever get to see.

A morning like this really starts the blood racing. Of course, I know there are equally idyllic scenes in thousands of places, but after all that has happened, it is nice to have a little bit of you tucked away down in a valley.

I suggested a stroll before lunch. We could even make a day of it and ramble down to the lovely pub on the other side of the valley. If the carvery proved too much of a temptation when washed down with a local highlight, we could always take a taxi back. My girl is used to treks despite being young, four miles won’t see her off.

We choose to allow her to take her bike, this means the walk back is pretty much cancelled, but ambling through the forest I revel as she reels off the names of plants and fungi. There is truly nothing nicer than the water gleaming as it trickles down the brook towards the town. Well, maybe there is but at this moment, it’ll do for me.

My daughter cycles behind obediently and without straying from the path marked out by so many feet trampling it down over the years. We made good time to the pub and placed our orders just seconds before the weather took a turn for the worse and ensconced us inside for the time being.

As I saw my platter being brought over to me from the other side of the bar with the Yorkshire puddings almost dropping off the sides, my mouth watered as I caught a glance of the beef, lifting the well-earned pint to my mouth as the flavoursome liquid trickled down my gullet. “We are truly blessed.” I said aloud for some unbeknown reason shifted my gaze to the gardens, now in full bloom, offering their wares to eyes of the passers-by while I returned to….

“We haven’t given him enough.” I heard a voice say in Arabic.

As I looked up the sword dropped down and plucked me once again from my dream. A long way from England. The say that your head, or is it your body? Can remain alive for as long as thirty seconds post decapitation. I have been removed from mine now for seventeen seconds, so I guess that all is left is to try and count to thirty.

 

 

The Hooton 3-car

We did say, I say we but I mean I, that we weren’t going to publish anything from the new book between then and now but this has done quite well in a recent competition and can be considered a bit of a must for any Wirral resident.

Apologies to Kevin Maher for stealing the name of his old band.

 

The Hooton Three Car

 

 Bache Station, Chester. 2012

 

Ricky helped his grandfather up the stairs and they took a seat for him to get his breath back. He didn’t mind giving up his Saturday to take his grandpa to the funeral of his best pal, Walter. No-one else seemed keen to make the effort, and he was clearly too distraught to make the journey on his own. Ricky had never seen him affected by anything before. In real terms this may have been because Ricky still had not had time too. Eighty years separated them, his grandad, recently ninety, had always been impeccably dressed in a shirt and tie at the very least and never seemed flustered by the tussles of everyday life. Today he looked different, and Ricky hoped to be there for him.

 

“Train’s coming, Grandad. Shall I help you up?” Ricky asked.

 

“You’re a good lad, Ricky, but I didn’t need help getting out the trenches, so I’ll get on the train myself.” He replied, ruffling Ricky’s hair as reward.

 

The direct train to Liverpool Central would take them to the church where Walter’s funeral would be held with a brief change at Hamilton Square to take them to Birkenhead Park.

 

“Just one change. Some things in modern life are getting better. Not so long ago, the electric line only went as far as Hooton. Then it was a diesel bone-shaker to Chester. Always roasting, lovely in winter, insufferable in the summer. Grandma would always say, “Hooton 3-car”. The old man said with a gleam of nostalgia in his eye.

 

The announcer’s voice came through the intercom system. “Welcome to this 1052 service to Liverpool Central, calling at Capenhurst…”

 

 Capenhurst 1940

 

“You’re meant to run with the bayonet up, you bloody fool.” Walter told his best pal Archie. Both were completing their hurried basic training before joining the Cheshire Regiment. They had enjoyed the spirit of the camp and were genuinely pleased to get the three square meals and a roof over their heads into the bargain. Some of the company was suspect, but in general, the first year of WWII had not been so bad.

 

Archie missed Beryl, and Walter missed Audrey, but everyone missed someone. As the summer ended, the regiment formed and set off for the final training in Aldershot, before heading off to France. It seemed like quite an adventure at the time, it did for everybody, but that would not last.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton…

 

 

 Hooton, 1944

 

Beryl opened the letter with the trepidation that she always felt before one of Archie’s correspondence. Nearly four years at war was changing his prose, and though she knew the things he wrote about barely scratched the surface. She wondered if this war would ever end, if Archie would come back, and would she recognise him. She read:

 

“how can a place of this beauty be the theatre of so much hatred. I no longer know who is the enemy, we believe we are right, but so do they. Life has taken on a cheaper meaning than ever, before they took prisoners, now they kill as they have nowhere to take us. We walk among ghosts. I begin to fear my love for you alone will not be enough to see me through this….”

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Eastham Rake…

 

 Eastham 1946

 

“It’ll have to do. We can’t afford anything else. You should be grateful to my parents for letting us have this.” Beryl bellowed at Archie.

 

He knew she was right. Nearly a year he had been back, but the nightmares still raged, and the unemployment queues got longer. He knew her parents did not want them there, but until he could find a job… They nervously made love in the evenings, dreaming of making up for lost time but more often fearful of the image of the Virgin Mary that guarded over the bed, and the saintly mother-in-law in the next room.

 

The next day there was a letter for Archie. He had finally been taken on in the refinery.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough…

 

 Bromborough 1951

 

They were never going to send an ambulance. Walter brought his car round and they huddled Beryl in. This was heading towards her fourth miscarriage and the doctors warned her that future conceptions could be harmful to her health.

 

She had almost gone full term this time. Eight months and a day, but when she felt the pain she had felt three times before, she knew the ending would be the same. This time, the child was born alive. She held his skin against hers and watched him fight for breath. But there was little fight, and little hope. An hour later, they were cleaning Beryl so that she could exit the room.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake…

 

 Bromborough Rake 1958

 

“If it will get us a family, it’s money well spent.” Archie told Beryl as they waited to see the private specialist. She was practically dead inside. She had been told his directly by NHS staff, and nicely by the private doctor. The result was the same. She would never have children and could most likely die in the birthing process if she got there again. They walked back to their modest terraced house, Archie taking her hand as she looked longingly at every pram they passed.

 

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital…

 

 

 Spital 1970

 

One too many glasses of cider at the Three Stags, and a walk through Brotherton Park and the pair were like a couple of besotted teenagers. Life had not been overly unkind. Archie had had a good career at the refinery and moved to a larger one with a position of more responsibility.  They soon forgot about the possibility of being seen as they made love upright against a tree, Archie lost in the throes of passion. Once they accepted that the act would be for pleasure rather than business, pleasure was duly taken from it. They finished up and dusted themselves down, rather foolishly checking the coast was clear after the event, and made their way back to the road.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight…

 

 Port Sunlight 1971

 

It would have been a cruel joke. At this stage. That day in the park did bear fruit. And Beryl, despite being forty-seven enjoyed a relatively incident-free pregnancy. Archie was given another promotion that saw him take on one of the delightful houses in Port Sunlight village that they had always dreamed of.

 

One night, Beryl felt a twinge and the puddle on the floor informed them it was time to go to the hospital. There was no fear as she pushed, so much did she desire this moment that the pain was almost part of the hamper. And push she did, and out came a boy. Yet there was more pushing to be done. And a girl appeared. They laughed and took two healthy children home two days later.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington…

 

 Bebington 1988

 

Of course, there were times when the screaming, shouting and hating took centre stage, this was family life. But the day the twins finished their “A” Levels and got places at the universities they wanted was a moment that both would treasure for the rest of their lives.

 

The daughter, Susan, wasted no time in celebrating with her friends. A quick livener in The Wellington, before taking the train to Liverpool. As she exited the pub, full of joy and wonderment at the life before her, she never had a moment to see the drunk-driver careering down Bebington Road onto the pavement.

 

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry…

 

 Rock Ferry 1992  

 

Susan’s loss would eventually consume Beryl. Of course, there was still Mike, but their relationship was the same. Until. Until Ricky appeared and made her a grandmother. That first year caring for the baby restored Beryl’s frail health, gave her a purpose and verve for the last months of her life. With Ricky in her arms, in her favourite armchair, she kissed the infant’s forehead and said “pass that on to Grandad for me.” and left.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry, Green Lane…

 

 Green Lane 2012

 

“I’ll tell you one thing, Walter. I never let my bayonet down.” Archie joked.

 

Walter tried to force a smile, as once again the hospice staff told him not to exert himself. “They brought me here to die and then tell me to take it easy. What’s the worst that can happen?” Walter said. Both laughed and cried at the same time as they hurriedly recapped a friendship lasting eight decades.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry, Green Lane, Birkenhead Central…

 

“It’s our stop next, Grandad.” Ricky said, gently awakening his travelling companion. “Looks like quite a dream you were having there! Hamilton Square next, then we change. Let me put your tie straight.”

 

“You’re a good lad, Ricky. Grandad’s proud of you.” Archie smiled at the boy who immediately looked away bashfully.

 

With that the train entered the tunnel and Archie decided that for however long he was to remain here, he would not fear the darkness.

 

“Goodnight Susan. Goodnight Beryl. Goodnight Archie.”

 

The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman

Around December and just in time for Xmas shopping, I will be releasing a new collection of shorts to keep CTMP company. It is tentatively called ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’ as no doubt be the time I write anything else, that term will have been retired and I have always liked the word.

October update: As some of the stories that have appeared on here will be included in TOO in some form or another, they have been tidied away to be polished off in preparation for publication. That means they have been taken down from here.

 

 

Swim Until You Can See Land

Before diving into this one head first, some background.

The story was inspired by the plight of three Spanish firefighters from Seville accused of being involved in a human trafficking racket when they were on humanitarian missions in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Lesbos.

Here is an article on them with links to other parts of their story:

El País article in English

I researched the story a bit and then decided not to stick to the script too much. I preferred the angle of media manipulation and conspiracy with the chance to twist things around and bring down the evil multinational corporation.

The title was a bit of a pun / play on words (not a very good one) at the desperate attempts of the immigrants to find land and the song by Frightened Rabbit as the day I began writing the story, singer Scott was found.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story as I am quite pleased with it as it has Netflix mini-series stamped all over it.

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

 

Swim until you can see land

Jairo looked at his miserable bowl of cereals and pondered how disappointing breakfast had become in recent times. They weren’t even the chocolate ones with the nice creamy filling inside that he would sometimes treat himself to when HE did the shopping. He looked over to his three-year old daughter who played with and ate hers with the sort of joy only that age of infancy and innocence can bring. Jairo became angry with himself for such frivolous thoughts when he had seen things in the world that made him value every moment like this more than ever, and yet, once again, and despite saying that he would never again fall into that materialistic trap of bemoaning the mundane nature of life when he returned from his last mission. He switched on the news, keen to intake a few moments’ viewing of 3D talking humans before cartoon pigs dominated the screen once more.

 

Even the muesli appeared to be against him. Since when did it require so much chewing? There were days when he was last at sea, wondering whether he would even have another breakfast, let alone complain about it, when he promised himself he would enjoy every morsel, but when you have lived your life so close to the edge, fearing every minute may be your last, the return to the humdrum adventures of an everyday life, even for a firefighter in a city in southern Spain, who had more excitement per pound in his day-to-day endeavours than someone who worked for the water board. He was bored of chewing by the time the news came on.

 

Tragic stories are commonplace on the news, but the item that flashed up before Jairo’s eyes made him almost reach for the remote control to turn it over. This was not something that he wanted his young daughter to see, and yet, it was something she had to see, now, or soon, or later. Once again, a boat carrying migrants had run aground on the Greek coast and bodies were strewn on the beaches. Lying in the water was the bloated corpse of an infant who could not have been any older than his daughter. Despite the early hour, despite the graphic content, the images unashamedly panned in on the lifeless child, life’s lottery showing clearly that she did not even get around to buying a ticket.

 

A tear formed in his eye as he watched his daughter finish her breakfast. “Can I watch Peppa?” She asked, taking another look at her father who she was not used to seeing in an altered state. Jairo took a moment to compose himself and changed the channel for her, leaning over to give her a kiss in the same action.

 

 

GFE

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

There will be two versions of this story on TOO. The original one for the competition was set in 2018 and a second longer story set in 1953. The premise is the same in both, but the latter takes a vastly different turn early on.

 

 

“She’s in here, Miklowski.” Officer Reynolds informed his superior.

 

Twenty-five years on the force had meant Miklowski had seen it all, twice, some of it three times, but this spate of suicides was beginning to unnerve him. For the first time in his law enforcement career, he was overcome by a sensation that this would be the case he wouldn’t crack.

 

“Same MO, Reynolds?”

 

“Same, Chief.”

 

The apartment looked like a fan site dedicated to the GFE (Greatified Future Existence) Movement. They still did not know who was behind it, but the ethos was all about dumping your useless itinerant frame with which you wandered aimlessly in this life, so that you have a better chance in the next one. A rudimentary website, minimal expense at anything resembling advertising and the look of pure nineties router-based web browsing had not stopped GFE becoming a very real modern-day phenomenon.

 

The first victims had a profile that suggested they could be easily opened up to manipulation when the right buttons were pressed, but now, as the number of victims approached one-thousand, Miklowski and his team struggled to comprehend what was driving successful and popular people to end their lives in ghastly fashion to follow a fad.

 

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

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