I first heard it on the radio, I wasn’t listening properly, I’m so bored with the news, but when I heard blogging, bloggers, scams, algorithms, WordPress, computers, victims, personas… I paid close attention. We know all about other people being scammed on line, paying out money, falling in love with a person who does not exist… losing all your money on a business scam. Of course it couldn’t happen to me or my fellow bloggers, we’re far too intelligent for that; we know some bloggers are not what they say they are, but we just ignore them and certainly don’t follow them. I was just about to write today’s blog when there was a knock at the door, a man and a woman stood on the doorstep holding out their ID. Her Majesty’s Cybercrime Home Security Force. I was amused, they wanted to interview little me, well that would make a good topic for my blog. They took it in turns to ask questions.
‘Do you possess a computer, do you use the internet… ‘ until finally we got to the crux of the matter ‘would you call yourself a blogger?’
‘Of course, I don’t call myself a blogger, I am a Blogger, Scribbletide and it’s not against the law, so why am I being subjected to this interrogation.’
‘We’re sorry to have to tell you Miss, Mrs… er Ms Scribbletide, but you have been scammed; the bloggers you associate with are not real.’
‘That’s okay, I know some are not, no problem, no harm to me.’
‘None of them are real, it’s a huge scam affecting national and international security and mental health.’ ‘Is this a joke, are you filming me for that television programme?’ ‘Please listen carefully, we are obliged to take you in for debriefing and health checks.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous I’m fine and I am not going anywhere.’
‘We know this must come as a great shock, none of the three thousand bloggers you follow are real; all set up by computer programmers as an experiment; there is no such thing as WordPress.’
‘I don’t understand, you mean all those Jills, Sues, Carols and Petes, Jims and Mikes are not real?’
‘Precisely and if it’s any comfort, you are alone…’
As the ground shook violently tiny fungal filaments sent out warnings and pleas for help. Mighty roots that had lain undisturbed for centuries trembled. Then there was a silent scream as she felt herself cleaved in three from the highest twig down, down, down to her deepest roots.
‘Giles, I pleaded with you not to do this, how could you, that tree was planted by your ancestor.’
‘He planted loads of trees, that’s why we have woodland; one less tree on the edge won’t make any difference. What will make a difference is the fortune that rich idiot is paying us for digging up an old oak tree. Enough to keep the estate going for another year.’
‘What if it doesn’t work, how can it work, transplanting a huge ancient tree into his back garden in London.’
‘That’s his problem, we’ve got the money, no refund.’
The residents of Oak Avenue had thought they had seen everything in the past year. Despite their many objections the new neighbour had demolished the pleasant square of sheltered bungalows for the elderly and built his dream house. Noise, dust and the very real fear their own homes would collapse in a man made earthquake had created a nightmare. As peace settled they gazed upon the geometric glass edifice of jumbled storeys, rumoured to have a split level basement with a kitchen, cinema, offices, snooker room or swimming pool, depending on who you talked to. Some rather liked the building and imagined it would be elegant inside with the central atrium apparently bringing light to all the rooms and the basement. But they had not been invited in to look so it was not welcome in their avenue. Now at nine am on Tuesday morning local social media had alerted them to the closure of all surrounding roads, to facilitate an oversized delivery to the new house. Amid jokes about huge Amazon parcels everyone was out to watch, especially when a television filming unit was spotted round the corner.
Never had she been horizontal; survivor of many storms, now she was fallen, brutally felled. Once tall and stout, one being, now she was three. But as she found herselves raised up again she realised they were a sacred number, a holy trinity with a new power. Her roots trembled for a different reason now, she must gain a hold and use her strength.
Harry smiled at his scowling neighbours as the cameras focused on him and the reporter asked the questions everyone wanted answers to; why, how, where?
‘The only way to uproot and transport such a huge tree was to slice it in three vertically and put it on three over length loaders. Now London has a bit more greenery and I have improved the neighbourhood. ….yes we dug down so deep to accommodate the basement there is a good tree sized hole, just like buying a shrub from the garden centre, but on a bigger scale. It will work, the bark will join up again.’
Harry’s wife looked out at the designer garden. The ancient tree just off centre enough to look natural. Harry was clever, she hoped he hadn’t been too clever this time, but her new home was fantastic, just a pity the neighbours weren’t very friendly. As they enjoyed their morning swim and clambered out to sit in the jacuzzi she noticed the pool level seemed lower, Harry promised to check the pumps. Back in her office with the skylight view of the tree she thought she saw a crack in the wall. She went up to the kitchen to make coffee and wondered if that was a hairline crack in the window. In the garden she felt better as she nursed her coffee. Two weeks and the tree was showing tiny acorn buds and the leaves were green. She touched the healed bark and felt happy.
The next morning the pool was lower and she noticed something strange at the bottom of the pool. Harry said it was just twigs fallen off the poolside plants, but she insisted on diving down the six foot depth. She tugged and tugged, but had to come up for air.
‘Harry, I think that is a tree root pushing up through the tiles.’ ’Don’t be ridiculous, I’ll go down and look.’ When he didn’t come up again she wondered if he had had a heart attack and as she slipped into the water in panic she heard an almighty shattering.
Oak Avenue was a scene of devastation. The neighbours’ first thoughts as they heard the horrendous crash of glass was that the tree had fallen on the house, but it was still standing, surrounded by the debris of concrete and glass. The fire brigade and police assumed a gas explosion or bomb, but the building seemed to have imploded rather than exploded and it would not be easy to search for survivors.
I had never heard of the charity Therapups, nor had Google, but one of my late aunt’s dog loving friends sent me the postal address. Aunty had requested no flowers for her funeral, just a donation to her favourite charity. I sent a small cheque and a brief letter with my address included, requesting the next copy of their newsletter, which was apparently going to feature a tribute to my aunt.
A week later I received a hefty envelope, almost a parcel, with a gushing letter thanking me for my generosity. The newsletter was to follow shortly, but in the meantime they were pleased to send me a Therapups key ring with dog whistle attached and one hundred biodegradable poop bags in a designer carry case; all in the distinctive charity colours puce pink and sunflower yellow. I don’t own a dog, but they weren’t to know that. Also included was a colourful booklet explaining the charity’s work; it seems they provided therapy and assistance dogs not covered by other better known charities.
When Lynne arrived at her bubble friend’s house for their morning coffee she was surprised to find Eleanor in a state of agitation.
‘Are you okay, the effects of the second jab?’
‘Yes, no… let me get the coffee and I’ll tell you my news.’
Lynne could not imagine what the news could be, not much happened in Covid times and certainly nothing to put her friend in such a state, but there was something different about the house. The usual vase of cut flowers on the hall stand had disappeared and so had the orchid on the window sill. As she followed Eleanor into the kitchen she was puzzled to see the cupboard door handles tied together with stout string.
‘Go and sit down Lynne, I’m just trying to remember where I put the coffee.’
‘Okay, I brought that jigsaw, I’ll put it on the dining room table.’
There was a strange crackling underfoot as Lynne walked into the dining room and she realised she was walking on plastic sheeting that covered the carpet. Eleanor hadn’t mentioned that she was going to have decorators in. The exquisite mahogany dining table, recently inherited from an aunt, was covered in a heavy duty plastic tablecloth, perhaps her friend was planning to do some messy crafts.
When Lynne moved into the usually elegant front room her confusion increased; it now seemed most likely her friend had been burgled. The fireplace looked bare, gone was the antique urn with its arrangement of dried flowers and the crystal vase Lynne had given her for Christmas was no longer on the windowsill. She glanced around the room and took in a bizarre scene. The glass cabinet had a heavy quilt secured round it and the occasional tables all had wodges of foam taped to their corners. The three piece suite was covered in throws that looked like they had come from Wilkos rather than John Lewis and there was no sign of the embroidered cushions.
Eleanor walked in with two scruffy looking mugs.
‘Sorry about the mugs, they’re the ones Anthony used to keep down at the allotment. I’ve packed all the bone china away. I’m afraid I didn’t have time to make a cake… well I have been baking, but not for us…’
Before any explanation was forthcoming there was the sound of frantic yapping and Eleanor went to open the back door for Covina, the little dog she had acquired from the dachshund rescue centre. The dog rushed into the room to greet Lynne.
‘You’re surely not moving house, Michael hasn’t persuaded you to go over there?’
‘Goodness no, I wouldn’t even go to that dreadful country on holiday; they’re coming back to England, out of the blue, arriving at Heathrow early afternoon. It seems they are allowed to quarantine with relatives, me.’
‘Oh that’s wonderful news, at last you’ll get to see the babies.’
‘Hardly babies, three and four now and if they are like Michael was at that age… my head spins just seeing them on Facetime. So I have taken a few precautions, I don’t want to be responsible for them ending up in A&E. Forty four years old and Michael still has that scar on his forehead from the fireplace at our first house. I was going to ask, you know you said you would love to have Covina to stay if I ever managed to go on holiday, do you think you could possibly have her now?’
‘Yes of course, though I’m sure the children would be gentle with her.’
‘I’m worried she might bite them; the charity did say she was best suited to a quiet home with an older person. I remember that time with my brother’s dog when Michael was three; it was his fault of course, shoving his hand in the dog’s mouth.’
‘Covina’s hardly a pit bull, but I suppose tiny fingers could be a worry. I shall enjoy having her.’
Eleanor kept looking nervously at the clock, she had the hands free house phone and her mobile by her side.
‘Relax you’re all organised, except… perhaps now the charity shops are open again you could get a few toys for them…’ she looked at the expression on Eleanor’s face ‘or maybe order on line.’
As if in answer to that suggestion they heard the door bell being rung frantically.
‘Ah that will be the Amazon parcels; Michael asked me to get some Lego sets for them.’
‘Aren’t they a bit young for Lego, choking hazards?’
‘Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that.’
Ten minutes later Eleanor had located the scissors she had hidden away and they manged to get the boxes open to reveal several brightly coloured Lego sets.
Eleanor examined the writing and pictures on the boxes.
‘Strange people and vehicles, but it seems only under threes choke, so that’s a relief. But really Lynne I’m getting too old for all this; you wait years to get some grandchildren, then they go abroad and then there’s a world wide pandemic and nobody gets to see their grandchildren…’
Two days later Lynne turned into Eleanor’s road on her way to the post office and was alarmed to see an ambulance outside Eleanor’s house. After all the precautions she wondered what mishap had befallen the precious grandchildren. She wasn’t being nosy, she had to walk that way anyway. As she got closer there was a further shock when she saw Eleanor on a stretcher being wheeled down the front path.
‘Oh Lynne, isn’t this embarrassing, Michael will tell you what happened.’
As her friend was loaded into the ambulance a frazzled looking man emerged from the front door with a wriggling, screeching child in his arms.
‘Nee Nah, Nee Nah, I want to go in the hambliance.’
The man’s voice was muffled through the child’s hair. ‘Nice to meet you Lynne, I hear you have been a great support, but we’re here now; just as well now this has happened.’
‘What did happen?’
‘I’m not exactly sure; Mother was tidying up all the mess in the dining room after breakfast and she stood on some Lego and slipped on the plastic sheeting.’
Jamie tried to saunter into the house nonchalantly; his mother was in the kitchen, busy cooking, stirring something.
He opened the fridge and grabbed a can of coke and a hunk of cheese, his face hidden by the door as his mother turned away from the saucepan.
’Good day at school?’ his mother smiled.
Jamie used to hate those words, but now it was a novelty after the various lockdowns and home schooling; they were both glad when schools opened again.
His mother’s smile soon faded when he closed the fridge door.
‘Don’t eat too much, dinner’s nearly… Jamie, your face, what have you done?’
‘Chill Mother, everyone’s having it done…’
‘I don’t care about everyone else, what on earth will your father say?’
‘The swelling will go down in a couple of days… have we got any ibroo… paracetamol?’
‘Oh Jamie, it looks so painful.’
‘They gave us a local anaesthetic… I think it’s wearing off now.’
‘But why, why did you do it, I thought we discussed all this, you know it’s irreversible and how did you get it done without our consent?’
‘Malc knew a place.’
‘I might have guessed he would be involved; you didn’t have to go along with it, you know your father was totally against it.’
‘Like he’s an expert.’
‘He is a doctor.’
‘A gynaecologist, he doesn’t do heads… I’m going up to my room to see if it’s worked.’
‘Perhaps when you look in the mirror you will realise just what you have done…’
In his bedroom Jamie did not bother to look in the mirror but headed straight for the computer. He had soon logged in and found what he was looking for. He let out a whoop of excitement followed by a cry of shock as he realised moving his head was painful. But there it was, his history homework essay already saved as a word document. Jamie’s thoughts had been transmitted from the implant in his temple; his essay ‘written’ as he walked home with Mad Malc after their visit to Malc’s uncle’s clinic.
He peered closer, rubbing his eyes. How did that thought get into his essay. They had been told they would need to concentrate to get the best results. Oh well, his essay would sound quite intelligent if he deleted the banter with Malc and those other thoughts.
Jamie was tired the next morning, what with the grilling by his parents and them insisting on Facetiming with Aunty Surita, the brain surgeon. When he did get to bed he could only lie on one side. There was a bit of blood on the pillow, but when he looked in the mirror the bruising seemed to be the biggest problem. But hey, when he and Malc walked into school everyone was going to be so impressed.
Malc wasn’t at the school gates. Jamie’s phone buzzed, there was a message from Malc.’ Man my head really hurts, I’m staying in bed and how come your essay and everything else inside your idiotic brain has popped up on my phone?’
Jamie put his phone away, another one of Malc’s jokes no doubt.
If he wanted attention he was certainly getting it, even before he got to the hand gel station. His hand wandered to his face and he pulled his mask up higher, but the other kids were more interested in their phones than his face.
As he walked down the corridor everyone was calling out remarks.
‘Jamie Brainbox, we can read your mind.’
The girls were giggling and his form teacher was heading his way, calling out
‘Social distancing everybody… what IS going on? Distance, mask on…’
Alia came and stood loyally in front of Jamie, but her expression as she looked at his face told him he had not succeeded in impressing her.
‘God Jamie, what have you done, you look awful and your thoughts are being sent to everyone you know…’
…and welcome back to In Jerusalem Tonight. We are talking to the youngest brother of a man arrested just hours ago by the authorities. He claims his older brother is completely innocent, but what about his political involvement?
No, he is interested in people not politics; that is why the crowds are drawn to him.
But what is he really like, do the public see the real man?
Yes and no. We’re just an ordinary family and I guess you’d say my brother is a chip off the old block. A real carpenter; like our father he has a feel for the wood, for the rest of us it’s just a labour. He is most like our father; strange that some gossips still say our mother tricked him into marriage, when she was carrying another man’s child. Maybe it’s because he is the eldest, but he does have the same wisdom and compassion our father had; qualities that not many people possess.
You paint a picture of a warm, loving family, why do you think your brother nevermarried?
That’s a personal question only he could answer, but I think he knew he was never going to stay in the village. Travelling around, leaving a wife and family behind, he knew that would be wrong.
But he gets on well with women.
Yes he knows how to talk to them, as if they were equals, they appreciate that.
And yet in some ways he’s a loner.
I wouldn’t say that; he is a thinker, very deep. Most of us couldn’t take the solitary life, but he has the inner strength.
Would you describe him as highly intelligent?
Oh yes, it has always been a joke in our family that he held forth on theological matters when he was a child. But he never forgot how to talk to ordinary people. He was the perfect big brother; playing with us, making toys and of course he worships our mother.
So surely this is a man who will be able to talk his way out of this current little difficulty.
Yes, I’m sure he will see this is not the time to be humble.
As it is past noon in some places you know this story is true and not an April Fool
Her Majesty’s minister barely read the title of the document ‘Reursinement – Natural Culling’ before scanning the paragraphs…environmentally sustainable…ecological balance… and signing his name. His constituents and the Forestry Commission should be delighted, fewer complaints about car accidents, trampled gardens or ruined saplings.
Operation Goldilocks took place at night, the team quickly assessed their new environment; those experiencing freedom for the first time guided by the migrants from North Eastern Europe.
Nearby, a stag sniffed the night air and felt a primeval fear.
Days later the news headlines read ‘Walker Killed as Bears Introduced to Beauty Spot Without Public Consultation.
I got back from the greengrocers’, dumped the shopping in the kitchen, put the kettle on and went in the front room to fetch the vase for the bunch of daffodils. Geoff was lounging on the sofa watching the news channel.
‘I’ll have a cup of tea if you’ve got the kettle on.’
‘Okay, I’ll just put the daffs in water.’
Back in the kitchen I put the vase under the tap and turned it on too fast, splashing my face and soaking my sleeves, but the cold water shock was nothing to the cold realisation that paralysed me and left me incapable of turning off the tap. Geoff couldn’t be sitting on the sofa, he had been dead for five months.
Shakily turning off the tap and clutching a towel to my face I turned to the kitchen door. It must have been an hallucination. Since Geoff died I had not had any funny feelings, no sense of his presence. Not like my friend, whose late husband seemed to have turned into some sort of household god, steering her to the right drawers and cupboards to find things, being ‘present’ when she watched their favourite programmes. If Geoff was a manifestation it served me right for thinking she was going out of her mind…
I forced myself to go back to the front room, but even before I lowered the towel and opened my eyes I could hear that familiar heavy breathing and humming as he did the crossword and followed the news updates.
‘Cathy, what’s the matter, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘I have, I mean I know you’re not real, perhaps I should have gone for counselling. I told everyone I was fine, after all there are families in this pandemic who have suffered far worse and lots of wives have lost husbands.’
‘Cathy, what are you talking about, you’re not going down with dementia are you?’
‘Geoff, there’s no easy way to say this, you died five months ago.’
‘Ha ha, very funny, I know it was scary, me being carted off in the ambulance yesterday. Hey lucky me, it was only one of my asthma attacks, negative for covid.’
Six months ago he had been carted off in an ambulance. It was covid, but he was lucky, no intensive care though I couldn’t go and see him. They let him come home, needed the bed no doubt, to isolate and continue recuperating; me to dial 999 if there were any problems.
That’s how I knew for sure he had died, not unrecognisable in hospital covered in tubes, me trying to talk to him via Facetime on my ipad… he was at home when it happened.
We had just had dinner. Geoff was catching up with the news and telling the politicians what they should be doing. I went in the kitchen to tidy up and make coffee, when I came back in I sensed the silence straight away. There he was, crossword still in hand, head back, silent, switched off.
Instinctively I turned off the television, thinking he would not want to be watching it now. Geoff had said when he came out of hospital, so relieved just to be home ‘Now don’t you worry if I die in my sleep, you know what they said about my heart, it’s a good way to go, better than those poor buggers on machines in intensive care. And I don’t want you trying CPR on me, you couldn’t do it right on that dummy when we did our first aid course.’
So I didn’t do anything.
‘Geoff, you did die, right there, five months ago, do you remember?’
Silly question, how could he remember if he was dead and why was I talking to a figment of my imagination… why was he talking back?
‘Cathy, if you think I am a ghost, come and feel me, solid as ever, too solid you were always telling me.’
He held out his hand and for the first time I moved close to him. His hand was warm and firm. Tentatively I put my hand on his chest, he felt real and his chest was moving, he was breathing. Five months ago I would have given anything to have him back irritating me with his breathing and humming as I tried to read my book. If he had walked back in the door then I would have hugged him… But now I needed to get away, this was the laws of nature turned upside down or I was going insane. I pulled my hands away and retreated to the doorway.
‘Geoff, I know you are dead, I was here when you died, Andrew has the DVD of the live streaming of your funeral at the crematorium, though I suppose that isn’t proof. Your ashes are in the cupboard in your office; I’m sorry, we haven’t been able to get together to scatter them, still in lockdown. I have your death certificate… and those clothes you’re wearing went to the charity shop months ago.’
He just laughed. ‘Well it seems I am alive and well, you obviously need a breath of fresh air to clear your head, where shall we go for our walk this afternoon?’
A walk outside, that would prove he was real, perhaps the past five months had been a nightmare; that would be easy to prove. I dashed out of the room. Geoff’s coat was not hanging on its usual peg. I stumbled upstairs and into our bedroom, his side of the wardrobe was empty. I dashed into what he used to call his office; the desk was empty. I opened the corner cabinet and the large grey cardboard tube with his ashes was still there. In the bureau was the box of sympathy cards and the neat file of paperwork Andrew had helped me sort out; inside the first plastic slip was the death certificate.
My knees nearly gave way as I started down the stairs and Geoff sauntered out of the front room.
‘I’m just going to check my emails before lunch.’
I couldn’t let him go upstairs. Andrew had taken Geoff’s computer, I had my ipad, I didn’t want it. But the fact that Geoff couldn’t check his emails was the least of my problems. The Geoff who couldn’t be real was solid and could walk and talk. If we went strolling down the road, what on earth would the neighbours say?
She stared out at the open hills, a view that would have made this the perfect holiday cottage, but this was no holiday, it was a living hell that she could never have imagined days ago.
A safe house, safe from who or what? Him, the press, everyone she did not want to see? How could she ever face anyone again? They would know about him and assume she was the ‘woman in her thirties’ arrested and then released.
She was almost glad to have been arrested, penance for the crime of being married to him. She had committed a worse crime, a sin against nature, giving birth to his children, his evil genes in their every cell, her sweet innocent children tainted for ever.
After a night in foster care they had been reunited and all of them bundled off to some remote part of Wales. They were still asleep, it was only 6 am. What would she tell them, they had only just started back to school, happy to get back to normal life. She couldn’t even pretend they were back to home schooling with no internet and all their school things locked in the crime scene. Not that their home was where the crime had taken place.
Surely any happily married wife would assume her husband was innocent, some awful mistake. But the police seemed so chillingly certain. She asked the family liaison officer to tell it to her straight as each bit of new evidence rolled in. Now it occurred to her that this was all part of a plan. She was a prisoner here and they were just waiting for her to break, give up trying to pretend she knew nothing.
Nothing was all she knew. One always imagines the wife must have known something, how could you live with a murderer and not know. If she had any suspicions it was that he was seeing someone else, his odd working hours the perfect cover. She had once been the someone else. His first wife left him, she had never met the woman, but did she leave him for more than adultery? What would she be thinking now, relief or guilt because she had discovered some aberration and got out quick?
No, their life had been normal, he wasn’t one of those super dads like her friends were married to; every weekend off to the park, baby strapped on their manly chests, toddler in one hand and the lead of the labradoodle in the other. But that didn’t make him a murderer.
Suicide, was that the only bearable way out? Or a new life on the other side of the world, new names, children told nothing, children told to never tell anyone anything; but murderer’s blood would still be in their veins. She could kill them, like that Greek tragedy, the worst punishment she could think of for the man she now hated. For the first time in her life she knew what true hatred was, a hatred so strong she could contemplate killing her own children. But she would be punishing herself, them, their grandparents… her mind was rambling now, his parents, thank goodness they weren’t alive to see this day, Covid had turned out to be a blessing for them. Slaughtering his children would not be a punishment for him, had he ever cared about his wife or children, how could a man that took an innocent life have any feelings?
There would be a support group somewhere, she would ask about it, support for wives and children of murderers the only people she could ever talk to.
The family liaison officer appeared carrying two mugs, young, probably her first case.
‘We need to talk while the children are still asleep, there’s more I need to tell…’
Before the young woman could finish her sentence there was the sound of pattering feet, strange on the wooden staircase.
‘Mummy, Mummy, are we on holiday, what are we going to do today, is Daddy going to come soon?’
Cassie stood on the small jetty apart from the others and tried to think clearly. At Christmas she could never have imagined March would find her on a deserted Scottish island, leaving behind pandemic lockdown England, leaving behind a secure job and home in a busy town. In the two months of careful preparation she had anticipated this moment and the challenges the next year or so held. What she had not expected was to encounter a problem even before they had stepped off the boat. The spiral of domestic smoke drifting against the clear sky signalled that they were not the first to set foot on this island for over a year. They had been told that no one had lived on the island for decades.
She turned questioningly to Sam and was surprised to hear a chuckle rising in his throat that soon turned to laughter. The skipper still had one foot on his boat, a reminder that the break in the weather was not going to last and he was staying only long enough for them to get their kit unloaded. Sam’s dog was already exploring the beach.
‘Why did none of us think of this? How many people with a boat might take the opportunity to escape the pandemic and enjoy the freedom of a desert island. There’s hundreds of uninhabited islands and who’s to stop them?’
Cassie found herself joining in Sam’s amusement, though her laughter was tinged with hysteria.
‘You mean some millionaire has their luxury yacht moored round the other side of the island?’
‘A millionaire would be happy to stay on his yacht and not need to escape to an island’ butted in Sam’s son.
‘Could be refugees from England who arrived in a rubber dingy’ said Sam.
They all turned to the skipper, who hadn’t uttered a word yet.
‘Well dinae look at me, I hae not set foot on this island fer five years and it were a godforsaken place then. None of yer fancy scientists’ projects ever came to anything. I told you I’ll give you a month afore yo’re wantin to come off. Now are you goin to come back wuth me or will youse get to know your new neighbours?’
As Carrie heard herself saying ‘Of course we’ll stay, we’ve come this far…’ Sam spoke up.
‘I shall be staying, I’ve nothing to lose, but Cassie and Lucas have to decide for themselves.’
His son laughed. ‘I’ll not give Ma and the auld man a chance to crow over our failure, I’m staying Dad.’
Cassie felt doubts creeping in before the skipper had even cast off. How would an office worker, a homeless scientist and a teenager cope if the inhabitants did not want them to stay? But as she tried to look nonchalant carting her one woman tent onto the beach she was confronted by a naked man stepping from behind a rocky outcrop. An arm appeared from behind the rock handing him a towel, but he was in no haste to cover himself up.
‘Can’t a couple come down for their daily swim in peace and who the hell are you lot?’
Behind him a heavily pregnant young woman was having difficulty protecting her modesty as her towel flapped in the wind. Whoever these people were, thought Cassie, island life must have made them tough if they could stroll naked down to the beach and contemplate getting in the cold sea.
Lucas had a broad grin on his face as he dropped his heavy kit bag in the sand; safely on dry land he had recovered from his sea sickness. Mocking their English accents he exaggerated his own Scottish baritone.
‘We’re supposed to be here and youse are not, but it seems you are weell settled. Is it jus the twae of youse or nearly thrae?’
‘Just us, we ate the others.’
‘Only joking, I’m Jack and this is Alice, come on up to the croft. I hope you have tents, there’s not much room, but Alice will be glad to have the company of another woman, especially when her time comes.’
Alice had not offered her opinion yet and Cassie had the horrendous thought she might be expected to deliver a baby, she knew nothing about childbirth and had no desire to find out. As they followed Jack, Sam was unfolding their official map of the island.
‘You won’t be needing that, we know every foot of this place.’
Lucas was full of questions, including what food supplies they might have as his appetite had returned.
In the tiny croft they were all grateful for a cup of tea and Cassie relished the smoky taste. Jack let them explain their plans before launching in to a colourful tale of how he and Alice came to be there.
‘…so that was the end of our sailing round the world avoiding the pandemic, the boat just about made it to this island and at least we had the charts and the radio so we knew where we were, even if nobody else does. I realised I had been here before when I was at uni., trying to set up a bird watching project.’
‘But could you charge your phones up and all that’ said Cassie vaguely.
‘For a brief while, till all the boat’s batteries were drained, but there’s no internet access here anyway.’
‘But we are supposed to keep in touch with base and do Zoom meetings’ said Cassie.
Alice came to life at this point and laughed. ‘Cassie the city girl, hey are you two together?’
‘Yes, no… we haven’t known each other long and yes I guess I am a city girl, but I don’t like shopping and I’m a bit of a loner, so I knew I could do this. There are more groups coming when they’ve done their isolation, we were worried Lucas would be bored or lonely.’
‘Well he won’t find any Girl Fridays here,’ laughed Jack ‘but he won’t be bored. We three chaps have got a lot of work to do, fix the boat, build some more crofts. And plenty for Cassie, do you know how to butcher a sheep, not that I’m saying the girls have to do all the cooking…’
‘What… sheep, no, I mean I can cook, but we are getting supplies every few weeks…’
Lucas laughed. ‘I can shoot and butcher venison, so sheep no problem, but is this island supposed to have sheep?’
‘All that’s left from past inhabitants I guess, we’re doing them a favour, keeping the population down, same as you do with your deer on the estate.’
Cassie wanted to get out of the croft, wanted to talk to Sam on his own, it was hard to take everything in.
Sam winked at her then turned to the others. ‘Me and Cassie are just going to check on the dog, you show Lucas where we might set up camp.’
Outside they wandered down a narrow track between rocks and heather, Sheba nosing ahead, looking at home already.
‘We’ll be okay Cassie, we wanted an adventure, we can still carry on with the project same as we would have done and we’ll get our own croft built, there’s certainly enough rocks around. This is real life, no more working for MPJ, no more lockdown.’
‘I keep wondering if we have been set up, are there TV cameras hidden, like one of those awful reality shows that I never watch?’
‘Could be worse, like one of those horror movies where everyone ends up eating each other… hey it won’t be long till the boat comes again and here we are, we’ve really done it.’