A piercing scream rent the air, a blood curdling cry that penetrated Jennifer’s brain and shattered what was left of her nerves. Instinctively she covered her ears and prayed for silence. For a moment there was blissful silence as the victim drew breath.
‘But I wanted to open my banana myself’ cried the little boy.
For the umpteenth time that day Julia wondered why on earth her brother Gerald thought she would enjoy looking after her great nephews for a few hours. What had possessed her to agree?
With her nerves already torn to shreds she had absent mindedly started to unpeel the fifth and last banana of the bunch. The two boys had constantly pleaded hunger since lunch and had not believed she had no Monster Munch or Peppa Pig yoghurts in her house.
One more hour to go, how to distract them…
Across the floor were strewn the toys they had brought from home, quickly abandoned after fierce arguments as to who owned which Lego figures. Drawing had resulted in a nasty stabbing, obviously a mistake to sharpen the pencils. The cat had been a distraction for a few seconds until it fled to hide under her bed.
There was always the last resort, television, totally against her principles turning them into zombies staring at a screen, but needs must. However, when she looked in the Radio Times she could find no young children’s programmes, what was the matter with the BBC, what happened to Blue Peter?
The doorbell rang at last.
‘Is that Grandad?’
Julia looked at her watch, a few minutes early, supposing it wasn’t Gerald, but the window cleaner coming for his money or her new curtains being delivered…
‘…so next week it’s back in the hall; of course you can wear masks if you feel more comfortable doing so and the chairs will be spaced out.’
The chairman’s announcement was greeted positively by most members at the zoom meeting of the Lens Lovers camera club. Down in deepest Devon the local village hall was slowly coming back to life with activities, from Beavers to barobics, that had last been enjoyed early in 2020.
Paul Gibbons, New Member of the Year 2021, was horrified by the news, how was he going to get out of this? That he was a brilliant photographer was never in any doubt, all the images he shared on screen were his. The travels financed by his ill gotten gains had provided the opportunity to snap polar bears before they snapped him as he liked to joke. He did not mention that he was in a helicopter at the time. From the sands of Namibia to the trains of Siberia, from the Antarctic research station to local Devon scenes, he had tantalising tales for show and tell and had given regular talks far more interesting than their guest speakers.
It was Paul’s mother who had passed on the link to Lens Lovers’ zoom meetings; a friend from the old holiday home days had thought she might be interested. She wasn’t, she never wanted to see a camera again after her husband’s photography fatality, but she thought it would be an excellent diversion for her son during his lockdown. She had assumed he would tell the members he didn’t actually live in Devon.
Paul had not intended to deceive the club, but he had looked up their website and saw members had to live within a fifteen mile radius of the village hall to join, even for zoom meetings. At the time it had been a bit of a laugh, but he had become pathetically addicted to the fortnightly meetings. The many photos of socially safe lockdown rugged walks brought back childhood memories of more innocent times and then later the happy family holidays with his now ex wife and estranged children.
Zoom camera club hardly compared with his world wide adventures, but it was more exciting than Facetime with his mother and the weekly ‘Moving Forward’ sessions with the group. With digitally produced scenic backgrounds anyone on Zoom could be anywhere and his tropical island setting gave no clue to the cramped misery of his bleak bedsit.
Paul put on a smile for the squares of friendly faces as he rubbed his chafed ankle.
‘Yes, great news, though I might not be at every meeting, I think it’s time I booked a holiday.’
‘Oh well done Paul, does that mean you’re in remission?’
For a moment he wondered what Barbara was talking about, then remembered he had implied he had Multiple Sclerosis to explain why he had not been on the local outdoor shoots for fit, covid free members. Why had he mentioned holidays, he could have got away with implying he was still CEV, clinically extremely vulnerable. Though last week he had lied that he had just had his fourth vaccination.
‘Lucky you’, said Eddy, the oldest member ‘the only place I’m going is down Memory Lane.’
‘Well weare looking forward to meeting you in person Paul’ urged the chairman ‘and the hall is very disabled friendly, no trouble with your wheelchair and you can bring a carer, even if they are not a member.’
‘Oh thanks, all being well then…’
The only place Paul would be going on holiday was Memory Lane.
He glanced down at his electronic ankle tag, as if it might have miraculously disappeared. Even if he was living in Devon and not hundreds of miles away in a dreary city suburb, his curfew did not allow him out in the evenings.
Geoff opened his eyes, what just happened… a funny turn and where was Jill? The living room looked strange, not straight, his eyes, should have made an appointment about that headache, but surgery busy doing Covid boosters… opticians, ring tomorrow.
The rest of him felt odd, don’t say he had Covid, Jill would kill him just before Christmas, only a week since he had the booster, not kicked in yet? He wished now he had bothered to get some of those lateral flow tests, could check, eliminate that before panicking. Right, let’s see where Jill’s got to. Ow. Geoff bumped his nose on something. He tried to put his hands up, but couldn’t feel his arms, or his legs. A stroke, God no, not a stroke, vegetative state and all that. Surely Jill would come and call him for dinner, call an ambulance, speed was of the essence, but all the ambulances were queued up at the bloody hospital, full of patients waiting to get admitted. Jill – illll – no use, he couldn’t talk.
It wasn’t painful, the opposite, he felt as if he was floating. But why couldn’t he hear the television, the news was on when he got up to check the pump in his tropical aquarium. There was Jill, sitting on the sofa doing the crossword! Bloody hell hadn’t she noticed what happened to him? She did look strange. If he took a deep breath perhaps he could summon the strength to yell. His breathing felt odd, he was feeling warm and sleepy…
Something nudged Geoff’s shoulder, paramedic at last? He half turned and let out a silent scream. This wasn’t Jill towering over him, or a paramedic; it was a mermaid. Staring, unmoving, he recognised her, that red hair. Huge plants waving round her shoulders and behind her a gaping mouth, an ugly creature that could only have come from the depths of the ocean.
Hallucinating, that’s what was happening. Intensive Care, Stroke or Covid, didn’t make much difference, still helpless, but if his mind recognised what was happening he could fight for survival. Jill sitting nearby, nurse looks like just like that ghastly mermaid ornament the grandchildren gave him for the aquarium, had to put it in to please them, no wonder it was giving him nightmares.
Noo… keep away, yellow and black stripes, those bulging eyes… sharks as well… I know you’re not real…
Oh hello Marica, no I’m not busy, glad you called. I’m just relaxing doing the crossword, watching the fish. I never took much notice of them before, but they are very soothing, except for that new one the grandchildren bought me after Geoff died; it keeps staring at me. No I am feeling okay, I’m just worried the poor fish isn’t settling in. I know it’s only a fish, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have feelings. It circles that ghastly mermaid ornament then comes back to stare at me. No of course I don’t believe in reincarnation and nor did Geoff. At least you had time to talk about the meaning of life with poor Mick. Geoff didn’t have a chance to talk about what he thought, gone just like that. I went to tell him dinner was ready and there he was lying on the floor by the fish tank.
FOR MORE TALES WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, CHECK OUT MY SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS.
I can’t believe I’ve been dead this long, not that I know how long it’s been, that’s the trouble with eternity; it just seems a long time as I’m still waiting to register. Not sure if you will get this ether mail, I haven’t grasped the technology yet. I would not have promised to keep in touch if I knew how difficult it was going to be.
I can understand why they are so busy, more people than ever to process, what with the population on the earth plane increasing exponentially. Haven’t seen anyone I know yet, I was a bit miffed there was nobody to meet me, perhaps that’s why it took me a while to realise I was dead, which also explains why I am only just getting in touch.
Nobody else knows what’s going on either, lot of milling around, I gather the trauma cases get dealt with first which is fair enough. Can’t actually remember what I did die of, so can’t have been anything violent. When I say I haven’t seen anyone I know, I am not sure what they will look like. I can’t see what I look like, no mirrors. Hard to describe what people look like this side. Those we see in pairs or groups must have come over together, we’re all newbies, so not likely to meet friends and family till after we’ve registered. Right old mix we are too, from all over the earth plane; obviously only one portal. That makes us all equal, thought that would please you and language is no barrier as there is no language, just thought reading, a real babble, lucky we don’t feel pain as it would give me a right headache, interesting though.
Have to finish off now, looks like something is happening. Not sure what else to say… how are you, what you been doing, I can’t seem to remember what you did like doing. In fact I’m finding it hard to remember what you looked like let alone what our hou… ho.. what was the word? Where did we li.. where did I l…
Emelda Forsyte had little experience of hospitals until her diagnosis, so she looked upon her first chemotherapy session as an ideal opportunity for research for her next novel. Her diagnosis was treatable and curable, positive and hopeful, but she would give her heroine, Jolie Jansen, a very likely terminal prognosis. It would add a cutting edge to the fifteenth book in the series.
Jolie had not been nervous about her first chemotherapy session until the lady in the reclining chair opposite died.
‘Good morning.’ A nurse’s voice startled her out of the opening chapter forming in her head. What did that nurse say her name was? They all looked the same in their uniforms and masks.
‘Name and date of birth please.’
‘Emelda Forsyte, 5th July 1964.’
Even with a mask on the nurse looked very puzzled.
‘Oh sorry , I must have the wrong patient. I have you down as Jane Brown.’
‘No, I apologise, Emelda Forsyte is my nom de plume.’
The nurse looked even more confused.
‘I’m a writer, you know, my private detective novels, Jolie Janson, third series on ITV Sunday Drama set in the wilds of Bedfordshire.’
The top half of the nurse’s face still looked blank.
‘Ah, I’m not into all that crime stuff… so you are Jane Brown and your date of birth is?’
Emelda looked at the patients in the other three bays to check if they might be listening in, no doubt they were if they had heard there was a famous author on the ward. She removed her mask and mouthed something.
‘Sorry, I didn’t hear.’
‘10th May 1949’ Emelda whispered.
Emelda watched carefully as a needle was inserted into her hand, more than the slight prick she was told to expect, but hey, Jolie would not flinch, that was nothing compared to the injuries she had experienced. At least the blood being drawn out looked a good colour.
‘I suppose even those tiny phials of blood would be enough to clone me’ Emelda joked.
‘Oh no, they just go to the lab for testing, make sure you are well.’
‘Hmm, but if someone stole them from the lab I could be cloned.’
The nurse chose not to hear and slipped away.
In a short while she reappeared with a bag for the drip and another nurse who asked her name and date of birth.
‘I already answered that.’
‘We double check each time, just making sure the right patient is getting the right drug. This has just come up from the pharmacy with your name and details on it.’
‘That is reassuring, but have you ever had a rogue pharmacist, I mean there could be a fatal dose or a deadly poison in that bag.’
The two nurses exchanged glances.
‘Now dear, it’s quite natural to be nervous your first time, but you are in very safe hands, no need to worry.’
‘I am not nervous, just thinking about research for my next novel.’
‘Okay so let’s go through the prescriptions you have to take home. Now these injections must go in the fridge and on Friday the district nurse will start coming round to give you one injection each day.’
‘District nurses, do they still have them, she won’t be in uniform will she?’
‘Could be a he and they will be in uniform and PPE, you will be perfectly safe.’
All Emelda was worried about was the neighbours seeing, district nurses were what old people had visiting them. Hopefully they would have to park round the corner and not draw any attention. Then she had an idea.
‘How would I know they were real, could be an assassin in disguise with a lethal injection, like that chap who pretended to be doing Covid vaccinations.’
‘Just ring your surgery if you have any worries…’
Emelda examined the contents of the paper bag from the pharmacy and withdrew a box of tablets to read the instructions.
‘Read the leaflet inside carefully when you get home, you must take those tablets as instructed.’
‘So what would happen if you made a mistake, or your husband or daughter were in charge and intentionally gave you too many… or perhaps a wife might look at her husband lying in a drunken stupor and stick all those needles in him at once.’
‘Any mistakes and you must ring the hot line straight away or even dial 999. Who is at home with you?’
‘Oh I live alone, ditched Mr. Brown years ago and became Emelda Forsyte.’
‘I am sure you will manage your tablets fine, just remember to lock all your medication out of reach of you have grandchildren visiting.’
‘Noneof those thank God, humans under the age of twelve are to be avoided at all costs.’
Emelda was glad to be up and feeling fine, calling for a taxi and bidding farewell to the nurses who looked relieved to see her leaving.
‘Now take it easy and be prepared for the effects to kick in tomorrow.’
‘Oh I shall be fine, see you all in three weeks’ time.’
Before Emelda arrived back at the main entrance she was surprised to be stopped by a man in a suit who quickly produced a warrant card.
‘Mrs. Jane Brown?’
‘You would probably know me better as Emelda Forsyte, crime writer, is that why you stopped me?’
‘Never heard of her, I am only interested in Jane Brown; security gave us a call, your nurse rang the patient alert hot line about some inappropriate conversations and questions. Can you confirm you have just had a session of chemotherapy?’
‘Yes, it went very well, lovely staff, I don’tunderstand what you are saying.’
‘Hospitals have to be very careful that medication is not taken away to be misused, if we could go somewhere private to have a little discussion?’
‘No, you misunderstand, I was merely doing research, anyway I must go, taxi arriving any minute.’
‘I could invite you to come to the police station to help with our enquiries.’
For a moment Emelda was most offended, more because he had not recognised her as a famous crime writer than that he might think her a criminal. But this could be a research opportunity. Jolie Janson had more than her fair share of run ins with Bedfordshire Police, but Emelda had never actually been inside a police station…
She had done it, she really had done it, no one believed she would, but here she was on her first climate protest and she was the first of the group to turn up. It had been easier than expected, hardly any traffic and the few vehicles that passed had taken no notice of her. Come to think of it, it had ben a while since any vehicles passed, it should be getting busy by now and none of the others had turned up. She shifted awkwardly, having both hands glued to the motorway was not conducive to comfort. As she eased her hips a few degrees her phone slipped out of her pocket. On the screen the opening words of a message lit up…
Just to confirm you have all heard about massive pile up on M25, Junctions 24-26 closed to all traffic, protest to take place at J29, don’t forg…
Hanging’s too good for him, that’s what my grandfather would have said.
‘Have you had enough time to think?’
I blinked and tried to focus on my latest family liaison officer, ‘call me Nessa’. I had already lost two, one to Covid and one to stress, not surprising, talk about a poisoned chalice. Time to think, I had done nothing but think. But decisions? All decisions had been taken from me that night, our lives reduced to forensically sealed bags.
‘I have to ask you this again, I must be sure you understand, you cannot tell anyone where you are going, you cannot contact anyone at all. One slip and someone will find you, not her family, but some low life… We can inform your family that you are fi… okay.’
As if I would want to contact anybody, even if I did have the means. I don’t know where I am, let alone where I am going, though the ends of the earth would not be far enough.
‘Just please tell me Nessa, did he have any message for me? Are you keeping it from me, did anyone hear him say anything?’
‘I’m sorry, he would not open your letter and he had no message for you or the children or any family…’
There wasn’t anything in that letter, no hate or anger, just one word, I almost felt like writing it in blood, WHY? I know what you are thinking, I must have known. I used to think that about the wives of murderers. We were a normal family, not perfect, he wasn’t around much, but we did things together when he was here; the kids miss him and their toys and our home, keep asking. There was his shift work, overtime and going out with his mates, I knew when I married him he needed his own space, to chill out. On the computer at night if he was home, everyone’s husband does that, don’t want to watch soaps on television with their wives, do their hobbies, photography, plan the next holiday, order DIY stuff from Amazon, do the Tesco order. Okay so occasionally I felt, wondered… but liven up your marriage, nothing wrong with fantasies those on line articles say. I dismissed those thoughts, must be me, just imagining those occasional looks from his colleagues on the rare occasions he took me to a Work Do. And I thought if there was anything they would know, his work colleagues, his superiors. A couple of times there was some sort of trouble at work but nothing came of it.
‘Why didn’t you lot confront him, you had the most evil man in the country serving as a police officer and you did not confront him. Don’t worry, you can’t feel as guilty as me, but I will not bear it alone.’
At least Nessa did me the service of not trying to answer. What I do have to bear alone is giving birth to Satan’s spawn. I have even been tempted to smother them in their sleep.
An adventure, we’re going to pretend to be a different family and I have reached a decision; I will choose a country that does not have English as its first language, rural life out in the provinces, hopefully few will speak English. If the children forget and start chatting about the past no one will understand them. They are young and they will forget, we will learn a new language together, refugees do that all the time. Other families must have done this before me, I’m not the only murderer’s wife. But no amount of pretence can change their evil DNA.
Nessa’s speaking ‘What have you told the children?’
We’re going on a big adventure to a new country safe from Covid. Yes I know, pathetic, but what would you have told them if you were in my place?
The canoe took them the short distance from the anchored boat to the gleaming white shore. Close up, the island lived up to the promise of paradise glimpsed at first light. Tina wanted to race up the beach, but as Ben helped her out of the canoe she stumbled and fell to her knees, feeling sick. She plunged her hands into the hot sand; weeks and weeks at sea and they were no longer land lubbers.
Their new guardian laughed. ‘Your first steps back on British soil and you kiss the ground.’
Ben tried to stand up straight with some dignity.
‘Is this really a British island?’
‘Technically I suppose it is no longer, since your good queen gifted it to us at midnight, but this is your home now.’
‘Home,’ said Tina ‘isn’t someone coming to fetch us soon, you said…’
‘I said we would deliver you safely from your kidnappers, what your government has arranged I do not know, but why would you want to leave this beautiful island, weren’t you seeking a dream holiday when you left home?’
‘Where are we?’
‘You don’t need to know that, a real desert island, but it is our new home as well so youwill not be lonely.’
He pointed out to sea where a strange fleet of boats old and new was heading for the shore. Tina stood up shakily and turned a full circle, taking in blue skies and palm trees; a dream island but her only thought was water, she knew only too well now how precious fresh water was.
‘Have you charted the island, are there streams, springs?’
Ben was looking out to sea. The boats were laden with bundles, supplies hopefully and once they had eaten breakfast they needed to plan, take in everything that had happened, slip away and search for an airstrip and the nearest village. He believed little of what the guardian had told them, this was hardly likely to be a real desert island.
‘What do you mean, more money, we gave them a whole island, what more do they want?’
‘Money to build an infrastructure Madam, the island was abandoned fifty years ago, there’s nothing there.’
‘That’s what they wanted, a peaceful island far from civilisation.’
‘They wanted a holiday industry to replace all they lost when their own island was burnt to the sand.’
‘Must be something there, who lived there before?’
‘A few thousand people, we forcibly evacuated them.’
‘Please don’t tell me it was one of those nuclear tests.’
‘No, no actually might have been chemical warfare development or some kind of scientific experiments, records destroyed, but we managed to track down one old navy chap through his nephew on the internet, nephew’s doing his own research on the island.’
‘So what are you going to tell the families, when are you meeting them?’
‘We’re meeting them in ten minutes.’
‘And in tonight’s headlines family and friends of the couple caught in a holiday nightmare kidnapping staged a protest at Downing Street, pleading
Fly Ben and Tina Home.
A friend of the couple gave a statement saying We have been told they are safe on land, on an island and arrangements are being made, but they won’t even tell us where they are. If we can evacuate thousands from Afghanistan why can’t we send one little plane to fetch two British citizens? Even Richard Branston has offered to fly them back in a private jet as soon as we know where they are.’
A government spokesman said ‘The British government never pays ransoms, but after careful negotiations a British couple, who can’t be named for security reasons, are safely off the boat and out of the hands of the pirates. We cannot reveal their whereabouts while negotiations continue.’
How did Ben and Tina end up in the hands of pirates? Find out here in a previous tale.
‘…well not exactly sore, my tongue is sort of tingling… and when I took my temperature this morning it was 36.9 and then thirty minutes later it was 37…’
‘Okay Harry, it sounds as if there is nothing to worry about, just let us know if…’
‘…and I didn’t go this morning do you think I should take the laxative?’
Harry the hypochondriac had never been so happy since being diagnosed with cancer; after forty years at last somebody believed he was ill. He was no longer worried he might have cancer now he actually had it. Now he had started chemotherapy he even had his own hot line to call anytime, twenty four hours a day, if he had any symptoms. That was lucky because he had a lot of symptoms.
At the group chat for chemo beginners he had been the star pupil, it was rather like being back at school only with tea and cake. The nurse praised him for asking plenty of questions, though his classmates kept looking at their watches. She emphasised they must ring the hot line, even if they did not think their symptoms were important.
At home Harry checked his home made charts. He had a good collection of lateral flow tests which he did daily, one could not be too careful with Covid. He took his temperature every hour after the nice chap on the hot line said there was no need to take it every thirty minutes. But he was still worried when he thought of all those white blood cells that had been destroyed. When he had told Pam across the road all about his diagnosis, treatable and curable, she had patted his arm…
‘That’s what they said about my John, but his immunity was shot to pieces and it was the pneumonia that carried him off.’
He liked Pam, she understood his worries.
‘Now Harry, you be careful that district nurse gives you the right injection, our Julie went into that anaphallic shock…’
The district nurse came every day to give Harry an injection to boost his white blood cells. They were very nice and listened sympathetically when he updated them on all his symptoms, though he seemed to get a different nurse each time, so he would have to tell the story of his diagnosis right from the beginning… If they were not there by one o’clock he would ring to check they had not forgotten.
He was quite sad when the seven day course was complete, but at least he would see them again after his next chemo session. He kept the yellow plastic ‘sharps’ tub on the mantlepiece so visitors would appreciate the seriousness of his condition.
Harry began to worry again… supposing they had got his diagnosis wrong. Surely they should have operated first, those scanners might have missed something, perhaps he had another tumour of a different sort…