When you have visitors to stay and then your computer dies just before you go away you wonder how easy it is to blog with your iPad instead of your lovely big tv screen and copying and pasting from WordPress and you did not announce to the blogosphere that you were taking a blogging break and you worry that your four followers will be worried so you post a few pix so they know you are still alive or perhaps will think you have disappeared into the metaverse…. so you do not write anything and just post some more photos….
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 you will 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.
Tina looked out at the wide expanse of empty ocean and sighed.
‘I never want to see the sea again.’
‘If I had a pound for every time you have uttered those words,’ said Ben ‘I could pay our ransom.’
‘We don’t even know if they have asked for one, I mean they don’t seem very good at being pirates.’
Ben didn’t answer, his thoughts hung in the hot still air unspoken. Did the fact that the motley crew seemed to be first time pirates act in his and Tina’s favour or not? They didn’t appear to understand English and he and Tina had no idea what language they were speaking. Perhaps the old couple with all their missionary experience might have guessed, if he hadn’t dropped dead with a heart attack on the beach. The new widow had been reluctantly rescued by a tiny fishing boat and Ben and Tina had happily waved them off assuming they would alert another boat or the authorities.
Night had not brought darkness as the fire raged behind them. They took cover from the swirling hot ashes in the shallows. Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. The wretched lines had gone round and round in Ben’s head as he licked his parched lips.
Strangely, just before dawn came, it finally became dark; the flames died down with nothing left on the island to consume. The morning sun revealed the stark ruins of the hotel against the blackened hills.
Ben walked round the deck of the small boat again as if the view might have changed. At least they weren’t tied up in the hold, there was no need, no chance of escape. When they were rescued, wading then swimming out to the boat and being hauled aboard, they had been pitifully grateful; the proffered tin mugs of tepid liquid tasted as sweet as bottled spring water.
That had been four weeks ago, though they couldn’t be sure, it was timeless out on the seas. But they could no longer hope they were being rescued. It was not kidnap for robbery as they had nothing to take. The diet of fish and rice was monotonous, but they had not died in the fire or drowned, they were still alive.
‘Never heard of the place or its people, can’t we just ignore the messages?’
‘No Madam, they have two British Nationals who were reported missing eighteen days ago. The photos taken by the pirates appear to match the couple’s work ID photos and pictures put in the media by the family. We can’t put off informing their families any longer.’
‘Certainly not, their demands are outrageous. The British Government never pays ransoms, it would set a dangerous precedent and if the media get hold of this story… Negotiation is still the key. Have we found out any more about their wretched island?’
‘Their nascent tourist industry, in fact the whole island, was destroyed by the wild fire, that’s why they want us to give them a new island.’
‘Hello, is that Luke?’
‘Ali, Ben’s friend.’
‘Sixth form, best man at Ben’s wedding?’
‘Oh, er yes, so why are you calling?’
‘Have you heard from Ben?’
‘Not since Christmas was cancelled.’
‘Oh it’s just that I, we were wondering… we haven’t been able to contact him.’
‘Why do you need to contact him?’
‘We don’t, we just wondered why none of us had heard from him and they missed the quiz evening again.’
‘I didn’t know my brother was so popular.’
‘Perhaps I could ring your mother?’
‘I hardly think so as she’s been dead for eight months.’
‘Oh er I am so sorry, she looked fine at the wedding.’
‘She was fine at the wedding, anyway, I must cut you off, conference call coming up…’
‘Louise, Tina’s sister, chief bridesmaid, top table?’
‘Louise, of course, sorry I didn’t get back in tou… answer your messages.’
‘That’s not why I’m calling. Have you seen Ben?’
‘No. I’ve been ringing round everyone, no one’s seen or heard from him, phone’s dead.’
‘Oh Ali, I’m really worried now, same with Tina, she hasn’t been on Facebook for weeks.’
‘You were right to call me, but don’t panic; what about your parents?’
‘They’re worried, I mean we’re not one of those families who call all the time, but she’s not answering in our WhatsApp group or anything.’
‘Has anyone been round their flat?’
‘No, Mum and Dad are isolating and I’m on a Scottish island.’
‘Oh so you did get that croft? What about her work?’
‘Now don’t worry, I’ll get in contact with Ben’s company, even if he’s still working from home they would know if he’s on leave. ’
‘Tina would have said if they were going on holiday, she was always talking about going on a proper holiday again.’
‘TG Services, how can I help?’
‘Can I speak to Ben Chambers please?’
‘Chambers, chambers… ben? Chaos here, everyone working from home, except me… I don’t know the name, what department?’
‘Actually I’m afraid I have no idea, can’t you look him up on the computer records?’
‘No, confidential records cannot be shared with members of the public…’
‘Tom, it’s Ali, have you had any luck? No, nor have I, not a trace of either of them. Have you been round their flat? No of course not, you would have popped round last week if you weren’t in Belfast. I’m a hundred miles away so who’s nearest… Gemma’s in hospital, what happened to her? Call the police? I don’t think it’s that serious yet, I mean they could have gone on holiday, stuck isolating goodness knows where and we’re panicking for nothing. Okay, okay, I’ll drive down tomorrow morning make a day out of it. Have you got their new address? No, nor have I, have to message Louise, no I didn’t see her again and now she’s on some bloody Scottish island.’
‘Louise? It’s Ali again. I’m in their road, the neighbours are already regarding me with suspicion. I couldn’t even get in the building let alone find their flat, yes used to be the old asylum, very smart. I have been lurking to catch anyone going in or out, no luck so far, nobody seems to know them, so not likely to find a friendly neighbour with a spare key, not that you can just go waltzing into someone else’s home uninvited… and what did the police website say? Surely the only option is to have them break in and … no I’m sure they are fine, but there could be a clue where they have gone on holiday, somewhere warm knowing them. Not that warm, no, I’m sure they didn’t end up on a Mediterranean island with a wildfire raging. You call the police then, more likely to take notice of a relative, and you will have to give permission for a search… ’
‘I don’t care where, as long as there is a beach and sunshine…. Make that a decent hotel with a pool and a private beach… any country that will let us in and let us out again… no I don’t care if we have to isolate when we get back, working from home is no big deal.’
Ben scrolled down the computer screen, Tina was right, they were both desperate for a holiday; two weeks away and they would worry later about getting back.
It was bliss; by the pool, on the beach, al fresco dining and the staff were fabulous, glad to have guests and so few guests Ben and Tina were given plenty of attention. They were more relaxed than they had felt in years, their worries left at home. Ben had suggested leaving their phones at home as well, but Tina thought that was going a bit far. They would need the internet to sort out the return journey, but a good compromise was to leave phones and iPads in the hotel safe, along with their passports, as they didn’t trust the staff, plus a few bits of Tina’s jewellery in case a local business person invited them for dinner.
So far the only locals they had met were the staff, but they were enjoying the novelty of spending time together, sauntering through the grove of trees to the beach with its quaint collection of fishing boats and locals mending nets. Or they could look up at the rolling hills that were the backdrop to the gleaming new white hotel. This was a real get away break, no television, no news, no discussions of climate change or Covid. Perhaps tomorrow, their fifth day, they would hike up the hills or venture into the local village, if there was one. They would have to ask that friendly waiter, who had a good smattering of English, what lay outside the high hotel walls and how you actually got out.
The sunset that night was a delight, Ben was almost tempted to request the night manager to open the safe so he could get his phone out and take an Instagram shot, but Tina insisted no digital image could capture the rich reds and dark streaks in the sky.
They woke late the next morning, surprised the sun was not streaming through the window. Out on the balcony the sky looked dull and the sea had lost its sparkle.
‘Perhaps it’s going to rain,’ said Tina ‘does it rain here?’
‘No idea, the air doesn’t feel damp, in fact there is a strange scent in the air, I can’t smell the sea like I usually do.’
‘It’s very quiet this morning Ben.’
Ben felt an unease; it was always quiet here, but now it was silent, unnaturally so. He felt that tingle in his spine that told him he was outside his comfort zone, he had an urge to be reunited with his mobile phone. He chivvied Tina to hurry so they wouldn’t miss breakfast.
Their footsteps echoed on the marble staircase and as they swept round the curve they saw the snooty elderly couple who had not exchanged a single word with them. Now they were poised expectantly at the foot of the stairs.
‘Hey ho, nobody on the desk’ said the husband.
‘And the dining room is empty’ added his wife.
‘It’s late, we slept in’ said Tina, ‘we must have missed breakfast.’
‘No, completely empty, no sign of life, no food, no indication anyone had breakfast.’
‘Ben, there must be something wrong, what shall we do?’
‘Forage in the kitchen’ said the old chap.
‘I don’t think things are that drastic yet,’ said Ben ‘the staff are very attentive, I’ll ask the manager what’s going on.’
Ben strode over to the reception desk as if someone would pop up instantly at his approach, but there was nobody there. He skirted round the desk and rapped loudly on the door of the office, no response. A hefty push sent the door flying open to reveal the empty office and a computer with a dark screen. Ben fiddled with the keyboard and the mouse to no avail, the old chap laughed as he tried the light switch on the wall.
‘Power’s off by the looks of it.’
Ben was staring at the very solid door of the safe. The manager was the only person allowed to open it, but where was the manager? If there was a crisis Ben wanted to get Tina back to the airport and home. Without their passports and phones they were stuck.
‘Right, there must be some explanation. Tina and I will search the grounds you two check the rest of the hotel.’
Leaving the air conditioned building they knew instantly what was wrong, the air had a dry crackle, an acrid scent. The sky over the sea had a thick haze and as they turned to look up at the hills real fear gripped them as they stared at the glowing crest.
‘There must be an evacuation plan’ said Tina.
‘I think love the evacuation plan has already been carried out, but it’s okay, that private beach is a godsend.’
Ben was saved from heroically rescuing the old couple from the hotel building, they were already stumbling out on to the terrace.
‘Are you certain nobody is in the hotel?’
‘Certain, bloody staff have deserted us.’
‘Forgotten,’ said Tina ‘or perhaps about to come and fetch us, they’ll be down on the beach organising the evacuation in all those boats.’
She patted the arm of the elderly lady, proud she was keeping calm in an emergency.
As they trekked through the grove, ash was already floating down. The beach seemed much further away, they could have done without the slow old couple Ben thought to himself.
‘Reminds me of that time we were stuck in…’ the old man tried to wheeze out the words while his wife shook her head to silence him.
On the beach, clear of the grove at last, they instinctively turned to look up at the hills. The flames were marching down with a speed that seemed impossible. Relief that they were well clear of the hotel was short lived as they turned back to look at the beach and the sea. There was not a single boat in sight, with the ever darkening sky it was hard to tell if smudges on the horizon were boats, but the churned up sand and foot prints leading from the trail through the grove to where the water lapped the beach, indicated a hurried departure by a good few people.
‘They’ll come back for us,’ said Tina ‘we’ll be safe by the water, have you two got your phones, ours are in the safe.’
‘No, it’s on charge in our room, not much help if the power’s off… no reception here anyway, we’re on our own… he started to splutter his words as the air thickened.
A loud crack made Tina jump and grab Ben’s arm. No one spoke as they watched the flames take hold of the grove, behind it the hotel gleamed white for a second before being engulfed in flames and smoke.
So you are allowed to venture to more places now, as long as you have booked in advance, taken six negative Covid tests, have a vaccination certificate and don’t mind queuing. To save stress why not visit places and attractions nobody else will want to visit?
Enjoy your weekend.
When Karina left her home in Bolivia to spend the last few weeks of the year with distant relatives in England, she was looking forward to curling up with a book by a roaring fire, Christmas shopping in large brightly lit stores and snow. She did not expect it to involve rubber suits and colourful parachutes.
The drive in the dark from Heathrow Airport had been endless; on the map of little England her cousins’ town had looked close to London.
When she was woken up the next morning it was still dark.
‘Sorry to wake you early Katrina,’ said Aunty ‘it’s an ordinary working day for us, but you relax and enjoy the start of your holiday. You won’t be on your own, we have students staying with us and I have four more coming in for a lesson this morning.’
There were young people coming and going and she wasn’t sure which were her cousins. One expectation came true, it was cold, the house was freezing. She was sent out to the shops with two of the students, as Aunty had to wait in for ‘The Gasman’ because ‘Centralheatingsontheblink.’
Outside, the prevailing colour was grey; the sky, the buildings, people’s clothes. But the students were friendly, assuming her to be one of them, completing a tally of one from each continent.
The next morning was Saturday and the house had taken on a more relaxed atmosphere and brighter aspect; looking out of the front window Katrina realised the sky was a washed out blue instead of lowering grey.
‘Isn’t it a wonderful day,’ said Uncle ‘we have a treat for you, the boys are getting the gear ready, there’s a good breeze, you can help your aunt pack a picnic.’
Katrina wondered nervously if a treat for a girl from a land locked country would be a trip on a boat and if so, what sort of water was involved? In a house full of people she had soon realised that each assumed someone else had told her what was going on.
Outside the front of the house several young men were hoisting huge rucksacks onto their backs; a couple of girls beckoned her to follow. The sun was not as bright as back home, but it was so low in the sky it blinded her. They set off down the road and it came completely as a surprise to Katrina when they arrived at a cliff top and the ocean opened out in front of her. The sky above the water was blue, but a cold wind caused her to shrink inside the borrowed coat.
Down a winding path they came to a beach and were not alone; people were strolling as if it was summer, young children played on the beach dressed in boots and bulky clothes and dogs of all shapes and sizes ran circles around everyone. Stranger things were to follow. She trailed after the others to a quiet stretch; her relatives looked as if they were setting up camp. Bags were ripped open; the young blokes dragged black rubber suits on, hauled out boldly coloured kites with tangles of line, then strapped themselves into harnesses. Karina thrilled to see the curling waves, but hoped she would not be expected to go near the sea. Even as she wondered what would happen next, the kites had floated into the air and turned into parachutes dangling the men like puppets; they jumped onto small boards skimming the waves. She watched the wind take them out to sea and her stomach flipped as a black and red curved canopy soared up, taking the young man high up into the air…