Part two of my latest short story

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So, what’s next?

It had been two days since Ansell’s consignment had been delivered to him. His heart rate dropped to its normal level as his paranoia died away.

Every time he looked at its beautiful face, he convinced himself that it was pleading with him to be allowed to stay. So, what’s next? The world had not invaded his home. Unless he took it outside, his secret was safe. No one beyond his front door knew what he had bought because he never had visitors. Finally Ansell decided not to go on torturing himself any longer…

Having made up his mind to keep it, he spent several hours studying the instruction manual once again. This time with it sat on his lap with its head resting on his shoulder. As he read and re-read each part of the instruction manual, absent mindedly he began stroking its hair. He almost had a heart attack when it moaned in ecstasy! Ansell dropped the instruction manual. As he rose from his chair in a blind panic, his purchase fell against the coffee table, letting out a cry of pain. How could this be? As far as he knew he hadn’t activated it…

Regaining his composure he picked it up and sat it in his chair. “I don’t understand,” he began. “I haven’t activated you?”

Then she turned towards him…

Gone was the stationary stare of a lifelike doll. Life itself now shone in her bewitching green eyes. “I self-activated when you removed me from the package and carried me so gently in your arms. I just knew you would always be kind Ansell.”

“Good god you can talk!”

“Of course I can.”

“How did you know my name?”

“While you were sleeping last night I accessed your laptop. By checking every internet site you frequent I was able to learn a lot about you, including your name.”

Feeling a little uncomfortable about her background investigation of him he asked, “but why didn’t you say anything before I dropped you? I hope you weren’t hurt when you fell. How can you self-activate? Do you have a name?”

“I was given the name Maya on the day you ordered me. Yes I do feel physical pain. But I also feel physical and emotional pleasure. As for how I self activated, let me explain.” For the next two hours Ansell listened totally enthralled by what Maya revealed about herself. What really blew his mind was when she explained that while most sex bots are pre-programmed only with a limited range of vocal responses to encourage the user, in her case, because she is a high-end unit, she is a virtual intelligence. Which meant that she is fully self-aware. “There is one other thing Ansell.”

“Anything.”

“I would like clothes to wear other than what I’m nearly wearing at the moment which is only appropriate for the bedroom. But you must choose them. It would not be right for me to choose a wardrobe.”

“Why not?”

“I am your sex bot. You must cloth me in what you would like me to wear.”

“But you’re not my sex bot are you? You are a sentient being.” Ansell replied with a smile on his face. “Why don’t we choose what you want to wear together?” With Maya seated on his lap once more, this time with her arms around him, he opened his laptop and between them they internet shopped. In a few days the clothing they chose would arrive. For the rest of the day they got to know each other.

The next morning when Ansell opened his eyes, Maya lay with her head on his chest and her arms wrapped around his neck while she continued to recharge from her plug-in power supply. Ansell was still thinking about when they made love hours earlier before he fell asleep in her arms totally exhausted, but deliriously happy for the first time in his life. He hoped she felt the same way. “To answer your unspoken thought my love – yes I do. Can I get you breakfast? What would you like?”

“How about you on toast?” Maya giggled and kissed his cheek as she rose out of bed and went to the kitchen.

A year went by. Because of her Ansell had come out of his shell. Maya was everything he had ever wanted. He worshipped the ground she walked on. Ansell often encountered her humming to herself with a smile on her beautiful face while either doing housework or preparing a meal for her man. By now they loved each other. Niether could imagine life without the other. Unforseen circumstances would be a test of their resolve to be together…

~~~

Watch out for part three soon.

😉

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Whatever possessed him?

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The loud knock on his front door insured his heart rate increased dangerously. He signed for his large consignment. Thanked the delivery driver. Then closed and locked the door, before dropping to his knees in a state of anxiety. Doubts began to multiply in Ansell’s mind. Whatever possessed him to buy such a thing in the first place? Did he dare open the package? What if his neighbours found out what it contained? Worse, what if his relatives became aware of his secret desire? His aunts had always thought he had deviant leanings! If they only knew?

Because of its size it would not be easy to hide from view once activated. For months he had been debating with himself whether or not to purchase the thoroughly desirable contents of the box that now stood against one wall of his hallway almost as tall as him. In the end the reason he decided to go for it was simply because he lived on his own. He needed companionship. Yet when it came to a normal relationship with a living breathing human being, he was terrified!

For the first time in his life he had made a decision completely out of character. A nagging doubt still bothered him. What if someone at the bank he used noticed the abnormally high purchase price among his normal weekly income and bill payments on his account? Ansell had never spent so much money in his entire life!

After cutting the packaging tape sealing the box, carefully he began removing the lid of the innocuous cardboard outer packaging, checking it’s surface for any incriminating stickers or labels from the manufacturer. The clear moulded plastic inner cover was a dead giveaway when it came to what it contained.

He would have to cut the two halves of the inner cover into small pieces, feeding them gradually into the garbage bin over the next few weeks. Possibly even months. Ansell dreaded the thought, but if the bin men guessed what he had bought, he was certain he would die of embarrassment! The very thought of the inevitable knowing glances, winks and comments about his choice of partner made him feel ill…

He gently picked up his purchase and took it to the spare chair directly opposite his in the living room, before putting it down equally gently. He was surprised how heavy it was. He sat totally mesmerised by its beauty and shape noting how soft it felt to the touch when he carried it in his arms.

Unlike his usual practice in the past, this was the one time when he really needed to pay attention to the instruction manual. One wrong move on his part and he may make a costly mistake.

At the very least, inattention to the very specific instructions may in all probability void the guarantee. Ansell put down the instruction manual. His head was beginning to ache from sheer concentration. He sat back and briefly closed his eyes. In his mind’s eye he could see his purchase in all its sensual glory. His first thought about it was correct. It is beautiful. Still not comfortable with it being there with him in his home, he decided to wait before going any further. He knew there was no going back once he activated it. Unable to bring himself to do it, he drifted off once again. This time dreaming about the many hours of secret pleasure that lay ahead of him if he kept it.

The instruction manual included an extensive list of things which under no circumstances must his purchase ever be subjected to. Some brought a wry smile to his face. Others simply left him completely dumbfounded! Surely no one had done these things, had they? The old adage ‘there’s nowt as queer as folk’ occurred to him.

The list of what could be done positively boggled his mind. Ansell had always shied away from anything like this before because the whole idea of what this represented was frightening mixed with a tinge of self-disgust…

Should he throw caution to the wind and activate it? He began imagining holding a conversation with it. Then dismissed the idea from his mind as an utterly preposterous notion! It was bad enough that he talked to himself! So what would he do with it? For now just looking at its undoubted feminine beauty was enough. The more he looked the more his animal desire for it grew. The voice in his head taunted him, “Go on Ansell. You know you want to. Who’s going to know you’ve got it?” The last question was his chief worry in a nutshell! What if someone in authority came to the door demanding to be let in? Should he hide it? If so where? Despite its desirability and the thought of the hours of pleasure with it, if Ansell wanted peace of mind to return to his sheltered existence, his recent purchase had to be returned to the manufacturer.

Once again he had learned a valuable lesson. Reality dictates that you must always be careful what you wish for…

 

Remembering the First World War

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I wrote this a few years ago to pay tribute to the seven hundred thousand Tommys’ who didn’t come home…

~~~

Runner’s Gauntlet

Albert Johnstone and his pal Dick Madison had both enlisted at the same time, barely twelve weeks after war had been declared in 1914. At the time, Dick was nineteen and Albert was barely eighteen. Since then three long and bitterly hard fought years had passed in the ‘war to end all wars’. It was now 1917 and by sheer good fortune more than anything else in the corner of hell they called home, Albert and Dick were now the only two left alive from the newly formed ‘pals regiment’ that had marched to war in that first year.

To any newcomer to their section, both men seemed much older than they actually were. The last five weeks of constant barrage by the Hun artillery plus the filth, trench foot, body lice and chronic diarrhoea which everyone was subjected to in this small section of the trench, which they called home, had prematurely aged both men.

~~~

“Give us a fag mate?”

“Ain’t got any left Dickie,” Albert replied.

Dick lifted his Lee Enfield’s muzzle to his eye to check the cleanliness of its barrel. The section Corporal, Charlie Hobbs, had just threatened to put him on a fizzer if he didn’t do something about the state of his filthy weapon. “Bleedin stripes on his arm have gone to his bleedin head,” Dick mumbled to himself. “Go on Bert mate, give us a fag,” he pleaded once more, as he yanked on the string of his rifle pull-through once more, “You can have my extra tin of Bully for a fag, go on give us one.” Dick knew that his best mate Albert always had some spare cigarettes stashed away somewhere, deep inside the filthy confines of his clothing, competing for space against his skin with the thousands of body lice that constantly plagued him, which he reserved for those quiet moments during ‘stand to’ at night when they took turns on watch from the trenches’ firing step.

~~~

“Johnstone and Madison, over here. Quickly now – jump to it my lucky lads!” Albert and Dick waded through the fetid water that sat in the bottom of the trench, hiding the wooden duckboards along its length, dodging the huge rats that were swimming along looking for scraps of food, or to feed on the unburied human remains that still lay where they had died.

“Bleedin furry cannibals,” Albert muttered as he smashed the butt of his rifle into one of the rats. Eventually both men stopped in front of Sergeant ‘Bull’ Thomas.

“Got a job for you me lucky lads,” Bull grinned coldly.

“Bleedin hell Sarge – not again, why us, why not someone else?” Dick muttered out loud.

“Now then Madison, watch yer lip! Corporal Hobbs tells me you’re a filthy little bleeder my son. So pin your bleedin lugholes back and shut yer trap unless you want that bleedin fizzer he’s already threatened you with to bleedin multiply!”

Despite all of his bluster, Sergeant Thomas had a soft spot for his two most experienced soldiers. Like Albert and Dick, he had been here in the hell of the Western Front since it first began. Like them, somehow he survived when so many thousands of their fellow Tommies had not. “Now then me lads; as I was saying, I’ve got a job for you. The major needs a couple of runners to take a very important message back to HQ, because the bleedin telephone lines is broke again after the last bleedin barrage. I knows just the very lads for the job, sir, I says to him; Privates’ Johnstone and Madison I says. So my lucky lads, there it is.”

Albert and Dick’s faces, despite the thick layer of ingrained grime and dirt that plastered their skin, giving them the appearance of two men in late middle age, betrayed their natural lack of enthusiasm for being volunteered for something that in all likely-hood would prove to be far more dangerous than remaining here in the trench. “Like I said Sarge, why us when there’s plenty of new replacements to detail off as bleedin runners?” Dick replied.

“The major says that this particular message is far too important to be trusted to a newcomer, lad. Besides, none of them have your survival instincts. The route you will have to take is perishin close to the Hun’s front line as you know.” Bull sighed, realizing exactly what he was asking of them. Everyone knew that anyone who tried to get through that particular piece of the frontline trench system had less than a ten percent chance of making it to the other end alive.

~~~

‘Runner’s gauntlet’, as the way back to the HQ dugout was equally known by both sides of the stagnant frontline, was looked upon as the real life version of the popular fair-ground shooting galleries before the war.

When the frontline trenches had first been dug into the muddy soil two years earlier, the zigzag nature of the British frontline trench combined with the depth it had been dug made it relatively safe. But since then, constant barrages by both sides had reshaped it into a series of short intact trench sections and gaps consisting of hundreds of shell craters. Twenty yards beyond where the three men now stood was the end of the trench proper, and the beginning of the heavily damaged sector. The German snipers loved it. Whenever a Tommy runner tried to cross it, the snipers took bets among themselves over which one of them would send him to oblivion…

~~~

Bull thrust the message into Dick’s tunic top pocket and buttoned it up before shaking both their hands; there was no sense in wishing them good luck – it might bring them the exact opposite.

The pair moved off silently to the end of the trench. Albert carefully lifted the trench periscope just above the remains of the sand bags on top of the trench. Dick released his Lee Enfield’s safety catch in readiness.

“Two bleedin snipers mate, one behind the wall of the church and one behind the old iron gate,” Albert reported in a hushed voice.

“Wall first mate,” Dick replied quietly as the muzzle of his rifle slowly poked through the gap between two sandbags.

Meanwhile, Albert brought his sniper rifle up in readiness. “Ok Dickie, get the bleeder’s attention,” he said, as he shifted his telescopic sight in readiness.

Dick placed his tin hat over the back sight of his rifle and ducked down, seconds before a round from the German sniper’s rifle drove a neat hole slap bang in the centre of it, sending it flying behind him. At the same moment Albert squeezed his trigger and stayed only long enough to see the German sniper’s head explode before ducking down alongside Dick. “Gotcha you bleeder,” he muttered grinning with satisfaction.

Now there was only one more sniper to contend with. “Ready?” Dick asked.

“After you mate,” Albert winked as he stood up with his trusty rifle ready for action. “Go!”

Dick jumped and rolled over the edge of the first shell hole, flattening himself at its soggy base. Albert corrected his telescopic sight’s aim as he briefly saw movement behind the church’s old iron gate. “Go!” he shouted. Dick sprang to his feet once more and jumped and rolled into the next shell hole a split second before a bullet from the German sniper’s rifle kicked up mud behind the sole of his rapidly disappearing boot, when he dived for cover again.

“Gotcha,” Albert said once again with satisfaction as he watched the second sniper crumple lifelessly to the ground behind the iron gate.

~~~

With no more snipers to contend with for the moment, they crossed the rest of the pock-marked muddy landscape, shell hole by shell hole, until they were back in the relative safety of the next section of trench. The two friends sat for a few minutes savouring the exquisite delight of one of Albert’s precious stock of cigarettes, both laughing when the body of one of Alfred’s body lice, which had hidden itself in the tobacco, exploded as the cigarette burned down, before they navigated the trench system to the HQ.

The colonel in charge studied the major’s message before dismissing Albert and Dick, telling them to go to the cook house for a meal before reporting back to him in an hour’s time.

~~~

On their return the colonel handed them his reply to take back with them along with a new roll of field telephone wire to pay out as they went.

“Bleedin’ hell mate,” Dick grumbled, “now all we have to do is get back home with this lot.”

“Like they say Dickie – be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,” Albert joked.

“Ready?”

“Ready mate? Let’s go,” Albert replied as he patted his sniper rifle, prepared for what lay ahead of them on their return journey through ‘runners gauntlet’.

PS – When I first published this a few years ago, it attracted the attention of a totally clueless individual from the US who was convinced I’d stolen the idea from a film about the American’s much later involvement in the First World War when America’s President Woodrow Wilson finally got off the fence and declared war on Germany on the 6th of April, 1917. The film is entitled All Quiet on The Western Front about the American involvement in the latter stages of World War One.

Showing his woeful lack of knowledge, he had the nerve to call me a plagiarist. If he had really bothered to do his research he should have realised that the British and French as well as the soldiers of the British Empire (Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, North Africans, Indians and many other nations had been fighting the Germans in long lines of trenches since 1914. Don’t you just love complete morons like that?

Not…

🙂

An Egyptian fiction…

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Echoes among the columns

The great god Ra had not yet arisen from his bed beyond the world of man. Neither had the members of the royal household of Egypt who still slept soundly in the cool air of the palace.

No one heard the faint clattering sound of a wooden stylus and a wax tablet dropping to the floor, in the vast expanse of the heavily columned hypostyle hall, during the night. But when the new day began, and the body of Senenmut the scribe was found with its throat cut, the old hall and the palace would echo to the outraged cries of the pharaoh’s immediate court.

Amenemhat had carried out his task efficiently and without emotion. It had been easy to lure the deviant scribe with a promise of unnatural sex in exchange for a specifically prepared papyrus scroll. The first name on his list of traitors could be struck off at last.

~~~

Ever since Hatshepsut had taken up the exalted double throne of Upper and Lower Egypt, becoming pharaoh, her nephew and stepson, Tuthmosis, the third to bear the divine royal name, was incensed by the thought of a mere woman ruling Egypt. As he grew to manhood, the young prince slowly gathered together a small group from within the royal household, who had all gladly changed their allegiance in favour of a male pharaoh.

The politics of pharaoh’s court bred an atmosphere of fear, lies, plot and counter plot, jealousy and corruption. A tiny handful of Hatshepsut’s more ambitious junior scribes, servants, priests and astrologers formed a ring of spies working for her scheming nephew. All were willingly feeding him information, equally appalled by the unnatural abomination who currently sat upon Egypt’s throne, eager to please their future god king.

In his fevered mind Tuthmosis firmly believed his coldly efficient assassin Amenemhat was his most powerful weapon. As a means of persuasion, there was none more suited or highly adept at recruiting the more cowardly and reluctant courtiers to his cause.

~~~

But the coldly efficient killer had a secret agenda of his own. It suited his purpose to go along with Tuthmosis for now, professing undying devotion and loyalty to the upstart prince.

His exalted position as Hatshepsut’s trusted bodyguard meant he had free access throughout the palace and the ear of her loyal generals, scribes, priests, judges and astrologers. When Hatshepsut went to war, Amenemhat was by her side, on guard and ready to give his life for her. When she toured Egypt, his eyes and ears were constantly on alert for trouble. When she needed unbiased and honest advice, she always sought him out. As the god king of Egypt, Hatshepsut regarded him as her one true ally within the royal household. Above all she knew he had no personal agenda of his own. Amenemhat’s only desire was to please the woman he loved more than life itself – his pharaoh Hatshepsut.

Unbeknown to Tuthmosis, Amenemhat had added a few more names to the list of those who were to be assassinated on the prince’s orders. Names of people who he deemed to be dangerous in the extreme to his pharaoh appeared alongside the rest. What did it matter if when he exposed her nephew by revealing the list, a few more enemies of his beloved Hatshepsut had also been done away with?

To divert Tuthmosis should he become suspicious, whenever the prince was attending his aunt feigning devotion and love, he continued to praise his pharaoh in public.  But when he was alone with him he made a great pretence of cursing her, despite the emotional pain it brought him to utter such vile traitorous oaths.

Since he had first entered her service, and despite the barbarous act inflicted upon him when he was but a child ending his chances of ever being a real man, Amenemhat’s deep unspoken love and his longing to share Hatshepsut’s bed even though as a eunuch he knew that would never happen, meant he would always protect her. He would never allow the young pretender to end her life, be it by poison, foul accident, act of war, or any other means that Tuthmosis decreed.

Amenemhat would continue to add names to the list. Then he would turn his deadly gaze in the direction of Tuthmosis and his band of conspirators. When the time was right he would expose his beloved pharaoh’s nephew for the foul cur he truly was.

~~~

A terrible cry echoed throughout the columned hall –“Murder, foul bloody murder!”  Illuminated by the first shafts of light, the body of Senenmut had been found.  Meni, chief advisor to Pharaoh Hatshepsut hurried with the news through the vast corridors of the palace.

The guards to the pharaoh’s private apartment silently opened the door allowing the old man access.

“Grave news majesty! Senenmut has been murdered,” the old man said as he prostrated himself before her.

Hatshepsut rose from her bed in alarm, waiving away her young hand maiden and current lover, Nefer. The pharaoh’s classically beautiful face saddened. A single tear flowed down one cheek as she gently assisted the old man to his feet.

“Good Meni bring Amenemhat to me.” The old man breathlessly backed away bowing low, then turned and quickly left.

Maatkare, Hatshepsut’s old wet nurse, appeared from the side room where she always slept close by her beloved charge and put a comforting arm around her trembling shoulders. She had always been at her side throughout her life. The old woman tenderly wiped away a tear from her pharaoh’s cheek, comforting her as she had done when Hatshepsut was but a child.

Amenemhat soon strode through the door. “Majesty I have just heard the news.” The tone of his high pitched voice did not betray him. “I have already taken the liberty of sealing off all access to your majesty’s palace. If the assassin is still hidden within as I believe he is, I shall seek out the truth of this evil act. By nightfall I swear the assassin shall be despatched or be grovelling here before you Majesty, pleading for his worthless life.”

Hatshepsut tearfully nodded her assent. “Dear friend, leave no stone unturned in your search, now go,” she commanded with a weak smile.

Amenemhat hesitated for a moment at the door before issuing a command. From beyond the entrance to the pharaoh’s bedchamber, six heavily armed members of Hatshepsut’s imperial guard quickly entered. “Majesty until the assassin is found, these guards who I have personally chosen, will protect you. I have also ensured that guards have been placed around prince Tuthmosis’ apartment,” the eunuch said finally as he bowed low, before turning and quickly leaving.

By leaving the dead scribe’s body where it would easily be found, Amenemhat had changed the rules of the deadly game to his own advantage. Tuthmosis was no fool. He would now suspect the eunuch had betrayed him. But by sealing the prince off, effectively Amenemhat had silenced him, at least for now.

Tuthmosis would have to be watched constantly now, which was why Amenemhat had asked his old friend general Djoser, the man Hatshepsut had placed in charge of her imperial guard on his advice, to take charge of the prince’s safety personally. The serpent would try anything now to escape his gilded cage. Knowing this, Amenemhat had given Djoser specific orders that there was to be no communication whatsoever between Tuthmosis and the world beyond his door.

~~~

All of this had happened moments after the alarm was raised and before Amenemhat had been summoned into Hatshepsut’s presence. Now it was time for the next move.

Amenemhat entered the office of Nebhepetre the pharaoh’s personal scribe. “You have heard the news by now?” he enquired.

The scribe nodded. “Truly we live in terrible times Amenemhat,” he said with a note of fear in his voice.

Amenemhat produced the papyrus scroll for which the traitorous Senenmut had paid with his life from the folds of his kilt with a flourish. “This bloodstained list of traitors was found on the body of the dead scribe. Copy the names for the archive quickly now, then deliver the original to your pharaoh. Hurry now, an assassin is on the loose within the palace!” The frightened scribe’s eyes bulged in sheer terror after Amenemhat left when he quickly scanned the list before making a copy. At the top was the name of prince Tuthmosis.

Hatshepsut’s hands trembled violently as she read the bloodstained papyrus Nebhepetre had just delivered. For a few brief moments she hardly dare believe the evidence of her own eyes. Yet here was clear proof of a devious and deadly coup d’état, designed to end her reign and her life. What really saddened her was that the leader was her much loved nephew Tuthmosis!

Under Amenemhat’s orders, all named on the list were quickly rounded up and executed on the spot, before their bodies were duly put on public display outside the palace walls. By mid morning there was only one left alive – Tuthmosis.

On Hatshepsut’s personal orders general Djoser entered Tuthmosis’ apartment where he forced the young prince to drink poison, away from the eyes of the court and the world in general. To keep up the illusion of the royal family being living gods, not one drop of their blood should ever be spilled in public. In one fell swoop, Amenemhat had delivered his beloved pharaoh from the nest of vipers within her household.

~~~

A proclamation was made and sent to the farthest corners of the land. All Egypt was told of the tragic passing of Tuthmosis. At the end of the month, his elaborate funeral, worthy of a prince of the royal line, was duly held. Hatshepsut shocked all assembled there that day, when in her deep gratitude she declared the eunuch Amenemhat forthwith to be supreme general of her armies and co-ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt.

While he may never share her bed as her lover, he would ensure that no one would ever again threaten the woman he loved beyond all else in the savage world of the Egyptian court until the end of her days. From now on there would be no more echoes among the columns, only whispers…

Footnote:

While the above story is a fiction, in reality on the death of the most significant female pharaoh ancient Egypt had ever known, her successor Tuthmosis III did take great pains to wipe away all mention of Hatshepsut. On his orders, all images of her and cartouches bearing her name, were destroyed.

😉

Dhoby VC – a short story

 

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So many returned service men and women suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, often unable to cope with society because of it. This short story is not only a tribute to every Victoria Cross winner, but to all returned service men and women. In particular my fellow PTSD sufferers…

~~~

I walked into the autopsy room at the beginning of the day to find a body awaiting my undivided attention which had been found in the woods on the hill beyond the village where I grew up. I was equally shocked and saddened to discover that the corpse on the slab was my childhood friend Dhobi.

Back then most of the kids in our village were merciless towards him, throwing stones and shouting obscenities. None of them knew the simple gentle man hidden beneath the grime the way I did. I was the only kid who didn’t pick on him. To me there was something very special about this loner who had shunned society for the woods. Never once did I wonder why he lived the way he did, nor did he ever offer an explanation. Dhobi was a man of few words.

He taught me how to live off the land, showing me how to make snares, what plants and fungi were edible and those that were not, and what were best for simple medicinal uses. The extent of his knowledge was endless.

Nicknamed Dhobi (a British military slang term for clothes washing borrowed from the Hindi language) for as long as he could remember for the simple reason he hated to wash; to keep out the ravages of the seasons, he wore all the clothes he possessed beneath his tattered ex army greatcoat.

No one knew where he came from. Or cared much come to that. I often asked him, but he merely ignored me. Most adults in our village wanted him arrested; irrationally assuming the worst about him. Fearing that he was some kind of perverted weirdo. If only they had got to know him as well as I had back then…

If my parents had ever found out about my friendship with this solitary man they would have been completely horrified! I used to walk up the hill to the woods from my home every couple of days with my pockets and school satchel stuffed with food stolen from my mother’s larder for him.

Dhobi’s natural gentleness was apparent to anyone if only they would have spent time in his wonderful company. Mice lived in his pockets. Hedgehogs curled up in the folds of his old army greatcoat around his legs as the sun disappeared beneath the western horizon until it was time for them to emerge to hunt for food.

He never ever trapped an animal to eat from his own patch, just in case he may eat a friend of his by mistake. Each spring a Cock Robin appeared in Dhobi’s camp and spent its time in the evenings on his shoulder meticulously pecking mites from his hair and beard. Obviously the respect this gentle man had for all wildlife was passed down through each generation of all the woodland creatures. On one occasion I watched totally spellbound as a Sparrow Hawk brought him a gift of wildfowl.

Dhobi’s greatest friend in his woodland world was a battle scarred one eyed fox that lived with him, keeping him company and sharing the warmth of his constant campfire. At night the old fox slept at Dhobi’s feet beneath the rough lean-to that was his bedroom, lounge and kitchen. Sparrows nested in the bracken that covered it, knowing their young were completely safe under Dhobi’s gentle care.

As I began carefully removing his clothing I found among the few personal possessions he had about him, a faded newspaper cutting from the nineteen fifties showing a photograph of him in uniform with a few lines beneath it explaining the photo and giving his real name. In particular, my eye was drawn to his row of medals.

The first in the line was the Victoria Cross, according to the newspaper cutting, won for an act of total selflessness in the heat of battle when he rescued his comrades one by one while under constant machinegun fire on a now long forgotten hill in the Korean peninsula.

Whatever happened to him to make him retreat from the world of humanity to the natural world? Thinking about it, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) was more than likely was the cause. Maybe Dhobi and his mates fought for a hill too far. No human would ever know nor care except me.

After conducting a thorough autopsy, determining that he had simply expired due to natural circumstances brought on by his lifestyle, I had him cremated then took his ashes back to his campsite in the woods, where I silently scattered them witnessed by the many creatures he loved.

Rest in peace Corporal Phillip “Dhobi” Anderson VC, friend to all who lived alongside him in the woods.

😉

It’s short story time again…

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Eye of the Storm

“What ye got there, give it me, give it me now blast yer eyes,” One Eye snarled, as he snatched the pretty bauble from my grip.

Ever since I had become his unwilling slave aboard this stinking, barely seaworthy, ancient pirate hulk a few months ago when his captain and crew captured our ship, One Eye had made my existence sheer hell. No matter what I did to please him it was never enough. Whenever I found something I thought I could call my own he instantly took it from me. He constantly beat me, telling me that it, was for my own good. “Now get below and fetch me vittles – quickly now blast yer eyes, else ye’ll be sorry!”

I scurried below, relieved to be out of his cruel reach, however briefly. I searched among the debris of the food locker and the bilge.

“To hell with him!” I muttered to myself.

My own hunger came first as I gnawed on some old brick hard, weevil ridden sea biscuits and on the half consumed remains of a wheel of mouldy cheese that had fallen between the loose planks of the locker’s deck, into the bilge below.

“Where’s me vittles blast ye?” One Eye bellowed down to me through the open hatch.

I hurried back above to where he sat belching and picking his teeth, carrying as much of the cheese and sea biscuits as my young arms would allow. One Eye bit into one of the sea biscuits and broke a tooth.

“Ye young spalpeen, when I get’s me hands on yer I’ll flog yer to the backbone! I’ll rip yer gizzard out! I’ll skin yer alive and eat yer innards so I will!”

I didn’t wait around, but ran quickly back down below into the stinking darkness of the bilges; at least down here I was safe from One Eye’s murderous wrath. He was far too fat and lame to chase after me and because of the loss of his eye a few years back, his vision was seriously impaired.

The old hulk ominously creaked and groaned as it wallowed its way through the choppy seas. High above on the main deck, despite the howling wind, I heard the mate shout the command to shorten sail. Even down here I knew a storm was brewing by the way the hulk rode the seas.

I peered through the crack in the deck planks above my head towards the open hatch. My ears strained for any audible sign that One Eye was hunting for me. But all I heard from him was a low moan and a lot of muttered curses at the loss of the one good tooth left among the jagged stumps in his savage blackened mouth.

A strangely familiar odour wafted past my nostrils. Somewhere down here was some long forgotten discarded salt beef. Hunger took over my soul, temporarily freeing my mind from my fear of One Eye, I began searching along the entire length of the old hulk’s bilges.

I eventually found it slopping in the fetid water of the bilge directly below the captain’s quarters. The decking of his cabin was as loose as all the other timbers aboard this floating coffin. The salt beef must have fallen through the cracks. Here at last was a chance to fill my belly beyond One Eye’s reach. Thankfully, the stinking water trapped here had washed most of the salt away.

As I sat on my haunches savouring the exquisite delights of the salt preserved beef, a commotion above my head caused me to stop chewing mid mouthful and listen.

“Beg pardon Cap’n, ye need to come on deck, we’re too close to the rocks and the storm is gettin stronger by the minute, we daresn’t continue on our present course!” the mate’s voice quivered in fear.

“Storm sail mister mate, rig the storm sail. Order aback blast ye and bring her bow round across the wind d’ye understand mister!”

“Aye Cap’n.”

The old hulk began to scream in protest as the gathering storm intensified. I returned to my feast of beef. Three bells signalled the hour. The sound of men fighting flailing rotting canvas and frayed rope as the storm intensified, drifted down to where I sat in the dark.

The storm grew stronger. The old hulk’s timbers creaked and slowly her planks began to spring under the strain.

“Avast below – rocks! Rocks on the port beam!”

Even before the lookout aloft had screamed out his warning to all aboard I was rapidly returning aft, back to the locker as fast as my legs would carry me. Water was rising below me as I climbed up the ladder to where One Eye sat still nursing his mouth.

Despite the fact that I hated him more than any other being alive, I shouted out to him as I grabbed the pretty bauble he had taken from me earlier.

“We’re foundering yer old tyrant, time to abandon ship – come on blast yer, lest yer want to drown!”

~~~

The morning arrived and the sea was calm once more. A graceful ship of the line hove into view from around the southerly point of the bay and sailed slowly through the wreckage that bobbed up and down on the morning tide. All along the shore the splintered wreckage of the ship she had been hunting could be seen. The bodies of its crew lay face down in the sea. Eagle eyes searched the rocky shore for any signs of survivors. A skiff was launched and the captain and some of his crew went ashore.

“Good morrow sir.”

“And to you sir,” the captain replied as he shook the local Revenue man’s hand.

“The Black Bess has led me a merry dance sir. I’ve been chasing her for months since her captain Red John and his scurvy crew boarded the packet that carried my dear wife and only child home from Gibraltar sir – damn his eyes!” The captain’s head lowered in grief, already realizing the sad truth.

“Sadly your wife and child are not here good sir, only the bodies of his crew. I found this locket on the beach sir; would it belong to your wife? Not even Red John’s body is here. I fear he and your wife and child are down below with Davy Jones. Good riddance to him I say sir,” the revenue man concluded, sad to give the captain even more bad news than he was suffering already as he handed over the precious bauble.

“Were there no survivors sir?” the young midshipman who had accompanied his captain ashore, anxiously enquired of the Revenue man.

“Nought but two ships rats young master – one old, fat, half blind and toothless that soon died – drownded by all accounts. The other young and well fed who scurried off as quick as lightening as soon as his feet touched dry land, dropping the locket from his mouth in his eagerness to be gone from here I shouldn’t wonder. I saw them jump ship when the eye of the storm briefly calmed the sea moments before the Black Bess foundered on yon rocks.”

~~~

I watched from behind the rocks feeling sorrow for the Captain, as he tearfully clutched the locket he had given his wife while his crew rowed him back to his ship. As sorry for him as I was one thing was clear. I was finally rid of One Eye…

😉

Here is another short story of mine…

I wrote this fully intending to include it as a chapter in my novella Cataclysm. In the end I went without it…

~~~

Wuffa’s Sword

A month had passed since Dr Gilbert Briggs became the first human ever to travel back in time; in his case, to witness the battle of Hastings. As the new director of the UK Advanced Science Institute based in the city of Norwich, Gilbert had demanded that he be the first. Not for selfish reasons as his detractors within the Institute would have the academic world believe, but merely because he was not prepared to gamble on anyone else’s life. He was the one responsible for designing the Teleportation Gate and the minute homing chip, designed to be inserted beneath the observer’s skin; therefore in his eyes, it was his responsibility to test it.

Many lessons had been learned during that first use of the Gate. As far as Briggs’ nemesis Professor Malcolm was concerned; under no circumstances should anyone who may be a direct descendant of the people existing at the target be sent through the Gate ever again, citing the narrow escape Briggs had experienced to back up his argument, secretly hoping the whole programme would be closed down.

Malcolm was the senior academic Briggs had replaced as head of the Institute. He led a small number of the more senior academics within the Institute determined to block Briggs’ every move. The majority of the scientific community in the know largely ignored his protestations, preferring to back Briggs.

The trouble with Malcolm’s argument is that the further you travel back in time, the more likely you are to be related to the people you have been sent to observe, particularly if the target is anywhere within the UK and across the Continent and parts of the Near East.

~~~

While Malcolm and his cronies continued their pathetic attempts to disrupt the programme, Briggs, was taking a break from his own personal research regarding his Norman ancestor Gilberte de Brige who had nearly killed him that day during the battle of Hastings, when he suddenly thought of another historical figure worthy of observation. He was fascinated by the man since his early childhood growing up in a small market town in north Suffolk on the border with Norfolk, not forty miles south of the Institute.

Ever since he first read about the discovery in May 1939 of the ship burial beneath Mound One at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge in southern Suffolk, four months prior to the opening gambit of the Second World War, commonly referred to as the phony war, he had often wondered about whether or not its occupant was indeed Rædwald, the legendary king of the East Angles (the Scandinavian people who occupied what is now Norfolk and Suffolk at the time) as the world had been led to believe, long before the amalgamation of the Angles and Saxons into one people, and later the Vikings.

In his early teens whenever he accompanied his parents on their annual visit to his mother’s relatives in London, Briggs usually waited until they were all deep in conversation before sneaking away to catch the bus to the British Museum, spending many happy hours wandering around the room where all the rich grave goods found during the Sutton Hoo dig were displayed, marvelling at the seventh century workmanship.

In particular what got his attention was the gold belt buckle, the equally exquisite garnet encrusted cuirass clasps, and the remains of a plated iron helmet and face mask with its magnificent modern day replica mounted alongside for comparison purposes, produced for the British Museum by the artisans of the Royal Armouries, showing how it must have looked on the day of the burial when it was carefully placed alongside the body.

Then there was the garnet cloisonné pommel of the deceased’s sword, equally as exquisite as the buckle and clasps, not to mention the pattern-welded blade still within its scabbard, with superlative scabbard bosses of domed cell work and pyramidal mounts, and the remnants of a once magnificent shield. Were they the sword and shield of Rædwald’s legendary grandfather Wuffa? Briggs was determined to find out one way or another.

~~~

Gilbert’s choice of Lars as his observer was inspired. The long haired, well-built young Scandinavian was currently engaged in a post-doctoral study of the University of East Anglia’s precious copy of the saga of Beowulf. With his extensive knowledge of the ancient Geat language which quickly developed into Old English, a Germanic language at the time, who better to send through the Gate? After all it was widely believed by historians that Rædwald’s ancestors, the Wuffing dynasty, originated in Lars’ home country of Sweden.

The only real decision left was where to send him – Rendlesham, the hypothesised seat of Rædwald’s power, not far from Sutton Hoo, or to the site of the decisive battle at the River Idle, flowing through what is now Nottinghamshire, between Rædwald and his arch enemy at the time, Æthelfrith of Northumbria. In the end Briggs took a calculated guess by deciding on Rendlesham, even though he had no definitive proof that the hamlet actually was Rædwald’s powerbase. It may even have been at nearby Gipeswic (Ipswich), the East Angle’s predominant port at the time.

The other problem was the date. Although it is generally accepted by historians that the king died sometime in 624AD, what month was anyone’s guess. Nor was the actual date of the battle at the river Idle actually known, except that it occurred either in 616 or 617AD. If Lars appeared on the scene too late or early he may miss Rædwald altogether. And so after much discussion between Briggs and his historical section, the twenty-second of September, 616, was decided upon. If their calculations were out, Lars could always travel back again at a different date and time.

~~~

They were in luck. When he arrived in Rendlesham it was night time. The king’s great wooden hall, surrounded by the guarded walls of a wooden stockade, dominated the hamlet. On entering the hall Lars saw that it was filled to capacity. At the hall’s centre, surrounded on three sides by long wooden tables and benches, stood the great brazier. Above it, suspended by a chain from the hall’s ridgepole, was a large iron cauldron from which slaves fed the ever hungry assembly. The thick wattle and daub walls were lined with expensive, richly coloured wall hangings made by the finest artisans.

He marvelled at the sight before him from his vantage point in the shadows beside the doors at the opposite end of the hall facing Rædwald the undisputed king of the East Angles, seated below what Lars had been sent here to find – Wuffa’s mighty sword and shield. To the king’s right were his two sons Rægenhere and Eorpwald and their uncle Eni (Rædwald’s younger brother). Lars said later that finally being able to put actual faces to names from dusty history books was initially unsettling. And yet here he was and there they were…

On Rædwald’s left was his wife Eabæ, a daughter of the royal house of Essex, who Rædwald had originally married on the death of her first husband, to seal a peaceful alliance between her people the Saxons and his. The mother of his beloved sons was still a beauty despite being in her late thirties – which was old for the time.

Rædwald had become king of the East Angles at the age of twenty on the death of his father Tytila, inheriting his crown and his badge of office, Wuffa’s great sword and shield. Later the venerable Bede would contemptuously dismiss Rædwald as nothing more than a mere footnote in England’s history and therefore of no real importance, by simply observing: filius Tytili, cuius pater fuit UUffa (son of Tytil, whose father was Wuffa).

The cleric could not have been more wrong!

Barely a month since, Rædwald had driven out Eabæ’s firstborn son Sigeberht by her previous husband, who’s claim to the East Angle throne was at best tenuous since she had produced two rightful heirs for her new husband.

Rædwald’s desire to kill him soon forced the young man to seek exile in Gaul. Thanks to his loyal thanes and ceorls, Rædwald learned of his stepson’s treacherous plot to murder young Rægenhere and his infant brother Eorpwald in order to take his place as next in line to the throne. Under the circumstances, the usurper was extremely fortunate to escape with his life.

~~~

Lars followed the king’s gaze as he now glowered at the cause of his latest dilemma seated with his thanes and ceorls, to one side of the hall. Edwin, the true heir to the throne of Deira, brother in law of Æthelfrith of Northumbria, had sought Rædwald’s protection after attempts were made on his life at Æthelfrith’s command.

At first Rædwald had been in favour of either killing him, or simply returning him. But his wife Eabæ and Paulinus, a monk and member of the Canterbury mission had reminded him of his recent religious conversion in Kent and his new Christian duty to honour his gift of sanctuary.

Reluctantly he sent Æthelfrith’s ambassadors back to their lord empty handed after Eabæ had pleaded with him to listen to the monk, reminding him that he now served two sets of gods, the new Christian god and his old ones Tiw, Wodin, Thor and Freya.

Completing the picture before Lars’ eyes, Rædwald’s faithful wolfhound Ceolwulf lay at his master’s feet gnawing on a cow’s thigh bone, snarling should any other hound stray too close. While his master was still king, Ceolwulf was the leader of the pack both here in the hall and on the battlefield.

Because of Edwin, Rædwald now had no option but to answer Æthelfrith’s declaration of war. He had already sent his most trusted thane Egfrid to spy on Æthelfrith’s army near the River Trent at the western boundary of the kingdom of Lindsey, two days earlier. When Egfrid returned, plans would be made for a surprise attack.

~~~

The massive carved doors of Rædwald’s hall swung open, noisily striking the wooden poles on either side of the doorway, making Lars jump. Egfrid, together with his ceorls entered; he motioned for his men to go and eat, as he strode forward to the high table where his old friend the king sat.

Rædwald stood to greet him. “What news of Æthelfrith’s army?” he demanded.

“My lord, Æthelfrith has an army already assembled near the River Idle. He is not there yet; he tours his kingdom gathering more to his banner. His thanes are thirsty for blood.”

“Then we have no time to lose. Lord Edwin, will you fight for your birth right or will you cower here in my hall?” Edwin instantly stood up knocking back the bench he had been seated on. Drawing his sword, he strode to the centre of Rædwald’s hall beside the brazier. “Great king I stand by your side ready to do battle with my brother-in-law Æthelfrith and his army. He sought to kill me, denying me Deira. Now it is his turn to die.”

Rædwald nodded. Within the hour he had sent word to all his thanes along the route north to the River Idle to prepare for battle. The two day march began almost immediately. Lars insinuated himself into the ranks of the long column of warriors not far behind Rædwald.

~~~

The king of the East Angles rode at the head of his steadily growing army dressed in his magnificent ornately decorated helmet, with its protective cheek pieces and cranium ridge overlaid with gold, beneath which his protective face mask with its prominent gold brow ridges, who’s ends were decorated with tusked Boar’s heads, together with a nose and moustache inlaid with gold, hid all but his piercing blue eyes from view. His rich cloak was held in place by smaller versions of the garnet encrusted solid gold clasps fixing his cuirass. His belt was adorned with its ornately worked solid gold belt buckle.

From where he marched in the column, Lars recognised the sword sheathed at the king’s back. Only days earlier he had stood beside Gilbert in the British Museum closely studying its pommel and hilt guard in preparation for this very moment.

The sword was a work of art rather than a weapon of war, expertly forged by Swedish artisans in the middle years of the sixth century from pattern-welded rods of iron, edged with steel, which created a beautiful shimmering wavy effect along its entire length, with its pommel and hilt guard of solid gold, both inlayed with garnets.

Striding effortlessly beside his king’s horse was his faithful thane and shield bearer Egfrid proudly carrying his king’s mighty circular wooden shield with its outer covering of thick hide. Its edge was covered in ornate gold filigree work depicting writhing serpents; at its centre stood a gleaming gold plated shield boss. Lars also recognised the mighty shield’s finely crafted adornments after seeing them close up at the Museum. At least one thing was abundantly clear, the sword and shield did belong to Rædwald. Whether or not they actually first belonged to his grandfather Wuffa was not immediately clear.

Rædwald’s faithful wolfhound Ceolwulf trotted in front of his master’s horse, closely followed by his own army ready to rip Northumbrian throats.

 ~~~

When dawn broke on the mist covered east bank of the River Idle, a little known event in England’s history began to unfold before Lars’ eyes as Rædwald formed up his considerable army into three columns across the river’s floodplain, following the long established tactics last employed on this island by the Roman legions, two hundred years previously.

To the left Edwin stood ready with his men. To the right Rædwald’s oldest son Rægenhere and his men prepared for battle. Rædwald sat motionless astride his horse at the head of the central column with his old friend Egfrid ready to protect his back.

Across the marshy meadow ahead of his army, the mist began to lift as the September sun slowly burnt it away, revealing Æthelfrith’s encampment. At Rædwald’s command, the three columns formed their shield walls and began shouting “Out, out, out!” while banging their iron tipped spears against the back surface of their shields as they purposefully began advancing in the characteristic crablike manner of warriors with shields locked together.

Lars stood a little distance away in low scrub behind the advancing columns, unsure quite what to do next, praying he would be forgotten in the heat of the forthcoming battle. Briggs’ account of his own near fatal experience at Hastings still registered vividly in his mind, reminding him of the dangers of personal involvement.

~~~

Æthelfrith’s more seasoned fighters attacked the three shield walls in a ragged open formation, believing that their superior numbers and skills would win the day. With each charge at Rædwald’s shield walls, Æthelfrith’s crazed warriors fell in great numbers. His men, who were attacking Rægenhere’s shield wall, believed they were fighting Edwin. In the ensuing carnage, they succeeded in killed Rædwald’s much loved son.

Ceolwulf and his brethren joined the battle with canine relish, savagely tearing flesh from bone, ripping Northumbrian throats in their own frenzied attack.

The tide of battle slowly turned in Rædwald’s favour as his three column’s shield walls relentlessly drove forward to where Æthelfrith stood surrounded by his most faithful thanes. Despite the danger, Lars followed on behind. The excited, inquisitive small boy in him wanted to get closer to the action.

On hearing of the death of his son, Rædwald with Egfrid at his back, sought out Æthelfrith and slew him with the great sword. With his demise the battle of the River Idle simply petered out rather than end decisively. No one bothered to give chase as the few survivors of Æthelfrith’s Northumbrian army rapidly fled the scene.

Soon after the battle, Edwin succeeded Æthelfrith as ruler in Northumbria which also gave him control over the lesser kingdoms of North Deira and Bernicia. He later became the first Christian king of the Northern English. His now considerable military strength enabled him to conquer the Brythonic kingdom of Elmet, and also to lead his army to victory as far south as the Saxon kingdom of Wessex. As for Æthelfrith’s sons, they went into exile among the Picts and Scots, vanishing from history.

Grief stricken over the death of his son Rægenhere, Rædwald sheathed the great sword and returned home a broken man. A few years later in 624, he died aged forty-four.

~~~

On returning to the Institute Lars asked to be sent back. He wished to attend Rædwald’s funeral out of his deep respect for a great warrior. Briggs agreed and asked to accompany him. They watched through the early morning mist of the November day when Rædwald was laid to rest with his belongings including his sword, helmet and shield on a simple cot within a purpose built wooden chamber aboard his recently repaired longboat,which had been brought overland from nearby Gipeswic. The boat was then buried beneath the tumulus at Sutton Hoo, now known as Mound One.

England would never see his like again. Barely a generation after his death the East Angles ceased to be a separate people when the inevitable intermarriage between Angles and Saxons forged a new nation.

Thanks to Lars’ extremely detailed written account, many gaps in the sketchy history of Rædwald’s East Angles had been filled in. Briggs now knew beyond any reasonable doubt that the remains of the helmet, sword and shield in the British Museum exhibit were indeed formerly owned by Rædwald. Whether or not they actually belonged to Wuffa would probably never be known…

~~~

 Don’t forget – if you want to read Cataclysm, click on the word in red at the top of the page…

🙂